News roundup — May 18

Hamas deputy foreign minister talks about Israel

ROBERT SIEGEL (NPR host): And I’d like to ask you to begin with what has been a major difference between Fatah and your group, Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, spoke the other day of the Palestinians’, and I quote, “great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine.”

About a week earlier, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in Cairo that the goal of your movement is a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. Which is it that Hamas seeks, a two-state solution alongside Israel or an end to the state of Israel altogether?

GHAZI HAMAD (Deputy Foreign Minister, Hamas): I think there is all kind of contradictions because maybe people understand that the occupation is a reflection of the Zionist movement, and I think the declaration of Hamas is very clear. We accept the state and ’67 borders. This state should be independent. It was chosen as the capital for Palestine and the right of return for the refugees.

But I think that Israel will not accept this because Israel reject all the demands of the Palestinian people because they believe that they have to have a Jewish state and Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and no right of return. So I think we’ll still have a big struggle and big disputes.

SIEGEL: But just to clarify, if Israel were to accept a two-state solution in which Palestine would be in Gaza and the West Bank and have its capital in Jerusalem, is that an acceptable aim that Hamas is striving for, or is that in and of itself insufficient because there would still be a state of Israel?

Mr. HAMAD: Look, we said frankly we accept this state and ’67 borders, but the question now should be directed to Israel. We need clear answer from Israel because Netanyahu said that we will not go back to the ’67 borders. We will not (unintelligible) settlements. So we still the victims of the occupation. (NPR)

US slaps sanctions on Syria’s Assad for abuses

The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world. The speech is expected to include prominent mentions of Syria.

The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel. (AP)

Tanks shell Syrian town as West piles on pressure

Tanks shelled a Syrian border town for the fourth day Wednesday in a military campaign to crush demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad, under mounting Western pressure to stop his violent repression of protesters.

Troops went into Tel Kelakh Saturday, a day after a demonstration there demanded “the overthrow of the regime,” the slogan of revolutions that toppled Arab leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and challenged others across the Middle East.

Assad had been partly rehabilitated in the West over the last three years but the United States and European Union condemned his use of force to quell unrest and warned they plan further steps after imposing sanctions on top Syrian officials. (Reuters)

The war in Libya’s western mountains

“While much attention has been focused on rebel efforts in eastern Libya and in the city of Misurata, rebels have held control of most of the Nafusah Mountain region since the unrest began in February,” my colleagues Sergio Peçanha and Joe Burgess explain in the introduction to a fascinating, richly informative graphic on the fighting there.

Last month, after the rebels in these remote mountains made an unexpected show of strength, seizing a border post along the Tunisian frontier, my colleague Scott Sayare reported that “the region’s isolated hamlets were among the first to join the uprising,” fueled by simmering resentment from a Berber community which was neglected by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Arab nationalist regime.

Despite the fact that even rebel fighters in the region estimate their ranks at just a few hundred ill-equipped and untrained young men, they have someone held off attempts by government forces to reimpose Tripoli’s rule. (New York Times)

Libyan rebel government works to boost legitimacy

NATO kept up its bombing campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi over the weekend, hitting missile launchers and other targets around Tripoli. The rebels say they welcome military support, but they would like something more: formal diplomatic recognition for their transitional government.

Some special guests flew in recently for the rebels’ weekly pep rally in Benghazi — delegates from areas of western Libya that are still under Gadhafi’s control. The delegates came to take their seats in the 30-seat National Transitional Council — a kind of proto-parliament.

Eastern Libyans like Mansour Makhlouf are glad to see them.

“Gadhafi’s people are spreading rumors that we are divided. But we’re not divided — we are all brothers,” Makhlouf says. (NPR)

War crimes prosecutor seeks Gaddafi warrant

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has asked a three-judge panel to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his second-eldest son, Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo described the evidence against the three men as “very strong” in a press conference on Monday and said he believed Libyans eventually would turn them over to the court.

The filing against Gaddafi comes just three months into the uprising against his 41-year rule, which evolved from peaceful protests in major cities to an armed rebellion based out of the east. Gaddafi’s regime has brutally attempted to suppress the opposition movement by shelling rebellious cities, and imprisoning and torturing those who speak out. (Al Jazeera)

Radio free Benghazi – the war of words

For hours and hours, I didn’t know what to make of it: Tribute FM is the first ever English language radio station in Libya. And it sounds just like Magic. Diana Ross . . . the Jackson Five . . . the Temptations . . . some German rap . . . Easy Like Sunday Morning . . . just as you’re nodding along, thinking “this is nice, I wonder if they have a phone-in,” you remember: this is probably the most radical statement of a successful revolution coming out of any radio, anywhere in the world. It is a huge moment for a country in which not just English but most European languages have been invisible for decades.

Before Muhammad, Aman and two others launched Tribute in Benghazi last week, “English wasn’t frowned on, it was completely illegal,” Muhammad tells me by phone. “It was taken out of schools, it got to the point where nothing in English was available in the city. You couldn’t advertise in English, you couldn’t read a newspaper in English.”

It is a measure of how isolating this was for young Libyans that setting up a radio station would be such a priority as the fighting continues, the stream of refugees is unabated and Gaddafi has not, as yet, surrendered. (The Guardian)

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News roundup — May 13

Protesters in Sanaa, Yemen, May 13:

Yemen protesters shot as Saleh vows defiance

Three protesters have been killed and at least 15 wounded after government forces opened fire at demonstrators in the southern Yemen city of Ibb.

The soldiers began shooting after protesters surrounded a building where the troops had taken shelter after a clash earlier on Friday.

Demonstrators, who are calling for president Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down, then set fire to an armoured troop carrier. (Al Jazeera)

Bahrain targets Shia religious sites

The Bahraini government has destroyed a number of mosques in continuation of its aggressive crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, a special Al Jazeera investigation has revealed.

At least 28 mosques and Shia religious institutions have been destroyed in the Gulf state since the crackdown on Shia-led protests began in Mid-March, the opposition group, Al Wefaq, told Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford.

The Justice Ministry, however, said it was tearing down the mosques because they were not licensed. (Al Jazeera)

Bahrain’s protesters were drugged, official claims

Adopting what might be called the Qaddafi defense, the head of Bahrain’s military claimed that the country’s brutal crackdown on dissent was entirely justified because the kingdom’s security forces had been confronted by young protesters under the influence of mind-altering drugs.

According to Bahrain’s state news agency, Sheik Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said on Wednesday that “young people were given pills which affected their minds and made them do unusual things.” He also claimed “that Bahrain had been the victim [of] a conspiracy involving foreign agents and financing.” (New York Times)

Bahrain’s hospitals are used as bait

Christopher Stokes writes: In Bahrain, to be wounded by security forces has become a reason for arrest and providing healthcare has become grounds for a jail sentence. During the current civil unrest, Bahraini health facilities have consistently been used as a tool in the military crackdown against protesters.

The muted response from key allies outside of the region such as the United States – which has significant ties to Bahrain, including a vast naval base in the country – can only be interpreted as acceptance of the ongoing military assault, which is backed by the Gulf Co-operation Council.

While the government and its supporters in Bahrain continue to refer to the protesters as rioters, criminals, extremists, insurgents or terrorists, the label that remains conspicuously absent for those who are wounded is “patient”. (The Guardian)

George Mitchell quits as Mideast envoy

The Obama administration’s special Mideast envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, is resigning after more than two largely fruitless years of trying to press Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks, U.S. officials said Friday.

The White House is expected to announce that the veteran mediator and broker of the Northern Ireland peace accord is stepping down for personal reasons, the officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an afternoon announcement that will follow a White House meeting between Mitchell and President Barack Obama.

There are no imminent plans to announce a replacement for Mitchell, the officials said, although his staff is expected to remain in place at least temporarily.

Mitchell’s resignation comes at a critical time for the Middle East, which is embroiled in turmoil, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been moribund since last September and is now further complicated by an agreement between Palestinian factions to share power.

Obama will deliver a speech next Thursday at the State Department about his administration’s views of developments in the region, ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jordan’s King Abdullah II also will travel to Washington next week. (AP)

More than 7000 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in last 10 years

On Thursday, The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) issued a report stating that more than 7000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past ten years.

The PCBS said that 7342 Palestinians were killed in the period between September 29, 2000 and December 31, 2010.

The report stated that by the end of 2009, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire arrived to 7235, including 2183 killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank. (IMEC)

Clashes in East Jerusalem ahead of Nakba day

Israeli security forces have clashed with Palestinians in several East Jerusalem neighbourhoods ahead of “Nakba Day” or “day of catastrophe” on Sunday.

The anniversary marks Israel’s 1948 declaration of statehood after which more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the war that ensued.

A correspondent for the AFP news agency saw four people hurt as police opened fire with rubber bullets at stone-throwing youths in Silwan. (Al Jazeera)

Palestinian teen critically injured as Israel cracks down on Nakba demos; American protester shot in the head with tear-gas canister at close range

A 17 year-old was critically injured from live fire in East Jerusalem, and an American protester suffered serious head injury after being hit by a tear-gas projectile shot directly at him from close range.

Israeli military and police forces responded heavy handedly to demonstrations commemorating 63 years to the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 today all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Morad Ayyash, a 17 year old from the Ras el-Amud neighborhood was shot in the stomach with live ammunition. He has reached the Muqassed hospital with no pulse and the doctors are now fighting for his life.

Tension also rose in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where 19 protesters have been injured and 11 were arrested. During the evening hours, large police forces raided houses in Silwan and carried out additional arrests. (Mondoweiss)

Watch more stories at #NakbaSurvivor.

Reinventing the Palestinian struggle

Khaled Diab writes: With the world’s attention focused on the tumultuous changes gripping Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, one may be excused for thinking that all is quiet on the Palestinian-Israeli front.

So why haven’t Palestinian youth risen up like their counterparts elsewhere in the region to demand their rights?

Well, it is not for want of trying. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, and following the date-based example of counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world, a new youth movement dubbed by some as the March 15 movement has emerged in Palestine.

The date refers to the day when organisers employing social media, text messaging and word of mouth managed to draw thousands of protesters on to the streets of Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank, as well as Gaza City.

However, in contrast to other popular uprisings in the region, their demands were not wholesale regime change, despite the undoubted failings of both Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and the absence of a democratic mandate for both parties.

“Our top priority is to end the divisions within Palestinian society. This is the only way to deal with the occupation,” explained Z, one of the founders of the movement in Ramallah, who wished to conceal his identity for professional reasons.

Some of the others involved in March 15 are also reluctant to reveal their identities, partly as an expression of the decentralised and “leaderless” approach preferred by Middle Eastern protesters tired of authoritarianism, and partly to avoid popping up on the radars of security services run by the PA, Hamas or Israel.

Despite its relative success on 15 March, the movement has not managed to replicate the most successful ingredient of the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain: constant pressure from the streets. This is partly due to the two-tiered nature of the oppression facing Palestinians, and the restrictions on their movement imposed by the occupation. “Unfortunately, we have two levels of repression in Palestine: Israeli and domestic,” says Z, who is in his early 20s.

In addition, there is the psychological barrier of widespread despair and disillusionment afflicting wide swaths of the population, which the Arab spring is just beginning to chip away at. Most Palestinians I have met since I moved to Jerusalem a few weeks ago speak enthusiastically and excitedly about the Egyptian revolution.

“The problem among Palestinians is that revolutions are nothing new, yet nothing changes or things get worse,” Z observes. “Neither uprisings nor negotiations have worked, Palestinians believe – we’re still under occupation.” (The Guardian)

Mashaal: Egyptians are not required to march to Gaza Strip

Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, said that for the time being Egyptians are not required to march to the Gaza Strip in support of the Palestinian cause.

Egyptian activists had called on Egyptians to march to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing on 15 May. The event, which has been dubbed “March to Palestine Day”, is intended to mark the 63rd anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel.

In statements published on the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, Meshaal said that, “advocating the cause by taking a political stance, sending relief aid, boycotting and sending prayers is a must at the moment. We do not ask you to march.” (Al-Masry Al-Youm)

Gaddafi dismisses claims he was injured

Libyan state television has aired what it says is a statement by Muammar Gaddafi, in which the Libyan leader denies reports that he has been wounded.

In the audio message, broadcast on Friday evening, Gaddafi said he is alive and well despite air strikes from the NATO military alliance on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in the capital, Tripoli, on Thursday.

Gaddafi said he is in a place where NATO bombs can not reach him. (Al Jazeera)

Fears grow for photographer not seen since his capture in Libya 39 days ago

Concern is growing over a British-based photographer who has been missing for 39 days after being captured in Libya by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Anton Hammerl, an award-winning photographer, was captured on 4 April and his family have had no concrete news about him since then.

The regime has, however, allowed access to three other journalists who were captured with him. (The Guardian)

Protesters take to Syria’s streets despite crackdown

Thousands of protesters in Syria defied a ferocious crackdown and returned to the streets Friday, even in towns that the military had besieged only days before, in a relentless contest of wills that a leading dissident described as an emerging stalemate.

For successive weeks, Fridays have served as a weekly climax in the challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Calls for demonstrations this Friday came after a withering wave of repression that has killed hundreds and detained thousands in towns and cities stretching from the Mediterranean coast to Damascus’s outskirts and the poverty-ridden south.

While some of the country’s most restive locales remained relatively quiet — namely Baniyas on the coast and Dara’a in the south — protesters took to the streets in at least five neighborhoods in Homs, Syria’s third largest-city and a center of the two-month uprising. Activists said protests ranged in numbers from hundreds to thousands, and at least two people were killed when security forces opened fire.

“We don’t like you!” crowds chanted in Homs, referring to the president. “You and your party, leave us!” (New York Times)

Signs of chaos in Syria’s intense crackdown

Syrian forces carried out raids in towns on the outskirts of Damascus and a besieged city on the coast on Thursday, as the number of detainees surged in a government campaign so sweeping that human rights groups said many neighborhoods were subjected to repeated raids and some people detained multiple times by competing security agencies.

The ferocious crackdown on the uprising, which began in March, has recently escalated, as the government braces for the possibility of another round of protests on Friday, a day that has emerged as the weekly climax in a broad challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Residents have reported that hundreds of detainees are being held in soccer stadiums, schools and government buildings in various towns and cities across the country, some of them arrested in door-to-door raids by black-clad forces carrying lists of activists. (New York Times)

Crime wave in Egypt has people afraid, even the police

The neighbors watched helplessly from behind locked gates as an exchange of gunfire rang out at the police station. Then about 80 prisoners burst through the station’s doors — some clad only in underwear, many brandishing guns, machetes, even a fire extinguisher — as the police fled.

“The police are afraid,” said Mohamed Ismail, 30, a witness. “I am afraid to leave my neighborhood.”

Three months after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, a crime wave in Egypt has emerged as a threat to its promised transition to democracy. Businessmen, politicians and human rights activists say they fear that the mounting disorder — from sectarian strife to soccer riots — is hampering a desperately needed economic recovery or, worse, inviting a new authoritarian crackdown.

At least five attempted jailbreaks have been reported in Cairo in the past two weeks, at least three of them successful. Other attempts take place “every day,” a senior Interior Ministry official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.

Newspapers brim with other episodes: the Muslim-Christian riot that raged last weekend with the police on the scene, leaving 12 dead and two churches in flames; a kidnapping for ransom of a grandniece of President Anwar el-Sadat; soccer fans who crashed a field and mauled an opposing team as the police disappeared; a mob attack in an upscale suburb, Maadi, that hospitalized a traffic police officer; and the abduction of another officer by Bedouin tribes in the Sinai.

“Things are actually going from bad to worse,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, the former international atomic energy official, now a presidential candidate. “Where have the police and military gone?” (New York Times)

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News roundup — May 12

Sunni monarchies close ranks

Reports that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is considering some form of membership for two non-Gulf states – Jordan and Morocco – confirm that the conservative Sunni monarchies of the Middle East are closing ranks against Iran, Shiite-led Iraq and the democratic wave sweeping the region.

GCC secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani made the announcement Tuesday after a summit of the six-member group affirmed support for Saudi and United Arab Emirates military intervention against predominantly Shiite pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain.

Zayani did not make clear whether Morocco and Jordan would be offered a second-tier membership in the GCC, which groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.

Foreign ministers from Jordan and Morocco will meet with GCC foreign ministers to “complete required procedures”, Zayani told reporters.

Founded in 1981 in the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 revolution and in the midst of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the GCC encourages economic and especially military cooperation among its members, which all border the Persian Gulf. In territorial terms, it would make more sense to offer membership to Iraq or Yemen than to Jordan or faraway Morocco.

However, the wave of popular unrest that has swept the region since January – and toppled once durable pro-Western authoritarian non- monarchies in Tunisia and Egypt – has spread anxiety among conservative Sunni monarchies already unsettled by the Shiite replacement of a Sunni regime in Iraq and by Iran’s slow but steady nuclear advancement. (IPS)

Syria shells major city as crackdown spreads

The Syrian military intensified a methodical, ferocious march across the country’s most restive locales on Wednesday, shelling the country’s third-largest city from tanks, forcing hundreds to flee and detaining hundreds more in what has emerged as one of the most brutal waves of repression since the Arab Spring began.

Homs, in central Syria near the Lebanese border, has become the latest target of the crackdown, which has already besieged and silenced, for now, the cities of Dara’a, in the fertile but drought-stricken southern steppe, and Baniyas, on the Mediterranean coast. Dozens of tanks occupied Homs, as black-clad security forces, soldiers and militiamen in plain clothes filtered through the industrial city of 1.5 million people. At least 19 people were killed there Wednesday, human rights groups said.

