Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kenneth O’Keefe on BBC’s Hardtalk, talks about Gaza Aid Flotilla Attack

Kenneth O’Keefe talks about the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara which killed 9 humanitarian activists. See a previous post on this issue, here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mineral riches and the future of Afghanistan

Stories about the existence of such mineral resources in both Afghanistan and Pakistan were in circulation for quite sometime. They have been cited as one of the main reasons why imperial powers are so interested in this region. Learning from other cases, the future of Afghanistan might not be very different from what is described in the following clip by John Perkins.

Economic Hitmen

[Update June 14, 2010: Paul Jay argues that the US knew about mineral riches at least from 2007. He writes:

One did not need to read an "internal Pentagon memo" to find about the discovery. Just visit the public website of the U.S. Geological Survey and read the press release "Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan Released: 11/13/2007 10:00:00 AM"...

In an interview with USGS's Stephen Peters published at the same time on the same site, Peters says there are
"Known deposits of asbestos, mercury, lead, zinc, fluorspar, bauxite, beryllium, and lithium."

In the NYT story, this is all presented as a recent and pleasant surprise to the Afghan government. According to the NYT, after the USGS survey was completed in 2006 and '07, "the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments."

The problem is the USGS results were announced in 2007 at the 3rd annual U.S.-Afghan Business Matchmaking Conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

The press release from the USGS included a quote from Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, who said at the time "Afghanistan's natural resources have a quality comparable to the highest-class minerals of the entire region."

Why the story broke in the NYT on Sunday could be linked to a desire by the Pentagon to create a reason why U.S. troops might want to stick around in Afghanistan for some time to come. Things are not going very well on the ground and the promise of vast mineral riches would sound enticing.

The Times story includes a quote from Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command who says, "There is stunning potential here."

The serious question is, Did the knowledge of these massive mineral deposits affect President Obama's decision to increase troop levels and widen the scale of operations in Afghanistan? Are Canada, the UK and other NATO countries aware of the USGS report?

Has securing this mineral bonanza become the real US/NATO mission in the region?]

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
By James Risen, NYTimes, June 13, 2010


WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”


The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.”

Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

For the geologists who are now scouring some of the most remote stretches of Afghanistan to complete the technical studies necessary before the international bidding process is begun, there is a growing sense that they are in the midst of one of the great discoveries of their careers.

“On the ground, it’s very, very, promising,” Mr. Medlin said. “Actually, it’s pretty amazing.”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas - Paying the Price for Daring to Speak Out

In Defense of Helen Thomas -- On Apologizing to Apologists
Paul Jay, HuffingtonPost, June 7, 2010

"Helen Thomas was the dean of the White House Press corp. She has a fifty-year history of tough-minded journalism and is one of the very, very few journalists in the mainstream press who has had the guts to question US policy towards Israel. On Monday she was pressured into resigning, "effective immediately".

On Friday she was asked by a guy who stuck a video camera in her face for any comments on Israel and she said, "Tell them to get the get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people [the Palestinians] are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland." She was asked where they should go and she answered, "They should go home, to Poland, Germany and America". The video has been making its way around the Internet.

This was said days after the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla that killed at least nine activists as their boat sailed in international waters.

She later apologized in a short statement on her website "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Her apology was not enough to stop calls for her head from those who have wanted to shut Thomas up for years."


"At any rate, we all know what's going on here. The hyper-pro-Israel lobby, in both parties, hasn't much liked the fact that Helen Thomas dares to speak up and question that most sacred of topics, and right from the front row of the White House Press Gallery. Heck, she had the gall to ask President Obama about Israel's "secret" nuclear weapons. She even asked the current White House spokesman why the US had not condemned the Israeli attacks on the aid flotilla. No wonder they want her the hell out.

Do I think all Jews (that came after 1948) should get out of Palestine? Well, no more or less than Europeans should get out of North America, or the Portuguese should get out of Brazil, or the British should get the hell out of Australia. There does come a point where such things are simply not possible.

There's really no need anyway, there's plenty of land and resources. The only issue is, are the rights of the people who owned the land before colonization going to be respected now; is there proper compensation; do they have the right to self-determination and so on.

In the case of the Palestinians, what Israel needs to do has been made very clear in UN resolutions and in the demands of the Palestinians. In spite of the illegal blockade of Gaza, almost no one, including the Hamas representative I interviewed a few weeks ago, says the Jews have to get out. Ok there are some that say it, people get very angry after 62 years in a refugee camp, but what most Palestinians want is to live as equals with Jews in a truly democratic state.

It's way past time that we can discuss Israel and Palestine without the McCarthyite witch hunt atmosphere that has ruled for sixty years.

I said in my last blog, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism - but some is.

Helen Thomas' isn't.

You can watch my interviews with Helen Thomas here."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gaza Aid Flotilla: Media tries to define good vs. bad activists

Consider the following two excerpts. See a related IS post here. My further comments at the bottom.

