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. Sat, 25 Oct 2014 04:09:55 +0000 MEMO en-gb What is Ayatollah Biden apologising for? Jamal KhashogjiThe apology offered to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey by U.S. Vice President Biden is unimportant. What is really important is what he said disclosing that our view of the Syrian situation is still completely different from the American view. This can be summed as follows: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are of the opinion that the continuation of the Syrian regime is the problem and that it has to be brought down by means of supporting the Syrian revolution so that one of the most important reasons for the birth of ISIS, the subject of the current coalition, is no more. The Americans see things differently. That simply means "the continuation of the Syrian regime". Consequently, it is essential to reconsider the Jedda coalition against ISIS so as to specify its objective before being dragged behind the American vision, which – if we assume it is based on good intention – may just be blurred, or if the intentions are otherwise, may have a different agenda altogether.

The Saudi-American disagreement over Syria is very old, it is as old as the Syrian revolution, which too has become "very old" indeed as it approaches its fourth year. Whereas Saudi Arabia wanted rapid intervention since the first year so as to bring the affair to end and save the Syrians and the region from the woes of war, the American policy was characterised by tardiness and contentment with issuing statements and drawing red lines that were never respected by the regime's head Bashar Al-Asad, and then retraction in the last five minutes. Such a situation angered Riyadh with Washington more than once; that anger was no longer discrete and was leaked to the media more than once. This was one of the reasons why U.S. President Obama visited Riyadh last March. So, will Biden's recent statements reopen the Saudi American wounds?

What was it specifically that which Biden said and managed with it to anger Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in one go? He accused the three countries of being responsible for the rise of extremist groups in Syria including ISIS. In a meeting with Harvard University students he said: "Our allies in the region have been our major problem ... What have the Saudis and the Emiratis been doing? They were determined to bring Asad down and sponsor a Shiia Sunni war by proxy. So, they pumped hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tonnes of weapons to whoever wanted to fight against Asad. Yet, those who received that aid were Al-Nusrah Front, Alqaeda and the radical Jihadists who came from all over the world." He concluded his statement saying: "These countries have realised their mistake and they are now part of the coalition against terrorism." Then he added salt to the wound by likening his country's alliance with Saudi Arabia to the Western alliance with the Soviet tyrant Stalin during the second world war.

We expect to hear such rhetoric from Tehran but not from the U.S. Vice President who is supposed to be part of the White House's close circle of decision makers and should know exactly what Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have done in Syria. It should not have been far away from the sight and hearing of the American intelligence services whose personnel are stationed in the south and the north of Syria. Thus, it would be naïve for the concerned countries to accept his apology that was formulated in a manner that does not negate the disastrous statement and that was aimed only at keeping the coalition against ISIS without offering any explanations about the objectives of the campaign, which have become too vague. They now talk about a war that may last "for weeks or months or years".

There are things about this war and this coalition that ought to cause concern. The first is the failure to specify the enemy, which becomes known only after it is bombed. The bombing has targeted groups other than ISIS and the Nusrah, including groups that are known to be moderate such as the Hazm movement that was trusted by the Joint Operations Room and was enabled to obtain the U.S. made TOW advanced anti-tank rockets. Many of the positions bombed belonged to armed groups that had been fighting against the regime while the bombing of ISIS, which poses a real threat to the civilian population, was delayed when it was on the outskirts of Kobani. Syrian activists are astonished, but they keep quiet because they do not want to be perceived as if they opposed the coalition having repeatedly appealed for foreign intervention to save them from the regime of Bashar Al-Asad and from his army and exploding barrels, which he continues to drop on top of his "citizens". This led to the cracking of the black joke that says that the coalition bombs during the night and Bashar bombs during the day. More than one military expert expected that the coalition airforce to impose a no fly zone over the north of Syria at least to protect coalition planes while carrying out their missions against terrorism. Yet, none of this has happened yet.

Another thing that exposes U.S. inconsistency, which may not after all be an inconsistency if we were to listen once more to the statements of Ayatollah Biden, is the American insistence on rejecting the Turkish proposal to impose a buffer zone and a no fly zone in the north of Syria. This is what President Erdogan has been insisting on as a precondition for joining the war against ISIS in addition to another condition, namely an American unequivocal commitment to the downfall of Bashar Al-Asad as part of the war on terrorism. The aim of the Turkish President is clear; he wants to drag the United States into an intervention that would eventually lead to bringing Asad down and to putting an end to the conflict that has gone on for too long and that is now posing a threat to the regional security of Turkey and the rest of the region.

It is rather strange that America is refusing this legitimate request from its allies. This has not been a strictly Turkish demand; it has also been received from the Saudis. This is particularly significant that Turkey, and perhaps other countries in the region, is not ready to intervene and is willing to be provide the ground force to settle the matter once and for all with ISIS and Bashar together provided international support is available. This is exactly what the Americans asked for more than once. Yet, now they only ask for it against ISIS.

If we were to assume, once again, that they have good intentions, perhaps they are exaggerating concerns, based on previous mistakes in Iraq, that once the state collapses chaos will sweep across the region. As such, and until Obama rearranges his cards and develop his full plan for combatting ISIS, it would be useful for the countries concerned about the rotten Syrian situation, and which have been harmed by it, to put their differences aside and formulate a plan for the day after, for the aftermath of the downfall of Bashar Al-Asad in which the role of each of these countries is determined. This would require reaching an agreement between these states and the modern Syrian opposition on the measures of politically building the new Syria. Only then would it be possible to classify the revolutionaries in accordance with their acceptance of the principles of democracy and their readiness to share power with others or their refusal to do that.

If we do not do that, and so long as the Americans are talking to the Iranians and then apologising, let us then expect an arrangement that will surprise us all. Let us remember that no hostility remains for ever and no friendship remains for ever. Interests are the ones that last.

Published originally in London Alhayat Newspaper on 11 October 2014.

]]> (Jamal Khashogji) Americas Sun, 12 Oct 2014 11:45:28 +0000
Al-Sisi's presence at the UN took it to a new low President Sisi at the UN General AssemblyOn the first four days of his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, the coup leader and President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, sat kicking his heels waiting to meet Barack Obama. On the fifth day, he was finally granted an audience with the American president. It was his first official visit as a controversial president and his legitimacy was clearly still open to question.

Obama wasn't alone among world leaders in showing a reluctance to meet Al-Sisi; indeed, only the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II showed any interest. Al-Sisi comforted himself with meeting some of America's legion of ex-officials, such as Henry Kissinger, one of the most prominent theorists and architects of US-Israel foreign policy. The former secretary of state is well-known for his support of the Israeli occupation and has reiterated several positions in favour of the Zionist state, as demonstrated in his bias against Egypt in the 1973 October War.

The Egyptian president also met with Madeleine Albright, another former US Secretary of State (1997-2001) who showed her shameful bias towards the Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising. She was merciless during the Gulf War when, in response to a question about the killing of 500,000 children due to US-led sanctions, she uttered her now infamous reply: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it." Al-Sisi also met with former US President Bill Clinton, and his wife Hillary, another former Secretary of State.

His speech at the UN General Assembly sparked a new round of ridicule against Al-Sisi on Facebook and Twitter, which mocked his linguistic errors and repetition of words and sentences. Despite it being more than a year since his coup which overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Sisi opened his UN speech by attacking the movement and criticising Morsi's year in office; the man appears to have an inferiority complex.

In a week which saw 11 Egyptians committing suicide due to financial difficulties, including a 48-year old man who hanged himself on a motorway billboard and an elderly man immolating himself in front of a government ministry, Al-Sisi spoke of his legitimacy and repeated his claim to represent all Egyptians. Some political analysts declared that this was one of the worst speeches ever to be given by an Egyptian leader at the General Assembly.

Nevertheless, the speech was duly applauded by the Egyptian loyalists accompanying their boss. According to the Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Nadia Mustafa, for the president's own entourage to applaud him was "unusual" protocol. Professor Mustafa added that the president's repetition of "I represent all Egyptians, I represent all Egyptians" suggests that "he knows that he only represents himself and the pro-coup people around him."

In stark contrast, in the 2012 General Assembly every delegate was waiting eagerly to listen to the then President Morsi, the first to be elected following the 25 January Revolution. Morsi did not feel the need to emphasise that he was the Egyptian president who represented all Egyptians, because he was there as President of Egypt.

Turkey's newly-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the UN for conferring legitimacy on Al-Sisi and the bloody coup which he led against a democratically-elected president by allowing him to speak at the General Assembly. "We should respect the choice of the people at the ballot box," said Erdogan. "If we want to support coups, then why does the UN even exist?" The international body, he added, should not recognise someone who came to power after killing thousands of his own citizens who took to the streets to demonstrate for their democratic rights.

Erdogan used the four-finger Rabaa sign in remembrance of and solidarity with the pro-democracy supporters who were killed in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya square on 14th August last year. "Those who stay silent about the massacre of children, innocent women and the overthrowing of democratically elected governments by force must share in the responsibility for those crimes," he insisted.

In his first US television interview since becoming president, Al-Sisi was quizzed by CBS presenter Charlie Rose about Egypt's position in the US-Arab coalition's fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and whether the Egyptian Air force will take part. Al-Sisi's immediate response was to smile and ask, "Do you even need the Egyptian Air Force?" Ross replied, "Yes, because the President would not like it to be Americans alone against Muslims." At this, the Egyptian president nodded his head and said, "True, true." Rose, still not getting a clear answer asked again if Egypt would support the strikes, and Al-Sisi laughed. "Give us the Apaches and the F16s that you have been suspending for over a year and a half now." This was a reference to the $1.3 billion annual military aid from the US which was halted after last summer's coup. Al-Sisi emphasised his support for the US air strikes, but reiterated that he expects a resumption of US military aid in return. "The coalition has been formed and we are part of this coalition," he said.

In interviews with the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine, Al-Sisi again pledged his support for the US-led war against ISIS. Asked if Egypt might provide airspace access or logistical support for airstrikes, he said: "We are completely committed to giving support. We will do whatever is required." In a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, Al-Sisi said that the US-led coalition should widen its campaign against extremism beyond Iraq, Syria and ISIS fighters, and fight other militant groups in the region.

Al-Sisi has cited terrorist threats in Libya, Sudan, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula as mirroring the danger posed to the Middle East and the West by ISIS. Speaking to the Associated Press, he insisted that the actions he took following his ouster of Morsi and the ferocious crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters were to combat militancy and save the country from civil war. He told AP that Egypt is a model for fighting terrorism and that the coalition fighting ISIS should take note.

Despite last month's Human Rights Watch Report which called on the UN to investigate Al-Sisi over the Rabaa massacre in Cairo in which over 1,000 people were killed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met the Egyptian leader in New York; he expressed his "concerns" regarding freedom in Egypt.

The former army general has received much international criticism since he ousted Egypt's first freely-elected president, and the massacres and barbarous crackdown thereafter. It appears that world leaders have still not warmed up to Al-Sisi. They did not rush to greet him at the UN and his speech struck a chord with his own delegation and few, if any, others. However, the fact that he was at the UN General Assembly meeting at all after the killing and torturing of thousands of Egyptian citizens degrades the world body; his presence took the UN to a new low.

]]> (Dr Walaa Ramadan) Americas Sat, 27 Sep 2014 15:35:31 +0000
America's interference in the fate of the Arab nations Mohammad Al-ShinqeetiI was recently visited by two American diplomats in Education City in Qatar who are interested in the political transformations in the Arab region. We had a long talk about the issues of religion, state, sectarianism, the Arab Spring, and the Arab-American relations.

I tried to explain to my two guests that today the region is facing two contradicting approaches to relations with America, despite the fact that those following either approach have strategic relations with the US. The first approach is making sure that the American interests are aligned with the interests of the nations, and it is followed by Qatar, Turkey, and most political forces seeking reform and change, including the democratic Islamist movements.

The second approach is making sure that the American interests are aligned with the interests of the leaders against their people, and is adopted by the counter-revolution states in the Arab world. It has also been adopted by Iran lately due to its efforts to reconcile with the US at any cost, given its need for power and errors of sectarianism.

The first approach was based on a moral and principle position and is founded on the deep understanding of the transformation experienced by the region since the Arab Spring. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the Arab Spring as "a natural flow of history", and this is an accurate description made by an individual who truly understands that what we are witnessing today is an irreversible historical transformation and any American hindrance will only raise the price paid by the people in the form of their blood or money, widen the gap between America and the people, America's loss of its tyrannical friends, and things will ultimately go in favour of the people.

The second approach is based on clinging onto the old saying by the leaders of international forces, "take care of us and we will keep you from the evil of our people. These people will continue to be hostile towards you, and you are better off if we continue to contain them; we are the containers and you are the leaders." This equation has been tried by the West and they have been working by it since their military colonisation ended and was replaced by political colonisation fed and protected by local hands. However, nowadays, this equation has become a thing of the past and has no place in the future.

The eruptive state of the Arab world cannot be contained by weak strategic equations now that the people and their dignity will no longer accept them, and now that they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their freedom, honour and status amongst the nations.

I ended my conversation with the American guests by saying that the US has to choose between the vision of the past based on dependency, which is a vision that has been surpassed by history, and between the vision of the future which is based on camaraderie, which will, in the long-term, serve its interests and ease its reconciliation with the Arab nations from the ocean to the Gulf and the fifth of the world's population who follow the religion of Islam.

Of course, I do not know if they received my message nor do I know how those two young American diplomats influence decision-making in America regarding the Arab countries, but the American war on the region under the pretext of eliminating the Islamic State (ISIS) is not an indication of the Americans changing their mind about the region.

What is clear is that something has attracted the Americans to militarily invade the region almost every decade, as this current war in late 2014 will be the third in the region within less than 25 years taking into account the second invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its first in 1991. If the same happens in the same conditions, then it would indicate that is has become a phenomenon and a steady state, as our physicists would say.

Unlike the American invasion of Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, which ended in the formulation of a new equation in which the two countries were entered in the world of free and booming nations and were liberated from the chauvinistic nationalism and patriotism that ignited WWII and made them close allies of America and the West, the American wars in the Arab region have always deepened the existing impasse and reinforced the reasons that originally led to war, thus ending in completely counterproductive results. These results neither preserve the American interests in the long run and save the Americans from new wars, nor do they impose some sort of viable balance in the region, instead filling it with destruction, desolation, blood and tears.

I wonder, what is the secret behind this huge gap between the fruits of the American wars in the Arab region, and the fruits of its wars in Germany and Japan?

Certainly, the reason is that America's wars on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were wars against the rulers and political elites and not wars against the people.

The Americans took the German and Japanese people into consideration while it fought their leaders. Despite the atrocities committed by America during the war, the ugliest of which was the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America did not seek to control the German and Japanese people after the military defeat, nor did the Americans want to keep them under tyranny or occupation or put them in a state of desperation that was charged with the spirit of revenge. Instead, the Americans helped both nations economically in order to reconstruct their countries and quickly recover from the plight of war, as well as helping them politically in order to establish a democratic system. The invading armies gave the two nations the freedom to choose their leaders and determine their own political fate.

As for the American wars in the Arab region, they are wars on the people, not their leaders, and therefore, the results were the exact opposite to the results of its wars on Germany and Japan. Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein ended up being hung, the Iraqi people are the ones who paid the price for the two American wars on Iraq. They endured a suffocating economic blockade that killed half a million innocent Iraqi children while the dictator remained in power after the first invasion. Then the Iraqi army was dissolved and chaos spread across the country after the second invasion. This was followed by the fragmentation of the Iraqi community and authority was put in the hands of sectarian forces driven by historical hatred that was more concerned with revenge and settling scores than reconciliation and reconstruction.

The Americans hung the man who persecuted the Shias and replaced him with a man who has permitted the bloodshed of the Sunnis. They also killed the man who used chemical weapons against the Kurds but he was replaced with a man who bombed the Sunnis with explosive barrels. Imagine, just for the sake of comparison, that America appointed a new chauvinistic dictator like Hitler after defeating Germany, but a ruler who works for the CIA, or that it appointed a Japanese military dictator that reports to the US Secretary of State, just as Al-Sisi does today. What would the reactions of the Germans and Japanese be? Would WWII have really ended?

The American wars in the Arab countries are endless because they are wars on the people, not the leaders, while its wars on Germany and Japan were wars on leaders, not people, and therefore, the wars ended smoothly and it was impossible to hold grudges once solid friendships were formed.

When the Arab Spring started, which was a popular revolution with purely internal demands and fair political aspirations, the people in these countries never antagonised anyone other than the dictators oppressing the people. However, America immediately enforced the strategy of obstruction and hindering, supporting the revolutions in words but fighting them in actions. It also mobilised all the forces it is associated with in the region in its war on the freedom of the Arab people, including the military officer that is a pawn in the hands of the US, the loyal dictator, the cosy scholar, the cowardly dervish and hypocritical media.

Even when the revolution was against a military official who opposed American policies, such as Gaddafi, America sought to replace him with Major General Khalifa Haftar, a man who openly admits he worked for the CIA for over two decades, as if the blood shed by the Libyans was merely a red carpet laid out for spies and those with no conscience.

The same could be said about Egypt, the revolution which America turned into a mere transfer of power from an old dictatorship loyal to America to a younger murderer who is even more loyal to the US at the expense of the Egyptian people's blood, money, hopes, dreams, dignity and the status of their state among the nations. America then sought to change the course of all the Arab revolutions in the region in which they have no replacement, such as Syria, into a hell and eternal war where there are no winners or losers. Now Sanaa has become another Arab Spring capital that has fallen under America's allies who pulled the plug on the Yemeni revolution before it completed its natural growth, throwing the pre-mature revolution into the hands of the Houthis and Iran.

Despite the ugliness and ignorance of the Russian position regarding the Arab Spring, it was still easier for the Arab revolutions to endure the American position. America's words contradict its actions while dealing with the revolutions of the Arab people. Meanwhile, Russia's arrogance has saved it from hypocrisy, and it openly declared its position against the freedom of the Arab people.

Thus, the Arab peoples rebelling against injustice and tyranny are facing an obvious enemy in Russia and a disguised enemy in America, and it is the disguised enemy that is the most dangerous because of its influence, ability to manoeuvre and use of internal tools. Therefore, the American investment in the Egyptian army led to bloodshed and burned bodies in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square and its mosque and killed the dream of the free Egyptian people and its youth, just as Khalifa Haftar's relationship with the CIA led to the destruction of Libya, the bloodshed of its people, and the depletion of its revolution and wealth.

As for Syria, the US adopted the Israeli vision that was explicitly expressed by the American strategic thinker with a passion for Zionism, Edward Luttwak. On August 24, 2013, he published an article in The New York Times entitled "In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins", in which he says: "At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests."

He ended his article with a piece of advice to the American decision-makers, saying: "And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr Assad's forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning."

The upcoming American war on ISIS will not deviate from this evil equation, and will only seek to complete the counter-revolution cycle through Damascus, thus depriving the Syrian people from reaping the fruits of their enormous sacrifices for the sake of freedom and human dignity.

ISIS is only one superficial symptom out of all the deep structural disease that plagues the Arab society. This disease is political despotism and its international backing. The core of the issue is not the ability to destroy an insignificant group like ISIS that may fade after a few days of American bombing, just as Al-Qaeda faded in the Islamic Maghreb after being bombed by the French. The core of the issue is for America to lift its hands from the region and stop toying with the fate of its people and controlling its strategic decisions. It must accept a relationship of camaraderie with the Arabs rather than a relationship of dependency which are prevalent today, and that way, the Arab societies bursting with hope and vitality can get rid of tyranny, overcome its chronic structural contradictions, and achieve dignity and prestige for itself among the nations of the world.

It is not true that America is unable to do anything to tip the balances in favour of liberty over tyranny. The Arab countries are competing to join the American campaign against ISIS and this reveals the extent to which America's options are dependent on the region and the depth of the American strategic penetration into the region.

