Monday, June 30, 2008

Interview with Iran's Ambassador to IAEA

CASMII Exclusive: Interview with Iran's Ambassador to IAEA

(source: CASMII)

Mohammad Kamaali, board member of CASMII UK speaks to Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Dr Ali Asghar Soltanieh who was recently in London to attend an international
conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS.
In this interview Dr Soltanieh explains the reasons behind Iran's determination to develop an indigenous uranium enrichment capability and why Iran believes the countries pursuing or relying on nuclear weapons are making a mistake. He also gives his viewpoint on how international institutions such as the UN Security Council are in practice used as instruments of political pressure by a select few member states, ultimately undermining the authority and credibility of those institutions.

The following is a transcript of the interview with minor editing for clarity. A Podcast is also available for download from here [.mp3].
Mohammad Kamaali: Thank you Mr Ambassador for agreeing to talk to us. If you could please briefly explain the history of Iran's nuclear programme, where it started, what stage is it at present and what are your future plans.

Dr Ali Asghar Soltanieh: It is simple, Iran’s nuclear programme did not start yesterday for it to be stopped tomorrow as it is today demanded by some countries like the US. Nuclear activities in Iran go back to half a century ago, before and after the [1979] revolution. In fact, I myself started my work before the revolution in the Atomic Energy Organisation (AEO) and I have witnessed the double standard approach before and after the revolution.

A very simple question that is always addressed to us is what is the justification for Iran to have nuclear energy while it has huge amounts of natural resources of oil and gas. This question was never raised before the revolution when the [oil] resources were much more than today and the population was about half. [Today] the added value of the oil bid for application in our chemical and petrochemical industry is much more because we now have a lot of advancements in this area which we can use for producing a great amount of by-products. So the added value is much more than thirty years ago, in addition to the price of oil which is of course increasing everyday.

Therefore there are good technical and financial justifications for having also nuclear energy as an option. But at the same time we have never envisioned an ambitious programme so as to consider nuclear energy as the only option. We have always thought of the policy of diversifying energy resources. We have used a technical/scientific program in the IAEA namely the VASP programme; with which countries use all their data to find out in a scientific way what share nuclear energy can play for them. Using this programme we have come to the conclusion that in the next twenty years, roughly by 2020, we will have up to 20,000 megawatts from nuclear energy. Right now in our national grid we have about 35,000 megawatts and if Bushehr becomes operational, the share of nuclear energy will be 1,000 out of 35,000 megawatts. But given the constant growth of industry and naturally for many other uses across the country, the energy demand is increasing. Therefore 20,000 megawatts by the year 2020 again will be perhaps a small portion of this sort of energy. It is not 400% therefore it is not that ambitious, it is a more realistic approach so that step-by-step we can have a gradual contribution from nuclear power.

Now the issue which I think has been made so much politicised but is mainly technical is when you have nuclear energy and you want to have nuclear energy for different applications including nuclear power then the issue is that you need reactors and reactors need fuel and the fuel should be assured.

MK: Could you explain what those other purposes might be?

AS: Yes, in fact I have been twice the director of nuclear research centre in Tehran (NRC). One of the main applications of nuclear energy is in producing various radioisotopes for medical, agricultural and industrial purposes. Right now over 200 hospitals and clinics are using the radioisotopes produced in Tehran's 5 megawatts reactor; and of course in addition to these applications the sources also could be used for many leakage applications in industry as well as agriculture of course.

We do have for example a gamma radiation centre in Tehran. Everyday trucks of the chemical by-products and in fact the material used in the medical applications are sterilised by gamma radiation by cold sources there. There are various applications which are increasing everyday not only in Iran but in the whole world.

Therefore for all these we come back to the nuclear material used for that purpose, for either radioactive sources or reactor. But then the question is you need fuel and the fuel should be assured. The main question is why we started to choose our own way for enrichment in order to produce the fuel indigenously.

I explain this to you very briefly; I am sure that your colleagues will be convinced because this is part of history and these are well documented facts. First of all we have a confidence deficit for the last thirty years particularly after the revolution when Western countries immediately stopped their nuclear cooperation [with Iran.] We paid $2m before the revolution in order to have new fuel for the Tehran reactor which produces mainly radioisotopes. The Americans neither gave the fuel nor the $2m that they received. Therefore when I was the Ambassador to the IAEA 26 years ago, I raised the issue of an urgent need for fuel with the Director General at the time, Hans Blix, and asked the IAEA to do something as intermediation for this problem. The IAEA in fact wrote to different potential suppliers, reflecting our request; unfortunately none of them agreed to even give the fuel for Tehran's research reactor which has been under the IAEA's full-scope Safeguards.

MK: Were they obliged to accept Iran's request at all?

AS: Yes, because this is under the IAEA. First of all the US was legally obliged because they had a contract; they received $2m out of $2.3m before the revolution. The fuel was ready to ship and they stopped the shipment of that fuel. Finally when the Argentineans had success in enrichment, they announced their readiness to give fuel to Iran under the auspices of the IAEA and that is what happened. Therefore the Tehran reactor right now is working with Argentinean fuel and this was in fact a good sign of South-South cooperation.

Now I give this as one example and there are many examples both bilaterally and multilaterally that have affected us. I want you to consider these and then everybody could easily judge if they were in Iran's position whether or not they would have taken the same decisions [as we did] . This is one reason. The second reason is this: Iran was part of Eurodif, an enrichment company in France, to which the Shah gave $1bn as a loan thirty years ago. Right now that I am giving this interview, Iran holds 10% of the shares of that company, but we have not even received 1 gram of uranium from that factory, uranium which is being produced under the full-scope of [the IAEA] safeguard. That is also another reason why Iran was disappointed and frustrated, and therefore it had to decide otherwise.

The next issue of course is the Bushehr power plant which is a tragedy in fact among all industrial projects of the world. It was supposed to be in operation almost twenty eight years ago and after thirty years it is still not in operation. We spent another $1bn [in dealing] with the Russians and it is still not in operation. And I want to inform you that, while we thank the Russians for their cooperation, they have only given the fuel so far for the first load and the first year. They have not provided any guarantees on paper for the fuel in the next five or ten years. Therefore there is no guarantee for even the Bushehr power plant.

Having all these in mind and with this background we had no choice but to have our own enrichment and fuel production. However, there was also another important development in the international arena which in fact pushed Iran to make this decision. In the IAEA there was a committee for guaranteeing nuclear supply. That committee collapsed in 1987 after seven years of negotiation. It means that after seven years of negotiation, they were not able to have one piece of paper as a legally binding assurance for guaranteeing nuclear fuel.

MK: Was there any particular reason for that?

AS: The reason was because the industrialized countries did not want to give that assurance and this is their historical mistake. This was 1987 and if you refer to the IAEA website and reports you will see that the IAEA has reported that Iran in fact decided to go after enrichment by coincidence after 1987. It means that when we lost all hope in international arrangements and also the bilateral problems we had after the revolution when [our partners] did not cooperate, altogether pushed Iran and Iranian decision-makers to the position that there is no other choice but to go for indigenous enrichment and fuel production. So we have designed the Natanz nuclear plant so as to produce, if it works annually with 54,000 P1 type centrifuges, the fuel required for the annual consumption of the Bushehr nuclear plant

MK: Is the Natanz nuclear plant under IAEA inspections?

AS: Natanz is under the full-scope of IAEA inspections and beyond . In order to remove any ambiguity and provide 100% transparency guarantee, we agreed and negotiated a legal text with the IAEA and have accepted further legal obligations. These two legal texts are called Facility Attachment and Safeguard Approach for Natanz Enrichment. It means that the operator inspectors do not need to discuss each time what to see, how to see, where to install or not to install cameras.. Therefore this is the legal obligation that Iran has accepted that everything is under the most intrusive and robust inspections. Apart from that we have also agreed that the agency could have short notice snapshot inspections, within two hours or so. This is of course maximum transparency and assurance.

MK: Do these measures apply to other nuclear sites across Iran as well?

AS: Yes, in fact this is the case. Since it was established over 35 years ago, the Tehran research reactor has been under continuous Agency surveillance and there is also a Facility Attachment for Tehran research reactor as well as in Isfahan and other [sites]. Therefore even in Isfahan which is a Uranium conversion [facility] we do have IAEA cameras. In fact I took the ambassadors of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), G77 and the Arab League to Isfahan and in that visit I invited and permitted over 100 international journalists to also accompany me to visit all parts of the Isfahan [facility]; they were able to see with their own eyes the IAEA cameras installed in different corners of that facility. Similar facilities in other countries do not have these cameras and therefore we have accepted additional measures to make sure that everything is under the full-scope Safeguards.

MK: So what has the IAEA or its Director General expressed concern about, especially in its latest report?

AS: We implemented the Additional Protocol for two and a half years voluntarily but a historical mistake was made by the US and a couple of other Western countries that after so much cooperation and having even suspended these activities, they conveyed this file to New York. Of course it was not officially referred because it was not following the provision of the statute of the IAEA Safeguards.

In fact immediately after the involvement of the UN Security Council in this issue, which is in fact an unlawful involvement, the Iranian Parliament passed a law restricting the government to only accept the Comprehensive Safeguards of the NPT. Therefore we were not going to discuss the issues beyond our legal obligations such as the so called "outstanding issues." However after one year that we stopped these discussions we as a matter of fact showed our maximum flexibility and concession. Under the work-plan which was negotiated and agreed with the IAEA we decided to resolve those issues. But of course the Agency asked not only Iran but many other countries to sign, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol. Because of the unfortunate decision to get the UN Security Council involved and the ongoing resolutions that they are passing against Iran, one can not expect a parliament in a democratic society to ignore this fact and pass and ratify the Additional Protocol. I want to say that the Director General [of the IAEA] has reported that over one hundred countries at present do not implement the Additional Protocol and therefore this is not only about Iran.

MK: The latest report of the IAEA contains some issues mentioned in the media especially with regards to the contents of that particular laptop and there are the explosives and detonator tests, missile re-entry vehicles and the uranium metal document. These are the things that have been raised and branded as outstanding questions with regards to Iran's nuclear programme. Some of it has been answered in the work-plan, some of it even contradicts the actual work-plan. How does Iran view the latest report in particular with regards to the track record of its relationship with the IAEA?

AS: The work-plan, which we agreed with the IAEA [Aug. 07], has resolved all six issues, called the outstanding issues, and the Director General has clearly reported to the whole world that they are resolved in the past reports.

One issue which was not categorized as an outstanding issue was the issue of "alleged studies." That is the allegation by the US that there were some studies on Green Salt, high explosives and re-entry missiles. And as you correctly mentioned it was the issue the so-called “laptop”. After the first process i.e. the six outstanding issues which were all nuclear-related matters and within the domain of the IAEA, was over, in a compromise we accepted to also discuss these matters. Because missiles or explosives are not within the contents of the statute of the IAEA. These are outside the domain of the IAEA. But we showed flexibility and we said OK let us have the documents, we will study them and give our assessment.

In the work-plan it was clearly mentioned that the Agency was obliged to deliver this document and we were only obliged to give our assessment of it. No discussions, no interviews, not even visits. That was the agreement and understanding with the IAEA. The high officials and the head of the legal department, policy making and technical safeguard departments were also present when this text was finalised. It is interesting that in spite of the Americans' march against Mr ElBaradei and the IAEA secretariat about the [IAEA-Iran] work-plan, this document was supported almost unanimously in the IAEA and even in the Board of Governors it was discussed and many European countries and others welcomed the IAEA for having achieved this work-plan.

Therefore this work-plan has an important status and both sides should fulfil their obligations. Unfortunately the Americans prevented the IAEA to fulfil its obligation by not delivering the documents and not permitting the IAEA to deliver the documents to Iran. But again we showed flexibility and we accepted that the documents could only be shown so that we could put an end to this endless process. Finally [the documents] were shown and we explained comprehensively why these papers are forged and baseless. We had many meetings, over 200 pages of explanation have been given in a confidential manner to the IAEA and unfortunately the Americans are still trying to keep this file [open] by continuing to make ceaseless allegations.

MK: How were these documents shown to you? Was it in a paper format? Was it digital? Did they have any confidential seals?

AS: That is an important point you raised. In the first round of our meeting, they simply brought some sheets of papers in hard copy and said that we were not allowed to take them outside the room or make a copy. Then in the second round the secretariat was further embarrassed and they apologised to Iran and said that this time the Americans had not even permitted [the IAEA] to obtain or show hard copies [of the documents].

Therefore they brought us electronic versions, which were shown on a computer laptop screen. This has created a lot of problems for the secretariat and Iran; the Director General has in fact complained about the US actions creating impediments in the work, and in the last report he has indeed criticised this.

MK: Doesn't this play with the credibility of the IAEA as a whole and if it does, is it the case that the IAEA has to do whatever the US asks it to do?

AS: That is exactly the concern reflected in the Non-Alignment Movement statement. Here over one hundred countries expressed their serious concern and dissatisfaction and objection to this status quo. That one country is somehow interfering in the impartial and professional work of the IAEA. It is absolutely a violation of the spirit and the letter of [the IAEA] statute that one state has allegations against another state and gives documents to the IAEA but dictates what to do with it and how to do it and when to do it. This is 100% against the statutory obligations of each member state. That is exactly what happened.

Apart from these issues, among all the documents and material received from the United States against Iran, those essentially forged documents and communications, none of them have any seals of “confidential” or “highly confidential” or “top secret”. How can one imagine that a country has had some sort of a Manhattan nuclear weapon project and all these communications between the Ministry of Defence and all other organisations related to it lack any level of confidentiality on such papers and that this is just normal communication? While they have put some secret codes in order to show that they are some secret projects, at the same time one of the sheets in the third line in parenthesis explains that 111 or 12 or whatever, that this code is about a "nuclear weapon warhead"! This is ridiculous; and there are numerous points like this that we have fully explained to the agency inspectors.

In the meeting we had in Tehran, every problem, every shortcoming and inconsistency was thoroughly discussed and reflected. Therefore this matter is in fact over and I just want to conclude by saying that for the last five years there have been over twenty seven allegations about military sites in Iran and at least 248 samples have been taken from military sites and have been fully analysed which proved that none has any evidence of nuclear weapons or nuclear material. Therefore they have been baseless.

MK: Do you expect any more UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, given that IAEA reports have been in the passed used as justification for UNSC resolutions?

AS: No, in fact there were some attempts in this direction by the US before June in the Board of Governors. For almost two weeks they made much effort to lobby and convince many member states by talking to their capitals. The US mission in Vienna tried hard to convince the member states to have a resolution in the IAEA against Iran. Based even on that report they were unable to succeed. It means that the member states of the IAEA, who are the same members of the United Nations, disagree [with the US] because they do not assess this report as negative, because over ten paragraphs are very positive in the report particularly the paragraphs which repeat that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear material and facility, towards military nuclear purposes and that all nuclear material are accounted for. This is a very important message.

MK: What about the UN Security Council itself and if another sanctions resolution is passed what would be Iran's likely response?

AS: Well I have to say that these resolutions have been in fact counter-productive. It has in fact undermined to a great extent the authority of the IAEA and it has not had any effect on our nuclear activities. We have even speeded up and tried to show our determination that by sanctions or resolutions or threats of military attack, Iran will not give up its inalienable right for these activities. But at the same time we follow a policy which makes the US administration very disappointed. In spite of the disappointment and frustration about the UN Security Council resolutions which have been in fact very negative on the UN ['s image] and proved that the UNSC is used as an instrument against countries, Iran decided not to react to reduce or halt its cooperation with the IAEA. Therefore despite those resolutions we continue our cooperation with the IAEA within our legal obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards of the NPT agreement and therefore we neither suspended enrichment nor we suspended [our cooperation with the IAEA]. That is exactly the policy which has upset the US administration. Because they love to hear the news that Iran has decided either to stop or reduce the inspections or to withdraw from NPT and we have not done either.

MK: Does Iran have any incentive to go after Nuclear weapons given Israel's presence and Pakistan's and other countries around Iran?

AS: The answer is very simply, no. It is not a slogan, I have some logic for it. First of all there are religious fatwas or decrees that we are against weapons of mass destruction. We have proved this by our action during the eight years of imposed war by Saddam where Iraq used chemical weapons and over 100,000 people were affected; over 30,000 are still under treatment. Everybody knows that Iran had at that time considerable advanced chemical and petrochemical technology. We could have produced and used [such weapons.] We didn't do that. This is a clear example at a time when we were facing to be or not to be.

The second reason is if a country like Iran or other developing countries decide to have nuclear weapons, how many can they have? Maybe a couple of them? They cannot have 1000s of nuclear bombs in order to compete for example with the United States. Then the quantity would be the crucial factor in competing with the adversaries where they are.

Therefore nuclear weapons create vulnerability for the country. As soon as a country obtains nuclear weapons they will have a problem because they cannot compete in this way. We know in the cold war the Soviet Union and the US were just competing over the number of their warheads because it was this quantity that was playing the role. Therefore this is a historical mistake for any country to go after nuclear weapons. We do not need it.

Apart from this, the [Iranian] revolution for the last 30 years since its triumph has had one simple message; that the Islamic Republic and this democratic system that has been established after the revolution could only be sustained by popular support and the unity of the people who play their role for the sustainable and continuous progress of the country. Therefore this is the main thing the government respects namely to have the popular support and also to make every effort that our cooperation with all countries of the whole world is promoted every day. And that we will always be committed to international laws.

That is why you have never heard any news that Iran has had any problems with its neighbours.

MK: Finally I want to touch upon the way forward. How do you see this current crisis -if it is a real crisis, if it is even a nuclear crisis- can be resolved? There are various ideas floating such as a joint consortium [for enrichment], you've got the temporary suspension of enrichment, the Additional Protocol ideas. How do you think this can be resolved?

AS: I will try to be very concise. We are going to continue our cooperation with the IAEA. All our activities are under routine inspection. We have already given our explanations to the IAEA on the last issue of so-called alleged studies; and that if there are any questions or ambiguities for the IAEA or even member states we are well prepared to answer them because we are transparent and we want to make sure that all member states are confident that everything is for peaceful purposes.

At the same time and with the same mentality we welcome all member states in parallel to work with the IAEA to come to the negotiating table. Negotiating table means they can come and we can discuss the common elements about international issues and many things that concern all of us. International security, regional security, international cooperation, energy, energy safety and many other issues. That is why we have given our package which includes all these elements and we were open minded and we have received the 5+1 or the so called 3+3 package. We are studying these carefully. I personally hope and I am optimistic that if the 5+1 showed they have a political will and they want to prove their political and good intention, they should immediately come to the negotiating table without any preconditions and we can have two proposals on the table for discussion.

MK: Would Iran be prepared to accept the Additional Protocol if Iran's file is returned from the UN Security Council to the board of the IAEA?

AS: Well of course this question should be addressed to the Parliament. But I can say that the file has not officially been referred to [the UNSC]. But let's say if the UNSC stopped its illegal involvement, engagement or interference, this of course will help and the environment will be better. Because as long as the UN Security Council is involved and passes resolutions, they just continue to poison the environment and put the spirit of cooperation in jeopardy. Therefore if they will do this, that is a right step in the right direction. In the Board of Governors last week I said that if this issue is removed from the agenda of the board and if the [IAEA] Safeguards is implemented in a routine manner then Iran will show more flexibility to take voluntary steps such as those which were discussed during the visits of the Director General to Tehran. So we will show [flexibility] and this is part of our Iranian culture with thousands of years of civilisation. We cannot accept threats, intimidation and humiliation but if there is a civilised environment and a language of dialogue and a constructive environment then we will show flexibility in order to make sure that the other side also will have enough confidence. Therefore the building of confidence is a two way process. They make accusations against Iran over some issues or in the past over confidence deficit, while in fact we have a large amount of records regarding confidence deficit vis-à-vis Western countries particularly the US and some of the European countries including EU3, specifically the UK and France. They have done much [wrong] against the Iranian nation and this is a time for them to compensate.

MK: The sanctions resolutions passed were initially based on the concern that Iran may divert its nuclear program towards a military goal; but the IAEA has already confirmed that this is not the case. Perhaps that would mean the previous sanctions would have to be removed and future ones should not be passed. Why do you think the Security Council is still willing to accept the US agenda of pushing Iran into isolation? And -I know this may be a difficult question- but do you think that the comments of the Iranian President regarding Israel has helped this process, this push for sanctions against Iran?

AS: Two different things. First of all, on the resolutions they tried to justify it by saying it is because of the "outstanding issues." The Director General has always said that this issue is in New York not because of verification or any problems that Iran has created; Iran is in fact continuing its work and the Director General has continuously reported that the Agency is able to continue its verification. Therefore the involvement of the UNSC in New York is not because of a problem between the IAEA and Iran within the statute of the work. Iran is not like the case of other countries such as North Korea who withdrew from NPT and therefore technically and legally this matter was passed and referred to UN Security Council. We are continuing our work with the IAEA and routine inspections continue. But they then raised the issue of outstanding issues. Now that the outstanding issues are resolved and the Director General has reported in March also that all six outstanding issued are resolved, there is no technical justification and any merit for suspension. Because they asked to suspend enrichment until the Agency and Iran resolved these outstanding issues.

That is why the [idea of] suspension has lost its technical and even political merits that the proponents of the resolutions were raising.

Secondly, we have to bear in mind that since the victory of the [1979] revolution, our people have been echoing to the whole world that they oppose any mentality that is against humanity. Genocide, discrimination, aggression, apartheid and Zionism, these are all the categories that the people of Iran have said they are committed not to accept and they will not support this kind of mentality. That is the reason immediately after the revolution, Iran in fact stopped its diplomatic relation with the Apartheid regime of South Africa and the Zionist regime of Israel. After the revolution, we did not even stop our diplomatic relationship with the US which was the first adversary, having many issues with our people from the coup [of 1953] and onward interventions in our country. It means that was our first priority and as soon as the apartheid mentality was removed and a popular government was in place, we supported the South Africans and we now have the best relationship with the South African people and the South African government. Therefore that is the problem and the message of the Iranian officials and the Iranian people is that we cannot accept that a group of people occupy a place and make many innocent people homeless. This is a matter of principle against humanity, that was the whole issue. At the same time we have clearly mentioned and our supreme leader also had a message over four years ago that if people there -in occupied Palestine- Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, who are all followers of divine religions come together and follow a democratic referendum and choose a democratic government, then we will support that. That is exactly what we want. The homeless Palestinians also have the right to live there and this is the minimum that we expect. Because this is a right of human beings to have a home and to live there in peace and in equal footing. We are always for peace and prosperity in that region, the Middle East and also in the whole world.

MK: Thank you Mr Ambassador for speaking to us.

AS: Thank you indeed.

For further information or to contact CASMII please visit

Bush lawyers on child torture and burial alive

Friday, June 27, 2008

Israel's dead end

(thanks to Mari for this interesting contribution)

Zionist dreams of clearing "Greater Israel" of all Palestinians continue to be played out via insidious and violent means, but they won't be realized, writes Jonathan Cook in Al-Ahram Weekly.

In 1895, Theodor Herzl, Zionism's chief prophet, confided in his diary that he did not favour sharing Palestine with the natives. Better, he wrote, to "try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by denying it any employment in our own country... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

He was proposing a programme of Palestinian emigration enforced through a policy of strict separation between Jewish immigrants and the indigenous population. In simple terms, he hoped that, once Zionist organisations had bought up large areas of Palestine and owned the main sectors of the economy, Palestinians could be made to leave by denying them rights to work the land or labour in the Jewish-run economy. His vision was one of transfer, or ethnic cleansing, through ethnic separation.

Herzl was suggesting that two possible Zionist solutions to the problem of a Palestinian majority living in Palestine -- separation and transfer -- were not necessarily alternatives but rather could be mutually reinforcing. Not only that: he believed, if they were used together, the process of ethnic cleansing could be made to appear voluntary, the choice of the victims. It may be that this was both his most enduring legacy and his major innovation to settler colonialism.

In recent years, with the Palestinian population under Israeli rule about to reach parity with the Jewish population, the threat of a Palestinian majority has loomed large again for the Zionists. Not surprisingly, debates about which of these two Zionist solutions to pursue, separation or transfer, have resurfaced.

Today these solutions are ostensibly promoted by two ideological camps loosely associated with Israel's centre-left (Labour and Kadima) and right (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu). The modern political arguments between them turn on differing visions of the nature of a Jewish state originally put forward by Labour and Revisionist Zionists.

To make sense of current political debates, and events, taking place inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, let us first examine the history of these two principles in Zionist thinking.

During the early waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, the dominant Labour Zionist movement and its leader David Ben Gurion advanced policies much in line with Herzl's goal. In particular, they promoted the twin principles of "Redemption of the Land" and "Hebrew Labour", which took as their premise the idea that Jews needed to separate themselves from the native population in working the land and employing only other Jews. By being entirely self- reliant in Palestine, Jews could both "cure" themselves of their tainted Diaspora natures and deprive the Palestinians of the opportunity to subsist in their own homeland.

At the forefront of this drive was the Zionist trade union federation, the Histadrut, which denied membership to Palestinians and, for many years after the establishment of the Jewish state, even to the remnants of the Palestinian population who became Israeli citizens.

But if separation was the official policy of Labour Zionism, behind the scenes Ben Gurion and his officials increasingly appreciated that it would not be enough in itself to achieve their goal of a pure ethnic state. Land sales remained low, at about six per cent of the territory, and the Jewish-owned parts of the economy relied on cheap Palestinian labour.

Instead, the Labour Zionists secretly began working on a programme of ethnic cleansing. After 1937 and Britain's Peel Report proposing partition of Palestine, Ben Gurion was more open about transfer, recognising that a Jewish state would be impossible unless most of the indigenous population was cleared from within its borders.

Israel's new historians have acknowledged Ben Gurion's commitment to transfer. As Benny Morris notes, for example, Ben Gurion "understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst". The Israeli leadership therefore developed a plan for ethnic cleansing under cover of war, compiling detailed dossiers on the communities that needed to be driven out and then passing on the order, in Plan Dalet, to commanders in the field. During the 1948 war the new state of Israel was emptied of at least 80 per cent of its indigenous population.

In physically expelling the Palestinian population, Ben Gurion responded to the political opportunities of the day and recalibrated the Labour Zionism of Herzl. In particular he achieved the goal of displacement desired by Herzl while also largely persuading the world through a campaign of propaganda that the exodus of the refugees was mostly voluntary. In one of the most enduring Zionist myths, convincingly rebutted by modern historians, we are still told that the refugees left because they were told to do so by the Arab leadership.

The other camp, the Revisionists, had a far more ambivalent attitude to the native Palestinian population. Paradoxically, given their uncompromising claim to a Greater Israel embracing both banks of the Jordan River (thereby including not only Palestine but also the modern state of Jordan), they were more prepared than the Labour Zionists to allow natives to remain where they were.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of Revisionism, observed in 1938 -- possibly in a rebuff to Ben Gurion's espousal of transfer -- that, "it must be hateful for any Jew to think that the rebirth of a Jewish state should ever be linked with such an odious suggestion as the removal of non-Jewish citizens". The Revisionists, it seems, were resigned to the fact that the enlarged territory they desired would inevitably include a majority of Arabs. They were therefore less concerned with removing the natives than finding a way to make them accept Jewish rule.

In 1923, Jabotinsky formulated his answer, one that implicitly included the notion of separation but not necessarily transfer: an "iron wall" of unremitting force to cow the natives into submission. In his words, the agreement of the Palestinians to their subjugation could be reached only "through the iron wall, that is to say, the establishment in Palestine of a force that will in no way be influenced by Arab pressure".

An enthusiast of British imperial rule, Jabotinsky envisioned the future Jewish state in simple colonial terms, as a European elite ruling over the native population.

Inside Revisionism, however, there was a shift from the idea of separation to transfer that mirrored developments inside Labour Zionism. This change was perhaps more opportunistic than ideological, and was particularly apparent as the Revisionists sensed Ben Gurion's success in forging a Jewish state through transfer.

One of Jabotinsky disciples, Menachem Begin, who would later become a Likud prime minister, was leader in 1948 of the Irgun militia that committed one of the worst atrocities of the war. He led his fighters into the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin where they massacred over 100 inhabitants, including women and children.

Savage enough though these events were, Begin and his followers consciously inflated the death toll to more than 250 through the pages of The New York Times. Their goal was to spread terror among the wider Palestinian population and encourage them to flee. He happily noted later: "Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of 'Irgun butchery', were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened, uncontrollable stampede."

Subsequently, other prominent figures on the right openly espoused ethnic cleansing, including the late General Rehavam Zeevi, whose Moledet Party campaigned in elections under the symbol of the Hebrew character "tet", for transfer. His successor, Benny Elon, a settler leader and rabbi, adopted a similar platform: "Only population transfer can bring peace".

The intensity of the separation versus transfer debate subsided after 1948 and the ethnic cleansing campaign that removed most of the native Palestinian population from the Jewish state. The Palestinian minority left behind -- a fifth of the population but a group, it was widely assumed, that would soon be swamped by Jewish immigration -- was seen as an irritation but not yet as a threat. It was placed under a military government for nearly two decades, a system designed to enforce separation between Palestinians and Jews inside Israel. Such separation -- in education, employment and residence -- exists to this day, even if in a less extreme form.

The separation-transfer debate was chiefly revived by Israel's war on the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. With Israel's erasure of the Green Line, and the effective erosion of the distinction between Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, the problem of a Palestinian majority again loomed large for the Zionists.

Cabinet debates from 1967 show the quandary faced by the government. Almost alone, Moshe Dayan favoured annexation of both the newly captured territories and the Palestinian population there. Others believed that such a move would be seen as transparently colonialist and rapidly degenerate into an apartheid system of Jewish citizens and Palestinian non-citizens. In their minds, Jabotinsky's solution of an iron wall was no longer viable.

But equally, in a more media-saturated era, which at least paid lip-service to human rights, the government could see no way to expel the Palestinian population and annex the land, as Ben Gurion had done earlier. Also possibly, they could see no way of persuading the world that such expulsions should be characterised as voluntary.

Israel therefore declined to move decisively in either direction, neither fully carrying out a transfer programme nor enforcing strict separation. Instead it opted for an apartheid model that accommodated Dayan's suggestion of a "creeping annexation" of the occupied territories that he rightly believed would go largely unnoticed by the West.

The separation embodied in South African apartheid differed from Herzl's notion of separation in one important respect: in apartheid, the "other" population was a necessary, even if much abused, component of the political arrangement. As the exiled Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara has noted, in South Africa "racial segregation was not absolute. It took place within a framework of political unity. The racist regime saw blacks as part of the system, an ingredient of the whole. The whites created a racist hierarchy within the unity."

In other words, the self-reliance, or unilateralism, implicit in Herzl's concept of separation was ignored for many years of Israel's occupation. The Palestinian labour force was exploited by Israel just as black workers were by South Africa. This view of the Palestinians was formalised in the Oslo Accords, which were predicated on the kind of separation needed to create a captive labour force.

However, Yitzhak Rabin's version of apartheid embodied by the Oslo process, and Binyamin Netanyahu's opposition in upholding Jabotinsky's vision of Greater Israel, both deviated from Herzl's model of transfer through separation. This is largely why both political currents have been subsumed within the recent but more powerful trend towards "unilateral separation".

Not surprisingly, the policy of "unilateral separation" emerged from among the Labour Zionists, advocated primarily by Ehud Barak. However, it was soon adopted by many members of Likud also. Ultimately its success derived from the conversion to its cause of Greater Israel's arch-exponent, Ariel Sharon. He realised the chief manifestations of unilateral separation, the West Bank wall and the Gaza disengagement, as well as breaking up Israel's right wing to create a new consensus party, Kadima.

In the new consensus, the transfer of Palestinians could be achieved through imposed and absolute separation -- just as Herzl had once hoped. After the Gaza disengagement, the next stage was promoted by Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert. His plan for convergence, limited withdrawals from the West Bank in which most settlers would remain in place, has been dropped, though its infrastructure -- the annexation wall -- continues to be built.

But how will modern Zionists convert unilateral separation into transfer? How will Herzl's original vision of ethnic cleansing enforced through strict ethnic separation be realised in today's world?

The current siege of Gaza offers the template. After disengagement, Israel has been able to cut off at will Gazans' access to aid, food, fuel and humanitarian services. Normality has been further eroded by sonic booms, random Israeli air attacks, and repeated small-scale invasions that have inflicted a large toll of casualties, particularly among civilians.

Gaza's imprisonment has stopped being a metaphor and become a daily reality. In fact, Gaza's condition is far worse than imprisonment: prisoners, even of war, expect to have their humanity respected and to be properly sheltered, cared for, fed and clothed. Gazans can no longer rely on these staples of life.

The ultimate goal of this extreme form of separation is patently clear: transfer. By depriving Palestinians of the basic conditions of a normal life, it is assumed that they will eventually choose to leave in what can once again be sold to the world as a voluntary exodus. And if Palestinians choose to abandon their homeland, then in Zionist thinking they have forfeited their right to it -- just as earlier generations of Zionists believed the Palestinian refugees had done by supposedly fleeing during the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Is this process of transfer inevitable? I think not. The success of a modern policy of "transfer through separation" faces severe limitations.

First, it depends on continuing US global hegemony and blind support for Israel. Such support is likely to be undermined by current American misadventures in the Middle East, and a gradual shift in the balance of power to China, Russia and India.

Second, it requires a Zionist worldview that departs starkly not only from international law but also from the values upheld by most societies and ideologies. The nature of Zionist ambitions is likely to be ever harder to conceal, as is evident from the tide of opinion polls showing that Western publics, if not their governments, believe Israel to be one of the biggest threats to world peace.

And third, it assumes that the Palestinians will remain passive during their slow eradication. The historical evidence most certainly shows that they will not.

Jonathan Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth. His latest book is Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East . The above text is taken from a talk delivered at the Conference for the Right of Return and the Secular Democratic State, held in Haifa 21 June.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

US, anti-Iran groups hold secret meeting

Press TV reports:

US officials and heads of four Kurdish anti-Iran groups have held a secret meeting in the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah, a Kurdish website says.

The two-day meeting was aimed at coordination of the US and the anti-Iran groups on mounting more pressure on the Islamic Republic.

Ten American military officers and leaders of four Kurdish terrorist groups attended the meeting in the Palace Hotel in Sulaimaniyah, northern Iraq, the website said.

During the meeting, the Kurdish leaders called on the US officials to pursue the same policies, which led to fall of the Iraqi Baath regime, in a bid to overthrow the Iranian government.

The latest developments within the anti-revolutionary groups indicate that winning the US cooperation and support is the groups' objective.

Kurdistan Democratic Party's former Secretary Mostafa Hejri, had reportedly underlined cooperation with the US against Iran as a "necessity", in a meeting he held with students of Arbil University last year.

General Secretary of Komala terrorist group, Abdulah Mohtadi had also officially affirmed the need of monetary and arms support from the US.

Mostafa Hejri, Abdulah Mohtadi, secretary-general of a faction of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Abdullah Hassanzadeh, and the general secretary of the Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan, Hussein Yazdanpanah were the four Kurdish leaders attending the meeting.

Tactics that ended apartheid in S. Africa can end it in Israel

Note: Today I am publishing an opinion piece even though I have strong reservations about its key thesis. Basically, while I do agree that the self-confessed racist ("Jewish") State of Israel's policies are, in some ways, similar to Apartheid, I do not think that Israeli Jews are in any way similar to Afrikaners, nor do I think Israel is susceptible to the same kind pressures which, eventually, brought about the end of visible Apartheid in South Africa. Still, the piece is, I think, worthy if consideration and this is why I have decided to go ahead and publish it (with the kind authorization of the IMEU).

A discussion on how to end racism is very much needed and any proposal aimed at achieving this deserves to be widely publicized and discussed.

The Saker

Tactics that ended apartheid in S. Africa can end it in Israel

By Bill Fletcher Jr.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict often inspires a sense of powerlessness. What can average Americans do to bring an end to this decades-old conflict when our leaders have failed so miserably?

And what good is speaking out about Israel's occupation of Palestinian land as the primary obstacle to peace when even former President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu are condemned for their criticism of Israeli policies?

This month in San Jose, average Americans will have the opportunity to take a stand for peace and justice in the Middle East. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s General Assembly began Saturday and runs through Sunday at the San Jose Convention Center. At the meeting, which takes place once every two years, delegates will make policy decisions for the 2.3 million-member denomination.

They will consider corporate engagement, up to divestment, with companies that profit from the obstacles to a just peace in Israel and Palestine. The church is considering approaches to Caterpillar, ITT Industries, Motorola and United Technologies.

The TransAfrica Forum, an organization which I was honored to head, played a leading role in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. Corporate engagement was one of the most powerful tools in our non-violent arsenal. It was the right moral decision then and it is the right moral decision now. Just as it worked in South Africa, it can work in Palestine and Israel.

Yet Presbyterian delegates are being pressured to vote against similar measures. Some say the tactic unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation. But it is not the country we condemn; it's a system of segregation and inequality.

The Israeli government has established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories a regime of systematic discrimination. It maintains two systems of laws, and a person's rights are based on national origin. Palestinian land is confiscated to build Israeli-only settlements and roads. Palestinians wait hours in line at more than 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, while Jewish settlers speed by on modern, well-lit highways.

As Carter, and many Israelis have said, as long as this dual system exists, any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. Palestinians compare Israeli policies to those of apartheid in South Africa. Former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair wrote in 2002, "In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That regime exists to this day."

South Africans who led the fight against apartheid, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former United Nations envoy John Dugard, make similar comparisons.

To the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians, we provide financial and diplomatic support to maintain these separate and unequal policies. Israel is the No. 1 recipient of U.S. foreign aid: roughly $2.5 billion last year alone. Our government has cast more than 40 vetoes in the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from international condemnation.

Divestment from companies that benefit from the occupation is an opportunity for American citizens to do what our government leaders have refused to do: say that our money will not fund human rights abuses any longer.

With humbleness, with love, with compassion for Palestinians and Israelis, I believe in the possibility that both can live as neighbors with security, dignity and respect. As it did in South Africa, corporate engagement, including divestment, can help make that possibility a reality.

BILL FLETCHER JR. is executive editor of and former president of the TransAfrica Forum, which led the U.S. movement to overthrow apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How lying and warmongering will get you an Emmy

No even Hitler could have hoped for a more sophisticated and immoral propaganda machine...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama's real disgrace

Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

Many observers were understandably appalled by Obama's AIPAC 2008 speech and many pointed out that by saying that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel Obama pre-judged the outcome of future negotiations. Later Obama "clarified" his statement to the great disappointment of some rabid Zionists. No big deal I would suggest - Obama is a politician and like any politician he zigzags, backtracks, "clarifies", "explains" and "contextualizes" every statement, whether true or false, he makes. But his "Jerusalem comment" is not the most shocking thing he said that day. How about this:

...any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state

Did you catch this?

Think about what this *really* means, what this *really* says:

First, it says that the 20% of Israeli citizens who are not Jews do not have an identity which is relevant to the state they live in. Nevermind the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. How is that for overt Apartheid?

Second, if by "Jewish" an ethnicity is meant, then this means that Obama believes that Israeli must be "racially pure" in its identity and that, it turn, means that he supports the racist "Law of Return" which says that any Jew, no matter where he was born and where he lives, has the right to live in Israeli whereas the Palestinians who were born there and who were expelled by the Jews have no right to return to their own homes (a gross and abject violation of international law, by the way)

Third, if by "Jewish" one refers to a religion, than Obama's statement is even more bizarre, outright medieval. Simply put, Obama not only excludes all other religions from Israel (including Islam and Christianity to which is pretends to belong), but he even pre-judges of the religious choices of the (ethnically) Jewish people living in Israel. If, say, an Israeli Jew decides to convert to another faith and if his example is followed by a large number of Israelis their change of faith will not be reflected in the identity of the self-declared "only democracy in the Middle-East". Some "democracy", uh?

I find that statement of Barak Obama deeply, deeply offensive. This statement is racist, bigoted, prejudiced, ignorant, immoral and, last but not least, this is an apology for what is an undeniable a crime under international law.

And Obama pretends to embody some kind of "change"?! From his AIPAC speech it is clear that the only kind change Obama represents is a change for the worse.

Sure, Obama is everything Dubya is not: he is highly intelligent, he is charming, he has charisma and he can speak without saying some idiocy every 30 seconds. But that makes his disgusting statements to the AIPAC delegates even more clearly immoral and outright evil. While Dubya would parrot any nonsense whispered to him by his Neocon puppet masters, Barak Obama most definitely understood every word he spoke that evening. And that is his most damning disgrace.

Judging by these headlines, the Neocons are about to strike out

These are just some of the articles found on the Internet this morning:

France will confront those who calling for Israel's destruction (the two countries have "honeymoon like relations)

Iran considers an attack by Israel "impossible"

IAEA chief el-Baradei warns that the Middle-East will turn into a "ball of fire" if Iran is attacked (and says he will resign if Iran is attacked)

The commander of the Iranian IRCG says that his forces are ready to respond to any attack

Obama supports Israel "rehearsal maneuvers" for an attack on Iran

The USA is trying to bring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez before an international court for "supporting Hezbollah"

Russia's foreign minister Lavrov says that current US-Russian ties are worse than during the Cold War

Neocons are advocating the destruction Iran's "extraordinarily vulnerable oil export infrastructure"

Democrats cave in an pass an immunity bill for US phone companies who spied on US citizens

Oil futures jump up following Israel's "rehearsal" maneuvers

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iran fully converts its foreign currency reserves into non-dollar denominations

Press TV reports: Iran says a decision to convert its dollar-denominated foreign reserves to non-dollar reserves is critical and needs to be properly publicized.

Iran's government has had great achievements in various fields that must be publicized by the country's officials, Mujtaba Samereh-Hashemi, Iran's Senior Presidential Advisor, told reporters at the end of a cabinet minister's meeting.

One of the most important decisions made by the government was to convert its dollar-denominated foreign reserves to non-dollars, a move that prevented a decrease in the value of Iran's foreign reserves, Samereh-Hashemi added, considering the more than 20 percent depreciation of the dollar against major currencies.

Since last year, Iran's oil transactions have also been conducted in euro and yen, as the dollar has been completely replaced by these two major currencies.

Israeli TV shows 3D computer simulation of Isareli nuclear weapons site

I am not sure when this was aired, but since this is still highly relevant stuff, I decided to share it with you:

Reminder: Presumably, Israeli nuclear forces do not present any threat to the Middle-East.
Iran, which is a member in good standing of the IAEA and which is in fully compliance of all its NTP obligations is threatened with war, while Israel, the biggest violator of international law and UN resolutions on the planet, which is not a member of the IAEA or the NTP, is offered unconditional and total support by the Empire. As for Vanunu, the man who unveiled the secret Israeli nuclear weapons program, he was kidnapped in Italy, sentenced to 20 years in jail, including 11 in solitary confinement, and is still denied his most basic human rights (speech, movement, assembly).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Are Congress Democrats demanding a war with Iran?

On May 20th I reported that Ehud Olmert told Nacy Pelosi that the USA should impose a naval blockade on Iran. Back in Washington, the rabidly pro-Israeli Pelosi immediately got to work and less than a month later H.CON.RES 362 was introduced by a New York Democrat (what else?) and with no less than 146 co-sponsors. Predictably, AIPAC was a key supporter of the resolution. Take a look at the excellent analysis by Andrew W. Cheetam for for more details.

Guess what? A blockade is an act of war under international law and a country committing it is guilty of the ultimate crime, the crime of aggression (Gordon Prather wrote a good commentary on this issue).

Thus, congressional Democrats (and Republicans, of course) are already war criminal under international law. No big news really. I wrote a year ago that, in my opinion, with the exception of only eight of them, ALL congressmen were war criminals.

All this really begs the question of whether there is any illegal, immoral, self-defeating, evil, irresponsible and simply stupid act which the US Congressmen and Congresswomen would not be willing to commit on behalf of Israel?

It appears that the answer to this is a clear "no".

US envoy pelted with stones in south Lebanon

Al-Manar reports: The US charge d'affaires to Lebanon was greeted with stones and chants of "Death to America" on Wednesday by Lebanese residents as she met with a local official in the south of the country.

"Some 200 people, including women and children, surrounded the house of Abdullah Bitar as he met in Nabatiyeh with charge d'affaires Michele Sison and they began throwing stones," a security official said.

He said the crowd also shouted "Death to America, Death to Israel, we don't want you in south Lebanon", as extra Lebanese police converged on the site.

The official said Sison's car was hit by several stones as she was being evacuated from the area, but she emerged unharmed.

A US embassy official would not comment on the incident, saying only that Sison "had a very productive day in Nabatiyeh" and enjoyed her lunch with Bitar.

US President George W. Bush earlier this month selected Sison as ambassador to Lebanon but her nomination requires the Senate's approval.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper (UPDATED)

It appears that Iran is on the offensive on the question of oil prices. First, the Iranian OPEC Governor, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, has disputed that supply is the cause of high oil prices blaming "international political tensions, a weak dollar and speculation" instead. Then Iran predicted that the price of oil would reach $150 "shortly" (Goldman Sachs agreed). A couple of weeks later, Iranian President Ahmadinejad urged OPEC members to dump the weak dollar, a proposal that Iran had already made six months ago, adding: "They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper". Hugo Chavez, President of oil-rich Venezuela, also attended the same OPEC meeting where he declared: "The empire of the dollar has to end". Finally, today, Iran announced that it officially opposes the Saudi increase in oil production.

What is this all about? Let get some context for starters. First, the official version:

Now, for an alternative point of view, let's take a look at some analysis by American Goy, one of the sharpest bloggers out there. Check out his articles Why are gas prices rising and The speculation that is killing us - oil, food and greed. American Goy does not deny that demand is rising, but he crucially points out that "it is not the demand for ACTUAL oil, the black goo, that is driving the prices up so high (although it is rising, per standard market rules of supply and demand). It is the demand for oil futures, a commodity market, in other words for a shitty piece of paper" and he backs up his claim with this astounding fact:

According to the US Department of Energy, annual Chinese demand for petroleum has increased over the last five years from 1.88 billion barrels to 2.8 billion barrels, an increase of 920 million barrels. Over the same five-year period, Index Speculatorsʼ demand for petroleum futures has increased by 848 million barrels. The increase in demand from Index Speculators is almost equal to the increase in demand from China!


In fact, Index Speculators have now stockpiled, via the futures market, the equivalent of 1.1 billion barrels of petroleum, effectively adding eight times as much oil to their own stockpile as the United States has added to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the last five years.

Now does Iran's stance make more sense in the light of all this? Iran refuses the participate into what American Goy calls a "pyramid scheme" and, in particular, in the Saudi cover-up thereof (by increasing production the Saudis are suggestion that the root cause is a lack of oil on the supply side, thus hiding the real origins of the crisis).

Now look at this form the Iranian perspective: they are getting paid for their oil in increasingly worthless dollars while fattening oil commodities futures speculators who, I betcha, are not keeping their billions in greenbacks. Thus, what the Iranians are doing now, with the help of Venezuela, is nothing short of a declaration of war on speculators. We can therefore expect the anti-Iranian propaganda to reach new heights very soon.

UPDATE: Iran and Venezuela have announced that they are creating a joint bank with one billion dollars as start-up funds.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iran withdraws 75 billion dollars from EU banks

Ha'aretz reports:

Iran, acting on orders from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has withdrawn around $75 billion from Europe to prevent the assets from being blocked under threatened new sanctions over Tehran's disputed nuclear ambitions, an Iranian weekly said.

"Part of Iran's assets in European banks have been converted to gold and shares and another part has been transferred to Asian banks," Mohsen Talaie, deputy foreign minister in charge of economic affairs, was quoted as saying.

Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment on the report in Shahrvand-e Emrouz, a moderate weekly, which did not specify the time period for the withdrawals which it said were ordered by Ahmadinejad.

"About $75 billion of Iran's foreign assets which were under threat of being blocked were wired back to Iran based on Ahmadinejad's order," the weekly said.

Iran's Etemad-e Melli newspaper, also quoting Talai, last week also reported that the world's fourth-largest oil exporter was withdrawing assets from European banks but did not give any figures.
Commentary: Good news. Not only does Europe deserve to be sanctioned for its sycophantic attitude towards the US Neocons and their imperial follies, but that money will have no problems finding a safe haven in, say, Russian banks.

In the meanwhile, the barrel of crude almost reach $140 today, Saudi promises to increase production notwithstanding. This is going to be one mean summer...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Mayor of Kabul threatens Pakistan with war (UPDATED)

According to the BBC, the "Mayor of Kabul", a.k.a Khamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, has threatened Pakistan by warning that he would send "troops across the border" to "confront militants based in Pakistan" adding that when militants crossed over from Pakistan to kill Afghans and coalition troops, his nation had the right to retaliate in "self-defence".

There is, of course, a reason why the always elegant "Armani President" Karzai is referred to as "Mayor of Kabul" in Afghanistan: his influence does not extend beyond the Afghan capital (and even that, only courtesy of NATO firepower). All the real power in Afghanistan is either in the hands of the Tadjiks, Uzbeks and Hazara of the (former) Northern Alliance or the Taliban. Karzai has even less firepower than Maliki in Iraq (the latter can at least hope for some support from the Badr Corps). So when he threatens to send troops into Pakistan one can only either conclude that Karzai is talking about NATO forces or that the man has just gone totally insane.

Anyone doubting it should realize that even though Pakistan has a formidable military it never succeeded in controlling (nevermind defeating) the Islamists of Waziristan or anywhere else along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Clearly, Karzai is humiliated and frustrated by the recent escape of over 1100 prisoners from a jail in southern Afghnanistan following a daring operation by Taliban forces. Still, the kind of utter nonsense he is spewing now is inexcusable for a person trying to impersonate a credible political leader. His delirious threats will only serve to confirm what many already knew: the Mayor of Kabul is little more than a buffoon.

UPDATE: also, check out the good commentary by Eric Margolis for the Toronto Sun.

Why Hezbollah's Victory may lead to peace in the Middle East

Interview with Franklin Lamb by Mike Whitney for Global Research

Question: Between May 7 to May 10, Hezbollah took over Beirut, shut down the city's TV and communications facilities, blocked the main highways, closed the airport, and surrounded the homes of the leading political leaders with armed gunman. The action was taken in response to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's decision to outlaw Hezbollah's telecommunication network and sack the head of security at Beirut airport. Although the incident has been downplayed in the western media, it appears that Hezbollah achieved a total victory and is now recognized as the strongest group operating within Lebanon. What affect will Hezbollah's victory have on the political dynamic within Lebanon?

Franklin Lamb: I don't believe Hezbollah achieved a 'total victory' as the question suggests, but its achievements were certainly strategic and that sets out the future in many respects. As you rightly imply, Hezbollah's emphatic statement by its quick move into the March 14 areas was aimed at Israel, the Bush Administration and their agents and allies in Lebanon and the Middle East.

What provoked the precise timing of the action was the fact, as Sheik Naim Qassim, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General told this observer and a former American Ambassador and other US citizens who met with him on Monday May 10 in Dahiyeh, was a 10 hour "series of conference calls" from the Welch Club to the Serail (Government House) that immediately preceded the Siniora government decision to move against Hezbollah, its vital optic fiber phone system and the Airport security office. According to Hezbollah sources there were other US planned assaults on the Opposition which have not been made public.

According to Qassim during this frenetic series of conference calls involving several countries, the decision was made in Washington to move against Hezbollah. Hezbollah believes the Lebanese government is virtually occupied by the Bush Administration and all substantive decisions now announced in Beirut come from Washington.

The outcome of the May events as you implied in your question was devastating for the Bush administration and its allies. It not only led to withdrawal of the two government decisions against Hezbollah, it led to the Dora agreement and the current serious efforts to form a unity government and share power. For nearly two years the Opposition tried to achieve a unity government for Lebanon and may now have done so with its counterstrike against the Welch club move against it.

The May events led to agreement on holding a democratic election next year and the veto power of the opposition over US initiatives sent to the 'majority'.

Hezbollah's Sheik Naim Qassim stated to a US Delegation two days ago that the party and its allies expect to win 64 of the 128 seats in next years election. Others think the current opposition may win as many as 70 seats in the new Parliament. In either case Hezbollah and their allies will effectively be the next government of Lebanon.

Will the predicted Hezbollah electoral victory be the forth Democratic election in the Middle East rejected by the Bush administrations new Middle East project? Will the Bush administration accept the fact that Hezbollah will likely have the Ministries of Defense, Exterior and Finance (the others don't matter much) and be true to its daily claims that it wants to help Lebanon have a democratic and stable government which the Hezbollah government will bring? Very doubtful.

Hezbollah will face many challenges but the Party will also have the opportunity to demonstrate what it is capable of delivering in terms of social services to Lebanon's increasingly desperate population. Hezbollah's much anticipated Economic Plan may reshape the Middle East and the populations of Egypt, Jordan, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may demand a local version of the same.

On the downside of the May events, Hezbollah has yet to convincingly explain to the people of Lebanon why a convoy of its fighters advanced on Sweifeit and other villages in the lower Chouf. People died needlessly including this observers neighbor, Marwan Jurdi. Marwan was a teacher and had no business dusting off his rifile to fight Hezbollah who had no business entering Sweifeit. A tragedy which Hezbollah leader Nasrallah correctly stated at a rally a couple of weeks ago caused deep wounds which must be healed.

Presumably the fast strike was to neutralize Walid Jumblatt who during two recent interviews with Harvard students and the US Council for the National Interest is reported to be in bad shape and scanning the horizon for a new 'alliance'.

Hezbollah will likely not touch Walid because he is not reliable or predictable and is thought to be owned by the CIA. The 'socialist" Jumblatt has amassed a huge fortune ( which Lebanese warlord has not?)of land holdings with expansive vineyards above Khalde and may retire to survey and manage his estates. He knows he is a marked man from many quarters( who isn't around here these day?) In Beirut Jumbalt is known as the 'walking dead man'.

Question: How will it affect relations with Israel and the US? Does Hezbollah now pose a credible deterrent to a future Israeli invasion?

Franklin Lamb: Yes. There has been a fundamental shift in this respect. Hezbollah actually achieved its deterrent capacity following the July 2006 War. Some say as early as 1996 or 2000 when it forced Israel out of most of Lebanon.

Several times in the past 20 months Israel has "probed" Lebanon and Hezbollah has signaled thru back channels that it was ready for a ferocious response if Israel again attacked Lebanon.

Most recently Hezbollah's deterrence capacity was exhibited when Israel cancelled its attack on May 11 which was green lighted in Washington to assist the Siniora government allies in West Beirut. Frankly put. Israel is no longer able to attack an Arab country, Lebanon, with impunity. A historic first. Rather, it knows that it faces massive retaliation when it next attacks Lebanon. Recently there was a Report that Tel Aviv would receive 600 missiles each day following an Israeli attack on Lebanon. US Congressional sources have challenged that figure and have estimated the number at 1000 Hezbollah missiles per day against Tel Aviv is war breaks out.

Question: Hezbollah's takeover of Beirut was an amazingly swift and efficient military operation, and yet, it is nearly impossible to find any details about the operation itself. What really happened on the ground and how is it that a armed militia was able to carry out such a sophisticated "Green Beret" type operation (on a city-wide scale) with so few casualties? Can we expect that the "Hezbollah model" of resistance will be exported to other neighboring countries like Iraq, Jordan or Saudi Arabia?

