Putin hints Russia will clip Israel’s wings over Syrian skies

Haaretz reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. President Barack Obama, during their one-on-one meeting in New York early Tuesday, that he was concerned about the Israeli attacks in Syria. He was apparently not referring to the Israeli missiles in the Golan Heights, fired earlier in the week at two artillery positions of the Syrian army in the wake of stray fire into Israeli territory from battles between the rebels and the Syrian army.

Rather, Putin’s statement was more general, referring to over 10 strikes in Syrian territory that have been attributed to Israel over the past two and a half years.

It showed that despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin in Moscow last week, Russia intends to create new facts on the ground in Syria that will include restricting Israel’s freedom of movement in Syrian skies.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that Israel does not coordinate its actions in the north with Russia. “We have interests, and when they are threatened we act and we will continue to act, and that was also made clear to the president of Russia. We have no intention of giving up our ability to protect our interests and I advise that we not be tested,” Ya’alon said, adding, “We will continue to defend our red lines.” [Continue reading…]


Egypt destroys thousands of homes to create ‘buffer zone’ with Gaza Strip

Human Rights Watch reports: Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities demolished at least 3,255 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting thousands of people. Extended families who had lived side by side for decades found themselves dispersed, forced to abandon the multi-story houses they had built next to their relatives and passed down through generations. Some families became homeless and lived in tents or sheds on open land or in informal settlements. The Egyptian authorities razed around 685 hectares of cultivated farmland, depriving families of food and livelihood and stripping most of the border of its traditional olive, date and citrus groves. The evictions scattered families among the Sinai’s towns and villages and in some cases as far as Cairo and the Nile Delta. The Egyptian government has indicated that these evictions could continue.

The Egyptian army began demolishing buildings along the border in July 2013 as part of a reinvigorated but long-considered plan to establish a “buffer zone” with the Gaza Strip. These demolitions rapidly accelerated after October 24, 2014, when the Sinai-based armed group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, carried out an unprecedented attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, reportedly killing 28 soldiers. The following month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and changed its name to Sinai Province.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had taken office in June 2014 after orchestrating the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsy the year before, said in a speech on national television the day after the attack that Egypt was fighting a war “for its existence.” He declared a three-month state of emergency in most of North Sinai and convened the National Defense Council and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which agreed on a plan to establish a “secure zone” along the Gaza border. Five days after the attack, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “isolation” and “evacuation” of 79 square kilometers stretching along the entire Gaza border and extending between five and seven kilometers into the Sinai. The buffer zone encompassed all of Rafah, a town of some 78,000 people that lies directly on the border, as well as significant agricultural land around the town. [Continue reading…]


Israel and Russia agree to coordinate military operations in Syria

Haaretz reports: The Israeli and Russian militaries will form a joint committee to coordinate their activities in Syria, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov agreed in a meeting in Moscow on Monday evening.

The committee, which will be headed by the countries’ deputy chiefs of staff, would coordinate both naval and aerial activities, as well as electro-magnetic activities, to avoid interference in electronic warfare, a senior Israeli officer told reporters.

“There’s aerial activities to the north of the country that may or may not overlap with the Russians’ activities there,” the officer said.

The two deputy chiefs of staffs are set to meet in two weeks, though it has yet to be decided whether the meeting will take place in Israel or in Russia. The officer said the frequency of the meetings would be decided later on.

​The officer refused to say whether the United States was briefed regarding the coordination between the two militaries. [Continue reading…]

In a commentary highlighted by the news editors for the UK’s Stop the War Coalition last week, Simon Jenkins wrote: “The only intervention likely to work in Syria just now is from Moscow.”

This is a sentiment which seems to resonate in those quarters of the anti-imperialist camp that still resolutely see the ills of the Middle East all rooted in Western interference.

Are we to now view Vladimir Putin as a peacemaker-in-waiting who will help resolve the worst conflict of the twenty-first century?

As Russia moves in advanced jets and deploys 2,000 military personnel to its new air base outside Latakia in the “first phase of the mission there,” what happened to the voices of anti-interventionism? As usual, the only interventions worth denouncing, must emanate from Western capitals.

The axis of foreign powers propping up the Assad regime — Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah — have a common interest, but evidently that won’t preclude Russia giving an occasional green light for Israel to bomb Hezbollah.

