5. Middle East Followups

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A quick last look around the Middle East. In Egypt, we’ve heard all sorts of rhetoric about Morsi being bad, with surprisingly little discussion of the actual proposals he’s made for the constitution. Harron Siddiqui has a fine piece (with a stupid and racist title from the Toronto Star), while the Guardian follows up with a major change. Juan Cole looks at the increasingly inevitable fall of Assad, while War Tard both analyzes brilliantly the forces that push Assad towards chemical weapons, and the forces against. He is also very good on what will happen after Assad goes. The Bloat and Flail  looks at the positive reasons for hope in the UN recognition of Palestine as a state, while three different commentators look at the utter failure of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan.

* Haroon Siddiqui on the Egyptian ConstitutionToronto Star

The constitution is problematic, though it’s not all that different from Anwar Sadat’s 1971 constitution.

His said that “Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of sharia are the main source of legislation.” Sharia already governs family and property matters. But the new draft ties sharia doctrine to “Sunni Islam,” as interpreted by “the majority of Muslim scholars,” raising fears that it could be interpreted any which way.

The draft restricts freedom of religion to “monotheistic religions.” Thus Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc., get no rights. The old constitution had no such exclusion.

On women’s rights, the draft has as much gobbledygook as the old constitution. It says the state should “guarantee co-ordination between the duties of the woman and her public work,” vs. the old formulation that women are equal “without violating the rules of Islamic jurisprudence.” Many hijabi women oppose this new draft.

The draft concedes too much power to the military — perhaps as quid pro quo to the army staying out of politics or helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

Societies in transition need Nelson Mandelas. Morsi has failed to be a conciliator. In fact, he has polarized Egyptians, notwithstanding the undemocratic machinations of the opposition.

 * Egypt: Mohamed Morsi cancels decree that gave him sweeping powers The Observer

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has scrapped a decree that had generated widespread unrest by awarding him near-absolute powers. But he insisted a referendum on a new constitution would go ahead as planned this week.

The announcement, which is unlikely to placate Morsi’s opponents, came after Egypt’s military warned that failure to resolve a crisis over the drafting of the constitution would result in “disastrous consequences” that could drag the country into a “dark tunnel”.

* Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition as Government Juan Cole Informed Comment

President Obama announced on Tuesday that the US now formally recognizes the Syrian opposition as the legitimate government of Syria:

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday that there were no further indications of the Syrian regime priming itself to deploy chemical weapons. (My own suspicion is that Israeli intelligence planted that story in the first place, because it wants the US to militarily secure the chemical weapons lest they are transferred to Hizbullah. The Obama administration dealt with Netanyahu by saying deployment of chemical weapons would be a red line for the regime, and then declaring that the warning worked.)

Obama’s recognition comes as the momentum is turning slowly against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party. Alarabiya reports on how the Free Syria Army has reorganized itself, assigning each sector of the country to a rebel general. 

* Syria: Will Assad go full chemical? War Tard

Anyone who’s ever played a hand of poker knows that you double down on the bluff when your credit line just got cut off. Maybe someone will believe that crazy look in your eye. So you push all your chips into the middle of the table. That’s Assad right now. Chemical weaponry is a way of breaking the bank.

Personally, I can’t believe Assad is serious here.

It’s certain death multiplied by the destruction of your country.

But you know what?

Wounded animals are more dangerous. Dictators are prone to shitty decision making when confined to a bunker. When you know you’re about to die and you’ve got nothing else to lose, sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and set the ignition fuse on the firework.

* Three Good Things That Came From The Palestinian Statehood Vote  The Globe and Mail

One of the Israeli government’s key ambitions is to join the European Union, which is its main and crucial trading partner. By ending complacent acceptance of Israel’s lassitude, the Middle East analyst Juan Cole notes , Europe now has “the opportunity to play the kind of honest broker between the two sides that the U.S. pretended to be but almost never did.”

In other words, writes Sharon Pardo of Ben-Gurion University, “Europe could offer Israelis and Palestinians the sweetest carrot in its arsenal in the form of a European vision, including perhaps eventual EU membership. Europe would have to condition such a vision on a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

Even some conservatives who sometimes support Mr. Netanyahu saw the declaration as a minor breakthrough. “It was striking to me,” David Frumwrote , that Mr. Abbas’s speech to the UN “was conciliatory, not provocative… it is a much more explicit statement of co-existence than was ever offered from a UN rostrum by Abbas’s predecessor… Abbas spoke for legality and democracy in a future Palestinian state.”

This, Mr. Frum noted, puts Israel in a corner, one that is best escaped by reciprocating the gesture: “Israel, too, has reason to show a friendly face to the word. If Abbas talks peace, let Israel talk peace. If Abbas expresses a wish for a two-state agreement, let Israel do the same.”

