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Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

By M. Shahid AlamDissident Voice

It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.

The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.

Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.

That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.

Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.

How did the Taliban stage this comeback?

Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.

The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.

In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.

There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.

Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?

What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.

What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.

Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.

Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.

Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.

Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.

It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.

More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.

In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.

No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.

The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?

Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.

US offered Rigi ‘extensive aid’ for Iran attacks

Press TV

US promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran

The captured ringleader of the Jundallah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, has confessed that the US administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The following is the detailed transcript of Rigi’s confession, stated in Farsi, as broadcasted on Press TV.

“After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.They met us after clashes with my group around March 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the US operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting.”

“I said we didn’t have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran.”

“They asked to meet me and we said where should we meet you and he said in Dubai. We sent someone to Dubai and we told a person to ask a place for myself in Afghanistan from the area near the operations and they complied that they would sort out the problem for us and they will find Mr. Rigi a base and guarantee his own security in Afghanistan or in any of the countries adjacent to Iran so that he can carry on his operations.

“They told me that in Kyrgyzstan they have a base called Manas near Bishkek, and that a high-ranking person was coming to meet me and that if such high-ranking people come to the United Arab Emirates, they may be observed by intelligence people but in a place like Bishkek this high-ranking American person could come and we could reach an agreement on making personal contacts. But after the last major operation we took part in, they said that they wanted to meet with us.

“The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran. We don’t have a military plan against Iran. Attacking Iran is very difficult for us (the US). The CIA is very particular about you and is prepared to do anything for you because our government has reached the conclusion that there was nothing Americans could do about Iran and only I could take care of the operations for them.

“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system. They reached the conclusion that your organization has the power to create difficulties for the Islamic Republic and they are prepared to give you training and/or any assistance that you would require, in terms of telecommunications security and procedures as well as other support, the Americans said they would be willing to provide it at an extensive level.”

Iran’s security forces arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over the Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan.

The Iraq Withdrawal: Obama vs. the Pentagon

By Raed JarrarCommon Dreams

Obama should not forget that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and should stand up to the Pentagon

This Monday, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, asked officials in DC to approve contingency plans to delay the withdrawal of US combat forces. The next day, the New York times published an op-ed asking president Obama to delay the US withdrawal and keep some tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Both the Pentagon and NY times article argue that prolonging the occupation is for Iraq’s own good. According to these latest attempts to prolong the occupation, if the US were to leave Iraqis alone the sky would fall, a genocidal civil war will erupt, and Iran will takeover their nation and rip it apart.

Excuses to prolong the military intervention in Iraq have been changing since 1990. Whether is was liberating Kuwait, protecting the region from Iraq, protecting the world from Iraq’s WMDs, punishing Iraq for its role in the 9/11 attacks, finding Saddam Hussien and his sons, fighting the Baathists and Al-Qaeda, or the other dozens of stories the U.S. government never ran out of reasons to justify a continuous intervention in Iraq. Under President Bush, the withdrawal plan was linked to conditions on the ground, and had no fixed deadlines. Bush only promise what that “as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”. But Iraqis never managed to stand up, and the US never had to stand down.

Obama came with a completely different doctrine that thankfully makes prolonging the occupation harder than just making up a new lame excuse. He has promised on the campaign trail to withdraw all combat troops by August 31st of this year bringing the total number of US troops down to less than 50,000. Obama has also announced repeatedly that he will abide by the binding bi-lateral agreement between the two governments that requires all the US troops and contractors to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 without leaving any military bases behind. Both these promises are time-based, and not linked to the conditions on the ground. In addition, President Obama announced last week his intention to call an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom by August 31st, and to start the new non-combat mission as of September 1st this. The new mission, renamed “Operation New Dawn”, should end by December 31st 2011 with the last US soldier and contractor out of Iraq.

Conditions on the ground in Iraq are horrible. After seven years under the US occupation, Iraqis are still without water, electricity, education, or health care. Iran’s intervention and control of the Iraqi government stays at unprecedented levels. Iraq’s armed forces are still infiltrated by the militias and controlled by political parties. But so far, the Obama administration has not attempted to use any of these facts as a reason to change the combat forces withdrawal plan, or to ask the Iraqi government to renegotiate the bi-lateral security agreement. This week’s calls to prolong the occupation are surprising because they expose a conflict between the Pentagon on the one hand and the White House and Congress on the other hand. In fact, the executive and legislative branches in both the US and Iraq seem to be in agreement about implementing the time-based withdrawal, but the Pentagon is disagreeing with them all.

