Asia & the Americas Bringing you the latest and up-to-date news from the Middle East. We go one step further, facilitating a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 05:49:18 +0000 MEMO en-gb $83 million diamond default: Sotheby's and Israeli war crimes Campaigners outside Sotheby'sLast November, amid a fanfare of international publicity, Sotheby's achieved a world record $83 million for a pink diamond auctioned in Geneva. Four months later, on February 27, Sotheby's disclosed that they were forced to take the diamond, they then valued at $73 million, into their inventory when the consortium of investors led by Isaac Wolf, a New York diamond cutter, defaulted.

There is a lot about this story that doesn't add up; key questions remain unanswered leading to the suspicion of a cover-up.

A brief, but significant new "Risk Factor" included in Sotheby's Form 10-K Annual Report on February 27, 2014, may offer a clue to this turn of events. It warns: "Sotheby's could be exposed to reputational harm as a result of wrongful actions by certain third parties. Sotheby's is involved in various business arrangements and ventures with unaffiliated third parties. Wrongful actions by such parties could harm Sotheby's brand and reputation."

Sotheby's has not explained why they felt it necessary to include this previously unreported risk factor.

According to numerous media reports Sotheby's claimed the buyer of the pink diamond "couldn't pay and defaulted". Isaac Wolf has not given any interviews or responded publicly since the news broke at the end of February.

When asked by JCK magazine why the diamond wasn't sold to one of three under bidders, Sotheby's "declined to comment".

It is difficult to believe that the investors - "financial people" according to Wolf - would have pursued such a high profile target without having sufficient funds or credit available to complete the deal.

The consortium would, presumably, have researched and carefully planned their strategy prior to participating in what was certain to be a highly publicised auction. We know from a televised interview given by Wolf after the auction that the investors valued the diamond, which was crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group - a Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) company - at $150 million. The consortium would, therefore, have known how much they could bid and how much each member needed to contribute and still "make a big profit", as alluded to by Wolf.

According to their own calculations, the consortium stood to make a profit of $67 million. If financing the deal was the problem, why couldn't these "financial people" raise the funds or get another investor to partake in such a potentially lucrative transaction?

Given that three under bidders competed to acquire this unique diamond, forcing the price well beyond it pre-auction $60 million estimate, why did none of them step in to acquire the diamond?

The lack of a more detailed explanation from Sotheby's, Wolf and the other bidders raises the question - have investors been spooked by information in the public domain linking BSGR with Israeli human rights violations, information that leads many people to believe BSGR diamonds are de-facto blood diamonds?

Diamonds that are associated with gross human rights violations would not be a good "hedge against inflation and devaluation of currencies" which is what the investors sought. Wolf described the diamond, originally known as the Steinmetz Pink, as "a fantastic hedge".

It is likely that the inclusion of the previously unreported risk factor in Sotheby's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K filing was spurred by information published in 2013 and detailed in a letter and email sent to Sotheby's for the attention of William F. Ruprecht, President and Chief Executive Officer, and members of the Board of Directors in January 2013.

That letter warned of the potential reputational damage to Sotheby's as a result of their "unique partnership" with the Steinmetz Diamond Group which, through the Steinmetz Foundation, funds and supports a unit of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli military.

The Givati Brigade was responsible for the massacre of at least 21 members of the Samouni family in Gaza, a suspected war crime documented by the UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'tselem.

Given that Sotheby's was aware that diamonds crafted by the Steinmetz Diamond Group were generating revenue used to fund and support suspected war criminals and that human rights activists in London had staged protests highlighting the issue outside Sotheby's New Bond Street outlet on two occasion in 2013, they were morally and legally obliged to inform investors and shareholders that the Steinmetz Pink is tarnished by association with gross human rights violation by the Israeli military.

According to media reports, the BSGR group of companies has a unique corporate structure that is controlled by the Steinmetz Foundation, of which the Steinmetz family is the beneficiary. The Steinmetz Foundation continues to "donate to the IDF [Israeli Defence Force]".

A recent Amnesty International report says "trigger happy" Israeli forces kill Palestinians with impunity in a manner that suggests it is carried out as a matter of policy. The criminal actions of the Israeli military are being funded in part by revenue from BSGR companies, including the Steinmetz Diamond Group.

It has recently been revealed that Beny Steinmetz, the Israeli billionaire who is a beneficial owner of BSGR, has sold his stake in the Steinmetz Diamond Group to his brother. According to a leading diamond industry magazine, "a Steinmetz's spokesman denied the sale was connected to an ongoing probe into Steinmetz's African mining interests" - a reference to an international bribery investigation involving BSGR and the granting of iron-ore mining rights in Guinea.

The iron-ore bribery investigation was not directly connected to the Steinmetz Diamond Group. However, the link to suspected Israeli war crimes is undeniable.

The Steinmetz Diamond Group is a major client of De Beers - buying 1-2 billion diamonds every year according to a report in Globes. De Beers' relationship with Steinmetz has already resulted in some potentially damaging publicity for their Forevermark diamond brand. In 2012 De Beers put on display a Forevermark diamond crafted by Steinmetz in the Tower of London in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Human Rights activists held regular protests outside the Tower exposing Steinmetz' links to Israeli war crimes until it was removed. A member of the Samouni family issued an appeal to the Queen for the diamond to be removed. A list of Forevermark Diamantaires published months later in 2013 doesn't include the Steinmetz Diamond Group.

Other moves that appear to be a re-branding exercise to distance the diamond company from the tarnished Steinmetz brand are also underway. The website of the Steinmetz Diamond Group has been taken down in the last few days and is now directing to new site, Diacore - "coming soon" it says.

The Steinmetz-sponsored Garbone marathon in Botswana has recently been renamed the Diacore Garbone Marathon.

The association between revenue from diamonds and Israeli war crimes opens up an appalling view of Sotheby's, Beny Steinmetz and the international jewellery industry.

When someone purchases a diamond from Sotheby's Diamond, or any other jeweller who sells diamonds mined or crafted by a BSGR company, they are helping fund a foundation that donates to the Israeli military.

As pointed out in the letter to Ruprecht, corporate social responsibility necessitates affirmative action by management to protect clients and the company from exposure to moral and legal hazards. Sotheby's failed to alert investors and shareholders to this risk in a timely manner as they are obliged to do under stock market rules.

A vague, two-sentence statement buried in an SEC filing hardly represents a full and frank disclosure of what is undoubtedly a significant risk to Sotheby's brand image. Sotheby's shareholders may yet be left holding a $73 million diamond that cannot be easily offloaded and could face other legal hazards should patrons, investors, shareholders or those damaged by the actions of the diamond-funded Israeli military seek redress.

It remains to be seen if Sotheby's will put the Steinmetz Pink up for auction again this year and what the eventual fallout from this fiasco will be. A more likely scenario might be that the diamond will be donated or loaned to a museum but that too poses a risk as De Beers discovered in 2012.

As 50 per cent of the diamonds sold in the US are processed in Israel, New York diamond dealers will undoubtedly want to keep a lid on this and not draw further attention to the fact that diamonds from Israel are a major source of funding for a regime which is guilty of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law and should, therefore, be regarded as blood diamonds.

However, with the growing public awareness of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it respects international law and Palestinian rights, including the call by Palestinian organisations for people of conscience to reject diamonds processed in Israel, the spotlight of public contempt is likely to focus more closely on the global jewellery industry and its complicity in facilitating the trade in Israeli blood diamonds.

Sean Clinton is a human rights activist from Ireland with a particular interest in Israel/Palestine and the role diamonds play in funding the Zionist project in Palestine. He has authored several articles about the double-standard in the diamond industry which facilitates the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds. Follow him on Twitter: @wardiamonds

]]> (Sean Clinton) Americas Tue, 08 Apr 2014 11:17:18 +0000
American feebleness in the face of the Israelis Muhannad ZulfikarThe reaction of the United States to disparaging comments by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon was termed by the Israeli press as "unprecedented" and "the harshest ever". Ya'alon had declared in an open gathering that the US was "feeble" in its response to the Russians and thus liable to terrorism. An anonymous White House spokesperson claimed that Ya'alon was threatening Tel Aviv's ties with Washington.

What was particularly astonishing about this was that the American response was made anonymously. A prominent member of Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet used a university speech as a platform to humiliate the United States and the only thing that the Obama administration could offer in return was a rather pitiful, anonymous statement. To his credit, US Secretary of State John Kerry later denounced Ya'alon's speech as "not constructive"; an understatement by any standards.

Israel has for a long time, as Gulf News stated, "been biting the hand that feeds it." It is now the right moment to stop feeding it. Israeli politicians have no hesitation about insulting America time after time, acknowledging, in effect, that the US will turn a deaf ear. If there is a nation that makes America look feeble, it is definitely not Russia; it is Israel. How the Middle East strategies of the world's only superpower can be held hostage by a small, racist and aggressive government thousands of kilometers away is beyond comprehension.

The exclusivist link between Tel Aviv and Washington is atypical. It breaches every one of the values of equality, freedom and justice which Americans stand for and seek to exemplify; this will haunt the US for years to come when justice and peace ultimately prevail, which they surely will. The Israelis are participating in a losing war and face growing isolation from the rest of the world. It is surprising that the Americans opt to stand firm on this drowning wreck of a state.

The coming generations will question how and why the United States, contrary to international law and community, stood by the bigoted policies of a brutal government that squashed an entire nation. It is important to remember apartheid South Africa and what happened to it.

The earlier that the United States acknowledges this, the better for everyone it will be, not least America and its citizens.

]]> (Muhammad Zulfikar) Americas Sat, 22 Mar 2014 13:30:15 +0000
Abbas faces harsh options Mahmoud Abbas with Barack Obama at the Oval OfficeThis week, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, went to Washington to meet with the US president, Barack Obama. He did so under heavy pressure, as US-brokered peace talks with Israelis reach their expiration date of April, with no deal in sight.

As Abbas landed in America, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank took to the streets to show support for their president. The organisers said that they were protesting against American and Israeli pressure on Abbas to extend peace talks with Israel, which have been ongoing for nine months. One activist told Al-Jazeera that the rallies were organized to "support the Palestinian leadership in its stance that abides by our national principles".

While the protests were supportive, with placards bearing Abbas's image, they demonstrate the double pressure on the Palestinian leader. If he signs up to a deal, or even agrees to extend negotiations, his people could see it as a capitulation. If he refuses altogether and walks away, he faces the ire of the international community, and the risk of being blamed for ending the peace process.

Negotiations are currently focused on agreeing a framework that would extend talks beyond the April deadline. There are three options open to Abbas: sign up to a framework for peace talks, refuse, or extend negotiations. All are fairly unpalatable.

First things first: what would the proposed framework look like? A written proposal has not been presented, but it is expected to endorse the Palestinian position that the borders of a future Palestinian state should be based on those agreed in 1967 (before Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem) - although land swaps would most likely allow Israel to keep some settlements. It would allow for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, but with no specific mention of where. Israel would be permitted to retain a military presence on the Palestinian state's border with Jordan for some years.

Signing up to the deal would be politically unviable for Abbas, who has said there is "no way" he can accept some of the provisions. One of the demands made by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has said that this is impossible because it would jeopardise the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees, and could put the rights of Israel's Arab minority at risk. "I am 79 years old and am not ready to end my life with treason," he said last week. This comment - supported by the public in Palestine - also shows that Abbas is thinking of his legacy. His political movement, Fatah, has urged him to say no to some or all of the anticipated provisions in the framework, as has the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Arab League foreign ministers.

Yet Abbas is stuck between a rock and a hard place, as he does not want to say no either for the time being. Abbas and Netanyahu are both keen to avoid the blame for derailing US peace efforts. A key part of Abbas's political strategy has been to promote and retain close ties with Washington, and appearing wilfully intransigent could undermine that work.

The final option - extending negotiations - carries its own set of risks. This week, Abbas's exiled rival, Mohammed Dahlan, who is seen as a potential successor to the Palestinian leadership, gave a long interview to Egyptian TV in which he suggested that Abbas would not stay true to his barnstorming rhetoric: "We all know you are going there [to Washington] only to extend the negotiations." This paints an extension as a capitulation, a view shared by some of the protesters in Palestine this week. Even agreeing to the talks in the first place was something of a concession from Abbas, who has previously refused to go to the negotiating table while Israel continued to expand settlements. Last year, the number of new settlement buildings more than doubled from the previous year. The fear among the Palestinian political establishment is that continued talks give Israel a smokescreen to hide behind, avoiding international criticism while ramping up settlement building.

It is perhaps for this reason that Abbas is said to favour an extension only if he gets a concession in return: a partial freeze on settlement building, or a pledge by Israel to release more Palestinian political prisoners. The last group of 104 political prisoners released by Israel after a previous agreement will be freed this month.