The truth is that America can do a lot in the region, and it is doing a lot, both directly and indirectly, but it chose the morally and strategically wrong choice. It chose to continue to toy with the fate of Arab and Islamic peoples, hit the Arab and Muslims' points of physical and moral strength, and deprive them from the two most important shields for sovereignty in modern nations, i.e. liberty and arms.

For its evil equation, America uses Arab politicians who still believe in the logic of leaders of caravans and 19th Century ideas of colonialism. They are like "a groups of pirates and bandits intercepting colonial caravans in their countries and offering them their services", as described by Dr Azmi Bishara in his recent article published in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.

The United States can continue to tamper with the fate of our people through its military intervention every decade or so, it can hinder the Arab Spring for a few years and force our people to pay a heavy price for it in the form of their blood and money, and achieve some situational and deceptive tactical gains from all of this, but its selective policies that lack any sense of morals or humanity will have painful consequences sooner or later. America will not be spared from the effects of the Arab volcano, and its hands will be burned by the fire it continues to fuel in our countries every day.

At the end of the day, America will not be able to stop "the natural flow of history" as described by Ahmet Davutoglu, nor can it control the volcanic state reached by the Arab societies.

As for the Arab leaders of the counter-revolution who are in America's orbit, they will remain ignorant until they pay the price for their political selfishness and failure to take into consideration the consequences of their actions. They have severed all religious, national and human ties, and their wishful thinking for America had led them to betray the people of Syria and Libya and plot against the Yemeni people.

In his book Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11, American journalist Thomas Friedman describes America's relationship with the Arab oil producing countries, saying that it treats these countries as if they are "a big gas station to be pumped and defended but never to be taken seriously as a society".

This is an accurate description, but a new development has occurred recently; America began to burn the big gas station after it replaced their oil with shale oil. America will become the largest shale oil producer in the world in 2017. Everything America is doing today is aiming to quickly drain and waste the oil and gas of the Arab states before it is eaten by the flames.

The kings of sectarianism and leaders of the caravans cannot see the fire surrounding them from all sides and they will not see it until after it hits them and engulfs their tents. Will the Arab people remain silent in the face of these injustices, or will they revolt against their leaders who America is using as gloves to wear on their hands while they mess with the fate of the people?

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 23 September, 2014

]]> (Mohammad Al-Shinqeeti) Americas Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:05:55 +0000
You can't take terrorism away from the terrorist Abdul Sattar QassemNowadays, America is intensifying its efforts for what it calls combatting terrorism. It is working very hard to establish an international coalition consisting mainly of Arab countries to combat terrorism, especially the Islamic State organisation (ISIS).

It is apparent that America is speaking against terrorism extensively and is making many accusations against others of being terrorists, as if it is far from it; as if it has nothing to do with the spread of terrorism on a global level and always acts like a trustee for the world. America is continuously issuing decisions classifying others and describing them as either terrorists or supports of terrorism, and through its actions, America is sending the world a message that it is the innocent party and that the others are criminals.

The definition of terrorism

There has been a long debate over the definition of terrorism in the international arena, and America had always tried to determine the definition, refusing to hold an international conference to reach an internationally accepted explanation. Arab countries, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Syria during the rule of Hafez Al-Assad, tried to push for holding such a conference, but America always refused, fearing that the definition would include the behaviour of other countries, mainly Israel.

America wanted to monopolise the definition of terrorism in order to remain in possession of the dominant political opinion in the world, refusing to discuss a scientific definition of the term. Therefore, internal American institutions, such as the State Department, Department of Defence, and the White House determined their own definitions, focusing on terrorism being a violent act committed by armed organisations in order to achieve political objectives.

The US' definitions reflect the American perspective, which basically antagonises all liberation movements in the world, and seems to also antagonise the freedoms of nations and individuals. It usually resorts to political and philosophical grounds in order to justify this hostility, which quickly turns into armed action and wars.

Liberation movements constitute a legitimate target for America's financial, military, security, and political attacks, and the definition of terrorism needed to be formulated based on American policies, as well as the policies of its supporters, both European and Arab. Therefore, the American definition is rejected and does not address or resolve the problem of terrorism in the international arena.

Terrorism is any violent or nonviolent act committed, either directly or indirectly, by a force that would deprive others of their rights or prevent them from obtaining their rights. Force is an essential element in this definition, but it does not have to be used directly in order to inflict physical or direct harm. It could be used to threaten, intimidate, impose economic or financial sanctions, or create an atmosphere of psychological fear that is in one way or another deterrent, with the ultimate goal of seizing the rights of others by controlling them, deprivation, or preventing them from taking the necessary steps to obtain their rights.

This definition excludes all actions that can be carried out by organisations or countries in order to restore rights that have been violated or riches that have been looted. Also, those defending themselves and protecting their rights have every right, while those who violate the rights and freedoms of others do not have the right to take such actions.

Based on this definition, colonialism is considered terrorism and the traditional colonial powers have violently colonised nations and looted their wealth, and continue to do so in a variety of creative means. The US is the greatest source of terrorism in the world because it acts as a bullying and thuggish official carrying its weapon on its back and causing death here and there without any sense of responsibility.

The United States represents the largest extent of Western colonialism in the form of cultural and intellectual control over nations and by using military and economic weapons against those who do not want to offer loyalty and obedience to it. The actions of the United States confirm that it is a Nazi state making silky humanitarian statements.

Hitler wanted to dominate the world using the force of arms and force the superiority of the Aryan race over the entire world, and the United States is doing no less in this regard, except that its military appetite is less than that of Nazi Germany.

America went to Vietnam for no apparent reason and it killed people, destroyed homes, and burned trees and stones. Then it headed to Afghanistan and wreaked havoc, its actions resulting in the spread of jihadist Islamic organisations everywhere, and the reason it went to Iraq ended up backfiring.

Did the jihadist organisations - labelled as terrorist organisations - just emerge automatically or as a reaction, or did someone create, fund and arm them? History will answer this question, and the United States is in the defendant's dock now. Who else created incitement amongst the Sunnis and Shias in the Arab and Islamic world and created a suitable environment for mass murder and crime other than the United States and its Arab agents?

Tyranny is terrorism

Based on this definition, political tyranny is terrorism because it uses forces against citizens in order to repress, extort and prevent them from expressing themselves and choosing the governing system as they see fit. Tyranny uses force, the force of its security agencies, to oppress people, terrorise them and strip them of their rights. Most Arab governments fall within this category.

The Arab governments have spread corruption, tyranny, defeat and humiliation in various parts of the Arab world, making the Arab states violated areas and their wealth looted. Even now, after all the suffering the Arabs are going through, the majority of Arab governing systems still do not recognise the freedom of their people, nor do they value their rights, and the peoples' wealth is being squandered on the gambling tables.

Tyranny is the embodiment of injustice and injustice generates a reaction that gradually develops into violence, and of course, injustice breeds oppression, and oppression breeds vengeance, and there is no stronger expression of vengeance than bearing arms. The Arab regimes have oppressed the people so much that civil wars have ignited, and these wars are still coming to the Arab countries in which people still haven't fought yet.

But, who sponsored these oppressive Arab governments and supported and encouraged them? It was the colonial powers, particularly the United States. The US is the sponsor of Arab oppression, and it provided all the support to the Arab security agencies in order for them to be able to continue to repress the people and keep them under control.

America has violated our countries, ignited strife within them, and recruited many of our children to serve it and the tyrannical regimes under the pretext of democracy and human rights. Given that I am a Palestinian, I see American's policies take shape every day, as they oppress and disregard the rights of the Palestinians, carried out by Palestinians who loudly voice nationalist slogans.

Before its temporary military withdrawal from the Arab countries, the Western colonial powers entrusted the task of controlling the Arab peoples to agents that follow their orders, while the colonial powers monitor and supervise them from afar. The colonial powers found that the best way to keep the Arab peoples fragmented and weak is by appointing ignorant weak rulers who are influenced by their own interests and the interests of their tribes and put them before the interests of the Arab nation.

In the eyes of the colonial powers, the Arabs must be kept weak and marginalised so they do not rise and rebuild their civilisation and then pose strong competition to the Western civilisation. The West has been so successful in this that it even reached the point that the Arab rulers were not satisfied with merely fragmenting the Arabs into tribal fiefdoms, but they also took measures to hit the national unity within every Arab country in cooperation with the Western colonial powers. Thus, the hopes for Arab unity have been crushed and now all the Arabs hope for is that a single city or village remains unified.

The Sykes-Picot agreement fragmented Arab countries, such as Syria and Iraq, but the Arab dictators tore them apart and continue to provoke internal strife by failing to acknowledge the Arabs' right to freedom and dignity.

Terrorism is necessary in order to keep the Arab individual terrified, cowardly, and afraid for their livelihood. Therefore, it was necessary to utilise huge budgets for the Arab security agencies in order for them to commit heinous acts against the Arab citizens. Israel also had to be supported in order for it to remain the greatest power in the Arab and Islamic region and in order to spread terror everywhere. Hence, the formation of the Arab-Israeli alliance was inevitable in order for the terrorist forces in the region to join forces. If I had to explain the reasons for the emergence of jihadist organisations in the region, I find that the Arabs' defeats at the hands of Israel the greatest generator of such organisations.

The terrorism state

Since the 1970s, America has been trying to keep accusations of terrorism away from Israel, and this is perhaps the primary reason behind America's refusal to discuss a universal definition of terrorism. America strongly suggested strange religious interpretations were behind the provocation of internal strife, especially amongst the ranks of Sunni Muslims, and therefore, it is not unusual for there to be Sunni jihadist organisations described as terrorists.

Arab countries have cooperated with the United States and promoted demonic religious ideas, causing Islam to be viewed by many nations in the world as a bloody and misguided religion. Instead of Islam being a key factor in unifying the nation, it has, in some cases, become a factor causing fragmentation.

Israel is the biggest den for terrorism in the world, and if it weren't for its existence, none of these wars in the Arab and Islamic region would have broken out, nor would there have been bloodshed, destroyed homes and perished souls. Israel is operating under the sponsorship and support of the United States.

Why are the Palestinian people still living in refugee camps under harsh conditions? Why does Gaza remain under siege? Why are some of the Palestinian people still under occupation? The reason for all of this is Israel and those who support it in the East and the West.

Occupation in itself is terrorism, and America, as well as several Arab regimes, provides various types and forms of support to the occupation. Israel's actions on many levels, including its prevention of the Palestinians from moving freely, to depriving them of their rights to water, construction and reconstruction, are all classified as terrorism.

If the world wants to combat terrorism and eliminate the presence of terrorist parties in the region, it must first start with Israel, followed by the Arab regimes loyal to Israel.

America, along with those participating in its most recent terrorist campaign, all have the wrong address and the wrong target. Israel is the first address for terrorism and such terrorism wouldn't be able to go on if it weren't for the support of America. Would America begin with combatting itself and its protégé before addressing ISIS and the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups?

There are Arab and Islamic countries in the region now looking for American support to confront the organisations classified as terrorist organisations, and to these countries I say that you are replacing one form of terrorism with another more severe form of terrorism; it is like wanting to forcefully get rid of one criminal by using the master of all criminals. I also say to these countries: Stop. America is not an assistant or a helper, it is dependent and a burden, and those who support terrorism will not eliminate it.

If the Arab countries are going to get rid of terrorism, they must first recognise the freedom of Arab citizens and change their political situations as required by such recognition. Secondly, they must stop supporting Israel which will never stop igniting sedition and wars.

Translated from Al-Jazeera net, September 22, 2014

]]> (Abdul Sattar Qassem) Americas Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:18:45 +0000
Obama's strategy solidifies Arab chaos Ahmed Al-GaoudFor the past two weeks the international media has focused on a speech given by US President Barack Obama about his strategy for tackling ISIS. The so-called Islamic State has been expanding at an alarming rate and now poses a threat to many of the Middle East's unstable regimes especially its kingdoms. In reality, Obama's speech did not introduce anything new or address new ways on how best to counter the increasing threat that ISIS poses to the region.

The speech was based largely on intelligence and information that aims to emphasise the use of certain media-speak for this issue and the jargon centres on the idea of terrorism. The use of such terminology is hardly a matter that preoccupies the minds of the people but greatly concerns intelligence agencies that function within the orbit of American hegemony.

Obama wanted to point out that the policies and practices of Arab dictatorships and regimes are the main reason for the presence and export of terrorism in the Middle East. As such, one can conclude that terrorism is actually a defence mechanism or attempt to survive. Many Arab regimes have provided logistical support or statistical information in the war against ISIS. While this is supposed to be led by the United States, the Arab states participate at a distance, among them Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates; all are contributing to the fight through providing funds or soldiers on the ground.

The US president failed to mention the problem that gave rise to the creation of ISIS in the first place; the violent practices carried out by Arab dictatorships are far worse than ISIS in their effects on their own people. In Iraq, it was the sectarian and racist government led by Nouri Al-Maliki that allowed ISIS to prosper. Maliki's government has used barbaric violence and state terrorism to respond to the demands of the Iraqi people, not to mention the marginalisation of the Sunni population. Moreover, ISIS found fertile ground in Syria due to the military response of Bashar Al-Assad to demonstrations calling for political reform and the subsequent nationwide conflict, in which crimes against humanity have been committed by regime security forces. One must also note that the unfortunate situation found in both Iraq and Syria is in part due to the counter-revolutionary efforts sponsored by the Gulf's largest countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both have worked tirelessly to counter the popular "Arab Spring", which has led to an unprecedented level of violence that many characterise as terrorism.

America's strategy against ISIS includes conducting a series of airstrikes whilst training Iraqi forces and what the American president described as "moderate" fighters in Syria. In this way, the US administration seeks to equip regional forces with the ability to fight ISIS because any air war must be coupled with "boots on the ground" to achieve the ultimate objectives.

Obama mentioned that the war against ISIS would follow America's anti-Al Qaeda tactics in Somalia and Yemen. In both countries the US is using drones, which kill more innocent people than the actual intended targets. Both examples demonstrate how the US has ignored Arab sovereignty and that this approach will not only prolong war and conflict, but also cause more harm than good for the people of the Middle East.

Although the president spoke of training and providing support for the moderate forces that are fighting against the Syrian regime, he failed to explain why the US has stayed more or less silent while Assad continues to commit war crimes. The only time that America broke its silence was when the regime used chemical weapons against its own people. Washington was forced to speak out due to fears for the safety of its Israeli ally. It is America's silence and inaction which have caused Syria to become fertile ground for armed terrorist groups.

Sadly, Obama's speech did not suggest anything new to deal with the current crisis in the Middle East. His US-led international coalition against ISIS will ensure continued chaos in the region; this is evident by the fact that America and the international community failed to do anything about the chaos until it began to affect western interests, such as the supply of oil and Israel's security. Western priorities have been made clear by the treatment of the revolutions in Syria and Libya as well as the popular struggle against the sectarian regime in Iraq.

]]> (Ahmed Al-Gaoud) Americas Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:26:15 +0000
America goes to war against ISIL in Syria – An alliance of convenience or prelude to regime change? Catherine ShakdamAs US President Barack Obama announced late on Wednesday that the Pentagon had sanctioned air strikes in Syria in view of opposing and destroying terror militants before they can further encroached themselves onto the region, analysts have weighted whether or not such military intervention will prelude an alliance of convenience with Damascus or rather serve as a platform to the ousting of President Bashar Al Assad.

In an address to the nation President Obama made clear that he would hunt down and strike Islamic terror elements wherever they are and at whatever cost, and as it may soon prove to be regardless of international law.

"Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) through a comprehensive and sustained air strikes strategy," stressed President Obama, outlining the core of America's new counter-terror strategy for Iraq and Syria.

While US military intervention in Iraq has been understood and sold to the public as part of Washington's follow-through policy, the expression of its continuing support to Iraq's democratic project, airstrikes in Syria could prove counter-productive to Obama's efforts against the Syrian regime; unless of course such attacks will not be limited to ISIL's hideouts.

Or could it be that three years after the US branded President Al Assad a tyrant, effectively calling for his demise; the danger represented by ISIL will force self-declared enemies into natural allies? As far as history goes, it would not be the first time that sworn foes chose out of necessity to join up arms before a greater evil – Staline after all helped the Allies break Adolf Hitler's reign of terror back in 1941. Without Communist Russia's intervention, Europe might look very different indeed.

Washington's position on Syria

From the onset of the Arab Spring Movement in 2011, the United States has positioned itself in favour of a regime change in Syria, arguing that President Al Assad had lost all legitimacy due to his tyrannical rule. This statement of support to the Syrian Opposition preluded an active campaign against Damascus at the United Nations. Within months Al Assad found himself isolated, scorned and besieged by a barrage of sanctions. As Washington spearheaded a global anti-Assad campaign, millions of dollars were thrown at the Syrian Opposition.

On the ground, this campaign translated in the arming of Islamist militias, the "moderates" President Obama has often referred to when justifying the unprecedented outpour of heavy weapons and other military equipment into Syria.

US support arguably contributed to the strengthening of terror radical cells in the region and not as planned, to the fall of President Al Assad. If anything the anti-Assad campaign not only gave birth to a grand radicalization movement, it also generated sectarian and social fractures, directly playing up to regional fault-lines.

Looking back Washington's campaign in Syria completely missed its marks. Many have actually argued that it was precisely Obama's blunder in Syria which gave rise to ISIL.

Calls from US regional allies (mainly Saudi Arabia) for Jihad against President Bashar Al Assad led to the pouring of western wannabe jihadists into the arms of the most radical Islamic groups the world has ever encountered.

As Washington' Syrian strategy backfired in the most spectacular and destructive manner possible, US officials were forced to rethink their strategy and opt for an alternative path.

The enemy of my enemy ...

However profoundly opposed to Al Assad the US might claim to be, political analysts and military strategists have argued that only through an alliance of nations, of all nations for that matter, would the war on terror prove effective against the likes of IS and Al Qaeda in the greater Levant.

Back in August, Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations made the case of an alliance with Damascus, stressing such plan made sense from an objective strategic standpoint. Max Abrahms, a Northeastern University professor and terrorism analyst also concurred to such assessment, noting, "I think there may be an opportunity for the US to work with Assad against ISIL."

Dr Haytham Mouzahem, Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies quoted, "As Winston Churchill said during World War II: "If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons,"" to put this new American-Syrian conundrum into perspective.

But if objectivity, necessity and realism make the case of an alliance in between Damascus and Washington, in which category does President Obama's new Syrian campaign fall into – with or against? It could well be neither ...

The lone ranger

While Syrian Prime Minister Walid Al Moualem said back in late August that his government would remain, "ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror," the idea of a unilateral decision on the part of the US to bomb Syria was never part of the plan.

It is crucial to understand that it is America's desire to by-pass international law and disregard Syria' national sovereignty which stands at the core of Damascus' rejection of a foreign military move against terror militants on its soil.

Within hours of Obama's address to the nation, Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, Ali Haidar, warned that any US military strike on Syria would be understood as an act of war against the Syrian people.

But Syria is not alone in contesting the legitimacy of Obama's decision to strike unilaterally, regardless of his intentions. Speaking to RT on Friday, retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Kwiatkowski explained that Washington's lone ranger callous attitude toward international law would only sow confusion and fan anti-US sentiment in the region. "Mr Obama wishes to continue the type of strategy which did not work in Iraq and Afghanistan," she noted.

Reading into the lines of President Obama' speech, Iran understood Washington's new Syrian anti-terror campaign as a covert mean to oust President Al Assad and push America's covert imperialistic agenda forth.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed doubts toward Obama's new strategy against ISIL, warning that any lack of cohesion against terror would only help strengthen the monster rather than defeat it.

If President Obama made his target known, ISIL, the delivery of his speech and the expression of America's new strategy against terror has left somewhat to be desired especially since it has failed to address some unavoidable ground realities.

