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I will be unable to update the site for the next few days while I attend a conference in Beirut. This will be my first trip to the region (apart from a kaleidoscopic view I got of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan on my way to India in 1978). It should be interesting. In place of frequent news updates, I'm posting just one feature -- a major article (with companion piece) that recently appeared at Counterpunch and is reprinted here in its entirety, with the author's permission.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, now would be the perfect time to show your appreciation for The War in Context and offer your support (via PayPal). Thank you. The next update will be on March 21.

In the meantime, don't miss Christopher Ketcham's stunning report.
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Deconstructing the narrative of the war on terrorism
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, March 16, 2007

America's reaction to the 9/11 attacks has been shaped by a narrative that, to this day, largely rests unchallenged.

Islamist extremists hatched a plot -- part of a grand vision of the defeat of American infidels followed by the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate. The success of 19 hijackers in carrying out their attacks resulted from intelligence failures and ultimately (if Vice President Cheney's view is accepted) the failure of the United States to stand tall and respond aggressively to a succession of Jihadist provocations.

America had been attacked because it exposed its weakness. In order to defend itself it would have to display its strength.

In as much as this narrative has been challenged, skepticism has largely been voiced from the political fringe. It has come in the form of theories involving disappearing planes (and their passengers), elaborate government conspiracies, the purposeful demolition (with high explosives) of the World Trade Center and an array of other scenarios all of which would involve vast conspiratorial networks all of whose members have subsequently maintained an extraordinarily disciplined silence.

In as much as the choice of narratives has been reduced to a choice between conventional wisdom and conspiracy theories, conventional wisdom has naturally governed popular opinion, policy making, and political debate.

So, in late 2001 and subsequently, it was easy to treat stories about "an Israeli connection" to 9/11 as simply a subdomain in an expanding cottage industry of speculation -- simply another manifestation of an inchoate yet profound psychological need that societies often exhibit to attribute their worst calamities to a foreign source.
"If somebody says we don't want the Israelis implicated in this -- we know that they've been spying the hell out of us, we know that they possibly had information in advance of the attacks, but this would be a political nightmare to deal with." A former CIA counter-terrorism officer

At the same time, in this instance there seemed to be a significant difference: the Israeli employees of "Urban Moving Systems" -- who may yet be shown to have been Israeli intelligence operatives -- had been arrested, detained and questioned. Their suspicious behavior on 9/11, far from yielding an innocuous explanation, remained open to question. Media efforts to answer those questions had been thwarted by the Israel lobby, the U.S. and the Israeli governments.

In the following article, Christopher Ketcham meticulously combs through the details of what is already known about the employees of Urban Moving Systems, along with a group of Israeli "art students," all of whom operated in close proximity to the 9/11 hijackers. Ketcham does not expose a plot; he simply raises questions that need to be answered.

If a full investigation was undertaken, it could result in our understanding of the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks remaining largely unchanged. On the other hand, it is equally possible that what we might discover is that our greatest failure in the aftermath of 9/11 turned out to be that we failed to ask the right questions. We may find out that -- with calamitous results -- we accepted a simple story because the real story was too painful to be told.

Had that story emerged earlier it is quite possible that Iraq may have never entered the picture.

What did Israel know in advance of the 9/11 attacks?
By Christopher Ketcham, The War in Context, March 16, 2007

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, an FBI bulletin known as a BOLO -- "be on lookout" -- was issued with regard to three suspicious men who that morning were seen leaving the New Jersey waterfront minutes after the first plane hit World Trade Center 1. Law enforcement officers across the New York-New Jersey area were warned in the radio dispatch to watch for a "vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack":
White, 2000 Chevrolet van with 'Urban Moving Systems' sign on back seen at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, at the time of first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center Three individuals with van were seen celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and detain individuals.
At 3:56 p.m., twenty-five minutes after the issuance of the FBI BOLO, officers with the East Rutherford Police Department stopped the commercial moving van through a trace on the plates. According to the police report, Officer Scott DeCarlo and Sgt. Dennis Rivelli approached the stopped van, demanding that the driver exit the vehicle. The driver, 23-year-old Sivan Kurzberg, refused and "was asked several more times [but] appeared to be fumbling with a black leather fanny pouch type of bag". With guns drawn, the police then "physically removed" Kurzberg, while four other men -- two more men had apparently joined the group since the morning -- were also removed from the van, handcuffed, placed on the grass median and read their Miranda rights.

They had not been told the reasons for their arrest. Yet, according to DeCarlo's report, "this officer was told without question by the driver [Sivan Kurzberg],'We are Israeli. We are not your problem.Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.'" Another of the five Israelis, again without prompting, told Officer DeCarlo -- falsely -- that "we were on the West Side Highway in New York City during the incident". From inside the vehicle the officers, who were quickly joined by agents from the FBI, retrieved multiple passports and $4,700 in cash stuffed in a sock. According to New Jersey's Bergen Record, which on September 12 reported the arrest of the five Israelis, an investigator high up in the Bergen County law enforcement hierarchy stated that officers had also discovered in the vehicle "maps of the city with certain places highlighted. It looked like they're hooked in with this", the source told the Record, referring to the 9/11 attacks. "It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park."

The five men were indeed Israeli citizens. They claimed to be in the country working as movers for Urban Moving Systems Inc., which maintained a warehouse and office in Weehawken, New Jersey. They were held for 71 days in a federal detention center in Brooklyn, New York, during which time they were repeatedly interrogated by FBI and CIA counter-terrorism teams, who referred to the men as the "high-fivers" for their celebratory behavior on the New Jersey waterfront. Some were placed in solitary confinement for at least forty days; some were given as many as seven lie-detector tests. One of the Israelis, Paul Kurzberg, brother of Sivan, refused to take a lie-detector test for ten weeks. Then he failed it.

Meanwhile, two days after the men were picked up, the owner of Urban Moving Systems, Dominik Suter, a 31- year-old Israeli national, abandoned his business and fled the United States for Israel. Suter's departure was abrupt, leaving behind coffee cups, sandwiches, cell phones and computers strewn on office tables and thousands of dollars of goods in storage. Suter was later placed on the same FBI suspect list as 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and other hijackers and suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers, suggesting that U.S. authorities felt Suter may have known something about the attacks. The suspicion, as the investigation unfolded, was that the men working for Urban Moving Systems were spies. Who exactly was handling them, and who or what they were targeting, was as yet uncertain.

It was New York's venerable Jewish weekly The Forward that broke this story in the spring of 2002, after months of footwork. The Forward reported that the FBI had finally concluded that at least two of the men were agents working for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and that Urban Moving Systems, the ostensible employer of the five Israelis, was a front operation. Two former CIA officers confirmed this to me, noting that movers' vans are a common intelligence cover. The Forward also noted that the Israeli government itself admitted that the men were spies. A "former high-ranking American intelligence official", who said he was "regularly briefed on the investigation by two separate law enforcement officials", told reporter Marc Perelman that after American authorities confronted Jerusalem at the end of 2001, the Israeli government "acknowledged the operation and apologized for not coordinating it with Washington". Today, Perelman stands by his reporting. I asked him if his sources in the Mossad denied the story. "Nobody stopped talking to me", he said.

In June 2002, ABC News' 20/20 followed up with its own investigation into the matter, coming to the same conclusion as The Forward. Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of operations for counter-terrorism with the CIA, told 20/20 that some of the names of the five men appeared as hits in searches of an FBI national intelligence database. Cannistraro told me that the question that most troubled FBI agents in the weeks and months after 9/11 was whether the Israelis had arrived at the site of their "celebration" with foreknowledge of the attack to come. From the beginning, "the FBI investigation operated on the premise that the Israelis had foreknowledge", according to Cannistraro. A second former CIA counter-terrorism officer who closely followed the case, but who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me that investigators were pursuing two theories. "One story was that [the Israelis] appeared at Liberty State Park very quickly after the first plane hit. The other was that they were at the park location already". Either way, investigators wanted to know exactly what the men were expecting when they got there.

Before such issues had been fully explored, however, the investigation was shut down. Following what ABC News reported were "high-level negotiations between Israeli and U.S. government officials", a settlement was reached in the case of the five Urban Moving Systems suspects. Intense political pressure apparently had been brought to bear. The reputable Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that by the last week of October 2001, some six weeks after the men had been detained, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and two unidentified "prominent New York congressmen" were lobbying heavily for their release. According to a source at ABC News close to the 20/20 report, high-profile criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz also stepped in as a negotiator on behalf of the men to smooth out differences with the U.S. government. (Dershowitz declined to comment for this article.) And so, at the end of November 2001, for reasons that only noted they had been working in the country illegally as movers, in violation of their visas, the men were flown home to Israel.

Today, the crucial questions raised by this matter remain unanswered. There is sufficient reason -- from news reports, statements by former intelligence officials, an array of circumstantial evidence, and the reported acknowledgment by the Israeli government -- to believe that in the months before 9/11, Israel was running an active spy network inside the United States, with Muslim extremists as the target. Given Israel's concerns about Islamic terrorism as well as its long history of spying on U.S. soil, this does not come entirely as a shock. What's incendiary is the idea -- supported, though not proven, by several pieces of evidence -- that the Israelis did learn something about 9/11 in advance but failed to share all of what they knew with American officials. The questions are disturbing enough to warrant a Congressional investigation.

Yet none of this information found its way into Congress's joint committee report on the attacks, and it was not even tangentially referenced in the nearly 600 pages of the 9/11 Commission's final report. Nor would a single major media outlet track the revelations of The Forward and ABC News to investigate further. "There weren't even stories saying it was bullshit", says The Forward's Perelman. "Honestly, I was surprised". Instead, the story disappeared into the welter of anti-Israel 9/11 conspiracy theories.

It's no small boon to the U.S. government that the story of 9/11-related Israeli espionage has been thus relegated: the story doesn't fit in the clean lines of the official narrative of the attacks. It brings up concerns not only about Israel's obligation not to spy inside the borders of the United States, its major benefactor, but about its possible failure to have provided the U.S. adequate warning of an impending devastating attack on American soil. Furthermore, the available evidence undermines the carefully cultivated image of sanctity that defines the U.S.- Israel relationship. These are all factors that help explain the story's disappearance, and they are compelling reasons to revisit it now.

Torpedoing the FBI Probe
All five future hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which rammed the Pentagon, maintained addresses or were active within a six-mile radius of towns associated with the Israelis employed at Urban Moving Systems. Hudson and Bergen counties, the areas where the Israelis were allegedly conducting surveillance, were a central staging ground for the hijackers of Flight 77 and their fellow al-Qaeda operatives. Mohammed Atta maintained a mail-drop address and visited friends in northern New Jersey; his contacts there included Hani Hanjour, the suicide pilot for Flight 77, and Majed Moqed, one of the strongmen who backed Hanjour in the seizing of the plane. Could the Israelis, with or without knowledge of the terrorists' plans, have been tracking the men who were soon to hijack Flight 77?

In public statements, both the Israeli government and the FBI have denied that the Urban Moving Systems men were involved in an intelligence operation in the United States. "No evidence recovered suggested any of these Israelis had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attack, and these Israelis are not suspected of working for Mossad", FBI spokesman Jim Margolin told me. (The Israeli embassy did not respond to questions for this article.) According to the source at ABC News, FBI investigators chafed at the denials from their higher-ups. "There is a lot of frustration inside the bureau about this case", the source told me. "They feel the higher echelons torpedoed the investigation into the Israeli New Jersey cell. Leads were not fully investigated". Among those lost leads was the figure of Dominik Suter, whom the U.S. authorities apparently never attempted to contact. Intelligence expert and author James Bamford told me there was similar frustration within the CIA: "People I've talked to at the CIA were outraged at what was going on. They thought it was outrageous that there hadn't been a real investigation, that the facts were hanging out there without any conclusion."

However, what was "absolutely certain", according to Vincent Cannistraro, was that the five Israelis formed part of a surveillance network in the New York-New Jersey area. The network's purpose was to track radical Islamic extremists and/or supporters of militant Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The former CIA counter-terrorism officer who spoke anonymously told me that FBI investigators determined that the suspect Israelis were serving as Arabic-speaking linguists "running technical operations" in northern New Jersey's extensive Muslim communities. The former CIA officer said the operations included taps on telephones, placement of microphones in rooms and mobile surveillance. The source at ABC News agreed: "Our conclusion was that they were Arab linguists involved in monitoring operations, i.e., electronic surveillance. People at FBI concur with this". The ABC News source added, "What we heard was that the Israelis may have picked up chatter that something was going to happen on the morning of 9/11".

The former CIA counter-terrorism officer told me: "There was no question but that [the order to close down the investigation] came from the White House. It was immediately assumed at CIA headquarters that this basically was going to be a cover-up so that the Israelis would not be implicated in any way in 9/11. Bear in mind that this was a political issue, not a law enforcement or intelligence issue. If somebody says we don't want the Israelis implicated in this -- we know that they've been spying the hell out of us, we know that they possibly had information in advance of the attacks, but this would be a political nightmare to deal with."

The Israeli "Art Student" Spies
There is a second piece of evidence that suggests Israeli operatives were spying on al-Qaeda in the United States. It is writ in the peculiar tale of the Israeli "art students", detailed by this reporter for in 2002, following the leaking of an internal memo circulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Security Programs. The June 2001 memo, issued three months before the 9/11 attacks, reported that more than 120 young Israeli citizens, posing as art students and peddling cheap paintings, had been repeatedly -- and seemingly inexplicably -- attempting to penetrate DEA offices and other law enforcement and Defense Department offices across the country. The DEA report stated that the Israelis may have been engaged in "an organized intelligence gathering activity", but to what end, U.S. investigators, in June 2001, could not determine. The memo briefly floated the possibility that the Israelis were engaged in trafficking the drug ecstasy. According to the memo, "the most activity [was] reported in the state of Florida" during the first half of 2001, where the town of Hollywood appeared to be "a central point for these individuals with several having addresses in this area".

