Monthly Archives: February 2009

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Iran knows well that America has vital interests and is not likely to leave the region completely. Iran also knows that the public, in both America and the
region, will not welcome the US’s long-term presence.

The politics of Iran-U.S. relations are such that only a “strong Iran”, with an “equal role” in regional issues, will have the
propensity to talk directly with the United States. The political-security developments in post-invasion Iraq have increased Iran’s regional role and
strength, a situation that has led Iran to accept direct talks with America on Iraq’s political-security issues.

From the perspective of the governing elites in Iran, any direct talks with the U.S. in an unequal condition will endanger Iran’s national security and
interests, and as past experiences show, Iran would ultimately lose in such talks. Meanwhile, Iran’s strategic value, along with the legitimacy of its
role among the friendly political factions and states in the region, is based on playing an independent role and avoiding direct engagement with the U.S. on the regional issues. Instead, Iran should resolve its strategic differences with the U.S. through strength in the region. This policy will give Iran more importance, and subsequently better serve the interests of its friends in the region. Iran’s effective role in post-invasion Iraq and post-2006 Lebanon are two examples in this regard.

But, through initiating an “active” foreign policy and by “decisive engagement” in regional issues, Iran in four stages, i.e. the Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and recently Gaza crises, has been able, for the first time in its contemporary history, to reach a kind of “strategic balance” in terms of playing “equal roles” versus a foreign hegemonic power like the United States in the region– a situation that provides Iran with the opportunity to shift the region’s traditional “lose-win” game (lose for Iran, win for the US) to a “win-win” game, thereby attempting to redefine its political-security role in its security backyard, especially in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.Iran’s active presence in the three rounds of direct talks with the US onIraq’s political-security issues is the result of Iran’s increased regional role. Having a solid regional position resulted in Iran managing directtalks and thereby optimizing its national security objectives.

The strategic value of talking with the US at present is to obstruct the institutionalization of the US’s role and presence in Iran’s backyard. The US attempts to establish military bases, along with supporting like-minded elites thereby institutionalizing a new kind of power division, which further serves America’s interests in the region, are regarded by Iran as an attempt to advance the traditional lose-win strategy in which Iran will ultimately lose in any process of redressing new political-security architecture in the region’s transformation.

Iran knows well that America has vital interests and is not likely to leave the region completely. Iran also knows that the public, in both America and the
region, will not welcome the US’s long-term presence. A feasible middle way ishelping America to secure its interests without intense presence. Based on its increased regional role, Iran should acknowledge the US interests in a win-win situation in which Iran can also play its role thereby preserving its  legitimate national security concerns and interests. The strategic value of this deal is to establish a new kind of “balance of interests” and “balance of
security” between Iran and the US in the region.

Of course, reaching such a deal is not easy since it contradicts the traditional presumption that the interests of the US and its traditional allies, Israel and conservative Arab regimes, can only be secured by a “balance of power” policy. In the past, the Bat’thist Iraq played the role of balancing against Iran, today Saudi Arabia and Israel have taken over this role. Stressing the emergence of a supposed “Shiite Crescent” with Iran’s leading role, or concepts such as the existing “new Cold War” between Iran and US, are mainly aimed at showing that Iran has an obstructive role in the region, thereby stressing that there is an “unsolvable strategic discrepancy” between Iran and America in all regional conflicts including Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and ultimately the region will have to choose between either Iran or America. Such a categorization is dangerous, especially for Iran. Staying in endless conflict will require Iran’s political security energy in confronting such a great foreign power, further complicating Iran’s security dilemma. These kinds of perspectives are naturally against advancing any policy of change by Obama’s administration toward Iran.

Unlike the pessimistic views in Iran, the Obama administration’s policy of change should not be underestimated by Tehran. Such a change is inevitable, mainly because of the recent geopolitical changes, which prioritized the significance of the Middle East in US national and security interests. Combating terrorism and extremism, settling regional crises, international energy security, and the NPT- and WMD-related issues as the focus of America’s foreign policy in the coming years are mainly related to the fate of political-security dynamics in three regional sub-systems, namely, “Afghanistan and South Asia”, “Iraq and the Persian Gulf,” and “Lebanon-Palestine and the Levant.” Iran has the key role in all of this. The Bush administration’s opposition with accepting Iran’s regional role kept America from initiating comprehensive engagement with Iran,thereby complicating the process of resolving the crises in these regions. President Obama must change the mindset that Iran-US interests in the region are hard to converge. Any change in Iran’s regional policies depends on redefining Iran’s role and place in US national and security interests.

The politics of Iran-US relations shows that only a strong Iran can accept talking with America. The strategic value of Iran’s growing role in the region depends on the reduction of US presence around Iran’s immediate borders. In exchange for resolving its strategic differences with America including its nuclear issue, Iran should help the Obama administration withdraw troops from Iraq, along with settling the crises in Afghanistan and the Levant. The unstable and transformative nature of political situations in the Middle East will not guarantee Iran’s indefinite and increased role among the friendly political factions and states. With an “active diplomacy”, and in the peak of its regional role, Iran should take advantage of this momentous time and, for the sake of “sustainable security” and subsequently “sustainable development,” resolve its issues with America.

* Kayhan Barzegar is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) in Iran. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the CSR.

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In a book written by an al-Qaida founder, Osama Bin Laden is the target of blame for the destruction of Arab countries resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks (… ‘you destroy his building, he destroys a country’). The photo shows a Bin Laden propaganda poster found by U.S. forces in an al-Qaida training classroom in the Zhawar Kili area of Eastern Afghanistan. (Official U.S. Navy photo, Aug. 2008, via Newscom)

This has not been a good week for al-Qaida and its top leadership. First, one of the founders of the number one terror group in the world has come out with a stunning attack on the current top leadership of al-Qaida, accusing them of being immoral, corrupt and on the payroll of Arab intelligence services. And second, geographers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) believe to have narrowed down the possible hiding place of the organization’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, to three buildings in Pakistan.

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, better known by his pseudonym of Dr. Fadl, has accused both bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, of hijacking the cause and derailing the original ideology he helped establish almost two decades ago.

Does this unexpected turn of events herald the beginning of a major shift in the world of takfiri Islamists? Perhaps. In any case it is bound to have repercussions on many of those sitting on the fence of radical Islamism, teetering between falling prey to those calling for terrorist acts and those advocating that the killing of innocents is un-Islamic and goes counter to everything that the Koran and Islam stand for.

As for bin Laden and his entourage, they may have bigger problems than bad public relations. Using standard geographic tools, the kind used to locate endangered species and criminals on the lam, a group of researchers at UCLA claim they have narrowed bin Laden’s hiding place to three possible buildings in the northwestern Pakistani city of Parachinar.

Before releasing the information to the public, Thomas W. Gillespie, the group’s head researcher, a biogeographer from UCLA was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying he and his students first contacted the FBI with their findings. The FBI refused to comment on the report, stating they never talk about “an active investigation.”

Sharif, who was nabbed in Yemen shortly after the Sept.11, 2001 attacks and extradited to Egypt, is serving time in Cairo’s infamous Tora Prison for his part in trying to instigate a revolt in Egypt in the 1990s. He launched his surprise assault on his former comrades in arms from his cell, in a newly released book he wrote behind bars.

In his book Dr. Fadl condemns what he called the murder of innocent victims, saying it went contrary to Islam. He goes on to accuse the two top leaders of al-Qaida of being responsible for “every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Sharif questions in his book the rationale behind the attacks by al-Qaida on the United States, asking how beneficial it might be to the cause of Islam in destroying “one of your enemy’s buildings and he destroys one of your countries?

He called the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and against the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. “immoral and counterproductive.”

In a major change of policy from what seems to be the current takfiri modus operandi, Dr. Fadl opposes the use of terrorism by Muslims living in the West on the grounds that “it is not honorable,” after they have invited you into their homes.

He is particularly harsh on bin Laden’s number two, who according to a report published in the London Telegraph newspaper, Dr. Fadl has known for 40 years.

The Telegraph quotes the jailed Egyptian dissident saying that Zawahiri is a “lair who was paid by Sudan’s intelligence service to organize terrorist attacks in Egypt in the 1990s.”

The paper’s Cairo correspondent quotes a 26-year veteran of Egypt’s State Security Directorate, as saying that “Dr. Fadl’s assault on al-Qaida’s core leaders had been very effective, both in prison and outside.”

As for finding bin Laden, using part guesswork, part detective work and working from satellite maps and images, the UCLA team concluded that the unwell bin Laden must have walked almost two miles before reaching Parachinar, a city with a population of half a million.

Scrutinizing every building through the use of satellite imagery, the group searched for one that would accommodate bin Laden and his party. They looked for buildings with walls at least 10 feet high to provide security and privacy; with at least three rooms and with continuous electricity needed to keep bin Laden’s kidney dialysis machine functioning.

Three buildings fit the bill. Stay tuned.

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"The Saudi challenge is to develop a vision to fill the vacuum in the region, to have an active, principled foreign policy and to play a bigger role," said Awadh al-Badi, a scholar at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies.

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and cradle of Islam, but does not always punch its weight in the Middle East, where Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah enjoy more popular appeal than any Arab government.

Any Saudi aspirations to exert decisive leadership in a fractured Arab world, or even to match the influence of non-Arab powers like Iran, Turkey and Israel, for now remain just that.

“The Saudi challenge is to develop a vision to fill the vacuum in the region, to have an active, principled foreign policy and to play a bigger role,” said Awadh al-Badi, a scholar at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies.

“Now we are a status quo country that usually only reacts to things, although there have been some initiatives like King Abdullah’s recent call for Arab reconciliation and unity.”

Saudi Arabia’s boldest move of the decade — a sweeping Arab peace plan that it sponsored in 2002 and relaunched in 2007 — was rebuffed by Israel and all but ignored by the United States.

That experience bruised and embittered the Saudis.

King Abdullah told an Arab summit held last month during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip that the Arab peace offer remained on the table, but would not stay there for ever.

In sharper language, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to London and Washington, wrote in the Financial Times last month that Israel had come close to “killing the prospect of peace” with its Gaza onslaught, in which about 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

“Unless the new U.S. administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the U.S.-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk,” he warned. Outgoing President George W. Bush had left a “sickening legacy” in the Middle East.

Riyadh’s alarm at the outcome of the Iraq war and its dismay at Bush’s unstinting backing for Israel have given way to wary hope that President Barack Obama will shift course, along with concern that he might deal with Iran at the kingdom’s expense.

“Obama inspires an odd mix of admiration and fear with Saudi leaders,” said one Western diplomat in the Saudi capital.

Another diplomat said the Saudis liked Obama’s talk of respect for the Muslim world, but were sceptical that any U.S. administration would exert enough pressure on Israel to yield a Palestinian state on the lands it captured in a 1967 war.

The Saudi-inspired Arab proposal offered Israel full recognition in return for such a state with East Jerusalem as its capital and an agreed solution for Palestinian refugees. No two-state peace deal on these terms is anywhere in sight.


“Saudi Arabia seemed to offer a grander, more detached role in proposing the Arab peace plan — twice — but direct Saudi engagement with Israel is a no-no,” said Neil Partrick, a Middle East expert at the American University of Sharjah.

“And the Gaza conflict has made it harder for the Saudis even to underline the peace plan.”

Ordinary Saudis, like Arabs elsewhere, were angered by the death and destruction endured by Gazans — potent images for the militant Islamists with whom the kingdom has had to contend.

“As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unresolved, the region will be radicalised,” said Badi, the Saudi scholar.

Qatar joined Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas last month in calling for the withdrawal of the 2002 Arab initiative.

Saudi diplomacy elsewhere has also stuttered.

King Abdullah persuaded rival Palestinian factions to sign a reconciliation pact in Mecca in February 2007, only to see it collapse when Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip from President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement four months later.

He has avoided further mediation with the Palestinians, leaving Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to try and mend the Hamas-Fatah rift. Turkey has also hosted indirect talks between Syria and Israel, while Qatar has mediated in Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan.

Partrick said no Arab country was well-placed to take on the leadership once claimed by Egypt in Arab nationalism’s heyday.

“The region is divided, there is no substantial Arab-Israeli peace process, or any clear way forward in Iraq,” he said. “Saudi Arabia believes Iraq has moved into the Iranian orbit.”

Saudis share Gulf Arab jitters that a U.S. engagement with Iran might somehow allow the Shi’ite Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapons and throw its weight around more in the region, but they also see potential benefits in any detente.

“If a U.S.-Iran negotiation stops Iran’s nuclear programme or guarantees it is peaceful, this is in the Saudi national interest,” said Badi. In any case, the United States would not “sacrifice the Gulf, with all its oil” in favour of Iran.

Saudi Arabia has striven to insulate its bedrock oil-for-security relationship with America from the Arab-Israeli conflict, tensions arising from al Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, and challenges from the region’s Iran-led radical camp.

But this has placed the kingdom in an awkward position.

Prince Turki said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had recognised Saudi Arabia as leader of the Arab and Muslim world when he urged it recently to lead a jihad against Israel.

“So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls,” he wrote, adding that pursuing them would spawn chaos and bloodshed. “But every day this restraint becomes harder to maintain.”

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"The Iraqi political map has been redrawn," says Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. "There’s been a significant shift from the sectarian-based politics of 2005 to an electoral map based on people’s politics and not their ethnic or religious identity."

For the first time in six years, it’s possible to see the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. Despite all their flaws–and there were many–the January 31 elections in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces ratified the resurgence of secular nationalism. A large majority of voters repudiated the Shiite and Sunni religious parties and the Kurdish separatists. And in so doing, they broke free of the rigid confines of the ethno-sectarian politics that has dominated the Iraqi scene since 2003. The results mean that the Obama administration may soon have to deal with a vastly different cast of characters in Iraq–politicians less willing to tolerate a long-term US presence and firmly opposed to a special relationship between Baghdad and Washington.

Voters ousted unpopular governors and provincial councils controlled by the ruling US-backed alliance in a sweeping throw-the-bums-out election, raising the possibility of a fundamental reordering of politics. Though the elections were limited to the provinces, the results suggest that the national elections scheduled for December may usher in a government that will differ radically from the ruling alliance, many of whose leaders are or represent former exiles installed by US occupation authorities in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

Not that Iraq has suddenly become an oasis of democracy. Key political actors on all sides remain bolstered by paramilitary armies. Unemployment is vast, and basic services–electricity, water, trash collection, healthcare–are intermittent or nonexistent. The army and police are infiltrated by militias, and their loyalty is suspect. Baghdad is a bewildering maze of blast walls and sealed-off enclaves surrounding the fortress-like Green Zone, and the city is reeling from years of brutal ethnic cleansing. The provincial capitals are rife with intrigue, and many of them–Kirkuk, Mosul, Baquba and Basra, for instance–are perched at the brink of civil strife. And the elections themselves, in which millions of voters were disenfranchised, were deeply flawed.