While Vali Nasr - a member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board - assessed in an interview with The Levant News in July, "Western powers will not support Assad in destroying terror but there could be a situation where western powers will support political negotiations for the resolution of the conflict in Syria that as a result of it would have two casualties - one ISIS the other one President Al Assad himself;" could it not be that it is US pride and not strategic thinking which is getting in the way of the war on terror?

]]> (Catherine Shakdam) Americas Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:47:51 +0000
Will Obama's intervention against ISIS actually work? Ever since ISIS militants seized control of Mosul, Iraq's second city, America and its allies in the west have struggled to come up with a coherent strategy to counter the group. Even as ISIS took control of ever-greater swaths of land, and declared a new Caliphate that stretched across the border between Syria and Iraq, the US was slow to respond. Eventually, as images of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar reached the world, limited airstrikes began and western powers began to arm the Kurds. Reluctant to return to war in Iraq, after staking his foreign policy on ending expensive and unpopular wars, President Barack Obama has thus far failed to outline a longer-term strategy for countering ISIS. The issue has become ever more pressing over the last few weeks, following the high profile murder of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, by ISIS.

That reticence changed on Wednesday, 10 September, when Obama gave a speech outlining his plan and struck an unusually interventionist tone. Describing American leadership as "the one constant in an uncertain world", he announced an open-ended bombing campaign against militants that will – crucially – extend into Syria for the first time. The US has already launched around 150 strikes against ISIS over the past month, but only on the Iraqi side of the border, meaning that the group could move easily to safe havens on the Syrian side. "I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," he said. "That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL [sic] in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

Obama added that airstrikes were a necessary counter-terrorism measure to prevent the group from becoming a future threat to the US and that it did not require fresh congressional approval. The Pentagon is currently identifying suitable ISIS targets in Syria. The US will also send a further 475 troops to Iraq, where they will help to identify further airstrike targets. To-date, Obama has been reluctant to extend the bombing campaign into Syria, because Congress refused to grant permission for airstrikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces last year and the president did not want to suffer a second defeat. He is expected to get overwhelming congressional support for separate authorisation to provide military support to moderate Syrian rebels.

The speech came a year to the day after the TV address in which Obama declared that he would not launch strikes against Assad in Syria: "I've spent four-and-a-half years working to end wars, not to start them," he said at the time. This points to one of the reasons that Obama has been reluctant to take further action against ISIS; he does not want to look like he is resuming the war in Iraq, or getting involved in another protracted and costly Middle Eastern conflict. However, the campaign in Syria will, whether the White House likes it or not, insert America into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war. At this stage, the limited campaign of airstrikes in Iraq – around five a day for the past month – and the presence of more than 1,100 troops and "advisers" are being portrayed as an attempt to defend US interests in the country.

Nevertheless, the incredibly quick advance of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has forced Obama's hand. Although the US public is war-weary, this tough new foreign policy is expected to boost the Democrats' chances in the mid-term elections coming up in November. The White House hopes that the US public will support the strategy as long as it risks few American lives and shows signs of progress.

Of course, the strategy is not without problems; the key issue being whether it will be effective. "Our ultimate goal is to destroy the organisation," said Obama. While some have argued that this is simply the latest stage in the protracted US war in Iraq, fighting a non-state actor requires a different strategy to a war against a regime. In his speech, Obama said that the campaign would be akin to those against extremists in Yemen and Somalia. In both countries, the US has attacked local Islamist militants with drones, cruise missiles and special-operations raids. However, the comparison is not necessarily one that works in Obama's favour, since neither campaign has improved the stability of either country, nor wiped out the terrorist threat. The New York Times reports that the Pentagon predicts involvement for three years; others suggest it could be far longer.

Strong action was demanded, both domestically after the murders of Foley and Sotloff, and in the region, as the Iraqi army is clearly not up to the task of fighting ISIS. The question now must be: will it work?

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:30:40 +0000
Washington didn't know about Libya air strikes! Come off it Alastair SloanDid the bomber pilots of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt really act without Washington's consent when they bombed Libya? It's extremely unlikely.

The Americans have a clear motive to lie, as they have done so brazenly. A joint statement signed by Washington (and Paris and Berlin and Rome and London, all nations which vigorously back both the military president in Egypt and the absolute monarchs of the United Arab Emirates) worried that "outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya's democratic transition".

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told the press immediately on hearing of the strikes: "We understand there were airstrikes undertaken in recent days by the UAE and Egypt."

The department later back-tracked, with the same spokeswoman saying the information she had was "inaccurate", and that her comments were intended to "refer to countries that have been reportedly involved and not to speak to whether they were involved or their kind of involvement". A Freudian slip followed by a backtrack worthy of a nation with no visible strategy in the Middle East.

Even eminent outlets such as the New York Times (to be expected), the Guardian (unfortunate as I also write for them, though not on Middle Eastern matters) and the BBC (blame it on the cuts) think otherwise. The Guardian has even produced an animated presentation explaining these sorties as a temper tantrum from the Gulf States, unimpressed by Barack Obama and his Shia-loving ways and concessions to naughty nuclear Iran.

Never mind that the UAE are delighted that de-sanctioned trade routes across the Straits of Hormuz are now ripe for exploitation, or that Riyadh has just entertained a senior official from Tehran to discuss fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq.

The faux surprise of course came from that most reliable of sources: Mr Anonymous Official of the US State Department who briefed the New York Times with the official version of events. Egypt continues to deny their hand in the strikes, and the Emiratis are yet to grace us with a response.

Let's remember, the Bin Zayeds are extremely good friends of America. So extreme that it's highly unlikely they'd have taken a risky punt in a no-fly zone policed by NATO (albeit a no-fly zone that has at times resembled an Emmental cheese just past its sell-by date). Sources close to the Riyadh government whisper that they were in full accord with the two sorties.

Riyadh's consent makes sense – given Riyadh, Abu Dhabi (and the whiny Al-Khalifas in Bahrain) are currently engaged in a shouting match with Qatar over their support for Islamic extremists, the exact kind of Islamic extremists who Egyptian and Emirati pilots had in their cross-hairs. Also given very little gets done in the Gulf Cooperation Council without Riyadh's consent.

Last year, American Congress approved the sale of an estimated $5 billion worth of Lockheed Martin hardware to Abu Dhabi, in the form of 25 F-16 Block 60 fighters. According to press reports at the time, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates were also in line for "advanced standoff weapons" - gunspeak for high-tech and highly explosive missiles. The munitions, which also included "bunker-busting" bombs, brought the total deal to close to $10 billion. Abu Dhabi is entrusted with the big guns.

The Pentagon reportedly consulted with Congress - and may have laid out the obvious strategic advantage of having two Middle Eastern states, both with a vigorous taste for combating Islamic extremism and with a long-standing relationship with the United States - armed so ferociously. The United Arab Emirates also has a US manufactured missile defence system, comparable to the "Iron Dome" in Israel, which was sold to them by Pentagon-endorsed American defence companies.

Then in January, Abu Dhabi media reported even closer ties: "UAE troops could soon be trained in counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, infrastructure protection and national defence by the US Marine Corps." Reporters cited a request to Congress from the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency for $150 million.

During the conflict in Afghanistan, the UAE's Special Forces were the only Arab personnel to undertake full-scale operations alongside American troops. In Libya in 2011 – the UAE deployed a dozen fighter jets for combat missions under NATO command. In Somalia in 1992, the UAE fought under US Central Command to "secure the environment and provide humanitarian relief". Naval personnel are also involved with ongoing anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. In the Bosnia-Kosovo conflict, the UAE was among the first non-NATO states to express support for NATO's air operations. The UAE then participated in peacekeeping operations. And, in the first Gulf war, the UAE was again eager to express support for the American-led liberation of Kuwait.

Abu Dhabi has also become Washington's partner of choice for their Global Counterterrorism Forum – a network of nations primed to fight Islamic extremism and terrorist attacks (it appears not to be going well).

Announced just after the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, the initiative has seen American trainers working with the European Union and 29 other countries, including 11 Muslim nations, to co-ordinate and share resources for fighting Islamic extremism. That's the exact kind of Islamic extremism that the recent raids on Libya were designed to beat back.

Abu Dhabi has become the de facto operations centre for the forum, headquartered at the Global Centre for Excellence in Countering Violent Extremism. Upon its inauguration, attended by US State Department dignitaries, the lead spokesperson on Washington's side said that Abu Dhabi had been chosen because "the US and Abu Dhabi have a very good working relationship. Both recognise the threat posed to people around the world, and it is a matter of a country stepping up and saying this is important and wanting to play a key role."

What about Egypt? They've been hinting at a Libyan excursion for weeks, especially given the Islamic extremists are so close and present a far more perilous threat than the amateurish and otherwise engaged Hamas, who Al-Sisi also seems intent to destroy.

Of course Al-Sisi wouldn't wish to jeopardise his supply of American teargas and other more deadly munitions, in case Egyptians realise they've been duped into military rule and rise up. Nor would he wish to endanger the billions in American aid which, along with Gulf funding, is shoring up an exhausted post-revolution economy. Washington is even prepared to let that military coup slide – unlocking half a billion dollars in military aid a couple of months ago. So again, stepping out of line, going behind Washington's back, asserting their independence, or whichever other cliché of reportage the Western commentariat care to employ, would be somewhat surprising.

The American viewing public is captivated by TV reports about the Islamic State in Iraq. Chaos in Libya, in no small part due to American meddling, is for the moment lower down the agenda. This is useful for Obama, especially as his bombers are slamming targets around precious Kurdistan (forget the other genocide-threatened minorities of Iraq, they're not sitting on enough oil).

A direct American incursion into Libya would have been an unhelpful reminder of what can go wrong when America tries to bomb Islamic extremists into submission. The hangover from the horrific killing of an American ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 is still keenly felt. And who wants to fight a war on two fronts these days?

Reaching out to well-armed friends in the Gulf to do the dirty work, then denying American pre-meditation and involvement, provides a plausibly deniable response to the success of violent radical "Islam" in Libya. Obama may at times seem listless and unsure in the Middle East, staggering from crisis to crisis like a drunk old general with an unloaded gun and a nervous stutter, but in one way he is smarter than Bush. "W" was stupid enough to go public with his wars – but Obama now cloaks his dagger in the language of drones and "regional partners". A pity he won't just admit it. Although to be fair – the ever consistent US State Department has now admitted, they did know about the strikes, but said they were a bad idea.

Yeah right.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:03:52 +0000
Obama's difficult balancing act in Iraq Man waving ISIS logoThe militant group ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) controls a huge swathe of territory straddling Iraq and Syria. The human rights abuses they have committed have sparked an international outcry; each day brings a new horror story. Earlier this month, the group released a video showing the American journalist James Foley being beheaded. They have said that unless the US stops its airstrikes, a second kidnapped journalist, Steven Sotloff, will meet the same fate.

Of course, the US has not met the demand. But the incident has highlighted the difficult position for policy makers in America. There is little appetite in Washington for a return to boots on the ground, just a few years after the last troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Yet following the murder of Foley, President Barack Obama has been under immense pressure to deal with ISIS. Some have speculated that he plans to increase airstrikes, possibly into Syria.

In a speech on Thursday 28 August, Obama attempted to defuse this speculation, saying: "I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet. I think what I've seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at than we currently are."

Predictably, Obama has been pilloried by the Republicans for saying that he does not have a strategy. On Twitter soon afterwards, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said: "In his remarks today, [Obama] was explicit – as he has been in the past – about the comprehensive strategy we'll use to confront [ISIS] threat." He added on CNN later in the day that Obama "was referring to military options for striking [ISIS] in Syria."

So what, if anything, is the US strategy, overall? In his speech, Obama continued that his top priority was rolling back ISIS's gains in Iraq, where the group poses a threat to US personnel in Erbil and Baghdad. "Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected,'' he said.

But, of course, it is impossible to tackle ISIS in Iraq without tackling it in Syria. It was territorial gains in Syria that allowed the group to gather sufficient power to seize swathes of Iraq. Its self-proclaimed caliphate has not been acknowledged internationally as a new country – but if nothing else, it is an area where ISIS can operate with impunity, which means that regardless of its legal status, it is important for any military strategy. The American National Security Council is reportedly working on a plan to tackle the group in both Iraq and Syria.

Obama is considering extending airstrikes against ISIS to Syria, but knows that it might be difficult to get congressional approval. Last year, Congress voted against plans to intervene in Syria. While the situation in Iraq is seen as relatively clear-cut because of the immediate threat to American citizens in the country, and because a stable government in Iraq is a key foreign policy priority, the situation in Syria – wracked by three years of civil war – is seen as more complex. Bombing ISIS would help President Bashar al-Assad – and the US has called for his removal. Both Democrats and some Republicans are cautious about supporting a new American military enterprise in the Middle East.

It's a difficult area for Obama and his own administration; as the New York Times puts it, "the White House is also wresting with how to define the president's war-making authority in a way that does not undermine his claim last year that he had finally taken the United States off a permanent war footing."

Of course, the murder of Foley – an American citizen – means that there is political momentum behind the idea of further US action. But it remains a difficult balancing act for Obama; the most likely outcome is narrow military action, ruling out ground troops and placing a time limit on the operation. Whether this is sufficient to tackle ISIS, or whether the US becomes further embroiled in this Middle Eastern war remains to be seen.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:35:07 +0000
Enough is enough! CNN must drop Wolf Blitzer and Michael Oren Why is CNN employing pro-Israel lobbyists and government spokespeople during an Israeli massacre in Gaza?

When CNN's West Bank-based reporters, Ivan Watson and Kareem Khader, bravely reported this 15 May story of the videotaped killing of two unarmed Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers, it seemed as though a major breakthrough had taken place.

In spite of years of pro-Israel bias at CNN and most other major US media outlets, the reporters aired the segment showing the killings of Nadeem Nawara and Mohamed Daher – and the Israeli soldier shooting them – as they walked about idly following an unarmed demonstration. The final report included additional footage obtained from security cameras by a local NGO, with commentary gleaned from Palestinian medical staff who operated unsuccessfully on the boys and a heartfelt interview with one of the boys' fathers.

But despite the overwhelming evidence that the boys had been murdered on camera, pro-Israel pundits issued their knee-jerk response of spreading conspiracy theories. Like the killing of another Palestinian boy over a decade ago by Israeli soldiers, according to reporters and eyewitnesses, the response from Israeli officials and pro-Israel conspiracy theorists ranges from blaming shadowy Palestinian militants for killing their own people, to denying that the boys are even dead. Normally, such asinine extremism is restricted to internet blogs or the propaganda claims of the Israeli military – but not at CNN.

Immediately following the Watson-Khader report, CNN's pro-Israel lobbyist-turned-news-anchor, Wolf Blitzer, decided that the most appropriate way to cover the story was by asking former Israeli military spokesman-turned-CNN-contributor Michael Oren to give his "expert" opinion. Oren, like the conspiracy theorists, argued that the boys might not be dead. He even goes on to mimic a classic JFK assassination conspiracy theory by pointing to how the children fell when their bodies were pierced with Israeli bullets. As Watson is forced to defend the legitimacy of his meticulous documentation from Oren's propaganda, it appears there is no room for real journalism at CNN.

The media bias – like the bloodshed itself – never ends. Shortly after the murder of these Palestinian children, Palestinian lone wolves in the West Bank kidnapped three Israeli settler-colonists and killed them. Despite knowing in advance that the Palestinian killers acted alone, Israel "responded" by launching a massive invasion into the already-besieged West Bank, killing at least eleven unarmed civilians and arresting hundreds without charge. Soon after, Israel launched its indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Gaza and its ongoing ground invasion of Gaza, killing hundreds upon hundreds of people.

The bias is implicit when Blitzer's programme starts the clock of the latest escalation with violence against Israeli settlers – as though Israel had not killed Nadeem Nawara and Mohamed Daher on camera two weeks earlier, and as though Israel had not already killed seventeen other Palestinian teenagers until that point in 2014 alone. But whatever doubt could remain evaporates when Wolf Blitzer decides to tour the Gaza war zone embedded with Israeli soldiers. Indeed, Wolf Blitzer has consistently shown himself to remain an AIPAC lobbyist.

As of 7 August 2014, Israeli soldiers had killed upwards of 1,800 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Such has been done with indiscriminate strikes on children playing football, a police officer's family, a World Cup beach party, at least six hospitals including a geriatric hospital, multiple UN-run safe houses for civilians, journalists, survivors looking for family members, ambulances, an Aljazeera television station, survivors fleeing the war zone and civilians who remained in their homes out of fear and uncertainty. With each additional massacre came spurious claims that the civilians were actually "terrorists," that the "terrorists" were hiding behind the civilians and using them as human shields, and other knee-jerk conspiracy theories which Israel has issued following every massacre of civilians it has carried out since at least 1996.

But that has not stopped Wolf Blitzer from allowing Israeli military personnel to use his programme to flip reality on its head. After capturing a tunnel used by Hamas militants to smuggle everything from weapons to medical equipment and food into the besieged Gaza Strip – where Israel has imposed a blockade designed to "put the Palestinians on a diet" since 2006 – Wolf Blitzer decided to tour the tunnel with Israeli soldiers. One soldier claims that while he understands Hamas's right to use violence during war, the tunnels are being used to threaten innocent Israeli families.

He was lying. As Glenn Greenwald and the point out, Hamas tunnels have been used exclusively to target Israeli military installations as they threaten the people of Gaza. Indeed, the vast majority of the people killed by Hamas thus far have been soldiers – having killed only three civilians in the course of the current quagmire, by fluke. In contrast, Israel has killed over thirteen-hundred civilians using indiscriminate fire while systematically targeting civilian installations; Israeli forces even admitted to killing at least eight-hundred civilians (while dishonestly mischaracterising the rest as militants or terrorists). Many of the "terrorists" Israel has killed have in fact been Palestinians who were simply engaged in defending their homes from Israeli soldiers.

In reality, Blitzer's attempts to muddy the water about Israel and Palestine are not new. He has been a lobbyist disguised as a legitimate commentator for many years. During his stint at AIPAC, he would openly and unabashedly state his one-sided devotion to Israel. He would also lecture congressmen about the "right" of foreign states like Israel to lobby in the United States (a "right" that is, in fact, severely restricted by US law), and whitewash the actions – and damage – of Israeli spies arrested in the United States, like Jonathan Pollard. In years since, he has cynically exploited the existence of fringe Nazi figures to smear anti-Zionists and drum up support for the invasion of Iran; used his programme as a platform for right-wing conspiracy theorists to call the Department of Justice the "Department of Jihad"; uncritically rehashed the opinions of those who "got it wrong" about the AIPAC-sponsored US-invasion of Iraq; and even given a friendly opportunity to Israeli President Shimon Peres to whitewash the then-ongoing 2012 Israeli massacre in Gaza – while his CNN colleague Christianne Amanpour grilled Palestinian leader Khaled Meshaal and insisted that Palestinians have no right to return.

Following suit, former Israeli ambassador and military spokesperson Michael Oren has not truly left his job as an Israeli government advocate either. Indeed, Oren's demeaning comments about the Nakba Day killings are consistent with the pro-Israel extremism he has espoused for many years. Not long before joining CNN, Michael Oren was busy attempting to bully CBS "60 Minutes" into tabling a rare segment that exposed Westerners to the plight of Palestinian Christians living under Israeli military occupation.

As if degrading Christians in Palestine was not enough, Michael Oren can be fairly unfriendly to Jews as well – arguing that American Jews must uncritically support Israel out of ethnic loyalty. This is, in fact, an old anti-Semitic canard that Jews are disloyal. On the same token, Oren once argued that American Jews "betrayed" Holocaust victims – another canard which, despite failing the test of scrutiny, could in fact be applied to some Israeli leaders.

