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Burman: What has prompted Canada’s move against Iran? September 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Friday September 07, 2012

            FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS                    People wait at the door of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa on Friday to collect passports following Canada’s decision to expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Ottawa.       
Tony Burman

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
Although his swearing-in at Rideau Hall must have happened in the dead of night, Canada appears to have a new foreign minister. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.

There is little else to conclude from Canada’s unwise decision to move unilaterally on Iran at this moment. All sorts of crucial issues are in play with Iran. They involve the future of its nuclear program, the impatience of Israel’s leadership to attack Iran, the shape of a new Middle East as the heinous Syrian regime implodes and several delicate life-and-death issues involving Canadians on death row in Iran. Surprisingly, Western nations have held together on how to approach these key challenges — except, now, for Canada.

So why would Canada indulge in a meaningless poke in the eye that will only be dismissed by Tehran and serve to push the Canadian government even further to the extremes of diplomatic irrelevance?

For a clue, let’s flash back two weeks ago to Israel, where the debate over Iran has been at a fever pitch among politicians and in the media for months.

Prime Minister Netanyahu met privately with the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Netanyahu “lost his temper,” according to U.S. officials, and was described as nervous, agitated and frustrated at American reluctance to move on Iran. Several days later, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, further upset him by warning that an Israeli strike, with all its risks, would only “delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.”

Now, enter the Canadian government. In recent years, with its passionate pro-Israeli stance, it has gained the reputation throughout the Middle East of being a passionate warrior on behalf of Israel’s foreign ministry. I was in Israel in July — coincidentally at the same time as Mitt Romney — and there were references in the Israeli media about Canada’s unwavering support of the Israeli government.

It was obviously appreciated, but one sensed it was also seen by some Israelis as somewhat mystifying. After decades of being one of the world’s most respected “honest brokers” on Middle East issues, what in God’s name has slipped into the water supply in Canada to explain such a change?

Contrary to the Canadian government’s statement on Friday, it is unimaginable that its actions against Iran will affect that country’s policy regarding Syria or its nuclear program. Instead, its priority seems to be on the Israeli issues. It is not surprising that Canada’s actions were warmly welcomed by Netanyahu.

But it is difficult to understand Canada’s timing. It will have precious little impact on Iran’s behavior and seems at variance with the current state-of-play on the nuclear issue. In fact, it actually comes at a time when the mood in Israel’s top leadership seems to have turned against the idea of an imminent strike against Iran.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak — who has sided with Netanyahu in arguing that a nuclear-armed Iran is an ”existential” threat to Israel — seemed subtly to temper his rhetoric. He emphasized a desire to work with the Americans on this issue, even if this meant a delay in potential military action: “One should not ignore the impressive preparations by the Americans to counter Iran on all fronts.”

Barak’s remarks may have reflected several important realities that are gaining attention. One, it is clear that U.S. president Barack Obama is as determined as the Israelis to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Two, there is still no evidence that Iran actually wants nuclear weapons. And three, most of the Israeli public, military and political class find the idea of a strike against Iran as unnecessarily dangerous. Last Sunday, a former Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Winograd— whose committee criticized Israel’s role in its 2006 war with Lebanon — warned that an Israeli strike on Iran “may endanger the future of the country”.

And then, there is that other crucial issue: If Israel attacks Iran, with or without U.S. help, what will be the repercussions? Will the region be engulfed in war? Will the Iranian government, so loathed by many of its people, be emboldened and strengthened by this attack? Will such an action actually ensure that Iran eventually develops a nuclear bomb?

Canadians have every right to ask its government how it believes such a conflict will evolve. However, reflecting on its recent actions, we may have to wait until our government checks with its new foreign minister in Jerusalem before we get some answers.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

Ex-Israeli Spymaster: Leaders ‘Messianic’ April 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
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Published on Saturday, April 28, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Says Israel More and More Racist, Belligerent

- Common Dreams staff

The former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of having “messianic feelings” behind their threats to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran and they should not be trusted.

 Yuval Diskin and “Messianic” Netanyahu upon Diskin completing his term as head of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet in May, 2011.

 “I don’t have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude, of war with Iran,” Yuval Diskin said at a public meeting Friday, video of which was posted on the Internet the today and quickly became the lead news item in Israel.

“I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on Messianic feelings,” he continued. “I have seen them up close. They are not messiahs, these two, and they are not the people that I personally trust to lead Israel into an event.”

Diskin also said, “Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society.”

* * *

Reuters reports:

JERUSALEM – A former Israeli spymaster has branded the country’s leaders unfit to tackle the Iranian nuclear program because of what he called the “messianic feelings” behind their threats to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran.

Other veterans have come out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently, but the criticism from former domestic intelligence chief Yuval Diskin was especially strong.

“I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defense minister,” Diskin, who stepped down as head of the Shin Bet a year ago, said in a speech partly broadcast by Israel Radio on Saturday.

“I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings.” [...]

Diskin’s remarks came days after Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said Iran was “very rational” and unlikely to build a bomb in the face of world opposition, apparently undermining the case for a strike.

By using the language of religious fervor that Israelis usually associate with Islamist foes, Diskin appeared even more damning of Netanyahu and Barak, who have often crafted strategy alone and whose relationship dates back to service in an elite commando unit four decades ago.

The former head of Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence service, Meir Dagan, has ridiculed the idea of a strike on Iran.

* * *

Israel’s Ha’aretz reports:

“Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society.”[...] “Believe me, I have observed them from up close… They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event,” Diskin said.

“They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race,” said the former security chief.

In March, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan also spoke out publicly against a military option on Iran, telling CBS’ 60 Minutes that an Israeli attack would have “devastating” consequences for Israel, and would in any case be unlikely to put an end to the Iranian nuclear program.

Regarding relations between Israeli Jews and other groups, Diskin said, “Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society.”

Diskin also said he believed another political assassination, like that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, could occur in the future. “Today there are extremist Jews, not just in the territories but also inside the Green Line, dozens of them who, in a situation in which settlements are evacuated… would be willing to take up arms against their Jewish brothers.”

Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program November 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iran, War.
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www.democracy.org, Nov. 21, 2011

 While the United States, Britain and Canada are planning to announce a coordinated set of sanctions against Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry today, longtime investigative journalist Seymour Hersh questions the growing consensus on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. International pressure has been mounting on Iran since the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear activities, citing “credible” evidence that “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” In his latest article for The New Yorker blog, titled “Iran and the IAEA,” Hersh argues the recent report is a “political document,” not a scientific study. “They [JSOC] found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization,” Hersh says. “In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities to build the bomb. This is simply a fact.”

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Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine. His latest piece is titled “Iran and the IAEA.”
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AMY GOODMAN: Today the United States, Britain and Canada plan to announce a coordinated set of sanctions against Iran. ABC News and the Wall Street Journal report the sanctions will target Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry. Last weekend, President Obama warned no options were being taken off the table.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The sanctions have enormous bite and enormous scope, and we’re building off the platform that has already been established. The question is, are there additional measures that we can take? And we’re going to explore every avenue to see if we can solve this issue diplomatically. I have said repeatedly, and I will say today, we are not taking any options off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: International pressure has been mounting on Iran since the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report the, quote, “possible military dimensions” to its nuclear activities. The IAEA said “credible” evidence, quote, “indicates [that] Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The IAEA passed a resolution Friday expressing, quote, “increasing concern” about Iran’s nuclear program following the report’s findings.

The speaker of Iran’s parliament said yesterday Iran would review its relations with the IAEA following the report. Ali Larijani indicated it may be difficult for Iran to continue to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog.

ALI LARIJANI: [translated] If the agency acts within the framework of the Charter, we accept that we are a member of it and will carry out our responsibilities. But if the agency wants to deviate from its responsibilities, then it should not expect the other’s cooperation.

AMY GOODMAN: Iranian parliamentary speaker. Meanwhile, some Iranians have expressed the desire for increased cooperation with the IAEA.

SAID BAHRAMI: [translated] Considering the fact that the government has made plenty of clarifications, it would be better for it to expand its cooperation with the IAEA and let them see for themselves, close up, so there would be no pretext for the superpowers.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Pentagon confirmed it has received massive new bunker-busting bombs capable of destroying underground sites, including Iran’s nuclear facilities. The 30,000-pound bombs are six times the size of the Air Force’s current arsenal of bunker busters.

The new sanctions against Iran also follow last month’s allegations by the United States that Iranian officials were involved in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The U.S. is expected to announce today that Iran’s financial sector is of “primary money-laundering concern.” This phrase activates a section of the USA PATRIOT Act that warns European, Asian and Latin American companies they could be prevented from doing business with the United States if they continue to work with Iran.

Well, to talk more about the sanctions and the implications of the IAEA report, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. He’s been reporting on Iran and the bomb for the past decade. His latest piece is titled “Iran and the IAEA.” It’s in The New Yorker.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy. Talk about what you feel should be understood about what’s happening in Iran right now in regards to its nuclear power sector.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you mention, going in—by the way, the piece was in the blog. It wasn’t in the magazine; it was on the web page.

But you mentioned Iraq. It’s just this—almost the same sort of—I don’t know if you want to call it a “psychosis,” but it’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of—no lessons learned, obviously. Look, I have been reporting about Iran, and I could tell you that since ’04, under George Bush, and particularly the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, we were—Cheney was particularly concerned there were secret facilities for building a weapon, which are much different than the enrichment. We have enrichment in Iran. They’ve acknowledged it. They have inspectors there. There are cameras there, etc. This is all—Iran’s a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nobody is accusing them of any cheating. In fact, the latest report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching. And it’s also enriching essentially at very low levels for peaceful purposes, so they say, 3.8 percent. And so, there is a small percentage being enriched to 20 percent for medical use, but that’s quite small, also under cameras, under inspection.

What you have is, in those days, in ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations Force Command, JSOC—they would send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now. And some of the stuff is very technical, very classified, but I can tell you, there’s not much you can do in Iran right now without us finding out something about it. They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact. We haven’t found it, if it does exist. It’s still a fantasy. We still want to think—many people do think—it does.

The big change was, in the last few weeks, the IAEA came out with a new report. And it’s not a scientific report, it’s a political document. It takes a lot of the old allegations that had been made over the years, that were looked at by the IAEA, under the regime or the directorship of Mohamed ElBaradei, who ran the IAEA for 12 years, the Egyptian—he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work—somebody who was very skeptical of Iran in the beginning and became less so as Iran went—was more and more open. But the new director of the IAEA, a Japanese official named Amano, an old sort of—from the center-right party in Japan—I’m sure he’s an honorable guy, he believes what he believes. But we happen to have a series of WikiLeak documents from the American embassy in Vienna, one of the embassies in Vienna, reporting on how great it was to get Amano there. This is last year. These documents were released by Julian Assange’s group and are quite important, because what the documents say is that Amano has pledged his fealty to America. I understand he was elected as a—he was a marginal candidate. We supported him very much. Six ballots. He was considered weak by everybody, but we pushed to get him in. We did get him in. He responded by thanking us and saying he shares our views. He shares our views on Iran. He’s going to be—he’s basically—it was just an expression of love. He’s going to do what we wanted.

This new report has nothing new in it. This isn’t me talking. This is—in the piece I did for the New Yorker blog, it’s different for the blog because it has more reporting in it. I talked to former inspectors. They’re different voices than you read in the New York Times and the Washington Post. There are other people that don’t get reported who are much more skeptical of this report, and you just don’t see it in the coverage. So what we’re getting is a very small slice in the newspaper mainstream press here of analysis of this report. There’s a completely different analysis, which is, very little new.

And the way it works, Amy, is, over the years, a report will show up in a London newspaper, that will turn out to be spurious, turn out to be propaganda, whether started by us or a European intelligence agency—it’s not clear. This all happened, if you remember the Ahmed Chalabi stuff, during the buildup to the war in [Iraq], all about, you know, the great arsenals that existed inside [Iraq]. The same sort of propaganda is being used now—pardon me, I have a slight cold—that shows up over the years, over the last decade, in various newspapers. The IAEA would look at it, rule it not to be—be a fabrication, or certainly not to be supportable by anything they know. All of these old reports, with the exception of, I think, in a new study that was put out by the IAEA—there were maybe 30 or 40 old items, with only three things past 2008, all of which are—they—many people inside the IAEA believe to be spurious, not very reliable fabrications. So there you are.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sy Hersh, you’re saying that it’s not new information. It’s a new head of the IAEA that’s making the difference here. Can you talk more about U.S. infiltration of Iran, JSOC in Iran, surveillance, as well, in Iran?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure. I mean, the kind of stuff they did. I could tell you stuff that was secret eight, nine years ago. We would—for example, we developed—if there was an underground facility we thought was—where we saw some digging, let’s say, in a mountain area, we would line the road, when there were trucks going up and down the road, we would line the road with what seemed to be pebbles. In fact, they were sensors that could measure the weight of trucks going in and out. If a truck would go in light and come out with heavy, we could assume it was coming out with dirt, they were doing digging. We did that kind of monitoring.

We also put all sorts of passive counters, measures, of radioactivity. Uranium, even plutonium—most of the stuff that’s being done there is enriched uranium. They’re not making plutonium. But you can track. At a certain point, you have to move it. Once you take it out and start moving it around, you can track it. You can find Geiger counters, if you will, to use that old-fashioned term. You can measure radioactivity and see increases. We would go into a building, our troops, sometimes even with Americans, go into a building in Tehran, where we thought there was something fishy going on, start a disturbance down the street, take out a few bricks, slam in another section of brick with a Geiger counter, if you will, or a measuring device to see if, in that building, they were doing some enrichment we didn’t know about.

And we also have incredible competence at looking for air holes from the air, from satellites. If you’re building an underground facility, you have to vent it. You have to get air into it. You have to find a way to remove bad air and put in fresh air. And so, we have guys that are experts, tremendous people in the community. Some of them retired and set up a private company to do this. They would monitor all of the aerial surveillance to look for air holes, so we could find a pattern, try to find a pattern, of an underground facility. Nada.We came up with nothing.

