Israel Bulldozes Khan Al Ahmar and Buries the Two-State Solution

In the midst of tepid Western criticism, Israel is finally realizing its decades-old goal of splitting the West Bank in two, while putting an end to the fiction of a two-state solution, observes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook
in Nazareth

Israel finally built an access road to the West Bank village of Khan Al Ahmar last week, after half a century of delays. But Israel only allows vehicles like the bulldozers scheduled to sweep away its 200 inhabitants’ homes.

If one community has come to symbolize the demise of the two-state solution, it is Khan Al Ahmar.

It was for that reason that a posse of European diplomats left their air-conditioned offices late last week to trudge through the hot, dusty hills outside Jerusalem and witness the preparations for the village’s destruction. That included the Israeli police beating residents and supporters as they tried to block the advance of heavy machinery.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain submitted a formal protest. Their denunciations echoed those of more than 70 Democratic lawmakers in Washington in May – a rare example of US politicians showing solidarity with Palestinians.

It would be gratifying to believe that Western governments care about the inhabitants of Khan Al Ahmar – or the thousands of other Palestinians who are being incrementally cleansed by Israel from nearby lands but whose plight has drawn far less attention.

After all, the razing of Khan Al Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population are war crimes.

But in truth, Western politicians are more concerned about propping up the illusion of a peace process that expired many years ago, than the long-running abuse of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Western capitals understand what is at stake. Israel wants Khan Al Ahmar gone so that Jewish settlements can be built in its place, on land it has designated as “E1”.

That would put the final piece in place for Israel to build a substantial bloc of new settler homes to sever the West Bank in two. Those same settlements would also seal off West Bank Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a future Palestinian state, making a mockery of any peace agreement.

The erasure of Khan Al Ahmar has not arrived out of nowhere. Israel has trampled on international law for decades, conducting a form of creeping annexation that has provoked little more than uncomfortable shifting in chairs from Western politicians.

Khan Al Ahmar’s Bedouin inhabitants, from the Jahalin tribe, have been ethnically cleansed twice before by Israel, but these war crimes went unnoticed.

The first time was in the 1950s, a few years after Israel’s creation, when 80 per cent of Palestinians had been driven from their homes to make way for a Jewish state.

Although they should have enjoyed the protection of Israeli citizenship, the Jahalin were forced out of the Negev and into the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan, to make way for new Jewish immigrants.

A generation later in 1967, when they had barely re-established themselves, the Jahalin were again under attack from Israeli soldiers occupying the West Bank. The grazing lands the Jahalin had relocated to with their goats and sheep were seized to build a settlement for Jews only, Kfar Adumim, in violation of the laws of war.

Ever since, the Jahalin have dwelt in a twilight zone of Israeli-defined “illegality”. Like other Palestinians in the 60 per cent of the West Bank under Israeli control, they have been denied building permits, forcing three generations to live in tin shacks and tents.

‘Leaving the Desert in Death’

Israel has also refused to connect the village to the water, electricity and sewage grids, in an attempt to make life so unbearable the Jahalin would opt to leave.

When an Italian charity helped in 2009 to establish Khan Al Ahmar’s first school – made from mud and tyres – Israel stepped up its legal battle to demolish the village.

Now, the Jahalin are about to be driven from their lands again. This time they are to be forcibly re-settled next to a waste dump by the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, hemmed in on all sides by Israeli walls and settlements.

In the new location they will be forced to abandon their pastoral way of life. As resident Ibrahim Abu Dawoud observed: “For us, leaving the desert is death.”

In another indication of the Palestinians’ dire predicament, the Trump administration is expected to propose in its long-awaited peace plan that the slum-like Abu Dis, rather than East Jerusalem, serve as the capital of a future pseudo-Palestinian state – if Israel ever chooses to recognise one.

Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction would be the first demolition of a complete Palestinian community since the 1990s, when Israel ostensibly committed to the Oslo peace process.

Now emboldened by Washington’s unstinting support, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is racing ahead to realise its vision of a Greater Israel. It wants to annex the lands on which villages like Khan Al Ahmar stand and remove their Palestinian populations.

There is a minor hurdle. Last Thursday, the Israeli supreme court tried to calm the storm clouds gathering in Europe by issuing a temporary injunction on the demolition works.

‘Short-Lived Reprieve’

The reprieve is likely to be short-lived. A few weeks ago the same court – in a panel dominated by judges identified with the settler movement – backed Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction.

The Supreme Court has also been moving towards accepting the Israeli government’s argument that decades of land grabs by settlers should be retroactively sanctioned – even though they violate Israeli and international law – if carried out in “good faith”.

Whatever the judges believe, there is nothing “good faith” about the behaviour of either the settlers, or Israel’s government towards communities like Khan Al Ahmar.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ veteran peace negotiator, recently warned that Israel and the US were close to “liquidating” the project of Palestinian statehood.

Sounding more desperate than usual, the Europe Union reaffirmed this month its commitment to a two-state solution, while urging that the “obstacles” to its realisation be more clearly identifed.

The elephant in the room is Israel itself – and its enduring bad faith. As Khan Al Ahmar demonstrates all too clearly, there will be no end to the slow-motion erasure of Palestinian communities until western governments find the nerve to impose biting sanctions on Israel.

 This article originally appeared in The National

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/.

 




USS Liberty Survivor Named US Delegate on Gaza Flotilla

A survivor of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 U.S. sailors has joined the Freedom Flotilla headed towards Gaza, as Joe Lauria reports.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Joe Meadors, a survivor of the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty,  has joined the 2018 Gaza Freedom Flotilla as the delegate from the United States. He will board the Al Awda (The Return), which left Corisca Sunday night for  the final 1,000 miles to Gaza.  Al Awda is one of four boats on the 75-day voyage from Scandinavia.

Meadors was a signalman on the bridge of the USS Liberty, a surveillance vessel operating in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea near Gaza during the 1967 Six-Day Arab-Israreli war.

Israeli war planes and torpedo boats attacked the vessel, killing 34 U.S. sailors and wounding 174 crew members. 

A 2003 U.S. commission led by Admiral Thomas Moorer found:

“1. That on June 8, 1967, after eight hours of aerial surveillance, Israel launched a two-hour air and naval attack against USS Liberty, the world’s most sophisticated intelligence ship, inflicting 34 dead and 173 wounded American servicemen (a casualty rate of seventy percent, in a crew of 294);

2. That the Israeli air attack lasted approximately 25 minutes, during which time unmarked Israeli aircraft dropped napalm canisters on USS Liberty‘s bridge, and fired 30mm cannons and rockets into our ship, causing 821 holes, more than 100 of which were rocket-size; survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking Israeli planes which were jamming all five American emergency radio channels;

3. That the torpedo boat attack involved not only the firing of torpedoes, but the machine-gunning of Liberty‘s firefighters and stretcher-bearers as they struggled to save their ship and crew; the Israeli torpedo boats later returned to machine-gun at close range three of the Liberty‘s life rafts that had been lowered into the water by survivors to rescue the most seriously wounded;

4. That there is compelling evidence that Israel’s attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew; evidence of such intent is supported by statements from Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Undersecretary of State George Ball, former CIA director Richard Helms, former NSA directors Lieutenant General William Odom, USA (Ret.), Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, USN (Ret.), and Marshal Carter; former NSA deputy directors Oliver Kirby and Major General John Morrison, USAF (Ret.); and former Ambassador Dwight Porter, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon in 1967;

5. That in attacking USS Liberty, Israel committed acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States;

6. That fearing conflict with Israel, the White House deliberately prevented the U.S. Navy from coming to the defense of USS Liberty by recalling Sixth Fleet military rescue support while the ship was under attack; evidence of the recall of rescue aircraft is supported by statements of Captain Joe Tully, Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, and Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis, the Sixth Fleet carrier division commander, at the time of the attack; never before in American naval history has a rescue mission been cancelled when an American ship was under attack… .”

Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the incident, wrote: “I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

Meadors and Seaman Francis Brown, who was later killed in the attack, hauled up a second American flag from the bridge after the first was shot down early in the air assault. Meadors remained on the bridge throughout the 25-minute attack and was one of several eyewitnesses to the Israeli machine-gunning of the ship’s life rafts.

Meadors has described the Israeli attack in detail on the USS Liberty Veteran’s Association website:

“I watched some jets pass us, then turn left after they passed our ship, then they started strafing us. The attack lasted 90 minutes, during which we got a message off to the Sixth Fleet asking for assistance. We learned later that Joe Tully, commanding officer of the USS Saratoga, launched aircraft within minutes of the attack, but he told us later they were recalled before they reached the horizon. We found this out 20 years after the attack.

“The most frustrating thing has been a lack of reaction from the U.S. government. On June 8, 2005, we filed a war crimes report, and they are required to investigate these allegations. They’ve created reports about our mission, but they never did conduct an actual investigation of the attack itself.

“It was an illegal attack. We were on the high seas conducting legal activities. They admitted that they closed the area for military purposes but we tried to find out the boundaries of that area and they wouldn’t tell us.

“The Israelis break international laws with impunity and the U.S. government is not going to hold them accountable, nobody is. There is no doubt that the Israelis were committing piracy on the high seas against the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla and used deadly force against unarmed humanitarians.”

Meadors was aboard the Sfedoni in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. He was in Greece for the 2011 and 2015 Freedom Flotillas.  Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Meadors is a past president of USS Liberty Veterans Association, founded in 1982. 

The Flotillas aim to bring attention to the illegal blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza since 2007.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times of London and numerous other publications. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and on Twitter @unjoe




The Legacy and Fallacies of Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis, seen by some in the West as a giant of Arab and Muslim scholarship, left behind a legacy of falsehoods and politically-motivated distortions, as As’ad AbuKhalil explains.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

There is no question that Bernard Lewis was one of the most politically—not academically—influential Orientalists in modern times.

Lewis’ career can be roughly divided into two phases: the British phase, when he was a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the second phase, which began in 1974, when he moved to Princeton University and lasted until his death on May 19. His first phase was less overtly political, although the Israeli occupation army translated and published one of his books, and Gold Meir assigned articles by Lewis to her cabinet members.

Lewis knew where he stood politically but he only became a political activist in the second phase. His academic production in the first phase was rather historical (dealing with his own specialty and training) and his books were then thoroughly documented. The production of his second phase was political in nature and lacked solid documentation and citations.

In the second phase, Lewis wrote about topics (such as the contemporary Arab world) on which he was rather ignorant. The writings of his second phase were motivated by his political advocacy, while the writings of the first phase was a combination of his political biases and his academic interests.

Shortly upon moving into the U.S., Lewis met with Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the dean of ardent Zionists in the U.S. Congress. He thus started his political career and his advocacy, which was often thinly hidden behind the titles of superficial books on the modern Arab world. Lewis not only mentored various neoconservatives, but he also elevated the status of Middle East natives that he approved of. For instance, he was behind the promotion of Fouad Ajami (he dedicated one of this books to him), just as he was behind introducing Ahmad Chalabi to the political elite in DC.

Furthermore, Lewis was also behind the invitation of Syrian academic Sadiq Al-Azm to Princeton in the early 1990s (as Edward Said told me at the time) because Lewis always relished Al-Azm’s critique of Said’s Orientalism. Sep. 11 only elevated the status of Lewis and brought him close to the centers of power: he advised George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior members of the administration.

In the lead-up to the Iraq war, he assured Cheney (relying on the authority of Ajami) that not only Iraqis, but all Arabs, would joyously greet invading American troops. And he argued to Cheney before the war, using the dreaded Zionist and colonial cliché, that Arabs only understand the language of force. (Lewis would later distort his own history and claim that he was not a champion of the Iraq invasion although the record is clear).

Lewis was not only close to the higher echelons of the U.S. government, but in addition to his long-standing ties to Israeli leaders, he was close to Jordanian King Husayn and his brother, Hasan (although Lewis would mock what he considered a Jordanian habit of eating without forks and knives, as he wrote in Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian, on page 217).

Lewis was also close to the Shah’s government, and to the military dictatorship in Turkey in the 1980s. Kenan Evren, the Turkish general who led the 1980 military coup, had a tete-a-tete with Lewis during one of his visits to D.C. Lewis had contacts with the Sadat government, and Sadat’s spokesperson, Tahasin Bashir, in 1971 sent a message through Lewis to the Israeli government regarding Sadat’s interest in peace between the two countries.

Distorted View of Islam

There are many features of Lewis’s works, but foremost is what French historian Maxime Rodinson called “theologocentrism”, or the Western school of thought which attribute all observable phenomena among Muslims to matters of Islamic theology.

For Lewis, Islam is the only tool which can explain the odd political behavior of Arabs and Muslims. Lewis used Islam to refer not only to religion, but also the collection of Muslim people, governments ruling in the name of Islam, Shari`ah, Islamic civilization, languages spoken by Muslims, geographic areas in which Muslims predominate, and Arab governments. A review of his titles show his fixation with Islam. But what does it mean for Lewis to refer to Islam as being “the whole of life” for Muslims, as he does in Islam and the West?

Lewis also began the trendy Islamophobic, Western obsession with Shari`ah when he wrote years ago in the same book that for Muslims religion is “inconceivable without Islamic law.” There are hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world who live under governments which don’t subscribe to Shari`ah. No Muslim, for example, questions the Islamic credentials of Muslims who live in Western countries under secular law. Lewis even notes this fact, but it confuses him. In Islam and the West he states in bewilderment: “There is no [legal] precedent in Islamic history, no previous discussion in Islamic legal literature.”

Lewis could have benefited from reading James Piscatori’s book, Islam in a World of Nation States, which shows that Shari`ah is not the only source of laws even in countries where Islam is supposedly the only source of law. But Lewis was stuck in the past, he could only interpret the present through references to the original works of classical Islam.

His hostility and contempt for Arabs and Muslims was revealed in his writings even during the British phase of his career, when he was politically more restrained. He was influenced by the idea of his mentor, Scottish historian Hamilton Gibb, regarding what they both called “the atomism” of the Arab mind. The evidence for their theory is that the classical Arabic poem of Jahiliyyah and early Islam was not organically and thematically unified, but that each line of poetry was independent of the other.

I remember back in 1993 when I discussed the matter with Muhsin Mahdi, a professor of Islamic philosophy at Harvard University, when I was reading the private papers of Gibb at the Widener Library. Mahdi said that their ideas are completely out of date and that recent scholarship about the classical Arabic poem refuted that thesis. (Lewis would resurrect the notion about the “atomism” of the Arab mind in his later Islam and the West).

Other writings of Lewis became obsolete academically. In his The Muslim Discovery of Europe he recycles the view that Muslims had no curiosity about the West because it was the land of infidelity and that they suffered from a superiority complex. A series of new scholarly books have undermined this thesis by Lewis largely by scholars looking into Indian and Iranian archives. The Palestinian academic, Nabil Mater, in his books Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713, Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727, and Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery, paints a very different—and far more documented—picture of the subject that Lewis spent a career distorting.

Relished in Disparaging Arabs

In addition, the tone of Lewis’ writings on Arabs and Muslims was often sarcastic and contemptuous. Lewis did the work of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which was started in 1998 by a former Israeli intelligence agent and an Israeli political scientist, before MEMRI existed: he relished finding outlandish views of individual Muslims and popularizing them to stereotype all Arabs and all Muslims.

In the early editions of Arabs in History, Lewis remarked that none of the philosophers of the Arab/Islamic civilization were Arab in ethnic extraction (except Al-Kindi). What was Lewis’s point except to denigrate the Arab character and even genetic makeup? In the same book he cites an Ismaili document but then quickly adds that it “is probably not genuine.” But if it is “probably not genuine” why bother to cite it except for his fondness for bizarre tidbits about Arabs and Muslims?