In retrospect, the fact that a large number of "art students" operated out of Hollywood is intriguing, to say the least. During 2001, the city, just north of Miami, was a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity and served as one of the chief staging grounds for the hijacking of the World Trade Center planes and the Pennsylvania plane; it was home to fifteen of the nineteen future hijackers, nine in Hollywood and six in the surrounding area. Among the 120 suspected Israeli spies posing as art students, more than thirty lived in the Hollywood area, ten in Hollywood proper. As noted in the DEA report, many of these young men and women had training as intelligence and electronic intercept officers in the Israeli military -- training and experience far beyond the compulsory service mandated by Israeli law. Their "traveling in the U.S. selling art seem[ed] not to fit their background", according to the DEA report.

One "art student" was a former Israeli military intelligence officer named Hanan Serfaty, who rented two Hollywood apartments close to the mail drop and apartment of Mohammed Atta and four other hijackers. Serfaty was moving large amounts of cash: he carried bank slips showing more than $100,000 deposited from December 2000 through the first quarter of 2001; other bank slips showed withdrawals for about $80,000 during the same period. Serfaty's apartments, serving as crash pads for at least two other "art students", were located at 4220 Sheridan Street and 701 South 21st Avenue. Lead hijacker Mohammed Atta's mail drop was at 3389 Sheridan Street --approximately 2,700 feet from Serfaty's Sheridan Street apartment. Both Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, the suicide pilot on United Airlines Flight 175, which smashed into World Trade Center 2, lived in a rented apartment at 1818 Jackson Street, some 1,800 feet from Serfaty's South 21st Avenue apartment.

In fact, an improbable series of coincidences emerges from a close reading of the 2001 DEA memo, the 9/11 Commission's staff statements and final report, FBI and Justice Department watch lists, hijacker time-lines compiled by major media and statements by local, state and federal law enforcement personnel. In at least six urban centers, suspected Israeli spies and 9/11 hijackers and/or al-Qaeda-connected suspects lived and operated near one another, in some cases less than half a mile apart, for various periods during 2000-01 in the run-up to the attacks. In addition to northern New Jersey and Hollywood, Florida, these centers included Arlington and Fredericksburg, Virginia; Atlanta; Oklahoma City; Los Angeles; and San Diego.

Israeli "art students" also lived close to terror suspects in and around Dallas, Texas. A 25-year-old "art student" named Michael Calmanovic, arrested and questioned by Texas-based DEA officers in April 2001, maintained a mail drop at 3575 North Beltline Road, less than a thousand feet from the 4045 North Beltline Road apartment of Ahmed Khalefa, an FBI terror suspect. Dallas and its environs, especially the town of Richardson, Texas, throbbed with "art student" activity. Richardson is notable as the home of the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity designated as a terrorist funder by the European Union and U.S. government in December 2001. Sources in 2002 told The Forward, in a report unrelated to the question of the "art students", that "Israeli intelligence played a key role in helping the Bush administration to crack down on Islamic charities suspected of funneling money to terrorist groups, most notably the Richardson, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, last December [2001]". It's plausible that the intelligence prompting the shutdown of the Holy Land Foundation came from "art student" spies in the Richardson area.

Others among the "art students" had specific backgrounds in electronic surveillance or military intelligence, or were associated with Israeli wiretapping and surveillance firms, which prompted further concerns among U.S. investigators. DEA agents described Michael Calmanovic, for example, as "a recently discharged electronic intercept operator for the Israeli military". Lior Baram, questioned near Hollywood, Fla., in January 2001, said he had served two years in Israeli intelligence "working with classified information". Hanan Serfaty, who maintained the Hollywood apartments near Atta and his cohorts, served in the Israeli military between the ages of 18 and 21. Serfaty refused to disclose his activities between the ages of 21 and 24, including his activities since arriving in the U.S.A. in 2000. The French daily Le Monde meanwhile reported that six "art students" were apparently using cell phones that had been purchased by a former Israeli vice consul in the U.S.A.

Suspected Israeli spy Tomer Ben Dor, questioned at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in May 2001, worked for the Israeli wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping company NICE Systems Ltd. (NICE Systems' American subsidiary, NICE Systems Inc., is located in Rutherford, New Jersey, not far from the East Rutherford site where the five Israeli "movers" were arrested on the afternoon of September 11.) Ben Dor carried in his luggage a print-out of a computer file that referred to "DEA Groups". How he acquired information about so-called "DEA Groups" -- via, for example, his own employment with an Israeli wiretapping company -- was never determined, according to DEA documents.

"Art student" Michal Gal, arrested by DEA investigators in Irving, Texas, in the spring of 2001, was released on a $10,000 cash bond posted by Ophir Baer, an employee of the Israeli telecommunications software company Amdocs Inc., which provides phone-billing technology to clients that include some of the largest phone companies in the United States as well as U.S. government agencies. Amdocs, whose executive board has been heavily stocked with retired and current members of the Israeli government and military, has been investigated at least twice in the last decade by U.S. authorities on charges of espionage-related leaks of data that the company assured was secure. (The company strenuously denies any wrong-doing.)

According to the former CIA counterterrorism officer with knowledge of investigations into 9/11-related Israeli espionage, when law enforcement officials examined the "art students" phenomenon, they came to the tentative conclusion that "the Israelis likely had a huge spy operation in the U.S. and that they had succeeded in identifying a number of the hijackers". The German daily Die Zeit reached the same conclusion in 2002, reporting that "Mossad agents in the U.S. were in all probability surveilling at least four of the 19 hijackers". The Fox News Channel also reported that U.S. investigators suspected that Israelis were spying on Muslim militants in the United States. "There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it", Fox correspondent Carl Cameron reported in a December 2001 series that was the first major exposé of allegations of 9/11-related Israeli espionage. "A highly placed investigator said there are 'tie-ins'. But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.'"

One element of the allegations has never been clearly understood: if the "art students" were indeed spies targeting Muslim extremists that included al-Qaeda, why would they also be surveilling DEA agents in such a compromising manner? Why, in other words, would foreign spies bumble into federal offices by the scores and risk exposing their operation? An explanation is that a number of the art students were, in fact, young Israelis engaged in a mere art scam and unknowingly provided cover for real spies. Investigative journalist John Sugg, who as senior editor for the Creative Loafing newspaper chain reported on the "art students" in 2002, told me that investigators he spoke to within FBI felt the "art student" ring functioned as a wide-ranging cover that was counterintuitive in its obviousness. DEA investigators, for example, uncovered evidence connecting the Israeli "art students" to known ecstasy trafficking operations in New York and Florida. This was, according to Sugg, planted information. "The explanation was that when our FBI guys started getting interested in these folks [the art students] -- when they got too close to what the real purpose was -- the Israelis threw in an ecstasy angle", Sugg told me. "The argument being that if our guys thought the Israelis were involved in a smuggling ring, then they wouldn't see the real purpose of the operation". Sugg, who is writing a book that explores the tale of the "art students", told me that several sources within the FBI, and at least one source formerly with Israeli intelligence, suggested that "the bumbling aspect of the art student thing was intentional."

When I reported on the matter for in 2002, a veteran U.S. intelligence operative with experience subcontracting both for the CIA and the NSA suggested a similar possibility. "It was a noisy operation", the veteran intelligence operative said. The operative referred me to the film Victor, Victoria. "It was about a woman playing a man playing a woman. Perhaps you should think about this from that aspect and ask yourself if you wanted to have something that was in your face, that didn't make sense, that couldn't possibly be them". The intelligence operative added, "Think of it this way: how could the experts think this could actually be something of any value? Wouldn't they dismiss what they were seeing?" U.S. and Israeli officials, dismissing charges of espionage as an "urban myth", have publicly claimed that the Israeli "art students" were guilty only of working on U.S. soil without proper credentials. The stern denials issued by the Justice Department were widely publicized in the Washington Post and elsewhere, and the endnote from officialdom and in establishment media by the spring of 2002 was that the "art students" had been rounded up and deported simply because of harmless visa violations. The FBI, for its part, refused to confirm or deny the "art students" espionage story. "Regarding FBI investigations into Israeli art students", spokesman Jim Margolin told me, "the FBI cannot comment on any of those investigations." As with the New Jersey Israelis, the investigation into the Israeli "art students" appears to have been halted by orders from on high. The veteran CIA/NSA intelligence operative told me in 2002 that there was "a great press to discredit the story, discredit the connections, prevent [investigators] from going any further. People were told to stand down. You name the agency, they were told to stand down". The operative added, "People who were perceived to be gumshoes on [this matter] suddenly found themselves hammered from all different directions. The interest from the middle bureaucracy was not that there had been a security breach but that someone had bothered to investigate the breach. That was where the terror was".

Choking off the press coverage
There was similar pressure brought against the media venues that ventured to report out the allegations of 9/11- related Israeli espionage. A former ABC News employee high up in the network newsroom told me that when ABC News ran its June 2002 exposé on the celebratory New Jersey Israelis, "Enormous pressure was brought to bear by pro-Israeli organizations" -- and this pressure began months before the piece was even close to airing. The source said that ABC News colleagues wondered, "how they [the pro-Israel organizations] found out we were doing the story. Pro-Israeli people were calling the president of ABC News. Barbara Walters was getting bombarded by calls. The story was a hard sell but ABC News came through the management insulated [reporters] from the pressure".

The experience of Carl Cameron, chief Washington correspondent at Fox News Channel and the first mainstream U.S. reporter to present the allegations of Israeli surveillance of the 9/11 hijackers, was perhaps more typical, both in its particulars and aftermath. The attack against Cameron and Fox News was spearheaded by a pro-Israel lobby group called the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which operated in tandem with the two most highly visible powerhouse Israel lobbyists, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (itself currently embroiled in a spy scandal connected to the Defense Department and Israeli Embassy). "CAMERA peppered the shit out of us", Carl Cameron told me in 2002, referring to an e-mail bombardment that eventually crashed the Fox servers. Cameron himself received 700 pages of almost identical e-mail messages from hundreds of citizens (though he suspected these were spam identities). CAMERA spokesman Alex Safian later told me that Cameron's upbringing in Iran, where his father traveled as an archeologist, had rendered the reporter "very sympathetic to the Arab side". Safian added, "I think Cameron, personally, has a thing about Israel" -- coded language implying that Cameron was an anti-Semite. Cameron was outraged at the accusation.

According to a source at Fox News Channel, the president of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, telephoned executives at Fox News' parent, News Corp., to demand a sit-down in the wake of the Cameron reportage. The source said that Foxman told the News Corp. executives, "Look, you guys have generally been pretty fair to Israel. What are you doing putting this stuff out there? You're killing us". The Fox News source continued, "As good old boys will do over coffee in Manhattan, it was like, well, what can we do about this? Finally, Fox News said, 'Stop the e-mailing. Stop slamming us. Stop being in our face, and we'll stop being in your face -- by way of taking our story down off the web. We will not retract it; we will not disavow it; we stand by it. But we will at least take it off the web.'" Following this meeting, within four days of the posting of Cameron's series on Fox, the transcripts disappeared, replaced by the message, "This story no longer exists".

What did Mossad know and tell the U.S.?
Whether or not Israeli spies had detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, the Israeli authorities knew enough to warn the U.S. government in the summer of 2001 that an attack was on the horizon. The British Sunday Telegraph reported on September 16, 2001, that two senior agents with the Mossad were dispatched to Washington in August 2001 "to alert the CIA and FBI to the existence of a cell of as many as 200 terrorists said to be preparing a big operation". The Telegraph quoted a "senior Israeli security official" as saying the Mossad experts had "no specific information about what was being planned". Still, the official told the Telegraph, the Mossad contacts had "linked the plot to Osama bin Laden". Likewise, Die Zeit correspondent Oliver Schrom reported that on August 23, 2001, the Mossad "handed its American counterpart a list of names of terrorists who were staying in the U.S. and were presumably planning to launch an attack in the foreseeable future". Fox News' Carl Cameron, in May 2002, also reported warnings by Israel: "Based on its own intelligence, the Israeli government provided 'general' information to the United States in the second week of August that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent". The U.S. government later claimed these warnings were not specific enough to allow any mitigating action to be taken. Mossad expert Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon's Spies, says German intelligence sources told him that as late as August 2001 Israeli spies in the United States had made surveillance contacts with "known supporters of bin Laden in the U.S.A. It was those surveillance contacts that later raised the question: how much prior knowledge did Mossad have and at what stage?"

According to Die Zeit, the Mossad did provide the U.S. government with the names of suspected terrorists Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who would eventually hijack the Pentagon plane. It is worth noting that Mihdhar and Hazmi were among the hijackers who operated in close proximity to Israeli "art students" in Hollywood, Florida, and to the Urban Moving Systems Israelis in northern New Jersey. Moreover, Hazmi and at least three "art students" visited Oklahoma City on almost the same dates, from April 1 through April 4, 2001. On August 24, 2001, a day after the Mossad's briefing, Mihdhar and Hazmi were placed by the CIA on a terrorist watch list; additionally, it was only after the Mossad warning, as reported by Die Zeit, that the CIA, on August 27, informed the FBI of the presence of the two terrorists. But by then the cell was already in hiding, preparing for attack.

