Monday, March 31, 2008

Iranian General Played Key Role in Brokering Iraq Cease-Fire

by Leila Fadel for McClatchy Newspapers

Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.

Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Monday in most parts of the capital.

But fighting continued in the oil hub of Basra, where a six-day-old government offensive against Shiite militias has had only limited gains.

So far, 488 people have been killed and more than 900 wounded in the offensive, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.

The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.

There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.

"The statement issued today by (Muqtada al Sadr) is a result of the meetings," said Jalal al-Din al Saghir, a leading member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "The government didn't have any disagreement with the Sadrists when it went to the city of Basra. The Sadrist movement is the one that chose to face the government."

"We asked Iranian officials to help us persuade him that we were not cracking down on the Sadr group," said an Iraqi official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

He described the talks as successful but said hard-line Sadrists could goad the government into over-reacting and convince Sadr that the true aim of the Iraqi Security Forces is to destroy the Sadrists.

"I will not be surprised if the whole thing collapses," he said.

In addition to Sadr, who is in Qom pursuing religious studies, Iraqi lawmakers met Suleimani, said Osama al Nejafi, a legislator on the parliamentary committee formed to solve the Basra crisis.

"An agreement was signed," Nejafi said, referring to Sadr. "Iran was part of the problem and an effective part of the negotiations."

Sadr issued a nine-point statement Sunday saying he would renounce anyone who carried arms against the government and government forces. The statement also asked the government to halt all raids against the Mahdi army, end detentions of militia members who had not been charged and implement the general amnesty law.

To preserve the "unity" of Iraq Sadr called for an end to "all armed manifestations in Basra and in all provinces."

The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.

"The delegation was from the United Iraqi Alliance (dominated by the Dawa party and the Supreme Council of Iraq), and the Prime Minister was only informed. It was a political maneuver by us," said Haider al Abadi, a legislator from Maliki's Dawa party. "We had evidence (that Muqtada and Iranian-backed militants were fighting security forces) and we sent people urgently...If we had been waiting for one year in Baghdad we wouldn't have had this result." The delegation is expected to return to Iraq Monday.

Maliki welcomed Sadr's statement as a positive development, said his advisor Sadiq al Rikabi. Anyone who abandons weapons and goes home would not be pursued, he said, adding that the offensive would continue against a list specific targets, but he would not give details, Maliki -- who had said he would not leave Basra until the Shiite militias were defeated -- was expected to remain in Basra for a few more days, he said.

Following Sadr's announcement a curfew was lifted in most of the capital, while the Sadr controlled areas of Sadr City, New Baghdad and Kadhemiya remained under 24-hour lockdown. The U.S. military still surrounded the Shiite slum of Sadr City, named for Sadr's father and a stronghold of support for Sadr. It was still unclear what the effect the statement had Sunday night.

In another blow to Maliki, his security advisor, Saleem Qassim al Taee, known as Abu Laith Al-Kadhimi, was killed in the fighting in Basra. The Dawa party member had lived in exile under Saddam's regime for 20 years.

"With great sorrow the prime minister's office mourns one of its employees," it said in a statement. "(He) was killed by a treacherous shell during his national duty which was launched by criminal hands who are stained by crime and killing."

In Basra Mahdi Army militants fought to keep their strongholds but were overrun by Iraqi Security Force in the eastern neighborhood of Tanuma. U.S. and British aircraft conducted four air strikes in the city, the U.S. military said. In downtown Basra in the area of al Timimiyah Iraqi forces surrounded the neighborhood as coalition aircraft struck Sunday morning, residents said.

But the Iraqi security forces still couldn't penetrate the vast Shiite slum of Hayaniyah or al Qibla, two Mahdi Army stronghold of Basra.

Following Sadr's statement both the Sadr office in Basra and Sadr City said that their fighters would obey the orders and go home. But militants on the ground in Basra said they would continue to fight in self-defense.

"We will stay in our positions because the government didn't stop the raids and the attacks against the Mahdi Army and their areas," Abu Muamal said. "We are waiting for clear orders from our command and we will not withdraw until the situation is clarified."

McClatchy Special Correspondents Ali al Basri contributed from Basra, Qassim Zein from Najaf and Laith Hammoudi from Baghdad.

Update on developments in Iraq

Sadr Fighters Withdraw from Baghdad, Basra Streets

Muslim Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army fighters on Monday to withdraw from the streets in a move signaling the end of clashes which erupted in the southern port city of Basra and quickly spread to areas across Iraq.

The Sadr group in Baghdad confirmed that fighters from Mahdi Army were no longer deployed in the capital. "Sadr movement and Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) are committed to the order of Sadr," said Hamdallah al-Rikabi, spokesman of the cleric's movement in western Baghdad.

"But we are ready, should the Americans come inside our district, to fight. We have enough IEDs (improvised explosive devices) for them. If they come, we will defend ourselves", Haider al-Asadi, a fighter from the Mahdi Army, said. Asadi added that the US troops were on the edge of the neighborhood and had "deployed snipers on the rooftops of houses."

Witnesses said pedestrians and vehicles were now on the streets of the two cities after curfews were eased. "Life is back to normal in Sadr City," said Ahmed Suhail, a resident of the eastern Baghdad district and bastion of Sadr where intense fighting killed dozens of people. Authorities lifted the curfew across Baghdad but still retained it in the Baghdad districts of Sadr City, Kadhimiyah and Shuala amid continuing tensions.

At the meantime, a volley of rockets smashed into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on Monday hitting at least five people, including an Iraqi army major and two US soldiers, a witness said. The rockets struck near a checkpoint in the complex, which is the seat of the Iraqi government and home to most foreign embassies, said Muhanned al-Dulaimi, who counts himself lucky to have survived the attack. There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the US embassy.

Mortars hit 5 in Baghdad Green Zone

At least five people have been hit by a volley of six mortars which smashed into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the police say.

The rockets struck near a checkpoint in the complex, which houses Iraq's government and the US Embassy, said Muhanned al-Dulaimi who witnessed the event on Monday.

"The rockets hit the ground near the checkpoint. The sirens were sounding. I saw five people lying on the ground. Two of them were American soldiers, two were civilians and one was an Iraqi army major," he explained.

Al-Dulaimi was unable to determine whether the casualties were dead or wounded.

The Green Zone has come under intense mortar and rocket attack over the past week as Mahdi Army fighters have battled Iraqi and US security forces in the capital and in southern Iraq.

MP Hails Sadr Ceasefire Order

NAJAF, Iraq, March 31--An Iraqi parliamentarian hails Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's order to demilitarize its loyalists to bring a halt to the military clashes extended in southern Iraqi city of Basar.

In an interview with Alalam, Legha Ale Yasin said that in case of no military or political interference by occupier forces, more agreements could be settled to bring an extensive peace and security in the region.

"Yet Sadr movement has fulfilled its entire obligation in demilitarizing its fighters. So it expects the government to bring an end to its random raids targeting his loyalists," she said.

The official also urged the US-led forces to stop their raids against Iraqi settlements as well as public utilities during which hundreds of civilians have lost their lives.

"The government is obliged to prevent occupiers' more military incursions too, because Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, as a supreme commander of the armed forces, is the sole person who should accept responsibility of any further Iraqi bloodshed," she added.

Al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stop fighting government forces and urged them to cooperate to stop "Iraqi bloodshed" and "achieve security."

The cleric called on the government to apply the general amnesty law, end random raids targeting his loyalists and release detainees.

Shops and markets were opening and vehicles could be seen amid a big troop deployment in the oil-rich city.

Estimates of the death toll since the outbreak of violence vary. As many as 250 people died and over 500 were injured in Basra, according to medical sources.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Russian Military Intelligence Sees U.S. Military Buildup on Iran Border


MOSCOW, March 27 (
RIA Novosti) - Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost."

He also said the U.S. Naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said last week that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.

A new U.S. carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Gulf.

The USS John C. Stennis, with a crew of 3,200 and around 80 fixed-wing aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, eight support ships and four nuclear submarines are heading for the Gulf, where a similar group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been deployed since December 2006.

The U.S. is also sending Patriot anti-missile systems to the region.

Commentary: General Ivashev is an interesting figure whom I happen to know personally (although not intimately; we met in the mid nineties and I have not seen him in many years). On one hand, he is closely connected to the Russian military intelligence service (the GRU), while on the other he is definitely an outspoken critic of the USA and of NATO. He clearly would have an interest in spreading any information detrimental those whom he sees as implacable foes of his country

Also, I have to note here that even though General Ivashev has been warning of a US attack on Iran many times already, this attack has not happened so far. Of course, this could be due to the fact that it was called off at the latest moment (I believe that this exactly what happened on at least one occasion).

Whatever the motives of General Ivashev's most recent declaration, his warnings should be taken very seriously because he is *exactly* the type of figure which the GRU would use to leak out classified information. Here is why:

1) General Ivashev has numerous connections inside the otherwise highly secretive GRU.
2) General Ivashev is popular and trusted among many top GRU officers.
3) General Ivashev cannot be sanctioned or, for that matter, even investigated for being the source of any leaks

While General Ivashev is hated by the Imperial press corps for being a "hardliner" (which he definitely is not, I can vouch for that), and while his latest statements will be dismissed or ignored, I would take his warnings extremely seriously.

The Saker

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The artificial lull of the 'Surge' collapses

Mahdi Army Stands Firm in its Basra Neighborhoods
Demonstrations in Baghdad against al-Maliki

By Juan Cole

"Information Clearinghouse" -- - People are asking me the significance of the fighting going on in Basra and elsewhere. My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists oming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary. Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to refuse to negotiate with the Mahdi Army militiamen, and said, "They have no other choice but to surrender." He did extend the deadline for them to surrender heavy arms from 3 days to 10, and promised monetary rewards to those who complied. Al-Maliki said he was unconcerned with political parties, but that he could not abide armed gangs that interfered with the work of the government. He was referring to the Mahdi Army.

Clashes continued between government troops and the Mahdi Army on Thursday in Basra and other cities in the south for the third straight day. Some 45 are said to be dead in Kut, the capital of Wasit province, and US helicopter gunships are said to have killed 60 in Hilla south of Baghdad.

On Friday morning, there are reports of clashes in Nasiriya and Mahmudiya.

The LA Times says of the fighting in Basra on Thursday, when its downtown was a ghost town:

' Residents said food prices were soaring because it was difficult to get goods into the city, where clashes continued Thursday. In a Sadr stronghold in west Basra, hundreds of people led by tribal sheiks held a protest demanding that the government halt the military operation and restore electricity and water, which they said had been cut three days earlier. '

McClatchy reports that so far the 30,000 Iraqi government troops in Basra have proven unable to dislodge the Mahdi Army from its strongholds:

' In Basra, the Mahdi Army retained control of its four main strongholds of al Hayaniyah, al Qibla, al Timimiyah and Khamsa Mil. Al Timimiyah is in the center of the city, and the three other areas are on the main road from Baghdad to Basra. '

Water, electricity and medicine were said to be lacking for people in Basra.

BBC reports that on Friday morning, there was a lull in the fighting and people were coming out:

' "Today since early morning it's quiet. No shooting. And the people in Basra are going out of their houses for shopping. The buses have started working. And the cars are also working on the streets," the councillor said. '

In Baghdad, al-Hayat says, thousands of protesters came out to rally against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, demanding that he resign and threatening him with a trial worse than that of Saddam Hussein.

Clashes broke out between Mahdi Army militiamen and government security forces in 10 Baghdad districts, but appear to have subsided when a curfew was imposed, which forbids vehicles to circulate until Sunday.

The Green Zone, where the US embassy and other US facilities are, took more heavy mortar fire on Thursday. An American earlier wounded in that sort of bombardment later died.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that various parties in parliament are responding differently to al-Maliki's military campaign in Basra. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with 85 members in parliament, strongly supported the operation. The major component of the UIA is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a rival of the Sadrists of Muqtada al-Sadr. Ironically, ISCI is denouncing the maintaining of a paramilitary by a party; yet it has its own militia, the Badr Corps.

In contrast, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front is opposed to the attack on the Mahdi Army, with its leader Adnan Dulaimi, saying that it does not work to the benefit of Iraq.

A member of Iyad Allawi's National Iraqi List, which has 22 seats in parliament, said it was necessary to stop the activities of lawless gunmen. But Izzat al-Shahbandar warned that if the campaign went on very long, it could derail the political process in Iraq.

McClatchy reports civil war violence in Iraq for Thursday:

' Baghdad

12 mortars hit the Green Zone starting at 10 am until this report was prepared at 2 pm, Thursday, said Iraqi Police. The U.S. Embassy said no one was injured.

2 mortar rounds fell on Ur neighbourhood, east Baghdad near an open air marketplace killing one civilian, injuring two.

2 mortar rounds hit Karrada Kharij Street, central Baghdad injuring 1 civilian.

17 wounded Iraqi Army soldiers from Basra were taken to al-Yarmouk Hospital for treatment.

Clashes in al-Mansour district, from Iskan neighbourhood to Abu Jafar al-Mansour began this morning between Mahdi Army members and security forces. 3 Iraqi Army soldiers were injured and the clashes continued at the time of publication.

A parked car bomb exploded near the Red Crescent office, Andalus Square, in central Baghdad causing some material damages to its outer wall.

Clashes between Mahdi Army members and National Police in al-Amin neighbourhood started this morning and continue until the preparation of this report at 2 pm. Casualties have not been reported until this time.

The office of al-Da'wa Party in al-Shaab neighbourhood has been torched, causing only material damages.

3 mortars hit al-Alawi bus station, central Baghdad, killing 2 civilians, injuring 15.

Updating Sadr City news, since the fighting started on Monday until now, the toll has reached 38 killed and 47 wounded, Iraqi police said.

Gunmen kidnapped the civil spokesman of the Baghdad Security Plan, Tahseen al-Shaikhli. An armed group attacked his home, took him captive, let his family go and torched his house. They also took a government pick up truck, loaded it with 26 pieces of weaponry belonging to his security detail.

8 Iraqi soldiers were wounded in clashes between Iraqi Army and members of the Mahdi Army in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at around 3 pm Thursday.

Random fire by gunmen passing in a speeding car killed a father and his son, 13 years old in Talbiyah, north Baghdad at 5 this afternoon.

1 civilian injured when gunmen opened fire randomly across Sabah al-Khayat Square in Shaab area in north Baghdad at around 5 pm.

1 mortar round fell in Battawin neighbourhood, which is a largely commercial area in central Baghdad, injuring 2 civilians at 5 pm.

Clashes between gunmen and Iraqi Army in Zafaraniyah, southeast Baghdad at around 5.30 pm left 2 soldiers seriously injured.

2 mortar rounds hit the Ministry of Interior, al-Tasfeerat compound in central Baghdad at 6 pm killing 1 employee and injuring 4.

A mortar shell hit a residential building in Karrada Dakhil, central Baghdad at 6.15 pm, injuring 2 residents and causing material damage.

Clashes broke out between National Police and gunmen in Husseiniyah neighbourhood at around 6.30 pm and the clashes continued at the time of publication.

4 mortar rounds hit the US military base in Rustamiyah at 6.30 pm. No casualties were reported and no comment was available from the US military at the time of publication.

Gunmen target a police patrol at the entrance of al-Hurriyah neighbourhood at 8 pm injuring 1 policeman.

Thursday at 8 pm the Shoala Police Station fell in the control of an armed group.

5 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad by Iraqi Police today. 1 in Ur, 1 in Zayuna, 1 in Husseiniyah, 1 in Mansour, 1 in Alawi al-Hilla, Sheikh Ma'roof.


Fighting in Basra between the Mahdi Army and the security forces has been ongoing since early Tuesday, and the toll of the fighting is at least 97 killed and around 300 injured, a medical source in the Directorate of Health in Basra said.


Clashes have resumed in the city centre of Hilla city causing the injury of 30 people, 22 of whom were police and army, 8 civilians amongst who was a woman and the death of 1 soldier and 2 policemen.

Clashes in Chiffel neibourhood inside Hilla city continue, and the offices of al-Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council were torched by members of al-Mahdi Army causing the death of 3 policemen and the injury of 4.


Gunmen torch Badr Organization Bureau located in Hitteen Square, in the centre of Amara city. They launched 4 RPGs at the bureau, three of which hit the bureau and burned the building to the ground. The fourth hit an adjacent house, injuring one of its inhabitants.

Clashes between Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army members as the regular army was crossing what is commonly known as the Yugoslav Bridge, north Amara. 2 civilians were killed and 7 injured by cross fire.


Gunmen attack a Sahwa, US sponsored militia, member's house in al-Khadhraa neighbourhood, downtown Samara and kill both him and his son and injured his wife and one of his daughters. Joint forces, Iraqi army and US military announce a curfew in order to search for the armed group, said First Lieutenant Muthanna Shakir. US military did not include this report in their release.