The crackdown in some neighborhoods alternated with the relative calm in the center of a city that is home to a Sunni Muslim majority and a Christian minority.

“We see the smoke rising in the sky after we hear the shells explode,” said Abu Haydar, a resident reached by telephone. “The sky was pretty quickly covered in smoke.”

In public statements and interviews, the government has acknowledged the crackdown, describing the military’s targets as militant Islamists and saboteurs. It said nearly 100 soldiers and members of the security forces had been killed, and American officials say that some protesters have indeed taken up arms.

In Washington, two Obama administration officials said that the United States still did not see a clear or organized opposition or another leader in Syria who could serve to unite the foes of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. (New York Times)

What will a post-Assad Syria look like?

Joshua Landis writes: I am a pessimist about Syria’s future because the regime will dig in its heels and fight to the end. The Syrian opposition has successfully established a culture of resistance that is widespread in Syria and will not be eliminated. Even if demonstrations can be shut down for the time being, the opposition will not be defeated. Syria’s youth, long apolitical and appathetic, is now politicized, mobilized, and passionate. All the same, the opposition remains divided and leaderless, which presents great dangers for a post-Assad Syria.

It is hard to see any soft landing for the regime or the people. It is also hard to see how the regime will be brought down short of economic collapse and its inability to pay wages, which would lead to wider social defections and a possible splitting of the military, as happened in Lebanon and Libya. If the military splits, both sides would have ample firepower to do real damage. Large sections of Syria could fall out of state control. Regions not divided by sect could remain fairly quite and stable for a time if there is a unified political leadership to step into the vacuum. Otherwise competing parties will develop militias as happened in Iraq and Lebanon.

No foreign power will feel compelled to step in to protect the people or stop the fighting because no one will be responsible for “losing Syria.” Syria is a political orphan today.

The army has split in Syria once before. This happened in Feb 1954 at the end of Adib Shishakli’s rule. The army divided along geographic lines. The divisions in the North went with the opposition centered on the People’s Party based in Homs and Aleppo. The South stood by Shishakli. Fortunately, General Shishakli decided to leave the country and flew off to Saudi Arabia, helped by the US. He had a change of mind in mid air but the US prevented his return. Washington convinced Lebanon to refuse his jet landing rights. After a brief spell in Arabia, Shishakli migrated to Brazil, where a relative of a Druze man, for whose death Shishakli was responsible, assassinated him.

Syria’s great weakness is it lack of unity. This is why the Assad household has been able to rule for so long. Hafiz al-Assad was able to bring stability to Syria after 20 years of coups and political chaos by reverting to the use of traditional loyalties. He ended Syria’s period as a banana republic by placing his brother in charge of protecting the presidency and using tribal and sectarian loyalties to coup-proof the regime. Alawite faithful were carefully recruited to all the sensitive security positions in the Mukhabarat and military. The Sunni elite was grateful for the stability and was further brought in through the crafty use of graft and patronage. Rami Makhlouf is corrupt, but he is also the fixer for the Sunni merchant class. The way he brought the Sham Holding Company in to the circle of regime loyalists was a classic use of privilege and muscle to glue the elite families of Syria to the regime. They have made millions my accepting an offer that they could not refuse.

The Syrian opposition has always been divided between Arab nationalists, Islamist currents, liberals, and all those who disprove of the regime but are too conservative to take part in active opposition. Then there are the sectarian communities and the Kurds, class divisions, and the urban-rural split, not to mention the traditional rivalry between Damascus and Aleppo. The reason that the Assads have been so successful for so long is largely due to the inability of Syrians to unite around a common platform and national identity. The oppositions lack of unity does not augur well for a post Assad future, especially as the death toll mounts and the desire for revenge grows. (Syria Comment)

Yemeni forces kill 18 and wound hundreds as unrest escalates

Yemeni forces have opened fire on demonstrators in three major cities, killing at least 18 and wounding hundreds in one of the fiercest bouts of violence witnessed in nearly three months of popular unrest aimed at toppling President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The clashes between a defected faction of Yemen’s army and the republican guard, have raised fears that Yemen may be reaching a critical juncture as public fury continues to mount at the president’s refusal to step down.

Violence broke out in the capital when a throng of 2,000 protesters tore away from the main sit-in area at Sana’a University and surged en masse towards the cabinet building in downtown Sana’a with shouts of “God is great” and “Allah rid us of this tyrant”. (The Guardian)

Turkey’s Erdogan: Hamas is a political party, not a terrorist group

Hamas is not a terror organization, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with U.S. television late Wednesday, saying he felt the recently penned Palestinian reconciliation agreement was an essential step toward Mideast peace.

Erdogan’s comments came one day after Hamas Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar said that while his organization would accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, it would never recognize Israel, as a result of the damage such a move would do to Palestinian refugees in the “diaspora.”

Senior Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have voiced opposition to Fatah’s new unity deal with Hamas, saying that a Palestinian government that included a terrorist group calling for Israel’s destruction could not be a partner for peace.

Speaking to Charlie Rose on Wednesday, however, the Turkish PM chimed in on the recently achieved unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, indicating that he did not feel Hamas was an obstacle in achieving Mideast peace. (Haaretz)

Abbas determined to retain Fayyad as PM of Fatah-Hamas cabinet, report says

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told Egyptian officials that incumbent Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is his only candidate to head the burgeoning Palestinian unity cabinet, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported on Thursday.

The report came after international donors were reportedly applying significant pressure on Abbas to retain Fayyad as prime minister, after earlier reports claimed the Palestinian prime minister would have to step down as a result of Fatah’s newly signed unity pact with former rivals Hamas. (Haaretz)

Nato air strikes hit Gaddafi compound in Tripoli again

Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli has been hit by Nato rockets again, a few hours after the veteran autocrat appeared in public for the first time in almost two weeks.

Gaddafi was shown on state television in a traditional brown robe addressing tribal leaders, whom he empowered to speak on behalf of a nation he has ruled with absolute power for almost 42 years.

The labyrinthine complex in the heart of the capital was struck at around 3am with five bombs and rockets that appeared to target military installations and bunkers.

A giant crater could be seen in the lawn in the middle of the complex, with one of the rockets having hit what appeared to be a bunker . Officials said six people were killed in the attack, including two Libyan reporters who had been interviewing supporters camped out at the scene.

“These locations were known to be command and control facilities engaged in co-ordinating attacks against civilian populations in Libya,” said a Nato official speaking from Brussels.

Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the underground facility was not a bunker, but a sewage network. But following the strike, chanting Gaddafi supporters guarded a stairwell leading to the ruined site, having been told to let no reporters near it. Heat rose from a second smaller crater, where shattered reinforced concrete exposed a cavernous hole beneath. (The Guardian)

Libyan opposition invited to White House Friday

The Obama administration is stepping up its engagement with forces fighting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, inviting opposition leaders to meet with U.S. officials at the White House Friday, while stopping short of recognizing their council as Libya’s legitimate government.

The White House said Mahmoud Jibril, a representative of the Libyan Transitional National Council, would meet with senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as members of Congress. But there were no plans for President Barack Obama to meet with Jibril and his delegation.

France and Italy are among the nations that recognize the Council as Libya’s legitimate government. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said today that while the U.S. would continue consulting and assisting the opposition, giving the Council political legitimacy would be “premature.”

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, speaking with Marines, said the U.S. is keeping a “wary eye” on the opposition, and lacks clarity about exactly who the opposition is and what actions they may take long-term.

Still, the U.S. has been boosting its support for the opposition over the past month, including Obama’s authorization of $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the revolutionaries. The first shipment of that aid — 10,000 meals ready to eat from Pentagon stocks — arrived in the liberated city of Benghazi this week. The U.S. has also supplied some $53 million in humanitarian aid.

In addition, the administration has begun working with Congress to free up a portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Gaddafi regime assets in U.S. banks so it can be spent to help the Libyan people. Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, who met with Jibril this week, said yesterday he was drafting legislation at the request of the White House that would allow that to happen.

The revolutionaries have said they need up to $3 billion in the coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies in order to keep fighting Gaddafi’s forces. They also say no country has sent the arms that they desperately need. (Libya TV)

Move to expand the war on terrorism

Less than two weeks after U.S. special operations commandos killed Osama bin Laden, a resolution viewed as an expansion of the legal basis for the global war on terror is moving through Congress.

The House Armed Services Committee added language to the fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization bill on Wednesday that would define the current war on al Qaeda to include the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, affirming the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s interpretation of the 2001 war resolution.

The committee began marking up the bill on Wednesday. It sets out the guidance for the U.S. defense budget.

The provision, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, is key legislation used by lawyers for both President George W. Bush and President Obama as a legal basis for detaining terrorists without trial who are captured around the world. The legislation also was used to authorize U.S. drone strikes and special operations forces raids in countries where the United States is not formally at war.

Civil liberties groups have expressed worries that the new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and committee chairman, significantly expands the scope of the global war on terror. (Washington Times)

Taliban join the Twitter revolution

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they eschewed most modern technology, including television and music players.

But in the latest sign of the hardline movement’s rapprochement with at least some areas of the modern world, the Taliban have embraced microblogging.

Their Twitter feed, @alemarahweb, pumps out several messages each day, keeping 224 followers up to date with often highly exaggerated reports of strikes against the “infidel forces” and the “Karzai puppet regime”.

Most messages by the increasingly media-savvy movement are in Pashtu, with links to news stories on the elaborate and multilingual website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban’s shadow government likes to style itself. (The Guardian)

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News roundup — May 11

NATO steps up bombing in Libya; rebels report gains

NATO carried out its most forceful attacks in weeks in Libya on Tuesday, part of an apparently coordinated push with rebel forces to bring an end to Moammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-long rule.

NATO warplanes pummeled command-and-control targets in four cities, including Tripoli and Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte. U.S. officials said NATO had increased the tempo of its airstrikes throughout the country, and members of the alliance spoke of improved targeting of dug-in loyalist forces, made possible in part by the presence of U.S. Predator drone aircraft.

The new assault appeared to reflect increased cooperation between NATO and the rebel army, allowing the rebels to make modest gains on the ground this week, particularly in and around the western city of Misurata. Although it was too early to tell whether the advances would mark a meaningful turning point in a conflict that has left the country divided since February, the progress “shows where the momentum lies,” said a European diplomat privy to NATO’s internal discussions.

“It is noteworthy that Gaddafi’s forces have not been able to mount a sustained attack for quite some time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations. He said the rebels’ recent success in Misurata was largely due to the fact that government troops had been forced to abandon entrenched positions, making them vulnerable to ground attack. (Washington Post)

Gaddafi has until end of May for exile deal: Italy

leader Muammar Gaddafi has until the end of May to agree his exile before an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court is issued, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday.

‘There are countries that in recent weeks have indicated… a willingness to welcome him,’ Mr Frattini said in an interview with RAI public radio.

‘It’s clear that if there is an international arrest warrant it would be more difficult to find an arrangement for the colonel and his family,’ he said.

‘This will happen by the end of May,’ he added.

Mr Frattini also said he believed there were ‘many defections’ from the regime underway, adding: ‘This shows we have probably arrived at a turning point.’ (AFP)

Killings and rumors unsettle Benghazi

Three weeks ago, a traveler spotted a man’s body in the farmland on this city’s outskirts, shot twice in the head with his hands and feet bound. He had disappeared earlier that day, after visiting a market.

Ten days later, near the same spot, a shepherd stumbled upon the body of a second man, killed with a single bullet to the forehead. Masked, armed men had taken him from his home the night before, without giving a reason, his wife said.

The dead men, Nasser al-Sirmany and Hussein Ghaith, had both worked as interrogators for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s internal security services, known for their brutality against domestic dissidents. The killings, still unsolved, appeared to be rooted in revenge, the families said, and have raised the specter of a death squad stalking former Qaddafi officials in Benghazi, the opposition stronghold.

The killings have unsettled an already paranoid city, where rebel authorities have spent weeks trying to round up people suspected of being Qaddafi loyalists — members of a fifth column who they say are trying to overthrow the rebels. If the violence continues, it will pose a stern challenge to a movement trying to present a vision of a new country committed to the rule of law, while potentially undermining hopes for a peaceful transition if Colonel Qaddafi surrenders power.

The rebels say their security forces are not responsible for the killings. Prosecutors here say they are investigating at least four attacks, including another murder in March, and they are exploring the possible involvement of Islamists who were imprisoned by the Qaddafi government and are now settling old scores. “It’s our responsibility to protect people,” said Jamal Benour, the justice coordinator for the opposition in Benghazi. “It’s important the killers are punished. The law is most important.”

But some here dismiss talk of Islamists, saying they believe the killings are being carried out by an armed group allied with the rebels, or possibly Qaddafi loyalists pretending to be. (New York Times)

Libyan rebels seize control of Misurata’s airport

Rebels in the contested western city of Misurata stormed the city’s airport on Wednesday afternoon, swarming over the grounds from the south and east and reclaiming it from the military of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Seizing the airport in Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, which has been under siege for nearly two months, marked one of the most significant rebel victories in the Libyan conflict.

The airport and its approaches were the last remaining pieces of significant terrain in the city to be controlled by the Qaddafi soldiers. (New York Times)

Nick Clegg backs decision to not open Britain’s borders to Libyan refugees

Nick Clegg has backed a decision by the home secretary, Theresa May, not to open Britain’s borders to migrants fleeing the turmoil in Libya and North Africa.

Instead the Liberal Democrat leader said Italy should be offered practical assistance in helping those refugees and migrants who manage to complete the dangerous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean.

On Thursday May is to confirm Britain’s rejection of calls to take part in a European-wide “burden-sharing” scheme when she meets EU interior ministers in Brussels to discuss the north African situation. (The Guardian)

Helping Libya’s refugees is the better way to beat Gaddafi

Simon Tsidall writes: Given the mad rush to war in Libya, when Britain and others suddenly decided Benghazi risked becoming the new Srebrenica, it is unsurprising that little or no thought was given to the seemingly unrelated question of sub-Saharan migration into the EU. But the law of unintended consequences is inexorable. What began as a quixotic fight in a faraway country has mutated into a life-or-death struggle on the tourist beaches of Europe. Apparently, nobody saw it coming.

The people dying in this war within a war are not Libyans, not the Gaddafi-ites, not the rebels. They are not the endlessly affronted residents of Lampedusa and other Italian and Maltese islands. Nor are they British or other Nato airmen. They are the people who always die first in such situations: the poor, the uneducated, the dark-skinned.

They are people from Eritrea and Somalia, from Chad and Niger, and from other sub-Saharan loser nations. And they are now being washed up daily on Europe’s shores, some just alive, others not so lucky – washed up in their hundreds and thousands, unknowing and blameless, the helpless collateral victims of the high-handed US-British-French decision to rid the world of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and damn the consequences. (The Guardian)

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Schoolgirls ‘beaten’ in Bahrain raids

Secret filming conducted by Al Jazeera has revealed shocking evidence of the brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

An undercover investigation conducted by Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Charles Stratford, has unearthed evidence that Bahraini police carried out periodic raids on girls’ schools since the unrest began.

The government of Bahrain deployed security forces onto the streets on March 14 in an attempt to quell more than four weeks of protests.

A three-month “state of emergency” that was declared by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on March 15, is due to be lifted on June 1.

At the height of the protests, up to 200,000 people rallied against the government. The crackdown was an attempt to end the protests that demanded the end of the despotic rule of the Khalifah royal family.

In an interview “Heba”, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, alleges she, along with three of her school friends, were taken away by the police from their school and subjected to severe beatings while in custody for three consecutive days. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen security forces fire upon protesters

Witnesses say Yemeni security forces and snipers have opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters marching towars the cabinet building in Sanaa, the capital.

A doctor who treated some of the wounded said that at least one protester had been killed and dozens more wounded.

The doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said that wounded protesters were still arriving at a field hospital where he was treating patients.

The protesters were calling for the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s logtime president, when they came under fire on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

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News roundup — May 10

Bin Laden sons say U.S. violated international law

The adult sons of Osama bin Laden have lashed out at President Obama over their father’s death, accusing the United States of violating its basic legal principles by killing an unarmed man, shooting his family members and disposing of his body in the sea.

The statement said the family was asking why the leader of Al Qaeda “was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world.” Citing the trials of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, the statement questioned “the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated,” but the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial were ignored.

“We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems,” the statement said, adding that “justice must be seen to be done.”

The statement, prepared at the direction of Omar bin Laden, a son who had publicly denounced his father’s terrorism, was provided to The New York Times by Jean Sasson, an American author who helped the younger Bin Laden write a 2009 memoir, “Growing Up bin Laden.” A shorter, slightly different statement was posted on a jihadist Web site Tuesday. (New York Times)

India strengthens accusations of ISI Mumbai link

India is ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan ahead of next week’s terrorism trial in the U.S., releasing a document that alleges the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency was directly involved in the attacks on Mumbai in 2008.

The move comes as Pakistan is facing accusations from the U.S. and India that some element of the military must have helped hide al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed last week in a secret raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on a house only four kilometers from the elite Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.