But the results show that a new Iraq is struggling to emerge. The United Iraqi Alliance, the all-powerful bloc of Shiite religious parties, is dead and buried, and the key party within the alliance–the Iran-backed, clergy-based Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI)–was blown off the electoral map. Another component of the alliance, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, has all but disappeared, while Maliki has morphed into a would-be nationalist, cloaking his fundamentalist sectarian leanings in the guise of a benevolent strongman. The nationalist Sunnis, having boycotted or been shut out of the political process since 2003, came roaring back in four northern provinces. In the process, Sunni-led nationalists, tribal parties, former Baathists and ex-military leaders, the Awakening movement (the anti-Al Qaeda, tribal-based militia movement that emerged in late 2006 in the Sunni heartland and formed a tactical alliance with the US Army) and various secular parties nearly obliterated the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), a branch of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which had opted to join the ruling Shiite-Kurdish alliance in the government. And the Kurds, who chose not to hold elections in their separatist region in Iraq’s north and who blocked a vote in the disputed Kirkuk region, suffered devastating losses in ethnically mixed border provinces where they’d wielded power until now. Separatists who supported the virtual partition of Iraq, such as ISCI and the Kurds, were resoundingly defeated.

“The Iraqi political map has been redrawn,” says Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. “There’s been a significant shift from the sectarian-based politics of 2005 to an electoral map based on people’s politics and not their ethnic or religious identity.”

The emergence of Iraq’s nationalist movement has been a long time coming. Built around parties opposed to the influence of both Iran and the United States, it began to take shape in the fall of 2007 after a series of US actions: a Senate vote in favor of a proposal from then-Senator Joe Biden to partition Iraq into three mini-states; the brutal killing of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad by Blackwater security forces; and US support for a law that would have opened the door to privatization of Iraq’s oil industry. This helped galvanize a twelve-party alliance, including Sunni and Shiite nationalists, secular parties, ex-Baathists, former Iraqi resistance groups and various independents, that worked to preserve the country’s state-owned oil companies and to combat efforts by the Kurds and ISCI to carve Iraq into regional fiefdoms. By mid-July of last year, they’d united in a bloc called the July 22 Gathering.

The July 22 group was a reaction to five years of ethnic and sectarian politicking initiated by US blunders in the wake of the invasion. From the start, the occupation authorities parceled out power according to sectarian and ethnic quotas. They first handed power, in the form of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), to ISCI (which at that time went by the name Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq); Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party; and the two Kurdish parties. The United States then pushed hard for elections. Held in January 2005, they were a fiasco, widely seen as rigged in favor of the Shiite religious parties and the Kurds, and thus boycotted by virtually the entire Sunni Arab population. Those elections brought to power the current Shiite-Kurdish alliance. It was, says the International Crisis Group, “a victory by parties that, while popularly elected, lacked deep popular legitimacy.”

The utter failure of that government to provide jobs and basic services turned millions of voters against the ruling bloc, especially the religious parties. “Over the last four years, the religious parties tried everything and proved that they are not successful leaders,” says Aiham Alsammarae, Iraq’s former minister of electricity, who is now working with the party of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite. “Even in the south, the religious leaders are losing their influence. People are asking, What have they done for us? There are no jobs. There is no electricity or water. The schools and hospitals are terrible. And there is so much corruption.”

By January 2008, it was already beginning to appear as if new elections would result in a landslide in favor of the opposition. Among the Shiites, the populist, grassroots appeal of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army led to predictions that the Sadrists would sweep ISCI and Dawa out of office. Among the Sunnis, the Awakening movement and the related Sons of Iraq militia were rallying hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, often led by tribal leaders, into a formidable nationalist force. And big gains seemed likely for secular parties, including those led by former Baathists such as Allawi and by Saleh al-Mutlaq, leader of the National Dialogue Front. Not only that, the four ruling parties were feuding among themselves.

Despite the growing power of the nationalists, the United States continued to back the Shiite-Kurdish bloc, and Maliki in particular (several attempts by the opposition to organize a parliamentary vote of no confidence against Maliki were rudely blocked by the US Embassy). According to Reidar Visser, an Iraq expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Washington was backing a narrow and shrinking coalition that represented no more than a quarter of Iraq’s population.

Maliki and his coalition partners were well aware that provincial elections could be a disaster for them. Using various legal and quasi-legal actions, they angled to prevent a vote. “The four ruling parties were working hard to postpone provincial elections because they knew they’d lose so badly,” says Jarrar.

The election, while relatively free of violence, was hardly a model of democracy. Turnout was far lower than expected, with just over half of 15 million registered voters going to the polls. In some provinces–Baghdad and Anbar, especially–turnout was just 40 percent. Part of the reason for the low turnout was confusion among voters over which of the 7,000 polling stations to go to, but much of it was simply because 4-5 million Iraqis have either been displaced or forced to flee to Syria, Jordan and other countries [for more on the plight of refugees see Ann Jones, page 17]. The vast majority of displaced Iraqis were unable to vote, which drastically altered results in areas such as Baghdad, Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, where Sunnis fled Shiite militias and death squads during the peak years of the civil war. “There were a lot of complaints about IDPs [internally displaced persons] not able to vote,” says Nicolay Mladenov, a European MP from Bulgaria who spent a lot of time in Iraq in the run-up to the vote.

There is nothing remotely resembling a campaign-finance law in Iraq. It is widely assumed that Iran supplied large sums of cash to its favored parties, including ISCI, and that Turkey’s ruling Islamist party backed the IIP. The Iraqi High Election Commission is investigating credible allegations of fraud, including reports of ballot-box stuffing, nearly all of which would have been perpetrated by the ruling alliance. “These elections were not observed by international standards,” says Mladenov. “We don’t have the people on the ground for that.” To its credit, the United Nations trained tens of thousands of poll watchers, but only about 400 international observers were directly involved on election day.

But it was Maliki who muscled his way to big wins in Baghdad, Basra and other provinces in Iraq’s largely Shiite south, and who blatantly used the power of the army, the police, the media and the prime minister’s office to tilt the balance in his favor. Starting early in 2008, Maliki used the army to conduct a series of sweeping offensives in Basra, Maysan and Baghdad’s Sadr City to break the power of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement. The offensives, which drew intensive US support, including air attacks and intelligence help, “scattered Sadr’s movement to the four winds,” says Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Maliki followed that up by ramming through an arbitrary and selectively enforced measure banning parties with militias from participating in the elections, which was aimed squarely at Sadr’s 60,000-strong Mahdi Army. The International Crisis Group called it “a blatantly biased move in light of the fact that ISCI and the Kurdish parties both retain militias…loyal to their political masters.”

Maliki didn’t stop there. Step by step, he transformed the Iraqi army into a kind of private militia for the office of the prime minister, bypassing the chief of staff to appoint brigade commanders and other officers loyal to himself. He also created a pair of special operations units, the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Task Force, that reported directly to him. And he used all three to conduct lethal operations against opponents, ruthlessly rounding up members of Sadr’s movement and key leaders of the Awakening movement. Maliki’s clear intent was to make sure that neither the Sunni nationalists nor the Sadrists were able to enter the election on a level playing field.

But the most decisive action launched last year by Maliki to influence the elections was the creation of lavishly funded “tribal support councils” that served as militias and as the prime minister’s electoral arm. Despite protests from the nationalist opposition and his coalition partners (ISCI and the Kurds), Maliki created a slush fund to back the tribal councils. In Maysan, for instance, he set up at least seventeen separate councils, channeling hefty payoffs to tribal leaders. Payoffs were supposedly capped at $10,000 per council, but Maliki apparently spent a lot more. “If they were expecting $10,000, he gave them easily $100,000 or more, more than they dreamed of,” says Alsammarae. “So they started to work for him.” According to Sam Parker of the US Institute of Peace (USIP), there were rumors that as much as $100 million was funneled to Maliki supporters in suitcases.

Maliki’s tactics were successful enough to guarantee that in the face of a hurricane-force anti-incumbent mood, he would survive. Indeed, he won 38 percent in Baghdad, 37 percent in Basra and came in first, in the 12-23 percent range, in six other southern provinces. It might seem as if Maliki’s success was a victory for political Islam, given his origins in the fundamentalist Shiite religious movement. But not quite.

To be sure, the Dawa Party is an Islamist formation. And like ISCI–whose political origins and militia, the Badr Brigade, can be traced to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in 1982–Maliki and his Dawa confreres spent long years of exile in Iran. But in the past year Maliki, sensing which way the winds were blowing, dropped all references to religion in his campaign, wrapping himself instead in the flag and running as a nationalist defender of Iraq. (Dawa had already broken into at least three factions, one of which was led by former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.) According to Alsammarae, Maliki winked as liquor stores, barbershops, DVD sellers and nightclubs reopened in Basra, after years during which religious Shiite militias had shut them down or burned them.

By taking a strong nationalist stand in negotiating the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), by standing against the Kurds in disputes over Kirkuk and other embattled areas, and by supporting revision of the Constitution to favor a stronger central government, Maliki made broad appeals to nationalists. Emphasizing security, he went to great lengths to portray himself as a law-and-order candidate, touting his crackdown on the Mahdi Army. “In the eyes of many Iraqis in the south, Maliki was seen as a new strongman, which they craved,” says Joost Hiltermann of the Crisis Group.

As Dawa faded, Maliki built coalitions in the provinces comprising tribal leaders and other notables, often picking people with nationalist, nonreligious credentials. “Maliki was able to go into the provinces and recruit people who were actually popular at the local level,” says USIP’s Parker. Adds Jarrar: “It wasn’t the Dawa Party that ran in these elections. It was a more diverse group of independents and secular figures, in some cases even Sunnis.” As a result, Maliki sits atop a coalition, at least at the provincial level, that is far more nationalist and less religious than Maliki himself. He is at least partly beholden to a movement that won’t easily tolerate his moving back toward an alliance with ISCI and the Kurds.

Meanwhile, in other provinces nationalists and secular parties made big gains. In the north, Nineveh–its capital, Mosul, is Iraq’s third-largest city–came under the near-total control of the Kurds following the 2005 vote. This time, as expected, a fierce Arab nationalist party, Al Hadba, scored a huge victory, reflecting the overwhelming Sunni Arab majority in Nineveh. In Anbar, where the Iraqi resistance began in Falluja and Ramadi five years ago, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Islamic Party–which dominated the 2005 election there, in which a mere 2 percent of voters went to the polls–was massively outvoted by a combination of tribal, Awakening-linked parties and Saleh al-Mutlaq’s secular party, which placed first. In Salahuddin, another Sunni-majority province, the IIP–which also dominated that province in 2005–won just 14 percent, with a combination of Allawi’s and Mutlaq’s secular parties and Awakening-linked parties winning more than half the vote. And in war-torn Diyala province, previously controlled by Shiites and Kurds, a broad coalition of Sunni-led parties, including the IIP and Allawi’s party, made major gains.

Remarkably, the Sadrist movement managed to survive Maliki’s all-out campaign against it. Although banned from running as a political party, the Sadrists created several independent electoral lists widely seen as Sadrist fronts. They made respectable showings in Baghdad and several southern provinces, including Maysan, Babil and Dhi Qar. “Don’t count the Sadrists out, ever,” says Hiltermann. “The Sadrist trend has an internal coherence that can’t be underestimated.” Having built its organizational apparatus mosque by mosque in secret during the Saddam era, the Sadrists aren’t easily intimidated. “They’re just lying low,” says Hiltermann, who maintains close contact with Sadrist leaders in Iraq.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the election was the first-place finish by a secular party led by Yousef Majid al-Habboubi in Karbala, home to one of Iraq’s two holiest Shiite shrines. Habboubi, a former Baathist who served as a top provincial official during Saddam’s era, is a moderate, secular Shiite. Perhaps no other election result demonstrates how thoroughly Iraqi voters are disenchanted with the religious parties that have been ruling Iraq. In 2005, the United Iraqi Alliance was assembled under the guidance of Najaf’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a bearded octogenarian born in Iran, who is revered by religious Shiites. But this year a popular slogan in the Shiite south was: “We’ve been fooled by the Marjaiya [the Najaf-based clergy]. We have elected amoral people!” ISCI, ignoring public sentiment, illegally made use of religious symbolism in its campaign materials, and it was crushed. ISCI’s ties to Iran’s ayatollahs worked against it, too, as thousands of text messages were sent out by unknown parties to Iraqi voters urging them to “stop Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.”

Just as Maliki adopted nationalist garb and built coalitions with secular tribal leaders, the Sunni fundamentalist IIP was forced to broaden its appeal in order to survive. It, too, now includes large numbers of less religious, less sectarian and more nationalist officials and voters. “It’s a new political class that has been recruited into political parties and movements,” says Parker of USIP. “Many of these guys are much more hard-core than the IIP. They’re tougher, they’re more anti-Iran and they’re nationalists.”

Iraq’s ruling parties–ISCI, the two Kurdish parties and what’s left of Maliki’s Dawa–still control Parliament, and Maliki retains his power as prime minister. However, the rules of the game have changed. Despite his personal electoral gains in the provinces, Maliki is walking a tightrope at the national level. He’s burned his bridges to ISCI and the Kurds by standing up in favor of a strong central government and by his heavy-handed campaign tactics against his former allies. The July 22 coalition–which includes Sunnis, secularists and Sadrists, each of whom have large voting blocs in Parliament–may try to topple Maliki in a vote of no confidence long before the next elections, and they may try to persuade Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to jump ship and support them. (Those elections are set for December, but in January a key Maliki ally suggested that they might be postponed until at least March 2010, an indication that the prime minister is worried.)

To survive, Maliki is going to have to deliver the goods to the nationalists of the July 22 bloc, and that means supporting major changes in the Constitution and giving the nationalists tangible power in key institutions, including the army. “He has to get serious about constitutional reform and national reconciliation,” says Visser. “It’s good that Maliki is beginning to understand what the Iraqi people want, but there’s a long way to go before he’s seen as a truly nationalist figure.”

The emergence of a nationalist movement is a direct challenge to the two countries with the greatest influence in Baghdad: the United States and Iran. Since 2003 Iran, which has accumulated vast power in Iraq, overt and covert, has been satisfied with a weak central government that is under the control of Shiite religious parties. If that begins to change–if the religious parties’ influence falls, and if Iran sees the possibility of a strong regime in Baghdad–Tehran might decide to cause trouble, making use of ISCI’s Badr Brigade or the so-called “special groups” that broke away from Sadr’s Mahdi Army. That worries Iyad Allawi, who has re-emerged as a potential prime minister. “Maliki won’t be able to fix things unless the whole political process is fixed,” Allawi told The Nation. “And there will be an intervention by Iran to prevent that rebalancing of the political process. So there is the possibility of a lot of bloodshed.” So far, Iran is placing its bets on longtime ally Maliki, who made a point of visiting Tehran right after the election. Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, then traveled to Baghdad, announcing that Iran will establish two more consulates, in Karbala and in two Kurdish cities.