Of three bad options, the last seems like the least damaging for Abbas. Whether he will receive the concessions required to make an extension acceptable among his people remains to be seen in the coming days and weeks.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:50:06 +0000
One Year On: The campaign to end Ben & Jerry's complicity with Israel's occupation Ben & Jerry'sOn 13 March 2013, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) launched an international campaign calling on Ben & Jerry's, an iconic leader of the socially responsible business community, to stop marketing, catering and selling ice cream in Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

One year later, we have not yet called for a full boycott, because our thrust is still to convince Ben & Jerry's to recognise that it cannot be a company famous and respected for ethical business practices and also be complicit with Israel's military occupation.

The unholy alliance between commerce and occupation makes a mockery of Ben & Jerry's social mission and history of funding and advocating for progressive causes. Its Israeli franchise's business with Jewish-only settlements is possible only because a brutal regime of occupation and collective punishment, including land and water expropriation and severe movement restrictions, has been established in violation of international law.

To be fair, Ben & Jerry's is not a corporate predator in Palestine in the vein of Motorola, Hewlitt Packard, Caterpillar or scores of other companies with ties to Israel's military and police. But that's not the point. The simple, unsavoury fact is that Ben & Jerry's franchise in Israel, like many other businesses, benefits directly from an entrenched political, legal and economic system of occupation, colonisation and racial segregation.

Peace, Love & Occupation?

VTJP began investigating the company's links to Israeli settlements in 2011 and had its first face-to-face dialogue with management in 2012. We discovered that Ben & Jerry's corporate headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont - not its parent company, Unilever - is responsible for the contract with the franchise in Israel.

In recent years, the company announced plans to open more scoop shops in Israel, and it built a new factory near Kiryat Malachi, a city built on the former lands of a Palestinian village ethnically cleansed by Jewish forces in 1948. Our research further points to the possibility that the company, like many in Israel, is drawing water illegally diverted from the West Bank.

The trucks of Israeli companies distributing Ben & Jerry's ice cream travel down the forgotten roads of the Nakba, then on super highways that have eviscerated the 1949 Armistice line or "Green Line", easily circumventing military checkpoints and roadblocks that torment Palestinians, arriving at supermarkets in Jewish settlements - places like Gilo, Pisgat Ze'ev, Ma'ale Admumim and Mishor Adumim.

In 2011, a Vermont activist visited supermarkets in these settlements and found Ben & Jerry's ice cream for sale. With the help of an Israeli-Jewish comrade, we also learned that the company provides the settlements with party carts and event catering1.

Every pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream sold in Israeli settlements, particularly given its brand of social consciousness, helps "normalise" life for Jewish settlers and bolster the viability of their commercial venues - while millions of Palestinians are denied their freedom and a national homeland because, and only because, they are not Jewish.

Israeli settlers, ensconced in racially exclusive, fortified settlements on stolen land, commit terrible crimes against Palestinians. But when their sweet tooth beckons, they can still find Ben & Jerry's Finest in their supermarket freezers.

Our Campaign & the Company's Response: Year One

Nearly 4,000 individuals signed a petition in the first few months of our campaign to endorse our efforts, and, since last September, 210 organisations - from the American Friends Service Committee in the US to BDS South Africa - have signed a letter calling on Ben & Jerry's to stop selling its products in Israeli settlements.

The organisational signatories, to date, are from 13 countries (including Israel) and occupied Palestine, and 29 states across the US, plus the District of Columbia.

There have also been reactive stirrings inside Ben & Jerry's as well. The chairperson of the company's Board of Directors, Jeff Furman, a veteran anti-racism activist, travelled to Palestine in 2012 with African-American civil rights leaders, and was profoundly disturbed by what he witnessed. Furman, who is Jewish, has bluntly characterised Israel's rule in the occupied Palestinian territories as "apartheid".

Last summer, Ben & Jerry's Chief Financial Officer also visited the West Bank while on a short business trip to Israel, and a delegation of corporate officers and board members is traveling to Palestine this March on a fact-finding mission spearheaded by Jeff Furman to educate his fellow board members as well as management.

2014 "Free Cone Day" leafleting action

VTJP is now busy organising its second-annual, national day of leafleting at participating Ben & Jerry's scoop shops on the company's popular Free Cone Day. This year's event, we believe, will take place on Tuesday, 8 April, but we're still waiting on the company to formally announce the date.

Our theme this year is: Your ice cream cone is free today. Palestine is not!

We urge activists and people of conscience in the US and around the world to join us. To learn how, plus to locate a scoop shop in or near your community, access prepared outreach materials, or confirm the date of the event, e-mail us at

Individuals or groups can also send a prepared or tailored e-mail to Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim via our website. A Free Cone Day message for BDS activists and supporters will be posted at this location on the actual day.

Moving forward into the second year, VTJP is committed to sustaining and intensifying its Ben & Jerry's campaign, consistent with the goals of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

1Ben & Jerry's Board Chair, Jeff Furman, told the Burlington Free Press that, as a result of VTJP's activism, he believes catering to the settlements is no longer happening. VTJP has not been able to independently verify Furman's statement.

Note: This page was updated at 14.45GMT on March 13, 2014 to correct a typo in the date of the visit by a Vermont activist to the supermarkets in Israeli settlements. The correct year is 2011, but it was initially written as 2012.

]]> (Mark Hage, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel) Americas Wed, 12 Mar 2014 13:18:20 +0000
American aid is political not developmental Nicola NasserThe US Vice Secretary of State for Eastern European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, did not leave any room for doubt when she confirmed that America and Europe financed the popular protests demanding regime change in Ukraine. Nuland confirmed in her speech given to the National Press Club in December in Washington that the American government had "invested five billion dollars to form networks that would achieve American goals in Ukraine".

Nuland is the wife of Robert Kagan; he is a leading neo-conservative in the US, the co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and the ideological mastermind behind the American-British invasion of Iraq. The vice secretary of state visited Kiev recently to meet with and address the protesters that her government had invested in. Nuland showed no shame in being photographed next to a man accused of being a neo-Nazi leader in the Ukrainian capital. She also made a very derogatory remark about the EU and its policy over the Ukraine.

The network that Nuland referenced in December is in fact a network of Ukrainian non-governmental organisations that were funded by the US to fuel the protests against the elected government. This was confirmed by Nuland herself and by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the US Treasury and a regular columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Business Times, in an article written for Foreign Policy Journal on the 18th of February. In December, the Financial Times published an article stating that Oleg Rybachuk, who has a long history with the US Department of Foreign Affairs, "played a large role in mobilising the protests and ensuring their continuation" via his New Citizen NGO. In March 2012, Rybachuk, who also played a key role in the 2004 Orange Revolution, demonstrated exemplary bravado when he said that he hopes to bring about a new revolution. "We now have over 150 non-governmental organisations in all major cities. The Orange Revolution was a miracle and we need to do it again." So they did.

During the first Orange Revolution in Ukraine, in November 2004, the Guardian published an article stating that the National Democratic Institute of the American Democratic Party and their Republican rivals who were in power in the United States, in conjunction with USAID, were among the organisations working with Ukrainian grassroots movements. Freedom House and billionaire George Soros were also among those who sponsored the revolution. USAID is one of the organisations that is affiliated with the US Department of State and it is used by the American government as a soft power tool with which it can go over the heads of foreign governments and deal directly with targeted programmes. In this way, the American government completely ignores internationally accepted concepts of sovereignty.

For example, when the Russian government decided to shut down all USAID offices in late September 2012, the New York Times published an article on the very next day proposing ways in which the Americans could circumvent this decision. The article pointed out that USAID could provide money to its beneficiaries in Russia or sign deals with other American organisations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the MacArthur Fund or the Open Society Foundation, which is owned by billionaire George Soros. Other options included Freedom House, Russian programmes in American Universities or hiring companies in the private sector to carry out its objectives such as Cisco Systems. In order to hide evidence of funding initiatives in Russia, USAID can channel funding through neighbouring countries, such as Georgia, Poland and Ukraine.

The closure of USAID offices is not unique to Russia. In 2005, the small African country of Eritrea decided to close down the organisation's offices stating that this was, "a permanent decision with no turning back because we are uncomfortable with USAID's operations in Asmara", the Eritrean capital. The government confirmed at that time that it did want "a strong relationship with America but on a government to government basis".

On February 13th last year, Kenya accused USAID of financing initiatives that were aimed at overthrowing the Kenyan government. In Zimbabwe in 2012, a report published by the Zanu Party, led by President Robert Mugabe, revealed that non-governmental organisations funded by Britain, the European Union, the Unites States, Australia and New Zealand were "working day and night to overthrow President Mugabe and the Zanu Party".

In the context of Latin America, USAID does not have any respect for the sovereignty of the countries in which it has projects and does not avoid interfering in the internal affairs of these countries. On June 20th, 2012, the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA), which consists of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Venezuela, decided to expel USAID from its member states in a meeting held in Rio de Janeiro. ALBA accused the American organisation of "causing disorder against the sovereignty and political stability of [its] member states because it funds groups, activities, media outlets, political leaders and non-governmental organisations that aim to destabilise legitimate governments [in reference to ALBA member states]".

USAID's sponsorship of such organisations has been a hot topic in America's relations with Egypt from the Gamal Abdel Nasser era until today. In Palestine, as a number of American and European backed non-governmental organisations mushroom into existence, agencies such as USAID work to prolong the duration of the occupation by protecting Israel and facilitating finances. By being the second largest donor to the Palestinian Territories (the European Union being the main donor), USAID relieves Israel of its legal requirement to provide essential services for the people living under its military occupation. In short, USAID's aid to the Palestinian people is practical and contributes directly to and prolongs the occupation. What is even more troubling is that the projects funded by USAID comply with Israeli-set terms. For example, the organisation excludes Jerusalem from any of its projects as well as the Gaza Strip, which is in dire need of aid in order to improve the quality of life. This type of racism was established by Israel in order to distinguish between Palestinian cities and the illegal Israeli settlements.

Moreover, all of USAID's alleged democratic and social development projects are designed as tools that work against the national resistance movement working to end the occupation. All projects funded by USAID come with a precondition that the receiving party must sign an agreement stating that it will not engage in any resistance operations and this precondition is disguised under the pretext of ending violence and terrorism. The organisations that are funded by USAID cannot be classified as non-governmental organisations that Israel and its American patron consider terrorist organisations. This is what makes USAID's funding of projects in the Palestinian Territories a political tool used by Israel to put an end to Palestinian resistance.

Although USAID aims to foster international development, as its name suggests, the truth is that it finances initiatives that are unrelated to development. In fact, this organisation is used as a soft power tool to achieve the American government's goals in instances where the Pentagon cannot interfere militarily or at a much higher cost.

USAID's on-going projects are in countries that have not yet been affected by American influence and those where there are non-governmental organisations that are ready to change their ruling regimes in the event that these regimes deviate away from US strategy. Any Arab observer need not look further than Jordan or Egypt to see that billions of US aid has been given over decades to both countries but this aid has not created any concrete developments in either so much as it has forced them to become subordinate to American strategy.

Professor of economic development at Harvard Kennedy School Lant Pritchett had a point when asked the following question in an article he wrote in 2009: "Is USAID an agency that truly seeks to promote international development?" A good question.

Translated from Raialyoum newspaper, 7 March, 2014

]]> (Nicola Nasser) Americas Mon, 10 Mar 2014 08:51:07 +0000
Pro-Israel Lobby leans towards tough rhetoric on Iran and the peace process AIPAC LogoThe 2014 Policy Conference of the most powerful pro-Israel Lobby group in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), ended on March 4 after three days of high-level speeches, fundraising and lobbying of the US Congress.

The conference brought to Washington, DC over 14,000 Israel supporters from across the country in what is probably the most important public event for the large and influential Lobby. It is meant to highlight AIPAC's policy priorities for the year ahead and underscore the strength of the US-Israel relationship.

On the third and final day of the conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself addressed the large gathering, beginning his speech with "greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people." Following the speech, the delegates headed to Capitol Hill to meet with all 100 US Senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives.

However, despite AIPAC's renowned influence over Washington's political establishment, the organisation has over the past year witnessed a series of developments that have weakened its standing considerably.

First up was AIPAC's failure to oppose Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defence Secretary 12 months ago, allegedly because of comments he made as a US senator in 2008. At the time, he noted that AIPAC "intimidates a lot of people" in Congress, but "I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."

Last September, the Lobby was also unsuccessful in its attempt to get the Obama administration to launch a military strike against Syria. More recently, AIPAC was faced with the reality of its inability to force a bill through the Senate that would have imposed a new set of punitive sanctions against Iran.

In the run-up to the conference, there was a general understanding that AIPAC could change its tough rhetoric on Iran's nuclear programme during the event due to Obama's opposition to additional sanctions. This is the one topic that has dominated its agenda over the past decade but the three-day conference revealed an entirely different picture.