Still, I don’t imagine this turn of events will surprise anyone inside the so-called axis of resistance, because ultimately, each of its members has the same interest: self-preservation. Zionism — the nominal target of their resistance — merely provides a distraction behind which they each consolidate their own power.

In his meeting with Israel’s prime minister, Putin downplayed Netanyahu’s fears of a widening threat from Hezbollah by pointing out that Syria is in no position to expand the conflict.

“We know and understand that the Syrian army and the country in general are not in a condition to open a second front. The Syrians are busy fighting for their own statehood,” Putin said.

“Israel and Russia have common goals – to ensure stability in the Middle East,” Netanyahu noted, and as vacuous as that statement might sound, it seems true — depending on how you define stability.

In the eyes of many observers these days, the only reliable guarantors of stability in the region are its authoritarian regimes. Thus Israel welcomed General Sisi’s ascent to power in Egypt and likewise sees in Assad, a better known devil than the unknown or worst-feared alternative.

A region that has been ripped apart by the effects of decades of corrupt and brutal rule must now be protected by rulers cast in the same mold. But really: how’s that supposed to work?

Stephen Walt, whose anti-interventionism comes wrapped in some ritualistic self-criticism, remains convinced that a no-fly zone in Syria couldn’t accomplish much.

“Remember that the United States operated ‘no-fly zones’ over Iraq throughout the 1990s, and Saddam Hussein remained solidly in power until we invaded in 2003.”

True. But Walt neglects to note that the beneficiaries of one of those no-fly zones — Iraq’s Kurds — were, under its protection, able to establish what became and continues to be the most stable part of Iraq, notwithstanding the current threat posed by ISIS.

As much as the West has become afflicted by a loss of faith in democracy, a pervasive cynicism, and the sence of political impotence experienced by ordinary people as they witness unaccountable interests exercising power, the thing we mustn’t forget about our oftentimes sad system of governance is that within a predictable span of time, each of our elected leaders leaves office.

Consider, for instance, the battery-powered vice president whose destructive impact on the world is hard to overstate.

Dick Cheney might still meddle in politics, but having left office, he lost his power. No doubt it’s a shame that instead of getting thrown in jail, he’s still offered a podium to sound off as a talking head on cable networks. Even so, he and his neoconservative cohorts are mostly a spent force — as demonstrated with their failure to block the Iran nuclear deal.

The most problematic leaders in the world continue, without exception, to be those with an unyielding grip on power.

As much as U.S.-backed efforts at regime change have proved disastrous, that doesn’t mean everyone’s better off when such regimes are left in place.

If a remedy for cancer proves ineffective or counterproductive, the remedy gets ditched — not the fight against cancer.


Is Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow an Israeli jab at Washington?

Haaretz reports: The immediate reason for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow on Monday is increased Russian military involvement in Syria.

On Sunday, the first satellite photos were released from the air base that Russia is building on the Alawite strip of coast in northern Syria near Latakia. Netanyahu, who in an unusual step is taking Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, with him and, at the last minute, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, will devote much of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to preventing direct friction between Israel and Russia in the north.

The aircraft photographed in northern Syria are Sukhoi 27s. Their main mission, according to experts on the Russian Air Force, is to ensure aerial superiority, not bombardment. That underscores the assessment that Russia has not sent its forces to the region just to fight Islamic State, which is what Russia stresses in justifying its new military deployment, but that Moscow wants to establish a more significant presence. Anti-aircraft batteries will apparently also be deployed to protect the base, as well as a small number of ground forces, tanks, APCs, and a special low-profile unit, in what is reminiscent of Russia’s conduct in the war in Ukraine.

But beyond reducing the risk of an unwanted clash between Israeli and Russian fighter jets over Syria or Lebanon, it seems that the visit should be seen in a wider context of tensions between Moscow and Washington.

And although Netanyahu only last week said “commentators” were wrong when they warned of a collapse of ties between Israel and the United States in light of the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu’s current visit to Moscow could be seen as an Israeli jab at Washington. The visit seems to reflect Netanyahu’s lack of faith in the ability or the intent of the United States to protect Israel’s security interests.

