How Kerry streamlined Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — by leaving out the Palestinians

Barak Ravid has a detailed report on the nine months of so-called Israeli-Palestinian talks on a final-status agreement initiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in July 2013.

Warning lights began to go on among the Israeli team at a quite early stage of the negotiations. It wasn’t clear to Netanyahu and his aides what exactly the Palestinians thought about each of the clauses in the draft framework document that were hammering out with the Americans. “At one point we discovered that throughout the entire period, the Americans didn’t actually talk to the Palestinians, only to us,” a senior Israeli official said.

A senior American official who took part in the talks admits that the bulk of the work on the document was done with the Israelis. He explained that this was due to the fact that because the Americans viewed themselves as being closer to the Palestinian approach on a large number of the issues, their major effort had to be invested in trying to get Netanyahu to soften his positions. Fearing that the Palestinians would lock themselves into a rejectionist posture, the Americans decided not to present any proposal to them until they felt their contacts with Israel had reached a sufficiently serious outcome.

However, the Americans’ comportment brought about exactly the result they had feared. On February 19, 2014, when Kerry met with Abbas in Paris and apprised him orally of the main points of the emerging framework document, the secretary of state was stunned at the reaction.

The Palestinian leader, who was unwell and in a foul mood when he arrived for the meeting, had the feeling that the Americans had pulled “a Dennis Ross” on him – referring to the veteran American diplomat who was known throughout all the years of the negotiations for his practice of first striking a deal with the Israelis and then selling it to the Palestinians as an American proposal. Abbas thought Kerry was presenting him with a done deal and trying to stuff it down his throat.

The Kerry-Abbas meeting in Paris was a total bust. Senior American and Palestinian officials maintain that Abbas has been unbudgeable since that day. He refused to hold talks on the framework document, insisting first on getting a promise that Israel would release all the prisoners it had undertaken to free at the start of the negotiations.

Throughout the whole succeeding month, the Americans tried to extract from Abbas a response or a comment on the framework document, but to no avail. Abbas viewed the document as part of a plot against him. Things came to a head on March 17, when Abbas met with President Obama at the Oval Office for more than two hours and declined to give Obama anything other than a vague promise that he would get back to him in a few days about the framework document. Which he never did.

Both Abbas and chief negotiator Erekat say rightly that the Americans never gave them a copy of the framework document, but only presented ideas orally. They could thus not peruse the paper thoroughly and formulate an opinion. At this time, drafts of the document were being exchanged between Washington and Jerusalem on a daily basis. The Palestinians’ response, when they grasped what was going on, was that they were being duped. So great was their suspiciousness and so intense their frustration with the Americans that they lost interest in the process completely.


Jewish groups’ whitewash of Israeli racism ensures it will fester

David Sheen writes: As news spreads of the circumstances surrounding last week’s murder of 17-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdair, many international observers are responding with incredulity. Israeli police say the teenager was kidnapped from his home, beaten in the head, forced to consume a flammable liquid, and then burned alive. They also say they believe the crime was carried out by Jewish Israelis, acting out of racist hatred for non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs.

These details have come as a shock for many Jewish people living outside of Israel, who find it hard to believe that Jews could be capable of such venomous violence. Multiple viral videos of Jewish Israelis chanting “Death to Arabs!” in downtown Jerusalem earlier that same evening have added to the bewilderment of Israel’s liberal supporters in the Diaspora.

Clearly, such deep-seated hatred could not have sprung up spontaneously; surely it had been building up for weeks, months, and years. But why then, were many Jews outside of Israel only learning of it now, for the first time? Why hadn’t they been warned about it by the Jewish communal organizations that are in constant contact with their Israeli counterparts? With their claim to be a “premier civil rights” group, where has the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) been all this time, and why hasn’t it been sounding the alarm? [Continue reading...]


