Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Israel has just announced it is seizing (taking, expropriating) another 1,000 acres of Palestinian land to build settlements. This action is blatantly illegal, but since those injured are Palestinians, Israel totally does not care. Indeed, so far as I can tell Israel’s strategy is to continue killing Palestinians, a few thousand at a time, until none are left and Israel gets all the Palestinian territories.
Democracy Now! presents another point of view within the Jewish community, one that disagrees with the actions of the Israeli government. Their blurb:
Today, a special with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s “big three” Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Henry Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three years later, the Nazis came to power. After fleeing Nazi troops in Belgium, his family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Siegman studied and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. He later became head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project.
Over the years, Siegman has become a vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories and has urged Israel to engage with Hamas. He has called the Palestinian struggle for a state “the mirror image of the Zionist movement” that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. In July, wrote an op-ed for Politico headlined, “Israel Provoked This War.” Democracy Now! hosts Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh sat down with him on July 29 — in the midst of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
A sad sight, reported in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald. From the article:
Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel “indiscriminately,” but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have “not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for.” When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel’s attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”
“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” Warren said, drawing applause.
Just to be clear: Hamas may indeed put its rocket launchers next to hospitals and schools, but that does NOT in fact protect their military assets. The hospitals and schools are then termed “human shield”, and Israel believes that it is perfectly acceptable to kill human shields: once the civilians are seen to be shields, they are shelled and bombed to death.
Moreover, Israel seems simply eager to kill Gazans, civilians or not. The shelling of four boys playing alone on a beach, with no military assets around, killed four children. That was an Israeli gunship, and it was not defending Israel, it was attacking children.
I’m disappointed in Sen. Warren. And she seems to have a closed mind regarding alternative approaches. Also from the article:
Warren even rejected a different voter’s suggestion that the U.S. force Israel to at least cease building illegal settlements by withholding further aid: “Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, ‘I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.’”
And, in terms of thoughtful advice, that’s the best Bill Kristol can offer. Kevin Drum comments:
From Bill Kristol, during an appearance on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s show, bringing his megawatt analytic powers to bear on the problem of ISIS in Iraq:
What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there.
You can’t make this stuff up. We liberals often accuse folks like Kristol of mindlessly advocating military action all the time, no matter what. But we’re exaggerating, aren’t we? Nobody literally wants to unleash an air campaign just to see what happens. Nobody just casually ignores the possible drawbacks. That’s ridiculous! Why do we insist on juvenile caricatures like this?
I don’t know. Why do we?
Because this time we’ll get it right—and also because the people calling for the war won’t be fighting it (and indeed have in general taken pains to avoid military service altogether—cf. Dick Cheney, who said he had better things to do).
Kevin Drum notes:
I was chatting with a friend about the relentless, one-sided hawkishness on display yesterday on the morning chat shows, and he responded:
The recurring “stay tuned for” loop are clips of McCain (“We never should have left”), Graham (“ISIS no longer JV”), Ryan (“What’s the president’s plan for eradicating ISIS?”). Over and over again. Nowhere are clips of people urging caution or restraint. War is great news, is action, is drama. Whether consciously or not, the media simply drives inevitably to pushing for a clash.
It’s really beyond belief. Israel invades Lebanon and gets Hezbollah out of the deal. We arm the mujahideen and get the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the deal. We depose Saddam Hussein and play kingmaker with Nouri al-Maliki, and we get ISIS out of the deal. But hey—this time is different. Really. This time we’ll be done once and for all if we just go in and spend a decade wiping the theocratic butchers of ISIS off the map. This time there won’t be any blowback. This timewe’ll fix the Middle East once and for all. This time things can’t possibly get any worse. Right?
Of course, the hawks always have Munich, don’t they? Always Munich. And so we need to fight. We need troops. We need leadership. And no one with political aspirations really wants to argue the point. There’s no future in siding with the thugs, is there?
Besides, maybe this time really is different.