The Orientalism of Lewis was not representative of classical Orientalism with all its flaws and shortcomings and political biases. His harbored more of an ideology of hostility against Arabs and Muslims. This ideology shares features with anti-Semitism, namely that the whole (Muslims in this case) form a monolithic group and that they pose a civilizational danger to the world, or are plotting to take it over, and that the behavior or testimony of one represents the total group (Islamic Ummah).

In writing about contemporary Islam, Lewis spent years recycling his 1976 Commentary magazine article titled, “The Return of Islam.” What he doesn’t answer is, “return” from where? Where was Islam prior? In this article, Lewis exhibits his adherence to the most discredited forms of classical Orientalist dogmas by invoking such terms as “the modern Western mind.” He thereby resurrected the idea of epistemological distinctions between “our” mind and “theirs”, as articulated by the 1976 racist book, The Arab Mind by Israeli anthropologist, Raphael Patai. (This last book would witness a resurrection in U.S. military indoctrination after Sep. 11, as Seymour Hersh reported).

An Obsession with Etymology

For Lewis, the Muslim mind never seems to change. Every Muslim, regardless of geography or time, is representative of any or all Muslims. Thus, a quotation from an obscure medieval source is sufficient to explain present-day behavior. Lewis even traces Yaser Arafat’s nom de guerre (Abu `Ammar) to early Islamic history and to the names of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, though `Arafat himself had explained that the name derives from the root `amr (a reference to `Arafat’s construction work in Kuwait prior to his ascension to the leadership of the PLO).

Because `Arafat literally embraced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran when he first met him, Lewis finds evidence of a universal Muslim bond in the picture. But when Lewis revised his book years later, he took note in passing of the deep rift which later developed between `Arafat and Khomeini and said simply: “later they parted company.” So much for the theory of the Islamic bond between them. Lewis must not have heard of wars among Muslims, like the Iran-Iraq war.

Lewis read the book Philosophy of Revolution by the foremost political champion of Arab nationalism, Nasser of Egypt, as containing Islamic themes. He must have been the only reader to come to that conclusion.

Another feature in Lewis’s writings is his obsession with etymology. To compensate for his ignorance of modern Arab reality, Lewis would often return to the etymology of political terms among Muslims. His book, The Political Language of Islam, which is probably his worst book, is an example of his attempt to Islamize and standardize the political behavior of all Muslims. His conclusions from his etymological endeavors are often comical: he assumes that freedom is alien to the Arabs because the historical meaning of the word in an ancient Arabic dictionary merely connoted the absence of slavery. This is like assuming that a Westerner never engaged in sex before the word was popularized. He complains that some contemporary political terms, like dawlah (state), lost some of their original meanings, as if this is a problem peculiar to the Arabic language.

In his early years, Lewis was close to the classical Orientalists: he wrote in a beautiful style and his erudition and language skills showed through the pages. His early works were fun to read, while his later works were dreary and dull. But Lewis was unlike those few classical Orientalists who managed to mix knowledge about history of the Middle East and Islam with knowledge of the contemporary Arab world (scholars like Rodinson, Philip Hitti and Jacques Berque). Lewis’s ignorance about the contemporary Arab world was especially evident in his production during the U.S. phase of his long career. His book on the The Emergence of Modern Turkey, which was one of the first to rely on the Ottoman archives, was probably one of his best books. There is real scholarship in the book, unlike many of his later observational and impressionable works.

In his later best-selling books, What Went Wrong? and The Crisis of Islam, one reads the same passages and anecdotes twice. Lewis, for example, relishes recounting that syphilis was imported into the Middle East from the new world. His discussion of Napoleon in Egypt appears in both books, almost verbatim. The second book contains calls for (mostly military) action. In The Crisis of Islam, Lewis asserts: “The West must defend itself by whatever means.” The book reveals a lot about his outlook of hostility towards Muslims.

Misunderstood Bin Laden

One is astonished to read some of his observations on Muslim and Arab sentiments and opinions. He is deeply convinced that Muslims are “pained” by the absence of the caliphate, as if this constitutes a serious demand or goal even for Muslim fundamentalist organizations. One never see crowds of Muslims in the streets of Cairo or Islamabad calling for the restoration of the caliphate as a pressing need.

But then again: this is the man who treated Usamah Bin Laden as some kind of influential Muslim theologian who is followed by world Muslims. Lewis does not treat Bin Laden as the terrorist fanatic that he is, but as some kind of al-Ghazzali, in the tradition of classical Islamic theologians. Furthermore, Lewis insists that terrorism by individual Muslims should be considered Islamic terrorism, while terrorism by individual Jews or Christians is never considered Jewish or Christian terrorism.

In his retirement years, his disdain for the Palestinian people became unmasked. Although in his book The Crisis of Islam he lists acts of violence by PLO groups—only ones, curiously, that are not directed against Israeli occupation soldiers. He lists not one act of Israeli violence against Palestinians and Arabs. To discredit the Palestinian national movement, he finds it necessary to tell yet again the story of Hajj Amin Al-Husayni’s visit to Nazi Germany, apparently seeking to stigmatize all Palestinians.

He is so disdainful of the Palestinians that he finds their opposition to Britain during the mandate period inexplicable because he believes that Britain was, alas, opposed to Zionism. Lewis is so insistent in attributing Arab popular antipathy to the U.S. to Nazi influence and inspiration that he actually maintains that Arabs obtained their hostility to the U.S. from reading the likes of Otto Spengler, Friederich Georg Junger, and Martin Heidegger. But when did the Arabs find time to read those books when all they read were their holy book and Islamic religious texts—as one surmises from reading Lewis?

While he displays deep–albeit selective–knowledge when he talks about the Islamic past (where his documentation is usually thorough), his analysis is quite simplistic and superficial when addressing the present (where he often disregards documentation altogether). For instance, he sometimes produces quotations without endnotes to source them: In Islam and the West he quotes an unnamed Muslim calling for the right of Muslims to “practice polygamy under Christian rule.” In another instance, he debates what he considers to be a common Muslim anti-Orientalist viewpoint, and the endnotes refer only to a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Lewis once began a discussion by saying: “Recently I came across an article in a Kuwaiti newspaper discussing a Western historian,” without referring the reader to the name of the newspaper or the author. He also tells the story of an anti-Coptic rumor in Egypt in 1973 without telling the reader how he collects his rumors from the region. On another page, he identifies a source thus: “a young man in a shop where I went to make a purchase.”

Lewis was not shy about his biases in the British phase of his career, but be became an unabashed racist in his later years. In Notes on a Century, he did not mind citing approvingly the opinion of a friend who compared Arabs to “neurotic children”, unlike Israelis who are “rational adults.” And his knowledge of Arabs seems to decrease over time: he would frequently tell (unfunny) jokes related to Arabs and then add that jokes are the only indicator of Arab public opinion because he did not seem to know about public opinion surveys of Arabs. He also informs his readers that “chairs are not part of Middle Eastern tradition or culture.” He showers praise on his friend, Teddy Kollek (former occupation mayor of Jerusalem) because he set up a “refreshment counter” for Christians one day.

The political influence of Lewis, who lent Samuel Huntington his term, if not the theme, of “the clash of civilization”, has been significant. But it would be inaccurate to maintain that he was a policy maker. In the East and the West, rulers rely on the opinions and writings of intellectuals when they find that this reliance is useful for their propaganda purposes. Lewis and his books were timely when the U.S. was preparing to invade Muslim countries. But the legacy of Lewis won’t survive future scholarly scrutiny: his writings will increasingly lose their academic relevance and will be cited as examples of Orientalist overreach.

Readers who would like more specific sourcing from Lewis’s books can contact the author at AAbukhalil@csustan.edu

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 

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Flotilla Continues Towards Gaza to Challenge the Blockade

This is the second report from Elizabeth Murray who is aboard a new flotilla to protest the illegality of the 12-year blockade that is choking Gaza.