The virulent strain of hatred that infects Israel

Yossi Melman writes: This may be the era in which local gangs, incited by politicians or poisoned by anti-Arab sentiments and atmosphere, turn into vigilantes and take the law into their own hands. We have sporadically witnessed such events in the past. Israeli Jews decided to avenge the deaths of their fellow Jews at the hands of Palestinian terrorists and killed innocent Palestinians.

Yet the murder last week of Abu Khdeir is beyond imagination because of its brutality and cold-bloodedness: the burning alive of the victim.

The only consolation for the Shin Bet and the police is that the suspects are not members of any political organization or any hierarchal structure. They do not have any known track record in this area. They just participated in the past in anti-Arab demonstrations in Jerusalem, inhaled in the streets hatred and racist ideology motivated by the murder of the three Israeli teens, and decided to carry out their satanic plan.

Israelis who view the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir as some kind of crime of passion — the action of a group of young Jewish men who acted in the heat of the moment — are providing themselves with a false comfort.

If there was indeed no militant group behind the killing, that just goes to show how virulent is this particular strain of hatred.

This suggests that similar acts are even more likely in the future since the perpetrators can in a more meaningful sense be called ordinary Israelis, rather than exceptional fanatics.

Anshel Pfeffer writes: We would like to believe that none of us, and no one we know, could even imagine participating in such vicious acts; but we have gotten used to living in an environment where casual racism is a norm. And when casual racism is normal, the distance between normal life and hate crimes of the worst kind rapidly shrinks.


Why Kuwait’s protests are important

Following a renewal of demonstrations in Kuwait last week, Rami G Khouri writes: Kuwait highlights the new reality that Arab citizens are now demanding rights from their governments simply on the basis of being entitled to those rights, and not necessarily because they are poor, suffer uneven access to social services, or have been politically abused and oppressed, as was the case with uprisings in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria.

Kuwait also speaks of deeper discontents among other citizens in oil-rich Gulf states who can only express their grievances through websites and social media. This is evident in several Arab countries, which, like Kuwait, try to suppress public political accusations and grievances, even by jailing individuals who Tweet sentiments that are critical of state policies.

The demonstrators in Kuwait are not calling for the overthrow of the regime, but rather for constitutional political reforms. The demonstrators this week chanted their demands to reform the judiciary. When such basic, reasonable and non-violent demands are almost totally ignored across most of the Arab world, citizens have only a few options, including expressing themselves through social media or via pan-Arab satellite television, or by taking to the streets. As with almost every other public protest throughout the world, the actual number of citizens on the street is not the most important factor.

It is irrelevant if 500 or 15,000 demonstrate one night. What matters is that groups of citizens speak out in public on a regular basis, and address their complaints directly to the national leaders. It is likely that those who do take to the streets – for instance, recently in Ukraine, Turkey, Thailand or Burma – represent much deeper and wider legitimate societal grievances that require a political resolution through dialogue, negotiations and credible representation and accountability.


The Nazi interrogator who revealed the value of kindness

Eric Horowitz writes: The downed World War II fighter pilot had little reason to be wary. Thus far, his German interrogator had seemed uninterested in extracting military intelligence, and had acted with genuine kindness. He made friendly conversation, shared some of his wife’s delicious baked goods, and took the pilot out for a lovely stroll in the German countryside. So when the interrogator erroneously suggested that a chemical shortage was responsible for American tracer bullets leaving white rather than red smoke, the pilot quickly corrected him with the information German commanders sought. No, there was no chemical shortage; the white smoke was supposed to signal to pilots that they would soon be out of ammunition.

The man prying the information loose was Hanns Scharff, and as Raymond Tolliver chronicles in The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, Scharff’s unparalleled success did not come from confrontation or threats, but from simply being nice. With the morality and efficacy of interrogation practices coming under increasing scrutiny, Scharff’s techniques — and questions about the extent to which they work — are taking on greater significance.

The fact that Scharff is even mentioned in criminal justice circles is a historical anomaly. Not only was he never meant be an interrogator, he was never meant to be in the German military at all. In the decade leading up to the war Scharff worked as a businessman in Johannesburg, where he lived with his British wife and two kids. Not exactly a portrait of the threatening Axis enemy Captain America was created to battle. [Continue reading...]