And the most important thing is, we also—and the IA—even this new report also says—let me emphasize this: if you’re not diverting uranium, if you’re not taking uranium out of the count and smuggling it someplace so that you can build a bomb—and that, the IAEA is absolutely categorical on—everything that they are enriching, whatever percentage they enrich to, is under camera inspection, and under inspection of inspections. It’s all open, under the treaty, the safeguard treaty. Nobody is accusing Iran of violating the treaty. They’re just accusing them of cheating on the side, or some evidence they are. And there’s been no evidence of a diversion. So if you’re going to make a bomb, you’re going to have to bring it in from someplace else. And given the kind of surveillance we have, that’s going to be hard to do, to import it from a third country, bring in uranium and enrich it, or enriched uranium. It’s just a long shot.

And what you have is—as I said, it’s some sort of a hysteria that we had over Iraq that’s coming up again in Iran. And this isn’t a plea for Iran. There’s a lot of things that the Iranians do that is objectionable, the way they treat dissent, etc., etc. So I’m just speaking within the context of the hullabaloo that’s up now. And as far as sanctions are concerned, you know, excuse me, we’ve been sanctioning Cuba for 60 years, and Castro is—you know, he may be ill, but he’s still there. Sanctions are not going to work. This is a country that produces oil and gas—less and less, but still plenty of it. And they have customers in the Far East, the Iranians. They have customers for their energy. We’re the losers in this.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you compare the Obama administration to the Bush administration when it comes to Iran?

SEYMOUR HERSH: I can’t find a comparison. Same—a little less bellicose, but the same thing. I do think—I have every reason to believe that, unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama really is worried about an attack. He doesn’t want to see the Israelis bomb Iran. That’s the kind of talk we’ve been getting in the press lately.

And there’s new—as you mentioned, the 30,000-pound bombs built by Boeing, I think. The problem is that most of Iran’s facilities, the ones that we know about, the declared facilities under camera inspection, a place called Natanz, is about 80, 75 to 80 feet underground. And you’d have to do a hell of a lot of bombing to do much damage to it. You could certainly do damage to it, but the cost internationally would be stupendous. The argument for going and bombing is so vague and so nil. There’s been studies done showing—technical studies, MIT and other places, and the Israeli government also has had its scientists participate in these studies, showing it would be really hard to do a significant amount of damage, given how deep the underground facilities are. But you hear this talk about it.

And there’s—you know, look, this president has said nothing about what’s going on in Tahrir Square again. We’re mute. He’s been mute on this kind of bellicosity. But my understanding is that, purely from inside information, is that he does understand the issues more. I think it’s right now a political game being played by him to look tough. You know, everybody’s chasing, you know, the independent vote. I don’t know why—what’s so important to go after people that can’t decide whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, but that seems to be the name of the game.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to the response in Israel to the IAEA report. Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with CNN the time has come to deal with Iran. When asked specifically whether Israel would attack Iran, this is how he responded.

DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK: I don’t think that that’s a subject for public discussion. But I can tell you that the IAEA report has a sobering impact on many in the world, leaders as well the publics. And people understand that the time had come. Amano told straightly what he found, unlike Baradei. And it became a major issue, that I think, duly so, becomes a major issue for sanctions, for intensive diplomacy, with urgency. People understand now that Iran is determined to reach nuclear weapons. No other possible or conceivable explanation for what they had been actually doing. And that should be stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak. Sy, your response?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what makes me nervous is Barak and Bibi, Bibi Netanyahu, are together on this. They’re not always together on many things. They both agree, and that’s worrisome because, again, it’s a political issue there. Everybody—the country is moving quickly to the right, Israel is, obviously. And I can just tell you that I’ve also talked—unfortunately, the ground rules are so lousy in Israel, I can’t write it, but I’ve talked to very senior intelligence people in Iran—in Israel, rather. If you notice, you don’t hear that much about it, but the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, who left—who was the guy that orchestrated the attempted assassinations in Dubai, etc.—no dove—has been vehement about the foolishness of attempting to go after Iran, on the grounds that it’s not clear what they have. They’re certainly far away from a bomb. Israel has been saying for 20 years they’re, you know, six months away from making a bomb.

But I can tell you that I’ve talked to senior Israeli officers in Israel who have told me, A, they know that Iran, as the American intelligence community reported—I think it was in ’07—there was a National Intelligence Estimate that became public that said, essentially, Iran did look at a bomb. They had an eight-year war with Iraq, a terrible war, 1980 to 1988. And we, by the way, the United States, sided with Iraq, Saddam Hussein at that time. Iran then, in the years after that, they began to worry about Iraq’s talk about building a nuclear weapon, so they did look, in that period, let’s say ’87 to—’97 to 2003, no question. The American NIE said in ’07—it was augmented in 2011. I wrote about it a year ago in The New Yorker. It said, yes, they did look at a bomb, but not—they knew that they couldn’t—there was no way they could make a bomb to deter America or Israel. They’re not fools. This Persian society has been around for a couple thousand years. They can’t deter us. We have too many bombs. They thought maybe they could deter Iraq. After we went in and took down Iraq in ’03, they stopped. So they had done some studies. We’re talking about computer modeling, etc., no building. They—no question, they looked at the idea of getting a bomb or getting to the point where maybe they could make one. They did do that, but they stopped in ’03.

That’s still the American consensus. The Israelis will tell you privately, “Yes, we agree.” They stopped most of their planning, even their studies, in ’03. The Israeli position is they stopped not because they saw what we did to Iraq, but they thought that we could—we destroyed Iraq—I had a general tell me this—we destroyed Iraq in—it took them—we did in three weeks what they couldn’t do in eight years. They thought they would be next. But the consensus was, yes, they stopped. And also, if you asked serious, smart, wise Israelis in the intelligence business — and there are many — “Do you really think, if they got a bomb—and they don’t have one now—they would hit Tel Aviv?” and the answer was, “Do you think they’re crazy? We would incinerate them. Of course not. They’ve been around 2,000 years. That’s not going to happen.” Their fear was they would give a bomb to somebody else, etc.

But there’s an element rationality in the Israeli intelligence community that’s not being expressed by the political leadership. It’s the same madness we have here. There’s an element of rationality in our intelligence community which says, in ’07, and it has said it again last year, they don’t have the bomb. They’re not making it. It’s at NIE, 16 agencies agreed, 16 to nothing, in an internal vote, before that—they did an update in 2011 on the ’07 study and came to the same place. It’s just not there. That doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams. It doesn’t mean scientists don’t do computer studies. It doesn’t mean that physicists at the University of Tehran don’t do what physicists like to do, write papers and do studies. But there’s just no evidence of any systematic effort to go from enriching uranium to making a bomb. It’s a huge, difficult process. You have to take a very hot gas and convert it into a metal and then convert it into a core. And you have to do that by remote control, because you can’t get near that stuff. It’ll kill you. So radioactive.

I mean, so, look, I’m a lone voice. And you know how careful The New Yorker is, even on a blog item. This piece was checked and rechecked. And I quote people—Joe Cirincione, an American who’s been involved in disarmament many years. These are different voices than you’re seeing in the papers. I sometimes get offended by the same voices we see in the New York Times and Washington Post. We don’t see people with different points of view. There are, inside the—not only the American intelligence community, but also inside the IAEA in Vienna. There are many people who cannot stand what Amano is doing, and many people who basically—I get emails—and this piece came out, was put up, I think, over the weekend. And I get emails, like crazy, from people on the inside saying, “Way to go.” I’m talking about inside the IAEA. It’s an organization that doesn’t deal with the press, but internally, they’re very bothered by the direction Amano is taking them.

It’s not a scientific study, Amy. It’s a political document. And it’s a political document in which he’s playing our game. And it’s the same game the Israelis are picking up on, and those who don’t like Iran. And I wish we could separate our feelings about Iran and the mullahs and what happened with the students from 1979, into the reality, which is that I think there’s a very serious chance the Iranians would certainly give us the kind of inspections we want, in return for a little love—an end to sanctions and a respect that they insist that they want to get from us. And it’s not happening from this administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His latest piece is on the blog at The New Yorker. It’s called “Iran and the IAEA.” Seymour Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize. His piece, you can see at The New Yorker’s website.


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Why the Middle East Will Never Be the Same Again September 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 by The Independent/UK

The Palestinians won’t achieve statehood, but they will consign the ‘peace process’ to history.

  by  Robert Fisk

The Palestinians won’t get a state this week. But they will prove – if they get enough votes in the General Assembly and if Mahmoud Abbas does not succumb to his characteristic grovelling in the face of US-Israeli power – that they are worthy of statehood. And they will establish for the Arabs what Israel likes to call – when it is enlarging its colonies on stolen land – “facts on the ground”: never again can the United States and Israel snap their fingers and expect the Arabs to click their heels. The US has lost its purchase on the Middle East. It’s over: the “peace process”, the “road map”, the “Oslo agreement”; the whole fandango is history.

 

Personally, I think “Palestine” is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs’ land for their colonial projects. Go take a look at the West Bank, if you don’t believe me. Israel’s massive Jewish colonies, its pernicious building restrictions on Palestinian homes of more than one storey and its closure even of sewage systems as punishment, the “cordons sanitaires” beside the Jordanian frontier, the Israeli-only settlers’ roads have turned the map of the West Bank into the smashed windscreen of a crashed car. Sometimes, I suspect that the only thing that prevents the existence of “Greater Israel” is the obstinacy of those pesky Palestinians.

But we are now talking of much greater matters. This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.

A great anger has been created in the world by decades of Israeli power and military brutality and colonisation; millions of Europeans, while conscious of their own historical responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust and well aware of the violence of Muslim nations, are no longer cowed in their criticism for fear of being abused as anti-Semites. There is racism in the West – and always will be, I fear – against Muslims and Africans, as well as Jews. But what are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in which no Arab Muslim Palestinian can live, but an expression of racism?

Israel shares in this tragedy, of course. Its insane government has led its people on this road to perdition, adequately summed up by its sullen fear of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt – how typical that its principle ally in this nonsense should be the awful Saudi Arabia – and its cruel refusal to apologise for the killing of nine Turks in the Gaza flotilla last year and its equal refusal to apologise to Egypt for the killing of five of its policemen during a Palestinian incursion into Israel.

So goodbye to its only regional allies, Turkey and Egypt, in the space of scarcely 12 months. Israel’s cabinet is composed both of intelligent, potentially balanced people such as Ehud Barak, and fools such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics. Sarcasm aside, Israelis deserve better than this.

The State of Israel may have been created unjustly – the Palestinian Diaspora is proof of this – but it was created legally. And its founders were perfectly capable of doing a deal with King Abdullah of Jordan after the 1948-49 war to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. But it had been the UN, which met to decide the fate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, which gave Israel its legitimacy, the Americans being the first to vote for its creation. Now – by a supreme irony of history – it is Israel which wishes to prevent the UN from giving Palestinian Arabs their legitimacy – and it is America which will be the first to veto such a legitimacy.

Does Israel have a right to exist? The question is a tired trap, regularly and stupidly trotted out by Israel’s so-called supporters; to me, too, on regular though increasingly fewer occasions. States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel? It is the only nation on earth which does not know and will not declare where its eastern frontier is. Is it the old UN armistice line, the 1967 border so beloved of Abbas and so hated by Netanyahu, or the Palestinian West Bank minus settlements, or the whole of the West Bank?

Show me a map of the United Kingdom which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it has the right to exist. But show me a map of the UK which claims to include the 26 counties of independent Ireland in the UK and shows Dublin to be a British rather than an Irish city, and I will say no, this nation does not have the right to exist within these expanded frontiers. Which is why, in the case of Israel, almost every Western embassy, including the US and British embassies, are in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.

In the new Middle East, amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. So locked into Israel has US foreign policy become, so fearful of Israel have almost all its Congressmen and Congresswomen become – to the extent of loving Israel more than America – that America will this week stand out not as the nation that produced Woodrow Wilson and his 14 principles of self-determination, not as the country which fought Nazism and Fascism and Japanese militarism, not as the beacon of freedom which, we are told, its Founding Fathers represented – but as a curmudgeonly, selfish, frightened state whose President, after promising a new affection for the Muslim world, is forced to support an occupying power against a people who only ask for statehood.

Should we say “poor old Obama”, as I have done in the past? I don’t think so. Big on rhetoric, vain, handing out false love in Istanbul and Cairo within months of his election, he will this week prove that his re-election is more important than the future of the Middle East, that his personal ambition to stay in power must take first place over the sufferings of an occupied people. In this context alone, it is bizarre that a man of such supposed high principle should show himself so cowardly. In the new Middle East, in which Arabs are claiming the very same rights and freedoms that Israel and America say they champion, this is a profound tragedy.

US failures to stand up to Israel and to insist on a fair peace in “Palestine”, abetted by the hero of the Iraq war, Blair, are responsible. Arabs too, for allowing their dictators to last so long and thus to clog the sand with false frontiers and old dogmas and oil (and let’s not believe that a “new” “Palestine” would be a paradise for its own people). Israel, too, when it should be welcoming the Palestinian demand for statehood at the UN with all its obligations of security and peace and recognition of other UN members. But no. The game is lost. America’s political power in the Middle East will this week be neutered on behalf of Israel. Quite a sacrifice in the name of liberty…

© 2011 The Independent

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Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Gaza, Here We Come to Break the Siege May 24, 2010

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Published on Monday, May 24, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Ann Wright

I am honored to be a part of the latest international citizen effort to break the Israeli and Egyptian governments’ siege of Gaza.  This week, hundreds of persons from 20 countries will challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in an eight ship flotilla. 

An international coalition composed of Free Gaza Movement, European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, the Malaysian humanitarian organization Perdana  and the Turkish non-governmental organization Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) is sending three cargo ships and five passenger vessels to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey.While the citizens mobilize, their governments are receiving intense diplomatic pressure from the Israeli government.  On Monday, May 17, 2010, Naor Gilon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy director general, told the ambassadors of Greece, Ireland, Turkey, and Sweden that the attempt to break Israel’s blockage Gaza ” is a provocation and a breach of Israeli law,” and that “Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza,” according to a ministry statement.  

Arabic-language news station Al-Hurra reported that “about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation that was approved by the cabinet” and that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation.  Israel will prevent the boats from reaching Gaza “at any price,” an Israeli security source told the Ma’an news agency. 

Three ships are leaving Turkey, including a 600 person passenger ship and two cargo ships filled with humanitarian supplies such as medical equipment, pre-fabricated homes and construction supplies to rebuild housing for 50,000 persons destroyed in the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza in December, 2008 and January, 2009.  The passenger ship left Istanbul on May 22 to a tremendous send-off from thousands of supporters! 

Two ships will depart the Athens, Greece port of Piraeus and two more ships will depart from the Greek island of Crete.  The cargo ship Rachel Corrie, purchased by Perdana, the Malaysian humanitarian organization, loaded with medical supplies and cement, is on its way from Ireland and will meet up with the flotilla off the coast of Gaza. The ship is named for activist Rachel Corrie who was run over and killed by the Israeli military driver of a huge Caterpillar bulldozer that was knocking down homes of Palestinian families in Rafah, Gaza in March, 2003.

I am in Athens, Greece to assist in the briefings for passengers and crew on the two ships departing from Piraeus and then will fly to Crete to board a Free Gaza ship to sail to Gaza. 

Free Gaza has attempted to sail 8 ships into the Gaza port in the past two years.  Five ships have gotten into Gaza and three have been forced back by the Israeli navy including one ship that was rammed and almost sunk by an Israeli patrol boat.

An incredible amount of work is taking place in the port of Gaza. Workers are digging out the area along the pier in anticipation of the arrival of the cargo ships.  No cargo ships have been unloaded in Gaza in 43 years since the port was closed by the Israelis after the 1967 war.

As the flotilla leaves Greece and heads across the Mediterranean to Gaza, please follow the historic flotilla by a live-feed link  that will broadcast live footage of this historic voyage.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”  (www.voicesofconscience.com) 

Defending Israeli War Crimes May 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Friday, May 29, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus by Stephen Zunes

In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general – whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law – to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

Facile Legal Reasoning

The legal rationale put forward in the March 30 letter is extraordinarily facile. For example, they claim that the war waged on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was taken in furtherance of Israel’s “right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.” In reality, however, while Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack, it doesn’t grant any nation the right to engage in such a disproportionate response. 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the Israeli invasion had been planned for months, back when a six-month cease fire was still in effect. Even when Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel in December, following a deadly Israeli raid into Gaza the previous month, there were few casualties. Indeed, not a single Israeli had been killed by Hamas rocket attacks for more than half a year prior to Israel launching its war on December 27. During the subsequent three weeks of fighting, Palestinians killed 10 Israelis, three of whom were civilians, while Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. 

Incredibly, these attorneys general insist that these mass killings by Israeli forces were “justified and, in our view, met the international legal standards.”

The attorneys general also ignored the fact that Article 33 of the UN Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”  However, Israel – with strong bipartisan U.S. support – had refused to even meet with Hamas to negotiate a long-term ceasefire, which Hamas had offered prior to the breakdown of the six-month lull in return for a lift in the Israeli siege of the enclave.

The letter correctly accuses Hamas, which had lobbed rockets into civilian-populated areas in southwestern Israel, of violating Article 48 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1948, which states: “Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

However, the attorneys general refused to acknowledge that Israel had also violated that same provision on a far grander scale. While virtually every human rights organization, intergovernmental organization, and international legal authority that researched this recent conflict recognizes both Hamas and Israel were guilty of war crimes, these attorneys general still insist that Hamas alone was to blame and that Israel’s actions were perfectly legal.

Ignoring the Facts

Human Rights Watch (HRW) – which has been highly critical of Hamas attacks on civilian areas of Israel as well as repression by the Islamist group of Palestinian opponents within the Gaza Strip – reported during the fighting that in using heavy shelling against heavily-populated civilian areas, “Israel is committing indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war.” In a comprehensive report published in March, HRW noted that “Israel’s repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

Similarly, while Amnesty International also “found evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict” and attacks by both sides against civilian areas in which no fighters were present, the attorneys general insisted that the Palestinian side alone was guilty of such illegal actions.

An independent United Nations inquiry documented six major Israeli attacks against UN buildings, including schools in which children were killed, noting that actions by Israeli forces “involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” The report concluded that “no military activity was carried out from within the United Nations premises in any of the incidents.”

Without presenting any evidence to the contrary, the attorneys general categorically rejected such findings, insisting that Israel was engaged only in “a limited and directed action against the source of Hamas’s military acts.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focused on other war crimes, noting how the “Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded,” citing instances in which Israeli forces prevented Red Cross or other medics safe access to assist seriously wounded civilians. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights reported with “certainty” that Israel violated international humanitarian law by attacking medics, damaging medical buildings, engaging in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured. The ICRC declared Israel’s “delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.” In addition, Israel rejected pleas by international humanitarian agencies by closing border crossings days at a time, denying access to food, medical supplies, fuel, and water sanitation equipment. Despite this, the attorneys general instead praised Israel for “allowing the entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

A report by a delegation of prominent U.S. attorneys which visited Gaza Strip soon after the fighting reported that “that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive.” The Israeli press has reported testimony of Israeli soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians under highly permissive rules of engagement that allowed soldiers to kill any Palestinian in certain areas regardless of whether they were armed, and were ordered to intentionally destroy civilian property. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian revealed a series of Israeli missile attacks against clearly distinguishable civilian targets.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Richard Falk, noting Israel’s “unlawful uses of force on a large scale” against Gazan society as a whole, referred to the operation as a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions.” Falk, an American Jew and emeritus professor at Princeton University who is arguably the country’s preeminent international legal scholar, also noted the illegality of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, but stressed that Israeli airstrikes “were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world.”

Ignoring such evidence, the attorneys general insisted that Israel was directing its artillery, bombings and missile attacks only towards “the source of Hamas’s military attacks” and the Israeli government should therefore not be held responsible for any military action which harmed Palestinian civilians because they did so “unintentionally.”

Defending Mass Killings of Civilians

These attorneys general try to absolve Israel of any responsibility of the hundreds of civilian deaths by accusing Hamas of “using these civilians as human shields.” They provide no evidence for this charge, however, save for a quote from the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

Independent human rights groups have accused Hamas of less-severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positioned fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this isn’t the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields. Furthermore, the nature of urban warfare, particularly in a territory as densely populated as the Gaza Strip, makes the proximity of retreating fighters and their equipment to civilians unavoidable in many cases.

Even if Hamas were using human shields in the legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve Israel from its obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Amnesty International has noted that the Geneva Conventions make it clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

To argue otherwise, as do these attorneys general, is a dangerous legal position for the chief law enforcement official of a state to take, such as ordering their state police to kill innocent people in a hostage situation. By this logic, if a botched bank robbery led the would-be robbers to hold bank employees and customers at gunpoint, these attorneys general could then order state patrolmen to kill the gunmen and hostages alike, defending their action on the grounds that the bad guys were using “human shields.”

Denying Political Reality

It’s not just this flawed legal reasoning that underscores how this initiative by these attorneys general was based not upon a legitimate interpretation of law but for narrow ideological purposes. They reveal their political prejudices in their insistence in the letter to Clinton in claiming that “Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005″ but that the Palestinians failed to establish “a flourishing independent state.” In reality, despite the removal of illegal Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of occupation forces from that crowded urban enclave, Israel has maintained sole control over Gaza Strip’s airspace and territorial waters, thereby prohibiting movement of people and goods by land and sea, as well as largely controlling the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. Effectively preventing any exports or imports, except for occasional humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed and, even prior to the war, the territory was experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis. Since Israel’s “withdrawal,” the Israeli government has also controlled the Gaza Strip’s electricity, water and telecommunications and has periodically engaged in air strikes and armed incursions into the enclave, murdering and kidnapping suspected militants. No people could reasonably be expected to establish “a flourishing independent state” under such circumstances. Furthermore, in maintaining their siege on the enclave, Israel legally remains the occupying power.

