Monday, February 23, 2009

20 years ago the last Soviet soldiers left Afghanistan

On February 15th, 1989 the last Soviet soldier crossed the (then) Soviet-Afghan border leaving behind over one million dead Afghans, several millions more wounded and displaced. This war cost the Soviet Union just under 14 thousand lives. This is, for sure, a disastrous tally and nobody in his right mind would attempt to qualify the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as a "success".

Still, while unequivocally a failure and a tragedy, looking back at the Soviet presence in Afghanistan a number of thoughts occur to me which now, twenty years later, make me reassess some of the things I previously had believed.

First, who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in this war? Remember how at the time the Western propaganda had it nice and simple: The Soviet Union was the "Evil Empire" while the Afghans were "Freedom Fighters"? The Soviet system was evil alright, but does that make the Afghan resistance "good"? In hindsight I am inclined to believe that this war was not a war between good and evil but between bad and much, much *worse*?

There can be no doubt at all that the Afghans were defending their own country, that they were fundamentally in their right to oppose the Soviet occupation of their land. But beyond that, what kind of Afghanistan did most - thought not all - of the Afghan resistance fight for? A grotesque medieval Islamic nightmare I would say, the same type of society which Wahabis have always - and still are - trying to establish. Does that sound like typical US propaganda? Sure it does! But whoever said that the US propaganda cannot, at times, say the truth? Why should the US propaganda use only falsehoods when the truth is even more appalling?

Of course, as always, the real picture of what was going on in Afghanistan in these days was more complex than "resistance vs Soviets". The truth is that Afghanistan already had a strong secular left-leaning movement, that a lot of Afghan intellectuals supported the various secular regimes which preceded the Amin government and that even within the Afghan communist parties several distinct factions were fighting for power. The opposition to the Kabul government was also split into various factions, often along ethnic lines. Finally, Afghanistan has a long history of shifting alliances, of local warlords being bought-off by various forces, of endless infighting between clans, groups and local leaders. Very roughly, at least three main parties fought during the Soviet occupation: the Soviet backed communists, the forces under Ahmad Shah Massud in northern Afghanistan and the various Pashtun forces in the rest of the country. At the time, all of the resistance forces called itself "Islamic", but in reality ethnicity played a huge role in their composition.

Ahmad Shah was a very interesting figure. He was arguably the single most effective Afghan commander, but at the same time he was also willing to negotiate with the Soviets. The Russian military had a great deal of respect for him and the Russian military intelligence service GRU secretly negotiated a ceasefire with Masud without the Kremlin being briefed about these talks. Later, the ceasfire was eventually broken under the joint pressure of Nadjibullah and (the then Soviet Foreign Minister) Eduard Shevarnadze. What the ideologues on both failed to see, did not want to see, is what soldiers on both sides understood very well: Masud and the Soviets did not have any other fundamental disagreement besides the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Even more importantly, they had a common enemy: the Wahabi Pashtun extremists which would later become the Taliban.

Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Soviet and, later, the Russians provided huge military and technical assistance to Massud and his movement which would eventually be re-branded as the "Northern Alliance". Once the Soviets left Afghanistan they became natural allies of Massud and forces.

In contrast, the Soviets truly despised the Pashtun Islamists. They saw them as illiterate barbarians with plenty of courage, but very little tactical or strategic skills. They saw them as either very corrupt or wholly fanaticized. Sadly, they were essentially correct.

The Soviets also tried their utmost to bring Afghanistan into the modern world: they built schools, promoted equal rights for women, assisted in agricultural project and infrastructure development. They provided much needed health care for thousands of destitute people and they pushed literacy programs. None of that was enough to create a moderate or secular middle class.

On the down side, when their forces were attacked, the Soviet also mercilessly destroyed Afghan villages and killed a huge amount of innocent civilians.

The basic Soviet counter-insurgency tactics was composed of the following elements:

1) occupy mountain tops using helicopter-dropped forces, often Airborne troops.
2) organize raiding counterinsurgency "operational maneuver groups" typically staffed by Border Guard troops lead by KGB Spetsnaz officers
3) maintain an intelligence/recon force supported by a network of local agents. Both the KGB and the GRU used such networks
4) prepare major raids by covertly introducing Spetsnaz GRU operators deep inside enemy territory and then follow up with DShB (air-assault) forces inserted by helicopters.
5) maintain regular military forces in all the large cities and use them to maintain the main roads under Soviet control.

All in all, these were very effective tactics which mostly confined the Afghan resistances to remote mountain valleys. The Soviet 40th Army's military performance in Afghanistan is vastly superior to the abject failure of the US/NATO force. Amazingly, but an under-financed, often under-equipped and under-staffed army of Soviet conscripts managed to achieve much more than the professional US/NATO forces. This is particularly true when one considers the fact that the Soviet had to fight both the Pashtuns and the Tadjiks and Uzbeks of Masud, whereas the US/NATO is only fighting the Pashtuns, clearly the inferior military force.

In many ways, the Soviet policies in Afghanistan were contradictory, and my point is not to make the Soviets look good, but to acknowledge one basic things: the Soviet were trying to prevent Afghanistan to become a base for the worst kind of Wahabi extremism. In contrast, the USA blinded by its hatred for the Soviet Union only succeeded in creating a monster which eventually - and inevitably - would turn against its former patron.

Almost the same situation was repeated in Chechnia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the quasi total collapse of the state in Russia, the West threw its full support behind the Chechen separatists which were, I think, even worse than the Talibans. If the latter at least were sincere in their religious beliefs, the Chechens were first and foremost maniacal thugs, bloodthirsty butchers of the worst kind which only used Islam as a pious cover for their utterly amoral and perverted goals. I strongly suspect that some circles in Russia were actually interested in allowing the situation in Chechnya to degenerate into such a nightmarish chaos that nobody in his/her right mind would oppose the re-establishment of a powerful state. Once Putin came to power the Russian public essentially gave him 'carte blanche' to crush the Chechens, which he did very effectively by a combination of excellent military tactics and by simply buying off a good part of the Chechen leaders.

Though the "Chechen operation" eventually collapsed and, in many ways, made Russia not weaker but much stronger, there is no doubt that the West fully supported the Chechens, at least until 9/11. Only with the Twin Towers collapsing in flames did the Western elites suddenly loose their fancy for bearded gunman shooting at all sorts of "infidels" and "kafirs".

But has anything really changed?

The US and Europe are still automatically supporting anybody and everybody who is perceived as "anti-Russian" (Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, etc. etc. etc.), they are still bitter foes of Iran (a country which borders Afghanistan and which is more aware than any other of the Wahabi threat for the region and the world) and they are still calling Hezbollah "terrorist" even though any logical analysis can only lead to the conclusion that Hezbollah is a national liberation movement and the strongest force to oppose the various Al-Qaeda franchises in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle-East. Instead of reaching out to its natural allies in its war against Islamic extremism, the West is trying to fight everybody at the same time abroad while giving up every civil right one by one at home.

That amazing Western blindness, arrogance and crass ignorance is really the most powerful weapon the Wahabis have in their "arsenal": as long as the West will continue to pursue imaginary enemies its real enemies will have all they need to strike at it, again and again.

As the so-called "redirection" has shown the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) is nothing but a planetary wide exercise in fostering Wahabi terrorism. 20 years ago the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan and the idiots in the CIA reported "we won".

I wonder what they thought on 9/11 or if they even managed to connect the dots.

Probably not.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah's speech of February 16, 2009

First, I like to welcome you all in the ceremony held to commemorate the anniversary of the leader martyrs: starting with the Sheikh of martyrs Sheikh Ragheb Harb to the Sayyed of martyrs Sayyed Abbass Mossawi to the leader martyr Imad Moghniyah. This year the ceremony is so blessed, virtuous and precious as it coincides with the Arbeen anniversary – the occasion of the passing of 40 days on the martyrdom of Sayyed Ashuhada the grandson of the Prophet – Abi Abdullah Al Hussein (pbuh). On this dear anniversary and great day we renew the true concept of Arbeen – the journey of steadfastness after martyrdom on the 10th of Muharram. It's the journey of the captive women and orphaned children led by Zeinab (pbuh) and Imam Zein Al Abdeen (pbuh). It's the journey of endless pains but also the journey of eternal steadfastness, patience, determination and strong will. It's the journey to say a righteous word before a tyrant ruler whatever the risks and the threats are and whatever might await the captives. The journey of the Arbeen is the journey of the voice raised with righteousness which we need after every bloodshed. It's the journey of the throats reverberating with righteousness which we need after each battle. The journey of the Arbeen is the journey of assertion of the cause, revealing oppression, arousing the nation, disclosing falsehood, wiping delusion and spreading the sunny light of all the chaste blood which was shed in the battle.

Thus history records on the Arbeen great words on the intellect, beliefs, emotions, culture, steadfastness, courage, zeal and adherence to one's position whatever the difficulties were. History records words, sayings and speeches from which I recall the following to bless our occasion before ushering on our speech on the leader martyrs in the Resistance, in Palestine and in Lebanon. I recall two stances. When the captives stood before the ruler of Kufa – Bin Ziad – he wanted to rejoice over their misfortune as every enemy tries to do with the family of the martyr. He looked at Zeinab and said: "How did you find what Allah befell your brother?" What does the world expect that woman - who had lost her brothers, Imam and leader, sons and nephews all in one day and in a few hours and bore the pains of captivity and constraint – to say? Zeinab stands there to say: "I didn't find that but kind." This is the culture of martyrdom. Those martyrs did not die. Those martyrs crossed through martyrdom to an eternal life and to happiness, delight, pride, peace and security. I didn't find that but kind. Those are people whom Allah doomed to fight so they headed towards their death places. As for you O Bin Ziad – you will be questioned on Doom's Day when you raise from the dead to confront them. So those willfully chose heading to their death places through which Allah doomed they'll reach honor, pride and nobleness so that their chaste blood becomes a way of life to the (Prophet's) mission and to the nation until Doom's Day. Still on the other hand, there is he who threatens to kill Zein Al Abdeen for what he said in that Counsel. Thus was the stance which you have always heard all through the past years. Still I will recall it today before Sayyed Abbass, Hajj Imad and Sheikh Ragheb and every martyr whether man, woman or child: "With death you are threatening us O son of the freed captives! No! Being killed is a habit of ours and Allah blesses us with martyrdom." Because being killed is a habit of ours and Allah blesses us with martyrdom, it's natural that we offer martyrs on the way of our resistance. Thus was the martyrdom of leader Sheikh Ragheb Harb in the very first days of the resistance. His blood highlighted a great title then: the takeoff of the people, the integrity of oil with the stone and stick and steadfastness. One's position is a weapon that backs every weapon with which one fights. Then came the martyrdom of leader Sayyed Abbass Mossawi with his wife and child. This came to stress the resistance as a trend, thought, organization and school in its show in the battlefield which may potentially be organized and developed in all directions. Then came the martyr of leader fighter Hajj Imad Moghniyah which was the embodiment of the resistance development in quality, quantity, intellect, presence, plotting, organization and development in all directions. With pride and glory we say that we owe our loyalty, blood, might, zeal and culture to those great leaders who fell in Karbala to let Badr and Khaibar battles kindle in the mind of the nation. Henceforth started our resistance and thus our procession was launched and martyrs were offered.

Today we meet to commemorate the anniversary of the leader martyrs first to show our respect, and esteem to the sacrifices they offered for Lebanon – all of Lebanon - and the nation – the whole nation. The blood of these martyrs did not restore houses for definite factions or parties on occupied Lebanese territories. They did not restore homes for the Opposition or the Loyalists. No. their blood restored the people of Marjoun to Marjoun, the people of Hasbayya to Hasbayya, the people of Shabaa to Shabaa, the people of Bint Jbeil to Bint Jbeil… They restored the people of every village in the South and West Bekaa to their villages, houses, yards and fields with honor and pride and without anyone begrudging them that. What they offered to the nation in the battle of the resistance yielded fruit very soon on the overall consequences of the struggle with the Israeli enemy and its impact on Palestine and the region. We owe them now this stand of reverence and respect to express our commitment to their path and choice.

There is a disagreement in Lebanon on the great political choices. This disagreement is not new and accidental. In fact it exits since a long time. Let's talk at least about what happened after 1982 and the vast Israeli invasion. Yes, there is a disagreement on the great political choices especially on categorizing Israel, approaching the Israeli project and the means of confronting this project. In Lebanon there are more than one trend and choice. As we are handling events and not a philosophy or an intellect but rather we are describing external events we are living in Lebanon and our nation is passing through. This also extends outside Lebanon to offer more than one choice, viewpoint, trend, suggestion to deal with the greatest catastrophe witnessed by the region for 60 years – this catastrophe is the establishment of the state of Israel on the land of Palestine.

So there are three choices. The first choice - which is in fact not a choice - is recognizing the enemy, submitting to the enemy, collaborating with the enemy, integrating with the enemy and melting in the enemy. Perhaps this was the choice of some groups and some forces or figures but it did not develop in Lebanon or Palestine or in any other country in the Arab world to become a public choice or a popular choice. But aren't there Arab collaborators in Lebanon, Palestine and the Arab world? Aren't there groups that dealt with the Israelis as collaborating groups and not as a political ally? This existed and still exists. But let's put aside this choice. When talking about governments and peoples, practically there are two choices: the choice of a settlement – and I'll be very polite in choosing my expressions because what I care for is the idea and not hurting anyone. So there is the choice of a settlement. What does a settlement mean? It means offering concessions to restore some of what the enemy usurped from us. We make settlements on the land, Al Qods (Jerusalem), the refugees, the water, the security so that the enemy gives us in return a piece of land here or returns some refugees there and the like. This is the choice of a settlement. Practically this choice has proven its failure through all the previous experiences with the enemy.

There is another choice which says: No. This is a usurper enemy. He is an occupier, an aggressor and a war criminal. This enemy has perpetrated war crimes. He established his entity with massacres, killing women and stabbing the wombs of pregnant women and slaughtering children. Consequently, there is no settlement. We hold no rewards for him but rather he must return the right to its owners – whether in good means or through fighting this is another issue. In return to our evaluation of the first choice we find that whenever the Arabs did offer concessions, the Israelis did what in return. They headed towards more wars, assassinations, killing and settlements erecting and more conditions imposing. Can anyone say other than that? This is the truth. I'll give a brief presentation. In 1978, when the final touches were to be put to Camp David Agreement, the enemy executed Allitani Operation in March 1978. The response to Camp David was an attack on Lebanon. Unfortunately many have forgotten that. I would like to remind you that horrible massacres were perpetrated in Allitani Operation in 1978 including the massacre in the village of Abbassiyeh when scores were martyred in the mosque of the village. After 1978 and in 1982, what was called then the Peace Initiative was presented under the rule of King Fahd. The Arabs were getting ready to agree on this initiative and in fact they did agree on it on 1982 during Fas Summit. During the preparation for the Arab agreement on the Initiative in Fas Summit the greatest Israeli aggression against Lebanon was staged in 1982. Then, that was not called Lebanon War I. After July War, it was called so. In 1991, the Arabs headed to Madrid. Few months later Israel assassinated Sayyed Abbass Mossawi. In 1993, Israel staged the aggression on Lebanon and Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993. The Israeli response was always more assassinations and killing of leaders of the Palestinian Intifada from all factions. Then came the Aggression of the Grapes of Wrath in April 1996. The victory was in 2000. The Arabs in 2002 went from Beirut – the capital of Lebanon, the capital of the resistance which made the first Arab historic victory on Israel and the Arab Peace Initiative was launched. After a few days – and not months or years – Israel invaded the West Bank in what was called the Preventive War Operation and besieged late President Yasser Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah. Jenin Massacre was perpetrated against Jenin Camp. Then in 2006, July War was staged. Following the war, instead of taking the initiative to back the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, the Arabs made louder cries that support the peace initiative. They set forth their peace initiative which hasn't yet and for years been furnished by an answer from Israel. The first answer came from Sharon. It isn't worth the ink it was written with. The second answer was the invasion of the West Bank. Still the Arabs used to insist and stress on the Arab Peace Initiatives. Thus was Gaza War in 2008. So I am giving evidences and I am not narrating ancient history. I'm talking about modern history and am giving evidences. Whenever we as Arabs used to offer concessions, the Israelis used to add to their haughtiness, arrogance, corruption, killing, assassination and disavowal from previous agreements and greed of our land, holy sites and wealth. Isn't this the truth? Here I tell you, to the over exaggerated Arab assertion – indeed until before Kuwait Summit because Kuwait Summit gave a good sign that this initiative will not remain for long on the table – the Israeli answer was moving more towards extremism. These were the results of the recent Israeli elections. Before these facts, what is the Arab response, on the level of the nation? What is the Lebanese response to the outcome of the Israeli elections? When such parties and figures come to power, will there be more concessions, award offering and conciliations? Or will there be embracing of the resistance, supporting it, benefiting from the power of the resistance in whatever settlement or negotiation? (I want to give a pragmatic speech). Even if we don't believe in this path, we still tell them: you have a force called the resistance in Lebanon and the resistance in Palestine. Why do you want to sacrifice it for free? Why don't you benefit from these elements of power? In the path you believe in and we believe is wrong – I tell you brothers and sisters and this is a valid question: should we offer all the demanded concessions to Israel and submitted to Israel's current conditions, will that mean achieving true peace in the region? Will that mean that Israel will give up killing, assassinating, corrupting, being insolent and interfering in the others' affairs? Does that mean that Israel will not come – after a settlement is made – to demand water as the world is heading towards a water crisis and demand opening markets as the world is living a serious financial crisis? A day might come after the alleged peace in which additional millions of Jews in the world would gather and then Israel would demand additional lands as the land of Israel has become overpopulated. Who would guarantee such peace? We are facing a fierce and greedy enemy who always asks for more. Thus on the Leader Martyrs Day, I address you all saying: Indeed from our perspective, it's true we must highlight the serious outcome of the Israeli elections. Still we must not make the people live in illusions and fear. I frankly tell you and recent history stresses this conclusion: there is no difference between all these parties. I even say more: Labor Party is worse that Kadima and not vice versa. Kadima is worse than Likud Party. Likud is worse than Yisrael Beiteinu. Why? That's because the more right and extreme the party is, the less Israeli lying and delusion become and the less Israeli belittling of Arab minds becomes. History gives evidence: most of the Israeli wars on the Arabs were launched by Labor Party cabinets. So there is no difference between Israeli parties. They might differ in internal economic, social and cultural affairs. But as far as Israel, the Zionist project, the stance towards the rights of the Palestinians, the rights of the Arab peoples, and the viewpoint towards the Arab world, they are all racial, aggressive and savage. They all are children-killers and crimes-perpetrators. What's the difference should Labor, Likud, Kadima or Lieberman come to power on one hand? On the other hand, the good point here is that Israel becomes clearer and more frank. The second point which I want to mention is that there must not be any fear. We have tried them all. Brothers and sisters if anyone tries to frighten us by them, I say they were all defeated in Lebanon: Begen, Sharon, Rabin, Barak, Netanyahu, Olmert, Livney… Only one is not tried yet. Lieberman. What will he be able to do? Since the Lebanese resistance in all its factions – on top of which the Islamic Resistance - get involved in the battlefield and the fight, Israel did not face in Lebanon but defeat whether in 1984, 1985, 1993, 1996, 2000 and 2006. That's why I tell you don't be frightened by them not because they are not ugly but because you are strong and able to defeat those killers and criminals.

Brothers and sisters, following July War, the Israelis made an investigation and formed Vingrad Committee. Among what Israeli generals and political leaders agreed unanimously on is the following: air force alone is not able to win a battle. To decisively win any battle, a vast fierce and swift land incursion is inevitable as did Barak, Ashkenazi, Livney and Olmert used to say. Here I want to make clear to you that Israel is not as powerful as it used to be in the past. We are not as weak as we used to be in the past – that is if we were so. So they reached this conclusion. Practically in July War, the Israeli Navy came out of the balance following the typical operation staged by the resistance which targeted (Saer) along the coasts of Beirut. All through the war, the Israel Navy was not in the balance. Now the Israelis came to say the Air Force alone is not enough and in whatever future confrontation we will resort to land forces and they talked about plots and demolitions. If you still remember Israeli War Minister then talked about five squads saying he will send these squads to southern Lebanon to occupy the towns and villages and exterminate Hezbollah and resistance fighters from all factions in a quick operation. He said this is unequivocally clear. Some said Israel is making use of lessons. Israel is training, equipping, maneuvering, arming and developing weapons. It has been doing so for more than two years. Then came the experience of Gaza with the miraculous heroic steadfastness of the resistance in Gaza, the people of Gaza, the political leadership, the Palestinian resistance and all the leaders and fighters in the field. It made an excellent additional supplement to the outcome of July War. What is this supplement? In Gaza. Israel made the same mistakes. For seven or eight days, Israel air-bombarded Gaza thinking again that the air-force is able to win the battle. I tell you again, the air-force is not able to win a battle if there is a brave political leadership and a steadfast people. Indeed with a weak defeated political leadership – I am speaking in general – in any place in the world and with a people who can't bear hardships – the air force is able to win any battle. For seven or eight days, the air force shelled in vain. Then they headed to the second stage which they called the land stage. They went to open areas. Nobody expects the Palestinian resistance to fight in the desert and in that open area. The enemy would beat them. The fighters fortified themselves in towns and residential areas. Still confrontations took place. They fought in many places. The third stage planned by the Zionists was entering Palestinian cities and towns in Gaza Strip. But they didn't enter. Why? Is it because they had no time? This is a poor political analysis. There is no problem if the battle is to be won if it takes one or two weeks. The Americans would overlook that. No they did not enter because they were frightened from entering because they know what is awaiting them in Gaza and its neighborhoods and camps and in Deir Balah and Khan Yunis… Fighters ready to fight until martyrdom were awaiting them. That's why they realized that entering will be costly. They will be afflicted with great losses. That's why they stopped on the doorstep. So their lingering there was not a result of political pressures from any place in the world or of public pressure. Indeed political and public pressures are auxiliary elements, but if the enemy leaders are sure that should they enter Palestinian towns, camps and villages that will be easy and but a ride they would have done that. Knowingly, the brigades fighting in Gaza were the Elite Brigades themselves which entered Southern Lebanon in Aggression 2006. What does that mean? That means that the Israeli Navy fell from the balance in Aggression 2006.

Today I also say that one of the most important strategic lessens drawn from Gaza War is that the Israeli land forces also failed to win a battle. They are even weaker than entering a true war. If this was their fear from besieged Gaza which is still besieged and from Gaza who is suffering and has suffered for year - if this is the extent of their fear - why are they threatening to invade Lebanon or southern Lebanon? Today on the anniversary of the leader martyrs I recall what I said before. They threaten us and we threaten them. We threaten them of what (Imad) had prepared for them from the love of (Abbass) and the will of (Ragheb). Yes, if any upcoming Israeli cabinet thinks at any time to dispatch its brigades or squads or army to our land and villages to invade or occupy them, they will be destroyed on the hands of the students of Imad Moghniyah, Abbass Mossawi and Ragheb Harb. That's why we don't feel frightened and I tell you not to be scared or worried. Netanyahu ruled for three years. He didn't do anything. At last he concurred with Barak over who will retreat first from Lebanon in 2000. This is Lebanon: a different battlefield. The Israelis don't have but their superiority in air force. We acknowledge that. But still they are worried. Everyday we hear a story that the Resistance acquired anti-aircraft weapons and advanced anti-aircraft rockets. Indeed I don't affirm or deny that. They say that if the resistance owns air-defense force, that will change the balance of the war. True, there is no exaggeration in that. That's because there are the navy, the land force and the air force. As for the navy, it is settled. Should they step our waters, we'll be there for them. In the land, we have fierce lions and all-ready fighters. Only the air force remains. If the air force balance changed, the whole balance of the struggle will change. Why there is anxiety lest the Resistance acquires an air-defensive force? There is a difference. The resistance has the will and courage to use this weapon. That's why Israel fears it and threatens openly and sends messages via diplomats saying: if you possess such a weapon you will pay for that. If you shot down an Israeli plane in Lebanese airspace, you will pay for that. How shameless! Israel has the right to fly freely in Lebanese skies and no one has the right to open his mouth. The Israeli air force surpasses factions and regions. But, you Lebanese, you Resistance in Lebanon as well as the government, if an Israeli airplane in Lebanese airspace was shot down, the price will be costly and the retaliation massive. Today we don't want to get engaged in another battle but I want to say the following. We have the right to possess whatever weapon to defend our nation and people. Do we own or not? This is another issue and we haven't fought our enemy on the basis of bullying and overbidding but rather by taking them by surprise. So what I want to stress today is that we have the right to own any weapon including air-defense force. We also have the right to use this weaponry if we want. Time has gone when we used to behave as if we were weak. Our nation was never weak. Our armies were never weak. Our Arab and Islamic peoples were never weak. They were rather deemed weak. What's weak is the political decision. When the political decision restores its strength, it will find Arab and Islamic peoples and armies who equal the decision in its strength. This is the truth. In Lebanon we will not tolerate any aggression on our nation and people. Some in Lebanon say that the resistance in Lebanon did not protect women and children in April Aggression and July Aggression. The resistance in Gaza failed to protect women and children. When you talk about an army as strong as the Israeli army and about an air force, is there any army in the world that is able to protect women and children? There are victims in any war. This is a war and not a demonstration. What's important is that the resistance prevents the enemy from occupying, imposing conditions and achieving goals. This is the victory and there is no other way to achieve it. We will not tolerate Israel – the historical enemy of the nation. Before moving to the internal status to handle with some words I say: As for Hajj Imad, a year ago they killed Hajj Imad to get rid of him. But they were haunted by Imad Moghniyah. They were afraid of him this year more than in the past 25 years. Imad Moghniyah will pursue them everywhere and all day and night. The oath and pledge we made to Hajj Imad remain valid. Hajj Imad is part of our war with Israel. Here also I find myself not obliged to make any clarifications. Frankly speaking, I like to comment on many of what have been written especially this month where we find in the same article many contradictions. On one side, they blame Hezbollah for not retaliating. At the same time they criticize Hezbollah that should the party retaliate that will lead to such and such. We are really baffled. You want us to retaliate or not. Anyway we are not waiting for you. I only tell you I am not concerned by clarifying what has happened through this year and what will happen in the coming stage. We are not concerned by denying or asserting anything. This is a battlefield. Let events take place in this field away from overbidding. Yet in the first anniversary of the martyrdom of leader Hajj Imad Moghniyah, I like to assert that we don't need to renew the vow and oath. We stick to our vow and oath. Imad will always scare them day and night. The promise will be achieved God willing. Pursuant to what I have said, today on the anniversary of the leader martyrs, I call the whole nation to embrace the choice of resistance. I call on the Arab and Islamic governments – even if some of them make negotiations or believe in negotiations – to embrace the resistance because it's an element of strength for us all. It's wrong to hold the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine accountable pursuant to internal limited considerations when it is a national point of strength and a force to the nation. You must act accordingly. In this framework, we renew our support to all forms of dialogue and Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation-making which has got started. We also welcome any Arab reconciliation and affiliation especially between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Syria. This is indeed a force for us all. I like to tackle for a while the Lebanese issue, but first I will conclude with the leader martyrs.

Two days ago was an anniversary dear to all the Lebanese. The Lebanese have consensually agreed on February 14, 2005 on condemning the horrible assassination of premier martyr Rafik Hariri and all who was martyred in that event. All the Lebanese cooperated, showed solidarity and met together. It was a true national occasion then. I renew today the natural stance towards this anniversary and event. I renew our incessant wish that this anniversary be a united national occasion, but political divisions in Lebanon have imposed another statue quo unfortunately. We hope that we will be able in the future to be united by the blood of martyrs especially great martyrs so that we ascend to their high status. Indeed all have the right to honor their martyrs especially when these martyrs belong to their families, organizations, trends, parties and human groups besides being the martyrs of the nation. We see that as natural and even as an obligation. We must respect martyrs. This is a good culture because marking the anniversary of martyrs and showing respect to them promotes many national and religious concepts that our generations need all through history. We respect the martyrs of the second party and the most obvious evidence is that when we start our talk on them, the first word we say is that they are martyrs. We refer to them as martyrs even if we differ with some of them in our political stance, position and speech. But even after their martyrdom, we overlook the previous differences - which were legitimate whether from our or their behalf - as a show of respect to their martyrdom. We also call on the other party to respect our martyrs. If some of them respect our martyrs, some don't. It's our obligation to respect their martyrs as it's their obligation to respect our martyrs pursuant to our intellectual, religious and moral values. From another perspective other than marking anniversaries, indeed we back overlooking the past troubles, sufferings, divisions and difficulties apart from making evaluations - for each of us has his evaluation. You believe I wronged you and you want to forgive me, you are free. I believe you wronged me and I want to forgive you, I am free. Everyone has his own evaluation of the events that took place in the past years. But there is a central point on which we must reflect on: overlooking the past and making use of the past lessons in the future and not to retaliate and avenge. Henceforth, we are not talking about an enemy but about Lebanese political trends or various Lebanese political groups which differ in their choices, viewpoints and stances. We are not talking about Israel which we don't tolerate and keep quiet on its transgressions. It's natural that we behave with such a sense of responsibility. That's why we were and are still calling for calmness. I again call for calmness in political speeches and on the ground. The responsibility of the political leaderships in Lebanon is great. I remember that following every incident, the incident is evaluated in different ways. For example, after Mar Mikhail event, some said we must hold accountable those who pushed these men to hit the streets and not who opened fire. Some said we must hold accountable those who opened fire. (Even in such issues we differ in our evaluations). But there is a clear and granted fate: the masses answer their political leaderships. The latest experience proved that. When we agreed on calmness and the political atmosphere calmed down, there weren't anymore troubles in any place whereas before that there were daily incidents and fire opening… When the political speeches calmed down, the country became calm. What happened two days ago - whether the security incidents and violence - is denounced? When we address any topic, let's also address the reasons behind it.

We pointed before to this point. In political speeches, it's not enough that for example I in Hezbollah make a calm speech and my colleagues make very harsh speeches. This will not do. If my speech was calm, well people hear my speeches occasionally. But my brothers might speak daily or every two days. This is a problem which we must address to avoid escalation. Thus we call for calmness and a calm political speech. Sure we are heading towards elections, but for elections we can present ideas, programs, suggestions, options.... Well now I could present the choice of a settlement and the choice of resistance without using even one word that harms anyone. Still I made my evaluations. So we can in handling whatever topic avoid resorting to provocations. We can also in confronting provocations practice control on ourselves. It's not enough to say that what took place is provocative from the other party. Is provocation to be met with what is even worse and more dangerous? Henceforth, it's our responsibility to say that the events that took place are denounced. Whoever commits a transgression and especially if that developed to killing with knives or bullets – whether in action or in counteraction - is condemned and denounced. In Lebanon we must all be able to express our viewpoints and stances and mark our occasions freely – indeed while respecting others. We mustn't insult others or provoke them. I would like above all to address the youth who nurture agitated emotions which might be used in a wrong way: Fear God and assume responsibility. No one has the right to be driven by his emotions or wrath to express such emotions in a way that destroys the country and drags him to Hell. (How can anyone all alone and without pre-set conditions kill or wound someone even if a superficial wound not to mention wounds that might cause death?) The martyrdom of Citizen Lotfi Zeineddine is a painful incident for us all as was the martyrdom of all others in similar incidents. Whoever among the Lebanese is killed in such occasions is a loss for all of us. In the name of the leadership of Hezbollah, I offer my condolence to the family of Zeieddine,sayyed hassan speech the people of the village of Shbaniyeh, the people of Mount Liban and the Progressive Socialist Party. That's how we must all act in such dramatic incidents. I also have to condemn all the events that preceded and followed the incident. Every violence and counter violence and every wrong act and wrong reaction are denounced. I also have to praise all the efforts exerted within the past 48 hours by a number of political, military, security and political leaderships to calm down the country. That's because we are heading to an important stage. We must always resort in such incidents – as in previous hard and painful incidents – to the Lebanese judiciary and to the governmental institutions and military and security bodies.

Allow me to tackle another local topic which we'll handle later with more details, but it's a must that we touch on it now: the parliamentary elections which are due in a few months. I call for a massive participation in the parliamentary elections because they are important and influential on the political choices in the country. Indeed the upcoming parliamentary elections might have characteristics which we might accept or not. We don't have enough time to tackle this point now but to a certain point these elections are very important. All people are supposed to get ready to participate in these elections: prepare their IDs, make sure their names are enlisted in the electoral lists, cooperate with the electoral bodies and think fully before making their electoral choices. So no one is to deal with the upcoming elections as a marginal or transient incident. It is an important and influential issue. The other point is I hope we can all as political forces make calm speeches. We have dialogue, debates, and viewpoints and there are disparities in viewpoints and choices. But still we must not push towards provocation and confrontation.

