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Archive for the ‘Conflict in the Middle East’ Category

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Posted by Charles II on August 13, 2014

Blame Turkey for arming ISIS.

[This is not to say Turkey is primarily to blame. This sounds like a narrative to blame Turkey for something the US either approved or acceded to.]

How US destroyed Iraq

Patrick Cockburn on ISIS.

And especially this:

In the face of these failures Iraq’s Shia majority is taking comfort from two beliefs that, if true, would mean the present situation is not as dangerous as it looks. They argue that Iraq’s Sunnis have risen in revolt and Isis fighters are only the shock troops or vanguard of an uprising provoked by the anti-Sunni policies and actions of Maliki. Once he is replaced, as is almost certain, Baghdad will offer the Sunnis a new power-sharing agreement with regional autonomy similar to that enjoyed by the Kurds. Then the Sunni tribes, former military officers and Baathists who have allowed Isis to take the lead in the Sunni revolt will turn on their ferocious allies. Despite all signs to the contrary, Shia at all levels are putting faith in this myth, that Isis is weak and can be easily discarded by Sunni moderates once they’ve achieved their goals. One Shia said to me: ‘I wonder if Isis really exists.’

Unfortunately, Isis not only exists but is an efficient and ruthless organisation that has no intention of waiting for its Sunni allies to betray it. In Mosul it demanded that all opposition fighters swear allegiance to the Caliphate or give up their weapons. In late June and early July they detained between 15 to 20 former officers from Saddam Hussein’s time, including two generals. Groups that had put up pictures of Saddam were told to take them down or face the consequences. ‘It doesn’t seem likely,’ Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadists, said, ‘that the rest of the Sunni military opposition will be able to turn against Isis successfully. If they do, they will have to act as quickly as possible before Isis gets too strong.’

It would be a really good time to cut a deal with Putin, Assad, Abbas, and Rouhani, and get back to the business of repressing the really dangerous people in that part of the world. Too bad we don’t have a Congress intelligent enough to see this.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq war, Russia, Syria, terrorism | 6 Comments »

More stating the obvious

Posted by Charles II on July 30, 2014

DemocracyNow:

RABBI HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s [the invasion/bombing of Gaza is] disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.

The whole interview is fascinating and well worth the time. There’s a basic problem at the root of the Palestinian conflict. Jews have a legitimate reason to want a state as protection against religious/ethnic persecution. But the essence of desiring justice for the historical–and ongoing– ill-treatment of the Jewish people is desiring such justice for all people, even those one considers enemies.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East | 4 Comments »

Remembering Liberty

Posted by Charles II on June 9, 2014

All states do cynical things. One can’t condemn any government for a single bad deed. But the US response to the sinking of the USS Liberty is one of those things that has to be acknowledged before the American people can have any confidence in their own government, much less that of Israel. The basic story is this:

On the 47th anniversary of that unprovoked attack let’s be clear about what happened: Israeli messages intercepted on June 8, 1967, leave no doubt that sinking the USS Liberty was the mission assigned to the attacking Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats as the Six-Day War raged in the Middle East. Let me repeat: there is no doubt – none – that the mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was to destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew.

There were notably heartless actions by the pilots who engaged in the attacks–and notable bravery by American sailors–that makes this an emotional issue. Critics of Israel point to it as the moment in which that state learned that it could act with impunity, poisoning subsequent relations between the countries. That’s probably not true, since the US can always re-assert itself. And, of course, this plays into the Israel-Palestine conflict and the broader Israel-Arab conflict. Those deserve to be judged on their own merits/demerits.

And then there’s the fact that the president who directed the American response to the attack on USS Liberty was perhaps simultaneously both the best and the worst of post-WW II presidents. For those who hate him, it is easy to turn his indifference toward American servicemen into a bloody rag. The stories of both the dead and the survivors would break your heart. But lots of presidents have been indifferent to servicemen. That is, after all, why there have been so many wars and so little response to problems like PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, and Gulf War Syndrome. Just because those men suffer and die out of the public spotlight doesn’t mean that presidents are ignorant of the human consequences of their inaction.

The main issue, as far as I am concerned is the US response:

When President Johnson learned that the USS America and USS Saratoga had launched warplanes to do battle with the forces attacking the Liberty, he told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to call Sixth Fleet commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geiss and tell him to order the warplanes to return immediately to their carriers.

According to J.Q. “Tony” Hart, a chief petty officer who monitored these conversations from a U.S. Navy communications relay station in Morocco, Geiss shot back that one of his ships was under attack.

And then, to add insult to grave injurywas this element of the US response:

[According to a commission led by] former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and before that Chief of Naval Operations) [Admiral] Thomas Moorer…

… surviving crew members were later threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment, or worse” if they talked to anyone about what had happened to them; and were “abandoned by their own government.”

How come Admiral Moorer, along with Marine General Ray Davis and Rear Admiral Merlin Staring were the only senior members of the military to demand that the human beings aboard the Liberty be acknowledged?

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the sinking of USS Liberty. Refusing to politicize it in any way, let’s make sure that it is never forgotten. Let’s make sure that the memory of what our government did never be forgotten. And let’s try to make sure that the survivors of that and all acts of war receive humane treatment for all wounds, visible or not.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, history, military, veterans | Leave a Comment »

Was Turkey behind Syria sarin attack?

Posted by Charles II on April 8, 2014

This story is a few days old, but it’s possibly one of the more important foreign policy stories of the year. Seymour Hersh has published an article in the London Review of Books that suggests that the poison gas attack in Syria that killed so many people may have been instigated by Turkey using a Salafist Al Qaeda affliliate, al-Nusra. Here’s the Democracy Now interview:

AMY GOODMAN: In your piece, you mention the leaked video of a discussion between the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan, and senior officials of a false flag operation that would justify Turkish military intervention in Syria. … Sy Hersh, could you explain what the Erdogan administration’s support for the rebels, the Turkish support for the rebels, has consisted of and where the U.S. now stands on this?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, … al-Nusra [Salafist terrorist] groups have been inside Turkey buying equipment. There’s also reports that they’ve also received some training from the Turkish intelligence services, which is very—is headed by a man named Fidan, who is very known. There’s reports, wonderful report in The Wall Street Journal recently about Fidan’s closeness not only to Erdogan, the prime minister and the leader of Turkey, but also to the most radical units. And so is Erdogan. They’re all supportin… the more fundamental groups inside Syria. And so, we know they supply training. We know also there’s a—there’s, I guess you could call it, another rat line. There’s a flow—if you’re going to send the chemicals that, when mixed together, meddled together, make sarin, they flow—that flow comes from inside Turkey. A sort of a paramilitary unit known as the gendarmy—Gendarmerie and the MIT [Milli Istihbarat Teskilati] both are responsible for funneling these things into radical groups. There’s actually a flow of trucks that brings the stuff in. And so, Turkish involvement is intense.

Why is this important news? Turkey is a NATO ally. Turkey has nuclear reactors; though it does not have such weapons, it wouldn’t be too hard to divert some material. It would be a real problem if Al Qaeda developed a foothold inside Turkey.

More here.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, Syria, Turkey | 4 Comments »

A Coward’s Crime

Posted by Charles II on November 6, 2013

Paul Taylor, Reuters:

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said on Wednesday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband’s corpse.

“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she told Reuters in Paris.

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat’s grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.

She {widow Suha Arafat] did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies.

It’s actually unlikely that Israel committed this crime, since Arafat was an essential component of how Israel repressed the Palestinian population. He was the perfect distraction. But whoever killed Arafat is a coward and a psychopath.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East | 9 Comments »

Stateless in Gaza

Posted by Charles II on October 15, 2013

Max Blumenthal, TomDispatch (via t/o)

[Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu has updated the smokescreen strategy….his government was preparing to implement the Prawer Plan, a blueprint for the expulsion of 40,000 indigenous Bedouin citizens of Israel from their ancestral Negev Desert communities that promised to “concentrate” them in state-run, reservation-style townships. Authored by Netanyahu’s planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, and passed by a majority of the members of the mainstream Israeli political parties in the Knesset, the Prawer Plan is only one element of the government’s emerging program to dominate all space and the lives of all people between the river (the Jordan) and the sea (the Mediterranean).

The products of continuous dispossession, many of these [Bedouin] communities are surrounded by petrochemical waste dumps and have been transformed into cancer clusters, while state campaigns of aerial crop destruction and livestock eradication have decimated their sources of subsistence.

