Saturday, November 26, 2011

Iran's nuclear threat: New revelations or change in IAEA's leadership?

Has IAEA found new evidence or discovered undisclosed sites in Iran recently that's fueling its growing concern over Iran's nuclear program, or is it the change in IAEA's leadership that explains the different attitude? The renowned journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker on Nov 18, 2011:

"The shift in tone at the I.A.E.A. seems linked to a change at the top. The I.A.E.A.’s report had extra weight because the Agency has had a reputation for years as a reliable arbiter on Iran. Mohammed ElBaradei, who retired as the I.A.E.A.’s Director General two years ago, was viewed internationally, although not always in Washington, as an honest broker—a view that lead to the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. ElBaradei’s replacement is Yukiya Amano of Japan. Late last year, a classified U.S. Embassy cable from Vienna, the site of the I.A.E.A. headquarters, described Amano as being “ready for prime time.” According to the cable, which was obtained by WikiLeaks, in a meeting in September, 2009, with Glyn Davies, the American permanent representative to the I.A.E.A., said, “Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the group of developing countries], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” The cable added that Amano’s “willingness to speak candidly with U.S. interlocutors on his strategy … bodes well for our future relationship.”"

See the full text here

On the topic, see a recent interview of Mohammad Javad Larijani with MSNBC here (20.49m)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The whoo-scary Iranian terror plot

Watching the US corporate media coverage of this Iranian terror plot is like watching "Wag the Dog" movie again - except that the enemy plot in the movie had less holes and was more convincing than the one in the present episode.

The “very scary” Iranian Terror plot
Glenn Greenwald
The most difficult challenge in writing about the Iranian Terror Plot unveiled yesterday is to take it seriously enough to analyze it. Iranian Muslims in the Quds Force sending marauding bands of Mexican drug cartel assassins onto sacred American soil to commit Terrorism — against Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel — is what Bill Kristol and John Bolton would feverishly dream up while dropping acid and madly cackling at the possibility that they could get someone to believe it. But since the U.S. Government rolled out its Most Serious Officials with Very Serious Faces to make these accusations, many people (therefore) do believe it; after all, U.S. government accusations = Truth. All Serious people know that. And in the ensuing reaction one finds virtually every dynamic typically shaping discussions of Terrorism and U.S. foreign policy.

Iranian Terror Plot: Fake, Fake, Fake
Justin Raimondo

News Media Hypes the “Iran Did It” Line, Ignores Holes in the Story
John Glaser

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's at stake in the PA's bid for statehood at UN

Below, see an insightful piece worth engaging.

Check out Massad's another excellent article on the topic: How surrendering Palestinian rights became the language of "peace"

For more on the two-state solution, see: How realistic is the two-state solution?


State of Recognition
Whether the UN grants the PA status as a state or refuses to do so, either outcome will be in Israel's interest.
Joseph Massad, 15 Sep 2011

What is at stake in Barack Obama's vehement refusal to recognise Palestine as a mini-state with a disfigured geography and no sovereignty, and his urging the world community not to recognise it while threatening the Palestinians with retribution? What is the relationship between Obama's refusal to recognise Palestine and his insistence on recognising Israel's right to be a "Jewish state" and his demand that the Palestinians and Arab countries follow suit?

It is important to stress at the outset that whether the UN grants the Palestinian Authority (PA) the government of a state under occupation and observer status as a state or refuses to do so, either outcome will be in the interest of Israel. For the only game in town has always been Israel's interests, and it is clear that whatever strategy garners international support, with or without US and Israeli approval, must guarantee Israeli interests a priori. The UN vote is a case in point.

Possible outcomes

Let us consider the two possible outcomes of the vote and how they will advance Israeli interests:

The ongoing Arab uprisings have raised Palestinian expectations about the necessity of ending the occupation and have challenged the modus vivendi the PA has with Israel. Furthermore, with the increase in Palestinian grass-roots activism to resist the Israeli occupation, the PA has decided to shift the Palestinian struggle from popular mobilisation it will not be able to control, and which it fears could topple it, to the international legal arena. The PA hopes that this shift from the popular to the juridical will demobilise Palestinian political energies and displace them onto an arena that is less threatening to the survival of the PA itself.