The visit cannot be considered good news in Washington, which led a campaign of condemnation and sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the war in Ukraine last summer. (Israel did not take a position on that conflict and was duly rewarded by Russia which issued a moderate response to Israel’s actions in the war on Gaza shortly thereafter.) [Continue reading…]

Haaretz reports: Russia’s stationing in Syria of the Su-27, which as an air-superiority fighter is designed to seize control of enemy airspace in order to establish air supremacy, rather than ground-attack aircraft reinforces fears in the West and in Israel that Russia’s real goal is not to fight ISIS but rather to protect the Syrian regime, in concert with Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Some sources have said the planes were the Sukhoi Su-30 model, which are better suited to long-range missions and air-to-ground attacks than the Su-27. Even if that’s the case, they are not the best choice if the goal is to attack mobile targets such as those of the Islamic State organization in Syria.

The Su-27 will presumably not operate against Islamic State, which has no air force of its own, and would instead be used to create a defensive aerial umbrella over western Syria that would prevent, or at least significantly obstruct, the operation of other air forces in the area.

If the United States or another country should in the future want to strike Syrian regime forces from the air, that would lead to a direct conflict with Russia. It would also limit the freedom of action of U.S. and other air forces in attacking ISIS targets in Syria. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support for Damascus that is alarming the United States.

“The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely,” the source said in response to a question about Russian support. “We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground.” [Continue reading…]


Israel rearrests Palestinian hunger striker after his health improves

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli authorities detained a Palestinian man on Wednesday, just hours after he was discharged from an Israeli hospital for treatment after a two-month hunger strike to protest his earlier detention.

Mohammed Allaan’s condition had improved enough for him to be discharged, the Barzilai hospital in southern Israel said earlier in the day.

His lawyer, Jamil Khatib, said that shortly after Allaan left the hospital he was detained again by Israeli authorities. Allaan was originally detained in November 2014 and held without charges.

Israel accuses the 31-year-old Allaan of links to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group. Allaan denies the affiliation. [Continue reading…]


Israel has a moral duty to accept Palestinian refugees from Syria

Matthew Ayton writes: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has recently called for Israel to facilitate the absorption into the West Bank of Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria. Mr Abbas has asked the PA ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, to cooperate with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to “take appropriate and necessary measures to absorb displaced Palestinian refugees into the Palestinian territories” – to bring them home.

According to the PA’s official news website, Wafa, the PA is looking for international help to “stop the Palestinians’ plight of displacement, death and dispersal in world countries due to the current difficulties in the region”.

Acknowledging this, Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli centre-left opposition, the Zionist Union, declared that the Israeli government should strive “toward receiving refugees from the war in Syria” and tied his assertion to the historical narrative of dislocation Jewish people have faced in past conflicts. However, he did not explicitly mention Palestinians and their right of return as enshrined in UN resolution 194.

In keeping with his usual catch-all rhetoric, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he will “not allow Israel to be submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists”.

Mr Netanyahu’s words may sound like a chorus taken from the same demagogic hymn sheet of some far-right European leaders towards the Syrian refugees. However, it is because of Israel’s unique historical responsibility to the Palestinian people – the people it has systematically dispersed since the 1948 mass displacement of up to 800,000 Palestinians from their homes – that it should play a constructive role in facilitating entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria into the West Bank. [Continue reading…]


Why an apparent Israeli nuclear test in 1979 matters today

Leonard Weiss writes: At a time when the Iran agreement is in the headlines and other Middle Eastern countries — notably Saudi Arabia — are making noises about establishing their own programs for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, it is worth giving renewed scrutiny to an event that occurred 36 years ago: a likely Israeli-South African nuclear test over the ocean between the southern part of Africa and the Antarctic. Sometimes referred to in the popular press as the “Vela Incident” or the “Vela Event of 1979,” the circumstantial and scientific evidence for a nuclear test is compelling but as long as many items related to the test are still classified, all the questions surrounding it cannot be resolved definitively. Those questions allow wiggle room for some observers (a shrinking number) to still doubt whether the event was of nuclear origin. But more and more information revealed in various publications over the years strongly supports the premise that a mysterious double flash detected by a US satellite in 1979 was indeed a nuclear test performed by Israel with South African cooperation, in violation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. The US government, however, found it expedient to brush important evidence under the carpet and pretend the test did not occur.