By Elizabeth Murray Special to Consortium News
Aboard the Al-Awda at port in Amsterdam

We are possibly a more motley crew than the passengers aboard the S.S.Minnow in the old U.S. TV series Gilligan’s Island: Among those who have joined us on one or more legs of the journey to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) are activists hailing from Spain, Israel, Norway, Malaysia, Canada (First Nations), Denmark and the United States.

Despite our diverse ages and backgrounds we have some important things in common:  minds that comprehend the crimes and human rights violations being committed daily against the people of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories; hearts that feel deeply the pain of those whose basic freedoms have been denied for 70 years; and consciences that want to find a nonviolent way to reach out to these people, right the wrongs of the Gaza blockade, and achieve a measure of justice.

Political representatives have failed repeatedly through a lack of the political and moral courage to secure justice for a people facing 70 years of sustained, brutal subjugation by a foreign power, Israel. Thus the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) sails again. 

This time the FFC will not attempt to deliver medical supplies or foodstuffs to the suffering people of Gaza. Past experience with previous FFC missions indicates that such materials will likely never end up in Gaza, or will arrive in spoiled or damaged condition.  Instead, the Al-Awda will deliver itself – a refurbished Norwegian fishing boat – as a solidarity offering to the fisherman of Gaza. They are shot at and harassed on a daily basis, prevented from feeding their families, and have their fishing boats regularly seized and destroyed by Israel.

There is so much misery in Gaza that could easily be alleviated since nearly all of it is either deliberately manufactured by Israel (such as the bombing of sewage plants, the electricity grid, Gaza harbor, the undrinkable water) or is an immediate by-product of Israeli policy (widespread post-traumatic stress disorder and associated mental illnesses, a spike in the rates of cancer, once extremely rare among Palestinians).

The economic blockade, the restrictions on foodstuffs and construction materials, the travel bans, and the sealed borders are all aided and abetted by Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under al-Sisi the Rafah border to Egypt – the only non-Israeli outlet available to the Palestinians of Gaza seeking medical aid or travel abroad – is almost always closed. These blatant violations of human rights and the Geneva Convention have occurred with the complicit wink of the U.S. and Europe, whose weapons manufacturers profit handsomely from their arms sales to Israel.

The relegation of Palestinians to a less-than-human status by Israel, in particular the inhabitants of Gaza who are perpetually locked into an open-air prison and subject to the Israeli blockade, was underscored by MIT professor Noam Chomsky after a 2012 visit to Gaza to attend an academic conference. In comments broadcast by Democracy Now on Nov. 14, 2012, Chomsky remarked:

It’s kind of amazing … and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive … as essentially caged animals subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment – only to humiliate them – no pretext. They [the Palestinians] would like to have dignified lives, but the standard Israeli position is that they shouldn’t raise their heads.”

In Wilhelmshaven

During our ports of call in Germany, visitors to Al-Awda told us that many German politicians as well as ordinary Germans are reluctant to speak out against human rights abuses against Palestinians because they say that if they do, they will be branded as anti-Semitic and possibly have their lives and careers ruined by this smear. 

Listening to these German citizens express their solidarity with the FFC mission in passionate, yet hushed tones, one cannot but think back to the suppression of free speech by the Communist-era East German government that was fiercely enforced by the secret police known as the Stasi. One can only deplore  the practice of self-censorship that has become widespread in what is supposed to be a free and democratic, united Germany.  It also underscores the powerful political pressure that Israel brings to bear on many European countries. Of course, Germany’s uniquely evil treatment of Jews historically makes it only natural that Germans would be reluctant to criticize Israel.

Shortly before we departed from Wilhelmshaven, Germany we were visited by Georg, a human rights advocate and photographer affiliated with the “Bundesverband Arbeiterfotographie.” who made the 50-mile road trip from Bremen to take photos, express support and offer a generous personal donation to the Freedom Flotilla mission before rushing back to Bremen to collect his 9-year-old son from school.  He said:  “I rushed over as soon as I heard about you.” 

We also met Timo, a German trade union leader and youth organizer, who volunteered his time and talents to take care of some  technical problems aboard the boat. Timo, who also hails from Bremen, spent an entire day driving around to half a dozen specialty maritime and hardware supply stores in Wilhelmshaven to help us obtain the proper parts; he then worked tirelessly until all was “shipshape.” When we offered to compensate him for his time and trouble, he refused, saying:  “Let this be my small contribution toward peace.” 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian-German community in Wilhelmshaven showered us with gifts of home-made Palestinian delicacies and serenaded us with singing, dancing and playing of the oud, a classical Palestinian stringed instrument.  They thanked us for making this journey, saying they only wish they could join us and return to their original homes and villages.  Their love and affection for our mission is overwhelming.

In Amsterdam we were feted by local peace and social justice activists who hosted a dinner of traditional Palestinian food.  After a very rough night at sea en route to Amsterdam – during which the Al-Awda tossed and pitched amid enormous swells – we are grateful to be here in calm waters, enjoying the warm hospitality of the local human rights community.

We aim to approach Gaza harbor unimpeded, so that our supporters there can receive us as well.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 




A Middle East with No Master

The American abandonment of diplomacy in the Middle East has allowed its clients to pretty much do what they want leading to an ongoing realignment in the region, says Chas Freeman.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr.

Time was, the countries of the Middle East relied on the United States for patronage, protection, and guidance.  Suez taught Israel, Britain, and France that without Washington’s acquiescence, their policies could not succeed.  Egypt’s defection showed Russia the limits of its ability to compete for clients in the region.  It was U.S. leadership that enabled Israel, Egypt, and Jordan to end the state of war between them.

The standing of the United States in the region derived in part from its centrality to diplomacy aimed at finding a formula for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy by its Arab neighbors. Except on issues related to Israel, many Arab governments followed America wherever it led. The collapse of the Soviet Union erased Russian influence in the Middle East, as it did elsewhere.

To recall this history is to underscore the extent of the geopolitical changes that have occurred so far this century. The United States no longer enjoys primacy in the Middle East.  The former colonial powers need American military support to intervene in the region, but the countries of the region itself now act independently, confident that they can gain American backing for whatever they do. They do not seem to be wrong about this, judging from U.S. backing for Israel’s wars on its neighbors, Gulf Arab efforts to topple the Asad government in Syria, and the ongoing devastation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

In this century, the U.S.-managed “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians served as a distraction while Israel evicted Palestinians from their homes, annexed their lands, and denied them self-determination. The ever less credible “peace process” ended by severely damaging U.S. diplomatic standing in the region and beyond it. Unilateral U.S. recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital capped what had come to be seen as the world’s longest–running diplomatic farce.

In the absence of strategy, a desire to sustain relationships in the region by supporting clients’ actions drives U.S. policy. The clients themselves have moved beyond relationship-driven diplomacy and are into transactionalism. The extent to which the U.S. now follows rather than leads its client states in the region is reflected in the Trump administration’s obeisance to Israeli and Saudi hostility to Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—Iran nuclear deal.)

Meanwhile, minimal commitments of force accompanied by deft diplomacy have enabled Russia to exploit the Syrian tragedy [having been invited into Syria by Damascus] to become the most sought-after external actor in the region’s affairs. Turkey, once outside the region and Russia’s NATO enemy, is again part of the Middle East, this time cooperating with Russia there more often than not.  Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all cultivating ties with Moscow.  Their objective is to correct over-reliance on the United States by diluting it.  The same purpose inspires their efforts to build markets in China and India and to enlist Chinese and Indian support for their foreign policies.

Ongoing Consequences of U.S. Invasion of Iraq

The U.S. invasion of Iraq thrust that country into anarchy and religious warfare that embittered relations between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region.  U.S. policies focused on regime change gave Iran political hegemony in Iraq, entrenched its influence in Syria, and consolidated its alliance with Lebanese Hezbollah.  The collapse of order in the Levant spawned vicious new  terrorist movements that spread from Iraq to Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and the Sahel.