A roadside bomb exploded yesterday, Wednesday targeting a Support Force, CLC, checkpoint on the main road near Awja city injuring 7 Sahwa members and 2 civilians.

A mortar shell fell on Tel al-Jarad, Baiji city, yesterday evening killing a woman Mona Ajaj, injuring 5 civilians, amongst whom were 3 children and a woman.

IED exploded targeting a soldier as he left his home going to work, in Malha neighbourhood, north Baiji, causing his death.


5 unidentified bodies were found in a mass grave by security forces in al-Zor area, Muqdadiyah district, 25 km to the east of Baquba.

Local police found 4 bodies in al-Asaiba village, Shahraban district, 8 km south of the town of Baladruz. . .

A roadside bomb exploded targeting a civilian car in the town of Khanaqin injuring 2 civilians.

The District Commissioner's office in Khan Beni Saad was targeted with mortar fire by the Mahdi Army today. The security forces announced a curfew in the town in order to track the armed group.

Anbar . . .

5 Iraqi Army soldiers from Anbar were killed in the fighting in Basra. Their bodies were returned to their families today.


A suicide car bomb targeted an Asayesh, a Kurd security intelligence agency, vehicle killing an officer, Captain Tayib Mahmoud, and injuring 2 of his security detail and 5 civilians in the proximity of the explosion. The incident took place in al-Quds Street, Tiseen neighbourhood, downtown Kirkuk city early Thursday morning.

Gunmen assassinated the Commander of Garmian Peshmerga Forces, of the KDP. The gunmen opened fire upon his motorcade in a town near Daqooq, south Kirkuk, killing him and 4 of his security detail.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Obama, the Lobby and the kid-hanging rabbi

Two rather interesting, if unrelated, reports from PRESS TV this morning:

Obama slammed for anti-Israeli advisor

US Presidential nominee Barack Obama has come under fire over his anti-Israeli national campaign co-chairman, Gen. Merrill Tony McPeak.

An inquiry by conservative American media outlets reveals that McPeak, who is also Obama's military advisor, is a longtime anti-Israel critic who slammed American Zionists for acting against US interests.

In an interview with The Oregonian about five years ago, McPeak argued that the influence exerted by American Jews is responsible for the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

McPeak also said that Jews and Christian Zionists manipulated American foreign policy in Iraq.

Following the revelations, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) called on Obama to "immediately remove General McPeak from his campaign leadership role and as a key advisor."

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks claimed that the Obama's anti-Israeli advisors raise serious questions and doubts about his positions and judgment on Middle East issues.

McPeak served as the chief of staff of the US Air Force before retiring in 1994.

Rabbi: Hang Arab children from trees

A Zionist cleric has urged the Israeli regime to give the green light to the massacre of Arabs in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.

In an article published in the newsletter Eretz Yisrael Shelanu Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, has urged the Israeli regime to officially allow "revenge against Arabs to restore Israel's deterrence."

"I'm not talking about individual people in particular, I'm talking about the state. [Israel] has to pain them to the point where they scream 'Enough,' to the point where they fall flat on their face and scream 'help.' Not for the sake of satisfying the need for revenge but for the purposes of deterrence," he wrote.

In the newsletter Eliyahu proposes "hanging the children" of those who attacked the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.

The rabbi added: "We'll stay here. We need to live with those who understand very well the language of revenge."

On Wednesday, Mossawa Center, an Arab human rights group, called for a probe into Eliyahu's remarks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Saker interview with the Palestinian Pundit

It is a great honour and long awaited pleasure for me to interview a real expert on Palestine and the rest of the Middle-East: Tony, the author of what is definitely one of the best Palestinian blogs - Palestinian Pundit, a "must visit daily" for anybody interested in the Palestinian drama.

I have been reading Tony's posts for quite a while already (many thanks to datta for drawing my attention to it) and I had planned to interview Tony for several months already, but the situation in Palestine took such a turn for the worse that neither Tony nor I had any time left to work on an interview. Things have not improved, Palestinians are still being murdered on a daily basis by the Israeli occupation forces, and since things are only likely to get worse, I have decided not to wait any further and ask Tony for his insight about the current situation and its likely development.

I am deeply grateful to Tony for taking the time to answer my questions. I know that he is immensely busy in his professional life and that, on top of that, he still manages to be a (quasi) full time "blogging machine" (as datta once put it to me) on his 'free' time.


Tony, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us under what circumstances you decided to start a blog which became one of the most informative and interesting blogs among all the Palestinian blogs. For the sake of full disclosure, how would you define your political sympathies in the Palestinian context.

I am a Palestinian who was born in Jaffa Palestine in 1945; the family was expelled from there in 1948 when Israel was established and about 800,000 Palestinians became refugees. Grew up as a refugee in Gaza; went to college in Cairo, Egypt; came to California to do graduate work in 1967 (right after the so-called 6-day war), and stayed here since.

I have been, like many Palestinians, an outspoken defendant of Palestinian rights and I do what I can to expose Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and the US full complicity in these crimes.

Actually, I did not set up the blog. I used to frequently visit the blog of professor As’ad Abu Khalil (Angry Arab) and make various comments. I guess I was outspoken enough and made enough noise that one of the regular visitors, who happened to be Jewish but a supporter of the Palestinians, told me to start a blog. I told her that I was not interested and I had no time! She, on her own, set up the blog, and chose the name. In the beginning she used to contribute to the blog but she opted out later on. The blog was started in July 2006.

My political sympathies in the Palestinian context are secular, nationalist, pan-Arab and leftist. I am not opposed to nationalist, progressive anti-imperialist Islamic forces as long as they concentrate on fighting occupation and defend their own people from foreign intervention and domination.

Could you please outline your view of the situation in Palestine and, in particular, the situation in the West Bank about which so little is written. How strong and stable do you believe the power of Fatah to be there? Do you see a replacement of Abbas by either one of the Barghoutis (Mohammad or Marwan) something which could salvage Fatah's power in the West Bank? Does Hamas still operate as an organization in the West Bank or is it totally underground?

The situation in the West Bank is that of tightly controlled occupation with rapidly expanding colonization. The goal is to imprison the remaining Palestinians (after squeezing out as many as possible, through very repressive policies of arrests, confiscation, home demolitions, control of movement, outright terror by Zionist colonizers, etc) in a few cantons or reservations if you will.

The so-called Palestinian Authority (PA) has been fully inducted as a collaborating quisling entity which fully coordinates with the Israeli occupiers the hunting down, arrests, disarming and killing of Palestinian resistance elements. Through the so-called Oslo-process, ensuring the security of Israel is considered the key role of the PA. For that purpose the US, through its designated coordinator of security General Keith Dayton, arms, finances and trains puppet PA forces to assist the Israeli occupation. The policies of the PA in the W.B. have been very repressive, where journalists have been arrested, demonstrations and public opposition banned by lethal force, and key figures of the opposition arrested and tortured, some to death. Corruption is rampant in order to buy the loyalties of the few. The PA in the W.B. has best been described as a police state without a state.

Fatah is very fragmented and weak and many observers doubt if it will survive. The collaboration of its leadership with the occupation and their participation in the siege and starvation of fellow Palestinians in Gaza have totally discredited Fatah in the eyes of most Palestinians.

Since the Oslo ”process” and its Annapolis sequel have accomplished absolutely nothing, Abbas, the PA and Fatah who placed all their bets on negotiations only, are living their worst nightmares. Many observers believe that the PA is on the verge of collapse. Israel and the US might decide to keep some rump quisling entity as a replacement, but who knows. If the PA faces collapse, USrael will seek to find some younger “leader” who could be sold to the Palestinians as their new “leader.” I believe that Marwan Barghouti, who is in Israeli jail serving more than one life sentence will be that figure. Some Israeli leaders have been calling for his release; why now?

Hamas is openly fought in the W.B. by the PA, and even charities and orphanages have been closed down and their assets confiscated. There is still a lot of support for Hamas in the W.B. but the armed elements remaining had to go underground to survive.

The Hamas operation of bringing down the Wall was nothing short of brilliant and, for a while, it looked that it would be impossible to bring it back up and that Mubarak would risk his own political future if he tried to do this. Alas, he did bring it right back with and without any visible Hamas response. Why is this? Why did Hamas not fight as hard as can be to keep the Wall down? Has the Hamas leadership been corrupted/coopted by the Empire?

