Amnesty: Israel/Gaza — U.N. must impose arms embargo and mandate an international investigation as civilian death toll rises

Amnesty International is calling for a UN-mandated international investigation into violations committed on all sides amidst ongoing Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip and continuing volleys of indiscriminate rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups into Israel.

Since Israel launched Operation “Protective Edge” in the early morning of 8 July, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians who were not directly participating in hostilities. This includes at least 24 children and 16 women as of Friday morning. More than 600 people have been wounded, many of them seriously. More than 340 homes in Gaza have been completely destroyed or left uninhabitable and at least five health facilities and three ambulances have been damaged. In Israel, at least 20 people have been wounded by rocket attacks and property has been damaged.

“As the violence intensifies there is an urgent need for the UN to mandate an international independent fact-finding mission to Gaza and Israel to investigate violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. This is the first crucial step towards ensuring that those who have committed war crimes or other serious violations can be held accountable,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. [Continue reading...]

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‘We stay together, or we leave this world together’

Samer Badawi writes: From the rehabilitation hospital he heads, Dr. Basman Alashi can see where Gaza ends and Israel begins. If he needed a reminder of just how close the border is, it came early Friday morning, when Israel fired two “warning” rockets at the El Wafa Hospital, stoking fears that its 14 remaining patients – all elderly and all dependent on round-the-clock professional care to survive – would become the next victims of a bombing campaign that has so-far killed more than 120 people.

I spoke with Dr. Alashi moments ago, and he told me about one patient whose situation sums up the sense of dread – and determination – at the hospital.

“Her name is Hiba Kalli, and she is 85 years old. Every time a bomb explodes, she’s transported back to memories of the many wars she’s survived. You can see the panic in her face. When I hold her hand, she won’t let go, murmuring ‘please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.’ I am not going to leave my patients. We either stay together, or we leave this world together.”

Hoping to dissuade Israel from attacking the facility, international solidarity activists “have planned a shift system to maintain a presence at the hospital,” according to one of the activists, American Joe Catron. [Continue reading...]

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On Gaza, the Security Council finally speaks, calls for cease-fire

The Jerusalem Post reports: The UN Security Council on Saturday called for a cease-fire in Gaza, and expressed their “serious concern” for the crisis in Gaza, particularly as pertains to the situation of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

In a short four-sentence statement, the Council called for a reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire put in place after Operation Pillar of Defense, and said they would support a resumption of peace negotiations toward a two-state solution. The statement also called for “immediate calm and ending the hostilities in Gaza including the launching of rocket attacks,” and for an “immediate, durable, and fully respected cease-fire.”

There was no word on the state of any Security Council draft resolution on the situation. The release of the statement was delayed by the Jordanians, who said on Friday that they wished to look over some “elements” with the American delegation.

After the Security Council president Eugène-Richard Gasana of Rwanda read the statement on Friday, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour, alongside Saudi representative Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, spoke to the press and said that Israel had killed more than 130 civilians, injured more than 900 in the last week. “Israel must stop this aggression immediately,” he said. Mansour said he was privy to a slew of emergency meetings on Friday, in which much frustration was expressed over the “international community dragging its feet.”

“The immediate objective is to have a cease fire,” Mansour said, and then threatened: “If the Israreli side is not going to listen from this position from the UNSC, then there is the possibility of a draft resolution. All options are on the table.”

Israel’s UN envoy Ron Prosor on Thursday told reporters that Israel would not support a cease-fire, as Operation Protective Edge was intended to fully dismantle Hamas’s bases in Gaza. [Continue reading...]

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Arab foreign ministers slowly convene for ‘urgent’ meeting on Gaza

AFP reports: Arab foreign ministers are to meet in Cairo on Monday to discuss the escalating conflict between Hamas militants in Gaza and Israel which has already killed more than 120 Palestinians, a diplomat said.

Kuwait, which holds the rotating leadership of the Arab League headquartered in the Egyptian capital, had demanded the “urgent” meeting, the diplomat told AFP on Saturday.

There has been no coordinated Arab response to the conflict which erupted on Tuesday when Israel launched waves of air strikes against Gaza aimed at halting rocket fire across the border.