From the outset, Islamist forces in Syria enjoyed support from foreign enemies of the Asad government, including Islamists, the Syrian diaspora, most of the Gulf Arab states, Turkey, Israel, and the United States.  As proxy warfare escalated, an avalanche of refugees from Syria destabilized the EU. Six hundred thousand dead and 11 million displaced Syrians later, Asad remains in the saddle in Damascus.  He has defeated his armed opposition but is beholden to Iran, its Shiite allies in Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russia for this victory. Syria’s agonies are ending in a phony war between the United States and Turkey. Israel, which wanted anarchy or partition in Syria, now struggles to contain a hostile Iranian presence there and in neighboring Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that sought to overthrow Asad must now find a way to live with him.

Misguided American interventions and freelancing by U.S. client states have thus transformed the region’s politics, entrenched anti-Americanism with global reach, and facilitated its spread in Africa and Asia.  The wars that did this – the pacification campaigns in Afghanistan that followed the post-9/11 punitive raid of 2001, the destabilization of Iraq, the overthrow of the Libyan government, and incoherently contradictory policies that supported mutual antagonists in Syria – have yet to end or are ending in American defeat.  No longer the playground of imperial powers, the Middle East is now dominated by religious strife, Arab efforts to roll back US-abetted Persian hegemony, and cynical manipulation of Washington’s policy decisions by U.S. client states.

Four Trends in the Region

Let me conclude with four broad observations about overall trends in the Middle East.

First, religion is back as a driver of history.  Once a contest of nationalisms, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is now part of the region’s multi-dimensional religious strife.  Both Sunni and Shiite extremists have made violent opposition to Zionism – as opposed to support for the Palestinian cause – a central feature of their ideologies.  This position enjoys broad support in the Muslim world.  Despite common interests with Israel, Arab pragmatists are constrained by Muslim loathing of Zionism in what they can do with it.  Meanwhile, the transformation of Judaism into a racist state ideology by Zionist extremists risks separating Israel from mainstream Jews abroad, who recoil from identification with the so-called “Jewish state’s” perversion of Jewish values and its increasingly amoral and inhumane behavior.  Ironically, however, as Hindutva tightens its hold on Indian politics, India’s Islamophobia is drawing it closer to Israel, which is becoming an increasingly important source of the country’s defense imports.

Second, the rising powers that Middle Eastern countries seek to engage in their affairs are unlikely to meet their expectations. China and India are the fastest growing markets for the Middle East’s energy exporters. But China has assiduously avoided entanglement in the region’s conflicts – whether Israel-Palestine or Gulf Arab-Iran. China is now the major foreign presence in Iraq’s oil sector, a significant investor in Egyptian and Iranian industry, a growing force in engineering management and construction in the Gulf, and a lucrative market for Israeli defense and internal security technology. Indian and Pakistani labor is a mainstay of Gulf Arab economies. But with the exception of an effort to loosen Pakistan’s hold on Afghanistan by investing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, India too is keeping its distance from Middle Eastern politics.

Third, with the exception of the United States, external powers have all declined to associate themselves with Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ hysteria about Iran. U.S. policy follows that of Israel in its focus on Iran’s potential to become a nuclear weapons state. Americans remain in denial about our role in expanding Iran’s political sway in the region, which is the principal concern of the Gulf Arabs. Washington’s confused approach to Qatar’s blockade by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia reflects this. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA will not be followed by other great powers. It is more likely to isolate Israel and the United States than Iran.

Finally, there is a very real danger that the low intensity conflict now underway between Israel and Iran in Syria and the Gulf Arabs’ proxy wars with Iran could escalate into a major war. One scenario for such a war would be a Saudi-assisted Israeli assault on Iran calculated to drag in the United States or a direct attack on Iran by U.S. forces. This would likely trigger strikes on Israel by Iranian forces and their allies in Syria and Lebanon and efforts by Iran to sabotage Saudi and Emirati oil production. It is unclear how such a war would end. But, having delegated U.S. policy toward Iran to Israel and the Gulf Arabs, the United States is in no position to decide that question or very much else.

Remarks delivered to the Middle East Project by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. in Washington, D.C. on May 10, 2018.

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books.




‘Ehud Barak Gave the Order to Kill’

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak received an earful from protestors when he was in San Francisco recently to hawk his new book, as explained in this interview by Dennis J. Bernstein. 

By Dennis J Bernstein

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was on the stomp in San Francisco last weekend to promote his new memoir, My Country, My Life.  He was met by a group of highly organized young protesters who were interested in a few facts that the former Israeli PM did not include in his new memoir.

“Ehud Barak gave the order to kill 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, with 344 children dead,” called out Lauren Holtzman, a member for Jewish Voice for Peace and one of those arrested at the event. “He declared the siege on Gaza, limiting food, medicine and water.” Holtzman was referencing  Barak’s responsibility as Israeli Defense Minister for Operation Cast Lead, the Jewish State’s bloody 2008-09 assault on Gaza.

In 2010, as prime minister, Barak launched a deadly attack against a group of international human rights activists heading to Gaza on a Freedom Flotilla that was meant to punch a hole in the punishing Israeli maritime blockade, and to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The flotilla was attacked by Israeli Security Forces and 10 of the unarmed human rights advocates were murdered by Israeli military gunfire.

The protest was intensified by the recent slaughters in Gaza of unarmed Palestinians. Barak’s San Francisco book promo also came only one day after Nakba Day, the annual commemoration by Palestinians around the world of the violent displacement of 750,000 Palestinians immediately following Israel’s formation on May 15, 1948. The word Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic.

Dennis Bernstein spoke with Lauren Holtzman on KPFA radio on May 17 in Berkeley, Ca.

Dennis Bernstein: As former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak promoted his new memoir at an event at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Wednesday night.  Members of Bay Area Arab, Jewish, LGBTQ and student communities repeatedly stood up to protest, condemning Barak for war crimes committed against the Palestinians.  Joining us is one of those young protesters who had the courage to stand up and step forward, Lauren Holtzman. Could you tell us a little bit about what got you there last night?

Lauren Holtzman: Together with the Palestine Action Network, we wanted to make it clear that war criminals are not welcome in the Bay Area.  Ehud Barak oversaw the massacre of thousands of Palestinians and the killing of unarmed human rights activists, which has led us to the terrible atrocities that Palestinians are facing today. [He called Israel “a great success,” but just on [May 14] alone Israeli forces murdered 62 people for marching, for making their voices heard, for their right to live in dignity and freedom, and for their right to return to their land.

DB: Could you describe what happened last night [May 16]?

LH: There were hundreds of people protesting outside the JCC.  We brought 25 members of Arab, Jewish, LGBT and student communities with us inside the JCC to state that we do not believe that Ehud Barak should be here and that we do not welcome him.  Palestinians should be free and should have the right to return.

Israel has turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison.  They are unable to travel freely, to pursue an education or get medical treatment.  Israel controls virtually all entry and exit. The war on the Palestinian people has been widely condemned as a war crime by numerous organizations, in particular Operation Cast Lead under Ehud Barak in 2008-2009.  We want to make sure that he is recognized as a war criminal.

DB: Eighteen of you were arrested after you shouted down the former Israeli prime minister.  Could you describe how that went down? Also, I am very interested to know what went on inside you as you took that very courageous action.

LH: Our courage in no way equals the courage of the people in Gaza who stand up for their rights and every day continue to be shot down for peacefully demonstrating.  Inside we were met with violent reactions by some for exposing the war crimes that Ehud Barak is responsible for.

This could not happen in our name, for those of us who are Jewish, who are Arab, who are queer, for all of us who are part of the Bay Area.  It is time for our communities to take a stand for justice, for equality, and for freedom for all people.

DB: What was the prime minister’s reaction when you stood up and called him out?

LH: As loudly as we could, we named the atrocities for which he was responsible.  We said that Palestinians have the right to return. We sang “Which side are you on?”  There were people there who did not want to hear what we had to say, but we felt it was so significant what we had to say it.

DB: You said that there was a violent reaction.  What do you mean?

LH: One of the people who stood up was actually hit by one of the audience members.  Other audience members tried to mess with people’s hair and pushed us as we stood with our arms to our sides.

DB: And you were then arrested?

LH: Yes.  We weren’t actually told what was happening except that we had to leave.  Later we were handcuffed and arrested.

But I want to stress why we were there.  Both the Israeli government and the Trump administration believe in building walls to restrict the movement of people, racial and religious profiling and trampling on people’s rights.  The Trump administration has thrown its full support behind the widely condemned occupation of Palestine. We hope that people at the JCC can see this.

If you oppose Trump’s Muslim ban, his border wall, and his other policies, you must also oppose Israel’s military occupation, the apartheid wall and the routine violence against the Palestinian people.  Ehud Barak is a representative of all of that.

DB: Why do you feel you needed to step over the line like that and face arrest?

LH: Personally, as a Jewish person, I find it horrifying that the JCC, which claims to value justice, would welcome a war criminal responsible for thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.  We need to be standing up against colonialism. We have a responsibility in our communities to recognize the crimes of colonialism. Silence is violence.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.




A New Flotilla Steams Towards Gaza

Elizabeth Murray is aboard a new flotilla to highlight the illegality of the 12-year old blockade that is choking the people of Gaza.

By Elizabeth Murray Special to Consortium News

Aboard the Al Awda

Islands Brygge,” an idyllic harbor park that stretches along the east bank of Copenhagen, was alive with a celebratory crowd on Monday as three ships were about to steam towards Gaza. The 2018 Freedom Flotilla—two ships from Sweden and one from Norway — will call at ports in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy before traveling through the Mediterranean Sea to its final destination: Gaza harbor.

Volunteer boat guides explained the history and mission of the Gaza Flotilla movement, which has organized a number of journeys to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Gaza and break the illegal economic siege. An independent U.N. panel 

and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) say the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions and is illegal.

Israel dragged the last Israeli settlers from Gaza and withdrew the Israeli Defense Force in 2005. When the Palestinian Authority lost a 2006 election in Gaza to Hamas, Israel imposed the illegal blockade. A considerable number of young Danish people learned about Gaza for the first time and walked away with new political awareness of the injustices suffered by Gaza’s children, who are denied the same carefree life enjoyed by Danish children.

The upbeat music and offerings of traditional Palestinian falafel wraps washed down with Danish beer created a festive atmosphere at the Freedom Flotilla tent Passerby lined up to buy ‘Boat to Gaza’ T-shirts, Palestinian kaffiyehs (traditional checkered scarves) while a Palestinian musician strummed the oud (traditional Palestinian lute) and sang a song of sentimental love for his Palestinian homeland. A local Palestinian man danced and waved the Palestinian flag while the crowd clapped along.

I feel proud and privileged to join a group of international passengers aboard the Norwegian ship “Al Awda,” (“The Return” in Arabic) as we prepared to embark on the first leg of our journey. Along our route we hope to raise awareness and educate people about the plight of Palestinians, especially in Gaza, who are denied the basic freedoms and human rights the rest of us take for granted.

Earlier this month as Gazans held The Great March of Return to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (or the Catastrophe) — in which 800,000 Palestinians were forcibly driven from their land and homes by Israel in 1948 — Israeli snipers cut down peaceful demonstrators one by one, killing hundreds and maiming thousands, generating shock and outrage around the world and providing further incentive for people to support the burgeoning Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Targeting Athletes

Israel seems to have reserved a special brand of sadism for Gaza’s athletes — several promising young cyclists and soccer players have become amputees, since Israel refused to allow them to leave Gaza to obtain the necessary medical attention that would have saved their legs. Reports of such heinous acts — documented widely in social media posts by those on the ground in Gaza — have served to further isolate Israel internationally and alienate peace-loving people around the world, who deplore the moral depravity of its government.

Reaching the harbor of Gaza (which means “jewel” in Arabic) should be as simple and straightforward as entering any harbor in Germany, France or Spain. But instead, Israel has denied Gazans use of their own harbor for commerce, trade and travel, and has bombed it on numerous occasions, along with their electric power plants and sewage systems, making life miserable for the local population and rendering 97 percent of the drinking water toxic.

As the Freedom Flotilla embarks on its peace odyssey, it is our hope to bring a light of hope and solidarity to the people of Gaza, who deserve the peaceful, dignified and joyful existence that is their right.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Trump’s Iran Debacle: What Will Germany and Russia Do?

It falls to Germany to save the Iran nuclear deal and try to prevent a devastating new Middle East War, argues Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare  Special to Consortium News

In the wake of Donald Trump’s thoroughly unsurprising decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear accord, two countries that may be most in the hot seat are Germany and Russia.  The big question now is whether their mutual discomfort leads them to find common cause.

 Angela Merkel’s plight is especially painful.  Not only are Germany’s extensive business links with Iran at risk thanks to Trump’s decision to re-apply sanctions, but the German chancellor’s political fortunes have taken a beating thanks to years of American incompetence in the Middle East.

 In Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton devoted two weeks during the 2011 Arab Spring to persuading Qatar to join the anti-Gaddafi coalition, only to stand by and watch as the oil-rich emirate seized the opportunity to distribute some $400 million to murderous Salafist rebels spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The result was a failed state that soon turned into a jumping-off point for hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees making their way to Germany and other parts of the European Union.

 Remarkably, Clinton did the same thing a few months later in Syria by teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab gulf states to fund what would soon become a full-scale Islamist invasion.  The upshot: more murder and mayhem, more refugees, and more terrorism when ISIS – funded by the Saudis and Qataris according to no less an authority than Clinton herself – decided to extend its jihad to Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester, Barcelona, and Berlin starting in November 2015.  As if that weren’t enough, Washington irritated its German partners by opposing the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline, a Russo-German project headed by ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and then, under Trump, by pulling out of the Paris climate accords last June. 

Untutored Ambassador

A bruised and battered Merkel thus saw her share of the vote shrink by more than twenty percent in last September’s German federal

election while the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland saw its portion more than double. Now, Trump’s decision to dump the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear agreement is formally known, is making matters much, much worse.  First, Israel took advantage of the move to launch its biggest attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, raising prospects that Middle East chaos may be poised for yet another upsurge.  Then US Ambassador Richard Grenell showed what America really thinks of its German partners by tweeting: “As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy.  German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”  

Grenell, a former Fox News commentator, sounded like an all-too-typical American boss barking an order at an unpaid intern.  Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the tweet as an “impertinence” while Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left German Social Democrats, said: “It’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy, especially not the US ambassador.  But he does appear to need some tutoring.”  

 Quite right.  But Germany is not the only one feeling the pain – Russia is too.  It is allied with Iran in support of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad, yet has somehow managed to maintain good relations with Israel.  This is why Putin invited Benjamin Netanyahu to be his personal guest at this week’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow where the Israeli prime minister joined Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in laying a wreath on the Soviet Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  When Putin paid tribute to the Soviet troops “who saved Europe and the world from slavery, from the horrors of the Holocaust,” by defeating Nazi Germany (quote begins at 2:00), there was no doubt as to whom he was addressing.

But the celebration also featured a traditional Red Square military parade featuring not only unmanned robo-tanks and Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, but mobile batteries of anti-aircraft missiles. Less than twelve hours later, Netanyahu showed his thanks by destroying at least five Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries as part of the assault on Syria.  According to the Israeli military, Israel notified Russia of the impending attack via “deconfliction” procedures in place since September 2015 – which means that Russia more or less assented to the destruction of its own defense systems. 