The technical evidence — evidence that has been reviewed in earlier publications — led scientists at US national laboratories to conclude that a test took place. But to this should be added more recent information of Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation in the 1970s, and at least two instances — so far unverified — of individuals claiming direct knowledge of, or participation in, the nuclear event, one from the Israeli side and one from the South African. And information provided by national laboratory scientists regarding the state of the satellite’s detectors challenges the view given by a government panel that the flash was likely not that of a nuclear test.

The US government’s use of classification and other means to suppress public information about the event, in the face of the totality of technical and non-technical evidence supporting a nuclear test, could be characterized as a cover-up to avoid the difficult international political problems that a recognized nuclear test was assumed to trigger. [Continue reading…]


Haaretz names Jewish terrorists being held without trial in Israel

Haaretz reports: Israel’s defense establishment knows who is responsible for the arson attack that killed three members of a Palestinian family two months ago, but has chosen to prevent legal recourse in order to protect the identity of their sources, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told a closed meeting of some 20 young Likud activists in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Three Jewish suspects were put under administrative detention following the attack.
Three Jewish suspects are currently being held without trial for terrorist activities: Meir Ettinger, who according to the Shin Bet headed an extreme rightist organization intent on toppling the Israeli government though violent means, and encouraged others to carry out terrorist acts; Mordechai Meyer, the alleged arsonist behind a fire at Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem; and Eviatar Slonim, accused of setting fire to a home in the Palestinian town of Khirbet Abu Falah.

None of these names has been explicitly tied publicly to the attack on the Dawabshe family home in Duma. [Continue reading…]


One country that won’t be taking Syrian refugees: Israel

The Los Angeles Times reports: For many Israeli Jews, even the smallest number of additional non-Jews is a potential threat, and the Syrian refugee crisis and the debate about Israel’s role has reawakened the country’s most deep-seated fear — that of losing the Jewish majority and subsequently the character of the Jewish state.

Even those in support of opening the gates to refugees say they mean 10,000 at the most, with some calling for a token action such as that taken by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who in 1977 took in about 70 refugees from Vietnam.

However, Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin accused Herzog of gambling on Israel’s strategic interests for the sake of “one minute of favor” in international media. He also expressed the fear that the refugee crisis could give Palestinians an opening to bring the so-called right of return, which would allow Palestinians to return to land they occupied before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, in “through the back door.” [Continue reading…]


UN: Gaza could be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if trends continue

The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]


How the Iran deal will pass — and why it should

Fred Kaplan writes: It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists — mainly AIPAC — are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu — and for Israel — had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been. [Continue reading…]


World tunes out Netanyahu’s broken record on Iran

Akiva Eldar writes: It is hard to overstate the importance of the recorded confession by former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in which he reveals past discussions of a closed and confidential security forum concerning an eventual strike against Iran, aired by Channel 2 on Aug. 21. At this stage, clearing the ambiguity surrounding the plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by one of its senior advocates is almost as important as renouncing Israel’s policy on its nuclear program. From Barak’s recorded comments, it appears that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored a military solution to the Iranian military nuclear threat over “peaceful means.” Two civilians and one military man — Ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, members of the “Forum of Eight” and then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi — stopped Netanyahu, Barak and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman from going to war with Iran and perhaps with the entire region. On another occasion, according to Barak, American military maneuvers conducted in the region prevented an Israeli military move against Iran.

Barak’s disclosures call into question not only the judgment of the two Israeli leaders, turning a rumor about an Israeli decision to attack Iran into a quote straight from the mouth of one of the decision-makers, but also the credibility of the incumbent prime minister. In his March 3 speech to Congress, Netanyahu declared that “no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.” He stressed that the alternative to the “bad deal,” in his words, was not war, as the supporters of the agreement contended, but rather a “good deal.” But the problem is that according to Barak, both of them came up with the war alternative long before anyone knew the nature of the deal with Iran, and whether an agreement would be signed at all.

How did Netanyahu know on March 3 that the deal wouldn’t “be a farewell to arms … (but) a farewell to arms control, and the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires?” In those days, the United States kept Israel out of the loop regarding negotiations after the White House accused it of “cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States.” In reaction to April’s Lausanne understanding, Netanyahu warned that the proposed deal presents a real threat to the region and to the world and that “a deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of the State of Israel.” After that, negotiations continued for another three months, during which many drafts were prepared and endless changes introduced into central articles. [Continue reading…]


Gaza, Gulag on the Mediterranean

Mohammed Omer writes: At this time last year, as the missiles and bombs rained down in Israel’s lopsided seven-week war against Gaza, I wrote about our struggle to survive during the holy month of Ramadan. This year, another Ramadan has passed, Eid al-Fitr is over and the reality on the ground has changed very little.

The same dreadful conditions are creating desperation among Gaza’s inhabitants, whose lives are terrorized by war and stunted by the long blockade of this spit of land, 25 miles long and six miles wide. The only difference now is the absence of the smell of gunfire and explosives, and of the smoke trails from missiles fired by Israeli F-16s crashing down among civilian homes.

I recently visited some of the most heavily damaged areas of Gaza, starting with eastern Rafah, where massive destruction is still visible and bullet holes spatter the walls of houses. Up the road, in the half-ruined village of Khuzaa, the legacy of physical and emotional trauma has yet to be addressed. [Continue reading…]


Ehud Barak’s Iran bombshell could shake up Israeli politics

The Associated Press reports: Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comments that Israel nearly attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities but the plan was scuttled by military men and cowardly politicians could shake up Israeli politics.

The leaked interview, in which Barak also described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as indecisive and obsessively pessimistic, was the talk of the town Sunday in an Israel obsessed about Iran. But beyond the hand-wringing, the always calculating Barak may have been focused on the future, perhaps for a final run at the country’s leadership.

Also a former prime minister, Barak enjoys respect as the last leader of the moderate Labor Party to win an election, defeating Netanyahu in 1999. But he also is seen by analysts as having squandered his opportunity, lasting just two years in a term that cemented his reputation as brilliant but arrogant, and prone to overcomplicated analysis and nonstop machinations. [Continue reading…]


Netanyahu’s intelligence deficit

J.J. Goldberg writes: Israel’s military intelligence corps has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a surprising report assessing the opportunities and threats that the Iran nuclear deal poses for Israel.

What’s startling about the report is not its substance, which is mostly a predictable mix of standard arguments presented for and against the deal: No nukes for 10 years, which gives Israel time to develop new countermeasures, but then a quick path to a nuke after a decade; an accelerated regional arms race, plus new legitimacy for pariah Iran, but also (surprisingly) a reduced likelihood of Iran attacking Israel. The upsides aren’t perfect. The downsides aren’t unmanageable.

No, what’s remarkable about the report is the fact that it exists. Netanyahu has ordered every level of Israeli officialdom to muzzle any discussion of the deal’s possible upsides. Central to his strategy is his insistence that the deal is an unmitigated catastrophe. Orders are to depict it as so ruinous that no outcome is acceptable short of its absolute defeat.

The prime minister and his allies insist Israel is united behind his unequivocal rejection of the deal. The cowering silence of the political opposition has helped him nurture the myth. But it’s a myth.

Now comes word that his intelligence community is defying the gag order and telling him otherwise. The deal offers Israel both advantages and disadvantages, the spooks say. The disadvantages are not too calamitous for anyone to cope with them. For an outside observer, the logical conclusion is that Netanyahu’s fiery confrontation with the Obama administration is unnecessary. And destructive. [Continue reading…]


Netanyahu’s strategy on Iran backfired

Paul Pillar writes: Those paying attention both to the Israeli government’s implacable opposition against the agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program and to the issue of Iran’s other activity in the Middle East might take note of some background that several analysts, including Shibley Telhami and Aaron David Miller, have noted: that Israeli agitation about the Iranian nuclear program was a principal impetus for negotiating the agreement on that subject that was finalized in Vienna last month. Miller goes so far as to suggest (presumably with tongue firmly in cheek) that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ought to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism that motivated other governments to negotiate the deal that he now is doing his utmost to shoot down.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli official and current director of the Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an especially insightful article that explains positions on these issues both of Netanyahu’s government and of other Israeli political leaders, adds additional detail to this background. He notes that it was Israel’s government that had insisted at least as strongly as anyone that the nuclear file must be dealt with first and dealt with separately, without talking to the Iranians about regional issues or anything else.