Franklin Lamb: Contrary to Israeli reports, those who moved into Beirut did not come from the South of Lebanon, from the Bekaa nor were they necessarily the 'first team.' Most were reserves with regular full time jobs in Beirut and the surrounding area.

Most came in cars and vans just three miles south of Hamra from the Jnah, Ouzai, Ghoberi, Dahiyeh area. They moved along the seafront past the Coral Beach Hotel, along the only free public beach in Beirut, Ramlet al Baida, along Corniche Mazra and fanned out up the inclines to the right into West Beirut streets.

It did not require much more than 20 minutes to reach their forward positions. Others, including Amal and the National Syrian Socialist Party came from the new airport road and from the southeast and east.

Potentially the 'Hezbollah model' has application in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, if oppositions there can replicate the Hezbollah model of study, analysis, caution, patience and determined, disciplined execution. Hezbollah is not essentially a Shia phenomenon, it is a rapidly expanding resistance and justice movement and that it what makes it so lethal to colonialism and occupation enterprises such as Zionist Israel and hegemonistic America during the current period.

Question: Even before the takeover, Hezbollah chairman, Hassan Nasrallah was the most popular Arab leader in the world. Is Nasrallah really the "terrorist-extremist" he is made out to be in the western press? What affect has Nasrallah had on Arabs living in the region?

Franklin Lamb: Hezbollah under the leadership of Hasan Nasrallah has given the Arabs of the region restored self-respect following 60 years of humiliation and 41 years of repeated and voracious occupation and aggression. Hezbollah's sometimes spectacular success has inspired many in the younger generation throughout Lebanon among all the sects as well as the Middle East and far beyond. One sees this in the faces of the old and young…….in the market places and play grounds in the universities and middle schools.,,in the course also of interviews. The Middle East is standing up and reclaiming it pre-Crusade unity, spirit, purpose and culture. Nasrallah is the new Salaadin, Nassar and regional hope.

Question: Nasrallah has shown that he is capable of thinking strategically and politically. This appears to have put him at an advantage in dealing with both Israel and the United States. Israel's 34 Day war was not just a humiliating defeat; it was also seriously mismanaged from the beginning. In battles in cities and towns throughout southern Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters went toe to toe with the better-equiped IDF and turned them away. Is it possible that the real path to peace in the Middle East is a strong army--like Hezbollah-- on Isreal's northern flank to discourage further military adventurism?

Franklin Lamb: I see it certainly as one of the major elements because if takes away the first option that Israel has used in the past. Israel has committed aggression more than 40 times on the ground against Lebanon starting in 1967 to July 2006. This era is over. Soon even Israel's air force will be in peril from Hezbollah missiles as it attempts to add to its more than 6000 violations of Lebanese airspace and sovereignty since the 1960's.

Question: How do you respond to people who believe that Hassan Nasrallah is a religious fanatic who wants to install a "Iran-type" theocratic regime in Lebanon?

Franklin Lamb: I would ask them to study the subject a little more closely and they would learn that Hezbollah, in the words of PLO founder and longtime representative of the PLO in Lebanon, Shafiq al-Hout, recently discussed with this observor, Hezbollah is probably the most secular of the Parties in Lebanon. What he meant is that Hezbollah and its leaders rely on reason, dialogue, and empirical analysis not on what we often think in the West as blind application of Sharia.

Hezbollah believes in one God as you know. Having said that they are very secular in the ways they tolerate and respect others beliefs and rights to differ on issues of politics, philosophy, sociology, and personal beliefs. I personally know many Shia and Hezbollah members who are very secular and keep their religious views to themselves. Just yesterday, when my motorcycle was in the shop I hopped a taxi to Hamra and the Shia driver brought up the subject of religion and presented several of his arguments for why he has real doubts there is a God. Unfortunately there is deep and vast misinformation and disinformation about Hezbollah and their religious beliefs. They are very secular on a day by day basis and they are very tolerant of others views. In Dahilyeh, after a short period one does not feel that one in a religious enclave.

Nasrallah and Hezbollah, as Naim Qassim told former US Ambassador Richard Viets and his delegation a couple of days ago that there is no interest in an Islamic Republic in Lebanon. That idea was expressed back in 1985 in Hezbollah's 'open letter' announcing its formation. The relevant language was influenced by Ayatollah Khomeni and the then recent success of the Iranian revolution.

For years, Nasrallah has regularly stated that Lebanon is not Iran and never will be and if Lebanon wants an Islamic republic let 90% of the people vote for it and only then could it be considered. The Islamic Republic of Lebanon idea was a fantasy and virtually no one but the Zionist lobby and their pals even mention the concept anymore.

Question: General Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's army chief of staff, was sworn in as the country's new president last Sunday. The Bush administration did not send a delegation, which indicates the level of frustration with recent developments. It's clear now that the real center of power has shifted away from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his allies in the "US backed" March 14th Coalition to Hezbollah. Nasrallah said in a recent speech that he has no interest in meddling in Lebanon's political affairs but will not disarm his militia. With Hezbollah currently at full strength and confident after their victory; do you think an Israeli attack on Iran less likely? If Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, will Nasrallah launch missile strikes on Tel Aviv?

Franklin Lamb: My personal belief is that Hezbollah would attack Tel Aviv is Israel or the US attacked Iran and perhaps even Syria.

I do not think either the US or Israel will attack Iran before Bush leaves office although both would very much like to.

The $4 per gallon gas prices in the States could rise to $12 per gallon if Iran shuts down the Gulf of Hormuz which it would almost certainly do.

Israel does not have the military power to take on Iran by itself and the still drowsy American public has no appetite for yet another war. Such a conflict might well destroy the State of Israel and it knows it.

Such an attack would likely cause Iraq to explode in a massive violence against American forces that would make the 1968 Tet Offensive appear mild in comparison. The populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would likely attempt to overthrow their governments.

This would be for starters and things would escalate form there. The results are unpredictable but surely would be catastrophic on a scale never seen since World War II.

The United States is on its way out of the Middle East. Attacking Iran would quite simply accelerate its departure.

Question: The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz is reporting that Hezbollah and the Olmert administration are close to a deal on a prisoner exchange. There are also reports that Israel is negotiating secretly with Syria on the Golan Heights and that the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has opened talks with Hamas. Is Olmert trying to divert attention from his own problems (bribery charges) or is Israel attempting to neutralize its potential enemies in the event of an attack on Iran?

Franklin Lamb: I think you are exactly correct on this point.

Question: Hezbollah has been supportive of labor strikes in Beirut. Are Lebanon's troubles really the result of sectarian problems (as the media suggests) or class divisions? Is this really a struggle between the wealthy Sunnis and Christians versus the poor Shia?

Franklin Lamb: More class divisions and the economy I would say. Skyrocketing prices increasing power cuts, poor job market, shortage of housing are all increasing tension and conflict. Plus outside actors continuing to meddle in Lebanese internal affairs and promote conflict. The exacerbation tensions here is cause less by whether one is Armenian, Druze,Chaldean, Maronite, Shia, Sunni etc. that the yawning economic gap.

With respect to the Saudi/Hariri owned Solidere Corp. This week in announced profits of $ 157 million dollars for the most recent reporting period. These are astounding and record figues when consumer good prices are rising. Under Rafik Hariri premiership, Lebanon borrowed more than $ 40 billion to rebuild parts of Beirut (now effectively owned by Solidere/Hariri Family and Friends). This interest alone on these loans payable partly to Hariri and Saudi banks keeps Lebanon stagnate and barely above water. Without a new economic plan Lebanon is lost. Hezbollah claims it has a plan and we will soon see what it looks like and if Hezbollah can transform Lebanon economically.

Question: Are the prospects for peace in the region better or worse with a well-armed Hezbollah?

Franklin Lamb: Better in the sense that there is for the first time in modern history an Arab/Muslim deterrence to Zionist and Western colonialism. Worse in the sense that the US and Israel are rapidly losing influence and viability in the Middle East and may once againresort to war to stem the breach.

Franklin Lamb, PhD is an author and Director of "Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace" who works from Beirut. His newest book "Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners" is expected soon in Arabic and English

Mike Whitney is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Mike Whitney