Hamas leader’s visit to Saudi Arabia prompts criticism from Iran

Al Monitor reports: Support for Palestinian groups has been one of the unchanging principles of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. Iran’s support for various Palestinian groups and figures has ebbed and flowed with the changing political realities of the region but has never dropped off completely. In his latest speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on the country’s foreign policy, said that even with a nuclear deal, Iran’s support of “resistance groups” would continue.

However, it is no secret by now that since the unrest in Syria began in 2011, relations between Hamas and Iran have deteriorated. Iran pushed the Sunni militant group to politically back its ally President Bashar al-Assad, while Hamas was on the defensive, denying accusations of supporting Assad’s armed opposition. Relations between Hamas and Iran have not recovered since Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal left his longtime base in Damascus in 2012 for Qatar, one of the main sponsors of Assad’s armed opposition.

There were rumors in the Iranian media that Meshaal would visit Iran and meet with Khamenei, but those rumors failed to materialize. It is understandable then that when Hamas leaders, including Meshaal, visited Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud on July 18, the Iranian reaction was swift. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: Iranian aid to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has drastically decreased, a senior Hamas official said Monday.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Iran’s aid “greatly helped the resistance in Palestine; without this assistance it will be hard for us to cope.”

“The relations between Hamas and Iran are not advancing in a direction in which the organization (Hamas) is interested and aren’t improving to the degree the organization wants in order to help the Palestinian issue,” Abu Marzouk said. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera reports: During the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated leaders, including Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda party in Tunisia; Abdul Majeed Zindani, the leader of al-Islah party in Yemen; and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

Such meetings would have been unthinkable at any other point in the past couple of years, as Saudi rulers threw their weight behind Egypt’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In March 2014, the kingdom designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group.

But since Saudi King Salman‘s rise to power following the death of King Abdullah last January, Saudi policy seems to have shifted from a full-on battle against the Brotherhood and their respective offshoots across the region, to a sharper focus on the supposed rise of an Iranian regional threat. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Russia uses veto to block MH17 tribunal

Al Jazeera reports: Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution to create an international tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the Malaysian airliner MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The lone “no” vote cast on Wednesday by Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, effectively blocked the resolution. Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers.

Eleven of the 15 members of the council voted in favour of the resolution, which had been drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.

China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.

In his statement following the vote, Churkin accused other countries of politicising the vote, and accused Ukraine of blocking Moscow from being involved in the investigation.

Just an hour before the Malaysia-backed resolution was put to a vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposed the plan. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Jonathan Pollard deserved to languish in prison as long as he did

Fred Kaplan writes: Jonathan Pollard, who’s been in prison the past 30 years for selling secrets to Israel, will be released on parole this November. Two things are worth noting. First, contrary to many skeptics, his release is not a political ploy to relax Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Second, contrary to claims by Pollard’s supporters, his punishment has been completely justified; he ranks as one of the 20th century’s most appalling American spies.

The first myth is easy to puncture. Pollard’s life sentence came with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He started serving time in November 1985. So, 30 years is up in November 2015. It’s math.

The second myth takes longer to unravel. At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.

Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Revealed: Private firms at heart of U.S. drone warfare

The Guardian reports: The overstretched US military has hired hundreds of private-sector contractors to the heart of its drone operations to analyse top-secret video feeds and help track suspected terrorist leaders, an investigation has found.

Contracts unearthed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal a secretive industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, placing a corporate workforce alongside uniformed personnel analysing intelligence from areas of interest.

While it has long been known that US defence firms supply billions of dollars’ worth of equipment for drone operations, the role of the private sector in supplying analysts for combing through intelligence material has remained almost entirely unknown until now.

Approximately one in 10 people involved in the effort to process data captured by drones and spy planes are non-military. And as the rise of Islamic State prompts what one commander termed “insatiable” demand for aerial surveillance, the Pentagon is considering further expanding its use of contractors, an air force official said. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Marks of ownership

Matthew Battles writes: In ancient Greece, writing arose among traders and artisans doing business in the markets with foreigners and visitors from other cities. Their alphabet emerged not in scribal colleges or the king’s halls, nor was it brought by conquerors, but instead came ashore in the freewheeling, acquisitive, materialistic atmosphere of the agora, the Greek marketplace that also birthed democracy and the public sphere.

The Phoenician letters, transformed by Greeks into the alphabet, share an origin with the Hebrew characters. They crossed the Aegean Sea with trade that flourished between the Greek peninsula and the Canaanite mainland in the ninth century BC. The first alphabetic inscriptions in Greek appear on goods—keepsake vases, containers for oil and olives. The likely earliest such inscription extant, the “Dipylon inscription,” is on a wine jug; it reads something like this: “Whichever dancer dances most fleetly, he shall get me [this vessel]” — a trophy cup. The so-called Cup of Nestor, a clay vessel dating from the eighth century BC, bears an inscription that begins “Nestor’s cup am I, good to drink from.” For the next couple of centuries, Greek letters are used mostly to inscribe dedications — indexing acquisition and ownership in a society where property was the basis of participation in the lettered public sphere.