Netanyahu’s offspring

Gideon Levy writes: The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. The Israelis of the Jewish state are rampaging on social networks, displaying hatred and a lust for revenge, unprecedented in its diabolic scope. Some unknown people from the Jewish state, purely based on his ethnicity. These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation – Netanyahu’s offspring.

For five years now, they have been hearing nothing but incitement, scaremongering and supremacy over Arabs from this generation’s true instructor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not one humane word, no commiseration or equal treatment.

They grew up with the provocative demand for recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” and they drew the inevitable conclusions. Even before any delineation of what a “Jewish state” means – will it be a state that dons tefillin (phylacteries), kisses mezuzot (doorpost fixtures with prayer scrolls), sanctifies charms, closes down on the Sabbath and keeps strict kashrut laws? – the penny has dropped for the masses.

The mob was the first to internalize its true significance: a Jewish state is one in which there is room only for Jews. The fate of Africans is to be sent to the Holot detention center in the Negev, while that of Palestinians is to suffer from pogroms. That’s how it works in a Jewish state: only this way can it be Jewish.

In the Jewish state-in-the-making, there is no room even for an Arab who strives his utmost to be a good Arab, such as the writer Sayed Kashua. In a Jewish state, the chairman of the Knesset plenary session, MK Ruth Calderon (from Yesh Atid – the “center” of the political map, needless to say), cuts off Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), who has just returned all shaken up from a visit to the family of the murdered Arab boy from Shoafat, impudently preaching to him that he must also refer to the three murdered Jewish teens (even after he did just that).

In a Jewish state, the High Court of Justice approves the demolition of a murder suspect’s family home even before his conviction. A Jewish state legislates racist and nationalist laws.

The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last few months, usually for no reason.

No one was punished for these acts – in the Jewish state there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

The new generation growing in its shadow is a dangerous one, both to itself and its surroundings. Netanyahu is its education minister; the militaristic and nationalist media serves as its pedagogic epic poem; the education system that takes it to Auschwitz and Hebron serves as its guide.

The new sabra (native-born Israeli) is a novel species, prickly both on the outside and the inside. He has never met his Palestinian counterpart, but knows everything about him – the sabra knows he is a wild animal, intent only on killing him; that he is a monster, a terrorist.

He knows that Israel has no partner for peace, since this is what he’s heard countless times from Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. From Yair Lapid he’s heard that they are “Zoabis” – referring dismissively to MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad).

Being left wing or a seeker of justice in the Jewish state is deemed a crime, civil society is considered treacherous, true democracy an evil. In a Jewish state – dreamed of not only by the right wing but also by the supposed center-left, including Tzipi Livni and Lapid – democracy is blurred.

It’s not the skinheads that are the Jewish state’s main problem, it’s the sanctimonious eye-rollers, the thugs, the extreme right wing and the settlers. It’s not the margins but the mainstream, which is partly very nationalistic and partly indifferent.

In the Jewish state, there is no remnant of the biblical injunction to treat the minority or the stranger with justice. There are no more Jews left who marched with Martin Luther King or who sat in jail with Nelson Mandela. The Jewish state, which Israel insists the Palestinians recognize, must first recognize itself. At the end of the day, at the end of a terrible week, it seems that a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.


Six Jewish suspects arrested over death of Palestinian teenager

Reuters reports: Israel has arrested six Jewish suspects in the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager whose death sparked violent protests in Jerusalem and Israeli Arab towns, a security source said on Sunday.

With tensions high along the Gaza border, Israel said its aircraft attacked 10 sites in the Palestinian enclave in response to persistent rocket strikes on southern Israeli towns.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled that broader Israeli action was not imminent.

The security source gave no details about the suspects arrested in the investigation into the abduction and killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair, other than to say they were Jewish and that police saw “nationalist motives” in the case. [Continue reading...]