A court in Chicago will begin hearings this month in the trial of seven men alleged to have aided David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American who has pleaded guilty of scouting sites for the Mumbai attacks, which led to the deaths of more than 160 people, including six Americans. (Wall Street Journal)

India begins wargames on Pakistan border

India kicked off war games involving thousands of troops on Monday along its border with arch-rival Pakistan, which is still smarting from the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

A military spokesperson told reporters the six-day exercise, codenamed Vijayee Bhava (Be Victorious) was being held in the Thar desert region in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

“This exercise envisages sustained massed mechanised manoeuvres,” S D Goswami said, adding the drill involved an array of weaponry that India has acquired as part of its ongoing military modernisation programme.

More than 20 000 combat troops were taking part. (AFP)

WikiLeaks: ISI allowed terrorists to attack India, says Gitmo detainee

In revelations that could further embarrass Pakistan, WikiLeaks has released a fresh set of US diplomatic cables that show how the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), allowed militants to go to India to carry out strikes on targets chosen by the Pakistan army.

The revelations are part of nearly 800 interrogation reports of suspects held in Guantanamo Bay prison.

WikiLeaks, in one of the several cables that exposes ISI’s links to terror groups, quotes a US cable as saying that an Algerian Al Qaeda militant arrested in 2002 said that his mission was to “kill Indians in India”. (NDTV)

Osama bin Laden mission agreed in secret 10 years ago by US and Pakistan

The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week’s raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

“There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him,” said a former senior US official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations. “The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.” (The Observer)

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Aircraft carrier left us to die, say migrants fleeing Libya

Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned. Two of the nine survivors claim this included a Nato ship.

A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days. “Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard,” said Abu Kurke, one of only nine survivors. “By the final days, we didn’t know ourselves … everyone was either praying, or dying.”

International maritime law compels all vessels, including military units, to answer distress calls from nearby boats and to offer help where possible. Refugee rights campaigners have demanded an investigation into the deaths, while the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has called for stricter co-operation among commercial and military vessels in the Mediterranean in an effort to save human lives. (The Guardian)

U.N. urges ships to help migrants in Mediterranean

The United Nations refugee agency has urged the crews of ships in the Mediterranean to keep watch for unseaworthy vessels carrying migrants from war-torn Libya after a report that a ship with 600 people on board broke up just off the port of Tripoli on Friday.

Witnesses in Tripoli said the ship was only 100 yards from shore when it broke up, Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization, said Monday. “It’s not clear how many people died or drowned,” she said, but 16 bodies — including those of two babies — had been recovered.

Refugees who left on another vessel later on Friday said they saw bodies and pieces of a ship in the water, said Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman in Italy for the agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ms. Wilkes said there had been a “dramatic increase in the number of boats making this terrible journey,” as migrants, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to flee Libya’s turmoil, heading for sanctuary on the Italian island of Lampedusa. (New York Times)

Here they stood, until they ran

The family photo albums, abandoned on the sand, lay open and fluttering in the desert wind. Around them were the personal items with which they had been packed: heaps of clothing, sandals, DVDs, combs, bottles of perfume, cooking utensils, razors, toothbrushes, several teapots, bundled blankets and a few biscuits, broken and dry. Every several yards a dropped suitcase rested on the dirt, looted bare.

War can strip those caught in its path to almost nothing, which is what happened to the people who had gathered here last Wednesday. They were African migrants caught in the conflict in Libya. They had long ago winnowed their meager possessions down, first to leave their small flats to move into tents, then to leave the tents to stand in line with a suitcase or two at this plot of bare desert, where they were told to wait for a ride to a ship. Here they stood until they ran. They dashed away so quickly and with such panic that they left behind the last things to which they had clung.

Like more than 10,000 other migrant workers in Misurata, they had been idled from work by the outbreak of war, and then cut off from routes overland toward home when the military of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi put this city under siege. They had waited two months for an evacuation vessel to arrive in the city’s harbor and carry them out. (New York Times)

Libyan rebels gain ground in Misurata

Rebel fighters made significant gains Monday against forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in both the western and eastern areas of the country, in the first faint signs that NATO airstrikes may be starting to strain the government forces.

In the besieged western city of Misurata hundreds of rebels broke through one of the front lines late on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon were consolidating their position on the ground a few miles to the city’s west.

The breakout of what had been nearly static lines came after NATO aircraft spent days striking positions and military equipment held by the Qaddafi forces, weakening them to the point that a ground attack was possible, the rebels said.

While not in itself a decisive shift for a city that remained besieged, the swift advance, made with few rebel casualties, carried both signs of rebel optimism and hints of the weakness of at least one frontline loyalist unit. (New York Times)

* * *

Syria proclaims it now has upper hand over uprising

The Syrian government has gained the upper hand over a seven-week uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, a senior official declared Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the leadership believes its crackdown will crush protests that have begun to falter in the face of hundreds of deaths and mass arrests.

The remarks by Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr. Assad who often serves as an official spokeswoman, suggested that a government accustomed to adapting in the face of crises was prepared to weather international condemnation and sanctions. Her confidence came in stark contrast to appearances just two weeks ago, when the government seemed to stagger before the breadth and resilience of protests in dozens of towns and cities.

“I hope we are witnessing the end of the story,” she said in an hourlong interview, for which a reporter was allowed in Syria for only a few hours. “I think now we’ve passed the most dangerous moment. I hope so, I think so.” (New York Times)

Is Asma Assad in London?

The wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad may have fled to London with the couple’s three young children, it has been claimed.

Asma Assad, 35, was said to be living in a safe house in or near the capital.

British-born Mrs Assad, who is considered to be one of the most glamorous first ladies in the world, has not been seen in public since the start of the Arab Spring. (Daily Telegraph)

Assad’s brother tops Syria sanctions list

The European Union has listed 13 Syrian officials on the bloc’s sanctions list, including a brother and a wealthy and influential cousin of Bashar al-Assad, the president, and intelligence chiefs.

Maher al-Assad commands Syria’s Republican Guard and is considered the second most powerful man in the country.

The EU’s official journal, in which the full list was published on Tuesday, described Maher al-Assad as the “principal overseer of violence against demonstrators”.

The measures, asset freezes and travel bans, are part of a package of sanctions, including an arms embargo which went into effect on Tuesday, as part of EU efforts to try to force Syria to end violence against anti-government protesters. (Al Jazeera)

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Blindfolded, beaten and tortured: grim new testimony reveals fate of Bahrain’s persecuted doctors

Harrowing testimony of torture, intimidation and humiliation from a doctor arrested in the crackdown on medical staff in Bahrain has revealed the lengths to which the regime’s security forces are prepared to go to quash pro-democracy protests.

Interviews obtained by The Independent from inside Bahrain tell of ransacked hospitals and of terrified medical staff beaten, interrogated and forced into signing false confessions. Many have been detained, their fate unknown.

Inspired by the pro-democracy protests which swept Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Bahrainis took to the streets in their thousands in February, demanding greater political rights and more equality for the Shia Muslim majority, ruled over for decades by a Sunni monarchy. (The Independent)

As Bahrain’s abuses grow, U.S. stays on sidelines

At least 30 people have died in Bahrain, protesters and medical workers are being put on trial, and prominent opposition politicians are being arrested—but the United States has yet to toughen its talk or impose sanctions on its Gulf ally.

Bahrain, a predominantly Shiite country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, plays host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. McClatchy reports today that the government has bulldozed dozens of Shiite mosques. Shiite women and girls have also been detained and abused, according to McClatchy. The State Department has said little about these matters publicly, except to tell McClatchy it’s “concerned by the destruction of religious sites” and is “extremely troubled by reports of ongoing human rights abuses” in Bahrain.

The Bahraini government announced last week it would charge nearly 50 doctors and nurses for treating injured pro-democracy protesters. We’d previously noted the government’s detention of medical workers along with protesters, activists and journalists. (ProPublica)

Violence in Cairo and beyond

Wendell Steavenson writes: Last week an activist I know came to see me and showed me a series of pictures on his mobile phone: men throwing Molotov cocktails, blurred fireballs, and debris-strewn streets.

“Where was this?” I asked him, thinking they were pictures taken during the revolution. “Moski,” he said, naming a downtown area of Cairo known for its street traders, “a half an hour ago.” “I was nearly stabbed,” he added. Apparently two rival streets had gone to battle over some kind of shop-to-shop dispute, using rocks, bricks, and shotguns. Sixty people were injured. It happened the same day as a smallish crowd of pro-Mubarak supporters tried to celebrate his birthday outside of the state TV building (a favorite spot for demonstrations; soldiers use the first-floor balconies as watchtowers in case of serious trouble) and clashed with a rival crowd.

Yesterday, I went to a conference for parties and people hoping to form a broad umbrella committee to begin to address issues like the economy and the constitutional process during this interim period. I met Dr. Mohamed Ghonim, a wise, tortoise-looking man who is a famous kidney specialist and elder statesman of sorts for the liberal front of the revolution. He ruminated on the role of the Army, currently the de facto ruling authority. “As you know, security in general is bad. Every day there are two or three major things happening and nothing serious is done to contain these incidents. The economy is going in a negative way, downhill…”

I asked him if he thought that these incidents were being deliberately allowed to erupt.

“Of course. How can people stop the railway?” he asked, referring to the disruption in the upper Egyptian town of Qena at the end of April, when local people cut rail lines that link the north and south of the country, to protest the imposition of an unpopular governor. Ghonim said that law and order, in the hands of the military since the police are still not deployed in anything like their pre-revolutionary numbers, was being allowed to disintegrate, “Until you get to a critical point and then people say ‘oh please step in politically!’” (The New Yorker)

The warning bells are ringing

Hassan Nafaa writes: The tragedy at St. Marmina church in Imbaba on Saturday is not a new story. A young Muslim man from Asyut claims he married a Christian woman who converted to Islam five years ago, and that his wife’s brothers kidnapped her in recent months. The young man then claims he received a phone call that his wife is detained at an Imbaba church. The young man then goes to Imbaba and gathers a group of Muslims, most of them Salafis, from nearby mosques. Together they head to the church and instigated yet another incident of sectarian strife.

When the police learned of the gathering in front of St. Marmina church, they sought the assistance of Sheikh Mohammad Ali, a prominent local Salafi leader and a preacher at the nearby Toba mosque. Along with other religious leaders, Sheikh Ali went to the gathering outside the church and listened to the young man recount his story in the presence of some police officers. The sheikh did not buy the story and was especially skeptical about the fact that the young man did not file a police report immediately after the kidnapping. To Sheikh Ali, it appeared that someone was trying to incite sectarian tensions.

Sheikh Ali immediately told the protesters that the young Muslim man was lying. “Because they trust me, they believed me and began to chant: ‘Muslims and Christians are one,’” he said. Ali added that he accompanied an interior ministry official to the church to inform church leaders that the conflict was over.

“But Copts residing in nearby apartment buildings thought we were entering the church to search it, so they started to throw bottles at us. Then I heard gun fire and things escalated from there.”

Rumors quickly spread through the media and a group of young men in the area headed to an adjacent church and set it ablaze. Clashes broke out and by the end of the evening 12 people were dead and over 100 were injured.

There will be more rumors tomorrow about imaginary incidents of rape, theft, marriage, and divorce that will provoke both sides to engage in more violence to avenge the dignity of their religious group. Many will fail to see that their anger is unwarranted.

In all these cases, the solution is that suspected criminal – regardless political, sectarian or class affiliation – be subjected to a fair trial. Taking the law into our own hands to avenge crimes committed against our family, or sect deals a serious blow to the idea of a civilized society. (Al-Masry Al-Youm)

US freezes Chicago Palestinian leader’s bank accounts

The US government has frozen the bank accounts belonging to Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian community organizer and director of a social service organization serving the Arab community in Chicago, and his wife, Naima.

Meanwhile, several members of Congress have written to the Obama administration to express their concerns about violations in civil liberties as a result of earlier government actions toward Abudayyeh and other activists.

The freezing of the Abudayyeh family’s bank accounts on Friday, 6 May is the latest development in a secret grand jury investigation that has been launched by US District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in Chicago. The freezing of the accounts has raised concerns that criminal indictments in the case may be imminent. (Electronic Intifada)

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 16

Ex-Powell aide suggests CIA assassination program was actually active

The secret CIA program allegedly aimed at assassinating suspected terrorists abroad has raised the eyebrows of at least one former senior Bush Administration official who hints that the program may have actually gone into effect, despite the denials of the agency and congressional staff who have been briefed.

The aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, was chief of staff to Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell. He says he heard “echoes” of the program from US ambassadors abroad, who informed him that clandestine military teams were being dispatched to their countries. [continued...]

CIA assassin program was nearing new phase

CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a “somewhat more operational phase.” Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the program and then went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001.

The Obama administration’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, yesterday defended Panetta’s decision to cancel the program, which he said had raised serious questions among intelligence officials about its “effectiveness, maturity and the level of control.” [continued...]

Our sons are lying again

First we saw the destruction of Gaza on TV, then we heard about it from Palestinians, then from journalists (mainly foreign), then from the world’s leading human rights organizations. We didn’t believe it, or we found ways to justify it, but at any rate, we, the Israeli public, made sure the images and words went in one ear and out the other.

Then in March some of our own boys, IDF soldiers, talked about it – the orders that amounted to “when in doubt, shoot,” the sniggering contempt for Palestinian life and property, the exhortations to holy war from IDF rabbis. That seemed to make a small dent in our consciousness for a couple days. But then the IDF conducted its brief, naturally closed investigation, announced that the stories were all hearsay and rumor, there was nothing to the accounts of an old woman and a mother getting shot deliberately, nothing to worry about, you can all go back to sleep now, and, of course, we did.

Now comes “Breaking the Silence,” an organization of IDF combat reservists, with the testimonies of 26 soldiers who served in Operation Cast Lead, and the stories are very, very familiar, only they’re much more detailed than what we’ve heard before. Over 100 pages of testimony about the extraordinary scale of destruction (“like in those World War II films where nothing remained”); the vandalism (“In one house we entered I saw guys had defecated in drawers”); the shoot-‘em-up spirit (“The atmosphere was not one of fear but rather people too eager to shoot other people”); the elastic definition of “legitimate target” (“suspects, lookouts, people standing on roofs and looking towards our forces, making suspect movements on the roof, bending down, looking out beyond the rim”); the firing of napalm-like white phosphorous in thickly-populated areas; the killings of unarmed civilians in no-go zones; the rabbis’ anti-Arab pep talks; and much, much more. [continued...]

New testimony from Gaza

“We didn’t see a single house that was not hit. The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads — was in total ruin,” an anonymous soldier says, describing his days in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion last winter. “Nothing much was left in our designated area … A totally destroyed city … The few houses that were still inhabitable were taken by the army … there were lots of abandoned, miserable animals.” The destruction continued daily, he testifies, though Palestinians — fighters and civilians — had fled the area.

So much lay in ruins, says another Israeli soldier, that it was hard to navigate. “I entered Al Atatra [in the northern Gaza Strip] after seeing aerial photos and didn’t identify anything … I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn’t. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial … and there wasn’t. There was rubble, broken blocks.” Later, he says, he was in an operations room where soldiers were directing air strikes. Landmarks that were supposed to serve the pilots as reference points had already been destroyed, he says, making it harder to direct the planes, more likely that they would hit the wrong building. [continued...]

Viva Palestina convoy of US activists breaks the siege of Gaza

Viva Palestina, a convoy of US human rights activists has entered Gaza with truckloads of humanitarian aid. The delegation has over 200 people, and is a follow up trip to one led by British MP George Galloway last March. This delegation includes Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, New York City Council member Charles Barron and Cynthia McKinney.

Details are still unclear on how much aid got in. Although Viva Palestina’s website reports that they had over “over one million dollars worth of aide” to bring in, Egypt may not have allowed all of it to enter. As has happened on other delegations to Gaza, Egypt created serious obstacles for the convoy as it attempted to enter Gaza, but they got through. [continued...]

Ex-U.S. diplomat talks with Hamas

To Hamas officials Bassem Naim and Mahmoud al-Zahar, a recent meeting in Switzerland with a former senior U.S. diplomat represented an opening in relations with the Obama administration, and a path to easing the Islamist group’s isolation.

“I hope it will be the beginning of addressing some of the mistakes of the last three years,” Naim said of his talks with Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This was a first meeting to investigate the positions in general terms of both parties without any commitment on any side.”

U.S. officials say they see the previously undisclosed June meeting between Pickering and the two senior Hamas officials differently. They said Pickering had not been asked to approach Hamas and had no official standing; U.S. officials learned of the meeting only afterward. Policy toward the Islamist group, they said, remains what it was under President George W. Bush: that Hamas is a terrorist organization with which the United States will not even sanction a meeting. [continued...]

Why Palestinian leaders have banned Al Jazeera

The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday banned Al Jazeera television from operating in its territory and threatened to take legal action against the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel because of allegations it made against President Mahmoud Abbas.

Al Jazeera ran an interview a day earlier in which Farouk Kaddoumi, a senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), charged that Mr. Abbas conspired with Israel in 2003 to kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat died in November 2004 after being sent abroad for medical treatment. No cause was disclosed, and Palestinian political circuits have since been rife with gossip over possible foul play.

Al Jazeera said it was “stunned” by the PA’s action, noting that several other outlets had carried the story – based on a press conference called by Mr. Kaddoumi, who lives in Jordan. [continued...]

The end of political Islam?

Is the long-predicted decline of Political Islam about to occur?

Several French scholars, such as Gilles Keppel and Olivier Roy, have been making this argument since the early 1990s. The only trouble was a subsequent string of Islamist electoral victories that seemed to undermine their thesis.