As you said toppling the wall with Egypt was brilliant and the jail break was breathtaking and unprecedented. Why was the momentum not maintained? One can speculate:

1. Egypt made some promises to buy time and I think that some within Hamas were a bit naive and bought those promises. After gaining the needed time to re-close the border, Egypt reneged on the promises.
2. The people in Gaza, Hamas included, are exhausted not just by the siege but by the relentless Israeli attacks which lately killed over 130 Palestinians in less than a week. So, Hamas needed a respite.
3. The US has asked Egypt to play a role in order to calm the situation between Hamas and Israel a bit. There was a concern that with the images of slaughtered Palestinians being shown day after day by Al-Jazeera, among others, that there was some risk of boiling over in the Arab street. The US wants to line up the Arab street behind its plans to attack Iran. So, Hamas was playing the game through Egypt of trying to arrange a calming down with Israel. Therefore, Hamas could not confront Egypt at the same time that Egypt was “mediating.”
4. Part of the agreement involved in a possible ceasefire with Israel is the re-opening of the Rafah crossing. This has been a Hamas demand. There has been talk of a trial opening soon with the crossing operating 3 days a week. It remains to be seen, if it is another empty promise.
5. Hamas can mobilize the people and storm the new barrier again, if all of these maneuvers lead to nothing. I don’t believe that Hamas has been corrupted or coopted. One of Hamas’ strengths is its collective leadership and decision making.

What is Hamas' game plan? What does Hamas hope to achieve with the continuing Qassam attacks on Sderot? Why is Hamas willing to risk an Israeli invasion of Gaza (and the inevitable arrest, torture and mass-murder of Hamas officials by Fatah thugs) for the sake of rocketing Sderot, but is not willing to openly engage Mubarak's forces to keep the Wall down?

There is a big difference between Hamas shelling Israeli targets and Hamas fighting the Egyptian forces. The first has contributed to the support that Hamas is receiving as the main party leading the fight against the occupation. The second would do just the opposite: it would discredit Hamas in the Arab street and be a gift to those who want to portray Hamas as agent of Iran and who is fighting fellow Arabs rather than Israel; Hamas would never do that.

Hamas, on a smaller scale is trying to copy Hizbullah through the use of simple rockets. In time, the hope is that these would become more effective. Hamas is not using the rockets without a plan. When Israel scales down its attacks, so does Hamas. Hamas is trying, by using the rockets, to deter Israel to the extent possible.

Whether Israel fully invades Gaza is a decision independent of the issue of Qassams. The Qassams are just an excuse. The problem of invading Gaza is what to do next? Israel occupied Gaza before and it could not control the situation. Now it will be much harder. Also, Israel does not want to be responsible for feeding 1.5 million Palestinians, and wants to maintain the illusion that the occupation has ended.

Do you think the Israelis will invade Gaza and what do you predict will be the consequences of such an invasion?

I think that a full scale invasion and occupation of Gaza is directly linked to a bigger question: that of the US and Israeli plans towards Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. If and when a decision is made to attack Iran, which has to be preceded by an attempt to eliminate Hizbullah in Lebanon, then it would be the time to fully invade Gaza. Until that time, the American plan is to keep the Arab street focused on Iran and not on Israeli slaughtering of Palestinians. But after the attack on Iran/Hizbullah/Syria is underway, then a full invasion of Gaza is quite likely.

After such invasion and occupation of Gaza, USrael is likely to set up some NATO/UN force in Gaza so that Israeli forces would withdraw. Similar to what happened in south Lebanon. In such an invasion, total elimination of Hamas and its leadership would likely to be a key objective. For Hamas to survive, and it will, it will go underground. By doing so, Hamas could actually become more effective.

What do you know about the situation among half a million plus Palestinians with Israeli citizenship living inside Israel proper? Are they sympathies with Fatah or Hamas? Why is there no visible resistance or show of solidarity on their part with their fellow-Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank? Do you believe that Hamas can establish itself among these Israeli Palestinians as an organization capable of organizing any type of resistance?

The situation of the Palestinians within Israel itself (so-called Israeli Arabs), who actually number about a million (20%), is quite complicated. It is not the arena for either Hamas or Fatah to operate in, for obvious reasons. There is an independent and separate Islamic organization that seeks to speak for those Palestinians and to defend their rights. They have to walk a very narrow path lest the Israeli government accuse them of treason and to try them or expel them, as happened with Knesset member Azmi Bishara.

The best contribution of these Palestinians is to struggle for their own rights as equal citizens in a secular, democratic state for all of its citizens. Ultimately, the Palestinians in the occupied areas will find themselves in the same boat, with the demise of the two-state solution, as the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Then the struggle becomes one for both groups which is the struggle for one secular, democratic state for all of its citizens, Jewish and Arab.

The Palestinians in Israel do what they can to help the Palestinians in the occupied areas. They demonstrate in solidarity and speak out. They have organized some medical and other relief for Gaza recently as well as for the W.B. before. They challenge Israel’s courts and defend Palestinians in the occupied territories. However, within the racist state of Israel there is a limit of what they can do.

It is out of the question for Israel to allow Hamas to organize and operate among the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

How do you assess the current prospects for war in the rest of the Middle-East? The Israelis have openly bombed Syria, they have murdered Mughniyeh (whether with or without Syrian help), Lebanon is at the edge of another civil war, the USA is arming the Sunnis in Iraq and Admiral Fallon has been retired due to his opposition to an attack on Iran. What does all this mean for the Palestinian people? Do they see risks or opportunities here? What do you expect Hamas to do, if anything, in case of a war involving Israel?

I personally believe that Israel wants to attack Iran and to eliminate Hizbullah and Hamas as viable organizations. Within the US there are those who share this goal and a few (like Fallon) who do not. Israel will likely get its way and drag the US into such an attack. Hizbullah will be attacked first because it represents a first strike capability for Iran. There is a question mark about Syria. So far, Syria has avoided engaging the Israelis militarily; even when a Syrian site was bombed recently. That was humiliating for Syria. A similar thing happened in the summer of 2006 when scores of Syrian workers were killed by Israeli aircraft bombing Lebanon, very close to the Syrian border. Again, Syria did nothing. So there is a question of whether Syria would again stay out if a bigger attack on Hizbullah is attempted this time.

Hizbullah will retaliate for Mughniyeh, for sure. Whether this will trigger the USraeli attack on Hizbullah is a good question. Some believe that the assassination itself was a provocation to trigger such a war.

Iran would not be involved directly if the attack focuses on Hizbullah alone. However, an incident will be created to implicate Iran and trigger a US attack on Iran. I am convinced that Israeli leaders do not want to see Iran as a competing regional power.

How does Hamas fare in all of this? As I said earlier, the USraeli objective is to eliminate any resistance and to kill the very idea of resistance. Besides the Iraqi resistance, Hizbullah and Hamas represent the only other resistance. To finalize the total dispossession of the Palestinians an attempt to eliminate Hamas will have to be made.

Hamas and the Palestinians see the solution for the Palestinians dependent on the larger Arab context. In other words the Palestinian struggle combines with the resistance in Lebanon and in Iraq, because the enemy is the same. Hamas resists but also is buying time; it is not suicidal. The dynamics in the area will bring changes we can’t clearly see now. For example the situation in Egypt is precarious, with bread riots breaking out and a lot of discontent with the regime’s oppression of its opponents, especially the Muslim Brothers. The situation in Jordan is not much better with rampant inflation, high unemployment and open collaboration by the puppet king. Opposition forces (again mostly Muslim Brothers) have been demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy and abrogation of the treaty with Israel. So, a new large scale war involving Iran/Syria/Hizbullah/Hamas has many possible repercussions.

Why does Hamas persist in holding Gilad Shalit? What can be gained by a detention which is clearly illegal whether under the terms of the law of war (which apply during an international conflict) or human rights law (which apply during an internal conflict). Would a release of Gilat Shalit not serve to give Hamas the moral high ground? Is such a detention legal under Islamic law?

Shalit was a captured Israeli soldier. His unit was involved in shelling Gaza at that time. So, he is a clear prisoner of war. In contrast, Israel holds about 11,000 Palestinians, most of them are civilians kidnapped in the middle of the night. That includes 46 Palestinian MPs!

How can you say that holding Shalit is illegal, or un-Islamic? This is not true at all. As I said he is a prisoner of war, to be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners if and when Israel agrees to negotiate terms. Releasing him without release of at least some Palestinian prisoners would amount to treason on the part of Hamas, in my opinion, not taking the high moral ground, as you put it.