Oren has doubled down on his offensive Holocaust comments, arguing that recognising Israeli massacres in Gaza is equivalent to denying the Jewish Holocaust. Apparently, suffering is a zero-sum game between Arabs and Jews, and there is no way we can recognise the legitimacy and horror of Jewish suffering in Europe while also recognising the horror of Palestinians suffering in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government.

When Michael Oren attempted to spread his inflammatory views during a government-sponsored PR tour, he was chided and heckled by a group of pro-Palestinian students. He sued them, claiming his civil rights were violated, as the disruption prevented him from extending his talk – even though investigative journalist Max Blumenthal revealed that the likely reason he cut the talk short was to make it to a basketball game. After a prosecution rife with misconduct, the students were convicted amid widespread condemnation. None of these instances or incidents made CNN think twice about hiring Mr Oren as an "analyst".

Such rampant media bias is not unique or new. Leaked documents from the archives of the American Zionist Council, the precursor to AIPAC, show that Israeli government representatives secretly – and illegally – financed the planting of propaganda articles and speakers within many major American media outlets. Although the conduit for funding was cut off, these propaganda activities have continued since the 1960s. Indeed, extensive evidence of pro-Israel media bias has surfaced from a number of sources. Such bias continues even as the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza has sparked intense international outrage over Israel's actions.

Considering these facts, it is disturbing, though unsurprising, that CNN continues to keep Blitzer and Oren in its employ. That is why a growing coalition of students, activists, and others – myself included – have created the Khalas! Blitzer-Oren campaign, demanding that CNN end its ties with Blitzer and Oren. Inspired by the Basta Dobbs campaign that pushed CNN to drop anti-immigrant conspiracy theorist Lou Dobbs, our campaign calls on all individuals to petition CNN head Jeff Zucker to stop providing the Israel lobby an uncritical platform for war propaganda. In addition, we have called on journalists, community organisations, and anyone directly affected by Blitzer and Oren's distortions to consider sending an endorsement of our mission statement.

Already, we've seen the encouraging development of CNN dropping Oren's title of "analyst" – implying independence or expertise – to "former ambassador," making his ties clear. Unfortunately, it is still not clear if his contract has been terminated or whether or not it is up for renewal. But it is clear that enough pressure and awareness may push CNN to make the right decision.

CNN made the correct decision regarding Lou Dobbs when they dropped him from their network. Racism and conspiracism have no place amid serious journalism. It is time that CNN make the same decision regarding Wolf Blitzer and Michael Oren.

Amith Gupta is a US-based Palestine solidarity activist. He is one of the members of the Khalas! Blitzer Oren Campaign.

]]> (Amith Gupta) Americas Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:35:22 +0000
Will American strikes extend to Syria? Destroyed street in Aleppo SyriaThe road to hell is often considered to be paved with good intentions and reckless and destructive idealism. As America became a hostage after the catastrophic Vietnam War, Democrats in the United States made it their mission to solve the world's problems. Moreover, Obama is being held hostage by George Bush's legacy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. American Republicans often follow a doctrine that is based on the instinct of militarisation and it is this very commandment that the Republicans urge Obama to follow on every occasion.

This commandment, which is based on militarism, is what will link the 2016 presidential elections to the Republican Party's oldest figures such as Dick Cheney and John McCain. The faces of the Republican Party are craving a change in American politics. And yet, we still bear witness to figures such as Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas who criticises Obama for failing to take military action against ISIS in Iraq and or arming Syrian rebels. Then there is the Senator of Texas, Ted Cruz, who criticises Obama on engaging in nuclear talks with Iran. Cruz considers such talks to be misleading diplomacy that slides the US into the abyss.

Obama had no choice but to listen to his advisors and aim a precise hit against ISIS after the group gained control of the Mosul dam and threatened Erbil, Baghdad and the American embassy. Obama admitted that ISIS surprised American intelligence and that it is evident that confronting the group will not be an easy task. The decision to leave room for ISIS to train in Syria and gain control of a number of oil wells was a smart one by the Syrian regime and Iran, both of which would like nothing more than to reshuffle the cards of power in the region and prevent the Free Syrian Army from accessing high-quality weapons.

The Obama administration was hesitant to support the Free Syrian Army due to its hope to sign an agreement regarding the Iranian nuclear issue. Yet, Obama's hopes of achieving such a deal evaporated and everyone was left to fight in this destructive war. Obama continues to justify his delay in fighting ISIS by claiming that he believed they would place pressure on the Maliki regime. And yet, the true blame lays in the fact that rebellious tribes failed to combat ISIS, which has now become a threat to Al-Maliki and tribal militias alike.

Obama left the Russian-sponsored Iranian flames to engulf and take over the Arab region. Therefore, one can conclude that the Obama administration wants to see what Iran's true intentions are regarding the nuclear file as a number of American foreign policy officials went to Geneva in the hopes of pushing the Iranian nuclear file and seeing what Tehran's true intentions are. Tehran's position seems to be serious and the question that remains is: Will America's airstrikes extend to Syria? Is it possible that the US will extend aid to the Free Syrian Army so that it may resolve the ongoing crisis lingering in Syria?

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 12 August 2014

]]> (Abdul-Hafith Mahboub) Americas Wed, 13 Aug 2014 10:22:38 +0000
Is there a US response to the evidence of torture in Syria? Caesar, disguised in blue, shows the images to the US House Foreign Affairs CommitteeFurther evidence has been provided to the United States government on the Assad regime's crimes against humanity, yet still, no accountability has been addressed by the Obama administration. A Syrian military police photographer anonymously called "Caesar" appeared on Thursday in a briefing in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for the US Congress, portraying the images of torture and killing taken from inside prisons in Syria.

Caesar, who appeared in disguise at the briefing, told the Congress that the Assad regime is holding 150,000 civilians under arrest; all of them are at risk of being tortured or killed by the government. He asked the United States to intervene militarily in Syria.

"The main thing Caesar asked for was justice for the victims," said Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, a senior political adviser and government relations director of the Syrian American Council, who helped coordinate the visit with the Department of State.

While in Syria, Caesar worked in the army taking photographs of bodies for the death certificates of regime opponents who were tortured and starved to death.

Last year, Caesar managed to smuggle 55,000 images of corpses he and his colleague had photographed out of Syria. Four or five photographs were taken of each body, the images therefore accounting for approximately 11,000 detainees who were tortured-to-death.

In January, three international war crimes prosecutors released a report based on Caesar's images, accusing the Assad regime of the "systemic" killing of detained civilians from the start of the revolution in March 2011 until August 2013.

No real pressure was put on the Assad regime by the US at that time, as the world's attention was focused on the failed negotiations between Al-Assad and his opponents. However, the Assad regime campaign continued its systematic murder without any demand for accountability by the US or the international community.

"We will see evidence of the Assad regime's killing of at least 10,000 political dissidents between 2011 and 2013," said the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Ed Royce, during the presentation of the images to the Congressmen. Earlier this year, the committee asked the United Nations to establish a war-crimes tribunal in regards to the crimes committed during Syria's revolution.

"The killing continues today," Royce added.

There was no audio or video recording allowed at the briefing to ensure Caesar's identity remained anonymous.

"These bodies that we have [in the photos]... no one here can bring their life back to them, but I am here to tell you there are more than 150,000 people still incarcerated in the jails of Bashar Al-Assad and their fate will be the same fate as those who I have taken pictures of," The Daily Beast reported Caesar telling Congress in the briefing through his translator.

"What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre that is being led by the worst of all the terrorists, Bashar Al-Assad," Caesar added.

Some of the images are available here. (Caution: very graphic)

The US Department of State arranged Caesar's trip to America, but did not disclose his real name to any of the members of Congress.

The Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS), a coalition of groups representing over 100,000 Syrian Americans, coordinated Caesar's exchange and issued a statement on Friday thanking the US Department of State for their role in facilitating the visit. The CDS commented that Caesar's visit included "a presentation to international human rights lawyers and officials at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC; a meeting with Senator John McCain in which the Senator received exclusive photos from Caesar's portfolio; a public briefing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and information-sharing with forensic experts from the FBI."

"[The images] offer some of the most heart-wrenching evidence of the unconscionable tactics Bashar Al-Assad employs to cling to power," said National Security Council Deputy Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Friday.

Ghanem told MEMO that lately, there has been an argument in Washington calling for the US to work with Al-Assad as a partner against terrorism in Syria. When Caesar went to the White House, as Ghanem said, the Congress reiterated that they would not work with Al-Assad and reaffirmed that they viewed the moderate opposition as the best force for change in Syria.

"We feel that we dealt that argument a very severe blow with this trip," Ghanem said.

In June, the Obama administration requested $500 million to aid the Syrian opposition but officials in the States fear that the arms would be smuggled into Iraq and across the region.

Ghanem believes that the Caesar's visit has improved prospects for the administration's requested $500 million, especially in the Congress. Nevertheless, he noted that he does not think a major change in Obama's policy will occur unless Congress or the American people also response to these photos with action.

Any resolution against the Syrian regime in the UN Security Council had been faced with a veto from Russia and China. Consequently, neither the Security Council nor the UN can carry out any substantial action against Syria's government and therefore the Assad regime cannot be held accountable in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"The United States will continue working through other avenues with our international partners to pursue accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes against the Syrian people," Meehan noted in her statement.

In the meantime, the United State and other countries are going through Caesar's images in search of evidence that any of their nationals might have been killed by the Syrian regime in which case, lawsuits against the perpetrators can be filed in the national courts of those countries.

"In this way, we do not have to wait for the ICC before beginning to hold the perpetrators accountable," Ghanem explained.

The gruesome images of corpses show marks of starvation, strangulation and beatings, demonstrating that the Assad government has committed such atrocities. To date, Caesar's images are the most conclusive evidence of the regime's systematic and ongoing war crimes.

"For three and four days the torture never stops," said Nizar, a previous detainee from Damascus, referring to the long periods of cruelt that he and other detainees were subjected to.

Nizar, who preferred to keep his last name anonymous for the security of his family in Damascus, said that there are huge numbers of detainees inside the intelligence branches in Damascus, describing the conditions as so overcrowded that detainees slept laying on one another. After three-months in detention, he was released and currently lives outside Syria.

"All types of torture are occurring," he added.

According to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), the number of documented-by-name detainees is 54,181. The VDC Spokesperson Bassam Al-Ahmad told MEMO that they have at least 200,000 cases of arrests, "those are only the reported ones," said Al-Ahmad, noting that most of the torture detainees were peaceful activists.

"Intimidation, humiliation and retaliation," Al-Ahmed added were the aims of the process.

Abdulrahman Al-Masri is a freelance Syrian journalist based in Amman, Jordan. Follow him on twitter.

]]> (Abdulrahman Al-Masri) Americas Tue, 05 Aug 2014 17:33:59 +0000
People around the world continue to stage popular protests in defence of Palestinian rights Belfast, Northern IrelandPeople around the world continue to express solidarity with Palestinians, holding mass demonstrations in major cities to demand an end to Israel's brutal assault on the Gaza Strip. But although millions of people are taking to the streets, so far, only a handful of governments – mostly in Latin America – have taken any political action.

In recent days, Palestinians living in the occupied territories and historic Palestine have staged some of the largest protests against the Israeli occupation since the second intifada. Israeli occupation forces responded with live ammunition, killing nine Palestinians.

Americans held rallies across the country on Thursday and urged people to call their representatives in a national day of action for Gaza. Earlier in the week, thousands of people marched in Boston and Chicago to demand freedom and justice for Palestine.

On Friday, also known as Al-Quds Day, hundreds of thousands of people held protests in Iran and in cities around the world to condemn the on-going Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The following day, tens of thousands of people, including several MPs, staged another mass protest for Gaza in London. Smaller demonstrations were also held across England.

Similar popular protests have taken place in cities throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Latin America. But despite the display of people power all around the world, with millions taking to the streets, Western governments have remained silent in face of Israel's continued war crimes against the Palestinians.

Early on Monday, the UN Security Council issued another draft statement calling for an immediate ceasefire, but without demanding an end to Israel's draconian siege of Gaza. Furthermore, only resolutions are seen as binding under international law.

Fortunately, some governments are starting to listen to the demands of the people and are taking political action to defend Palestinian rights.

A coalition of parliamentarians in Ireland has called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, asking the government to convene a special session on Gaza.

And after tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets demanding an end to Israel's assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the ruling African National Congress party called upon the Israeli ambassador to immediately leave the country.

The party issued a statement expressing extreme outrage at "the wanton and unjustifiable bombardment and killings of innocent civilians, including children, in Gaza by Israeli military forces" and calling for "Israel to immediately cease with this blatant act of criminality."

But according to the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, it is the countries in Latin America that have so far been the most vocal in their defence of Palestinian rights.

The government of Argentina issued a statement strongly condemning the Israeli aggression in Gaza and President Evo Morales of Bolivia accused Israel of committing "crimes against humanity" and "genocide", petitioning the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement saying his country "energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation," adding that the assault is "against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity".

For its part, the Ecuadorian government issued a statement strongly condemning "the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip," reportedly withdrawing its ambassador to Israel.

In a move that especially angered Tel Aviv, Brazil's government also recalled its ambassador to Israel. Moreover, the Brazilian foreign ministry released a statement saying: "We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted."

In addition to the above, the governments of Uruguay, Cuba and El Salvador also issued statements condemning the Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The UN's Human Rights Council voted on Wednesday to launch an inquiry into potential violations of human rights by Israel, including war crimes, during its assault on the Gaza Strip. All member states in the council from Latin America voted for the inquiry. All European member states abstained from voting, with the US the only state casting a no vote.

Meanwhile, Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians continues.

For the past three weeks, Israel has been waging a relentless military campaign against the already besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. To date, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 6,000 injured, mostly civilians.

Furthermore, thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed, as well as several of Gaza's hospitals and other key infrastructure, leaving the population in a humanitarian crisis.

On the Israeli side, 42 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Up until now, international efforts to deliver much needed aid to the Palestinians suffering in Gaza have failed because the Egyptian authorities are refusing to open the Rafah Crossing, upholding the Israeli siege despite the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in the Strip.

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]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Americas Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:08:33 +0000
The American approach to the transitional process in Libya Senussi bsaikriThere have been varied views regarding the purpose of Assistant Secretary of State William Burns's recent visit to Libya. Some believe that it pertains to the general American interests in Libyan affairs, while others believe it is to make arrangements to strike at extremist militant groups.

In the absence of accurate and verified information, we cannot confirm the purpose of the visit. We can however initially surmise that there concerns were raised about the stalled transition process, nation building and their repercussions.

U.S. policy in the region

Many observers expressed sharp criticism of the foreign policy pursued by the US President Barack Obama's second term. They argue that the White House does not have a clear foreign policy and that the US is under the influence of pressures that have weakened its foreign presence.

Notwithstanding, it is necessary to differentiate between two matters in this regard. The first relates to casting judgment on Obama's foreign policy in comparison with George W. Bush's interventionist policy and the "regime change" operations he carried out at the beginning of the millennium. The result would be different given that Obama aimed to address the legacy of the first policy.

The second matter is judging Barack Obama's choices in the shaping of U.S. foreign policy, especially with regard to the Middle East during the critical stage associated with the changes brought about by the Arab Spring. With regards to this, we can say that America's foreign policy was not clear or consistent during the outbreak of the Arab revolutions, but is now becoming clearer as the scene in the region becomes clearer. Thus it is possible to say that the two critical pillars of the policy are:

  • Combatting the threat of terrorism
  • Ensuring that the democratic transition does not threaten Israel's security and influence in the region

There is no question about Washington's determination to prevent the emergence of a regional power that is capable of threatening U.S. interests or the security of Israel. It is in this context that some explain the invasion of Iraq, the decline of Syria, and the re-shuffling in Egypt. On the other hand, perhaps Washington has realised that the chaos and tendency to destroying a state is not a positive choice in light of the growth of extreme Islamist forces that see the fragmentation of the state as an opportunity to grow and expand.

Perhaps the American choice is to maintain the Arab Spring countries in a suspended state, keeping them in a place that does not allow their fall into the hands of the radicals, while at the same time not allowing them to recover and become effective regional players.

The position towards the Islamic trend

The experience of the Arab Spring revealed the fact that Washington did not want to exclude the Islamists from being partners in governing, however it did not hide the fact it did not want the Islamists to be the sole authority. Some have explained the Americans' keenness on the rise of the Islamic movements to power, along with other partners, as a means to test and contain the Islamists on the condition that it does not violate their security concerns in the sense that if Washington is sure that the Islamists will stay in line with them in terms of combatting the extremists, then Washington will support their rise to authority. However, this does not mean Washington will allow the Islamists to be the sole authority. At the same time, it will not cut off communication with the opposition forces, as they will be their replacement in the event there is a need to undermine the rule of the Islamists.

The aim of Burns's visit to Libya

By examining the interviews conducted by Burns with the political parties, we can say that America's policy still remains undecided with regards to the political process in Libya.

It can also be said that the Assistant Secretary of State's visit is mainly exploratory in two ways. First, it was undertaken to examine the February authority's preparations to face the challenges and what potential there was for the success of the political process in order to escape the bottleneck scenario. Secondly, it may have been an attempt to explore opportunities to co-ordinate on two fronts; first, to increase the strength of the state in order to support the political process and enhance the security institutions and increase collaboration to combat extremism.

The American reading of the situation in Libya and the options for dealing with it

Burns's assurances of Washington's willingness to support the army and police institutions reflects the U.S. policy's aim is to combine support for the fight against terrorism and democracy, as they are viewed as inseparable. Washington believes that the importance of the latter lies in ensuring the containment of the former.

The visit also confirms the presence of a growing American concern regarding the diminishing opportunities to progress in the Libyan democratic process, due to the growing internal challenges and the weakness of external support. This growing concern is based on the increasing decay of the remnants of the state institutions and the rising influence of the groups whose existence threaten the structure and establishment of the state.

On the other hand, it is not far-fetched that these Americans concerns will be translated into a military operation aimed at uprooting and eliminating the groups and entities that continue to grow and multiply. Furthermore, targeting such groups will certainly increase the risk of chaos, which serves the radical forces, but I do not believe that Washington has the ability to present a support strategy that could reduce the causes of tension and enhance the chances of consensus over the basics of transition and state-building, as well as emphasising the urgent need for international support for Libya in light of its current difficult situation. The European Union must get involved in order to balance America's position. Meanwhile there is a pressing need for an internal agreement to resolve all disputes and reach a strategy that determines the limit of US and European support, as well as the position towards any potential and direct American intervention in Libyan affairs.

Source: Arabi21

]]> (Senussi Bsaikri) Americas Fri, 16 May 2014 18:45:04 +0000
Kerry and the spectre of Israeli apartheid When US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israel could possibly be turning into an apartheid state, it was pointed out that many senior Israeli politicians and officials have shared this view. However, this did not prevent him from being attacked in Israel and in Washington, causing him to retreat and defend himself. Department of State spokesperson Jane Psaki said later that Secretary Kerry merely expressed a simple view that, "in his opinion, the two-state solution is the only option for Israel, if it wants to be a democratic Jewish State".

The reality of the situation is that Kerry's warnings have little to do with apartheid itself but of the consequences it will have on Israel. Kerry fears, or claims that he fears, that boycotting Israel will lead to an apartheid state; he fears that it will have the same fate as white apartheid South Africa and that it will be isolated and boycotted by the international community. He also fears that Israel will experience the same outcome as South Africa as and when its version of apartheid is dismantled. Kerry considers himself to be Israel's friend and, as such, he sees it as his responsibility to warn Israel of the consequences of its actions and to protect it from greater harm. He has a duty, he believes, to save Israel from its own actions and potentially suicidal path.

Kerry is aware that what he said is nothing new. Former US President Jimmy Carter not only warned Israel of the same fate but also criticised the policies of the neo-conservatives who came to power with the George W. Bush administration. Carter expressed his regret eloquently that the United States supported Israel's acts of aggression against Palestinian "terrorism" during the second Intifada. In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which was dedicated to the Palestinian cause, President Carter warned of the consequences that would ensue with America's continued support for Israeli aggression.