American teen brutally beaten by Israeli police

Tariq-Abu-KhdeirABC News reports: A 15-year-old American high school student was beaten and jailed by Israeli police in what his mother called an “attempted murder,” as the incident happened a day after his cousin was killed.

The teen, Tariq Abu Khdeir from Tampa, Florida, was on a summer holiday with his parents and sisters in Jerusalem, visiting family in the eastern part of the city. Video clips posted online show three Israeli police officers in riot gear repeatedly beating a young Palestinian, identified as Abu Khdeir by his family, and dragging him away to arrest him.

On Wednesday morning, Tariq’s cousin, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was murdered in what is widely believed to have been a revenge attack for the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli Jewish teens.

Tariq was arrested on Thursday evening. Photos of him in detention show his severely swollen and bruised face, which his mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said was unrecognizable when she first saw him following the arrest. [Continue reading...]


Mossad chief: Palestinian conflict top threat to Israel’s security, not Iran

Haaretz reports: The biggest threat to Israel’s security is the conflict with the Palestinians and not Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said Thursday at a meeting at a private home attended by 30 businesspeople.

According to a person present during the 90-minute talk, Pardo dealt largely with the organizational changes he had made at the Mossad, as well as management policies at the spy agency. But during the question-and-answer period, participants asked him to assess the greatest threats facing Israel.

Pardo said, according to the source, that the major threat to Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. When some of the participants asked him to repeat what he said, he answered: “Yes, the biggest threat is the Palestinian issue.”

Someone asked whether the Iranian nuclear threat was the second largest threat. Pardo surprised his audience by saying Iran might produce or purchase a nuclear weapon in the future, but he wouldn’t “recommend rushing to obtain a foreign passport.”

One person noted that Pardo’s words suggested he did not share the urgency in speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tehran’s nuclear program. It was clear that Pardo did not consider this issue a significant threat, let alone an existential one.

Pardo listed the threats facing Israel, including a takeover of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State organization and its threats to neighboring Jordan under King Abdullah.

“This is a worrisome problem for Israel,” Pardo said. “This organization is here to stay. They embrace the public like [Israeli ultra-Orthodox party] Shas does, with a welfare and education system. They espouse murder for its own sake. Hamas is a lightweight organization by comparison.” [Continue reading...]


Could Chalabi replace Maliki?

Patrick Cockburn writes: The ablest candidate to be prime minister is Ahmed Chalabi on the grounds that he is intelligent, energetic, an excellent organiser and has a good understanding of what has gone wrong. Several times in the past couple of years he told me with complete accuracy that the Iraqi security services were so rotted by corruption that they would speedily disintegrate if they had to fight a real war.

The very fact that Chalabi would be good as prime minister of Iraq does not mean that he will get the job. Listening to conversations among politically active Iraqis about the next prime minister, I notice that they all focus on how many players each candidate gets on with – the different power centres in the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities and foreign states such as the US, Iran and the Sunni neighbours – and not whether a new PM could reorganise the army before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) attacks Baghdad.

Commending Chalabi and his abilities invariably causes dismay in the West – though not in Iraq these days – because he has acquired an impressive array of enemies. At different moments Chalabi has been high up on the most-hated lists of the US State Department, the CIA, Saddam Hussein, the British Foreign Office, Democrats and all those, mostly but by no means exclusively on the left and centre, who opposed the invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain in 2003.

The Guardian reports: The son of an establishment Baghdad family, Chalabi left Iraq as a child in 1956, spending much of his time between the US and the UK, along with stints in academia in Lebanon and finance in Jordan from the early 1970s. Along the way, he received a doctorate in mathematics and founded Petra Bank in Amman, which failed more than a decade later.