But in light of Islamist losses in recent elections in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Bahrain, talk of the decline of Political Islam is reemerging. Influential Washington Post journalist David Ignatius recently wrote of a region-wide, anti-Islamist backlash whose central theme, according to a specialist he cited from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, is that “the Muslim parties have failed to convince the public that they have any more answers than anyone else.”

The sentiment is hardly confined to Washington. The June 30 episode of the popular Al-Jazeera political talk show, the Opposite Direction, debated the question, “Has political Islam begun to decline?”

So has it? Clearly, Islamists are not winning elections. This does not, however, mean a decline of Political Islam, let alone Islamism as a broader movement. First, given the authoritarian nature of Arab political systems, official election results are not necessarily accurate or even meaningful measures of the influence of Islamist groups. [continued...]

Advert ‘implied Gaza in Israel’

An Israeli tourism advert that showed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an undisputed part of Israel has been rejected by the advertising watchdog.

The posters, on the London Underground, sparked hundreds of complaints from pro-Palestinian groups and members of the public.

The Advertising Standards Authority said a map labelled Israel implied the occupied territories were in Israel. [continued...]

Britain must tell Obama: the alliance of denial has to end

Diplomacy, your hour has come. There is no way soldiers will find an exit from Afghanistan. They can deliver defeat or they can deliver bloody stalemate. They cannot deliver victory and every observer knows it. This conflict will end only when the courage being daily demanded of soldiers is also shown by politicians.

Those who said that sending an army to Afghanistan was madness can collect their winnings and go. But diplomacy is a relativist ethic. Its practitioners cannot say “do not start from here.” They must face the fact that Barrack Obama and Gordon Brown are entangled in a mess from which there is no easy release.

Obama made a serious error on coming to power. To honor his pledge to disown Iraq he felt obliged to “adopt” Afghanistan. What had begun as a punitive raid on the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden morphed into a neo-con campaign of regime change, counter-insurgency and nation-building. Obama rashly identified himself with this crusade and thus leapt from the frying pan of Iraq into the fire of the Hindu Kush. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 15

Gaza invasion: ‘If you’re not sure – kill’

Israeli soldiers who invaded the Gaza Strip in January received no clear rules of engagement and operated with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that significantly increased the danger to civilians.

“If you’re not sure – kill,” confessed one of the soldiers who gave his testimony anonymously to an Israeli organization that gathers front-line reports from Israeli soldiers. “The firepower was insane. We went in, and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began firing at suspect places. In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy. No innocents. It was simply urban warfare in every way.” [continued...]

Despite Jewish concerns, Obama keeps up pressure on Israel

Whether or not Obama suffers any domestic political cost for putting pressure on Israel remains to be seen — he won three-quarters of the Jewish vote in last year’s election, and he has good reason to believe he can retain most of that support even if he prods Israel on issues like settlements. After all, the settlements are not fundamental to Israel’s security, to which Obama constantly reiterates his rock-solid commitment. (Watch a video about Israel’s lonesome doves.)

But Obama may be understating the extent of pressure that will be required to bring about a two-state solution to the conflict. The settlement freeze that he has demanded of Israel, for example, is simply a confidence-building mechanism aimed at securing new gestures from Israel’s Arab neighbors and helping restart negotiations. But Israel’s government has pushed back hard, rejecting the principle of a total settlement freeze and insisting on completing some 2,500 housing units currently under construction, excluding East Jerusalem from the freeze, and making it conditional. And Arab governments are reluctant to be seen to offer new “rewards” — such as allowing the opening of diplomatic facilities or overflight rights for commercial aircraft — in return for Israel’s simply complying with its obligations under the 2003 “road map” for peace. Each side seems to doubt the seriousness of the other, and each will cite the other’s reluctance to move forward as a reason to hold back themselves. [continued...]

Netanyahu’s substitute for sovereignty

The most obvious change in Jenin is to the refugee camp, which is no longer the devastated space of a few years ago. It has been rebuilt with funds from the Gulf, though the Israeli army insisted on planning constraints: the roads are wide enough for a tank to navigate them.

If few of Jenin’s inhabitants question the financial benefits of Israel’s more liberal policy, there is a widespread belief that “economic peace” is being tailor-made for Israel’s benefit in much the same manner as the rebuilt camp.

“If Netanyahu thinks we’ll be satisfied with a few more Israeli shoppers, he’s kidding himself,” said Mohammed Larool, a melon seller. “Our rights as a nation are more important than my selling a few extra melons.” [continued...]

CIA hit teams

My sources are telling me that the secret CIA program involving a Dick Cheney coverup that is currently in the news consisted of dispatching assassination teams to various countries to kill individuals who were known to be al-Qaeda supporters but who, for various reasons, had not been detained by the governments of the countries in which they were residing. A number of those being targeted were living freely in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. The assassins were to be drawn from CIA’s own special ops group and also from delta force. They would enter the target countries as businessmen on false passports, some of which would be non-American, obtain weapons sent ahead through the diplomatic pouch to the US Embassy, kill the target, turn the weapons back over to an embassy contact, and leave the country. The program used delta soldiers initially because CIA SOG was fully engaged in Afghanistan. The first hit attempt was in Kenya, was botched, and the deltas had to be bailed out by the Ambassador who had not been briefed on what was going on under his nose. The program was suspended after that but never quite terminated. [continued...]

Should Obama talk to Ahmadinejad?

The quelling of dramatic public protests in Iran may cause some to despair over the prospects for achieving real social and political change there. But even with another term in office, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the revolutionary regime itself have been permanently altered by June’s uprising.

The emergence of a mass protest movement, reminiscent of the 1979 revolution that brought down the shah, is a signal that Iran will never be the same again. That is why robust engagement with Tehran, as President Obama has promised to pursue, remains essential not only in transforming Western-Iranian relations, but also in transforming Iran itself.

Some observers argue that the price of Mr. Obama’s recent overtures toward Iran has been an Ahmedinejad victory, and that any form of engagement with an Ahmedimejad regime would be tantamount to validating a stolen election, not to mention a slap in the face of a mass movement for democracy in Iran. [continued...]

“Women commandos” in Iran

On Monday, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington assembled an all-star panel of analysts for perspective on the role of women in the recent Iran election and post-election upheaval.

Among the participants: Pari Esfandiari of IranDokht.com, a web site that describes itself as “an online media platform that connects the global community to Iranian women”; Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of Iran’s parliament (2000-2004); Nayereh Tohidi, a Cal State professor; Norma Moruzzi, a professor from the University of Illinois, Chicago; and Jaleh Lackner-Gohari, from Vienna, a physician, activist, and vice president of innerChange Associates.

The moderator was Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center, whose 2007 arrest in Iran made headlines around the world. So strong is the women’s movement that a web site linked to Iran’s intelligence ministry has begun referring to “woman commandos” in describing post-election protests, according to Haleh Esfandiari, who added that there are reports that Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hossein Mousavi’s well-known activist wife, is the leading voice behind the scenes urging Mousavi not to accede to pressure to halt his campaign against the election results. (So well known is Zahra Rahnavard that, when Mousavi became prime minister in the 1980s it was said in Iran that “Rahnavard’s husband was named prime minister.”) [continued...]

Iraqis have told U.S. military no patrols permitted in Baghdad

Two weeks after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq’s major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren’t asking American forces for help. Although U.S. troops are “just a radio call away,” in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven’t asked even once.

In Baghdad, the Iraqis also won’t allow U.S. forces on the street, except for supply convoys.

The failure to trigger the “Onstar option” suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think that they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days.

As the June 30 deadline approached for withdrawing troops from major cities, U.S. military officials told their Iraqi army and national police allies that they were “just a radio call away” in case they needed American military muscle.

So far, however, it isn’t clear whether there’s been a call. McClatchy special correspondents in Najaf, Basra, Anbar, Diyala and Mosul report that Iraqi forces have made no requests for U.S. combat help. [continued...]

Will Iraq be a global gas pump?

Has it all come to this? The wars and invasions, the death and destruction, the exile and torture, the resistance and collapse? In a world of shrinking energy reserves, is Iraq finally fated to become what it was going to be anyway, even before the chaos and catastrophe set in: a giant gas pump for an energy-starved planet? Will it all end not with a bang, but with a gusher? The latest oil news out of that country offers at least a hint of Iraq’s fate.

For modern Iraq, oil has always been at the heart of everything. Its very existence as a unified state is largely the product of oil.

In 1920, under the aegis of the League of Nations, Britain cobbled together the Kingdom of Iraq from the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in order to better exploit the holdings of the Turkish Petroleum Company, forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Later, Iraqi nationalists and the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized the IPC, provoking unrelenting British and American hostility. Hussein rewarded his Sunni allies in the Baath Party by giving them lucrative positions in the state company, part of a process that produced a dangerous rift with the country’s Shiite majority. And these are but a few of the ways in which modern Iraqi history has been governed by oil.

Iraq is, of course, one of the world’s great hydrocarbon preserves. According to oil giant BP, it harbors proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels — more than any country except Saudi Arabia (with 264 billion barrels) and Iran (with 138 billion). Many analysts, however, believe that Iraq has been inadequately explored, and that the utilization of modern search technologies will yield additional reserves in the range of 45 to 100 billion barrels. If all its reserves, known and suspected, were developed to their full potential, Iraq could add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies. [continued...]

Once labeled an AIPAC spy, Larry Franklin tells his story

Bound until recently by a plea agreement that barred him from speaking to the press, Franklin has refrained until now from telling his side of the story. But in the Washington office of his attorney, Plato Cacheris, Franklin seemed eager to share his experience. Cacheris, who took on Franklin’s case pro bono, intervened time and again to warn his client against revealing information that is either classified or under a seal imposed by the court. Franklin was quick to agree, calling Cacheris his “angel” who saved him from prison.

In exchange for his cooperation with federal prosecutors, Franklin was initially sentenced to 12.5 years in prison as part of his plea agreement. But before entering his plea in 2005, he was approached by two people who suggested he fake his suicide and disappear to avoid testifying in court. At the request of the FBI, to which he immediately reported the encounter, Franklin had several follow-up conversations on the phone with one of them. “I thought I was in a movie,” Franklin said of the episode. Details of the event are still under court seal, and Franklin declined to identify the individuals who approached him or to offer further details. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: July 14

CIA’s secret program: Paramilitary teams targeting Al Qaeda

The secret CIA program halted last month by Director Leon E. Panetta involved establishing elite paramilitary teams that could be inserted into Pakistan or other locations to capture or kill top leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, according to former U.S. intelligence officials.

The program — launched in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — was never operational. But officials said that as recently as a year ago CIA executives discussed plans to deploy teams to test basic capabilities, including whether they could enter hostile territory and maneuver undetected, as well as gather intelligence and track high-value targets. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — Who would have anticipated that Guantanamo would turn out to possess a dark virtue?

Had the Bush administration quickly unleashed CIA death squads, we might never have have been provided with such stark evidence of the limitations of counter-terrorism. A prison roll filled with men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is a graphic testament to the limits of American power.

But to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and cross paths with a death squad (or a predator drone) means that life and innocence can be simultaneously erased. No wonder the drone attacks continue.

The death squads on the other hand would have entailed other forms of political liability. Sooner or later, operatives would have gone missing. The severed heads of CIA agents would have featured on Jihadist videos. Ugly mistakes would not have been buried under rubble and dust — they would have made their way on to the front pages of Pakistan’s newspapers with bloody images of the bullet-ridden bodies of families who got slaughtered in the sleep.

Most likely, the death squads never went operational not for legal or ethical reasons but simply because sober analysis calculated that the cost was likely to exceed the reward.

Mousavi ‘party’ gains momentum

Amid suggestions to defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi to establish a political party, an influential Principlist figure steps up to endorse the idea.

A senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party and leading Principlist figure, Habibollah Asgaroladi describes the move as a ‘favorable’ one, saying, “Establishing a party to voice one’s ideas and political perceptions is a wise move.”

“To clarify political actions and to show respect for the collective intellect, politicians need to come together in a political formation,” Asgaroladi added.

Last week, the Reformist Etemad-e-Melli daily broke the news about Mousavi’s plans to launch a political party to pursue his goals.

The daily said that the party was expected to be established before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration. [continued...]

Tipping point in Tehran

How much has changed for Iran in one occasionally breathtaking month. The erratic uprising is becoming as important as the Islamic revoluti on 30 years ago — and not only for Iran. Both redefined political action throughout the Middle East.

The costs are steadily mounting for the regime. Just one day before the June 12 presidential election, the Islamic republic had never been so powerful. Tehran had not only survived three decades of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions but had emerged a regional superpower, rivaled only by Israel. Its influence shaped conflicts and politics from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

But the day after the election, the Islamic republic had never appeared so vulnerable. The virtual militarization of the state has failed to contain the uprising, and its tactics have further alienated and polarized society. It has also shifted the focus from the election to Iran’s leadership. [continued...]

Empire of bases

The U.S. “Empire of Bases” — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive.

As a start, on May 27, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed — only $4 million less, before cost overruns, than the Vatican City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad.

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in the already bloated U.S. military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. [continued...]

EU calls for possible recognition of Palestinian state

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has called for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the event that the two parties fail to reach an agreement before a proposed internationally imposed deadline passes.

In a speech delivered in London on Saturday, Mr Solana said that a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “remains central to a more stable and peaceful Middle East.”

He said: “There will be no solution without an active Arab contribution. The Arab Peace Initiative is key. Maybe it has to be made more operative. Its binary character – all or nothing – has to be nuanced. But having the Arab countries reacting in a positive way, with concrete actions, to every step will contribute immensely to success.

“The next ingredient for success is a real mediation. The parameters are defined. The mediator has to set the timetable too. If the parties are not able to stick to it, then a solution backed by the international community should will be put on the table.

“After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements. It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimise the end of claims.” [continued...]

Britain punishes Israel for Gaza naval bombardment

The British Government has reacted to Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza last January by barring further exports of components used in naval gunships which took part in the three-week operation.

Britain has officially told Israel’s embassy in London that it is revoking five licences for exports of equipment used in Saar 4.5 vessels because they violate UK and EU criteria precluding military sales which could be used for “internal repression”. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — “Internal repression” is not something that democracies engage in. Israel’s policies and actions of internal repression have been evident for decades, yet its allies have allowed it to be shielded behind a democratic facade. That facade is now crumbling.

Obama’s settlement talks are insulting to Abbas

If I were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas I would be deeply insulted by the negotiations U.S. President Barack Obama is conducting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over building permits in the settlements. Who authorized the Americans – this administration or the previous one – to do business with Palestinian land?

If I were Netanyahu I would be very worried by Israel’s image in the Arab world as a client of the United States in the “natural growth” affair. How is it possible that the proud Jewish government is begging the non-Jews (“Rome” in Netanyahu’s discourse, according to senior adviser Uzi Arad), to allow it to build a kindergarten in Ma’aleh Adumim?

If I were Obama I would tell Netanyahu that if the settlers’ children are so close to the prime minister’s heart, let him ask the Palestinian Authority to take their crowded living conditions into consideration. After all, even according to Israel’s official position, Ma’aleh Adumim does not belong to us but is considered disputed territory – a dispute with the Palestinians, not the Americans. [continued...]

West Bank fence not done and never will be, it seems

Seven years after construction work began on the West Bank separation fence, the project seems to have run aground. Work has slowed significantly since September 2007, and today, after the state has spent about NIS 9.5 billion, only about 60 percent of the more limited, revised route has been completed.

With fierce opposition coming from the United States, Israel has halted work on the “fingers” – enclaves east of the Green Line that were to have included large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Adumim, within the fence. The military has, in practice, closed up the holes that were to have led to these “fingers.” But giant gaps remain in the southern part of the fence, particular in the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Etzion bloc and in the Judean Desert. [continued...]

The decline of Israel’s progressive movement

Naomi Chazan leaned forward in the arched lobby of Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel. “If we want to chart the decline of the Israeli left, we should take 1992 as the starting point,” she said. In the years since, the Labor Party has lost 31 of its 44 seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset, and the historically pro-peace Meretz is down from twelve seats to three.

Chazan should know. One of the founders of Meretz, and later one of its leading Knesset members—from 1996 to 2003 she was a deputy speaker of the Knesset—she still serves as the chair of Meretz’s party congress. Wearing another hat as president of the New Israel Fund, she has watched the decline of Israel’s progressive and pro-peace movement from close at hand.

I spoke with Chazan in early March. At the time, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was in the middle of the inter-party negotiations usually needed to form a governing coalition in Israel. Later that month he convinced Labor leader Ehud Barak to serve as defense minister, despite the fact that the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, which had won fifteen seats by campaigning for mandated loyalty oaths from Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens, was already firmly inside Netanyahu’s coalition. Barak’s decision caused further tensions inside Labor, pounding yet another nail into the coffin of the party that until 1977 dominated the country’s political scene. But even before he joined Netanyahu’s conservative government, Barak stood accused by leaders of Israel’s peace movement of bearing considerable responsibility for the movement’s decline. In their telling, the betrayal started in early October 2000, when Barak emerged from the ruins of the last-minute peace talks at Camp David and announced that Yasser Arafat had quite gratuitously turned down Israel’s “generous offer.” Israel, he reported, had “no partner for peace.” [continued...]

The truth about Dasht-i-Leili

Add this to the Bush administration’s sordid legacy: a refusal to investigate charges that forces commanded by a notorious Afghan warlord — and American ally — massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war in late 2001.