The PA feels abandoned by the US which assigned it the role of collaborator with the Israeli occupation, and feels frozen in a "peace process" that does not seek an end goal. PA politicians opted for the UN vote to force the hand of the Americans and the Israelis, in the hope that a positive vote will grant the PA more political power and leverage to maximise its domination of the West Bank (but not East Jerusalem or Gaza, which neither Israel nor Hamas respectively are willing to concede to the PA). Were the UN to grant the PA its wish and admit it as a member state with observer status, then, the PA argues, it would be able to force Israel in international fora to cease its violations of the UN charter, the Geneva Conventions, and numerous international agreements. The PA could then challenge Israel internationally using legal instruments only available to member states to force it to grant it "independence". What worries the Israelis most is that, were Palestine to become a member state, it would be able to legally challenge Israel.

This presumed addition of power the Palestinians will gain to bring Israel to justice will actually be carried out at enormous cost to the Palestinian people. If the UN votes for the PA statehood status, this would have several immediate implications:This logic is faulty, though, because the Palestinians have not historically lacked legal instruments to challenge Israel. On the contrary, international instruments have been activated against Israel since 1948 by the UN's numerous resolutions in the General Assembly as well as in the Security Council, not to mention the more recent use of the International Court of Justice in the case of the Apartheid Wall. The problem has never been the Palestinians' ability or inability to marshal international law or legal instruments to their side. Instead, the problem is that the US blocks international law's jurisdiction from being applied to Israel through its veto power. The US uses threats and protective measures to shield the recalcitrant pariah state from being brought to justice. It has already used its veto power in the UN Security Council 41 times in defense of Israel and against Palestinian rights. How this would change if the PA became a UN member state with observer status is not clear.

True, the PA could bring more international legal pressure and sanctions to bear on Israel. It could have international bodies adjudicate Israel's violations of the rights of the Palestinian state. The PA could even make the international mobility of Israeli politicians more perilous as "war criminals". This would render Israel's international relations more difficult, but how would this ultimately weaken an Israel that the US would shield completely from such effects as it has always done?

Implications of the UN vote

(1) The PLO will cease to represent the Palestinian people at the UN, and the PA will replace it as their presumed state.

(2) The PLO, which represents all Palestinians (about 12 million people in historic Palestine and in the diaspora), and was recognised as their "sole" representative at the UN in 1974, will be truncated to the PA, which represents only West Bank Palestinians (about 2 million people). Incidentally this was the vision presented by the infamous "Geneva Accords" that went nowhere.

(3) It will politically weaken Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes and be compensated, as stipulated in UN resolutions. The PA does not represent the refugees, even though it claims to represent their "hopes" of establishing a Palestinian state at their expense. Indeed, some international legal experts fear it could even abrogate the Palestinians' right of return altogether. It will also forfeit the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel who face institutional and legal racism in the Israeli state, as it presents them with a fait accompli of the existence of a Palestinian state (its phantasmatic nature notwithstanding). This will only give credence to Israeli claims that the Jews have a state and the Palestinians now have one too and if Palestinian citizens of Israel were unhappy, or even if they were happy, with their third-class status in Israel, they should move or can be forced to move to the Palestinian state at any rate.

(4) Israel could ostensibly come around soon after a UN vote in favour of Palestinian statehood and inform the PA that the territories it now controls (a small fraction of the West Bank) is all the territory Israel will concede and that this will be the territorial basis of the PA state. The Israelis do not tire of reminding the PA that the Palestinians will not have sovereignty, an army, control of their borders, control of their water resources, control over the number of refugees it could allow back, or even jurisdiction over Jewish colonial settlers. Indeed, the Israelis have already obtained UN assurances about their right to "defend" themselves and to preserve their security with whatever means they think are necessary to achieve these goals. In short, the PA will have the exact same Bantustan state that Israel and the US have been promising to grant it for two decades!

(5) The US and Israel could also, through their many allies, inject a language of "compromise" in the projected UN recognition of the PA state, stipulating that such a state must exist peacefully side by side with the "Jewish State" of Israel. This would in turn exact a precious UN recognition of Israel's "right" to be a Jewish state, which the UN and the international community, the US excepted, have refused to recognize thus far. This will directly link the UN recognition of a phantasmatic non-existent Palestinian state to UN recognition of an actually existing state of Israel that discriminates legally and institutionally against non-Jews as a "Jewish state".

