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. Wed, 02 Sep 2015 16:55:20 +0000 MEMO en-gb Does America really value democracy in Egypt? John Kirby, Rear admiral in the United States Navy

On 18 August, John Kirby, a spokesman for the US Department of State, condemned the human rights violations that have been taking place in Egypt as part of its war on terrorism. Despite his condemnation, though, Kirby also emphasised that America will continue to stand by Egypt.

In furtherance of this, US Secretary of State John Kerry accepted an invitation to Cairo recently in order to search for a middle path that would enable Egypt to continue its war on terror while also preserving human rights. This requires a great deal of strategic thinking so that trust can be built between the government and the people.

America’s lacklustre approach to maintaining the peace in Egypt has shocked activists lobbying for human rights and democratic values; many have given up on their hope that the US will help to implement a more ideal version of democracy, which it has tried to spread across the world. This is not the first time that people have been disappointed at America’s stance on Egypt, because the entire region is currently caught up in the chaos of foreign interference in domestic affairs simply so that foreign policy agendas can be implemented. In fact, the US has not supported democracy in Egypt since its pro-revolutionary sentiments in 2011, when it stood with the will of the people.

Since then, every American attempt to enable the implementation Egypt’s nascent democracy has been a blow to public relations. Democracy is not, however, Washington’s primary concern; it has demonstrated time and again that it has no problem about relegating democratic values to second place in order to protect America’s interests and position in the world. Brett Stephens, an expert on Arab affairs and President Obama's Middle East policy (Foreign Affairs, September-October 2015), put it succinctly when he described the US stance by saying that Americans value democracy and hold it dear but that it also instinctively threatens US interests in the region.

By taking the above factors into consideration perhaps we can identity the reasons for America’s current position on Egyptian events and why US national interests do not coincide with Egyptian democracy at the moment. The status quo does not reflect well on Obama or his administration; he has tried to implement the liberal values of the founding fathers and yet he failed to criticise the Mubarak regime in his famous 2009 speech, which prompted activists to protest in Cairo. Many human rights activists in Egypt view democracy as the inalienable right of everyone and mobilised themselves when the US president failed to criticise overtly the tyrannical nature of the Mubarak regime.

Egyptian journalist Abdel Halim Qandil emphasised later that one needs to understand that the US position on democracy in Egypt is not of Obama’s doing but belongs to his then Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates. Gates emerged from a meeting with Mubarak, saying that US aid to Egypt would not be enough of an incentive to improve its human rights situation.

The short-lived US honeymoon in support of democracy ended with the coup on 30 June 2013. Obama wasted many chances to help Egypt towards genuine democracy after the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi and the massacre in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square. We now know that what binds US-Egypt relations is hanging by a thread as the coup overlaps with the absence of democracy.

The US administration has long refused to call the military takeover in Egypt a coup because if it does it will have to suspend all economic and military support to the regime in Cairo. Nevertheless, there was a storm of protests from lobbyists and human rights activists in the US who were able to prevent the shipment of some military hardware to Egypt. Overall, though, there has been no change in policy. According to American journalist Paul Gitengeiger, the US shipped $150 million worth of arms and $170 million worth of Apache helicopters to Egypt in October 2014 alone.

Obama admitted recently that he is gravely embarrassed by his lack of support for democracy and the democratic process in Egypt. There is no need for any journalist to clarify or shed light on this issue because it is clear. Jen Psaki, Director of Communications at the US Department of State, said recently that it would not be possible for Washington to halt its economic support to Egypt given the depth and long-standing nature of US-Egypt relations. She expressed the US government’s belief that the ongoing political friction in Egypt will come to an end and that a civilian government will eventually be appointed. American interests in the Middle East have been largely focused on leading the coalition against ISIS, the violence in Yemen and, of course, reaching an agreement with Tehran on Iran’s nuclear programme. The question of democracy in Egypt is, therefore, at the bottom of the list of US priorities.

In February this year the ban on arms exports to Egypt was lifted following the formation of the Arab coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Many law centres have shamed the US government for overlooking the basic principles of national security and the insistence by Congress that Egypt has to be classified as a democracy before receiving its share of US aid.

John Kerry submitted a request on 12 May last year asking for Congressional approval for Egypt to receive US aid in order to protect America’s interests in the region. Although Congress believes that the secretary of state’s request ignores the legislators’ basic requirements for foreign aid, some still believe that it is important for Egypt to remain Washington’s partner in the Middle East because it has a direct role to play in regional stability and maintaining peace with Israel. The government in Cairo is also almost always ready to participate in counter-terrorist operations when asked to do so by the US, as well as curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, work towards supporting American military endeavours and ensure safe navigation in the Suez Canal.

No doubt Kerry’s letter will have relied on the old argument that Egypt has long been a democracy, and while there are very few good things to be said about the status quo in Egypt, the following points will have been emphasised in an effort to paint a better picture: despite its undemocratic ways the Egyptian administration has increased the number of women in parliament; protected the Copts and allowed them to build a church for their martyrs in Libya; improved the environment for international investments; and, finally, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was the first Egyptian president to visit the Christian community on one of its religious holidays.

It is clear that the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is threatening US interests in various ways but the placing of all bets on America’s potential to implement or influence democratic processes in this way is a lost bet in itself. Egypt will continue to be at the centre of this troubled region, but that does not mean that we should throw our hands up in despair because of the way that America chooses to commit to the values of democracy.

It is essential for the US to coach Egypt and lead it towards democracy through dialogue. More importantly, what is needed is for Egypt to humble itself for democracy. The war on terror requires many people to share power in the governmental system. For the successful Implementation of the American model in the Egyptian context, we need human rights organisations and lobbies to play a significant role in the dialogue between the US and Egypt by demanding the following:

1. For Egypt to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from its list of terrorist organisations because the US, which has not hesitated in the past to label random organisations as “terrorists” has found no reason to place the movement on such a list.

2. For America to commit to the implementation of the democratic process in Egypt and do what is necessary to promote a sense of understanding to build Egypt.

3. For those who are concerned about the human rights situation in Egypt to play an active role in America’s role in the country’s development and work to influence the agenda at hand. Among the items on this agenda should be changes to the newly-adopted terrorism law in Egypt, which went beyond the UN definition of an act of terrorism being an action that causes death and serious injury to a state, individual or organisation, while also taking people hostage. By contrast, the Egyptian government has defined terrorism in a way that criminalises any opposition political action and makes it punishable by law.

Many lobbies responded to the above law by emphasising the need for concise principles when it comes to law-making in order to prevent misuse and for people to be fully aware of what constitutes a crime in the eyes of the state and the law. In short, this law requires re-drafting so that terrorism is defined according to the international definition.

There is no doubt that the intention behind launching such a law in Egypt was to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence, it is negligent of America to promote democracy in Egypt only when it suits its own national security interests. We are right to ask if the US really values democracy in Egypt, or if it is just a convenient tool to use or discard when it suits Washington to do so.

The Egyptian government will not do anything that does not fulfil the terms of its peace agreement with Israel and its so-called war on terror. As such, we cannot call what is happening in this loose state “democracy” by any means. Having said that, those who are placing their bets on America’s success when it comes to this matter should not hold their breath, because US calculations ignore the legitimacy of Islamic movements and the sacrifices that they have made both before the coup and afterwards, particularly in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 23 August, 2015.

]]> (Abdullah Ali Ibrahim) Americas Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:50:34 +0000
How long will the world tolerate US exceptionalism? US president Barack ObamaThe Washington Post reported recently that Barack Obama has promised an extension of the military aid given to Israel. Instead of the current aid package of $3.1 billion every year, in 2017 it is likely to increase to $3.5 billion a year, making an increase of $400 million dollars over the next 10 years. This is in spite of the regular war crimes committed by the Israel Defence Forces and violations of international law by the Israeli government.

Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, which killed over 2,000 people, most of whom were civilians, demonstrated that it has no interest in complying with international law and no remorse about breaking it. Senior IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner even denied that Israel had bombed civilian infrastructure, including a UN school, which eyewitnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli strike. A year on, reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is negligible, post-traumatic stress disorder in children has reached record levels and normality has yet to be restored.

Despite the unsettling fact that the IDF has ruined a city beyond repair, killed innocents and destroyed the lives of the survivors of last year’s massacre, America still believes that it can justify an increase in military aid to Israel. Why? As long as the Israelis cite “security” and can sustain their hegemony, US exceptionalism is always on their side.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Obama on 28 May 2014 at a military academy. “But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” He spoke with confidence in his country’s policies, with his eyes carrying a glimmer of US elitism that silences the rest of the international community.

American exceptionalism means different things to different people. Those in Washington claim that it’s a way for America to exercise its power as “leader of the free world” and use military force to topple dictatorships and give those who roll their r’s too harshly for the average American tongue to comprehend a chance of some “modern liberal democracy and a taste of Western freedom.” Many others would define American exceptionalism as neo-imperialism, war apologetics or classism.

A WikiLeaks leak of a CIA memorandum, however, proves that not even the White House is convinced by the rhetoric that it appears to be selling, and that staff fear that their actions will make them be perceived as exporters of terrorism by America’s allies. They admit explicitly that the official narrative is inaccurate: “contrary to common belief, the American export of terrorism or terrorists is not a recent phenomenon.”

They then give examples of when the United States has exported terrorism, both state-sponsored and individual acts by American citizens. One example was that of American Jews committing acts of terrorism “against perceived enemies of Israel.” The case of Baruch Goldstein, a doctor from New York, was highlighted in the report. It was recalled that he moved to Israel in 1994 to join Kach, a neo-Nazi group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist who refused to recognise the existence of Palestinians, let alone their right to a state. He believed that non-Jewish residents of Israel should have three options: “Israeli Arabs,” he wrote in They Must Go, “would be given the options of accepting non-citizenship, leaving willingly with compensation, or being forcibly expelled without compensation.” His stance on the Palestinians is both eerie and inhumane: “All kinds of foolish people today speak of the need to recognise the ‘Palestinians’.”

When Goldstein joined Kach, he shot and killed 29 Palestinians while they were praying in Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron; the CIA says that this was the trigger for a series of Hamas bus bombings in 1995. The agency believes that if the notion grows that the United States and its citizens contribute to the spread of terrorism, it could have an impact on American hegemony and the willingness of other states to cooperate with it.

“If the US were seen as an exporter of terrorism, foreign partners may be less willing to cooperate with the United States on extrajudicial activities, including detention, transfer and interrogation of suspects in third party countries. As a recent victim of high-profile terrorism originating from abroad, the US Government has had significant leverage to press foreign regimes to acquiesce to requests for extraditing terrorist suspects from their soil. However, if the US were seen as an ‘exporter of terrorism,’ foreign governments could request a reciprocal arrangement that would impact US sovereignty.”

In addition to arming states which evidently do not understand the concept of complying with international law and safeguarding the lives of civilians in wartime, such policies also fuel animosity against US citizens.

Illegal invasions, based on lies leading to a series of war crimes, including the torture jungle of Abu Ghraib, in which US soldiers committed unspeakable crimes — including the rape of underage boys — have been used by terrorist groups to justify their own terrorist attacks against America. This is evident in Al-Qaeda’s propaganda. The group’s Inspire online magazine, aimed at teenagers in the West, used US soldiers’ heinous crimes and barbaric actions against civilians to encourage similarly violent retaliation. The first issue of the magazine set this theme as a propaganda ploy very strongly:

“We are not against Americans for just being American; we are against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil. What we see from America is the invasion of two Muslim countries, we see Abu Ghraib, Baghram and Guantanamo Bay. We see Cruise missiles and cluster bombs, and we have just seen in Yemen the death of 23 children and 17 women. We cannot stand idly in the face of such aggression, and we will get back and incite others to do the same.”

It is clear that contrary to rhetoric that comes out of top American officials in Washington, they know and understand that their policies are not only defeating their stated purpose, which is homeland “security”, but also violating international law. Despite their hegemonic status, they still worry that the international community may one day not be so tolerant, and act against their illegal activities committed under the cover of America’s treasured — but much-misused — “exceptionalism”.

]]> (Diana Alghoul) Americas Sat, 29 Aug 2015 11:43:18 +0000
Obama and Netanyahu: A humiliating recognition Dr Osama Abu IrshaidIn an interview conducted last Sunday on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, US President Barack Obama stated that he does not remember having encountered a foreign politician who interfered with American foreign policy as much as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does today, especially when it comes to the nuclear deal with Iran. Aside from the fact that Obama expressed his “dissatisfaction” with Netanyahu’s interference in US foreign affairs, the American president felt it necessary to emphasise the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, and the former’s “absolute commitment” to ensuring the security of the latter.

I would not be adding anything new by saying that the relationship between the two men has been tense since early 2009, and that Obama’s promises to the Palestinian people and his ambition to be the first US president to bring peace two the two parties has evaporated as a result of Netanyahu’s stubbornness. What hurt the relationship the most, both on the personal and the governmental levels, was when Obama left a meeting with Netanyahu at the White House in 2009 under the pretext that he had to have dinner with his family, as well as Netanyahu’s endorsement for conservative candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential elections.

The Iranian nuclear deal has strained the relationship between the two men and the two administrations even further. Despite the significance of the deal and the threats to Israeli security that any future agreement may give rise to, President Obama went through with the agreement and ignored Netanyahu’s objections. Moreover, Obama’s actions prompted Netanyahu to form a stronger alliance with the Republican Party, which currently enjoys a majority representation in both the US House of Representatives and the Senate. The Israeli Prime Minister gave a speech to Congress last March without Obama’s pre-approval, which was met with resentment by the White House. The Obama administration succeeded in confronting and getting past Netanyahu’s objections to the Iranian nuclear deal mainly because Obama himself sees this as a great part of his presidential legacy. The Israeli administration, along with its Republican allies, has not stopped trying to backtrack on the agreement and are using all their efforts today to stall it wherever possible..

Proof of these efforts is embodied by the recent trip to Israel of more than 58 Republican and Democratic representatives from US Congress, all of whom are members of AIPAC, Israel’s biggest force in Washington. These US representatives met up with Netanyahu to discuss the details of the nuclear deal with Iran. The objectives of both Israel and its US lobby are to bury the nuclear deal in Congress by getting at least two-thirds of Congress members to vote against it. While it is expected that Republicans within will vote against the agreement, they cannot override the power of Obama’s veto. Therefore, it is essential for Israel to reinforce its alliance with the Democrats, as the voices within Obama’s own party will prove to be invaluable.

All these factors bring us to the reality that many are aware of in the United States – although few are willing to say it – that the Israeli-American relationship benefits Israel more than it does the US, and despite the fact that Israel security (and very existence) depends on the United States, it continuously bites the hand that feeds it. An example of this is the fact that Israel spies on its paternal ally and has been found guilty of selling the latter’s secrets to its Chinese competitor.

In his 1989 book They Dare to Speak Out, former US Congressman Paul Findley discusses how AIPAC is quick to stifle any talk of re-evaluating the relationship between the United States and Israel and the detrimental consequences that the Israel Lobby has on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Findley is one of the US congressmen who lost his job due to ongoing pressure from the Zionist lobby. John Mearsheimer, Professor of Politics at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, confirmed these sentiments in their book entitled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which was released in 2007. Both professors have suffered a great deal due to the defamation campaign that has been launched against them since the publication of their book.

Obama himself has not succumbed to the Israel lobby’s claims that he is not a “true friend” of Israel, accusations that have been launched against him time and again despite the fact that the reality on the ground proves the contrary given the Obama administration’s unprecedented military support for Israel. Yet, during the 2012 US presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was quick to claim that Obama wanted to throw Israel “under the bus” and later that he was leading Israel to the “oven door” with is nuclear deal with Iran.

In short, what remains is Obama’s recognition that he is weak in this relationship; although in reality this confession is not of great importance. There needs to be recognition that the US is unable to escape Israel’s bullying, and while it is true that Obama has defied Israel a great deal as of late, we cannot negate the fact that Israel remains a master to its slave. As long as American politicians continue to pledge their allegiance to Israel before they pledge it to America, we should not hold our breath waiting for a change in America, even if dissent voices are beginning to emerge. .

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 14 August, 2015

]]> (Dr Osama Abu Irshaid) Americas Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:32:09 +0000
Latin America and Palestine have shared interests, so let’s build on them File photo of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez greeting the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in November 2009This weekend, Middle East Monitor (MEMO) will be hosting an international conference on Palestine and Latin America around the theme “Building solidarity for the 21st century.” Though not the first of its kind, this event is convened at an important juncture in the history of the people of both regions, emphasising a common destiny and shared interests; for more than a century they have shared a common yearning for freedom and true independence.

Ever since the early 20th century, Palestinians have migrated and settled throughout Latin America. The process was accelerated after the Nakba of 1948 when three-quarters of the Palestinian population were dispossessed of their land and forced into exile in an act of ethnic cleansing that continues to this day.

There are now an estimated 700,000 people of Palestinian descent living in Latin America. They constitute the largest concentration of Palestinians outside the Arab world and are in Chile and Honduras in particular.

In recent years, a number of Palestinians have risen to the highest ranks of political office in their adopted countries: Carlos Flores Facuss, President of Honduras from 1998 to 2002; Elas Saca Gonzalez, President of El Salvador from 2004 to 2009; Said Wilbert Musa, Prime Minister of Belize from 1998 to 2008; and Yehude Simon Munaro, Prime Minister of Peru from 2008 to 2009.

Against this backdrop it came as no surprise to see Latin American countries showing exceptional support for the Palestinians as they struggle to rid themselves of Zionist colonialism. That support has been manifested in various ways, including most notably the recognition of Palestine’s statehood at the UN.

Similarly, there has been a huge outpouring of official and popular support across the region for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip both during and after the series of Israeli assaults against the coastal enclave from 2008 onwards. Every successive attack brought forth waves of solidarity in Latin American countries, with some going so far as to expel Israeli diplomats and recall their ambassadors from Tel Aviv.

As the international community edges towards an increasingly multi-polar world and the emergence of the Global South in the international arena, those powers that have long dominated Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy are looking increasingly redundant. The importance of the Global South has been exemplified in particular by involvement with and support for Palestine in international forums.

The MEMO conference seeks to provide an understanding of the past and present relationship between Latin America and Palestine, explore how this relationship can be developed, and look into what impact it will have on the Palestine question.

On a more practical level, the conference aims to foster greater Latin American-European-Palestinian collaboration in civil society, politics and media. And equally, to improve understanding of 21st century transformations taking place in the Latin American and Palestinian struggles.

Then there is the issue of governance. It is here that the Palestine experience is unique. The national authority which was set up after the 1993 Oslo accords assumed the ceremonial trappings of independence, yet it has had no sovereign control over the area in which it functions. Since its status was upgraded to non-member observer status Palestine has become, de jure, a state under occupation. All attempts by the Palestinians to end the brutal military occupation have been thwarted by American and European support for Israel.

There may though be lessons for the Palestinians and their supporters to learn from the Latin American experience. The decline of US hegemony in Latin America was hastened by the advent of China as a major trading partner in the region; Chinese trade was worth $180 billion in 2010, increasing eighteen-fold from 2000. At the same time US exports to the region dropped from 55 per cent in 2000 to 32 per cent in 2009. What would the future be if US influence in the Middle East is supplanted similarly?

In 2005, President Luíz Inácio da Silva called for a summit of South American and Arab countries in Brazil. Most Arab states, especially those aligned closely with Washington, did not show up.

It would thus be an achievement if our conference could prepare the ground for such collaboration, not least as senior diplomats and politicians from a number of countries will be participating this weekend. The revival of this project could well serve as a mechanism to help Palestine.

One of the means adopted by the new left to reduce US influence in Latin America has been the formation of regional groupings of various kinds. In this way, they have managed to bypass the moribund Organisation of American States (OAS). Perhaps Arab countries should explore similar formations since their dysfunctional regional bodies have failed to become effective vehicles for change.

MEMO’s conference will not be the last of its kind. It can not only set the stage for others in the future but also build on previous efforts. In 1984, the Palestinian Club of Chile and the Federation of Brazilian-Palestinian Associations called for the first congress of Palestinian entities from Latin America and the Caribbean. That led to the creation of the Latin American Confederation of Palestinian Institutions (COPLAC).

More than anything, we hope that this undertaking by MEMO will provide for the exchange of experiences and the activation of a long term dialogue that will secure the national rights of the people of both Latin America and Palestine.

This article was first published by the Middle East Eye on Wednesday 19th August 2015.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Americas Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:25:02 +0000
Clinton emails reveal power of civil society direct action Yvonne RidleyIt is always difficult to judge the impact of direct action by civil society, but a series of emails from Hillary Clinton when she was US Secretary of State reveal just how effective such resistance can be. Without realising that it was taking on the Goliath of the American political system, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign set out a decade ago to stop Israeli government-backed artistes from performing in their capital city at one of the world's best known festivals. As SPSC's campaign grew and other groups and individuals added their support it became increasingly difficult for Israeli-backed productions and artistes to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival.

In recent years the group's direct action involved leafleting and raising public awareness, as well as pressurising art groups and theatre companies not to work with groups funded by Tel Aviv. On one occasion members even disrupted a performance by the Jerusalem Quartet which was being recorded by the BBC. "Chants during the string quartet's performance included 'End the siege of Gaza, genocide in Gaza'," recalled Mick Napier, co-founder of SPSC. "We really decided to go for the musicians after the pro-Israel media boasted that the quartet members with 'a rifle in one hand and a violin in the other is the ultimate Zionist statement'."

While other Israeli troupes not sponsored by the Zionist state have appeared unimpeded at the series of arts and cultural events held every August in Edinburgh, those sponsored by Israel have been targeted and thwarted at every turn.

SPSC learned this week just how powerful its campaigns proved to be when an article in The Scotsman newspaper revealed how Hillary Clinton tried to exert pressure on film festival organisers to accept financial backing from Israel. The article followed hot on the heels of another by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, outlined on the SPSC website, which reported that years of protests in Edinburgh have finally taken their toll with Israeli State-sponsored theatre groups deciding to stay away from the Scottish capital this year.

"We are amazed by the news because Clinton's emails were obviously never intended to see the light of day," commented Mick Napier. "Every email proves that we can change things although until now it was kept secret just how successful our actions were. We had no idea this was going on behind the scenes."

The veteran activist gave credit to the Scottish government for resisting this sort of pressure. "We can now say that this is an Edinburgh anti-apartheid, clean air act; in other words, the festivals are an Israeli-state-sponsored-free zone." When Edinburgh has the Palestinian equivalent of Glasgow's Nelson Mandela Place, he suggested, then we will be able to say that the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign played its part in the struggle against Israeli Apartheid and genocide.

The Clinton emails give an insight into how the former US Secretary of State attempted to pressure the British and Scottish Governments after the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) returned funding from the Embassy of Israel just a few months after Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" against the Gaza Strip. In that 2008/9 war more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops, more than a quarter of them women and children.

After acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach joined forces with SPSC, the EIFF agreed to sever its links with the Israeli state. Rather than accept sponsorship from the embassy to fund an Israeli film maker's travel to the opening of her film, the EIFF agreed to pay for her trip.

"To be crystal clear," wrote Loach to the woman in question, "as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival's taking money from the Israeli state."

SPSC chair Sofiah MacLeod said that a key aspect of the boycott is to make the Israeli state aware that there is a price to pay for its crimes against the Palestinians and to bring an end to the complicity of countries like Britain in those crimes. "Clinton's emails demonstrate that the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) is working," she pointed out. "Not only did Israel suffer a PR humiliation back in 2009 when its sponsorship money was publicly returned, but it has also now learnt that, in spite of the efforts of the second-most powerful official in the US at the time, neither the British nor the Scottish governments were willing or able to intervene on Israel's behalf."

Pointing out that exactly 12 months ago more than 2,000 Palestinian men, women and children were killed and thousands were maimed and made homeless as a result of another Israeli war, MacLeod noted that Israel continues with its abuses of Palestinian rights on a daily basis. "While Clinton's failure to stop BDS is undoubtedly a morale boost for the Palestinians and all those who act in solidarity with their struggle for justice, we ask more Scots to join us as we redouble our efforts to end those abuses."

Israel, added Sofiah MacLeod, should expect BDS actions around the world to escalate until it meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination. "Put simply, Israel needs to comply fully with the precepts of international law."

]]> (Yvonne Ridley) Americas Tue, 11 Aug 2015 08:57:31 +0000
Recognition of historical injustice should not be a political afterthought Nasim Ahmed

"Britain caused many of the world's problems." These are not the words of a "radicalised" individual "indoctrinated" by an extremist narrative; they are the words of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

This rare admission of guilt over the violent hangover from Britain's colonial past was made in 2011 during a trip to Pakistan when he was asked how Britain could help to end the row over Kashmir. Cameron insisted that it was not his place to intervene in the dispute, saying: "I don't want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world's problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place."

If only the prime minister had taken his own advice in the Middle East, he could have reversed the misguided policies of his predecessor Tony Blair and prevented the region from falling off a precipice. Unfortunately, political admission of guilt over historical injustice is just an afterthought; it's rarely made in any meaningful way that could change the course of history and reverse the trend towards oppression and injustice.

This kind of collective contrition over the past is even fused into a distinct mode of cultural discourse that rarely leaves the public space. Just last month Britain's piratical colonial history was again put under the spotlight during an Oxford Union debate on the motion, "This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies". Shashi Tharoor, an Indian politician and writer arguing for the motion, won the largest applause by a considerable margin. Even the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was sufficiently stirred by the arguments put forward to call for reparations from Britain for its colonial rule.

Tharoor's central argument was that the famed British industrial revolution and economic progress was founded on the depredation and deindustrialisation of India, which at the height of colonial rule stretched from modern-day Pakistan to Myanmar (Burma). British ruthlessness was epitomised by the tragic man-made famine that cost the lives of 15-29 million Indians. The worst hit area was Bengal, in what is now Bangladesh, where four million died after Winston Churchill deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and European stockpiles.

The racist mindset that enabled centuries of exploitation and dehumanisation was presented powerfully in a two part documentary, "Britain's forgotten slave owners". David Olusoga's very moving film, which was shown on the BBC recently, revealed how the profits from slavery are ingrained within the fabric of British culture. For two hundred years slavery was the engine of the British economy. Ending this barbaric practice during the 1830s was made possible through the largest compensation pay-out in British history, more relatively-speaking than the bank bailout in 2008, with 46,000 slave owners receiving the equivalent of 40 per cent of national expenditure in 1834. This money was then used to amass personal fortunes, including that of an ancestor of David Cameron. The moral crusade against slavery would not have succeeded without a crucial compromise because the economic privilege underwritten by the mass enslavement of people was being defended and promoted by powerful members of the establishment. The slaves were only freed when campaigners for their emancipation abandoned, for a moment, the core of the argument against slavery; that debasing humans as property was a grave crime and sin.

Collective British memory has been conditioned to recognise the cruelty of its colonial past but rarely do we see a similarly sensitive approach in the way that we think of British involvement in the Middle East. We are not comfortable about admitting that, somehow, the racist views underpinning "the white man's burden" as well as the economic gains made possible through access to free or cheap labour and economic exploitation — upon which rested colonialism and slavery — found new ways to subjugate and dominate in order to preserve the global power structure that was built on the back of slavery and empire.

As David Cameron's frank admission of responsibility for the impact of the tentacles of the British Empire shows, such apologies and shows of guilt are usually just afterthoughts; they are made when they have little or no impact on British foreign policy. What would be truly remarkable is an admission of responsibility that changes policy, and if politicians and the establishment are behind the moral curve on this, civil society ought to take the lead and make the case for why Britain needs to recognise its complicity in the ongoing political meltdown across the Middle East.

Progressive members of parliament like Jeremy Corbyn are rare when they push this agenda forward by calling for Tony Blair to stand trial for his disastrous policy in Iraq which opened a Pandora's Box in the region. That is but one example. From Palestine through Iraq to the rise of Daesh/ISIS, Britain has been instrumental in creating the template for disaster. From planting the seeds of future conflict in the Sykes-Picot carve-up of the region after the First World War, the entire Middle East is in fact a swamp of failed British policy. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the latest in a catalogue of failed interventions, which includes cheerleading for some of the most brutal regimes in recent history.

The pursuit of British and American self interest in the Middle East is founded on unworthy victims, four million to be precise, which is the number of Muslims who have been killed by Western military action since 1990, according to a landmark study by the Washington DC-based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

Britain's single biggest failure, which has scarred the region for nearly a century, is unquestionably the ongoing plight of the Palestinians. The case for an admission of guilt over Palestine are just as compelling, if not more so, than that for British contrition over Kashmir. Palestine was more developed and advanced than the neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestinians were more than ready and willing to take on the burden of self-determination and representative government. While its neighbours became nation states, Palestine was placed under a British Mandate and the path towards conflict and destruction. It was a broken land when the British abandoned it to the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and has never been allowed to recover. The two decades of British rule reflected some of the worst of colonial attitudes, with total disregard for the rights of the people and their aspirations for independence, in contradiction of the terms of the mandate.

If Britain had done the right thing and established a democratic state in Palestine in the twenties based on the population ratio at the time, political control would have been vested in the Arab population. Naturally, that would have defeated the objective of the 1917 Balfour Declaration and undermined its implementation due to the conflict between the basic principles of democracy and the concept of a "Jewish National Home", which in any case morphed into a "Jewish state", in Palestine. This is why in 1922 Britain's Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill rebuffed the Palestinian Arab Delegation's demand for self-government based on majority rule. As Churchill noted, "The creation at this stage of a national Government would preclude the fulfilment of the pledge made by the British Government to the Jewish people," which came at the expense of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Palestine, who weren't defined by what they were, but by what there weren't: "non-Jewish".

Such a reversal of history and the natural evolution of a culture and its people could not have been achieved without violence and repression as was clearly evident throughout the period of the British Mandate. Increasing Palestinian unrest was met with repression and brutality by the colonial authorities. During the 1936-1939 "Arab revolt" alone, more than 10 per cent of the Palestinian population was either killed, imprisoned or exiled.