The Secretary of State is also aware of the fact that many Israeli politicians and security officials share his view and have warned the Israeli and government numerous times that Israel is on the road to apartheid. In his defence, Kerry reiterated that his comments were also said by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni as well as former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. "All of these politicians have summoned the spectre of apartheid and the dangers that it poses to Israel's future to have one state."

Although Kerry's statements were not public and were said during a closed meeting in Washington, his comments triggered a lot of confusion after an online newspaper published them. In reality the apartheid spectre does not necessarily mean establishing an apartheid state on all of the territory that constitutes historic Palestine; that's the very thing that Ben Gurion warned the Jews against when he said that he chose to create a "Jewish state" on part of Palestinian territory and not all, because to do otherwise would mean that the Jewish people would be a minority in an Arab state. He said that the Israelis must avoid such an outcome.

What makes Israel and its supporters truly uncomfortable is the use of the word apartheid itself and not the actual policies that it implies. It is impossible that Israelis are unaware of what they are doing. They are certainly aware that what is happening on the ground is exactly the same pattern as that which took place in South Africa. The Israelis do not want to be equated with the word apartheid and do not want to face the reality of what they are; it is anathema for them to be viewed as an apartheid state, although they really do know that that is exactly what they are doing.

How does one explain the reality of the Israeli situation, which distinguishes between two groups and classes of people? And how does one explain the blind-spot about this reality and Israelis' decision to focus on the use of specific words rather than their government's policies and practices? World leaders would not warn about the dangers of apartheid unless they were real, which is why the pro-Israel lobby wants to make it taboo to use that word to describe their precious state. They want to ban this word because they believe that it gives outsiders the wrong impression and fuels Israel's insecurities. "We know that the power of words can often give the wrong impression," said Psaki, "and we are working to nip the wrong impression that Israel is an apartheid state in the bud." Many politicians have argued that the word apartheid has become a popular term and that people need to stop using it especially within the contexts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that is booming in American universities.

The lobby is concerned with the power of words and hiding their meaning but what would happen if they could hide the reality of their actions? The main lobby group in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) recently released the following statement regarding Kerry's comments: "Any indication that Israel is or could become an apartheid state is an unforgivable insult. The Jewish state is a beacon of light and freedom and a token of good luck in a region plagued by terrorism, hatred and oppression." Where do we even begin to deconstruct such an obviously misleading and untrue statement?

Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid 7 May, 2014

]]> (Mohammad Hafeth Yacoub) Americas Thu, 08 May 2014 11:02:51 +0000
Students for Justice in Palestine breathes new life to solidarity activism in the US Dr Sarah MarusekAmerican universities and college campuses have long served as a vibrant front in the struggle for social justice and today they are increasingly providing critical spaces of resistance in the fight against Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine.

While several faculty associations in the US have recently made international headlines for endorsing the call to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions, the US-led movement Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has also been at the forefront of the solidarity movement for Palestinian rights, and is arguably even leading the way.

SJP was first established at the University of California, Berkeley in 2001, and has since grown into a national network with over 160 branches at universities and colleges across the US. SJP held its first national conference in 2011 at Columbia University. Since then, it has held two more conferences and has established regional networks as well.

Of course, the movement has also faced many obstacles. SJP is actively targeted by university and college administrations, which face persistent and systematic pressure from pro-Israel groups, including: the Anti-Defamation League, an unabashedly pro-Zionist organisation that is well known for its advocacy for Israel and public attacks against those who criticise Israel's occupation of Palestine, often conflating the latter with anti-Semitism; and Hillel, along with its umbrella groups. Hillel is a political organisation that is part of the Israel on Campus Coalition, whose foundational purpose is to advocate unconditionally for Israel on college campuses. With an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, Hillel organises trips for thousands of American students to travel to Israel and/or participate in various training programmes across the US, as well as coordinates national tours for pro-Zionist speakers to speak on university and college campuses.

The organisational strength of the pro-Israel academic lobby has meant that members of SJP, much like their Palestinian counterparts in the occupied territories, are often targeted and repressed. As a result, in many cases they are forced to abide by different standards from the rest of the student body.

For example, I previously reported in MEMO on the repression that students have endured at Florida Atlantic University, where SJP members, who regularly face intimidation and even death threats, were put on probation and required to undergo a re-education programme designed by the ADL after they staged a protest against a campus event featuring Israeli occupation soldiers. Needless to say, student protests against controversial lectures are not uncommon; however, being punished for staging any such protests is very unusual.

As the Electronic Intifada reported in March, the SJP chapter at Northeastern University in Boston was actually suspended for one year and several members were threatened with expulsion after the group handed out 600 mock eviction notices under doors in residence halls in order to teach students about the experiences of Palestinians who receive housing demolition orders from Israel. Since no other student organisation had faced disciplinary action for handing out unauthorised flyers in the past, the students decided to fight back. With national and international support, they launched a successful campaign and reversed the administration's decision. The group was reinstated last month.

However, the SJP chapter at NYU is now facing possible disciplinary action after recently staging a similar protest. The students handed out mock eviction notices to students in two residence halls; and yet as Mondoweiss pointed out, the pro-Israel media immediately reported that they were targeting Jewish students only, even though all residents of both halls had received the flyers. A local city official even called the flyers "pure hate" and a spokesperson of the university said it would be investigating the case. Much like the students at Northeastern, the students at NYU are determined to fight for their rights. They have secured widespread faculty support, as well as launched a petition.

SJP is also frequently confronted by political threats. The Socialist Worker reported last year that the California State Assembly passed the HR 35 resolution in 2012, labelling criticism of Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine as "anti-Semitic" and recommending "broad censorship measures of University of California students and faculty advocating for Palestinian rights and justice". The following year, "legislators from the California State Senate and Assembly signed a letter to the University of California Board of Regents and Chair condemning and discouraging divestment measures on our campuses."

In New York, Brooklyn College's SJP chapter came under fire for organising a lecture on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement featuring prominent Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti and respected critical scholar Judith Butler. When city officials threatened to cut off public funding to the college, New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the officials that, "If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea."

Since then, the New York and Maryland State Assemblies have both made unsuccessful legal efforts to penalise universities and colleges for supporting the BDS movement, and a bill was even submitted to the US Congress for debate.

Nevertheless, American students refuse to be silenced and are more determined than ever to speak out for equal rights and justice in Palestine. And as a result, SJP continues to grow.

This year, more than 25 cities in the US participated in Israeli Apartheid Week, mainly staged on university and college campuses, and SJP chapters regularly organise campus events and actions throughout the academic calendar to help educate the student body about Israeli apartheid and its occupation of Palestine as well as campaign for BDS. Indeed, an increasing number of student senates are debating resolutions demanding that their universities and colleges divest from companies that enable and profit from violating Palestinian rights.

To learn more about the growing trend of student activism in the US, MEMO recently spoke with Carlos Guzman, a student activist who has been involved for several years in various SJP chapters in New York and is also involved in the national movement.

While SJP is lacking the vast financial and institutional resources that Zionist student groups receive from the State of Israel and its Zionist funders, Carlos explains that SJP has found creative ways to raise their voices and expand their reach.

Furthermore, SJP has been able to connect student activists with solidarity organisations and groups on and off campus. Carlos says the group understands that developing local connections helps SJP chapters build meaningful relationships with other oppressed groups, because "connecting and finding commonalities in our struggles is key to paving the way for meaningful change both at home and abroad".

In fact, reaching out to the community more broadly is so important to the student activists that some SJP chapters in New York have recently connected with a local non-profit organisation called Muslims Giving Back, joining them on Saturdays to provide food and clothing to the city's hungry and homeless.

Carlos explains that this is a way for SJP to give back to the community, adding that: "I always say we have to 'think globally and act locally', because it's true that SJP is fighting and bringing awareness about what's happening in Palestine, but at the same time we are also aware that we have problems in our own communities that we need to address." After all, as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once famously noted, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

These acts of local solidarity also help to confront the rampant Islamophobia that pervades American society and politics today, especially in New York, where the city's police have been facing intense criticism for systematically discriminating against Muslims.

In addition to reaching out locally, SJP is also making global connections. While many Palestinians in America have long faced a climate of fear when it comes to speaking out for Palestinian rights, today SJP is providing an opportunity for Palestinian American students to become more active in the solidarity movement. And with the help of social media, this better connects the Diaspora with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

For example, when SJP came under attack for organising the BDS event at Brooklyn College, Carlos describes how Palestinian students at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank took pictures and a video of themselves with posters saying: "We support Brooklyn College and BDS." He pointed out that, "Building these types of inter-Palestinian relations is important for the growth of the solidarity movement as a whole."

Regarding the many problems that SJP continues to face, Carlos remains pragmatic and says this only illustrates that they are doing something right, further noting that: "The more pressure we put on them, the more they are going to try to silence us. And that's what's happening," citing the increasing repression and discrimination that the different SJP chapters are facing.

At the same time, the repressive backlash is also generating more media attention for the cause, and even a level of support from unexpected places, like Mayor Bloomberg.

Carlos adds that: "We have the numbers. They might have the resources, the money and whatnot, but ultimately we have the numbers." And that's why the Zionists are so afraid.

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]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Americas Fri, 02 May 2014 17:32:24 +0000
$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
The chemical deal to save the president John KerryWas it a slip of the tongue when Kerry asked the Syrian regime to hand over its chemical weapons if it wanted to avoid a military strike, or was it a deliberate move arranged with the Russians? There is no clear answer here, since Kerry's certainty that the regime would not hand over the weapons when he presented the offer suggests that it may have just been a slip of the tongue. This is what a senior official in the US State Department told Reuters, and yet the State Department's welcoming of the regime's official position indicates otherwise. The contradictory statements may reflect the confusion experienced by US diplomats regarding the entire case.

In this context, we should keep in mind the Israelis, because if Tel Aviv had any reservations about the strike, Obama would never have thought about it to begin with, albeit part of it is indeed an internal need associated with his personal prestige as president, and the United States' need to renew its own prestige, which suffered a direct blow after the Iraq war.

What Israel wants to gain out of the strike is not the fall of the regime in a manner that brings about chaos, as it prefers the status quo over that, but it would not mind some sort of change that would bring an obedient regime willing to join the moderate Arab regimes and help push a deal with the Palestinian Authority forward. What Israel ultimately wants is to get rid of the weapons that pose a threat to it in the event that they are controlled by unpredictable Jihadist forces.

The weapons in question are mainly chemical weapons, long-range missiles and their launchers, as well as anti-aircraft missiles. The chemical weapons are undoubtedly the most important in this context, especially since it seems that Syria has a large number of them.

The regime's approval of Kerry's offer, even in a different format, could be seen as a shuffling of cards; however the strike is no longer completely guaranteed since there is an overwhelming popular rejection of it, which is casting its shadow on the positions of Congress members who may oppose it despite the Zionist lobby's wishes. The reason for this is that no one will be solely responsible in light of the people's general rejection of the strike, which is only increasing. Moreover, the Republicans, who usually opt for force, are currently obsessed with exploiting the situation to ruin Obama, and thus his Democratic Party.

Therefore, despite the fact that the Zionist lobby has taken practical steps, doubts about congressional approval still exist, and it seems that the situation will only get more complicated if Washington considers the regime's offer inadequate, especially since Kerry demanded they hand over the weapons rather than putting them under supervision. However, Ban Ki-Moon soon offered to help in overseeing the destruction of the chemical weapons in Syria. The regime will not mind this in order to save itself from a strike, despite the fact that there are no indications that the strike would aim for regime change.

The White House questioned the regime's agreement to chemically disarm, while France welcomed it in part, along with Britain, Germany, China, and Iran, and it is likely that welcoming statements from others will follow. This will push Obama into a corner and will influence the Congress, especially since there have been calls urging them to reject the strike from many parties, including the Pope, among others. The Senate Majority Leader's postponement of a vote on the strike, originally scheduled for Wednesday, and Obama's admission that during the G-20 Summit he spoke with Putin regarding the possibility of a political solution in Syria, both indicate the potential success of the deal. The question remains: Will the deal solely address the chemical weapons, thus exposing the essence of the deal as a favour to Israel, or will it include a settlement for the entire crisis that meets the Syrian people's demands?

The scene will definitely remain vague until the whole situation unfolds, but the task of supervising the chemical weapons will not be easy, especially since there has also been talk of an atomic reactor, and Bashar will have to open the country to inspectors, which brings back memories of Saddam Hussein.

The most ironic part of the whole story is the regime's quick response to Kerry's offer, which was conveyed to the Syrians through Lavrov. This means that the regime seems willing to buy its fate at any cost, which brings to mind Rami Makhlouf's comments to the New York Times last year and Bashar's indirect offers of the West.

How will the revolutionary Shabiha describe what happened? They will say, and some have already said, that the regime's position was extremely intelligent, and that it stood in the way of its enemies who seek to divide and destroy Syria (How much of it did the brute leave?!) They will say this even though some of them were also saying that they will defeat America, which will lead to the defeat of Israel. We do not know why they passed up such a great victory for the nation with their immature response!

Thus, the Syrian people will have the right to loudly chant the words of the poet, "A lion in the face of a war (against America and Israel) becomes an ostrich that flinches as the sound of a whistle".

]]> (Yasser Al-Zaatara) Americas Thu, 12 Sep 2013 14:57:49 +0000
America's struggle to maintain unipolar domination Abdul Sattar QassemThe fall of the Soviet Union pleased America immensely, but the return of its ghost in Russia as a major player on the international stage is a concern. Post-Cold War, the US president could strut the stage at the head of the world's only superpower, able to threaten and appease, give and take in equal measure without fear or favour from anyone.

America became the global policeman and took it upon itself to steer the world in its own favoured direction, with a few exceptions, later labelled as rogue states and the "axis of evil". Successive US administrations have, in their quest for power and domination, co-opted rulers, academics, intellectuals and organisations to spread America's political, intellectual and cultural will worldwide.

In order to prove to the world that it is militarily superior, America invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. It exaggerated Iraq's military capabilities in order to convince Europe, Japan and China that whoever is able to take on Iraq can secure fuel supplies and the world must thank the US for its magnanimity. The message was clear: no one is stronger than the United States of America.

Washington did not make threats and intimidate others as much as it gave warnings about punitive economic or military measures. On occasion, its actions preceded its words. It set "red lines" for the world and threatened harsh action against Syria for using chemical weapons. Military units are trained to find such weapons and Patriot anti-missile batteries have been located in allied neighbouring countries to stress its intentions.

President Obama committed his country to taking military action against Syria and set out to find the evidence to give an attack some degree of legitimacy. Media hype was created to attract international support and forces were deployed pending an attack. The president has the authority to attack Syria without the consent of the US Congress and did not seek such approval for attacks in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe; this time he opted to go to Congress for legislative cover or a cloak to hide behind.

This suggests that America's global leadership of the past two decades has started to fall apart. It can no longer do what it has become used to doing without censure.

At one time America was able to get any UN resolution that it wished to add international legitimacy to its actions. Russia was unable, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to challenge it due to economic, military and social reasons. Moreover, China was not able to challenge the US because it could not back-up its position in military terms, nor could it prevent America from acting against third parties. As such, Russian and Chinese defiance of the US was mild and moderate, sometimes taking the form of abstaining on votes in the UN Security Council.

Although Washington did not get a UN mandate to impose a no-fly zone in Iraq, it initiated the procedure in any case, disregarding the legitimacy it claims to defend. It acted according to what it believed was legitimate without being challenged by anyone. With regards to Syria, China and Russia defied America openly by using their veto three times at the Security Council and blocked UN resolutions to take action against the Assad regime.

Russia has been active in supporting the Syrian regime against the wishes of the United States and strengthened its naval presence in the port of Tartus. It has continued to supply the regime with weapons, including advanced ground-to-air missiles. It is also possible to discern from various Syrian and Russian statements that Moscow provides financial and economic support to the regime in Damascus.

In a clear and open challenge to US hegemony, Russia criticised the Obama administration over what it said were Washington's policies to avoid a Syrian peace conference.

China, meanwhile, is expected to become an economic superpower within the next few years. Although its military capabilities have not yet developed to the point of matching America's deterrence power, it is aware that there is no way that the US would neglect its economic interests for the sake of a Syrian opposition whose membership includes groups who would threaten the US once the Assad regime has fallen. America is not interested in creating hostile conditions and China is aware of this.

Israel's experience with Hezbollah in 2006 was not easy and it pushed for an end to the war with its northern neighbour despite the encouragement of some Arab parties and the continued support of the United States. Israel pressured Hezbollah with all its strength, but was forced to accept military reality and stopped the war in order to avoid mounting moral and material losses. It was then that Israel and America realised that Hezbollah's arms were not primitive and that its military tactics were sound; this is still the case. Hezbollah, therefore, is capable of distracting Israel and America long-term in a conflict which Israel wouldn't be able to endure in terms of its internal morale.

Moreover, Hezbollah's endurance and its ability to hit military targets deep in Israel reflect some of its patron Iran's military and technical capabilities. The question is, if Iran has provided Hezbollah with such weapons, what is it hiding in its own arsenal? America is approaching the Iranian issue with caution, because it doesn't know the answer to that question. This has been reflected in US decisions regarding other Middle East issues.

Does America acknowledge that its "golden age" of unipolarity is over? The current crisis is characterised by the deployment of Russian warships in the Mediterranean, Moscow's announcement that Syria has enough to defend itself, and missiles directed at Israel and US targets in the region. This presents new challenges for the United States. The global scene is quite different to what America wants and it can't adapt to a situation in which it will not have the final word.

Syria is thus a test of the world's polarity: is America still the sole controller or is the challenge posed real with resonance on the ground?

Perhaps the Arab-Islamic region, as well as the global arena, it at the cusp of a historic turning point; either the US proves itself as the sole hero, Russia proves itself to be another pole, rather than just a superpower, or Iran either withdraws and licks its wounds or proceeds to look for more recognition of its regional and international leadership. Maybe there will be a combination of all three.

In reality, America has three options:

  • To refrain from attacking Syria; this would be an implicit recognition of its enemies' and competitors' strengths. It will then accept new decision-making partners. This applies in the event that it accepts a deal that dictates the launch of several missiles at marginal areas in Syria in exchange for a lack of retaliation from the other party.
  • To bomb Syrian sites to which the regime and its allies will retaliate. If this option is chosen, America will face the choice of accepting the retaliation and the recognition of the opponent's power which comes with it, or to respond to the retaliation and engaging in an unwanted war. With this, America would shrink in the world's eyes.
  • To bomb Syria without any retaliation from the other side; this would establish the US as the world superpower.

We have come to expect America to think with its brawn instead of its brain; it makes many mistakes in times of peace and war. It is likely, therefore, to show off its strength and fire its missiles.

Russia and Iran are aware that their failure to face strength with strength will keep them pigeon-holed as countries with limited capacity to act globally or even regionally. They can bother opponents but not deter them. However, both are aware that their standing worldwide will increase if they decide to confront America.

Due to Russia's knowledge of Syria's armoury, its speculation that Iran has lethal weapons and the fact that America is not interested in engaging in a long-term war that may exhaust its own and Israel's morale, the possibility of Russia encouraging Syria and its allies to retaliate is quite high.

America is heading towards missile strikes against Syria, and the other side is aiming to prove its military prowess. This in itself puts the America's standing in a new era that is characterised by its loss of global hegemony. This will weaken even more if a strike against Syria produces hard responses against America and Israel. Russia, on the other hand, will rise in global stature, as will Iran regionally. It looks as if Washington will have no option but to accept that it has partners in international decision-making.