Instead of backing down on the Iran file, all speakers reiterated Israel's and, by extension, AIPAC's commitment to a tougher stance against the Islamic Republic through more, and not less, pressure on Tehran.

One issue also strongly underscored the conference proceedings in addition to Iran's nuclear programme and the ongoing peace negotiations: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS advocates "various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law"; it was criticised by several speakers. Perhaps the most outspoken comments came from Netanyahu himself, describing the movement as being on the wrong side of history and nothing but a farce. "It will fail," he added, "because countries throughout the world are not coming to Israel, they're flocking to Israel." Predictably, one Democrat Senator, Chuck Schumer, went as far as labeling the BDS movement as "anti-Semitic". Such morally-charged accusations were a recurring theme throughout the conference.

Instead of laying out constructive and reconciliatory proposals aimed at solving the Iranian standoff and the peace talks, the Israeli prime minister and some of the other speakers delivered a series of strong and inflammatory remarks targeted primarily at Iran, but also at the Palestinian leadership.

This should not come as a surprise given the nature of the venue and the audience. However, while this type of rhetoric may appease an overly eager audience in the short term, in the long run such inflammatory rhetoric may thwart any prospects for reconciliation. Perhaps more strikingly, such an approach may end up derailing AIPAC's recent efforts to restore its claim to bi-partisanship.

In criticising Tehran's policy, Prime Minister Netanyahu placed Iran "on the other side of that moral divide, steeped in blood and savagery" together with "[Bashar Al-] Assad, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda" among others. "The only thing that Iran sends abroad," he warned, "are rockets, terrorists and missiles to murder, maim and menace the innocent."

Although Netanyahu noted that he is "ready to make a historic peace" with the Palestinians, he also urged them to "stop denying history" and warned that he "will never gamble with the security of the one and only Jewish state."

In addition to complicating any chance of reconciliation, this strong rhetoric also puts the United States in the usual, though still difficult, situation of having to move forward with diplomacy in the midst of scepticism and hostility. In spite of the noticeable absence of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden from the list of speakers, Secretary of State John Kerry did seek to distance himself and the administration from the strong words of some of his fellows at the podium.

The secretary of state, in addition to reaffirming his commitment to Israel's security and to a non-nuclear Iran, also noted that at the end of the day the Palestinians share the same security concerns of the Israelis. "President Abbas wants to be a partner for peace; he's committed to trying to end the conflict, but he obviously has a point of view of what's fair," said Kerry on Monday night. "I know some of you will doubt that, but President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence."

It is unclear whether Kerry's peace plan will succeed, or whether the Obama administration's commitment to diplomacy with Iran will stop Tehran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. What is clear, however, is that delivering such strong and morally-charged words from a stage adorned with AIPAC's insignia may send the wrong message about the commitment of America's largest lobbying group to peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Ramy Srour writes for MEMO from Washington. Follow him on Twitter. He is the founder and managing editor of Foreign Policy Today.

]]> (Ramy Srour) Americas Wed, 05 Mar 2014 11:23:18 +0000
Iran sanctions bill's demise shatters the myth of AIPAC's invincibility AIPAC logoAs top diplomats from Iran, the European Union and six world powers convene in Vienna this week to negotiate the terms of a long-term agreement on Iran's controversial nuclear programme, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), by far the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States, seems to be in the midst of a political crisis that has weakened the long-standing perception of its invincibility.

All this only a few weeks prior to its major yearly conference set to take place in Washington on March 2-4.

Immediately following last November's interim nuclear deal, AIPAC expressed its opposition by pointing to the agreement's "implicit acceptance of Iranian enrichment" and urging the US Congress to "legislate additional sanctions".

The lobbying group managed to gather some momentum but failed to convince the US Senate Banking Committee - the committee usually in charge of sanctions legislation - to enact new sanctions. Committee Chairman Tim Johnson noted at the time that the president's efforts had led him to "hold off on committee action for now".

That is when momentum shifted to the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. Together with Senator Mark Kirk, Committee Chairman Robert Menendez introduced S. 1881, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013, more commonly known as the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill.

Hailed as a bi-partisan bill with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, the bill was meant to show that imposing new sanctions on Tehran was a top priority for both sides. However, less than two months later, the bill reached its demise in the same committee that had seen its birth.

According to sources closely involved with the Iranian file in Washington, AIPAC's lobbying has all along been the main force behind these legislative proposals. In the meantime, other influential groups also joined the effort, including The Israel Project and the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, two notoriously conservative groups.

AIPAC's strongest asset, however, has always been its claim to be a truly bi-partisan organisation, acting on behalf of the entire American Jewish community and supporters of Israel, regardless of their political affiliation. Up until the demise of the Menendez-Kirk Bill, this has largely been true, but recent events have in some ways alienated the group's Democratic supporters.

All of a sudden, AIPAC found itself solely supported by Republicans, something it has always sought to avoid. And that is when it realised it had lost its battle.

Following the bill's introduction in December, several statements by Obama administration officials urged Senate Democrats to re-consider their support for the legislation. Additionally, dozens of civil society and non-profit organisations also joined the White House in opposing the bill. In January, over 70 groups including NIAC, the Arab American Institute, the Islamic Society of North America, but also groups more closely aligned with AIPAC itself such as J Street signed a joint petition in which they warned that "new sanctions would set us on a path to war".

But two key events officially decreed the bill's demise.

The first was President Obama's State of the Union address last month. In his speech, Obama made it clear that "if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it," emphasising that for "the sake of [US] national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed."

The second was a letter sent by a group of 42 Republican senators to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In the letter, the senators urged Reid to hold a vote on the bill after it became clear that the Obama administration had succeeded in pushing Democrats away from the legislation.

"The letter, sent out right after the State of the Union, made it very clear that the issue had become a purely partisan one," Jamal Abdi, the policy director at the National Iranian American Council, told the Middle East Monitor in an interview.

According to Abdi, when Senator Menendez warned against making the bill a partisan issue during a Senate floor speech on February 6, "that was the bill's death knell".

Immediately following Menendez's speech, AIPAC was quick in changing its course.

"We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear programme should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure," AIPAC said in a statement to The Hill newspaper.

AIPAC's quest for bi-partisanship

AIPAC now finds itself in a thorny situation. Early next month, the group is set to hold its yearly Policy Conference. The three-day event will bring to Washington over 14,000 supporters of Israel from across the country, in addition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. AIPAC's policy is not to reveal the conference's agenda until the eve of the event, although a discussion of the Menendez-Kirk bill was expected to take place. Not anymore.

According to sources familiar with the conference, the event will include several workshops, off-the-record exchanges and some fundraising activities. On the third and last day of the conference, invitees will head to Capitol Hill to present their legislative priorities for the year ahead.

Now that the bill is dead, however, what is most likely to take place during the three-day event is a discussion of a draft resolution on Iran's programme which will lay out the expectations of the group and its supporters from the ongoing nuclear negotiations.

"They will probably go for a ‘Plan B', that is, an informal resolution or a letter that would set the terms for a final deal," said Abdi. "It will most likely be a non-binding measure, but it could end up limiting the president's ability to negotiate at the table."

Netanyahu's presence means the conference will also touch on the ongoing peace talks. But it is not clear whether AIPAC will take any firm stance on the issue. In the past, the group's position on the two-state solution has been rather blurry, with some statements supporting "a demilitarised Palestinian state" and others calling for an undivided Jerusalem, since "the united city is Israel's capital".

Given the disconnect between these positions, the demands of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State John Kerry's plan, progress on the peace-talks agenda during the conference itself is unlikely.

What the conference will probably focus on instead, will be an effort to rebuild Democratic support for Israel and AIPAC's agenda. After Obama made it clear that a new sanctions bill would go against US national interests, AIPAC now finds itself in the difficult situation of having to reassure its Democratic supporters and the administration that US national interests still come before Israeli national interests.

Ultimately, regardless of the conference's agenda, what seems to be clear at this point is that AIPAC's aura of invincibility is no longer there. What the sanctions bill demonstrates is that the group will forego a victory that can portray it as a partisan and divisive force and, perhaps more importantly, that the US executive can still exert some influence.

Ramy Srour writes for MEMO from Washington. Follow him on Twitter. He is the founder and managing editor of Foreign Policy Today.

]]> (Ramy Srour ) Americas Wed, 19 Feb 2014 10:35:14 +0000
The US and Al-Qaeda: Unveiling the root causes of sectarian violence in Iraq Ramy SrourOnly days after Al-Qaeda publicly disavowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the militant organisation whose members have been fighting in the midst of the three-year-old Syrian conflict, provoking a highly-destabilizing 'spillover effect' in the western part of neighbouring Iraq, the state of US policy in Iraq remains highly unclear.

On 5 February, Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran at the US Department of State testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for over two hours in an attempt to make sense of what shape US policy in Iraq should take, a country where more than eight years of invasion seem to have fueled, rather than curbed, terrorism and sectarian violence.

"We intend to help the Iraqis in their efforts to defeat ISIL over the long term [by] pressing the national leadership in the highest possible levels to develop a holistic security, political, economic strategy to isolate extremists from the population," McGurk told the Committee. "This means supporting local tribal fighters, incorporating those fighters into the security services and committing to April elections to be held on time."

The Obama administration's approach is one that, according to current discussions in Washington, will seek to 'solve' the Iraqi crisis from a distance, without getting too involved in a situation that has, for the most part, fallen out of control.

During the hearing, the State Department official had to face a series of questions from disgruntled members of Congress, the majority of whom have hinted at a general will to let the Iraqi government take care of the situation by itself, with little or no involvement by the US.

While discussing last year's alleged storming and killing of Iranian MEK dissidents at Camp Ashraf by Iraqi forces - now transferred to Camp Liberty -, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher sharply noted: "As far as I'm concerned, and as far as many people here in Washington are concerned, [Nouri Al-] Maliki is an accomplice to the murders that are going on, and as an accomplice we should not be begging him to have a residual force of US troops in order to help his regime."

But perhaps better highlighting the level of divisiveness and misunderstanding when it comes to Iraq policy here in Washington, Rep. Rohrabacher went on to ask: "Why does the United States feel that we need to become part of this insanity?...Let them kill each other."

The answer McGurk gave was a simple one: that oil, Al-Qaeda and Iran are the vital interests that are still pulling the US towards Iraq. But the real, though unspoken, answer is that the US should perhaps stand by its obligation to solve a crisis that it helped unravel in the first place by making the wrong decisions following the fall of the Saddam regime.

The roots of sectarian violence

The roots of Iraq's current instability can be easily traced back to the 2003 US invasion, and more precisely, to how the US government at the time decided to address the post-Saddam quandary. Paul Bremmer, the then-head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, opted for banning all members of the Ba'ath Party from public office with the expectation that this would move the country towards a total removal of the Saddam regime. Instead, this process led to a rise in hostile sectarian sentiments that saw Iraqi Sunnis deeply resentful of the US decision to take power away from them, handing it over to the country's Shiites.

In addition to igniting the sectarian violence that still plagues the country to this day, this decision created the ideal venue for Al-Qaeda. According to recent conversations between the author and former US government officials, the Bremmer months saw Sunni leaders approaching US authorities to offer their support in stabilising the region, but were simply turned down.

And this is where Al-Qaeda stepped in. By making use of the power vacuum created by US policy at the time, Al-Qaeda caught the opportunity and established itself as the main unopposed player in the western half of the country.

"When we decided we were not going to make deals with the Sunnis of Anbar, that's when we lost their assistance," Michael Ryan, a former official in both the Defense and State departments, told the Middle East Monitor. Ryan also points to how, following Bremmer's departure and the consequent troop surges, the US eventually realised that including the Sunnis would have been a preferred course of action.

"After the surge, we managed to get a lot of help from the Sunnis of Anbar. They went after Al-Qaeda, and we put them on our payroll," Ryan said.

Unfortunately, the change of strategy may have come too late. By then, sectarian tensions were already quite high, and the seeds of unrest had already been planted.

Iran's geostrategic interests

When trying to assess the roots of Iraq's crisis and the possible ways to address them, it is important not to overlook the role played by Iran. When the Bremmer leadership took over the country in 2003 granting privileges to Iraq's Shiite population, this created an opening for Al-Qaeda, but it also paved the way for Iran's entry into the picture.

One of the main points of discussion currently taking place in Washington is the question of how to put an end to Iran's strong influence on the Al-Maliki government, an influence that has turned into a major geopolitical battle in the region, with stakes going as far as Syria and Lebanon.

"We're the ones responsible...for making Iran the hegemonic power in the region...and once we blew up the minority Sunni regime in Iraq it was only obvious that Shias in Iraq would gravitate [towards] the Shias in Iran," Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel said during Wednesday's hearing.