This was a society of freeborn traders and artisans, a culture that prized beauty, expressiveness, and originality — the perfect environment for the kind of flourishing public space writing seems everywhere to wish to build. And yet the magisterium of writing grows slowly in ancient Greece. Centuries pass before the first texts appear. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — ‘Mustt Mustt’

facebooktwittermail

Turkey opens up old wounds with a new campaign against the PKK

By Cengiz Gunes, The Open University

The recent surge of violence in Turkey following the massacre of socialist activists in Suruc has brought Turkey perilously close to an all-out conflict with the Kurds.

Turkey has begun regular air strikes targeting the bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas as part of its broader “war on terror”, which has also included action against Islamic State (IS) and the left-wing Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKPC). So far, more than 1,000 people have been detained in Turkey. That number includes many trade unionists – and there are growing fears that non-violent dissidents will be targeted.

Turkey’s effort to tie its campaign against the PKK to the international campaign against IS is widely seen as a ploy to make its actions against the Kurds more internationally legitimate. Turkey seems to have convinced the US of the need to create a de-facto safe zone on the border with Syria, a long-held Turkish plan to prevent Kurdish autonomous regions from joining one to another. The Kurds view that plan with deep suspicion, seeing it as a push to undermine their achievements in Syria.

While the trigger points of Turkey’s conflict with the PKK in the past year have all been connected to the developments in Syria, it’s worth remembering that the conflict has a much deeper history.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

Turkish gov’t not ready to restart peace talks with Kurds, continues airstrikes on PKK in Iraq

The Associated Press reports: Turkish jets hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq overnight and the government said strikes would continue until the rebels lay down their arms, despite calls Wednesday by the pro-Kurdish opposition for an immediate end to the violence and the resumption of peace efforts.

Turkey’s air raids against the Kurdish rebels, which came at the same time as Turkey began cracking down on the Islamic State group, are reigniting a 30-year conflict with the insurgents and leave a two-year-old, fragile peace process in pieces.

The airstrikes on IS follow intense U.S. pressure on Turkey to more actively join a coalition against the extremists, but Turkey’s actions against the Kurdish rebel group pose a conundrum for U.S. President Barack Obama, who is relying heavily on the insurgents as allies in Syria. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah during the 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict

Amnesty International: On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.

On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.

In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.

In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).

The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Why is the U.S. releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard?

Michael Weiss writes: “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,’ to conceive of a greater harm to the national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

Thus spake U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986 in a still largely classified declaration, more or less sealing the life sentence handed down to Jonathan Pollard, a former analyst at the U.S. Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center who over a 17-month period in the mid-1980s passed along enough classified intelligence to Israel to fill, by his own admission, a 6x6x10-foot room.

After decades of trying in vain to get out of jail, Pollard will be released on November 20 after serving 29 years in a federal prison. The timing, coming so soon after the U.S. helped ink an arms control agreement with Iran, has raised eyebrows not least because anonymous U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal last week that the Obama administration was planning to release Pollard as a salve to Israel to try and convince the Jewish state to tone down or abandon its fierce criticism of the Iran deal.

The administration has repeatedly denied that any such quid pro quo arrangement was being brokered and insisted that Pollard’s fate was entirely up to an independent parole board. “I haven’t even had a conversation about it,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Tuesday.

However, while it’s true that Pollard was in any event due for a mandatory parole hearing this year under the terms of his sentence, the Journal scoop proved uncannily prescient. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Pollard’s release and the shame of American Jews

Noah Feldman writes: I’m relieved that the nightmare of Jonathan Pollard’s imprisonment is about to be over. Not because I feel any sympathy whatsoever for the convicted spy who will be paroled in November after spending 30 years in prison. No, what relieves me is that, once he’s freed, we’ll be spared the spectacle of respectable American Jewish leaders calling for his early release. Those requests have been harmful to the principle that American Jews can be totally loyal Americans and also care about Israel. The end of this whole shameful episode is therefore cause not for celebration, but for relief.

Even at this distance of time, it remains stunning to me that anyone outside Israel would think Pollard was unfairly treated. Those who advocated the release of the former Navy analyst advanced a variety of reasons. The most significant and consistent argument was that Pollard had been the victim of a U.S. government deception: First the Department of Justice told him they would seek something less than a life sentence. Then the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, wrote a letter to the sentencing judge asking for the maximum sentence on the grounds that Pollard’s stolen secrets had badly damaged the country’s security.