Hamas is a majority Sunni organization. Have the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood or Saudi Salafism penetrated into the Hamas worldview and policies? What is Hamas' position concerning Shia Muslims or, probably more relevant in the Palestinian context, Arab Christians? Does Hamas share the strong hostility towards the Shia and the Christians which is so obvious among the followers of Sayyid Qutb or Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab at-Tamimi ? Are there Christians inside Hamas and, if yes, what is their status?

Hamas’ roots and connections are to the Muslim Brotherhood and not Saudi Salafis. Hamas has a view that all Palestinians are in this together, including Christians. Hamas has gone out of its way to protect Christians and their churches and properties in Gaza. I do believe that Hamas’s leadership is enlightened and inclusive. I don’t think that there are Christians in Hamas, but in the last PLC elections, Hamas supported at least one independent, Christian candidate.

Hamas does not play on the Sunni-Shia divide; to the contrary it believes that all Arabs and Muslims should pool their resources and efforts to fight the common enemy and not each other. Hamas has excellent relations with the Shiite Hizbullah and has received at least some support from Iran. Hamas welcomes support from all those willing to help.

The debate on the "One State" versus "Two State" solution has recently heated up with Micheal Neumann, Jonathan Cook and others weighing in. Has Hamas taken a clear stand on this issue and, if yes, what is it? What about yourself, which side of this debate do you support?

Without using labels, I interpret Hamas’ position as supporting both solutions. While that sounds contradictory, it is not. What Hamas is saying is that it would accept a long term Hudna (truce) during which time a two-state solution, with a real independent Palestinian state, would be acceptable. After that, Hamas is calling for ultimately dismantling the racist, Zionist state, paving the way for one democratic state for all, including Palestinian Jews willing to live as equal in one Palestine.

While a one state solution is being advocated more and more, it is meaningless without dismantling Zionism. That dismantling is going to take time, and it would be unreasonable to expect the Palestinians to endure under the present horrible conditions. So, if a two-state solution can emerge in the interim, then that would be more just and humane for the Palestinians, but not as a permanent and just solution. That would not solve the problems of the refugees and their right of return nor would it address the status of Palestinians within Israel. Those issues can only be resolved within a one-state solution that would evolve after dismantling Zionism. This is my view.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Meet the Israel Lobby "à la française"

First: here is the 'approved" official version of the events by Ynet and AFP

French official sacked over for anti-Israel slur: Senior civil servant sacked for writing in online column Israel is 'only state where snipers shoot down little girls outside their school gates'

A French senior civil servant has been sacked for publishing a violent anti-Israeli diatribe on a website, the Interior Ministry said. The article was published on March 13 on the website, which serves the Muslim community in France. Bruno Guigue, deputy prefect of the southwestern town of Saintes, wrote that Israel was "the only state where snipers shoot down little girls outside their school gates."

The author of several books on the Israli-Palestinian conflict, Guigue wrote of the "Israeli jails where – thanks to religious law – they stop torturing on the Sabbath."

The article sparked a row in the country and was harshly condemned by politicians from all sides of the political arena. Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie dismissed the official after learning of the column on Wednesday, the ministry said., which is said to have 6 million unique users per month, presents itself as "the first website for French-speaking Muslims worldwide." According to its owners, it helps to distribute cultural and civil information and advance the dialogue on integration and the representation of Muslims in Europe and in the French-speaking world.

This is the full text of the article:

Quand le lobby pro-israélien se déchaîne contre l’ONU

Par Bruno Guigue

Dans sa rubrique « Point de vue » du 27 février 2008, « Le Monde » a généreusement offert ses colonnes à un texte d’une hystérie verbale et d’une mauvaise foi insondables. Les accusations qu’il profère à l’égard du conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU sont si mensongères que même la liste des signataires ne tempère qu’à peine notre stupéfaction : Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, Claude Lanzmann, Elie Wiesel, Pierre-André Taguieff, Frédéric Encel .. On peut facilement compléter la liste tant l’omniprésence des intellectuels organiques du lobby pro-israélien nous est devenue familière.

Le titre sans nuances de cette prose haineuse est déjà tout un programme : « L’ONU contre les droits de l’homme ». Dès les premières lignes, on peut y lire cet appel angoissé : « L’année 2008 verra-t-elle simultanément le soixantième anniversaire de la déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme par l’ONU et la destruction de ses principes par la même ONU ? Tout porte à le redouter, tant depuis un certain nombre d’années, par ses dérives, l’ONU s’est caricaturée ». Inévitablement le lecteur non averti s’alarme : l’organisation internationale serait-elle brusquement devenue suicidaire ?

Mais par bonheur la suite nous éclaire aussitôt sur les préoccupations profondes de nos signataires : « A Durban, en Afrique du Sud, s’est tenue en 2001 la conférence mondiale contre le racisme, à l’initiative des Nations-Unies. C’est au nom des droits des peuples que furent scandés des « mort à l’Amérique ! » et « mort à Israël ! » et c’est au nom du relativisme culturel qu’on fit silence sur les discriminations et violences commises contre les femmes ».

Quel rapport entre la géopolitique du Moyen-Orient, manifestement en cause dans les appels à combattre les Etats-Unis et Israël, et l’oppression des femmes que viendrait cautionner le « relativisme culturel » ? Probablement aucun. Mais amalgamer les deux sujets présente l’intérêt polémique de suggérer une pernicieuse concurrence entre les victimes : vous qui condamnez Israël et l’Amérique, vous ne dites rien de la souffrance des femmes opprimées dans les pays musulmans. C’est une antienne dont la rhétorique lobbyiste est coutumière : elle permet de détourner le lecteur occidental de la critique de la politique américaine ou israélienne en fixant son attention sur un problème interne des sociétés moyen-orientales.

Ce rapprochement polémique entre les deux sujets, pourtant, est particulièrement cocasse. L’Arabie saoudite, où le port du voile est obligatoire et les femmes interdites de conduite automobile, est l’alliée historique des Etats-Unis dans la région. Le régime obscurantiste des talibans, lui, a vu le jour sous les auspices d’une CIA qui a prêté ses camps d’entraînement sur le sol américain aux combattants du mollah Omar. En revanche, l’Irak et la Syrie baasistes, plus proches de la norme occidentale en matière de condition féminine, n’eurent pas droit aux mêmes égards. Le premier a été pulvérisé sous les bombes US, la seconde est rangée dans la catégorie des « Etats voyous ». Mais peu importe : les partisans de la politique américaine au Moyen-Orient se croient fondés à donner des leçons en matière d’émancipation féminine.

S’agissant de l’ONU, en outre, on ne s’étonnera guère d’un tel ressentiment de la part des porte-parole du néoconservatisme à la française. Car les résolutions du conseil des droits de l’homme, comme hier les déclarations de l’assemblée générale, ont osé mettre en cause la répression israélienne en Palestine occupée. Les 47 Etats élus par leurs pairs au CDH bénéficient de l’égalité de vote. La sensibilité qui s’y exprime reflète donc une opinion majoritaire qui n’a aucune raison de cautionner l’occupation militaire des territoires arabes. Que les thuriféraires d’Israël, cependant, se rassurent : ces résolutions demeurent symboliques à défaut d’être exécutoires. Mais ce n’est pas suffisant. Il leur faut aussi en stigmatiser le principe par un usage grossier de la calomnie.

C’est à quoi s’emploient rageusement les signataires. « Par sa mécanique interne, les coalitions et les alliances qui s’y constituent, les discours qui s’y tiennent, les textes qui s’y négocient et la terminologie utilisée anéantissent la liberté d’expression, légitiment l’oppression des femmes et stigmatisent les démocraties occidentales .. Le CDH est devenu une machine de guerre idéologique à l’encontre de ses principes fondateurs. Ignorée des grands médias, jour après jour, session après session, résolution après résolution, une rhétorique politique est forgée pour légitimer les passages à l’acte et les violences de demain ».

Symptôme d’une psychose paranoïaque ou monument de la démonologie occidentale : on hésite sur le diagnostic. La seule certitude, c’est que ce réquisitoire contre des forfaits inexistants témoigne d’une inventivité hors du commun. Le conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU voudrait « anéantir la liberté d’expression » ? On se demande bien pourquoi et comment. Mais nos interrogations demeurent sans réponse. Nos polémistes annoncent « la mise à mort de l’universalité des droits » par l’ONU elle-même, mais cette mort annoncée reste nimbée de mystère. Aucune citation des résolutions du CDH ne vient étayer cette accusation, et les détracteurs de l’ONU condamnent ses idées supposées avec une violence inversement proportionnelle aux preuves de ce qu’ils avancent. Visiblement, ils préfèrent parler à sa place en procédant directement au commentaire de ce qu’elle est censée avoir dit.