For advocates of America’s imperial project in Iraq, the re-emergence of Iraqi nationalism is both good and bad news. Good, because Iraqi nationalists are first and foremost anti-Iranian, and they will work hard to curtail Iran’s interference. Bad, because precisely to the extent that democracy is allowed to flourish and that authentic Iraqis find their voices, the presence of US troops will not be tolerated. Having staked its fortunes since 2003 on a coalition (including ISCI, Dawa and the Kurds) that is also the most pro-Iranian, the United States is now going to have to accommodate an Iraqi political class that will blame Washington for the country’s devastation and for propping up pro-Iranian separatists and religious extremists.

For President Obama, the handwriting is on the wall. If, on the advice of US military commanders, he attempts to prolong the occupation, he will run afoul of Iraq’s newfound self-confidence. By the same token, the president can curry enormous favor in Iraq by accelerating withdrawal. Indeed, an early test of that proposition will come this summer, when Iraqis vote in a national referendum on whether to ratify the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which allows US troops to stay in Iraq until the end of 2011. Washington can expect strong opposition from the nationalist movement, and the outcome of the referendum is uncertain. If voters reject the SOFA, Obama will have a deadline of twelve months to get all US forces out of Iraqi territory; if they vote in favor, they will do so only because the 2011 deadline seems plausible. In either case, they’re not likely to look favorably upon any US effort to create a long-lasting military presence beyond that deadline.

That doesn’t mean the immediate future is going to be peaceful. Obama is going to have to resist those who urge him, at the first sign of increased violence in Iraq, to slow down the withdrawal. He is going to have to work hard to get Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, to persuade their friends, allies and agents to avoid conflict. Obama will have to work with the UN, the Europeans, Russia and oil-hungry Asian powers such as China to kick-start a global effort to invest tens of billions in Iraqi reconstruction, allowing those countries to sign mutually beneficial deals with the Iraqi oil industry. And if violence does erupt, Obama is going to have to let the fever run its course.

The election results prove conclusively that a nationalist Sunni-Shiite cross-sectarian alliance, much of which has roots in the insurgency that followed the US invasion, is reaching for power. There’s no stopping it. By prolonging the occupation, the United States is only standing in its way.


About Robert Dreyfuss

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones. more…

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If United States President Barack Obama is really serious about "unclenched fists" in a new US-Iran relationship, he’s got to take a serious, unbiased look at the US record.

PART 1: Obama’s Persian double

If United States President Barack Obama is really serious about “unclenched fists” in a new US-Iran relationship, he’s got to take a serious, unbiased look at the US record.

Former US secretary of state Cordell Hull’s classic comment about Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo – “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch” – has been the norm for decades. From the Somozas in Nicaragua to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, from Indonesia’s Suharto to the shah of Iran, US foreign policy over the past decades has enshrined a hefty SOB gallery.

This gallery symbolizes the official Washington policy of US neo-colonialism – always indirect and non-ostensive, contrary to historical examples of European colonialism.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has demanded apologies from the US as essential for smashing the wall of mistrust between Iran and the US. He has a point.

If president Jimmy Carter had apologized to Iran for the fact that the US since president Harry S Truman supported Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – aka the shah of Iran – and his tyranny; if he had promised not to subvert the Iranian revolution; and if he had committed to give back to the country the up to US$60 billion stolen by the shah, his family and acolytes, the infamous Iranian hostage crisis would have been solved swiftly.

But a weak Carter – often perceived as a country bumpkin Hamlet – was not the real power anyway. The real power behind the throne was David Rockefeller. German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt was right when she wrote that after 1918, political power, except revolutionary power, is pure operetta.

Do the Rockefeller shuffle
The shah’s banker was David Rockefeller. He was the man responsible for the entry into the US of the “ailing” shah in 1979, which led to the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran (the “nest of spies”) and the interminable hostage crisis. Rockefeller at the time stressed the “patriotism”, “independence” and “tolerance” by the shah towards women and religious minorities and stressed his “modernization” of Iran – this when Amnesty International and even the US State Department itself were amassing stacks of documents showing the shah as one of the most brutal rulers in modern history. But Mohammad Reza provided excellent dividends to then Chase Manhattan. Rockefeller was duly taking the interests of his shareholders into account.

In the late 1940s, the shah did not even live in Iran. He preferred New York and the French Riviera – while Iran was fermenting with democratic and nationalist ideas. These ideas led to the emergence of Mohammad Mossadegh’s party, who was later elected prime minister. Mossadegh committed the enormous sin of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry – so he was duly deposed via a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inspired coup; thus Mohammad Reza was invited to become the new CIA puppet in Iran (during the Mossadegh affair he was no more than a de luxe refugee in Europe).

During the Cold War, stressing how easily the Soviet Union had occupied Iran earlier, the CIA trained the Savak, the shah’s secret police. Being Muslim but not an Arab, Mohammad Reza also rendered a great service to the US: he did not share Arab hatred of Israel. He even sold oil to Israel (one of the reasons that later fomented ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s popularity). In sum, the shah was the perfect gatekeeper of US political and economic interests in the Persian Gulf.

The shah used to be no more than a playboy. John F Kennedy, who met him on the Rivera party circuit before he became US president, thought he was a dangerous megalomaniac. As president, Kennedy anyway supported him, suggesting a little harmless reform here and there. The shah made a few cosmetic overtures towards women, for instance declaring non-obligatory the use of the chador. But this only concerned the wealthy and the Iranian upper-middle class, the small consumer society created by the multinational corporations to whom the shah opened up the country.

What the shah and his secret police did with relish was to persecute all political parties, as well as Kurds, one of the very “minorities” David Rockefeller said was protected.

And just like president George W Bush a few decades later, Mohammad Reza started to believe in his own propaganda and regard himself as king of kings. Especially because he was instrumental behind the spectacular rise in the price of oil in 1973 of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This – the real story – will never be featured in the mainstream US media.

Now do the Kissinger shuffle
The shah got his green light from national security advisor cum secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In 1972, president Richard Nixon had introduced the Nixon Doctrine (pity no one never asked Alaska governor Sarah Palin about that). Based on the US defeat in Vietnam, and convinced he would never be able to directly combat all the global subversion nodes springing up against US interests, Nixon started to promote global “gatekeepers”. No gatekeeper was more essential than the one in charge of the Persian Gulf. The shah gladly accepted the role, but complained he was broke – he could not buy the weapons the US was trying to sell him.

The wily Kissinger found out how: the rise of OPEC oil prices. This is how Kissinger – employed by the Rockefellers – drove to the roof the profits by US Big Oil, which at the time consisted of five of the Seven Sisters, and especially Rockefeller Big Oil (Exxon, Mobil and SoCal, three of the four majors, the other being Texaco). And all this with an added big bonus. Japan, Germany and the rest of Western Europe depended on Persian Gulf oil much more than the US; thus Kissinger also found out how to undermine the devastating industrial and commercial competition to the US by especially Japan and Germany.

A case can be made that the whole shah/Kissinger racket inevitably led to the fall of the shah. The shah – like Somoza, Suharto or an array of Latin American dictators – never understood that he was no more than a puppet.

He spent tens of billions of dollars on American weapons. His multinational model fit the obvious pattern seen all over the developing world: a minority swimming in gold and conspicuous consumption while the absolute majority faced dire poverty. The shah pushed for cash crops instead of conducting a real agrarian reform that would guarantee the subsistence of millions of Iranian peasants – all of them diehard Shi’ites and most of them illiterate.

These peasant masses in the end got the boot from the countryside by American agribusiness; for the Americans, they were nothing but a “superfluous” workforce, non-adaptable to a Western, mechanized, selective model. It was those miserable masses, flooding Tehran and other large Iranian cities in a fight for survival, who composed the mass base of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979. The rest is, of course, history.

Save us from these barbarians
The US ruling class simply could not – and still cannot – acknowledge the power of Third World nationalism; there’s the risk American public opinion, if well informed, could sympathize with nationalists everywhere.

That’s why the Vietnamese were portrayed as puppets of Beijing; after taking out Indochina, they would – according to the domino theory – invade the Philippines and in the end Los Angeles and San Francisco.

US corporate media endlessly denounced the horrendous crimes of the genocidal psychopath Pol Pot in Cambodia; but US public opinion was never told that it was Nixon and Kissinger who destroyed neutral Cambodia in 1970, thus allowing the Khmer Rouge to flower and take over power, destroying it even further.

As for the Iranian revolution against the oppressive, mega-corrupt shah/US multinational corporations regime, it was relentlessly depicted as “subversion” perpetrated by an old religious fanatic and a demented mob (the CIA at least got it right in 1978, depicting Khomeini in a memo as “a sort of moralist, a philosopher-king”).

In 1978, the whole US corporate media were hammering that the shah was invincible; that the Khomeinist mobs were a minority; and that the shah was a “great modernizer” opposed by “Muslim fanatics”. Then, after the revolution, American guilt for the life and “work” of the shah was psychologically replaced by hatred of Iran because of the American hostage crisis.

It’s never enough to remember today: virtually everything happening in the world during the Cold War had to have behind it the hand – and the gold – of Moscow. Why didn’t Carter block Iran – whose oil Japan and Europe badly needed? It was fear that Khomeini would fall into Moscow’s arms.

The Islamic Revolution was received with supreme perplexity in Washington. The perplexity remains to this day – the 30th anniversary of the revolution. The process inevitably went through the paranoia of a (frustrated) attempt to blame it all on Moscow.

Recent history has shown – from Vietnam to Iraq – that the “policies” concocted by the Washington establishment never matched reality, and that’s why they spectacularly failed. Added to the inevitable decadence of empire, it has become increasingly difficult to hide the stark consequences from American public opinion. Nevertheless, it’s still taboo in the US to acknowledge September 11, 2001, as blowback for US foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim world. So how far would Obama really go to explain in detail to US public opinion how the CIA coup against Mossadegh in 1953, and the support for the shah dictatorship, led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 30 years (or 56 years?) of mistrust?

Hail to the revolution
Thirty years after the fact, the shadow of the Smasher of Idols, the Glorious Upholder of the Faith, the Sole Hope of the Downtrodden, the Vicar of Islam, His Holiness Grand Ayatollah Haj Sayyed Ruhollah Mussavi Khomeini still looms large over Iran.

He was no less than a living essay on hieratic severity. After 16 years in exile, back to Iran to lead his revolution, he said he felt “nothing”. A few months later, on April 1, 1979, an astonishing 98.2% of Iranians, in a national referendum, endorsed his dream of an Islamic Republic.

Khomeini had the genius to brand himself as the incarnated utopia of a world where the weak would be strong, where the law of god would erase the injustice of man, where faith would be knowledge, where the certitude of tradition would trump the angst of progress. Even the Arab masses were seduced; they did not understand any talk of class struggle or plus value, but Khomeini talked in terms of god and satan – the global language of the downtrodden.

This dream of a world devoid of contradiction and conflict, united under the watchful eye of Allah, died with the death of Khomeini – by a fabulous twist of history on the day in 1989 Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s squads were smashing students in Tiananmen Square, thus, in Deng’s view, preventing luan (“chaos”) from hijacking the Chinese economic miracle.

Khomeini adopted “neither East or West”, neither the Great Satan nor communism. He offered redemption through martyrdom – sending hundreds of thousands of young martyrs to certain death into a horrendous war in the 1980s against Saddam that of course he did not want but in the end fully adopted, deploying an incendiary rhetoric of death and proclamations. The victims were in the end the same mostazaffin – the oppressed – whom he claimed to defend.

Khomeini deployed instant tribunals and suicide commandos, the human waves of the Iran-Iraq war and the hostage crisis humiliation. Carter lost his re-election because of the hostage crisis. Iran ridiculed the US with Irangate. Against the terrorism of the Great Satan, Khomeini deployed sacred terrorism. None won. Everyone lost.

For the past two decades, the “dream” has been carried out by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, born in 1940 in Mashhad into a family of preachers, and just a second-tier cleric. When Khomeini died, he was not even an ayatollah, not to mention an imam: just a hojjatoleslam, a student. He had studied the Koran in Najaf under Khomeini. Today his grip on absolute power is tighter than ever. Iran today is not a theocracy or a democracy: it’s a clerical autocracy, where Khamenei is indeed supreme. He will decide under which terms Iran will talk to Obama.

Still, those apologies remain in order. Like the Airbus from Iran Air, flight 655, destroyed by two Standard ER2 missiles shot from the USS Vincennes under the orders of Captain Will Rogers, killing almost 300 civilians in 1988 (that was one of the key reasons that led Khomeini to accept an “ignominious” ceasefire ending the Iran-Iraq war).

If Obama really wants to make the effort to understand Iran he could do no worse than read the great Iranian philosopher Daryush Shayegan, a former professor at the University of Tehran. When Khomeini died, Shayegan identified him and the shah as the two juxtaposed Irans: imperial Iran and the painful Iran of the blood of the martyr, “a juxtaposition that symbolizes an unreal dream: as the 12th century mystical poet Ruzbehan from Shiraz would say, this ‘dementia of the inaccessible’.”

The good news is that from Obama’s point of view, the “inaccessible” can become more than accessible with just a simple “we’re sorry”.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He may be reached at

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America’s economic crisis in 2009 bears little resemblance to the mini-depression of 1979. Then, the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s; now they are in their 50s and 60s. As I wrote in my year-end essay, the Reagan administration made it easier for homeowners and businesses to obtain leverage (see Waking from Lever-Lever Land, Asia Times Online, December 25, 2008). Young people need leverage to start families; old people need savings. The medicine that cured the economy in the early 1980s turned into an addiction during the 2000s.

The silliest thing that clever people are saying about the world economic crisis is that the United States will lose its position as the dominant world superpower in consequence. On the contrary: the crisis strengthens the relative position of the United States and exposes the far graver weaknesses of all prospective competitors. It makes the debt of the American government the world’s most desirable asset. America may deserve to decline, but as Clint Eastwood said in another context, “deserve’s got nothing to do with it”. President Barack Obama may turn out to be the most egregious unilateralist in American history.

America’s supposed decline dominates the glossy magazines. Last September, Germany’s Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck intoned, “One thing seems probable to me. As a result of the crisis, the United States will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system.” The German official is quoted by Professor Richard Florida in the March 2009 Atlantic Monthly, who adds, “You don’t have to strain too hard to see the financial crisis as the death knell for a debt-ridden, overconsuming and underproducing American empire – the fall long prophesied by [British historian] Paul Kennedy and others.” (Florida’s views are more nuanced).

And the ubiquitous Professor Niall Ferguson told a Vanity Fair interviewer on January 20 that America would crumble like Great Britain in the 1970s. “It certainly will be extremely painful … Half the federal debt is held by foreigners. And if the US either defaults on debt or allows the dollar to depreciate, the rest of the world is going to say, ‘Wait a second, you just screwed us.’ And that’s, I think, the moment at which the United States experiences the British experience – when, in the dark days of the 60s and 70s, Britain fundamentally lost its credibility and ceased to be a financial great power.”

But is this true? In fact, the rest of the world has queued up to lend America as much money as it might wish to borrow in order to get its consumers to spend again, and buy the manufactures and raw materials of the rest of the world. It won’t work, but that is another matter. As I wrote last October, the world isn’t flat, contrary to New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman’s vision of a level global playing field. It’s flattened. (see The world isn’t flat, it’s flattened, Asia Times Online, October 28, 2008).