The CIA, along with the 9/11 Commission in its adoption of the CIA story, claims that Mihdhar and Hazmi were placed on the watch list solely due to the agency's own efforts, with no help from Mossad. Their explanation of how the pair came to be placed on the watch list, however, is far from credible and may have served as a cover story to obscure the Mossad briefing [See Ketcham's accompanying story -- "The Kuala Lumpur Deceit" -- which appears below]. This brings up the possibility that the CIA may have known about the existence of the alleged Israeli agents and their mission, but sought, naturally, to keep it quiet. A second, more troubling scenario, is that the CIA may have subcontracted to Mossad, given that the agency was both prohibited by law from conducting intelligence operations on U.S. soil, and lacked a pool of competent Arabic-fluent field officers. In such a scenario, the CIA would either have worked actively with the Israelis or quietly abetted an independent operation on U.S. soil. In his 9/11 investigative book, The Looming Tower, author Lawrence Wright notes that FBI counterterrorism agents, infuriated at the CIA's failure to fully share information about Mihdhar and Hazmi, speculated that "the agency was shielding Mihdhar and Hazmi because it hoped to recruit them". The two al-Qaeda men, Wright notes, "must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI..." Wright further observes that the CIA's reticence to share its information was due to a fear "that prosecutions resulting from specific intelligence might compromise its relationship with foreign services". When in the spring of 2002 the scenario of CIA's domestic subcontracting to foreign intelligence was posed to the veteran CIA/NSA intelligence operative, with whom I spoke extensively, the operative didn't reject it out of hand. The operative noted that in recent years the CIA's human intelligence assets, known as "humint" -- spooks on the ground who conduct surveillances, make contacts, and infiltrate the enemy -- had been "eviscerated" in favor of the NSA's far less perilous "sigint", or signals intelligence program, the remote interception of electronic communications. As a result, "U.S. intelligence finds itself going back to sources that you may not necessarily like to go back to, but are required to", the veteran intelligence operative said. "We don't like the fact, but our humint structures are gone. Israeli intel's humint is as strong as ever. If you have an intel gap, those gaps are not closed overnight. It takes years and years of diligent work, a high degree of security, talented and dedicated people, willing management and a steady hand. It is not a fun business, and it's certainly not one without its dangers. If you lose that capability, well organizations find themselves having to make a pact with the devil. The problem [in U.S. intel] is very great".

If such an understanding did exist between CIA and Mossad with regard to al-Qaeda's U.S. operatives, the complicity would explain a number of oddities: it would explain the CIA's nearly incoherent, and perhaps purposely deceptive, reconstruction of events as to how Mihdhar and Hazmi joined the watch list; it might even explain the apparent brazenness of the Israeli New Jersey cell celebrating on the morning of 9/11 (protected under the CIA wing, they were free to behave as they pleased). It would also explain the assertion in one of the leading Israeli dailies, Yedioth Ahronoth, that in the months prior to 9/11, when the Israeli "art students" were being identified and rounded up, the CIA "actively promoted their expulsion". The implication in the Yedioth Ahronoth article was that the CIA was simply being careless, not trying to spirit the Israelis safely out of the country. At this point we cannot be certain.

Israeli spying against the U.S. is of course hotly denied by both governments. In 2002, responding to my own questions about the "art students", Israeli embassy spokesman Mark Regev issued a blanket denial. "Israel does not spy on the United States", Regev told me. The pronouncements from officialdom are strictly pro forma, as it is no secret that spying by Israel on the United States has been wide-ranging and unabashed. A 1996 General Accounting Office report, for example, found that Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any U.S. ally". More recently, a former intelligence official told the Los Angeles Times in 2004 that "[t]here is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States". It is also routine that Israeli spying is ignored or downplayed by the U.S. government (the case of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life in prison in 1986, is a dramatic exception). According to The American Prospect, over the last 20 years at least six sealed indictments have been issued against individuals allegedly spying "on Israel's behalf", but the cases were resolved "through diplomatic and intelligence channels" rather than a public airing in the courts. Career Justice Department and intelligence officials who track Israeli espionage told the Prospect of "long-standing frustration among investigators and prosecutors who feel that cases that could have been made successfully against Israeli spies were never brought to trial, or that the investigations were shut down prematurely".

The Questions That Await Answers
Remarkably, the Urban Moving Systems Israelis, when interrogated by the FBI, explained their motives for "celebration" on the New Jersey waterfront a celebration that consisted of cheering, smiling, shooting film with still and video cameras and, according to the FBI, "high-fiving" -- in the Machiavellian light of geopolitics. "Their explanation of why they were happy", FBI spokesman Margolin told me, "was that the United States would now have to commit itself to fighting [Middle East] terrorism, that Americans would have an understanding and empathy for Israel's circumstances, and that the attacks were ultimately a good thing for Israel". When reporters on the morning of 9/11 asked former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the effect the attacks would have on Israeli-American relations, he responded with a similar gut analysis: "It's very good", he remarked. Then he amended the statement: "Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy [for Israel from Americans]".

What is perhaps most damning is that the Israelis' celebration on the New Jersey waterfront occurred in the first sixteen minutes after the initial crash, when no one was aware this was a terrorist attack. In other words, from the time the first plane hit the north tower, at 8:46 a.m., to the time the second plane hit the south tower, at 9:03 a.m., the overwhelming assumption of news outlets and government officials was that the plane's impact was simply a terrible accident. It was only after the second plane hit that suspicions were aroused. Yet if the men were cheering for political reasons, as they reportedly told the FBI, they obviously believed they were witnessing a terrorist act, and not an accident.

After returning safely to Israel in the late autumn of 2001, three of the five New Jersey Israelis spoke on a national talk show that winter. Oded Ellner, who on the afternoon of September 11 had, like his compatriots, protested to arresting officer Sgt. Dennis Rivelli that "we're Israeli", admitted to the interviewer: "We are coming from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event". By his own admission, then, Ellner stood on the New Jersey waterfront documenting with film and video a terrorist act before anyone knew it was a terrorist act.

One obvious question among many comes to mind: If these men were trained as professional spies, why did they exhibit such outright oafishness at the moment of truth on the waterfront? The ABC network source close to the 20/20 report noted one of the more disturbing explanations proffered by counterintelligence investigators at the FBI: "The Israelis felt that in some way their intelligence had worked out -- i.e., they were celebrating their own acumen and ability as intelligence agents".

The questions abound: Did the Urban Moving Systems Israelis, ready to "document the event", arrive at the waterfront before the first plane came in from the north? And if they arrived right after, why did they believe it was a terrorist attack? What about the strange tale of the "art students"? Could they have been mere hustlers, as they claimed, who ended up repeatedly crossing paths with federal agents and living next door to most of the 9/11 hijackers by coincidence? Did the Israeli authorities find out more about the impending attacks than they shared with their U.S. counterparts? Or did the Israeli spies on the ground only intercept vague chatter that, in their view, did not warrant breaking cover to share the information? On the other hand, did the U.S. government receive more advance information about the attacks from Israeli authorities than it is willing to admit? What about the 9/11 Commission's eliding of reported Israeli warnings that may have led to the watch- listing of Mihdhar and Hazmi? Were the Israeli warnings purposely washed from the historical record? Did the CIA know more about pre-9/11 Israeli spying than it has admitted?

The unfortunate fact is that the truth may never be uncovered, not by officialdom, and certainly not by a passive press. James Bamford, who in a coup of reporting during the 1980s revealed the inner workings of the NSA in The Puzzle Palace, points to the "key problem": "The Israelis were all sent out of the country", he says. "There's no nexus left. The FBI just can't go knocking on doors in Israel. They need to work with the State Department. They need letters rogatory, where you ask a government of a foreign country to get answers from citizens in that country". The Israeli government will not likely comply. So any investigation "is now that much more complicated", says Bamford. He recalls a story he produced for ABC News concerning two murder suspects -- U.S. citizens -- who fled to Israel and fought extradition for ten years. "The Israelis did nothing about it until I went to Israel, knocking on doors, and finally found the two suspects. I think it'd be a great idea to go over and knock on their doors", says Bamford.

The suspects are gone. The trail is cold. Yet many of the key facts and promising leads sit freely on the web, in the archives, safe in the news-morgues at 20/20 and The Forward and Die Zeit. An investigator close to the matter says it reminds him of the Antonioni film "Blow-Up", a movie about a photographer who discovers the evidence of a covered-up murder hidden before his very eyes in the frame of an enlarged photograph. It's a mystery that no one appears eager to solve.

(This article originally appeared on Counterpunch.)

See also, Ketcham's story: Coming in from the cold (Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair).

Christopher Ketcham is a freelance journalist who has written for Harper's and Salon. Many of his writings, including his groundbreaking story on the Israeli art students, can be read on his website He can be reached at:
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The Kuala Lumpur deceit
By Christopher Ketcham, The War in Context, March 15, 2007

The possible link between pre-9/ 11 Israeli warnings and the watch-listing of the hijackers Mihdhar and Hazmi was pointed out in late 2004 by a retired top corporate lawyer named Gerald Shea, who compiled a 166-page memo detailing the alleged operations of the Israeli groups in New Jersey, Florida and elsewhere. In the Memo, which is drawn from publicly available source material and which he sent to members of the 9/11 Commission and the joint House and Senate intelligence committees, Shea notes that neither the 9/11 Commission's final report nor the joint report of the intelligence committees "specifically mentions any such [warnings] from the Israeli government". Instead, both reports, hewing closely to the CIA's public stance, attribute the watch-listing of Mihdhar and Hazmi solely to the bumbling work of U.S. intelligence. But a review of the alleged facts in this route to the watch list, Shea insists, makes one doubt their veracity. "The issue is important", Shea argues, "because any downplaying of Israeli warnings draws attention away" from the surveillance role the Israeli groups may have played.

The key element in the CIA's account is the claim that in January 2001 the agency had identified an operational link between the Mihdhar-Hazmi duo and one of Bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants, Khallad, a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash, who was suspected of masterminding the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. According to the CIA, Mihdhar, Hazmi and Khallad had together attended a high-level al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000. This meeting was historic in the annals of Islamic terrorism, for it was here that the germ of 9/11 was seeded. The significance of the establishment of the link with Khallad was such that CIA Director George Tenet lauded the discovery in his testimony before the Joint Inquiry of Congress in 2002, noting that "this was the first time that CIA could definitively place al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with a known al-Qaeda operative [Khallad]". Khallad, it was claimed, had been identified in January 2001 from photographs taken at Kuala Lumpur. That identification was noted officially in an alleged January 5, 2001, CIA cable.

According to the CIA, in the spring of 2001 there were reported threats of al- Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests abroad. A CIA agent whom the Commission calls "John" -- who was later identified as agent Tom Wilshire by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright -- "wondered where the attacks might occur". Wilshire was particularly interested in cable traffic relating to the Kuala Lumpur meeting the previous year, specifically the January 5, 2001, cable that identified Khallad as having been present at that January 2000 meeting. It was Wilshire's efforts, beginning in May of 2001, that the CIA claims led to the watch-listing of Mihdhar and Hazmi on the eve of the attacks.

Yet a mile-wide hole quickly appears in this account, because the purported "definitive" identification of Khallad in January 2001 had been entirely mistaken. In other words, George Tenet in his statement before the Joint Inquiry was either lying or woefully uninformed. According to the CIA's account, the identification of Khallad, which occurred a year after the actual Kuala Lumpur meeting, came as the result of an FBI/CIA source, who reportedly was able to pinpoint the photographs of Khallad taken at the meeting.

But, according to the CIA's own Jan. 5, 2001, cable on the matter, the FBI/CIA source was said to have been shown photographs only of Mihdhar and Hazmi. He was not shown a photograph of Khallad. According to the Joint Inquiry report, it was later discovered, after Sept. 11, 2001, that the supposed photograph in question -- the one reviewed by the informant in January 2001 -- was not of Khallad but of Hazmi himself. And in fact the source erroneously identified Hazmi as Khallad. Or so the Joint Inquiry report claims. But in fact there is substantial doubt as to whether even a mistaken identification was ever made. Three people were said to have been present when the FBI/CIA source made the identification. These included the questioning CIA agent, an FBI agent observing, and the joint source. But, according to the 9/11 Commission's own staff statements, the FBI agent later said that he was unaware of any identification of Khallad. And the CIA agent, who supposedly conducted the interview, "does not recall this particular identification [at all]", according to the Commission's staff statements.

So it turns out no one who was said to have witnessed the pivotal identification of Khallad actually recalls any such identification as having been made at all. This in turn suggests it may never have happened.

Indeed, when in May 2001 CIA agent Tom Wilshire allegedly asked another agent, whom the 9/11 Commission does not identify but whom we can here dub "Alice", to review the cable traffic relating to the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Alice later "could [even] recall this work", according to the Commission's staff statements. (The reference to Alice's failed memory was later deleted, without explanation, from the Commission's final report.) In late July or sometime early in August, the CIA's account continues, Wilshire, still inspired by the purported identification of Khallad in the January 2001 cable, asked another agent, "Mary", to "resume" the work that Alice could not recall. Mary is said then to have discovered, on August 21, 2001, that Mihdhar, and possibly Hazmi, were in the United States. They were both placed on the watch list on August 24 in a tortuous culmination of CIA work that supposedly began with Tom Wilshire in the spring.

Given the litany of unlikelihoods in the CIA's account -- not least of which is the "uncertain, unwitnessed, unremembered" identification of Khallad, as Gerald Shea notes -- the reported Mossad warnings appear to lead a far straighter course to the watch-listing of Mihdhar and Hazmi.
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REVISED COMMENT Suspected leader of 9/11 attacks is said to confess
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, March 15, 2007

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, long said to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, confessed to them at a military hearing held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon yesterday. He also acknowledged full or partial responsibility for more than 30 other terror attacks or plots.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," he said.

In a rambling statement, Mr. Mohammed, a chief aide to Osama bin Laden, said his actions were part of a military campaign. "I'm not happy that 3,000 been killed in America," he said in broken English. "I feel sorry even. I don't like to kill children and the kids." [Excerpts, Page A23.]

He added, "The language of war is victims."

Though American officials had linked Mr. Mohammed to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to several others, his confession was the first time he spelled out in his own words a panoply of global terror activities, ranging from plans to bomb landmarks in New York City and London to assassination plots against former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. Some of the plots he claimed to plan, including the attempt on Mr. Carter, had not previously been publicly disclosed.

Mr. Mohammed indicated in the transcript that some of his earlier statements to C.I.A. interrogators were the result of torture. But he said that his statements at the tribunal on Saturday were not made under duress or pressure.

His actions, he said, were like those of other revolutionaries. Had the British arrested George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Mr. Mohammed said, "for sure they would consider him enemy combatant." [complete article]

Comment -- There are several points worth commenting on relating to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad's testimony (PDF). In a written statement read by his personal representative, Muhammad says, "I admit and affirm without duress to the following," after which comes a lists his operational responsibilities followed by a list of 29 operations in which he was directly involved. He says that he was in charge of the "Cell for the Production of Biological Weapons, such as anthrax and others." The list of operations seems to cover every attack or thwarted attack with which al Qaeda has been associated in recent years. Item 3 has been redacted. It's pure speculation, but might item 3 be the anthrax attacks of 2001?

[Update -- As I wrote, "pure speculation" -- but I was apparently wrong. Having said that, the staggered release of the testimony with and then without this particular redaction, suggests that the Pentagon had an urgent need to get the story out. If Pearl's family needed to be contacted first, why the rush to the press? Either the Pentagon wanted to make sure that Muhammad's confession of murdering Daniel Pearl would get top media coverage, displacing all the earlier coverage of the tribunal, or, perhaps the administration was driven by an urgent need to take the heat off Attorney General Gonzales.]

If that is the case, it would suggest -- as many analysts have assumed -- that after 9/11 al Qaeda still had (and perhaps still has) operatives located inside the United States. As one of the notes in the anthrax letters stated, "You can not stop us." The function of the anthrax attacks was in all likelihood meant to be a way of sending out this message: "We're still here." Yet in spite of six years of a global war on terrorism, when it comes to cracking a case which included a real trail of evidence, the FBI has had no success. The anthrax case should have been held up as a test case -- a test to find out whether the Bush administration had the competence to combat terrorism.

After all, who is supposed to draw comfort from the government's willingness to "fight them over there" when it can't find them here? It has to be said, that is exactly what -- in the most literal sense of the expression -- would give comfort to the enemy!

In his testimony, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad at several junctures points out ways in which the U.S. has bungled its own operations. He refers to the fact that operatives sent by a "Sunni government" whose mission was to assassinate Osama bin Laden, ended up in Guantanamo. He challenges widely accepted views about the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda. Yet the issue that seems to concern him above all others is fairness. After claiming that many of the detainees have no connection with al Qaeda, his final words are these: "I'm asking you to be fair with other people."

* * *

It is almost six years ago America was attacked and the mastermind of the operation now has his first day "in court" -- sort of. He wasn't captured in Iraq or Afghanistan but in a country that was in 2001, and still is, a U.S. ally -- Pakistan. He wasn't tracked down by U.S. military forces but by Pakistani intelligence.

If the list of operations he was involved in is accurate, he truly stands out as the kingpin of international terrorism, yet the CIA's use of rendition and outsourced torture raises questions about whether Muhammad's statements can be taken at face value.

The perpetrators of the only terrorist attack to have taken place on American soil after 9/11 remain at large. So much for the war on terrorism.
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Future Vision vs. dividing and ruling
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, March 15, 2007

The documents of the "Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" are, as expected, continuing to preoccupy academic circles and Shin Bet investigators, and are enjoying limited public attention. Those who are reacting to them are attributing elements of extremism to the documents.

The historical analysis, the definition of the state as an ethnocracy "trying to preserve the hegemony of the Jewish majority" and "the marginality of the Arab minority," and mainly the demand for "consensual democracy" and participation in the government, are seen as a major attack on the foundations of the Jewish state. Although the rhetoric sounds radical, the initiative and its publication can be interpreted in an opposite manner: an expression of the acceptance of Israel's strategic victory of dividing and ruling.

The Israeli Arabs are complaining that the Israelis are severing "the link in identity between the Palestinian Arabs and the other parts of the Palestinian nation" and are preventing "the maintenance of physical and spiritual ties with their brothers in Jerusalem, on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and with the Palestinian refugees [in the diaspora]." They enumerate the five splinter groups of the Palestinian nation, but by formulating a separate "Future Vision" for one of the sub-communities that was created by Israel's policy of fragmentation they are confirming the success of this policy. Of course, the "Future Vision" pays lip service to the unity of the Palestinian people and demands an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories, but its main thrust is the demand for recognition of a national minority, since the Israeli Arabs are "the original natives of the country."

The very demand to recognize them as a minority, when the demographic ratio in the Israel/Palestine as a whole is approaching equality, serves as proof of Israel's success in forcing arbitrary conditions on each of the Palestinian sub-communities, which require them to formulate a separate future vision in response to the Israeli challenge. Thus Israel can deal separately with over 1 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens, over 1.5 million residents of Gaza who are represented by the Hamas government, over 2 million residents of the West Bank who are represented by the Fatah leadership, over a quarter of a million residents of East Jerusalem west of the separation wall, and millions of refugees in the Palestinian diaspora - all at once without any connection among the various areas of contact. [complete article]

Hamas' regional game
By Shaul Mishal, Ynet, March 15, 2007

The Palestinians are currently seeking a diplomatic solution that would be reached within the framework of regional talks between Israel and the Arab states, rather than through direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The Palestinian strategy -- namely, support of a diplomatic settlement based on a regional formula -- is derived from the political and military developments prevalent in the area since the American invasion of Iraq.

The American entrenchment in the Iraqi quagmire and Iran's increasing involvement in conflict areas in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank; the regional conference in Baghdad attended by Iran, Syria and the US, and Saudi Arabia's vigorous political activities aimed at reaching a peace settlement between Israel and the Arab states along with a solution to the Palestinian issue -- are prominent signs of these developments. [complete article]

Egyptian FM: No changes to be made to Saudi plan before Riyadh summit
By Aluf Benn, Yoav Stern and Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, March 15, 2007

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday that the Saudi peace initiative would not be subject to changes before the Riyadh Summit scheduled for the end of March. He added that the Egyptians expected Israel to accept the initiative and thereby promote the peace process.

Aboul Gheit's comments complement those of his Saudi counterpart, Saud al-Faisal and of Syrian Vice President Farouk Shara, both of whom have stated they would not accept revisions to the initiative, as requested by Israel.

On Wednesday, Aboul Gheit met with his Saudi and Jordanian counterparts in Amman, where they discussed details pertaining to the summit and their political stance regarding U.S. involvement in the peace process. [complete article]
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Palestinians agree unity government
Al Jazeera, March 15, 2007

Fatah and Hamas, the rival Palestinian factions, have agreed on the composition of a Palestinian unity government.

Ismail Haniya, the prime minister and one of Hamas' leaders, made the announcement after talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, in which they agreed the appointment of a new interior minister.

Haniya said: "Today is an occasion to celebrate. We have done everything." [complete article]

See also, Profiles: Palestinian unity cabinet (Al Jazeera), EU maintains wait and see approach to Palestinian govt: Solana (AFP), and Hamas: Gov't backs 'resistance' to occupation, right of return (Haaretz).
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A journalist writing bloody murder... and no one notices
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March , 2007

...if Hersh is to be believed -- and as a major journalistic figure for the last near-40 years he certainly deserves to be taken seriously -- the Bush administration seems to be repeating the worst mistakes of the Reagan administration and of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, which led inexorably to the greatest acts of blowback in our history. Given what we already know about the Bush administration, Americans should be up nights worrying about what all this means now as well as down the line. For Congress, the media, and Americans in general, this report should have been not just a wake-up call, but a shout for an all-nighter with NoDoz. [complete article]
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When a leader missteps, a world can go astray
By Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, March 6, 2007

In the months before the American invasion of Iraq, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, was one of the few members of the foreign policy establishment (along with Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush) to speak out strongly about the dangers of going to war unilaterally against Saddam Hussein, and to warn, presciently it turns out, of the possibly dire consequences of doing so without a larger strategic plan.

In August 2002, as the current Bush administration was already hurrying toward an invasion, Mr. Brzezinski cautioned that war "is too serious a business and too unpredictable in its dynamic consequences -- especially in a highly flammable region -- to be undertaken because of a personal peeve, demagogically articulated fears or vague factual assertions." In February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, he added that "an America that decides to act essentially on its own regarding Iraq" could "find itself quite alone in having to cope with the costs and burdens of the war's aftermath, not to mention widespread and rising hostility abroad."

In his compelling new book, "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower," Mr. Brzezinski not only assesses the short- and long-term fallout of the Iraq war, but also puts that grim situation in perspective with the tumultuous global changes that have taken place in the last two decades. He dispassionately analyzes American foreign policy as conducted by the last three presidents -- George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush -- and he gives the reader a sobering analysis of where these leaders' cumulative decisions have left the United States as it now searches for an exit strategy from Iraq, faces potentially explosive situations in Iran and North Korea and copes with an increasingly alienated Europe and an increasingly assertive China.

Mr. Brzezinski's verdict on the current president's record -- "catastrophic," he calls it -- is nothing short of devastating. [complete article]
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Poll: Less than half of Americans think U.S. can win in Iraq
CNN, March 13, 2007

Less than half of Americans think the United States can win the war in Iraq, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

Forty-six percent said the United States could not win the war in Iraq.

And although 46 percent also said the United States still could win, the results mark the first time since the war began four years ago that a majority of Americans said the United States is not capable of winning. [complete article]

Al-Maliki tells aides U.S. benchmark deadline is June 30 or his ouster possible
AP, March 13, 2007

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fears the Americans will withdraw support for his government — effectively ousting him — if parliament does not pass a draft oil law by the end of June, close associates of the Iraqi leader told The Associated Press on Tuesday. [complete article]

Senate votes to continue Iraq war debate
By William Branigin, Washington Post, March 14, 2007

The Senate voted decisively today to allow debate on a resolution against the war in Iraq to go forward, formally removing a parliamentary roadblock on a measure that sets a target date a little more than a year from now for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops from that country. [complete article]
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Whose oil is it, anyway?
By Antonia Juhasz, New York Times, March 13, 2007

Today more than three-quarters of the world's oil is owned and controlled by governments. It wasn't always this way.

Until about 35 years ago, the world's oil was largely in the hands of seven corporations based in the United States and Europe. Those seven have since merged into four: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP. They are among the world's largest and most powerful financial empires. But ever since they lost their exclusive control of the oil to the governments, the companies have been trying to get it back. [complete article]
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Success has many fathers
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, March 14, 2007

When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed the Saudi peace initiative, henceforth to be known as Initiative A, two days ago, he of course was referring to King Abdullah's peace plan from five years ago, which was upgraded at the 2002 Beirut summit to gain the status of an Arab League resolution. But there is another "Saudi initiative", henceforth to be known as Initiative B. It refers to the Saudi initiative to put an end to the civil war in the territories and to get both Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political head Khaled Meshal to sign onto the coalition agreement. This document, the Mecca agreement, does not obligate Hamas to recognize Israel and accept all agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A few hours later, Olmert announced emphatically to Abbas that Israel would not recognize the Fatah-Hamas unity government unless it accepted the Quartet's principles. In other words, Olmert spoke up in favor of Initiative A and completely rejected Initiative B.

Israel's various positions on the two initiatives cannot last beyond two weeks from now: once senior Hamas officials in the unity government attend the Arab League summit in Riyadh on March 28, Initiative B and its catalyst, the Mecca agreement, will become an integral part of Initiative A. From then on, anyone who welcomes the Saudi initiative or the Arab League Beirut-Riyadh resolution will be obliged to buy the entire package. [complete article]

Abbas, Haniyeh finalize PA unity government deal despite fresh clashes
Haaretz, March 14, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed Wednesday on the make-up of a unity government, officials said, even as renewed factional violence wounded nine people in the northern Gaza Strip, including two children.

"We have finished all the issues relating to the formation of the government tonight, including the issue of the minister of interior," Haniyeh said after meeting with Abbas in Gaza. "Today is an occasion to celebrate."

A Hamas official named the new interior minister as Hani Al-Qawasmi, an academic with no known political affiliation. [complete article]

Losing Jerusalem
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, March 14, 2007

Just as the State of Israel would not be able to exist if the right of the 1948 refugees to return were to be recognized, it can be said that a Palestinian state could not exist without East Jerusalem as its capital.

It is in this context that the protest to the Israeli work at the Mugrabi Gate - both by Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular - must be viewed. It is true that this work does not involve the Al-Aqsa compound itself, that the Israeli plans do not endanger anything sacred to Islam and that these demonstrations exploit the sensitivity surrounding religious issues to launch another attack on the Israeli government. This was the case in the Western Wall tunnel affair in 1996 and when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in September 2000, and this was the case in a long series of other incidents in which Israel disrupted the status quo in Jerusalem. [complete article]

Peace Now: 32% of land held for settlements is private Palestinian property
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz, March 14, 2007

A report issued Wednesday by Peace Now claims that 32 percent of land held for settlement and outpost use is private Palestinian property, as is 24 percent of the land on which the settlements are actually built.