But seeing Iran's growing influence following Saddam's overthrow simply in terms of a Sunni-Shiite power exchange runs the risk of missing the larger picture. Following November's nuclear deal between Tehran and the West, Iran has engaged in an ambitious effort aimed at reasserting itself as a key regional player. In December, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew to Gulf kingdoms to offer partnership and cooperation; last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tehran to strengthen energy cooperation and possibly clarify Syria-related matters. This is to show that Iran may be engaged in an overture that goes beyond Sunni-Shiite lines.

However, Iran's influence within Iraq - in some ways the gateway to the Arab world - is an important facilitator in these openings. The question then becomes one of how to limit Tehran's bearing on Baghdad.

In that regard, the US will need to work on a parallel track. In addition to standing up to its obligation of assisting Iraqis achieve a truly reconciliatory public discourse, Washington will also need to adopt a stronger rhetoric when it comes to Iranian meddling in Iraq's affairs. Pressuring Al-Maliki's government can help. But the real breakthrough will come only once Washington realises that a "let them kill each other" approach will not lead very far: stepping in politically, offering real incentives that will make Baghdad more independent of Tehran, are the only way forward if Iraq and the United States truly wish to drive extremist organisations out of the region.

Ramy Srour writes for MEMO from Washington. Follow him on Twitter. He is the founder and managing editor of Foreign Policy Today.

]]> (Ramy Srour) Americas Thu, 06 Feb 2014 12:02:36 +0000
US rationale for turning to Iran Osama Abu IrshaidThe interim agreement between Iran and the P5 +1 world powers (the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany) in Geneva on November 24 last year, which saw restrictions imposed on its nuclear programme in exchange for a slight easing of sanctions, was a surprise and shock to observers, not least to America's main allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Was this the United States re-defining its alliances and roles in the Middle East? It looked like it, with more rumours about Washington's gradual withdrawal from the region, due to strategic exhaustion after more than a decade of wars that have sapped its economy and drained its capabilities. Such a move would free the US to deal with the most important challenge that threatens its status as a top global economic force, after the growth of China in the Asian-Pacific region.

So what was America's rationale for turning to Iran? To understand this we need to look at the background to the US rapprochement with Tehran.

It is worth noting that Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in late 2008 on a programme in which he vowed to put an end to US military adventures that marked-out his predecessor, George W. Bush, and plunged the country into debt. Under Obama, we were told, US foreign policy sought to decrease militarisation and lean more towards international cooperation rather than unilateral action.

The America inherited by Obama in 2009 was different from that which Bush inherited from Clinton in 2001, both in terms of prestige and strategic international reputation, and in terms of its economy and internal unity. Furthermore, Obama inherited a depleted America in two main conflict zones, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an ill-defined "war on terrorism". Meanwhile, there was barely any time for decision makers to deal with the real strategic challenges facing the United States.

This was acknowledged by Obama in two speeches at the West Point US Military Academy in December 2009 and May 2010. The gist was that America cannot get involved in any conflicts beyond its capabilities, responsibilities and interests, as it is unable to maintain wide-scale intervention in the world without disastrous repercussions for its economy and well-being.

This is supported by the US administration's announcement in March 2012 of the "new American defence strategy", putting its geo-strategic focus on the "Asia -Pacific" region, which is very important to America's economy and its future. This is all part of the effort to contain the growing strength of China economically and militarily at a time when the United States finds itself forced to cut its defence expenditure due to the economic crisis.

Despite keeping the Middle East within the framework of vital American interests by continuing to prevent the emergence of any rival for control of the region (specifically Iran), the US defence strategy has reduced its desire for direct involvement in regional wars and affairs.

All of this helps us to understand some of the reasons for the shift in US foreign policy, which also has to consider costs at home and abroad. The rapprochement with Iran has to be seen in this context, but what does it mean for the Middle East?

Ever since 1979 the US has been hostile towards Iran and made efforts to contain and change the Islamic revolutionary regime. As part of the so-called "axis of evil", Iran was seen as a threat to US domination over the region; the George W Bush administration used Iran's nuclear programme as an excuse to press for severe sanctions against it.

Moreover, America's involvement in Iraq has weakened it economically, militarily and strategically. Instead of Iraq acting as a lever for the US to reshape the Middle East, it has been a drain on its global capabilities. Iran was next on the neo-cons' list as a desirable recruit to the US cause, especially when, for sectarian reasons, it embraced the US invasion of Iraq. This has to be considered along with America's blunders such as the "war on terror", Afghanistan and the economic downturn as well as the rise of regional powers in Latin America and international forces like China and Russia. All are taking advantage of America's preoccupation with its crazy military ventures. Thus there has been a marked decline in America's ability to impose itself internationally.

This has coincided with the so-called Arab Spring revolutions which affected countries allied to and independent of the US. It was at that point that America realised how limited its influence in the Middle East really is; its gradual withdrawal from the region in favour of "Asia and the Pacific" was disrupted.

Thus, the Middle East continued to pose a dilemma for US strategists: it was neither here nor there; unable to enjoy the influence it once had but not yet out of it completely. America couldn't just ignore the revolutions or distance itself from them in case the geopolitical map was redrawn without its input. Although America had no final say on issues in the region, they sapped its energy and resources nonetheless.

Then along came Syria and, with it, Iran's increased importance, putting it at the heart of the new US strategy in the Middle East. The Assad regime in Syria survives with Iranian and Russian support, as well as China's, turning the conflict into an international war by proxy.

At the same time, US sanctions against Iran had failed to put an end to Tehran's nuclear programme. Obama's advisers urged caution as the pressure came from Israel to launch an attack to destroy Iran's nuclear reactors. The president knew that America could not afford yet another costly war with such uncertain outcomes. He must also have borne in mind George W Bush's rejection of an Iranian offer to negotiate over the nuclear issue in 2003, based on the false premise that the government in Tehran had only two options: surrender or collapse.

In 2003, Iran had 164 centrifuges; today it has 19,000. Observers believe that if it wasn't for the Geneva agreement, Iran would have continued to develop its nuclear programme in spite of the sanctions; as it has for more than a decade, Iran would continue to work around them.

Nevertheless, ordinary Iranians have suffered from the effects of the sanctions. The government had to do something to ease conditions for its citizens or face a revolt which could threaten the regime. It is said that President Hassan Rouhani was allowed to run for office by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in an attempt to break away from the extremism of ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Here we must acknowledge the recent revelations regarding secret US-Iranian meetings in Oman since last March, when Ahmadinejad was still president, which facilitated the swift agreement reached in Geneva.

If this means anything at all it is that the decision to negotiate with America was taken by the administration in Tehran, not the president. However, this does not mean that the election of Rouhani, who is considered to be "relatively moderate" by the West, made it easy for Washington to pick up the pace of negotiations with Iran.

As such, the US and Iran must have overcome serious ideological differences in the conflict between them, as, according to American predictions, the Iranian regime won't fold easily, nor is Iran able to overlook the impact of the sanctions imposed on it. Moreover, the United States realised that it cannot rearrange the region and calm it down without the participation of Iran, especially in the cases of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Meanwhile, Iran learnt the hard way that maintaining its traditional areas of influence without coordinating with the Americans would cost it dearly. The United States was not about to withdraw from the Middle East and make way for Iranian domination of the region.

This leads us to the claims of some observers and experts regarding the American calculations in the Middle East. There are some who believe that the US ability to impose what it wants in the region has declined so it is looking to create some balance between Iran, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to ensure that none of these important actors can pull regional strings without consideration for American interests. In other words, the US wants to create competition between these countries that does not allow any one of them to fill the void left by its gradual withdrawal from regional affairs.

That leaves one other aspect we haven't mentioned, which is associated with Obama's presidential legacy. In his most recent speech at the United Nations, he stated that the priority of his administration's diplomacy in the short-term will be finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue (without excluding a military option as a last resort), as well as reaching an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. It is clear that he is looking for a foreign policy legacy in the issues that exhausted his predecessors.

When Obama took action regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, he was under great pressure; he was very aware that the history books might record the decline of American domination over the Middle East on his shift and that Iran got a nuclear bomb as a result of his "naiveté". This could explain why he took a personal interest, as the White House claimed, in the agreement with Iran.

According to Radio Israel, Obama's reluctance to launch a military strike against Syria arose at about the same time that the secret talks with Iran were taking place. It is easier now to understand the resentment felt by Israel and Saudi Arabia, both long-time foes of Iran and allies of the US. It could also be the case, claims Reuters, that the Geneva II Conference may not lead to the removal of the Assad regime in Syria; the president and the Alawite minority look set to stay in power. This is all a spin-off, it seems, from the US-Iran rapprochement; US pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement framework by April has to be viewed in the light of these changes across the region.

It is clear that the Middle East is on the verge of major changes which will see improved US relations with both Russia and Iran although Israel is likely to maintain its regional hegemony as America's most reliable ally.

Absent from all of this change are the Arabs, even though some played their part and aborted revolutionary moves, especially in Egypt. They are out of the equation, for the time being at least.

However, this does not mean that the US-Iran deal is inevitable, as there are still many details that need to be agreed upon. Israel's allies in the US Congress may yet thwart Obama's plans, although he has public support for better relations between Washington and Tehran. Opponents of the rapprochement exist in Tehran as well, and opposition from America's allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, cannot be ruled out. Turbulent times indeed.

The author is a Palestinian writer based in the US. This is a translation from the Arabic text which appeared in Al Jazeera Net 19 January, 2014

]]> (Osama Abu Irshaid) Americas Tue, 21 Jan 2014 12:50:36 +0000
The Guantanamo Experiment: letter from detainee on Gitmo's 12th year Emad Abdallah HassanEmad Abdallah Hassan, a 34 year old Yemeni national, has been detained by the US government in Guantanamo Bay for over 10 years, almost a third of his life. In peaceful protest against his ongoing detention without trial, where he is subject to abuse, Emad has spent most of these years on hunger strike. Incredibly, the US government cleared Emad for release several years ago but he is still detained and subject to continued abuse. Despite his worryingly frail health, Emad wrote this letter to his lawyers at Reprieve for the twelfth anniversary of Guantanamo tomorrow

Emad Abdallah Hassan

Emad Abdallah Hassan, a 34 year old Yemeni national, has been detained by the US government in Guantanamo Bay for over 10 years, almost a third of his life. In peaceful protest against his ongoing detention without trial, where he is subject to abuse, Emad has spent most of these years on hunger strike. Incredibly, the US government cleared Emad for release several years ago but he is still detained and subject to continued abuse. Despite his worryingly frail health, Emad wrote this letter to his lawyers at Reprieve for the twelfth anniversary of Guantanamo tomorrow.

Here we are in Guantánamo as we come to the 12th anniversary of this terrible place. The treatment here is often described by the public relations officer as next door to perfect. Indeed, now I am into my seventh year of being force fed, it's quite a Club Med holiday camp!

We heard some good news about President Obama wanting to send people home, but we do not want to hang our hopes on it. Hope is like a mirage; you can see it, but can't touch it.

It does not really need to be said, but it is a grave violation of professional ethics for doctors to participate in torture or cruel treatment. Surely health care professionals should not condone any deliberate infliction of pain and suffering on detainees? This would seem to be a fairly basic proposition.

Yet who is better than a doctor to cause excruciating pain without damaging the body? There is a wide divergence here between the morality of a doctor's role and the reality of his actions. It is very, very sad. When a surgeon no longer uses his scalpel to cure a disease, he becomes no better than a butcher.

In 2005, when the doctors were still human beings, the hunger strikers didn't worry about their health because there was level of trust with the medical team. One of the doctors refused to go along with force feeding, because he believed that his medical ethics were more important than the order of a military colonel. But then things changed. The military only recruited doctors who agreed, before they arrived here, that a military order was more important than morality. The new wave of doctors allowed the military officers to instruct them on how to conduct the medical procedure of force feeding.

As a child, I was taught to disdain German doctors for what they did in World War II, experimenting on prisoners. Yet here the doctors now experiment to try to find the best way to force us to bend to the military's will: is it more effective for them to make the force feeding process more painful, by forcing the liquid down my nose faster and by pulling the 110 centimeter tube out of my nostril after every feed? Or, is it more effective to refuse my request for a blanket to keep me warm, now that my weight has fallen so low? They experiment all the time, and this is virgin territory for experimental science, since no other doctor would be allowed to force feed a prisoner at all.

But in recent days, sad to say, I have seen the truly ugly faces of those doctors, nurses, and other medical staffers. I have been subjected to a novel regime for 36 days. This new system is not an occasionally "uncomfortable procedure," as the public relations has described it. No, it has been a HORRIFIC, BARBAROUS TORTURE. I am not even sure I can find the words to tell you truly what it is like...

It is difficult to take it anymore. First they force the 110 centimeter tube in me. They cannot do it in the right nostril any more, as that is now firmly closed up. So they have to force it up the left nostril. It is very painful these days, but that is no bar to medical practice. They used to leave the tube in so that we did not have to undergo this pain, but then a general said they wanted to make our peaceful protest less 'convenient,' so they came up with the less 'convenient' system of pulling the tube out each time.