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Kurdish independence: Harder than it looks

Joost Hiltermann writes: The jihadist blitz through northwestern Iraq has ended the fragile peace that was established after the 2007-2008 US surge. It has cast grave doubt on the basic capacity of the Iraqi army—reconstituted, trained and equipped at great expense by Washington—to control the country, and it could bring down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose eight-year reign has been marred by mismanagement and sectarian polarization. But for Iraqi Kurds, the offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other groups has offered a dramatic opportunity: a chance to expand their own influence beyond Iraqi Kurdistan and take possession of other parts of northern Iraq they’ve long claimed as theirs.

At the heart of these “disputed areas” is the strategic city of Kirkuk, which the disciplined and highly motivated Kurdish Peshmerga took over in mid-June, after Iraqi soldiers stationed there fled in fear of advancing jihadists. A charmless city of slightly less than one million people, Kirkuk betrays little of its past as an important Ottoman garrison town. The desolate ruin of an ancient citadel, sitting on a mound overlooking the dried-out Khasa River, is one of the few hints of the city’s earlier glory. Yet Kirkuk lies on top of one of Iraq’s largest oil fields, and with its crucial location directly adjacent to the Kurdish region, the city is the prize in the Kurds’ long journey to independence, a town they call their Jerusalem. When their Peshmerga fighters easily took over a few weeks ago, there was loud rejoicing throughout the Kurdish land.

But while the Kurds believe Kirkuk’s riches give them crucial economic foundations for a sustainable independent state, the city’s ethnic heterogeneity raises serious questions about their claims to it. Not only is Kirkuk’s population—as with that of many other Iraqi cities, including Baghdad itself—deeply intermixed. The disputed status of its vast oil field also stands as a major obstacle to any attempt to divide the country’s oil revenues equitably. To anyone who advocates dividing Iraq into neat ethnic and sectarian groups, Kirkuk shows just how challenging that would be in practice. [Continue reading...]

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Kurdish forces seize control of two key Iraqi oil fields

The Wall Street Journal reports: Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of production facilities at two key oil fields near the northern city of Kirkuk Friday, in a politically-charged move that is likely to worsen already frayed relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad.

In statements that cast dramatically opposing views of the event, the central government and KRG confirmed Kurdish Peshmerga forces had taken control of oil fields around Kirkuk on Friday morning, and expelled employees of Iraq’s central-government controlled North Oil Company.

The move places Iraq’s prize northern oil field in the hands of the KRG; the Kirkuk field alone could add 250,000 barrels a day to the region’s oil production capacity. Though Kurdish forces have held control of the disputed and oil-rich town of Kirkuk since insurgents overran the nearby town of Mosul, until now they have not sought control of the oil infrastructure.

However, the KRG claimed it moved to secure control of the oil fields Friday after learning that Baghdad planned to sabotage recently-built infrastructure that could help transport oil from the northern oil fields through Kurdistan to Turkey for export.

“This morning’s events have shown that the KRG is determined to protect and defend Iraq’s oil infrastructure whenever it is threatened by acts of terrorism or, as in this case, politically motivated sabotage,” the KRG said in a statement. [Continue reading...]

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Iraq’s crisis won’t be resolved just by fighting, Sunni leader says

On July 9, the Washington Post conducted an interview with Osama al-Nujaifi, the most recent speaker of Iraq’s parliament and one of the country’s leading Sunni lawmakers, at his headquarters in Baghdad.

The government is currently fighting Sunni militants in the north. But I’ve heard some Sunnis refer to what is happening as a “revolution.” How do you describe what’s happening?

Yes, it is a revolution. But at the same time, the terrorists are taking advantage of it.

It’s a revolution that started a year and a half ago, as peaceful demonstrations. [The government] didn’t deal with it according to the constitution. Instead, they faced it with force. So it turned into a military movement.

But it wasn’t as broad as we see now. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) [which now calls itself the Islamic State] took advantage of the gap between the government and the people, and they invaded and occupied Iraqi cities.

ISIS controls important military areas, but the wider geographical area is in the hands of tribes and armed groups who are rebelling against the government, and who before that were fighting the Americans.

We need to differentiate between these groups and the terrorists. We need to face ISIS militarily. But these other groups should be dealt with politically. [Continue reading...]

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Iraq illusions

Jessica T. Mathews writes: The story most media accounts tell of the recent burst of violence in Iraq seems clear-cut and straightforward. In reality, what is happening is anything but. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), so the narrative goes, a barbaric, jihadi militia, honed in combat in Syria, has swept aside vastly larger but feckless Iraqi army forces in a seemingly unstoppable tide of conquest across northern and western Iraq, almost to the outskirts of Baghdad. The country, riven by ineluctable sectarian conflict, stands on the brink of civil war. The United States, which left Iraq too soon, now has to act fast, choosing among an array of ugly options, among them renewed military involvement and making common cause with Iran. Alternatives include watching Iraq splinter and the creation of an Islamist caliphate spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq.

Much of this is, at best, misleading; some is outright wrong. ISIS, to begin, is only one of an almost uncountable mélange of Sunni militant groups. Besides ISIS, the Sunni insurgency that has risen up against the government of Nouri al-Maliki includes another jihadi group, Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam), as well as the Military Council of the Tribes of Iraq, comprising as many as eighty tribes, and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, a group that claims to have Shiite and Kurdish members and certainly includes many Sunni Baathists once loyal to Saddam Hussein.

This is a partial list. The important point is that within the forces that have proven so powerful in recent weeks are groups with profound differences, even mutual hatred. ISIS, for example, has turned on al-Qaeda, its parent, for being too moderate, and considers Baathists to be infidels. These disparate groups are fighting together now, yes, but they won’t be together for long. And they have been fighting in places where local populations are friendly to them. It will be a different matter when they meet the tough and motivated Kurdish peshmerga or Shiite forces in the Shiites’ own regions.

The story, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice. True, one side is Sunni and the other Shia, but this is not a theological conflict rooted in the seventh century. ISIS and its allies have triumphed because the Sunni populations of Mosul and Tikrit and Fallujah have welcomed and supported them—not because of ISIS’s disgusting behavior, but in spite of it. The Sunnis in these towns are more afraid of what their government may do to them than of what the Sunni militia might. They have had enough of years of being marginalized while suffering vicious repression, lawlessness, and rampant corruption at the hands of Iraq’s Shia-led government.

What is happening now—not its details, but its essentials—was clearly evident at the time of President Bush’s “surge” seven years ago. The premise for the added American troops then was that insecurity in Iraq blocked political reconciliation. If the violence could be reduced, the administration argued, reconciliation would follow—but it didn’t. The important agreements on the eighteen political “benchmarks” specified by the US never were carried out and haven’t been to this day. (They included, for example, laws that were supposed to distribute oil revenue equitably and reverse the purge of Baathists from government.) When a government is wrenched apart, especially an authoritarian one, a struggle for political power immediately fills the vacuum. In Iraq the struggle has been, and continues to be, within sectarian groups almost as much as between them. [Continue reading...]

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Iraqi soldier tells of desertion as militants attacked refinery: ‘Our officers sold us out’

The Washington Post reports: Ammar, an Iraqi Shiite Muslim, was so eager as a teenager to join his country’s army that he considered lying about his age. Three years after he finally joined, he found himself defending an oil refinery as it came under attack in late June by Sunni militants.

What happened next left him convinced that the Iraqi army was broken: His brigade commanders fled, leaving their men behind.

And with that, Ammar and about 400 fellow soldiers also decided that night to leave the refinery, joining the thousands of Iraqi troops who have deserted since the Islamic State began capturing territory across northern Iraq last month.

Over the past three weeks, nearly one-tenth of Iraq’s 700,000 active soldiers have shed their uniforms, according to Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, who has extensive contacts in the Iraqi military. Iraqi officials have estimated that the number might be as high as 90,000.

The Iraqi government is now rushing tens of thousands of new recruits through basic training, and it has solidified alliances with Iran-backed Shiite militias and enlisted their help in joint operations. But experts and Iraqi soldiers say additional manpower is unlikely to remedy a weakness that contributed to the army’s collapse and is highlighted by Ammar’s account of the chaos that unfolded at the Baiji refinery: poor leadership. [Continue reading...]

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How Putin outmaneuvered the U.S. in resupplying the Iraqi military

Yahoo News reports: Little noticed among the disturbing tableau of images coming out of Iraq in recent weeks is a changing of the guard evident at the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). As the crisis has deepened, U.S. contractors, U.S. Embassy personnel and most of the U.S. service members from the embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation have abandoned the threatened capital. The exodus has coincided with Russian contractors and support personnel pouring into BIAP to help launch the 25 Russian SU-25 warplanes that Moscow is rushing to Iraq in its hour of need.

Thus in June U.S. contractors employed by Bell Helicopter, Beechcraft and General Dynamics Land Systems have all pulled their support personnel out of Iraq, depriving Iraqis of maintenance and repair for their U.S.-manufactured Bell ARH-407 armed reconnaissance helicopters, Beechcraft T-6 military trainer aircraft and M-1 tanks. Given the deteriorating security situation, a knowledgeable source says that virtually all U.S. contractor personnel have left Iraq.

