Thursday, April 30, 2009
Israel furious over EU discontent with Bibi
Israel has threatened to block the Middle East peace process over the European Union's harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday that Israel strongly protested at the criticism by EU ministers and senior officials about Israel's new government, warning that the Netanyahu's largely right-wing cabinet will forgo the Mideast peace process as long as the hawkish administration is under criticism.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner recently called for a freeze in upgrading ties with Israel over its peace process policies.
Last month, the European Union warned Netanyahu that ties with Israel would suffer should he reject the two-state solution.
The largely right-wing cabinet of Israel's hawkish prime minister has halted the previous negotiations over the formation of an independent Palestinian state, questioning the US-backed agreements reached in Annapolis.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Tel Aviv was not bound by the 2007 deal, under which Israel agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state, describing the process as a 'dead end'.
At the US-hosted Annapolis Conference, Israel pledged to halt all settlement activities in East Jerusalem (al-Quds) and the West Bank. Jerusalem (al-Quds) is widely viewed as the capital of Palestine's future state.
Israel has in recent months announced the construction of hundreds of new housing units in the city, in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions
Comment: ok, so now even the Israelis are rejecting a two-state solution. Not that they favor a one-state solution - they want a no-state solution, at least a no state solution for Palestine. So basically the Israeli approved "solutions" now are:
a) deporting the Palestinians
b) incarcerating the Palestinians or
c) exterminating the Palestinians
It is rather obvious that, in fact, the Zionists have already agreed on implementing a combination of these three "solutions". The only difference between the various Israeli governments is in the exact ratio of solutions chosen at any one moment in time. That's all. The mix, as such, has already been adopted by consensus by the Israeli society.
Zieg Eretz Yisrael!
This clarity is a good thing as it offers the rest of (civilized) mankind another two fundamental options:
a) a racist genocidal "Jewish state" run amok or
b) a single democratic state based on a one man one vote principle
As Norman Finkelstein constantly repeats, there is nothing complicated about the conflict in the Middle-East. The arrogance and hubris of the current Isareli government only helps to make this clear.
In the meantime, I leave you with a video which really says it all:
Friday, April 24, 2009
Who is purging the Russian military intelligence and why?
Of all the intelligence and security services of the former Soviet Union and Russia, the GRU was by far the most secretive. It was also one of the most influential ones, and it is not surprising that many strange events surrounding the GRU have taken place over the past years which were almost never reported (such as the streak of "accidental" deaths of quite a few top GRU officials in Moscow several years ago). This time again, there is little real info on what is going on, but rumors persistently point to what might be a major purge of the GRU and forces subordinated to it.
According to these rumors, the GRU itself might loose its virtual autonomy and become a department of the Ministry of Defense, while most of its cadre would be transferred to the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Other rumors claim that several GRU Spetsnaz brigades will be disbanded (along with the 106 Airborne Division). If any of these rumors are true, then what is taking place in Russia is nothing short of a massive breakup, if not breakdown, of the most elite segment of the Russian armed forces.
All this is taking place in the midst of a much-needed (and much delayed!) reform of the Russian armed forces. Thus, these rumors might reflect not so much the real plans of the Kremlin as the worst fears of the top brass of the Ministry of Defense.
Still, for a purely pragmatic point of view, disbanding the GRU or re-subordinating as a department of the Ministry of Defense makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. True, the GRU was the least reformed of all the institutions and agencies of the former Soviet Union, and quite of few of its officers were found guilty of a wide range of criminal offences (corruption, racketeering, trafficking, murders, etc.). Furthermore, the GRU was probably a bloated institution in need of streamlining. So the basic principle of reforming the GRU is probably sound. However, what is taking place today appears to be far more than just a shake-up and clean-up operation.
The elimination of one or even two Spetsnaz Brigades, however, is rather bizarre. Frankly, I suspect that what is taking place is a massive reallocation of resources from the military special forces to the special forces of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs. Keep in mind that the term "Spetsnaz" simply means "special purpose" and does not, in itself, denote any one structure. In the former Soviet Union, both the military and the KGB had special purpose units, but by and large it was the Spetsnaz forces of the GRU which made the word "Spetsnaz" famous. In the years of total anarchy under the presidency of Boris Eltsin, many more units, departments and forces declared themselves to be "Spetsnaz". I would not be surprised to learn that some construction battalion in the Ural Mountains also claims the "Spetsnaz" status and the fancy badge which comes along (or so they would believe)....
Anyway, along the *real* special forces of the GRU and the KGB, a number of new special purpose units were formed, including in various police departments, the forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and even in the prison system. Since Putin and, later, Medvedev came to power the Russian media has been filled with not-so-subtle quasi-propaganda reports about the "heroic" "Spetsnaz" of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). A large number of fancy (and costly!) schools and training camps have now been opened for these forces. The fact that the performance of the MVD units in, for example, Chechnya was less than stellar did not have any negative consequences for their funding. Even more puzzling is that the one type of unit which performed rather well in Chechnya (the rapid reaction "SOBR" forces) were simply disbanded.
So a rather strange dynamic began to take place in the last decades: When real, tough, fighting was called for the Kremlin sent in the Spetsnaz GRU, the KGB special purpose forces "Alpha" and "Vympel", Paratroopers from the Airborne Forces, Marines from Navy and even Border Guard (many of which were at least as good as any other Spetsnaz forces) units were typically sent in. Then, once the mean and ugly fighting was over, all sorts of police forces were sent in to clear and control the terrain taken by the military. They manned checkpoints, seized suspected insurgents, interrogated prisoners, etc. They were also almost universally disliked by the military who had done the real fighting.
Simply put - Spetsnaz operators are not cops. These two cultures are fundamentally different and deeply antagonistic and what is taking place today in Russia might well be an attempt by the Russian cops to finally get rid of those whom they have always perceived as their main competitors. Likewise, it is quite possible that the former KGB people around Medvedev are now using the reform of the Russian armed forces as a convenient pretext to finally crush the influence of the GRU once and for all.
If so, than this is a potential disaster for Russia. The fact is that if a military is reduced in size or substantially reorganized, its intelligence component must be *strengthened* and not weakened. Simply put, the need for a high quality military intelligence service is inversely proportional to the capabilities of the armed forces: the weaker these forces are, the stronger the military intelligence must be.
While the wars in Chechnya and in Georgia have shown that while the Russian military can prevail - brilliantly in the case of Georgia - there still a dire need to reform these forces before the existing cracks in organization, training, command and control, etc. become insurmountable. The Air Force, for example, is now in truly urgent need of new aircraft and the Ground Forces need a major upgrade of its aging command and control infrastructure.
If the Kremlin is serious about reforming the military then it simply cannot do that while allowing the GRU and the forces subordinated to the GRU to become the victim of a purge. Not only would that eliminate any chance for the creation of the planned "mobile forces" (which have been discussed since at least 20 years now), but it would even transform the much needed reform of the armed forces into a disaster at a time when Russia can least afford it.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Gilad Atzmon – Ahmadinejad: “Read My Lips” plus Full Text of Speech
Once again I find myself saluting Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in full support of his words. No one could do better bringing to light European racial discriminatory sentiments.