That has been a technique since 2006, so it is nothing new. But the latest experiment is different. Now they begin with 1500cc of formula called TwoCal - four cans in the morning and four in the night, served up each time with 700cc of water. Once I finish each 'meal,' they fill the feed bag with 50cc of an anti-constipation medication and 450cc of water. As this scientific study shows - at least in the experience of this guinea pig, your correspondent - this method accelerates the stomach function and makes the hunger striker defecate on himself in the chair.

When this stage is complete, they add another 700cc of water - why? Have I not suffered enough? When I dared to ask this question, the medical professional answered sarcastically, "to wash the feeding bag." This process is completed in 30-45 minutes, which is much faster than before, but then why allow the detainee to be fed slowly when you could cause much more pain by speeding up the process? Yet it is not over quickly, as they leave you in the torture chair for two hours, suffering. Then they pull the tube out of your nose again, ready to force it back in for the next session.

If I vomit on myself at any time during the procedure, they start the atrocity all over again, though they don't necessarily let me wash off before it begins.

And that's exactly what has been happening to me every day, twice daily. Except for last night - which will long burn alive in my memory. But I will write about it in the next message, God willing.

As you enjoy your holiday season, please spare a thought for those of us who continue to hold the embers, trying to keep the flame alive in Guantánamo Bay - even as the doctors try to break our peaceful hunger strike protest. And remember, if you will, that all we ask for is what President Obama keeps promising: freedom or a fair trial.

December 16th 2013
Emad Hassan (ISN 680, cleared for several years...)

]]> (Emad Hassan, ISN 680) Americas Fri, 10 Jan 2014 17:45:17 +0000
Israel and soft power Nabil Al-SahliThe term "soft power" is regarded as a modern concept; it means that a state has ideas, principles, and ethics through which it attracts others and garners their support. This can be manifested in its approach to human rights and culture, for example.

Used to describe media geared towards serving specific thought, soft power is considered to be a major political and military tool, as it enables its possessor to control others and have their solidarity without having to expend any of its own military capabilities.

Ancient philosophers and politicians, however, defined soft power in a number of ways, such as influence, persuasion, culture and model practices.

Israel is making security and military preparations against perceived threats posed by its neighbours as well as preparing its armed forces to attack any Arab county at any time. It is also trying to take the initiative to capture the minds of young Arabs and Muslims interested in the Palestinian issue in order to brainwash them by changing facts and disguising its ugly racism. To do this, Israel uses military and soft power concurrently.

This is done through the pro-Israel media at home and abroad as well as US and European allies who regard the states as an oasis of democracy in the Middle East, despite much evidence to the contrary.

Access to the world

While Western states, especially Britain and France, and eventually the United States, were helping to build a strong Israeli military from 1948, Israel used its soft power to establish and develop contacts around the world. The Foreign Ministry website confirms that it now has diplomatic relations with most fellow member states of the UN.

Since its foundation, Israel has been keen to be involved with other countries in development projects. In 1958 it established the Centre for International Cooperation (MASHAV) as a department operating within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; it is tasked with planning and implementing international-Israeli cooperation projects.

There are signs that Israel's sue of soft power has been successful, including the vast network of trade and political relations between Israel and Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia. It has assumed a position of importance in such links. Moreover, successive US administrations have helped to create an atmosphere conducive to enabling Israel to build commercial, political and cultural relationships with other countries, especially after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was helped by the lack of Arab integration in managing similar relationships in the context of international relations and the promotion of Arab interests.

Payoff from Israel's soft power

In return for its efforts with soft power, Israel has been able to build complex relationships, through Centre for International Cooperation projects and receive information technology and human resource development. It has enhanced its professional capacity by combining theory and practice along with scientific research and practical application on the ground. New technologies have been adapted to meet development priorities in the host countries by different ministries, professional and academic institutes, and research centres in Israel.

The Centre for International Cooperation works in partnership with developing countries and countries with economies now in transition on developmental challenges in areas such as poverty reduction, the provision of basic health services, food supply, early childhood education, combatting desertification, achieving gender equality, small and medium-sized enterprises, and integrated development of rural areas.

Since its establishment, the centre has had over 100,000 men and women attend its professional training courses held in Israel and abroad. In addition, more than 100,000 Israeli experts have been sent abroad for periods of different lengths to cooperate with their counterparts elsewhere involved in the projects in question. The centre is active in around 140 developing countries and it works in cooperation with donor countries, including the United States and the Netherlands, as well as international aid agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.

In order to strengthen its position in the context of these relations, Israel gave priority to the establishment of research centres, or the upgrade of existing ones. Various studies indicate that Israel has been able to establish 100 research centres, including those on a university or private centre level.

Such institutions have provided decision-makers in Israel with the statistics, indices, suggestions and recommendations needed to build a complex network of international relations that will yield significant economic and political gains. These relations have also helped consolidate Israel's technical expertise in agriculture, technology, manufacturing, the military and electronics.

To improve its international relations, Israel maintains a powerful and well-equipped army. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has 600,000 serving soldiers using the latest weaponry, much of it developed in Israel. It also has a nuclear option, possessing hundreds of nuclear warheads.

Israeli feels that its military edge and nuclear weapons provide are strong safeguards for its security, on the one hand, and for the continuation of its international influence on the other. Indeed, security is Israel's priority and use of the country's soft and hard power must serve that purpose.

What about the Arab world's soft power?

After the success of Israel's investments in soft power, what about the Arab world's soft power and what are the limits of Arab investment?

Despite the success of young Arabs in the use of soft power through social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to get the masses into Tahrir Square and develop the Arab Spring, it is lacking in terms of higher strategic objectives. These include the establishment of Arab influence in international relations.

In the face of such exploitation by Israel of its soft power it is now imperative to present a clearer view of the objectives of the Arab Spring. To do this, it is necessary to unify the media discourse in the face of the dictatorships across the region. There must be a demand for the elimination of all dictatorships from the Arab political scene and we must work towards the unification of the visions regarding the future of the Arab world and harnessing its human and material energy.

This also highlights the importance of investing in soft power by means of a unified Arab will and management of access to the world and the establishment of well-balanced diplomatic and economic relations with it.

At the same time, the Arab media - especially the young Arabs who crave freedom and justice – should invest in the social networking tools for a bright Arab future for future generations. They must also use it to expose Israel's racist policies against Palestinians in the occupied territories, in order to expose its true image to the world.

At that point, we will be able to say that the Arabs will assume an important position in the context of international relations through their use of soft power, starting with social networking and the media. The Arab world is wealthy and filled with human potential of great promise.

This is a translation of the Arabic published by Al Jazeera net on 15 December, 2013

]]> (Nabil Al-Sahli) Americas Mon, 16 Dec 2013 19:11:25 +0000
Invalidating Palestinian existence at the 10th annual Saban Forum Barack Obama at Saban ForumThe 10th annual Saban Forum, hosted by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy has offered the US and Israel a platform to strengthen their elimination of Palestinians from the farcical peace negotiations through their manipulation of language and history. The conference focused on "Power Shifts: US-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East." President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry justified imperial support for Israel, under the guise of human rights and security concerns using selective historical memory.

Obama attempted to portray the US as "an effective facilitator of that negotiation and dialogue" between Israelis and Palestinians, ignoring the ramifications of Israel's settler-colonial process aided by Western imperialism. Determination to secure the success of the negotiations has been compromised by Israel's ruthless expansion and Palestinian official representation. They underscore the differences between Israelis who are allegedly frightened by 'terror' threats and Palestinians who endure decades of state terrorism supported by the coloniser's allies. Within Obama's discourse, this determination is equivalent to the security of the Jewish state, obliterating Palestinian existence to reveal the ultimate purpose of the negotiations - a hypothetical two state solution ensuring Israel's demographic majority and that "the state of Israel as a Jewish secure state".

Obama highlighted the efforts undertaken to "understand the Israeli perspective" of security for the Jewish state, which further subjugates Palestinians whose identity is fractured and rendered obsolete at the whim of the imperialists. Obama speaks of implementing a "pathway to peace" in the West Bank - upholding the area as a model for Palestinians living in Gaza to eventually emulate. Both areas remain characterised by the diverging leadership - the acquiescence personified by Mahmoud Abbas and the resistance which Hamas has never relinquished. However, Obama's vision of implementing any semblance of peace does not consider the historic importance of Palestinian struggle and resistance - elements which have reinforced Palestinian identity, regardless of the constraints created by the territories demarcation.

Obama's discussion of security was from the authority of the privileged - an elitist perspective marginalising the need for accountability and responsibility in order to promote the fabrication of history. This featured prominently in John Kerry's address, who equated the US commitment to security and preservation of the Jewish state with reference to ideas of "certainty" and "peace". Depicting himself as someone who, through war, became "a passionate advocate for peace", Kerry primarily attributes this privilege to working with Tzipi Livni, conveniently ignoring the Israeli military's war crimes during Operation Cast Lead and focusing on an excursion to Sderot "where I saw those rockets coming out of the Gaza strip". Predictably, by including Palestinians within this context it justifies their imperial authority, obscuring legitimate resistance to magnify the need to repress. Throughout the address Palestinians received little attention, surfacing only within the context of justifying actions based on Israel's security and demographic concerns.

"There is another existential threat to Israel that diplomacy can far better address than the use of force...I am referring to the demographic dynamic that makes it impossible for Israel to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state". Kerry's statement, which later equates Palestinians with a 'demographic time bomb', is uttered within the historical context of the creation and maintenance of the Jewish state. Indigenous Palestinians are branded an ethnic threat, creating the framework which justifies decades of Israeli atrocities and the colonising power's refutation of the Palestinian right of return.

For Kerry, historic responsibility, albeit misplaced, safeguards imperial interests sustaining the colonisation of Palestine. Hence the perceived need to dictate to Palestine what a state based on the remnants of the territory should entail, including Israeli participation in implementing the Palestinian concept of statehood, emphasising the denial of Palestinian self-determination. According to Kerry, the Palestinians' primary responsibility within their fragmented territory should be to ensure the security of the state of Israel – hence the permanent subjugation outlined by the current negotiations. "The only way to secure Israel's long-term future and security will be achieved through direct negotiations that separate Palestinians and Israelis, resolve the refugee situation, end all claims, and establish an independent, viable, Palestinian state, and achieve recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people."

The speech focuses on the alleged vulnerability facing Israel, as Palestinians are equated with terrorism, Iran and its presumed nuclear threat, as well as the repetitive claims that there is an international campaign to delegitimize Israel. Within this context, Kerry attempts to portray Israel and the US as isolated entities facing international antagonism, culminating in an imperialist triumph which saw the inclusion of Israel into the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) last week. What Kerry fails to mention is that the illusion of isolation is based on the assimilation with imperialist policies and the existence of resistance which Israel and the US manipulate into narratives of extremism and terror.

Kerry also attempts a ludicrous comparison of US efforts to further the destabilisation of the Middle East with an altruist outlook by referring to the Nelson Mandela quote, "It always seems impossible until it is done". A more befitting resemblance accurately portraying the imperialist sabotage of memory and resistance would have been a reference to Henry Kissinger's "The illegal we can do right now, the unconstitutional will take a little longer", based on the US involvement in the Chilean dictatorship of Pinochet and accurately depicting the abuse of power which continues to shape reality for the minorities united by resistance.

It is the relatively uncontested deception which allows the US to support Israeli myths regarding "an amazing country blooming out of the desert" at the expense of obliterating Palestinian existence and collective memory. Israel is portrayed as though it is still evolving its military strategy and allegiances, without any reference to the Palestinian legitimate struggle for international recognition. Extolling the benefits of diplomacy in an attempt to divert attention away from the plight of Palestinians may be rendered valid within the privileged community attending the Saban Forum – to Palestinians and their advocates, diplomacy normalises decades of oppression which Israel and the US remain committed to upholding.

]]> (Ramona Wadi) Americas Fri, 13 Dec 2013 17:57:28 +0000
Kerry has followed in the footsteps of Clinton; will Abbas follow in Arafat's? Oraib Al RantawiThe terms of the Israeli "security arrangements" proposed by John Kerry are not acceptable to the Palestinians, especially after Washington has moved towards accepting the Israeli-defined concept of security in the occupied West Bank. After twenty years of a struggling transition period, the Palestinians cannot accept the arrangement promoted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition government.

Continuing negotiations or withdrawing from them will be costly options for the Palestinians, who seek to avoid negative repercussions for the Palestinian Authority and the national project. The Palestinian leadership has no choice but to choose between what is bad and what is worse; decision-time is fast approaching.