“In all of Iraq, nobody knows how to punch above their weight or play the convoluted game of Iraqi politics better than Ahmad Chalabi,” said Ramzy Mardini, a Jordan-based political analyst for thinktank The Atlantic Council. “His enduring survival is beyond our comprehension. Unlike Ayad Allawi [another former exile], Ahmad Chalabi is close to Iran. This is the key relationship that makes Chalabi’s candidacy something of a realistic prospect should Maliki be ousted. If Iran has a redline against a candidate, [he doesn't] have a shot in making it in the end.

“If Iraqi politics were Game of Thrones, Chalabi would play Lord Baelish, a consummate puppet master behind the scenes, constantly plotting his path to power. For him, chaos isn’t a pit, but a ladder and Chalabi knows the ways and means of exploiting a crisis to suit his interests and elevation in Iraq’s political circles. He apparently has good relations with everyone, except Maliki.”

The next month will determine how willing Chalabi’s patrons are to throw in their lot with him. Maliki, apparently emboldened after a private talk with the office of Iraq Shia Islam’s highest authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Friday that he was not going anywhere.


A Shiite family fleeing Tal Afar — among Iraq’s 1.2 million internally displaced citizens

McClatchy reports: The mortars rained down for 12 hours, an eternity for members of the Hassan family who huddled together in a single room, the children screaming and the adults praying to die in the shelling rather than be slaughtered by the Islamic State militants who rampaged into the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar two weeks ago.

Unlike many of their neighbors, the Hassans survived, all 19 of them, and the next day they fled their hometown on the same road they’d used in two previous displacements — once when U.S. forces battled Sunni Muslim extremists in 2004, and again in 2005 during sectarian pogroms. But after a harrowing, five-day journey to this southern Shiite holy city, the family has given up on Tal Afar.

Qassim Hassan, 53, the patriarch of this clan of Shiite Muslim Turkmen, a minority that dates back to the 7th Century, said there hasn’t been a peaceful year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This third narrow escape will be their last, he declared, ending more than 200 years of his family’s presence in Tal Afar, which once was considered a showpiece of U.S. counterinsurgency successes.

“We’re desperate now,” Hassan said. “We can no longer live there because we are the targets every time, and the government cannot protect us. We’re starting from zero here. We’re building a new life.”

The sectarian cleansing of Tal Afar is now complete, according to accounts from the city that say not a single Shiite family remains. The Islamic State, an al Qaida splinter group that’s captured roughly a third of Iraq, views Shiites as heretics deserving of death.

Not that the Sunnis who stayed behind fared much better — witnesses reached by phone say the extremists demanded two women from each remaining tribe. Leaders refused and at least eight people were killed in a single night of clashes last week, creating another wave of fleeing families. [Continue reading...]


In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are

The Washington Post reports: Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address. [Continue reading...]


Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khdair ‘was burned alive’

BBC News reports: A Palestinian teenager killed in Jerusalem was burned alive, first post mortem examination findings quoted by the Palestinian attorney-general say.

“The direct cause of death was burns as a result of fire,” Mohammed al-A’wewy was quoted as saying.

Israeli authorities say the circumstances surrounding the death of Mohammad Abu Khdair, 16, are unclear.

His death followed the abduction and murder of three young Israelis, with violent clashes spreading overnight.

The post mortem examination on Mohammad Abu Khdair was carried out by Israeli doctors, with Saber al-Aloul, the director of the Palestinian forensic institute, in attendance.

The Palestinian official news agency Wafa quoted the attorney-general as saying that Mr Aloul had reported fire dust in the respiratory canal, meaning the victim had “inhaled this material while he was burnt alive”.

Mohammad Abu Khdair, who had also suffered a head injury, had burns to 90% of the body, it was reported.


Syria: War’s toll on women

Human Rights Watch: Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) will conduct a review of the situation for Syrian women on July 4, 2014, in Geneva.