We can get a sense of the level of violence and repression that was used by comparing it to other areas under British control. In the last moments of its rule, Britain had 100,000 troops in Palestine, an enormous garrison for a country no bigger than Wales and with a population of only two million people. Compare that to India under British rule, a country immeasurably larger with a population of three hundred million; Britain's imperial rule was carried out with the backing of just 20,000 British soldiers. Consider also that up to 35 per cent of British expenditure in Palestine was on security, a euphemism for the suppression of Arab majority aspirations in the interests of a tiny Jewish minority.

Even before the end of mandate rule in May 1948, 400,000 Palestinians had been expelled, directly or indirectly, from their land. Two hundred and twenty-five villages and many towns had more or less been ethnically cleansed of their indigenous population. Most of the villages were reduced to rubble by the proto-Israeli forces, in order to prevent the Palestinians from ever returning; they never have.

We should not wait a hundred years to recognise the role that Britain is playing in the undermining of democracy in the Middle East, especially in Palestine, and then offer apologies as an afterthought. History demonstrates clearly that Britain has not been a detached observer of the unfolding wars, conflicts and repressive regimes that have shackled religion, society and culture in the region. Far better to recognise the mistakes now and promote policies rooted in the same moral and ethical values that triggered British contrition over Kashmir, imperialism and slavery.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Fri, 07 Aug 2015 15:50:22 +0000
The American whale and Russian bear in the Gulf Dr Mohammed Al-Misfer

This week, Doha is hosting US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Their visit is being made after the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) in early July; it was signed after negotiations lasting 12 years. Iran has benefitted greatly from the agreement. The US says that it has stopped Iran from achieving the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons. Russia also achieved strategic objectives from the deal.

The Gulf States are now concerned about their security as well as their political and economic future in the wake of the agreement. Those monitoring and concerned with the Gulf's security will have noticed the increased level of terrorism in the area over the past few weeks even though, it is worth noting, the agreement has still not been put into effect. There have been bombings and arrests in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as the smuggling of weapons, explosives and well-trained people, according to Gulf media. Not a week goes by in Bahrain that we do not hear threats and incitement against the country's security from senior Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia is being attacked on its southern borders by Houthi militias trained and armed by Iran. Don't these countries have a right to be concerned for their security and sovereignty after Iran became a member of the nuclear club and has been recognised as a powerful and influential force in the Gulf region?

Kerry came to the Gulf in order to express America's reassurances to the Gulf Cooperation Council that the agreement with Iran will not be at the expense of their security and stability, and that the US remains committed to its obligations regarding the GCC member states in case of any foreign aggression. The US, though, will not prevent Iran from interfering in the security of the region by proxy through its supporters and sleeper cells. US President Barack Obama told GCC leaders at Camp David in May: "I cannot guarantee anything more than protection from a direct Iranian attack. As for Iran's tools — Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and the Houthis — that is your responsibility. Take action or remain silent." This is a very forthright statement.

However, did the US tell Iran or any other party explicitly that the security of the GCC states is a red line, just as it has said that Israel's security is a red line? I would like to ask the Obama administration what the difference is between Iran's occupation of four Arab capitals, which its leaders have claimed, and Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. The latter saw a military response which stripped Iraq of all of its military, economic and social strength, ending with its occupation by US-led coalition troops.

President Obama says that those opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran did not present an alternative and were content with verbal opposition. All of the alternatives are in the hands of the US president and they include conducting an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in accordance with a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The inspection should include all Iranian territory in order to uncover its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and destroy it. Iran's long-range ballistic missiles must also be destroyed, and it must not be allowed to produce rockets with a range of more than a dozen metres. Successive US governments have set precedents in this regard, the most recent of which was in Iraq during the 1990s.

Moreover, America does not hesitate to sell arms to the Arab Gulf states for defensive purposes only; they cannot threaten the security of any US allies, including Israel and, now, Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to the Gulf in order to hear at first-hand what will be said to Kerry and say that Moscow is willing to become a reliable and trusted friend of the GCC states. Russia has already proven its sincere friendship with the Syrian government and has prevented the fall of Bashar Al-Assad's regime. It has also supplied Iran with nuclear reactors to produce fuel but which can easily be converted for military purposes. While the P5+1 talks with Iran were taking place in Vienna, Moscow also announced that it will build eight new reactors. Two will be built on Iran's Gulf coastline at Bushehr, which in itself poses a threat to the water and fish stocks.

Moscow's strong emergence in the region reflects the conflict between the Russian bear and the American whale. The former wants to take revenge on the West for its position on the Ukrainian issue and the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Some believe that the agreements signed between Russia and Iran regarding the nuclear issue are a blow to the Europeans; to be honest, it is also a blow to the GCC states.

I will end by saying that I hope our leaders will realise that they cannot trust the promises of the world superpowers. They must rely on their internal strengths and reconsider all their past policies regarding arms, the economy and alliances.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 3 August, 2015.

]]> (Dr Mohammed Al-Misfer) Americas Wed, 05 Aug 2015 09:03:29 +0000
Charleston Church killings: is the 'war on terror' narrative costing American lives? People gather in front of the Emanuel AME Church to pay respect to the nine shooting victims on June 20, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, USAFollowing the tragic killings in Charleston Church, many noticed, once again, the striking difference between the mainstream media and political establishment's coverage of violent crimes perpetrated by Muslims and those carried out by non-Muslims. It reinforced the widely held perception of media prejudice in the labelling of violence committed by Muslims as "terrorism" and violence perpetrated by (especially white) non-Muslims as, well, just violence. This further underlies the fact that the mainstream media and politicians are using the terms "terrorist" and "terrorism" calculatedly for their own political purposes.

In their effort to maintain the necessary myth that "all terrorist are Muslims" the plainly obvious is substituted for the barely apparent. As we saw with the mass killing in South Carolina, non-Muslim killers are usually portrayed as psychologically and socially maladjusted - which person who kills innocent people or blows themselves up on a bus isn't, by the way? - with no connections to a broader ideology. Hate-filled killers are demoted to lone gunman status, unconnected to a wider conspiracy, even if they originate from sub-cultures and traditions that have produced mass killers on an almost regular basis.

Officials move to devalue the wider socio-political implications by focusing on the event's unspeakable and unintelligible barbarity. In the case of the Charleston Church we even heard fatalistic pronouncements like that made by the governor of South Carolina: "While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another."

Muslims carrying out similar acts of violence are treated very differently: the media go into 24/7 overdrive; the perpetrator is labelled a terrorist as a matter of course and a queue of so called terrorism experts and pseudo-theories are stacked-up to speculate about the alleged organised structure of the terrorist plot. Specialists are also employed to reinforce the wider narrative of the war on terror, while politicians clamour to exploit the tragedy by insisting that it's an attack on "our values and way of life".

None would dare to say that "we'll never understand what motivates the [Muslim] killers". Instead, what follows is a post-tragedy ritual of blaming Islam with the usual devotees making incantations about Islam's failure to modernise; the alienation of Muslims and their failure to integrate; and the failure of Muslim community leadership. Politicians and commentators alike exhibit concrete certainty about the reasons for "them" attacking "us"; it is because "they hate our values", they will claim, and now we have to spend trillions to combat that hate.

Dylann Roof, the suspect in the murder of nine people in Charleston, obviously hated the United States of America beloved by the vast majority of Americans. He may even have felt that he was defending his vision of the US; even upholding its constitution faithfully by zealously observing two parts of the Constitution which continue to haunt America: the right to bear arms and the insistence in the very first article of the founding document that those "bound to service for a term of years" – slaves – would count as "three fifths of all other Persons".

His interpretation of the US Constitution and notion of America is of course warped, fatally so, but Roof represents an ideological fringe in America who, because of their deep seated racist beliefs and the right to bear arms, pose a far greater threat to American lives than any Muslim terrorist.

Unlike the governor who is urging resignation and refrains from calling for a "war on hate crimes" or a "war on white supremacists", no American official would commit political suicide by calling for restraint. More disastrously for the rest of us, nor would any display a lack of conviction in proclaiming their readiness to perpetuate foreign conflicts and continue the "war on terror" in order to prevent further terrorist attacks and protect American lives.

Does it matter whether the murderer is called a terrorist or not? After all, he is a killer either way and it makes no difference to the victims. There is, though, a very serious point behind the contention; it's not just a case of pointing out the blatant prejudice within the media and the political establishment. This kind of bias leads to a perception that there is a conscious downplaying of violence perpetrated against Muslims and overplaying of violence committed by Muslims.

By downplaying, I don't mean that law enforcement officers and agencies will treat the lives of Muslim victims differently. I am pointing to the fact that one is assigned a much higher social and political currency than the other.

The small minority convinced by the jihadi narrative, which the west is fully determined to dent but is totally incapable of doing so due to its own foreign policies and clumsy mishandling of domestic issues, provide yet another example of western hypocrisy when it comes to its treatment of Muslims. More crucially, appropriating terrorism for its propaganda utility serves "the war on terror" narrative. It's driven by the right wing media and the "military industrial complex", about which President Eisenhower warned the American people in his last speech.

While it was the communist threat that prompted dangerous levels of militarisation during Eisenhower's period in office (and alarmed the most decorated general in US history), the necessary "bogey" to preserve the bellicose blueprint for even greater militarisation today is the exaggerated threat posed by Muslims.

The war on terror feeds off the perception of a global Muslim conspiracy, not unlike the conspiracy of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" used to "prove" a Jewish/Zionist/pro-Israel conspiracy. It's a narrative that's exploited further by agents of the anti-Islam industry, which portrays Muslims as a disloyal, subversive community serving the agenda of "global Islamists".

While more Americans are being killed by fellow Americans through acts of extreme violence - some of which are clearly acts of terrorism and motivated by hatred for America's progressive and cherished values - the war on terror has constructed a distorted image of the world. It has been crafted using a false narrative that is just as flawed, if not more so, as the jihadi narrative, which similarly hijacked Islam and portrays adherents as the "protector of Islam and Muslims".

Americans are told that their country needs to invade other countries; they must topple foreign governments; and they have to spend trillions of dollars and sacrifice thousands of American lives to keep themselves safe at home. Successive presidents insist that they "will do whatever it takes" to keep the country safe; even torture, if necessary.

This dangerous narrative has not only led to military blunders in the Middle East but also blinded America to the threats posed by the home-grown terrorists, the anti-federal white supremacist militias. Even though Americans are led to believe that they need to spend billions of dollars on a burgeoning "intelligence" infrastructure and mass surveillance in order to detect would-be Muslim terrorists, they have failed to prevent terrorism committed by non-Muslim white men. How else can we explain the fact that Dylan Roof was able to spout his hate and bile all over the social media without attracting the attention of the security services?

This is the 14th time that President Obama has had to face the US people to condemn this sort of attack against US citizens by so called "lunatic loners". Is the intelligence community failing to detect non-Muslim white terrorists because they are programmed only to see Muslims as terrorists?

In maintaining near exclusive use of the term terrorist for Muslims, Western governments have subjected Muslim citizens to intrusive levels of scrutiny and cast a blanket of suspicion on their communities, at a huge cost to the treasury. Citizens have a right to know if such disproportionate level of scrutiny of one community is actually also being paid for by American lives due to the security services' failure to look in the right places for the people who really threaten the United States and its people. I'll give them a hint: the statistics tell us that they tend not to live in Muslim-communities.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:07:32 +0000
How America keeps alive the ghost of the inquisition in Guantanamo Bay Nasim Ahmed

A church apologist in the early fifteenth century, writing approvingly of the Inquisition, declared, "We persecuted the seeds of evil not only in men's deeds, but in their thoughts." The statement is emblematic of the centuries-old system of oppression that targeted thoughts, actions and beliefs of those deemed by the state to be a threat.

It's an image we like to believe is a world away from our contemporary life: civilisation does not purge human beings for the free expression of opinions, let alone police people's thoughts. We take comfort in that belief and hold this ideal as one of the founding principles of the modern world; but is it?

American author Cullen Murphy invites us to think otherwise. In his book, "God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World", he maintains that the Inquisition left behind a fully-fledged apparatus for persecution and an intellectual tradition that is still used to justify killing and torture nearly a century after it ended.

Too often, we mistakenly perceive the Inquisition as a relic of the past; a dark period in Europe's history; a history lesson for us to remain vigilant against institutionalised religion. It's a neat fiction told to assert our moral, secular, liberal progress, but is it really just history and a feature of religious institutions?

Murphy encourages us to consider what an inquisition really is: "A set of disciplinary procedures targeting specific groups, codified in law, organised systematically, enforced by surveillance, exemplified by severity, sustained over time, backed by institutional power, and justified by a vision of one true path."

Considered that way, the Inquisition should be more accurately viewed not as a relic of the past but as a harbinger of things to come. Inquisitions are not hard to find; sometimes they retain a religious dimension and sometimes the visionary dimension is secular, characterised by the absolute needs of the state itself.

The picture painted by Murphy uses more than 700 years of history, covering the Spanish Inquisition and Roman Inquisition all the way up to the current War on Terror. His portrayal of Guantanamo Bay as an institution bearing the hallmarks of past inquisitions is highly relevant given the ongoing reluctance to release Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantanamo, which is condemned by Human Rights groups.

Having been held for 13 years in the detention centre without any charge, the Saudi-born British resident has described horrific torture at the hands of US interrogators in graphic detail. He alleges that US interrogators threatened to rape his five-year-old daughter. According to a medical report, he claimed that he was hearing people screaming from torture day and night.

"They would beat you two to three hours a day with a metal braided wire, belts and a hose," he has claimed. "They beat you in public. Everyone could see. Five people would beat you. They'd kick your face, body and head." According to his statement published in the Independent, Aamer said that guards told him that he should tell the interrogator "whatever he wants to hear" to make the torture stop, so he allowed a fake confession to be filmed claiming that he worked with Al-Qaeda gathering intelligence.

America's use of torture was exposed shockingly in Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison. Official denial failed to keep a lid on horrific accounts of the extent of US torture after 9/11. Eventually, in 2009, Barack Obama released four top secret memos which showed that the CIA under the George W Bush administration was given the green light to torture Al-Qaida and other suspects held at Guantanamo.

In December 2014, the US Senate intelligence committee's report on CIA torture found the agency's post-9/11 embrace of torture to be brutal and ineffective. The 6,700 page document continues to be classified.

The public profile of torture post-9/11 is higher than it's ever been but what is interesting is the degree of sophistication and complex rationalisation that has been mounted in its defence. The most notable of these is the "ticking time bomb" scenario and crude arguments to bring torture "under the rule of law" by issuing torture warrants.

Remarkably, the Bush administration's threshold for when torture begins — when physical injury is such that it causes serious damage to organs or severely damages bodily functions — is the point at which the inquisitions of the past stipulated that an act of torture must stop.

The telling similarities do not end there. Acts of cruelty must be made acceptable through some form of rational justification, and perpetrators commonly adopt euphemisms to sterilise the inhumanity of the act of cruelty and torture. The Roman Inquisition called torture rigoros esamine (rigorous examination) just as the Bush administration adopted the term "enhanced interrogation".

Examples like this highlight the fact that inquisitions did indeed advance hand-in-hand with civilisation itself. This should compel us to think not just of the alleged torture but also the condition of the society that enables it and thus see how modern societies are regressing.

The cruel and vicious actions of ISIS would possibly be the first to come to mind when we think of modern day inquisitions. Such a conclusion would be uncontroversial and conceded almost universally. That view, however, overlooks a major feature of an inquisition — the sanctioning of repression, violence and torture by a powerful centralised authority. ISIS came into being precisely because no such centralised authority exists and it has no capacity, in all likelihood, to sustain repression for decades, let alone centuries, given that it is deprived of any political legitimacy.

That's the key, if not the main, feature of the Inquisition. Without a powerful bureaucracy and centralised authority it would not have been possible to sustain such institutionalised persecution for centuries.

While information ("intelligence") and centralised government are vital, other notable essentials for a sustainable inquisition include a powerful political authority; a system of law and the means to administer it with a certain degree of uniformity; well-defined processes for conducting interrogation and extracting information; procedures for record-keeping and for retrieving information; an ability to send information over significant distances and the capacity to restrict the communications of others; and, above all, a source of power to ensure enforcement.

The required competencies for an inquisition in the 21st century lie fully in the hands of a powerful state that is culturally and politically hegemonic. The absence of a religious dimension makes no difference to the interrogation regime.

The Inquisition was once an essential organ of the state; it was organised formally and regulated by protocols. Inquisitors swore to follow universal norms and standards, to be fair and just in decision-making, to be impartial in their practice and to work for the greater benefit of the public.

Just like those languishing in Guantanamo Bay, those brought to trial by the historical inquisitions were already presumed guilty; a conviction was virtually guaranteed and the cards were stacked heavily against the accused. The proceedings of the trial were secret and the accused did not know, when initially charged, what the specific allegations against them were. The application of torture invariably loomed to secure a confession. This bears remarkable similarities to modern day "anti-terrorism" measures adopted by Western governments.

Shaker Aamer, and many others like him who have endured institutionalised and officially endorsed torture by American officials, are living evidence that the ghost of the inquisition remains with us. Is that why his release has been delayed for so long?

As Murphy reminds us, Guantanamo Bay was chosen because it was a place where it was legal to have no legal regimes at all; it remains a legal black hole. It is not part of the constitutional homeland, or subject to the same legal standards that might need to be followed within the homeland. Detainees could therefore be subjected to any legal regimes that the authorities decided to implement. Habeas corpus did not apply and detainees did not have to be told why they were being held. Their captors did not have to justify holding them.

Through Guantanamo Bay and the pretext of the War on Terror, the US has been able to resurrect the relic of the inquisition adjusted perfectly to the perceived needs of the contemporary world or, arguably, the wishes of the neo-conservative ideologues pulling the strings in the West. The fact that Guantanamo was allowed to exist and continues to exist, despite the best efforts of "the most powerful man on earth", ought to be more than a cause for concern. It should strike fear into the hearts of each and every one of us.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Tue, 16 Jun 2015 09:22:33 +0000
UNRWA anniversary prompts Israeli hostility and divergent narratives UNRWA

In a recent gathering on the 65th anniversary of the founding of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued to call for a resumption of the compromised negotiations between Israel and Palestine; the UN chief utilised the prolonged existence of the agency as the context for his plea. UNRWA, insisted Ban, "exists because of political failure."

Between the Secretary General's comments and those of Israel's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Ambassador David Roet, a truth emerges that consists of manipulating narratives within a cycle of colonialism and dependency. According to the Times of Israel (1), Roet accused UNRWA of harbouring a pro-Palestinian agenda. "If this politicisation of the refugee issue was not enough," he claimed, "recently, UNRWA left no doubt about how deep its 'political mission' goes. Its spokesperson clearly stated that one of UNRWA's goals is to validate the Palestinian narrative."

Roet also insisted that UNRWA's "interference with the political process is beyond the scope of its legitimate activities and endangers the fulfilment of its mandate." In other words, Roet's preoccupation with UNRWA is the permanency of Palestinian refugee status, a necessity that is in line with Israel's perpetual colonisation of Palestine.

While Israel has, throughout the decades, regularly rejected symbolic and non-binding international resolutions as being detrimental to the settler-colonial state's existence, Palestine's reality can accurately and concisely be described as a political failure, the exact term used by Ban to describe UNRWA's lengthy existence. What is eliminated consistently from the narrative, however, is the UN's role in ensuring this political failure.

The UNRWA Commissioner General's speech (2) at the commemoration event was an example of humanitarian rhetoric conscious of a dependency cycle that hinders a proper implementation of the Palestinian right of return. "Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for the denial of dignity or rights," said Pierre Krähenbühl. "Palestinian refugees need more than assistance. They need to enjoy the human rights that international law guarantees to all people."

However, history has bequeathed the world with proof that the international community is dedicated to consolidating the widening gap between the humanitarian and the political where Palestinians are concerned. Imperialist interpretation of international law and democracy has already created selective niches for the supposed epitomes of such values. The rest of the world is categorised into submissive adherents, willing collaborators and, at the far end of the spectrum, nations and populations requiring violent repression sanctioned by the UN. This trend safeguards not only the prolonged existence of UNRWA but consolidates the foundations of the UN itself and its self-serving impunity.

The UN, therefore, together with its political actors, endorses political failure as an integral component of the dependency cycle it has enforced upon the Palestinian population and UNRWA. At the helm is the UN's primary objective of safeguarding Israel's colonial project. Willing accomplices, in the form of the Palestinian Authority and its penchant for seeking help in drafting UN Security Council resolutions from imperialist-aligned countries, have facilitated the process.

In recent resolutions submitted to the UN Security Council by the PA, the intent to fragment Palestine further has been reaffirmed. The stance is in line with the two-state compromise hailed as a solution by the UN and the international community, which relishes diplomatic bureaucracy unleashed by impossible hypothetical scenarios. Given that the submitted texts have varied only in rhetoric as opposed to changing the political agenda, Israeli complaints about UNRWA validating the Palestinian narrative cannot be considered as absolutely authentic. The UN safeguards Israel's colonial structure and the ramifications of such political affirmation upon related organisations and the people dependent upon their representation.

Any validation of the Palestinian narrative from UNRWA is mired inherently in restrictions that flaunt the dependency structure of the organisation. Maintaining the status of Palestinian refugees permanently does not constitute the organisation's validating of the Palestinian narrative, neither does the upholding of the Palestinian right of return. Palestinians have endured decades of betrayal through complicity in colonisation, manifested explicitly in UN resolutions that claim to safeguard Palestinian rights through a colonial framework. UNRWA's existence, ultimately, can be viewed as an extension of the UN's remedies for the perpetual violence and displacements it supports. As Israel increases its expansion in Palestinian territory, aided by futile rhetoric about the two-state paradigm, UNRWA finds itself in financial difficulties which, apart from adding to the oblivion shrouding the Palestinian narrative, also increases the autonomy granted to the perpetrators.

The premise for UNRWA's existence and perpetual oppression of Palestinians is enshrined within its foundations in 1949 and extended with each mandate, "pending the just resolution" to the Palestinian right of return. Collaboration between the PA, Israel, the UN and the US, as well as countries drafting compromised resolutions to be submitted to the security council have ensured the permanency of UNRWA's existence as well as its dependency upon the same components that finance its existence within strict limitations; it gets just enough to operate but at a level sufficient to prevent the possibility of Palestinian autonomy and return.

Apart from singling out UNRWA as the alleged interlocutor of the Palestinian narrative, David Roet also described the Palestinian right of return as "a euphemism for the destruction of the state of Israel." Reminiscent of other colonial rhetoric employed by Israel and disseminated by its allies through perpetual focus upon Israel's alleged right of "self-defence", Roet's statement manifests an error that renders his argument about support for the Palestinian narrative void.

There are no euphemisms in international rhetoric, other than those created to validate Israel's propagated narrative. The Palestinian right of return, divested of UN implications and amalgamated solely to anti-colonial struggle, would provide a legitimate termination to Israel's settler colonial structure and tangible autonomy for all Palestinians. As Israeli history is a fabrication modified to safeguard an illegal concept of a state, it would be fair to shift the dynamics of euphemisms upon the Israeli narrative, burgeoning as it is with weak attempts at shifting blame and diversifying the narrative of organisations hampered by their own hegemonic structure. There is no euphemism for anti-colonial struggle and the destruction of Israel. Rather, it is a question of how Palestinians can liberate their entire territory while navigating the restrictions imposed upon them by the international community and organisations that support, or claim to support, Palestine's sovereignty and independence.

]]> (Ramona Wadi) Americas Mon, 08 Jun 2015 09:49:15 +0000
America's role in the rise of ISIS is down to incompetence not conspiracy Alastair Sloan

As night follows day, a violent catastrophe is followed by a conspiracy theory. How do they begin and why do they spread so quickly?

The first factor is simple market economics. Conspiracy theorist David Icke can make an estimated £300,000 per night for a speech. According to Forbes magazine, Alex Jones, host of the occasionally brilliant but mainly crackpot InfoWars and PrisonPlanet online TV stations, rakes in up to $1.5m per year; reporters at Salon put the figure as high as $2.7m.

Why do people listen to people like Jones and Icke? According to one expert view, usually big, shocking and seemingly random events demand explanations; believers or evangelists of conspiracy theories simply want to retain a sense of control over the world around them. Explanations provide this comfort.

And so it is with the expansion of ISIS last summer, when we had the same phenomenon. Half the Arab world immediately blamed Mossad, as they usually do. Radical Westerners thought it was the CIA.

The last week has seen these theories boosted by a new report from Dr Nafeez Ahmed, an investigative reporter and international security scholar. Ahmed is no Jones or Icke in intellectual inability; he has a PhD from a respectable British university and is a well-read author.

According to Ahmed's apparently shocking report, the Pentagon "knowingly sponsored" ISIS. I'm open to anything, so I read on. Sadly, this bunker-busting claim was not matched by bunker-hard evidence. It was based on a single document; a recently declassified Pentagon assessment which Ahmed quoted:

"...there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)."

Ahmed took "supporting powers," to include the United States and, from there, inferred that the Americans had "sponsored" ISIS, with Washington seeing the group as "a strategic opportunity to isolate [Syrian President Bashar] Assad."

In fact, those (probably) few readers who clicked through to the original document, would have found that, in context, it was fairly clear that "supporting powers" refers to regional supporting powers like Turkey and the Gulf monarchies. Crucially, not the United States.

The Pentagon report also warns that if an Islamic emirate was formed, it would have "dire consequences" and "create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory." This is hardly "sponsoring" ISIS, although Ahmed argued strenuously that the Pentagon's writing of the report and then ignoring its contents constituted a clear conspiracy to create ISIS.

Instead, all the Pentagon analysts were doing was observing, with some skill, events in Iraq and Syria, and making some rational predictions. The document was marked "Secret", a middle-ranking classification which is far too lowly to contain details of anything really controversial, and had in any case been knowingly declassified. There may yet still be found evidence that the United States created ISIS, but this document certainly isn't it.

Last month, Dr Ahmed re-published another dubious claim. In an article for Middle East Eye, he claimed to have discovered evidence of a Pentagon plan "to divide and rule the Muslim world." Again, it sounded intriguing, so I read on.

After a long introduction, Ahmed told his readers that "divide and rule" was a US Army-sanctioned strategy to deliberately pit Sunni against Shia in Yemen. Though billed as an "Exclusive" this was actually a re-hash of an article he had published in the Guardiana year previously, arguing the same point about Iraq and ISIS.

Ahmed's much hyped document, which forms the bedrock of both the Guardian and MEE articles, turned out to be an analysis from the RAND defence think tank, sponsored by the US government, and available to anyone, for free, online.

As anyone who read the original document found out, RAND analysts, way back in 2008, had outlined eight potential strategies for the United States in the Middle East as part of its "war on terror", just one of which was what Ahmed had selected to tell his readers about: "Divide and Rule".

Again, it's possible that "Divide and Rule" may have been chosen eventually, but this document didn't show that. RAND produces a lot of material each month; it's unclear who actually read the report. Ahmed's articles, however, did not reflect this crucial nuance. He couldn't find any military or intelligence sources to speak to him on the record about it. It's actually unclear whether he even tried, or has access to such people.

Ahmed's theories are thus just that, theories. They are quite possible, even probable, but despite their enthusiastic presentation, they have little basis in hard evidence.

The key mistake is the assumption of competence on the part of the US foreign policy agencies as well as clear co-ordination between them all. And then the unpredictable but powerful wildcards, namely the US Congress and the White House.

Let's be clear, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and particularly since 2011, Washington has been in near constant fire-fighting mode in the Middle East. There has been and is no strategy. In Iraq, America has lost comprehensively to Iran. In Libya, it was in-out, leave the Europeans to sort it out. In Syria, the US has had no idea what to do about Assad from day one, let alone now that ISIS is in the picture.

It is highly likely that ISIS personnel could have been trained by Western assets, as part of a covert anti-Assad campaign that has probably been running for many years. This, though, is not because the United States wanted ISIS to grow, as Ahmed believes, but because American officials just weren't smart enough to figure out which fighters were the good guys, and which were the crazies. Incompetence is, overall, usually a better explanation than conspiracy.

More worryingly, Ahmed continues to believe that Arab people simply cannot organise themselves into a cohesive fighting force without outside interference. There is more than a smack of Orientalist racism in this approach. He also argues consistently that "moderate rebels" in Syria don't exist, doing huge disservice to the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting on all fronts, and the moderate Islamists doing likewise. To his mind, like the neo-conservative establishment that he likes to criticise, they're all just "jihadists". It's a simplistic and patronising point of view.

Not only that, but his work also detracts from a crucial new reality that most of the media is yet to recognise, and which should fundamentally change the way we look at ISIS.

Last month, Der Spiegelpublished documents obtained not from Google search, but from ISIS itself. A team of reporters took months to piece the story together painstakingly. They went to Iraq and did the legwork talking to real people. These documents, and the interviews they compiled, offer a simple and far more credible explanation, for the rise of ISIS; a group of bitter and highly capable ex-Baathists seeking to retake control of their former domain, using a religious organisation as the face. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is revealed by Der Spiegel to be not an Islamist, but a nationalist.

The findings have profound ramifications for how we "deal with" ISIS, both at home and abroad. It's a simple, credible and excellently-evidenced explanation, so I'm going with that, not the conspiracy theories.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 01 Jun 2015 14:11:19 +0000
US on collision course with China in the Red Sea Abukar ArmanTwo major developments in Somalia and Djibouti have attracted international media attention recently. John Kerry became the first US Secretary of State to visit Mogadishu, whilst China has negotiated the construction of a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti.

These two "symbolic" and substantive developments represent both an opportunity and a challenge for US geopolitical interests in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

The contemporary US foreign policy which is hardwired on counter-terrorism posturing has been on a losing streak in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, to name but a few. In the Horn of Africa, it is facing some serious challenges: China's chequebook diplomacy, Ethiopia's hegemonic adventures and the indirect effect of the Arab Spring.

Touchdown in Mogadishu

Kerry's trip to Mogadishu came in an election year when the Democratic frontrunner was being accused of foreign policy recklessness, and at a time when the State Department is too cautious to even say when the American embassy might open there. As such, the visit was more than a symbolic gesture; it was a strategic one, the poor timing notwithstanding.

Contrary to some Somali and American media headlines that were quick to claim that Kerry's historic touchdown in Mogadishu was an expression of US confidence and a "show of support" to the IGAD/Ethiopia-led balkanisation known as the Federalisation Process, the impetus driving the trip was geopolitical in nature. At the airport compound, days after concluding the latest of the balkanisation conferences in Garowe, Puntland, Kerry met with four Somali presidents and one prime minster, though not his Somali counterpart.

So what was on the agenda? Were all those actors on the same page? Ironically, it really did not matter. The trip was about a place holder; an affirmation that the US is still interested in Somalia and is waiting anxiously for competent partners who know what they want and what they have as leverage.

In a 5 minute pre-recorded video that was intended to bypass the seemingly ragtag group of "leaders" that he was scheduled to meet, Kerry spoke to the people. "[The US is] focused on... steps that must be taken on Vision 2016 [election] to advance Somalia's development as a unified, federal state," he told the Somalis. "We all have a stake in what happens here in Somalia."

While Kerry is right on the latter, supporting a "unified" Somalia governed through a clan-based federal system of ever-descending allegiance is a bloody pipedream. The nation formerly known as Somalia is more divided today than ever before as a result of such dichotomous combination.

As erratic as its foreign policy toward Somalia may have been, America seems to have realised that its policy towards the East African state is part of the problem, and that the current politicians there have indicated that they neither think nor function as leaders of a single nation. Directly or indirectly, each one of them is committed to keeping politics at the clan level, or more bluntly, at the gutter level, where geostrategic negation that could benefit both nations is utterly impossible.

China's chequebook diplomacy

China now has over $200 billion invested in Africa; it's a significant financial interest that may explain why Beijing not only has economic, but "political, and military deals with a number of African states." Djibouti is one of those states and China has invested $9 billion there.

On the one hand, the latest venture might underscore a consistent survival-oriented strategic pattern in which Djibouti - a tiny strategic country located in arguably Africa's toughest neighbourhood - partners with any willing power that could empower it economically and security-wise. On the other hand, it could prove to be a counterintuitive enterprise that impacts profoundly on the balance of power in one of the most important strategic waterways and thus ensure geopolitical advantage to China over the rest.

Against that backdrop, the shocking part is not that Djibouti is willing to become the first nation to host two competing superpower "frenemies", but that China is confident enough to set up a military base right next to the US, France and Japan in the tiny Horn of Africa state.

The hegemon of the Horn

Meanwhile, as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is set to face the security threats emanating from Al-Shabaab's party-balloon-effect, it certainly risks a mission creep. Such an outcome, needless to say, would automatically boost the strategic position of Ethiopia, the only country with the military might, devout cronies and political will to engross Somalia or feast on it a few bites at a time.

In the past two decades, Ethiopia has proven that it's the master of projecting itself as a problem-solving nation. Whether one gets its diplomatic façade that I refer to as Injera Diplomacy or its predatory side depends on Ethiopia's immediate hegemonic interest. Injera is a spongy Ethiopian flatbread served with a variety of meat and vegetable stews. With it one can easily scoop much of the stew one bite after another without dirtying one's hand.

Make no mistake, Ethiopia is a stakeholder in the Djibouti and China deal. As a landlocked nation with a growing economy, it is counting heavily on China's scheduled project to expand Djibouti's sea port and has recently purchased three merchant ships that are docked there. It has been making its chess moves, mindful that, sooner or later, its policy toward Somalia will collide with America's strategic interest in that country. Ethiopia not only offers economic incentive to Djibouti and political clout within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), it also grants its neighbour reassurances in dealing with future threats that may emanate from the ethnically-Ethiopian Djiboutian Afar community which makes-up a significant proportion of the population.

Geopolitics and geostrategy

In January 2010, "US officials and the Yemeni government agreed to set up a military base in Socotra to counter pirates and Al-Qaeda." Socotra has a rare combination of strategic geographical location, minimal population and remoteness from media attention and scrutiny.

Now, with a hybrid political-sectarian wildfire raging in the Gulf of Aden and the spectre of the Houthis gaining the upper hand and subsequent looming of direct Iranian influence in Yemen, the US is standing on thin ice in terms of its strategic maritime position and influence. A unified and sovereign Somalia could be a significant factor in tipping the strategic balance of power both in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

The next leadership team will have to be mindful of the importance of cultivating a strategic partnership with the US; it is the only way to protect Somalia from neighbourhood political predators. However, such a partnership could only happen with a new policy from Washington towards Mogadishu.

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat and a foreign policy analyst. You may follow on Twitter: @4DialogSK

]]> (Abukar Arman) Americas Sat, 30 May 2015 11:55:01 +0000
US replenishes Israel's arsenal with $1.9 billion in new weapons Hellfire MissileLast week the US State Department approved almost $1.9 billion in new weapons for Israel. The approval came just weeks after the Israeli rights group Breaking the Silence collected reports of possible violations of international law during Israel's 2014 "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza.

The weapons sale includes 14,500 kits to upgrade "dumb" bombs into precision-guided munitions, over 12,000 unguided bombs and 50 Super Penetrator "bunker buster" bombs, designed to hit targets underground.

Also approved for sale were over 3,000 hellfire missiles, which the US withheld briefly from Israel following last summer's attack on Gaza. The 50-day assault killed over 2,200 people, most of whom were civilians.

The Defence Security Cooperation Agency stated in its announcement of the arms sale that "the United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability."

"These munitions will enable Israel to maintain operational capability of its existing systems and will enhance Israel's interoperability with the United States," the agency said in the statement.

"These are weapons that Israel already has in its arsenal, and this shipment will help replenish the stock depleted by last year's Gaza operation," Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University told Bloomberg.

The sale still awaits Congressional review. However, US weapons sales to Israel have very rarely run into difficulty passing through Congress.

The sale is to be funded through US Foreign Military Financing grants. The United States provides Israel with over $3 billion a year in Foreign Military Financing, which accounts for almost a quarter of Israel's total defence budget. The Congressional Research Service report on US aid to Israel states, "US military aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world."

Critics of US military assistance to Israel have raised concerns about the sale, given possible violations of international law committed by the Israeli military during last year's attack on Gaza. US law prohibits providing military assistance to countries that engage in human rights violations.

A report from last summer found that the US supplied Israel with many of the same types of weapons that were used in "Operation Protective Edge" and an Amnesty International report last December stated that a number of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza amounted to war crimes. Amnesty also documented cases of the Israeli military attacking hospitals and health workers.

The latest allegations of war crimes came earlier this month when Israeli soldiers gave anonymous testimony about their experience in the 2014 war in Gaza.

The testimonies allege that the Israeli military didn't institute basic measures to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza. According to the testimony, Israeli soldiers were told to regard anything in Gaza as a "threat" and told that they should "not spare ammo."

In one testimony, a staff sergeant with the mechanised infantry unit stated,

"The saying was: 'There's no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.' In that situation, anyone there is involved. Everything is dangerous; there were no special intelligence warnings such as some person, or some white vehicle arriving ... No vehicle is supposed to be there – if there is one, we shoot at it. Anything that's not 'sterile' is suspect."

Other testimonies allege that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without regard for civilians who might be inside. The testimonies also describe Israeli soldiers looting Gazans' homes and engaging in arbitrary property destruction. In one instance, an individual describes running over cars with tanks.

Perhaps most troubling was the testimony given by a sergeant first class in the Israeli Combat Intelligence Collection Corps. The sergeant stated that during debriefings the destruction waged on Gaza was referred to as "accomplishments":

"You could say they went over most of the things viewed as accomplishments. They spoke about numbers: 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades' worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful."

The State Department's announcement of this unusually large arms sale is likely meant to reassure Israel over its concerns about the US-Iranian nuclear agreement. "The timing certainly has the appearance of calming Israeli fears about Iran," Gerald Steinberg said.

Yiftah Shapir, who heads the Middle East Military Balance project at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies, agreed. He told Bloomberg, "There's no doubt that packaging them all together in one sale, and announcing it now, is clearly linked to the Iran agreement."

Haaretzreported earlier this week that the US has quietly made plans to provide compensation to Israel if Washington and Tehran reach an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear programme.

According to Haaretz, this compensation includes F-35 stealth fighters, missile defence systems and other unknown military materials. The US and Israel have already agreed that Israel will buy 33 F-35s at $110 million apiece. The first planes are set to arrive in 2016. However, the Israeli military is seeking a total of 50 F-35s.

Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email. Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work, which can be viewed here.

]]> (Paul Gottinger) Americas Tue, 26 May 2015 15:01:46 +0000
Obama's dilemma over Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel Barack ObamaNo one denies that since the beginning of the crisis over its nuclear programme, Iran has been successful in breaking the US-Israeli rules for the Middle East. Throughout the (almost) two decades of the crisis, neither the US nor its allies have been able to disprove the claims that Iran's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only. Iran began to succeed after the breakthrough of the deal in late 2013 signed by the P5+1 countries; the US was involved and it stipulated the temporary freezing of Iran's nuclear programme. In exchange, the agreement provided for the easing of economic sanctions imposed on Iran in the expectation of reaching a final agreement at a later stage.

In addition to varying degrees of support for the deal, there were some who were completely opposed to it, not least Israel and Saudi Arabia. They both believe themselves to be under direct threat from Iran and their political and security demands have not been met by the deal.

Israel expressed its disapproval by describing the agreement as an unprecedented success for Iran because it preserved its nuclear programme and its continued refusal to recognise the Zionist state and perceived threat to "erase" it. It thus found itself in agreement with conservative Gulf States in opposing the Iran deal. Likewise, Saudi Arabia said that other Iranian successes will accompany the deal and will have an impact on Saudi Arabia directly. In addition to the fact that Iran broke the Western domination project in the region, the government in Tehran will also be granted a military, economic and religious (Shia) position at Saudi Arabia's expense; Riyadh regards itself as the regional (Sunni) leader. It is believed that King Salman bin Abdul Aziz refused to attend the recent Camp David summit as a form of protest at the deal with Iran.

US President Barack Obama was careful to coordinate with Israel over the negotiations with Iran in order to simplify complex points of view; he had similar intentions for his Arab friends, especially Saudi Arabia. He made sure that the US provided all that was necessary to keep them quiet when faced with the agreement. At Camp David, Obama even vowed that he would ensure dissenting countries' security and safety against any future Iranian threat.

However, it seems that Riyadh in particular was not completely satisfied with America's promises due to its growing fear of the threat posed by Iran in the region, given the crises plaguing the Middle East in the run-up to the signing of a final agreement next month, and Iran's involvement in almost all of them. In this, Saudi does not differ much from Israel's preference for a military option, implemented either by America, or by the White House allowing Riyadh to go ahead on its own. King Salman's government wants Washington to put pressure on Tehran either to stop its nuclear programme completely or to be more transparent with it; he remains unconvinced that Iran will not militarise its programme and work towards having nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia regards Iran's nuclear activities as just one aspect of its many threats against the kingdom, and so in exchange for its silence in the face of any future agreement it wants to have its own nuclear military capability, possibly bought ready-made. It could do this from Pakistan, especially since Saudi funded a large part of Islamabad's nuclear programme. As for Israel, in exchange for its silence and dropping its threats of unilateral military action, it wants appropriate compensation that matches its various concerns and fears.

In addition to possessing nuclear power, Israel wants the US to update its weapons on a regular basis. There have also been conditions for America to transfer funds to Israel in the form of "permanent aid" and defending Israel politically and diplomatically in international circles, especially with regards to the conflict with the Palestinians.

In any case, Obama is probably feeling confused about whether or not he will be able to get Iran's word on one hand, and reconcile Israel and Saudi Arabia's positions and policies on the other. However, this confusion has not stopped him from working on every front, as he is looking to close the Iranian portfolio during his term and to please both Tel Aviv and Riyadh, one his ally, the other his friend. However, he seems to be speaking with a forked tongue on this.

He will endeavour to convince Israel to back the final agreement in exchange for suitable rewards, starting with its weapons and financial demands. We have heard about the unimaginable number of weapons and absurd amounts of money that Israel may receive at any moment, and saw how Obama derailed the UN conference on the nuclear disarmament of the region in Tel Aviv's favour.

At the same time, the US president will say that Saudi Arabia will get the lion's share of rewards, albeit without breaking the rule that stipulates Israeli military superiority. This means that Saudi's dream of nuclear weapons will not come true with America's blessing, even if Riyadh decides to go down that road. Obama shares Israel's opposition to this on the grounds that allowing Saudi Arabia to possess such weapons will start a nuclear race, not only in the Gulf, but also in other countries in the region such as Egypt and Turkey. Such weapons, argues Israel, could one day end up pointed at itself; neither Washington nor Tel Aviv can ever allow that to happen.

This article was first published in Arabic by Arabi21.

]]> (Adel Al-Astal) Americas Tue, 26 May 2015 11:39:05 +0000
The Killing of Osama bin Laden Osama bin Laden

It's been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama's first term, and a major factor in his re-election.

The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration's account. The White House's story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida's operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan's two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she'd been told by a 'Pakistani official' that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he'd spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was 'quite possible' that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, 'but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.'

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden's whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration's account were false.

'When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,' Durrani told me. 'For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you've told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.' As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by 'people in the "strategic community" who would know' that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US's betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals' training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama's decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden's death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

It began with a walk-in. In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA's station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001. Walk-ins are assumed by the CIA to be unreliable, and the response from the agency's headquarters was to fly in a polygraph team. The walk-in passed the test. 'So now we've got a lead on bin Laden living in a compound in Abbottabad, but how do we really know who it is?' was the CIA's worry at the time, the retired senior US intelligence official told me.

The US initially kept what it knew from the Pakistanis. 'The fear was that if the existence of the source was made known, the Pakistanis themselves would move bin Laden to another location. So only a very small number of people were read into the source and his story,' the retired official said. 'The CIA's first goal was to check out the quality of the informant's information.' The compound was put under satellite surveillance. The CIA rented a house in Abbottabad to use as a forward observation base and staffed it with Pakistani employees and foreign nationals. Later on, the base would serve as a contact point with the ISI; it attracted little attention because Abbottabad is a holiday spot full of houses rented on short leases. A psychological profile of the informant was prepared. (The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.)

'By October the military and intelligence community were discussing the possible military options. Do we drop a bunker buster on the compound or take him out with a drone strike? Perhaps send someone to kill him, single assassin style? But then we'd have no proof of who he was,' the retired official said. 'We could see some guy is walking around at night, but we have no intercepts because there's no commo coming from the compound.'

In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. 'It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president's position was emphatic: "Don't talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden."' The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama's support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, 'was to get the Pakistanis on board'.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden's whereabouts. 'The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we've got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,' the retired official said. 'The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.' The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that 'the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.' (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. 'The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,' the retired official said. '"You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?"'

'It didn't take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,' the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal 'incentives' that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. 'The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you've got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies' – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – 'would not like it.'

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden's upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. 'The Saudis didn't want bin Laden's presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden's imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.'

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds 'to cover their asses', as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it's understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI's strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.

Adding to the tension was the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, often depicted in the Western press as an 'Islamic bomb' that might be transferred by Pakistan to an embattled nation in the Middle East in the event of a crisis with Israel. The US looked the other way when Pakistan began building its weapons system in the 1970s and it's widely believed it now has more than a hundred nuclear warheads. It's understood in Washington that US security depends on the maintenance of strong military and intelligence ties to Pakistan. The belief is mirrored in Pakistan.

'The Pakistani army sees itself as family,' the retired official said. 'Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are "brothers". The attitude is different in the American military. The senior Pakistani officers believe they are the elite and have got to look out for all of the people, as keepers of the flame against Muslim fundamentalism. The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us.'

Like all CIA station chiefs, Bank was working undercover, but that ended in early December 2010 when he was publicly accused of murder in a criminal complaint filed in Islamabad by Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist whose son and brother, according to local news reports, had been killed by a US drone strike. Allowing Bank to be named was a violation of diplomatic protocol on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and it brought a wave of unwanted publicity. Bank was ordered to leave Pakistan by the CIA, whose officials subsequently told the Associated Press he was transferred because of concerns for his safety. The New York Times reported that there was 'strong suspicion' the ISI had played a role in leaking Bank's name to Khan. There was speculation that he was outed as payback for the publication in a New York lawsuit a month earlier of the names of ISI chiefs in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. But there was a collateral reason, the retired official said, for the CIA's willingness to send Bank back to America. The Pakistanis needed cover in case their co-operation with the Americans in getting rid of bin Laden became known. The Pakistanis could say: "You're talking about me? We just kicked out your station chief."'

The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. 'Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,' the retired official said, 'to keep him under constant supervision.'

The risks for Obama were high at this early stage, especially because there was a troubling precedent: the failed 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. That failure was a factor in Jimmy Carter's loss to Ronald Reagan. Obama's worries were realistic, the retired official said. 'Was bin Laden ever there? Was the whole story a product of Pakistani deception? What about political blowback in case of failure?' After all, as the retired official said, 'If the mission fails, Obama's just a black Jimmy Carter and it's all over for re-election.'

Obama was anxious for reassurance that the US was going to get the right man. The proof was to come in the form of bin Laden's DNA. The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad. (In his subsequent testimony to a Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid, Aziz said that he had witnessed the attack on Abbottabad, but had no knowledge of who was living in the compound and had been ordered by a superior officer to stay away from the scene.)

Bargaining continued over the way the mission would be executed. 'Kayani eventually tells us yes, but he says you can't have a big strike force. You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal,' the retired official said. The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: 'How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden's rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?' The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

The US had begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan – to 'turn off the spigot', in the retired official's words. The provision of 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft was delayed, and under-the-table cash payments to the senior leaders were suspended. In April 2011 Pasha met the CIA director, Leon Panetta, at agency headquarters. 'Pasha got a commitment that the United States would turn the money back on, and we got a guarantee that there would be no Pakistani opposition during the mission,' the retired official said. 'Pasha also insisted that Washington stop complaining about Pakistan's lack of co-operation with the American war on terrorism.' At one point that spring, Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden's capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI role to remain secret: 'We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaida and the Taliban,' Pasha said, according to the retired official. 'The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaida activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.'

At one of his meetings with Panetta, according to the retired official and a source within the CIA, Pasha was asked by a senior CIA official whether he saw himself as acting in essence as an agent for al-Qaida and the Taliban. 'He answered no, but said the ISI needed to have some control.' The message, as the CIA saw it, according to the retired official, was that Kayani and Pasha viewed bin Laden 'as a resource, and they were more interested in their [own] survival than they were in the United States'.

A Pakistani with close ties to the senior leadership of the ISI told me that 'there was a deal with your top guys. We were very reluctant, but it had to be done – not because of personal enrichment, but because all of the American aid programmes would be cut off. Your guys said we will starve you out if you don't do it, and the okay was given while Pasha was in Washington. The deal was not only to keep the taps open, but Pasha was told there would be more goodies for us.' The Pakistani said that Pasha's visit also resulted in a commitment from the US to give Pakistan 'a freer hand' in Afghanistan as it began its military draw-down there. 'And so our top dogs justified the deal by saying this is for our country.'

Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan's army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them. The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn't be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan's side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: 'Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he's there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.

'Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,' the retired official said. 'Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.' A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that 'we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we're doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We've come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, "Let's face it. We're going to commit a murder."' The White House's initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration's targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. 'The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,' the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. 'Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,' the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden's quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden's rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden's wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration's account would hold otherwise.)

'They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,' the retired official said. 'Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.' Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House's initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. 'Six of the Seals' finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here's this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It's not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.' The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was 'bullshit', the retired official said. 'The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, "We kicked his ass and took his gas."'

After they killed bin Laden, 'the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,' the retired official said. 'Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.' Bin Laden's wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. 'Despite all the talk,' the retired official continued, there were 'no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren't there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.'

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. 'The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued' – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – 'out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.' Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.

The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden's body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with Kayani and Pasha and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama's political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to 'get out in front of the story' before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Not everyone agreed. Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, was the most outspoken of those who insisted that the agreements with Pakistan had to be honoured. In his memoir, Duty, Gates did not mask his anger:

Before we broke up and the president headed upstairs to tell the American people what had just happened, I reminded everyone that the techniques, tactics and procedures the Seals had used in the bin Laden operation were used every night in Afghanistan ... it was therefore essential that we agree not to release any operational details of the raid. That we killed him, I said, is all we needed to say. Everybody in that room agreed to keep mum on details. That commitment lasted about five hours. The initial leaks came from the White House and CIA. They just couldn't wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong ... Nonetheless the information just kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security adviser, Tom] Donilon, 'Why doesn't everybody just shut the fuck up?' To no avail.

Obama's speech was put together in a rush, the retired official said, and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy. This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following. Obama said that his administration had discovered that bin Laden was in Pakistan through 'a possible lead' the previous August; to many in the CIA the statement suggested a specific event, such as a walk-in. The remark led to a new cover story claiming that the CIA's brilliant analysts had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden's continuing flow of operational orders to al-Qaida. Obama also praised 'a small team of Americans' for their care in avoiding civilian deaths and said: 'After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.' Two more details now had to be supplied for the cover story: a description of the firefight that never happened, and a story about what happened to the corpse. Obama went on to praise the Pakistanis: 'It's important to note that our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.' That statement risked exposing Kayani and Pasha. The White House's solution was to ignore what Obama had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden. Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn't known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information 'about the possibility'. This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they'd killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden. But, according to the retired official, it wasn't clear from the Seals' early reports whether all of bin Laden's body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan.

Gates wasn't the only official who was distressed by Obama's decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance, the retired official said, 'but he was the only one protesting. Obama didn't just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone. This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn't even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.' There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.

The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama's announcement that the death of bin Laden was 'the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work' that focused on tracking a group of couriers, including one who was known to be close to bin Laden. Reporters were told that a team of specially assembled CIA and National Security Agency analysts had traced the courier to a highly secure million-dollar compound in Abbottabad. After months of observation, the American intelligence community had 'high confidence' that a high-value target was living in the compound, and it was 'assessed that there was a strong probability that [it] was Osama bin Laden'. The US assault team ran into a firefight on entering the compound and three adult males – two of them believed to be the couriers – were slain, along with bin Laden. Asked if bin Laden had defended himself, one of the briefers said yes: 'He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.'

The next day John Brennan, then Obama's senior adviser for counterterrorism, had the task of talking up Obama's valour while trying to smooth over the misstatements in his speech. He provided a more detailed but equally misleading account of the raid and its planning. Speaking on the record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. He said the US had no information suggesting that anyone in the Pakistani government or military knew bin Laden's whereabouts: 'We didn't contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.' He emphasised the courage of Obama's decision to order the strike, and said that the White House had no information 'that confirmed that bin Laden was at the compound' before the raid began. Obama, he said, 'made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory'. Brennan increased the number killed by the Seals inside the compound to five: bin Laden, a courier, his brother, a bin Laden son, and one of the women said to be shielding bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden had fired on the Seals, as some reporters had been told, Brennan repeated what would become a White House mantra: 'He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don't know ... Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks ... living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield ... [It] just speaks to I think the nature of the individual he was.'

Gates also objected to the idea, pushed by Brennan and Leon Panetta, that US intelligence had learned of bin Laden's whereabouts from information acquired by waterboarding and other forms of torture. 'All of this is going on as the Seals are flying home from their mission. The agency guys know the whole story,' the retired official said. 'It was a group of annuitants who did it.' (Annuitants are retired CIA officers who remain active on contract.) 'They had been called in by some of the mission planners in the agency to help with the cover story. So the old-timers come in and say why not admit that we got some of the information about bin Laden from enhanced interrogation?' At the time, there was still talk in Washington about the possible prosecution of CIA agents who had conducted torture.

'Gates told them this was not going to work,' the retired official said. 'He was never on the team. He knew at the eleventh hour of his career not to be a party to this nonsense. But State, the agency and the Pentagon had bought in on the cover story. None of the Seals thought that Obama was going to get on national TV and announce the raid. The Special Forces command was apoplectic. They prided themselves on keeping operational security.' There was fear in Special Operations, the retired official said, that 'if the true story of the missions leaked out, the White House bureaucracy was going to blame it on the Seals.'

The White House's solution was to silence the Seals. On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House's legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private. 'The Seals were not happy,' the retired official said. But most of them kept quiet, as did Admiral William McRaven, who was then in charge of JSOC. 'McRaven was apoplectic. He knew he was fucked by the White House, but he's a dyed-in-the-wool Seal, and not then a political operator, and he knew there's no glory in blowing the whistle on the president. When Obama went public with bin Laden's death, everyone had to scramble around for a new story that made sense, and the planners were stuck holding the bag.'

Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House's desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.

One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O'Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O'Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought 'We were going to die.' 'The more we trained on it, the more we realised ... this is going to be a one-way mission.'

But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O'Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: 'Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That's not going to happen.'

There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden's guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection. 'And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn't exist and we couldn't produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.' (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)

Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a 'treasure trove ... the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever', which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida's plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden 'remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group ... He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group's management and to encourage plotting' from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. 'He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation's security,' the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: 'He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.'

These claims were fabrications: there wasn't much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA's internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden's al-Qaida. 'We were told at first,' the retired official said, 'that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It's a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.' The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

'Why create the treasure trove story?' the retired official said. 'The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.'

In July 2011, the Washington Post published what purported to be a summary of some of these materials. The story's contradictions were glaring. It said the documents had resulted in more than four hundred intelligence reports within six weeks; it warned of unspecified al-Qaida plots; and it mentioned arrests of suspects 'who are named or described in emails that bin Laden received'. The Post didn't identify the suspects or reconcile that detail with the administration's previous assertions that the Abbottabad compound had no internet connection. Despite their claims that the documents had produced hundreds of reports, the Post also quoted officials saying that their main value wasn't the actionable intelligence they contained, but that they enabled 'analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaida'.

In May 2012, the Combating Terrrorism Centre at West Point, a private research group, released translations it had made under a federal government contract of 175 pages of bin Laden documents. Reporters found none of the drama that had been touted in the days after the raid. Patrick Cockburn wrote about the contrast between the administration's initial claims that bin Laden was the 'spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web' and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was 'delusional' and had 'limited contact with the outside world outside his compound'.

The retired official disputed the authencity of the West Point materials: 'There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.'

In June 2011, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and all over the Pakistani press that Amir Aziz had been held for questioning in Pakistan; he was, it was said, a CIA informant who had been spying on the comings and goings at the bin Laden compound. Aziz was released, but the retired official said that US intelligence was unable to learn who leaked the highly classified information about his involvement with the mission. Officials in Washington decided they 'could not take a chance that Aziz's role in obtaining bin Laden's DNA also would become known'. A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. 'We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,' the retired official said. 'We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.' It was soon reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad with Afridi's help in a failed attempt to obtain bin Laden's DNA. Afridi's legitimate medical operation was run independently of local health authorities, was well financed and offered free vaccinations against hepatitis B. Posters advertising the programme were displayed throughout the area. Afridi was later accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison because of his ties to an extremist. News of the CIA-sponsored programme created widespread anger in Pakistan, and led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.

The retired official said that Afridi had been recruited long before the bin Laden mission as part of a separate intelligence effort to get information about suspected terrorists in Abbottabad and the surrounding area. 'The plan was to use vaccinations as a way to get the blood of terrorism suspects in the villages.' Afridi made no attempt to obtain DNA from the residents of the bin Laden compound. The report that he did so was a hurriedly put together 'CIA cover story creating "facts"' in a clumsy attempt to protect Aziz and his real mission. 'Now we have the consequences,' the retired official said. 'A great humanitarian project to do something meaningful for the peasants has been compromised as a cynical hoax.' Afridi's conviction was overturned, but he remains in prison on a murder charge.

In his address announcing the raid, Obama said that after killing bin Laden the Seals 'took custody of his body'. The statement created a problem. In the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing. But with Obama's announcement of his killing by the Seals everyone now expected a body to be produced. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden's body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on routine patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death. The press corps's only sceptical moments at John Brennan's briefing on 2 May were to do with the burial. The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered. 'When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?' 'Was this part of the plan all along?' 'Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?' 'John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?' 'Is there a visual recording of this burial?' When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama's press secretary, came to Brennan's rescue: 'We've got to give other people a chance here.'

'We thought the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial,' Brennan said, 'was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.' He said 'appropriate specialists and experts' were consulted, and that the US military was fully capable of carrying out the burial 'consistent with Islamic law'. Brennan didn't mention that Muslim law calls for the burial service to be conducted in the presence of an imam, and there was no suggestion that one happened to be on board the Carl Vinson.

In a reconstruction of the bin Laden operation for Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden, who spoke to many senior administration officials, wrote that bin Laden's body was cleaned and photographed at Jalalabad. Further procedures necessary for a Muslim burial were performed on the carrier, he wrote, 'with bin Laden's body being washed again and wrapped in a white shroud. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight, Monday morning, May 2.' Bowden described the photos:

One frame shows the body wrapped in a weighted shroud. The next shows it lying diagonally on a chute, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water. In the next it is visible just below the surface, ripples spreading outward. In the last frame there are only circular ripples on the surface. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden was careful not to claim that he had actually seen the photographs he described, and he recently told me he hadn't seen them: 'I'm always disappointed when I can't look at something myself, but I spoke with someone I trusted who said he had seen them himself and described them in detail.' Bowden's statement adds to the questions about the alleged burial at sea, which has provoked a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, most of which produced no information. One of them sought access to the photographs. The Pentagon responded that a search of all available records had found no evidence that any photographs had been taken of the burial. Requests on other issues related to the raid were equally unproductive. The reason for the lack of response became clear after the Pentagon held an inquiry into allegations that the Obama administration had provided access to classified materials to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The Pentagon report, which was put online in June 2013, noted that Admiral McRaven had ordered the files on the raid to be deleted from all military computers and moved to the CIA, where they would be shielded from FOIA requests by the agency's 'operational exemption'.

McRaven's action meant that outsiders could not get access to the Carl Vinson's unclassified logs. Logs are sacrosanct in the navy, and separate ones are kept for air operations, the deck, the engineering department, the medical office, and for command information and control. They show the sequence of events day by day aboard the ship; if there has been a burial at sea aboard the Carl Vinson, it would have been recorded.

There wasn't any gossip about a burial among the Carl Vinson's sailors. The carrier concluded its six-month deployment in June 2011. When the ship docked at its home base in Coronado, California, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, told reporters that the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial. Captain Bruce Lindsey, skipper of the Carl Vinson, told reporters he was unable to discuss it. Cameron Short, one of the crew of the Carl Vinson, told the Commercial-News of Danville, Illinois, that the crew had not been told anything about the burial. 'All he knows is what he's seen on the news,' the newspaper reported.

The Pentagon did release a series of emails to the Associated Press. In one of them, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reported that the service followed 'traditional procedures for Islamic burial', and said none of the sailors on board had been permitted to observe the proceedings. But there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.

Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn't take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden's remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: 'At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.' The second consultant agreed that there had been 'no burial at sea'. He added that 'the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama's military credentials ... The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It's irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.' Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: 'You mean, he didn't make it to the water?'

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden's body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: 'If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious "Where's the body?" problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a "functional body" because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the "burial at sea" idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of "national security". It's the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slighest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.' The retired official said that if the Seals' first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn't have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.

It was inevitable that the Obama administration's lies, misstatements and betrayals would create a backlash. 'We've had a four-year lapse in co-operation,' the retired official said. 'It's taken that long for the Pakistanis to trust us again in the military-to-military counterterrorism relationship – while terrorism was rising all over the world ... They felt Obama sold them down the river. They're just now coming back because the threat from Isis, which is now showing up there, is a lot greater and the bin Laden event is far enough away to enable someone like General Durrani to come out and talk about it.' Generals Pasha and Kayani have retired and both are reported to be under investigation for corruption during their time in office.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's long-delayed report on CIA torture, released last December, documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA's knowledge of bin Laden's courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The report led to international headlines about brutality and waterboarding, along with gruesome details about rectal feeding tubes, ice baths and threats to rape or murder family members of detainees who were believed to be withholding information. Despite the bad publicity, the report was a victory for the CIA. Its major finding – that the use of torture didn't lead to discovering the truth – had already been the subject of public debate for more than a decade. Another key finding – that the torture conducted was more brutal than Congress had been told – was risible, given the extent of public reporting and published exposés by former interrogators and retired CIA officers. The report depicted tortures that were obviously contrary to international law as violations of rules or 'inappropriate activities' or, in some cases, 'management failures'. Whether the actions described constitute war crimes was not discussed, and the report did not suggest that any of the CIA interrogators or their superiors should be investigated for criminal activity. The agency faced no meaningful consequences as a result of the report.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: 'They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. "Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner's ass!" Meanwhile, they're not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.'

The main theme of the committee's 499-page executive summary is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency's alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA's intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that 'detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].' A CIA cable a year later stated that 'we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden's location from any detainees.' The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' in the search for bin Laden's couriers.

Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.

This article was first published by the London Review of Books

]]> (Seymour M. Hersh) Americas Mon, 11 May 2015 16:03:58 +0000
Will Carter be successful in reaching a second Mecca Agreement? Dr Hani Al-Masri

The latest news regarding Jimmy Carter's tour of the Middle East is his meeting with Russian president and the latter's willingness to host the Palestinian dialogue. He also met with the Saudi monarch, who is willing to host a meeting between Palestinian President Abu Mazen and head of Hamas Khaled Meshaal if there is a chance it will succeed. Carter told King Salman that Meshaal is willing to make the meeting work on the condition that the proposed meeting is preceded by a factional meeting that discusses the details of implementing the Cairo agreement based on the "Prisoners' Document".

It is noteworthy that Carter's tour did not include a visit to Egypt and a meeting with President Al-Sisi, despite the fact that Carter said that the goals of his tour are to work on lifting the blockade on Gaza, reconstruction in the Strip, achieving Palestinian reconciliation and pushing forward the efforts to rescue the two-state solution – none of which can be realistically done without Egypt's involvement. This exclusion is due to the fact that the situation in Egypt requires it to focus on domestic matters, but Egypt did welcome Carter's initiative and expressed hope for its success.

Abu Mazen told Carter that there is no need for new dialogue and agreement, and that both Palestinian factions need instead to implement the agreements that have already been reached one step at a time, but at an accelerated pace. He also noted that it was important to hold presidential and legislative elections and to form a government that will address all issues. Abu Mazen also said he will issue a presidential decree to hold elections immediately after he receives written approval from Hamas. He will also call on the Palestinian Legislative Council to convene in order to approve the election law based on which the elections will be held.

Abu Mazen also called on the temporary leadership to convene at any location they agree upon, even if in Ramallah, with the presence of those Hamas members able to attend in person – for those who cannot, a video conference call will be made. He also stressed that the reconstruction of Gaza will not be linked to the success of reconciliation, rather to the stationing of the police and presidential guards on the borders and crossings – a condition imposed by the international community and aid donors.

According to statements issued by the movement, Hamas agrees to holding elections but it still has not agreed to sign a written document consenting to this. However, they insist on their employees being present at the crossings and no longer stipulate that the presidential and legislative elections must coincide with the National Assembly elections.

This all suggests that there may be potential leeway in the reconciliation portfolio, despite the fact that the data continue to indicate that we still have not left the cycles of manoeuvres and conditions. This is cited by the fact that the holding of a leadership meeting is linked to Hamas's written consent to holding elections, using it as a means to exclude Hamas and exercise unilateral control. This is only, of course, if Israel agrees to hold elections without imposing conditions that are difficult for the Palestinians to accept. Holding elections without national reconciliation and consensus – in light of the occupation, the current situation and previous experience – is a recipe for deepening the divide and turning it into a separation.

The most than can come out of the Carter initiative in light of the fact that the Palestinian parties have not achieved unity is that a leadership meeting may be held in Mecca or elsewhere. This is a positive and necessary matter, but on its own, it will not do much or achieve anything worthwhile. The reasons for the failure of the first Mecca Agreement and its decline three months after the national unity government, and the failure of all the agreements that were made, are all still present and they have become hindrances and obstacles that have worsened after the division became deeper.

In order to jog our collective memory, I will remind you that the most prominent obstacle hindering the end of the division until now is the paralysis of the PLO and its failing to re-establish its institutions, thus allowing it to consist of various parties and their individual priorities. Instead, they continue to rely on the variables, developments, and on foreign parties (either countries, such as Israel and the US, or other partiers, such as the Muslim Brotherhood). They also continue to believe in the delusion of potentially reaching an agreement with Israel, while the PA continues to self-govern in the West Bank without any actual authority. They also believe that they can establish a state with temporary borders in Gaza. Another hindrance is the absence of political consenseus, and the formation of common denominators for the reconciliation agreements and basis for partnership. There are also efforts to monopolise power and exclude the other party on both sides, and a lack of a strong and effective third party armed with popular movement able to impose the will of the people on the two sides of the divide in order to create the required balance and win the battle for authority.

There is another obstacle represented in Abu Mazen's fear of a Saudi-Brotherhood-Hamas alliance, as Hamas is concerned with repairing its relationship with Saudi Arabia in a manner allowing it to continue not to respond to Abu Mazen's terms for reconciliation. These terms basically aim to strip Hamas of almost everything it has in exchange for recognition as a party that has no ability to affect the Palestinian decision.

The most important issue in this entire matter is the change in Saudi Arabia's position since the failure of the Mecca Agreement regarding its involvement in the reconciliation portfolio and its holding Hamas responsible for the failure – leading to an estrangement between Riyadh and Hamas that later developed into hostility between the late Saudi king and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia considered it part of the Turkish-Qatari Alliance, and then the ISIS alliance, considered by Riyadh as the second greatest threat to its regional power after Iran.

Following the death of King Abdullah and the crowning of King Salman, there was an important shift in Saudi policy, as the perceived threat from Iran became the main foreign policy focus. This resulted in Operation Decisive Storm, decided by Riyadh before the Arab summit; hence, putting the summit on the spot, forcing it to provide a cover for it despite the fact that Saudi Arabia made the decision unilaterally. In addition to this, King Salman left Sharm El-Sheikh after he finished his speech and took the Yemeni president with him, even though the summit was supposedly held for the sake of Yemen and therefore the president should remain until the end. However, the Yemeni president is "an ordered slave" who cannot contradict the message Salman was sending by leaving after his speech and after the summit approved his decision.

The change in the Saudi policy was made based on Obama's advice to Salman during his visit to pay his respects after the death of King Abdullah to be more open to the Muslim Brotherhood. This led to his reconsideration of the Saudi position on the Turkish-Qatari-Brotherhood alliance, as there are more and more indicators of Saudi Arabia joining the alliance. This is reinforced by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood in general, and particularly its branch in Yemen, sided with Saudi Arabia in Operation Decisive Storm and are fighting against the Syrian regime, which is the same position as Ankara, Riyadh and Doha. Hamas also supported the legitimacy in Yemen and publically called for Saudi Arabia to play a role in the Palestinian reconciliation.

The question remains as to what the Egyptian position will be, especially if the new Saudi position leads to calling for reconciliation between Al-Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood. If the matter is limited to Saudi Arabia being involved in the Palestinian reconciliation, then Egypt will be able to handle this, especially since the discussion will be on implementing the reconciliation agreement sponsored by Egypt and Egypt remains in control of this. Cairo will be happy if Saudi Arabia is able to convince Hamas to allow the PA to control the crossings and borders, which will ensure Egypt's security by closing the sources of threat posed by the cooperation of "jihadist takfirist" organisations in Sinai and Gaza, either with direct assistance from Hamas or indirectly by turning a blind eye to their activities.

In this context, there are predictions that I can neither completely agree with nor can completely disregard. These include the prediction that the Saudi-Egyptian honeymoon period is almost finished because Cairo does not share Riyadh's belief that Iran is the only or main threat, and because Egypt has a different approach to dealing with Iran and Syria, in which it gives priority to fighting terrorism and confronting the Turkish- Qatari- Muslim Brotherhood alliance. If this happens, then it will negatively affect any Saudi effort to achieve Palestinian reconciliation.

Carter's efforts may meet with Arab, regional, and international efforts seeking to achieve reconciliation in conjunction with a long-term truce with Israel that will, at the very least, prevent the eruption of the Palestinian situation in a region inflamed with all sorts of explosions. These efforts also seek to at the very least create an atmosphere conducive to reviving the two-state solution that is currently gasping for its final breaths. There are international efforts from various sources trying to rescue the two-state solution before it dies and opens the region's doors to the unknown.

Translated from Arab48 on 5 May 2015.

]]> (Dr Hani Al-Masri) Americas Wed, 06 May 2015 16:17:45 +0000
Conkers, cluster bombs and American double standards Alastair Sloan

Playing conkers is a formative experience in any self-respecting British playground. For curious foreign friends who haven't heard of this brilliant game, it requires two conkers - nuts which fall each autumn from horse chestnut trees - each with a small hole drilled through the centre so it can be hung on a two foot string. The first player dangles his conker in front of their opponents. The second player must hit his own conker against the others as hard as possible. They get one swing, and then swap roles.

This is repeated until one of the conkers breaks or is a bruised pulp. Duels between classmates occur every break-time for weeks. Eventually, via a complex and hotly competed tournament system, a champion conker is declared, and its owner is the victor.

Sadly, I'm told that "Angry Birds" tweeting on smartphones has now drowned out the sound of conker smashing. This is a great tragedy for our gilded land's traditions, not least because it deprives so many children of important life skills. For the future mechanics, inspiration might be found in the advanced trebuchet technique, formed by lacing the string over your thumb and tensioning the string until the conker leaps off into the air, swinging down with ten times the vigour in an ingenious act of childhood engineering.

Others might learn Machiavellian strategy, performing surreptitious reconnaissance on the trees ahead of the conker season, then asking Mum to drop them off at the school gates ten minutes earlier than usual, just on the morning that the conkers have fallen. The sneaky little terrier scuttles with victorious ambition to the biggest, toughest, meanest-looking conker available. Reaching it before the others do could bring eventual victory, school-wide glory and whatever the spoils of war look like in a playground these days.

There are also rules, which are important things for children to understand. Other than some technical matters regarding the dual itself, these regulations typically fall into two sets. The first are rules regarding the location of where competing conkers can be picked up from, often fixed by setting the playground's perimeter as the outer limit. This regulation is crucial in towns where trees planted in fully tarmacked playgrounds are just a smidgeon malnourished compared to their leafy cousins basking in the luscious green park next door. In some schools, the rule is applied differently from the "Playground-Only" standard, so that a designated tree in town - normally the one with the best conkers - can also be used.

The second issue lawmakers must deal with is hardening, a controversial practice in which players can lightly bake, soak in vinegar or coat their conker in varnish. This makes conkers much harder to break. This is an attractive option for dirty cheats, who know that many of these illicit techniques are invisible to the naked eye. Cheats caught applying any of these techniques are typically outcast and banned from taking part in any further duels. Hardened conkers are regarded as barbaric weapons which undermine the ethos of the game.

In a particularly infamous season, the playground bully of our year was caught enhancing his chosen Chestnut of Death illicitly in order to sneak himself an unfair advantage. This was frowned upon passionately by all of the serious conker players, who advocated a season-long ban. However, the bully and cheater protested that as he had been off sick on the first day that the conkers had fallen off the trees, he had missed the best of the crop and deserved a special advantage. He wanted one rule for himself, and another for us. It was a good lesson in fairness that day, especially as he was finally shouted down, and - reputation bruised - curtailed his bullying activities considerably in the following months.

Thank you for bearing with me through that rambling analogy. Now onto current affairs. My apologies for deploying an analogical cliché as a finale but, you guessed it, if we take the fields of conker glory as an analogy for events on the world stage, a certain United States of America might be represented by that duplicitous school bully I just told you about.

America has perfected the "One Rule for Itself" doctrine. The US has applied it to climate change (the Kyoto Treaty), war crimes (it refuses to recognise the International Criminal Court), weapons of mass destruction (no UN inspectors go anywhere near US nuclear, chemical or biological arms stores), executing juveniles and those with mental illness, Guantanamo Bay, and pre-emptive invasion of sovereign nation states. There are numerous other examples, yet America listens to none of its critics, because it is exceptional.

One particularly barbaric transgression in America's potted history of failures to comply with basic levels of global decency is its approach to cluster bombs. These weapons are horrible. Exploding in mid-air across an area the size of several football pitches, they rain hundreds of bomblets down onto the ground. They are meant to explode all at once, but many bombs don't work properly and leave hundreds of unexploded munitions scattered for anyone, civilian or soldier, adult or child, to stumble upon later. In the past decade, these monstrosities have struck a bloody rash through conflicts in Syria, Libya, South Sudan and Sudan, Ukraine, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Georgia, Cambodia and Afghanistan.

You might expect the leaders of the free world to call time on the manufacture, supply or use of cluster bombs, but no; video footage found by Human Rights Watch shows that US-made cluster bombs were dropped over Yemen just last week by Saudi and Emirati pilots. The bombs in question were manufactured by Textron Systems Corporation, an American arms merchant, and supplied to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the assistance of the US government. They were dropped on Yemeni civilians. Seventy-six major financial institutions on Wall Street invested $27 billion in the cluster bomb industry last year, using the pension funds of tens of millions of ordinary Americans.

This is a long national love affair, an obsession almost, stretching back to the secret American bombing of Laos in the sixties, the first mass deployment of cluster bombs in history, orchestrated by the US Air Force. Before Laos, only Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany had experimented with these dastardly weapons. The Pentagon, though, has deployed the little horrors in every major conflict since the sixties, despite protestations from human rights groups and chiding from the international community.

It's time that Washington stopped reprising the role of the playground bully. Fairness is a system based on the equal application of the rules. Justice is a system by which lack of fairness leads to disgruntlement. Disgruntlement leads to dissent. These lessons are ignored by American exceptionalists; that one's moral credibility outside the West is severely dented each time you adopt another hideous double standard.

Just as our playground bully insisted that his decision to bake his conker weapon covertly the night before the contest was in some way justified, American policy makers have excuse after excuse. In the case of cluster bombs, it is that they only export them to countries which "won't use them on civilians". This is clearly a farce; Saudi Arabia and UAE have had no problem ignoring this rule, at the very first opportunity.

And as the United States chooses to fight more Middle East wars through their Gulf and Egyptian proxies, this excuse will be used more and more often: don't blame us in Washington, blame our irresponsible friends to whom we sold the weapons; we couldn't possibly know they were going to use them in such a horrid manner, wink, wink. Or if the Americans use such weapons themselves - as they have done in the "war on terror" - they insist that they drop them only on military targets, forgetting that civilians after the war will call the abandoned positions their home and find unexploded bomblets everywhere.

It's time for the USA to sign up to the 2008 international treaty banning cluster bombs. The whole of Western Europe, most of sub-Saharan Africa, most of Latin America and South East Asia have banned their use. Of the great world powers, only Russia, China and the United States continue to use them; that's some company in which the Americans find themselves. If we're to believe for a second that Washington retains any moral credibility on the world stage, stopping the mass manufacture, trade, investment into and deployment of cluster bombs, by American airplanes or their proxies, must cease immediately.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Wed, 06 May 2015 15:06:14 +0000
Leaked emails reveal Hollywood execs at work for Israel Hollywood SignTop Hollywood bosses enjoy a strong relationship with the Israeli government and various pro-Israel lobbying groups across the United States, according to a cache of Sony internal emails leaked to Wikileaks and published for the first time last week.

The emails reveal a dinner between Sony executives and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the presenter of American X-Factor chiding actress Natalie Portman aggressively for her views on Israel; meetings between top entertainment chiefs and the Israeli consulate-general; close ties between Sony's Co-Chairperson and various pro-Israel lobbying groups; and film chiefs planning, in detail, a new documentary about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, about which the emails also reflect rising concern.

Amy Pascal, Co-Chairperson of Sony Pictures Entertainment from 2006 until 2015, was signed up to regular email updates on the security situation in Israel, from a right-wing pressure group called The Israel Project. The group was described by Jewish Daily Forward in 2010 as a Zionist group which, "Stokes Fear of Islam for Political Profit." The Israel Project has been admonished by the more liberal pro-Israel lobby group J-Street for taking a pro-settler stance. The daily emails sent to Pascal by The Israel Project had subject lines like "Protect Israel from a Nuclear Iran", "Fighting Anti-Israel Hate" and "Hamas Agrees to Ceasefire then Breaks It, Again". Most of the emails, which were being sent as often as once a day, contained requests for financial donations.

Pascal also received an email from the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-Semitism watchdog with close links to the Israeli government, thanking her personally for being amongst eighteen entertainment executives whose names were displayed prominently in an ADL advert in Variety, The Jewish Journal, and The Hollywood Reporter. The advert quoted Golda Meir from 1957: "We can forgive them [the Palestinians] for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with them when they love their children more than they hate us." The quote was prefaced with additional commentary from ADL: "As talk turns to the future of Gaza, these haunting words of Golda Meir are as current as today's headlines. She could have been talking about Hamas."

Another leaked email exchange shows Pascal, who has since left Sony, being invited to "an intimate salon style discussion" at a J-Street supporter's home, in August 2014. The email emphasised that a special guest would be in attendance, J-Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. Pascal declined the invitation as she was on holiday in Vietnam, but responded, "I'm in for next steps and want to know how to get myself educated [sic]." J-Street bills itself as a "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace" organisation and is regarded as the liberal element of the US pro-Israel lobby.

Another email that Pascal received and responded to shows an organisation called Creative Community for Peace, "a group of influential music execs... which battles the BDS movement... which tries to stop artists performing in Israel" reminding Pascal that they had taken her and her husband on a trip to Israel back in 2007.

"At that time," wrote David Lonner, a top Hollywood executive and Advisory Board Member for CCP, "the war with Hezbollah had just ended and our community had exhibited a great deal of apathy and some ignorance on what Israel was up against." Lonner added: "My hope in the end, was that if there was another crisis, we would not be silent. 7 years have passed since our trip and tragically we are in another crisis with Hamas."

Lonner than claimed that CCP worked with Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Alicia Keys when international pressure nearly prevented them from playing concerts in Israel. The email asked for Pascal's and her husband's signatures on another appeal, this time to "support Israel" during the Toronto Film Festival. Pascal replied to the email, "Count on both us." [sic]

Pascal and her husband Bernard Weintraub also received a personal invitation to attend a private event in September last year with the Israeli Consul-General, according to another email in the leaked archive. Held at the home of media lawyer and marketing tycoon Michael Kassan, the event was billed as "A Special Briefing on the Situation in Israel by David Siegel, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, and Jay Sanderson, President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles." The evening included "cocktails and hors d'oeuvres," and guests were advised to wear "Business Casual Attire."

Another top Sony executive, Michael Lynton, was also emailed by Israeli intelligence operative and veteran film producer Arnon Milchan, arranging for him to have an "intimate dinner" with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The dinner was later held at Milchan's private home in Malibu.

One of the most extraordinary exchanges in the leaked emails came as Hollywood executives discussed Ken Loach's call for "a complete cultural boycott of Israel". "Enough with this pathetic limousine liberals ignorant bs," responded Ben Silverman, Executive Producer of hit shows like The Office, Ugly Betty and The Tudors.

Silverman then claimed that Gazans watching Loach's films will "be lined up and shot in the street for doing so." He asserted that anyone

"with a wife, daughter, mother or sister knows the evil anti woman rhetoric of the sharia Islamists and it is time to draw attention to the fact that you can have a voice and a choice in our democracies and you can have nothing but hate in their monarchies and dictatorships who thrive on censorship that would never allow their works to be shown. Let's go gents. We can't lie down. We must stand up."

Hollywood star Natalie Portman is copied on the email. She complained that she doesn't want her personal email address shared with a group of people she doesn't know. Ryan Kavanaugh, a well-known producer, reported billionaire and Variety magazine's 2011 "Showman of the Year," then reproached her sarcastically.

"Sorry. You are right jews being slaughtered for their beliefs and cannes members calling for the boycott of anything Israel or Jewish is much much less important than your email address being shared with 20 of our peers who are trying to make a difference. my deepest apologies.

I know that you don't care so I'll leave it alone, but I had lunch yesterday with Israel consulate general who brought J street up to me. He was so perplexed confused and concerned when he heard you supported them that he begged me to connect you two. I told him how you felt, you didn't want to hear from or speak to anyone who disagrees with your position. Three times he said "buts she's Jewish and smart."

Just thought you should know"

In another round-robin email, Hollywood executives discussed making a documentary about the recent resurgence in anti-Semitism. The well-respected independent film producer and agent Cassian Elwes suggested,

"How about we all club together and make a documentary about the rise of new anti-Semitism in Europe I would be willing to contribute and put time into it if others here would do the same. Between all of us I'm sure we could figure out a way to distribute it and get it into places like Cannes so we could have a response to guys like Loach. Perhaps we try to use it to rally support from film communities in Europe to help us distribute it there."

Copied in on the email are dozens of Hollywood names, including Natalie Portman and fellow actress Scarlett Johansson, executives at Lionsgate Productions, MGM and Fox, X-Factor presenter and producer of "Keeping up with the Kardashians" Ryan Seacrest, and several high profile actors' agents. One unidentified executive called the proposed documentary "A brilliant idea." Also copied is Amy Pascal of Sony, who writes "Me too," in response.

Jason Binn, the owner of luxury shopping website Gilt, then offered to promote the film to its nine million members and the three million readers of his luxury magazine DuJour.

Glenn Feig, owner of the entertainment law firm Reder and Feig, offered pro bono legal services for the planned documentary, before copying in his client Ram Bergman, producer of the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII and Star Wars Episode IX, and the thriller Looper, which starred A-Listers Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Also copied in on the email discussion about the upcoming film is Elliot Brandt, who was named in September 2014 as National Managing Director for the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying and political financing organisation. The emails reveal anxiety amongst the predominantly Jewish film executives regarding the rise of anti-Semitism.

One round-robin email, sent out by Bart Rosenblatt of Code Entertainment, is entitled "Too close to home." It details a hate crime at Emory University in October 2014 in which swastikas were scrawled onto a Jewish fraternity house. Executives also emailed each other articles from The Guardian newspaper saying that anti-Semitism "was at its worse since the Nazis", and an article claiming that Germany is now a no-go area for Jews.

Producer Ryan Kavanaugh wrote

"We can continue to be silent and pretend this isn't happening because it is not in our country yet. We can ignore the anti-Semitism akin to pre ww2 Germany... now lining the streets of London, France, Germany and around the world. We all may think we're protected here in the free US. We are not. It had now hit our doorstep and yet we remain silent?"

Another producer, Ron Rotholz, argued that

"many lines are being crossed ... it's a new reality for us. The tacit and subtle recognition of Hamas as a legitimate government with legitimate policies and a legitimate charter, by Western governments is a hate crime on a global scale"

Rotholz also called out the UK's National Union of Students:

"In the UK as you well know there has been a shocking rise in anti-Israel and anti-Semitism on university campuses here, both in terms of faculty and students and student orgs such as the potent and powerful NUS ( Natl Union of Students which holds great weight within the natl. Labour Party ).

The NUS has a long history of anti-Israel leadership and policy and their rhetoric and policies have become much more aggressive in the last year or so ... The intimidation of Jewish students, and those who support Israel in UK universities both by administrators, faculty and students is widespread, commonplace and alarming ... it's a dire situation and quite shocking in a nation which prides itself on tolerance and civility."

Those working on the anti-Semitism documentary also discussed who should present the film. One producer said that the project would need "a really good director who on the face of it doesn't seem completely biased, so that we can show something that gets the message across without making it seem like propaganda."

Organisers also planned to lean heavily on European institutions to make the film, anticipating good support. One executive wrote,

"I think we will get full cooperation from the impt media in europe, the eu, the current conservative govt. in the uk, the current govt in france, angela merkel in germany, many academics ( def at Oxford, Cambridge, LSE ) and of course, major jewish orgs in the uk france germany and in most eu countries ... This documentary is an essential tool for spreading our message."

Please follow on Twitter @AlastairSloan for more updates.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:33:48 +0000
US drone strikes have traumatised a generation of Yemenis and will push them towards militancy US Drone

A year ago today, Hussein Ahmed Saleh Abu Bakr, a labourer, was travelling to work in Al-Bayda, central Yemen, with 11 colleagues including family members when a drone struck the car. When the attack was over, Hussein emerged from where he had taken cover to look for the other passengers and found his father, 65, slumped in the road with shrapnel injuries to his head and chest. The bodies of the other passengers were scattered around the area, with some injuries so severe, Hussein was only able to identify them from their clothing. Four of the passengers were killed: Sanad Nasser Hussein Al-Khushm, Abdullah Nasser Abu Bakr Al-Khushm, Yasser Ali Abed Rabbo Al-Azzani and Ahmed Saleh Abu Bakr.

"Why? Why did they kill my son Sanad and my cousin Ahmed Saleh Abu Bakr? My son and my cousin did not belong to any organisation," said Hussein Nasser Abu Bakr Al-Khushm to researchers of a report released by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The attack was part of the US's targeted killing programme, a tactic which was employed in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a core part of "counterterrorism" efforts in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a BBC forum in 2013: "The only people that we fire a drone at [sic] are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don't just fire a drone at somebody and think they're a terrorist." However, the report entitled "Death by Drone: Civilian harm caused by US targeted killings in Yemen", found no evidence that the passengers in the car were linked to any terrorist organisation. It seems that they were "collateral damage" in a targeted attack on the car driving in front of them.

Collateral damage in US drone attacks have claimed many innocent lives. For example, in Yemen, strikes targeting 17 named men killed 273 people, at least seven of them children, according to the Guardian. These attacks have explicit support from the Yemeni government and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who took over power following former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year reign ended amid widespread protests during the Arab Spring, praised US drone strikes in Yemen and stated that he personally approved every drone strike taking place in the country.

These attacks have stayed largely out of mainstream news, except in December 2013 when a drone attack hit the wedding procession of Abdullah Mabkhut Al-Amri and Warda Al-Sorimi killing 12 of the guests. The Yemeni government gave the families $101,000 and 101 rifles in compensation. The US did not publically launch an investigation or provide compensation. Although the wedding attack led to Yemen's Parliament passing an almost unanimous but nonbinding resolution to prohibit the US from continuing drone strikes.

A lack of justice is however typical in such cases. Jen Gibson, an attorney at Reprieve who represents drone victims said: "For many innocent people in places like Yemen and Pakistan, drones are judge, jury and executioner all in one." She added: "The true extent of the US drone programme is shrouded in secrecy, and when the families of the victims seek redress for the terrible injustice of losing their loved ones – often women and children – there is zero accountability."

According to Reprieve, the US has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – all countries against whom it has not declared war.

Contrary to the claims by Yemen and the US that the strikes help contain Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAB) activities, clinical and forensic psychiatrist Peter Schaapveld expressed fear in an interview to Channel 4 that the drones were pushing the youth into the hands of militant organisations. After conducting research in Yemen, he warned of a "psychological emergency" in towns impacted by drones, with 99 per cent of Yemenis he spoke to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He described the children he assessed as "hollowed-out shells of children" who are being "traumatised and re-traumatised"

He said: "Another young man, 17 years of age, he said prior to this, prior to the strikes: 'I was very interested in the western culture. Me and my friends followed western fashion, listened to western music and watched western films. Now we have no interest in the west because of what has been done to us.'" Entesar Al Qadhi, a prominent activist from Mareb, an area of Yemen devastated by drone strikes, said to the audience of a drone summit in 2013: "Until the United States interfered, we did not even know what Al Qaeda was."