The Palestinian negotiators embarked on the talks with some degree of delusion regarding the chances of a successful outcome; it would be much easier to hold Israel responsible for sabotaging the efforts of John Kerry and the failure of his initiative which brought the negotiating teams back together again earlier this year. They had the intention to avoid a repeat of Camp David because Arafat and the PA paid a hefty price for that agreement, including the reoccupation of the West Bank without respect for the terms of the Oslo Accords and the almost certain murder of Arafat.

Today's situation should rid us of all such delusions. The problems of the Palestinians with talks guided by Mahmoud Abbas and John Kerry differ little to those under Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. Both US officials put their weight behind finding a "historic agreement" between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

However, there are limits over how much Washington can twist the Israelis' arm but, in any case, it is much easier for the US to put pressure on the Palestinians. That is what happened when Clinton presented his deal, which was drafted according to what was acceptable to the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak. This is exactly what will happen tomorrow when Kerry proposes his arrangement formally; he won't go beyond what is acceptable to Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett.

Today the Palestinians negotiate from a more difficult position than the one they were in 13 years ago. In Israel there is an extreme right-wing government, even more illegal settlers and a society shifting toward religious and national extremism. Washington is putting pressure on Tel Aviv over the Iranian nuclear issue in return for which Israel seeks to get its own way with regards to the Palestinian conflict. Palestinians are living through the worst internal split since the start of the modern national movement, while the spirit of resistance appears to be dormant in the West Bank and Gaza for the foreseeable future.

It is true that Israel is facing growing international criticism, particularly from Europe, but it is also true that it is unlikely that such criticism will turn into international isolation or lead to the removal of legitimacy from the occupying power. The Palestinians will need many years of bitter struggle and hard work in order to accomplish this task, which has hardly begun. There are significant uncertainties in the possibility of building a solid national consensus on the importance of the issue.

There are also suggestions that Kerry wants to end his mission by establishing a final agreement that will bear his name and add to his legacy, but he looks as if his is a lone voice in Washington. We do not see any enthusiasm for a deal in the US beyond what Kerry proposes. The Obama administration has set itself priorities focused primarily on the Pacific rim. As far as the Middle East and North Africa are concerned, Washington has three portfolios which take precedence over the Palestine-Israel conflict: Iran and its nuclear programme; Syria; and the war on terrorism in terms of oil and energy security for America. The Palestinian issue trails behind these.

Whoever expects Kerry to look back on his career and blame the Israeli government for its failures is expecting the impossible. In the best case scenario he may hold both sides responsible but not equally so, since Palestine is always at fault as far as Israel and its allies are concerned.

Palestinians will be blamed for their position over the General Alan security plan; they will be blamed for their position on sovereignty; they will be blamed for their position on Jerusalem, on the borders and on the Jordan Valley. They will be blamed for their insistence on a "Final Agreement" and their rejection of Israel's Judaisation; they will also be blamed for not placing the right of return for refugees on the agenda before now. These are all aspects of the conflict that must be discussed prior to any agreement being signed.

I can see no solution for the Palestinians except for them to able to adapt to life when the negotiations collapse. They need a Plan B because Plan A is most unlikely to succeed. One day they will wake to find that they can't fulfil the demands of Netanyahu and be blamed by Washington for their inability and unwillingness to concede everything. This is precisely what happened to Arafat at Camp David. We could well be seeing Kerry following in Clinton's footsteps; the question is simple; will Abbas follow in Arafat's?

Translated from the Arabic text published by Ad Dustour newspaper, 11 December, 2013

]]> (Oraib Al Rantawi) Americas Wed, 11 Dec 2013 16:38:31 +0000
Kerry's plan for Palestine Yezid SayighUS Secretary of State John Kerry has been preoccupied with the Middle East recently. After visiting Egypt and Saudi Arabia in order to repair damaged relations, he headed to Geneva to participate in the talks amongst the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, to resolve the conflict regarding Iran's nuclear programme. Kerry added to his agenda a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in an attempt to revive the faltering Palestine-Israel peace talks.

This US diplomatic activity and the possibility of reaching an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 have driven optimistic observers to expect a diplomatic breakthrough in Palestine-Israel, perhaps as soon as early 2014. This may even meet the 9-month time frame for the negotiations, set by Kerry in Spring 2013, for a "final status" agreement for Palestine. These same observers also believe that the agreement will be based on the "Clinton Parameters" issued in December 2000 and the Arab Peace Initiative in March 2002, as well as the development plan for the Palestinian economy.

Perhaps the strong American intervention will lead to an agreement that includes a number of political, security and economic elements; Kerry has the vitality and determination required to achieve this. However, what will remain of his bold initiative if the Palestinian-Israeli talks are stalled completely and a permanent peace agreement isn't achieved? Netanyahu's hostile responses serve as a reminder to Kerry that "America's position towards settlements is that they are illegal". Moreover, the preliminary reports that indicate the closeness of achieving an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran suggest that a painful political battle between the two sides is imminent.

If past experience is anything to go by, then the US administration will back down from a political confrontation with Netanyahu and his allies in Congress and the Senate, and instead will resort to the economic part of Kerry's plan. When he addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos in May 2013, Kerry talked about attracting investments worth $4 billion in order to expand the Palestinian economy by 50 per cent in 3 years. It will focus on the housing, tourism and agriculture sectors, and will lower the unemployment rate by two-thirds and raise the average income for most Palestinians.

However, the problem with this "transformative" economic plan, as Kerry describes it, is that it is similar to the failed "economic growth" strategy adopted by the US and EU for the occupied Palestinian territories in 1993. Instead of directly eliminating the political obstacles preventing the achievement of a peace treaty, the Americans and Europeans lead the international community on a deluded path towards achieving economic growth that can "lead to significant benefits for the Palestinian people that will increase the momentum towards peace", as explained by a document outlining the plan issued by the World Bank at the time.

Moreover, it was blatantly clear that the US and EU were not prepared to defend their economic strategy, which led to Israel's closure of the borders from 1995 to 1999 for long periods of time, thus suffocating Palestinian trade and reducing the average income of individuals.

Israel's "Operation Defensive Shield" and what followed in Spring 2002 led to damages amounting to $361 million to the infrastructure and civil institutions in the West Bank to an extent that did not match the scope of the actual fighting. It is worth noting that the international community later paid to repair the damage. When the American Administration and the World Bank drafted the "Agreement on Movement and Access" in November 2005, which personified the strategy of the donor countries for the development of the Palestinian economy within the framework of Israeli security, geographic and administrative control, the Israeli security establishment refused to apply it, which led to its complete and immediate failure.

Despite this negative record, the United States and European Union revived the "economic growth" strategy after the Palestinian Authority split into two rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June 2007.

However, only two years passed before the World Bank concluded that the Palestinian economy "is failing miserably by exhausting its capacity, even during periods of security stability" and that it has been exposed to "a decline of the production sectors and an increased dependence on aid from donors to avoid financial collapse". The additional irony is that the government led by Hamas in Gaza had achieved better economic indicators in 2010 than Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's rival Western-backed government in the occupied West Bank, despite the fact that the latter received a large increase in international aid.

The past 20 years have witnessed a shift in international aid to the Palestinians from its original purpose of supporting economic growth, developing the private sector and building institutions, to the purpose of providing humanitarian aid, emergency plans, the creation of temporary jobs and the support of the Palestinian Authority's budget.

This has led to the almost complete undermining of the ultimate goals and expectations involving the donor's economic strategy, as they did not receive sustainable development, nor were credible institutions established, not to mention the failure to establish an independent Palestinian state by means of a peace agreement with Israel. Instead, it resulted in the Palestinians' chronic dependence on foreign aid. In the latest report issued by the World Bank on October 2, the extent of Israel's control over the West Bank was estimated at 61 per cent, excluding its control over East Jerusalem and indirect control on the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This alone costs the Palestinian economy $ 3.4 billion annually in losses, or 35 per cent of the GDP.

Perhaps the United States and the European Union could have implemented the economic growth strategy if they had insisted on the establishment of the mechanisms of implementation and settlement of disputes in order to ensure the proper application of the economic arrangements agreed upon and to deter violations by enabling constructive sanctions. However, they quickly abandoned the attempt to create a monitoring mechanism, which was initially included as part of the "Roadmap for Peace" prepared by the International Quartet, led by the United States, in April 2002. This was then vetoed by Israel and, once again, the US and EU stuck to their strategy when the crisis in the peace process intensified, rather than rectifying their strategy.

Kerry offers a glimmer of hope by linking the economic aspect to the draft agreement that will lead to the end of Israeli control, albeit gradually. The result depends entirely on his adherence to this organic linkage. If that is not done, then Kerry's economic plan will turn into a mere repetition, for the fourth time, of a failing strategy that will contribute to the deteriorating status quo that cannot be maintained or transformed for the better.

The author is a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Hayat newspaper on 15 November, 2013

]]> (Yezid Sayigh) Americas Tue, 19 Nov 2013 11:57:00 +0000
Prosecuting freedom and the Arab Spring Yassir Al ZaataraIt was no accident that the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, arrived in Cairo a day before President Morsi's trial for inciting the murder of protestors and conspiring with Hamas. A main component of Kerry's tour involved Palestinian-Israel negotiations and if Morsi had remained in office, things wouldn't have gone this way nor had these results. I am referring to the relinquishment of the Palestinian cause to a miserable, unfair final solution or an even more miserable, dangerous temporary solution.

Kerry's visit undoubtedly aimed to dispel the controversy sparked by America's position on the coup. At the same time, Britain's decision to resume arms exports to Egypt confirmed that the West's position in general, regardless of diplomatic talk, was to support the coup. According to Kerry, the elected and deposed president's only right was to demand a fair trial! There is no point in reducing America's military aid because it is an integral part of its extortion of Egypt and at the same time an attempt to seem moral. Yet, some do not want to admit the truth that Netanyahu admitted during his diplomatic campaign, his ensuring of support for the coup, and it seems that some no longer view Netanyahu as the enemy and are looking for positions to justify their politics.

This is not actually the trial of a president and he is not a criminal that should be prosecuted. Indeed, those who found Hosni Mubarak innocent cannot be trusted with any trial of a political nature. If we take a look at the grounds for the trial, it is a joke; the charges of incitement to kill protestors are meaningless. 10 people were killed in front of the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace, 8 of whom were Brotherhood supporters. Even if their murder had been incited, the President had nothing to do with it. The charges accusing him of conspiring with Hamas is a scandal for the coup-organisers, it is a disgrace that they see nothing wrong with communicating with the occupation state but see communication with an Arab Palestinian liberation movement as a form of treason. The way the trial is being held and the secrecy surrounding it has never been seen before (even pens cannot be taken into the courtroom) and it proves that Morsi should not be on trial and that they are afraid of him, not the other way around.

We are witnessing the prosecution of a revolution rather than the trial of an individual. What is more, the international support for events in Egypt and for the prosecution of the elected president suggests that we are actually witnessing the prosecution of the entire Arab Spring. This is particularly the case, if we recall what happened in Syria and the ugly conspiracy to overthrow the people's revolution and support the continued presence of a criminal president. We can also see it when we look at what is happening in Libya and Tunisia, what happened and is happening in Yemen and the plotting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It has reached the point now where the Arab League has received a memorandum from the so-called, Tamarod movement calling for the Strip to be annexed to improve security coordination and negotiations with the enemy. The result of this would be, as Netanyahu demonstrated, adding a new condition to the negotiations on a daily basis. The most recent condition has been the demand to retain the Jordan Valley (30 per cent of the West Bank) in addition to other conditions, such as recognising the Jewishness of Israel, having a unified Jerusalem as their capital and the Palestinians' relinquishment of their right to return.

The question that raises itself after yesterday's trial is firstly, what Morsi's fate will be, and whether he will be executed like Adnan Menderes in Turkey (1960) or killed in some other way.

It is the prosecution of the Egyptian people's will and their revolution, and, like I said earlier, the prosecution of the entire Arab Spring. However, the people of this region have discovered themselves and their strong points and they will rebel once again. This is just another round of the bitter conflict in the most sensitive region in the world.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published in Ad Dustour Newspaper on 5 0october, 2013

]]> (Yassir Al Zaatara) Americas Wed, 06 Nov 2013 16:31:16 +0000
Who is the world's policeman? Haifa ZanganaThe United States of America continues to play its role as the world's policeman despite the huge financial crisis it is suffering and sharp internal polarisation. We were reminded of the fragile state of this "policeman" when the US Congress basically shut-down governmental services for two weeks and threatened to announce America's inability to pay its debts.