According to survivors and witnesses, over a three-day period, fighters under the command of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum stuffed surrendering Taliban prisoners into metal shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated. Guards shot others to death. The victims are believed to be buried in a grave in the desert of Dasht-i-Leili in northern Afghanistan.

Although the deaths were previously reported, The Times’s James Risen has now detailed repeated efforts by the Bush administration to discourage any investigation of the massacre — even after officials from the F.B.I. and the State Department, along with the Red Cross and human rights groups, tried to press the matter. Physicians for Human Rights, which discovered the mass grave in 2002, says the site has since been tampered with. Satellite photos seem to bear this out. [continued...]

Obama orders review of alleged slayings of Taliban in Bush era

President Obama has ordered national security officials to look into allegations that the Bush administration resisted efforts to investigate a CIA-backed Afghan warlord over the killings of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001.

“The indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention,” Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview during the president’s visit to Ghana. The full interview will air 10 p.m. Monday.

“So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known, and we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all of the facts gathered up,” Obama said. [continued...]

The mystery of the missing unemployed man

For the book I’m writing about unemployed Americans, I had no trouble finding accountants, brokers, cashiers, or die casters. Admittedly, I had to go out of town to interview the die casters. But when I arrived, alphabetically, at unemployed editors, I had only to look in my address book.

Financiers were further from my life experience than either die casters or editors. Yet the “do you know anyone who…?” method still proved an effective way of turning up unemployed hedge-fund analysts and bank loan officers — and within a week at that. It was only when I refined my search to ferret out unemployed financiers who had actually handled those infamous “toxic assets” that I hit the proverbial brick wall.

Since mortgage-backed securities and the swaps that insure them had been the downfall of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and the giant insurance company AIG, packs of bankers who worked on them must, I assumed, be roaming free on the streets of Manhattan. Yet I couldn’t find a single one.

Finally, I phoned a law firm representing Lehman Brothers employees in a suit for the pay they were owed when the company shut down without notice. I asked the lawyer if he could possibly inquire among his unemployed clients for someone, anyone, who used to work with mortgage-backed securities and might be willing to talk about how he or she was getting by today. “I don’t have to use real names,” I assured him. Many of the unemployed people I’d already interviewed felt so lost and ashamed that I had decided not to use their real names. Unemployed bankers deserve anonymity, too.

But the lawyer made it clear that that wasn’t the problem. “Most of them were snapped up immediately by Barclays,” he said. He represents other financial plaintiffs as well, and he seemed to think that the kind of person I was looking for hadn’t remained unemployed very long. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: July 13

CIA had secret al Qaeda plan

A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.

The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn’t clear, and the CIA won’t comment on its substance.

According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn’t become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it.

In 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders, according to three former intelligence officials. It appears that those discussions tapered off within six months. It isn’t clear whether they were an early part of the CIA initiative that Mr. Panetta stopped. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — The discussions “tapered off” evokes a curious imagine. Did the proponents of assassination become disenchanted with the idea, bored or distracted? Or was it simply that in this particular instance the White House lawyers simply couldn’t devise a method for circumventing the law?

If an assassination program had been put into operation, it seems unlikely that it would have met much public opposition.

The word “assassination” has all sorts of connotations – the ruthless, uncompromising intent of the assassin; stealth; daring; meticulous planning; the ability to find a chink in the armor of a visible yet protected target. What we don’t picture an assassin doing is hunting down an innocent target.

In Steven Spielberg’s Munich, the film attempted to expose the moral traps in a government-sanctioned assassination program. What the film inexplicably left out was that the culmination of Israel’s “Operation Wrath of God” was the murder of a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway – a man who had nothing to do with the Palestinian Black September Organization, yet ended up being killed in front of his pregnant wife.

If, as this Wall Street Journal report implies, the plan that Cheney wanted to keep secret was a program that in its earliest iteration would have involved tracking down and killing members of al Qaeda, then what this would have entailed was the use of death squads. Who they actually ended up killing and what would have happened to the bodies, would have remained as closely a guarded secret as the program itself

Candidate declares Iran may face ‘disintegration’

In an implicit rebuke to Iran’s ruling elite, a conservative presidential candidate warned Sunday that the political and social rifts opened by the disputed June 12 vote and subsequent crackdown could lead to the nation’s “disintegration” if they were not resolved soon.

The candidate, Mohsen Rezai, made his warning in a long statement about the election and its bloody aftermath, in which he called for reconciliation and spoke about the danger of “imprisoning” the legacy of the Islamic Revolution in divisive and shortsighted politics. The statement was posted on his Web site.

Although his message was largely nonpartisan, Mr. Rezai hinted that the government response after the election had been unfair, and he urged protesters to continue their work in legal and nonviolent channels.

Like the three other opposition candidates, Mr. Rezai, a former chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, initially said he believed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory involved ballot-rigging. Mr. Rezai later withdrew his legal challenge to the results, citing the need for unity. [continued...]

Iran’s invisible Nicaragua embassy

For months, the reports percolated in Washington and other capitals. Iran was constructing a major beachhead in Nicaragua as part of a diplomatic push into Latin America, featuring huge investment deals, new embassies and even TV programming from the Islamic republic.

“The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned in May. “And you can only imagine what that’s for.”

But here in Nicaragua, no one can find any super-embassy.

Nicaraguan reporters scoured the sprawling tropical city in search of the embassy construction site. Nothing. Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce chief Ernesto Porta laughed and said: “It doesn’t exist.” Government officials say the U.S. Embassy complex is the only “mega-embassy” in Managua. A U.S. diplomat in Managua conceded: “There is no huge Iranian Embassy being built as far as we can tell.” [continued...]

Tehran’s opportunity

Maziar Bahari is a Newsweek reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a playwright, author, artist and, since June 21, a prisoner being held in Iran without formal charges or access to a lawyer. The Iranian state press has attached Bahari’s name to a “confession” made in vague terms and conditional tenses about foreign media influence on the unrest in Iran that followed the declaration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection on June 12.

Some in the government of Iran would like to portray Bahari as a kind of subversive or even as a spy. He is neither. He is a journalist; a man who was doing his job, and doing it fairly and judiciously, when he was arrested. Maziar Bahari is an agent only of the truth as best he can see it, and his body of work proves him to be a fair-minded observer who eschews ideological cant in favor of conveying the depth and complexity of Iranian life and culture to the wider world. Few have argued more extensively and persuasively, for instance, that Iran’s nuclear program is an issue of national pride, not just the leadership’s obsession. [continued...]

U.K.: We revoked Israel arms licenses, but it’s no embargo

The British Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed Monday that the United Kingdom has revoked a number of arms export licenses to Israel following the Gaza war, but insisted that the move did not constitute a partial embargo.

“There is no partial U.K. arms embargo on Israel,” the embassy said in a statement to Haaretz. “U.K. policy remains to assess all export licenses to Israel against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria.”

The statement came in response to a Haaretz report that Britain had indeed slapped a partial arms embargo on Israel, refusing to supply replacement parts and other equipment for Sa’ar 4.5 gunships because they participated in Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. [continued...]

Feeling the hate in Tel Aviv (Max Blumenthal is back!)

In May 27, journalist Jesse Rosenfeld and I set out on the streets of Tel Aviv to probe the political opinions of young local residents. We started the day filming at Tel Aviv University, where a group of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli students gathered to protest a proposed law that would criminalize public observance of the Nakba, or the mass expulsion and killing of Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948. There, we interviewed Palestinian Israeli students about the rising climate of repression, then spoke to another group of students who gathered nearby to heckle their Arab classmates and demand their deportation. A few hundred meters away, two genial business students expressed support for the so-called Nakba law, remarking to us, “If you want to keep democracy, you can’t let people protest against the independence of the country.”
That evening, Jesse and I took our camera to central Tel Aviv, where thousands were taking part in the annual all-night festival known as White Night. Some revelers took an intermission from the partying to express to us their hatred for the Iranian people. And a group of teenagers launched into a virtually unprompted diatribe against Barack Obama, referring to him as a Nazi, a Muslim, and a “Cushi,” which is Hebrew slang for “nigger.” [continued...]

Israel phone firm’s West Bank wall gag fails to amuse

A television advert for an Israeli cellphone firm showing soldiers playing soccer over the West Bank barrier has sparked cries of bad taste and prompted Arab lawmakers on Sunday to demand it be taken off air.

The jaunty commercial for Israel’s biggest mobile phone company Cellcom makes light of Palestinian suffering and shows how far Israelis fail to understand their neighbors, critics said. The company stood by the ad, however.

It shows a ball falling on an Israeli army jeep from the far side of a towering wall. A game ensues, back and forth with the unseen Palestinians after a soldier dials up “reinforcements,” including two smiling women in uniform, to come and play.

The advertisement made by McCann Erickson, part of U.S. Interpublic Group, ends with the upbeat voiceover: “After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun.”

Since the ad went out last week — as Palestinians marked the fifth anniversary of a World Court ruling that Israel’s walls and fences in the West Bank were illegal — some Israelis have taken to blogs and social networking sites to voice dismay. [continued...]

In the city of cement

There is a hint of an older Baghdad in old Baghdad. You might call it more of a taunt. It’s there at the statue of the portly poet Marouf al-Rusafi, pockmarked by bullets, who gives his name to an untamed square. Around him revolves a city, storied but shabby, that American soldiers have finally, ostensibly, left.

The past is here. A turquoise dome, fashioned from brick and adorned in arabesque, peeks from beneath a shroud of dust. A stately colonnade buttresses British-era balconies and balustrades. A forlorn call to prayer drifts from an Ottoman mosque.

But few can see the dome. A spider web of wires delivering sporadic electricity obscures the view. You can’t navigate the colonnade. Blast walls block the way. And rarely does the call to prayer filter out from a deluge of car horns.

“It’s all become trash, broken windows and crumbling buildings,” complained Hussein Karim, a porter looking out from his perch atop a flap of cardboard on the statue’s granite pedestal. “Baghdad,” added his friend, Hussein Abed, “has become a shattered city.” [continued...]

Mounting casualties in Afghanistan spur concern

A series of attacks in Afghanistan has left four U.S. Marines and eight British soldiers dead in recent days, stoking concern among U.S. and allied forces over a surge in battlefield deaths, as thousands of troops pour into the country.

The mounting deaths have contributed to harsh criticism of the war in a handful of NATO countries that have lost soldiers in recent months, including Canada, Germany and France. It has been an especially divisive issue in Britain, which has lost 15 soldiers in the past 11 days, including the eight killed Friday. Those deaths have brought Britain’s total losses to 184, a tally that now exceeds the 179 British military personnel killed in Iraq.

So far this year, 192 foreign soldiers have been killed, including 103 Americans — a 40% jump from the same period last year, and a 75% increase from 2007, say U.S. military officials. That figure doesn’t include the latest U.S. casualties. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 12

Advisor to Iran supreme leader calls for tolerance of dissent

A top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Saturday urged the country’s establishment to be more tolerant of dissent, even as military officials stepped up their rhetoric in the latest signs of divisions created by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad one month ago.

Mohammad Mohammadian, a midranking cleric who heads Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office of university affairs, acknowledged the simmering discontent over the vote, which sparked massive protests and a violent crackdown last month.

“We cannot order public opinion to get convinced,” Mohammadian said, according to the Mehr news agency. “Certain individuals are suspicious about the election result, and we have to shed light on the realities and respond to their questions.”

Providing an unyielding counterpoint, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firoozabadi, the armed forces chief of staff, issued warnings against protests.

“God has chosen us in military uniform to sacrifice our lives against the enemies,” he said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA. “Certain individuals and groups imagine that we will back down if they shout slogans against us. We have come to die, and we have proved our determination during the war with Iraq.” [continued...]

Inside the Iranian crackdown

Before the election, Mr. Moradani [a midranking Basij member] campaigned for Mr. Ahmadinejad. He printed campaign posters and pasted them on walls. The day after the vote, with his candidate declared the winner, Mr. Moradani bought a box of chocolate cupcakes and drove his motorcycle to one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign offices to celebrate.

A few hours later, he recalls, he was shocked to see demonstrators filling the streets. They set plastic trash bins afire along Tehran’s long Vali Asr Avenue. Men and women, gathered in clusters across town, shouted “Death to the Dictator.”

Riot police chased them away. The demonstrators regrouped and began chanting again — a cat-and-mouse game that played out for days.

“I never expected the protests to be so intense and last so long,” said Mr. Moradani in a phone interview from Tehran this week. “I thought it would be over in a few days.”

Basij members organized to support riot police and other security officials across Tehran. Some Basij members infiltrated the opposition demonstrations, according to eyewitnesses.

Protesters, most of them young, fought back. “You saw young people on both sides mobilizing with vengeance and willing to kill,” said Issa Saharkheez, a political analyst in Tehran, in an interview shortly after the election. Mr. Saharkheez was subsequently arrested in detentions that followed the unrest.

At the height of the street battles, in Sadaat Abad, a middle-class neighborhood in east Tehran, young men and women organized themselves into an unofficial militia to fight the Basij, with a “commander” taking responsibility for each street. Every afternoon, they would meet to prepare for the evening’s expected battle, according to a 25-year-old student who was involved with the group.

They collected rocks, tiles and bricks from construction sites and spilled oil on the roads, an attempt to sideline the Basij’s motorcycles. When a Basij rider would go down, the young men would beat him, according to the student. Women stood back, screaming “Death to the Dictator” and stoking bonfires in the street. Older supporters remained indoors, throwing ashtrays, vases and other household items from their balconies and windows onto the Basij motorcycle riders below.

“There was a war going on here every night,” the student says. “We are not going to stand and let them beat us.” [continued...]

Iranian foreign minister says Tehran preparing ‘package’ for West

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is saying, Saturday, that Tehran is preparing to present a “new package” of proposals concerning international, political and security issues to the West for talks, soon. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad also indicated that a “package” was being prepared, several months ago.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki alluded, Saturday, to Tehran’s yet-to-come, but apparently imminent, new “package of proposals.”

He says that Iran is preparing a package on various political, security, economic and international issues and he says Iran considers this package a good basis for talks over different issues that the region and the world is struggling with today. [continued...]

Obama admin: No grounds to probe Afghan war crimes

Obama administration officials said Friday they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by U.S.-backed forces.

The mass deaths were brought up anew Friday in a report by The New York Times on its Web site. It quoted government and human rights officials accusing the Bush administration of failing to investigate the executions of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of prisoners.

U.S. officials said Friday they did not have legal grounds to investigate the deaths because only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country.

The Times cited U.S. military and CIA ties to Afghan Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, whom human rights groups accuse of ordering the killings. The newspaper said the Defense Department and FBI never fully investigated the incident.

Asked about the report, Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said that since U.S. military forces were not involved in the killings, there is nothing the Defense Department could investigate.

“There is no indication that U.S. military forces were there, or involved, or had any knowledge of this,” Lapan said. “So there was not a full investigation conducted because there was no evidence that there was anything from a DoD (Department of Defense) perspective to investigate.” [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — It sounds like this administration would have encouraged the Israeli government not to establish the Kahan Commission ten days after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982. It happened on foreign territory (Lebanon) and it wasn’t Israeli soldiers doing the killing (it was Lebanese Phalangist militiamen).

Are we to understand that the Obama administration wants to provide a legal foundation for conducting massacres?

Cheney is linked to concealment of CIA project

The CIA kept a highly classified counter-terrorism program secret from Congress for eight years at the direction of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, according to sources familiar with an account that agency Director Leon E. Panetta provided recently to House and Senate committees.

The sources declined to provide any details on the nature of the program, but said that the agency had opened an internal inquiry in recent days into the history of the program and the decisions made by a series of senior officials to withhold information about it from Congress.

Cheney’s involvement suggests that the program was considered important enough by the Bush administration that it should be monitored at the highest levels of government, and that the White House was reluctant to risk disclosure of its details to lawmakers.

Panetta killed the program on June 23 after learning of it, four months after he became director of the CIA. He then called special sessions with the House and Senate intelligence committees. [continued...]

Probe of alleged torture weighed

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is leaning toward appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA personnel tortured terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001, setting the stage for a conflict with administration officials who would prefer the issues remain in the past, according to three sources familiar with his thinking.

Naming a prosecutor to probe alleged abuses during the darkest period in the Bush era would run counter to President Obama’s oft-repeated desire to be “looking forward and not backwards.” Top political aides have expressed concern that such an investigation might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda.

The White House successfully resisted efforts by congressional Democrats to establish a “truth and reconciliation” panel. But fresh disclosures have continued to emerge about detainee mistreatment, including a secret CIA watchdog report, recently reviewed by Holder, highlighting several episodes that could be likened to torture. [continued...]

To know what Bibi really thinks, listen to his father

When a top sportsman wants to express opinions that might get him into trouble with his employers, his father often pops up in the media to reveal what his son is really thinking. In the same way, while Benjamin Netanyahu would risk incurring Washington’s wrath if he were to admit the cynicism behind his apparent embrace of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his father has no such qualms.

On Israeli TV last week, the 100-year-old historian and stalwart of the Israeli right, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, was blunt when asked whether his son now supports the creation of a Palestinian state: “He does not support it. He supports such conditions that they [the Palestinians] will never accept it. That’s what I heard from him. I didn’t propose these conditions, he did. They will never accept these conditions. Not one of them.” [continued...]

Thought-police is here

The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.[...]

Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how many foolish inventions will be introduced and how many bright communication students will be hired.