It’s Up to Germany

This can’t go on, especially with Israel intervening ever more heavily on the side of pro-Al Qaeda rebels whom Russia, Iran, and Syria are trying to repel.  The more the battle intensifies, the more impossible Putin’s position will become.

The man needs back-up, but from where?  The answer lies in the other signatories to the JCPOA – China, the UK, France, and Germany.  But the first is preoccupied with events in the Far East, the second is in political disarray, while the third is a joke thanks to the preening and arrogant Emmanuel Macron.  That leaves Germany.  If it provided Russia with even a modicum of support, the upshot could be a major shift in the way the deadly game of Middle East politics is played.

Germany has real clout with regard to the Jewish state. It is Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and, after the US, its second largest trading partner overall.  It is an important cultural and scientific partner, while Berlin, in one of history’s more delectable ironies, is now home to one of Israel’s largest expatriate communities, some 15,000 Jews and Arabs who find life in the German capital freer and more vibrant than back home and, as a consequence, have peppered it with Hebrew-language kindergartens, a Hebrew library, a Hebrew literary magazine, a Hanukkah market, and Iranian-Israeli techno parties.

The same goes for Germany and Iran.  As Gary Leupp recently pointed out in Counterpunch,Germany comprises sixty percent of EU investment in the Islamic state where it sells machinery, metals, chemicals, and agricultural products.  With Daimler recently signing an agreement with Iranian Khodro to produce Mercedes-Benz motor vehicles, its investments are currently increasing at a rate of around about twenty-five percent per year.

Amid inflation, a currency crisis, and a growing strike wave, Iran is grateful for such business and desperate for more.  So when Germany talks, it listens.  Syria, much of which resembles postwar Berlin after a half-dozen years of imperialist assault, would listen as well if Germany gave it half a chance.  Indeed, it would be so grateful for the slightest olive branch that Damascenes would no doubt take to the streets in celebration.

Walking on Eierschalen

So a joint Russo-German diplomatic offensive could provide the basis for a genuine realignment.  Needless to say, there are a thousand and one reasons why this won’t occur.  Germany walks on eggshells when it comes to Israel for obvious historical reasons and is therefore reluctant to do anything that might anger the Jewish state.  It routinely defers to the US, which midwifed the German Federal Republic in 1949 and provided it with a veneer of political legitimacy in the ensuing decades.  Public intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas have made careers out of arguing that Germany’s future lies in deeper and deeper integration with the liberal west, while NATO and the EU insure a deepening western orientation as well.  

If Germany were to turn in the other direction, the protests would be deafening not only in Washington, Paris, and London, but in Berlin.  They would be even more so in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltics where local nationalists, many leaning in an increasingly fascist direction, have come to rely on unbroken western support.

It would be a dangerous leap into the unknown on the part of a country that couldn’t be more risk averse.  But Germany may have no choice.  Trump is nuts, American power is receding more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible two or three years ago, while western liberalism is crumbling as well.  Hardliners are in control in Washington where Republicans and Democrats compete to see who can be more obsequious to Israel and more hostile to all things Russian.  The same goes for Tel Aviv and Tehran where, thanks to Trump, the hardliners are equally in the saddle.  

If there are two countries that know what can happen when the crazies are in control, it’s Russia and Germany.  But now that history has placed them in the same boat as it approaches the cataracts, Putin, for one, is rowing madly.  Will Merkel lend a hand with the oars?

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  




War Clouds Gather Around Iran

With Israel and Iran exchanging direct fire, Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and John Bolton promoting regime change in Tehran, Inder Comar offers four reasons why the US may be close to attacking the Islamic Republic.

By Inder Comar

In 1953, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, with the help of the British government, orchestrated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.

Mossadeq had nationalized the Iranian oil industry, including the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This was unacceptable to the United Kingdom. A request to the United States for assistance led to “Operation Ajax,” and the overthrow of Mossadeq. 

Mossadeq’s political successor was the Shah of Iran, who ruled with the support of the U.S. and the U.K. until 1979, when he was himself overthrown by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

None of this is secret. The CIA openly admitted that it was behind the coup in 2013.

While the coup is not a secret, it remains ancient history in the United States. Maybe even forgotten history.

But while the U.S. has forgotten, the rest of the world remembers. Iran certainly remembers.

And this history adds a weighty and grim perspective to the U.S. decision to walk away from the multi-party agreement with Iran related to nuclear development. 

The fact of the matter is that the United States has already successfully sponsored regime change in Iran. And even more recently, the United States invaded Iran’s neighbor, Iraq, under false pretenses to overthrow its government. The United States promised democracy, but instead, Iraqis were subjected to years of death and destruction, torture and ISIS. 

The past is prologue. In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the support of rebel groups against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the support of a Saudi-led war of aggression in Yemen, the question on everyone’s mind at this time is a terrible one: has the United States now committed itself to violent regime change in Iran?

Here are four reasons that point towards a potential attack against Iran in the near future.

(1) President Trump is now openly committed to regime change. This, according to the President’s personal lawyer, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Trump thus joins in the opinion of his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who has been openly advocating for regime change since 2016.

Trump additionally joins his national security advisor, John Bolton, who also supports regime change. Bolton gave a speech in 2017 in which he promised members of an Iranian exile group, known as the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK) that the Iranian regime would be toppled by 2019 — next year. Bolton was an early member and supporter of the Project for the New American Century, a now infamous non-profit that provided the intellectual framework for the invasion of Iraq.

(2) The United States does not care about its international law obligations. In any other nation, a political party that openly advocated for war and regime change in another country would be a scandal.

But in the United States, it is common place, an every-day affair.

In the Middle East (and elsewhere), the United States has blatantly disregarded its international legal obligations to maintain collective peace and security. The United States committed the crime of aggression against Iraq, and illegally sponsored armed militias in Syria as a means of overthrowing the Syrian government. 

There are very clear international norms regarding the use of violence internationally—norms that are designed to keep global peace.

But time and time again, the United States has ignored them, and violated them.

These international rules might stop another country. But they will not pose any barrier to a U.S.-led invasion of or attack against Iran.

(3) There is already a brewing conflict in Syria between Iran and Israel. One of the biggest proponents of a U.S. walkaway from the

Iran deal was Benyamin Netanyahu, who gave a televised address in English on April 30, claiming that Iran could not be trusted.

In hindsight, the speech was nakedly aimed at convincing Trump to walk away from the deal. It worked. And just an hour after Trump’s decision to tear up the deal, Israel was already bombing targets in Syria, trying it seems to provoke an Iranian response. Iran did respond with an ineffective rocket attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which on Thursday unleashed a full Israeli response on Iranian targets in Syria.

There is a real potential for a grave flashpoint in the coming weeks that could lead to a major war.

(4) Imperialism and militarism, now dominant as cultural values in the United States, will make another war seem attractive to many Americans. It is a sad, awful truth, but it is one that honest people have to confront: militarism is an accepted and glorified value in the United States.

The U.S. is a country where nearly two-thirds of the population support torture against suspect terrorists, and where more than forty percent of Americans think it was the “right decision” to invade Iraq in 2003–a war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, produced millions of refugees, led to the rise of ISIS, and was done in blatant violation of international law.

The painful reality is that imperial values are ascendant in the United States.

A lonely, alienated mass of consumers, too spiritless to question the dominant narrative, will simply look the other way as their government targets another society for annihilation.

Democratic norms are lost even as a vast surveillance and killing machine is deployed abroad. Precious and inalienable freedoms are swiftly traded for the false glory of foreign wars and domination.

Spiritual decay sets in, violence ever more glorified, hierarchy and dictatorship seen as positive forces.

America is desperately in need of a cultural and spiritual change. But the good that America and Americans could do will never flower so long as war and aggression are accepted and celebrated. 

This article was originally published on Inder Comar’s blog.

Inder Comar is the executive director of Just Atonement Inc., a legal non-profit dedicated to building peace and sustainability, and the Managing Partner of Comar LLP, a private law firm working in technology. He is a recognized expert on the crime of aggression, the legality of the Iraq War, and international human rights. He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, a Master of Arts degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Stanford University. His Twitter handle is @InderComar.