* Dereliction of Duty: The Sequel  Stephen M. Walt

According to the New York Times, the Pentagon has just issued a gloomy new report suggesting that we’ve made far less progress in the war than is often claimed. Money quotation:

“A bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.”

The Times continues: “The report, released Monday, also found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago, although it is down from a high in the summer of 2010

 * Insurgency Encroaching On Central Afghanistan   The Long War Journal

The increasing danger associated with traversing the once-dependable road system linking Bamyan with Kabul has prompted provincial officials to demand additional resources from the Karzai regime for safer modes of transportation.

“We have asked the central government to provide us with helicopters,” Ahmad Alia, a spokesman for the Bamyan police chief explained to the New York Times in late October. “Local government officials are not traveling by ground anymore, and they want to have helicopters so they can go to Kabul or other provinces.”

* Doonesbury on Afghanistan

click on strip to enbigify



Nov 30th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 39

Nov-30-2012 | Comments Off

Second last issue: Middle East Focus

1. Gaza and Hamas

Bird’s Eye: A three parter, as we look at the long term effects on the Middle East of the Gaza-Israel war. We start by looking at Hamas and its allies, who seem to be the big winners. And that’s particularly true in Egypt, where Morsi gained significantly.

* Ceasefire A Sign Of Middle East’s New Political Reality  Telegraph

The declaration was made in Cairo by the Egyptian foreign minister, in front of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. Under the terms of the truce, both sides will hold off from hostilities until further notice. After the truce has held for 24 hours, talks will begin to address Hamas’s demand that Israel’s blockade of Gaza be lifted.

There was no mention of Israel’s requirement that Hamas be prevented from rearming, either immediately or in the future. But the deal was announced in Cairo by Mohammed Kamel Amr, the foreign minister of Egypt, through which any arms would have to travel to reach Gaza, standing alongside Mrs Clinton. The Israelis believe this amounts to a guarantee their security concerns have been accepted.

The deal was reached after 24 hours of frantic diplomacy which saw Mrs Clinton land in Jerusalem for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister and travel on to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. She then flew to Cairo to hammer out a deal with Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, who has emerged as Hamas’ key international backer. President Barack Obama was careful to thank Mr Morsi as well as Mr Netanyahu for reaching the agreement. 

* Hamas finds greater support in a changed Middle East  The Washington Post

As the conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip intensifies, Arab governments are throwing their weight behind the territory’s long-isolated Islamist leaders in a reflection of the region’s shifting political dynamics after nearly two years of upheaval.

Long kept at a distance by Arab autocrats wary of Hamas’s hard-line ideology, the group has found a new set of highly influential friends — including the democratically elected governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, all U.S. allies. Those backers give Hamas stronger standing internationally, and perhaps greater room to maneuver as it faces the second major Israeli operation in Gaza in four years.

* Morsi Emerges as Key Power Broker Juan Cole Informed Comment

Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the same Muslim Brotherhood that gave birth to Palestine’s Hamas movement, has emerged as a key broker in the Gaza crisis. President Obama is said to have called him for the third time in 24 hours on Tuesday!

Morsi sympathizes with the stateless Palestinians, who are being kept without a state and without basic human rights by the right wing Israeli government. But more, he sympathizes with Hamas itself, which the US and Israel have branded a terrorist organization. Because the US has put Hamas on the terrorist list, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cannot talk to the government of Gaza (which seems rather stupid), and Morsi is therefore a key interlocutor



4. Israel and the A-Word

Nov-09-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Regular readers will have noticed a decrease in Israel articles: that’s mostly caused by Haaretz charging for links. But they now allow access to ten free articles a month… and the Gideon Levy analysis of the Israeli attitudinal survey is worth reading. Meanwhile Netanyahu and Lieberman have mined forces, and an upcoming election looms. Interesting times in the Middle East, as always….

* It’s Official, Most Israelis Want To Live In An ‘Apartheid State’ Mondoweiss

In the United States nothing stops a conversation on Israel shorter than dropping the “A” word, “apartheid.” Literally millions are spent to counter events like “Israel Apartheid Week,” and there are pro-Israel advocacy groups and public relations firms whose raison d’être is presenting the Jewish “democracy” as more democratic than anywhere else in the Middle East. “Where in the Middle East do Jews and Arabs Play Together?” asks one billboard by the San Francisco-based Blue Star PR—“Only in Israel.”

But according to a new poll by an Israeli data firm a majority of Israelis don’t want to play—or study, live, eat or drive anywhere near an Arab. Rather, they want an Apartheid state.

In two articles by Gideon Levy published today in Haaretz the results of a survey by Dialog are presented: 58% of Israeli Jews believe Israel practices apartheid in the West Bank, and they are fine with that. In fact Israelis are so comfortable with institutionalized discrimination that a third said they do not want Palestinians citizens of Israel to have the right to vote and 69% do not think Palestinians in the West Bank deserve to vote in the case of Israel annexing the occupied territory.