The organization says the report is based on "official figures" from the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration.

Peace Now says that it had previously received data about West Bank land from the Civil Administration that did not reveal the ratio of privately owned Palestinian land to privately owned Jewish land.

The group says that the specific figures were withheld to cover up the fact that approximately one-third of land held by settlements was established on private Palestinian land. [complete article]
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When a thousand words turned out to be worth more than a picture
By Gert Van Langendonck, PDN Online, February 22 , 2007

[On August 15, 2006, the day after a ceasefire ended the combat betweeen Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Spencer Platt took this photograph of five young Beirutis driving in a convertible in the badly damaged southern suburbs of Beirut. Last month, the image was named the World Press Photo of the Year by an international jury of photographers and photo editors. It subsequently -- in the eyes of many -- became an icon of Lebanese class division. It now turns out the story is not what so many of us imagined.]

It was around 1 p.m. on August 15th, the second day of the ceasefire that ended the 33-day war between Israel and the armed Shia resistance group Hezbollah, and all of Lebanon was in upheaval. While tens of thousands of refugees from the South were clogging the roads on the way back to their homes, many others headed for the Dahiye, the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut. Some wanted to check if their houses had survived the massive bombing campaign by the Israeli air force; others were simply curious.

It was at that moment that a red car caught photographer Spencer Platt's eye. He shot four or five frames, he says, but this was the only one he sent to his agency.

"I liked it because it showed another, fabulous side to Beirut," Platt says from his home in New York City. "It is important to show the cliches, the refugees, because that was the reality of what was happening. But this is Beirut too. It is this dichotomy that makes Lebanon such a fascinating place. But I never thought it was the picture."

Jad Maroun, 22, and his sisters Bissan, 29, and Tamara, 26, were not feeling all that fabulous on that sunny day in August. Despite the fact that they are Christian, they all lived in the Dahiye, which was once a Christian neighborhood. At the start of the war they had fled the bombing and settled in the Plaza Hotel in Hamra, a Sunni part of Beirut. It was there that they had met Noor Nasser, 21, a Muslim, and Liliane Nacouzi, 22, a Christian, who were working as waitresses in a sandwich shop in the hotel. They too were refugees from Beirut's Southern suburbs.

It was also where they ran into Lana El Khalil, 25, the owner of the Mini Cooper in Platt's picture. El Khalil, who calls herself an atheist, had given up her apartment in Hamra to make room for Shia refugees from the South and moved back to her parents' house. But she was hardly ever at home. When the war began, she was part of a sit-in in downtown Beirut to call attention to the Palestinian cause. As soon as the bombing started, she threw herself into relief work. She joined an NGO called Samidoun that was set up specifically to help the displaced people from the South. During the first days of the war, El Khalil helped evacuate people who were trapped in the Dahiye. Later on she would ferry food and medical supplies to the neighborhood. The little convertible came in handy.

But on August 15, two days into the ceasefire, it had served its purpose. When Jad and the others asked if they could borrow the Mini Cooper to go check on their houses in the Dahiye, El Khalil was happy to oblige them. [complete article]
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Lebanon: Syrians admit bus bombing
Al Jazeera, March 13, 2007

Four Syrians have confessed to bombing two buses in Lebanon last month that killed three people, Lebanon's interior minister says.

Hassan al-Sabaa said on Tuesday that the men being held by the Lebanese authorities were members of Fatah al-Islam, a small Palestinian group which he linked to Syrian intelligence.

"It is no secret that Fatah al-Islam is Fatah al-Intifada, and Fatah al-Intifada is part of the Syrian intelligence-security apparatus," al-Sabaa told reporters. [complete article]
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The real goal of Israel's war on Lebanon
By Jonathan Cook, Counterpunch, March 13, 2007

Israel's supposedly "defensive" assault on Hizbullah last summer, in which more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed in a massive aerial bombardment that ended with Israel littering the country's south with cluster bombs, was cast in a definitively different light last week by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

His leaked testimony to the Winograd Committee -- investigating the government's failures during the month-long attack -- suggests that he had been preparing for such a war at least four months before the official casus belli: the capture by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers from a border post on 12 July 2006. Lebanon's devastation was apparently designed to teach both Hizbullah and the country's wider public a lesson.

Olmert's new account clarifies the confusing series of official justifications for the war from the time. [complete article]
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Yes, Barack, but how much do you hate the Palestinians?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, March 14, 2007

I have long been appalled by the craven genuflecting before the altar of vicious nationalism that appears to have become a required ritual for would-be Democratic Party presidential candidates courting what they see as the "Jewish vote." Not only are they required to outdo one another in the extent of support they pledge for Israel; given that the element they're addressing (right-wing Zionists who don't reflect even the Jewish-American mainstream) is steeped in the toxic racism common to ultra-nationalism of all stripes, what they're really required to do is outdo one another's pledges of hostility towards the Palestinians. [complete article]

Comment -- Is this really about courting the Jewish vote or simply about winning support from individuals whose backing is worth vastly more than their votes?
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Jimmy Carter and apartheid
By Joseph Lelyveld, New York Review of Books, March 29, 2007

Perhaps an intrepid researcher will one day go through the many Internet pages that make assertions pro and con on the question of whether Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories can properly be assessed as "apartheid." Then we may be in a position to tell whether the first polemicist to sling the term in the context of the West Bank was a foreigner, a Palestinian, or, just possibly, an Israeli. Suffice it to say, it wasn't Jimmy Carter, whose recent book, with its unpunctuated title Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, has been high on the best-seller lists for nearly three months despite—maybe, in part, because of—the wrath his use of the term has provoked among Israel's supporters. Not all of them have been as restrained as Abe Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, who complains of Carter's "bias" but avoids tossing the epithet "anti-Semite" at the president who, nearly three decades ago, brokered the Camp David accord, which did more to secure Israel's place and legitimacy in the region than all the diplomacy that preceded or followed it.

The branding of Israel as an "apartheid state" was one of the themes of resolutions presented at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, under United Nations auspices in 2001 (and one of the reasons Secretary of State Colin Powell cited for calling the American delegation home). Yet at about the same time, the term "apartheid" began to surface in discussions in what might broadly be called the Israeli peace camp as a plausible if somewhat contentious way of characterizing the occupation of the territories or the prospects of the Jewish settlements there; as a benchmark, a description of what the occupation already was or might become. [complete article]
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Search goes on for kidnapped BBC reporter in Gaza
AFP, March 14, 2007

Palestinian security services in Gaza were on Wednesday checking information that could lead to the whereabouts of a BBC correspondent who was abducted two days ago, officials said.

Alan Johnston, 44, was forced from his car by gunmen on Monday while driving home from his Gaza office, the latest in a spate of abductions foreigners in the lawless territory. [complete article]
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Taliban threatens to kill kidnapped Italian journalist
By Robert Mackey, New York Times, March 12, 2007

A senior Taliban commander told an Afghan news agency on Saturday that the Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo would be killed at the end of this week, unless Italy agreed to withdraw its 1,900 troops from the NATO force in Afghanistan before then. [complete article]
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Cheney to AIPAC activists: If you're here and want out of Iraq you have no brains
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, March 13, 2007

What a difference a year can make. And what a difference a subject matter can make.

Last year, when U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the AIPAC policy conference he was received as a hero, he was cheered and admired. This year, he got nothing more than a polite reception. Going through the motions, clapping hands once in a while, one standing ovation. No big laughs, no loud cheers, no enthusiasm for his message. [complete article]

Comment -- Cheney might seem impervious to criticism, but a lukewarm reception from AIPAC? That has to hurt! (Note: If you have problems with this link, try Firefox instead of IE.)
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Poll: 58 percent want Iraq withdrawal by 2008 or sooner
CNN, March 13, 2007

Nearly six in 10 Americans want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year, and more would rather have Congress running U.S. policy in the conflict than President Bush, according to a CNN poll out Tuesday.

Though support for Bush's decision to dispatch additional troops to Iraq grew to 37 percent -- up from 32 percent in a mid-January poll -- a slim majority of 52 percent say Congress should block funding for the new deployment. [complete article]
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Tables turn quickly in Baghdad raids
By Christian Berthelsen, March 13, 2007

The U.S.-led convoy had been idling for at least an hour, waiting for a bomb squad to detonate a sizable haul of explosives uncovered in raids on the Iskan neighborhood of south Baghdad, a dense warren of narrow streets teeming with Sunni insurgents and roadside bombs.

It had been a successful morning: The U.S. forces, working alongside Iraqi national police, had detained 10 men in raids on the homes of suspected insurgents and had uncovered a homemade rocket launcher, two rifles and a cache of mortar rounds.

Then there was an explosion, but not the one they were waiting for: The convoy was under attack.

Snipers had thrown a grenade, which was followed by the loud, rapid hammer of automatic weapons fire from a rooftop and from behind a fuel tank. American and Iraqi soldiers took and returned fire. No one was hit, and the snipers melted back into the neighborhood.

So went another typical day in the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown against an unseen enemy. [complete article]

See also, Petraeus: Iran training, arming militants (AP) and Al-Maliki in surprise Ramadi visit (Al Jazeera).

Shiites want the help of Sadr's militia
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2007

Hundreds of Shiite Muslims, beating their chests in mourning, accompanied 17 coffins through Baghdad's main Shiite district Monday, demanding that militiamen be allowed to protect them after a wave of attacks on pilgrims.

"Despite the heavy security presence in Baghdad, we are seeing the terror and bombings escalate and more innocents being killed," said a man who identified himself by a traditional nickname, Abu Fatima Sadi. "When the Al Mahdi army was providing protection, there were no violations." [complete article]

Shrine bombing as war's turning point debated
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, March 13, 2007

Feb. 22, 2006, is the day the Bush administration says everything in Iraq changed.

Before that day, military and administration officials frequently explain, Iraq was moving in the right direction: National elections had been held, and a government was forming. But then the bombing of the golden dome shrine in Samarra derailed that positive momentum and unleashed a wave of brutal sectarian violence.

Even now, more than a year later, the president and other administration officials cite Samarra as a turning point -- "a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal," President Bush called it in a March 6 news conference. "One of the key changes in Iraq last year," White House spokesman Tony Snow said in January.

Many Iraq specialists and defense analysts contend that this narrative of the mosque bombing is misleading, yet also revealing of how U.S. strategy in Iraq has evolved. Experts say the attack did not begin a civil war but rather confirmed the ongoing deterioration and violence in Iraq -- conditions the White House and the generals had resisted recognizing. In that sense, the bombing destroyed much more than the shrine: It also demolished the positive view of progress in Iraq, leading military and administration officials to a more pessimistic perspective, and eventually to a new U.S. strategy. [complete article]

Bush seeks Iraq war funds 'with no strings'
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, March 12, 2007

President Bush on Sunday called for Congress to provide financing for the Iraq war "with no strings attached." And he defended his decision, made formal this weekend, to send more than 8,000 more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan by saying they would be dedicated to training and support missions. [complete article]
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Saudis slam Israel over peace talk preconditions
Reuters, March 13, 2007

Saudi Arabia criticized Israel on Tuesday for setting preconditions to Middle East peace talks and urged it to accept an Arab initiative first proposed in 2002 and discuss details later.

"We only hear of conditions from Israel about everything, but no acceptance. You cannot have negotiations like that, you accept the proposals then you talk about this," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

"This seems a ludicrous way of doing business," he said at a news conference with visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. [complete article]

Israel's existence is not a question
Haaretz, March 13, 2007

All Israeli governments have missed - and continue to miss - opportunities to reconcile with neighboring states, have broadened settlement in the territories and have entrenched a destructive rule of occupation, oppressive and corrupting. Since 1967, under government auspices, a small and unruly group has assumed a belligerent monopoly on the Land of Israel and on Jewish identity. The liberal Zionism of Herzl was booted outside the fence and replaced by the messianic, separatist, anti-humanistic Judaism of muscle.

Through this dialogue the real reason for the establishment of the State of Israel, whose powerful expression echoes in the Declaration of Independence, was forgotten: the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people and its shaping into a member of equal rights and obligations in the family of modern nations. Instead, Israel has opted to make use of the Holocaust as the sole justification for its existence and has bequeathed generations of youth born in Israel a mix of blaming the entire world and hating the "gentiles." Israel is of course not to blame for everything. Its neighbors contributed more than once to the deepening of the conflict, and even now its leaders are dragging them toward an impasse. [complete article]

New poll shows 68.4% of Israeli Jews fear Israeli Arab uprising
By Fadi Eyadat, Haaretz, March 12, 2007

68.4 percent of Israeli Jews fear a civil uprising on behalf of Israeli Arabs and 63.3 percent say they won't enter Arab towns in Israel, according to the results of the 2006 index of Jewish-Arab relations released on Monday.

The poll also showed that 62 percent of the Arab population in Israel fears that the "triangle" area will be ceded to a future Palestinian state and 60 percent say they fear a mass expulsion from Israel. [complete article]

Israeli Arabs more radicalised: Shin Beth
AFP, March 13, 2007

Israel's Shin Beth internal security service has warned that Israeli Arabs are becoming more radicalised, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

"Israeli Arabs are identifying more and more with terrorist organisations in Iran," the Jewish state's archfoe, the Maariv quoted Shin Beth chief Yuval Diskin as telling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a closed briefing.