President Barack Obama, of course, used a speech in September to deny that the US is the world's policeman, claiming instead that "our values, principles and national security are at stake". Nevertheless, the "New American Century" strategy put in place by the neo-conservatives 20 years ago sought to enhance US power and influence, and America still tries to impose its democratic model on countries of the "South". Obama's verbal gymnastics beg us to ask, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

In order for America to face the rise of, for example, China and Russia on the international political scene, in addition to its ongoing policy to repress resistance and liberation groups and those building true democracy, it has made core changes in its military and defence policy. It is no longer necessary to have direct military intervention to protect tyrannical regimes loyal to the US; America now uses espionage, political "advisers", drones, assassination, kidnapping and collaboration with "friends" of the said regimes to influence national affairs in the countries in question. Whereas abductions of Arabs and Muslims and their detention in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility used to be carried out in secret, the United States now does so openly. No one, it seems, can hold it to account for its international law-breaking; double standards clearly apply.

US forces entered Libyan territory recently to abduct Abu Anas Allibi at his home as part of an "anti-terror operation". The Defence Department claims that he is now being held in a "safe place" outside Libya. None of this was done in cooperation or coordination with the Libyan government.

In another operation, US forces landed in Somalia looking for an "Al-Qaeda" operative, although in this case the Somali government said that it was informed of the raid in advance. Washington claims that such operations are consistent with US law, essential for US security and are not inconsistent with international law, which is interesting. Would the US government allow, say, the Mexicans to send Special Forces across the border in pursuit of drug dealers because they pose a threat to Mexican national security?

Such "exclusivist" logic by the Americans sees them refusing to sign-up to the International Criminal Court because it would mean that US citizens could be prosecuted for acts carried out overseas. The US government supports the ICC as a tool to bring non-client states to heel but seeks immunity for its own troops. This is similar to what Israel does when it builds settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories under cover of Israeli law but in open defiance of international laws and conventions. The twisted logic behind it is that absolute power gives a few colonial regimes the right to act with impunity while others must toe the line.

While governments may declare or cover-up their collaboration with the global policeman, there are international organisations which make a lot of effort to raise awareness of the injustice this entails and its repercussions for international law and security. In a report issued on October 15th, there was a clear criticism of the drone programme implemented by the CIA and US Special Forces, which the US does not acknowledge officially. In it the UN described the programme as "undermining the rule of law and threatening international security due to the lack of transparency and accountability". The report also said that the selective assassinations through raids and other acts are "unlawful death sentences and illegal", while attacks against rescue workers are called "war crimes".

UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns talked about innocent civilian victims of the drone programme and how it is claimed that the targets are only "terrorists". He added that the drones "leave a heavy war imprint on the target communities". He pointed out that terms such as "terrorist" or "extremist" are used to describe people who are in fact present for the protection of civilians.

Reprieve, a human rights charity based in London, is representing some civilian victims of the drone attacks in a number of countries, including Yemen and Pakistan. The organisation is calling for the questioning and accountability of the United States and more transparency on the work of the CIA, to get "true accountability" for hundreds of civilians who were killed and justice for their relatives. It added that the CIA can no longer continue to distort the reputation of the victims and their families by describing them as terrorists.

Such human rights organisations represent a growing challenge to the world's policeman, the United States, as well as local security agencies which act on its orders in countries around the world. Their presence provides hope for resilient liberation and resistance groups aiming to put an end to international terror represented by neo-colonialist countries.

If this means that we see, in years to come, a return of the balance of power in the world the US may be forced to loosen its grip and abide by legitimacy as expressed through international law. People and liberation movements will then have a better opportunity to restore national sovereignty and state building on the basis of equality, justice and respect for law and order. That can only be good for the people and good for the world.

The author is an Iraqi novelist. This is a translation of the Arabic text published in Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper on 18 October, 2013.

]]> (Haifa Zangana) Americas Tue, 22 Oct 2013 14:33:05 +0000
Civilians pay with their lives for America's "global war doctrine" A drone firing a missilePerhaps understandably, the US is secretive about its drone programme. But over the last decade, thousands of unmanned drones have been deployed in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia as part of America's covert war on terror. The US claims that these strikes allow them to eliminate the top tier of leadership of terrorist groups, and that civilian deaths are minimal. Campaigners argue that large numbers of innocent people are being killed, and that the programme is in violation of international law.

Two reports released today reiterate this view. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both said that the US must hold to account those responsible for civilian deaths and be more transparent about its use of drones. They called for an impartial investigation into the programme, and for the US to be open about civilian deaths. Nor is it only rights groups calling for a review of the programme: two recently published UN reports will be presented to the UN General Assembly on Friday. This brings the total of critical reports on drones up to four, within a very short time period. All four demand that the US provide a full legal rationale for targeted killings.

Today's reports are slightly different in their focus. HRW's examined six missile attacks in Yemen - one from 2009, and the rest between 2012 and 2013. The strikes killed 82 people, at least 57 of whom were civilians. According to HRW, none of the attacks met America's own policy guidelines for targeted killings. One of the pledges outlined in Barack Obama's speech on drones earlier this year was to kill suspects only when it is impossible to capture them. But on 17 April this year, an al-Qaeda leader was blown up in Dhamar Province in central Yemen, which HRW says contravened this rule. The group suggests that the strikes also violated international laws around armed conflict and human rights. "Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war," the report said. "The others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths."

Amnesty' report reaches similar conclusions in its look at Pakistan's North Waziristan region. It reviews 45 known drone strikes in the region between January 2012 and August this year, finding that nine of the strikes could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial killings. Some of these were unjustified target killings, and some were cases of follow-up strikes on residents who had gone to the scene after an initial strike. It said that the attacks caused locals to live in fear, and that they set "a dangerous precedent that other states may seek to exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings".

The authors of both reports acknowledge that in many cases, it is difficult to say with certainty whether men of military age were members of terrorist groups. Relatives will often deny links to extremist groups, which American intelligence insists is not reliable testimony. Circumventing this, Amnesty highlighted the killing of a grandmother, and of a group of labourers. Over and above this, rights groups maintain that membership of an extremist organisation doesn't make someone a legitimate target for extrajudicial killing.

Most newspapers have led on the attention-grabbing top line of Amnesty's report - that the US may be guilty of war crimes. Yet overall, the reports take a more nuanced line. The main call is for greater transparency: despite a promise to be more open about drones, the US is still releasing next to no information about who it is killing and why, making it very difficult to evaluate the legality of the strikes. Of course, cynics might say that preventing a definitive evaluation of the legality is a motivating factor for withholding information.

Opinion about drones is sharply divided in the affected countries. Some argue that they are a necessary evil, since terrorists kill far more civilians than the US; others argue that they are a violation of sovereignty that will radicalise vast swathes of the population. Moreover, the legal status of drones is incredibly complicated. One justification is that the places where they are used - Yemen, Pakistan's tribal area, Somalia - amount to war zones. Amnesty's report says that some of the strikes in Pakistan may be covered by this, but criticised the notion of a "global war doctrine" that allows the US to attack al-Qaeda anywhere in the world.

White House officials declined to respond in detail to the allegations, merely pointing to Obama's speech in May. The first major public address on the secretive programme, this speech outlined tighter standards for targeted strikes. One of these was "a near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured". Clearly, this commitment is not being met. But as the US remains committed to its drone programme, it is unlikely that greater transparency or stricter rules will be a reality any time soon.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Tue, 22 Oct 2013 09:41:25 +0000
America and Iran revisited Obama and RouhaniThe private phone call from the US president to his Iranian counterpart as the latter left American soil, in which Obama apologised for the New York traffic, was interesting. Even more interesting was that it was announced by the Americans after, of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was told first.

That last bit reveals the most important aspect of the new-found US-Iran friendship, as nothing is done regarding America's Middle East policies without the Israelis being informed first, such is the influence of the pro-Israel Lobby on Congress. It is thus very difficult for any US president to buck the trend and do something which Israel doesn't approve of. This weakens the presidency. In this respect, Netanyahu's expected bleats about the situation were nothing but part of his extortion game.

It seems foolish to read much into development in US-Iran relations outside the Zionist context. That explains why the thawing of the frozen relationship began with the message from President Rouhani to the Jews of the world congratulating them on the Jewish New Year; his message wasn't limited to the many Jews in Iran. There was also a change of tone in the words addressed towards Israel regarding the Holocaust and the description of the occupation affecting the "territories occupied in 1967"; his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had always referred to all of historic Palestine.

It is thus fair to say, I believe, that the issue does not revolve around US-Iran relations as much as it revolves around Iran's position concerning Israel or, to be more precise, the conflict over Palestine. This belief is strengthened when we recall that the sanctions on Iran, which were imposed due to its effort to possess nuclear weapons, were not imposed because it would threaten America or the West, but because it would cause a military imbalance in the region, with Israel no longer top dog. The same applies to Syria's chemical weapons.

All of this coincides with serious American attempts to reach a settlement with the Palestinian Authority that will not go beyond the temporary solution agreed upon by the Israelis (a state within the borders of the security wall) no matter how many times Mahmoud Abbas says he wants a final agreement. This confirms that the entire matter ultimately concerns Israeli demands that are not linked directly to US interests, but we have to keep in mind that the close relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv means that the latter is able to damage US interests if it wants to. Hence, US foreign policy must be shaped to placate Israel, as was done with the invasion of Iraq.

We should now be considering what America's latest flirtation with Iran is going to produce by way of policies affecting Israel. Naturally, nuclear weapons will be at the top of the list of demands, with Tehran already insisting that it has stopped all such development, leaving its nuclear energy for purely peaceful purposes. Iran does not seem to need such a source of energy too desperately; we all know that it was trying to make a bomb.

However, the matter does not stop there, as it is necessary for Iran to leave the "axis of resistance" and stop its support for resistance movements. This has more or less already started, with no more support for Hamas and Hezbollah accepting a "practically eternal" truce with Israel after the 2006 war. Moreover, Syria is being taken out of the axis and opposition to Israel once and for all in order to preserve the regime in Damascus.

All Iran wants in exchange for this is the lifting of sanctions, as well as keeping Syria's Bashar Al-Assad in power; it is worried about its interests in Iraq and Lebanon. The Israeli government has no problems with meeting these demands, especially since it will benefit from the chaos in Syria, with the "uncontrollable" forces being contained.

Will the Gulf be affected by all of this? Here, US interests clearly come into play without harming Israeli interests, as most Gulf countries support the negotiations in Palestine, regardless of what they result in, and they will not rebel against America. Therefore, there is no need to sell the Gulf out in order to buy Iran, and it is in America's interests to maintain the friction between the Gulf States and Iran so that both will continue to depend on America and thus give it more influence in the region.

In this game, Palestine will be the biggest loser, as well as the Arab people in tyrannical states whose governments will be given time to hunt down anyone supporting democratic freedoms. This is especially true now that Obama has made it clear in his speech to the UN General Assembly that he won't support democracy if it conflicts with US interests. We have seen this already in his support for the coup regime in Egypt.

However, let us remember what happened in Iraq; the invasion was meant to reshape the region but it didn't; the plan failed. This one will fail too, even though, at the moment, it seems to have everyone's agreement. The region is home to a people who can still thwart the plans of our enemies in the struggle for freedom and justice.

Translated from Ad Dustour Newspaper, 3 October, 2103

]]> (Yassir al Zaatara) Americas Fri, 04 Oct 2013 11:41:07 +0000
The Syrian crisis and American decline (by choice) Kilic Bugra KanatRobert Kagan's last book, The World America Made, starts with a hypothetical question about the international system. Referring to Frank Capra's classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life," in which protagonist George Bailey gets a chance to see a world that he was not born into, Kagan asks readers to imagine what the world might look like if America were to decline as many have predicted. Since the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August, this question is no longer hypothetical. We are already experiencing a US decline, in terms of influence and credibility around the globe, by choice.

The position the Obama administration took in the last three weeks surprised and confused even the most ardent followers of US foreign policy. A regime that was considered illegitimate by the US government for the last two years not only killed more than 100,000 people under the watch of the international public, but also broke one of the most significant international norms and a red line drawn by President Obama himself a year ago. Under the protection of Russia and China in the UN Security Council, the same regime was able to avoid comprehensive sanctions and with the recent diplomatic maneuver of the Russian government, might even get away with impunity just by giving up its chemical weapons, all the while continuing to kill its own citizens through conventional means. However each and every "heinous crime" that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has committed and each and every attempt of China and Russia to protect his regime, which can be called a soft-balancing, is tarnishing the global image of the US and its super power status. In fact, US inaction in Syria and its reluctance to lead an international effort creates a more serious argument of American decline than the country's domestic economic and political problems. Furthermore, unlike many declinist scholars have argued, it is not a decline caused by the rise of others but mostly a decline by choice of the US administration. The new image of the US is of a global power that avoids its global responsibilities, looks the other way when an authoritarian regime kills its own people, and then suggests it was due to war fatigue among American citizens, which damages the trust of its allies. This picture provides a world without a major global power. It is not even a world of "uni-multipolarity"; it is a world in transition towards multipolarity.