What we saw yesterday at the UN Anti Racism Forum was crude collective institutional Islamophobic racism in its making, a coordinated show of rabid western chauvinism. A bunch of European diplomats behaving as a herd of sheep, exhibiting complete denial of the notion of freedom of speech and the culture of debate.
Considering Israel being an apartheid state due to this institutionalised discrimination, one would expect that the Geneva anti-Racism Forum would primarily serve to deal with states such as Israel. But the truth of the matter is tragic, in current world affairs, Israel is the one and only racially orientated state. And as we could see yesterday, the ‘West’ failed once again to address the most obvious humanist call for action.
It was indeed Jewish suffering that bought about the formation of the Jewish state. It is true also that the Jewish state was founded at the expense of the Palestinian people who are in fact the last suffering victims of the Nazi era.
The crux of matter is very simple. European diplomats proved yesterday that they cannot take the truth when it is conveyed by a Muslim. Hence, it would be correct to argue that this flock of Western diplomats shouldn’t have been participating in an ‘anti-racism forum’ in the first place. The fact that they have behaved intolerantly proves that they and the governments behind them are the root cause of current racism, namely Islamophobia.
Those Europeans who cannot take the truth from the mouth of a Muslim, not to say a Muslim state leader, would be better advised to meet instead in a conference that celebrates Western supremacy. I'm sure that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem host a few of those every year.
On a final note, if the British government insists upon sending delegates to such a conference, it better make sure that those assigned to the task are capable of presenting an eloquent argument that can withstand intellectual scrutiny. Peter Gooderham, the UK ambassador to the UN in Geneva, is clearly not suited to the job. The Ambassador went on record saying "Such outrageous anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a UN anti-racism forum."
President Ahmadinejad did not refer to a Jewish race, he did not refer to Judaism either. He did not refer to the Jewish people, if anything, he was referring to their suffering.
Ambassador Gooderham, in case you have managed to miss it all, while acting like a sheep in a herd, President Ahmadinejad was telling the truth referring to some universally accepted facts.
It would save some embarrassment in the future if British diplomats would be properly trained to understand the complexity of current world affairs and the ideologies that are involved in shaping those affairs. It would save us from watching the odd buffoon diplomats throwing around meaningless sound bites, which they themselves fail to fully comprehend.
Full Text of President Ahmadinejad’s Remarks at U.N. Conference on Racism
April 21, 2009
by Jeremy R. Hammond
This is a rush transcript of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks at the United Nations Durban Review Conference on racism in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 20, 2009.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful… [Protestors in clown costumes escorted out by security] May he bestow upon his prophets… Praise be upon Allah, the Almighty, who is just, kind, and compassionate. May he bestow upon his prophets his blessings and his grace from Adam to Noah; Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and His last prophet, Mohammed. Peace be upon them all who are the harbingers of monotheism, fraternity, love … [Applause] … human dignity and justice.
Mr. Chairman. I call upon all distinguished guests to forgive these ignorant people.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise be upon Allah, the Almighty, who is just, kind, and compassionate, and praise and salutations of the Almighty God to the great prophet. May he bestow upon [us] His blessings, His grace. We thank the Almighty God. Praise be upon him who is just and who is compassionate. And the salutations and regards of Allah to his prophets, from Noah to Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and his last prophet Mohammed. Peace be upon them all who are the harbingers of monotheism, fraternity, love, human dignity, and justice.
Mr. Chairman. Honorable Secretary General of the United Nations. Madam High Commissioner. Ladies and Gentleman. We have gathered here in the follow up to the Durban conference against racism and racial discrimination to work out practical mechanisms for our holy and humanitarian campaigns. Over the last centuries, humanity has gone through tremendous suffering and pain. In the middle ages, thinkers and scientists were sentenced to death. It was then followed by a period of slavery and slave trade, when innocent people in millions were captivated and separated from their families and loved ones, to be taken to Europe and America under worse conditions; the dark period that also experienced occupations, lootings, and massacres of innocent people.
Many years passed by before nations rose up and fought for their liberty and freedom, and they paid a high price. They lost millions of lives to expel the occupiers and proclaim their independence. However, it did not take long that the coercive powers imposed two wars in Europe which also plagued a part of Asia and Africa. Those horrific wars claimed about 100 million lives and left behind massive devastation. Had lessons been learned from the occupations, horrors, and crimes of those wars, there would have been a ray of hope for the future. The victorious powers called themselves the conquerors of the world while ignoring or downtreading the rights of other nations by the imposition of oppressive laws and international arrangements.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us take a look at the U.N. Security Council, which is one of the legacies of World War II and World War I. What was the logic behind their granting themselves the veto rights? How can such a logic comply with humanitarian or spiritual values? Could it be in conformity with the recognized principles of justice, equality before law, love, and human dignity? [Applause] Or rather, with discrimination, injustice, violation of human rights, or humiliation of the majority of nations and countries?
That Council is the highest decision-making world body for safeguarding the international peace and security. How can we expect the realization of justice and peace when discrimination is legalized and the origin of law is dominated by coercion and force rather than by justice and the right?
Coercion and arrogance is the origin of oppression and wars. Although today many proponents of racism condemn racial discrimination in their words and in their slogans, a number of powerful countries have been authorized to decide for other nations based on their own interests and at their own discretions. And they can easily ridicule and violate all laws and humanitarian values, as they have done so.
Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish sufferings. And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine… [Delegates walk out in protest. Applause] And in fact in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe… Okay, please. Thank you. And in fact in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine. [Applause]
The Security Council helped stabilize this occupation regime and supported it in the past 60 years, giving them a free hand to continue their crimes. It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide whilst the awakened conscience and free minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutalities and bombardments of civilians in Gaza. They have always been supportive or silent against their crimes. And before that, they have always been silent with regard to their crimes.
Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, what are the root causes of U.S. attacks against Iraq or invasion of Afghanistan? [Shouts from audience] What are the root causes of U.S. attacks against Iraq invasion of Afghanistan? Was the motive behind the invasion of Iraq anything other than the arrogance of the then U.S. administration and the mounting pressures on the part of the owner of wealth and power to expand their sphere of influence, seeking the interests of giant arms manufacturing companies, affecting a noble culture with thousands of years of historical background, eliminating potential and practical traits of Muslim countries against the useful Zionist regime, or to control and plunder energy resources of the Iraqi people? Why, indeed almost a million people were killed and injured and a few more millions were displaced and became homeless. Why, indeed the Iraqi people have suffered enormous losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. And why was hundreds of billions of dollars imposed on the American people and its allies as a result of these military actions? Wasn’t the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then U.S. administration in complicity with the arms manufacturing companies and the owner of the wealth?
The invasion of Afghanistan; restore peace, security, and economic well being in this country. The United States and its allies not only have failed to contain [?] in Afghanistan, but also the illicit cultivation of narcotics multiplied in the course of their presence. The basic question is: What was the responsibility of the job of the then U.S. administration and its allies? Did it represent the world? Have they been mandated by them? Have they been authorized on behalf of the people of the world to interfere in all parts of the globe? And of course mostly in our region aren’t these measures a clear example of egocentrism, racism, discrimination, or infringement upon the dignity and independence of nations?
Ladies and gentlemen, who are responsible for the current global economic crisis? Where did the crisis start from? From Africa? From Asia? Or was it first from the United States, then spreading to Europe and to their allies? For a long time they imposed inequitable economic regulations. By their political power on the international economy they imposed a financial and a monetary system without a proper international oversight mechanism on nations and governments that played no role in the repressive trends or policies. They have not even allowed their people to oversee of monitor their financial policies. They introduce all laws and regulations in defiance to all moral values only to protect the interests of the owners of wealth and power. They further presented a definition of market economy and competition that denied many of the economic opportunities that could be available to other countries of the world. They even transferred their problems to others whilst the wave of crisis lashed back, plaguing their economies with thousands of billions of dollars in budget deficits. And today, they are injecting hundreds of billions of cash from the pockets of their own people into the failing banks companies and financial institutions making the situation more and more complicated for the economy and their people. They are simply thinking about maintaining power and wealth. They couldn’t care any less about the people of the world and even about their own people.
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, racism is rooted in the lack of knowledge concerning the truth of human existence as the selected creature of God. It is also the product of his deviation from the true path of human life and the obligations of mankind in the world of creation. Failing to consciously worship God, not being able to think about the philosophy of life or the path to perfection that are the main ingredients of divine and humanitarian values, have restricted the horizon of human outlook, making transient and limited interests a yardstick for his actions.
That is why the cells of the Devil’s power took shape and expanded its realm of power by depriving others from enjoying equitable and just opportunities to development. The result has been the making of an unbridled racism that is posing the most serious threat against the international peace and has hindered the way for building peaceful coexistence in the entire world. Undoubtedly, racism is the symbol of ignorance which has deep roots in history. And it is indeed a sign of frustration in the development of human society. It is therefore crucially important to trace the manifestations of racism in situations or in societies where ignorance or lack of knowledge prevails in the societies. This increasing general awareness and understanding towards the philosophy of human existence is the principle struggle against such manifestations; which is the key to understanding the truth that humankind centers on the creation of the universe, and the key to a return to the spiritual and moral values, and finally the inclination to worship God the Almighty. The international community must initiate collective moves to raise awareness in the afflicted societies where the ignorance of racism still prevails so as to bring to a halt the spread of these malicious manifestations.
Dear friends, today the human community is facing a kind of racism which has tarnished the image of humanity in the beginning of the third millennium. The world Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion and abuse religious sentiments to hide their hatred and ugly faces. However, it is of great importance to bring into focus the political goals of some of the world powers and those who control huge economic resources and interests in the world. They mobilize all their resources, including their economic and political influence and world media to render support in vain to the Zionist regime, and maliciously endeavor to diminish the indignity and disgrace of this regime. This is not simply a question of ignorance, and one cannot conquer this ugly phenomenon through cultural campaigns. Efforts must be made to put an end to the abuse by Zionists and their supporters of political and international means and respect of the will and aspirations of nations. Governments must be encouraged and supported in their fights aimed at eradicating this barbaric racism [applause] and to move towards reforming … [applause] … the current international mechanisms.
There is no doubt that you are all aware of the conspiracies of some powers and Zionist circles against the goals and objectives of this conference. Unfortunately, there has been literature and statements in support of Zionism and their crimes, and it is the responsibility of honorable representatives of nations to disclose these campaigns which run counter to humanitarian values and principles. It should be recognized that boycotting such a session as an outstanding international capacity is a true indication of supporting the blatant example of racism.
In defending human rights it is primarily important to defend the rights of all nations to participate equally in all important international decision making processes without the influence of certain world powers. And secondly it is necessary to restructure the existing international organizations and their respective arrangements. Therefore this conference is a testing ground and the world public opinion today and tomorrow will judge our decisions and our actions [applause].
Mr. President. Mr President. Ladies and gentlemen. The world is going through fundamental changes, radical fundamental changes. Power relations have become so weak and fragile. The sounds of cracks in the pillars of world oppression can now be heard. Major political and economic structures are at the brink of collapse. Political and security crises are on the rise. The worsening crises in the world economy for which there can be seen no bright prospect, amply demonstrate the rising tide of far reaching global changes. I have repeatedly emphasized the need the change the wrong direction in which the world has been managed today. And I have also warned of the dire consequences of any delay in this crucial responsibility.
Now, in this [?] and valuable event, I would like to announce here to all leaders thinkers, and to all nations of the world present in this meeting and those who have a hunger for peace and economic well being, that the management, the inequitable and unjust management of the world, is now at the end of the road. This deadlock was inevitable since the logic of this imposed management was oppressive.
The logic of collective management of world affairs is based on noble aspirations which centers on human beings and the supremacy of the Almighty God. Therefore it defies any policy or plan which goes against the interest of nations. Victory of the right over the wrong and establishment of a just world system have been promised by the Almighty God and his messengers and it has been a shared goal of all human beings from different societies and generations in the course of history. Realization of such a future depends upon the knowledge of the creation and the belief in the hearts of all the faithful [applause]. The making of a global society is in fact the accomplishment of a noble held in the establishment of a common global system that will be run with the participation of all nations of the world in all major and basic decision making processes and the definite route to this sublime goal. Scientific and technical capacities as well as communication technologies have created a common and wider spread understanding of the world society and has provided the necessary ground for a common system.
Now it is incumbent upon all intellectuals, thinkers, and policy makers in the world to carry out their historical responsibility with firm belief to this definite route, I also want to lay emphasis on the fact that the western liberalism and capitalism, like communism, has reached to its end since it has failed to perceive the truth of the world and human[kind] as it is. It has imposed its own goals and directions on human beings with no regard for human and divine values, justice, freedom, love, or brotherhood; has based the living on the intensive competition securing individual and collective material interests.
Now we must learn from the past by initiating collective efforts by dealing with present challenges, and in this connection and in closing my remarks I wish to draw your kind attention to two important points. One: It is absolutely impossible to improve the existing situation in the world. However, it must be noted that it could only be achieved through the cooperation of all countries in order to get the best out of existing capacities and resources in the world. My participation in this conference is because of my conviction of these important issues, as well as to our common responsibility to defending the rights of nations vis-a-vis the sinister phenomenon of racism, and being with you, the thinkers of the world. [Applause]
Two: Mindful of the inefficacy of the current international political, economic, and security systems on the world scene, it is necessary to focus on the divine and humanitarian values and by referring to the true definition of human beings, and based upon justice and respect for the rights of all people in all parts of the world, and by acknowledging the past wrongdoings in the past dominant management of the world undertake collective measures to reform the existing structures. In this respect, it is crucially important to reform the structure of the Security Council, including the elimination of the discriminatory veto right … [applause] … and change the current world and financial monetary systems. It is evident that lack of understanding on the urgency for change is equivalent to the much heavier costs of delay.