Obama should not forget that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and should stand up to the Pentagon. Iraq is broken, but the US military occupation is not a part of the solution. We cannot fix what the military occupation has damaged by prolonging it, neither can we help Iraqis build a democratic system by occupying them. We cannot protect Iraqis from other interventions by continuing our own. The first step in helping Iraqis work for a better future is sticking to the time-based withdrawal plan that Obama has promised and the two governments have agreed upon. President Obama should send a clear message to the Iraqi people to confirm that he is going to fulfill his promises and abide by the binding security agreement with Iraq, and this message must also be clear to the American people in this pivotal elections year.

New twist in Iran’s nuclear brinkmanship

By Kaveh AfrasiabiAsia Times

As Iran celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there are rays of hope that the dark clouds of a more intensified nuclear crisis may be disappearing

It is possible that by giving the go-ahead for the production of 20% enriched uranium, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has sufficiently jolted the other side to rethink its approach on the nuclear fuel-swap deal.

On the surface, Iran’s decision has raised alarm bells in the West and has provoked a strong response from United States President Barack Obama, who has warned that his administration is “developing a significant regime of sanctions” to impose on Iran.

Even Moscow has expressed its displeasure, in the form of a statement by a Foreign Ministry official, which said, “We are disappointed with the Iranian step, which did not allow diplomats to agree on mutually acceptable ways for the fulfillment of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] proposal of higher-enriched uranium fuel production for the Tehran research reactor outside Iran.”

Under a proposal put forward by the IAEA last year, Iran would hand over its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be further processed in another country before being returned for use at the Tehran reactor. On February 2, after much flip-flopping, Iran said it was now ready to send its LEU abroad. Then, on February 7, Iran announced it would itself begin enriching uranium to 20%, while saying it was still open to discussing the original proposal.

This has heightened concerns that Iran aims to build nuclear weapons, something it has consistently denied.

However, not all hope is lost for the IAEA-proposed deal, and there are emerging signs of growing activity on both sides to come to some sort of mutually satisfactory agreement.

On Iran’s part, various officials from the Atomic Energy Organization (AEO) to the Foreign Ministry have repeatedly stated that Iran is still open to the swap deal. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEO, told the Tehran daily Iran that the government was willing to suspend production of 20% uranium if there were an exchange “without preconditions” of Iran’s 3.5% LEU in return for nuclear fuel rods. According to Salehi, Iran’s LEU could be “sealed and put under the custody” of the IAEA until it received the fuel it needed for the medical research reactor.

The news from Washington on the other hand indicates that the US is now working on a new proposal aimed at salvaging the nuclear deal that was unveiled last October in Geneva. This focuses on procuring medical isotopes for Iran from the international market. An administration official told the Washington Post, “Rather than operate a reactor, this would be a more cost-effective and efficient approach.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however, and some US nuclear experts have openly admitted that Iran’s home production of key ingredients (eg technetium 99) would be less costly and more efficient. (See Dangerous steps in Iran’s nuclear dance Asia Times Online, February 9, 2010).

That aside, the problem with the US’s new approach is that it apparently seeks to make the reactor redundant by the promise of delivering the reactor’s net products. That will not wash with the Iranians, who have had an earful of unfulfilled promises over the past 30 years.

Instead, what may work to everyone’s advantage is a “mixed approach”, whereby the fuel swap under set timelines and delivery of medical isotopes to Iran would be the central elements of an agreement according to which Iran would refrain from engaging in enrichment activities deemed “highly dangerous” by the West.

“It’s Iran’s version of nuclear brinksmanship,” said a Tehran foreign policy expert. “The message from Tehran is clear: take our counter-proposal seriously or face the consequence of Iran taking a giant step closer to the ‘nuclear-capable’ threshold … There is cause for a pause on the part of Washington and London in their unreasonable rejection of Iran’s proposal.”

If a deal is worked out and a modified version of the IAEA proposal accepted, it would represent a unique victory for Iran’s nuclear diplomacy, combining “soft” and “hard” power to elicit a favorable response from the “Iran Six” nations, ie the US, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany. These countries have engaged in nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past several years.

Also, if there were a breakthrough, it would frustrate some of the hardline voices in Iran that argue in favor of Iran “deepening its nuclear capability”. To silence such voices and to agree to limit Iran’s enrichment activities to low levels (below 5%), Iran’s top decision-makers would have to show that they had struck the right bargain without selling themselves short.

As Iran celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Thursday, with people expected to take to the streets in their thousands across the country – although some will be protesting against the current government – there are rays of hope that the dark clouds of a more intensified nuclear crisis may be disappearing.

The Biased US Broker in the Middle East

By Khalid AmayrehIslam Online

Ariel Sharon: “We control the United States, and the Americans know it.”

Ever since the ill-fated Rogers Plan, proposed and named after former US secretary of state William Rogers in 1969, every American administration made ostensibly exhaustive efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, all these efforts failed miserably, apparently due to Israel’s adamant refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 War.

Another key reason behind the failure of the US peace diplomacy in the Middle East is the US reluctance and consistent refusal to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to abide by international law, which further emboldened Israel and made the Jewish state bask undisturbed in its rejectionism and arrogance of power.

In 1969, Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister, who displayed characteristic Zionist arrogance, as well as profound pathological hatred of Arabs, flatly rejected the Rogers Plan, describing it as a “disaster” for Israel and saying that “it would be irresponsible for any Israeli government to support such a plan.”

In1969, Israel’s cabinet formally rejected the plan, and in 1970, 70 American senators and 280 representatives rejected the plan as “being too one-sided against Israel.”

That was 40 years ago; today, the Obama administration is regurgitating more or less the same ideas, centering on the concept of the land-for-peace formula. Other US administrations under presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush employed the same ideas in formulating their respective Middle East initiatives, but to no avail.

During these decades, Israel heavily employed diversionary tactics to distract attention from real issues. It used issues such as Arab non-recognition of Israel, Arab refusal to sit down with Israel at the negotiating table, and later the issue of “terror,” a reference to Arab resistance to Israel’s ruthless and cruel aggressions against Arab civilians in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as inside the occupied Palestine.

In addition, successive Israeli governments used the time to create facts on the ground, namely building hundreds of Jewish colonies and transferring hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens to live on an occupied land belonging to another people.

The United States was closely monitoring all these developments, but refused to take any pro-active step against Israel, despite the latter’s brazen violations of international law, including America’s own laws such as the prohibition of the use of American-supplied weapons against civilians.

Why?

Israel is a small country with a population of six million, while the United States is the world’s remaining super power, with a population exceeding 300 million people. Moreover, Israel relies on the United States for acquiring state-of-the-art American military technology, which enables Israel to maintain a manifestly arrogant stand vis-à-vis the Arab world, as well as clear defiance of international law, including the United Nations and its Security Council.

Therefore, at the face value, one would think that the United States, not Israel, should be in a natural position to pressure, even coerce Israel, to heed the American will.

The truth, however, is that Israel has been in a position to pressure, even coerce, every American administration since president Eisenhower effectively ordered Israel in November, 1956 to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, following the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt.

Even today, it is amply clear that President Obama is more concerned about Israeli (Jewish) pressure on his administration than Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is concerned about the possible US pressure on Israel.

This fact allows Netanyahu to successfully challenge and defy the Obama administration on the issue of settlement expansion, effectively forcing the American president to admit that he had underestimated the obstacles impeding a possible peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians.

The unique Israeli predominance over American politics and policies is not new. It goes back to the very birth of Israel when American Jewish circles used their financial leverage and political influence to get president Truman to recognize Israel against recommendations to the contrary by the state department.

Over the years, Israel and its powerful allies at the American arena successfully consolidated and virtually perpetuated Israeli predominance over US politics. The Israeli penetration of American politics has been meticulously documented by such American intellectuals, such as Alfred Lilienthal, who in 1978 wrote his masterpiece reference “The Zionist Connection: What Price peace; and Paul Fiendly who wrote “They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby.”

More recently, J J Mearsheimer and S W Walt jointly wrote The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy , which, using meticulous documentation, exposed Israel’s disproportionate influence on the US foreign policy.

Unbreakable Israeli-US Bond!

In fact, thanks to this disproportionate influence, the Octopus-like Israeli-American lobby, which tightly controls the Congress, was able to obtain long-standing commitments from the United States that no other country in the world would ever receive.

These include the following:

First, the United States committed itself to Israel’s survival and security, irrespective of Israeli behavior. This iron-clad commitment is routinely and almost ritualistically repeated by every new administration and by almost every American official visiting Israel. Again, this commitment is an independent variable, a constant that is not subject to other variables. In short, United States is with Israel all along, whether aggressor or victim.

Second, the United States is committed to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in terms of its military and strategic capabilities over all Arab states combined and other Israel’s potential enemies. This is also a constant American foreign policy not subjected to the modes of Israeli behavior. This explains the visibly aggressive American efforts against the Iranian nuclear program, although there is no unequivocal evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

In this context, the United States imposed harsh sanctions against Libya until the North African state was bullied to dismantle its nuclear program and ship its components to the United States. All of this happened while Israel continued to maintain a large nuclear arsenal made up of hundreds of nuclear bombs and warheads.

Third, there is a long-standing American-Israeli understanding, according to which the United States would nearly unconditionally support and back Israeli diplomatically whether at the United Nations or the world at large. The United States used its veto power rather liberally to shield Israel from international condemnation, even when Israel was manifestly the aggressor party.

Hence, Israel effectively has nothing to worry about in terms of the military, political,and diplomatic ramifications and repercussions of its behavior in the Middle East.

This is why Israel has been able to annex and Judaize East Al-Quds (Jerusalem), build hundreds of Jewish-only colonies, and demolish tens of thousands of Arab homes throughout occupied Palestine, with nearly total impunity, thanks to this more or less total American commitment to the Jewish state.

In 2006, the Israeli air force dropped perhaps two million cluster bomblets over Lebanon, enough to kill or maim two million children. In 2008-2009, Israel committed a virtual genocide against the thoroughly starved and thoroughly-beleaguered inhabitants of Gaza, killing and maiming thousands of civilians and utterly destroying thousands of homes, schools, mosques, and other civilian infrastructure.

Tel Aviv Controls Washington?

Far from denouncing Israel’s violence and Nazi-like brutality, both the lame-duck Bush administration and the succeeding Obama administration watched the grisly massacres as if they were taking place on a different plant.

It was rumored a few years ago that the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a certified war criminal by any standard of honesty and fairness, told Shimon Peres, who reportedly objected to Israeli measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that he (Peres) should never worry about American pressure on Israel.

Sharon told him, “We control the United States, and the Americans know it.”

Israeli circles long denied the authenticity of the statement. However, it is amply clear that Sharon, who is now lying comatose for the fourth year, did not go too far in describing the unique American-Israeli relation.

By now and in the light of more than half a century of “special relations” between Israel and the United States, it should be clear that Israel has been able to impose its will on the US government, regardless of which administration is in power.

In light, it is explicitly futile to expect the Obama administration or any other American administration to force Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians to have a viable state with East Al-Quds as its capital.

The United States has been given more than half a century to resolve the conflict in Palestine in accordance with international law, and the net result has been a gigantic fiasco.

Now, if Mr Obama, who is probably “the last and best shot,” from the Arab vantage point, is brazenly capitulating to Israel, as is clear from his administration’s inability or perhaps unwillingness to force Israel to stop the decades-old process of devouring whatever remains of the West Bank.

It is strikingly stupid to continue to count on his administration to give justice to Palestinians.

This is not to say though that the United States cannot be influenced. It can, but first, Arabs and Muslims must first show some respect for themselves and deal with the United States using the language of mutual interests, not the language of subservience and submission.

In the winter of 1973, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia told then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger that America could not be a true friend to Arabs and Muslims and at the same time continues to embrace Israeli territorial expansion at the expense of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, very few Arab leaders have ever since dared to make the same point to Americans.

To conclude, Palestinians and their supporters must stop chasing the American mirage, because it will not ever produce water. This is why an alternative strategy ought to be sought, preferably one that would make occupied Palestine a Muslim issue first, and a nationalist one second.

Egypt detains Muslim Brotherhood Leaders

Worldwide Religious Network

Thirteen senior members of the Islamist opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been detained.

They include its deputy leader, Mahmoud Ezzat, the organisation says.

The Brotherhood is officially outlawed in Egypt but its members have many seats in parliament, sitting as independents.
A spokesman for the group said the arrests were an attempt by the authorities to thwart its preparations for elections later in the year.

Supporters are routinely arrested.

Charity work

The Brotherhood has been banned from open political activity since 1954, and leading activists are frequently arrested and imprisoned by the authorities.

Despite this, Brotherhood members standing as independent candidates won 20% of the seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005, its best ever result.

In January, the movement named Mohammed Badie, a 66-year-old veterinary professor, as its new leader.

He has said that the Muslim Brotherhood was not an adversary of the Egyptian government and that he would try to avoid confrontation with it.

The Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with charity work.

Time for George Mitchell to resign

By Stephen M. WaltForeign Policy

The administration's early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign. He had a distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate — including a stint as majority leader — and his post-Senate career has been equally accomplished. He was an effective mediator of the conflict in Northern Ireland, helped shepherd the Disney Corporation through a turbulent period, and led an effective investigation of the steroids scandal afflicting major league baseball. Nobody can expect to be universally admired in the United States, but Mitchell may have come as close as any politician in recent memory.

Why should Mitchell step down now? Because he is wasting his time. The administration’s early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade, and if Mitchell continues to pile up frequent-flyer miles in a fruitless effort, he will be remembered as one of a long series of U.S. “mediators” who ended up complicit in Israel’s self-destructive land grab on the West Bank. Mitchell will turn 77 in August, he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and he’s gotten exactly nowhere (or worse) since his mission began. However noble the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace might be, surely he’s got better things to do.

In an interview earlier this week with Time’s Joe Klein, President Obama acknowledged that his early commitment to achieving “two states for two peoples” had failed. In his words, “this is as intractable a problem as you get … Both sides-the Israelis and the Palestinians-have found that the political environments, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that” (my emphasis).

This admission raises an obvious question: who was responsible for this gross miscalculation? It’s not as if the dysfunctional condition of Israeli and Palestinian internal politics was a dark mystery when Obama took office, or when Netanyahu formed the most hard-line government in Israeli history. Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities-and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.

The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas, because genuine progress towards a Palestinian state in the one thing that could strengthen Abbas and other Palestinian moderates and force Hamas to move beyond its talk about a long-term hudna (truce) and accept the idea of permanent peace.

It’s not as if Obama and Co. don’t realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it’s not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there’s every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.

Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.

And please don’t blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.

When Netanyahu dug in his heels and refused a complete settlement freeze — itself a rather innocuous demand if Israel preferred peace to land — did Obama describe the settlements as “illegal” and contrary to international law? Of course not. Did he fire a warning shot by instructing the Department of Justice to crack down on tax-deductible contributions to settler organizations? Nope. Did he tell Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to signal his irritation by curtailing U.S. purchases of Israeli arms, downgrading various forms of “strategic cooperation,” or canceling a military exchange or two? Not a chance. When Israel continued to evict Palestinians from their homes and announced new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August, did Obama remind Netanyahu of his dependence on U.S. support by telling U.S. officials to say a few positive things about the Goldstone Report and to use its release as an opportunity to underscore the need for a genuine peace? Hardly; instead, the administration rewarded Netanyau’s intransigence by condemning Goldstone and praising Netanyahu for “unprecedented” concessions. (The “concessions,” by the way, was an announcement that Israel would freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank “temporarily” while continuing it in East Jerusalem. In other words, they’ll just take the land a bit more slowly).

Like the Clinton and Bush administrations, in short, the idea that the United States ought to use its leverage and exert genuine pressure on Israel remains anathema to Obama, to Mitchell and his advisors, and to all those pundits who are trapped in the Washington consensus on this issue. The main organizations in the Israel lobby are of course dead-set against it — and that goes for J Street as well — even though there is no reason to expect Israel to change course in the absence of countervailing pressure.

Obama blinked — leaving Mitchell with nothing to do-because he needed to keep sixty senators on board with his health care initiative (that worked out well, didn’t it?), because he didn’t want to jeopardize the campaign coffers of the Democratic Party, and because he knew he’d be excoriated by Israel’s false friends in the U.S. media if he did the right thing. I suppose I ought to be grateful to have my thesis vindicated in such striking fashion, but there’s too much human misery involved on both sides to take any consolation in that.