Although residents like al-Ahmed carry Israeli citizenship, they are unable to benefit from the public services that Jews in neighboring communities receive. The roads to unrecognized villages like Umm al-Hiran are lined with electric wires, but the Bedouins are barred from connecting to the public grid. Their homes and mosques have been designated “illegal” constructions and are routinely marked for demolition.

The Bedouin are comparable to Native Americans, living in the southern (Negev) desert in the general vicinity of Gaza. Israel appears to have discovered the same “solution” as the US government.

Posted in abuse of power, Conflict in the Middle East | Comments Off

On what basis are we rushing to war?

Posted by Charles II on August 28, 2013

Noah Schachtman of Foreign Policy, a neo-con lite source, is reporting that:

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.

But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime?

American intelligence analysts are certain that chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21 — the captured phone calls, combined with local doctors’ accounts and video documentation of the tragedy — are considered proof positive. [Except they're not. As we have reported, certain kinds of things called tear gas can cause neuro sysmptoms and even death].

Making the case even more conclusive were the images of the missiles that supposedly delivered the deadly attacks. If they were carrying conventional warheads, they would have likely been all but destroyed as they detonated. But several missiles in East Ghouta were found largely intact. “Why is there so much rocket left? There shouldn’t be so much rocket left,” the intelligence official told The Cable. The answer, the official and his colleagues concluded, was that the weapon was filled with nerve agent, not a conventional explosive.

So, there’s the case for war:
1) There were phone calls asking about the use of a chemical agent.
2) The Defense Ministry did not know that a chemical agent was used.
3) There were intact missile casings in the vicinity.

So far, nothing about a vital national interest or any indication that our intervention will help anything or anyone.

Or, for that matter, evidence that we are certain can actually survive the light of day.
_________________
Update: Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian on the provenance of the intercepts:

The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons – which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action – has been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus has reported.

The 8200 unit of the Israeli Defence Forces, which specialises in electronic surveillance, intercepted a conversation between Syrian officials regarding the use of chemical weapons, an unnamed former Mossad official told Focus. The content of the conversation was relayed to the US, the ex-official said.

That will certainly reassure the doubters among us.

And now the Obama Admin makes it clear it has as little regard for international law as its predecessor. Karen deYoung, WaPo:

A closed-door meeting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, called to consider a British-drafted resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent any further use of chemical weapons in Syria, adjourned without action after Russia and China opposed the measure.

In response, U.S. officials made clear they considered such initiatives irrelevant to Obama’s decision on military action.

In a letter Wednesday to Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed concerns that numerous outside experts have raised about the administration’s assessment of potential post-attack scenarios.

“These considerations include the Assad regime potentially losing command and control of its stock of chemical weapons or terrorist organizations — especially those tied to al-Qaeda — gaining greater control of and maintaining territory,” Boehner wrote.

It’s a shame that no one has considered the possibility that Assad might have lost control of his stock of chemical weapons prior to the deaths.

Is your congressman against the rush to war? Surprisingly few Democrats have signed onto Republican Scott Rigell’s letter urging Obama to consult Congress. Beto O’Rourke, Zoe Lofgren, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, Rush Holt, William Enyart, Timothy Walz, Michael Capuano, Richard Nolan, Jim McDermott, Bruce Braley, Sam Farr, Anna Eshoo, Earl Blumenauer, Peter Welch, Jim Matheson, and Collin Peterson. Pahing Keith Ellison! I count 17 Dems out of more than 90 signatories. Paging Rosa DeLauro! Paging John Lewis! And several dozen more Democrats who claim to be for peace.

When Republicans are advocating sanity and Democrats are silent, you know something is seriously wrong.

BTW, anyone remember the rush to Iraq and the role of intercepts there?

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East | 16 Comments »

And it was all going so nicely! (Is Assad about to defeat the Syrian uprising?). Also: best wishes for recovery to Stirling

Posted by Charles II on June 13, 2013

I don’t pretend to know whether this is correct, but the Agonist under Sean Paul Kelley was generally a place to go for international news. I am less taken with the current editor, Michael Collins, but it’s certainly a tonic to what we hear in our press:

The war in Syria went from a seeming quagmire to a conflict that may reach a dramatic climax with the coming battle for Aleppo, a city of nearly three million people that was once the commercial center of the nation.