Dear friends, be aware that to move in the direction of justice and human dignity is like the national rapid flow in the current of a river. Let us not forget the essence of love and affection, the promised bright future of human beings is a great asset that will serve our purpose in keeping us together to build a new world and to make the world a better place full of love, fraternity and blessings; a world devoid of poverty and hatred, [inaudible] the increasing blessings of God Almighty and the righteous management of the perfect human being. Let us all join hands in amity in playing our share in the fulfillment such a decent new world.I thank you Mr. President, Secretary General, and all distinguished participants for having the patience to listen to me. Thank you very much.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Will Israel Attack? Mixed Messages from Washington Could Lead to Catastrophe in Iran
Israel has been steadily ratcheting up pressure on the United States concerning the grave threat allegedly posed by Iran, which seems poised to master the nuclear fuel cycle, and thus the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. The new Israeli prime minister, Likud Party hawk Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned President Barack Obama that if Washington does not quickly find a way to shut down Iran's nuclear program, Israel will.
Some analysts argue that this is manufactured hysteria, not so much a reflection of genuine Israeli fears as a purposeful diversion from other looming difficulties. The Netanyahu government is filled with hardliners adamantly opposed to withdrawal from, or even a temporary freeze on, settlements in the occupied territories, not to mention to any acceptance of Palestinian statehood. On his first day as foreign minister, extremist demagogue Avigdor Lieberman, with characteristic bluster, announced that Israel was no longer bound by the 2007 Annapolis agreements brokered by Washington, which called for accelerated negotiations toward a two-state settlement.
Such talk threatens to lead the Israelis directly into a clash with the Obama administration. In what can only be taken as a rebuttal of the Netanyahu government's recent pronouncements, in his speech to the Turkish Parliament Obama pointedly reasserted Washington's commitment to a two-state settlement and to the Annapolis understandings. So what better way for Netanyahu to avoid an ugly clash with a popular American president than to conveniently shift the discussion to an existential threat from Iran -- especially if he can successfully present it as a threat not just to Israel but to the West in general?
All of this adds up to a plausible argument against undue alarm over the latest Israeli warnings about an attack on Iran, but it's flawed on several grounds. There is a broad, generally accepted paranoia in Israel about Iran, a belief that its leaders must be stopped before they proceed much further in their uranium enrichment program. (This view is not shared on the Israeli left, but it's now a ghost of its former self.)
In an interview for TomDispatch, Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and a specialist on the Iran issue, commented, "Of course there are different opinions, but there is a general consensus, among both security experts and political leaders, from Labor to the right wing. This is not a controversial issue: if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will pose a deep threat. It will be the first time in our history that another country can deal a major blow to Israel."
Kam hastens to add that, in his own view, the scenario Netanyahu proposes -- that Iran is led by irrational fanatics who would nuke Israel at the first chance, even knowing that an Israeli nuclear counterstrike would be swift and catastrophic -- is false. "Iran is a pragmatic, logical player," Kam says. He remains convinced that "even a radical fundamentalist regime" wouldn't attack Israel, but he adds, "This is just my assessment, and assessments can go wrong. I wrote a study on wrong assessments, so I know something about this." In other words, if Kam's claims about the Israeli consensus are correct, the country's leadership takes it for granted that Iran is indeed hell-bent on producing a nuclear weapon and is not inclined to take a chance that a nuclear Iran will play by the MAD (as in mutually assured destruction) rules hammered out by the two Cold War superpowers decades ago and never use it.
This attitude reflects a longstanding Israeli strategic principle: that no neighboring state or combination of states can ever be allowed to achieve anything faintly approaching military parity, because if they do, they will try to destroy the Jewish state. By this logic, Israel's only option is to establish and then maintain absolute military superiority over its neighbors; they will, so this view goes, accept Israel's presence only if they know they're sure to be defeated, or at least vastly outmatched.
This is the famous "iron wall," conceived by early Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky more than 80 years ago, well before the founding of Israel itself. (Jabotinsky founded the Revisionist movement, which in opposition to the Labor mainstream refused to accept any territorial compromise regarding Zionist aims, such as partition. Although he and his followers were for years shut out of the political leadership, their views regarding Israel's neighbors became deeply lodged in the public psyche.) If Iran were to acquire the capacity to build even one nuke -- Israel itself is estimated to have 150-200 of them -- that iron wall would be considered seriously breached, and the country might no longer be able to dictate terms to its neighbors. Given Iran's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, Israel would then have to recalibrate its strategy both on its northern front and vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Recent developments in Israel could certainly give the impression of a nation preparing for war: the Home Front command, one of four regional divisions of the Israeli army, has just announced the largest defense exercise in the country's history. It will last an entire week and is intended to prepare the civilian population for missile strikes from both conventional warheads and unconventional ones (whether chemical, biological or nuclear). Meanwhile, the country is accelerating its testing of missile defense systems, having just announced the successful launch of the Arrow II interceptor.
Can Israel Go It Alone?
Would Israel really attack Iran without at least tacit approval from Washington? Could Israel do so without such approval? At the very least, Israel would need approval simply to get permission to fly over Iraq, whose airspace is controlled by the U.S. military, not the Iraqi government in Baghdad. As columnist Aluf Benn put it in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, "Defense experts say that without a green light from Washington, Netanyahu and Barak will not be able to send in the air force." Kam adds, "In my judgment, it is somewhere between difficult to impossible for Israel to do it alone, for both technical and political reasons."
Most analysts here believe that a solo Israeli attack would, at best, set back Iran's nuclear program by several years -- not that this would necessarily be a deterrent to Netanyahu & Co. It's widely believed that, in their view, even a temporary delay in Iran's nuclear capability would be an improvement on the current course. It's worth recalling that Israel sought an explicit go-ahead from the Bush administration for an attack last year, which President Bush -- presumably fearing massive conventional retaliation from Iran in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- sensibly refused, a rare moment in his tenure when he did not accede to Israeli wishes.
It's also clear that President Obama seeks to resolve the standoff with Iran through diplomatic means. He's abandoned the confrontational rhetoric of his predecessor and continues to extend peace feelers to the Islamic Republic. Tehran's response has been mixed, but at least a new mood of negotiation is in the air.
Israeli strategists, however, see this new mood as threatening, not hopeful. Any U.S. rapprochement with Iran -- especially if carried out on terms that acknowledge Iran's status as a regional power -- could, they fear, undermine Israel's "special relationship" with Washington. As Iran analyst Trita Parsi put it in a recent piece in the Huffington Post, Iran would then "gain strategic significance in the Middle East at the expense of Israel."
It's within the realm of possibility, for example, that Washington could work out a grand bargain with Tehran terminating its policy of regime change and ending sanctions in return for Tehran's vow never to weaponize its nuclear program. Intrusive international inspections would presumably guarantee such a bargain, but Tehran's national pride would remain intact, as it would be allowed to retain the right to enrich uranium and develop a peaceful nuclear infrastructure.
There has even been some recent slippage in Washington's language when it comes to demands placed on Iran -- with an insistence on an end to all nuclear enrichment evidently being replaced by an insistence on no weapons development. To Israel, this would be a completely unsatisfactory compromise, as its leaders fear that Iran might at some point abandon such an agreement and in fairly short order weaponize.
Given Obama's new approach, it might seem that Israel is stymied for now. After all, it's hard to imagine Obama giving the go-ahead for an attack. Just this week, Vice President Joe Biden told CNN that he thought such an Israeli attack "would be ill-advised."
Other factors, however, play in the hardliners' favor: the Obama administration's new special envoy for Iran, Dennis Ross, is himself a hardliner. Last year, Ross was part of an ultra-hawkish task force that predicted the failure of any negotiations and all but called for war with Iran. Ross is a man who not only knows how to play the bureaucratic game in Washington, but has powerful backers in the administration, and his views will have plenty of support from pro-Israel hawks in Congress.
The attitude of another key sector in decision-making, the high command of the U.S. military, may also be evolving. Washington's dilemma in Iraq is not nearly as dire as it was two years ago. The nightmare envisioned by the American generals running the Iraq campaign in recent years -- that, in response to an attack on its nuclear facilities, Iran could send tens of thousands of well-trained commandos across the border and inflict grave damage on U.S. forces -- has faded somewhat. The Iraqi government's military has much better control of the country today, with insurgent violence at far lower levels. The Shiite Mahdi Army and Iran-connected "special groups" seem to be mostly quiescent.
Of course, the situation in Iraq is still unstable, and any attack on Iran could easily throw the country back into ungovernable chaos. Still, given the role we know American commanders played in nixing such an attack in the Bush years, the question remains: Has resistance to such an attack lessened in the military? It's unclear, but an issue worth monitoring, because American commanders were the most consistent, persuasive voices for moderation during the Bush administration.
It should go without saying that an Israeli attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences. No matter what Washington might claim, or how vociferously officials there denounce it, such an attack would be widely understood throughout the Muslim world as a joint U.S.-Israeli operation.
It would, as a start, serve as a powerful recruiting tool for extremist Islamist groups. In addition, an outraged Iran might indeed send commandos into Iraq, aid armed Iraqi groups determined to attack U.S. and government forces, shoot missiles into the Saudi or Kuwaiti oilfields, and attempt to block the Straits of Hormuz though which a significant percentage of global oil passes. Washington would certainly have to write off desperately needed cooperation in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Any attack would only strengthen the reign of the mullahs in Iran and reinforce the country's determination to acquire a nuclear deterrent force that would prevent future attacks. And keep in mind, Iran's nuclear program has overwhelming public support, even from those opposed to the current regime.
Given the Netanyahu government's visible determination to attack, an ambiguous signal from Washington, something far less than a green light, could be misread in Tel Aviv. Anything short of a categorical, even vociferous U.S. refusal to countenance an Israeli attack might have horrific consequences. So here's a message to Obama from an observer in Israel: Don't flash the yellow light -- not even once.
Roane Carey, on leave as managing editor of the Nation magazine, is on a journalism fellowship at the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel. He is co-editor of The Other Israel (New Press)
Monday, April 13, 2009
$75 Billion More in War Spending?
By Jeremy Scahill
April 10, 2009 "Information Clearing House - Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.
The reality is that all of this is false.
Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).
Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense "represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010," bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, "Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target."
Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. "To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit," Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. "If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs." Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a "supplemental" spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds (UPDATE: Obama actually ended up asking for $83 billion). The WSJ characterized the situation as one of "raising tensions" between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:
"I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.
Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. "I don’t think we should be going there," she said.
Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. "I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end," he said.
Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as "embarrassingly naive," and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. "He’s the smartest man in American politics today," Rep. Conyers said. "But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances."
Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The antiwar caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass "since many Republicans will support them."
An interesting point nestled halfway through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election — he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:
The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.
Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. "We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them," said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.
This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. http://rebelreports.com
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Who is behind Moldova's Twitter Revolution?
"A lot of what we [National Endowment for Democracy] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA." -Allen Weinstein
It seems that those who anticipated the end of color revolutions have been proven wrong. So far, color revolutions have succeeded in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. On the other hand, they have failed in Belarus, Uzbekistan and Myanmar. Their common denominator is a wave of protests and sometimes riots whose purpose is to overthrow a local government, often held during electoral times or shortly afterwards. It has not gone unnoticed that the so called color revolutions have been backed (and engineered?) by enthusiastic western supporters including NGO's, diplomats, businessmen, governmental institutions and heads of state. In those countries where such political mobilizations have prevailed, pro-Western leaders have been enthroned as a result thereof. If one pays close attention to a map, it is impossible not to wonder if it is simply a coincidence that color revolutions have erupted in countries close to Russian and Chinese borders. It has to be pointed out that no color revolution has ever occurred in any country whose government is staunchly pro-Western.
Today, it is indeed quite likely that events taking place in Moldova are none other than the evident signs of the latest color revolution. Only a few days ago, elections were held there and the official announcement of preliminary results of the electoral process showed that the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (affiliated to the Party of the European Left) had received nearly 50% of the votes. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) certified that Moldovan parliamentary elections were free and fair. Nevertheless, protests attended by tens of thousands started shortly afterwards. However, these demonstrations can hardly be described as peaceful since media reports confirm that organized violence has targeted government facilities, including the parliament building as well as a presidential office. The script bears some similarities with Ukraine's Orange Revolution, which started with large protests demanding new elections once opposition politicians were discontent with electoral results.
It is telling that protestors have been photographed waving the flags of both Romania and the European Union. They have also requested the ouster of Moldova's current government, denouncing it as a "totalitarian regime" and demanded parliamentary elections to be re-scheduled. So far, Moldovan law enforcement has been overwhelmed and is unable to control these riots even though it has resorted to tear gas and water cannons. Moldovan senior government officials have stated that they regard these episodes of civil unrest as unlawful and that they will act accordingly. Furthermore, the Romanian ambassador in Moldova has been declared persona non grata and visa requirements for Romanian nationals have been established. Also, pro-Moldovan protesters rallies have taken place in many cities throughout Romania. Although no color has been chosen to name this color revolution, these events have already been termed as the Twitter Revolution because on-site reports indicate that protest organizers have made extensive use of social-networking tools in order to fuel discontent.
To determine whether or not any event is geopolitically significant, the timing is an element which always needs to be taken into account. The post Soviet space is one of the most active arenas of great power strategic competition and there are some meaningful recent precedents such as:
· The fact that Ukraine and Georgia have not been accepted as NATO members in spite of intense diplomatic pressure by prominent NATO members.