Here’s a thought-experiment to gauge the merits of different national markets as a safe haven. Close your eyes and try to imagine what Germany, Japan and China will look like 30 years from now, that is, when a newly-issued long-term bond will mature. Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s critique of economics, I argued recently that the market cannot form accurate long-term expectations; it only can imagine future states of the world. (See Benedict XVI is magnificently right, Asia Times Online, December 9, 2008). Let us see what imagination tells us about the world’s largest capital markets. The conclusions of this exercise, I will show later, reinforce the founding premises of “supply-side economics”, the theory that guided America out of the 1979-1983 mini-depression.

Imagination fails in the case of Europe and Japan. One out of every four Germans today is older than 60, and in 30 years the proportion will rise to two-fifths. Japan is even worse: 30% of Japanese today are above 60, and in 30 years the number will be almost half. What does a national economy look like when the demographics are so skewed to pensioners?

We never have seen anything like this before in all of history. Pension and health costs projected forward will crush these economies a generation from now. Taxes will suffocate the dwindling population of young workers. A straight-line projection of present trends takes us to the cusp of national failure. We do not know whether present trends will continue in a straight line, to be sure. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, as Damon Runyon said, but that’s the way to bet.

Children are the wealth of nations, provided that their nations can put tools in their hands and the rule of law at their back. Countries that lack children are poor. Aging Germans do not have young people to whom to lend. That is why they lent their savings to Americans, through the subprime market, and why European banks are if anything worse off than American banks.

Imagination also fails in the case of China, not because extrapolation of present trends is so frightening, but rather because economic growth cannot possibly continue at the pace of the past 10 years. China is a different country than it was 30 years ago, and it will be a different country in another 30 years. It is in the midst of the largest migration of peoples in the history of the world, the fastest rate of urbanization and the greatest economic expansion of which we know. Its political system and social structure will change so radically that it is impossible to form a clear picture of the country in 2040.

Great opportunities are attended by enormous dangers. China has more young people than any other country in the world, more than all of Europe put together, but too many of them are trapped in rural poverty, uneducated and untrained.

That is why Chinese save half their income, more than anyone else in the world. Part of China’s steroidal savings rate can be explained by the one-child policy. People whose children will not care for them in old age require financial assets. What economists call precautionary savings, saving for a rainy day, explains a great deal of the Chinese demand for savings. The sun has shone on the Chinese economy for a generation, but when it rains, who is to say how hard it will rain? Extreme uncertainty about the future explains China’s savings rate.

But America’s future is not hard to visualize in 2040. In fact, America in 1979 was not much different from America in 2009. Minor adjustments await Americans over the next generation compared with the great changes affecting its prospective competitors.

China may offer greater prospective returns than America – a billion Chinese will make the transition from a low-productivity rural environment into a high-productivity urban environment during the next generation – but it also requires a greater appetite for risk. Nothing can compete with the United States as a safe-haven investment for the long term. German petulance about America’s domination of world markets rises in inverse proportion to the German birth rate. The German finance minister should know better.

The Chinese have no such illusions. Luo Ping, a director general at the China Bank Regulatory Commission, told an American audience, “We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion … we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do.” (Financial Times, December 12, 2008.)

A fearful world is buying trillions of dollars of securities from the US Treasury. Of all the cash flows in the world, nothing is more reliable than the tax revenues of the American state, the longest-lasting government on Earth presiding over the world’s largest economy.

During the 1960s, a young Canadian economist, Robert Mundell, argued that an increase in US government debt might represent a true increase in wealth under certain circumstances. It is relatively easy to capitalize corporate income streams through bonds, Mundell observed, but much harder to capitalize household income streams. If the government cuts taxes and issues bonds to replace the lost revenue, the increase in the float of the government bonds outstanding will represent an increase in wealth, provided that the tax increase stimulates growth, and the resulting growth brings in enough taxes to pay the interest on the bonds.

From this insight emerged the economic program of president Ronald Reagan. Drastic tax cuts, reducing the marginal tax rate from 70% to 40%, vastly increased the US budget deficit during the early 1980s. But the increase in revenues from a recovering economy more than paid the interest on the additional bonds, and the increase in government debt represented an increase in wealth. Mundell went on to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1999, for work in a different area.

America’s economic crisis in 2009 bears little resemblance to the mini-depression of 1979. Then, the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s; now they are in their 50s and 60s. As I wrote in my year-end essay, the Reagan administration made it easier for homeowners and businesses to obtain leverage (see Waking from Lever-Lever Land, Asia Times Online, December 25, 2008). Young people need leverage to start families; old people need savings. The medicine that cured the economy in the early 1980s turned into an addiction during the 2000s.

But there is a perverse parallel between the Treasury market of 1979 and 2009. In both cases, the market is willing to absorb an enormous increase in the float of US government securities. Looking into the future, no cash flows in the world are more secure than the tax revenues of the American Treasury.

The greater the uncertainty attached to all other cash flows, the greater the demand for US Treasury securities. America does not have to throw its political weight around to persuade the world to fund between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion of new debt issuance; its political weight stems from the fact that the world needs the United States as a safe haven for its money.

The difference, of course, is that the increased issuance of Treasury securities during the Reagan years represented an absolute increase in wealth, capitalizing the recovery prospects of the US economy. All the other economies of the free world benefited. The Obama administration’s multi-trillion dollar borrowing requirement constitutes a shift in relative wealth. Less capital will be available for other economies. The relative position of the United States will strengthen radically, which is to say that the position of many other parts of the world will weaken radically.
Obama isn’t entirely to blame for this sorry state of affairs, to be sure, given that these trends were in place before he took office. Still, it is incongruous that the liberal consensus welcomed the multilateralist Obama and bade good riddance to the unilateralist Republicans. A radical shift in economic power in favor of the United States makes Obama the moral equivalent of a unilateralist, to a degree that Reagan never could have imagined.

To overpay unionized construction workers to build bridges, and bail out the bloated budgets of American states, the Obama administration will flood the world with so much Treasury debt that capital will flow out of the poorest countries to buy it. Rather than protest this outrageously unilateralist action, the rest of the world encourages him to do so, hoping that somehow the Obama stimulus package will get American consumers to buy their goods once again.

During the Reagan years, the rest of the world had the right to grumble about the dominance of the American economy. Now that American policy has become a millstone around the necks of most of the world’s economies, the rest of the world’s leaders flatter Obama while he beats them. No Republican president ever had it so good.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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Ali Ashtari, a 45-year-old tradesman in electronic merchandise who supplied electronic devices to military bases and research centers is seen in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on June 28, 2008. Ashtari was found guilty of sending "sensitive information on military, defense and research centers" to Israel. His alleged confession says Mossad gave him $50,000 to supply internet cables and satellite phones to "special customers" in the hope of enabling Israel to spy on their communications.


According to The Telegraph Western intelligence sources have stated that Tel Aviv is using front companies and double agents to disrupt Iran’s illicit weapons project as an alternative to direct military strikes.

This comes in the wake of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warning senior military figures that Iran’s continued nuclear program development could pose and “existential threat to the Jewish state.”

Barak made the allegations during a meeting with top Israeli military commanders on Monday as he prepared them psychologically for what could be Israel taking unilateral action against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s government.

Barak explained that not only did the threat come from the regime in Tehran itself but also from the groups that are supported by Iran such as the Lebanese resistance organization Hezbollah and the Palestinian movement Hamas, which controls Gaza.

“It will be very difficult to stop the trickling of nuclear capabilities, even if primitive, to terrorist organizations,” he said.

The defense minister also warned that once the Obama administration began to negotiate with Iran any military strike would become that much more difficult as he said Tehran would engage in steps and gestures aimed at obfuscating the issue of its nuclear program.

Meanwhile The Telegraph’s report came against the background of Israeli officials privately acknowledging that the new U.S. administration was unlikely to approve any air attack on Iran.

According to a report in The New York Times several months ago, the George W. Bush administration, too, prevented an Israeli Air Force (AIF) strike on Tehran’s alleged nuclear installation in Natanz.

American journalist James Risen reported recently that the CIA and Mossad had co-planned a number of sabotage operations against the Iranian program, including damaging power lines to nuclear sites in order to cause harm to computer systems and equipment.

Israel’s plan is to delay Iran’s development of nuclear weapons for as long as possible. Ultimately Tel Aviv acknowledges that this strategy will not prevent the Islamic republic’s nuclear arsenal from becoming a reality, only delay it.

“Disruption is designed to slow progress on the program, done in such a way that they don’t realize what’s happening. You are never going to stop it,” a former CIA officer on Iran was quoted as saying.

“The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach,” he added.

“We certainly don’t want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It’s a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks.”

And another strategy the Israelis and American intelligence agencies have been involved with is the assassination of key figures involved in Iran’s nuclear program.

Aardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant died in mysterious circumstances in 2007. It was reported that “gas poisoning” had lead to his demise.

But there have been a number of other individuals involved in the procurement and enrichment process in both Iran and Europe who have met premature ends at what is believed to be Israeli hit squads or agents working for the Israelis.

“With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear program and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain,” said Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the U.S. private intelligence company with strong government security connections.

“As U.S.-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration’s outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result,” she added.

This would not be the first time Israeli agents were involved in assassinating scientists involved in developing the nuclear arsenal of countries Tel Aviv did not want to see acquire them.

Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist, was the world’s greatest expert on barrel ballistics. Israel had made several unsuccessful attempts to buy his expertise, but Bull had made clear his disdain for the Jewish state.

He instead offered his services to Saddam Hussein to build a supergun capable of launching shells containing nuclear, chemical or biological warheads from Iraq directly into Israel.

In 1989 Saddam ordered three of the weapons to be built at a cost of $20 million while Bull was retained as a consultant. The project was codenamed Babylon.

Former Mossad head Nahum Admoni consulted with Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir and both men agreed Bull had to die.

On Mar. 22, 1990, three men drove a hired car to Bull’s apartment in Brussels. As the 61-year-old Bull opened the door, he received five bullets in his head and neck according to the book “Gideon’s Spies” by Gordon Thomas.

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Saudi Arabia lags far behind its neighbors. Women there live in a gender-segregated and unequal society. They may not vote, must seek male approval to travel, and are subject to veil enforcement by religious police. But even the kingdom has inched forward, allowing women to study law, check into hotels alone, and obtain their own identification cards.

A government’s selection of a woman to oversee female education would hardly make headlines in many countries. But this is a first in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most restrictive places for women. As experience in the region shows, even such a minor step can shift the political sands toward more equal opportunity for the sexes.

Steady but small steps toward women’s rights and freedoms are necessary in a culture with a strong history of laws and Islamic practices that are patriarchal and define social roles. Sadly, women may still require a male’s permission to marry, divorce, or work; domestic violence is a serious problem.

But the Middle East is not the same place for women that it was even five years ago.

That at least is the conclusion of a study released last week by Freedom House, a Washington-based group which tracks liberty’s advance (or retreat) around the globe. From 2004 through last year, all six countries in the study advanced women’s rights, making “small but notable gains” in political, economic, and legal rights.

Of the countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates), Kuwait and the UAE made the most progress. In Kuwait, for instance, women voted and ran for the first time in local and national elections in 2006. (Recent regional elections in next-door Iraq required 30 percent of candidates be women.)

Saudi Arabia lags far behind its neighbors. Women there live in a gender-segregated and unequal society. They may not vote, must seek male approval to travel, and are subject to veil enforcement by religious police. But even the kingdom has inched forward, allowing women to study law, check into hotels alone, and obtain their own identification cards.

Saudi King Abdullah went further over the weekend with a vigorous shake-up among senior leaders, including sacking the conservative head of the Commission of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which oversees the religious police. His first female appointee as a cabinet official may appear to be to a “soft” post, but a glance around the region shows that women’s education acts as a powerful catalyst in demanding more rights.

For instance, educational opportunity, combined with the Internet, are changing the views and expectations of women in the Muslim theocracy of Iran. More than 60 percent of university students in Iran are women. Iranian women are leaving abusive and unwanted marriages in increasing numbers, and have launched Internet campaigns to overturn misogynistic laws. In Qatar and the UAE, women outnumber men in university by 3 to 1 – a sure-fire source of pressure for more rights.

So is the increased presence of women in the workforce. In Kuwait, for instance, more than half of working-age women have jobs, and that feeds greater financial and emotional independence.

In the absence of democracy, of freedom to form advocacy groups, of independent judiciaries, and of radical rethinking of cultural norms, women are making slow gains in the Middle East. But that pace is bound to pick up as they experience more opportunity – changing the economy and character of the region, perhaps even reducing terrorist tendencies.

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The new U.S. administration may get firmer with Israel on a number of issues, including pressuring it to freeze settlement expansion and lift hundreds of military roadblocks in the West Bank. Palestinian and international peace activists try to remove an Israeli roadblock during a demonstration near Bethlehem in September 2007.

JERUSALEM — As predicted by seasoned analysts both in the U.S. and Israel, it appears the Barack Obama administration and Israel could be heading on a collision course in several areas as the new U.S. administration gets a little firmer with Israel.

Three particular issues are concerning Israel: The new administration’s desire to hold talks with Iran when Israel would prefer military action, Washington’s decision to attend a preparatory meeting for the forthcoming U.N. World Conference Against Racism, and a probable American crackdown on Israel’s illegal settlement building and expansion in the Palestinian West Bank.

Following the news that U.S. President Barack Obama intends to pursue dialogue with Tehran and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Israeli officials are busy putting together a position paper for the new administration in Washington.

Last year the George W. Bush administration thwarted an Israeli attempt to take military action against Iran, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Israelis held simulated dummy runs for an attack on Iran by partaking in aerial maneuvers over eastern Greece in June last year.

Tel Aviv requested bunker-busting bombs from Washington to use against Iran’s alleged underground nuclear reactor in Natanz.

Upgraded refueling jets, which would be necessary for a strike on Iran, were also requested as was a clear flight path over Iraq in order to strike Iran. Israel received 100 bunker-busting bombs but the flight path over Iraq was turned down.

The position paper being formulated by the Israelis lists the problems facing international efforts to curb Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

Israel doesn’t want to see prolonged negotiations between the U.S. and Iran and has argued that Washington should only hold talks for a short period. And should negotiations fail, it has recommended harsh sanctions against Tehran as a precursor to military action.

But Iran is not the only problem the Israelis are facing. The U.S. administration has decided to attend preparatory talks for the forthcoming U.N. Conference Against Racism, Durban 2, to be held in Geneva in April – much to Israel’s chagrin.

“This will be the first opportunity the Obama administration has had to engage in the negotiations for the Durban Review, and – in line with our commitment to diplomacy – the U.S. has decided to send a delegation to engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

“The intent of our participation is to work to try to change the direction in which the review conference is heading,” it said. “We hope to work with other countries that want the Conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world.”