The author is a professor at Al Najah National University, Palestine. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera Net on 9 September, 2013

]]> (Abdul Sattar Qassem) Americas Wed, 11 Sep 2013 14:36:51 +0000
"My enemy's enemy is my ally:" For Congress delegation to Cairo, that enemy is Islam Shazia ArshadMichele Bachman, Steve King and Louie Gohmert's visit to Egypt has been an interesting turn for the three Congress members. During their visit to Cairo they met the interim Egyptian president, General al Sisi, the Coptic Pope and a number of other officials and following these meetings held a press conference to express their support for the Egyptian people. Their visit to Egypt and the subsequent press conference provoked a strong reaction, not only in the Middle East but across Europe and America. Three notorious islamophobic American politicians praising the coup and the army's subsequent violence was unlikely to go down well anywhere.

During the press conference Michele Bachman welcomed the removal of former president Morsi and the installation of the coup government. For the congresswoman from Minnesota she felt that the new regime and her interests seemed to tie up. She used the press conference to continue her anti-Muslim Brotherhood vendetta and spoke about the need for America to partner with Egypt in their fight against the war on terrorism. Seeming to link the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism, as the Egyptian army have tried to do in recent weeks, she spoke of how she understood the "threat of terror", indeed the "threat of the Muslim Brotherhood" because she remembered 9/11. Perhaps ignoring the reality of the events of that day some 12 years ago, she sought to imply that the Muslim Brotherhood were the perpetrators that had carried out the attacks. However, none of this would come as surprise to any observer of American politics.

Over the last few years Bachman has carved out a niche for herself in the right wing of the Republican Tea Party movement and gone on the attack in the United States. Her fight against all things Muslim has focused largely on her belief that the Muslim Brotherhood are infiltrating US politics. In June this year she sent letters to federal agencies asking for investigations to be opened into what she termed "Muslim Brotherhood influence operations" and perhaps more worryingly, also called for an investigation into Huma Abedin, an aide to Hilary Clinton. Bachman's campaign against Huma Abedin has gained increasing media attention as Bachman claims that Abedin should not be in such a position of influence given that she is Muslim, previously worked for a Muslim organisation and labelled her a member of the "Muslim Sisterhood" (what she thinks is the women's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). The witch hunt against the Abedin has been fuelled by Michele Bachman's belief that the Muslim Brotherhood are working for "America's demise."

Alongside this Bachman has led public campaigns against ‘radical Islam'. Supported by the right wing conservative media in the US, Bachman has complained that Islam (in all its forms) is increasing its influence on American life. During her presidential nomination campaign critics labelled her a "Muslim hater", though she claimed to oppose this, she has in fact done little to dispel this notion. Spurred on by this Bachman continues to call for investigations into the links between federal departments and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Steve King of Iowa is certainly from the same mould as Michele Bachman. King used the press conference to assert that the Egyptian army had mounted a coup in defence of "30 million Egyptian people" who did not want the Muslim Brotherhood in power. Kings figures were unattributed, but his lack of numerical accuracy is the least of concerns. During his speech he claimed that the American people did not support the Muslim Brotherhood because they did not support terrorism, following the same line as Bachman he echoed the Egyptian army's rhetoric from recent weeks. He went on to explain that his concern for Egypt and what he called the reclaiming of the Arab Spring, came from the shared military bond of the American and Egyptian people (the American military train alongside the Egyptian army in the Sinai).

The congressman's support for the military coup in Egypt was unsurprising given his belief that the new Egyptian regime will be the security bearers of a civilised, democratic, and most importantly secular movement. King claimed that the country was "taken back" from the people who were going to deny the freedom of the people. Kings anti-Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric is almost certainly borne out of his islamophobic prejudice. In 2010, Steve King was lobbied by the Council on American –Islamic Relations to not participate in a Republican Tea Party event. CAIR raised their concerns after it emerged that Pamela Geller, a notorious islamophobic activist who has been linked to the English Defence League, was due to speak at the same event. Despite the lobbying attempts, King refused to disassociate himself from the event and claimed that Geller was in fact a "credible spokesperson on these issues."

King added to further controversy when he was held to task over comments about President Obamas true religion. Following an interview with Obama on Fox news, 40% of a Republican focus group in Iowa reported that they believed that the president was Muslim. When King was interviewed following the focus group, King replied that the problem lay in the fact that President Obama understood Muslim cultures and had a Muslim middle name. The congressman seemed to ignore the fact that being Muslim would not in fact negate a person's suitability for the presidency.

Louie Gohmet from Texas was equally supportive of the coups regime in the press conference. Describing the Muslim Brotherhood as blood thirsty, he claimed that the Brotherhood wanted to extend their caliphate and were responsible for terrorism and bombings in Egypt. Gohmet said that he welcomed the new regime in Egypt because they did not want radical Islam, that they were moderate Muslims who would bring stability to the country.

Gohmet was not singing from the same hymn sheet as Bachman for the first time. Back in America, he had supported her campaign on the Muslim Brotherhood and echoed her beliefs that the MB had infiltrated American politics. Focusing on Huma Abedin, Gohmet also claimed that she was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that her links to the then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton should be looked into, "it appears to be the objective truth and I think we should look at those relationships especially when someone's that closely related to the Secretary of State it becomes a critical issue."

More recently, Gohmet claimed that President Obama was relying on "pro-Muslim" confidants. He claimed that some of the president's advisers were supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, giving him advice in line with that and "steer(ing) him in the wrong direction." Gohmet added further ammunition to his case when he claimed, in a speech in Washington, that the FBI were aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and that Islamic Society on North America, as well as CAIR, were regularly at the President's disposal.

The litany of Islamophobic incidents that the three congress members have been involved in does little to suggest that their support for the Egyptian coup is little more than a strategic diversion. They have all suggested that they feel the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the growing influence of Islam in America and now, with the new Egyptian coup threatening to, effectively, destroy the MB the Egyptian military provide an answer to their problems. Their support for the Egyptian coup does not lie in support for democracy or the will of the Egyptian people; it is in fact based on an historic ethos of politics, wherever it occurs, "my enemy's enemy is my ally." Their enemy in this case is Islam.

]]> (Shazia Arshad) Americas Tue, 10 Sep 2013 16:12:18 +0000
Obama's "red line": fighting for gas masks in Israel while Syria waits for US bombs Jessica PurkissIn a matter of days, US President Barak Obama will seek authorisation from Congress to begin airstrikes against Syria. The members of Congress are being asked to approve "limited" intervention aimed at "deterring" President Basher Al-Assad from using chemical weapons.

The resolution allows for a 60 day window for military action against Syrian forces, with the possibility of 30 additional days following consultation with Congress, but blocks the use of American ground troops.

Obama is now busy rallying support for the strikes. His attempt to gain allies during the G20 summit succeeded only partially, with 11 countries issuing a carefully-worded statement which, whilst condemning the use of chemical weapons, placing the blame with Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad and supporting the US decision to act, fell short of pledging agreement over military action. Russia's Vladimir Putin used the occasion to insist that he is prepared to stand with Assad in the event of any such action.

Meanwhile the pro-Israel lobby is also busy rallying support for a strike. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential lobby group in Washington, plans to descend upon Capitol Hill ahead of the vote, with 250 activists meeting with their senators and representatives.

The group has been careful to maintain that airstrikes are in the US national interest, with Israel's security as a side-line: "It is in America's national security interest to hold Damascus accountable and to send a strong message to Syria, Iran and others that the use of weapons of mass destruction will not be tolerated," said AIPAC in a memo. "Maintaining our strong position and following through on our commitments helps strengthen our interests, including Israel's security."

Since Obama's decision to take the issue to a vote at Congress, despite his admission that a "no" vote will not necessarily equal a "no" to strikes, the Israeli government has stayed officially quiet on the matter. Prominent right-wing politician Naftali Bennett commented: "The international stuttering and hesitancy on Syria just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself. From Munich 1938 to Damascus 2013 nothing has changed. This is the lesson we ought to learn from the events in Syria."

US State of Secretary John Kerry also invoked the Holocaust memory, referring to the situation in Syria during a Press Conference in Paris as their "Munich moment". "This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter," he said, bringing a reminder to all of the international silence as thousands of Jewish men, women and children were sent to their deaths in gas chambers in Nazi Germany.

A letter from a coalition of American Rabbis urged Congress to authorise strikes: "We write to you as descendants of the Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps." The letter went on to claim, "Through this act, Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives."

Israel's Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren released Israel's first official position statement on the subject last week. "Israel agrees with President Obama that the use of chemical weapons is a 'heinous act' for which the Assad regime must be held accountable and for which there must be 'international consequences," he said. His statement made an indirect reference to Iran, claiming that US inaction would encourage "governments who would choose to build nuclear arms".

Netanyahu asserted in his Jewish New Year speech that, "Israel is not involved in the internal conflict of Syria, but we will defend ourselves, we will act with resolve to protect our people, and no-one should doubt our resolve." He spoke in the middle of the call-up of reserve soldiers to the Golan region and reports of a joint missile defence system test between Israel and the US over the Mediterranean Sea.

The stark warning, born out of the possibility that Assad and his allies will attack Israel in the event of the US military strike, was followed by Netanyahu's reiteration of the threat of Iran to world peace. "These events prove yet again that we simply cannot allow the world's most dangerous regimes to acquire the world's most dangerous weapons," he said.

Israel has long warned of the need to act on Iran, a staunch ally of Syria's Assad, whose nuclear weapons programme has prompted concerns. In an interview earlier this year, Netanyahu called on the Obama administration to show by "action" that a military option to solve the Iran issue is on the table, warning that if the White House was too slow in Israel's eyes, Israel could act unilaterally.

Israel is thus hoping that US action in Syria will send a clear message to Tehran that it is prepared to back up its "red lines" with action, and also a clear message to Israel that it does not stand alone. But with Iran heavily invested in propping up Assad, it seems unlikely that the limited, punitive action envisaged in the resolution will send the message that Israel hopes; it is also uncertain how far the newly-elected moderate Iranian President Rouhani will be willing to sacrifice potential diplomatic ties to protect Assad. On the other hand, Israel may fear a mission creep, with America tangled in a Middle East conflict weakening its position to act assertively on Iran.

Whilst Israel is no friend of Assad, the idea of the rebel movement gaining control of Syria hardly fills Netanyahu with joy, with some touting "better the devil you know". The opposition is being bolstered by a number of supporters; combined with the punitive strikes this may pave the way for the fall of Assad and the rise of the rebels. Ambassador Oren's statement addressed Israel's concerns: "Even regarding the jihadist opposition, we prefer the bad guys who aren't backed by Iran over those who are."

According to Alon Pinkas, "This is a play-off situation, in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don't want one to win — we'll settle for a tie." The former Israeli consul general in New York added, "Let them both bleed, haemorrhage to death: that's the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there's no real threat from Syria."

As the threat of a US strike remains imminent, thousands of citizens flock to gas mask distribution centres in Israel. Not so far away in Damascus, Syrians who have lost so much in the two and half civil year war, now await US bombs to fall and, after around 100,000 deaths, the reaching of Obama's "red line".

As the Syrian crisis has grown in scale, it's become more important to Israel — with the Assad regime moving closer to Iran, the archenemy of Israel, and the rise of jihadi groups also bent on Syria's destruction, which have been popping up in areas adjacent to Israel," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

]]> (Jessica Purkiss) Americas Tue, 10 Sep 2013 14:41:28 +0000
Obama's Middle East Policy dogged by contradictions Samira ShackleA Google search for "Barack Obama's Middle East policy" reveals just how negatively the president's recent actions have been received. "The worst foreign policy president – ever", declares a headline in the Washington Post's communities section. "Obama's Middle East mess", says the conservative magazine, the National Review. "Many in Middle East struggling to understand Obama's Syria policy", says the McClatchy group of local US newspapers.

Since coming to office – and, indeed, before – Obama has sought to establish a more thoughtful, reasoned policy on the Middle East than his predecessor, George W Bush. Back in October 2002, Obama's principled criticism of the Iraq war brought him to national attention. "I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda," he said.

Yet this thoughtful approach has proved difficult to put into action. Critics both in the US and in the Middle East point to anomalies and contradictions. America intervened in Libya, imposing a no-fly zone to support the opposition, but failed to do so at a similar stage of the conflict in Syria. The decision over military strikes on Syria has been protracted and slow, after an initial push for action. Democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia have been supported, but the revolution in Bahrain (where the monarchy is supported by US ally Saudi Arabia) has been roundly ignored. Many in Egypt believe that the president essentially supported the Muslim Brotherhood leadership of Mohamed Morsi; others believe he supports the military coup that saw him ousted, as US aid to the army continues to flow.

As Obama waits for a congressional vote (expected next week) on whether to take military action in Syria, it seems that he just can't win. On the one hand, he is criticised for calling for Bashar al-Assad to go too early in the conflict; on the other, he is labelled weak for failing to arm the rebels.

So what exactly is the explanation for Obama's apparently inconsistent Middle East policy? The Economist's Lexington column points out that "Obama is not in the business of taking sides in foreign conflicts. He is profoundly cautious about wielding American power." It argues that far from being the hidden hand in the Middle East's conflicts, Obama "hates to take sides", and wants to avoid making the same bloody mistakes as Bush. Certainly, the long shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hang over any new military action in the Middle East. Syria, in particular, with its complex layers of sectarian conflict, chemical weapons, and dossiers of intelligence, has echoes of the Iraq war – the lies that led up to it, and the difficulty of getting out.

In a blog for Foreign Policy magazine, Aaron David Miller argues that what has been perceived as inconsistency is actually the result of a clear set of rules. These include prioritising America and its domestic problems, rather than wasting money on intractable and unpopular conflicts abroad; focusing on America's national security and counter-terrorism; concentrating on core interests in the Middle East, such as ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, protecting Israel, and preventing Iran from getting nuclear weaponry.

Viewed from this perspective, Obama's cautiousness in taking military action in Syria or to get too heavily involved in Egypt is the result of a reluctance to deviate from America's core foreign policy goals, at a time where budgets are stretched. Yet this is the man who was famously moved by Samantha Power's account of the genocide in Rwanda, and who believes in the power of the US to do good in the world. Balancing these impulses is proving difficult.

In the case of US foreign policy, particularly regarding the Middle East, there is a long history of hypocrisy. Regime change is demanded for some dictators (Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi), but others are fine (such as Hosni Mubarak, right up until he was deposed). Human rights abuses are criticised in some countries, but not in Saudi Arabia. The use of chemical weapons goes unpunished in Gaza, but is a "red line" in Syria. Resentment and suspicion of US policy already runs deep in the Middle East. And it has not got any better, despite Obama's stated aim of improving relations with the Muslim world. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey shows that support for the US is lower now in Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan than it was in 2008. On top of this pre-existing suspicion is the fact that in Washington, as in Westminster, nuance is rarely rewarded. The Washington Post echoes the sentiments of many when it characterises this as "dithering". Clearly, Obama's attempt to recalibrate foreign policy had pleased no-one.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Fri, 06 Sep 2013 14:01:48 +0000
Dirty Wars: America invests deeply in killing its way to victory 'Scahill shows us the psychotic CIA operatives talking wide-eyed about bringing Osama bin Laden's head home on a stake'Touring the world with a two-inch-thick copy of his latest book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill has become reassuringly ubiquitous. He is booked for TV shows and radio slots, film festivals and primetime chats around the same table as Jay Leno and Bill Maher.

Somehow in an age where TV debates are cot-rockingly safe, vacuous to the point of being pointless, Scahill has sleuthed his way through some fire exit nobody knew was there and crashed the party.

You maybe wouldn't know it. When I meet Scahill in a London lobby, in between the book's release and the UK premiere of Rick Rowley's follow-up documentary, he is relaxed and down-to-earth, not quite the understated, righteously angry journalist I've seen pick apart MSNBC's pro-Obama liberals armed with a combination of facts and outrage.

Sky News has just cancelled an interview because of something Churchillian that David Cameron reckons he's said about the European Union. "Do you know what it was about?" I ask Scahill as we sit down for the interview. "I think I'd be worried if I did," he smiles back.

The string to the elephant's tail

Dirty Wars is precision-marked investigative reporting that presents a panoramic, high-definition snapshot of how power actually thinks and operates behind the catalogue smiles of outsourced democracy.

Scahill shows us the psychotic CIA operatives talking wide-eyed about bringing Osama bin Laden's head home on a stake; the callous, total disregard for human life; war crimes, lies and constitutional high-wiring. We've heard this before but last time it didn't include a constitutional law professor with a Nobel peace prize.

He describes researching the book as like "pulling on a string that's coming out of a hole in a wall. The more you pull on it, cracks start to appear. And then the wall comes down and it turns out you're pulling on an elephant's tail."

That string turned up when he and Rowley found themselves in a remote Afghan village, Gardez, where US special ops had just massacred a load of civilians. This was the fourth or fifth case like this they'd seen in Afghanistan.

"There were these gut-wrenching stories where you had people claiming the Americans had come in and kicked down there doors, killed family members, snatched people and taken them away for interrogation; you know," he adds, almost unnecessarily, "ruined their lives."

Villagers in Gardez had been celebrating the naming of the newborn son of US-trained police officer Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin. Local musicians gathered to play and there were traditional dances well into the night.

Not long after 3am the party noticed a light on the edge of the village perimeter had been shut out. When Daoud went to check it out with his son, they saw red lasers criss-crossing in the dark. They thought the Taliban was in town. In fact, American soldiers pacing invisibly towards them had reason to believe that a Taliban suicide bomber had hidden out in the village weeks before.

Within minutes, seven innocent civilians were dying on the floor, including Daoud and two pregnant women. Medical attention was promised but never came. According to eyewitnesses, America's ghost soldiers were busy cutting out their ammunition from the dead women's corpses. "They were taking out the bullets to remove the proof of their crime," a relative told Scahill later.

February 2010. This was President Barack Obama's "smarter", cleaner war: liberal combat zone perfection gone medieval in its pursuit of secrecy, unaccountability and absolute victory in an unwinnable conflict.

The president had already spent his first year in power trailblazing his new foreign policy. His first deadly strike, three days after the 2009 inauguration, was initially announced as a success - "five al-Qaeda militants" dead, it was reported - until it turned out that the strike had missed its high-value target and killed between 7 and 11 civilians, one of them a child. Another teenager, 14-year-old Fahim Qureshi, "lost his left eye, suffered a fractured skull and was hit by several shards in the stomach," Der Spiegel reported at the time.

On December 17 the same year, a US cruise missile loaded with cluster bombs bound for a suspected al-Qaeda operative in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) training camp hits al-Majala in Yemen's Abyan province. Fifty-eight are reported dead. Over 40 civilians - including 12 women, five of them pregnant, and 22 children - die in the initial strike. Another nine pass away afterwards.

The US has never publicly admitted its role in the attack. In a further attempt to shut down transparency, Obama has even resisted calls to end the politicised detention of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who reported on the aftermath of al-Majala.

And yet there was a time when Obama was supposedly doing this for the Middle East. For a lot of commentators, his 2009 Cairo University speech seemed, just like his inauguration, to be a new chapter in American history.

"Yeah, of course," Scahill says, when I ask if he can still conjure up that time of optimism and hope. The war, you see, was just beginning.

"People had this perception in the US [when Obama came to power] that he was going to change things radically and roll back the excesses of the Bush era." Dripping in applause in Cairo, the new president heralded a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world", including supporting an independent Palestinian state and an end to Israeli settlement. Forgetting the standard imperialist get-out clauses for a moment - and many people would do at the time - this sounded new.

"I think a lot of people projected onto Obama an image that they wanted to believe he represented," Scahill suggests. "This idea of transformational change. But you don't become president of the United States unless you're going to be an American exceptionalist and a hawk. You can't not be a war president these days."

"Not gonna get elected, not gonna get re-elected."