“When the crisis worsened U.S. corporate leadership made a decision to pull all their guys out of Iraq, and the U.S. government took a hands-off approach that left those decisions up to each company,” said the U.S. source in Baghdad. “We’re discovering that U.S. companies in this crisis don’t have a high tolerance for risk. Unfortunately, the Russians are much more tolerant of risk.” [Continue reading...]

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Israel accused of war crimes in Gaza

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: Ashraf al-Qadra, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, confirmed to Al-Monitor that the number of martyrs in the Israeli war on Gaza had risen to 101, in addition to more than 700 injured. He added that the martyrs included 21 children, 19 women and six senior citizens.

The Israeli occupation continued to target civilian houses in various areas of Gaza, and the number of homes completely destroyed by the occupation’s aircraft reached more than 120. Among these was the home of the Hajj family, located in the refugee camp in Khan Yunis. Eight members of the family died at dawn on July 10, in the strike that destroyed their home.

Mahmoud al-Hajj, 27, a relative of the martyrs, told Al-Monitor, “I heard a terrifying explosion. I never expected that [it had hit] my uncle’s home. They are a very normal family, none of the family members are involved in military activity. I ran to the area and found people in a state of hysteria, crying and screaming. I discovered that eight members of my uncle’s family had died under the rubble.” [Continue reading...]

Reuters reports: The United Nations human rights chief on Friday voiced serious doubts that Israeli’s military operation against Gaza complied with international law banning the targeting of civilians, and called on both sides to respect the rules of war.

International law requires Israel to take all measures to ensure that its attacks are proportional, distinguish between military and civilian objects, and avoid civilian casualties, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Pillay said in a statement. [Continue reading...]

Al Jazeera reports: With tearful eyes, the Al-Aqsa TV anchorman announced the death of Palestinian journalist Hamed Shehab on Wednesday evening, hit by an Israeli air strike while driving home on Omar al-Mukhtar street.

Shehab, 27, was working for local press company Media 24. He was driving a car that had the letters “TV” affixed to it in large, red stickers when it was struck by an Israeli missile. The bombing, carried out on one of Gaza City’s busiest streets, has triggered fear and rage among journalists in Gaza.

“Such [an] attack is meant to intimidate us. Israel has no bank of targets anymore, except civilians and journalists,” Abed Afifi, a cameraman for the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV channel, told Al Jazeera. [Continue reading...]

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This renewed violence suggests a bleak future for Palestinians and Israelis

Daniel Levy writes: The absence of determined mediation between Israel and Hamas was one reason that Israeli operation Cast Lead against Gaza in the winter of 2008-9 lasted so long: 22 days. Rapid Egyptian and US-led ceasefire efforts in November 2012 helped ensure that the then Israeli operation “Pillars of Defence” would last only eight days and with far less devastating consequences. But that was under President Morsi, who had good relations with Hamas and included high-level Egyptian and Arab League delegations to Gaza, which also helped ease tensions. This time, the Egyptian and Hamas leadership are at loggerheads, inter-Arab divisions are more rife, and hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood (to which Hamas is affiliated) is a defining faultline and mediators are scarce – all of which may embolden Israel further. Any international mediation will need regional interlocutors with good enough ties to Hamas.

And finally there is Binyamin Netanyahu himself. The Israeli prime minister tends to avoid military adventures, but that has more to do with risk aversion than Solomonic wisdom. Netanyahu is sometimes mistakenly credited with being a pragmatist. He is an ideologue. He is also facing a domestic political challenge (mostly from the right) unprecedented since his return to power in 2009. Netanyahu has little to show for his cumulative eight years in office and his endless un-acted-on military threats against Iranians and Palestinians are beginning to ring rather hollow. Netanyahu may decide that the political risks associated with inaction trump all other considerations.

This past April, nine months of US-led peace talks predictably failed. Israel was again not budged from its settlements and occupation. Those talks have now been replaced by a new round of violence and killing. If the alternatives to meaningless talks and tragic violence – namely peaceful resistance, Palestinian recourse to international law and sanctioning of Israel in response to continued occupation – are given short shrift, then expect more of the same and a continued bleak outlook for both Palestinians and Israelis.