This concern has been echoed by the likes of General James E. Cartwright (Ret.), former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former adviser to President Obama, who said: "We're seeing that blowback...If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people even if they're not targeted." General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.), who led coalition forces in Afghanistan and was the head of the US Joint Special Operations Command, recognised the drones were creating "a tremendous amount of resentment inside populations."

The Open Society Justice Initiative report, a collaborative piece of research conducted with Yemeni group Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, questions whether drone attacks in Yemen are in line with the US's own policy guidance and with international law. Similar questioning led President Obama to outline in May 2013 the steps his administration takes before launching a targeted killing. According to Obama, the US must have a "near-certainty" that a target is present who poses a "continuing and imminent threat to the American people," that capture is not feasible, and that no civilians will be harmed.

The death of Hussein Nasser Abu Bakr Al-Khushm's son and cousin, the targeting of Mabkhut Al-Amri's and Warda Al-Sorimi's wedding procession and the endless other cases of "collateral damage" seem to indicate that these steps are not closely followed.

Today, Yemeni's have swapped the constant buzz of drones for the sound of airstrikes, as a Saudi-led coalition is bombing Yemen for the 23rd consecutive day in an attempt to tackle Houthi rebels. As the country descends into further chaos and armed groups continue to thrive off of the power vacuum in Yemen, we should not underestimate how the constant buzz in the air in villages across Yemen serves as a catalyst pushing young men towards militancy.

]]> (Jessica Purkiss) Americas Mon, 20 Apr 2015 09:55:09 +0000
American silence is a strategy to dismantle and reorganise the Arab region US president Barack Obama

Many observers have described US President Barack Obama as a hesitant individual who does not have a clear vision or strategy for dealing with the recurrent crises in the Middle East. They also say that after the withdrawal of the US military from Iraq and Afghanistan, his priorities are now focused on developing the economy and raising the level of domestic social and health services.

This position has its supporters, and it is relevant in light of the US's military withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq; as well as the US administration's refusal to directly intervene militarily in a number of Middle Eastern crises, such as Iraq, Syria and, recently, Yemen. In all these cases, the US has only provided humanitarian relief, logistical support to a friend or an ally, or has intervened through the use of aircraft to conduct specific military interventions in the context of combatting terrorism and extremism.

The three strategic interests

Disregarding all conspiracy theories, and without holding the US administration responsible for what has happened in the region, we must take a careful look at US policy towards the devastating Middle East crises. It is a well-known fact that the US administration has strategic interests in the Arab region and is willing to intervene with all its force in order to protect these interests; this is an indisputable concept in international politics. Such interests include:

  1. Preserving Israel's security.
  2. Securing energy sources.
  3. Securing the arms market.
  4. Ensuring the consumption of American goods in the Middle East.

These interests have been somewhat guaranteed over the past century, and Washington has been able to address any threat it faces with politics or military force, especially in the Gulf region – the latest of which was the US war on Iraq (or rather, on Saddam Hussein). Since then, American interests have not been exposed to any real threats, other than the straw man of "terrorism".

This path continued until the wave of Arab revolutions in 2011, which I believe came as a surprise to Washington, as well as to many Arab countries. The Arab Spring represented a sharp turn in the region due to the ousting of a number of Washington's allies, such as President Zine El Abidine and President Hosni Mubarak (described as Israel's "strategic treasure"). This sounded alarm bells in the White House out of fear that these changes would affect American interests as a result of local instability and US "uncertainty" regarding the region's future. There were a number of concerns aired at the time regarding the nature and form of the alternatives that might replace those Arab regimes allied with Washington. The American administration's concerns were intensified with the emergence of Islamist rule, especially in Egypt, one of the largest and most powerful countries in the Arab world. The rise to power of Muslim Brotherhood raised concerns over the future of the Camp David Accords and revolutionised Egypt's relationship with Israel and its security, as well as the potential of a knock-on effect in the Gulf states, which represent the US's strategic oil and natural gas stores in the region.

While facing these concerns and uncertainties, both the American administration and the governments of a number of Arab countries were invested in containing the wave of revolutionary change. However, the US administration, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, had greater goals beyond mere containment of the protests, as it realised that the Arab revolutions were the symptom of a number of complex issues rising from the depths of the collective (young) Arab consciousness. On the whole, revolutions are motivated by tyranny, injustice, and poverty and their goals are freedom, change and democracy – which may be brought about by the enemies of Washington and Tel Aviv enemies. Therefore, the process of replacing one leader with another may not convince the Arab peoples of deep change.

Unconventional measures are required

In addition to this, Washington is aware of the fact that its direct intervention is not generally welcomed by the Arab public because of their negative view of the American role in sponsoring Israel's security and its friendliness with the dictatorships that oppressed the Arab people – and which they consider the reason for their suffering on a social, economic, and political level. Washington is also aware of the financial and human costs it will have to pay for its direct intervention in the region, especially after its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Therefore, Washington and President Obama decided to assume the position of "strategic silence", which replaces direct American intervention with tacit and explicit support and by pitting Muslim and Arab parties against one another and against their own people. While these conflicting parties (both governments and groups) are working to achieve what they believe to be national and regional interests, in truth, they are achieving the American plan of unconventional strategic goals that are not revealed to the public. These goals were formulated to invest and exploit the events in the Arab region to the largest extent. Such goals include:

  • "Massaging" the collective consciousness of the Arab public by means of promoting violence and instability that causes Arab citizens to regret thinking of freedom and change and drives them to miss the regimes allied with Washington, which were overthrown by the revolution. This is accomplished by igniting sectarian and doctrinal wars, which are considered the most complex and violent wars in history.
  • Exhausting the region's major countries by means of internal and regional conflict, both militarily and economically, by prolonging such conflicts and fuelling them for many years. The events in Syria are a clear example of Washington's policy aiming to prolong the conflict by preventing both the regime and the opposition – and its supporters such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia – from resolving the battle. This policy seeks to have no winners or losers; to destroy the country, and thus destroy the Syrian people's spirit.
  • Exploiting the heavyweights in the Arab countries and stripping them of their unconventional weapons that may one day pose a true strategic threat to Israel's security. This was witnessed when Washington mobilised its fleets in the Mediterranean Sea to bomb Damascus in response to the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Gota. However, when the Syrian regime agreed to the Russian initiative to destroy its chemical weapons, Washington backed down from striking Syria and the scenario of internal conflict continued until over half of the Syrian people became refugees. This also applies to Iran's nuclear weapons. Iran is keen on sanctions being lifted because of the economic exhaustion it has suffered from its direct intervention and support for its allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, so the United States, led by Barack Obama, took advantage of Tehran's crippling economic situation to push it to make serious concessions regarding its nuclear programme in the context of the recent "Lausanne Agreement".
  • Demolishing the nation-states that emerged after World War II through ethnic conflicts (such as the Kurds), religious conflicts (Muslims, Christians, Druze, Assyrians, and Chaldeans, etc.), and sectarian conflicts (Shia and Sunni), and promoting the desire to divide the region into small fragments mostly devoid of sovereignty and self-advancement as a result of the destruction of their infrastructure and economy and the spread of poverty and ignorance. This is likely to occur in large countries such Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, and may even spread to countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. If this occurs, the Arab region will lack a central country capable to attract Arab people to form a real renaissance.
  • The prolongation of the conflict, fighting and destruction means that the American economic wheel will continue to turn, as the military industries will be needed by the conflicting parties, and, in the long run, the entities emerging from the destruction of its cities will be in dire need of reconstruction. This will open the market for American and European companies to intervene and offer their services – at a price, of course.

Dismantlement and reorganisation as a condition for the success of the scenario

The US strategic goals mentioned above have partly been achieved by means of President Obama's "strategic silence". The most dangerous part may be achieved in the future, and this is the dismantlement of the entire region and its nation-states and reorganising them on ethnic, sectarian, and doctrinal basis in a manner serving America's three strategic interests (Israel's security, energy sources, and the Middle Eastern consumer market).

The condition for the success of the dismantlement and reorganisation of the region is to involve the largest Middle Eastern countries, which are still somewhat intact, in devastating conflicts – such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. This is what Washington is seeking to do by exploiting Iran's desire for expansion through giving it opportunities to spread its control, which in turn provokes Arab countries and Turkey against it. This scenario is progressing through the Houthi coup in Yemen, which is supported by Iran, and which brought about a Saudi response ("Operation Storm of Resolve") in order to protect itself from the perceived Shiite Iranian threat on its southern borders.

The weak American position towards the Houthi coup in Yemen a few months ago can be explained by Washington's desire to reassure Iran and push it to make more progress in the Yemeni issue. At the time, the White House expressed its concern regarding the development of events in Yemen, and stressed continued coordination with the Houthis to strike Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Obama's administration only provided limited support to Operation Storm of Resolve in order to encourage Saudi Arabia to take serious measures in confronting Iran in order to let Iran and Saudi Arabia fight it out and generate responses from other countries in the region.

In the same context, the Lausanne Agreement regarding the Iranian nuclear programme was reached during the heated battled in Yemen. This agreement was personally pushed for by President Obama despite the fact that it angered its ally Israel in order to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear bombs and give it hope that the sanctions against it will be lifted in order to encourage Iran to continue its expansionist project.

Hence, it is likely that the Arab region will witness more complications and conflicts due to the expansion of the confrontations in Yemen into a ground war, the results of which are difficult to predict. Just like Iran can disturb Saudi Arabia's internal situation by inciting the Shiites in the South and East, Saudi Arabia also has the ability to disturb Iran's internal situation by inciting the Sunni Arabs in Ahvaz in southwest Iran and the Sunni Baloch tribes that spread from east Iran to Pakistan, which is an ally of Riyadh. In addition to this, either side can directly interfere in the Syrian crisis.

I believe that President Barack Obama is highly capable of managing his foreign policy calmly and with political astuteness, and this is what has allowed him to push Iran to achieve its wild expansionist desires and get involved in Iran, Syria, and Iraq. He is completely aware that this would provoke angry responses from neighbouring Arab countries and would open the door to sectarian and doctrinal conflicts in the region.

I will conclude by quoting an interview conducted with Barack Obama by Thomas Friedman on 4 April, 2015, and published in the New York Times. In the interview, Obama said with regards to Washington's Sunni Arab allies: "I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It's going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries," and posed the question: "Why is it that we can't have Arabs fighting [against] the terrible human rights abuses that have been perpetrated, or fighting against what Assad has done?"

]]> (Ahmad Al-Hillah) Americas Fri, 10 Apr 2015 09:51:27 +0000
The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them at arm’s length Destruction of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen.  [File photo]Destruction of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen

So relentless has the violence convulsing the Middle East become that an attack on yet another Arab country and its descent into full-scale war barely registers in the rest of the world. That's how it has been with the onslaught on impoverished Yemen by western-backed Saudi Arabia and a string of other Gulf dictatorships.

Barely two weeks into their bombardment from air and sea, more than 500 have been killed and the Red Cross is warning of a "catastrophe" in the port of Aden. Where half a century ago Yemenis were tortured and killed by British colonial troops, Houthi rebels from the north are now fighting Saudi-backed forces loyal to the ousted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Up to 40 civilians sheltering at a UN refugee camp in the poorest country in the Arab world were killed in a single Saudi air attack last week. But of course the US and Britain are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi intervention. Already providing "logistical and intelligence" support via a "joint planning cell", the US this week announced it is stepping up weapons deliveries to the Saudis. Britain's foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond, has promised to "support the Saudi operation in every way we can".

The pretext for the Saudi war is that Yemen's Houthi fighters are supported by Iran and loyal to a Shia branch of Islam. Hadi, who was installed after a popular uprising as part of a Saudi-orchestrated deal and one-man election in 2012, is said to be the legitimate president with every right to call on international support.

In reality, Iran's backing for the homegrown Houthis seems to be modest, and their Zaidi strand of Islam is a sort of halfway house between Sunni and Shia. Hadi's term as transitional president expired last year, and he resigned in January before fleeing the country after the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sana'a. Compare Hadi's treatment with the fully elected former president of Ukraine, whose flight from Kiev to another part of the country a year ago was considered by the western powers to have somehow legitimised his overthrow, and it's clear how elastic these things can be.

But the clear danger of the Saudi attack on Yemen is that it will ignite a wider conflagration, intensifying the sectarian schism across the region and potentially bring Saudi Arabia and Iran into direct conflict. Already 150,000 troops are massed on the Yemeni border. Pakistan is under pressure to send troops to do Riyadh's dirty work for it. The Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has said he will despatch troops to fight in Yemen "if necessary".

The Houthi uprising, supported by parts of the army and Hadi's predecessor as president, has its roots in poverty and discrimination, and dates back to the time of the US-British invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago. But Yemen, which has a strong al-Qaida presence, has also been the target of hundreds of murderous US drone attacks in recent years. And the combination of civil war and external intervention is giving al-Qaida a new lease of life.The idea that the corrupt tyranny of Saudi Arabia, the sectarian heart of reaction in the Middle East since colonial times, and its fellow Gulf autocracies – backed by the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – are going to bring stability, let alone freedom, to the people of Yemen is beyond fantasy. This is the state, after all, that crushed the popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011, that funded the overthrow of Egypt's first elected president in 2013, and has sponsored takfiri jihadi movements for years with disastrous consequences.

For the Saudis, the war in Yemen is about enforcing their control of the Arabian peninsula and their leadership of the Sunni world in the face of Shia and Iranian resurgence. For the western powers that arm them to the hilt, it's about money, and the pivotal role that Saudi Arabia plays in protecting their interests in the oil and gas El Dorado that is the Middle East.

Since the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its allies are reluctant to risk boots on the ground. But their military interventions are multiplying. Barack Obama has bombed seven mainly Muslim countries since he became US president. There are now four full-scale wars raging in the Arab world (Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen), and every one of them has involved US and wider western military intervention. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest British arms market; US weapons sales to the Gulf have exceeded those racked up by George Bush, and last week Obama resumed US military aid to Egypt.

What has changed is that, in true imperial fashion, the west's alliances have become more contradictory, playing off one side against the other. In Yemen, it is supporting the Sunni powers against Iran's Shia allies. In Iraq, it is the opposite: the US and its friends are giving air support to Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Sunni takfiri group Isis. In Syria, they are bombing one part of the armed opposition while arming and training another. The nuclear deal with Iran – which the Obama administration pushed through in the teeth of opposition from Israel and the Gulf states – needs to be seen in that context. The US isn't leaving the Middle East, as some imagine, but looking for a more effective way of controlling it at arm's length: by rebalancing the region's powers, as the former MI6 officer Alastair Crooke puts it, in an "equilibrium of antagonisms".

So a tilt towards Iran can be offset with war in Yemen or Syria. Something similar can be seen in US policy in Latin America. Only a couple of months after Obama's historic opening towards Cuba last December, he signed an order declaring Cuba's closest ally, Venezuela, "an unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security" and imposed sanctions over alleged human rights abuses.

Those pale into insignificance next to many carried out by the US government itself, let alone by some of its staunchest allies such as Saudi Arabia. There's no single route to regime change, and the US is clearly hoping to use the opportunity of Venezuela's economic problems to ratchet up its longstanding destabilisation campaign.

But it's a game that can also go badly wrong. When it comes to US support for Saudi aggression in Yemen, that risks not only breaking the country apart but destabilising Saudi Arabia itself. What's needed is a UN-backed negotiation to end the Yemeni conflict, not another big power-fuelled sectarian proxy war. These calamitous interventions have to be brought to an end.

This article was first published by The Guardian.

]]> (Seumas Milne) Americas Thu, 09 Apr 2015 10:27:54 +0000
Will the Obama administration go through with its threats to re-evaluate the relationship with Israel? US and Israeli flags

The Obama administration announced that it would re-evaluate its policies regarding Israel in light of the statements made by Netanyahu during his election campaign. This included his abandonment of his commitment to a Palestinian state. In order to justify this position, the White House spokesperson said that Washington believes in the need to establish a Palestinian state because its establishment serves the American and Israeli interests, as well as the Palestinian interests.

In order for the American administration to give gravity to its talk of re-evaluation, Obama did not express any concern regarding Netanyahu's "back down" from his position on the Palestinian state after winning in the elections. The US State Department spokesman said that his administration might abstain from voting if a draft resolution recognising the Palestinian state is proposed to the UN Security Council and that the US may even recognise the Palestinian state without waiting for the outcome of the negotiations.

Will the American administration go through with its threats? What would be the outcome of this? What are the expected scenarios?

The first scenario would involve Washington backing down from its intention to re-evaluate its policies and instead Obama will remain content with the ear pulling he delivered to Netanyahu in exchange for Netanyahu's commitment to the Palestinian state. This is despite the fact that he knows, more than anyone else, that this commitment was meaningless since day one because Netanyahu set impossible conditions to agree to the establishment of the state. These conditions include ensuring Israel's security and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. After he withdrew his commitment, Netanyahu added new conditions such as Abu Mazen's need to abandon his partnership with Hamas; he must choose between Hamas and Israel. He also added a new condition involving Israel needing to guarantee itself in terms of security more than ever after the serious developments and shifts in the region before it agrees to the establishment of the Palestinian state. Even before backing down from his commitment, Netanyahu said that the establishment of the state must not prevent Israel from the right to intervene within the territories of the state to protect Israel's security.

When Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state during a speech in 2009, it was an attempt to please the American administration and Washington was content with it being only a formality. It was not concerned with the fact that Netanyahu's government was rejecting initiatives, causing negotiations to fail and continuing its aggression and racial discrimination. This fortifies the establishment of a fait accompli that makes the Israeli solution (which fails to meet even the basic rights that should be accorded to Palestinians) the only solution that is feasible.

This scenario is reinforced by the fact that Obama is giving priority to his deal with Iran, which is strongly opposed by Israel, the Republican Party and supporters of Israel and the fact that he does not want to open another front especially in light of his presidential term approaching its end. To even consider doing so would lead to pressure from his party and its presidential candidates, specifically Hillary Clinton. She has taken a pro-Israel position and does not want to lose the backing of Israel's supporters in the next presidential election.

In this scenario, the administration takes the advice of author and diplomat Dennis Ross. He believes that now is not the time for negotiations or solutions but rather it is the time to focus on restoring confidence and providing the appropriate conditions for the resumption of negotiations. Ross has also said that it is only possible to manage the conflict, not resolve it.

The second scenario involves Obama approving the issuance of a Security Council resolution that recognises the Palestinian state and includes a timeframe for its establishment. Abbas will then be forced to activate the Palestinian membership to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and implement the Central Committee's decisions regarding ending security coordination with Israel. In this case, the situation is likely to completely deteriorate and will lead to a Palestinian - Israeli confrontation that will have repercussions on the entire region; a region already witnessing wars and divisions.

A Security Council resolution recognising the Palestinian state or America's recognition of a Palestinian state will be costly for the Palestinians. This resolution will include American and international standards such as the inclusion of "land swaps", considering Israel's security a priority and giving up on major Palestinian issues. The American administration may also demand that the resolution include a clause referring to the "Jewishness" of Israel (as was the case in the French draft resolution) and will most likely be paired with the demand for the any attempts made to "delegitimise" Israel to be halted.

This means that the price of such a resolution would be greater than any gains, even though it would be portrayed as a victory for Palestine. It could merely be an addition to the past international resolutions and recognitions which have been cast aside and are being undermined by the facts and actions on the ground. This undermines any possibility of reaching a solution and makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to establish a Palestinian state.

The American administration may be content with only supporting a Security Council resolution that condemns settlements and calls for freezing settlement activity. It will likely follow this with calls for the resumption of negotiations on this basis. By doing so, the Obama administration will have only dealt a light blow to Netanyahu without changing the adopted policies.

The third scenario involves the American administration imposing some of the sanctions that Europe threatened to impose against Israel and wait for them to have an effect on Israel.

Regardless of anyone of the scenarios' potential harm or benefit, Palestine will be unable to reap the benefits or effectively tackle the potential harm as long as division within Palestine continues. In this regard, I must warn against the five-year truce initiative between Hamas and Israel currently being promoted by Arab, regional and international forces in exchange for restoring use of the port. This will ultimately deepen the state of division.

Any divisions will allow Netanyahu's government (as well as any other government) to contain and absorb any damages caused by any Security Council resolution or measures taken by the American administration or EU. If there is no international action taken in which all the concerned parties are involved (including international and regional powers) then we will remain in the vicious cycle of managing the conflict rather than resolving it. Even if we do find a solution, it will be weak and will allow the establishment of state that is void of the components of a state.

The priority must be the restoration of unity, especially in light of the escalation of the challenges and risks faced by the Palestinian cause. Unity alone can keep the cause alive, provide the motivation to persevere, reduce the damages and turn risks into opportunities.

Regardless of whether the division between Israel and its allies continues, we must not fall for the delusions believed by the PA leadership for so long which have already cost the Palestinian people dearly. Such delusions include distinctions between the Israeli political parties based on there being a "peace" camp in Israel. The results of the recent Israeli elections demonstrated that this was false. It is time for a realisation that changing Israel from the inside is too difficult. Change in Israel can only come from pressure from external forces. This may lead to the development of a true peace camp that opposes the colonial settlement project.

We must also abandon the delusion of achieving a state by means of bi-lateral negotiations under sole American sponsorship. This requires us to prove our good intentions, merit and to abandon the unity of the cause, people and land.

There are challenges, risks and plots, but there are also great opportunities for the Palestinians to cleverly use them to their advantage.

This article was first published in Arabic by This article was update at 16.57 GMT on March 25th, 2015 to update the headline to represent the content better.

]]> (Dr Hani Al-Masri ) Americas Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:51:29 +0000
If Cameron Stout was Kareem Salah everyone would know of the plot to assassinate Obama Nasim Ahmed

What would the reaction be if a Muslim was known to have plotted to assassinate the president of the United States? How could we even approximate of the level of outrage and hysteria that would follow if, God forbid, some lunatic from the Muslim fringe was indeed attempting to kill Obama?

Such a plot was revealed last week, but it wasn't put together by a Muslim, which is why nobody knows about it. If plotter Cameron Stout was actually Kareem Salah the story would have headlined around the world. Instead, he's a white guy from Missouri who made plans to shoot President Obama and solicited help from a former member of the so-called Aryan Nation. This is an American Christian separatist group and its link to Stout was revealed when federal charges against him were filed last Tuesday in Jefferson City.

You may not be too surprised to learn that the media is reluctant to call Stout a "Christian terrorist". This, despite the fact that he told a federal informant, "If you had contact with the people that you say you had contact with, I could kill the president of the United States, and then we storm Washington, and then we take over the country that our forefathers created."

The plot to assassinate the president was to be carried out during Obama's next visit to Kansas City, claimed Stout. He wanted to contact an Aryan Nation leader through the informant in order to help him "to escape from Washington DC" after shooting the president. It is alleged that he told the informant, "Niggers shouldn't be president" and researched wind speeds in Washington DC and the type of weapon he would need to carry out the assassination. Stout also allegedly drew diagrams of the capital for the informant, who gave them to law enforcement officers. His defence lawyer pointed out that his client contradicted himself by mentioning both Kansas City and Washington DC as the proposed assassination scene. In the context of this discussion, that's irrelevant. The fact is that it is all too easy to imagine the hysteria fanned by the media if Stout was a Muslim.

Such under-reporting of terrorist plots and acts by non-Muslims may not even be done consciously; it could well be a Pavlovian conditioning of society to associate only Muslims with terrorism.

Compare the assassination plot with a recent political storm in Britain fuelled mainly by suspicion and baseless information. The so-called "Trojan horse" affair blew up a year ago and the Muslim community is still reeling from its damaging and destructive effects.

The allegation behind the affair was that "Islamic extremists" had tried to take over several schools in Birmingham to promote radical interpretations of Islam. This led to headlines such as "the Islamist plot", "Islamic Militants confiscate Easter Eggs", "Islamist conspiracy in Birmingham", "What is the Muslim plot all about?" and "Islamists plot in schools".

Politicians and commentators who never miss an opportunity to vilify the Muslim community were lining up to warn us all about "Muslim infiltration" and to press the need for "Muslims to accept British Values". The latter, however, have never actually been defined apart from broad values held in common by most right-minded and decent people around the world, including Muslims.

Even so, Muslim communities across Britain were made to feel like the "enemy within"; a bunch of fifth columnists waiting to take over the country. A number of state and Muslim schools which had been held up previously as models of excellence, were downgraded to "special measures" after very aggressive, no-notice inspections. The feeling was that the grading was decided in advance and the inspectors had to find "evidence" to support them.

What did this lead to? A government enquiry into the affair has now concluded that there was no "Trojan horse" plot. Graham Stuart, Chair of the Parliamentary Education Committee, said: "One incident apart, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved. Neither was there any evidence of a sustained plot, nor of significant problems in other parts of the country."

Reporting of the "Trojan horse" events followed a common and well-worn pattern of vilification of Muslims at large, reflecting the cultural normalisation of anti-Muslim bigotry. Under the British government's current "counter-radicalisation", "counter-subversion" and "counter-terrorism" agenda, denigrating Muslims has become a conditioned reflex action in British society.

Within the existing political climate the media and parts of the establishment can generate a political storm artificially and excoriate sections of society based on nothing more than the embellishment of unverified information which, it turns out, is largely fictional.

Such a condition, which in all likelihood is the best diagnosis of the current ailment of society, maintains the necessary illusion that in the "fight against terrorism", even though "not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorist are Muslims". The statistics, though, show overwhelmingly that those who have committed terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe aren't Muslims at all.

As Europol, the European Union's law-enforcement agency, noted in a report last year, the vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups, such as France's FLNC, which advocates an independent nation for the island of Corsica. In December 2013, FLNC terrorists carried out simultaneous rocket attacks against police stations in two French cities. In Greece in late 2013, the left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces shot and killed two members of the right-wing political party Golden Dawn. Across the Mediterranean in Italy, meanwhile, the anarchist group FAI engaged in numerous terror attacks, including the sending of a bomb to a journalist. The list goes on.

The "terrorist" label is an easy way to discredit individuals and groups who may have genuine causes and campaigns for justice. The most obvious at the moment is the legitimate Palestinian struggle to end Israel's brutal military occupation of their land. The vilification of Palestinians is a classic example of the way that politicians and the media, often with neo-conservative, pro-Israel agendas of their own, can dictate the narrative within which such causes are discussed and perceived by the general public.

Violent extremism is a genuine concern for everyone, Muslims included, but the manner in which it is being tackled by governments, especially through the flawed radicalisation model that generates suspicion against Muslims, their organisations and political activities, hinder rather than help the process. If Cameron Stout was Kareem Salah we would all know about the plot to murder Barack Obama. It's time for politicians and the media to be more balanced and honest in how such incidents are recorded and reported.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Tue, 24 Mar 2015 16:06:31 +0000
An American openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Iran Nicola Nasser

The appointment of Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not considered a sufficient indicator that there will be any radical change in US strategy despite the campaign launched against the US by the Zionists due to its openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

On 6 March, President Barack Obama's administration appointed Robert Malley, the former senior director of the National Security Council who dealt with the Iraqi, Iranian, and Gulf issues, and a member of the delegation negotiating the Iranian nuclear issues, as the Special White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region. Malley is scheduled to begin his new position on 6 April, succeeding Philip Gordon.

Edward Abington, former US consul general in occupied Jerusalem, described the lawyer specialised in "conflict resolution" as being "American Jewish" and that his appointment is a "positive development". He was also described by US national security adviser Susan Rice as "one of our country's most respected experts on the Middle East, since February 2014 Rob has played a critical role in forming our policy on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf."

However, the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) opposed the appointment of Malley for several reasons, stating that Malley is an "Israel-basher, advocate of US recognition of major, unreconstructed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and proponent of containment of Iran (i.e., not preventing them from attaining nuclear weapons) and proponent of negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (i.e. not changing his regime)."

He also believes that working with the Muslim Brotherhood is "not a bad idea" and called Israel's settlements located in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 "colonies". He also called for abandoning the Road Map for Peace approved by the international Quartet in 2003 and replacing it with a comprehensive settlement plan to be imposed on the parties with the backing of the international community, including Arab and Muslim states. He did so before the Foreign Relations Committee in the US Senate in 2004. He also continues to urge the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and Hamas to "unite".

Malley also called for "involving" Hamas in the PLO's negotiations with the occupation, explaining his statement by saying that the PLO must include Hamas because it has become "antiquated, worn out, barely functioning, and is no longer considered the Palestinian people's sole legitimate representative." He also called for the resumption of negotiations between the Arabs and Israel "on all levels on the basis of the Arab peace initiative."

The ZOA did not fail to mention his father, Simon Malley who was born and worked in Egypt as a journalist for Al-Goumhouria newspaper before moving with his family to France and founding Afrique-Asie magazine. The ZOA said that Simon Malley was "a virulently anti-Israel member of the Egyptian Communist Party, a close confidante of Yasser Arafat, and an enthusiast for violent Third World 'liberation' movements." As for his mother, Barbara Malley, she worked with the United Nations delegation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), an Algerian independence group.

Robert Malley was Barack Obama's colleague at Harvard Law School and a Middle East affairs adviser for his 2008 campaign. However, Obama was forced to cast him aside due to the Zionist campaign against them both after Britain's it the Times revealed that Malley had been in contact with Hamas.

In his media interviews Malley explained that the contacts were part of his work with the International Crisis Group, saying: "My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savoury and unsavoury people and report on what they say. I've never denied whom I meet with; that's what I do."