The Syrian Army finished off final rebel resistance in the city of Qusayr last week fighting alongside the Lebanese group Hezbollah. As a result, the rebel supply line from Lebanon is shut down and the major road from Damascus to Aleppo via Qusayr is open. The road will serve the supply line for an attack to end rebel occupation of half of that city.

A victory by the Syrian military in Operation Northern Storm, its name for the Aleppo effort, will leave the rebels with very little in the way of major influence or meaningful territory.

Our press has been telling us that victory is certain for the rebels. Collins seems to believe the opposite. I have no opinion, just a vain hope that when it’s all over, the industrialized nations will not abandon a shattered Syria.

____________
Unrelated. Via the Agonist, this note dated 6/3:

To all Stirling [Newberry]’s friends; please know that he has had a stroke. He is in Mass. General Hospital and will get moved out of intensive care in the next couple of days. He has a long road to rehabilitation ahead of him. Please wish him well and visit with him if you can. (Stirling’s Facebook page is active for wishing him well)

A fast recovery to Mr. Newberry, one of the Internet’s most thoughtful iconoclasts.
_______________
Update. Bill Clinton risks looking like a fool:

Former President Bill Clinton offered a stinging critique of President Barack Obama’s inaction in Syria during a closed-press event this week, Politico reported, arguing that Obama’s hesitance to get involved in the lengthy conflict could end up making him look like a “total fool” and a “wuss.”

While only 15 percent of Americans said they’d back military action in Syria, according to a recent poll

Ex-presidents are not supposed to grade sitting presidents, particularly with this sort of rhetoric.
________________
Update: And now with this background the White House announcement of lethal aid for the Syrian rebels looks very much like an admission that Assad has won and that the only way to impose the American will is through the CIA, which will presumably be filling the gap until the rebels can get armed and trained.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, Syria | 4 Comments »

No news today

Posted by Charles II on December 23, 2012

Julian Borger, The Guardian:

Russian military advisers are manning some of Syria’s more sophisticated air defences – something that would complicate any future US-led intervention, the Guardian has learned.

The advisers have been deployed with new surface-to-air systems and upgrades of old systems, which Moscow has supplied to the Assad regime since the Syrian revolution broke out 21 months ago.

The depth and complexity of Syria’s anti-aircraft defences mean that any direct western campaign, in support of a no-fly zone or in the form of punitive air strikes against the leadership, would be costly, protracted and risky.

Air strikes against chemical weapon depots would potentially disperse lethal gases over a vast area, triggering a humanitarian disaster. US and allied special forces have been trained to seize the air bases where the warheads are kept, but it is unclear what the next step would be. It would be physically impossible to fly the hundreds of warheads out of the country, while it would take thousands of troops to guard the arsenal for what could be many months.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, Russia, Syria | 1 Comment »

Remember when I said that after an extended kabuki, we’d find that the military was still running Egypt?

Posted by Charles II on June 14, 2012

That was July 13th, 2011, reprising a February 2011 prediction.

David Hearst and Abdel Rahman-Hussein, The Guardian:

Two days before the second round of presidential elections, Egypt’s highest court on Thursday dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and ruled that the army-backed candidate could stay in the race, in what was widely seen as a double blow for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The decision was denounced as a coup by opposition leaders of all kinds and many within the Brotherhood, who fear that they will lose much of the political ground they have gained since Hosni Mubarak was ousted 16 months ago.

The decision by the supreme constitutional court – whose judges were appointed by Mubarak – brought into sharp focus the power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the supreme council of the armed forces (Scaf), the military council that took up the reins of power after Mubarak’s fall.

The Brotherhood has now lost its power base in parliament, at the same time as seeing the military-backed candidate, Ahmad Shafiq, the last president to serve under Mubarak, receive a boost.

The decision means legislative authority reverts to Scaf.

Let’s just say I don’t think this would happen if SCAF thought the US government would oppose this deed, which effectively blocks Islamists from legally attaining power.

As’ad AbuKhalil comments:

The counter-revolution (US-Israel-Saudi Arabia-Qatar) are overplaying their hands and screwing up big time. The outcome will reverse what they had aimed at. Stay tuned.

It will certainly legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood in the eyes of both liberals and the harder-line Islamists.

Posted in Arab Spring, Conflict in the Middle East | 2 Comments »

 
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