· Unlike other post Soviet states, Moldova's government had declared that Chişinău would remain neutral and that it would thus refuse to side with great powers, which more or less resembles the position taken by fellow former Soviet Republic Turkmenistan whose foreign policy must meet criteria of strict neutrality.
· The Russo-Georgian war in which Moscow inflicted a military defeat on strongly pro-Western Georgia.
· The announcement by the Kyrgyz government that the Manas air base will be closed.
· The European Union launched its Eastern Partnership project, designed by Poland and Sweden to reach out to Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia. This was seen in Moscow as an attempt to co-opt these countries and marginalize them away from Russian influence.
· Ukraine's decision to hold anticipated elections. It might be added that pro-Western Viktor Yuschchenko's candidacy does not look particularly promising.
The above demonstrates that the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and NATO has been intensifying. In fact, Russian senior politicians are already claiming that civil unrest in Moldova is been orchestrated by western intelligence survives. They have also emphasized that the ultimate goal is to accomplish regime change in Chişinău so NATO member Romania can swallow Moldova. It is no secret that hardline nationalists in Bucharest would like to achieve Anschluss with Moldova. Yet Western governments have refrained from voicing a strong support for the anti-government crowd in Moldova. However, it is necessary to explore what Western interests could consist of in this tiny post Soviet republic.
Moldova was one of the poorest and less developed republics of the Soviet Union, as well as the most densely populated. It is a landlocked country contiguous to Romania and Ukraine. Soviet planners had decided that Moldova would specialize in food production. Nevertheless, Moldova was not entirely homogeneous. The country's industrial infrastructure was built in Transnistria, a region mostly populated by people of Slavic ethnicity (i.e. Russians and Ukrainians). This region was responsible for a large of percentage of Moldova's GDP (40%) and it also contributed with almost the entire power generation of the Moldovan SSR. Toward the end of the Cold War, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu had stated that the Kremlin had annexed Bessarabia (aka Moldova), which implied that he considered it as a part of Romania.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union changed little. The overall Moldovan economy is not specially outstanding since it exports wine, fruits and other beverages and food products. Moldova is a net importer of coal, oil and gas since if has no natural deposits of any of these resources. According to the CIA World Factbook, Moldova ranks 138th in a list of countries arranged by GDP.
Transnistria declared its independence from Moldova following the Soviet collapse because it was fearful of an increasingly nationalistic Moldova and the reemergence of pro-Romanian sentiment. This triggered a war between Chişinău and Transnistrian separatists. Russian forces were then deployed in order to end hostilities. The conflict has been frozen ever since. Nevertheless, the presence of Russian military personnel (which numbers nearly 3000) has allowed Transnistria to keep its de facto independence from Molvoda even though it still formally belongs to the latter. Indeed, Transnistria has its own authorities, military, law enforcement, currency, public services, flag, national anthem, constitution and coat of arms. Nearly half of Transnistrian exports are shipped to Russia.
Russia has supported Transnistria because it is inhabited by a considerable proportion of ethnic Russians loyal to Moscow; this must not be born in mind because people is Russia's scarcest resource. Furthermore, Transnistria is located in the easternmost region on Moldova and, more importantly, it borders Ukraine. Last but not least, Transnistria's small economy is based on heavy industry, textile production and power generation, which represents an additional atractive. As a result of Russian involvement, Chişinău has been careful not to be antagonistic toward Moscow.
Moldova's current president, Vladimir Voronin (the name can be misleading but he is, in fact, an ethnic Romanian), was elected in 2001 as the candidate of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova. Regardless of his party's name, his administration can be described a pragmatic; for instance, he decided to continue privatization plans first put forward by his predecessor. Back in 2002, he angered nationalists by designating the Russian language as a second official language. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to brand him as pro-Russian because his foreign policy has been seeking to balance Russian and Western interests without having to take sides. For example, his administration has expressed a desire to establish closer ties with the EU (which even runs a permanent mission in Chişinău) and cooperation with NATO and Russia, excluding membership in the Atlantic alliance or in the Russian-led CSTO. Furthermore, Voronin's government has stressed Moldova's need to preserve its independece instead of being absorbed by Romania. In short, he is neither pro-Russian (like Alexander Lukashenko) nor pro-Western (like Mikheil Saakashvili). Rather, his political position is closer to those of Ukraine's Kuchma, Georgia's Shevardnadze or even Turkmenistan's Niyazov and Berdymukhamedov.
Nonetheless, it is not far-fetched to assume that NATO in general and the US in particular are interested in regime change in Moldova. The main goal would be to overthrow the current Moldovan government and have it replaced by rulers more antagonistic toward Moscow. If such attempt succeeds, a new government in Moldova could be harangued into expelling Russian troops from Transnistria in an effort to rollback Russian military presence away from Eastern Europe, an effort meant to diminish Russian influence in the post Soviet space and to undermine Russia's prestige there and elsewhere. Moreover, it could be a Western reminder to Moscow that the slightest Russian distraction will be taken advantage of by NATO. A hypothetical pro-Western Moldova could even be later incorporated into NATO member Romania, moving the alliance borders eastward bypassing ordinary acceptance protocols for new members.
It remains to be seen if the Kremlin was caught by surprise and it is unclear how it will ultimately react to an eventual regime change in Chişinău, particularly if any new government attempts to take over Transnistria by force, much like Georgia did last year concerning South Ossetia. What is clear, however, is that Moscow does not want to be trapped into a conflict which could drain financial, military, diplomatic and political resources. Yet, Russian decision makers do not like what they are witnessing in Moldova; it is a script that had seen at play before. Therefore, it is reasonable to assert that Russia will resort to its intelligence assets it operates overseas in order to counter anti-Russian moves in Moldova before any deployment of troops is seriously considered. It is still too early to accurately foresee what defining developments will take place in Moldova and how they will unfold. If the current Moldovan government survives, the Twitter Revolution there could backfire. If that is indeed the case, Moldova's rulers could end up openly embracing Moscow as a result of real or alleged Western covert support for anti-government forces.
Russian accusations regarding the involvement of Western intelligence agencies has not been proved because all clandestine operations operate on the principle of plausible denial. Nonetheless, there are circumstantial facts which seem to demonstrate foreign intervention. For instance, some Western semi official institutions and NGO's openly acknowledged their activities in Moldova. For example:
· The USAID website concerning the agency's activities in Moldova mentions that some of them include "Moldova Citizen Participation Program", "Strengthening Democratic Political Activism in Moldova" and "Internet Access and Training Program". The latter is noteworthy because online social networks have been employed in order to increase anti-government activism. USAID's website specifies that "[its program] provides local communities with free access to the internet and to extensive training in all aspects of information technology". It goes on to explain that "Target groups include local government officials, journalists, students, local NGO representatives, professors and healthcare providers..."