Thirdly: on the doors of the parliamentary elections, I like to stress one point in which we believe. Well this is Lebanon and not Switzerland. So it's not Switzerland to furnish it with a Swiss defense strategy. It's not Switzerland as well when talking about the administration and the rule. That is valid when we have political parties only. But whether we liked it or not, Lebanon has a sectarian structure. Some parties surpass sects. Others are non-sectarian in their mentality but after all their members are from definite sects. When it comes to Lebanon we can't say: "Suppose that the Opposition – I will not say the Loyalists – took the majority in the parliament and had two or three more MPs and thus headed to form the government, while a large sect or two who won the majority in their sects but still did not win the parliamentary elections – because of the special division and electoral law. Well that doesn't mean the Opposition will rule the country and do what it wants. This is valid in a country were there are political parties but not sects and factions as in Lebanon. I would like to recall that one of the most important reasons for the flop of the Quartet alliance was because it ignored parties which represent the actual majority for example as in the Christian milieu and pursuant to the outcome of elections 2005. So we are in a country doomed to participation and harmony. Some say in the current cabinet, things are being crippled or are moving slowing. No problem. Quarrel in the cabinet instead of having people fighting in the streets. Let them conflict in the cabinet instead of people exchanging fire in the streets. I don't mean that if they did not reach an agreement, people will fight in the streets. This has been the formula of this country for a long time. We were born in this country and it was as such. That's why we insist that this country is doomed to participation and communication whether the Opposition or the Loyalists won. I'm not saying so because we in Hezbollah insist in sharing in the government! Even in the current government, for fear of being accused of being unhelpful or of crippling the government, we would have preferred that the minister from Hezbollah be represented by someone from another party in the Opposition. We have no problem. I'm not saying so because if the Loyalists won the elections our share in the government will be lost. No! Should the Opposition win and tell us: Rest aside and dedicate yourselves to the resistance and we'll rule the country. I would kiss their forehead. So the question is not that we as Hezbollah want to share in the government or not. It's the interest of the country. I'd like to say something. The time of duality - i.e. when two large sects used to rule the country at the expense of the other sects – has gone. I even say more: the time of tripartite – i.e. when three large sects used to rule and annul the other sects – has also gone. This is unacceptable. What is demanded is participation and harmony. As such we might move on slowly but at least we'd guard our country. With monopoly and annulations there'll be no country anymore to be ruled neither by us or them. In all cases, let not some believe that when we insist on participation and harmony that we are afraid that the Opposition rules alone should it win. Let me clarify that. There are financial and economic difficulties which any new government would meet. The debt is 45 or 50 billion dollars, I am not sure. But there is an international financial crisis. Even the countries which will help us needs help. There are many financial, economic and security difficulties in the region. Any government which wants to rule Lebanon in the coming stage will meet great and serious responsibilities. No one must scare the Lebanese as well as us saying if you gave the Opposition the majority we will not partake. There is no need for such bullying. I like to say: Should the opposition win the upcoming parliamentary elections, I suggest that the Opposition presents to the other party a national unity government with a blocking minority and insists on that. Now should the other party insist on not participating, I suggest that the Opposition forms a government and assumes the responsibility of ruling the country while giving a new model for ruling and administering Lebanon which achieves goals not on the basis of monopoly but rather on the basis or calling for harmony and participation. Even if the government was formed without harmony and participation, it must rule with a national mentality and not with the mentality of revenge and provocation of the other party. This is what we need though I stress that Lebanon in the coming stage and due to the economic, financial, political and security conditions in the world, region and the country needs more than ever a national unity government. However as for us, whatever the difficulties were, we are to be responsible in addressing national crises and not to turn our back to them. Never. Indeed I have to renew my call to the MPs who will meet in the coming few days in the general assembly of the Lebanese Parliament to fulfill their promises to the youths who are 18, 19 and 20 years old and give them the right to vote even if in the next elections.

Brothers and sisters.
From the souls of the martyrs and leader martyrs we inspire determination, steadfastness and resolution. From their minds we inspire the clear view and righteous school. From their struggle and blood we learn to sacrifice our souls and lives and to sacrifice our dear and loved ones. As such was Karbala – the model in which leaders get martyred side by side to fighters, women and children. With the blessings of your awareness, responsibility, presence, belief and sacrifices – especially the sacrifices of the martyrs' families in general and the families of the leader martyrs: Moghniyah, Harb and Mossawi – we will continue on this path and achieve our goals and aspirations. Finally, I address the leaders and masters and all those who love the martyrs in general and the leader martyrs in particular: Sayyed Abbass, Hajj Imad and Sheikh Ragheb and say:

O dear and loved ones! Be at peace in Heaven. Those who follow you will continue the path and achieve the goals. There they are. They never altered despite all the difficulties. The path you initiated and promoted with your blood will carry on leading the nation to one victory after the other as defeats have gone forever and it has become the time of victorious occasions.

May Allah reward you kindly and bless you. Peace be upon you and Allah's blessing and mercy

Source: In Their Eyes

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Russians seize Somali pirate boats

Press TV reports: A Russian warship, patrolling the busy Gulf of Aden, captured 10 pirates in three small ships off the coast of Somalia, the Russian navy says. The nuclear-powered heavy cruiser Peter the Great said on Friday that a helicopter from the ship spotted the pirates in two speed boats, with automatic rifles and grenade launchers, on Thursday, closing in on an Iranian fishing trawler. The speed boats turned around and headed back to a bigger pirate boat which the Russian warship then intercepted, the Russian navy statement said Friday.

Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said that Peter the Great detained 10 pirates and confiscated weapons, narcotics and cash. “The fate of the detainees will be determined in cooperation with Russia's foreign and justice ministries”, he said. A spate of hijackings by Somali pirates has brought foreign ships rushing to protect one of the world's busiest sea lanes, linking Europe and Asia, and the number of successful attacks has shown signs of dropping in recent weeks.

A multinational task force of about 20 warships, now patrol the Gulf of Aden, an unavoidable transit point for the 50 ships a day that use the Suez Canal. Somali pirates have targeted merchant ships sailing through the busy Gulf of Aden, and have earned tens of millions of dollars in ransom last year. The international presence appears to be having an effect, though, and the International Maritime Bureau's website lists only three attacks in January but none so far in February, a far lower rate than late last year.

U.S. forces yesterday captured nine suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden, its second seizure of pirates off the Somali coast in 24 hours.
Footage shown by the Russian TV channel "Zvezda"

Commentary: This is a rather amusing case of total overkill. The Russian ship involved in the seizure of the pirates is the heavy nuclear missile carrying battlecruiser Peter the Great, the most heavily armed ship on the planet, designed at the height of the Cold War as a killer of US carrier groups. Now, after a visit to Venezuela, the Peter the Great is chasing Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden alongside many other military ships, including American ones. Still, I can just about imagine the utter amazement of the (stoned) Somali Pirates when they were approached by his huge monster in the middle of the night! I don't want to make fun of the Russians here, doing this kind of things is good training for the Russian Navy anyway, and its very smart politics - showing a *BIG* flag. But overkill is still is.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Israel lurches into Fascism

by Ali Abunimah for The Electronic Intifada

Whenever Israel has an election, pundits begin the usual refrain that hopes for peace depend on the "peace camp" -- formerly represented by the Labor party, but now by Tzipi Livni's Kadima -- prevailing over the anti-peace right, led by the Likud.

This has never been true, and makes even less sense as Israeli parties begin coalition talks after Tuesday's election. Yes, the "peace camp" helped launch the "peace process," but it did much more to undermine the chances for a just settlement.

In 1993, Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords. Ambiguities in the agreement -- which included no mention of "self-determination" or "independence" for Palestinians, or even "occupation" -- made it easier to clinch a short-term deal. But confrontation over irreconcilable expectations was inevitable. While Palestinians hoped the Palestinian Authority, created by the accord, would be the nucleus of an independent state, Israel viewed it as little more than a native police force to suppress resistance to continued occupation and colonial settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Collaboration with Israel has always been the measure by which any Palestinian leader is judged to be a "peace partner." Rabin, according to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, "never thought this [Oslo] will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state." He was right.

Throughout the "peace process," Israeli governments, regardless of who led them, expanded Jewish-only settlements in the heart of the West Bank, the territory supposed to form the bulk of the Palestinian state. In the 1990s, Ehud Barak's Labor-led government actually approved more settlement expansion than the Likud-led government that preceded it headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Barak, once considered "dovish," promoted a bloodthirsty image in the campaign, bolstered by the massacres of Gaza civilians he directed as defense minister. "Who has he ever shot?" Barak quipped derisively about Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the proto-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party, in an attempt to paint the latter as a lightweight.