The conference is named after the first conference which took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, amongst bitter acrimony between conference attendees and Israeli delegates.

Critics of Israel stated in Durban that Zionism was racism. Israel in turn accused its critics of being anti-Semitic.

Israel is again afraid that against the background of its recent three-week bloody assault on Gaza, which left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, nearly 5,000 wounded, most of them civilian, and much of the territory’s infrastructure decimated, that it could again receive a lambasting.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials had previously sought to block efforts by senior American administration officials to change Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s decision to boycott the conference.

One of these officials included Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Obama’s former campaign adviser. Rice is also pushing for the U.S. to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

The body had been boycotted by the U.S., partly because of Washington’s view that it is one-sided in its criticism of Israel.

Samantha Power, another Obama adviser at the National Security Council, is the other official pushing for American participation in Durban 2. Power participated in the initial Durban conference as the representative of a non-government organization and is known for her strong criticism of Israel.

In the past, she expressed support for cutting U.S. military assistance to Israel and transferring the funds as aid to build a Palestinian state. The U.S. will later make a decision on whether to attend the conference in Geneva.

In the interim, Israel’s continued settlement building and expansion in the West Bank could come under fire when U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton next visit Jerusalem.

It is expected that the new U.S. administration will pressure Israel heavily to freeze settlement construction and keep its promise to lift some of the more than 600 Israeli military roadblocks in the West Bank.

Mitchell will bring a team of experts with him who are au fait with the facts surrounding the settlements. They are also up to date on new developments and Israel’s various excuses as to why it failed in the past to meet its obligations under the international peace Quartet’s “road map.”

Measures the Obama administration could possibly take include cutting the equivalent sum of the latest investments in settlements from the remaining budget for U.S. guaranteed loans. This is approximately $1.3 billion out of a total of $10 billion that the U.S. made available to Israel for it to absorb immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile the State Department is evaluating the implication of reports that MP Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu – which came third in Israel’s elections last week and is expected to heavily influence the composition of the next Israeli government – was a member of the extremist organization Kach.

Kach appears on the State Department list of terrorist organizations.

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Israeli President Shimon Peres is optimistic about reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority. He says this is the best solution for bringing peace to the Middle East. Peres receives Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his residence in Jerusalem, July 2008.


TWO STATES, NOT ONE — Israeli President Shimon Peres is optimistic about reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority. He says this is the best solution for bringing peace to the Middle East. Peres receives Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his residence in Jerusalem, July 2008. (AFP via Newscom)
There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to Middle East affairs, and the recent events in Gaza have not muted them. A minority of Middle East pundits have recently emerged as advocates for a one-state solution, which would undermine Israel’s legitimacy and internationally recognized right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state in the land of my forefathers. Having personally witnessed the remarkable progress we have made with the Palestinian Authority in recent years, I believe that a two-state solution is not only the best resolution to this age-old conflict, but one within our reach.

The one-state solution has enough intrinsic flaws to render it no solution at all. From Israel’s perspective, it is not possible for the Jewish people to accept an arrangement that signifies the end of the existence of a Jewish state. From the Palestinians’ perspective, they should not be denied the opportunity to take their national destiny into their own hands.

Dissenters from the two-state solution contend – not without some reason – that Gaza and the West Bank are too small to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Yet this would also be the case under the one-state formula; it would result in a state that is merely 24,000 square kilometers and that already overflows with a population exceeding 10 million (5.5 million Jews and 4.5 million Arabs). While cynics might question the size of the West Bank and Gaza, optimists should look no further than Singapore for reassurance.

The area of the West Bank and Gaza is nine times as large as Singapore’s, yet the combined population of Palestinians in both regions is smaller than that of Singapore. This Southeast Asian country enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. We have faith that the Palestinians are capable of achieving similar success, and we will continue to work tirelessly with our partners across the negotiating table to establish an autonomous Palestinian state where the people will institute a modern economy based on science, technology and the benefits of peace.

Establishing a single multinational country is a tenuous path that does not bode well for peace but, rather, enforces the conflict’s perpetuation. Lebanon, ravaged by bloodshed and instability, represents only one of many examples of an undesirable quagmire of this nature.

The difficulties of a two-state solution are numerous, but it remains the only realistic and moral formula to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those not committed to this solution argue that, after the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel’s waist would be too narrow – some six miles – to ensure security for its citizens.

Indeed, six miles will be too narrow to guarantee full security, which only reinforces our belief that Israel’s safety is not embedded only in territorial defense but in peace. Peace provides breadth of wings, even when the waist is narrow.

Last month Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi outlined his suggestions for a one-state solution. Although I disagree with his formula, I am encouraged by the manner in which he elucidates and builds his case.

Mostly, this is salient in his fundamental and central premise that “The Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.” The resonance of these words is crucial, for they diametrically oppose the radical Muslim elements that reject the very right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the land of their forefathers and, on this basis, advocate a murderous jihad war whose goal is to destroy Israel.

The Jewish people want and deserve to live in peace in their rightful, historical homeland. The Palestinian people want and deserve their own land, their own political institutions and their right to self-determination. It is vital that this cause be based on the prospect of coexistence between Jews and Arabs, which translates into cooperation in fields such as the economy, tourism, the environment and defense. Achieving all this will be possible only by granting each people its own state and borders, to enable their citizens to pray according to their faiths, cultivate their cultures, speak their own languages and safeguard their heritages.

Let us commit our most concerted effort to allow these two states to flourish. Maybe one day, Israelis and Palestinians will choose, as in Europe, not to allow borders to inhibit economic coordination or to serve as a reason for war.

The writer is president of Israel. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author.

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Dust of Tuesday’s voting battle settled down and the battle of forming the next Israeli government has just begun. With Benjamin Netanyahu poised for premiership and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a “racist and fascist” party (as condemned by Talia Sasson of the Merez party) very well positioned to be the king or queen maker of the next ruling coalition, the Palestinian people and the whole region will have to brace as from next March for an Israeli government of war.


Dust of Tuesday’s voting battle settled down and the battle of forming the next Israeli government has just begun. With Benjamin Netanyahu poised for premiership and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a “racist and fascist” party (as condemned by Talia Sasson of the Merez party) very well positioned to be the king or queen maker of the next ruling coalition, the Palestinian people and the whole region will have to brace as from next March for an Israeli government of war.

First on the agenda of the new government will be the approval of 2.4 billion shekels ordered on Monday by the outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to re-equip the army after the war on Gaza as well as an extra military funding of one billion shekels.

Ironically the Israelis went to early elections as a way out of a government crisis, but the narrowly – won victory of Kadima and the inconclusive results of Tuesday’s elections have put Israel in disarray and plunged it into a political limbo, with both Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Netanyahu of Likud claiming victory while a kingmaker role is awarded to Avigdor Lieberman and his anti-Arab platform. The tie set the stage for weeks of agonizing coalition negotiations. But what is more important, in view of historic experience, is that whenever Israel was in an internal crisis it used to resort to war as a way to unify its ranks, at least for a while. The present crisis is no exception and it doesn’t bode well for the Palestinians and the region.

By the Israeli basic law, the president must consult with all the parties as to who they prefer as prime minister, and whoever is recommended by more Knesset members is given the nod. The law however doesn’t oblige the president to nominate Kadima only because it was the winner in the polls. It’s now up to President Shimon Peres to decide whether Livni or Netanyahu should have the first shot at forming a government.

The number of Knesset seats needed for majority is 61. With ninety – nine percent of the votes counted early Wednesday the Likud – led right –wing and religious parties have more than 63 seats. Kadima – led center and leftist parties together with the Arab parties got less than 58 seats, which makes Kadima’s victory more a failure than a success.

Haaretz on February 8 published a “coalition calculator” predicting three coalition scenarios based on “a weighted average of six polls released at the end of the week”: First a “Netanyahu – led Right – Center Coalition” including Likud, Yesrael Betteinu, Labor and National Union + Jewish Home with a total of 66 Knesset seats, or 76 seats if Shas is added. Second a “Netanyahu – led Lieberman – Free Coalition” including Likud, Kadima, Labor with a total of 65 seats, or 75 seats with Shas. The third, described by Haaretz as the “Dark Horse” was a “Livni – led Coalition” [if Kadima edges Likud, which did happen] including Kadima, Yesrael Betteinu, Labor and Shas with a total of 69 seats. However the third possibility was almost ruled out on Tuesday.

Livni said she would not join any government led by Netanyahu. Lieberman was on record Tuesday night that he will recommend Netanyahu to Peres to lead a “right – wing government.” Shas, which came fifth on Tuesday, was the party that brought the Kadima – led government down over its objection to “negotiating” the future of Jerusalem , which in turn led to Tuesday’s early elections and accordingly will not join Kadima in a new coalition. Moreover Mohammad Barakeh of Hadash and Ahmad Tibi of the United Arab List-Ta’al both confirmed that they will not recommend Livni to Peres for premiership, neither they will support any ruling coalition that includes Lieberman and his party, and “we will sit in the opposition,” according to Tibi. Similarly Ehud Barak of Labor is not a taken – for – granted partner to Kadima in view of his statements that his party will not join a new ruling coalition if it did not get twenty seats in the Knesset and it got only thirteen. However Barak’s chances seem better with Likud whose leader Netanyahu publicly denied Lieberman the post of defense minister and praised Barak for his military performance in Operation Cast Lead against Gaza , hinting he could award Barak the post.

War Planned on Two – state Solution

Right and left –wing Israeli rhetoric however could not smokescreen the fact that Israel ’s latest elections, from Palestinian and Arab perspectives, were competed among the right, the center right and the far right, or between the extremists and the ultra-extremists. Kadima was a breakaway from Likud in the first place. Yesrael Betteinu was an offshoot of Likud. Palestinian blood is on the hands of Netanyahu as much as it is on the hands of Livni and Barak. Does it really matter then if they differ on launching an all out war or limited wars on the Palestinian people, or on which is better to finish them once and for all in a military blitz or to exhaust them to elimination by prolonged gradual small wars!

While all the major winners in the Israeli February 10 election are in consensus on the imminent resumption of war on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, Netanyahu’s political platform promises an immediate political and colonial settlement war in the West Bank as well as for a planned attack on Iran that could embroil the whole region in a very much wider conflict, unless the new U.S. administration of Barak Obama decides to avert such a far – reaching threat by making good on its campaign promises for a dialogue with Tehran and exploits what the Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani described, during the opening session of the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 6, as “the golden opportunity” for the normalization of U.S. – Iran relations.

This ominous outcome of Tuesday’s Israeli general elections does not mean of course that the former cabinet of Ehud Olmert was a government of peace, as it was proved otherwise by the two wars it launched in less than 30 months on Lebanon in 2006 and the recent 22-day war on Gaza, let alone carrying on with the war Olmert’s predecessor Ariel Sharon launched on the autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in 2002.

However while the outcome makes it very clear that resuming the war on Gaza is top on the agenda of the next government, spotlights are focusing away from Netanyahu’s plans for the West Bank, which is tantamount to an all out war on the so – called two – state solution and the so – called “peace process” to make it happen. He rejects the “ Annapolis approach” and advocates instead a protracted “economic peace” approach as a necessary stage for creating conditions for political peace. He rules out negotiations on the final status issues of the refugees, Jerusalem and colonial Jewish settlements as “non – negotiable.” Netanyahu remains opposed to the land-for-peace concept at the heart of the Palestinian – Israeli signed accords within the framework of the Oslo process. During his campaign he warned against giving up any occupied territory to the Palestinians, claiming it would be “grabbed by extremists,” and said he will not be bound by Olmert’s commitments: “I will not keep Olmert’s commitments to withdraw and I won’t evacuate settlements. Those understandings are invalid and unimportant.” In January Netanyahu said there were other “models” for the Palestinians short of complete sovereignty. He will complete the reconstruction of the “separation wall” and maintain Israeli control over most of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the main settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley – relegating Palestinians to a series of disconnected Bantustans .

A War Referendum

The drift to what Israelis themselves describe as “right – wing” policies as the crystal clear outcome of the general election on February 10 is indication enough that Israel is in a crisis that has been brewing since its unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, followed by its inconclusive war on that country in 2006 and exacerbated by its unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from the Palestinian Gaza Strip in another inconclusive war this year, all which prove that the erosion of the military “deterrence,” which the Israeli occupying power used to boast of since its creation in 1948 and which started with the Arab – Israeli war in 1973, is an irreversible historical trend that dictates a change of strategic course from seeking peace based on force and the exploits of force to a quest for peace based on justice and international law.

The erosion of the Israeli “deterrence” and the inconclusiveness of its military performance since 1973 created the ongoing crisis that brought in the Likud to power for the first time in 1977 to end Labor and “left’s” historical monopoly of government and usher in an era where none of the major parties could anymore wield enough popular support to score a “conclusive” electoral victory ever since, and the latest elections proved that this trend is there to stay for a long time to come.

However instead of drifting towards peace based on discarding their strategy of military force, which led to the occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories, the Israeli decision makers are still yearning to pursue the same strategy by restoring their lost military deterrence. Towards this end, they have made war itself and warmongering legitimate tools of electoral campaigning as illustrated by “Operation Cast Lead” against the Palestinian people in Gaza, which dominated the campaign for February 10 elections.

Those elections were “ Israel ’s War Referendum,” according to the editorial of The Washington Times on February 9; they were “A Promise of War,” Jackson Diehl wrote in The Washington Post on the same day. “The past four Israeli elections have been won by a candidate who promised to end Israel ‘s conflict with the Palestinians. Tomorrow, for the first time in decades, Israelis may choose a prime minister who is promising to wage war,” Diehl said. This development in the Israeli political system and the ominous outcome of Tuesday’s election do not bode well for the Palestinian people or for the regional stability and peace.

Judging by the statements on record of the four major contenders for premiership (Netanyahu, Livni, Barak and Lieberman) and the political platforms of the five main parties (Likud, Kadima, Labor, Yesrael Betteinu and Shas) of the thirty-three party lists who competed for some of the 120 seats of the Knesset among an estimated five million voters on February 10, “security and defense,” Hamas, the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza strip and Iran were the key issues in the election campaign. The so-called “peace process” was written off or at least sidelined to the back burner.

An Existential Conflict

While all the winners on Tuesday were in consensus on how to deal with Iran “by all means,” according to Netanyahu, their consensus is not as much clear on how to deal with Hamas “by all means” as well. Livni’s stated lone subscription to the “Annapolis Process” may blur the fact that she was a member of the tripartite leadership with Barak and Olmert who were responsible for the bloody onslaught by the region’s self –proclaimed “invincible” military force on the civilian infrastructure and the civilian population of one and a half million Palestinians, more than seventy percent of whom are displaced refugees from the Israeli 1948 onslaught on their civilian existence in their original homeland that had become Israel ever since.