Before Obama walked into the Oval office, he would have been briefed by the outgoing administration's intelligence and military bods about supposed terror threats facing America. "It's kind of a tradition in the States," Scahill explains, "and my understanding from sources is that when Obama was briefed by Michael Hayden [outgoing Bush-era CIA director] he had a picture painted for him of a world where al-Qaeda and other militant groups are engaged in daily, continuous plots to blow up US airplanes, to go after American tourists, poison American water supplies, set off dirty bombs in the US..."

With no military experience to speak of, and running against a man whose scarecrow handshakes were a little memento from his time as a POW in Vietnam, Obama tied McCain to the Iraq war and reinvented himself as the 21st-century, thinking man's hawk. "You have to hand it to him," Scahill admits, "it was brilliant."

Rather than going back on campaign pledges (excluding perhaps Guantanamo) as some claim, the president-elect "at times pretty clearly stated that he intended to strike in countries without the permission of their home governments". By the end of 2009, Scahill says of Obama, "He was already fully bought into the idea that the world is a battlefield. The writing was already on the wall." The fact that the first Obama strike, Cairo and al-Majala all happened in the same year shows just how powerful the transformational change myth the presidential team constructed around him had become.

"To me it felt like I walked into...," Scahill pauses, looking for the phrase, "like the war was just beginning."

"Making more enemies than killing terrorists"

One upshot of this new "doubled down" war is the rise and rise of the Central Intelligence Agency as a central force in American covert ops. "From 9/11 to now the CIA has been on an upward return back to paramilitary activity. There's been a re-paramilitarisation of the CIA," Scahill argues. "The CIA has become deeply invested in the killing business [with the drone programme] but also working in concert with special ops forces" like Seal Team 6 (otherwise known as the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU), Delta Force and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the shadowy group responsible for Gardez.

"To call it a war against terrorism means you're going to have a military or paramilitary response to it. And any legal process for confronting it goes out the window. It just becomes the laws of war, but we don't even obey the laws of war because this is a stateless enemy that doesn't wear a uniform." Later on he tells me, "There really are no rules."

Scahill is clear in his own mind that the US is largely out of the business of spying. "It is deeply invested in killing its way to victory; that's the strategy. And it's bankrupt. We're making more enemies than we are killing terrorists." He pauses. "Or suspected terrorists, whatever."

Accountability has been thin on the ground. Farea al-Muslimi's hearing at the Senate judicial sub-committee should have been America's cinematic moment of realisation when he arrived in Washington just six days after a US drone hit his home village, Wessab, killing five people.

"What violent militants had previously failed to achieve," he told the hearing, "one drone strike achieved in an instant. Drones are the face of America for many Yemenis."

Lawmakers, academics and ex-military staff at the hearing listened politely. Much of the press hailed Muslimi as a "young, brave voice" but it was what a lot of reporters left out that was far more telling.

"It was embarrassing," Scahill interrupts, the moment I bring it up.

One ex-Air Force pilot suggested using "remotely-piloted aircraft" instead of drones, to put to bed the "anti-American propaganda" that killing civilians can create. Utah's Republican Senator, Mike Lee, joined others in cracking a few wise ones about being sentenced to death for going over one's allotted speaking time. As Rolling Stone pointed out soberly afterwards, "That al-Muslimi had minutes earlier described fearing for his life after hearing the buzz of a drone only made the Senators' behaviour more distasteful."

Obama's own do-or-die moment came last month when he made his supposedly landmark drone speech. Despite peace activist Medea Benjamin's best efforts to remind the president of his responsibility for the death of 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki son of Anwar, killed just weeks before the ultimate message from the president of the United States was clear: "What I'm doing is right, justifiable and legal. Now dig it."

Scahill sums it up differently: "You litigate in the media and then fast forward to the execution phase." The murder of two US citizens from the same family seems for him to be an embodiment of the US justice system today and its Wild West rule of law abroad. However, he adds, "I don't think there should be a difference how we view Americans and non-Americans; morally there's no difference."

Furthermore, for Scahill, "If a society that claims to be the shining city on top of the hill for the rest of the world to emulate - if it's going to treat its own citizens like that, what does that say about how it's going to treat Afghans or Pakistanis or Yemenis? If we're going to sentence our own citizens without even charging them with a crime, it speaks volumes about how we're going to treat the rest of the world."

Covert operations in Syria?

America seems more aware of its bloody footprint in the Middle East than maybe ever before. Maybe that's why Scahill can talk about collateral damage with prime time TV hosts like Jay Leno. But what's changed?

"Nobody wants to talk about this stuff." The exposure that Dirty Wars is getting suggests that's not entirely true, but nobody in charge wants to talk about it. And there is no better evidence of that than in Syria. Scahill, nodding, has been waiting for this to come up.

"The cruise missile liberal crowd is pressuring Obama to get involved," he starts, entering MSNBC kill-mode, measured but quietly angry. "History just repeats itself. If the US hadn't been so deeply involved with enraging multiple Muslim countries' populations because of its unquestioning support for Israel's policies in occupied Palestine because of its own militarism in the region, maybe we could have an actual debate about what kind of humanitarian role the US could play in stopping the slaughter in Syria."

Given the conversation so far, Syria's significance for America as a forwarding post for Iran surely means US involvement has passed the point of issuing red lines and warnings to Assad. What has Scahill heard?

"I hear... rumblings in intelligence and military circles that the US - in a very small, footprint sort of way - has engaged in dabbling in covert ops in Syria."

Engaged in dabbling, dabbling twice removed.

"I don't have any evidence but I wouldn't be shocked if the US already was engaged in covert ops in Syria," he adds. "What I hear from my sources in the special ops community in the US... is that there is great consternation about getting involved in Syria. They do not want to be getting involved there."

Scahill takes time on the emphases. "When you speak to conservative military folks, there's a lot of concern that the US, if it intervenes, is going to be fighting on the side of people that ultimately have more in common with al-Qaeda's world view than they do with America's."

Washington's rudimentary (or blinkered) understanding of Syria, as well as jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra's "own counter-insurgency", has only complicated things. "There's a rather ironic contradictory reality that part of the US government wants Assad to be overthrown and at the same time they're deeply concerned about who would take power. I don't think the empire has its own politics straight yet on Syria."

Syria looks like the greatest challenge - or is it an affront? - to American intelligence since the road to the Iraq war.

And it's this time of uncertain flux for the American empire that Dirty Wars finds itself. Change, whatever that means, will have to come from outside but Scahill has given us a vital weapon in that fight against the Obama wars: knowledge.

Dirty Wars premieres at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Thursday 13 and Friday 14. Director Rick Rowley will be attending both screenings. For more information, visit:

]]> (Tom Rollins) Americas Fri, 14 Jun 2013 15:08:41 +0000
From red lines... to white flags Washington has declared its red lines, confirmed that it is reviewing its policy and position on the Syrian crisisWhen US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart and host Sergei Lavrov, make an announcement on having reached an agreement to hold an international conference on the Syrian crisis following marathon all night discussions, we know that such an announcement can only be made as part of a deal between the foreign ministers of the world's two superpowers.

It is clear that the U.S. administration had to make the bigger compromise in adopting the Russian stance and political formula.  At a time when Washington has declared its red lines, confirmed that it is reviewing its policy and position on the Syrian crisis, and that it intends to arm the opposition with advanced modern weapons, calling for a 'peace conference' yields to Russia's terms by admitting the 'legitimacy' of the Syrian regime. Moreover, it fails to repeat the 'traditional requirement' for Bashar's departure as a condition for any negotiations with him.

We are certainly not talking about the 'irrefutable evidence' confirming Bashar's use of chemical weapons against his own people, nor are we talking about Obama's reiteration of his favourite phrase - that the days of the Syrian regime are numbered. The talk here is about negotiations on the basis of the Geneva communique', which calls for the formation of a transitional government that brings together members of the regime and the opposition, without making any mention of the future of the regime and its President.

I can't help but wonder what the ‘password' or the code is that triggered this enormous shift in the American stance and imposed this sudden retreat from the military options that have been on the table for the last two years; trading them in for diplomatic options aimed at reaching a political solution through negotiations between the opponents.

The password is made up of 7 characters, spelling out ‘Israel' and the concern for its future and its existence within safe and stable borders, in addition to eliminating of the threat of war, and neutralising the biggest danger to is, which is chaos and the possibility of Syria turning into a base for "Al-Qaida".

The Russian and American administrations may differ in opinion over the Al-Assad regime and over whether it should continue or not. However, they do agree on a joint enemy, which is Islamic Jihad, and which caused them humiliating defeats in Afghanistan (America at the hands of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and Russia at the hands of the Afghan Jihadists) and in Iraq (America), not to mention Israel's defeat in southern Lebanon in 2006, and its lack of victory in its war on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 due to the perseverance of resistance groups.

There are other additional factors that may have played a significant role in the shift of the American position which are summed up in the following points:

• Firstly, the Obama administration does not want a new war in the Middle East, especially in Syria, because it would not have guaranteed results. It would also require American troops on the ground in the event that any decision to intervene is made to establish a no-fly zone or to seize the chemical weapons store (America would need 75,000 soldiers).

• Secondly, the failure of all American and Arab efforts to find a "secular" alternative for the Bashar Al-Assad regime in the event he is overthrown. The Syrian coalition has no leader since the resignation of Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, and his nominated successor, Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, who has been a leader of a ministry with no ministers for over 2 months, is not accepted by the majority of Syrians both inside and outside Syria. Furthermore, there has been news of his intention to resign.

• Thirdly, serious disputes between the regional square supporting the Syrian opposition reflected in the most recent Friends of Syria Conference in Istanbul. Turkey and Qatar are on one hand and Saudi Arabia and the UAE are on the other, which greatly frustrated Kerry.

• Fourthly, the steady expansion of Islamic jihadist groups on the Syrian ground, and the fact that they have won over the hearts and minds of a lot of Syrians due to their discipline and the toughness of their fighters. Moreover, they are impressed by the humility of their leaders, as well as the fact that they have been staying away from the spotlight, and have provided tangible services to the citizens, especially security, order, and judicial justice.

• Finally, the Israeli attack on Syria, which was an escalation of the conditions in the area which are on the verge of a destructive regional war. This attack embarrassed the regime and its supporters in Moscow, Tehran, and southern Lebanon, and forced them all into making an inevitable retaliation to save their reputation as "the axis of evil" and to respond to the criticisms saying they are able to retaliate against the "terrorism" of the opposition but are silent against the terrorism of Israel.

The question at hand concerns the possibility of this sudden conference being successful in reaching a political settlement. Also, will the invited parties attend the conference, i.e. the opposition and the regime, and have genuine intentions and desires to make this work?

Furthermore, which party is legitimate and acceptable to represent the opposition; the National Coalition, the National Council, the opposition inside Syria, the coordination committee or the independents? Or if a decision to form a delegation combining all these forces is made, what will the selection process be, what are the standards, and who will head the delegation?

The national Coalition made a statement yesterday saying it would not participate in the conference unless an agreement is made for al-Assad to step down. This statement was a gift on a silver platter presented to the regime that excused it from being the first to refuse, as it was believed that the latter would have a problem sitting at the same table with and on the same level as the opposition that wants to overthrow it.

There are two men who will emerge victorious from this peaceful Russian-American action. The first is President Bashar Al-Assad (if temporarily) and the second is Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy. Al-Assad has regained his international legitimacy because he and his regime will return to the arena with power and with the recognition from the Americans he has long been seeking. As for Lakhdar Brahimi, the decision concerning his resignation will be postponed for the next 6 months, as well as his retirement and the fact that he will be forgotten, during which he will be able to enjoy the political and media lights.

America does not want a war in Syria or Iran and will avoid it at any cost, and the Russians share the same fear. However, the only war they want to engage in, either together or individually is the war against Islamic Jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Stay tuned for the upcoming American and Russian "awakenings". Whether the scheduled peace conference is a success or a failure, eliminating the Al-Nusra Front and the likes is the new basis for Russian-American cooperation.

The author is editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper, London. This article is a translation from the Arabic published on 8 May 2013.

]]> (Abdul Bari Atwan) Americas Fri, 10 May 2013 14:30:33 +0000
Israel Lobby out in force to block Hagel's appointment as US Secretary of Defence Jennifer Rubin used her Right Turn column in the Washington Post to accuse Hagel of "describing Israel as an apartheid state".Anti-Hagel groups in Washington are doing all they can to block Barack Obama's nominee for the post of Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel. The anti-Hagel alliance, led from behind the scenes by the powerful Israel Lobby group AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), also includes the DEBKA Jewish intelligence site, Washington Free Beacon and dozens of other shadowy bodies funded by right-wing multi-millionaire Sheldon Adelson, who financed Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid. The alliance believes that "the time has come to overthrow Hagel", according to neocon William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine.

In the propaganda-laden DEBKA FILES, named after the traditional Palestinian dance, the groups target Hagel because "he wants to contain Iran and avoid aggression". They also accuse him of "working to undermine America's military arsenal through his intentions to reduce the defence budget". Moreover, according to the Washington Free Beacon, Hagel is "Anti-Israel and not friendly enough with Israel" while receiving funds from a previously unheard-of group called "Friends of Hamas".  It has also been reported that Hagel gave a speech to the Arab organisation ADC, which is an anti-Israel body, to combat racism. In addition, representatives of the military-industrial complex have resorted to accusing him of being "weak in issues concerning US national security and the fight against America's enemies".

In all of this accusatory rhetoric, there are contradcitions in the claims made by the two wings of US Republicanism. While Senator Ted Cruz of the extreme right-wing "Tea Party" accuses Hagel of "acquiring funds from Friends of Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon", the senator from the military-industrial complex in South Carolina, Lindsay Graham, said, "I am stalling the appointment of Hagel until President Obama reveals the hidden details of the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi in September, 2012". This was Graham's way of trying to blackmail the US President and impose on him other agreements, that are not in any way related to the nomination or appointment of Chuck Hagel.

A lot of this revolves around a fabrication by a reporter from the Daily News. "Friends of Hamas" is the creation of Dan Friedman whose idea of fun was to try to link Hagel to this entirely fictional organisation. The story was picked up by Jewish-American journalist Ben Shapiro, who works for AIPAC, using, which specialises in opposing the Palestinian cause. Shapiro pushed the "Friends of Hamas" scam around Republican senators, and they fell for it, even after Friedman himself confessed that he had "made it up to see how far Republicans would go to cling on to any rumour that may oust Hagel".

In the most recent attempt to block the appointment of Hagel, scheduled for next week, Jennifer Rubin used her Right Turn column in the Washington Post to accuse Hagel of "describing Israel as an apartheid state".

She believes that such a turn of phrase is sufficient to debar Hagel from high office. Writing in the Jewish-American Commentary magazine, which represents the right-wing views of Israel's ruling Likud Party and defends illegal Israeli settlements, Jonathan Tobin urged Republicans and friends of Israel in the Senate not to rush their vote for Hagel until they are sure of his failure.

That Rubin should take umbrage at Hagel describing Israel as an apartheid state during a speech at Rutgers University is interesting given that the same phrase was, in fact, also used by Israel's Minister of Defence Ehud Barak in 2010. "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," said Barak. "If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

It seems that Israel Lobbyists are very selective in those it deems to be beyond the Pale.

]]> (Saeed Eraikat) Americas Sun, 24 Feb 2013 05:00:00 +0000
Waiting for Obama Waiting for ObamaUS President Barack Obama will pay a visit to the Middle East next month. This will be his first trip to Israel in particular since his election in 2008 and it comes just after his re-election for a second term in office.

Palestinian and Arab expectations of Obama started on a high; the first African-American president has a Muslim heritage, and he expressed clear interest in the peace process. Sadly, Obama's administration relegated the Palestinian issue to the bottom of its list of priorities, preferring to deal with it on the basis of conflict management rather than making efforts to find a solution.

America opposed the Palestinian Authority's move to join the UN and its institutions and has used the financial weapon of blocking aid as a punishment for the PA's successes. It has also used its Security Council veto to deflect criticism of Israeli settlement expansion and is using every tool at its disposal to block Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to be part of a Palestinian government if the PA wants US support, even if Mahmoud Abbas remains as President.

It is important to point out that the Obama administration could go further in such efforts, including the closure of the PLO's office in Washington and putting a stop to all political dealings with the umbrella body and the PA. On the contrary, though, it has tried to convince the US Congress to release American aid to the PA and helped to persuade Israel to transfer tax and customs revenues to the Authority, which have been frozen several times. The basis for such action is the recommendation of Israeli security service chiefs who fear that the continuation of disabling sanctions against the PA will lead to its collapse.

The US administration wants to stop Palestinian moves to internationalise the conflict; to restrict the benefits of acquiring non-member observer state status at the UN and use it instead to resume negotiations with Israel. Thus, the Obama team wants to manage the conflict because it does not have, and is not expected to have any time soon, the courage and vision necessary to end it. America does not have the political will to impose a balanced and just solution so the basis for serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is missing. The most that can be achieved by the Obama administration are some steps to provide a facade for the "peace process", which actually died a long time ago, in order to block the progress of any other solutions which are not deemed to be in Israel's best interests. As such, Washington is keen to lower expectations about Obama's visit, stressing that he does not have any new proposals.

Nevertheless, the signs are that he hopes to repair his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; secure Israel's agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue and political change in the region; and look into the possibility of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations because the ongoing stalemate will lead to further unrest in the region and will harm American and Israeli interests severely.

Israel is being encouraged to offer some confidence-building steps, such as the release of some Palestinian detainees in its jails, a visible improvement in living conditions in the occupied West Bank, the transfer of tax revenues to the PA, the easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip and discussions about a settlement freeze. In return, the PA will be asked to enter negotiations without preconditions which include a call for a complete end to settlement building and expansion, a clear and binding reference for the peace process based on the June 1967 borders and the PA's new UN status, and the release of detainees serving long sentences, as well as those detained prior to the Oslo Accords.

America, Israel and some European countries are also demanding that the PLO/PA must agree not to join international agencies and sign international agreements, especially the international criminal court; they fear that Israelis could face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. If Hamas agrees and works towards "moderation", its participation in the Palestinian political system could be accepted and Washington may lift its veto of the reconciliation process. However, even though the proposed Israeli confidence-building steps do not touch on the essence of Palestinian demands, it is extremely doubtful that the new Israeli government can or will meet them, especially with regards to settlements and Palestinian prisoners.

The Israeli election did not change the country's position towards the Palestinians, the peace process and final status issues. In fact, the Palestinian issue was noticeable by its absence from the election campaigns of the winning parties. New golden boy Yair Lapid and his party are only now talking about negotiations to prevent Israel's further isolation in the international community. With regards to his stand on Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, security and the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, essentially he is close to Netanyahu. He recently criticised an offer made by ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA because it included the sharing of Jerusalem as a capital and hints at a more favourable position on Palestinian refugees' right of return.

The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, still counts on the revival of the peace process and America's role, despite Obama's visit casting some dark shadows over Palestinian reconciliation. Although senior negotiator Saeb Erekat has denied this, the visit has seen the reconciliation process put on hold until the results of Obama's trip to the region have become clear. The PA does not want to be in a situation where the presence of Hamas may have a negative impact on Obama.

It is worth asking why everyone is acting as if nothing has changed, despite Palestine's enhanced status at the UN. Why isn't the PA acting, even gradually, like a nation state by holding elections for a parliament instead of a legislative council? What has happened to the committees formed to push through reconciliation? There is no other explanation other than that everything has been frozen so as not to affect Obama's visit, and yet wouldn't it have been better for the Palestinians to receive the US president with a united front and programme for joining the international community to give the nascent Palestinian state some real authority and strength for negotiations?

Resuming negotiations for the sake of negotiations is a big mistake, compounded by America's one-sided sponsorship, and the false role of the Middle East Quartet. Without an adjustment to the balance of power, negotiations will continue to benefit Israel at the expense of the Palestinians by default. Without international guarantees for genuine and binding negotiations based on international laws and resolutions, under the auspices of the United Nations, Palestinian rights will still be denied. Indeed, the Quartet should be disbanded as it is ineffectual and merely circumvents those rights. Failure to do any of this renders the political, diplomatic, legal and moral achievement of Palestine's new UN status practically useless.