Those examples are particularly revealing if one takes into consideration that those organizations were prominent participants in previous color revolutions. That is, both the players and the Modus Operandi remains largely unchanged. A notorious protagonist and organizer of the Twitter Revolution is journalist Natalia Morar who used to work as press secretary for "The Other Russia", a strange coalition of anti-Putin political groups which encompasses hardline nationalists, communists and pro-Western activists.
In short, bearing in mind all of the above, it looks like a new episode of geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West is unfolding in Moldova. This battle is not over yet and whatever its outcome turns out to be, its strategic implications will be deep because they will send strong shockwaves throughout Eastern Europe and the post Soviet space. The stakes are certainly being raised in this new round of the Great Game. A few years ago, notorious neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer observed that "This [Ukraine's Orange Revolution] is about Russia first, democracy second". The same phrase applies to Moldova's Twitter Revolution.
José Miguel Alonso Trabanco is an independent writer based in Mexico specialising in geopoltical and military affairs. He has a degree in International Relations from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies, Mexico City. His focus is on contemporary and historic geopolitics, the world's balance of power, the international system's architecture and the emergence of new powers.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Nasrallah confirms Egypt holding Hizbullah member
By Therese Sfeir for the Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that his party did not have branches in Arab countries or anywhere else in the world. In a television appearance on Al-Manar TV, Nasrallah denied accusations launched by Egyptian authorities that party members were planning to launch attacks in Egypt.
He also urged Arab leaders not to be misled by claims aimed at stirring conflicts between Hizbullah and Arab states and to verify all information they receive from the media. Nasrallah noted that on November 19, 2008, one month before the Israeli war on Gaza, the Egyptian authorities announced the detention of a Lebanese citizen, who was a Hizbullah member, accusing him and others of attempting to smuggle arms and equipment into Gaza.
He added that one month after the Israeli war, a huge campaign was launched against Hizbullah, due to the party's position regarding resistance.
"Brother Sami is a member of Hizbullah, and what he was doing on the Egyptian-Palestinian borders was
a logistic mission to transport arms and equipment to the Palestinian lands; all other accusations are false and full of imagination and bluffs," he said.
"If helping the Palestinians whose land is seized and who are being killed and besieged is an accusation, then I thereby declare that I am guilty of this accusation," he added.
He noted that the lawyers of those detained in custody were prevented from attending the interrogation sessions. Nasrallah said the Egyptians were trying to present new gifts to the Israelis and the Americans, adding that Cairo's accusations were aimed at provoking the Egyptian people and distorting Hizbullah's clean image.
Nasrallah stressed that Hizbullah did not have any plans whatsoever to attack Arab states, adding that the party's only goal was to "liberate the Lebanese territories and protect Lebanon from Israeli threats." "Hizbullah does not want to engage in a conflict with any Arab or foreign state; we are a humble Lebanese party and do not have branches in any other country," he said. He also ruled out claims that the party was trying to spread the Shiite ideology around the world.
Egypt's public prosecutor ordered on Thursday that 49 people held for plotting attacks on behalf of Lebanese Shiite group Hizbullah be kept in custody for a further 15 days, a judicial source said.
"The public prosecutor decided to detain the members of the group affiliated with Hizbullah for 15 days for questioning on suspicion of membership in a clandestine organisation calling for rebellion" against the country's leadership, the source said.
On Wednesday, a statement from the prosecutor said an investigation determined the men had been commissioned by Nasrallah to conduct attacks in Egypt.
Arrests were first made in November and the rest of the group were rounded up by the end of last month, a security official said. On Thursday, state media reported that one of those arrested, Sami Hani Shihab, was suspected of heading a Hizbullah unit responsible for neighboring states and that Palestinians and Sudanese were among those arrested.
The suspects are also accused of espionage, forging official documents and preparing explosives. The detention may be renewed every 15 days for six months, when the prosecution must either charge them or release them.
Montassar el-Zayat, a lawyer for some of the defendants, said Shihab's brother had asked him to represent him but he had not been allowed to see him or attend interrogations. Zayat accused security of bringing politically motivated charges against the suspects.
"My impression is that it is a fabricated case created by Egyptian security in the context of bad relations between Hizbullah and Egypt. It is a pressure card," he said.
Touching on Lebanese affairs, Nasrallah denied claims that if the opposition won the majority, it would overthrow President Michel Sleiman to elect Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. "We and the FPM have elected President Sleiman by our free and full will, and we have good and confident relations with him since he was an army commander. Some malicious politicians and journalists will not disrupt this relationship," he stated. - With AFP
Friday, April 10, 2009
Chicken a la Carte - a true story
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Same old story, new president:
U.S. President Barack Obama will not cut the billions of dollars in military aid promised to Israel, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday. The $30 billion in aid promised to Israel over the next decade will not be harmed by the world financial crisis, the official told Israel Radio. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. military aid to Israel was increased in a decade-long deal agreed to by Bush in 2007. OTOH, U.S. will pay close to $1 billion for rebuilding the wreckage in Gaza mostly caused by armaments paid for by the U.S.! To add insult to injury, there is a condition on that money:
Clinton: Some $900 million pledged by the United States to the Palestinians will be withdrawn if the expected Palestinian Authority coalition government between Fatah and Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist, Western and Israeli diplomats said Wednesday.
- Total direct aid to Israel, 1948-2003, $89.9 billion (uncorrected for inflation)
- Since 1976 Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US aid. It is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II.
- Direct U.S. aid for each Israeli citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Israel = $16,710) — over $500
- Direct U.S. Aid for each Ethiopian citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Ethiopia = $100) — about $.45
- REGULAR US GRANT AID in FY 2003
- $2.76 billion military aid grant
- $2.1 billion economic support funds
- $600 million refugee resettlement grant
- Military aid grant $1 billion
- Commercial loan guarantees $9 billion
- Arrow missile development $60 million
SOURCES: Clyde R. Mark, Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance, Congressional Research Service, updated April 1, 2003; Clyde R. Mark, Middle East: U.S. Foreign Assistance, FY 2001, FY 2002, FY 2003 Congressional Research Service, March 28, 2002
Saturday, April 4, 2009
One in ten Americans collecting 'food stamps'
A record 32.2 million people took advantage of the US welfare initiative that allows low-income individuals to exchange "stamps" for groceries in January, according to a United States government report.
The average recipient was given $112.82 (£77) per month to spend through the recently-renamed 'Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program', or 'SNAP'.
The figures show an increase of over 4.3 million claimants in just ten months, and mark the third time in five months that enrolment has set a new record.
Many Americans have turned to food stamps as a direct result of the economic crisis, which saw national unemployment levels soar to 8.1 per cent in February – the highest in 25 years. The figure was just 4.8 per cent in the same month in 2008, and it is estimated that some 4.4 million jobs have been lost since the start of the recession in December 2007.
Enrolment in the food stamps programme rose in all but four of the 50 states, according to statistics released by the US Department of Agriculture. Significant increases were recorded in Vermont, Alaska, South Dakota, California and New York.
"A weakened economy means that many more individuals are turning to SNAP/Food Stamps," a spokesman for the anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Centre, said.