Since the loss of America's standing around the world due to the Iraq War and the economic crisis beginning with the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers in 2008, there has been an increasing level of discussion regarding the decline of the United States. Many observers of global politics in the US in one way or another argued that the US was losing its status as the sole global power in world politics. For instance, Fareed Zakaria stated the spread of wealth in different parts of the world was a sign of what he called a "Post-American world," while another major expert of US foreign policy, Charles Kupchan, mentioned it was the emergence of multiple modernities in different parts of the world that created a new global order we can call "no one's world." For most of these works, which now have created a separate literature on American declinism, the decline took place mostly as a result of the rise of "others," rather than the fall of the US itself. Although authors like Thomas Friedman argued the decline took place because the US ignored its crumbling infrastructure and education, it was emphasized that the US still had a global edge in many significant areas, including military strength, demographic vitality, and research and development potential. However, most of these works about declinism focus on how the US sees and feels about itself, rather than how it is perceived by the world. A nation's identity and standing are sometimes more significantly shaped and constructed by the perception of other countries and the international public. In that sense, the decline of the US may be more about the perception of the US than its actual capabilities. It is sometimes related to credibility, consistency of policies or commitment to principles and norms. The US lacked humility and prudence in some phases of the unipolar world, which damaged the standing of the US around the world. In those years, the US was losing its soft power, or its credibility and position, because of its unilateral actions and its disregard for other international actors.

However, today we are witnessing the emergence of a new extreme in US policy. Now it is not about what the US is doing but instead about what the US is not doing: avoiding its global responsibilities and trying to give an image of a tired and exhausted superpower more than anyone else in the world. The US now appears in the international scene to be a superpower that believes it needs to leave the world alone and focus on its domestic affairs to put its house in order. America seems like a superpower that believes that if it leaves the world alone, the others (and of course its competitors and rivals) will act in the same way and leave the US alone to rebuild its capacity. The US is increasingly being considered a superpower that believes in the wisdom of nonintervention and it now considers the troubles in other countries, such as in Syria, "a problem from hell," as US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power would say.

Everybody knows that America suffers from war fatigue but when this is stated by a president in regards to a problem that entails crimes against humanity committed by an authoritarian regime, it gives the wrong signal to other authoritarian regimes around the world. Everybody knows US public opinion does not want another war but when the president gives up all possible forms of deterrent capabilities of the biggest and mightiest military around the world by constantly mentioning the scope of a possible military strike as "limited and narrow", it makes the effort to stop the Al-Assad regime from killing its own people obsolete. This situation not only encourages authoritarian regimes around the world but also greatly damages US credibility globally. Furthermore, it endangers the security of US allies in the region, damages the underpinnings of the collective security system and paves the way for another "self-help world" in very tumultuous times.

The starting point of the US credibility deficit on the question of Syria began when the global super power basically looked the other way when the regime started killing its own people. After a considerable amount of death and destruction, the US administration told the international public that Al-Assad had no legitimacy (which President Obama did not want to repeat during his interview on ABC This Week despite some questions) but continued to watch as an illegitimate leader killed another 100,000 people. Excuses of nonintervention and noninterference depended either on incorrect historical analogies, such as the war in Iraq, or concerns regarding domestic politics, during which civilians in Syria became victims of the 2012 Presidential Election. Throughout the electoral campaign, every candidate avoided dealing with the Syrian problem. Meanwhile, the nature of the problem grew into a full-scale civil war. All expectations were focused on a US presidential initiative that would be launched after the elections. However, the massacre of Syrian civilians was not one of the priorities of the Obama administration. During the election campaign, the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and the killing of US citizens including the Ambassador to Libya created questions about the consequences of any humanitarian intervention in Syria. The Congressional investigation and debates about the Benghazi incident made the Obama administration more reluctant to get involved in any kind of conflict in Syria. The US administration was vocally stressing these concerns as frequently as possible, which also provided relief for the Al-Assad regime. Washington constantly sent signals that the conflict in Syria has nothing to do with the US. In fact, while the countries of the region, human rights advocates and civil society organizations were looking for a global power to lead attempts to resolve the conflict, the US avoided any commitments. Other than a few attempts at the UN Security Council, where the main goal seemed to be shaming the two veto powers of the UNSC instead of getting any form of consequences, the US basically ignored conversations on Syria. Many considered the UN platform to be an excuse for the US to appear to be doing something rather than doing nothing.

After a year of violence by the Al-Assad regime, the number of deaths increased and Syria turned into "a Lebanon on steroids" with the involvement of several regional powers, as well as Russia, in the conflict. Certain intelligence reports then started to indicate that the Assad regime was moving its chemical weapons around. President Obama, for the first time since his statement that Al-Assad had no legitimacy, made a powerful speech regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria. He stated the US would reconsider its actions if Al-Assad used these weapons. It was a red line that everybody was hoping and expecting to be a deterrent against Al-Assad. However, the regime tested the US resolve and global commitment to international norms by slowly using chemical weapons in several different instances. Numerous sources, including the Turkish government, provided evidence that the regime was using chemical weapons against civilians. However, instead of making a strong case against the Al-Assad regime, the US administration started to blur its red line by coming up with several excuses not to act. In fact, up until 21 August, the administration looked the other way regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

However after 21 August, the administration seemed to follow a more committed approach against the Syrian regime. Upon receiving some intelligence regarding the attacks, the Obama administration stated that there should be international consequences for such a breach of international norms. Of course for the US, the attack also meant the breach of the red line put forward by President Obama. Although the US looked very decisive and committed at the beginning, the deep divide between rhetoric and action and the deep contrast between the rhetoric of different members of the administration tarnished the image of the US as an indecisive power. The statements were less than deterring in terms of their content. President Obama several times stated "narrow limited action" whereas Secretary Kerry described any possible action as "unbelievably small," which would relieve the Al-Assad regime more than anyone else.

Later in a televised speech, President Obama described a possible limited military strike without boots on the ground or prolonged air campaigns. Obama then said the US would not pinprick and finally stated it would be a limited targeted attack that will deliver a message to Al-Assad. After making a case for limited military action and urging that the US should not look other way, President Obama asked Congress to postpone the vote to allow the diplomatic efforts launched by Russia more time. Meanwhile, he also mentioned that the US is not the police of the world. Then at the end of his speech, he once again went back to the `Spiderman` argument, where great power brings great responsibility, and argued that the world is a better and safer place because of the US. One of the devastating points about these contradictory messages was the emphasis that the US is doing this because of its own national security. Although everybody in one way or another expected the same thing from other countries (at the end of the day we are living in a realist world), constant reiteration of this statement by administration officials gave the wrong kind of message to people around the world. Obama's statements together with the messages of several people from his administration were so confusing that at a certain point everybody started to think that the real strategy of the US is to confuse others. Three weeks of complicated messages, reluctant threats, attempts to win time, and taking the issue to Congress before letting Russia intervene are altogether perceived as confusing by some and as indecisiveness by others.

This reluctance and indecisiveness, as well as the constant shifting of messages, made many in the US and around the world believe that US credibility is being seriously damaged by the Syrian conflict. As stated over the weekend by scholar Elizabeth Economy, the Chinese public now considers the US failure to lead in this crisis as part of the decline of the US. This matter is also creating a detrimental situation by destroying mutual trust between the US and its allies in the region. Considering the threat of WMDs, the US seems indifferent to the security of its allies in the region, which could damage the "responsibility doctrine" that the Obama administration has been pursuing in its relations with regional powers in the long run.

To sum up, the situation in Syria not only concerns Syrians, but is also a test for the US to respond to claims about America's decline. So far, the conflict has not only destroyed Syria, not only spread across the region, not only killed many people and created a huge problem for regional powers, but also led to the global decline of the US in terms of credibility, standing and influence. Now we can see what the world will look like with a diminished US without trying to use our imagination or hypothetical scenarios. By avoiding responsibility and giving up its credibility, the US endangers its alliances, the established global order and paves the way for a chaotic international order, which in the long run will also threaten its own national security.

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie and Research Fellow at SETA Foundation at Washington, DC

]]> (Kilic Bugra Kanat) Americas Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:27:14 +0000
America and Iran in Syria Sayyid Hossain MossayanAfter US President Barack Obama agreed upon an international initiative to control the inventory of chemical weapons in Syria, the prospects for a US military strike against Syria have diminished. The campaign for military action took a last-minute turn in the opposite direction due to intense diplomatic pressure from the international community to avoid the escalation of violence in Syria. This outcome could not have been possible without Iran.

In a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid Al-Moallem, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented a proposal that had been agreed upon in advance with Iran calling on Syria to "put all its storage sites for chemical weapons under international control". The proposal also calls for the destruction of all chemical weapons after which Syria will fully join the International Convention for Chemical Weapons.

The second component of the Russian-Iranian proposal calls for international efforts to be taken under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council to curb the capabilities of Syrian rebel forces in using chemical weapons. Al-Moallem immediately adopted the proposal. Hours later, it was also adopted by Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. President Obama said that, "I strongly hope that it will be possible to resolve this matter with non-military action," and this initiative gives him a chance to get out of a tough political position and foreign policy dilemma; however, a final decision has not been made as Obama has not ruled out a military strike.

There are many reasons why America should seize this opportunity and push for a diplomatic solution to this problem as has been outlined by the Russian-Iranian plan:

First: there is evidence that the Syrian opposition gathered a large supply of chemical weapons. In December of 2012 Iran officially informed the US that chemical weapons - including sarin gas - were being transported into Syria. The US has so far refused to cooperate with Iran on this matter.

Second: US military strikes against Syria are likely to push the entire region - and perhaps the US - to slide into a wider war. After the bitter experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, the US will not tolerate another quagmire in Syria.

Third: With the intensification of the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region, the flow of tens of billions of petrodollars to support terrorists and extremists fighting in Syria was already a major factor in the region's instability. US military strikes against Syria would fuel this extremism and possibly lead rebels to commit large-scale atrocities against Syrians of different faiths and sects. There is no doubt that the fate of the Jewish and Christian communities in Syria are now seriously threatened.

Fourth: America's decision to support extremists in Syria contradicts its "Global War on Terrorism" and will lead to the erosion of international support for this war. Moreover, the likelihood of Iranian cooperation to root out extremists belonging to al-Qaeda - as was the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq - will become unlikely after any intervention.

Fifth: It is a mistake to assume that the absence of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as well as its weakening link with Hezbollah in Lebanon, suggest that Iran has lost its influence in the Arab world. The US regional position has become very weak and Iran's position has become stronger in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington's potential involvement in Syria might yield the same pattern.

Sixth: The American attack on Syria would isolate the US internationally and eliminate any hope for a diplomatic solution. There is no desire on both the local and international levels to fight another US military adventure. The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, the group of twenty European countries, Russia, and China, and about 60 per cent of Americans unilaterally oppose a US military strike in Syria.

Seventh: The loss of civilian lives as a result of military strike would be very high. If the main justification for the strike is based on humanitarian reasons - ending the senseless massacre of Syrian civilians - the harmful effects of American military intervention will be greater than any benefits it may potentially bring.

Eighth: US involvement in Syria would infuse new life into efforts to impose pressure to fight a wider war between the United States and Iran. Groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda will attack US regional interests in the hope that the blame will lie on Iran and its armed proxies, which would provide a pretext for an American military confrontation.

Ninth: The third American military strike against a country with a majority Muslim population would destroy the credibility of Obama's efforts to repair America's image in the Muslim world, and it will most likely be a strategic benefit for "the axis of resistance," which includes Iran and Hezbollah.

Tenth: Any unilateral military strike against Syria would escalate tensions between the US and Russia, and this in turn would strengthen the alliance between Russia and Iran.

Eleventh: The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has granted permission to the new President, Hassan Rohani, to enter into direct talks with the US, presenting one of the best chances to end decades of hostility between the two countries. Under these circumstances it is almost certain that a US attack on Syria would dissipate any hope of rapprochement between Washington and Tehran for years to come.

Finally, with the recent inauguration of the moderate Rohani as President of Iran, a US military strike could undermine a golden opportunity for both the US and Iran to find an equally acceptable solution for the Iranian nuclear program. Both Iran and the US consider the use of weapons of mass destruction to be a heinous crime. In fact, Iran was the main victim of chemical weapons attacks during the war against Iraq led by Saddam Hussein between 1980 and 1988. It is also possible that Iran will be a key partner in efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Syria, the Middle East, and beyond.

Iran insists that the Security Council is the only body legally authorized to verify the allegations of the use of such lethal weapons and to decide on the appropriate response. Perhaps one of the most promising ways of cooperation between the US and Iran is now in Syria. Both sides mutually support the creation of a fact-finding mission led by the Security Council to determine the identity of the perpetrators. If the use of chemical weapons really does represent a "red line" in Obama's eyes, it is also a red line in Khomeini's opinion.

The author is a former Iranian ambassador and spokesman for the nuclear negotiating team. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera Net on 13 September, 2013

]]> (Sayyid Hossain Mossayan) Americas Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:03:27 +0000