Preserving this achievement and developing it requires a serious effort to obtain US and Israeli recognition of the Palestinian state before any other condition in order to launch negotiations on a more level playing field. More than 22 years have passed since the Madrid conference, and Oslo is now 20 years old, both having been a catastrophe for the Palestinians. Israel's occupation is more deeply entrenched than ever before, its illegal settlements are growing daily, and the land available for a Palestinian state is shrinking. If this is not addressed, negotiations of any kind will be a waste of time, achieving nothing except allowing Israel to strengthen further its "facts on the ground".

]]> (Hani Almasri) Americas Sun, 24 Feb 2013 03:00:00 +0000
Which Obama should we believe? Which Obama should we believe?As the news of the Connecticut school massacre sinks in, it would take a hard-hearted person not to feel for the parents, families and friends of the victims. It is the sort of event which most of us will not experience first-hand, but some of us may know someone who has gone through a similar tragedy.

In fact, a good friend of mine lost one nephew in a bomb attack in 2008 and last month another nephew was seriously wounded in almost identical circumstances. On the second occasion, President Barack Obama gave the people who wounded the young man - one leg was blown off, as was half of an arm - the green light to continue with their maiming and slaughter of innocents "in self-defence". My friend, as you might have guessed, is a Palestinian from Gaza; his nephews' attackers were Israelis. There was no sign of any grief from Obama, the newly-elected US president on either occasion. No wiping of a tear, nor heartfelt words to try to comfort those left behind to cope with their grief and efforts to re-establish a normal life of the kind we all take for granted.

Like all of his predecessors since World War Two, Obama gives Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wants to the Palestinians. Indeed, he even makes sure that it has the most up-to-date arsenal with which to do its dirty work. Just last week, it was announced that America will replace the munitions used by Israel in its massive bombardment of civilians in the Gaza Strip for eight days and nights in November. Has he suggested that arms and ammunition should be made easier for US citizens to obtain in the wake of Connecticut? No way; he's already, less than 24 hours later, talking of re-opening the debate about gun control. The President of the United States is, however, more than willing to pump the most lethal munitions the military-industrial complex can produce to a state which breaks international laws and conventions at will, and with impunity thanks to his country's unflinching support.

Israel fulfils all of the usual criteria for classification as a rogue state, and yet America insists that it has a "right" to defend its citizens from "terrorism". As the dominant state in the world, the US definition of "terrorism" and who is a "terrorist" takes precedence, so the people of Palestine, whose right as a people under military occupation to resist in every which way they can must surely take precedence over any rights of the occupiers, are labelled as "terrorists". This is manifestly unjust, yet the same president, a "family man" who can shed a tear at the tragic loss of American lives is incapable of sharing the pain of the family men and women who lose their children in besieged Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Far from it; he encourages the killers to carry on with more of the same. And what about the victims of America's drone attacks, many of whom, like those in Gaza killed by Israeli bombs paid for by US taxpayers, have also been "children aged between 5 and 10 years... With their entire lives ahead of them..."?  No US presidential tears are shed for them on prime-time television.

There are many aspects of Obama which are hard to stomach: the nauseous pseudo-sincerity which afflicts all US politicians, especially at election time (who are they waving at when they step on to the podium?); his crocodile tears at the deaths of innocent American children when he and his people know that he has been responsible for the violent and bloody deaths of hundreds of children around the world; his weasel words in Cairo in 2009 which haven't been matched by his actions; in short, the hypocrisy and double standards that affect international politics led by Washington. So which Obama on view should we believe?

Can we really believe him when he talks about the need for gun control at home while he is all too willing to spread death and destruction through arms sales and "military aid" to countries like Israel? Can we really believe him when he talks about protecting "US interests" when what he really means is bowing to the pro-Israel Lobby which dictates America's foreign policy and puts the interests of an alien state before those of the American people? Can we really believe him when he makes speeches promising better relations with the Muslim world but then continues to give the main protagonist in the Middle East and the biggest threat to world peace - the state of Israel - unbridled political, financial and military support to occupy Muslim lands and kill Muslims almost daily? Can we really believe anything the man says about "peace and democracy" when he presides over a government which sends drones to kill Muslims in foreign lands with an incredibly high body count of innocents along the way?

The enigma that is Barack Obama is becoming clearer. He is in thrall to Israel and the campaign donations and votes that his support elicits. Even as a second-term president able to pursue his own policies without fear of the lobbyists and their pernicious agendas, Obama is weak and incapable of standing up for what is right. The people of America should thus take his words about reassessing gun control with a massive pinch of salt. He doesn't mean them; his actions in the Middle East and elsewhere demonstrate that he cannot mean them. His hands are so blood-soaked that it is hypocritical of him or anyone else to pretend otherwise.

Nevertheless, unless he is telling us that American children are more deserving than children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen - as a family man with connections in Africa could he really believe that? - then he has to start making changes which are within his power to prevent even more young lives being lost needlessly. He will face a huge battle against the gun lobby in the United States, so he is unlikely to achieve anything in that respect. US support for Israel, however, is within his power to stop  tomorrow, or make it much more conditional on Israel obeying the law like other responsible nations, if he wants to. That is the real question today as the world contemplates the massacre in Connecticut. Does President Obama really mean what he says on this and similar incidents? The evidence suggests that the answer is no, and the world - America included - will remain a dangerous place for children and their parents because an impotent US president won't, indeed can't, do anything about it.

]]> (Ibrahim Hewitt) Americas Sat, 15 Dec 2012 15:45:23 +0000
Israel: guaranteed US election winner Israel: guaranteed US election winnerTHE results of US elections are eccentric. While re-electing Barack Obama to the White House, voters also chose members of the opposing party as their representatives in Congress.

Pundits refer to this as division of powers at its best.

Today, next to President Barack Obama, Abigael Evans - the four-year-old from Fort Collins Colorado - must be the second happiest person that the presidential election is finally over.

Last week, Abigael became an instantaneous American celebrity after her mum posted on a tearful, 22-second clip of her on YouTube declaring: "I am tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney." As of yesterday her video had received more than 13 million hits.

She was not alone.

Living in a swing state, the little girl was among those who bore the brunt of an estimated one million presidential election advertisements.

For anyone who has lived through a US election the immediate relief is not the outcome, but the end of an incessant bombardment of primetime commercials advising people who not to vote for, rather than who they should.

In this election cycle, presidential candidates and Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) broke a new record - raising and spending more than $2 billion.

US election laws do not allow citizens to contribute more than $2,500 to a candidate in an election year.

However, Super PACs were permitted in a 2010 Supreme Court ruling to raise money from undeclared individuals or corporations and spend unlimited cash during an election cycle.

This has more significance in this election as Obama could potentially fill more than half of the seats on the US Supreme Court.

Last month alone, Super PACs supporting both political parties invested more than $526 million in the US election.

The main Republican-inclined Super PACs were Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. An important financier for Romney's Super-PAC was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson, who brags of being "the richest Jew in the world", was cited by the British Guardian newspaper on November 1 as saying that supporting the hawkish current Israeli Prime Minister was a "necessary bulwark" to peace talks and Palestinian statehood, "a prospect he abhors".

On the Democratic side, the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action was funded, among others, by Hollywood tycoons like Haim Saban of Saban Entertainment and DreamWorks founders Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Saban, according to The New York Times on April 9, 2009, threatened to withhold campaign contributions to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if Israeli firster Jane Harman was not appointed to an intelligence post in a Congressional committee.

DreamWorks presented Israeli president Shimon Peres last March with the original piece of artwork from their first animated feature film Prince of Egypt.

Peres in turn, applauded Hollywood's influence on youth to the point where "children believe the actors more than the politicians".

The major bankrollers on both sides of the US election share one thing in common - a special affinity to Israel.

This ensures that irrespective of the victor, an Israel-first financier will have special access to the resident of the White House.

The Economist's special report on October 12 suggested that 80 per cent of the cash that funds Super PACs "comes from fewer than 200 donors".

Statistically, this means that less than 0.0000007pc of the US population has the largest impact in shaping the outcome of the American election.

Chrystia Freeland, editor of Thomson Reuters Digital, sees status symbol transformation for the super-rich - from conspicuous consumers to influencing public policy.

She warned: "Democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote. But when economic disparity grows and transfers into political disparity, well, you have to ask where it's going."

Mr Kanj ( writes a weekly column on Arab issues and is the author of "Children of Catastrophe," Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.

]]> (Jamal Kanj) Americas Thu, 08 Nov 2012 17:30:00 +0000
Israel is a threat to US democracy Israel is a threat to US democracyThe US State Department is circulating a confidential letter urging European Union (EU) members and other "friendly" countries to help block Palestinian attempts to secure non-member Observer State status at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

The memorandum, seen by this writer, asserts falsely that the US and the Middle East Peace Quartet are working toward a two-state solution that envisages "a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian State as a homeland for the Palestinian people".

While the Peace Quartet has endorsed the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, it never agreed on defining Israel as a "Jewish state". In fact, this issue was a sticking point leading to the failure of the Quartet's meeting in July last year.

The State Department communiqué also claims that the US continues "to urge both parties to avoid provocative one-sided actions that could undermine trust".

Sadly and conspicuously, the US is treating Palestinian diplomatic efforts at the UN as more serious than Israel's interminable breaches of the 20-year-old Oslo Accords.

Phlegmatic on Israeli violations, the US State Department is mobilising its own diplomatic corps on behalf of Israel to undermine Palestinians' basic right to a state of their own.

In the private American document, the administration cautioned that "a General Assembly resolution on Palestinian statehood could also open the door to Palestinian participation as a state in other international fora, including at the International Criminal Court (ICC)."

Why is the US concerned about this? UN Observer State status will only grant the ICC jurisdiction over war crimes committed within the geographical area of the state. In the absence of war crimes, the ICC's jurisdiction becomes immaterial. Arguably, therefore, US apprehension over Palestinian entry into the UN is an implicit admission of Israeli culpability in such crimes.

The letter carried an oblique warning to European countries that Palestine joining the UN will have "significant negative consequences" including "our ability to maintain our significant financial support for the Palestinian Authority", implying that EU countries will be left with the burden of supporting a Palestinian economy strangled by the Israeli occupation.

Israel's grip on US foreign policy is bizarre. Last month, the US President felt obliged to cancel a 20-year-old tradition of meeting world leaders present for the opening of the UN General Assembly session, because the Israeli Prime Minister was not there. To avoid the appearance of meeting world leaders, but not Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama called off his meetings altogether.

The irrational Israeli influence over American foreign policy was investigated at length in "The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who argued: "It is time for the United States to treat Israel not as a special case but as a normal state, and to deal with it much as it deals with any other country."

In his farewell speech in 1796, the founding father and first US President George Washington warned his country about the danger of "the insidious wiles of foreign influence". Washington added, "The jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."

Indeed, today the Israeli lobby's diabolic "influence" over elected American officials is the most destructive threat to US democracy. His successors should heed George Washington's warning.

]]> (Jamal Kanj) Americas Thu, 25 Oct 2012 10:30:00 +0000
Cultural bias in the US media Cultural bias in the US mediaEdward Said's scholarly work on Western media coverage of Muslim and Arab countries showed that it has been shaped by discreet cultural biases or political motives. This fact couldn't be more pertinent than in recent coverage of protests against the film deriding Prophet Muhammad.

For days, the media was fixated on protests and the ensuing senseless violence. US presidential candidate Mitt Romney's knee-jerk reaction to protests in Libya and Egypt was to admonish the Obama administration, blaming the violence on field ambassadors for condemning the movie and not "standing up for American values".

The same media and candidate all but ignored the more than 30,000 Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi, protesting against the attack on the US Consulate. At least 10 Libyans were killed as they ransacked offices of the group allegedly linked to the assault on the consulate, but the Western media downplayed the sacrifices of Libyans fighting against the suspected killers of the American diplomat and staff.

The cultural bias in reporting is prevalent in major US media outlets. For example, on 1st October, NBC news reported that "three US soldiers" and "several Afghanis" were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. Viewers were not told that the "several Afghanis" were actually 11 human beings, including four police officers, an interpreter and six civilians.

This pattern of reporting exemplifies a subconscious cultural bias, where the loss of American (or Israeli) life is more important than that of others. Americans and Israelis are considered to be real people, while the rest are "collateral damage"; mere statistics; or as Said put it, the Others.

The cultural bias is complemented by self-motivated reporters, who manipulate the Middle East news narrative relayed to unsuspecting Westerners. For example, many international correspondents in Jerusalem are reserve duty officers or have children serving in the Israeli army.

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth, said: "It is common to hear Western reporters [in Israel] boasting to one another about their Zionist credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children."

The New York Times never disclosed that its Jerusalem bureau chief between 2010 and 2012, Ethan Bronner, was an Israeli citizen, with a son serving in the Israeli army. Nor did National Public Radio reveal that its correspondent Linda Gradstein was married to an Israeli military sniper.

Other media pundits, including Joel Greenberg, once a New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, have served in the Israeli army and been on reserve duty. Mitch Weinstock, national editor of the Union Tribune in San Diego, is an Israeli military veteran.

Wolf Blitzer, otherwise known by his Israeli pen name Zev Barak, hosts a major CNN news programme, but was once the Middle East foreign policy analyst and editor for Near East Report, an organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the strongest pro-Israel lobby group in the USA.

News correspondents, veterans and reserve army officers with conspicuous national allegiances cease to be objective, especially when reporting on their own military units, ex-service or governments. Reporters with predisposed opinions are advocates generally incapable of being neutral.

The combination of a formidable Israeli lobby charting US foreign policy in the Middle East, juxtaposed with special interest reporters manipulating America's public opinion, suggest that we can expect more US involvement in new, Israeli-contrived adventures akin to the invasion of Iraq.

* Mr Kanj ( writes a weekly column on Arab issues and is the author of "Children of Catastrophe," Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.

]]> (Jamal Kanj) Americas Thu, 11 Oct 2012 13:30:00 +0000
The Jewish lobby and the race to the White House The Jewish lobby and the race to the White HouseWith the approach of the 2012 U.S. presidential elections scheduled for November, difficult questions have arisen about the significance of the Jewish lobby in those elections on the one hand, and its ability to influence the U.S. stance towards the Israeli establishment and its orientations on the other.

It appears that the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney's recent visit to Israel marked the beginning of a campaign to increase his support base and gain the trust of American Jewry, who number in the region of 5.5 million, and given the significant standing of the Jewish lobby in the U.S.

Accordingly, while in Israel, Romney declared that the U.S. should support the military option for putting an end to Israeli fears over Iranian nuclear ambitions. But more than this, one of his close associates asserted that Romney would respect any possible Israeli decision to launch strikes against Iran, even if they did so without getting the green light from the U.S.

In response, Obama has sought to appease the Israeli establishment by constantly talking about the strategic relations between the United States and Israel, and went even further than this by issuing several laws that would support Israel at all levels.

The Jewish lobby and the race to the White HouseThe two candidates and appeasement of the lobby

The election campaign is expected to be heated as both candidates; Barack Obama for the Democratic Party and Mitt Romney for the Republican Party, will seek to use all cards available to them in order to reach the White House.

Among the telling signs of the battle ahead are the attempts to appease and gain the trust of the Jewish lobby; whether to win the votes of key states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, or to gain financial support for the presidential candidate even though Jews make up less that 2% of the total U.S population. 

Nevertheless, Jewish influence far exceeds their numerical strength owing to their effective organization and high levels of participation in voting during elections in general. More importantly, many Jews hold high-profile economic positions, alongside the obvious exclusivity they wield over the US media.

Accordingly, due to the relative importance of the capacity and influence of the well-organized Jewish lobby, both candidates have begun to make remarks indicating support for Israel. President Obama issued a law to support Israel's security through additional grants to finance the anti-missile Iron Dome project, and recently received several prominent Israelis. While in response, successive statements made by Romney – particularly during his recent visit to Israel– contain clear and public admissions regarding his views about Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel in addition to considering Israel's security a matter of importance to US national interest. On the other hand, he described the economic problems afflicting the Palestinian territories as not being a product of restrictions resulting from the occupation.

Israel, America, and the rock-solid bond

We can be certain that successive Israeli governments since 1948 have followed the Zionist movement's approach in relying on external allies. By linking its internal potential with external support, a certain type of force can be exerted in two directions. The first being to build and provide viability to the Zionist project, and the second being to conjure the strength needed to meet external challenges to Israel. Here we mean Israeli fears of its Arab surroundings which perceive it as a state established under exceptional circumstances, and at the expense of the Palestinian Arab people and their land.

In this context, in the mid-fifties Israel forged an alliance with France as a primary means of arming the Israeli army. It has also been able to build a strong relationship with former West Germany, and until the mid-seventies benefited from excellent German support in military and economic areas. Those relationships were preceded by the fact that Israel and the Zionist movement relied on the British support in the diplomatic, political and military arenas.

What is evident is that after its establishment in 1948, Israel was able to enlist America as an ally, which had a strong presence in the framework of international relations formed after World War II. Since that year, its relationship with the US has been characterized as ‘special' when compared to US relations with other countries. Direct and indirect US aid to Israel appeared to be the key attribute in the context of US-Israeli relations.

The reason for forging these relationships lies in the role played by Israel in the context of American political and strategic interests in the Middle East on the one hand, and the Jewish lobby's role in maintaining US support for Israel at all levels: military, political and diplomatic, on the other hand.

Observers note that the war of June 1967 was the cut-off point between the stage when Israel merely played an important role in the context of US interests in the Middle East, and the stage when it began to play a more significant role; this has left its mark on the US's exceptional relations with Israel.

The ever-ready US veto

Israel has financed its wars and aggression against the Arab states through emergency annual US logistics aid. Various studies confirm that US aid emerged as one of the most important indicators of US-Israeli relations. Hence since 1948 successive US administrations have approved the strategy based on the development of an alliance with Israel and of strengthening it in the various political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic fields.

This was reflected in America's support for Israel in the corridors of international organizations and the use of the US veto against any attempts to pass resolutions condemning Israel's practices and its repeated aggressions against Arab states. One of the most important features of American support for Israel is the policy of exerting constant pressure on the UN, which was forced several years ago to revoke the international resolution which drew parallels between Zionism and racism.

However, US aid to Israel has always been a cornerstone in the context of constant US support for Israel. Such assistance has solved numerous Israeli economic crises such as inflation in the mid-eighties, and has limited the worsening of other economic crises. Not to mention its important impact on helping to modernise the Israeli military machine and equipping it with various advanced American technology, including planes and tanks among other things.

Returning to the issue of financial aid to Israel, various specialized studies indicate that the value of accumulated US aid to Israel between 1948 and 2012  has reached $ 116 billion - about 60% of which has been in the form of military assistance, and 40% in the form of economic assistance. It is estimated that the value of direct accumulated US government aid to Israel will reach about $ 125 billion by 2015.

It is worth noting lastly that despite 78% of American Jews voting in favour of Obama during the last elections, and that 68% of registered Jewish voters support him [as compared to 25% support for Romney, according to opinion polls prior to Romney's recent Israel visit], he still needs opportunities to emphasise more clearly his support for Israel's security and the various orientations of the Israeli establishment in order to secure a large percentage of the Jewish votes. This is because Obama has not visited Israel during the past few years, and during his presidency, US-Israeli relations have witnessed several crises regarding Israeli positions. This includes the issue of settlement expansion and Israel rejecting the principle of the freezing settlement activity in the West Bank.

The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is translation from the Arabic which appeared in al Jazeera, 27/9/2012

]]> (Nabil Al-Sahli) Americas Fri, 05 Oct 2012 15:20:00 +0000