Today, Lieberman's party, which beat Labor into third place, will play a decisive role in a government. An immigrant who came to Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman was once a member of the outlawed racist party Kach that calls for expelling all Palestinians.

Yisrael Beitenu's manifesto was that 1.5 million Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel (indigenous survivors or descendants of the Palestinian majority ethnically cleansed in 1948) be subjected to a loyalty oath. If they don't swear allegiance to the "Jewish state" they would lose their citizenship and be forced from the land of their birth, joining millions of already stateless Palestinians in exile or in Israeli-controlled ghettos. In a move instigated by Lieberman but supported by Livni's allegedly "centrist" Kadima, the Knesset recently voted to ban Arab parties from participating in elections. Although the high court overturned it in time for the vote, it is an ominous sign of what may follow.

Lieberman, who previously served as deputy prime minister, has a long history of racist and violent incitement. Prior to Israel's recent attack, for example, he demanded Israel subject Palestinians to the brutal and indiscriminate violence Russia used in Chechyna. He also called for Arab Knesset members who met with officials from Hamas to be executed.

But it's too easy to make him the bogeyman. Israel's narrow political spectrum now consists at one end of the former "peace camp" that never halted the violent expropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements and boasts with pride of the war crimes in Gaza, and at the other, a surging far-right whose "solutions" vary from apartheid to outright ethnic cleansing.

What does not help is brazen western hypocrisy. Already the US State Department spokesman affirmed that the Obama administration would work with whatever coalition emerged from Israel's "thriving democracy" and promised that the US would not interfere in Israel's "internal politics." Despite US President Barack Obama's sweet talk about a new relationship with the Arab world, few will fail to notice the double standard. In 2006, Hamas won a democratic election in the occupied territories, observed numerous unilateral or agreed truces that were violated by Israel, offered Israel a generation-long truce to set the stage for peace, and yet it is still boycotted by the US and European Union. Worse, the US sponsored a failed coup against Hamas and continues to arm and train the anti-Hamas militias of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian Authority president expired on 9 January. As soon as he took office, Obama reaffirmed this boycott of Palestinian democracy.

The clearest message from Israel's election is that no Zionist party can solve Israel's basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a "Jewish state" by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial discrimination and escalating violence.

There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to all the people of the country will elections have the power to transform people's futures.

But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly disingenuous to continue to pretend -- as so many do -- that its failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006). A version of this article first appeared on the Guardian's Comment is Free website with the headline "No peace for Israel."

Very interesting interview of Avraham Burg on Democracy Now

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

US-Russia-Afghanistan: Triangulation or strangulation?

This will appear in the next issue of Al-Ahram Weekly

Triangulation or strangulation?

The new president is discovering that America ’s road to Kabul goes through Moscow , says Eric Walberg

As Obama prepares to transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan , Al-Qaeda and other jihadists are also “transferring” there according to Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, giving the country the dubious distinction of remaining the centre of the “war on terror”. Throwing down the gauntlet to Obama, the Taliban successfully closed the Khyber Pass yet again last week by blowing up a bridge, torching 10 supply trucks for good measure. The Pakistan army responded by bombing an insurgent base, killing 52 suspected militants. The Taliban have killed nearly two dozen suspected US spies in recent months, all of them in the border region where American drone aircraft have carried out a series of missile strikes.

Newly installed officials describe the situation on the ground in Afghanistan as far more precarious than they had anticipated, with US government departments poorly organised to implement the plan he presented last week to his National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Special envoy to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said it is “an extraordinarily dysfunctional situation in which the very objectives have to be reviewed.” Obama reacted by delaying the deployment of any further troops until defence chiefs presented a coherent “endgame”, though he can hardly afford to wait 60 days for the results of his “Afpak” policy review. After only a few weeks in office, Obama has painted himself into a corner on this, the stoney cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Despite talk of change and both his and Vice President Joe Biden’s professed distaste and distrust for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it appears that Obama is committed to continuing Bush’s ill-conceived policy of bombing both Afghanistan and Pakistan, supporting a puppet regime and expecting the starving shell-shocked natives to be thankful. One innovation from the “dying” days of the Bush regime that thankfully looks like it was still-born was proposed by General Bantz John Craddock, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe , Commander of the US European Command and head of the International Security Assistance Force, the “peace-keeping force” operating in Afghanistan . He advocated giving troops a license to kill all suspected poppy farmers, in effect ordering the mass execution of tens of thousands of civilians.

This Pol Pot strategy of genocide led to a mutiny by NATO officers and it looks like Craddock will be forced to resign, but it is surely a sign of the times. In December, 2008 US military doctrine was modified to permit the bombing of drug labs if intelligence suggested that no more than ten civilians would be killed. Last month, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stated, “If we have evidence that the drug labs and drug lords are supporting the Taliban, then they’re fair game.” Will he also be forced to resign? Or will genocide become the official US policy in Afghanistan ?

The latest problem for Obama is the loss of the US airbase in Kyrgyzstan . Kyrgyz President Kumanbek Bakiyev announced the decision in a Moscow press conference after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He was attending the Collective Security Treaty Organisation meeting which set up a regional rapid reaction force to include Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, He explained the cancellation as due to the US mission in the “war on terror” being over, and besides, the US wasn’t paying enough and had whisked a US soldier accused of murder out of the country without so much as a howdy-do. On the closure of the precious US base, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this was a sovereign decision of Kyrgyz authorities, albeit sweetened by Russia ’s $2 billion loan and $150 million gift to Kyrgyzstan , once the darling of the US neoliberals and scene of the US-sponsored “tulip” revolution, but now another bankrupt failed state.

Ending the US military presence in Kyrgyzstan puts the last piece into place in the Russian control of supply routes to Afghanistan through its “near abroad”. This is a serious blow to Obama’s plan to up the ante in Afghanistan . The Khyber Pass is no longer reliable and the only other access for supplies — apart from Iran — is now through Russia . Not unaware of this dilemma, the Kremlin has bent over backwards to show Washington it is ready to accommodate US transport needs. Lavrov said: “We expect the US side to send a request on the quantity and the nature of the supplies. We will give a relevant permission as soon as this happens.”

But for the US to benefit from Russian goodwill, it will have to abandon its missile plans for Eastern Europe and tear up its invitations to Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. Will the US risk abandoning its vital supply links to 60,000 troops in Afghanistan just to put its toys in eastern Europe and invite its “friends” Ukraine and Georgia into its private club? After the gay 90s, when Russian policy was made in Washington , is US policy now being made in Moscow ? A delicious irony.

As a sign of which way the wind is blowing, Harvard professor Karl Kaiser confidently dismisses any further plans to expand NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine in a recent New York Times editorial, arguing that the former’s reckless war against Russia shows how easily NATO could be dragged into a senseless war, and that the latter is too divided a nation on the issue. If NATO were forced to undertake a conventional war in Europe which existing members don’t want, it would be shown up as a paper tiger, leading to its own collapse. Hmmm. Perhaps letting the Georgian joker into this exclusive club is not such a bad idea after all.

As an afterthought, Kaiser adds that it would further harm already bad relations with Russia and suggests the Obama administration push for a new understanding with Russia, including strategic arms control, a nonproliferation policy, a new “security architecture”, and reviving the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. All of these issues will require serious compromise by the US , which would be wonderful, but how far and how fast can Obama go without raising the ire of US hawks? The answer depends very much on how successful Obama is in faraway Afghanistan in the next 12 months. Which depends on the Russians. Obama is painted into yet another corner, this time a Russian-Afghan one.

The standard line in Western media is to warn against “Russian expansionism”, as if it has no right to demand that its borders are safe and nearby countries don’t aim nuclear missiles at it. At last week’s Munich Security Conference (MSC), US Vice President Joe Biden vowed to resist the notion of a Russian sphere of influence (read: he accepts it grudgingly, and don’t tell anyone), promising that the new government under President Barack Obama would continue to press NATO to seek “deeper cooperation” with like-minded countries (read: Ukraine and Georgia will not get invitations to join NATO). He also said the Obama administration would continue to pursue the missile defense system, “in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia ,” provided the technology works and is not too expensive (read: “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. I dare you to put your missiles in Kaliningrad. ”).