The attorneys general go on to accuse Hamas of taking advantage of Israel’s “withdrawal” to “cause a civil war with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a coup d’etat in 2007.” However, while Hamas is indeed guilty of innumerable political intrigues and inexcusable violence towards its Palestinian opponents, this is a gross misrepresentation of recent history: Rather than making war against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas was part of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, they controlled the legislative branch of government as well as the post of prime minister and most other ministries as a result of winning the plurality of the vote in parliamentary elections in January 2006. The following year, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which still controlled the presidency. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce the agreement, dismiss the entire government and abolish parliament.

The Bush administration then began secretly arming Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and pushing Fatah to stage a coup. This is what led Hamas to launch a countercoup by overrunning Fatah offices and taking full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Alvaro de Soto, former UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier that year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence…[I]t means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Though all this has been well-documented and is widely known in both Israel and Palestine, this bipartisan group of attorneys general has instead sought to defend the Bush administration’s provocative and illegal intervention by putting the entire blame on Hamas.

This letter to the Secretary of State was put together by a right-wing group calling itself the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), which boasts that the organization has sent 42 states attorney general to Israel in the past 21 years.  It refers to the letter as “a strong rejoinder to those who have castigated Israel over its role in Gaza and used it in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State.”

Dangerous Precedent

The Bush administration strongly supported Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip as an extension of its “war on terror.” It was in the name of this “war on terror” that President George W. Bush shamelessly politicized the U.S. Justice Department to justify spying on nonviolent dissidents at home and the torture of suspects abroad. Now we have a bipartisan group of state attorneys general who have shown themselves similarly willing to politicize their offices by putting forward twisted and perverse interpretations of the law in the name of fighting terrorism. Unless these rogue attorneys general are challenged by elected officials and ordinary citizens in their respective states for their signing on to such a reckless statement, it could mark a dangerous precedent regarding respect for human rights and the rule of law.
© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

Israel troops admit Gaza abuses March 19, 2009

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BBC News, www.newsbbc.co.uk, March 19, 2009

 

Israel special forces during Gaza conflict

Israel frequently claims to possess the most moral army in the world

An Israeli military college has printed damning soldiers’ accounts of the killing of civilians and vandalism during recent operations in Gaza.

One account tells of a sniper killing a mother and children at close range whom troops had told to leave their home.

Another speaker at the seminar described what he saw as the “cold blooded murder” of a Palestinian woman.

The army has defended its conduct during the Gaza offensive but said it would investigate the testimonies.

The Israeli army has said it will investigate the soldiers’ accounts.

The testimonies were published by the military academy at Oranim College. Graduates of the academy, who had served in Gaza, were speaking to new recruits at a seminar.

“[The testimonies] conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians,” academy director Dany Zamir told public radio.

Heavy civilian casualties during the three-week operation which ended in the blockaded coastal strip on 18 January provoked an international outcry.

Correspondents say the testimonies undermine Israel’s claims that troops took care to protect non-combatants and accusations that Hamas militants were responsible for putting civilians into harm’s way.

‘Less important’

The Palestinian woman and two of her children were allegedly shot after they misunderstood instructions about which way to walk having been ordered out of their home by troops.

“The climate in general… I don’t know how to describe it…. the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, are much, much less important than the lives of our soldiers,” an infantry squad leader is quoted saying.

In another cited case, a commander ordered troops to kill an elderly woman walking on a road, even though she was easily identifiable and clearly not a threat.

Testimonies, which were given by combat pilots and infantry soldiers, also included allegations of unnecessary destruction of Palestinian property.

“We would throw everything out of the windows to make room and order. Everything… Refrigerators, plates, furniture. The order was to throw all of the house’s contents outside,” a soldier said.

One non-commissioned officer related at the seminar that an old woman crossing a main road was shot by soldiers.

“I don’t know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don’t know her story… I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out… It was cold-blooded murder,” he said.

The transcript of the session for the college’s Yitzhak Rabin pre-military course, which was held last month, appeared in a newsletter published by the academy.

Israeli human rights groups have criticised the military for failing to properly investigate violations of the laws of war in Gaza despite plenty of evidence of possible war crimes.

‘Moral army’

The soldiers’ testimonies also reportedly told of an unusually high intervention by military and non-military rabbis, who circulated pamphlets describing the war in religious terminology.

A wounded Palestinian child is carried into the Kamal Adwan hospital after an Israeli air strike on 11 January 2009

Palestinian civilians paid a heavy price during the three-week Israeli operation

“All the articles had one clear message,” one soldier said. “We are the people of Israel, we arrived in the country almost by miracle, now we need to fight to uproot the gentiles who interfere with re-conquering the Holy Land.”

“Many soldiers’ feelings were that this was a war of religion,” he added.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that the findings would be examined seriously.

“I still say we have the most moral army in the world. Of course there may be exceptions but I have absolutely no doubt this will be inspected on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Medical authorities say more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s 22-day operation, including some 440 children, 110 women, and dozens of elderly people.

The stated aim was to curb rocket and mortar fire by militants from Gaza. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians were killed.

Will Israel’s Leaders Be Charged With War Crimes? January 26, 2009

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 Jonathan Cook, AlterNet. Posted January 26, 2009.

Israeli officials are frantically trying to forestall legal actions from abroad

Mounting fear in Israel that the country’s leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

The urgency was underlined after rumors last week that Belgian authorities might arrest Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, if she attended a summit of European counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday. In an indication of how seriously the matter is judged, Ms Livni’s advisers were on the verge of cancelling her trip when the story was revealed to be a hoax.

Nonetheless, officials are braced for real attempts to arrest senior political and military figures following a warning from the country’s chief law officer, Menachem Mazuz, that Israel will soon face “a wave of international lawsuits”.

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law,” he said during the final stages of fighting.

Since they gained entry to the tiny enclave after a ceasefire declared a week ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice. The two human-rights organizations have censured Israel over its failure to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and combatants as well as its use of controversial weapons.

There is incontrovertible evidence, both groups say, that Israel fired white phosphorus shells over Gaza, despite its banned use in civilian areas, setting homes on fire and burning civilians caught under the shower of phosphorus.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, has also lambasted Israel for using high-explosive shells in built-up areas of Gaza, even though the artillery has a blast range of up to 300 meters.

Initial indications suggest that the army may have resorted also to an experimental weapon — dense inert metal explosive, or Dime — that severs limbs and ruptures the internal organs of anyone close to the blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, is investigating claims forwarded by Saudi Arabia that depleted uranium shells were used in Gaza.

In addition, human-rights groups have begun documenting instances of the Israeli army’s targeting of civilian buildings, including UN schools, and of soldiers taking Palestinian civilians as human shields.

A senior Israeli official told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: “As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era.”

In a further sign of concern, an unnamed government minister was quoted last week as saying: “When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague” — a reference to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands that tries war crimes.