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What the media isn’t telling you about Israel’s attack on Gaza

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ISIS declares: ‘there will be no World Cup in Qatar’

jihadist-football

A profile of the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now the self-declared Caliph Ibrahim, included these details about his past:

His friends remember him as polite and rather quiet. In fact, few took notice of the bespectacled student who would sit at the back of the classroom.

The only time he shone was on the football field, playing for the team from the local mosque where he would also occasionally, though not very impressively, lead the congregation in prayer.

“He was the Messi of our team,” said Abu Ali, a fellow player and worshipper at the mosque, making comparison with the Lional Messi, the Argentinian striker. “He was our best player.”

If Baghdadi’s zealotry was fueled in part by his own unfulfilled ambitions — a form of psychological corruption that could be described as the metastasization of talent — maybe he traded in fantasies about playing in the World Cup in exchange for the higher goal of becoming Caliph.

Whatever the motive, he now is apparently intent on making sure his followers won’t get distracted by the 2018 World Cup.

At The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, James M. Dorsey reports:

A purported letter by the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls chunks of Syria and Iraq, has warned world soccer body FIFA not to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, reviving concerns first raised in a FIFA security assessment warning two weeks before it was awarded the tournament that there could be a high risk of terrorist attacks.

The letter, first published on Alplatformmedia.com, a jihadist website, and reprinted in an Egyptian newspaper, suggested that soccer would be banned in areas controlled by the group because it constituted “a deviation from Islam.” The letter further indicated that conservative, energy-rich Gulf states were on the target list of the Islamic State, which has conquered parts of northern Iraq with lightning speed and declared a caliphate in territories it controls.

The letter, if genuine, comes amid heated Islamist debate about whether soccer is a legitimate sport according to Islamic precepts; the targeting by some Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, Somalia’s Al Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram of soccer fans; and mounted controversy about the integrity of the Qatari bid to host the World Cup.

Anyone who happens to have watched the current World Cup on the BBC might — like me — have been perplexed by a detail in the iconography they have used for promoting Brazil 2014: toy footballers including one with no head. Another threat from ISIS?

bbc-world-cup

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Ukraine’s dangerous drift towards chaos

David C. Hendrickson writes: One of the most deplorable features of the Ukraine crisis has been the unwillingness of both Russia and the United States to restrain their respective allies. Until yesterday, when reports emerged that Washington is now counseling a go-slow approach to the prospective sieges of Donetsk and Lugansk, Washington has betrayed little anxiety that the Ukrainians might go too far. About the only daylight observable between the two states has been that the U.S. State Department refers to the insurgents as separatists, whereas the Ukrainians call them terrorists. But American officials have not condemned the use of that terminology by the Ukrainians, and they continue to defend Ukraine’s military actions as “moderate and measured.”

The language of the Ukrainian authorities is of a war to the death. “We will not stop,” said the newly appointed Defense Minister, Valeriy Heletey. He continued:

We will bring in maximum numbers of troops and weapons, and strengthen them with National Guard soldiers, police troops and the Security Service – all will be thrown in to defend the Donbas . . . to defend those cities from terrorists.

Those not willing to give up arms [will] understand that waging a war against the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people is not just dangerous but it will mean doom for these people . . . We will continue the active phase until the moment there is not a single terrorist left on the territory of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Heletey, the fourth defense minister since February, was appointed on July 3; in his maiden speech, he promised to liberate Crimea. “There will be a victory parade,” he declared, “in Ukraine’s Sevastopol.” The minister acknowledged that the people in the southeast “are disoriented and afraid of Ukraine, of Kyiv. They are afraid they will be punished and tortured.” But he also warned the residents, in effect, that you’re either with us or against us. “The residents have to . . . first and foremost not support, passively or actively, those terrorists. If it works this way, the process will be very quick,” he said.

Another piece of ominous news, from the New York Times, is that the new Ukrainian forces have learned to kill their fellow countrymen without being conscience-stricken about it. This, the Times intimates, is great progress. “They have overcome that psychological barrier in which the military were afraid to shoot living people,” says one local expert. Once the military had gotten over their silly phobia, “and it became clear who were our people, who were foes, the operations became more effective.”

There is no shortage of similar talk on the Russian side. [Continue reading...]

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‘Diplomatic earthquake’ as Germany halts spy cooperation with U.S.

IntelNews.org reports: The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station — essentially the top American official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. [Continue reading...]

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Syria: Should the West work with Assad?