He added that he informs the State Department about his meetings beforehand and briefs them afterward. During the same year, London's Al-Hayat newspaper quoted deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef saying: "We were in contact with a number of Obama's aides through the internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign."

Before this, Malley, who was a member of the US negotiating team in the 2000 Arafat-Barak-Clinton summit at Camp David, was the target of an Israeli-Zionist campaign because he held all three leaders responsible for the failure of the summit, and not only the late Palestinian leader, who was repeatedly accused by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and their team of negotiators of causing the failure.

Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, said: "How exactly does someone, who is dropped as an adviser because he advocates recognition of, and meets with, the genocidally-inclined terrorist organisation Hamas, now became a senior adviser to the president, unless President Obama has all along agreed with much of what Malley thinks and advocates?"

Due to the fact that the appointment of Malley coincided with the crisis in relations between the US and Israel, caused by the recent speech made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the US Congress behind Obama's back and without his approval, analysts have begun to talk about "changes in the US's role in the Middle East" in the context of the Israeli media outlets and its Zionist and Jewish arms. They have also predicted that "there will be no doubt that US policy will be focused exclusively on pressuring Israel over the course of the last 22 months of Obama's term", as written by Jonathan S. Tobin in America's Commentary magazine on 10 March.

During this time, Obama will be "free of electoral pressure" so the Obama administration's treatment of the Palestinian issue is about to take on a much more aggressive attitude over the next two years. This will allow Obama to "invest the little political credit he has left in 'bringing world peace'," as written by Alex Fishman in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

In Fishman's opinion, there are now two courses of work on the White House's agenda. First, it can follow the path of the "European Initiative" which proposes issuing a UN Security Council resolution for a "lasting solution in the Middle East", while the second path involves waiting for the results of the Israeli elections this week, as it is a "renewal of the American peace initiative, which will have behind it a very skilled, determined person, who isn't very fond of the current government: The president's new man in the Middle East," Robert Malley.

It is clear that these courses of action, the appointment of Malley and his record will undoubtedly breathe life into the PLO's negotiating team, especially since President Abbas repeatedly says that going to the UN and international organisations, as well as the PLO's Central Council recommendations, do not necessarily mean that negotiations will be abandoned. These negotiations can also be considered new material used by the American camp in the Arab League to justify its on-going pressure on the PLO to continue to rely on the United States.

The appointment of Malley indicates one conclusion: that the US is heading towards a new initiative to resume negotiations between the PLO and the occupation without making any changes to its references. If the PLO interacts and deals with the "European initiative" then it is likely to deal and interact with any new US initiative, according to all indications in this regard. In this case, the PLO's recent diplomatic actions not related to the negotiations and the United States has merely been "playing on borrowed time" while waiting for the results of the Israeli elections. However, these actions can still be built upon in order to completely depart from the American vision for the "resolution of the conflict" in the event that Netanyahu is re-elected as prime minister.

On the other hand, Hamas should not be fooled by Robert Malley's positions towards the movement, despite its importance, as it is an attempt to contain the movement and drag it into "negotiations" between the PLO and Israel based on the same references rejected and opposed by Hamas thus far.

As for Malley's performance in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf, over the past year, which was praised by Susan Rice, it has had catastrophic consequences on the ground that speak for themselves. Malley's openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Syria is nothing more than tactical dealings in order to serve the US strategy with forces that have proved their presence.

Appointing Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not a sufficient indicator of any radical change in the US strategy that is on the verge of tearing the Arab world apart, along with its Islamic surroundings, unless it is deterred. This is true despite the Zionist campaign opposing his openness towards Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

Translated from

]]> (Nicola Nasser) Americas Tue, 17 Mar 2015 10:35:53 +0000
US Senators’ attempt to block Iran deal has exposed partisan nature of US politics Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plantThe 31 March deadline for a deal between Iran and six world powers is fast approaching. This latest round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme has been ongoing for months – and, if recent rumours are to be believed, there is currently some optimism that the deadline might actually be met.

Negotiators stress that major gaps remain and that any deal agreed by the end of March will be a framework agreement, with a more detailed accord expected by the end of June. If a framework is indeed agreed, however, it will be a major breakthrough for President Barack Obama.

But not everyone in the US agrees that this would be a positive development. This week, 47 Republican senators signed an open letter to Iran's leaders asserting that they could quickly change or discard any agreement once Obama leaves office in 2017. They also insisted that any deal would require the approval of Congress. It is highly unusual for Congress to interfere in matters of US foreign policy, which is usually left to the executive branch of government in the form of the president's administration. The White House said that the letter was "reckless" and "irresponsible", adding that it interfered with efforts to prevent Iran from building a bomb.

US Secretary of State John Kerry responded with "utter disbelief" to the intervention, which comes at a sensitive moment in negotiations. "When it says that Congress could actually modify the terms of an agreement at any time [it] is flat wrong," he said. "You don't have the right to modify an agreement reached executive to executive between leaders of a country." Under the US Constitution, treaties that legally bind governments to the terms of the agreement must be approved by the Senate. But non-binding executive agreements do not. Kerry also dismissed the idea that a future Republican president would reverse the deal if it were agreed and signed up to by six major world powers. "I'd like to see the next president, if all of those countries have said this is good and it's working, turn around and just nullify it on behalf of the United States," he said. "That's not going to happen."

There is no doubt that this was a highly provocative move by these senators, although perhaps not entirely surprising given the heated nature of the debate within America on the nuclear deal. In recent weeks, tensions ramped up after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Congress to speak about Iran without consulting the White House.

But why, given that there is no new evidence that Iran is militarising its nuclear power, and that the alternative to a deal is no limits at all on the country's nuclear programme, are Republican senators so determined to stymie an agreement at all costs? Of course, much of the reason is the toxically divided partisanship currently dominating politics in Washington. Republicans want to undermine Obama to such an extent that they are no longer concerned with appearing to the rest of the world as disunited. Judging from the rapturous response given to Netanyahu when he addressed Congress earlier this month, many also share his view that the Iranians are not to be trusted at all. In this view, increased sanctions and, ultimately, war are more desirable than a deal which puts trust in Iran to limit its nuclear capability in return for an easing of sanctions.

As Obama pointed out on Monday, these Republican hardliners have an "ironic" and "unusual coalition" with hardliners in Tehran, who also want to block a deal. But the Washington Post reported this week that Iranian clerics have said they back the nuclear negotiations, suggesting that they are taking a more moderate line than the Republican senators. Indeed, in inserting themselves into sensitive international negotiations, these senators may have undermined their own goals. The letter has triggered outrage in the US. The New York Daily News described it as "treason", while the LA Times objected to "the fact that the letter injects the senators into ongoing international negotiations that are properly the prerogative of the executive branch — with the obvious intention of subverting those negotiations", pointing out that if no agreement is reached, this will make it easier for Iran to blame the US.

The shamelessly partisan behaviour of the Republicans in recent weeks has also discouraged those Democrats who might have been willing to cooperate with them to oppose the deal. The Netanyahu speech angered many, and the letter has cemented the impression of a power-mad and partisan drive to scupper the negotiations. Several Democrats who are reluctant to back the deal have told US media that they are now less likely to work with Republicans.

It is possible that the winners will be the moderates, on both sides, who wish to see a deal. That is what Obama and Kerry will be hoping is true, come 31 March.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:09:14 +0000
Sabotaging Washington's foreign policy on Iran isn't the only way that Israel harms US interests Nasim Ahmed

Whether it's with friend or foe, Israel bears no cost for its extreme political brazenness. Such chutzpah is normally the privilege of superpowers, which are able to pursue national interests with bare-faced conceit. Though it's usually not the most effective way to wield power and influence, superpower status grants a licence to approach political relations in a way that treats friend and foe with equal disdain.

Israel, though, is not a superpower, but it has enough influence over the world's only remaining superpower to behave like one. What Israel lacks in power it more than makes up for in influence through the powerful pro-Israel lobby and donors keen to advance "the rise of pro Israelism in American politics".

Such influence, rarely seen in its naked form, was on open display last week. The audacity of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress took some people by surprise for its theatricals, even though we've grown used to conceited Israeli politicians treating Palestinians with contempt; in fact, we'd be surprised if they didn't, given the massive disparity in power and influence between Israelis and Palestinians. However, this is not the case with the US, a country which lavishes $3 billion worth of military aid on Israel every year, along with unswerving political support.

When the audacious actually happens, especially with the regularity we've seen over the past seven years of the Obama administration, the very least we must ask is this: who is doing whose bidding when it comes to the US and Israel? Obama and his officials have been embarrassed time after time on issues such as Israel's settlement construction; the embarrassment culminated with last week's power-play speech orchestrated by the Israeli Prime Minister against the US president.

By any measure, it's an unprecedented turnaround for Israel which, from the post-World War Two period, was viewed initially as an obstacle to US interests in the region, notably unfettered access to oil. No foreign policy professional of the day believed that a Jewish state in Palestine would do anything but complicate that goal. The then Secretary of State George Marshall, Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett, Policy Planning Staff head George F. Kennan, the regional specialists from the state department's Near East Division and Secretary of Defence James Forrestal all feared that the creation of Israel would prejudice and harm American interests throughout the Muslim world. They worried that Israel would require the US military to protect it.

Have their fears materialised? Is Israel harming US interests? At the very least, the political pantomime surrounding this unconventional marriage between America and Israel has damaged Washington's image in the Muslim world. Likewise, Israel's uninhibited squeezing of political benefits from Washington has endangered US security. This is a view that's gaining prominence, and the question as to why the US has been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state is a question that many realists like Professors of International Relations and Political Science Stephen M Walt and John J Mearsheimer have been asking.

Netanyahu also hijacked US foreign policy back in 2003 when he was cheerleading with prominent neoconservatives for the invasion of Iraq, a calamitous mistake for which he has been rebuked by the current US Secretary of State John Kerry. In a speech to the US Congress at that time, Netanyahu said: "if you take out Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region... The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region."

Lesser mistakes have caused irreparable political rifts, but in this undying political romance, an unrepentant Netanyahu has again been handed the opportunity to sabotage US foreign policy by attacking President Obama's sensible attempt to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. That the Israeli prime minister should also receive 39 ovations from an obsequious congress, a feat of which actual US presidents can only dream, is further confirmation that when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East, the US is perversely beholden to Israel.

The destabilising power of this iniquitous alliance and Israeli leaders' unapologetic temerity in undermining US policy, has made it possible to speak out about the issue more candidly. This is an undertaking carried out brilliantly by Philip Weiss, the co-founder of a "progressive" web-based news site devoted to covering American policy in the Middle East. His article on the American-Jewish condition reveals daringly how a "post-traumatic community" wields unrivalled influence in US politics.

Palestinians more than anyone else have been on the receiving end of this powerful union; the damage caused by the US-Israel alliance has arrested their progress as a nation and as a state. In the latest instalment of the anti-Palestinian catalogue of woes, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been sued in a US court for $655.5 million. This is a stark reminder of the degree of cooperation between Israeli organisations and a compliant US legal system for the purpose of blocking Palestinians as they seek an alternative to the broken "peace process" offered by the US and Israel as a means to end the Israeli occupation.

The details of the case are intriguing. Its timing is not accidental; it has been driven by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli lawfare organisation with ties to the spy and assassination agency Mossad; the PA was not granted immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which bars lawsuits against foreign states in US courts, despite the fact that 135 countries recognise the state of Palestine; nor has the Obama administration granted the PA immunity, which it has the power to do. These are all clear signs that the decision to allow the case to go ahead will be used to pressure the PA against joining the International Criminal Court and hinder its diplomatic efforts for the recognition of a Palestinian State.

It is also another example of Israeli exceptionalism and exploitation of the US Congress in the furtherance of Israel's interests. Despite the fact that the PA has been kept afloat artificially largely through US aid money as a stabiliser of American and Israeli policy in Palestine, the lack of a sufficient sense of servitude on the part of the Palestinians has prompted the congress to step in and allow American citizens to sue the authority.

The same American courts are of course closed to Palestinians, and no Palestinian-American will ever be able to sue the Israeli government for the much greater number of people killed, maimed and rendered homeless by the Israelis. Some did try, though, with an attempt to take legal action against Israeli General Avi Dichter, who authorised the dropping of a one-ton bomb on a block of flats in Gaza in 2002, killing 15 people, including children, and injuring 150 others. Dichter moved to dismiss the case, arguing that he is entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA).

A similar case was also unsuccessful in bringing to court those responsible for the killing of 19 year-old Furkan Dogan, a Turkish-American who was one of nine people killed by Israeli forces during their assault on the aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010. Dogan's father also opened a compensation case against Israel for "murdering [his] son on international waters". In both cases, The US courts closed themselves to US citizens trying to take action against Israel's state terrorism.

The PA has been under immense financial pressure recently due to tax revenue worth $127 million being withheld by Israel, which collects the taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. A number of US senators are also pushing to strip the PA of the $400 million it receives annually from America. The latest in a lengthy, concerted campaign in this regard is a piece of legislation called the "Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act of 2015" which was introduced by the Republican Senator Rand Paul.

This law is not seeking to enforce the rights of victims of terrorism to pursue justice; it is a shameful and opportunistic political attempt to pile greater pressure on the PA by withholding essential funds with the hope of retrieving some of the $655.5 million claimed by the aforementioned lawsuit which the PA is incapable of paying. It is also another example of the manipulation and hijacking of America's democratic process and foreign policy solely in the interests of an alien state, Israel.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:17:02 +0000
The US should think again about arming Ukraine via Abu Dhabi Alastair SloanOver five thousand civilians have now died in eastern Ukraine, and one and a half million people have been displaced, through no fault of their own. They are the victims of the stand-off between the West and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Though the Kremlin's accusations of a "Western-backed neo-Nazi coup" in Ukraine are propaganda exaggerations, like all good conspiracy theories they have a kernel of truth.

Since the end of the Cold War there have been increasingly provocative attempts by Brussels and Washington to bring Kiev into the Western fold, often using covert means or economic incentives. While the "Euromaidan" revolution in Ukraine certainly did not end well for Putin, with a new EU-backed government now ruling over "Little Russia", his subsequent hugely violent reaction was unforgivable.

Russia's takeover of Crimea was a near bloodless affair, but what has happened in eastern Ukraine is a demonstration of Putin's ruthlessness, especially that he feels the need to prove his mettle. His invasion has caused civilians to flee as refugees but many, particularly the elderly and the impoverished, are stuck between the opposing factions. Hospitals are running without electricity and water is scarce, as is food. Bullets fly overhead. Little Russia has become "Little Syria".

Last month President Barack Obama's national security chief, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a Senate Committee that he "supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists." Critics say that it is naïve to assume that Putin will cease military operations just because the Ukrainian army is better armed, given that the country is equivalent in strategic importance to Russia as Mexico or Canada is for the US (not to mention Cuba).

Others point to the thirty private armies, operating independently from Kiev but opposing Putin, which have been accused by Human Rights Watch of violations, including kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial executions; or the possibility that arms supplied to the Ukrainian army, in a fluid and confusing combat environment, may end up inadvertently in separatists' hands.

European leaders are wary of plunging eastern European into more generalised instability. Thankfully, they are attempting to calm Washington down.

Luckily for the Americans, then, that they have a convenient little ally in the United Arab Emirates. Crucially, arming Kiev through Abu Dhabi can be done far quicker than waiting for a political debate to play out in Washington. In fact, it's practically already happened.

The Pentagon revealed last week that it held a meeting with Ukrainian officials at the International Defence Exposition and Conference (IDEX), the largest arms show in the Middle East, held very conveniently in Abu Dhabi last month. The agenda included an assessment of Kiev's defence needs, with a view to reporting this back to Washington.

Meanwhile, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and UAE Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoun also met with President Potro Poreshenko, signing a "military and technical co-operation" deal. They insisted, after doing the requisite round of "selfies", that this would not include arms deals.

However, Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, then wrote on Facebook that this cooperation will include "the supply of certain types of arms and military equipment to Ukraine" by the UAE. "Unlike Europeans and Americans," he added, "the Arabs aren't afraid of Putin's threats of a third world war starting in case of arms and ammunition supplies to Ukraine."

Confusingly, the UAE then denied that arms were part of the co-operation deal. This was emphasised by Assistant Foreign Minister for Security and Military Affairs Faris Mazrouei in an interview given to the Emarat Al-Youm web portal shortly afterwards: "The agreement does not foresee any deals on weapon deliveries between the companies."

Though what is really going on between the Emirates and Kiev is currently murky, it would certainly make tactical sense for Washington to get Abu Dhabi and Kiev together. Ukraine can't really afford American arms, but as Abu Dhabi seeks to boost shares in its growing arms industry, it can offer keener prices for admittedly less sophisticated weapons. The political debate in Washington over whether to give American weapons to Ukraine is still ongoing. As a short-term fix, though, cheap arms from the UAE will probably do the trick.

It is further evidence of the utility that Abu Dhabi increasingly offers Washington on security issues. The UAE has become Washington's partner of choice for its Global Counterterrorism Forum, a network of nations primed to fight Islamic extremism and terrorist attacks. Announced just after the 10th 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 UAE airstrikes targeted in Libya back in September. Though both sides claim that they didn't consult each other, it was clear that Abu Dhabi's decision to strike militarily was doing Washington a favour, without the inconvenient machinery of democracy which hampers US belligerence.

In 2013, the US Congress also 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"; that's gun-speak 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, or "Little Sparta" as it is reportedly known in Washington circles, is entrusted with the big guns.

Though arming a country which appears to be stable to act as a regional policeman might sound sensible, the UAE's proxy relationship with the United States is as dangerous as any. They can have the illusion of power and stability for a short time, but they have entered into a fundamentally fragile alliance, simply because nobody can predict the future.

The CIA thought that it made perfect sense when it armed the religious fighters in Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet occupation, but that move has backfired spectacularly. American power has sought to assert Middle Eastern dominance using Israel; that too has backfired, permanently damaging relations not necessarily with regional governments, but certainly their people. Far from the quiet, determined "outpost of Western civilisation" that Israel promised to be, it has in fact turned out to be a hideously aggressive state expanding far beyond its nominal borders. The United States backed a proxy Shah in Iran for over two decades, then the 1979 Islamic Revolution came along and built a brand bigger than Nike or Hersheys, tagline "Death to America". Washington may soon learn that arming Sunni rebels in Syria, or the Ukrainians, may have its own unintended consequences.

Abu Dhabi and other friends in the Gulf may look and sound like stable partners now, but can Washington guarantee what they will be in ten years, still armed to the teeth? It's "The United States of Amnesia," as Gore Vidal put it, playing out with Fox "News" in the background and an unwittingly militarised American public who have never experienced war in their own backyard.

There's a solution to the Ukraine crisis, just as there is to the Israel-Palestine conflict or the crisis in Iraq and Libya. It's called a table (preferably round), several chairs, gallons of patience, an all-night pizza delivery service and the world's news cameras waiting outside for the announcement of a peace deal. Arming third parties might feel like a sensible fix, but it can only ever be a quick fix. In the long term, we need people to talk more, and fight less.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 09 Mar 2015 11:19:54 +0000
The 'scarecrow' of PA decline Dr Hani Al-Masri

The American administration previously warned against the possibility of the PA collapsing if Israel continues to withhold its tax returns for the second month in a row.

The withholding of these funds had led to the PA's inability to pay all of its employees' salaries, which, if it goes on for the next couple of months will have great consequences; such as the spread of chaos and disorder – the signs of which we have already started to see, especially in the Gaza Strip.

The US's warning was preceded by other similar warnings from Israeli military and security leaders, who told Netanyahu that the failure to transfer the PA's money does not serve Israeli security interests, and warned of the consequences resulting from such a move.

During this time, various members of the PA leadership, who remain anonymous, and Fatah leaders issued statements saying that the next PLO Central Council meeting will need to make critical decisions regarding Palestinian-Israeli relationship, including stopping security coordination and holding Israel accountable for its occupation. This may involve handing over the PA's keys to the occupying forces, who have true authority.

The Israeli government has paid no attention to various warnings and threats from various European and international figures who all warned of the consequences of Israel continuing to withhold the tax money, or to the deteriorating economic and living conditions in the region. This is due to the fact that Israel utilises the withholding of taxes – along with country's other separatist and racist measures against the Palestinians – in order to strengthen the chances of Likud or other right-wing parties winning in the next election. Secondly, Israel is aware that these threats amount to nothing more than smoke without fire, and that ending the security coordination is not part of the PA's calculations simply because it will be greatly affected by such a decision, as much, if not more than Israel itself.

Israel's reassurance is partly justified because if the PA were indeed intending on waging war on Israel or engaging in a real confrontation with it, ending the security coordination between the two sides will inevitably lead to a confrontation, whether or not the decision comes from the PA. the PA needs to prepare for a war or confrontation, and the first and most important step in doing so is to arrange internal Palestinian affairs on every level, especially in terms of ending internal division and restoring national unity, as well as taking measures to prevent the political and geographical division from becoming a division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is fast approaching in light of the two sides' insistence on their factional and individual conditions, which stem from each party's desire to control leadership and monopolise power.

Moreover, the preparations for the confrontation require the restructuring of the PLO's institutions and their activation, which have been in a deplorable state since the signing of the Oslo Accords. The PLO should be the supreme reference and the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Those who are actually thinking about stopping Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and actually prosecuting Israel for the war crimes it has committed in Gaza and its ongoing crimes of settlement and occupation (the process for which can begin in April once Palestine's request to join the International Criminal Court comes into effect), would not sign a 20-year energy agreement with Israel worth billions of dollars. This recent agreement is in direct breach of the BDS movement for the boycott of Israel, which has grown stronger in recent months and which is likely to grow in the near future. It also encourages other countries such as Jordan, which is witnessing a very intense debate over the gas deal, to strike energy deals with Israel; as well as perpetuating the Palestinian economy's dependency on that of Israel.

In addition to the above, the current focus of the Palestinian president and the international community is the Israeli elections, in the hope that the current right-wing coalition is replaced by a more moderate left or centre-wings government. This would lead to the resumption of negotiations and seeking to reach an agreement establishing the promised Palestinian state. Failing that, such a development would at the very least maintain the current situation without allowing for the complete deterioration of the PA. Moreover, the PA is counting on the fact that even if re-elected, Netanyahu's government will not push matters to the point of complete deterioration, as it is in its interests to put the PA on edge in order to force it to make as many concessions as possible.

This means that everything currently happening is merely a game, playing on borrowed time until they can go back to the negotiation gam – which is intended to be the only game on the field –despite the fact that this is a fatal game for the Palestinians and their cause. As Einstein said, "Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The PA was established in implementation of an agreement to allow Palestinian self-rule, and therefore it has been a burden on the Palestinian people since the very beginning. The only difference now is that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians have realised this, and therefore those who believed that the PA could be a step towards ending the occupation and establishing a real Palestinian state were shocked by the status quo established by successive Israeli governments (right-wing, centre, and left-wing). These governments progressively made the possibility of establishing a state even more unlikely.

In this context, instead of continuing to hold on to the Oslo Accords, which led to the disaster we are currently living in, and continuing to labour under the illusion that this agreement can lead to the establishment of a state, and instead of using reconciliation and the strategies of internationalisation, popular resistance, boycott and threats to end the security coordination and hand over the keys of the PA to the occupation as a pressure tactic to force the revival of negotiations, a new path must be adopted. This new path must be radically different from the current path and it must focus on fighting to change the balance of power in order for the occupation to become costly to Israel and its supporters, rather than profitable.

As part of this new path, we must reconsider the nature, structure, functions, and responsibilities of the PA. It must serve the national programme and act as one of its tools. This does not mean that the PA must turn into a resistance authority, but it must work alongside the resistance, not fight it, as this may lead to the collapse of the PA rather than its dissolution. Yes, it may collapse in the midst of a confrontation with the occupation that will not allow for the PA to change its position and role; but by that time, the PLO will be able to lead the people once its institutions are rebuilt to include all parties across the political spectrum. In addition to this, the Palestinian people believe in the justness of their cause and its moral superiority, and therefore they insist on fighting for their rights; hence they will be able to create new political forms that will ensure their existence in place of the collapsed PA.

The situation of the Palestinian cause was better before the establishment of the PA, and it is likely that it would be better after it is gone or if it turns into an authority that serves the people and their national struggle for liberation.

Until the time comes when the Palestinians will be able to bring about the required dramatic shift, the catastrophic and vicious cycle that has gone on for more than 20 years will continue, and it will destroy everyone and everything with it.

Translated from Masarat, 24 February, 2015

]]> (Dr Hani Al-Masri) Americas Wed, 25 Feb 2015 15:24:25 +0000
The ground attack on ISIS: Context and consequences Iraqi soldiers against ISIS

US General John Allen, advisor to the American president and special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, has said that "Iraqi troops will begin a major ground offensive against the militants in the weeks ahead."

Perhaps General Allen's statement raised more serious questions regarding the expected ground military operation than it actually answered because the phrase "Iraqi troops will begin a major ground offensive" is not so much a political or media statement as it is a statement reflecting a very narrow military concept. This is because an offensive begun by any force means that this force is pitting itself against another force that differs in military capacity or national affiliation, which raises specific questions. Are there any forces associated with one or more countries that will join Iraqi forces in leading this attack? And if so, what is the nationality of these forces? Or are there non-state actors that will support the Iraqi troops on the ground?

In an interview with Haider Al-Abadi, shortly after being sworn in as Iraqi prime minister on 9 September 2014, he confirmed that one of the most important strategic constants adopted by the ruling Shia collation in Iraq is eliminating the role of Gulf states in the war against Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Accordingly, Al-Abadi cut off the aircraft from some GCC countries on their way to launch airstrikes on Iraq, limiting their activity to bombing targets in Syria, especially Ayn Al-Arab (Kobani) and Raqqa.

Despite the fact that Al-Abadi's position was not even questioned by the US, it was notable that a country for which an international coalition was formed in order to provide assistance to would strongly refuse GCC help, which is noted in the Treaty of Joint Defence and Economic Co-operation of the League of Arab States. Meanwhile, the same country is accepted a strong role played by Iran, seemingly overcoming the negative legacy of the eight year war between Iraq and Iran.

Since the beginning of his term, Al-Abadi has announced a package of goodwill measures, especially with regards to limiting arms to the hands of the state – in other words curbing the role of Shia militias in the war on Sunni terrorism – good intentions alone does not instil immediate trust from the other side. Many observing the situation in Iraq have noted that during Al-Abadi's time Iraq has witnessed a horizontal expansion and spread of Shia militias in various parts of the country (and not merely in contested areas), especially in Diyala, Baghdad, and parts of Salahuddin and the provinces.

Now, the militias are at the doors of Anbar province ostensibly in the guise of waging war against ISIS. These militias are also expanding the roles assigned to them, as well as the number of weapons they possess and the number of their members. The fatwa issued by leading Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani's urging Iraqis to join the army to fight against ISIS, led to the formation of the People's Militia under the pretext of protecting Shiite shrines. At the time, some said that Al-Sistani's intention was to neutralise Iran's role in Iraq by linking the armed force to his circle of influence.

Haider Al-Abadi, on the other hand, seems to see nothing wrong with the presence of the commander of Iran's Al-Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani, in the country. In a speech given at a security conference in Munich, Germany, he said that Soleimani's presence was in the context of a deal made between Baghdad and Tehran to confront ISIS. He also stressed that all Iranian advisors who have thus far travelled to Iraq are have done so in the context of this security agreement.

It is likely that Al-Abadi was trying to gauge the position of the international community on Iran's growing military and security role in Iraq, which is in direct conflation with the sanctions imposed on the country by the UN Security Council. These sanctions include prohibitions on dealing with certain people, including General Soleimani himself.

On the other hand, has the Iraqi army been able to rise to the occasion of the major combat tasks entrusted to it? What is the current status of the 12 brigades to which General John Allen referred? Have they reached a level of training and armament that qualifies them to move to the battlefield and engage in purging large cities like Mosul from well-trained ISIS forced accustomed to street battles? ISIS's preparation and training has included digging trenches and building barricades and fortifications, making the tasks of these brigades extremely difficult.

Independent military analysts have noticed that American, Iraqi, and perhaps even Iranian military planners are focusing on Mosul as the testing area for these brigades. It was this city that the government forces lost to ISIS on 9 June 2014, and it is considered a hard test if the attack fails to achieve its set objectives due to the potential effect on the moral of the fighters.

However, on what is Al-Abadi's government pinning its hopes of making a significant military achievement in Mosul, the city with special symbolism due to the fact that it is where Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi named himself the "Caliph of Islam"? Maybe the Iraqi government is pinning its hopes on the presence of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, whose morale grew after the victories it made with the support of the international coalition in the outskirts of Mosul and in the battles of Sinjar. This was helped by the fact that they received advanced weaponry from a number of Western countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and Britain.

Iraqi state forces are still suffering from a fatal flaw in that there is a lack of accurate figures on the size of the armed forces due to the presence of tens of thousands of ghost soldiers, the first batch of which (over 50,000 ghost soldiers) was announced by Haider al-Abadi late last year.

Analysts are reporting indicators that suggest a significant percentage of the army are of Shia denomination, partly as a result Resolution 91 issued by US civil administrator Paul Bremer in June 2003, which absorbed existing Shia militias into the army. This changed the make-up of the army from a Sunni-dominated command structure and Shia soldiers imposed under Ba'thism to a Shia command structure and base after Resolution 2 provided for the dissolution of the Iraqi army under the guise of de-Ba'thification in May 2003. The result of this US-instigated overhaul was the loss of the army's top command structure and the imposition of a sectarianised representational political system that is now being reflected in the army itself.

The expected ground operation announced by General Allen is considered a deciding battle in the international fight against ISIS on every level. This is despite the fact that Allen has said that Iraqi forces will lead the ground attack to "restore Iraq" and that the coalition forces will provide them with support.