(6) The US and Israel will insist after a positive vote that, while the PA is right to make certain political demands as a member state, it would have to abrogate its recent reconciliation agreement with Hamas. Additionally, sanctions could befall the PA state itself for associating with Hamas, which the US and Israel consider a terrorist group. The US Congress has already threatened to punish the PA and will not hesitate to urge the Obama administration to add Palestine to its list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" along with Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

All of these six outcomes will advance Israeli interests immeasurably, while the only inconvenience to Israel would be the ability of the PA to demand that international law and legal jurisdiction be applied to Israel so as to exact more concessions from that country. However, at every turn the US will block and will shield Israel from its effects. In short, Israeli interests will be maximised at the cost of some serious but not detrimental inconvenience.

The second possible outcome, a US veto, and/or the ability of the US to pressure and twist the arms of tens of countries around the world to reject the bid of the PA in the General Assembly, resulting in failure to recognise PA statehood, will also be to the benefit of Israel. The unending "peace process" will continue with more stringent conditions and an angry US, upset at the PA challenge, will go back to exactly where the PA is today, if not to a weaker position. President Obama and future US administrations will continue to push for PA and Arab recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state" that has the right to discriminate by law against non-Jews in exchange for an ever-deferred recognition of a Palestinian Bantustan as an "economically viable" Palestinian state - a place where Palestinian neoliberal businessmen can make profits off international aid and investment.

Either outcome will keep the Palestinian people colonised, discriminated against, oppressed, and exiled. This entire brouhaha over the UN vote is ultimately about which of the two scenarios is better for Israeli interests. The Palestinian people and their interests are not even part of this equation.

The question on the table before the UN, then, is not whether the UN should recognise the right of the Palestinian people to a state in accordance with the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which would grant them 45 per cent of historic Palestine, nor of a Palestinian state within the June 5, 1967 borders along the Green Line, which would grant them 22 per cent of historic Palestine. A UN recognition ultimately means the negation of the rights of the majority of the Palestinian people in Israel, in the diaspora, in East Jerusalem, and even in Gaza, and the recognition of the rights of some West Bank Palestinians to a Bantustan on a fraction of West Bank territory amounting to less than 10 per cent of historic Palestine. Israel will be celebrating either outcome.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bahraini poet tortured and sentenced to one year in prison

Update: July 14, 2011

Bahraini regime releases Ayat Al-Qormezi, but does not revoke sentence

Video: Ayat al-Qormezi in a cheering crowd after the release


The Bahraini regime recently appointed Khalifa Al Dhahrani as the head of the national dialogue - the same Dhahrani who is said to be responsible for the sham investigations against many prominent political figures sympathetic to the opposition. The appointment followed the Bahraini crown prince's visit to Washington just a few days ago. This should be an eye opener to anyone still deluded by the rhetoric of reforms by the regime or the Obama administration. Meanwhile, the regime has continued its brutal suppression against the non-violent protesters using the weapons that were sold by U.S. companies with the approval of the U.S. government.

Just yesterday, the regime's military court sentenced the brave poet, Ayat Al Qormezi, to one year in prison.

Ayat Al-Qormezi, a 20-year-old poet and trainee at the Faculty of Teachers in Bahrain was arrested two months ago for reading out a passionate poem at a freedom rally.

"We are the people who kill humiliation and assassinate misery," she told a massive crowd of protesters in the famous Pearl Square in February. "We are the people who use peace to destroy the foundation of injustice."

Addressing Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa directly, she said: "Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams?"

Toward the end of her poem, she prayed: “The Sunni and Shia are brothers. God care for them all!”

As she finished, the crowd shouted: "Down with Hamad!"

A few days later the Bahraini security forces raided her house, but did not find her. She was forced to give herself up when the forces threatened to kill her four brothers one by one in front of her parents.

Ayat has not been by her family since then. She did speak to her mother once on the phone. “During her detention she was whipped across the face with electric cable, held for nine days in a tiny cell with the temperature near freezing, and was forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands.” (The Independent, June 11 and 13, 2011). Later, it was found out that she was in a military hospital due to injuries from the torture.

On June 12, she was sentenced to one year in prison.

According to The Independent, “The details of her interrogation and imprisonment are similar to the experiences of other women detained by Bahraini security forces since they launched a full scale repression on 15 March…” (June 11, 2011)

Moreover, despite the lifting of martial law on June 1, 'some 600 people are still detained, at least 2,000 have been sacked, and more than 27 mosques have been bulldozed.' (June 2, 2011)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Western guns and training used to crush the Arab spring

The NYTimes deserves credit for rigorously and scathingly going after the private security firm, Blackwater, and its founder, Erik Prince, in the last few years. The latest has been its reporting of a 800-member foreign militia that Erik Prince is building for the UAE:

Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder (NYTimes, May 14, 2011)

I wish that the NYTimes had similarly scrutinized the military training and arms sales done under the official stamp of the US government and Congress. The US logistical support, troops training, and counter-insurgency equipments have facilitated far too many dictatorial regimes in their attempts to suppress the legitimate concerns of their people.