En guise de citations, on doit alors se contenter des propos résumés au style indirect, sans guillemets, qu’aurait tenus M. Doudou Diène, rapporteur spécial sur le racisme, la discrimination raciale et la xénophobie auprès de l’ONU. L’intellectuel sénégalais aurait ainsi déclaré qu’« énoncer une critique contre le port de la burqa constitue une agression raciste, que la laïcité est ancrée dans une culture esclavagiste et colonialiste, et que la loi française contre le port des signes religieux à l’école participe du racisme antimusulman ». Seul problème : ces citations sont introuvables. Si chacun de ces énoncés soulève évidemment des objections, encore faut-il qu’il ait été formulé. Une polémique grossière sur des citations qui n’en sont pas : le procédé condamne ses auteurs.

Au demeurant, les seules citations que les idéologues publiés par « Le Monde » auraient dû produire à l’appui de leur propre thèse sont celles du CDH lui-même. Mais ils se gardèrent bien de le faire. Livrant leur interprétation tendancieuse en lieu et place de la pensée d’autrui, ils pérorent gravement en prenant leur fantasme pour la réalité : « La confusion est à son comble, affirment-ils, quand est dénoncée comme une attitude raciste toute critique de la religion ». Mais d’où vient cette idée ? Qui l’a émise ? Nul ne le sait. N’importe qui, en revanche, peut vérifier ce qu’a énoncé le CDH sur la question religieuse. Il suffit de consulter les compte-rendus officiels des six sessions réunies depuis sa création en juin 2006.

Le 30 mars 2007, le CDH a ainsi adopté une résolution « sur la lutte contre la diffamation des religions ». Ce texte nuancé insiste sur « le droit de chacun à la liberté d’expression, qui devrait s’exercer de façon responsable et peut donc être soumis à de restrictions, prescrites par la loi et nécessaires pour le respect des droits ou de la réputation d’autrui, la protection de la sécurité nationale, de la santé ou de la morale publiques, et le respect des religions et des convictions ». Sur le plan des principes, ce texte ne diffère guère du droit positif en vigueur dans la plupart des pays, les Etats occidentaux ayant eux aussi entouré l’exercice de la liberté d’expression de certaines limites juridiques. En France, la reconnaissance de la liberté d’expression n’entraîne aucun droit à diffamer son voisin, toute forme d’injure manifestant une discrimination raciale ou religieuse est punie par la loi, et certaines dispositions législatives ont même eu pour effet d’énoncer une vérité officielle sur des faits historiques.

Naturellement, la teneur de cette résolution du CDH n’est pas indifférente au contexte politique lié à la « guerre contre le terrorisme » menée tambour battant par Washington. « Le Conseil se déclare préoccupé par les images stéréotypées négatives des religions et par les manifestations d’intolérance et de discrimination en matière de religion ou de conviction. Il se déclare en outre profondément préoccupé par les tentatives visant à associer l’islam avec le terrorisme, la violence et les violations des droits de l’homme. Il note avec une vive inquiétude l’intensification de la campagne de diffamation des religions, et la désignation des minorités musulmanes selon des caractéristiques ethniques et religieuses depuis les événements tragiques du 11 septembre 2001 ».

L’adoption de ce texte s’est heurtée à l’opposition des pays occidentaux, mis en minorité lors du vote final. Aucun d’entre eux n’y a vu, toutefois, le danger mortel pour la civilisation universelle que dénoncent les signataires de notre pamphlet antionusien. Au nom de l’Union européenne, la représentante de l’Allemagne « a fait remarquer que, comme l’a établi le rapport de M. Doudou Diène, la discrimination fondée sur la religion ne concerne pas uniquement l’islam, mais également le judaïsme, le christianisme et des religions et croyances venues d’Asie, ainsi que des personnes sans religion. Elle a également souligné qu’il est problématique de séparer la discrimination fondée sur la religion des autres formes de discrimination. Elle a aussi jugé l’utilisation du concept de diffamation contre-productive, préconisant plutôt un texte axé sur la liberté de religion ou de conviction ».

Que ce débat témoigne d’une différence de sensibilité sur les questions religieuses entre pays membres de l’organisation de la conférence islamique (OCI) et pays occidentaux est une évidence. Cela méritait une réflexion sur la sécularisation relative des sociétés concernées et la référence, explicite dans les pays musulmans, à des valeurs religieuses. Mais cette réflexion n’effleura même pas l’esprit de nos intrépides signataires qui, faute d’avoir lu les textes auxquels ils font vaguement allusion, en dénaturent volontairement la signification. Refusant de discuter rationnellement les arguments de l’autre, on préfère le stigmatiser en imaginant une dramaturgie grossière mettant en scène des personnages réels. Ce théâtre de marionnettes, du coup, tient lieu d’argumentaire.

C’est ainsi que nos signataires s’en prennent violemment à Mme Louise Arbour, haut-commissaire aux droits de l’homme de l’ONU. « Elle a participé à une conférence à Téhéran consacrée aux droits de l’homme et à la diversité culturelle, dénoncent-ils. Portant le voile, comme la loi de la république islamique l’exige, la haut-commissaire a été le témoin passif de l’énoncé de principes à venir, ainsi résumés : offense aux valeurs religieuses considérée comme raciste. Bien pire, dès le lendemain de cette visite, vingt et un Iraniens, dont plusieurs mineurs, furent pendus en public. C’est en sa présence que le président Ahmadinejad a renouvelé son appel à la destruction d’Israël ».

Encore une fois, l’art de l’amalgame intellectuel atteint des sommets. Mêlant tout et son contraire, le texte publié par « Le Monde » mise sur la confuse indignation du lecteur en anesthésiant au passage son jugement critique. Louise Arbour portait le voile à Téhéran, soit. Mais aurait-elle pu, en Israël, organiser une réunion pendant le shabbat ? Les régimes religieux ont des exigences que n’ont pas les autres. On peut le déplorer, mais ils sont chez eux. L’offense à la religion, dans certains pays, est considérée comme une forme de racisme. Faut-il que nous allions les convaincre du contraire, et de quelle manière ? La peine de mort, enfin, est cruellement appliquée en Iran. Mais les aspects odieux du régime de Téhéran ne le résument pas pour autant, et le régime saoudien n’a rien à lui envier. Surtout pas l’amitié des Etats-Unis, où un président texan a été élu sur sa réputation d’exécuteur intraitable des criminels supposés. Sans parler d’Israël, seul Etat au monde dont les snipers abattent des fillettes à la sortie des écoles.

Les diatribes iraniennes contre l’Etat hébreu relèvent, elles, d’un affrontement géopolitique dont l’un des principaux paramètres est l’attitude d’Israël lui-même. S’il avait appliqué la peine de mort aux civils palestiniens avec davantage de discernement depuis soixante ans, il n’aurait pas suscité un tel rejet de la part de ses voisins proches ou éloignés. Sous occupation militaire, amputés d’une partie de leur territoire, ou régulièrement bombardés par son aviation, ces derniers ont d’excellentes raisons de le détester. Mais peu importe. Décidés à instruire à charge contre Mme Arbour pour son séjour à Téhéran, nos polémistes incriminent « son silence et sa passivité », qu’elle aurait justifiés par « le respect de la loi iranienne et le souci de ne pas offenser ses hôtes ».

« Charbonnier est maître chez soi, commentent-ils. C’est le docteur Goebbels qui utilisait cet argument d’opportunité, à la tribune de la Société des nations en 1933, pour se soustraire à toute critique d’une institution internationale impuissante ». On croit rêver. Car, analogie pour analogie, frappante est la ressemblance entre le Reich qui s’assied sur la SDN en 1933 et l’Etat hébreu qui bafoue le droit international depuis 1967. Comme son lointain prédécesseur, Israël, lui aussi, se « soustrait à toute critique d’une institution internationale impuissante ». Et s’il le fait, c’est pour mieux conquérir « son espace vital, de la mer au Jourdain », selon la belle formule employée par Effi Eitam, ministre d’Ariel Sharon, en 2002.