In a key speech last Monday Livni promised more attacks and ruled out any chance of a negotiated settlement with Hamas. “If by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message,” she said, insisting on ignoring both the message of recent history since 1973 that “that” deterrence has irreversibly eroded by Arab state regular armies, but more by Palestinian and Lebanese popular resistance to military occupation, and the message that the “inconclusiveness” of Israeli wars against this resistance promises more erosion of the deterrence she and her rivals aspire for, especially in the Palestinian case because if the Lebanese civilians, for example, can flee north and east Palestinian refugees in Gaza as well as in the West Bank have no escape, but to join the resistance, and have no Syrian “strategic depth” like their Pan – Arab compatriots in Lebanon and their only strategic outlet is ironically Israel proper itself.

Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was right when he was quoted by The Guardian on February 4 as saying that the “conflict is an existential problem both on a personal and a national basis,” but he was partially right when he stated that only “Kadima failed” to address it as such. While Netanyahu admitted that Operation Cast Lead was not a success because it was an unfinished mission, Barak’s public admission on February 8 that he was running for defense minister, not prime minister, was also an admission that his campaigning militarily in Gaza was a failure that failed to improve his electoral chances. “It was a miscalculation: Brutal discourse and brutal policies always strengthen the far right – Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman,” co-founder and former director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem , Michael Warschawski, said on Tuesday.

Neither Netanyahu nor Lieberman or Barak seem receptive of those messages of recent history, which have deterred the Israeli strategy of military deterrence twice since 2006, to address the conflict as one of “existence” for both sides as they continue to unilaterally deal with it as only an Israeli headache and not as a bilateral problem of existence for the Palestinian people too who have been resisting the Israeli genocide against their very existence for more than sixty one years.

Netanyahu was on record: “We must smash the Hamas power in Gaza .” “There will be no escape from toppling the Hamas regime.” “I’m sorry to say we haven’t gotten the job done; the next government will have no choice but to finish the job and uproot . . . the Iranian terror base.” Lieberman — who was on record that if it ever came to war, Israel had only to bomb the Aswan Dam to flood the Nile Valley and devastate Egypt — was more horrifying in hinting to “atomic” genocide. He denounced the Israeli unilateral ceasefire in Gaza as a sell-out of the military; his preferred strategy is total war against the Gaza Strip: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II.” In an opinion column titled, “Kahane Won,” Gideon Levy reminded Haaretz readers two days ahead of the election that Lieberman was a member of Kahane’s Kach party in his youth and wrote: “Rabbi Meir Kahane can rest in peace: His doctrine has won. Twenty years after his Knesset list was disqualified and 18 years after he was murdered, Kahanism has become legitimate in public discourse … If Kahane were alive and running for the 18th Knesset, not only would his list not be banned, it would win many votes, as Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to do.”

* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit on the West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This article was first published by on Thursday February 12, 2009.

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There are multiple regions of tension around the world where trouble could flare up over any one of the above-mentioned issues; the Middle East being just one of them.

As Barack Obama takes over as president of the only remaining superpower, he inherits a troubled world where people are fighting and dying over ethnic differences, religion, nationality, oil, drugs and in the future, water.

There are multiple regions of tension around the world where trouble could flare up over any one of the above-mentioned issues; the Middle East being just one of them.

Consider these facts compiled by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies in their report on “The Military Balance 2009.”

Though criticized and often deemed ineffective, the United Nations remains actively involved in various forms in trying to reduce violence around the globe. The U.N. maintains a total of 88,116 peacekeepers and observers at a yearly cost of $7.452 billion in the following countries and/or regions. Some have been deployed for more than six decades. In some instances they have been successful; in others they have not been able to prevent the outbreak of violence.

Middle East: United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, (UNTSO). Strength: 152; deployed since 1948.

India/Pakistan: United Nations Military Observer Group, (UNMOGIP). Strength: 44; deployed since 1949.

Cyprus: Middle East: United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, (UNFICYP). Strength: 938; deployed since 1964.

Israel: United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, (UNDOF). Strength: 1,088; deployed since 1974.

Lebanon: United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, (UNIFIL). Strength: 12,341; deployed since 1978.

Western Sahara: United Nations Mission for the Referendum, (MINURSO). Strength: 228; deployed 991.

Georgia: United Nations Observer Mission, (UNOMIG). Strength: 151; deployed 1993.

Kosovo: United Nations Administration Mission, (UNMIK). Strength: 1,956; established 1999.

DR Congo: United Nations Organization Mission, (MONUC). Strength: 18,446; deployed 1999.

Afghanistan: United Nations Assistance Mission, (UNAMA). Strength: 19; deployed 2002.

Liberia: United Nations Mission, (UNMIL). Strength: 13,382; deployed 2003.

Iraq: United Nations Assistance Mission, (UNAMI). Strength: 229; deployed 2003.

Ivory Coast: United Nations Operation, (UNOCI). Strength: 9,168; deployed 2004.

Haiti: United Nations Stabilization Mission, (MINUSTAH). Strength: 9,012; deployed 2004.

Sudan: United Nations Operations, (UNMIS). Strength: 9,929; deployed 2005.

Timor-Leste: United Nations Integrated Mission, (UNMIT. Strength: 1,550; deployed 2006.

Darfur: United Nations/African Union Hybrid Operations, (UNAMID). Strength: 9,237; deployed 2007.

Chad: United Nations Mission, (MINURCAT). Strength: 105; deployed 2007.

Nepal: United Nations in Nepal, (UNMIN). Strength 141; deployed 2007.

In the post-World War II era, conflicts have continued to claim hundreds of thousands of lives. Among the bloodiest conflicts in order of the greatest number of fatalities they caused are:

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: 1979-89. Fatalities: 1,500,000.

Iran-Iraq War: 1980-1988. Fatalities: 1,000.000.

India: Muslim-Hindu clashes 1947-48. Fatalities: 800,000.

Afghanistan civil war, 1992-2001. Fatalities: 130,000.

Iraq: Government-Kurdish clashes. Fatalities 105,000.

Lebanon civil war, 1975-1990. Fatalities: 100,000.

Algeria civil war, 1954-62. Fatalities, 100,000.

Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, 1967. Fatalities 22,000.

Israel-Lebanon Border, 1968-78. Fatalities 30,000.

Kuwait, Gulf War, 1990-91. Fatalities, 20,000

Besides ethnic and religious violence that is the root cause of many of the above mentioned conflicts, in other parts of the world people are fighting and killing over two other major issues: drugs and water.

Since 1987 drug-related wars in South America have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. Killings related to powerful drug cartels in countries such as Mexico rose to almost 4,000 in 2008.

The growing concern about future conflicts is going to be over one of the planet’s most precious elements: water.

In years to come – just as in the most recent James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” where Her Majesty’s secret agent with a license to kill takes on the villains who, this time, are not after gold, oil, computer technology, or world domination through political means – the fight will be over who controls the water.

The water-related hot spots to watch for are the following:

Mexico-U.S.: Rio Grande, Rio Bravo and Rio Conchos.

Mexico-Guatemala: Grijalva River system.

Brazil-South America: Amazon River Basin

Hungary-Slovakia: Danube River

Armenian-Azerbaijan-Georgia: Kura-Araks River system

Israel-Jordan-Lebanon-Syria: Sea of Galilee and Jordan River

Cameroon-Chad-Niger-Nigeria: Lake Chad

Egypt-Northeast Africa: Nile River

Kenya-Tanzania-Uganda: Lake Victoria

Afghanistan-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: Syr and Amu Darya River systems.

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Millions of Iranian on Tuesday took to the streets across the country in support of Iranian progress toward democracy as part of ceremonies marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The following is the text of the resolution issued on the occasion

Millions of Iranian on Tuesday took to the streets across the country in support of Iranian progress toward democracy as part of ceremonies marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The following is the text of the resolution issued on the occasion:

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful,

The people of Islamic Iran, inspired by the holy Koran, the pure lifestyle of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the teachings of the prophet’s household, mark the thirtieth anniversary of the glorious triumph of the Islamic Revolution with great fervor and enthusiasm.

By their strong presence in the ceremonies marking the “spring of freedom” and by relying on God Almighty, Iran, with great hopes and warmth, welcomes the advent of the 4th decade of the novel history of this ancient land. The passage of 30 years since the bountiful life of the revolution of the Muslim nation of Iran has cemented the roots of this genuine movement in the hearts of lovers of freedom and justice across the world.

The messages of the world’s greatest popular revolution are winning the hearts of those seeking truth and righteousness. Three decades have passed since the exalted architect of the Islamic Revolution and the ever-lasting figure of the contemporary history emerged, yet the memory of that great source of inspiration, lives on in the hearts and minds of Iranians of all ideologies and those with inclinations replete with love for freedom and justice as well as fighting tyranny.

Without a doubt, the memory of that endeared leader will remain etched in the minds of this nation. The revolution going through rough times unscathed is reason enough that one more time that the divine will has left the leadership of this great revolution after the late Imam in the hands of another great personality whose words and vision are the very words and vision of the late Imam.

Marking the 30th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in the year that the leader has called the “year of innovation and blossoming” the revolutionary people of Iran, grateful to the infinite blessings of God Almighty for living 30 years of honorable life, once again renew their allegiance with the late Imam, the martyrs as well as with the leader of the Islamic Revolution and hereby announce their stances as follows:

1. Its unique independence, ever-increasing glory, undeniable influence in world and regional developments coupled with praiseworthy accomplishments in all areas have turned the Islamic Republic of Iran in the course of thirty years to a fresh role model for the peoples across the globe. These great successes have been pulled off thanks to the Establishment being ‘Islamic’ and ‘Republic’ in essence and indicate the fact that the path of the faithful Iranians is the only way for the salvage of Islamic communities and the resolution of their problems. The theory of the late Imam Khomeini on the ‘rule of the religious jurisprudence’ on whose pillars the foundation of the Islamic Establishment are based, is the only doctrine for attaining dignity, honor and progress.

2. We deeply believe that ‘Islamic unity and national solidarity’ will provide further momentum toward the sublime aspirations of the Islamic Revolution as it has been in the past thirty years. Hence, we consider unity and national consonance as the most significant requirements of the fourth decade of the revolution. We call upon all officials regardless of their political inclinations and tastes to try and further deepen unity.

3. Owing to divine providence and a sagacious leadership, even the sworn enemies have confessed to the enlightening influence and the power of the Islamic Revolution in the world of Islam as well as in strategic regions like the Middle East, Africa and Latin America in the teeth of all the conspiracies hatched against it. We consider the wave of tendency to Islam and the awakening of the Islamic communities as proof of the spread of the revolution’s ideals and aspirations. In obedience to the late Imam and the leader of the Islamic Revolution, we insist on continued support for the oppressed and for resistance movements in the world.

4. The people of Iran with the slogan of ‘we can’ regard the inspiring achievements of the past thirty years in the fields of science, technology, medicine and defense and especially the launch of the Omid satellite into orbit to be a result of following the principles of the pure Mohammadan Islam, the guidelines of the late Imam and those of the leader of the Islamic Revolution, self-reliance, talent, wise planning as well as the efforts of young scientists and experts. We appreciate the efforts of all those who try their best to promote knowledge in the country and once again emphasize the indisputable right of Iran to accessing nuclear know how for peaceful purposes.

5. We condemn the new wave of divisive plots against ethnic groups and denominations in the world of Islam and stress the need to seriously take heed of the prudent warnings of the leader of the Islamic Revolution and call on world committed leaders, scholars, thinkers and elite as well as the media in the world of Islam to effectively confront these conspiracies and put on top of their agenda maintaining unity among Shiites and Sunnis.

6. The US administration has spared no effort to weaken the Islamic Establishment in the past thirty years. As the late Imam put it, America has been known in the Iranian literature as the “Great Satan”. Its despair in confronting the people of Iran, in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, in its intervention in the Middle East together with the growing hatred toward expansionist policies, have eventually forced America to adopt the slogan of “change”. We stress resistance in the face of any plot, be it soft or hard, and are closely watching any real change in the policies of the “Great Satan” and believe the slogan of “change” will prove right only if occupation and tyranny come to an end in the world and the rights of the people of Iran including their nuclear rights are recognized, its assets are unfreezed, all sanctions are lifted and political pressure eased.

7. We have, in the past thirty years, stressed the liberation of the holy Quds and the oppressed people of Palestine. We regard the rising power of the Islamic resistance in defeating the Zionist army and its supporters in Lebanon’s thirty three day war and Gaza’s twenty two day onslaught as indications of divine aid in fulfilling this sacred goal. We hail the powerful men running Islamic resistance groups in Lebanon and Palestine, especially the popular government of Ismail Haniya and lend strong support to them and appreciate the stances of the great leader of the Islamic Revolution in backing the oppressed people of Gaza. We appreciate the world public opinion’s support for Gazans and condemn the mean stances of some Arab countries regarding the catastrophes in Gaza.

8. The people of Iran, who are themselves victims of international terrorism, strongly condemn the new move of the European Union in removing the MKO from its terror list and urge the Union to promptly change their stance.

9. The people of Iran have been targeted by a wave of plots and schemes of arrogant media in the past thirty years. Now at the beginning of the fourth decade of the Islamic Revolution we stress the need for enlightening the world public opinion by disseminating accurate information on the rightfulness of the Islamic Revolution and the values and brave acts of the Iranian nation.

10. The vigilant presence and steadfastness of the people in confronting threats and plots is the secret behind the growing power of the Islamic Iran. These determining factors, which are signs of religious democracy, will live on thanks to the profound insight of the Iranians into and their loyalty to the aspirations of the late Imam Khomeini and the Founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, in political, social, cultural, economic and defense areas. Given the current circumstances, the 2009 Iranian presidential election is going to prove to be of epic proportions and indicative of the resolve of the Iranian nation in determining their destiny on their own. The huge turnout in the presidential vote will once again display the true concept of religious democracy.

11-Families of endeared martyrs, we renew allegiance with the aspirations of the martyrs and are grateful to those who gave their lives for the cause of the revolution.

12-Iranians believe ascending to the summits of honor in the fourth decade of the Islamic Revolution, described by the Leader as “the decade of justice and progress”, necessitates wise planning, due attention to the needy and fulfillment of social justice in all areas. We hereby appreciate the invaluable services of the government and underscore all-out efforts by the executive, legislative and the judiciary coupled with all organs precise implementation of the policies envisaged in the fifth comprehensive development plan that the Leader has put forward within the framework of the twenty-year outlook document of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Bahman 22, 1387
Safar 14, 1430 (AH)
February 10, 2009

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These are terrible days for those of us who long to see Israel finally accepted by its neighbors. At a time when all 22 Arab states have offered Israel peace and normalization in exchange for the territories occupied in 1967, this war could destroy that possibility once and for all.


LUNATICS SWAYING ISRAELI POLITICS — A woman with a sticker of late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin attends a memorial rally service in Tel Aviv last Nov. 8 marking the 13th anniversary of his assassination. Ehud Barak called right-wing extremists “cancerous growths” during the rally. But Israeli lunatic settlers have become significant political players. (Photoshot via Newscom)

No, that does not mean that I question Israel’s right to respond to the rocket onslaught from Gaza. Of course, it has that right. Any country has the right, even the obligation, to respond militarily to thugs who rain down thousands of rockets on its people, leaving its children quaking in terror. The question is not whether Israel has the right, but whether exercising it this way is right.