US Congress notified over $60bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia (The Guardian, October 21, 2010)

Also See: U.S. Arms Sales Agreements with the Middle East, 1999-2006 (Statistics)

Further, the NYTimes could also cover similar support given by other so-called pro-democratic, western countries to dictatorial regimes around the world. For instance,

UK training Saudi forces used to crush Arab spring (The Guardian, May 28, 2011)

Friday, May 27, 2011

The early beginnings of the Afghan War

Below, see a well-known and important article from The Nation that sets the record straight on how the 'Afghan war' started.

The American provocation may be true, but it is also true that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was part of the larger Soviet ambition of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The Soviet-US politics should be viewed in the context of ongoing 'Cold War' which began long before the 1979 provocations and invasion.

On a critical note: The article seems to rely on the (false) assumption that 9/11 as well as Al-Qaeda were products (or 'blowback') of the Afghan war. Quite the contrary, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are separate entities with different geographic origins, leadership, and goals. They may have developed connections, but they (or some of their factions) also have been at odds with each other in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

'Blowback,' the Prequel
Eric Alterman, The Nation, October 25, 2001

The story of what historians call the second cold war often begins with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, which shocked Americans into their own overreaction in Central America and Africa, as well as into arming the mujahedeen resistance. Today, it is a truth universally acknowledged in the punditocracy that while the United States may have played an indirect role in the creation of the Taliban and perhaps even the bin Laden terrorist network through our support for the radical Islamic guerrillas in Afghanistan, we did so only in response to that act of Soviet aggression. As Tim Russert explained on Meet the Press, "We had little choice." Speaking on CNN, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Peter Tomsen speaks of our "successful policy with the ordnance we sent to the mujahedeen to defeat the Soviets." Writing on "The 'Blowback' Myth" in The Weekly Standard, one Thomas Henriksen of the Hoover Institution rehearses the Soviet invasion and then notes, "First President Carter, then, more decisively, Ronald Reagan moved to support the Afghan resistance."

The truth is that the United States began a program of covert aid to the Afghan guerrillas six months before the Soviets invaded.

First revealed by former Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates in his 1996 memoir From the Shadows, the $500 million in nonlethal aid was designed to counter the billions the Soviets were pouring into the puppet regime they had installed in Kabul. Some on the American side were willing--perhaps even eager--to lure the Soviets into a Vietnam-like entanglement. Others viewed the program as a way of destabilizing the puppet government and countering the Soviets, whose undeniable aggression in the area was helping to reheat the cold war to a dangerous boil.

According to Gates's recounting, a key meeting took place on March 30, 1979. Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe wondered aloud whether "there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, 'sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.'" Arnold Horelick, CIA Soviet expert, warned that this was just what we could expect. In a 1998 conversation with Le Nouvel Observateur, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted, "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would."

Yet Carter, who signed the finding authorizing the covert program on July 3, 1979, today explains that it was definitely "not my intention" to inspire a Soviet invasion. Cyrus Vance, who was then Secretary of State, is not well enough to be interviewed, but his close aide Marshall Shulman insists that the State Department worked hard to dissuade the Soviets from invading and would never have undertaken a program to encourage it, though he says he was unaware of the covert program at the time. Indeed, Vance hardly seems to be represented at all in Gates's recounting, although Brzezinski doubts that Carter would have approved the aid unless Vance "approved, however unenthusiastically."

No one I interviewed--those who did not mind the idea of a Soviet invasion, and those who sought to avoid it--argues that Carter himself wished to provoke one. Gates, who was then an aide to Brzezinski, says the President did not think "strategically" in that fashion. "He was simply reacting to everything the Soviets were doing in that part of the world and felt it required some kind of response. This was it." Brzezinski, similarly, says he did not sell the plan to Carter on these terms. The President understood, he explained on the phone, that "the Soviets had engineered a Communist coup and they were providing direct assistance in Kabul. We were facing a serious crisis in Iran, and the entire Persian Gulf was at stake. In that context, giving some money to the mujahedeen seemed justified." Why Carter actually approved the aid remains unclear, however. Carter, it should be added, does not seem to remember much about the initial finding. Otherwise, he would not have asked his aide to fax me the pages from his memoir Keeping Faith, which ignores it entirely, and like the rest of the pre-Gates memoirs of the period, professes great shock and horror regarding the onset of the Soviet tanks.