That earlier Israeli position directly contradicts, of course, current complaints from Netanyahu’s government and other opponents of the agreement that the deal does not address non-nuclear issues of Iranian policy and behavior — things the agreement never was intended to address. But this contradiction is no more nonsensical than the overall set of Israeli government positions on the nuclear issue if those positions are taken at face value. The positions have included incessantly ringing an alarm bell about how Iran’s nuclear program could lead to a weapon and then trying to destroy the very measures designed to ensure that the program does not lead to a weapon. Things make sense, from the Israeli government’s point of view, only if they are not taken at face value. An objective of that government, rather than achieving a nuclear agreement, has been instead to avoid any agreements with Iran, on nuclear matters or anything else. A calculation that there could be plenty of agitation on the nuclear issue without any agreement emerging was by no means crazy. U.S.-Iranian diplomacy, after all, was virtually nonexistent as recently as three years ago. Serious questions were being raised elsewhere about whether, when U.S. and Iranian diplomats did sit down to talk, there would be enough bargaining space to reach an agreement on the nuclear question. And even if a deal started to emerge, the Israeli government still would have a traditional and trusty weapon — its political lobby in the United States — to shoot it down.

Meanwhile all that agitation about a nonexistent Iranian nuclear weapon served a purpose somewhat akin to the neocon agitation a decade earlier about the nonexistent Iraqi nuclear weapons: it helped to scare people to get them in line to achieve other objectives. Nuclear weapons are inherently scary and therefore useful for that sort of thing, even when they are nonexistent. In the case of Iraq the neocon objective was to get public support for launching an offensive war. In the case of Iran an Israeli objective is to get people to be deathly afraid of Iran and to view the Middle East the way Israel wants them to view it: as a region in which Iran is the source of instability and evil, in which Iran thus should only be shunned and never partnered, and in which Israel is the most reliable and effective partner for anyone who wants to be on the side of good against evil, and especially for the United States.

Now it appears that the calculation about being able to agitate without bringing about an agreement on the nuclear issue, though not crazy, was mistaken. [Continue reading…]


British call for Netanyahu’s arrest for war crimes when he visits London

A petition — “Benjamin Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes when he arrives in London” — presented on the British government’s petitions website, has already gathered over 50,000 signatures. This is well above the threshold of 10,000 signatures that requires a government response.

Once over 100,000 signatures have been gathered, this petition will be considered for debate in parliament. At its current rate of growth, this number should be exceeded before the end of this month.

The petition states:

Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold talks in London this September. Under international law he should be arrested for war crimes upon arrival in the U.K for the massacre of over 2000 civilians in 2014

If you are a British citizen or UK resident, you can sign the petition here.


Jewish terrorism targeting Palestinians is nothing new

The Daily Beast reports: Raphael Morris, a 20-year-old religious settler from the outpost of Ahiya, has for years engaged in a “holy war,” he tells The Daily Beast. He’s battling to rid Israel of its non-Jewish elements and expand the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria—the biblical term for the land on the West Bank of the Jordan River that once belonged to the ancient kingdom of Israel.

Six years ago, Morris arrived at a nearby outpost with 10 other teenagers and learned to work the vineyard, build houses, and “in a number of instances” created a line of defense against the surrounding Palestinian villages. “The Arabs knew not to mess with us,” he says.

This area of the West Bank is home to dozens of outposts initiated in defiance of the Israeli government by mainly Orthodox teenagers and young families known as “hilltop youth.” But these communities are also breeding a zealous culture of Jewish militancy that has led to intensifying attacks on Palestinian towns.

Ahiya is only a short distance from the village of Duma, where on July 31 Jewish extremists firebombed two Arab homes in the dead of night.

One of the houses was empty, but in the other four members of the same family were sleeping in one bedroom. Eighteen-month-old Ali Saad Dawabshah was immediately burned to death, and his father, Saad Dawabshah, succumbed two weeks later to the third-degree burns that covered more than 80 percent of his body. The mother, Reham, and her four-year-old son, Ahmad, remain in critical condition in an Israeli hospital and few family members expect them to survive.

On the walls of the house the arsonists left graffiti reading “Revenge!” and “Long Live the Messiah” next to a Star of David.

The brutal attacks have shocked Israel, prompting nation-wide “soul searching” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians condemn the act as “Jewish terror.” But such incidents are neither so new nor so isolated as these denunciations would make them seem. [Continue reading…]