For Israel, the only right response is the one that will bring it closer to the security it will only have when it is accepted by its neighbors. Some argue that this attack on Hamas will indeed accomplish that. Eliminate the fanatics, they say, and Israel can make peace with the moderates.

But, Israel is incapable of even dealing with its own crazies. Under conditions infinitely more comfortable than those of Gaza, Israeli lunatics – settlers who attack children and burn down olive groves – have become significant political players. In Israel, it is impossible to form a government without the crazies. How can anyone imagine it possible to bomb Hamas into moderation?

One thing is certain: this war is unlikely to bring peace any closer. In fact, I believe that the pictures Arabs and Muslims worldwide are seeing of the attacks on Gaza may push that day so far into the future that none of us will see it.

And, no, it’s not relevant that Hamas kills children too or that it does it intentionally and Israel does it by accident. The standard that applies to Hamas is not the one to apply to a civilized state, a member of the United Nations, and an ally of the United States and the West. Israel is not Libya, but the state created by Jewish idealists and humanists seeking not regional domination but a Jewishrefuge. It is that refuge that is now compromised.

Just a few years ago, Israel was close to achieving virtually universal acceptance.

Some of Israel’s most vocal supporters want us to forget that. They cling to the idea that “the world has always hated Israel” (and the Jews), rejecting as irrelevant the idea that Palestinian statelessness is at the root of the problem.

They reject that fact because it suggests that Israel is in charge of its own destiny. It can determine where it stands in the eyes of the world, and especially the Arab world, by changing its relationship with the Palestinians.

How do I know that? Because it happened once before.

Following Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s decision to recognize both the PLO and the Palestinians’ right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.

The Arab boycott ended. Foreign investment soared. Israel’s isolation appeared to be over.

The most graphic demonstration of Israel’s changed international standing occurred at Rabin’s funeral in 1995.

Leaders from virtually every nation on earth came to pay homage to Rabin. From U.S. President Bill Clinton and England’s Prince Charles to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Hussein, and the leaders of every country in Europe, most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasser Arafat wept at Leah Rabin’s apartment in Tel Aviv.

The world mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration – as was the opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states – that Israel was not being isolated because it is a Jewish state, but because of its conflict with the Palestinians.

Once Rabin moved to end the conflict, he ended Israel’s isolation as well. (If the problem was undying Jew-hatred, Rabin’s opening to the Palestinians would not have affected Israel’s standing).

We need to remember this as the hard-liners insist that anti-Israel sentiment is unconnected with anything Israel does. That is simply not true. Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, hated more than any Israeli by most Arabs and Muslims, saw his image transformed overnight when he moved to relinquish Gaza. He actually received an ovation at the United Nations, leaving the old man in shock.

So the questions have to be asked. Does the Gaza war improve Israel’s long-term (or even short-term) situation? Might it not have been better to induce Hamas to stop the shelling by ending the blockade Israel imposed back when Hamas won the Palestinian election?

Was it right to insist that Hamas accept Israel in advance of negotiations rather than simply push for a total and absolute cessation of violence and blockade, followed by negotiations? Could Israel realistically expect the cease-fire to hold while Gaza remained under siege, rife with hunger, illness, and joblessness? And freezing cold. (Even during the cease-fire, Israel was turning on Gaza’s heat and electricity only a few hours a day).

Again, I am not questioning Israel’s right to respond. But that is the wrong question. The right question to ask is why it came to this? And to ask ourselves if supporting the continuation of this war – rather than an immediate cease-fire – will do Israel more harm than good.

MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Israel Policy Forum.

Source: Israeli Policy Forum, 2 January 2009,

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All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out.

The assault on Gaza exposed not only Israel’s callous disregard for international law but the gutlessness of the American press. There were no major newspapers, television networks or radio stations that challenged Israel’s fabricated version of events that led to the Gaza attack or the daily lies Israel used to justify the unjustifiable. Nearly all reporters were, as during the buildup to the Iraq war, pliant stenographers and echo chambers. If we as journalists have a product to sell, it is credibility. Take that credibility away and we become little more than propagandists and advertisers. By refusing to expose lies we destroy, in the end, ourselves. 

All governments lie in wartime. Israel is no exception. Israel waged an effective war of black propaganda. It lied craftily with its glib, well-rehearsed government spokespeople, its ban on all foreign press in Gaza and its confiscation of cell phones and cameras from its own soldiers lest the reality of the attack inadvertently seep out. It was the Arabic network
al-Jazeera, along with a handful of local reporters in Gaza, which upheld the honor of our trade, that of giving a voice to those who without our presence would have no voice, that of countering the amplified lies of the powerful with the faint cries and pain of the oppressed. But these examples of journalistic integrity were too few and barely heard by us.

We retreated, as usual, into the moral void of American journalism, the void of balance and objectivity. The ridiculous notion of being unbiased, outside of the flow of human existence, impervious to grief or pain or anger or injustice, allows reporters to coolly give truth and lies equal space and airtime. Balance and objectivity are the antidote to facing unpleasant truths, a way of avoidance, a way to placate the powerful. We record the fury of a Palestinian who has lost his child in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza but make sure to mention Israel’s “security needs,” include statements by Israeli officials who insist there was firing from the home or the mosque or the school and of course note Israel’s right to defend itself. We do this throughout the Middle East. We record the human toll in Iraq, caused by our occupation, but remind everyone that “Saddam killed his own people.” We write about the deaths of families in Afghanistan during an airstrike but never forget to mention that the Taliban “oppresses women.” Their crimes cancel out our crimes. It becomes a moral void. And above all we never forget to mention the “war on terror.” We ask how and who but never, never do we ask why. As long as we speak in the cold, dead language of those in power, the language that says a lie is as valid as a fact, the language where one version of history is as good as another, we are part of the problem, not the solution.

 “Bombs and rockets are flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, and once again, The Times is caught in a familiar crossfire, accused from all sides of unfair and inaccurate coverage,” New York Times public editor
Clark Hoyt breezily began in writing his assessment of the paper’s coverage, going on to conclude “though the most vociferous supporters of Israel and the Palestinians do not agree, I think The Times, largely barred from the battlefield and reporting amid the chaos of war, has tried its best to do a fair, balanced and complete job—and has largely succeeded.”

The cliché that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks—that bombs and rockets were “flying between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza”—was accepted in the press as an undisputed truth. It became the starting point for every hollow discussion of the Israeli attack. It left pundits and columnists chattering about “proportionality,” not legality. Israel was in open violation of international law, specifically Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which calls on an occupying power to respect the safety of occupied civilians.

But you would not know this from the press reports. The use of attack aircraft and naval ships, part of the world’s fourth-largest military power, to level densely packed slums of people who were hungry, without power and often water, people surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army, was fatuously described as a war. The news coverage held up the absurd notion that a few Hamas fighters with light weapons and no organization were a counterforce to F-16 fighter jets, tank battalions, thousands of Israeli soldiers, armored personnel carriers, naval ships and Apache attack helicopters. It fit the Israeli narrative. It may have been balanced and objective. But it was not true.

The Hamas rockets are crude, often made from old pipes, and largely ineffectual. The first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001. It was not until June 2004 that Israel suffered its first fatality. There are 24 Israelis who have been killed by Hamas rocket fire, compared with 5,000 Palestinian dead, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. This does not absolve Hamas from firing rockets at civilian areas, which is a war crime, but it does raise questions about the story line swallowed without reflection by the press. I covered the Kosovo Albanians’ desperate attempts to resist the Serbs, which resulted in a handful of Serb casualties, but no one ever described the lopsided Serbian butchery in Kosovo as a war. It was called genocide, and it led to NATO intervention to halt it.

It was Israel, not Hamas, which violated the truce established last June. This was never made clear in any of the press reports. Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire into Gaza in exchange for an Israeli promise to ease the draconian siege that made the shipment of vital material and food into Gaza nearly impossible. And once the agreement was reached, the Hamas rocket fire ended. Israel, however, never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege. U.N. agencies complained. International relief organizations condemned the Israeli blockade. And there were even rumblings inside Israel.
Shmuel Zakai, an Israeli brigadier general who resigned as commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division and was forcibly discharged from the military amid allegations that he leaked information to the media, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22 that the Israeli government had made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. … [W]hen you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,” Zakai said, “it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”

Israel, we know from papers such as Haaretz, started planning this assault last March. The Israeli army deliberately broke the truce when it carried out an attack on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas fighters. It timed the attack, the heavy air and naval bombardment and the invasion of Gaza to coincide with the waning weeks of the Bush administration. Israel knew it would be given carte blanche by the White House. Hamas responded to the Nov. 4 provocation in the way Israel anticipated. It fired Qassam rockets and Grad missiles into Israel to retaliate. But even then Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would lift the blockade. Israel refused. Operation Cast Lead was unleashed.

Henry Siegman
, the director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council of Foreign Relations, noted correctly that Israel “could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.”

There were a few flashes of integrity in the American press. The Wall Street Journal
ran a thoughtful piece, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas,” on Jan. 24 that was unusual in view of the acceptance in U.S. press coverage that Hamas is nothing more than an Islamo-fascist organization that understands only violence. And some journalists from news organizations such as the BBC did a good job once they were finally permitted to enter Gaza. Jimmy Carter wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post detailing his and the Carter Center’s efforts to prevent the conflict. This article was an important refutation of the Israeli argument, although it was ignored by the rest of the media. But these were isolated cases. The publishers, news executives and editors largely accepted without any real protest Israel’s ban on coverage and allowed Israeli officials to fill their news pages and airtime with fabrications and distortions. And this made the war crimes carried out by the Israeli army easier to commit and prolong.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is acutely aware of Israel’s violations of international law, has already begun to
reassure his commanders that they will be protected from war crimes prosecution.

“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.
Israel’s brutal military tactics, despite the lack of coverage in the American press, have come under intense international scrutiny. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, blame the high civilian death toll on indiscriminate firing and shelling, as well as the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas. Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but insists the chemical, used for smoke screens and to mark spots to be shelled or bombed, was not used directly against civilians.

Hamas is an unsavory organization. It has made life miserable for many in Gaza and carried out a series of death-squad-style executions of alleged opponents. But Hamas, elected to power in 2006, also brought effective civil control to Gaza. Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt
Fatah-led government. Hamas, once it assumed power, halted suicide bombing attacks on Israel. It ended rocket fire into Israel for almost a year. It upheld its agreement with Israel. Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with Israel, albeit through Egyptian intermediaries, led al-Qaida, which has been working to make inroads among the Palestinians, to condemn the Hamas leadership as collaborators.

Israel and the United States carried out an abortive and desperate attempt to overthrow Hamas by arming and backing a Fatah putsch in June 2007. They wanted to install the pliant Abbas in power. Hamas resisted, often with violent brutality, and expelled Abbas and the Fatah leadership from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has now decided to do the dirty job itself. It will not work. Israel broke and discredited Yasser Arafat and Fatah in much the same manner. Abbas and Fatah have no authority or credibility left. Abbas is seen by most Palestinians as a pliant Israeli stooge. Israel is now destroying Hamas. Radical Islamic groups, such as al-Qaida, far more violent and irrational, stand poised to replace Hamas. And Israel will one day look wistfully at Hamas just as it does now at Fatah. But by then, with Israel surrounded by radical Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and even Jordan, as well as fighting a homegrown al-Qaida movement among the Palestinians, it may be too late.

The Israeli government bears the responsibility for its crimes. But by giving credibility to the lies and false narratives Israel uses to justify wholesale slaughter we empower not only Israel’s willful self-destruction but our own. The press, as happened during the buildup to the Iraq war, was again feckless and gutless. It bent to the will of the powerful. It abandoned its sacred contract with its readers, listeners and viewers to always tell the truth. It chattered about nothing. It obscured the facts. It did this while hundreds of women and children were torn to shreds by iron fragmentation bombs in a flagrant violation of international law. And as it failed it lauded itself for doing “a fair, balanced and complete job.”

Chris Hedges’ Truthdig column appears Mondays. He is a veteran journalist and the former New York Times Mideast bureau chief.

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“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.

Am I being unfair? I hope so. But right now that’s what seems to be happening.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Obama administration’s plan to support jobs and output with a large, temporary rise in federal spending, which is very much the right thing to do. I’m talking, instead, about the administration’s plans for a banking system rescue — plans that are shaping up as a classic exercise in “lemon socialism”: taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right.

When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I’ve entered a time warp — as if it’s still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism.

“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.

And this prejudice in favor of private control, even when the government is putting up all the money, seems to be warping the administration’s response to the financial crisis.

Now, something must be done to shore up the financial system. The chaos after Lehman Brothers failed showed that letting major financial institutions collapse can be very bad for the economy’s health. And a number of major institutions are dangerously close to the edge.

So banks need more capital. In normal times, banks raise capital by selling stock to private investors, who receive a share in the bank’s ownership in return. You might think, then, that if banks currently can’t or won’t raise enough capital from private investors, the government should do what a private investor would: provide capital in return for partial ownership.

But bank stocks are worth so little these days — Citigroup and Bank of America have a combined market value of only $52 billion — that the ownership wouldn’t be partial: pumping in enough taxpayer money to make the banks sound would, in effect, turn them into publicly owned enterprises.

My response to this prospect is: so? If taxpayers are footing the bill for rescuing the banks, why shouldn’t they get ownership, at least until private buyers can be found? But the Obama administration appears to be tying itself in knots to avoid this outcome.

If news reports are right, the bank rescue plan will contain two main elements: government purchases of some troubled bank assets and guarantees against losses on other assets. The guarantees would represent a big gift to bank stockholders; the purchases might not, if the price was fair — but prices would, The Financial Times reports, probably be based on “valuation models” rather than market prices, suggesting that the government would be making a big gift here, too.

And in return for what is likely to be a huge subsidy to stockholders, taxpayers will get, well, nothing.

Will there at least be limits on executive compensation, to prevent more of the rip-offs that have enraged the public? President Obama denounced Wall Street bonuses in his latest weekly address — but according to The Washington Post, “the administration is likely to refrain from imposing tougher restrictions on executive compensation at most firms receiving government aid” because “harsh limits could discourage some firms from asking for aid.” This suggests that Mr. Obama’s tough talk is just for show.

Meanwhile, Wall Street’s culture of excess seems to have been barely dented by the crisis. “Say I’m a banker and I created $30 million. I should get a part of that,” one banker told The New York Times. And if you’re a banker and you destroyed $30 billion? Uncle Sam to the rescue!

There’s more at stake here than fairness, although that matters too. Saving the economy is going to be very expensive: that $800 billion stimulus plan is probably just a down payment, and rescuing the financial system, even if it’s done right, is going to cost hundreds of billions more. We can’t afford to squander money giving huge windfalls to banks and their executives, merely to preserve the illusion of private ownership.

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Under the leadership of Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatari diplomacy has always been quirky. With a coterie of loyal aides, Shaikh Hamad ousted his father in 1995 while he was vacationing in Switzerland. Seeking better relations with the United States, Hamad allowed Israel to open a trade office in Doha.