The news of the covert program has provoked considerable confusion among those who seek to blame the United States for the September 11 massacre. Proponents of an overly schematic "blowback" scenario, including at least one vocal supporter of the Soviet "rape" of Afghanistan, have seized Brzezinski's comments to claim that Osama bin Laden is merely one of America's "chickens coming home to roost." This is both simplistic and obscene. Blowback exists in absolutely every aspect of life, because nothing comes without unintended consequences. Does it make sense to blame the destruction of the World Trade Center on a $500 million nonlethal aid program that took place more than twenty years ago? We cannot even know for certain why the Soviets decided on their invasion.

Nor can we ever know for certain whether the US officials wished to inspire one. Memories deceive, records get destroyed and even original documents can be written to be deliberately misleading, as were the period's official memoirs--save, ironically, that of Gates, the former spymaster. The covert action was undoubtedly approved by those involved for a host of reasons, some of which may be contradictory. Helping the Afghans resist Soviet domination was not exactly a controversial policy in 1979, though no one at the time could even dream that it might lead to the evil empire's eventual disintegration.

Brzezinski argues that even given the 20/20 hindsight after September 11, the covert aid remains justified. He shares the common view that America's most significant mistake was to abandon the nation to its unhappy fate following the Soviet withdrawal. Our terrorist problem, he insists, would be much worse with the Soviets still around to support their terrorist minions among the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Libyans, the Iraqis, etc.

Certainly this is much too kind to the Reagan-era military aid to Taliban-like elements. But a more accurate historical record can only lead to more intelligent debate about the future.

Views on Middle East Politics

A couple of noteworthy posts:

Revising the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War
by Heathlander (May 05, 2011)

Wikileaks, Al Jazeera, and the Qatari Public Diplomacy Challenge
by Lina Khatib (Dec 06, 2010)

Saudis scramble to preserve the reigonal status quo

A neat story from today's NYTimes is quoted below. I found the connection made with Nasser's Egypt at the end to be quite relevant. Particularly, it suggests that the logic of Saudi scramble is more than just an 'anti-Shia impulse'. It is the status quo that the Saudis seek to protect against any contenders, 'Shiite' or otherwise.

In Syria, I think that none of the major regional players wants the 'regime' (+/- Assad) to go and replaced by chaos (likely) or the 'extremist groups' (less likely). Though some do want to see the Syrian regime get weaker enough so it could not play the 'Ace' card it has usually played in regional politics, particularly in Lebanon.

For Yemen, the article's suggestion seems a bit off the mark. I think it is the replication of the 'Eygptian solution' that the Saudis (and GCC+US/Israel) seek in Yemen: Remove Mubarak, but make sure the 'regime' is in place; promote 'reforms' but make sure that only the 'good' guys from the opposition (and not just anyone from the opposition) come in power through the political process.

However, that solution hasn't worked for Egypt, yet. The protests are ongoing; the Egyptian foreign policy for Israel and Iran is changing; the MB has formed a new political party and seeks to contend in the upcoming elections. It is also unlikely that such a solution will work for Yemen. Chaos seems likely to occur if Saleh does not step down. The post-Saleh regime that the Saudis wish to build would also face protests and resistance. Any widely representative government in Yemen will probably build more cordial relations with Iran, undermining the monopolizing influence that the Saudis seek over its neighboring states.

On a related note, it's intriguing to see how the Qatar-based AlJazeera's coverage of Yemen increases when Saleh refuses to cooperate with the GCC and decreases when he makes cooperative gestures. When not in the 'ignore' mode for Bahrain, AlJazeera is subtly promoting a distinction of 'moderates' (the good guys) against those 'extremists' who want to topple the system of Sheikhdom altogether.

Saudi Arabia Scrambles to Limit Region’s Upheaval
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, NYTimes, May 27, 2011

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia is flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the Middle East in a wide-ranging bid to contain the tide of change, shield fellow monarchs from popular discontent and avert the overthrow of any more leaders struggling to calm turbulent republics.

From Egypt, where the Saudis dispensed $4 billion in aid last week to shore up the ruling military council, to Yemen, where it is trying to ease out the president, to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, which it has invited to join a union of Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia is scrambling to forestall more radical change and block Iran’s influence.