When did resistance become a dirty word?
PulseMedia, June 6, 2010

"It’s time we stopped playing this game. To recognise Israel’s ‘right’ to exist in security is to deny Palestine’s right to exist in security. No state which occupies other states’ territories has a right to security. Did Hitler’s Germany have a right to security once it had invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland? And apartheid states don’t have a right to exist at all. There’s nothing anti-Semitic about this, just as there was nothing anti-white or anti-Afrikaaner in arguing that apartheid South Africa didn’t have a right to exist. A state established by massive ethnic cleansing and perpetuated by occupation and repeated massacres is not a normal state like any other. Israel will earn its right to exist when it allows the refugees to return home and when Jews, Muslims and Christians enjoy equal rights."

"As for the brave passengers on the MV Rachel Corrie, I wish they had not said, “we will not resist.” I wish they had said, “We are unarmed and we have no desire to come to blows with Israeli soldiers. However, if we are hijacked by armed men in international waters or near the shore of Gaza – over which we do not recognise Israeli jurisdiction – we will resist as best we are able.” Unwittingly, the activists handed Israel ammunition for its propaganda – ‘when civilised, peaceful activists arrive we deal with them peacefully. When mad Islamist Turks attack us with sticks when we board their ship, we have no choice but to shoot them many times at close range in the back of the head.’

The passengers on the Mavi Marmara should be congratulated for resisting piracy and the illegal, barbaric siege. We should never be ashamed of resistance – in occupied Europe, in South Africa, in Iraq, in Vietnam, in Palestine, in Lebanon, or on the Mediterranean sea. Resistance is beautiful. Resistance proves the existence of the human spirit amid a vast sea of inhumanity."

I had a similar first reaction at the brave people on the Rachel Corrie (who were in fact involved in an act of 'resistance' but who chose their rhetoric unwisely. See here). But I also think that the wrong play of rhetoric was more a result of media twist, which de-emphasized the context of Israeli aggression and shifted the focus on the use of aggressive ("bad") vs. non-aggressive ("good") forms of resistance. It is a distraction to get into that debate in this case. I was very disappointed when I read the following story on Dawn. Pathetic, wherever they copied that story from. Pathetic, that they did not bother to read the underlying framing of Good vs. Bad Activists. Notice also the use of the verb "board" which dilutes the nature of Israeli aggression; it was an act of PIRACY and violation of international laws, to say the least, considering that the ships were in international waters.

Israeli forces board Gaza-bound aid vessel
Dawn, June 5, 2010

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces seized a Gaza-bound aid vessel without meeting resistance on Saturday, preventing it from breaking an Israeli maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory days after a similar effort turned bloody.

The military said its forces boarded the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie cargo ship from the sea, not helicopters.

The takeover stood in marked contrast to a violent confrontation at sea earlier this week when Israeli commandos blocked a Turkish aid vessel trying to break the blockade. At the time, Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters and a clash with passengers left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich says Saturday's takeover took only a few minutes and that the vessel was being taken to Israel's Ashdod port.

The Irish ship - named for an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza - was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

The standoff has raised international pressure on Israel to lift the three-year-old blockade that has plunged the territory's 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty.

Activists on board the boat, including Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan, had said they wouldn't resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel.

This latest attempt to breach the blockade differs significantly from the flotilla the Israeli troops intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American after being set upon by a group of activists.

Nearly 700 activists had joined that operation, most of them aboard the lead boat from Turkey that was the scene of the violence.

That boat, the Mavi Marmara, was sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas. The group is not on the US State Department list of terror organizations, however.

By contrast, the Rachel Corrie was carrying just 11 passengers from Ireland and Malaysia, whose effort was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence. Nine crew were also on board.

Amnesty Intl: 'US cluster bombs killed 55 in Yemen'

'US cluster bombs killed 55 in Yemen'
PressTV, June 6, 2010

Amnesty International says the United States used cluster bombs on a cruise missile in Yemen, killing 55 people, most of whom were civilians.

The attack, according to the rights group, targeted Al-Maajala in the Abyan province at a time when Washington was pushing hard to project militants in the country.

"Amnesty International is gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been used in Yemen," said Mike Lewis, the group's arms control researcher, AFP reported.

The group cited a Yemeni parliamentary committee as reporting in February that the attack had killed 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children, in addition to 14 alleged militants.

Deputy Director of AI's Middle East and North Africa Program, Philip Luther warned that "a military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful."

"The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions," he also said.

Lewis said, "Cluster munitions have indiscriminate effects and unexploded bomblets threaten lives and livelihoods for years afterwards."

AI had obtained photographs which showed remains of the BGM-109D Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile. "This type of missile, launched from a warship or submarine, is designed to carry a payload of 166 cluster sub-munitions (bomblets) which each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries up to 150 meters (about 500 feet) away," an AI statement said.

"An incendiary material inside the bomblet also spreads fragments of burning zirconium designed to set fire to nearby flammable objects," it added.