« Les grands crimes politiques ont toujours eu besoin de mots pour se légitimer. La parole annonce le passage à l’acte », philosophent nos signataires. Ils n’ont pas tort : le 29 février, le vice-ministre israélien de la Défense Matan Vilnaï a brandi la menace d’une « shoah » contre les Palestiniens avant de lancer à Gaza la sanglante opération qui fit 110 victimes palestiniennes en une semaine. Quitte à enfreindre un tabou religieux, l’Etat hébreu, manifestement, a franchi un cap sémantique avant de déchaîner sa puissance militaire : il est passé « de la parole à l’acte ».

Mais le meilleur a été gardé pour la fin. « Les idéologies totalitaires avaient remplacé les religions. Leurs crimes, les promesses non tenues d’avenir radieux ont ouvert grande la porte au retour de Dieu en politique. Le 11 septembre 2001, quelques jours après la fin de la conférence de Durban, c’est bien au nom de Dieu que le plus grand crime terroriste de l’histoire fut commis ». Lier dans une même trame le 11 septembre 2001 et les résolutions du CDH, il fallait oser. Il est vrai que nous avons affaire à des spécialistes.

« Retour de Dieu en politique », disent-ils. Nos intellectuels savent de quoi ils parlent : Israël n’est-il pas l’Etat confessionnel par excellence ? « Si la revendication d’un coin de terre est légitime, affirmait Theodor Herzl, alors tous les peuples qui croient en la Bible se doivent de reconnaître le droit des juifs ». Bibliquement établie, la légitimité d’un Etat juif en Palestine va de soi : le texte sacré tient lieu de titre de propriété. Pour les sionistes religieux, le retour des juifs en Eretz Israël est inscrit dans le récit de l’Alliance lui-même. Prendre possession de la terre que Dieu a donnée aux juifs fait partie du plan divin, et ce serait le contrarier que de renoncer à cette offrande.

Du coup, aucun compromis n’est possible avec les Arabes. En 1947, le grand rabbin de Palestine martelait le statut théologique du futur Etat juif : « C’est notre forte conviction que personne, ni individu, ni pouvoir institué, n’a le droit d’altérer le statut de la Palestine qui a été établi par droit divin ». Chef du parti national-religieux, le général Effi Eitam expliquait à son tour en 2002 : « Nous sommes seuls au monde à entretenir un dialogue avec Dieu en tant que peuple. Un Etat réellement juif aura pour fondement le territoire, de la mer au Jourdain, qui constitue l’espace vital du peuple juif ». Au moins, c’est limpide.

Rien d’étonnant, par conséquent, à ce que le lobby pro-israélien exècre l’ONU : son appétence pour le droit international est inversement proportionnelle à son engouement pour le droit divin. Il est vrai que l’un est infiniment plus favorable au Grand Israël que l’autre. Percuter les résolutions de l’ONU avec la Thora relève de l’exploit intellectuel et du prodige politique : Israël l’a fait. Pour nos signataires, « c’est au nom de Dieu que le plus grand crime terroriste de l’histoire fut commis ». Ce n’est pas tout à fait faux, à condition d’inclure dans l’analyse l’Etat hébreu, cet artefact colonial bâti au forceps sur les ruines de la Palestine au nom de la Bible et de la Shoah.

A propos de terrorisme, l’Etat d’Israël, qui plus est, peut se targuer d’un palmarès hors compétition. Les odieux attentats du 11 septembre 2001 ont fait dix fois moins de victimes que le siège de Beyrouh par Tsahal en 1982. Ses admirateurs occidentaux doivent certainement s’extasier sur les prouesses d’une armée capable de tuer aussi aisément des enfants avec des missiles. Ils doivent aussi se confondre d’admiration devant les geôles israéliennes, où grâce à la loi religieuse, on s’interrompt de torturer durant le shabbat. L’Etat hébreu mérite bien ce concert de louanges que les intellectuels organiques lui décernent à longueur de colonnes. Et quelle outrecuidance, de la part de l’ONU, de vouloir fourrer son nez sale dans les affaires intérieures israéliennes !

A l’instar des pires calomnies, les accusations publiées dans « Le Monde » du 27 février se sont répandues sur la toile. Elles suscitent sur certains blogs des commentaires haineux que l’on ose à peine citer. M. Doudou Diène y est qualifié de « défenseur de la secte du pédophile fou et des adorateurs du caillou ». On y lit que « depuis les invasions musulmanes le croissant fertile est devenu le croissant stérile, et la civilisation a émigré en Occident ». Sur l’ONU, un internaute déchaîné résume à sa façon l’article publié par « Le Monde » : « l’ONU, c’est un ramassis de la racaille islamiste et tiers-mondiste ». Qu’attend-on pour supprimer l’ONU ? Ce sera encore plus simple. Islamophobie déclarée, haine du monde arabe, stupéfiante arrogance occidentale, tout y est. Opération réussie, mesdames et messieurs les intellectuels organiques.

Bruno Guigue
Diplômé de l’Ecole normale supérieure et de l’ENA
Auteur de "Proche-Orient : la guerre des mots", Harmattan, 2003

Commentary: the case of Bruno Guigue illustrates something which most people outside Europe (and often even inside!) are usually not aware of: there is an Israel Lobby in Europe too, and while the nations in hijacks are not nearly as powerful as the USA, at least in military terms, they are no less submitted to the influence of the Lobby. The situation in Europe is even made worse by the fact that there is no European equivalent of the First Amendment right, thus anyone daring to research the history of the genocide of Jews during World War II and who could come to the wrong conclusions about the scope, scale or methods used by the Nazis risks being jailed. The election of Sarkozy, an Ueber-Neocon even by French standards, marked the big "coming out" of the Lobby in France which now imposes its rule with a brazen arrogance quite unthinkable under Mitterand or Chirac (not that the Lobby was not active then, it was, only in a much less visible manner). All this just goes to show that, alas, Europe is very much part of the Empire and nobody should expect anything constructive to come from there for a long, long while.

PS: check out another good piece by Guigue here: Stupéfiante indulgence pour un Etat voyou

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Allah's Psyops: Hezbollah's issues not so veiled threat on Purim holiday

According to Press TV , Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary General Sheik Naim Qassem reaffirmed today that the movement has "100 percent solid evidence that Israel had killed martyr Mugniyah". Interestingly, the Ha'aretz article had a somewhat different rendering of Sheikh Naim Qassem's words: " "we have clear proof, of 100 percent that cannot be doubted, that Israel is the head of the assassination" Qassem said there is no basis for the claim that others were behind the assassination. "Know that Israel is responsible and it must bear the whole responsibility." "Know that Israel is responsible and it must bear the whole responsibility".

Notice that Sheikh Naim Qassem specifically speaks of Israel being the *head* of the assassination, but says nothing about the "hands" which actually committed the murder. Keeping in mind that Mughniya's widow has clearly accused Syrian agents of being behind the murder of her husband, I find this phrasing interesting.

Shekh Naim Qassem made this statement at the end of the 40 day mourning period which, this year, coincides with the Jewish feast of Purim, something which has some observers predicting an imminent Hezbollah retaliatory operation.

I very much doubt that Hezbollah will oblige and act in such a predictable manner. In fact, I suspect that Sheikh Naim Qassem is "rattling the cage" of the Israelis very deliberately, to get them to keep as high an alert level as possible for as long as possible. Why? Because Hezbollah fully understands that high level of alert are not sustainable beyond a relatively short while (those interested in this issue can read Richard Bett's excellent book Surprise Attack: Lessons for Defensive Planning; the book is clearly dated, but its underlying analyses are still very pertinent).

Regardless of the fact that Hezbollah was *not* behind the bombings in Argentina, most Israelis and most Jews probably believe that Hezbollah did it - as a retaliation for Israel's assassination of Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Abbas Mussawi - and, therefore, that it could do it again (which it definitely could, which does not at all mean that it would). It thus appears that the anti-Hezbollah propaganda of the USA and Israel is now having its own unintended consequences: it strikes fear in the hearts of Israelis and Jews who now fear a similar attack. My guess is that Sheikh Naim Qassem is fully aware of all this and that he is using these fears to wear down the Israelis.

So will Hezbollah retaliate and could it choose an Israeli target outside Israel?