The kingdom is aggressively emphasizing the relative stability of monarchies, part of an effort block any dramatic shift from the authoritarian model, which would generate uncomfortable questions about the glacial pace of political and social change at home.

Saudi Arabia’s proposal to include Jordan and Morocco in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council — which authorized the Saudis to send in troops to block a largely Shiite Muslim rebellion in the Sunni Muslim monarchy of Bahrain — is intended to create a kind of “Club of Kings.” The idea is to signal Shiite Iran that the Sunni Arab monarchs will defend their interests, analysts said.

“We’re sending a message that monarchies are not where this is happening,” Prince Waleed bin Talal al-Saud, a businessman and high-profile member of the habitually reticent royal family, told The New York Times’s editorial board, referring to the unrest. “We are not trying to get our way by force, but to safeguard our interests.”

The range of the Saudi intervention is extraordinary as the unrest pushes Riyadh’s hand to forge what some commentators, in Egypt and elsewhere, brand a “counterrevolution.” Some Saudi and foreign analysts find the term too sweeping for the steps the Saudis have actually taken, though it appears unparalleled in the region.

“I am sure that the Saudis do not like this revolutionary wave — they were really scared,” said Khalid Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst and columnist. “But they are realistic here.”

In Egypt, where the revolution has already toppled a close Saudi ally in Hosni Mubarak, the Saudis are dispensing aid and mending ties in part to help head off a good showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Saudis worry that an empowered Muslim Brotherhood could damage Saudi legitimacy by presenting a model of Islamic law different from the Wahhabi tradition of an absolute monarch.

“If another model of Shariah says that you have to resist, this will create a deep difficulty,” said Abdulaziz Algasim, a Saudi lawyer.

Saudi officials are also concerned that Egypt’s foreign policy is shifting, with its outreach to the Islamist group Hamas and plans to restore ties with Iran. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, also retains a personal interest in protecting Mr. Mubarak, analysts believe.

The Arab Spring began to unravel an alliance of so-called moderate Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which were willing to work closely with the United States and promote peace with Israel. American support for the Arab uprisings also strained relations, prompting Saudi Arabia to split from Washington on some issues while questioning its longstanding reliance on the United States to protect its interests.

The strained Saudi posture toward Washington was outlined in a recent opinion piece by a Saudi writer in The Washington Post that suggested Riyadh was ready to go it alone because the United States had become an “unreliable partner.” But that seems at least partly a display of Saudi pique, since the oil-for-protection exchange that has defined relations between the two for the past six decades is unlikely to be replaced soon. Saudi Arabia is negotiating to buy $60 billion in advanced American weapons, and President Obama, in his speech last week demanding that Middle Eastern autocrats bow to popular demands for democracy, noticeably did not mention Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, sat prominently in the front row.

Saudi Arabia is taking each uprising in turn, without relying on a single blueprint. In Bahrain, it resorted to force, sending troops to crush a rebellion by Shiites because it feared the creation of a kind of Shiite Cuba only about 20 miles from some of its main oil fields, one sympathetic to, if not allied with, Iran. It has deployed diplomacy in other uprisings — and remained on the fence in still others. It is also spending money, pledging $20 billion to help stabilize Bahrain and Oman, which has also faced protests.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia joined the coalition seeking to ease out President Ali Abdullah Saleh because it thinks the opposition might prove a more reliable, less unruly southern neighbor. But Arab diplomats noted that even the smallest Saudi gestures provided Mr. Saleh with excuses to stay, since he interpreted them as support. This month, for example, the Saudis sent in tanker trucks to help abate a gasoline shortage.

On Syria, an initial statement of support by King Abdullah for President Bashar al-Assad has been followed by silence, along with occasional calls at Friday Prayer for God to support the protesters. That silence reflects a deep ambivalence, analysts said. The ruling Saudi family personally dislikes Mr. Assad — resenting his close ties with Iran and seeing Syria’s hand in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a Saudi ally. But they fear his overthrow will unleash sectarian violence without guaranteeing that Iranian influence will be diminished.

In Libya, after helping push through an Arab League request for international intervention, Saudi Arabia sat out and left its neighbors, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to join the military coalition supporting the rebels. It has so far kept its distance publicly from Tunisia as well, although it gave refuge to its ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

There are also suspicions that the kingdom is secretly providing money to extremist groups to hold back changes. Saudi officials deny that, although they concede private money may flow.

In 1952, after toppling the Egyptian king, Gamal Abdel Nasser worked to destabilize all monarchs, inspiring a regicide in Iraq and eventually the overthrow of King Idris of Libya. Saudi Arabia was locked in confrontation with Egypt throughout the 1960s, and it is determined not to relive that period.