“So how can Obama reconcile the two goals of strengthening the American presence in Afghanistan while curbing Russian expansionism?” asks Stratfor chief George Friedman in another NYT oped. His answer (I’m not making this up) is to “rely less on troops, and more on covert operations like the CIA.” Covert operators travel lightly, as we know from James Bond movies, and can spot Bin Laden terrorist training camps, beam the coordinates to Scotty and — wham! Mission accomplished. Friedman, taking a leaf from Rumsfeld’s scribblings, argues this would require far fewer forces and remove the irksome supply-routes problem. He does make the valid point that Obama’s conventional route of putting more troops on the ground is doomed, but more bombing, spying and other covert activities is hardly a credible option.

The only real alternative to the present military quagmire is negotiations with the Taliban, which will probably be the new policy, trying to replicate the “success” in Iraq with the Sunni Awakening councils. The idea is to offer the Taliban a share of power if they give up, allowing the US to concentrate on wiping out their friends in “terrorist camps” along the Pakistan border. This is derided by hardliners as appeasement. In any case, it is unlikely the Taliban will suddenly agree to get along with the detested Karzai and the heathen invaders. Such “coalitions” never last long without one side being destroyed.The comparison with Iraq is apples and oranges. And ungovernable tribal lands on the Pakistani border will remain just that.

Plans to attack Iran look laughable in this context. There are already rumours that Iran is beginning to look more favourably on the Taliban, which means US plans in Afghanistan will depend on Iran as well as Russia . On Iran , Biden told the MSC: “We will draw upon all the elements of our power — military and diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, economic and cultural.” Ari Larijani, the speaker of Iran ’s parliament, noted Biden’s softer tone and called the MSC Obama’s decision to send George Mitchell as his envoy to the Middle East a “positive signal.” Iran is now waiting for a positive signal in its direction. Obama is painted into this corner, too. This time an Iranian-Afghan one.

Despite all the sympathy Obama has received from around the world, it is hard to translate any of it into support for US policies, either on the part of allies or foes. Nothing much has changed, except that existing problems have worsened, both on the military and economic fronts. Even the prospect of serious negotiations with the Taliban, Iran and Russia raise few hopes. The US would have to back down unilaterally on so many thorny issues that few expect this to happen.

This all looks spookily like the situation in 1961 when president John F Kennedy came to power. The conviction of many is that after initially proposing an escalation of the Vietnam war, the intelligent Kennedy soon realised the pointlessness of it and was about to reverse his position and quickly withdraw -- until his assassination.

Many Americans are calling Afghanistan an unwinnable war and even Obama is now calling for an exit strategy before more troops are sent, much like Democrats were doing in the 1960s. The only way out of his dilemma with the Russians, Iranians and Afghans is to reverse his foolhardy pledge and end the war immediately. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at

Saturday, February 7, 2009

US-Russia Tensions Escalate Over Closure of Afghan Supply Base

The World Socialist Website reports: The threatened closure of a key Pentagon supply base in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, with serious implications for the Obama administration’s planned escalation of the US-led war in Afghanistan, has deepened tensions between Washington and Moscow.

The Manas air base, located near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, is the major air link between the US military and American occupation forces in Afghanistan. Last year, at least 170,000 US military personnel passed through the base on their way to or from Afghanistan, together with 5,000 tons of military equipment. Approximately 1,000 US troops are stationed at the base, together with smaller contingents from France and Spain.

After initially dismissing Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s announcement Tuesday that his government intended to close the Manas base as a mere bargaining ploy (Kyrgyzstan made a similar threat in 2006 but relented after the US increased its rent for the facility), official Washington appeared by Thursday to be treating the matter with deadly seriousness.

"Frankly, we thought it was a negotiating tactic, and we were ready to call their bluff," an unnamed military official told the Wall Street Journal Thursday. “But it's becoming clearer that, no kidding, they want us out.”

The strategic importance of the base has become even greater with the Obama administration’s announced plan to send an additional 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan over the next 18 months in an attempt to quell the growing popular resistance to the American occupation. The escalation would nearly double the size of the US military force in the country, which now numbers 36,000. Another 32,000 troops from other NATO countries are also participating in the occupation.

The critical role played by the base has also been underscored by the mounting crisis Washington confronts in relation to its principal overland supply route to Afghanistan from Pakistan—the Khyber Pass—which accounts for some three-quarters of the supplies for US forces. On Monday, resistance fighters blew up a 90-foot iron bridge in the Khyber Pass, severing the route and at least temporarily halting all supplies for US and NATO troops. The attack follows a series of increasingly bold ambushes that have left supply trucks in flames and military vehicles in the hands of the guerrillas battling the occupation.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Thursday described the base in Kyrgyzstan as “vital” to the US war in Afghanistan and declared that the White House was searching for ways to “remedy” the situation.

“This is something that the US government continues to discuss with Kyrgyzstan officials,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters Thursday. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have other means and other options that we can pursue.”

Asked about the threatened closure of the Manas base, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that it was “regrettable that this is under consideration by the government of Kyrgyzstan,” but insisted that the action would not block Washington from escalating its colonial-style war in Afghanistan.

“We hope to have further discussions with them,” she told reporters at a State Department press conference. “But we will proceed in a very effective manner no matter what the outcome of the Kyrgyzstan government's deliberations might be.”

Clinton added that the Pentagon was “conducting an examination as to how else we would proceed” given the loss of the Kyrgyz base.

According to unnamed Pentagon officials quoted Thursday by the Associated Press, in the scramble to find replacement facilities Washington is considering reviving its strained relations with Uzbekistan, where the US previously enjoyed the use of a former Soviet air base to supply its operations in Afghanistan. US forces were kicked out, however, after Washington was compelled to cut off military aid to Uzbekistan following a 2005 bloodbath in the eastern town of Andijan, where government troops killed several hundred civilians. Regaining use of the base would entail a rapprochement with Uzbekistan’s dictator Islam Karimov.

Kyrgyz President Bakiyev’s announcement of his intention to shut down the US base followed a meeting in Moscow Tuesday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which Moscow promised an aid package to Kyrgyzstan worth over $2 billion.

The package includes $150 million as a direct grant--an amount equal to the total annual US funding for the country, including money for the Manas base--another $300 million in the form of a loan granted with nominal interest and $1.7 billion pledged for the construction of a hydroelectric plant. In addition, the Kremlin pledged to cancel $180 million in Kyrgyz debt owed to Russia.

The proposed Russian aid package is the equivalent of roughly twice the annual budget and half the total gross domestic product of Kyrgyzstan, whose impoverished population has confronted increasing hardship in the wake of the worldwide financial meltdown.

“At a time of economic crisis, this is serious and important support from Russia [that] will help underpin economic growth in Kyrgyzstan,” declared Bakiyev.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov insisted at a press conference Thursday that the timing of the president’s call for the base’s closure, on the heels of the Russian aid offer, was “a mere coincidence.”

“The Russian decision to grant a major loan has nothing to do with the pullout of the US air base from Kyrgyz territory,” declared Chudinov.

For his part, President Bakiyev linked the decision to popular opposition in Kyrgyzstan to the US presence, which was inflamed in 2006 when an American airman shot and killed a Kyrgyz truck driver. He also insisted that when the base first opened in 2001, as the US launched its invasion of Afghanistan, it was seen as a temporary measure.

“Kyrgyzstan met the wishes of the United States and offered its territory for the antiterrorist struggle, which was a serious contribution to the struggle,” he said. “We talked about a year or two, but now it has been eight years. We have repeatedly discussed the questions of the economic compensation to Kyrgyzstan with our American partners, but have not been able to come to understanding at this point.”

Kyrgyz officials said that the US would have 180 days to close the base and withdraw all personnel once formal diplomatic notes were exchanged communicating the government’s decision. While the parliament was to have voted on the measure Friday, government officials announced Thursday that it would not take it up for at least another week.

The denials of the Kyrgyz government notwithstanding, it is clear that the decision to close the Manas base is driven by Moscow’s opposition to the US military presence in a region that it has for centuries regarded at its sphere of influence.

These tensions flared into the open last August, when the US-backed regime in the former Soviet republic of Georgia sent troops into the break-away region of South Ossetia, triggering a Russian military response that ejected Georgian forces from both South Ossetia and the Black Sea breakaway region of Abkhazia. Moscow subsequently recognized the independence of both territories.