So what will happen now? Israel has made it clear that it is going to keep building settlements — including the large blocs (like Ma’ale Adumim) that were consciously designed to carve up the West Bank and make creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and other moderate forces will be increasingly discredited as collaborators or dupes. As Israel increasingly becomes an apartheid state, its international legitimacy will face a growing challenge. Iran’s ability to exploit the Palestinian cause will be strengthened, and pro-American regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere will be further weakened by their impotence and by their intimate association with the United States. It might even help give al Qaeda a new lease on life, at least in some places. Jews in other countries will continue to distance themselves from an Israel that they see as a poor embodiment of their own values, and one that can no longer portray itself convincingly as “a light unto the nations.” And the real tragedy is that all this might have been avoided, had the leaders of the world’s most powerful country been willing to use their influence on both sides more directly.

Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term “economic peace,” but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society. Over time, there may be another intifada, which the IDF will crush as ruthlessly as it did the last one. Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave — as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust — one of history’s greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 — a great crime of its own.

Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East” will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel’s existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I’ve continued to favor “two states for two peoples” instead.

But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans — who like to think of themselves as a country whose foreign policy reflects deep moral commitments-will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.

The United States will suffer certain consequences as a result-decreased international influence, a somewhat greater risk of anti-American terrorism, tarnished moral reputation, etc.-but it will survive. But Israel may be in the process of drafting its own suicide pact, and its false friends here in the United States have been supplying the paper and ink. By offering his resignation-and insisting that Obama accept it-George Mitchell can escape the onus of complicity in this latest sad chapter of an all-too-familiar story. Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.

US Foreign Policy & Redrawing the Map of the Middle East

Talk by Dr. Azmi Bishara at UC Berkeley after collapse of Baghdad.
Date: 04/11/2003

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

A Wise Strategy by Obama

By Bouthaina ShaabanCounterPunch

What is happening today is a clear disregard to the life and blood of Muslims

In President Obama’s remarks on strengthening aviation intelligence and security in the wake of the incomplete bomb attack on board of an American airplane on Christmas, he pointed out more than once that US intelligence had sufficient information that al-Qaeda-related elements in Yemen intended to strike at the US and they recruited elements to do that. The information was sufficient “to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack. But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list”. He then went on to talk about technical issues related to receiving information, analyzing it and then acting on the priorities, filling gaps and connecting lines from different directions.

In all that, Obama builds his remarks and treatments on two main premises whose veracity he did not question: the first is that somewhere, there are people who hate the United States and recruit people who hate it and plan to strike at its security; and those should be put on a no-fly list. The second remedy is intelligence in the seaports, airports and on the borders, and looking for more sophisticated devices and applying more strict measures against millions of travellers from 14 countries, who should be checked and screened in a manner close to humiliation in American airports.

The dangerous thing is that president Obama repeated president Bush’s words “we are at war with al-Qaeda”. I do not know if president Obama noticed that the number of countries has increased since the days of his predecessor. The war on Afghanistan was a war on al-Qaeda and the war on Iraq was a war on al-Qaeda, until they discovered that al-Qaeda has expanded to Pakistan. And today there is talk that it has expanded to Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and may expand to other countries in the future.

Has the strategy declared by president Bush succeeded in reducing the threat of terrorism or has it spread it more widely? If it increased the spread of terrorism, as is clear from the number of the countries mentioned by the United States in its war with al-Qaeda, does that mean that there are other reasons preventing the success of this strategy, or is it the case that the strategy did not touch the core of the problem or provide the required remedy?

The question which should be put here: why do some people target the United States and recruit others, who have no relation to terrorism, against it? If the prosperity of the United States is the cause, there are other countries competing to be number one in terms of economic growth. Why do not these countries feel targeted like the United States? Nothing in Islam promotes hatred of a certain country or a certain people.

While president Obama was addressing a potential threat, he did not say a word about a cold blooded crime committed on Christmas, when Israel killed six young Palestinians in Nablus and three in Gaza, some of them in front of their wives and children; and they were all unarmed. Neither did he condemn the crimes Israel committed last year in Gaza. He has not heard of the Holocaust survivor and the demonstrators in Western countries who came to support the besieged people of Gaza but were prevented from entering Gaza. Centuries ago, Arabs said that “Justice is the foundation of all government” because the feeling of injustice and humiliation and the disregard for life and dignity will certainly generate anger and discontent. The right approach should be to focus on lifting the injustice resulting from occupation, colonial settlement and war.