“We are back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when the Saudis led the opposition to the revolutions at that time, the revolutions of Arabism,” said Mohammad F. al-Qahtani, a political activist in Riyadh.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Translating the US State Dept.'s position on the Egyptian Uprising

See this quite penetrating 'translation' of the US State Department's position on the ongoing Egyptian uprising.

The political equations in the Middle East are changing. Power vs. powerlessness, dignity vs. humiliation, sovereignty vs. occupation are the logics that primarily define the politics of the masses against their dictatorial status-quo regimes and foreign encroachments. This is the appropriate analytical lens to understand the politics in most parts of of the Middle East and not 'sectarian-feuds' so much.

Above: Anti-government protesters carry posters in English reading “USA, why you support dictator”, center, referring to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and in Arabic reading “Down Omar Suleiman, Israel’s man”, referring to the recently-named Egyptian Vice-President, with links to CIA, left, at the demonstration in Tahrir square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011. – AP Photo

Monday, January 17, 2011

Incompetence or Conspiracy in Iraq?

In deliberating on the outcomes of Washington's misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, a strategy of analysis that many Washington pundits use is to prefer 'incompetence' over 'conspiracy' ("They really wanted to spread democracy, but they messed up!"). But below I quote an interview clip of Dick Cheney from 1994 which shows that the Neocons clearly knew what would happen in Iraq. And, not just that, I believe they knew the fault lines (polarized and exacerbated by Saddam's neo-tribal and sectarian policies) and pro-actively exploited them to create instability in the country to justify their prolonged presence (A close scrutiny of Paul Bremer's policies immediately after the occupation and of the presence of John Negroponte and Blackwater would provide ample illuminations. Washington did at first flirt with the idea of installing the puppet Ahmed Chalabi, while utilizing the ongoing instability as the pretext for its longer stay, but the plan failed due to Iraq's Ayatollah Ali Sistani's timely intervention calling for open elections in 2005.)

A longer stay in Iraq not only had financial incentives for the military-industrial complex, but also was crucial for Washington's long-term hegemonic ambitions for the region. (It is for similar reasons that Washington wants to maintain its presence in the so-called "Af-Pak" region. Having Obama in the White House hasn't 'changed' anything.)

But perhaps it was Israel that hoped to benefit the most from the instability in Iraq. Since at least 1967, Israel has followed the policy of carrot-and-stick, co-opting the cooperative Arab regimes (like Anwar Sadat's Egypt with the Camp David Accord in 1978 which was facilitated by Washington's aid in billions of dollars), and dividing and destabilizing the non-cooperative states. As a strategic policy for its immediate neighbors, Israel has persistently sought to see them politically and economically weak and preoccupied within themselves. That was one of the reasons why Israel indiscriminately bombarded the basic infrastructure and economically viable facilities in Beirut (and the rest of the country) in the Summer 2006. (The other reason was to turn the Lebanese factions against the resistance movement.) It was also Israel that in its air strike on June 7, 1981 destroyed an Iraqi nuclear plant near Baghdad and then tried to justify that as an act of "self-defense".

The first benefit that Israel hoped to see with the American invasion was an even weaker and fragmented Iraq (which would also destabilize Turkey, Iran, KSA, Syria, Lebanon). The second was a continued presence of American forces in the region. The third was the convergence of Israeli and Neocons' interest in targeting Iran, as they surely hoped that the road to Tehran went through Baghdad.

However, their plans did not always bear the fruits they desired.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pakistan's current political situation

Tariq Ali shares some neat bits in his latest piece published by the London Review of Books (Vol. 33, No. 2., Jan 20, 2011). Below I quote the excerpt that I thought was the most insightful. In the piece, he focuses on the politics of why the military has not taken over yet. But if the question is asked this way, "how come Zardari is still in power?", it would also point to Washington's active support (financial, diplomatic, etc.). Some credit also goes to Zardari's political maneuverings and his successes (so far) in soliciting support from the power-holders in the 'marginalized provinces'. Apparently, PML-N, the largest opposition party in the country with a strong hold in Punjab, also finds no other option but to support the status quo at the moment (for one, the military establishment has made it very clear on a number of occasions that it would not let PML-N's chief Nawaz Sharif come to power. A disappointed Sharif seemed to have pleaded with Washington, but, apparently, it was of no use.). For a background on the military-civilian relations, see also here and here.