* Meet the Israelis Gideon Levy Harretz

Nice to make your acquaintance, we’re racist and pro-apartheid. The poll whose results were published in Haaretz on Tuesday, conducted by Dialog and commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, proved what we always knew, if not so bluntly. It’s important to recognize the truth that has been thrown in our faces and those of the world (where the survey is making waves ). But it’s even more important to draw the necessary conclusions from it.

Given the current reality, making peace would be an almost anti-democratic act: Most Israelis don’t want it. A just, egalitarian society would also violate the wishes of most Israelis: That, too, is something they don’t want. They’re satisfied with the racism, comfortable with the occupation, pleased with the apartheid; things are very good for them in this country. That’s what they told the pollsters.(Includes poll results.)

 * Calling Israel’s Discrimination What it Is Rabbi Brant Rosen Shalom Rav

Forward columnist Philologos recently took the Israeli daily Ha’aretz to task for using the term “apartheid” in its reporting on a poll that showed most Israelis support discrimination against Arab citizens. “Apartheid” and mere discrimination are two very different things, Philologos claimed. He suggested that Ha’aretz should be censured for using such a damning epithet.

Philologos went on to define what he sees the critical difference between “apartheid” and “discrimination.” The former refers to “the systematic segregation of one people, race or group from another,” while the latter means “the systematic favoring of one people, race or group over another, such as exists in numerous countries around the world today.” And while Israel may practice regrettable discrimination against its Arab citizens, he claimed it was a “lie” to suggest that it is in any way an apartheid state.

While Philologos may be a fine linguist, his knowledge of international human rights law is sorely lacking….

At the end of the day, it really is academic whether we choose to label this kind of policy — and many others like it — to be “discrimination,” “institutional racism” or “apartheid.”

The real question before us not what to call it. For Jews who purport to cherish human rights, the right question is: what are we willing to do about it? 



4. Perspectives on the Middle East

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Three Middle East pieces, all on conflict. Rabbi Rosen, familiar to Tikkunistas, has a book out on his struggle to reconcile Judaism and Zionism. In Afghanistan, the government is falling even before NATO withdraws. And War Tard puts on his unique persona to give a fascinating answer to the question of would happen if Turkey and Syria do go to war.

* My “Wrestling” Interview with Truthout Rabbi Brant Rosen

Mark Karlin: …When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?

Brant Rosen: At the end of my book (“Wrestling in the Daylight”) I addressed this issue directly

As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.

For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.

In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.

…Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.

* Afghanistan ‘Sliding Towards Collapse’  The Guardian

Afghanistan is increasingly violent, its police and army will struggle to secure the country when foreign forces leave, and it faces a corrupt presidential election in 2014, the Red Cross and a think tank have warned, .

At stake is the limited and fragile stability that has insulated Kabul and most other urban areas from over a decade of escalating aggression since the US invasion. There are growing fears the country could face a full-blown civil war after Nato troops hand over security to the Afghan police and army, and leave.

“Time is running out,” warned Candace Rondeaux, of the International Crisis Group think tank. “Steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse.”

“Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014,” she said in a blunt report about the handover from coalition to Afghan troops.

* Syria: Fantasy war in the desert! War Tard

The First Casualty of War is Photoshop

This Western portrayal of the rebels as oppressed freedom fighters fits with the whole Arab Spring narrative the West likes to push whenever there’s energy in the vicinity. Democracy and all that other funny talk. These days, democracy is just a feel good word the suits on TV say when they want you to know who the good guys are….

For the Turks, losing an F-4 Phantom wasn’t exactly a major loss militarily. Sure, it’s a bummer the pilot didn’t bail out but Phantom’s are basically Vietnam era flying double decker buses with the maneuverability of a cement truck in rush hour traffic. That Turk pilot never saw it coming and was probably sucker punched by one of Syria’s Russian supplied S-300 SAMs (one reason NATO doesn’t fancy a rerun of Libya over Syria). One thing F-4s always had going for them even in Vietnam, despite their lack of cannon was a pair of serious get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here engines that allowed the Phantom to run from any engagement it didn’t fancy the odds in. To my mind, the Turkish F-4 incursion into Syrian airspace was a move designed to get the Syrians to turn their air defines radars on so they could be pinpointed for NATO airstrikes later on in the event Assad doesn’t fall in a timely manner.

…But this war is fun to think about.

   The tank on tank action would pit Turkey’s modern arsenal of German supplied Leapord 1s and 2A4s  against Syria’s aging but more numerous Soviet era T-72s, T-62Ms and believe it or not, T-55s (the most produced tank in history) but completely out of date. That’d make for a fun turkey shoot in the desert. Add in total Turk air superiority by way of US supplied F-16s and naval dominance off the coast and this war that’ll never happen becomes even less fantastic….



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