Probably yes. However, it is important to understand that Hezbollah does not at all equate the terms "Israeli" and "Jewish" (anyone doubting this should read Hizbullah: politics and religion by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and, of course, Hizbullah: the story from within by Seikh Naim Qassem himself, a must read for anyone wanting to understand Hezbollah). Quite to the contrary, Hezbollah's goes to great lengths to stress that its struggle against Zionism is not a struggle against either the Jewish people or Judaism. Even though many, if not most, Jewish institutions abroad do, alas, have close ties to the Israeli government and its security services, I do not think that Hezbollah will strike at them.

Hezbollah is all too aware of how aptly the Israeli leaders conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and, unlike the PLO in the past, they will surely recognize that retaliating for Mughnieh's murder by killing innocent Jews outside Israel will be both immoral and highly counter-productive. In fact, this is exactly what the Israeli leaders now hope that Hezbollah will do as this will only serve their purposes.

No - I predict that when Hezbollah does strike, it will be at a clearly identifiable Israeli government target, probably at a very high level (ministerial or equivalent). Where can one find such targets? In Europe, of course, but also in the Middle-East itself and, last but not least. in Israel itself. Without going into details here, I don't want to be accused of giving anyone any ideas, I can say that there are several venues where mixed security jurisdictions result in relatively easy access to ministerial level personalities. For somebody willing to be arrested or die in the process, getting close to an Israeli minister is really a no-brainer. I personally have done so many times without ever being searched, x-rayed, or even challenged in any way: the Israeli security people could only provide last ditch close-up protection and the local security people (correctly) assumed that I was working for the local organizers. The fact is, getting a job which gives you physical access to world leaders is not at all has hard as some people think, and most security measures are worse than laughable. Again, if somebody wants to get close to a top official it is really easy to do so.

Could Hezbollah strike in Israel itself? I don't know, but such an attack would be much, much harder. The biggest danger for Israeli officials are people like Yigal Amir with close ties to Israeli security organizations. The closest the Palestinians ever got to killing an Isareli minister was the assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi, who had already retired and who did not take the needed precautions for his security. While Jewish fanatics of the Gush Emunim might well get close enough to kill an acting Israeli minister, I just don't see the Palestinians pulling off something like this. Could Hezbollah, who is far, far better organized and more capable than any Palestinian organization, do it? Possibly, and the psychological effect of striking at a top Israeli official inside Israel might just be worth the effort.

Needless to say, should Hezbollah attack a top Israeli official, regardless of the location of the attack, it would trigger an violent military response of Israel against Lebanon. Would that deter Hezbollah? I don't think so, in particular not with the USA blocking any solution to the political crisis in Lebanon and with the USS Cole off the Lebanese coast. What incentive does Hezbollah have to maintain the status quo?

By all accounts, Hezbollah is now fully ready with 10'000 long range and another 20'000 shorter range rockets ready to be fired at Israel. Besides, so many observers have predicted a "round 2" war between Hezbollah and the humiliated and defeated Israelis that it is a safe bet to say that Hezbollah already knows that a war will happen no matter what it does or does not do. In this context, it makes perfect sense for Hezbollah to play on the Israeli's nerves by issuing not so veiled threats while carefully planning the time and place of its retaliation. Sheikh Naim Qassem's accusations are most likely part of a psychological preparation of the battlefield for the next war.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Freedom Rider: Hugo Chavez and the Obama/Clinton Twins

(Many thanks to Cem for this submission. Original article here - the Saker)

venezuela_ecuadorby BAR Editor and Senior Columnist Margaret Kimberley

With Republican candidate John McCain singing "bomb, bomb Iran", muttering about keeping troops in Iraq another hundred years, and offering US military solutions to the world's every problem, voters might reasonably expect Democratic candidates to offer sane and sensible alternatives to the aggressive foreign policies of the Bush regime. But both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem poised to continue the Bush regime's support of death squads and narco-kleptocracy in Columbia. Neither Democrat complains when Columbia's US trained and equipped army conducts murderous cross-border forays into Ecuador, or masses on the Venezuelan border. When it comes to foreign policy in South America, this year's Democrats offer little, if any "change".

Freedom Rider: Hugo Chavez and the Obama/Clinton Twins
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

If the next president is a Democrat, there will be no change in direction from Bush regime foreign policy. Violations of international law will continue. Outright lies will be told to the international community and to the media, and the damage done by the Bush regime will not be undone.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have confirmed it. They are both on record in support of Bush administration policy that encouraged one South American country to attack another. They are on record in support of an assassination plot that brought three nations to the brink of war.

ObamaHoldNoseClintonRecent news media headlines, “Venezuela masses troops on Colombian border” would lead one to believe that the crisis involving Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador was the result of wrong doing on the part of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The media rarely reveal that the president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, violated international law by first bombing and then sending troops into neighboring Ecuador on March 1st.

“Clinton and Obama are on record in support of an assassination plot that brought three nations to the brink of war.”

FARC, a Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces for Colombia, is a guerrilla movement that has been engaged in battle against the Colombian government since the 1960s. Raul Reyes was the FARC international spokesman in the midst of negotiations for a prisoner exchange and release of hostages held by FARC and Colombia. Those negotiations took place with the full knowledge of the Colombian government and were close to being successfully concluded.

Hugo Chavez was at the center of the negotiations and worked with France, Spain, Switzerland and the International Red Cross on the prisoner release. The previous week four Colombians had been released by FARC and were given a grand welcome in Caracas, Venezuela. Reyes was too successful, and Uribe and Bush decided that he had to go.

With the help of the American military, Reyes’ satellite phone calls to Hugo Chavez were tracked and his location was pinpointed. On March 1st, Raul Reyes and 17 other FARC members were killed as they slept, first in a bombing attack and then execution style by Colombian troops. After the attack, the Colombian military took Reyes’ body and displayed it for the international media, a violation of the Geneva Conventions and of any standard of ethics.

Three envoys sent by French president Nicolas Sarkozy were scheduled to meet with Reyes on the day he was killed. Two days before the killings, Sarkozy said he was prepared to go to Colombia to free one of the hostages personally, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt. His so-called American friends put him in his place and let him know he would not be allowed into Uncle Sam’s back yard without permission. If Sarkozy thought he was a Bush friend, he may want to rethink that assessment.

“Raul Reyes and 17 other FARC members were killed as they slept, first in a bombing attack and then execution style by Colombian troops on Ecuadoran soil.”

While the Bush administration was fanning flames in South America and insulting allies, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama jumped on the imperialist bandwagon. Neither of them criticized a government sponsored assassination, the violation of a nation’s sovereignty, or the sabotage of a humanitarian effort. Both parroted Bush administration lies about Hugo Chavez.

Hillary Clinton read straight from Bush talking points. “Rather than criticizing Colombia's actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As President, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.”

“Neither Clinton nor Obama criticized a government sponsored assassination, the violation of a nation’s sovereignty, or the sabotage of a humanitarian effort.”

venezuela_ecuador_mapAccording to Hillary, Ecuador should just shut up and allow Colombia to kill within its borders. Only Chavez’s actions in defense of his nation are deemed provocative by the woman who says she alone can be trusted during international emergencies. In addition, she didn’t reveal that Raul Reyes was the FARC contact for officials in her husband’s administration. If she truly reviewed the situation and came up with this statement, her claims to be the best commander-in-chief are laughable at best.

The Obama statement is equally disturbing. "The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors."

It is true that FARC has been fighting the Colombian government for four decades, but that is not the whole story. After a cease fire in 1984, FARC formed a political party and won seats in Colombia’s parliament. After participating in the democratic process, more than 4,000 FARC members and other activists were assassinated in 1985. FARC rationally concluded that coming above ground was not a prescription for change in their country. (*link alternet)

“Hillary Clinton read straight from Bush talking points. Obama gave Colombia the right to invade a neighboring as long as they claim to fight terrorism.”

Not only is his historical knowledge wanting, but Obama’s blithe acknowledgement of a “targeted killing” is disgraceful. So too is his assertion that it really isn’t that big a deal, and the wronged nation, Ecuador, should just try to get along with the provocateurs. He too gives Colombia the right to invade a neighboring country in clear violation of international law as long as they claim to fight terrorism. As for “international actors,” they were working to insure peace in the region before they were given a very public smack down by the United States.

The Obama/Clinton statements about the South American crisis are pretty much like their statements on every other foreign policy issue. They differ very little from one another or from the Bush administration. If they don’t speak out now against an unpopular lame duck, why should they work to undo his policies? The sad truth is that they neither one of them will. Bush style diplomacy will still win the day in the November elections. Fortunately Hugo Chavez will also be in office. There will be at least one leader willing to speak truth to American power.