"Even before this killing [of Salman Taseer], Pakistan had been on the verge of yet another military takeover. It would make things so much easier if only they could give it another name: military democracy perhaps? General Kayani, whose term as chief of staff was extended last year with strong Pentagon approval, is said to be receiving petitions every day asking him to intervene and ‘save the country’. The petitioners are obviously aware that removing Zardari and replacing him with a nominee of the Sharif brothers’ Muslim League, the PPP’s long-term rivals, is unlikely to improve matters. Petitioning, combined with a complete breakdown of law and order in one or several spheres (suicide terrorism in Peshawar, violent ethnic clashes in Karachi, state violence in Quetta and now Taseer’s assassination), is usually followed by the news that a reluctant general has no longer been able to resist ‘popular’ pressure and with the reluctant agreement of the US Embassy a uniformed president has taken power. We’ve been here before, on four separate occasions. The military has never succeeded in taking the country forward. All that happens is that, instead of politicians, the officers take the cut. The government obviously thinks the threat is serious: some of Zardari’s cronies now speak openly at dinner parties of ‘evidence’ that proves military involvement in his wife Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. If the evidence exists, let’s have a look. Another straw in the wind: the political parties close to the ISI, Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, have withdrawn from the central government, accusing it of callousness and financial malfeasance. True, but hardly novel.

Another necessary prerequisite for a coup is popular disgust with a corrupt, inept and failing civilian government. This has now reached fever pitch. As well as the natural catastrophes that have afflicted the country there are local wars, disappearances, torture, crime, huge price rises in essential goods, unemployment, a breakdown of basic services – all the major cities go without electricity for hours at a stretch and oil lamps are much in demand in smaller towns, which are often without gas and electricity for up to 12 hours. Thanks to the loan conditions recently imposed by the IMF – part of a gear change in the ‘war on terror’ – there have been riots against the rise in fuel prices in several cities. Add to this Zardari’s uncontrollable greed and the irrepressible desire of his minions to mimic their master. Pakistan today is a kleptocracy. There is much talk in Islamabad of the despised prime minister’s neglected wife going on a shopping spree in London last month and finding solace in diamonds, picking up, on her way back home, a VAT rebate in the region of £100,000.

Can it get worse? Yes. And on every front. Take the Af-Pak war. Few now would dispute that its escalation has further destabilised Pakistan, increasing the flow of recruits to suicide bomber command. The CIA’s New Year message to Pakistan consisted of three drone attacks in North Waziristan, killing 19 people. There were 116 drone strikes in 2010, double the number ordered in the first year of the Obama presidency. Serious Pakistani newspapers, Dawn and the News, claim that 98 per cent of those killed in the strikes over the last five years – the number of deaths is estimated to be between two and three thousand – were civilians, a percentage endorsed by David Kilcullen, a former senior adviser to General Petraeus. The Brookings Institution gives a grim ratio of one militant killed for every ten civilians. The drones are operated by the CIA, which isn’t subject to military rules of engagement, with the result that drones are often used for revenge attacks, notably after the sensational Khost bombing of a CIA post in December 2009.

What stops the military from taking power immediately is that it would then be responsible for stopping the drone attacks and containing the insurgency that has resulted from the extension of the war into Pakistan. This is simply beyond it, which is why the generals would rather just blame the civilian government for everything. But if the situation worsens and growing public anger and economic desperation lead to wider street protests and an urban insurgency the military will be forced to intervene. It will also be forced to act if the Obama administration does as it threatens and sends troops across the Pakistan border on protect-and-destroy missions. Were this to happen a military takeover of the country might be the only way for the army to counter dissent within its ranks by redirecting the flow of black money and bribes (currently a monopoly of politicians) into military coffers. Pakistani officers who complain to Western intelligence operatives and journalists that a new violation of sovereignty might split the army do so largely as a way to exert pressure. There has been no serious breach in the military high command since the dismal failure of the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy, the first and last radical nationalist attempt (backed by Communist intellectuals) to seize power within the army and take the country in an anti-imperialist direction. Since then, malcontents in the armed forces have always been rapidly identified and removed. Military perks and privileges – bonuses, land allocations, a presence in finance and industry – play an increasingly important part in keeping the army under control."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Israeli Humor on Israeli PR Tactics

See this clip humoring Israeli diplomatic and media propaganda.

The sad part is that this kind of propaganda is actually being taught in Israeli schools, media, and other public institutions. For the world outside of Israel they have the Hasbara Project.