Diskin said the development could pose a "strategic danger" in the long term for Israel. [complete article]
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Counting Lebanon's Shiites as slaves: Why the Lebanon deal is obstructed
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, March 10, 2007

The isolation of Syria appears to be breaking as Damascus seeks deals with the Saudis and the Lebanese, writes Nicholas Blanford. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will travel to Syria soon, marking a resumption of high-level contacts between Damascus and the Europeans. The prospect of a thaw with Syria has caused howls of protest from Lebanon's obstructionists who continue to believe that America's plan for changing the Middle East is working. They call on the US to ratchet up military and economic pressure on Iran and Syria in the benighted belief that reform of the Greater Middle East is on the horizon. Michael Young insists in the Daily Star that Syria is on the verge of breaking. He believes Syria will change its policies and fall in line with the US. This is the identical line that Junblatt and Raghida Dergham have been trumpeting.

The biggest assets of the obstructionists is US Ambassador Feltman, who has been working assiduously to keep a deal from being struck in Lebanon. He refuses to allow the Syrians satisfaction on their demand that the establishment of the International tribunal be delayed until after a Lebanon deal is clinched. His fear is that if the Lebanese opposition gets a 19+11 cabinet sharing formula before the Lebanese government signs over permission for an international tribunal, it will never get established. To avoid such a prospect, the US is willing to sacrifice Lebanon's future and any prospects of economic growth for the country. Stagnation and paralysis will continue to be the order of the day in Lebanon. With a deal, all the participants gain. [complete article]

EU's Solana backs Saudi efforts on Lebanon
AFP, March 13, 2007

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Tuesday he backed Saudi efforts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, in a visit to Riyadh on a Middle East tour aimed at easing the stalemate.

"We support all the efforts that Saudi Arabia is making in this field as well," Solana told reporters after talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Solana, who arrived in Riyadh from Beirut late on Monday, added that he would consult again with the Saudi leadership after visiting Damascus on Wednesday and meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [complete article]

Lebanon blames bus bombings on Qaeda-linked group
AFP, March 13, 2007

Members of an Al-Qaeda-linked Palestinian splinter group have admitted carrying out last month's deadly Lebanon bus bombings, a government official told AFP Tuesday.

But the Fatah-Islam group swiftly denied any involvement and accused the Lebanese government of trying to pave the way for an offensive against the dozen or so camps in Lebanon, which house more than half of the country's nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees.

The official said six suspected members of the group were in custody, some of them nationals of once-dominant neighbour Syria. [complete article]
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Study: Thousands of veterans return with mental illness
CNN, March 13, 2007

Nearly a third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who received care from Veterans Affairs between 2001 and 2005 were diagnosed with mental health or psychosocial ills, a new study concludes.

The study was published in the March 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine and carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

They looked at data from 103,788 veterans; about 13 percent of them women, 54 percent under age 30, nearly a third minorities and nearly half veterans of the National Guard or Reserves.

Of the total, 32,010 (31 percent) were diagnosed with mental health and/or psychosocial problems, including 25,658 who received mental health diagnoses. More than half (56 percent) were diagnosed with two or more disorders. [complete article]

For U.S. troops at war, liquor is spur to crime
By Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, March 13, 2007

In May 2004, Specialist Justin J. Lillis got drunk on what he called "hajji juice," a clear Iraqi moonshine smuggled onto an Army base in Balad, Iraq, by civilian contractors, and began taking potshots with his M-16 service rifle.

"He shot up some contractor's rental car," said Phil Cave, a lawyer for Specialist Lillis, 24. "He hopped in a Humvee, drove around and shot up some more things. He shot into a housing area" and at soldiers guarding the base entrance.

Six months later, at an Army base near Baghdad, after a night of drinking an illegal stash of whiskey and gin, Specialist Chris Rolan of the Third Brigade, Third Infantry Division, pulled his 9mm service pistol on another soldier and shot him dead. [complete article]

Army's disability benefit review system feels strain
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 13, 2007

The thousands of soldiers wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have overwhelmed the Army's system for evaluating their eligibility for disability benefits, leading to a near-total failure to complete such reviews in a timely manner, the service's inspector general concluded in a report released yesterday.

The report also found that medical "hold" facilities lacked critical staff and formalized training for personnel caring for wounded soldiers, with more than half of unit commanders reporting "inadequate" staffing. It also cited inadequate and unreliable databases for tracking the wounded.

At some facilities, a lack of wheelchair access -- in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act -- meant that wounded soldiers had difficulty reaching restrooms. One facility had ramps, but it also had a gravel parking lot and no sidewalks, "making it nearly impossible for soldiers in wheelchairs and difficult for soldiers using crutches and canes to access the building" without help, the report said. [complete article]
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Defense Secretary Bob Gates to the rescue
By John Barry, Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, March 19, 2007

During the past several weeks, the administration has reversed course on two major foreign-policy fronts. After years of refusing to cut a deal with North Korea, the administration offered Pyongyang fuel and food in exchange for promises to slow down its nuclear program. And after insisting that the United States would not sit down with Iran until the mullahs gave up their push to build a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that American representatives would be attending a conference between Iraq and Iran to talk about security issues.

When Rice went public with these diplomatic initiatives, Vice President Dick Cheney was not even in the country. Cheney was in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the time, dodging terrorists who set off a bomb outside Baghram Air Force Base while the vice president was "inside the wire." Suffering from blood clots, and with his valued deputy I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby convicted of perjury, Cheney seems to be drifting into the shadows, no longer the man behind the throne.

Rumsfeld gone, Cheney marginalized. Has President Bush himself gone soft, become a touchy-feely multilateralist? The answer is no—at least not yet, and probably never. White House officials (speaking anonymously about sensitive national-security-policy questions) insisted to NEWSWEEK that Iran's mullahs have been shaken and made more pliable by the administration's show of force in the region—capturing Iranian operatives in Iraq, sending two aircraft carriers steaming toward the Persian Gulf. (Gates was all for this saber-rattling, say his aides, who wouldn't be named for the same reason.) Bush is not about to suddenly reverse himself and embrace the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission (of which Gates was a member) that call for a troop drawdown in Iraq and an all-encompassing international peace conference on the Middle East. What has changed so far in Bush's administration is more a matter of style than substance—though new ways of doing business can sometimes produce tangible differences in outcomes.

Looking at how the new Defense secretary operates—how his modus operandi differs sharply from the often high-handed ways of his predecessor—is one way to illustrate the new paradigm. From early in his tour of duty, Rumsfeld refused to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their Pentagon council room, known as the Tank. ("The Tank leaks," Rumsfeld complained.) All important meetings with the top brass were held in the secretary's office—on Rumsfeld's turf, as it were. Gates, by contrast, walks down a floor to the Tank at least once a week. "He meets with us routinely," says Adm. Mike Mullen, Navy chief of operations. "He's very open, very engaging." (Though laconic, Gates is approachable and can, at times, be dryly witty.)

Gates also has a different media strategy. Rumsfeld liked to make reporters squirm by scoffing at their sometimes querulous or ill-informed questions at crowded, televised press conferences. Gates prefers to invite reporters to sit around a table in his office, no cameras present. Gates offers no grand plans; Rumsfeld had sweeping and provocative theories for reforming the defense establishment. The day before 9/11, Rumsfeld called the Pentagon's bureaucracy an "adversary" that he likened to the Soviet Union—"one of the world's last bastions of central planning." Gates is not much interested in institutional revolutions; his focus is almost entirely on trying to salvage a war gone bad. "I have three priorities," he has said on several occasions. "Iraq, Iraq and Iraq." [complete article]
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Interview with Iran FM - Mottaki says direct talks key
By Marian Houk, Middle East Times, March 13, 2007

As efforts quicken to tighten sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear program, reports suggest that one of the UN Security Council's (UNSC) five permanent members, Russia, would not be supplying fuel on schedule for Iran's first nuclear reactor in Bushehr.

The Bushehr plant is not yet operational, but was supposed to be test-operated in September 2007, while the fuel needed by the plant was to have been transferred to Iran by the end of March, according to Iran Daily.

Asked about this development, Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, on a visit to Geneva, said crisply: "We hope this piece of news is not correct, and we hope that they [Russia] comply with their commitment to provide us with this fuel - this is something that they have committed to.

"The ... same piece of news, even if it's not correct, shows that there are hands around to put pressure on Russia not to provide the Bushehr power plant with the fuel - a fuel that is supposed to be returned to Russia for disposal," he added emphatically. [complete article]

Dispute halts delivery of atomic fuel to Iran
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, March 13, 2007

Russian officials said Monday that nuclear fuel will not be delivered to Iran this month as planned and that the September completion of a Russian-built nuclear power plant will be postponed because of an escalating dispute between the two countries.

Moscow and Tehran have been arguing for weeks over what Russia calls Iran's failure to make $25 million monthly payments on the $1 billion plant in the southern city of Bushehr. Iran insists that it has made all scheduled payments. [complete article]
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White House said to prompt firing of prosecutors
By David Johnston and Eric Lipton, New York Times, March 13, 2007

The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.

Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.

The president did not call for the removal of any specific United States attorneys, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman. She said she had "no indication" that the president had been personally aware that a process was already under way to identify prosecutors who would be fired. [complete article]

See also, Gonzales says 'mistakes were made' in firing of prosecutors (NYT) and Gonzales lied under oath, said all Bush-appointed attorneys would be 'Senate-confirmed' (Think Progress).
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In new tactic, militants burn houses in Iraq
By Damien Cave, New York Times, March 12, 2007

Sunni militants burned homes in a mixed city northeast of Baghdad on Saturday and Sunday, forcing dozens of families to flee and raising the specter of a new intimidation tactic in Iraq's evolving civil war, Iraqi officials and witnesses said.

Militants also continued their campaign against Shiite pilgrims on Sunday, striking as the pilgrims returned home from the southern city of Karbala after observances there for the Arbaeen holiday over the weekend. The worst attack, a car bombing, killed at least 19 people in Baghdad as they were riding home from the south in a pickup truck.

Attackers burned both Sunni and Shiite homes in a neighborhood of Muqdadiya, a city of about 200,000 in Diyala Province, about 60 miles from Baghdad. There were differing reports about how many houses were affected. A security official in Diyala said that at least 30 houses were completely burned, including occupied and abandoned buildings, while a Sunni Arab politician from the area said that only six houses were destroyed. Some witnesses said as many as 100 houses were set on fire. [complete article]
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The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, March 11, 2007

"This is not right," said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. "This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers," he said angrily. "If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight."

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records. [complete article]

For war's gravely injured, challenge to find care
By , March , 2007

When Staff Sgt. Jarod Behee was asked to select a paint color for the customized wheelchair that was going to be his future, his young wife seethed. The government, Marissa Behee believed, was giving up on her husband just five months after he took a sniper's bullet to the head during his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Ms. Behee, a sunny Californian who was just completing a degree in interior design, possessed a keen faith in her husband’s potential to be rehabilitated from a severe brain injury. She refused to accept what she perceived to be the more limited expectations of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

"The hospital continually told me that Jarod was not making adequate progress and that the next step was a nursing home," Ms. Behee said. "I just felt that it was unfair for them to throw in the towel on him. I said, 'We're out of here.'" [complete article]
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End of cowboy diplomacy, part II?
By Jim Lobe, IPS, March 12, 2007

It was just nine months ago when Newsweek spoke for the conventional wisdom at that moment when it pronounced "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy."

The phrase signaled the apparent victory – at last – of the State Department-led "realist" wing over hawks led by Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld in gaining control over the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.

One month later, however, war broke out between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel, and the hawks, particularly neoconservatives around Cheney and Rumsfeld, enjoyed a strong resurgence. [complete article]

New defense chief eases relations Rumsfeld bruised
By Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, March 12, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has set in motion a review of the Pentagon's dealings with the nation's spy agencies to improve cooperation and heal working relationships bruised by his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, just one way Mr. Gates has forcefully if quietly pushed back on Mr. Rumsfeld's initiatives.

On issues that include shifting priorities on spending, demanding accountability of senior leaders for improper care of wounded troops and encouraging a more consultative dialogue with the military brass and overseas allies, Mr. Gates has already adopted policies and a style in sharp contrast with Mr. Rumsfeld's.

Within days of his confirmation, Mr. Gates endorsed a permanent, 92,000-troop increase in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, reversing years of reluctance by Mr. Rumsfeld because of the cost. Mr. Rumsfeld's goal was to preserve billions of dollars for the next generation of weapons and communications networks. [complete article]
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Mystery of former Iranian minister deepens
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, March 11, 2007

A former senior Iranian official added on Sunday to the mystery over Ali-Reza Asgari, the former deputy defence minister who disappeared in Turkey last month, by saying his family was still in Tehran.

This contradicted intelligence leaks to western and Israeli media outlets that Mr Asgari had defected, taking his family and a raft of Iran's security secrets with him.

But the former official, a friend of Mr Asgari, told the FT there was no consensus in Tehran's political circles over what had happened to Mr Asgari, after Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said last week he had probably been "abducted by western intelligence services".

"There are the same two theories inside as outside Iran – either that he has been kidnapped, or that he has somehow gone over to the Americans," the former official said.

"But we have to wonder why, if he is such a good intelligence catch for the US or Israel, they made sure it is reported all over the western and Arab press?" [complete article]
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Terrorists proving harder to profile
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, March 12, 2007

On the surface, the young Dutch Moroccan mother looked like an immigrant success story: She studied business in college, hung out at the pub with her friends and was known for her fashionable taste in clothes.