Over the past week about 300 human-rights organizations have jointly prepared a 37-page dossier of evidence to be presented to the court.

According to legal experts, it will be difficult to try Israel at the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome statute governing the court’s jurisdiction and function. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to the ones set up to deal with war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia may be an option. The ICC might also try to pursue individual Israeli commanders for war crimes.

A more pressing concern for Israel is that human-rights activists in Europe could use local “universal jurisdiction” legislation to initiate war crimes trials in their domestic courts against Israeli leaders.

Such actions have been launched before, most notably in 2005 when Doron Almog, the former Israeli commander in Gaza, avoided being arrested in the United Kingdom only after he was warned to remain seated in a plane after his arrival at Heathrow airport. Major Gen Almog had overseen the demolition of hundreds of homes in Gaza three years earlier.

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched a website (www.wanted.org.il) — “outing” those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

Offering photographs and information about each official’s alleged offence, the site provides contact details for the ICC and tells visitors to alert the court when “the suspect is outside of Israel’s borders”.

To avert the danger of arrests for war crimes, IsraeI hurriedly initiated a series of moves to protect its leaders. A special task force, overseen by the prime minister’s office, will convene in the next few days to start building a defence for army commanders.

The Israeli media suggested experts on international law would seek to compile evidence that Hamas stockpiled weapons in civilian buildings, and that the army went to great efforts to warn residents to flee before bombing areas.

The military censor is excising from media reports all identifying information about senior officers involved in the Gaza operation, and officers who wish to travel abroad will be required first to seek the advice of military officials.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Change Gaza Can Believe In: Tearing Up Washington’s Middle East Playbook January 22, 2009

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palestinian-child-in-pain1Palestinian Rawan Abu Taber, 4, wounded during the Israeli military operations, screams in pain as doctors change bandages to her severe burns.

22 January 2009,  www.truthout.org

by: Tony Karon, TomDispatch.com

Lest President Barack Obama’s opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. “I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

    Residents of Gaza might have wondered what Obama would have done had he been unfortunate enough to be a resident of, say, Jabaliya refugee camp. What if, like the vast majority of Gazans, his grandfather had been driven from his home in what is now Israel, and barred by virtue of his ethnicity from ever returning? What if, like the majority of the residents of this refugee ghetto-by-the-sea, he had voted for Hamas, which had vowed to fight for his rights and was not corrupt like the Fatah strongmen with whom the Israelis and Americans liked to deal?

    And what if, as a result of that vote, he had found himself under an economic siege, whose explicit purpose was to inflict deprivation in order to force him to reverse his democratic choice? What might a Gazan Obama have made of the statement, soon after that election, by Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel’s blockade would put him and his family “on [a] diet”?

    “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner,” Weissglass had chortled, “but [they] won’t die.”

    Starting last June, the Sderot Obama would have noticed that, as a result of a truce brokered by Egypt, the rocket fire from Gaza had largely ceased. For the Jabaliya Obama, however, the “Weissglass Diet” remained in place. Even before Israel’s recent offensive, the Red Cross had reported that almost half the children under two in Gaza were anemic due to their parents’ inability to feed them properly.

    Who knows what the Jabaliya Obama would have made of the Hamas rockets that, in November, once again began flying overhead toward Israel, as Hamas sought to break the siege by creating a crisis that would lead to a new ceasefire under better terms. He might well have had misgivings, but he would also have had plenty of reason to hope for the success of the Hamas strategy.

    Ever committed to regime change in Gaza, Israel, however, showed no interest in a new ceasefire. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News, “Expecting us to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda.” (Barak apparently assumed Americans would overlook the fact that he had, indeed, been party to just such a ceasefire since June 2008, and looks set to be party to another now that the Gaza operation is over.)

    A canny Sderot Obama would have been all too aware that Israel’s leaders need his vote in next month’s elections and hope to win it by showing how tough they can be on the Gazans. Then again, a Sderot Obama might not have been thinking much beyond his immediate anger and fear – and would certainly have been unlikely to try to see the regional picture through the eyes of the Jabaliya Obama.

    Nonetheless, not all Israelis were as sanguine about the Israeli offensive as the Sderot Obama appears to have been. “What luck my parents are dead,” wrote the Israeli journalist Amira Hass in Haaretz. Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, her mother and father had long hated the Orwellian twists of language in which Israeli authorities couched their military actions against Palestinians.

“My parents despised all their everyday activities – stirring sugar into coffee, washing the dishes, standing at a crosswalk – when in their mind’s eye they saw, based on their personal experience, the terror in the eyes of children, the desperation of mothers who could not protect their young ones, the moment when a huge explosion dropped a house on top of its inhabitants and a smart bomb struck down entire families …

“Because of my parents’ history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area…. How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States… My parents’ personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum.”

    The passions of the crowd may have been satisfied. Or not. Certainly, Israel’s three-week-long military operation appears to have done little more than reestablish the country’s “deterrent” – quantified in the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths.

    Hamas remains intact, as does the bulk of its fighting force. And if, as appears likely, a new truce provides for a lifting, however partial, of the economic siege of Gaza, and also for the reintegration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority – which would be a blunt repudiation of three years of U.S. and Israeli efforts – the organization will claim victory, even if the Obamas of Jabaliya refugee camp, now possibly without homes, wonder at what cost.

    If President Barack Obama is to have any positive impact on this morbid cycle of destruction and death, he must be able to understand the experience of Jabaliya just as much as he does the experience of Sderot. Curiously enough, he might be helped in that endeavor by none other than the man who directed Israel’s latest operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Asked by a journalist during his successful 1999 campaign for prime minister what he’d have done if he’d been born Palestinian, Barak answered simply and bluntly: “I’d have joined a terrorist organization.”

    Obama’s Gaza Opportunity

    The catastrophe in Gaza has, counterintuitively enough, presented President Barack Obama with an opportunity to restart the peace process – precisely because it has demonstrated the catastrophic failure of the approach adopted by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the raft of domestic and economic challenges facing the 44th President may tempt Obama to keep many Bush foreign policies on autopilot for now.

    The plan brokered by the Bush administration in its last months for an American withdrawal from Iraq will, for instance, probably remain largely in effect; Obama will actually double the troop commitment to Afghanistan; and on Iran, Obama’s idea of direct talks may not prove that radical a departure from the most recent version of the Bush approach – at least if the purpose of such talks is simply to have U.S. diplomats present a warmed over version of the carrot-and-stick ultimatums on uranium enrichment that have been on offer, via the Europeans, for the past three years.

    As Gaza has clearly demonstrated, however, continuing the Bush policy on Israel and the Palestinians is untenable. The Bush administration may have talked of a Palestinian state, but it had limited itself to orchestrating a series of cozy chats between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at creating the illusion of a “process.”

    There was no real process, not in the sense that the term is commonly understood, anyway – reciprocal steps by the combatant parties to disengage and move towards a settlement that changes political boundaries and power arrangements. But the illusion of progress was a necessary part of the administration’s policy of dividing the Middle East on Cold War-type lines in a supposedly epic struggle between “moderates” and “radicals.”

    The “moderates” included Israel, Abbas, and the regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States. The radicals were Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah, intractable enemies of peace, democracy, and stability.