Fueling the conflict is the US policy of incorporating Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO alliance, the drive to set up a missile-defense system on Russia’s borders, and the attempt to ring Russian territory with military bases in Central Asia and the Baltic states.

At issue is the growing rivalry between Moscow and Washington over control of the region’s strategic energy reserves, a key objective that underlies the US war in Afghanistan just as much as its intervention in Iraq.

For its part, the Russian ruling elite, despite the recent financial losses resulting from falling energy prices, clearly sees the reestablishment of Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet republics as decisive for its interests and worth significant investments.

The regimes in Central Asia have attempted to exploit this rivalry to their own advantage, tilting in one instance towards Russia and in another towards the US in an attempt to extract the most favorable deals.

The deal between Moscow and Kyrgyzstan is part of an increasingly aggressive challenge by the Kremlin to US interests.

The day after the announcements of the aid package and the intended base closure, Russian President Medvedev announced during a summit meeting of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) a plan to establish a 10,000-strong rapid reaction force composed primarily of Russian paratroopers to “rebuff military aggression” in the region and combat “terrorism.”

“These are going to be quite formidable units,” Medvedev stressed. “According to their combat potential, they must be no weaker than similar forces of the North Atlantic alliance.” The force would reportedly include token units from other former Soviet republics, including Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There were indications that Moscow sees the Manas base as a potential headquarters for the force, once it is evacuated by the Americans.

The Russian government has also indicated it intends to set up air and naval bases in Abkhazia, a plan that drew protests from the US State Department and NATO.

In addition to the aid to Kyrgyzstan, Moscow also this week signaled it would act favorably on a $2.77 billion loan to neighboring Belarus, while Medvedev signed a deal with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to set up a joint air defense system, an apparent response to the US missile-shield scheme in Eastern Europe.

Finally, Cuban leader Raul Castro secured a $354 million aid package during an eight-day visit to Moscow, the first high-level contact between Russia and Cuba since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended decades of Soviet subsidies to Havana. It is evident that Moscow sees renewed ties with Cuba—90 miles off US shores—as a rebuke to Washington’s own interventions in the former Soviet republics.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that Moscow had several days earlier given a “positive response” to US requests to transport nonmilitary supplies across Russian territory to Afghanistan.

“We hope that we and the United States will hold special and professional talks on this issue in the near future,” said Karasin. “We will see how effectively we can cooperate.”

But this kind of “cooperation” is precisely what Washington has attempted to avoid. It has sought to preclude any Russian influence over the fate of Afghanistan and weaken Moscow’s power throughout the region.

The quest for non-Russian supply routes for the Afghanistan occupation is linked inexorably to the strategic goal of finding non-Russian routes for the transport of the oil and gas wealth of the Caspian Basin, thereby placing it under US domination.

Involved in this increasingly bitter dispute and in the Obama administration’s drive to escalate the US intervention in Afghanistan is the threat of a far wider and potentially catastrophic military conflict between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Iran to probe into Parachinar 'genocide'

Press TV reports: A report to the Iranian parliament has cited grave human rights abuses against Shias in the northwestern Pakistani city of Parachinar.

Lack of government control over the highly sensitive border areas of Kurram Agency, the capital of which is Parachinar, has lead to an increased Taliban presence in the area.

Local Pakistani media reported last week that Taliban-linked militants in Parachinar, Hangu district and much of the Kurram tribal agency have during the last six months been engaged in sectarian violence and have killed 25 to 30 people on a daily basis.

Military forces based in the areas usually avoid the violence which has caused uproar in the territory bordering the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan, the media report said.

The National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) has received a report on the situation in Parachinar.

"The report provides evidence of a humanitarian disaster in that region, which unfortunately due to the crisis in Iraq and Gaza has not garnered media coverage," Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh told Tabnak on Saturday.

Falahat-Pisheh affirmed that the parliament would investigate the "genocide" through relevant international agencies.

"We are pressuring international human rights organizations to dispatch fact-finding missions to the area," he added.

Taliban militants have launched deadly attacks against the enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar and have blocked road routes to the city since April 2007 when sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis broke out after provocative remarks by a Wahhabi against historical Shiite figures.

The Taliban sided with the Sunni majority in the country, imposing an ongoing 20-month blockade which has caused serious food shortages.

The Pakistani government has on various occasions dispatched relief convoys loaded with food and medicines to the area, but most supplies are confiscated by the militants and the drivers are killed or kidnapped.

In a recent incident, the militants beheaded a police officer on Thursday and kidnapped four Shia Muslims on their way to Parachinar.

"Taliban militants beheaded a policeman and kidnapped four Shias in Tal, a town 45 km northeast of Miranshah," a security official told the European strategic intelligence and security center last week.

The grave situation has also prompted the leading Shiite figure of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to issue a ruling -- known as a fatwa -- encouraging all Shiites in Pakistan to do what they can to help their "brethren" in Parachinar.

"Pakistan says it cannot control the situation in the area, but this is a lie, they have got troops inside Parachinar but the population are better off without them," Hussein Ali Shahriyari, another Iranian lawmaker, said.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kyrgyzstan expells US Air Force base

Al-Manar reports: Kyrgyzstan said Friday its decision to shut a U.S. air base was final, dealing a blow to Washington's efforts to retain what has been a major staging post for US occupation forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Thursday, the United States said it was still in talks with Kyrgyzstan about keeping the Manas base in the mainly Muslim, impoverished former Soviet republic and traditional Russian ally. "The decision has been made," said Kyrgyz government spokesman Aibek Sultangaziyev. "The U.S. embassy and the (Kyrgyz) Foreign Ministry are exchanging opinions on this, but there are no discussions on keeping the base."

Kyrgyzstan's stance has set a tough challenge for new U.S. President Barack Obama, who plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan to try and boost NATO efforts to defeat Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents.

The United States, also seeking to reinforce supply routes to Afghanistan that bypass Pakistan where convoys face security risks, says it is still hopeful the base can be retained. "We're still very much engaged," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the base earlier this week after securing more than $2 billion in financial aid and credit from Russia during talks in Moscow.

Russia, irked by the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan which it regards as part of its strategic sphere of interest, has long exerted pressure on the small, landlocked and mountainous Central Asian country to evict the U.S. forces.

NATO says it is concerned about Russia's possible involvement in the Kyrgyz decision. Moscow, which operates its own military base in Kyrgyzstan, has strongly denied any link between its aid package and the move to shut Manas.

Asked if Washington had made any additional offers over the base, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov said: "We have not received any proposals." He says Kyrgyzstan wants to shut the base because it disagrees with U.S. methods in Afghanistan.

A Western diplomatic source said Thursday the United States was close to a deal with Kyrgyzstan's neighbor Uzbekistan that would allow Washington to open a new supply route for its troops in Afghanistan.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ICC evaluates Israeli war crimes case

Press TV reports: The Palestinian Authority has recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Acting Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Khashan sent a brief letter to the court on Jan. 21, in which he recognized the authority of the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. The court made the letter public Tuesday, APTN reported.

On Monday, the office of the International Criminal Court, ICC, said that the ICC has begun a "preliminary analysis" of alleged crimes committed by Israelis during the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told a small group of foreign correspondents in a meeting at the court that he has received 150 separate communications calling for war crimes investigations over the Gaza conflict.

"Ali Khashan gave the letter to my office," said the prosecutor.

"My work now is to analyze if this is in accordance with the law," he said, adding that he would not hastily decide on the issue.

Moreno-Ocampo needs to now determine whether "the Palestinian Authority has the power under international law to recognize the court" -- whether the Palestinians should be considered by the court as having sovereign status.

The use of controversial chemical white phosphorous shells, indiscriminate firing during the offensive in the densely-populated coastal sliver, the shelling of a UN school turned refugee camp, as well as the question as to whether other Israeli military tactics were in breach of humanitarian laws are among the issues Tel Aviv has been charged with.

Human Rights Watch has called for an international investigation into allegations of war crimes by Israel.

The Arab League (AL) also made an appeal to the UN General Assembly last week to "form an international committee to investigate Israeli crimes in the Gaza Strip and to set up a criminal court to try Israeli war criminals."

More than 1330 people, a large number of them civilians, were killed and 5450 others were injured in the Israeli war on Gaza.

Israeli warplanes continue air strikes in southern Gaza Strip despite announcing a ceasefire and allegedly ending the 23-day war.

On Monday, One Palestinian civilian was killed and four others were injured in an Israeli air strike in southern Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes attacked the northern Gazan town of Jabaliya.