However, an attack on Mosul is potentially more dangerous than on any other area because of the presence of four different armed militias in Nineveh province. The first of these is the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which the Kurds treat like an army, not a militia. The presence of these forces is considered an escalation of the conflict, not to mention the national aspect. The second militia is the Yazidi militia established by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to act as its branch in the areas known as "the disputed areas", while a third Christian militia was formed to fight a battle restore Mosul from the hands of ISIS. The fourth is the People's Militia itself.

All of this military mobilisation means one thing: a contested battlefield in which each party is fighting for their own goals. We can be certain that there will be no democratic dialogue between guns and tanks, especially if the area is inflamed by the fire of combat from all sides. Each party wants to win at any cost, despite the fact that no matter how much courage they have, it is not enough to achieve a victory alone.

If the Mosul battle begins, then we will see a repetition of the situation in Ayn Al-Aran in Syria – this time on a larger scale in terms of the length of the battle, the extent of destruction caused to the city and the extraordinary number of refugees fleeing the fighting. The same may well happen in Tikrit, albeit on a smaller scale. Until more is known about the military push, however, the question of control of Anbar province will remain on the shelf.

]]> (Nizar Al-Samarrai) Americas Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:24:23 +0000
Western powers accept Assad as the lesser of two evils Samira ShackleThis March will be the fourth anniversary of the civil war in Syria, which has seen more than 200,000 people killed and 9 million displaced. World leaders called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down back in August 2011.

Today, he remains at the helm, and is as intransigent as ever. This week, Assad gave an interview to the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, in which he denied that his army had used chemical weapons, and claimed that there were no civilians in besieged areas of Syria. British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond dismissed Assad's testimony, saying that he was either "deluded or lying".

There are good reasons for Assad to feel confident in sticking to his position. In addition to battlefield victories, the international pressure on him has significantly reduced. The ascent of the militant group Islamic State, or ISIS, which has seized control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, has meant a major shift in international priorities. Assad is now seen as the lesser of two evils: western powers are less inclined to push for his removal from power when there is the chance that this would benefit ISIS. The spectre of a US-led invasion of Syria aimed at regime change has all but disappeared – there is indeed shelling of Syria, but it is against ISIS targets, not government ones. While America has not officially dropped its demand that Assad step down, it appears that the US is tacitly working with the Syrian regime.

In the interview, Assad told Bowen that his government is receiving messages from the US-led coalition about its strikes in ISIS-held areas of northern Syria. He said that there has been no "direct co-operation" since airstrikes began in September, but that third parties, including Iraq, were "conveying information" that had stopped Syrian and American warplanes from colliding or firing on each other while attacking targets in the same airspace. This communication is done via nations that maintain diplomatic relations with both countries to avoid embarrassment on either side. "Sometimes, they convey a message, a general message," he said. "There is no dialogue. There's, let's say, information, but not dialogue." The US National Security Council denied coordinating with the Syrian government, with a spokesman telling the BBC that there has been no "advance notification to the Syrians at a military level".

For some time, analysts have suggested that there is a level of communication between the US-led alliance and Syria. The Syrian army is carrying out raids in the aftermath of US airstrikes, so it follows that there is a level of coordination, even if tactical information is not being shared. Yet there clearly remains significant bad feeling between the two countries; Assad told Bowen that although he would consider cooperating with other countries over ISIS, he would never talk to American officials "because they don't talk to anyone, unless he's a puppet". He added: "They easily trample over international law, which is about our sovereignty now, so they don't talk to us, we don't talk to them."

While the rise of ISIS has undoubtedly softened international attitudes to Syria, Assad showed little interest in the idea that this common enemy could unite Syria and the west. He told Bowen that ISIS would not have existed if the west and Saudi Arabia hadn't supported the rebel movement. Asked whether Syria would ever want to work with the west, he said: "Definitely we cannot and we don't have the will and we don't want, for one simple reason - because we cannot be in an alliance with countries which support terrorism." It is an ironic statement, given that his own government has been accused of encouraging Islamist militant groups with the aim of forcing moderate rebels to fight on two fronts. It is also thought that Assad may have calculated that the threat of coming under brutal Islamist rule may force some of the Syrian population back into supporting the regime. It appears that the strategy has been successful on both counts; moderate rebels have been weakened after having to fight both Islamists and government forces, while many Syrians are terrified at the prospect of ISIS coming to power. Of course, Assad's words should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway, given that he and other members of his regime routinely use the word "terrorist" to refer not just to Islamist militants but to all Syrian rebels.

The Syrian civil war has seen a dizzying number of new elements and shifting alliances over the course of the last four years, both internally and internationally. It is unsurprising that moderate rebels are increasingly anxious about the west – which had previously offered support against Assad – softening attitudes towards the regime. In the BBC interview, Assad flatly denied the use of barrel bombs, despite significant evidence to the contrary, and claimed that the number of casualties was not excessive, even as the death toll mounts. If nothing else, the supreme confidence shown by Assad demonstrates that he is no longer feeling the pressure from the international community that he was two years ago.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Wed, 11 Feb 2015 15:33:40 +0000
Netanyahu’s dangerous liaison with the Republicans: A step too far? Samira ShackleIsrael and the US have a longstanding alliance; political leaders from both countries regularly visit the other for talks and to make speeches. But a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress, scheduled to take place next month, has caused huge controversy in the US.

The reason? The White House was not consulted at all. The invitation to speak before Congress came from the House Speaker, Republican politician John Boehner, who has been in talks about the plan with Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, for some time. None of the parties concerned notified the President or his team.

The plan has caused outrage amongst Democratic senators. The invitation is seen as an attempt by Republicans to undermine the Obama administration, and as a clear snub by Netanyahu. Several Democrats have said that they will not attend Netanyahu's address – it has even been rumoured that Vice-President Joe Biden is among those who will boycott the talk. Representative John Lewis of Georgia summed up the sentiment when he said that the way the speech was organised as "an affront to the president and the State Department". Netanyahu has been criticised for behaving in a partisan manner and engaging with Republican point-scoring, when international alliances should be above such wrangling.

It is widely expected that Netanyahu will use his speech to address what he sees as the danger of America's rapprochement with Iran. This is another reason that the plan has caused such outrage amongst Democrats: it is scheduled to take place three weeks before the deadline for the US and its international partners to reach a framework agreement with Iran that could potentially provide an outline for a more comprehensive deal to be finalised by late June. The Obama administration is deep in negotiations with Iran about curbing its nuclear programme, and thinks that Netanyahu's speech will make it harder for US parliamentarians to support this diplomatic push. Judging by past statements, Netanyahu is likely to portray any nuclear deal as a direct threat to Israel's security. His well-documented view is that Iran cannot be trusted to stick to any deal and that US diplomats are being naïve.

Yet it is possible that the speech will actually undermine Netanyahu's goals in the US. The Republicans are pushing a bill that would introduce more sanctions on Iran – a move that would certainly undermine ongoing diplomatic efforts, which depend on the loosening of sanctions. While the general view amongst Democrats is that a negotiated settlement is the best outcome for global security – and for Israeli interests – some Democrats do favour tougher sanctions. This Democratic support would have helped the Republicans to push the bill through. But after the plans for Netanyahu to address Congress emerged, several Democratic Senators have said they will postpone any support for the sanctions bill until March, after the deadline for talks has passed.

All this begs the question of why Netanyahu chose to get embroiled in the internal politics of his country's closest ally at all, and why he chose to further alienate the administration. After all, Obama will continue to be president of the US until 2017. Part of the answer lies in the fact that Israeli elections are approaching. The speech will take place three weeks before Israel's elections and, it is hoped by Netanyahu's camp, will boost his hopes of re-election. Footage of Netanyahu speaking out against Iran while being applauded by the US Congress will undoubtedly bolster his image with domestic voters.

It is also worth noting that this has not happened in isolation; it is no secret that Netanyahu and Obama do not get on well. For years, Netanyahu has made no attempt to disguise the fact that he has a clear preference for the Republican Party. This is partly because of simple ideological parity; Netanyahu's Likud Party is more closely aligned with the Republicans than with the Democrats, who have more in common with Israel's centre-left parties. Netanyahu has had close personal ties with American neoconservatives for years, stretching back to the Reagan era. Dermer, the Israeli ambassador who struck the deal with Boehner, previously worked for the Republican strategist Frank Luntz. The political networks of the Israeli right and the American right, then, are closely intertwined.

Regardless of this, Netanyahu's decision to so openly snub the President of the US, Israel's most-valued ally, is still a reckless one. With the elections approaching, it appears that he is putting his party's interests above his country's.

]]> (Samira Shackle) Americas Mon, 09 Feb 2015 16:23:36 +0000
The rise of 'pro-Israelism' in American politics Nasim AhmedThe US-Israel special relationship is acknowledged universally as the unswayable force of politics in the Middle East. The theme is confessed ritually by every US president and Israeli prime minister, who have all claimed, more or less, that "the bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national interests; it's rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people."

Commitment to this article of faith is a litmus test for anyone hoping to exercise power in American politics. Minor deviations can and do have major political consequences, a fact acknowledged last year by the conservative American commentator Tom Friedman, who disclosed that the first President Bush paid a massive political price for standing up to Israel back in 1990; Bush asserted US foreign policy towards Israeli settlements by conditioning $10 billion worth of loan guarantees on a total cessation of settlement construction. He was not re-elected for a second term.

Since than, presidential candidates have been determined never to be outdone in the pro-Israel stakes. Over the years this near sacred doctrine has cultivated a fawning political culture characterised by "an arms race between Democrats and Republicans over who can be more pro-Israel than the other". With the Israeli elections dues next month, followed shortly thereafter by the US primaries, this feature of American politics will be a key factor.

We've already been given a glimpse of the increasingly sycophantic political marriage between Washington and Tel Aviv with the latest debacle of the invitation extended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by House Speaker John Boehner to address the US Congress weeks before Israel's elections. It will be Netanyahu's third opportunity to sermonise in Congress; he received 29 standing ovations on the previous occasion, which is more than any US president let alone foreign leader has ever been given. To put this into a historical context, Winston Churchill only addressed Congress three times and Netanyahu, described by his fawning supporters as the Churchill of our time, will now equal that record.

The visit, cooked up without the knowledge of President Obama, is seen as "a breach of normal diplomatic protocol". Obama's refusal to meet with Netanyahu is due to the imminent Israeli election campaign and "is not a rebuff" by the president, insists the White House. Snubbing an Israeli prime minister would be politically toxic for Obama if not for the fact that he is in his second term in office.

Some, like J Street, have voiced concerns that Israel is becoming a political football in a struggle between Republicans and Democrats. "Traditionally, support for Israel has been bipartisan but it would appear that some in both countries want to make it a partisan issue," the Jewish community website declared. The fear is that Israel is increasingly enlisted for an internal American debate to add weight to the Republican position on foreign policy; in this case Iran's nuclear programme is the focus, along with US sanctions against Tehran. Netanyahu's contribution, it is hoped, will leave Obama, and thus the Democrats, bruised politically.

The incident is fascinating on many levels, not least the fact that the head of the world's superpower, the president of the United States of America, can be challenged in such a juvenile manner as though it was all quite usual to do so. The closest to this that we could see in Britain would be for the Speaker of the House of Commons to extend an invitation to, for example, the king of Saudi Arabia to address parliament just before the General Election about British policy on Iran, without the prior knowledge or consent of Prime Minster David Cameron.

Such a brazenly treacherous step would no doubt have been punished ceremoniously if it wasn't for the fact that Obama is now politically isolated because of his strained relationship with Netanyahu. That Netanyahu joined gleefully in this naked power play for the Republican Party, moreover, signals a growing Republican-Israeli symbiosis. This is very odd, given that the vast majority of the American Jewish community are liberals and 78 per cent voted for Obama.

Increasingly we are seeing the melding of narrow rejectionist forces on both sides and it is not, as one would suspect, an appeal for the US Jewish vote; only 2 per cent of American voters are Jews whose political loyalty on the whole lies with the Democratic Party. It is, however, a graphic example of the axis developing between powerful pro-Israel political donors and the more politically-muscular conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians, who are generally more pro-Israel than the American Jewish community itself.

The rise of a small but influential power bloc in a powerful democracy is worrying. By itself it would not be significant if it wasn't for the colossal sums of money being pumped into the election race by its members, reflecting the growth of "pro-Israelism" in American politics. We have already seen an exponential growth in the amount of money spent in US elections; an analysis of the figures suggests that this is down to the influence of this narrow alliance.

Of the $13 billion spent on the 2012 US presidential election, around $6.6 billion went into lobbying, double what it was in 2000. This increase, which looks set to continue, followed the lifting of the campaign spending cap by the US Supreme Court. The striking down of a key pillar of the federal campaign finance law has allowed donors to give money to as many political candidates, parties and committees as they wish; the decision means that private individuals are able to give millions of dollars to buy political favours.

The opening of the campaign cash floodgates in the US has all but drowned the opportunity for the voice of the vast majority of the electorate to be heard; they can't even dream about spending such large sums of money to exert political influence. It all looks ominous for US democracy; just 0.26 per cent of the population accounted for 68 per cent of all political donations in 2012. This trend is believed by some, including a study carried out last year by Princeton and Northwestern Universities, to have transformed the US government into an oligarchy.

The greatest contributions are invariably from conservative members of the pro-Israel elites, people like Sheldon Adelson, the biggest donor, whose colossal $92 million went to the Republican Party for the 2012 election. The billionaire casino tycoon, in contrast to the vast majority of Liberal Jews in America, believes that the Palestinians are a made up nation which exists solely to destroy Israel.

Adelson, who has also called for dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, is a very close friend of Netanyahu and, according to the Washington Post, is slowly buying up Israeli media. In an effort to exert political muscle he also launched his own free newspaper in Israel, which is seen widely as reflecting the position of Israeli rejectionists favoured by the Israeli prime minister.

Despite the fact that Israel, unlike the US, has more stringent campaign funding rules, with limitations on election expenditure and conditions regarding eligibility, conservative Americans have found imaginative ways to influence Israeli politics. It is clearly not a lack of desire or financial ability that has been the obstacle for a growing conservative element in the US Jewish community to buy influence in Israeli politics as it does in the US.

Despite the strict rules, an axis of conservative US oligarchs and rejectionist Israeli politicians has gained foothold. More than 90 per cent of the recent campaign contributions for Netanyahu were sent from three American families, including the Falics. Among other things, the head of this family chairs the Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, a New York-based organisation that raises funds for the Israeli army. Simon Falic's wife, Jana, is co-president of the Women's International Zionist Organisation, Israel's largest non-governmental service provider. The three Falic brothers and 12 of their family members have made 682 political donations to politicians including right-wing Republicans like Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor and Charles Schumer.

We are gradually seeing the increase in private donations corrupting politics with the added dimension of a globalisation of campaign funds. This factor has increased in importance with conservative Americans bankrolling political parties and personalities that are divisive in the US and Israel. Most democracies have a clear principle that foreign governments, political parties, corporations and individuals should not influence elections directly or indirectly. Yet, the globalisation of corporate structures as well as transnational interests make it virtually impossible to prevent foreign nationals from having such pernicious influence.

The unsettling aspect of such unprecedented "pro Israelism" within US politics is not, as J Street would have us believe, simply having Israel used as a political football between Republicans and Democrats. It is, in fact, an accelerated drive to cement Israel's status as the sacred cow in American politics just as the National Health Service (NHS) is in Britain. Unlike the NHS, which is a national concern for all British citizens and has little if any impact on anyone beyond the UK, the "pro-Israelism" agenda affects US foreign policy and is being pushed by a growing minority whose views on Israel and Palestine are at odds with most American Jews, let alone Palestinians.

The fact that pro-Israel activists hold the purse strings to electoral success has turned foreign policy regarding Israel into a doctrinal issue. This has made support for Israel the barometer for measuring the suitability of political hopefuls across the US.

Already there are signs that more and more Democrats are anxious about the consequences of Obama's snub of Netanyahu – for that is what it is viewed as, regardless of White House denials - with one commenting that all Democrats have to be for Israel. "He –Obama- can't split his own constituency by bringing up this madness, which touches so directly on the national interest and the Israel lobby."

As the sole remaining superpower, the exercise of American political and military might should be of concern to us all. A turn towards oligarchy and the fusion of tiny power blocs with extreme, partisan views on the question of Palestine, is bad news for the rest of us. Obama is reviled as anti-Israel (although his record shows otherwise) and Democrats are feeling greater pressure to prove their pro-Israel credentials to the extent that whoever is chosen as their candidate for the 2016 presidential election will, almost certainly, have to outdo the Republicans in their pro-Israel fervour.

]]> (Nasim Ahmed) Americas Mon, 02 Feb 2015 13:19:02 +0000
Hollywood's anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda Noura MansourThe media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and narratives. Over the years, it has become a force to be reckoned with in all aspect of life, culture, education, society, language, economy and, especially, politics. Visual media such as movies and TV shows are probably the most popular as there is a wide and diverse audience. Films and programmes target the hearts and minds of viewers, who tend to sympathise with characters and get caught up in the emotion of what they watch. The effect doesn't end when the credits roll, as people internalise the sights and sounds they have witnessed. Some studies have shown that this not only affects viewers' perceptions but also their behaviour, especially in the younger age groups.

Hollywood, the movie capital of the world, is as an efficient and powerful tool for mainstreaming American culture and values. However, with great power goes great responsibility. When it comes to films involving Arab and Muslim characters, Hollywood has proved repeatedly to be irresponsible, manipulative, misleading and biased. It has been presenting and reinforcing stereotypical images, which line up with belligerent and orientalist American policies towards Arabs and Muslims; the industry has seldom challenged that image or made an effort to reflect a more objective version.

"The Wind and the Lion" (1975); "Under Siege" (1986); "Wanted: dead or alive" (1987); "True Lies" (1994); "Homeland" (2011-2013); "World War Z" (2013); "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (2014); and "American Sniper" (2014), are all examples of films and TV programmes which contribute, directly or indirectly, to the constant vilification of Arabs and Muslims in the mainstream media. Some, such as "True Lies" and, most recently, "American Sniper" have done so openly by presenting uncivilised, violent and merciless Arab characters, which end up being killed as a part of the "happy" ending. Others have done it in a more subtle way, like "World War Z" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", for example.

In "World War Z", the Israeli army and "security" agencies are portrayed as the guardians of Jerusalem, who built the Apartheid Wall in order to keep zombies locked-in behind it. In real life, the Wall functions as a racist barrier, a key component of Israel's occupation policies which strip almost 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank of their rights and freedoms. That very same wall is presented in the film as a positive and necessary tool for the salvation of humanity. Israeli soldiers are the heroes and protectors, misleading viewers and distorting reality. By creating sympathy and positive feelings towards militant oppressors and a brutal colonial occupation whilst demonising those living behind the wall, the film provides a degree of legitimacy to Israel's occupation and, indeed, to the state itself. It is worth remembering that Israel has, since 1948, committed numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity as it carries out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

If you don't think anything is wrong with this let's change a few variables and then consider whether you still think nothing is wrong. Instead of the Apartheid Wall, let's use concentration camps to control the zombies and instead of Israeli soldiers the security is provided by those in Nazi uniforms. For the sake of objectivity, let's add that ridiculous scene where Arabs and Israelis are singing together aimlessly about peace in Jerusalem; only let's have Nazis and Jews singing together about peace instead. See what I mean?

Such a film would, rightfully, have caused outrage around the world for diminishing the suffering of European Jews during World War Two. It should have created a similar reaction for diminishing the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, but it didn't.

On the right, vicious Zombies hurl themselves up the wall that protects humanity. On the left, it's Palestinians.On the right, vicious Zombies hurl themselves up the wall that protects humanity. On the left, it's Palestinians.

Similarly, in "American Sniper", US soldiers are glorified and Arabs are demonised. Saying that the movie is one-sided and biased is an understatement. American soldiers are presented as heroes, protectors and even at times victims in Iraq, whereas the Arabs are all presented as militants, including women and children, who are also engaged in fighting. There are no civilian Iraqis in this movie, except for one family, whose members are killed by Iraqi militants, of course, and not American soldiers.

The movies sends out a pernicious message at the very beginning that killing women and children is inevitable and is a part of a soldier's duty to "protect". The moral dilemma about such issues is absent. The sniper shoots to kill and not to disarm, even when the targets are women and children.

Furthermore, there is a clear objectification of Iraqi militants versus the humanisation of American militants. When an American soldier is killed, we get to see a close up of his face so that we can absorb his feelings and his wounds. However, when an Iraqi militant is killed, we only see his body falling down from afar; there's no blood, no facial expressions and thus no feelings. In addition, American soldiers are more than just soldiers; they are husbands, fathers, sons and daughters, whereas Iraqi militants are one-dimensional.

The "hero" is a man admired for holding the record for the highest number of kills in Iraq and whose fellow soldiers call a "legend"; he shows no remorse over those whom he has killed. The only thing he regrets is not having the chance to kill more Arabs. It is no surprise that such a movie has evoked massive anti-Arab and anti-Muslim responses among cinema audiences in the United States; social media outlets are alive with people expressing enthusiasm for killing Arabs and Muslims.

Screengrab from American SniperScreengrab from American Sniper

Even when the plot has nothing to do with Arabs or Palestinians, Hollywood inserts completely irrelevant Arabic/Muslim cultural indicators, often planted on the bad guy, creating a false link between evil and Arabs or Muslims. In "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" it is deemed appropriate, relevant and logical to use the Palestinian Keffiyeh scarf as a part of the Foot Clans' (Shredder's army) uniform even though the characters couldn't be any further from the Arab/Muslim world geographically, culturally, socially and politically; they were originally meant to be Japanese.

Screengrab from Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesScreengrab from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Hollywood promotes anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda, by creating a false association between evil and Arabs and Muslims, regardless of the context of the plot, or by portraying them as the ultimate bad guys in all contexts and providing justification for illegal, immoral and inhumane practices against them. There is a long history of this, even in apparently innocent films.

This incitement against Arabs and Muslims could have disastrous outcomes. Feelings of hate and animosity towards Arabs are translated into actions in many places around the world, not only on a political level but also socially and physically. Whether cinema reflects life or vice versa, the powerful effect it has on us is undeniable. It is pertinent to ponder the words of Malcolm X in this respect: "If you are not careful, newspapers [media] will have you hating the oppressed and loving the oppressors." The evidence for the truth of his words can be found without too much effort. Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

]]> (Noura Mansour) Americas Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:42:52 +0000
America and Revolutionary Egypt Mona Abdel FatahWhen Egypt was engulfed in the flames of its revolution the Obama administration spent a good deal of its energy trying to convince the Egyptian people that they needed to stand by their then-president Hosni Mubarak, even at the point when it was almost certain that his regime was about to fall.

On the other hand, public opinion in the United States rejected vice president Joe Biden's remarks that Hosni Mubarak was not a military dictator; and many Americans also denied the remarks of US envoy Mark Wisner's claims that Mubarak's survival in office was the only safety net for the region. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton even suggested a transitional period where Mubarak would be able to stay in power for a few months.

When the Egyptian people reacted in anger to the Obama administration's position by holding signs that read, "shame on you Obama!", the US was quick to retract its previous statements by claiming that Wisner's remarks reflected his own personal opinions. However, the American administration's attempts to salvage the situation proved futile and the gap between the two countries widened as it was revealed that Wisner, a retired American politician, was working as a consultant for a political firm that had been hired by the Egyptian government.

The US must bear responsibility for two things. The first is the destruction of the hopes and dreams of the Egyptian people despite the fact they continue to preach the importance of freedom and democracy; and the second is the fact that the US's official position conflicted with the opinion of the American people regarding the Egyptian revolution. The Obama administration's contradictory positions on the Egyptian revolution stem from the US desire to place itself somewhere between the realms of idealism and realism; US media personality Fareed Zakaria was quick to point out that Obama is perhaps one of the few presidents since Richard Nixon who has taken the time to carefully outline American interests and provide the resources that are necessary to achieve them.

The reality of America's position can be defined by the fact that it stood in support of Mubarak for more than 30 years, a decision that led to the loss of American democratic principles. Initially, Obama justified his position on Mubarak by saying that the latter needed America's support; however, upon seeing the vast crowds that gathered across Egypt during the revolution, the American president no longer found it acceptable to stand by a man who had been a strategic ally for more than a quarter of a century. Obama went on to express his concern after the military coup of 3 July 2013 that toppled the country's first democratically elected leader. At the time, the administration in Washington went on to express its support for the democratic process and urged the Department of State to reconsider more than a billion dollars of aid that had originally been allocated to Egypt. Obama also promised the American people that he would act accordingly should he find that an abuse of democratic values had taken place in Egypt.

It is clear that the US approach to its diplomatic policies often conflicts with American popular opinion, and it is for this reason that one must base the analysis of American foreign policy on factors beyond American public opinion. In his book on American diplomacy, George Kennan argues that American foreign policy has been dictated by a small group of powerful men and that this has been taking place since the 1980s. Such partisan political policies are vaguely reminiscent of military regimes that are run by third-party militarism; and this type of political system serves to render the US government quite weak and categorises those who oppose it as anti-nationalistic.

One of the things that puzzled Western media outlets during the Egyptian revolution was the fact that many people refused to leave Tahrir square, the place where so many martyrs fell in defence of the revolution, even after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. The people wanted to achieve their dream of true democracy because they knew that they had merely liberated the concept of freedom and that true liberty could not be achieved unless the state's institutions were also uprooted. The goal of the 2011 revolution was not merely to topple Mubarak and his two sons but to destroy the state institutions that Mubarak knew would survive when he stepped down. Unfortunately, this is precisely what didn't happen, and the same institutions and power network have been suppressing the people's ability to breathe ever since.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 26 January, 2015.

]]> (Mona Abdel Fatah) Americas Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:45:30 +0000
America stabs its Arab allies in the back Sameer Al-HajjawiThe US-Arab alliance is one of the strangest and most interesting in the world, perhaps even in history. It is certainly the most one-sided, whereby America takes everything from its Arab allies and gives them nothing in return. The US attitude is disrespectful, untactful and inflexible. Washington gives Arab governments nothing to work with and nothing to give to their people, not even a fig leaf for appearances' sake.

The most recent example of this disrespect by the US was its open contempt for its Arab allies when it voted against the draft UN Security Council resolution to end the Israeli occupation of part of the occupied Palestinian territories. This resolution is based on what is known as "international legitimacy" despite the fact that the Palestinians went to the Security Council stripped of all their historical rights. However, this did not help them or gain the acceptance of Washington, which seems to disregard the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general.

The US-Arab alliance is farcical, a tragi-comedy full of contradictions. The Arab governments put 99 per cent of their cards in the hands of the US, which in turn gives 100 per cent of its cards to Israel. The Arab governments thus put more or less all of their cards in Israeli hands.

More tragic and disturbing is the fact that the Arab governments, including Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, are desperate for US approval, so they give the Obama administration what it wants in the hope that the president will be kind enough to give them something in return. Unfortunately for them, the White House has never given them anything of significance, no matter how small. Is there a stranger bunch of allies? Of course not. However, if this one-sided alliance protects Arab governments from being overthrown and gives them "preventative shots" against democracy without having any side effects, then they believe that the price is worth it, even if that means conceding all of Palestine from the river to the sea.

It is sad that the Palestinian people are fighting their struggle alone, persevering alone and, in some instances, triumphing alone. They are also crying alone, bleeding alone and suffering under siege alone. Their "closest brothers", meanwhile, are contributing to their suffering, displacement and murder; Gaza provides perhaps the greatest evidence of this.

America only sees Israel in the region; Israel's security and interests are paramount. Israel is America's only trusted strategic ally, while the others are nothing more than followers who must accept whatever crumbs are thrown their way.

The resolution submitted by Abbas's government reflects the Arabs' miserable situation. It lacked the minimum of Palestinian demands, all of which are provided for in existing international resolutions. This irked the Palestinian left-wing, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Palestine Communist Party and the Palestinian National Initiative; it was also rejected by the Islamic movements, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The draft was "moderate", as stated by Abbas and the Arab governments, and met all of Israel's demands except for ending its occupation of some parts of the West Bank. Despite this, Israel rejected the resolution, as did the US administration and Australia; Britain's rejection was expressed in its silence, alongside Nigeria and Rwanda, all of whom were influenced by pro-Israel and American lobbyists.

The question left to ask the Arab governments allied with the US is simple: what's next? What will you do now that America, Israel's guardian and protector, has basically announced that it is opposed to ending the occupation? What are you going to do after the veto was used against giving the Palestinians some of their own land back despite Abbas's concession of Palestinian air, sea, land and security?

The truth is that the Arab governments will not demand anything from their American ally and the Palestinians will have to bear life in the refugee camps for another 100 years or fight alone, just as they did in Gaza. If the Palestinians as a people die, then the Arabs will be relieved of them; if they triumph, then the Arabs will be rid of the cause.

Until this happens, though, will the Arab governments dare to demand some respect from their American ally, even if it is entirely false just to show their people? I doubt it.

Translated from Al-Sharq newspaper, 1 January 2015

]]> (Sameer Al-Hajjawi) Americas Fri, 02 Jan 2015 15:45:34 +0000
The Alice in Wonderland World of the UN Veto David HearstThe New Year will dawn to another U.S. veto at the UN security council -- although, to its credit, not a French one. This ritual has become a fitting symbol of Washington's loosening grip over the Middle East. It reveals power strong enough to interdict, but too weak to build anything durable in its place; a country which spurn the very Arab countries over Israel that are needed for the coalition against the Islamic State; and diplomacy which has made itself irrelevant. This is a spat between allies who believe in a two state solution. Most Palestinians have long since passed that point.

The U.N. motion on Palestinian statehood had been toughened to include East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State, prisoner releases, halting settlements, and setting a 12 month deadline for talks. But it was not tough enough for Hamas, which refused to accept a divided Jerusalem or wording which equivocates on the right of return.