Fred Hof writes: The combination of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) running amok in Iraq and the appearance of an Assad regime military victory in western Syria have added octane to arguments that Washington should forego its step-aside guidance to Bashar al-Assad. An unnamed senior Obama administration official recently told The Daily Beast, “Anyone calling for regime change in Syria is frankly blind to the past decade; and the collapse of eastern Syria, and the growth of Jihadistan, leading to thirty to fifty suicide attacks a month in Iraq.” The senior official was wise to insist on anonymity: he or she implied that a murderous regime is part of the solution and attributed blindness to a president who, nearly three years ago, told Assad to step aside. Other analysts have gone farther, suggesting that the West work with Assad to counter ISIS and rebuild Syria. Should Washington and its allies consider cooperating with the Assad regime?

There are two aspects of the “do business with Assad thesis:” one posits that the regime has won; and the other suggests that the ISIS rampage in Iraq wipes the slate clean in terms of the Assad regime’s complicity in creating the problem to be solved. Thus, the regime’s role in the establishment of al-Qaeda in Iraq becomes yesterday’s news. The regime’s sheer brutality — serving as a magnet for ISIS and its cadre of Sunni foreign fighters — becomes irrelevant. The de facto collaboration of ISIS and the regime in seeking to obliterate Assad’s Syrian opposition may, once that pesky opposition disappears, be safely put to the side. The sheer scope of the ISIS emergency, according to this line of thinking, makes it mandatory for the West to work with the Assad regime to beat ISIS.

Indeed, the Syrian opposition is back on its heels and perhaps headed for a knockdown; if not a knockout. In Aleppo, it faces a murderous barrage of regime barrel bombs to its front and ISIS assaults to its back. Whatever Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi may think of one another personally, their top tactical priority in Syria is identical: destroy the Syrian nationalist opposition to the Assad regime.

That destruction is vital to both parties. From the beginning, Assad has maintained that terrorists, top-heavy with foreign fighters, are his only opponents of consequence. By focusing his firepower on the nationalist opposition and by largely ignoring the ISIS phenomenon, he seeks to give his argument the attribute of truth and restore his value to the West. As for ISIS, exterminating Assad’s opposition opens up two possibilities: incorporating non-regime Syria into its declared state; and setting the stage for its ultimate showdown with the regime (unless, of course, it and the regime extend indefinitely their live-and-let-live arrangement).

Is the definitive defeat of the Syrian opposition inevitable and (if so), would that defeat mandate a renewal of the transactional relationship between the regime and the West? [Continue reading...]

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In its latest assault on Gaza, so far Israel has killed 21 children

It’s too soon to know what the ultimate death toll will be from Israel’s current assault on Gaza, but it’s noteworthy that even the Washington Post is paying attention to the number of children getting killed.

If media attention given to the World Cup has provided Netanyahu some extra latitude in conducting this military operation, the welcome escape of watching football offered no safety for one group of fans in Gaza.

As AFP reports:

It was supposed to be an evening of entertainment in Gaza, watching the World Cup semi-final at a cafe, a welcome break from 48 hours of Israeli air strikes.

But the evening was cut brutally short when an Israeli raid flattened the Fun Time Beach cafe in the southern Gaza Strip in the early hours of Thursday, killing nine people and wounding 15.

All that is left of the popular seaside cafe — where dozens broke their Ramadan fast on Wednesday night before settling down to watch Argentina play the Netherlands — is a large crater and a few mounds of sand.

The cafe’s multicoloured sign is still standing, somewhat crookedly, as colourful bunting and canvas windbreakers lay strewn on the floor, torn down by the force of the blast.

The Israeli missile scattered the dead and wounded across the beach, and made a hole so deep that seawater filled it up from underground after impact.

The New York Times adds: Tamer al-Astal, 27, was lying in a hospital bed being treated for shrapnel wounds in his face and leg from the blast on the beach. Mr. Astal, a construction worker, said he lived near the cafe and went there every night.

“We were watching news on the television and waiting for the match to begin,” he recalled. “I heard a terrible boom and felt myself suffocating. I woke up to find myself here in the hospital.”

Three of Mr. Astal’s cousins were among the dead.

Samah Sawalli, 29, said her brothers had been spending their nights at the cafe and coming home at dawn when the daily fast starts in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“They would break their fast there,” she said, wearing a black veil and surrounded by her mother, who was unable to speak, and other women at the family’s home in Khan Younis. Weeping, she recalled their assuring her that Fun Time Beach “was a safe place.”

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