The reason is that good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved. Yet nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry wants to try to change the situation. And they have willing partners. “Where do I submit a CV?” wrote one respondent. “I’m fluent in several languages and I’m able to spew forth bullshit for hours on end.” [continued...]

The attack on the Liberty

The attack began around 2 p.m. [on June 8, 1967] on the fourth day of the war, when the Liberty was about 17 miles from the coast. Almost without warning, French-made Israeli fighter jets tore into the lightly defended ship with rockets, cannons and napalm. “Shells smashed portholes, ripped gashes in sealed metal doors,” Scott writes. “Dead and injured sailors, many of whom had been chipping paint seconds earlier, littered the decks.” Eventually, a torpedo fired by an Israeli patrol boat ripped a 39-foot-wide hole in the Liberty, flooding lower compartments. Nearly 17 hours passed before help arrived from other U.S. Navy ships. In the meantime, surviving officers and crew struggled valiantly to aid the wounded and keep the listing vessel afloat. McGonagle, who suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds, remained in command throughout the ordeal and later was awarded a Medal of Honor. Armstrong was killed.

The record of the Navy’s civilian and military leadership was less inspiring. Though privately furious, U.S. officials lied about the nature of the Liberty’s mission and, Scott writes, were so eager to avoid stirring up public anger toward Israel that at one point they contemplated scuttling the ship to prevent news organizations from photographing the damage. Adm. John McCain, Jr., the father of the Arizona senator and 2008 presidential candidate, comes in for especially sharp criticism. As the head of the Navy’s inquiry, Scott writes, McCain understood that a “report critical of Israel would trigger diplomatic ramifications for the State Department and create domestic political trouble for the beleaguered White House, which now wanted to deemphasize the attack.” As a consequence, he contends, McCain barred his investigators from traveling to Israel to interview the attackers and allowed only a week to complete the probe, “less time than it took to bury some of the dead.”

Scott cites transcripts of conversations between the Israeli pilots and air controllers in Tel Aviv to show that at least some Israeli commanders were aware of the Liberty’s identity before the attack. He also shows that many U.S. officials — including then-CIA director Richard Helms — were privately scornful of Israel’s explanation. Some believed the attack may have been ordered by a battlefield commander who feared that Israel’s combat orders, if detected by the Liberty, might somehow leak to the Arabs. [continued...]

Another insurgency gains in Pakistan

Three local political leaders were seized from a small legal office here in April, handcuffed, blindfolded and hustled into a waiting pickup truck in front of their lawyer and neighboring shopkeepers. Their bodies, riddled with bullets and badly decomposed in the scorching heat, were found in a date palm grove five days later.

Local residents are convinced that the killings were the work of the Pakistani intelligence agencies, and the deaths have provided a new spark for revolt across Baluchistan, a vast and restless province in Pakistan’s southwest where the government faces yet another insurgency.

Although not on the same scale as the Taliban insurgency in the northwest, the conflict in Baluchistan is steadily gaining ground. Politicians and analysts warn that it presents a distracting second front for the authorities, drawing off resources, like helicopters, that the United States provided Pakistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 10

How to sell Americans on Israeli settlements

How do you sell the American public on the idea that Israel has the right to maintain or even expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank? Be positive. Turn the issue away from settlements and toward peace. Invoke ethnic cleansing.

Those are three of the recommendations made by Frank Luntz, a political consultant and pollster, in an internal study he wrote for the Washington-based group The Israel Project (TIP) on effective ways to talk to Americans about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The 117-page study, titled The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was commissioned by the nonprofit group, which aims to promote Israel’s side of the story, and leaked to NEWSWEEK. It includes chapters with such titles as “How to Talk About Palestinian Self Government and Prosperity” and “The Language of Tackling a Nuclear Iran.”

The report is strewn with bolded examples of “Words That Work” and “Words That Don’t Work,” alongside rhetorical tips such as “Don’t talk about religion” and “No matter what you’re asked, bridge to a productive pro-Israel message.” Taken together, the 18 chapters offer a fascinating look at the way Israel and its supporters try to shape the public debate in their favor.

The full report can be viewed here. [continued...]

Netanyahu’s national security adviser: “I prefer to direct the brute-force energies within me at the goyim”

What will the West do if there is no maritime blockade or if there is one that fails? In that case, will there be any choice but to prevent the bomb by bombing Iran?

Uzi Arad: I was fascinated by Robert Oppenheimer, the Jew who created the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos. Another figure who riveted me was Henry Kissinger, one of the first nuclear strategists. But above all I was drawn to Herman Kahn, with whom I worked at the Hudson Institute.

Kahn is the original Dr. Strangelove. He was a Jewish-American genius who was a salient nuclear hawk and dealt with the planning and feasibility of nuclear wars. Kahn was a towering figure. He was a beacon of intelligence, knowledge and pioneering thought. He combined conceptual productivity, humor and informality. He attracted a group of devotees of whom I was one in the 1970s. But he also had bitter rivals who criticized him for even conceiving of the idea of a nuclear war. In the Cold War it was precisely those who talked about defense and survival who were considered nuclear hawks. The doves talked about “mutual assured destruction,” which blocks any possibility of thinking about nuclear weapons. Like Kahn, I was one of the hawks. One of my projects was a paper for the Pentagon on planning a limited nuclear war in Central Europe.

On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world [tikkun olam]. When we say “never again,” this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.

Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?

Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem [the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem] not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don’t think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.

When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?

We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.

I still remember Roosevelt and all the wise and enlightened types of the American security hierarchy in the period of Auschwitz, and I have retained the lesson. In Jewish history and fate there is a dimension of unfairness toward us. We have already been alone once, and even the good and the enlightened did not protect us. Accordingly, we must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid. Never again. [continued...]

U.S. general sees Afghan army, police insufficient

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

Such an expansion would require spending billions more than the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said.

Obama has voiced strong commitment to the ongoing Afghan conflict but has been cautious about making any additional military resources available beyond the 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers he agreed to in February. That will bring the total U.S. force to 68,000 by fall. [continued...]

U.S. inaction seen after Taliban POW’s died

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’ ”

It is not clear how — or if — the Obama administration will address the issue. But in recent weeks, State Department officials have quietly tried to thwart General Dostum’s reappointment as military chief of staff to the president, according to several senior officials, and suggested that the administration might not be hostile to an inquiry. [continued...]

The West’s last stand

All of America’s great wars have been “holy” wars, the neon-electric lighting of national narrative: revolution was about a nation’s birthing, civil war was about inner redemption and world war about our redeeming all humanity.

Sparked by 9/11, the global war on terrorism began as another promise to save all humanity. But eight years later we have the once-and-future Long War. We do not have the promised redemption—“transformation of the Middle East” died on the streets of Baghdad—instead we have forever war. And this forever war is bringing about an end to the world order as we know it. [continued...]

Insurgency remains tenacious in North Iraq

Now that American troops have largely pulled back from Iraq’s cities, one violent region remains particularly intractable: Nineveh Province and its turbulent capital, Mosul. Even a major military offensive in the months before the withdrawal did not quell the insurgency or reduce the violence.

On Thursday, a twin suicide attack by bombers wearing explosive vests punctuated a recent string of attacks, a wave of violence that shows little sign of relenting. The blasts killed at least 35 people and wounded dozens more in Tal Afar, a city 40 miles west of Mosul that has been repeatedly scarred by sectarian bloodshed. It occurred the morning after two car bombs killed 12 people and wounded 30 near mosques in Mosul. [continued...]

Kurds defy Baghdad, laying claim to land and oil

With little notice and almost no public debate, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are pushing ahead with a new constitution for their semiautonomous region, a step that has alarmed Iraqi and American officials who fear that the move poses a new threat to the country’s unity.

The new constitution, approved by Kurdistan’s parliament two weeks ago and scheduled for a referendum this year, underscores the level of mistrust and bad faith between the region and the central government in Baghdad. And it raises the question of whether a peaceful resolution of disputes between the two is possible, despite intensive cajoling by the United States.

The proposed constitution enshrines Kurdish claims to territories and the oil and gas beneath them. But these claims are disputed by both the federal government in Baghdad and ethnic groups on the ground, and were supposed to be resolved in talks begun quietly last month between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, sponsored by the United Nations and backed by the United States. Instead, the Kurdish parliament pushed ahead and passed the constitution, partly as a message that it would resist pressure from the American and Iraqi governments to make concessions. [continued...]

‘Inappropriate’ secrecy hurt surveillance effort, report says

“Extraordinary and inappropriate” secrecy about a warrantless eavesdropping program undermined its effectiveness as a terrorism-fighting tool, government watchdogs have concluded in the first examination of one of the most contentious episodes of the Bush administration.

A report by inspectors general from five intelligence agencies said the administration’s tight control over who learned of the program also contributed to flawed legal arguments that nearly prompted mass resignations in the Justice Department five years ago.

The program “may have” contributed to successful counterterrorism efforts, some intelligence officials told the investigators. But too few CIA personnel knew of the highly classified program to use it for intelligence work, the report stated, while at the FBI, the program “played a limited role,” with “most . . . leads . . . determined not to have any connection to terrorism.” [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 8

Khamenei’s son takes control of Iran’s anti-protest militia

The son of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has taken control of the militia being used to crush the protest movement, according to a senior Iranian source.

The source, a politician with strong connections to the security apparatus, said that the leading role being played by Mojtaba Khamenei had dismayed many of the country’s senior clerics, conservative politicians and Revolutionary Guard generals.

But these conservatives are reluctant to challenge the Khameneis openly out of fear that any conflict would destabilise the Islamic Republic and weaken Iran in the region. Instead they will use their positions in the organs of state to make it hard for the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to govern.

“This game has not finished. The game has only just started,” the source said, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his own position in Iran. [continued...]

US frees five Iranian diplomats in Iraq

The US military in Iraq on Thursday freed five Iranian diplomats held since January 2007 in a major source of friction between archfoes Tehran and Washington, Iraqi and Iranian officials said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the five men were handed over to the government under a security accord which lays out the terms for the US pullout from the war-torn nation and the transfer of prisoners in US custody.

“This process is taking place today and includes the Iranian officials arrested in Arbil,” he told AFP. [continued...]

Iran police tear gas protesters

Iranian police have fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who defied government warnings that any fresh attempt at protests would be “smashed”.

The marchers were heading towards Tehran University to commemorate the 10th anniversary of student unrest.

All gatherings have been banned in a crackdown on mass protests that erupted after the disputed election of 12 June. [continued...]

Iranian exile speaks out against militia he once supported

For people around the globe, the images of club-wielding men on motorcycles beating demonstrators on the streets of Tehran was just another case of brutality in a far-off land.

But as he watched the violence of recent weeks unfold on television and YouTube, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, an exiled Iranian, recognized some of the attackers.

They were once good friends.

His life, encapsulating the betrayals and disappointments that followed Iran’s tumultuous revolution 30 years ago, as well as the hopes and fears of Iranians now living abroad, had come full circle.

Once a lonely young man in exile, a rejuvenated Ebrahimi is now using his experience as an insider within Iran’s hard-line militias to “out” members of the group.

On his well-regarded Persian-language blog, he has listed the names and phone numbers of about a dozen militia members whom he has spotted in photos and video of the demonstrations over his homeland’s disputed presidential election. [continued...]

Iran pro-regime voices multiply online

Supporters of Iran’s regime are taking a cue from the opposition’s strategy: They’re mounting an online offensive.

Thousands of Iranians used social-networking sites and blogs after Iran’s election last month to criticize the government and spread news of its violent clashes with protesters.

But over the past week, a growing number of Iranian users of Twitter — the online service that allows users to send short messages — have been “tweeting” in favor of the regime, according to Internet security experts and others studying the development. [continued...]

G-8 nations press Iran on nuclear program

The world’s major industrial nations have given Iran until September to negotiate the dispute over its nuclear program, but remain vague and divided over what consequences they might try to impose should Tehran continue to defy them.

After a long discussion Wednesday night, President Obama and counterparts from the rest of the Group of 8 powers called on Iran to compromise on its uranium enrichment program, condemned its crackdown on the dissent after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election and repudiated the president’s statements denying the Holocaust.

But the Russians succeeded at blocking any further sanctions despite Mr. Obama’s visit to Moscow leading up to the Group of 8 summit meeting, which he used to press the Kremlin to join him in a unified front. Although President Dmitri A. Medvedev told Mr. Obama on Monday that he shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Russian officials on Thursday boasted that they had watered down the Group of 8 statement. [continued...]

Shark attack

After weeks of silence, Iran’s mainstream clerics, perhaps the most powerful constituency inside Iran, have spoken out. In a bold statement Saturday, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection illegitimate. The Guardian Council that oversaw the election, the association concluded, no longer had the “right to judge in this case as some of its members have lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public.”

As stunning as it might seem to hear clerics openly condemn an election that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has sanctified, inside Iran it is less unexpected. Most clerics in the holy Shiite city of Qom have never supported the extremist religious and political ideas of Khamenei and the hard-liners within his inner circle. The clerics in this association — and many other high-ranking ayatollahs — had already individually sided with the opposition now led by Mir Hossein Mousavi. They have done so not to bolster the so-called “green revolution” of the streets, but to save the Islamic republic from extinction. [continued...]

US may move to toughen sanctions against Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States may call for “stricter sanctions” against Iran if U.S. diplomatic efforts with Tehran fail.

Clinton commented late Tuesday in an an exclusive interview with Venezuela’s Globovision TV.

She responded to a question about how she perceived relations between Iran and Venezuela by saying “Iran has not respected its own democracy.” [continued...]

A peek in Iran: protests fade under withering gaze

Interviews with more than a dozen Iranians here paint a picture of a nation deeply polarized by the results of the presidential election last month, and a government that, with a daunting display of security might from town to village, appears to be succeeding in silencing dissent.

Given the heavy restrictions Iran has imposed on journalists in the aftermath of the election and the bloody street confrontations that followed, the travelers’ comments provided one of the few remaining sources of unfiltered news from inside Iran, and a rare glimpse of what is happening outside Tehran, where most journalists were not allowed even before the postelection crackdown. [continued...]

Netanyahu’s two-state goal?

To judge by the next day’s headlines, Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy speech last month was a great success. “Israeli Premier Backs State for Palestinians,” declared the New York Times. “Israel Endorses Two-State Goal,” said the Washington Post. “Netanyahu Backs Palestinian State,” announced The Guardian.

He did no such thing, of course, unless by “state” one understands an amorphous entity lacking a definite territory, not allowed to control its own borders or airspace, shorn of any vestige of sovereignty (other than a flag and perhaps a national anthem), not allowed to enter into treaties with other states–and permanently disarmed and hence at the mercy of Israel. It would make about as much sense to call an apple an orange or a piano a speedboat as to call such a construct a state, and yet those are the conditions that Netanyahu imposed on the creation of such an entity for the Palestinians (if they get that far in the first place).

The strange thing is that Netanyahu’s speech marked both the definitive end and a symbolic return to the beginning of the two-state solution as that hapless notion has been peddled since the Oslo Accords of 1993-95. For what he said the Palestinians might–perhaps–be entitled to is pretty much what Oslo had said they might be entitled to fifteen years ago: a “self-government authority” not allowed to control its own borders or airspace, shorn of any vestige of sovereignty, etc. And on top of that they can also forget about Jerusalem–that is and will forever remain the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people. [continued...]

Israeli agents to screen judges before appointment

Israel’s internal security service has been given a de facto veto over the appointment of judges in an unprecedented decision that has the country’s embattled liberals up in arms.

The move by the Judges Selection Committee on Friday is likely to make it harder for members of Israel’s Arab minority and others with views that are not mainstream to become judges, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri). Zahava Galon, a former MP of the dovish Meretz party, said the decision was “a scandal”. She said: “We are turning into a kind of police state with Big Brother everywhere. A judge shouldn’t have to pass the Shin Bet’s tests. This is just something that isn’t done.”

The selection committee’s membership – partly determined by the ruling coalition – has become more nationalist and intent on limiting the power of the Supreme Court due to appointments made since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in April.

Increasing the powers of the security service, the Shin Bet, were part of an attempt to erode the judiciary’s ability to protect civil liberties and human rights in a country that lacked a constitution to defend them, Ms Galon said. The security establishment has always enjoyed wide powers but the Supreme Court was seen as a bastion of liberalism that counterbalanced that and helped define Israel as a democracy. [continued...]

Shipwrecked, before reaching Gaza

Last week, the mainstream media only touched on the attempt by the Free Gaza Movement to reach the occupied territory by boat. Israel Defense Forces boarded their vessel, The Spirit of Humanity, which was carrying humanitarian aid. In spite of the incarceration of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, along with nineteen other activists who were aboard the ship, the story has gained little traction on our side of the ocean.

Yesterday, Congresswoman McKinney arrived safely back in the US, and in an interview, she emphasized the need for a new approach to Gaza: [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITORIAL: July 8

What if Iran got the bomb?

The political survival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has moved the question of Iran’s nuclear program back to the center of U.S. diplomacy. Iran, it is argued, cannot be allowed to build nuclear weapons because its leaders say crazy things, wear funny hats without ties, and believe that God will reward them with virgins and whatnot for consuming friendly countries in a nuclear firestorm. Iranians, in short, are so different, weird, and threatening that they cannot be trusted with the bomb. Fortunately, no such state has ever successfully developed nuclear weapons…except for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). And this historical analogy holds a highly relevant lesson for today. [continued...]