So residents of this 900-year-old river town were thrown for a loop last year when Bouchra El-Hor, now 24, appeared in a British courtroom wearing handcuffs under an all-encompassing black veil. Prosecutors said she had covered up plans for a terrorist attack and wrote a letter offering to sacrifice herself and her infant son as martyrs.

"We were flabbergasted to learn that she had become a fanatic," said Renee Haantjes, a college instructor who recalled her as "a normal Dutch girl."

People in Zutphen may have been surprised, but terrorism suspects from atypical backgrounds are becoming increasingly common in Western Europe. With new plots surfacing every month, police across Europe are arresting significant numbers of women, teenagers, white-skinned suspects and people baptized as Christians -- groups that in the past were considered among the least likely to embrace Islamic radicalism.

The demographics of those being arrested are so diverse that many European counterterrorism officials and analysts say they have given up trying to predict what sorts of people are most likely to become terrorists. Age, sex, ethnicity, education and economic status have become more and more irrelevant.

"It's very difficult to make a profile of terrorists," Tjibbe Joustra, the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism, said in an interview. "To have a profile that you can recognize, so that you can predict, 'This guy is going to be radical, perhaps he will cross the line into terrorism' -- that, I think, is impossible." [complete article]
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A false choice for Pakistan
By Benazir Bhutto, Washington Post, March 12, 2007

The West has been shortsighted in dealing with Pakistan. When the United States aligns with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, it compromises the basic democratic principles of its foundation -- namely, life, liberty and justice for all. Dictatorships such as Musharraf's suppress individual rights and freedoms and empower the most extreme elements of society. Oppressed citizens, unable to represent themselves through other means, often turn to extremism and religious fundamentalism.

Restoring democracy through free, fair, transparent and internationally supervised elections is the only way to return Pakistan to civilization and marginalize the extremists. A democratic Pakistan, free from the yoke of military dictatorship, would cease to be a breeding ground for international terrorism. [complete article]
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Years of strife and lost hope scar young Palestinians
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 12, 2007

Their worried parents call them the lost generation of Palestine: its most radical, most accepting of violence and most despairing.

They are the children of the second intifada, which began in 2000, growing up in a territory riven by infighting, seared by violence, occupied by Israel, largely cut off from the world and segmented by barriers and checkpoints.

To hear these young people talk is to listen in on budding nihilism and a loss of hope.

"Ever since we were little, we see guns and tanks, and little kids wanting little guns to fight against Israel," said Raed Debie, 24, a student at An Najah University here.

Issa Khalil, 25, broke in, agitated. "We never see anything good in our lives," he said. He was arrested for throwing stones in the first intifada, the civil disobedience that began in the late 1980s and led to the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel. He was arrested again in the second uprising as the agreement faltered.

"And for what?" he asked. "I wasted 14 years of my life. We all did. For five years I haven't left Nablus. Here there's unemployment and no peace; it retreats, we go backward." [complete article]
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Time for a bi-national state
By Leila Farsakh, Le Monde Diplomatique, March, 2007

There is talk once again of a one-state bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Oslo peace process failed to bring Palestinians their independence and the withdrawal from Gaza has not created a basis for a democratic Palestinian state as President George Bush had imagined: the Palestinians are watching their territory being fragmented into South African-style bantustans with poverty levels of over 75%. The area is heading to the abyss of an apartheid state system rather than to a viable two-state solution, let alone peace.

There have been a number of recent publications proposing a one-state solution as the only alternative to the current impasse. Three years ago Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem's deputy mayor in the 1970s, wrote that the question is "no longer whether there is to be a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel, but which model to choose". Respected intellectuals on all sides, including the late Edward Said; the Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, Azmi Bishara; the Israeli historian Illan Pape; scholars Tanya Reinhart and Virginia Tilley; and journalists Amira Haas and Ali Abunimeh, have all stressed the inevitability of such a solution. [complete article]

Netanyahu and Meshal forever
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 12, 2007

A great surprise: The overwhelming majority of Israelis support a one-state solution. After years in which the binational solution was anathema, it has suddenly become apparent that this is the preferred solution. You don't believe it? Look at the opinion polls. Benjamin Netanyahu is again leading them. You don't believe Netanyahu advocates this solution? Listen to his words. Once again, Netanyahu "does not find" a Palestinian partner. The conclusion: Wait and do nothing.

Netanyahu is not alone. Judging by their inaction, the prime minister and the foreign minister are also unable to find a partner; it is furthermore doubtful whether the Labor Party will find one. There are heaps and heaps of preconditions - one time it is the democratization of the Palestinians and another time it is their recognition of Israel; one time it is a halt to terror and another time it is a revision of their covenant; one time it is "no" to Arafat, then "no" to Mahmoud Abbas (the "fledgling") and now it is "no" to the unity government. [complete article]

Hamas rejects al-Zawahiri's claims
Al Jazeera, March 11, 2007

Hamas has rejected accusations by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's deputy leader, of "surrender" for agreeing to form a Palestinian national unity government.

Al-Zawahiri said Hamas had "fallen into the swamp of surrender" by accepting a Saudi-brokered deal with the US-backed Fatah in Mecca, in an audio recording broadcast by Al Jazeera on Sunday. [complete article]

On the road from Mecca to Riyadh
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, March 12, 2007

The news that Ehud Olmert expects Mahmoud Abbas not to include his "associates" in the new government suggests that the prime minister recognizes that the Palestinian unity government is a done deal. He has apparently read the intelligence assessments, according to which the concessions Hamas was driven to make in Mecca have led Arab states to recognize it as a legitimate ruling authority and thus undermined the stance of the Quartet. [complete article]

Palestine's argument: Mecca and beyond
By Khaled Hroub, Open Democracy, March 6, 2007

In the month since the agreement in Mecca, after the summit of 6-8 February 2007 which broke the bloody deadlock between Fatah and Hamas, the implications for Palestine and the region have become increasingly apparent. The "Mecca agreement" may have registered in the international media mainly for its role in the formation of a Palestinian national-unity government after many torments and trials; but the significance of the pact is to be found as much among the regional balance of power around Palestine as among the Palestinian people themselves. [complete article]
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Don't wait for peace to normalize ties, Israeli FM tells Arab states
AFP, March 12, 2007

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged Arab nations on Monday to normalize ties with Israel now, saying this could hasten the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Do not wait for peace to come before you normalize relations with us. Normalize relations now and peace will come," she said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. [complete article]

Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet, producing scant results but a pledge to talk again
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 12, 2007

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel held their second meeting in a month on Sunday night, but aides said afterward that there was little concrete progress to report.

Still, both sides made it clear that more meetings would follow, even if, as expected, Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement joins the Islamist Hamas in a still unfinished Palestinian unity government. [complete article]

Olmert to caution Abbas on cabinet appointments
By Aluf Benn and Yoav Stern, Haretz, March 11, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will try to persuade Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas not to appoint ministers to the unity government who have ties with Israel. The two are scheduled to meet today.

Olmert is expected to tell Abbas that Israel will not talk with the Palestinian unity government until it accepts the principles of the Quartet: recognizing Israel, abandoning terror and recognizing previous agreements. "If Abbas wants figures like Salam Fayad and Mohammed Dahlan to continue their contacts with us, he should not make them ministers in the unity government," a government source in Jerusalem said. [complete article]
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Carter stands firm on apartheid accusations against Israel
AP, March 12, 2007

Despite the storm it ignited, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter held fast on Thursday to his accusation that Israel oppresses the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza and seeks to colonize their land.

Speaking at The George Washington University to a polite but mostly critical student audience, Carter offered no second thoughts on his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that prompted 14 members of the Carter Center's advisory board to resign and drew fire from Jewish groups and some fellow Democrats.

He said he was not accusing Israel of racism nor referring to its treatment of Arabs within the country. "I defined apartheid very carefully as the forced segregation by one people of another on their own land," he said. [complete article]

UN committee: Israel should let Palestinians return to their land
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, March 11, 2007

A United Nations committee has called on Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their property and land in Israel and to ensure that the bodies responsible for distributing property, such as the Jewish National Fund, not discriminate against the Arab population.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination made the recommendation in its concluding observations released Friday, in response to a report Israel submitted on the matter. Representatives of a number of human rights groups appeared before the committee, including Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which presented objections to the official Israeli position.

The report recommends that Israel scrutinize its policy in a number of areas. Among them, it recommends that "the state party ensure that the definition of Israel as a Jewish nation state does not result in any systematic distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin." The committee also said it "would welcome receiving more information on how [Israel] envisions the development of the national identity of all its citizens." [complete article]

UN: Israel must stop discrimination against Arabs, Palestinians
Reuters, March 9, 2007

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said Israel's security measures to ward off suicide bombings and other attacks must be re-calibrated to avoid discrimination against Arab Israelis or Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied lands such as the West Bank.

The committee specified that Israel should ease roadblocks and other restrictions on Palestinians and put a stop to settler violence and hate speech.

Its 18 independent experts, who examined the records of 13 countries at a four-week meeting in Geneva, also said Israel should cease building a barrier in and around the West Bank and ensure its various checkpoints and road closures do not reinforce segregation. [complete article]
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'Smart' rebels outstrip U.S.
By Paul Beaver, The Observer, March 11, 2007

The US army is lagging behind Iraq's insurgents tactically in a war that senior officers say is the biggest challenge since Korea 50 years ago.

The gloomy assessment at a conference in America last week came as senior US and Iraqi officials sat down yesterday with officials from Iran, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad to persuade Iraq's neighbours to help seal its borders against fighters, arms and money flowing in. During the conference the US, Iranian and Syrian delegations were reported to have had a 'lively exchange'.

In a bleak analysis, senior officers described the fighters they were facing in Iraq and Afghanistan 'as smart, agile and cunning'.

In Vietnam, the US was eventually defeated by a well-armed, closely directed and highly militarised society that had tanks, armoured vehicles and sources of both military production and outside procurement. What is more devastating now is that the world's only superpower is in danger of being driven back by a few tens of thousands of lightly armed irregulars, who have developed tactics capable of destroying multimillion-dollar vehicles and aircraft.

By contrast, the US military is said to have been slow to respond to the challenges of fighting an insurgency. The senior officers described the insurgents as being able to adapt rapidly to exploit American rules of engagement and turn them against US forces, and quickly disseminate ways of destroying or disabling armoured vehicles. [complete article]

See also, Bush seeks 8,200 more troops for wars (AP).

Comment -- Many people around the world must be drawing a grim sense of satisfaction at the prospect of the United States facing humiliation in Iraq. The hope that a natural form of justice eventually finds expression in human affairs, gives rise to the expectation that arrogance will always lead to a fall. Yet there are many ways to fall and a learned lesson in humility is always preferable to the searing wound of humiliation.

What we have witnessed over the past six years has in many respects been driven by America's visceral need to restore its pride after the humiliation of 9/11. The key to a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is that it can be finessed in such a way that America avoids yet another crushing humiliation. Otherwise, the cycle is destined to repeat itself.
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Episode at Guantanamo leaves family at a loss
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Washington Post, March 11, 2007

Mishal al-Harbi's brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes on the evening of Jan. 16, 2003, while he was in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As a result, he cannot stand, his speech is slurred, and he has a twitch that periodically causes his head to shake and his legs to jerk.

U.S. authorities say Mishal's brain was damaged when he tried to hang himself at Guantanamo. But his brother Fahd says a beating by prison guards cut off the flow of oxygen, leaving Mishal unable to walk or talk properly. Fahd said his brother needs intensive physical therapy and costly medicine to control his seizures and hallucinations -- side effects of the injury -- and he wants the U.S. government to help pay for them.

Mishal's family says it is seeking not only financial compensation but also concrete answers from the U.S. government -- either an admission that Mishal was injured by guards or proof that he tried to kill himself. But given the intense secrecy surrounding the detainees at Guantanamo, finding out exactly what occurred that day in 2003 appears almost impossible. [complete article]
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"Psychology of evil" professor delivers final Stanford lecture
By Rachel Konrad, AP, March 7, 2007

The retiring psychology professor who ran the famed Stanford Prison Experiment savagely criticized the Bush administration's War on Terror Wednesday and said senior government officials should be tried for crimes against humanity.

In his final lecture at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo said abuses committed by Army reservists at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison weren't isolated incidents by rogue soldiers. Rather, sadism was the inevitable result of U.S. government policies that condone brutality toward enemies, he said.

Individual military personnel — those who stripped prisoners and leashed them like dogs — are only as culpable as the people who created the overall environment in which the soldiers operated, Zimbardo told undergraduates enrolled in Introductory Psychology.

"Good American soldiers were corrupted by the bad barrel in which they too were imprisoned," said Zimbardo, 73. "Those barrels were designed, crafted, maintained and mismanaged by the bad barrel makers, from the top down in the military and civilian Bush administration."

The professor blasted President Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials who said that al-Qaida and Taliban captives would be considered "unlawful combatants" rather than "prisoners of war," a designation that would invoke the Geneva Convention.

He said those officials "should be tried for the crimes against humanity." [complete article]
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The failed attorney general
Editorial, New York Times, March 11, 2007

During the hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said he understood the difference between the job he held -- President Bush's in-house lawyer -- and the job he wanted, which was to represent all Americans as their chief law enforcement officer and a key defender of the Constitution. Two years later, it is obvious Mr. Gonzales does not have a clue about the difference.

He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush's rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them. [complete article]
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The private war of women soldiers
By Helen Benedict, Salon, March 7, 2007

As thousands of burned-out soldiers prepare to return to Iraq to fill President Bush's unwelcome call for at least 20,000 more troops, I can't help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. And I don't mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear.

I mean from their own comrades -- the men.

I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the Iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.