Militants from Islamic State stormed an air base in northeast Syria on Sunday, capturing it from government forces. Fighters from Islamic State have seized three Syrian military bases in the area in recent weeks. This comes as the Pentagon considers expanding its airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq to include targets inside Syria. Meanwhile, another journalist who had been kidnapped in Syria, Peter Theo Curtis, has been freed after two years in captivity by the Nusra Front — another militant group in Syria. Calls have been growing for the United States to attack Syria since Islamic State posted video showing the kidnapped American journalist James Foley being beheaded. Foley was captured in Syria in 2012. Meanwhile in Iraq, officials say suicide bomber targeted a Shiite mosque in Baghdad today, killing at least 12 people. We speak to Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College. He is the author of several books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter and, most recently, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
Interesting article in the Washington Post by Amy Austin Holmes:
The Rabaa massacre of Aug. 14, 2013, was Egypt’s Tiananmen Square. Egyptian security forces killed at least 817 people on a single day at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square alone, and more than 1,000 when including the number of casualties across Egypt. It was the biggest mass killing of civilians in modern Egyptian history. The butchery did not take place under the cover of darkness, or in a remote corner of the country, but in broad daylight in Cairo. I was one of a number of journalists and observers who attended the sit-in of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi at Rabaa the night before the massacre, and witnessed the violent dispersal of the smaller sit-in at al-Nahda Square on the morning of Aug. 14.
The killing was done by Egypt’s Central Security Forces and Special Forces in close coordination with the Egyptian Armed Forces, with few if any reported defections or refusals to open fire. Security forces began firing on civilians around 6:30 a.m., and over the course of 12 hours they continued emptying rounds of live ammunition into crowds of men, women and children who they had entrapped, despite repeated promises of a “safe exit.” This was not a brief killing spree that ended as suddenly as it began, or the panicked response of threatened conscripts in the fog of battle. One year later, not a single official has been held accountable.
The military’s behavior at Rabaa seemingly poses a sharp contrast with its allegedly more peaceful behavior in response to mass protests in January 2011. Rabaa and Tahrir Square each, in their own way, challenge prevailing theories of military behavior during periods of mass defiance. When a regime confronts a massive, anti-regime uprising, its survival often depends on whether it maintains control of the coercive apparatus. Will security forces open fire and suppress the rebellion? Or will they refuse? This is often treated as a dichotomous variable: Soldiers either defend the regime or defect from it. In such analyses, scholars usually begin by pinpointing the specific moment during a regime crisis when the high command must choose sides, sometimes referred to as the “end-game scenario.” Factors commonly believed to influence the outcome of this decision-making process usually include internal variables such as the level of the military’s professionalism, patronage and the ethnic or sectarian composition of the armed forces.
The shortcoming of such analyses, in my assessment, is fourfold. First, a dichotomous variable can account for neither the complex reality of mass uprisings nor the sometimes ambiguous behavior of soldiers. Second, scholars often conflate two issues and assume that if the armed forces refuse to suppress the opposition, that they have effectively joined the opposition. Third, focusing on one specific moment in time (i.e. the “end game”) does not allow us to understand the subsequent trajectory of events. And finally, attention has focused too much on analyzing internalaspects of the armed forces, rather than their relationship to society.
When applied to the so-called Arab Spring, scholars have argued that in Egypt and Tunisia, the army “defected” from the regime, forcing Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to step down. Some scholars argue that Egypt’s generals opted to “back the uprising,” or interpret the soldiers’ behavior as the outcome of a decision “to side with the nonviolent movement.” Other scholars at least partially attribute the successful ousting of Mubarak to the military’s decision “not to shoot” at protesters, or the coercive apparatus’ “failure to repress.” In Syria and Bahrain, in contrast, the armed forces for the most part “defended” the regime, allowing Bashar al-Assad and King Hamad to remain in power. In Libya and Yemen, a fracturing of the armed forces took place, with some officers defending and others defecting.
While this argument may seem plausible, it is also problematic. . .
Israel, in my view, has embraced an authoritarian and destructive approach and are running with it. I want to point out two excellent and thoughtful columns on this phenomenon:
I certainly have no answers, but it’s disheartening to see Israel embrace such an aggressive and hate-filled stance toward the people they displaced in creating their nation. But it’s often been observed that people develop an intense hatred of those whom they’ve wronged: post facto justification, I imagine.
As the US has repeatedly demonstrated, statecraft and diplomatic efforts and wars require a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding if they are to be successful. Ignorance is not allayed by enthusiasm (cf. Bremer’s completing the destruction of Iraq after the initial invasion, itself based on lies and ignorance). Patrick Cockburn has an interesting excerpt from his new book, via Informed Comment;
[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books. The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]
There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.
But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.
The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.
By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Using the al-Qa’ida Label
The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.
In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”
Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east. The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.
The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.
Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia
Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. . .
The truth—built on a basis of actual, stubborn facts—is by far the best and most reliable guide, even though it is disdained by most in politics and in organizations, all of which seem to include certain beliefs that must not be questioned or discussed—and the fact that these must not be discussed is also not open for discussion.