Gaza in Plain Language - Joe Mowrey

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gaza Aid Flotilla Attack - News and Analysis

Glenn Greenwald - How Israeli propaganda shaped U.S. media coverage of the flotilla attack -, Jun 4, 2010

Paul McGeough's eyewitness report - 'Prayers, tear gas and terror' -, Jun 4, 2010

Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah calls for continuing Gaza aid flotilla-s - Press TV - Jun 4, 2010

Anna Baltzer's eyewitness report - 'A people united will not fall' - AnnaInPalestine blog, Jun 2, 2010

Juan Cole's analysis on UNSC condemnation of Israel, Gaza Blockade - Informed Comment, Jun 1, 2010

Norman Finkelstein speaks on Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla - RussiaToday - May 31, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guardian: Gaza - from blockade to bloodshed

See also, Norman Finkelstein's comments on the Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla.

Gaza: From blockade to bloodshed
Editorial, Guardian, June 1, 2010

Nothing has done more to establish Israel's status as a pariah state among its neighbours than the actions of its armed forces

If an armed group of Somali pirates had yesterday boarded six vessels on the high seas, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring many more, a Nato taskforce would today be heading for the Somali coast. What happened yesterday in international waters off the coast of Gaza was the work of Israeli commandos, not pirates, and no Nato warships will in fact be heading for Israel. Perhaps they should be.

Nothing has done more to establish Israel's status as a pariah state among its neighbours than the actions of its armed forces. Israel's navy said it met with "pre-planned violence" when it boarded the ships and opened fire in the middle of the night. Their intention was to conduct a mass arrest, but the responsibility for the bloodshed was entirely theirs. Having placed themselves in a situation where they lost control and provoked a riot, the Israeli navy said they were forced to open fire to avoid being lynched. What did the commandos expect pro-Palestinian activists to do once they boarded the ships – invite them aboard for a cup of tea with the captain on the bridge? One of those shot and severely wounded was a Greek captain, who refused medical aid in Israel and demanded to be flown back to Greece. Presumably he, too, was threatening the lives of Israeli naval commandos.

There was nothing on board those ships that constituted a threat to Israel's security, so Binyamin Netanyahu's argument that his troops were acting in self-defence has no validity. They should not have been there in the first place. The convoy was carrying construction materials, electric wheelchairs and water purifiers for Gaza's people. This was recognised by the Israeli navy, who said in a statement that it had offered to transfer the aid by land to Gaza. Four years into a blockade mounted ostensibly to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the enclave, this claim, too, is utterly specious. Two years of pressure from Washington failed to persuade Israel to let these construction materials in, for the benefit of the 5,000 families still in tents after the ruin wreaked by Operation Cast Lead. If Israel was so obdurate to the entreaties of its ally, why would it now acquiesce in the demands of its enemies? The fact is that Israel has used its blockade not only to prevent Hamas from rearming, but also to impose collective punishment – as a boot which it applied to the Palestinian throat. This pressure on the jugular has the opposite of its intended effect. Defiance has only grown in Gaza, and the Islamic resistance movement is reaping the benefits – as any Fatah man will admit.

In one operation Israel has destroyed whatever hold it had over the international community on Gaza. It is not simply the fury that it has created in Turkey, which will only grow as the bodies of its dead are buried. Egypt too is complicit, because its government has sealed the southern border of the Gaza strip. It has done so amid mounting popular opposition, and as a nervy transfer of power in Cairo is about to take place. The Egyptian government will not welcome the intense embarrassment that Israel has caused it. There were many calls yesterday for the siege to be lifted, notably from Britain's new foreign secretary William Hague. After what Nick Clegg, his coalition partner wrote in this newspaper about Gaza last year, he could hardly do otherwise. But as Mr Clegg said, it is action, not words, that counts now.

The blockade should end, but that will only be the start of the U-turn which is now required. Closely allied to Gaza's physical isolation is its political one. The international consensus is also crumbling on isolating Hamas by insisting it recognise Israel before it is allowed to join a national unity government with Fatah. Russia broke the taboo first two week ago when its president, Dmitry Medvedev, met Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, but other countries in Europe are now planning to follow suit. Brick by brick, this policy is coming apart, and in a strange way Israel is helping.

Finkelstein speaks on Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla

In a previous IS post, I wrote:

Since its pre-emptive war of 1967, Israel had maintained an aura of "invincibility" and "legitimacy". The first got bitterly crushed in the Summer of 2006 and later in the 2008-9 aggression on Gaza (where Israel failed to neutralize the resistance). The crack in that aura began in 2000 when Israel was forced to withdraw from South Lebanon. As for legitimacy, for Israel it matters most of all in the US. Israel however paid a high price for its inhumane massacres in Lebanon and Gaza because it failed to achieve a clear and tangible victory in these military campaigns (the "birth pangs" of Condi Rice did not yield the desired outcomes which could have been used as justification for Israeli atrocities.) Especially during the Gaza massacre, Israel's image was severely damaged by graphic images and information that got disseminated over internet and through hundreds of protest gatherings in North America and Europe. Israel still had a tighter control on information flow in the corporate media...

Due to all of these developments, the entity of Israel is in a deep crisis right now, struggling to survive with whatever means it can, and it may resort to unrealistic steps, including another military warfare. However, what's becoming clearer with every passing day is that it probably won't take too long before this racist entity is finally dismantled like the Apartheid South Africa.