The female soldiers who were at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, for example, where U.S. troops go to demobilize, told me they were warned not to go out at night alone.

"They call Camp Arifjan 'generator city' because it's so loud with generators that even if a woman screams she can't be heard," said Abbie Pickett, 24, a specialist with the 229th Combat Support Engineering Company who spent 15 months in Iraq from 2004-05. Yet, she points out, this is a base, where soldiers are supposed to be safe. [complete article]
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Agencies tangle on efforts to help Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, March 11, 2007

As violence in Iraq crescendoed last year, President Bush summoned his secretaries of agriculture, commerce and energy to Camp David in June to meet with his national security team. During a two-hour afternoon discussion in the main lodge, the president urged the three secretaries to become more involved in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

When Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez got back to his office, he asked his staff members to develop a list of Iraq-related projects for the agency. They did, and two months later, they shared it with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, expecting that diplomats on the ground would welcome a little help from Washington.

Instead, the document, "Secretary Gutierrez's Five Priority Areas for Economic Reform in Iraq," set off a bureaucratic grenade in Baghdad's Green Zone. The second item on the list called for the United States to pressure Iraq's government to cease providing people with monthly food rations, which more than half of Iraq's population relies on for sustenance.

Embassy officials were incensed. Although the embassy's economists favored changes to the ration system, they believed that dismantling it as Commerce was proposing could spark riots that might topple the Iraqi government.

"Commerce was stunningly naive," said a senior State Department official involved in Iraq policy. "They were way out of their lane." [complete article]
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In shift, U.S., Iran meet on Iraq
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, March 11, 2007

After months of trading accusations, U.S. and Iranian officials sat in the same room Saturday at a much-anticipated regional conference on finding ways to end Iraq's sectarian violence and prevent a wider conflict.

Officials described the meeting as a constructive step, but it yielded few concrete answers to Iraq's deep-rooted problems and did little to bridge the ideological divide between the United States and Iran.

While the meeting was underway at the Foreign Ministry building, two mortars landed nearby with a sharp cracking sound. The blasts rattled windows and sent plumes of smoke into the air. No one was injured, but the attack served as a reminder of the country's tenuous security landscape.

Inside the building, the United States and Iran -- Iraq's two most powerful allies -- found plenty to disagree on, even though they expressed a common interest in stabilizing Iraq. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraq's neighbors favored holding a second regional meeting next month in Istanbul. Abbas Araghchi, the head of the Iranian delegation, said it should be in Baghdad.

The Iranians accused the Americans of "kidnapping" six Iranian diplomats in Iraq. Khalilzad replied that coalition forces were not holding any diplomats.

Khalilzad said he had spoken to the Iranians "directly and in the presence of others." But Araghchi said: "We didn't have any direct contact. If the Americans are interested, there is a proper channel for that."

Khalilzad described the talks as "constructive, businesslike" and "problem-solving."

But by evening, the verbal volleys had resumed. [complete article]

War with Iran is not a done deal
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, March 9, 2007

So, is the U.S. going to attack Iran? I've been in South Africa for much of the past month, and the question kept recurring among observers of the international scene. Nobody knows the answer, of course, for the simple reason that it's unlikely that a decision has been taken. To be sure, as Michael Klare points out, President Bush's rhetoric suggests that he's already decided to bomb Iran. And the Administration, served as ever by a willfully naive media corps stoking misconceptions, is certainly preparing the public for a confrontation. And there's no question that the folks who brought you the Iraq war would very much like to see a second front opened in Iran. At the same time, however, there are a number of powerful countervailing forces in play that will restrain President Bush's more hawkish instincts -- it's clear, already, that the bomb-Iran crowd faces considerable hostility in the U.S. Congress, among the key U.S. Sunni-Arab allies in the region (on whose behalf Washington claims to be challenging Iran) and, very importantly, among the uniformed leadership of the U.S. military. And the leadership in Iran, aware of the danger, appears to be moving to calm tensions on a wide array of fronts (moves that allow the pragmatists in Washington to craft a narrative -- for domestic consumption -- arguing that pressure on Iran has strengthened the U.S. hand to negotiate with Iran, and that negotiations can now proceed). [complete article]

Activists set to push new sanctions against Iran
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, March 9, 2007

On the eve of its major policy conference, the pro-Israel lobby is backing new congressional legislation that would toughen sanctions against Iran and target foreign entities doing business with the Islamic Republic.

Increasing economic pressure on Iran will be one of the main lobbying objectives for the 5,500 activists attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. In their meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Aipac members will push the new legislation, which is expected to be formally rolled out later this week and is being introduced by Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill seeks to close loopholes in previous measures that failed to deal with third countries or foreign companies conducting business with Iran.

A separate piece of legislation, introduced Tuesday by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, calls for mandatory divestment from Iran. The bill prohibits American pension plans and mutual funds from investing in Iran and requires full disclosure of such investments currently under way. [complete article]

Defector spied on Iran for years
By Uzi Mahnaimi, The Sunday Times, March 11, 2007

An Iranian general who defected to the West last month had been spying on Iran since 2003 when he was recruited on an overseas business trip, according to Iranian sources.

This weekend Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, 63, the former deputy defence minister, is understood to be undergoing debriefing at a Nato base in Germany after he escaped from Iran, followed by his family.

A daring getaway via Damascus was organised by western intelligence agencies after it became clear that his cover was about to be blown. Iran's notorious secret service, the Vavak, is believed to have suspected that he was a high-level mole. [complete article]
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One bullet away from what?
By Mark Mazetti, New York Times, March 11, 2007

Inside Washington, the frustration of doing business with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is matched only by the fear of living life without him.

For years, the notion that Mr. Musharraf is all that stands between Washington and a group of nuclear-armed mullahs has dictated just how far the White House feels it can push him to root out Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who enjoy a relatively safe existence in Pakistan.

The specter of Islamic radicals overthrowing Mr. Musharraf has also limited the Bush administration's policy options, taking off the table any ideas about American military strikes against a resurgent Al Qaeda, which has camps in Pakistani tribal areas.

But just how fragile is Mr. Musharraf's hold on power? And might the United States have more leverage than it believes? [complete article]
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Barack Obama steps up bid for Jewish backing
By Jennifer Siegel, The Forward, March 9, 2007

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama stepped up his outreach to potential Jewish backers this week, with an address to pro-Israel supporters in Chicago and the announcement of a fundraising push in South Florida.

Speaking at a policy forum held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago on March 2, the Illinois senator delivered his first presidential campaign speech on Israel. In the warmly received talk, Obama echoed the concerns of Jewish organizations over Iran's nuclear program and the Palestinian unity deal.

"We should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among Palestinians in Mecca last month," Obama told Jewish constituents in the Windy City. "The reports of this agreement suggest that Hamas, Fatah and independent ministers would sit in a government together, under a Hamas prime minister, without any recognition of Israel, without a renunciation of violence, and with only an ambiguous promise to 'respect' previous agreements.... We must tell the Palestinians this is not good enough." [complete article]

A Barack-star no more
By Ian Williams, The Guardian, March 6, 2007

Last week Barack Obama performed an inadvertent public service by taking two of my favorite hobbyhorses for a ride round the electoral ring. One was the corrupting power of money in presidential primaries, and the second was demonstrating that the Israel lobby was every bit as powerful as it has traditionally claimed on its website, even as it denounces anyone else who says so.

Hitherto Barack Obama has been a superficially attractive Presidential candidate, compared with the rest of the pack. The inane accusation that he was educated in a Wahabi madrasa led to a reflexive sympathy, as did his unequivocal opposition to the war in Iraq.

But as Ali Abunima, demonstrated yesterday, he has fallen at the first hurdle.

Just like Hillary Clinton, who was stalked for years by conservative pro-Israeli groups for expressing some mild sympathy but is now probably on the hawkish end of Israeli politics, Obama has been to burn incense on the altar of AIPAC.

"No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States," he declared. Not Shamir, not Sharon, no matter who is invaded - the aid cheques and cluster bombs must get through? Sorry, Barack, this gives pandering a bad name. [complete article]
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Israel revisited
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 11, 2007

With the 1987 publication of "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949," Morris found himself on a path that led to academic acclaim, an Israeli jail cell for refusing army call-up orders to perform reserve duty and, in recent years, despair over the violence and futile peace efforts. Along the way, his critical perspective seems to have reversed course, the same slow spin that has hardened many Israelis against the Palestinians and now complicates the Bush administration's current bid to revive a peace process between them.

As he embarks on a new book project to explore whether two states for two peoples is still a viable option for resolving the long conflict, Morris has come to believe peace with the Palestinians and the larger Arab world may not be possible, especially as radical Islamic movements that deny Israel's right to exist gain ground in the region.

He holds out hope that a stable Palestinian state might one day emerge and ease hostilities. But he says he can just as easily imagine a day when Israel will have to drive more Arabs from the occupied territories or face expulsion itself.

"We are an outpost of the West, as they see it and as we also see ourselves, in a largely Islamic, backward and in some ways even barbaric area," Morris says in his trademark strafing-fire delivery. "The Muslims are busy killing people, and killing people for reasons that in the West are regarded as idiotic. There is a problem here with Islam."

Or, some say, there is a problem with Benny Morris. [complete article]
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German Jews feud over criticizing Israel
By Ben Weinthal, The Forward, March 9, 2007

A declaration criticizing Israeli territorial policies is roiling the German Jewish community and raising questions about the limits of open debate on matters in relation to the Middle East.

At issue is a declaration published in January in one of the country's most widely read Jewish newspapers, Die Judische Zeitung (The Jewish Newspaper). The statement, titled "Berlin Declaration Shalom 5767" -- a reference to the current year in the Jewish calendar — and organized by a member of the presiding committee of the Central Council of German Jews, Rolf Verleger, called on Germany's government to do more to press Israel to make concessions, and asserted that the "root of the problem is the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967."

A related advertisement was placed in two of Germany's large and influential dailies, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In addition, Die Jüdische Zeitung published an opinion essay by Kurt Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor and honorary chairman of the International Auschwitz Committee, rebutting criticisms of the declaration. "It was said that a Declaration like 'Shalom 5767' is grist to the mill of antisemites in the entire world," he wrote. "However, the reality is that there is nothing more that helps the antisemites [than] what Israel did in the War in Lebanon." [complete article]
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The sound of silence: Olmert's strategy
By Gershom Gorenberg, The Forward, March 9, 2007

Ehud Olmert won't talk. Reduced to its essence, that was State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's angry complaint to a Knesset panel Tuesday. The ex-judge was speaking at a hearing devoted to his investigation of how the government handled, or mishandled, the home front during last summer's war in Lebanon. One reason that the confrontation between Olmert and the comptroller could seize Israel's attention so completely early this week is that not talking has become the prime minister's key tactic in foreign affairs as well. With diplomacy at a standstill, there is little to divert the public from the latest inquiry into corruption or the war. [complete article]
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Defense for Aipac duo says groups refuse to testify
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, March 9, 2007

Several Jewish organizations are refusing to cooperate with the defense in the case against two men accused of passing classified information while working for the main pro-Israel lobby.

According to sources close to the defense team, three major Jewish organizations are telling their employees not to testify on behalf of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The defense sources expressed disappointment over the alleged refusal to cooperate, describing it as yet another example of the organized Jewish community turning its back on Rosen, Aipac's former policy director, and Weissman, its top Iran specialist.

The Forward has learned that the appeal to the Jewish groups relates to a dinner meeting that took place three years ago. During the meeting, which was arranged by Rosen, he and officials at the three other Jewish organizations were briefed by a senior administration official on issues relating to the Middle East.

Sources said that testimony from the other officials who attended the dinner meeting would help make the case that the passing of information -- even classified information -- from government officials to Jewish organizations, as well as to other interest groups, was common practice in Washington. Such testimony, the defense team hopes, would convince a jury that Rosen and Weissman had no way of knowing they were engaged in any kind of illegal activity. [complete article]
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Book ban turns intra-Palestinian fight cultural
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 2007

For more than 30 years, anthropologist Sharif Kanaana has been collecting and studying Palestinian folk tales so that people at home and abroad would understand the story of his people.

This week, the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority (PA) added a new chapter: a directive to pull Professor Kanaana's book from school libraries and destroy it.

"I don't want to generalize about all of Hamas – I rather hope it's a unique case, a mistake by an individual," says Kanaana, a scholarly, bespectacled academic who was just heading into semiretirement when he inadvertently became the poster child of the Palestinian divide between liberals and ultra-conservatives. "Unfortunately, it confirmed some of the worst expectations people had for this government." [complete article]

See also, Outcry forces Hamas to rescind book ban (AP).
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

How the Saudis stole a march on the U.S.
By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, March 5, 2007

Iran and Saudi Arabia have a history of pragmatic alliance
By Dilip Hiro, The Guardian, March 6, 2007

Would air strikes work?
Understanding Iran's nuclear programme and the possible consequences of a military strike
[27-page PDF]

By Dr. Frank Barnaby, with a foreword by Dr. Hans Blix, Oxford Research Group, March , 2007

11 ways to report on Gitmo without upsetting the Pentagon
By Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch, March 8, 2007

Confessions of a torturer
By John Conroy, Chicago Reader, March 2, 2007

History today is not so much written by the victors as by the vanquished
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 6, 2007

What we know about waste and war in Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 6, 2007

Sects slice up Iraq as U.S. troops 'surge' misfires
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, March 4, 2007

Hamas shows its pragmatism
By Dina Ezzat, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 1, 2007

From rebel movement to political party: the case of the Islamic Resistance Movement
By Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum, March 4, 2007
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