    Democracy?! Yes, the chutzpah of Bush and his people was legendary – after all, Hamas and Hizballah had been democratically elected, which is more than you could say for the Arab “moderates” they championed. Even Iran holds elections more competitive than any in Egypt.

    Adding to the irony, Abbas’s term of office as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has now expired, but you can bet your Obama inauguration souvenir program that he won’t be required by Washington to seek a new mandate from the voters; indeed, it’s doubtful that the Israelis would allow another Palestinian election in the West Bank, which they essentially control.

    Ongoing peace talks with Palestinian “moderates,” no matter how fruitless, provided important cover for Arab regimes who wanted to stand with the U.S. and Israel on the question of Iran’s growing power and influence. But there could, of course, be no talks with the “radicals,” even if those radicals were more representative than the “moderates.” (Sure, Egypt’s Mubarak stands with Israel against Hamas, but that’s because Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which might well trounce Mubarak if Egypt held free and fair elections.)

    Thus, Washington chose to ignore the opportunity that Hamas’s historic 2006 decision to contest the Palestinian Authority legislative election offered. The organization had previously boycotted the institutions of the PA as the illegitimate progeny of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which they had rejected. Caught off-guard when the Palestinian electorate then repudiated Washington’s chosen “moderate” regime, the U.S. responded by imposing sanctions on the new Palestinian government, while pressuring the Europeans and Arab regimes on whose funding the PA depended to do the same. These sanctions eventually grew into a siege of Gaza.

    The financial blockade would continue, the U.S. and its allies insisted, until Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and bound itself to previous agreements. Exactly the same three preconditions for engaging Hamas were recently reiterated by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearings.

    A Failed Doctrine

    The Gaza debacle has made one thing perfectly clear: any peace process that seeks to marginalize, not integrate, Hamas is doomed to fail – and with catastrophic consequences. That’s why the position outlined by Obama’s Secretary of State-designate is dysfunctional at birth, because it repeats the mistake of trying to marginalize Hamas. For its part, Hamas officials have sent a number of signals in recent years indicating the organization’s willingness to move in a pragmatic direction. Its leaders wouldn’t bother to regularly explain their views in the op-ed pages of American newspapers if they did not believe a different relationship with the U.S. – and so Israel – was possible.

    For the new Obama administration reinforcing and, as they say in Washington, incentivizing the pragmatic track in Hamas is the key to reviving the region’s prospects for peace.

    Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results. Renouncing violence was never a precondition for talks between South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s ANC, or Britain and the Irish Republican Army. Indeed, Israel’s talks with the PLO began long before it had publicly renounced violence.

    “Recognizing” Israel is difficult for Palestinians because, in doing so, they are also being asked to renounce the claims of refugee families to the land and homes they were forced out of in 1948 and were barred from recovering by one of the founding acts of the State of Israel. For an organization such as Hamas, such recognition could never be a precondition to negotiations, only the result of them (and then with some reciprocal recognition of the rights of the refugees).

    Hamas’s decision to engage the election process created by Oslo was, in fact, a pragmatic decision opposed by hardliners in its own ranks. Doing so bound it to engage with the Israelis and also to observe agreements under which those electoral institutions were established (as Hamas mayors on the West Bank had already learned). In fact, Hamas made clear that it was committed to good governance and consensus, and recognized Abbas as president, which also meant explicitly recognizing his right to continue negotiating with the Israelis.

    Hamas agreed to abide by any accord approved by the Palestinians in a democratic referendum. By 2007, key leaders of the organization had even begun talking of accepting a Palestinian state based on a return to 1967 borders in a swap for a generational truce with Israel.

    Hamas’s move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region’s politics in favor of chosen “moderates.” So, in 2006, the U.S. immediately slapped sanctions on the new government, seeking to reverse the results of the Palestinian election through collective punishment of the electorate. The U.S. also blocked Saudi efforts to broker a Palestinian government of national unity by warning that Abbas would be shunned by the U.S. and Israel if he opted for rapprochement with the majority party in his legislature. Washington appears to have even backed a coup attempt by U.S.-trained, Fatah-controlled militia in Gaza, which resulted in Fatah’s bloody expulsion from there in the summer of 2007.

    The failed U.S.-Israeli strategy of trying to depose Hamas reached its nadir in the pre-inauguration bloodbath in Gaza, which not only reinforced Hamas politically, but actually weakened those anointed as “moderates” as part of a counterinsurgency strategy against Hamas and its support base.

    It is in America’s interest, and Israel’s, and the Palestinians’ that Obama intervene quickly in the Middle East, but that he do so on a dramatically different basis than that of his two immediate predecessors.

    Peace is made between the combatants of any conflict; “peace” with only chosen “moderates” is an exercise in redundancy and pointlessness. The challenge in the region is to promote moderation and pragmatism among the political forces that speak for all sides, especially the representative radicals.

    And speaking of radicals and extremists, there’s palpable denial, bordering on amnesia, when it comes to Israel’s rejectionists. Ariel Sharon explicitly rejected the Oslo peace process, declaring it null and void shortly after assuming power. Instead, he negotiated only with Washington over unilateral Israeli moves.

    Ever since, Israeli politics has been moving steadily rightward, with the winner in next month’s elections expected to be the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, he will govern in a coalition with far-right rejectionists and advocates of “ethnic cleansing.” Netanyahu even rejected Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza pullout plan, and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in sustaining the illusion of talks over a “final status” agreement, even with Washington’s chosen “moderates.”

    Israelis, by all accounts, have generally given up on the idea of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon, and for the foreseeable future, no Israeli government will willingly undertake the large-scale evacuation of the West Bank settlers, essential to any two-state solution but likely to provoke an Israeli civil war.

    This political situation should serve as a warning to Obama and his people to avoid the pitfalls of the Clinton administration’s approach to brokering Middle East peace. Clinton’s basic guideline was that the pace and content of the peace process should be decided by Israel’s leaders, and that nothing should ever be put on the negotiating table that had not first been approved by them. Restricting the peace process to proposals that fall within the comfort zone only of the Israeli government is the diplomatic equivalent of allowing investment banks to regulate themselves – and we all know where that landed us.

    It is fanciful, today, to believe that, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians will agree on where to set the border between them, on how to share Jerusalem, or on the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements. A two-state solution, if one is to be achieved, will have to be imposed by the international community, based on a consensus that already exists in international law (UN Resolutions 242 and 338), the Arab League peace proposals, and the Taba non-paper that documented the last formal final-status talks between the two sides in January 2001.

    Had Barack Obama taken office in a moment of relative tranquility in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian relationship, he might have had the luxury of putting it on the backburner. Indeed, any move to change the Bush approach might have been challenged as unnecessarily risky and disruptive.

    In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own. Hopefully, it will be one rooted in the pragmatism for which the new President is renowned.

    ——-

    Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes the Middle East and other international conflicts. He also runs his own website, Rootless Cosmopolitan.

1000 Words January 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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palestinian-child-in-painAP Photo

Palestinian Rawan Abu Taber, 4, wounded during the Israeli military operations, screams in pain as doctors change bandages to her severe burns.

Hundereds of children murdered, thousands woulded by Israeli military under the disgraceful leadership of  Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni.  Punished because some of their parents voted for Hamas.  By any definition, this is a war crime.

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