How would Muslims feel when they sees one and a half million civilians besieged without food and medicine in a humiliating prison called Gaza and shelled daily by American-made warplanes, prevented from dignified life by Israel with Western support and armament. When Israel’s rulers and generals face trouble because of their crimes, the American veto is used to protect them; and sometimes or laws are changed in order to protect war criminals.

What is happening today is a clear disregard to the life and blood of Muslims, to the extent that crimes committed against them are not covered in Western media; and consequently the West does not really know what is happening in the Arab and Muslim worlds, because its sources come either from those who commit the crimes against them or from their accomplices.

Between the beginning and the middle of the 20th century, the United States was, in the minds of Arabs and Muslims, the land of freedom, human rights, democracy and the free press. That image was the product of president Wilson’s stance when in 1918 he called for an end to colonialism, and of president Eisenhower’s position when he demanded an end to the tripartite aggression (including Britain, France and Israel) against Egypt in 1956, and that of president Kennedy who denounced the wall in Berlin. So, how would the present American presidents fare if compared with such positions?

If president Obama’s remarks assume that there are those who are born to resent the United States, this assumption is wrong. But everybody knows that the United States used its veto more than 36 times in support of Israel so that it continues its crimes against Arabs in Palestine, south Lebanon and Gaza.

Whether some people like it or not, al-Aqsa mosque is the first place Muslims turned to in their prayers, and that Muslims and Christians used to go to pilgrimage to Jerusalem before the Israeli occupation; and the faithful throughout the world have been yearning, for the past forty years, to liberate it from a racist and destructive occupation. Millions of Muslims also know for sure that the countries drumming up war against Iran for the possibility of possessing nuclear weapons are the same countries which provided Israel with nuclear weapons and gave it the knowhow, equipment and uranium to become a nuclear state without signing the none proliferation treaty.

The discrepancy in the position towards a nuclear Israel compared with an Iran aspiring to possess peaceful nuclear energy is actually an expression of the different ways in which the West looks at Muslims and non-Muslims. All the wronged people see, hear and understand but are incapable of correcting the wrongs, and expect the United States to turn to deeds in order to vindicate what president Obama said on January 7, 2010, that the United States is with those looking for justice and progress.

If the US is with those looking for justice, the Palestinian people should be top on the list. Standing with this wronged people will certainly root out Muslims’ frustration and hopelessness. The Baker report was correct when it said that justice in Palestine was at the heart of all causes; and that achieving justice there is less costly and more effective in fighting resentment, violence, anger and frustration.

What is required is strategic thinking in order to create hope in broken souls that the superpower has returned to the path of supporting those demanding justice, freedom and human dignity. The domino of violence and terrorism is moving from one country to another, and facing it does not happen through intelligence but through strategy, by adopting moral principles in support of human dignity and people’s right to live free of occupation, discrimination, oppression, or humiliation. This could be the most important indicator for the achievement of security and safety not only for the American people but for the whole world.

Hariri warns of another Israeli attack on Lebanon

Press TV

Lebanon PM Saad Hariri has expressed concerns over a possible Israeli attack on the country

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has expressed concerns over a possible Israeli attack on the country, citing an escalated violation of Lebanese airspace by Israeli aircraft.

Hariri, who arrived in France on Thursday on his first official visit to a Western country since forming his government in 2009, made the remarks in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde.

He said that Israeli aircraft violated the Lebanese airspace 25 times in one single day last week.

“I also mentioned the necessity to end the daily Israeli violations of this resolution (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701), the escalation of the Israeli threats against Lebanon and its government,” Hariri said.

The Lebanese premier said it seems that Israel thinks hitting the southern part of Lebanon does not mean that it has attacked the whole country.

Hariri said when Israel attacked southern Lebanon in 2006 “it damaged the country’s infrastructure. I wondered if that should not be considered an attack on the whole country.”

Israel launched an attack on Lebanon in 2006, but was met with stern resistance from Hezbollah. The 33-day war resulted in a heavy defeat for Tel Aviv, after the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 called on Israel to withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon.

“Naturally, this topic is part of a wider problem, the one of Israel’s refusal to go forward in the [Middle East] peace process, especially with the Palestinians,” Hariri was quoted by Reuters as saying.