VIPS Call on Trump Not to Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal

As Donald Trump announces his decision at 2 pm Tuesday on staying in the Iran nuclear deal, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity urge him in this memo exclusive to Consortium News not to base his decision on fabricated evidence.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Being “Played” By Bogus Evidence on Iran

NOTE: The evidence presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 alleging a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program shows blatant signs of fabrication. That evidence is linked to documents presented by the Bush Administration more a decade earlier as proof of a covert Iran nuclear weapons program. Those documents were clearly fabricated as well.

We sent President Bush a similar warning about bogus intelligence — much of it fabricated by Israel —six weeks before the U.S./UK attack on Iraq, but Bush paid us no heed. This time, we hope you will take note before things spin even further out of control in the Middle East. In short, Israel’s “new” damaging documents on Iran were fabricated by the Israelis themselves.

Executive Summary

The Bush administration account of how the documents on Iran got into the hands of the CIA is not true. We can prove that the actual documents originally came not from Iran but from Israel. And the documents were never authenticated by the CIA or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Two former Directors-General of the IAEA, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, have publicly expressed suspicion that the documents were fabricated. And forensic examination of the documents yielded multiple signs that they are fraudulent.

We urge you to insist on an independent inquiry into the actual origins of these documents. We believe that the renewed attention being given to claims that Iran is secretly working to develop nuclear weapons betokens a transparent attempt to stoke hostility toward Iran, with an eye toward helping “justify” pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

* * *

Mr. President,

We write you in the hope that you will be informed of our views before you decide whether to continue to adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran. We fear that upcoming decisions may be based, in part, on unreliable documents alleging secret nuclear weapons activity in Iran.

On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu displayed some of those documents in his slide show on what he called the Iranian “atomic archive.” But those are precisely the same fraudulent documents that were acquired by the CIA in 2004.

The official accounts offered by the senior officials of the CIA about the provenance of these documents turned out be complete fabrication. Journalists were told variously that the documents (1) were taken from the laptop computer of an Iranian working in a secret research program; (2) were provided by a German spy; or (3) simply came from a “longtime contact in Iran.”

However, Karsten Voigt, the former German Foreign Office official in charge of German-North American cooperation, revealed in an on the record interview with historian/journalist Gareth Porter in 2013 that senior officials of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, told Voigt in November 2004 that the documents had been passed to the CIA by a BND source. That source, the senior BND official said, was not considered trustworthy, because he belonged to the Mujahideen-E-Khalq (MEK), the armed Iranian opposition group that was known to have served as a conduit for information that Israeli intelligence (Mossad) wanted to provide to the IAEA without having it attributed to Israel. (In 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed MEK from the list of terrorist organizations.)

Voigt recalled that the senior BND officials told him of their worry that the Bush administration was going to repeat the error of using fraudulent intelligence, as was the case with the notorious “Curveball”, the Iraqi living in Germany, whom the BND had identified as unreliable. Nonetheless, Curveball’s fictions about mobile biological weapons laboratories in Iraq —with “artists renderings” by the CIA of those phantom labs — had been used by Colin Powell in his error-ridden presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003, leading to war on Iraq.

As for the purported Iranian documents, the CIA never ruled out the possibility that they were fabricated, and the IAEA made no effort to verify their authenticity. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recalled in his memoirs that he had believed the documents were not really from the Iranian government and that, as he put it, “it made more sense that this information originated in another country.” ElBaradei stated publicly from 2005 through 2009 that the documents had not been authenticated, and he refused to use them as “evidence” of a covert Iranian weapons research program. And ElBaradei’s predecessor as Director-General, Hans Blix, has said he is “somewhat more worried” about the intelligence on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program than about the dubious intelligence he saw on Iraq, because “there is as much disinformation as there is information.”

Each of the documents mentioned by both Netanyahu and the IAEA reports bears tell-tale signs of fraud. The most widely reported document in the collection is a set of schematic drawings showing efforts to redesign the re-entry vehicle of Iran’s Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear weapon. But the slide that Netanyahu displayed on the screen in his slide show provides visual confirmation of fraud. The drawing shows clearly the “dunce cap” design of the Shahab-3 reentry vehicle. But Iran’s Defense Ministry had already discarded that “dunce cap” reentry vehicle when it began to develop a new improved missile. That redesign began in 2000, according to the Congressional testimony in September 2000 of CIA national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs Robert D. Walpole. But the earliest dates of any of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapon program documents on the project for redesign of the reentry vehicle in the May 2008 IAEA report on the entire collection are from summer 2002 after the “dunce cap” was replaced. The “baby-bottle” shaped reentry vehicle on the redesigned missile was not known to the outside world until the first test of the new missile in mid-2004. So those drawings could not have been done by someone who was actually involved in the redesign of the original Shahab-3 reentry vehicle; it was clearly the work of a foreign intelligence agency seeking to incriminate Iran, but slipping up on one important detail and thus betraying its fraudulent character.

The second document from that same collection turned over to the IAEA that has been widely reported is the so-called “green salt project” — a plan for a bench-scale system of uranium conversion for enrichment given the code name “Project 5.13” and part of a larger “Project 5”. Other documents that had been provided by the MEK showed that “Project 5” also included a sub-project involving ore processing at a mine designated “Project 5.15,” according to a briefing by IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen in February 2008.

But when Iran turned over detailed documents to the IAEA in response to its questions about Project 5.15 in 2008, the IAEA learned the truth: there had been a real ore processing project called Project 5.15, but it was a civilian project of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – not part of a covert nuclear weapons program—and the decision to create Project 5.15 had been made on August 25, 1999—more than two years before the initial date of the project found in the collection of supposedly secret nuclear weapons research documents. That fact gives away the ruse surrounding the numbering system of “Project 5″ adopted by intelligence specialists who had fabricated the document.

A third document that purportedly shows Iranian nuclear weapons research is about what Netanyahu called “Multi-Point Initiation in hemispheric geometry” and the IAEA called “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.” Significantly, that document was not part of the original collection that the CIA had passed to the IAEA, but had been given to the IAEA years later, and officials from the IAEA, Europe and the United States refused to reveal which member country had provided the document. Former Director-General ElBaradei revealed in his memoirs, however, that Israel had passed a series of documents to the IAEA in 2008-09, in an effort to make the case that Iran had continued its nuclear weapons experiments until “at least 2007.”

The summary picture we offer above includes unusually clear evidence of the fraudulent nature of the documents that are advertised as hard evidence of Iran’s determination to obtain nuclear weapons. One remaining question is cui bono? — who stands to benefit from this kind of “evidence.” The state that had the most to gain from the fabrication of such documents was obviously Israel.

Completely absent from the usual discussion of this general problem is the reality that Israel already has a secret nuclear arsenal of more than a hundred nuclear weapons. To the extent Israel’s formidable deterrent is more widely understood, arguments that Israel genuinely fears an Iranian nuclear threat any time soon lose much of their power. Only an extreme few suggest that Iran’s leaders are bent on risking national suicide. What the Israelis are after is regime change in Tehran. And they have powerful allies with similar aims.

We therefore urge you, Mr. President, not to go along with these plans or to decide to pull the U.S. out of the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran based on fraudulent evidence.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel US Army (ret.); Former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (associate VIPS)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Kathleen Christison, Senior Analyst on Middle East, CIA (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.) 

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain,Wing Commander, RAAF (ret.); Intelligence Officer & ex-Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, Ph.D., former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst; CIA Presidential briefer (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council & CIA political analyst (ret.)

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Gareth Porter, author/journalist (associate VIPS)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, Colonel, US Army (ret.); also Foreign Service Officer who resigned in opposition to the US war on Iraq

This Memorandum was drafted by VIPS Associate Gareth Porter, author of “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” 2014