EDITORIAL: Has Obama already caved on the settlements issue?

The United States talks today about freezing settlements and the Palestinian state is well and good, but it is not new. Many administrations have spoken about freezing settlements. Furthermore, this talk is not enough. More important is the extent of the response to the rights of our people and the reality of the Palestinian state they are talking about, its borders, and its sovereignty. For this reason, we are still assessing the Obama administration. Khalid Meshaal, Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Damascus, June 25, 2008

From Maya Bengal in Israel’s Ma’ariv (via IPF) we learn:

Rather surprisingly, the Americans have agreed to allow Israel to construct some 2,500 housing units in the settlements. This is in complete contrast to statements relayed to Israel in recent months, since the new administration took office.

The agreement was secured after Defense Minister Ehud Barak was able to convince the Americans to allow Israel to continue and build those units whose construction had already started. In other words, the Americans gave their consent to letting the construction continue of some 700 buildings, which amount to some 2,500 housing units.

So, while unrest in Iran might have initially looked like a major distraction from the administration’s efforts to apply pressure on Netanyahu to freeze settlements, instead the distraction turns out to have provided cover for the administration to reach a compromise. The recent period of dischord between two old friends is now all water under the bridge — or so some Israelis would like everyone to believe.

It seems though that Barak’s victory might not be as assured as Ma’ariv would like its readers to believe.

According to Reuters:

A report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Israel’s most popular newspaper, was more cautious, saying Israel and the United States were “close to an agreement on settlements.” It also cited the same housing figures.

Barak has been seeking a deal with the United States that would include initial steps by Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in return for limiting settlement activity.

Yedioth Ahronoth quoted unidentified cabinet ministers, who attended Barak’s briefing, as saying reports a U.S.-Israeli agreement on settlement had been sealed were wishful thinking on the part of the defense chief.

Reuters also said: “Western officials said the United States was moving in the direction of making allowances so Israel could finish off at least some existing projects which are close to completion or bound by private contracts that cannot be broken.”

Maybe Barak thought a declaration of victory matters more than its substance. We’ll see.

Meshaal delivers speech on Obama’s position on peace process

On June 25, Khalid Meshaal, head of the Hamas Political Bureau gave a televised speech in Damascus and said, in part:

The Obama administration brought a change in rhetoric, but the question is what brought about this change. Even just the change on the level of the language, who effected this change? Was it for the sake of our beautiful eyes or for some defect? What brought this change about is that uncompromising perseverance of the living peoples of the region, when they resisted in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and rejected the occupiers and their oppression and orders. So, they thwarted the policy of the previous administration and its old and neoconservatives.

“This perseverance transformed that administration’s adventures consisting of hegemony and pre-emptive wars into an utter failure, drowning them in the swamps of the region and creating successive crises which then prompted the American voter to go for the option of change to protect his own interests, not for the sake of our interests. Those who accepted the policy of the former administration, those who went along with it and brought tidings of it are not the ones who made the change or contributed towards it. Had the peoples of the region listened to them, the policy of Bush and his neoconservatives would have succeeded. The conditions in our region would have been in an unimaginably bad state.

“We sense a change in the American tone and rhetoric towards the region and the Islamic world, as was evident from President Obama’s speech in Cairo. We welcome this with great courage. We evaluate any change in an objective manner. However, we are not entranced by speeches. Speeches do not win us over. The effect of rhetoric is temporary. We are looking for change in the policies on the ground. This is the yardstick of our judgment of stances and changes. What is required of the leaders of the superpowers and more important countries is firm actions, decisive stances, and serious initiatives that restore rights to their owners and end illegitimate occupation. What is required is not mere speeches that reveal intentions and promises.” [continued...]

Hamas’ choice: Recognition or resistance in the age of Obama

In a major policy speech on 25 June 2009, Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, tried to do what may be impossible: present the Islamist Palestinian resistance organization as a willing partner in a US-led peace process, while holding on to his movement’s political principles and base.

This is the dilemma that every Palestinian leadership, and perhaps almost every liberation movement, has eventually had to confront. It is a choice, as political scientist Tamim Barghouti has pointed out, between recognition and legitimacy. According to Barghouti, the old-guard Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership, when confronted with the same dilemma, chose recognition and forfeited its legitimacy, opening the way for Hamas to emerge. Now it is the turn of Hamas: the price demanded by the US and its allies for Hamas to be taken as an interlocutor is the abandonment of the very principles on which the movement built its mass support. [continued...]

Is this natural growth? – Non profits help American Jews move to Israeli settlements in the West Bank

Yesterday morning, Nefesh B’Nefesh had the first in a series of summer 2009 celebrations greeting its charter flights packed with new immigrants from North America. Nefesh B’Nefesh is a non-profit organization that encourages and facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. They expect to bring over 3,000 immigrants to Israel over the course of the summer, in addition to the 20,000 they have brought since 2002. Attending the ceremony were the Israeli Minister of Transportation, Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, the CEO of EL Al Israel Airlines and the two American Jewish founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh. [continued...]

In Iran, a struggle beyond the streets

The streets of Iran have been largely silenced, but a power struggle grinds on behind the scenes, this time over the very nature of the state itself. It is a battle that transcends the immediate conflict over the presidential election, one that began 30 years ago as the Islamic Revolution established a new form of government that sought to blend theocracy and a measure of democracy.

From the beginning, both have vied for an upper hand, and today both are tarnished. In postelection Iran, there is growing unease among many of the nation’s political and clerical elite that the very system of governance they rely on for power and privilege has been stripped of its religious and electoral legitimacy, creating a virtual dictatorship enforced by an emboldened security apparatus, analysts said.

Among the Iranian president’s allies are those who question whether the nation needs elected institutions at all. [continued...]

Iran opposition calls for release of detainees

Iranian reformist leaders are urging authorities to release all those detained during the unrest that followed the country’s disputed presidential election last month.

The call was issued by defeated presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi as well as former president Mohammad Khatami following a meeting late Monday. [continued...]

Revealed – the secret torture evidence MI5 tried to suppress

The true depth of British involvement in the torture of terrorism suspects overseas and the manner in which that complicity is concealed behind a cloak of courtroom secrecy was laid bare last night when David Davis MP detailed the way in which one counter-terrorism operation led directly to a man suffering brutal mistreatment.

In a dramatic intervention using the protection of parliamentary privilege, the former shadow home secretary revealed how MI5 and Greater Manchester police effectively sub-contracted the torture of Rangzieb Ahmed to a Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), whose routine use of torture has been widely documented.

This is the first time that the information has entered the public domain. Previously it has been suppressed through the process of secret court hearings and, had the Guardian or other media organisations reported it, they would have exposed themselves to the risk of prosecution for contempt of court. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 7

Rafsanjani’s party dismisses vote results

A day after commanders of the Revolutionary Guard warned there was no middle ground in the dispute over the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the political party of one of Iran’s most powerful clerics Monday defiantly issued a statement dismissing the vote.

The statement by the Kargozaran party all but cleared away weeks of ambiguity about the stance of the cleric, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani, who heads two government councils that oversee the supreme leader and mediate disputes between branches, openly backed presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. [continued...]

Obama must be firm on foreign policy

Just a few months into his presidency, Mr Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has also been all but wrecked by the violent crackdown in that country. His advisers once day-dreamed about a dramatic presidential trip to Tehran, a speech before cheering students, a disarming smile for Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. All of that is unthinkable now. Instead, Mr Obama is left having to cope with a wounded and aggressive Iranian government, intent on pressing ahead with its nuclear programme. The US president will now have to fend off the “bomb Iran” lobby – but without being able to point to a plausible diplomatic alternative.

The policy of American engagement with Russia is going only a little better. Agreements on arms control and transit routes to Afghanistan cannot extinguish the still smouldering antagonisms created by last year’s Georgia war.

Above all Mr Obama is getting nothing on the issue he placed at the centre of his drive for a rapprochement with Russia: Iran.

Mr Obama’s problems with Iran and Russia are merging into a single, nasty mess. The president had seen an improved relationship with Russia as the key to solving Iran. The idea was that the newly friendly Russians would help to talk their Iranian neighbours into a nuclear deal. If that did not work, Russia would help to tighten sanctions on Iran. Without the Kremlin there can be no new United Nations sanctions on Iran (that pesky Russian veto). A package of western sanctions that does not include Russia would be too full of holes to put real pressure on Iran. [continued...]

Obama: No green light for Israel to attack Iran

The United States is “absolutely not” giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN Tuesday.

“We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East,” Obama said, referring to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. [continued...]

Israel declines to ask U.S. to OK Iran attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top deputies have not formally asked for U.S. aid or permission for possible military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program, fearing the White House would not approve, two Israeli officials said.

One senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Washington Times that Mr. Netanyahu determined that “it made no sense” to press the matter after the negative response President Bush gave Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, when he asked early last year for U.S. aid for possible military strikes on Iran. [continued...]

No change in Iran policy, White House insists

As White House and Office of the Vice President aides formed a united front against widespread media speculation about a change in policy signaled by Vice President Joseph Biden’s statement on a Sunday news show that Israel is a “sovereign nation” that could “determine for itself” how to deal with threats from Iran, analysts said that Israel may be wary of any such green light in any case.

In e-mails and phone calls today, administration officials insisted that Biden’s comments were neither a signal of any change in policy, nor any sort of freelancing. Asked if Biden’s remarks might have been part of an intentional messaging campaign to step up pressure on Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program, officials gave an emphatic “no.” But for all that, the remarks were widely seen both in Washington and abroad as a message intended less for Jerusalem than for Tehran.

Israel’s “biggest nightmare” is that one day the U.S. government “‘would call it and say ‘OK guys, take care of it,'” said Tel Aviv University Iran expert David Menashri in a call Monday arranged by the Israeli Policy Forum, a U.S. nonprofit organization that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [continued...]

Minister calls for Jewish takeover of Palestinian areas in Israel

Israel’s housing minister called for strict segregation between the country’s Jewish and Arab populations last week as he unveiled plans to move large numbers of fundamentalist religious Jews to Israel’s north to prevent what he described as an “Arab takeover” of the region.

Ariel Atias said he considered it a “national mission” to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews — or Haredim, distinctive for their formal black and white clothing — into Arab areas, and announced that he would also create the north’s first exclusively Haredi town.

The new settlement drive, according to Atias, is intended to revive previous failed efforts by the state to “Judaize,” or create a Jewish majority in, the country’s heavily Arab north.

Analysts say the announcement is a disturbing indication that the Haredim, who have traditionally been hostile to Zionism because of their strict reading of the Bible, are rapidly being recruited to the Judaization project in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 6

Attack on Iran would be ‘very destabilizing’ — US military chief

A US military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “very destabilizing,” top US military commander Admiral Mike Mullen said Sunday, warning that any attack could have serious “unintended consequences.”

“I’ve been one who has been concerned about a strike on Iran for some time, because it could be very destabilizing, and it is the unintended consequences of that which aren’t predictable,” the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Fox News Sunday television program. [continued...]

Saudi air space is ‘not open’ for attack on Iran

Saudi analysts have rejected media reports that the kingdom has given permission to Israel to use its air space for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the head of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Jamal Khashoggi, an expert on Saudi foreign policy and editor-in-chief of Al Watan newspaper, said the report was false and was another attempt to provoke the country into revealing its plans towards Iran. [continued...]

Mousavi reportedly will launch political party in Iran

The top figure of Iran’s nascent political reform movement, opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, will launch a political party to pursue his goals, a reformist newspaper reported Sunday.

Iranian officials, meanwhile, released a jailed European journalist and the lawyer of an imprisoned employee of the British Embassy in Tehran said he was confident that his client’s case would be resolved.

Beleaguered President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated calls for a live “debate” with President Obama late Saturday in a possible sign Iran was seeking to ease diplomatic strains over his disputed reelection and its violent aftermath. [continued...]

Earn our trust or go, Afghan villagers tell Marines

The mullah’s message was blunt. We don’t trust you and if you don’t earn our trust, our first meeting will be our last.

With that, he stood abruptly and walked out of his first “shura,” or council meeting, with U.S. Marines.

U.S. forces who have moved deep into formerly Taliban-controlled territory in southern Afghanistan this week say they are here to stay and will not leave until they have improved the lives of ordinary people.

But locals — used to seeing NATO troops come through to fight but fail to follow through on promises of development — may not be won over easily. [continued...]

Obama’s strategic blind spot

Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders?” During the bitter winter of 1914-15, the first lord of the Admiralty posed this urgent question to Britain’s prime minister.

The eighth anniversary of 9/11, now fast approaching, invites attention to a similar question: Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to choke on the dust of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Back in December 1914, the Admiralty’s impatient first lord was Winston Churchill, appalled by the slaughter on the Western Front. Intent on breaking the stalemate, Churchill became a font of ideas. Mired in Flanders? Then launch an amphibious assault against the Dardanelles, he urged. Were German machine guns cutting down British Tommies venturing into no man’s land? Then support the infantry with tanks.

Yet Churchill’s innovations failed to deliver a quick resolution. Instead, they prolonged the war and drove up its cost. When the guns finally fell silent in November 1918, “victory” left Britain economically and spiritually depleted. Revolution wracked much of Europe. And the seeds of totalitarianism had been planted, producing in their maturity an even more horrendous war. Some victory. [continued...]

America searches for means of influence in Iraq

Behind the high walls of the American Embassy here, diplomats are casting about to find a new formula to influence politics in Iraq.

With most troops now on large bases outside the cities, America’s day-to-day involvement in Iraqi life has vanished. The decisions, big and small, that American commanders made are now largely being made by Iraqis; American soldiers no longer have daily contact with tribal sheiks, mayors, insurgents and shopkeepers — a change welcomed by the majority of Iraqis.

Although President Obama has made it clear that his strategic priority is the war in Afghanistan, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in Baghdad last week to emphasize that America still cared about Iraq. [continued...]

Iraqis say reconciliation is an internal matter

Iraq welcomes Vice President Joseph Biden’s encouraging words about America’s commitment to Iraq, but government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Saturday that political reconciliation is an internal matter best handled by Iraqis.

Mr. Biden arrived in Iraq on Thursday to visit troops for the July 4 holiday and to also urge Iraq’s political, ethnic and sectarian factions to make more progress on divisive issues. The Obama administration recently announced that Mr. Biden would overseeing Iraq policy for the U.S. government, part of which included encouraging more political progress from Iraq’s leaders.

“Any party that is not Iraqi will not add to the success of this issue,” Mr. Dabbagh said of political progress. [continued...]

The blue velvet hills of my youth have been destroyed

I can remember the appearance of the hills around Ramallah in 1979, before any Jewish settlement came to be established there. In the spring of that year I walked north from Ramallah, where I live, to the nearby village of A’yn Qenya and up the pine-forested hill. A gazelle leapt ahead of me. When I reached the top I could see hills spread below me like crumpled blue velvet, with the hamlets of Janiya and Deir Ammar huddled between its folds. On top of the highest hill in the distance stood the village of Ras Karkar with its centuries-old citadel that dominated the area during Ottoman times. I had been following the worrying developments of extensive settlement-building elsewhere in the West Bank and wondered how long it would be before these hills came under the merciless blades of the Israeli bulldozers. I didn’t have to wait long. A year later the top of the hill was lopped off and the settlement of Dolev, then a cluster of red-tiled Swiss-style chalets, was established.

Now, more than 25 years later, Dolev has expanded and taken over the hills to its north for vineyards. Numerous highways for the exclusive use of its Jewish settlers connect it to the many other settlements in the area and to Israel’s coastline. Those settlers travelling to and from Israeli cities where they work can only see road signs indicating other Jewish settlements. They encounter no Palestinian traffic on the roads nor do they see any Palestinian villages. No wonder then that I was once stopped by an armed settler and interrogated as to why I was taking a walk in his hills. When I asked him what right he had to be there, he answered: “I live here.” He then pointedly added: “Unlike you, I really live here.”

Not a single year has passed since Israel acquired the territories in 1967 in which Jewish settlements were not built. Had it pursued peace as assiduously, surely it would have achieved it by now. [continued...]

Why don’t Russian-speaking Jews trust Obama?

In the past two weeks, in advance of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Russia, chapters of the Bible have become hot current events items in the Russian-language media in Israel. This is not necessarily a matter of an increasing link to the Jewish sources, but rather the use of verses found relevant to eroding the American president’s legitimacy.

The Torah portion “Noah” has become particularly popular, and especially his son Ham. This Ham – whose name in Russian also means a very crude person – was punished in the Bible by having his skin turn black, with all his descendants doomed to be blacks destined for a life of slavery. Another very popular text lately is a verse from Proverbs: “Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up.” The first of the heralds of evil, according to the verse, is “a slave who becomes king.”

Each of these chapters is important in itself, but the real sparks are created by the connection between the two: Ham the black man who is doomed to eternal slavery and brings suffering to the world when a black slave becomes king – or in this case, ascends the throne of the presidency of the United States. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: July 5

Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran

The head of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad’s director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility.

The Israeli press has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, held meetings with Saudi colleagues. The reports were denied by Saudi officials.

“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” a diplomatic source said last week. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — Let’s suppose that the Sunday Times reporter and former Israeli military intelligence officer, Uzi Mahnaimi, broke a major story here. What are we to understand? That Israel secretly clinched a crucial deal with the Saudis and then thought this would be a great way of applying pressure on Iran if leaked to the media?

I don’t know — I suppose this could all be part of a clever campaign to keep the Iranians guessing. Maybe this “tacit agreement” is a kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell and the Israelis feel confident that the Saudis will maintain an absolute silence. I’m inclined to believe, however, that if the Israelis really did have a secret understanding with the Saudis on this, this would be the most closely guarded secret imagineanable. We wouldn’t be getting a preview through one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.

Iranian details alleged fraud

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate in last month’s disputed election, released documents Saturday detailing a campaign of alleged fraud by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that assured his reelection, while an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader accused Mousavi of treason.

Hossein Shariatmadari, a special adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Mousavi of being a “foreign agent” working for the United States and a member of a “fifth column” determined to topple Iran’s Islamic system of governance. The accusation of treason was the highest and most direct issued by an Iranian official since the June 12 election.

Many in Iran say that government forces are laying the groundwork for arresting Mousavi, who has not been seen in public in more than a week.

In a 24-page document posted on his Web site, Mousavi’s special committee studying election fraud accused influential Ahmadinejad supporters of handing out cash bonuses and food, increasing wages, printing millions of extra ballots and other acts in the run-up to the vote. [continued...]

Leading clerics defy ayatollah on disputed Iran election

The most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.” [continued...]

Al Jazeera English launches in first major US cable market

The English-language cousin of the Qatar based news channel Al Jazeera launched yesterday in the Washington D.C. area after signing its first major U.S. cable deal with non-commercial MHz Networks last week.

The MHz deal means 2.3 million subscribers will now have access to the channel, adding to the 140 million households currently receiving Al Jazeera English worldwide.

Al Jazeera English is available in 40 countries, including Israel, but it’s the first time Al Jazeera English (AJE) has entered such a large US market, generally acknowledged as the world’s most important English-language cable market.

Previously, AJE had been available only in two U.S. markets – Burlington, Vermont and Toledo, Ohio, and cable networks in the U.S. had historically refused to carry the channel because of its association with Al Jazeera’s Arabic language news channel. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — Great news that America’s Berlin Wall for the media is starting to crumble — though needless to say, there’s nothing to read about this in the US media. Are all the TV producers and news editors praying that if they keep quiet enough, Al Jazeera will die a quiet death in DC and never threaten the myopia and complacency that allows American journalism to operate so smoothly?

For those who contemptuously view AJE is some kind of news upstart that doesn’t need to be viewed too seriously, it’s worth noting that they already have 69 news bureaus around the world — more than the BBC or CNN! And they’re just about to add ten more.

Iran: on both sides the hawks circle, spoiling for a fight

The furore over Iran’s election has imperilled prospects for a diplomatic engagement between Tehran and Washington, on both sides of the equation. And as long as the White House remains under pressure from hawks in Washington and Israel to force an end to Iran’s uranium enrichment programme by any means possible, the weakening of prospects for diplomatic engagement raises the risk of war.

Barack Obama, to his credit, largely rebuffed calls to talk tough on Iran, recognising that empty rhetoric would only assuage feelings of impotence in the US while making things worse for the Iranian opposition. He maintained a realist’s disciplined focus on the key issues in the US-Iranian relationship: those where he may be in a position to influence the outcome, unlike the fate of the Iranian opposition, about which he can do little. Regardless of who wins Iran’s power struggle, Mr Obama will have to deal with them, first and foremost on the nuclear issue. [continued...]

Iran’s green wave

Just before midnight on a Friday evening a week before Iran’s much-disputed June 12 election, the initial tremors of the earthquake that has shaken the country to its core were palpable deep in south Tehran, a gritty, working-class section of the city with a reputation for being a stronghold of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Past shuttered shops and empty, debris-strewn sidewalks, a late-night stream of cars, trucks and motorcycles, engines revving, horns honking, roared along the wide boulevard. From open car windows emerged shouts and cheers, raised fists and hands brandishing posters of opposition contender Mir-Hossein Moussavi’s bearded, smiling visage. In the traffic ahead of us, a ramshackle open-air panel truck transported at least two dozen Ahmadinejad supporters clad in T-shirts, jeering at their opponents. As I traveled north from sprawling Imam Khomeini Square up to Ferdowsi Square and on the miles-long Vali Asr Street, the scene was similar. In a country not known for street politics, the tableau was stunning. My Iranian companion, an older man with years of experience in his country’s affairs, smiled and shook his head. “This is something new,” he said. [continued...]

Iran’s Ahmadinejad faces diplomatic isolation

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can in one instant appear the diplomatic equivalent of damaged goods and in the next a confident leader whose bellicose speeches leave the West wondering how to deal with him and his perplexing nation now that he’s won a much-disputed reelection.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev publicly greeted Ahmadinejad at a recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but did not grant him a private meeting as he had the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Belarus, the Iranian leader was met not by President Alexander Lukashenko, but by the speaker of the upper house of parliament. [continued...]

Nuclear watchdog IAEA elects Japanese diplomat as its leader

After a months-long deadlock and half a dozen inconclusive votes, the world’s atomic energy watchdog on Thursday elected as its leader a Japanese diplomat described as colorless by foes and competent by allies.

Yukiya Amano, formerly Japan’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, will serve as director-general of the United Nations agency when Mohamed ElBaradei, an outspoken Egyptian diplomat, retires this year. [continued...]

A mother’s lament

If Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari were not being held in a Tehran prison without formal charges, without access to a lawyer, without being allowed to see even his mother, there would be no one better to tell the story of an Iranian like him and the tragedies that his family has suffered in the last few years.

“I don’t know when these terrible things are going to stop happening,” 83-year-old Molouk Bahari said, amazed, angry, and agonizing after Maziar was arrested at the family home in Tehran early on the morning of June 21. He is the last real emotional support left in her life. “He was doing nothing wrong. He was doing his job,” she said. “There is no reason for him to be held like this.” [continued...]

‘Iran trial’ for UK embassy staff

Some UK embassy staff detained in Tehran and accused of inciting protests after disputed elections will face trial, a top Iranian cleric says.

Guardians Council chief Ahmad Jannati said: “Naturally they will be put on trial, they have made confessions.” [continued...]

Trying to find a new road to his lost home

Most people, even in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, had never heard of Khaled Meshaal until Israeli Mossad agents attempted to assassinate him in Jordan one day in September, 1997.

The agents, bearing falsified Canadian passports, bungled the job and created an international incident. Outraged that the attack was carried out on his soil, King Hussein of Jordan responded by demanding, among other things, that Israel supply the antidote to the poison they had used.

In the aftermath, the world focused on the man at the centre of all the attention, who was then a senior figure in the militant Palestinian Hamas movement and is now at its helm.

Few Palestinians even today have met Mr. Meshaal, because he has lived outside the territory where he was born for 42 of his 53 years. But they are seeing more of him on television now, talking with Israel about a truce after the recent Gaza invasion, talking with the rival Palestinian Fatah party about reconciliation and – as of last week – talking to the Arab world about the future of the peace process. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: July 2

Time for an Israeli strike?

With Iran’s hard-line mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unmistakably back in control, Israel’s decision of whether to use military force against Tehran’s nuclear weapons program is more urgent than ever.

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — As John Bolton watched events unfold in Iran over the last three weeks, one thought couldn’t escape his mind — in fact it’s the only thought that seems to inhabit his mind: now’s a good time to bomb Iran.

What he somehow managed to miss was that perceptions of Iran have not only changed around the rest of the world but also inside Iran-fearful Israel. As Zvi Bar’el wrote in Haaretz recently in an article ironically headlined “Which Iran would Israel bomb?“:

Suddenly, there appears to be an Iranian people. Not just nuclear technology, extremist ayatollahs, the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad, and an axis of evil. All of a sudden, the ears need to be conditioned to hear other names: “‘Mousawi’ or ‘Mousavi,’ how is it pronounced exactly?”; Mehdi Karroubi; Khamenei (“It’s not ‘Khomeini’?”). Reports from Iranian bloggers fill the pages of the Hebrew press. Iranian commentators – in contrast to Iranian-affairs commentators – are now the leading pundits. The hot Internet connection with Radio Ran (the Persian-language radio station in Israel) is the latest gimmick. And most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.

Israel is now gaining a more intimate, accurate familiarity with the Iranian public. The demonstrations have made quite clear that there is not one Iran or even two, but rather a number of Irans. There is the Iran that belongs to those who screamed, “Death to America and to Israel,” and there is the Iran that screams, “Down with the dictator.”

So for Israelis Iran has evolved beyond pure nemesis.

Even so, let’s humor Bolton’s imagination a little and suppose that the Israeli strike he’s picturing goes stunningly well and Iran’s nuclear program is crippled with minimal loss of life. What happens then inside Iran? How much traction is Bolton’s public diplomacy campaign going to get — that is, the message that the bombs were aimed at the regime, not the people?

The answer is simple: the regime will have its own public diplomacy campaign. Do you support your nation or are you in sympathy with the Zionist-entity and its American supporters?

An are-you-for-us-or-against-us? campaign worked well enough for George Bush and Dick Cheney, even though those of us who rejected their rallying cry had little fear of being jailed, beaten up or shot for simply protesting. For Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, equipped as they are with crude but effective means to enforce the same message, its acceptance — heartfelt or otherwise — is sure to be near universal. The Iranian government will be rewarded by spectacular displays of national solidarity. The rifts that are now open wide will not be healed but they will most effectively be buried.

Whether an Israeli strike would be successful in crippling Iran’s nuclear program is debatable; that it would profoundly undermine Iran’s reformist movement should be beyond question.

And then there’s another small detail that Bolton forgot to mention: Is an Israeli government that regards itself as being under “withering pressure” and is “being driven to its knees” by the Obama administration on the issue of settlements, about to turn around and bomb Iran? Not unless it gets a green light from the White House. And that’s the one thing Bolton is realistic enough to understand is not about to happen.

Israel’s ready to bomb Iran? Only in your dreams Mr Bolton.

The irresistible illusion

We are accustomed to seeing Afghans through bars, or smeared windows, or the sight of a rifle: turbaned men carrying rockets, praying in unison, or lying in pools of blood; boys squabbling in an empty swimming-pool; women in burn wards, or begging in burqas. Kabul is a South Asian city of millions. Bollywood music blares out in its crowded spice markets and flower gardens, but it seems that images conveying colour and humour are reserved for Rajasthan.

Barack Obama, in a recent speech, set out our fears. The Afghan government

is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency . . . If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can . . . For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralysed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people – especially women and girls. The return in force of al-Qaida terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.

When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. [continued...]

Pakistan plays dangerous double game

The assassin struck shortly after morning prayers, storming into a room at the compound where Qari Zainuddin was staying and opening up with a volley of fire. The militant leader was rushed to a nearby hospital but declared dead. Meanwhile, the gunman – apparently dispatched by Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – escaped in a waiting car.

The following day, in a cemetery of Muslim and Christian graves encircled by fields of maize, the 26-year-old, who in recent months had pitched himself against Mr Mehsud, was buried. The militant leader’s funeral was notable for two things. Firstly the town was filled with checkposts manned by both Taliban and Pakistani security personnel. Secondly, when the dead man’s brother, Misabhuddin, vowed to reporters that he would take revenge against Mr Mehsud, he also let slip something else. “Jihad against America and its allies in Afghanistan will continue as well,” he said.

The killing last week of Mr Zainuddin, who had been staying in a compound provided by the country’s ISI security agency, has opened a window on a complicated, controversial and perilous element of the battle against militants inside Pakistan. Mr Zainuddin, himself a Taliban leader who supported al-Qa’ida and jihad against Western troops in Afghanistan, had recently been recruited by the Pakistani authorities to join their battle to kill Baitullah Mehsud, who has emerged as the country’s deadliest militant. In essence, Islamabad is recruiting anti-American fighters to bolster a joint US-Pakistani operation.

The arrangement underlines the competing strategic priorities in the region for Pakistan and the US, even as their leaders opt in public for the language of common interests and shared enemies. “Pakistan just wants to concentrate on the Pakistani Taliban. They do not want to go after the Afghan Taliban,” said Giles Dorronosoro, a regional expert at the Carnegie Endowment. “The US wants to put the Pakistan-Afghanistan border under control. They have totally different goals. And the issue is not resolvable.” [continued...]

Growing gulf between U.S. and Israeli Jews on Obama

He swept to power with the support of 78% of American Jews. But has Barack Obama become the bane of Israeli Jews?

A gulf between American and Israeli Jews was evident even before Obama moved into the White House. Just a third of Israelis would have endorsed him had they been allowed to vote, polling indicated, while almost half would have chosen John McCain.

In recent weeks, several public opinion surveys have suggested that Obama’s popularity has dropped far below this already low point. A Jerusalem Post-commissioned poll released on June 19 reported that only 6% of Jewish Israelis consider his views pro-Israel.

To Rafi Smith, head of the polling firm that conducted the survey, it is clear what is happening. Israelis, he said, see Obama “as the opposite of George Bush, who was perceived as the biggest friend of Israel. Obama is seen as a 180-degree turn.” [continued...]

Hussein pointed to Iranian threat

Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released yesterday. The former Iraqi president also denounced Osama bin Laden as “a zealot” and said he had no dealings with al-Qaeda.

Hussein, in fact, said he felt so vulnerable to the perceived threat from “fanatic” leaders in Tehran that he would have been prepared to seek a “security agreement with the United States to protect [Iraq] from threats in the region.”

Former president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq six years ago on the grounds that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. Administration officials at the time also strongly suggested Iraq had significant links to al-Qaeda, which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. [continued...]

How to deal with America’s empire of bases

The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad. The State Department was also reportedly planning to buy the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel (complete with pool) in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to use as a consulate and living quarters for its staff there.

Unfortunately for such plans, on June 9th Pakistani militants rammed a truck filled with explosives into the hotel, killing 18 occupants, wounding at least 55, and collapsing one entire wing of the structure. There has been no news since about whether the State Department is still going ahead with the purchase.

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways. [continued...]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 1

Opposition leaders court arrest by defying ‘unlawful Iranian regime’

Three of Iran’s most prominent opposition leaders flagrantly courted arrest yesterday by denouncing President Ahmadinejad’s Government as illegitimate, one day after the regime said that it would tolerate no more challenges to the election result.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former Prime Minister who lost the election, said that the suppression of dissent was tantamount to a coup. “It’s not yet too late,” he declared on his website. “It is our historical responsibility to continue our protests to defend the rights of the people . . . and prevent the blood spilt by hundreds of thousands of martyrs from leading to a police state.”

Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami, 65, a popular former President, accused the regime of mounting a “velvet revolution against the people and democracy” and called the security crackdown “poisonous”.

Mehdi Karroubi, 72, another defeated presidential candidate, said that “visible and invisible forces blocked any change in the executive power”. He added: “I will continue the fight under any circumstances and using every means.” The regime responded by shutting down his newspaper. [continued...]

Mousavi to disclose tell-all documents

As the Iranian opposition continues to express skepticism about the election result, defeated candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi says he will present documents that prove electoral fraud.

Mousavi, who has rejected the result of Iran’s presidential election as fraudulent, said on Wednesday that a number of Iranian scholars are set to form a committee to preserve the vote of the people.

The committee aims to “make public documents proving fraud and irregularities in the election,” Mousavi said in his latest statement issued on Wednesday. [continued...]

Time for Obama to make a course correction

Demonstrations may have disappeared from Tehran’s streets of shame, but Iranian acceptance is at an all-time low. The government is now illegitimate. Power has been usurped. The equation has changed.

I think Mahmoudi’s right. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may begin to unclench their fist, as isolation and sullen defiance grow, in a bid to deliver what they would not allow the reformists to initiate: détente with America.

Obama must leave them dangling for the foreseeable future. He should refrain indefinitely from talk of engagement.

To do otherwise would be to betray millions of Iranians who have been defrauded and have risked their lives to have their votes count. To do otherwise would be to allow Khamenei to gloat that, in the end, what the United States respects is force. To do otherwise would be to embrace the usurpers.

The slow arc of moral justice is fine but Iran is gripped by the fierce urgency of now. Obama, the realist on whom idealism is projected, is obliged to make a course correction. [continued...]

Europe weighs pulling envoys from Tehran

Iran risked diplomatic isolation from the European Union, as European officials discussed whether to withdraw the ambassadors of all 27 member nations in a dispute over the detention of the British Embassy’s Iranian personnel.

European diplomats said Wednesday that they had made no formal decision to order their envoys home, but that the measure was an option as the European Union — Iran’s biggest trading partner — tried to work out how to defuse the dispute in a way that would shield other embassies in Tehran from similar action.

Withdrawing all 27 ambassadors would be a rare and unusually forceful display of European anger at Iran’s crackdown on dissent after the June 12 presidential election, and several diplomats said the European Union would prefer to avoid such a move. [continued...]

Witness to Neda’s death to be prosecuted

Fars News Agency in Persian on 1 July 2009 reports that the commander of the Law Enforcement Force said: Arash Hejazi who as the witness of the murder of Neda Aqa-Soltan has created uproar is being prosecuted by the International Police (Interpol).

Speaking to a gathering of reporters, General Esma’il Ahmadi-Moqaddam added: Arash Hejazi is being prosecuted by the Ministry of Intelligence and Interpol forces.

He stressed: The murder of Neda Aqa-Soltan is a scenario which has no links to Tehran’s riots.

Arash Hejazi, the doctor who was present at Neda Aqa-Soltan’s murder scene, has held certain sensational interviews with foreign media on this murder case after departing the country. [continued...]

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