And it was off the scale for the State Department, which persists in peering exclusively through the prism of Israel's "legitimate security needs." This is a moveable feast which now includes the settlements around Jerusalem, a permanent presence on the Jordan Valley, and a rejection of even a token right of return.

This array of irreconcilable positions tells you all you need to know about the Alice in Wonderland world of the two state solution. Like the Cheshire Cat, it disappears on whim, leaving only its smile behind. But there again, can something that does not have a body ever be beheaded? Barack Obama must have read his Lewis Carroll.

If the status quo on the Palestinian conflict is a logjam of spent policies, no-one on the cusp of 2015 should be fool enough to confuse rigidity with stability. The currents flowing underneath are powerful and fast. Leaderless Jerusalem, over which the Palestinian Authority holds no sway, could ignite at any moment. As could the West Bank, over which it nominally does. Witness the voices at the funeral Tuesday of 17-year-old Imam Jamil Dweikat.

The same could be said of the region as a whole. 2014 has already been declared the nadir of the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular revolutionary forces which toppled dictators like ninepins four years ago. If this is what a defeat looks like, where exactly is the victory? Four countries could rightfully be declared failed states -- Iraq, Syria,Yemen and Libya.

Consider for a moment how 2015 must look through the eyes of the assumed victor of this struggle, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. What does the new year have in store for him?

In whichever direction the king looks, Saudi Arabia is a frailer state than the one he inherited. To the north the black flags of the Islamic State flutter. To the south, in Yemen, al Qaeda is advancing its claim as the protector of the Sunnis. Iran now boasts, without too much hyperbole, of having four Arab capitals in its pocket.

Neither is the military coalition against the IS in the rudest of health. It took the capture of only one of its pilots for Jordan to waver. Its leaders have come under intense domestic pressure to secure the pilot's release with eight MPs signing a parliamentary request demanding that the government withdraw from the coalition.

Inside the Saudi kingdom, warning lights go off regularly, both within and outside the royal household. The health of his Crown Prince has deteriorated and the succession plagued by the claims of rival camps. Outside, the scenes on Sunday in a village called Awamiyah were alarming enough. 15,000 men women and children took to the streets for the funeral of four killed by the security forces. The Ministry of the Interior said that four "terrorists" were killed in an operation sparked by the gunning down of a policeman. The funeral goers shouted, " Down, down, al-Saud." They were not demanding justice. They were demanding revenge.

Can any state security service tell their king with confidence that these flash points are any less powerful mobilizers of popular wrath than than the self immolation of the street seller in Tunisia, or the arrest of the children who scrawled: "The people want the regime to fall" on a wall in Dara'a? The same forces which unleashed a pan arabic revolt four years ago are present today.

Abdullah's "victory" will have been to bequeath the Arab world with a binary choice between two forms of despotism -- the corruption, cronyism and inequality of absolute monarchy, or the despotism of the Islamic State.

The view from the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi's office can not look much brighter. We know from recent leaks of telephone conversations what Egypt's all powerful leaders are arguing about: How to disguise the fact that the deposed president Mohamed Morsi was held by the army, not by the ministry of interior; how to sway judges hearing the case of four police offices sentenced to 10 years for "negligence" over the deaths of 37 prisoners in a police van; how to lift the travel ban imposed on the son of the pro Sisi veteran politician and former al-Ahram editor Mohammed Hassanein Haykal.

True, the forces that filled Tahrir Square remain bitterly divided and their division must remain Sisi's strongest source of comfort. If the secular revolutionary groups can not forgive the Brotherhood for abandoning them in the Mohamed Mahmoud street battles in 2011, neither do the Brotherhood find it easy to reach out to those who supported the June 30 ouster of Mohammed Morsi. Not a day passes, when the secular liberals are reminded of their folly in supporting Morsi's violent ouster but in reality both wings of Tahrir Square made astonishing misjudgments about the role of the army and the true nature of Sisi himself.

But neither opposition camp will remain a fixed quantity. Old leaders are being sidelined, as new ones emerge. About 70 percent, according to one informed source, of the Brotherhood's leadership in Egypt has been replaced, and the youth who are taking up these positions are unlikely to be as naive as the previous generation was about what it will take to make the next revolution succeed.

Despite Abdullah's best efforts, millions of Saudis continue to regard democracy as the way out. Even in Egypt, the stock of the Muslim Brotherhood has actually risen, according to successive Zogby polls.

The latest evidence is a poll which found that equal numbers of Egyptians (43% /44%) gave positive and negative answers to the Brotherhood's impact on developments in Egypt. This does not necessarily equate to the Brotherhood's popularity, but it does testify to the level of public unease about where Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is taking the country.

However you look at it, the flame lit four years ago will not be easily or rapidly extinguished. The time span of this revolution may indeed be longer than anyone thought four years ago. But look at other bourgeois revolutions. Within a year, the European worker revolts of 1848 had been crushed by a Bonapartist dictatorship , and the liberals who joined the revolts had been co-opted to reinstall new forms of dictatorship. Just as they have been doing in Egypt.

The ideas themselves of 1848 lived to see another day. The same will happen throughout the Arab world. Unless of course we are to accept democracy as stable form of government for everywhere bar the Arab world. This is what the those who cast their veto in U.N. currently argue. Like the status quo, that too is untenable.

This article was first published on the Huffington Post.

]]> (David Hearst) Americas Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:20:18 +0000
Why does Washington always ignore the best advice? Alastair SloanIn 2009, the Central Intelligence Agency warned senior US policy-makers that their controversial drone strike programme might backfire. Washington ignored the CIA; the following year, the frequency of drone strikes increased rapidly.

In Pakistan, a record 751 people were killed, including 84 civilians. Neither the hundreds dying in the bomb craters, or those who ordered the triggers to be pulled, have ever been put before a judge or jury.

Wikileaks released this intriguing news shortly before Christmas. Twenty pages of text penned by the CIA itself, analyses similar programmes conducted in various environments and by various governments, including its own.

The "Secret" report didn't conclude that High Value Target (HVT) assassination programmes were an entirely bad idea; it cited three examples where it had "worked". Two were in 2008: the killing of Raul Reyes and Ivan Rios, FARC leaders assassinated by the Colombian and American armed forces, and the killing of Abu Laith Al-Libi and his deputy in Waziristan, leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The latter was considered a success only because it slightly delayed the group joining Al-Qaida, which it did later in any case.

Israel's assassination of Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi in 2004 was also reported as a success. Even then, the CIA warned that while Hamas morale was damaged temporarily, it remained a popular, resilient and militarily effective organisation.

In assessing assassinations conducted against the Taliban, Hezbollah, the PLO, Peru's Shining Path, the IRA, the Tamil LTTE and Algeria's FLN, the CIA analysts judged programmes to be ineffective or even counter-productive. Drawing on experiences in Thailand, the agency warned that HVT assassinations "can capture the attention of policymakers and military planners to the extent that a government loses its strategic perspective on the conflict or neglects other key aspects of counterinsurgency." Furthermore, the CIA called out specifically that the Taliban and Al-Qaida were not suitable targets for HVT assassinations.

"The Taliban's military structure blends a top-down command system with an egalitarian Afghan tribal structure that rules by consensus, making the group more able to withstand HVT operations," said one section. In another it was noted that Al-Qaida's decentralised structure meant that it was able to "weather leadership losses such as the death of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi." He was killed by US forces in Iraq in June 2006.

The report concluded that when HVT assassinations are misused, they risked "increasing the level of insurgent support... strengthening an armed group's bonds with the population, radicalising an insurgent group's remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favour the insurgents."

This simple warning is all the more poignant as these phenomenon have all been observed exactly in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, the heartlands of extrajudicial assassination, Washington-style. Although the CIA said specifically that Al-Qaida and the Taliban are not suitable targets, the programme against the groups continues.

Why was good advice ignored? Wikileaks has a theory that it was because the CIA's torture programme had just been exposed by a whistle-blower (John Kiriakou, who is still in prison for speaking out), and Barack Obama was under political pressure to shut Guantanamo Bay. Blowing suspects up in other people's countries, along with whichever friends or family members happen to be close by at the time, was the "best" option that the White House had cornered itself with.

America's foreign policy is bungled so comprehensively, especially in the Middle East, that the slimmest of positives must be taken as solace. The miniscule victory in this story is that at least someone was saying, "Don't do this." Nevertheless, while those of sound-mind said fork to the right, the White House forked to the left.

Back in 1948 there was a similar fork in the road. President Truman decided controversially to recognise the State of Israel, even when the State Department, the Defence Department and Secretary of State George Marshall advised him not to. Their arguments were simple: relations between America and the Muslim world would be harmed indefinitely; the region would be destabilised permanently; and American access to Middle Eastern oil would be restricted. Truman rode roughshod over the advice, the predictions contained within which have all come to pass in one way or another.

So what led to Truman forking right, when his advisers said go left? The popular theory is political pressure; like Obama in 2009 mindful of his electoral pledge to close Guantanamo, Truman wanted the Jewish-American vote in the upcoming election. This theory is debatable; one of the strongest voices opposing recognition of Israel was Clark Clifford, Truman's electoral and domestic politics adviser. At the time, a significant number of Jewish-Americans opposed Zionism. Instead, Truman's decision was more ideological and idealist, rather than pragmatic. It would prove to be an ill-fated imprudence.

Fast-forward to 2003 and the decision to invade Iraq. Eight months before the invasion, the Washington Post learned that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were opposing the war. General Joseph P. Hoar warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that any endeavour would be risky and unnecessary. Morton Halperin at the Council on Foreign Relations cautioned that the invasion would increase the terrorist threat, a premonition we learned later had been echoed by British intelligence.

As the invasion drew closer, TIME magazine reported that "as many as one in three senior officers question the wisdom of pre-emptive war with Iraq." Brent Scowcroft, who served as National Security Adviser to President George H.W. Bush, wrote "Don't attack Saddam" as an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that it would distract America from dealing with Al-Qaida. The following month General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said something similar. Then Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who once ran US military operations in the Middle East, advised, "I am not convinced we need to do this now." Ambassador Joseph Wilson, formerly assigned to Baghdad, resigned over the issue. Fellow diplomats John Brady Kiesling, John H. Brown and Mary Ann Wright followed shortly after him.

The lunatics who had taken over in the White House did all they could to ignore this good advice. Donald Rumsfeld even set up an alternative intelligence apparatus because he didn't like what the conventional security services were telling him about Saddam Hussein. Given Bush and Company's neo-conservative backgrounds, the ideological underpinning of their erroneous decision-making cannot be understated.

America has come tantalisingly close on a number of occasions to not messing up in the Middle East. It is heartening to know that at least some technically able thinkers in Washington have offered the right advice, but "technocrat" is not a word modern democracies appreciate; politicians use it deliberately in a pejorative sense to smear those with greater competency, and voters typically prioritise accountability over efficacy.

Yet what accountability really comes out of America's foreign policy? Are voters wishing for something which simply isn't there? Sure, the American people might get a chance to vote foolish presidents out, but there is no system of redress for the people of Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen or Afghanistan, who are the people actually affected by US foreign policy. For a country that is spending as much on defence as the next eight countries combined, and hesitates not for a second to deploy its huge arsenal, the checks and balances on who bombs where are far too limited. Those technocrats might not be as accountable in democratic terms, but Washington should hardwire their advice and warnings into decision-making. This may be a small but necessary rebuke to the conventional notion of a liberal democracy, but it would be a constraint on aggression that the rest of the world would appreciate greatly.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 29 Dec 2014 18:42:36 +0000
When the fight against racism produces a conflict of interest Yvonne RidleyI was told years ago by a pro-Palestinian activist that the trouble with the people from the West Bank and Gaza was the colour of their skin. Squirming in revulsion at what I thought was going to be some racist outpouring against those with olive-coloured skins, he added quickly: "What I'm trying to say is if Palestinians were black then the injustices they face wouldn't be happening today. The discrimination would be so obvious."

He explained that all of the abuse and discrimination hurled at Palestinians by Zionists from within and without the State of Israel would cause international outrage if they were "black". The issue, quite clearly, would be regarded as one of race and racism as it was in apartheid South Africa.

I was reminded of this a few days ago following the unprecedented arrest of 76 peaceful activists who held a "die-in" with 600 others at a West London shopping centre as an act of solidarity with those protesting against the latest death of a black person in police custody in America. The disease of racism is prompting nationwide rallies, protests and demonstrations, and has even focused the attention – and support – of US President Barack Obama.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, died at the hands of New York police officers, following in a long line of such deaths, including Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson and Michael Brown, to name but three. The latest killings have prompted disgust among decent, ordinary Americans.

Protestors on both sides of the Atlantic have made it clear that the issue of police impunity to kill people of African descent is a serious issue. Placards stating "Black Lives Matter" were held aloft in London to protest about the fact that the institutional racism of police establishments in America is no different to that in the UK. Let us not forget that no British police officers have ever been held to account for the deaths at their hands of Joy Gardner, Sean Rigg and, most recently, Mark Duggan.

Mr Garner died after he was stopped for selling untaxed cigarettes in New York and was restrained by a police officer in a chokehold. He gasped "I can't breathe!" repeatedly during his arrest; the whole incident was captured on video. Demonstrations against his killing came shortly after violent scenes in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot by police officer Darren Wilson earlier this year.

It would be good, though, to see the same anti-racist activists marching and demonstrating over the racism in Israel. Although it might not have been so overt to some over the years, Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to introduce a "Jewish Nation-State Bill" couldn't be clearer. In his own words, the bill provides "national rights only for the Jewish people." Israel's many non-Jews would become second class citizens, giving legal status to the sad reality that indigenous Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians have already been treated that way since the birth of the Zionist state in 1948.

Indeed, the persecution of non-Jews has now been extended to African migrants to the Holy Land. For those among us who can only view racism through a black and white lens, Israeli discrimination is now out there for all to see.

A short film produced by Max Blumenthal and commissioned by the New York Times called Israel's New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land, would have gone some way to help, if the NYT had made it public. However, viewing the film produced by Blumenthal and Israeli journalist David Sheen was too much for the NYT executives to bear. The truth, it seems, can be too risky to tell, even for powerful and influential newspaper publishers.

"We put together some shocking footage of pogroms against African communities in Tel Aviv," said Blumenthal, "and interviews with human rights activists. I thought it was a well-done documentary about a situation very few Americans were familiar with. We included analysis. We tailored it to their style, and of course it was rejected without an explanation after being solicited. I sent it to some other major websites and they have not even responded to me, when they had often solicited articles from me in the past."

Like other Establishment figures on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems that the media's way to deal with racism in Missouri, West London or Tel Aviv is to look the other way. Similarly, Blumenthal's book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which offers an unflinching look at the racist reality of Israel, has been largely ignored by the American and European media who simply do not have the guts to confront the pure evil that is racism.

Since people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, perhaps this could explain why the American Jewish establishment has been unusually silent about the black deaths. It has not embarked on a single major campaign to combat the institutional racism which has prompted mass rallies in Ferguson and beyond.

Benjy Cannon is National Student Board President of J Street U and a member of the Hillel Board at Maryland University where he is studying. He wrote a thought-provoking article about the phenomenon in Haaretz under the headline, "Jews, white privilege and the fight against racism in America".

The Jewish struggle against racism towards blacks in America has historically been nothing short of admirable. Jewish philanthropists helped create, and then chair, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People founded in 1909, "to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination." Jewish charities built 5,337 black schools across the south; two thirds of the white freedom riders were Jewish; and 96 per cent of American Jews supported President Kennedy's decision to dispatch federal troops to desegregate Montgomery, Alabama.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to be both vocal against events in Ferguson and Staten Island today, or similar vile episodes in Tottenham or Eltham, when black Africans and Arab Palestinians are being targeted in such an evil, racist way in Israel. Sorry, but the question has to be asked: Can you really be a Zionist and an anti-racist? I am no longer sure that you can.

]]> (Yvonne Ridley) Americas Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:39:10 +0000
Western academics OK human rights abuses in the Gulf File photo of migrant workers in Saudi ArabiaMass abuse of migrant workers by the Gulf monarchies and sheikhdoms has a fan-club in the West; a clique of academics, lawyers and ideologues who think that exploitative labour is OK. The last few months have seen a major push from this group to help the GCC states get off the hook following bad publicity, by applying their free market ideology to human suffering. Their arguments are extremely worrying.

Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, professors in economics and law at the University of Chicago, penned an article recently for The New Republic, entitled "A Radical Solution to Global Income Equality: Make the US More Like Qatar." The pair suggested that inviting large numbers of migrant workers to the US would redistribute global wealth faster than foreign aid programmes. They brushed aside human rights concerns: "Qatar would not welcome so many migrant workers if it had to give them generous political and civil rights; in fact, Gulf states explicitly seek non-Arab, dark-skinned migrants so as to minimise the risk that nationals will sympathise, fraternise or intermarry with migrants (who would then demand permanent residence, if not citizenship)."

Proposing a similar policy for the United States, a country that already has such profound issues with racial inequality, this rhetoric is worrying, although not, it seems, for Posner and Weyl. "Reducing inequality will require uncomfortable trade-offs," they conclude.

When a Human Rights Watch researcher tweeted a link to the article in question, Weyl fired back from the hip, tweeting that the organisation was "excluding the poor from a future"; calling HRW somewhat sarcastically "human rights heroes"; and with even more sarcasm, saying: "It is your job to decide what is good for the world's poor, even if they violently disagree... Glad they're in hands of group that doesn't care about consequences."

Posner published another piece in the United Kingdom; "The twilight of human rights law" called for countries to consider the migrant worker model favoured in the Gulf. "Human rights advocates often pressure countries with guest worker systems to grant guest workers the full panoply of rights," he argued. Describing this as "rigid utopianism", he added that if Gulf States were forced to recognise human being as human beings, "they will often choose to keep them out."

An economist at the Centre for Global Development, a Washington DC think tank, and the International Organisation for Migration, Michael Clemens, is referenced frequently in Posner and Weyl's work. The IOM is partly funded by the United Arab Emirates, which is complicit in the abuse of migrant workers. Clemens admits to having work funded by the IOM. He has also written a paper linked to the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, an Abu Dhabi think tank funded by the country's ruling family. The paper called for Gulf think tanks to push his colleagues' message that the economic benefits of migrant labour outweigh the human rights abuses from which many workers suffer.

Of course, if you take Posner, Weyl and Clemens as economists, their arguments have some validity. There is no denying that remittances from the Gulf provide sources of otherwise inaccessible income to several developing countries, notably India and, increasingly, east African nations. However, the real world can't be plotted on a graph. It's difficult to explain to a Filipino domestic worker who is raped repeatedly by her Saudi Arabian employer, upon whose grace her continued visa status depends, that her ordeal is acceptable because, on average, an economists' graph shows that her country is getting wealthier. Nor is it easy to explain to an Indian construction worker that being denied his wages, having his passport confiscated or being deported back to poverty if he objects to such employment conditions is justifiable for macro-economic reasons.

It is imperative that Western academics do not pander to the Gulf status quo. The incentives to do so, however, are increasing. Some of the best funded think tanks in Washington are funded by GCC countries. The United Arab Emirates funds the London School of Economics Middle East research programme in its entirety, and contributes to half a dozen more top universities in Britain. New York University is currently building a new branch in Abu Dhabi, using migrant labour to do so; the British Museum in London has a stake in the project. Both have hired public relations agencies to deal with the predicted media fall out, but are desperate for the cash.

There is a case for migrant labour in the Gulf as a way to generate wealth for poor countries. There is also a case for a little more humanity in how such labour is recruited and workers are treated. Offering the rights to change employer, strike and have access to effective legal redress if wages go unpaid, is not a great ask for a government. Clemens, Posner and Weyl say that the Bin Zayeds, the House of Saud and the Al-Thanis cannot be pushed to offer workers more rights. My question is simple: why not?

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Americas Mon, 01 Dec 2014 11:01:45 +0000
US lauds Israel's colonial violence within a compromised human rights framework General Martin DempseyReports in The Times of Israel and Haaretz have once again covered the narrative relating to Operation Protective Edge, this time by US Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey. Speaking at a forum organised by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dempsey reiterated Israel's propaganda disseminated tirelessly by the mainstream media.

"I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties," said Dempsey. "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticised for civilian casualties." A report on Reuters also stated that Israel's methods of allegedly "protecting civilians" were the subject of a visit by a US team organised by the Pentagon, "to see what lessons could be learned from the operation."

While the rhetoric is by no means innovative, the language used provides insights into the expansion of colonial and imperialist dominance through applying a constant reinvention of fabricated enmity attributed to nations and people who resist against the theft of their land. Apart from strengthening the hegemonic narrative, the strategy also attempts to placate passive disagreement with the violence and aggression carried out by Israel reminiscent of the manner in which international institutions and governments worldwide sought to enforce alienation during the colonial massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Dempsey's discourse exhibits the process of alienation that is disseminated at a global level through various sources, in particular through statements that should be subjected to scrutiny against historical facts rather than left to interpretation. "The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel."

The statement reflects not only the narrative exhausted by Israel and its allies, but also the impressions disseminated by the mainstream media in the quest to influence and manipulate public opinion by playing upon displaced sentiment and vestiges of patriotism. Within the context of Protective Edge, both sentiment and patriotism were applied by the IDF through visual propaganda that attempted to project its alleged defensive nature simulated within popular geographical locations, irrespective of both the unique oppression characterising Gaza as well as the reality of colonial expansion. Far from the fictional deterrence promoted by Israel and its allies, including Dempsey, Protective Edge was an exercise in dehumanisation and extermination, exacerbated by the willingness of the compromised international community and the UN to uphold Israel's "right to defend itself".

Primarily, the rhetoric is characterised by the absence of historical and current context. Throughout the massacre, the prevailing trend was to enforce permanent disassociation from Israel's colonisation process in Palestine, resulting in further isolation of Gaza as the enclave struggled with immense destruction and premeditated massacres. Hence, Dempsey's claim that the IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties was reduced to a temporary phenomenon that reinforced two particular manipulations of facts: the continuation of the Nakba as a process of violent colonisation, as well as the necessity of accelerating the slow extermination of Palestinians in Gaza as the means of reinforcing Israel's colonial presence.

References to intimidating tactics such as "roof-knocking" and the dropping of leaflets asking Palestinians to evacuate their houses prior to aerial bombardment were listed by Dempsey as attempts to "protect civilians", allegedly and presumably valid enough reasons for the Pentagon to send a delegation tasked with learning, including "the measures [the IDF] took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunnelling." Rather than military rhetoric, the statement is a recapitulation of what was asserted regularly through media outlets in order to consolidate alienation from the reality of colonial atrocities.

It is through such statements that interpretation is encouraged to replace rigorous analysis, in order to eliminate one important factor through the reinforcement of contradictions. Implicit within the statement is a declaration of perpetual aggression on behalf of the US and Israel within the context of imperial domination in the Middle East. The concept of Greater Israel is thus eliminated, divesting Zionism of its ultimate aim of implementing its ideological concepts, a process which is facilitated through the subjugation of Palestinian leaders. The initial resistance, articulated through the formal charters of Palestinian factions, insisted upon the liberation of Palestine from defined aggressors, thus conceptualising a coherent perspective of oppression from various sources contributing to the strength of colonial and imperial dominance. This stance has mellowed throughout the decades into a general acceptance of diplomatic concessions that fragmented Palestine beyond recognition.

In the absence of Palestinian resistance strategy, Dempsey's comments, as well as the narrative endorsed by international organisations such as the UN, will continue to hold sway within political discourse. While human rights organisations like Amnesty International have criticised Israel's allegedly humanitarian tactics, implications with regard to the human rights agenda as an inherent component in imperialism can render objections into a collaborative effort in strengthening Palestinian oblivion. Human rights groups have also relied upon neutrality as the foundation upon which findings are later discussed, thus providing a false premise that equates the oppressor with the oppressed, a characteristic of imperialist discourse and one that was evident in reports that attempted to portray Palestinian armed struggle as an aggression that justified Israel's colonial massacre "in self-defence".

Within a wider context, therefore, Dempsey's comments add to the enforced oblivion as a process that impacts on Palestinians negatively, especially considering the fact that their leaders have assimilated to the hegemonic narrative. As the distinction between the colonised and the coloniser becomes even more blurred, the concept of human rights violations within the international framework is rendered obsolete, with those entities which, allegedly, support investigations into atrocities blatantly pledging their allegiance to the perpetrators, in accord with the dominant imperialist interpretation of international law. For Palestine, the consequences are colossal, with the retention of memory being challenged geo-physically by settler-colonial expansion supported by Zionist and imperialist influence. The established contradiction influencing human rights violations, namely the entrusting of responsibility with regard to human rights to confirmed perpetrators establishes a dynamic that ultimately requires the absolute relinquishing of Palestinian armed resistance.

]]> (Ramona Wadi) Americas Sun, 09 Nov 2014 15:17:20 +0000
US exceptionalism makes it a poor choice as world leader With a growing list of US military interventions around the world, and their accompanying human rights abuses including the ongoing shame of Guantanamo Bay in the background, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable candidate as the leader of the free world than the American president. Indeed, as American hegemony is imposed on the rest of us with increasing frequency, the term "free world" itself has to be called into question. How can the people of the world be "free" when America takes upon itself the "right" to dictate how countries are governed and by whom? Equally, how can the people of America believe that their country is a force for good when it often destroys democracy, using very undemocratic means, in the name of protecting democratic freedoms? The refusal to accept democratic election results in Palestine and Egypt spring to mind as two recent examples.

According to Seumas Milne in the Guardian, "The Middle East is now in an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis. More than any other single factor, that is the product of continual US and western intervention and support for dictatorships, both before and after the 'Arab spring', unconstrained by any system of international power or law." The key word is towards the end of that paragraph. America's "unconstrained" interventions around the world, particularly in the Middle East, take place beyond the scope of the international laws and conventions by which the rest of the world are judged and expected to abide. Far from making the United States an aspirational model for other countries, this in fact makes it a poor choice to be world leader in anything, least of all international politics.

The doctrine of exceptionalism as practised by the US has its roots in its days as a British colony, which fed into the belief that the culture and very nature of the nascent state had unique qualities. Despite the apparent lack of imperial ambitions (in stark contrast to European states), this was supposed to make it able to rule foreigners "benignly". Hence, it soon acquired a number of colonial possessions in the likes of Puerto Rico and Hawaii, among others.

In the modern era, US exceptionalism is manifested in a number of ways; for example, its refusal to allow UN inspections of its America's massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. This policy has been adopted by Israel, despite the General Assembly approving a resolution in 2012 calling on the government in Tel Aviv "to open its nuclear programme for inspection". As usual, the United States was one of six member states voting against the resolution, the others being Israel itself, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. The latter three are so dependent on US aid that their votes against UN resolutions which require Israel to comply with international norms are virtually guaranteed. Canada, of course, has an extremely pro-Israel, right-wing government and is far from the immigrant-friendly state that its own myth making would have us believe. Like his predecessors, US President Barack Obama is blind to Israel's nuclear hypocrisy, which has been called "the elephant in the room", not without reason.

Infamously, the US government has refused to ratify the Rome Statute which founded the International Criminal Court, even though it is a signatory. To do so would oblige American citizens to be subject to international law and open to prosecution for human rights abuses. In refusing to allow its people and, tellingly, its soldiers, to be judged by international standards, America stands alongside Sudan and, surprise, surprise, Israel. The ICC is pursuing the president of Sudan, which has never claimed to be a democratic state in any case, so its own claim to exceptionalism is at least understandable, if not acceptable. The US and Israel, however, both claim democratic status; in fact, this is used to justify any number of undemocratic activities, including alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the US and Israeli governments make every effort not to be judged by international standards. Hypocritically, they often proclaim to be setting democratic norms, which is transparently nonsensical, as is the argument that Israel is held to different standards to other rogue states. This is trotted out regularly by pro-Israel lobbyists seeking to divert world attention from Tel Aviv's ongoing abuse of international laws and conventions, crimes against the people of Palestine and apparent immunity from accountability. Most recently, this was cited by British actress Maureen Lipman as one reason for her not to vote Labour at the next election; party leader Ed Miliband's support for recognition of the state of Palestine is, she claimed, support for a "ludicrous piece of propaganda". She threw in the "anti-Semitism" argument for good measure.

For those of us who believe that international law should be upheld regardless of who breaches its tenets, US hegemony over world affairs, and Israeli influence over US foreign policy (about which see The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by Professors John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt) should be a cause for serious concern. Not only has America no right to claim even a modicum of neutrality as a broker in the so-called peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it has no right to claim that it is policing the world for the good of everyone else.

America, it must be understood, does nothing unless it is deemed to be in its own interests, which have a nasty habit of matching those of its politicians, often to their benefit. The exception could arguably be its no-questions-asked backing of Israel, but broadly-speaking the rule is that US interests take priority. Such a selfish approach is illustrated by the world oil market. Although not a member of OPEC, the United States has major oil reserves and last week it was claimed that it was holding too much in storage; it is "on track" to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer. Which begs the question, why have successive governments in Washington, influenced heavily by neoconservative ideology, gone to war in order to "protect" oil supplies from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? The answer, of course, are those ubiquitous "US interests" and the fact that exceptionalism is a cornerstone of neocon ideology. Put bluntly, America wants to use oil from the rest of world and, when the sources dry up, as they must, it will have its own oil supplies to fall back on. As is said, very selfish, and that is another reason why it is totally unsuitable to be a role model for the rest of the world.

American, and Israeli, exceptionalism, therefore, is something that we should all question. Israel is not being subject to "one law" while others are judged by another; as a supposed democracy (the "only one in the Middle East", according to its supporters), Israel should be accountable for its actions, as should the United States. Only when international law is truly international in purpose and implementation can we ever expect justice to prevail for all people and all nation states. Until that time, US hegemony should be interpreted for what it is; a practical exposition of the doctrine that "might is right", which is anything but a force for good in an increasingly dangerous world.

]]> (Ibrahim Hewitt) Americas Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:30:41 +0000
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