The 47-page report, “We Are Still Here: Women on the Front Line of Syria’s Conflict,” profiles 17 Syrian women who are now refugees in Turkey. Through written and photographic portraits, the report documents ways in which the conflict impacts women in particular. Women profiled in the report experienced violations by government and pro-government forces as well as by armed groups opposed to the government such as Liwa’al-Islam and extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Some female activists and humanitarian aid providers said they had been threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and tortured by government or armed opposition forces. All six former detainees profiled in the report experienced physical abuse or torture in detention; one woman was sexually assaulted multiple times. Other women said they had been victims of discriminatory restrictions on their dress and movement. Several women were injured or lost family members in indiscriminate attacks on civilians by government forces.

“Women have not been spared any aspect of the brutality of the Syrian conflict, but they are not merely passive victims,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Women are taking on increasing responsibilities – whether by choice or due to circumstance – and they should not have to pay with intimidation, arrest, abuse, or even torture.” [Continue reading...]


Syria refugees set to exceed a third of Lebanon’s population

Reuters reports: Lebanon faces the threat of political and economic collapse as the number of refugees pouring in from Syria is set to exceed a third of the population, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said on Thursday.

Derbas said the total was expected to hit 1.5 million by the end of the year, an excessive burden for a country of just 4 million people.

He said the influx of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war will have cost Lebanon’s already fragile economy around $7.5 billion between 2012 and 2014. Border communities hosting Syrian refugees were under particular pressure because of the increase in people willing to work for low wages.

“Unemployment doubled, especially among unspecialized or unskilled labor in those mostly poor areas,” he said, warning that the refugee crisis “threatens to take us to an economic, political and even security collapse.”

The turmoil next door has not only hurt Lebanon’s economy, but has aggravated sectarian tensions and fueled violence. It currently hosts around 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees. [Continue reading...]


The enemy of your enemy isn’t your friend, but you can have an affair with him

Maziar Bahari and Reza HaghighatNejad write: Every few days a crowd gathers at the Leadership Complex in central Tehran, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Hypocrites.” The group varies in size: sometimes there are hundreds of people, and other times only a handful. Supporters range from prominent government officials to farmers from remote villages. But everyone who attends these ritual gatherings is rewarded in some way. It might be extra food rations or a higher government position. People at risk of losing their jobs might be told their positions are now secure. What’s important to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is to have his supporters there with him, lending further legitimacy to his words. Whatever they may be.

Last week, during a ceremony attended by Iranian judges and prosecutors, Khamenei expressed his doubts on Iran’s potential cooperation with the U.S. in Iraq. He accused the American government of exploiting the advances made by extremist Sunnis in Iraq to gain control over the country. As his audience sat before him, many of them crossing their hands over their crutches or their chests — a very Iranian sign of submission — Khamenei said that the current crisis had nothing to do with the sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The crowd chanted on cue. The Ayatollah added, “Americans are trying to undermine the stability and the territorial integrity of Iraq, in which the last remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime are used as proxies and those formerly outside this network of power are treated as pawns.”

Khamenei’s words were echoed by his supporters, who see the rise of the extremist Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, as an important threat to Iran’s dominance in Shia-majority Iraq. “After the victory of the Shias in Iraq, Arab countries, America and Israel started causing trouble because they were not happy with a Shia democratic government in Iraq,” said Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, former Chief Justice of Iran. “The people of Iraq should remain united,” he said. “Only the U.S. would benefit from a split.” Shahroudi’s comments are particularly important because he was born and raised in Iraq, and was among the leaders of the opposition against Saddam Hussein. He is also widely regarded as Khamenei’s mentor.

Khamenei’s supporters call him “The Leader of All Muslims around the World.” The gist of their conspiracy theories is that the whole world is united to undermine Khamenei’s leadership. The U.S. presence in Iraq and the region is regarded as the main challenge to dominance in Iraq, but they also include ISIS in an American scheme against Iran. “Command centers for the ISIS fighters were in the White House and Saudi Arabia,” said a revolutionary guards commander, and a Khamenei appointee. “The ISIS conflict is an American and Zionist conspiracy to reverse Islamic awakening in the Middle East,” added another appointed commander. [Continue reading...]