President Obama has approved a temporary 13 per cent increase in food stamp benefits, beginning this month, as part of his government's economic stimulus plan.
Obama’s election campaign put the war in Afghanistan on a pedestal as the single most important national security goal of the post-Bush era. Currently, the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan numbers about 55,000 troops from forty one countries, including about 23,000 American soldiers.The NATO force in Afghanistan has virtually no heavy armor - just a couple dozen of Canadian and Danish tanks.
At the height of the Soviet deployment in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the number of Soviet troops in the country exceeded 120,000, supported by a 300,000-strong Soviet-trained Afghan (DRA - the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) army. Just the initial Soviet deployment during the first few weeks of the war involved three divisions, one regiment, and one brigade, supported by an entire air army - a total of over 80,000 troops, 1,800 tanks, 2,000 AFVs, and over 1,200 combat aircraft. The operation begun at 19:00 on December 27, 1979 and was concluded by 07:00 the following morning. Most of the initial fighting was done by seven hundred special forces, who, in a matter of hours, stripped Afghanistan of its government, military command, and communications.
In the next few days, the Soviet forces entered more than two dozen major Afghan cities virtually unopposed. All of central Afghanistan was encircled, and the country was split into three sections. Western press (including front-page stories in NY Times and Washington Post) reported a complete Soviet victory within days of the initial invasion. Soviet losses stood at less than one hundred killed (most of these casualties were the result of the crash of a military Il-76 transport, which ran into a mountain in heavy fog Northeast of Kabul, killing all 58 on board.) Everything that followed in the next ten years was one Politburo screwup after another.
Years after the war, top Soviet commanders in Afghanistan - generals Varennikov and Gromov - wrote that levels of troops were simply insufficient to achieve the lofty political goals set by the Kremlin. The DRA army was inexperienced and unreliable. The Soviet commanders asked for 220,000 - 250,000 troops, but for most of the war only had about 108,000 troops - less than half of what the military strategists required.
A 100,000-strong force was trying to pretend to be a 250,000-strong army and, naturally, this required a lot of driving. Available units spent most of the war driving around the countryside, being continuously dispatched to plug up holes in the lines. Most of the Soviet casualties were sustained while combat and supply units were in transit from one position to the next. Most Soviet aircraft losses were sustained while covering troops in transit.
The NATO is currently discussing ways to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Maybe the UK will send another couple thousand troops, or, perhaps, Poland will send another thousand. In other words, NATO ministers are wasting their time, because what they really need is to at least triple the number of troops. But even with the US troops being redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, the NATO is unlikely to reach the required troop levels. The economic crisis does not help either. Even if the NATO manages to significantly boost the troop levels in Afghanistan, it will not be able to sustain them for long due to purely financial reasons.
And then, of course, the USSR had one huge logistical advantage over the US when it came to fighting a war in Afghanistan - a 500-mile-long border with the country. If a Soviet general needed a hundred tanks, they would load them on five trains somewhere in Siberia and in less than week the tanks will be near the Afghan border. A few more days of driving and getting the sand out of the transmission and the tanks will be ready to level some mud huts.
If an American general needed a hundred tanks delivered to Afghanistan on the double, it would require fifty long-range flights by the C-5 Galaxy - the world’s most expensive military transport plane with the highest operating cost - with in-flight refuellings and about twenty service hours for every flight hour. And this is just to deliver the tanks. Then they would need to go back for fuel, ammunition and spare parts.
There doesn’t seem to be a military solution to this war and Obama’s only hope is to somehow capture the elusive Saudi Waldo and to get the hell out of Dodge. The 300,000-strong DRA army, which the Soviets hoped would take over after the victorious Red Army went home, was infinitely better trained and equipped than the NATO-trained pack of hoodlums pretending to be guarding Hamid Karzai, but in reality just stealing ammunition and extorting bribes. And even the DRA army was viewed by the Soviet commanders as more of a problem than a solution.
This is exactly what happens when you go to war with an idiotic plan of spreading Communism or Democracy; or when you send the army across the oceans to a distant land to catch one guy, who may or may not be there. And this is precisely why the Americans and the rest of the NATO are in Afghanistan: in 2001 Bush gave Mullah Omar of Taliban an ultimatum: surrender Bin laden (who is married to your daughter) or face the consequences. Obviously, nobody seriously expected Omar to comply. And so for the past eight years a force of tens of thousands of soldiers have been eating through a half-a-trillion-dollar budget trying to locate a single guy hiding somewhere in the Hindu Kush mountains
Friday, April 3, 2009
Russia and China back currency study
Russia proposed on Thursday an IMF or G20 study on creating a new international reserve currency and China reiterated support for a broader discussion of the dollar's role that was missing at the London G20 summit.
Strengthened regional currencies would be a basis for the new unit, which could also be partially backed by gold, Russia said in a statement released on the sidelines of the summit.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said the international monetary system had to be improved.
"It is necessary to maintain the relative stability of the exchange rates of major reserve currencies and develop a more diverse and rational international monetary system," he told the summit.
China and Russia have floated in recent weeks ideas about reducing reliance on the U.S. dollar as the world's primary unit of foreign exchange, possibly by developing the Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund.
But the G20 Financial Summit has focussed firstly on promoting economic growth and repairing the financial system -- not on the longer-term task of overhauling the foundations of the global monetary system.
The idea, however, is gaining momentum since one underlying cause of the current crisis is seen to be heavy reliance on dollar-based assets as the only highly liquid instrument to invest in.
"The new global reserve currency has not been discussed at the summit. We only discussed it at several bilateral meetings," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's chief economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich told a news briefing.
The Russian statement called developing the global currency system a very important issue for strategic, rather than tactical, solutions to the financial crisis.
It said that "we should return to this topic in the months immediately after the summit."
China's Hu did not call for an immediate discussion on a new reserve currency but urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to strengthen and improve its oversight of the macroeconomic policies of major reserve currency-issuing economies.
The reasons for promoting discussion are that currency markets are extremely unstable, new regional currencies are strengthening and the euro's launch showed how it could promote fiscal discipline.
According to the IMF, the dollar accounted for 64 percent of the world's foreign currency reserves, followed by the euro, at 26 percent, with sterling and the yen at 5 and 3 percent.
Russia said countries with major currencies "do not bear sufficient responsibility for macroeconomic policies."
"On this basis we conclude that it would be wise to support the creation of strong regional currencies and to use them as the basis for a new reserve currency. One could also consider partially backing this currency with gold," Russia said.
"It is not our goal to destroy existing institutions or to weaken the dollar, pound or euro. We are simply calling for a joint assessment of how the global currency system can most favourably be developed for the sake of the global economy."
Accordingly, Russia proposed that the IMF or a G20 working group prepare studies, for review by G20 finance ministers and central bankers, both on widening the list of currencies used as reserve currencies by taking coordinated measures to stimulate the development of major regional financial centres; and on creating a supranational reserve currency.