 Speaking last week in Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal thanked Qatar  for its support and declared that Palestinian fighters had “won the  war [in the Gaza Strip] by defeating Israeli plans.” Mashal also  lauded controversial Islamic scholar Yousef al-Qaradawi as the “shaikh  of resistance.” By tolerating such an event, Qatar, which hosts a  vital U.S. command center as well as a substantial air wing and  storage facilities, highlighted its diplomatic journey away from the  Arab consensus — via support for Islamist extremists — toward an  alliance with Syria and Iran. Qatar’s developing stance hampers  Washington’s policies on Iran and the Middle East peace process. 

Under the leadership of Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatari  diplomacy has always been quirky. With a coterie of loyal aides,  Shaikh Hamad ousted his father in 1995 while he was vacationing in Switzerland. Seeking better relations with the United States, Hamad  allowed Israel to open a trade office in Doha. Perhaps his most  significant move was permitting the establishment of the widely  watched al-Jazeera satellite television service, which broke  broadcasting conventions across the region with a provocative and  often inflammatory style that upset many governments. A particular  target of al-Jazeera reporting has been neighboring Saudi Arabia, with  which relations remain poor and a border dispute lingers.

 After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Washington was grateful when  Qatar effectively handed over the giant al-Udaid air base for U.S. use  at a time when Saudi Arabia was asking most American forces to leave  its territory. From a reinforced command center, U.S. forces monitor  all air movements over Iraq, while B-1 bombers take off to provide  close air support to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But Qatari  cooperation has always come at a diplomatic cost, and now it is  increasing.

 Qatar’s Embrace of Hamas
 Individual Qatari officials have supported radical Islamists in the  past. For example, in the 1990s, September 11 plotter Khaled Shaikh  Muhammad worked in Qatar as an engineer. When the United States  discovered his presence and demanded his arrest, a Qatari minister  aided his flight to Pakistan. In the case of Hamas, however, Qatari  support has been official policy. Qatar allows Hamas to maintain  official offices in the country, permits Hamas to raise funds there  through charities and telethons, and regularly hosts Hamas officials. 

 Over the past few years, official government support for Hamas has increased drastically. Mashal and other Hamas leaders divide their  time between Doha and the Syrian capital, Damascus. According to Mashal, Hamas “established a relation with Qatar ever since Prince  Hamad bin Khalifa was the heir to the crown. A good relation[ship] developed with the people of Qatar. After he held the reins of power,  the relation[ship] remained good. I had a personal relation with the prince and his minister of foreign affairs, Shaikh Hamad bin Jasem bin  Jabr.”

 Following Saudi crackdowns on charitable financial flows exiting the  kingdom, overt Qatari financial support for Hamas increased  dramatically. Qatar pledged to donate $50 million to the then  Hamas-run Palestinian Authority after the United States and European  Union discontinued their support following Hamas’s victory in the January 2006 legislative elections. Following the Hamas takeover of  Gaza in 2007, Qatar began citing the humanitarian crisis caused by the  international financial isolation of Hamas in Gaza to justify its  support for the group. In early 2008, however, a senior aide to  Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stated that Qatar gives Hamas  “millions of dollars a month,” some of which may be used to purchase

 The al-Qaradawi Factor
 Prominent Muslim Brotherhood theologian Shaikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, who  shared the podium with Mashal in Qatar last week, uses the platform of  a regular show on al-Jazeera to proselytize his conservative and  violent interpretation of Islam. Qatar openly tolerates his extremist  views and Hamas fundraising, as al-Qaradawi noted at last week’s  event: “I have been living in Qatar for many years and the Qatari  government has never interfered in my activities.” He is perhaps best  known for his religious rulings calling on Muslims to murder American  and other civilians in Iraq and justifying Hamas suicide bombings
 against Israeli civilians.

 In October 2000, al-Qaradawi founded an umbrella organization called  the Union of Good (Itelaf al-Khair, also known as the Charity  Coalition). According to Palestinian intelligence, “The Union [of  Good] is considered — with regard to material support — one of the  biggest Hamas supporters.” Israel outlawed the Union of Good in  February 2002, and the United States designated it as a specially  designated global terrorist entity in November 2008. According to the  U.S. Treasury Department, the Union of Good was created by the Hamas  leadership “in order to facilitate the transfer of funds to Hamas.”  Qatari Motives

 Qatar’s diplomatic energy is often credited to Foreign Minister Shaikh  Hamad bin Jasem bin Jabr al-Thani, a distant relative of the emir, who  also now serves as prime minister. But there is little doubt that the  veering of current alliances reflects the personal sentiments of the  emir, Shaikh Hamad, who found chemistry with President Bashar al-Asad  of Syria, but did not appear to bond with President Bush. Some  observers say the emir judges that Qatar should side with Hamas, in  line with his own conservative Islamist inclinations, calculating that  the United States can do little in retaliation and that Iran is the  power of the future in the Persian Gulf, with which Qatar must develop  good relations.

 Thus, in January, Qatar led the bid to break Egyptian and Saudi  leadership of the Arab world by attempting to hold a summit in Doha in  support of Hamas following the Israeli military action against Hamas  in Gaza. The meeting, which narrowly failed to reach a quorum, was  also attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad of Iran. At a  subsequent Arab summit in Kuwait, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia  engineered a reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one  side, and Syria and Qatar on the other, but had to qualify his  previous commitment to work toward peace with Israel.

 U.S. Options
 The vital importance of the al-Udaid air base certainly reduces  Washington’s room to maneuver. Alternatives to the air base exist —  the U.S. Air Force also uses runways in Bahrain and the United Arab  Emirates — but would most likely come with conditions. Qatar’s vast  gas reserves also appear to have emboldened Qatari leaders in their  drift away from Arab unity toward Iran and Islamist extremist groups.  Given the personal nature of Qatari diplomacy, one way of encouraging  change helpful to the United States could be direct contact with  Shaikh Hamad. With the arrival of the new Obama administration, an  opportunity exists to overcome disagreements attributable to the Bush  administration. With so many other issues crowding in on the White
 House, finding time for a small Gulf country will be difficult. But  Qatar’s unhelpful stance on Hamas and its teetering position on Iran  place the tiny emirate in the middle of several Obama administration  priorities. The challenge is to decide whether a visit, perhaps by  Middle East special envoy George Mitchell, would change or reinforce Qatari behavior.

 Simon Henderson is Baker fellow and director of the Washington  Institute’s Gulf and Energy Policy program. Matthew Levitt is director  of the Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

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The rebuilding of Gaza has become the latest siege weapon. The Israeli occupation, the US that had backed its offensive, and the EU which did nothing to stop it are conspiring to turn the reconstruction process into a means to produce a suitable "peace partner" while the Arab summit in Kuwait hopes to use it to bring about Palestinian reconciliation.

The rebuilding of Gaza has become the latest siege weapon. The Israeli occupation, the US that had backed its offensive, and the EU which did nothing to stop it are conspiring to turn the reconstruction process into a means to produce a suitable “peace partner” while the Arab summit in Kuwait hopes to use it to bring about Palestinian reconciliation. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) government is urging all parties and others to look to it as the sole channel for administering the construction process on the grounds that it is the government formed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation that is recognised as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Soon we will see that freezing reconstruction will become the tool of all those parties for extracting from the resistance what they have been unable to gain from three weeks of warfare and the long blockade that preceded it.

Israel, the occupying power, is determined to keep a tight grip on the reconstruction process, which is why it sustained its closure of the border crossing following its “unilateral” ceasefire. Indeed, this is why it declared the ceasefire unilaterally: it did not want to be bound by any agreement — the Egyptian initiative or any other framework — that would oblige it to lift the embargo, if only partially, in order to facilitate reconstruction. Tel Aviv has also been seeking to obtain “guarantees” from international agencies such as UNWRA. On 19 January Reuters reported that Western diplomats revealed that Israel had asked the UN and other agencies to submit itemised lists of the goods, equipment and staff that they intend to send into Gaza, whether for urgent relief or for the more long-term reconstruction process. According to these sources, Israel plans to keep close tabs on these processes by insisting that the various agencies obtain its approval in advance for every project. One of the conditions for that approval will be that the project will not benefit Hamas or its government in Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appointed Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog as coordinator of the Gaza reconstruction drive.

The US not only fully supports Israel on this; it is open about using the reconstruction process to help the PA reassert its authority and influence in Gaza. The EU is equally frank in its approval. EU External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner made clear that the EU would not contribute to reconstruction unless Gaza produced a viable peace partner and that it would not make aid available to a government led by Hamas. A high-level European diplomat was reported by Reuters as saying that this was “a recipe for failure”. “Let’s be realistic. If the PA is going to be responsible, its leadership and institutions have to exist on the ground. Right now none of that does,” he said.

It is patently clear that to Tel Aviv, Washington and Brussels the assertion of PA rule over Gaza is the strongest argument for holding off reconstruction as a Damocles sword over Gaza, and for the occupying power this condition is its strongest “guarantee” for sustaining its grip on that sword. The fear now is that Israel and the international powers that have helped it to perpetuate its occupation since 1967 will use a Palestinian façade buttressed by official Arab support to stage a repeat in Gaza of the Iraq experience in the wake of the 1991 war when reconstruction and development were perpetually deferred in order to further weaken the country preparatory to toppling the regime through the invasion that took place in 2003. It may or may not be a coincidence that the Israeli invasion of Gaza ended almost on the same date that the war against Iraq started 18 years ago. Nor does it bode well for the aftermath of a “regime change” scenario in Gaza that Iraq’s infrastructure today, six days after the Saddam regime was toppled, is worse than it was beforehand.

The attempt to engineer such a scenario can be seen in PA President Mahmoud Abbas‘s appeal to the Arab summit last week to channel the reconstruction process through the PA and its institutions, an appeal echoed by World Bank President Robert Zoellick who met with Abbas on the fringes of the summit in Kuwait. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and other Western leaders had proposed creating a temporary international committee to oversee the funding and organisation of the reconstruction effort. However, Abbas and his supporters rejected such a mechanism on the grounds that “it presumes that the separation between Gaza and the West Bank will continue,” as acting PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad put it, adding that international donors who are eager to reconstruct Gaza “will risk deepening the Palestinian division by ignoring the role of the PA”.

The PA’s stance, if followed, would condemn Arab pledges made in Kuwait — as well as any pledges made in a possible international conference on the reconstruction of Gaza called for by Egypt, the PA and the EU president — to remain pending until such time as a “viable peace partner” secures a steady seat in Gaza.

Although the participants at the Kuwaiti summit stressed the need for the reconstruction of Gaza in principle, they failed to reach an agreement over the mechanism. Differences between leaders obstructed a proposal to create a reconstruction fund and the most participants managed to agree upon was to make reconstruction contingent upon Palestinian reconciliation, a task they designated to Arab foreign ministers without setting a date or place for a ministerial meeting for this purpose, leaving us with the question as to when and how Arab ministers are to succeed where their heads of state failed.

Of course this procrastination through delegating makes the pledge to reconstruct Gaza barely worth the paper it was written on and will probably consign it to the same oblivion fated for so many other Arab summit resolutions. One of those forgotten resolutions was that adopted by the emergency Arab summit in Cairo in October 2000 calling for the creation of an Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem Fund for the purpose of reconstructing Palestinian infrastructure, especially in the sectors of healthcare, education, agriculture and housing. Apparently Arab leaders in Kuwait did not wish to recall that that resolution did not restrict the distribution of funds through the channel of the PA but also provided for other channels such as UNWRA, the Egyptian and Qatari Red Crescents, the Jordanian Royal Philanthropic Organisation, the UN Arab Gulf Programme and other such regional and international humanitarian agencies. Perhaps, too, they did not want to remind anyone that when that earlier resolution was passed there was no “Hamas problem” behind which are hiding those who do not really want to reconstruct the occupied territories, whether in Gaza or in the West Bank.

The underlying reason why the Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem Fund was not adopted by the Kuwaiti summit as a mechanism for the reconstruction of Gaza is that the urgent humanitarian mission has been politicised whereas it should remain above the political fray between Palestinians, Arabs, foreign powers and everyone else whose voices are loud enough to drown out the appeals of those in need. There is nothing to debate about humanitarian relief. The Israeli offensive destroyed all the civil infrastructure of the government in Gaza on the grounds that it served as bases for Hamas whereas in fact it was PA infrastructure paid for by taxpayers in donor countries. Whole residential quarters were flattened, totally destroying 4,000 homes and severely damaging around 16,000 more. There are now some 100,000 civilians in urgent need of shelter, temporarily accommodated in some 12 refuges opened by UNWRA in schools that were also targeted by Israeli guns and therefore need to be repaired as well. In addition, agricultural land ruined by bombardment has to be reclaimed, potable water needs to be supplied to half a million Palestinians, electricity has to be restored to about the same number of people, and about 80 per cent of the inhabitants of Gaza are in urgent need of food relief (these are all UN estimates). Any political argument for postponing such urgent aid is morally outrageous.

The Israeli list of “prohibited materials” even before its offensive includes such items as iron, steel and cement, which are now absolutely vital to reconstruction. UN Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes pointed out this self-evident truth in a statement last Tuesday saying that if Israel refuses to allow in construction materials reconstruction cannot begin.

It is equally obvious that to adopt the PA as the sole channel for reconstruction financing is to effectively allow the occupying power, which destroyed Gaza, to supervise reconstruction. It is hardly possible to expect the PA, which is at Israel’s every beck and call, to independently and effectively manage the reconstruction process by remote control from Ramallah, let alone release funding for projects without Israel’s prior approval. Remember that President Abbas, himself, pleaded the difficulty of obtaining an Israeli exit permit on short notice as the reason he did not appear at the Doha summit on Gaza, according to Qatari Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamed Ben Jasem Al Thani. Also, only two months ago, Abbas’s government in Ramallah could not disburse salaries to some 70,000 PA government employees who are believed paid to stay home because of the internal Palestinian rift. If, as acting Prime Minister Fayyad repeats on every occasion, the PA is unable to deliver the budgetary allocation to Gaza, which is about half of its total budget, how can that government be relied upon to deliver the funds that have been pledged — or will be pledged — for reconstruction?

Kuwait, for one, acted correctly when instead of waiting for the Arab summit to reach an agreement it donated $34 million directly to UNRWA. Similarly, Norway donated 20 million kroner to organisations capable of reaching civilians directly in Gaza, such as the International Red Cross. Such noble examples confirm the existence of practical, serious channels for meeting urgent humanitarian needs. These should not be made pawn to the demand for the arrival of a Palestinian “peace partner” to Gaza, contrary to the insistence of PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki in Kuwait that everything had to be coordinated with the PA “in all fields” before beginning the relief and reconstruction process. If that demand is met, nothing could be more guaranteed to subject the reconstruction process to the whims of the occupying power and turn it into another way to besiege Gaza in order to bring it to its knees.

* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit on the West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This article was translated from Arabic and published by Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 932, 29 January – 4 February 2009.