It’s hard to imagine anyone less well placed to complain about a government trick than a person who deceived that very government, his employer to whom he had sworn an oath of loyalty. Even if the government’s approach was sneaky, it pales next to Pollard’s actions.

Then there’s Pollard’s refusal to disclose all the information he had stolen, to say nothing of the distinct probability that some of what he passed to Israel was then traded to the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Israel could lose America’s Democrats for a generation

James Traub writes: Last week, I went to hear Secretary of State John Kerry defend the Iran nuclear deal at the Council on Foreign Relations. Richard Haass, president of the organization, began by asking Kerry to explain what “we have gained by this agreement.” The first thing the secretary said was that he was “very proud” of his “100 percent voting record for Israel” as a senator. The second thing he said was that nobody had worked harder than he had to bring peace to the Middle East. The third thing was, “I consider Bibi” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — “a friend.” What we have gained, Kerry summed up, is “safety and security … for Israel and the region.”

I found it astonishing that Kerry had answered a question about the most consequential diplomatic agreement the United States has signed over the last four decades as if he were the foreign minister of another country. Wasn’t the “we” in question “the American people”? Of course, Kerry’s political instincts were perfectly accurate. He knows that he and President Barack Obama don’t need to persuade the Democratic left of the deal’s merits and needn’t bother trying to convert Republican conservatives. He needs to reach the people who view American national security as not just inextricable but indistinguishable from Israeli security.

On the way out, I saw once such personage and asked, jokingly, whether he had come around on the deal. He hadn’t, of course, but he conceded that he would have to live with it. On the other hand, he added darkly, he knew very well what would happen if Congress voted against the agreement and then overrode Obama’s veto: “They’ll blame the Jews.”

No, they won’t. Most Americans who hate the Jews also hate Obama and Iran, and so will be happy to see the deal go up in smoke. Maybe they’ll thank the Jews. What will happen, though, if Congress overrides Obama’s veto — thus destroying the signal foreign-policy achievement of his tenure, humiliating the president before the world, and triggering a race for nuclear weapons capacity in Iran and across the Middle East — is that Democrats will blame Netanyahu and Israel. And it won’t just be the American left, which already regards Israel as an occupying power. The fraying relationship between Israel and the Democratic Party will come apart altogether. Pro-Israel Democrats like Hillary Clinton will have to begin calculating how high a price they’re prepared to pay for their continued support. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Iran nuclear deal gets support of House Israel backer, Sander Levin

The New York Times reports: Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member now in Congress, said Tuesday that he would support the Iran nuclear accord, lending a hefty voice of approval in a chamber deeply skeptical of the deal.

“Israel’s security has and always will be of critical importance to me and our country,” Mr. Levin said in a lengthy statement explaining his decision. “I believe that Israel, the region and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that. In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult.”

Mr. Levin’s remarks came as members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee began a sharp grilling of three cabinet secretaries sent to Capitol Hill for the second time by President Obama to defend the agreement. While many Republicans have lined up against the accord and some Democrats rushed in early to defend it, the administration is most deeply concerned with congressional Democrats, especially Jewish members and those from heavily Jewish districts who have expressed skepticism. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Sen. Wyden objects to anti-terrorism rules for websites

The Associated Press reports: Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and skeptic of broad government surveillance, objected Tuesday to a bill that would have required social media and online sites like Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook to alert federal authorities of any terrorist activity.

The proposal, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had been tucked into a broader bill authorizing intelligence programs throughout the 2016 budget year and became the subject of several private meetings on Capitol Hill between congressional staff and industry officials.

In a statement submitted into the Congressional Record, Wyden said the Senate had been asked on Tuesday to approve the intelligence authorization bill by unanimous consent. Doing so would bypass any debate. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed that leadership had hoped to pass the bill before the August recess, but that not all senators were on board. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Facebook expands in politics, and campaigns find much to like

The New York Times reports: “Facebook is going to be the advertising monster of 2016,” said Zac Moffatt, a co-founder of Targeted Victory, a Republican technology firm that ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 digital effort. “They have the largest audience, a dominant set of tools for advertising, and the most aggressive approach to allowing campaigns to leverage their data to maximize efficiency and minimize waste.”

Campaigns can now include what Facebook describes as a “call to action” at the end of their videos — in most cases, a link that allows users to donate to the campaign or sign a petition.

Video represents a tremendous growth area generally. When Facebook announced its new video capacities in September 2014, it had one billion video views a day. Now, the site gets four times as many.

Another innovation allows a campaign to upload its voter file — a list of those they hope will turn out to vote or can be persuaded to do so — directly to Facebook, where it can target those users. Integrating this deep and rich source of information about voters also allows campaigns to find and reach other Facebook users who resemble, in behavior and interests, those in their existing voter file.

The emphasis on reaching increasingly segmented voters reflects the narrowing of the electorate, in which campaigns are devoting more and more money and effort to finding their supporters and turning them out on Election Day, rather than trying to win over uncommitted voters. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Obama’s confidant, Laurence Tribe, pimping for Big Coal

New York Magazine reports: Just after noon on June 18, Laurence H. Tribe, the nation’s foremost scholar of constitutional law, fired off an angry and anguished self-defense. “I just finished my roughly half-hour interview on WNYC with Brian Lehrer,” he wrote in an email to the publishers of his most recent book about the Supreme Court, Uncertain Justice. “I suppose I did well enough, but the interview was a complete disaster. Please let the Brian Lehrer Show know that I felt totally sandbagged.”

The appearance had begun innocuously, with a discussion of the most recent Supreme Court decisions — what the Harvard Law professor later called June’s “series of thunderclaps.” Tribe’s credentials as a liberal legal activist are the stuff of legend — counsel in Bush v. Gore, slayer of archconservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork — and he is as informed about the Court’s opaque inner workings as any outsider can be. He taught Elena Kagan and John Roberts at Harvard and played an unusually involved role in Barack Obama’s education in the law; for a brief time during Obama’s first term, he served at the Justice Department. At 73, Tribe is accustomed to his preeminence. So he bristled when Lehrer courteously but insistently turned the conversation to his other role, as a highly compensated litigator for a coal company fighting Obama’s climate-change initiative.

“Can a scholar take a client like that and maintain an appearance of independence?”

“Well, I’ve been doing this kind of thing for decades,” Tribe replied, the ice creeping into his voice. “And I’m just not for sale.” He had the urge to hang up the phone then and there. But he fought it off and handled another 90 seconds of questioning with superficial aplomb. “I have had a career that I’m proud of. I’ve represented causes that I believe in,” he said. “And whether I believe in the cause or not is not a function of whether the client is corporate or noncorporate.” Inside, though, Tribe was churning. “It was an inexcusable ambush,” he wrote immediately afterward, an “awful caricature.” He was flummoxed that people involved with a friendly NPR show would prove to be “such venomous snakes.”

Tribe’s emotions might seem extreme in light of the tenor of the conversation and the fact that he should have known the questions were inevitable. But the controversy over his role in the climate case had upended his place in the world, setting friends and colleagues against him and shaking two pillars of his reputation: his liberal idealism and his legal brilliance. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. private sector joins $140 billion climate pledge

Climate Central reports: Some of the biggest U.S. corporate names have offered their support – and billions of dollars in green financing pledges – to buttress the Obama administration’s quest for a global agreement on combating climate change.

Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs and 10 other well-known companies joined the White House on Monday in launching the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a campaign that the White House said would inject $140 billion in low-carbon investments into the global economy.

Massive private sector commitments are seen by participants as essential to getting a global agreement on climate change in Paris in December. Emerging nations have demanded that any agreement include tens of billions of dollars in financing from developed nations to help their economies adapt to a low-carbon future. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Is our universe fine-tuned for the existence of life?

Tim Maudlin writes: Ever since the 1920s when Edwin Hubble discovered that all visible galaxies are receding from one another, cosmologists have embraced a general theory of the history of the visible universe. In this view, the visible universe originated from an unimaginably compact and hot state. Prior to 1980, the standard Big Bang models had the universe expanding in size and cooling at a steady pace from the beginning of time until now. These models were adjusted to fit observed data by selecting initial conditions, but some began to worry about how precise and special those initial conditions had to be.

For example, Big Bang models attribute an energy density — the amount of energy per cubic centimetre — to the initial state of the cosmos, as well as an initial rate of expansion of space itself. The subsequent evolution of the universe depends sensitively on the relation between this energy density and the rate of expansion. Pack the energy too densely and the universe will eventually recontract into a big crunch; spread it out too thin and the universe will expand forever, with the matter diluting so rapidly that stars and galaxies cannot form. Between these two extremes lies a highly specialised history in which the universe never recontracts and the rate of expansion eventually slows to zero. In the argot of cosmology, this special situation is called W = 1. Cosmological observation reveals that the value of W for the visible universe at present is quite near to 1. This is, by itself, a surprising finding, but what’s more, the original Big Bang models tell us that W = 1 is an unstable equilibrium point, like a marble perfectly balanced on an overturned bowl. If the marble happens to be exactly at the top it will stay there, but if it is displaced even slightly from the very top it will rapidly roll faster and faster away from that special state.

This is an example of cosmological fine-tuning. In order for the standard Big Bang model to yield a universe even vaguely like ours now, this particular initial condition had to be just right at the beginning. Some cosmologists balked at this idea. It might have been just luck that the Solar system formed and life evolved on Earth, but it seemed unacceptable for it to be just luck that the whole observable universe should have started so near the critical energy density required for there to be cosmic structure at all. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail