Archive | April 22nd, 2011

Gadhafi Spokesman: Govt Arming Civilians in Anticipation of NATO Invasion

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Vows War Will Be ’10 Times as Bad as Iraq’

by Jason Ditz,

In comments made on Thursday, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim revealed that the Gadhafi regime has been arming civilians around their controlled areas in preparations for resisting a NATO ground invasion.

“Many cities have organized themselves into squads to fight any possible NATO invasion,” Ibrahim revealed, adding that if NATO invaded “we will make it 10 times as bad as Iraq.”

While NATO members have been pushing for the escalation of the war, it does not appear a ground invasion is impending. The UN resolution which NATO usedas a pretext for the war explicitly forbids ground troops from occupying Libyan territory.

At the same time, a separate UN effort to provide humanitarian relief is underway. The European Union is said to be considering 1,000 ground troops for Libya as part of this UN plan.

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Zionist Pat Robertson asks Obama to free Pollard

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“Pollard’s sentence has been totally disproportionate to any concept of what we have of justice,” Zionist Christian American leader tells US president.

Zionist Christian American leader Pat Robertson joined the effort to release Zionist Spy agent Jonathan Pollard on Wednesday when he sent a letter to US President Barack Obama asking him to commute his life sentence to the nearly 25 and a half years he has already served.

The son of a former US senator from Virginia, Robertson, 81, mounted a campaign to become the Republican nominee for president in 1988. He is a widely recognized Zionist religious broadcaster, television evangelist, and successful businessman, who founded and chairs CBN, the Zionist Christian Broadcasting Network.

“Pollard’s sentence has been totally disproportionate to any concept of what we have of justice,” Robertson wrote in his letter to the US president. “I respectfully urge your administration to do the compassionate thing and commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard to the time he has already served.”

Noting Pollard’s poor health, Robertson warned Obama that “unless something is done he may die in federal custody.”

Robertson also wrote that Pollard had become a scapegoat for the crimes committed by Aldrich Ames, a former counter-intelligence officer and analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who was convicted in 1994 of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia.

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US to UN: Shelve Goldstone Report

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Envoy Rice urges UN to end preoccupation with Goldstone Report ‘once and for all’

WASHINGTON – America against Goldstone: US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, urged the world body Thursday to end its preoccupation with a report accusing Israel of committing war crimes during the Gaza War.

“The United States urges the United Nations to end, once and for all, its actions in relation to the Goldstone Report,” she said.

The remarks were made during a periodical Security Council session on the state of affairs in the Middle East and the Palestinian question. The US has been leading calls to shelve the controversial report following Judge Richard Goldstone’s recent retraction in a Washington Post article.

“Israel has the democratic institutions and ability to carry out serious investigations-and is doing so,” Rice said Thursday. “Justice Goldstone recently concluded that Israel has undertaken an appropriate review process and made changes in its combat doctrine.”

“As we made clear when the Goldstone Report was first presented, we did not see evidence that the Israeli government intentionally targeted civilians. Justice Goldstone has now reached the same conclusion,” she said. “He also concluded that Hamas has ‘done nothing’ to investigate the ‘allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.’”

Last week, members of the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of a decision calling for annulment of the report following Goldstone’s retraction.

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Europe considering recognition of Palestine

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France says European states considering recognizing Palestine; Britain echoes sentiment, says ‘nothing is off table with regard to recognition in September.’ Israel’s UN envoy: Peace cannot be imposed from outside

France said Thursday that European nations are considering recognizing a Palestinian state, heightening pressure on the United States and Israel to re-launch the Middle East peace process.

“Recognition of the state of Palestine is one of the options which France is considering, with its European partners, in a bid to re-launch the peace process,” French ambassador Gerard Araud told a Security Council debate on the Middle East.

Britain also indicated that state recognition could be considered.

“Nothing is off the table with regard to recognition in September,” said a British spokesman. “But nor are we specifying what conditions would be necessary, or sufficient, to recognize, or indeed not to recognize – we’ll have to look at all relevant factors at the time.”

Pressure has mounted on US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to break the deadlock in the peace process. Obama will soon make a speech on the Middle East conflict, diplomats said.

“We expect that in a couple of weeks the president will have an opportunity to talk in more depth about the Middle East and North Africa,” a senior US official said ahead of Thursday’s UN Security Council debate.

At the meeting, US ambassador Susan Rice reinforced US calls for the Palestinian leadership to return to direct talks, frozen since last September amid recriminations over Israeli settlement building.

“Negotiations between the parties remain the only path to a solution that resolves all issues and establishes a sovereign state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel,” Rice told the Security Council, without mentioning Obama’s plans.

Israel’s ambassador Meron Reuben insisted there could only be peace through face-to-face talks.

“It cannot be imposed from the outside,” Reuben said. “And any lasting peace agreement must be built on the core principles of mutual recognition and security.”

Obama last year set a target of September 2011 for an accord to set up a Palestinian state. But talks between the rivals ended within weeks after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.

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‘US helped IsraHell with UN Gaza war probe’

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Source–Herald Sun

THE US worked behind the scenes to help Israel contain United Nations probes into possible war crimes committed during the 2008/’09 Gaza war, Foreign Policy reported today.

 

The online foreign affairs magazine cited exclusive WikiLeaks cables, detailing moves by Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice to prevent a more thorough UN investigation of alleged abuses in the conflict.

Some 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the three-week Israeli offensive in December 2008 and January 2009, which was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks.

According to one cable, Rice spoke with UN chief Ban Ki-moon three times on May 4, 2009 to urge him to remove recommendations for a wider investigation from a board of inquiry report into attacks on UN sites in Gaza.

Rice “underscored the importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue,” the US diplomatic cable said.

Later that year, Israel and the US pushed back against a similar effort to investigate the war by the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed a team led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

The release of the Goldstone probe coincided with US efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and, in another cable, Rice linked the two during a meeting with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Rice told Ayalon that Washington “is still studying the report, remains concerned about the fact-finding mission’s mandate and many of the recommendations in the report”, according to the cable.

She then urged him to “help us help them with progress on the peace process, saying that the report can be more easily managed if there is progress”.

The Goldstone report said there was evidence that both Israel and Palestinian militant groups had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, urging independent probes on both sides.

Two weeks ago, Goldstone stepped back from the report, saying new information about Israel’s military actions led him to believe he had erred in concluding that Israel targeted civilians during the 22-day conflict.

He cited a UN committee of independent experts that followed up on the report and found Israel “has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza”.

In contrast, Hamas, the Islamist militant group ruling Gaza, “have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel” that triggered the offensive, Goldstone wrote.

Israel, which bitterly opposed the investigation from the beginning, had since demanded that the UN rescind the report.

But last week, three report co-authors – Pakistani human rights’ lawyer Hina Jilani; Christine Chinvin, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics; and former Irish peacekeeper Desmond Travers – rejected calls to retract it.

“We concur in our view that there is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report, as nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict,” they said in a statement to The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

 


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U.S. Human Rights Report Slams Zio-Nazi Racist Regime Conduct Toward Asylum Seekers

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State Department takes aim at the Population and Immigration Authority for granting visas to asylum seekers that do not include basic social rights.

Haaretz.com

The 2010 Annual Report on Human Rights, published by the U.S. State Department, sharply criticizes Israel’s conduct toward refugees and asylum seekers entering its territory.

The report, published shortly before Passover, also takes aim at the Population and Immigration Authority for granting visas to asylum seekers that do not include basic social rights, for preventing Eritrean and Sudanese citizens from acquiring refugee status, and for its “hot return” policy, which allows the army to return illegal immigrants to a neighboring country if 24 hours have not elapsed since their entry.

africans - Moti Milrod - December 14 2010 Asylum-seekers in southern Tel Aviv, December 14, 2010.
Photo by: Moti Milrod

The report, which covers human rights violations around the globe, cites several instances in which immigration inspectors waited outside offices where refugees were submitting requests for asylum and arrested them as soon as their requests were denied. Incidents like these, according to the report, have led to a drop in the number of refugees requesting asylum in Israel. “The government failed to provide asylum seekers copies of their interview transcripts or sufficient explanations of their determinations,” the report observes.

It further notes that a temporary injunction issued by the Supreme Court following a petition by refugee aid organizations, allowed asylum seekers to be accompanied by legal representatives during their interviews, “but the government continued to bar paralegals, and most asylum seekers could not afford counsel for hearings.”

According to the report, the National Status Granting Board committee, staffed by four government officials, considered 3,211 cases between 2008 and 2009 but recommended refugee status for just three.

“We’ve been saying for years now that the asylum system in Israel, which operates under the Interior Ministry, is fundamentally flawed and works on the assumption that everyone is a liar,” said attorney Yonatan Berman of the Hotline for Migrant Workers. “The very statistic implied by these numbers means the asylum system views only 0.1 percent as refugees, which is virtually 0 percent, and shows that the system has decided not to seriously or honestly examine the requests for asylum, but rather, to serve as a fig leaf.”

Contrary to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel does not confer citizenship upon recognized refugees. In 2009, an Ethiopian refugee who had lived in Israel for a decade filed a petition on the matter with the Jerusalem District Court, but it has yet to reach a verdict.

The report also criticizes the “hot return” policy pertaining to asylum seekers caught crossing the border from Egypt. “Domestic and international NGOs and the UNHCR continued to be concerned with the practice of ‘coordinated returns’ or ‘hot returns’ of some asylum seekers to Egypt because of allegations that those individuals were later returned to their countries of origin in violation of their right to seek asylum and protection against such return,” the report observed. “The government stated that through October 10, it had summarily returned to Egypt 136 persons who had crossed the country’s border. This was a decrease from 517 persons who returned to Egypt after crossing the border in 2008-09.”

The report also cites cases of incitement and violence against refugees and asylum seekers within Israel. “On December 18, an unknown arsonist threw a burning tire at the apartment door of five Sudanese refugees in Ashdod, setting the apartment on fire. The Sudanese refugees escaped by breaking through the barred glass window and were treated for smoke inhalation. Local residents and storeowners claimed they were attacked because they were refugees from Sudan. Ashdod police began an investigation that continued at year’s end,” the report notes, adding that “on December 18, a group of about 20 teenagers severely beat three 16-year-old daughters of African asylum seekers in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv. The victims reportedly did not file a police report because they feared retribution.”

The report places some of the responsibility for the violent atmosphere at the door of Israeli politicians, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ). “On March 22, Knesset member Yaakov Katz issued a letter that called for the establishment of an ‘infiltrator’ city to hold asylum seekers and stated that in 10 years the ‘infiltrators’ could ‘ruin’ the country,” according to the report. “On July 19, Minister of Interior Eli Yishai called for IDF soldiers to ‘block infiltrators’ coming from the southern part of the country and stated, ‘This is an existential threat to the State of Israel.’ On September 2, Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman stated that the ‘infiltrators at the southern border create a real danger to the existence of the state of Israel, and Israel has to fight this phenomenon in every possible way.’ In July the mayor of Eilat called on city residents to demonstrate against the large community of ‘infiltrators’ who had taken over the city, created a climate of fear, and lowered real estate value.”

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Iran official threatens retaliation for Stuxnet

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The head of Iran’s civilian defense force threatened legal retaliation against software maker Siemens for what he said was complicity in the Stuxnet worm attack on Iran’s nuclear-fuel development facilities.

Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s civilian defense, accused Siemens of providing technical assistance and sample code for the Siemens-build SCADA systems that control the centrifuges and other critical systems at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Windows-based PCs controlling the systems were among more than 60,000 in Iran struck and damaged in 2010 by what security experts said was a carefully designed and directed virus attack.

Iranian government officials blame the United States and Israel for the attack. The German Siemens is now, apparently, an accomplice, though Jalali offered no specifics on why he believed Siemens cooperated with those who directed Stuxnet, or more evidence that it was the U.S. and Israel that did it.

“Our executive officials should legally follow up the case of Siemens SCADA software which prepared the ground for the Stuxnet virus,” he told the told Iranian news services.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO has also demanded investigations into the malware attack, warning that it could have sparked a “Chernobyl tragedy” by causing centrifuges refining uranium to spin out of control.

Israel admitted it did test the Stuxnet virus after it was identified, but officials from both Israel and the United States have denied any direct involvement.

Both Israeli and U.S. officials have acted suspiciously smug about the attack, which sounds like an admission of guilt. There is no hard evidence confirming that, however.

The attack was more than just script kiddies looking for new things to brag about, though.

Not only is Stuxnet reputedly one of the most sophisticated and effective attack programs, according to some of those who have dissected it, it appears to have been part of a larger campaign in which two Iranian nuclear scientists were murdered and another critically injured.

Given the stakes (nuclear), Iran’s resolve to take revenge in kind (cyber-militia) and heightened tensions in the region (several decades worth), it’s Jalali is actually dialing down the rhetoric by calling for legal avenues of counter-attack rather than something bloodier.

On the other hand, an anonymous hacker who claims he or she was taking revenge for an “illegitimate firing” claims to have penetrated security of the giant wind farm run by a Florida electrical utility.

“Bgr R” claims to have found a weakness in Cisco security management software used it to hack into the SCADA systems used to control the turbines on a 200 megawatt wind turbine system outside Albuquerque, New Mexico owned by Florida Power & Light subsidiary NextEra Energy Resources.

NextEra said it has no evidence of having been hacked, and no damage to show for it.

In an email interview with IDG News, Big R showed screenshots as evidence of the penetration, which looked legitimate enough to cast doubt on the claim being a hoax, but didn’t offer conclusive proof.

Stuxnet was the first concerted attack on the kind of public utilities and facilities that could create disasters in the real world as well as the digital one.

A wind farm doesn’t have the same kind of risk potential. And this one might not even have been hacked.

If the next phase of computer insecurity is a series of sudden blackouts, brownouts, traffic-system outages, obscene messages on digital highway-construction signs and the like, I doubt anyone’s going to enjoy the advance of digital violence into meatspace.

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Zio-Nazi’s acting like mad dog cornered

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No mercy on the civilian population of Gaza where entire families have been annihilated by Israeli bombardments on civilian homes.

As Israel tries to cripple the Goldstone report in an attempt to avoid war crime accountability, air attacks on the Gaza Strip have increased dramatically.

Ken O’Keefe, a human rights activist in Gaza, talks with Press TV about the possibility of Palestine receiving assistance from its Arab and Muslim neighbors. Ken also weighs in on the US and Israeli agenda to have the Goldstone Report ‘disappear’ and expresses his views regarding the humanity of the Palestinian people while living under occupation.

Press TV: We know that military attacks by Israel against Gazans have been on the increase and Hamas has said that it is now waiting to see what the Arab regimes are going to do in reaction to the situation that is taking place, as more and more attacks take place on the innocent Palestinian people. How likely is that to happen? We saw in the Israeli onslaught on Gaza (2009) that the Arab regimes basically met the situation with silence. Do you think it’s going to be different this time around?

Ken O’Keefe: It’s a dangerous tactic to take. I have not put a lot of stock in Egypt coming to the rescue; they’ve got their own battles going on internally. And there are still $1.3 billion in bribes being given to the Egyptian military.

We cannot ignore the root of the problem. Whatever Hamas is doing right now — whoever is firing the rockets — this is not the problem; that is a result of the problem. The problem is that we are 40 year plus into this blockade collective punishment policy of which Egypt was collaborating and which still hasn’t completely ended it.
Effectively, when you do that to people, they are going to bite back in the only way they can and in this case it’s the rockets.

I don’t agree with anyone who thinks that the Arab governments at this stage are going to come to the rescue of the Palestinians. I would say, to the contrary, that they are going to be sorely disappointed if they’re waiting for them right now.

Press TV: There would be some that would say basically it’s what came first, the chicken or the egg – who’s attacking whom – How would you answer that?

Ken O’Keefe: To me, there has been a tremendous amount of effort trying to confuse people on this issue; but it’s really quite simple. The beginning of the problem was the dispossession of the land from its people. And from then, it has spiraled and escalated in which the Palestinians have affectively been dealing with an occupier and invader who did not come with goodwill or neighborly respect; who has come and violated the Palestinian people from previous to 1948.

If you do that to any people….If the situation were changed, and it was an invading occupying entity that invaded Sweden, the Swedish people would fight back. If it was done to the American people, there would be blood spilling in the streets — Americans killing Americans in the most brutal ways if those Americans were collaborating with the invader and occupier. So it is obvious to those of us who have paid any attention.

It’s not as if no wrongs have been done on the Palestinian side – there are. However, the victim is not to be blamed for the circumstances to which he is resisting. If I was born and raised in Palestine — if I witnessed family members being murdered on a regular basis — I have no doubt whatsoever that I would be involved in resisting. Only because I’ve come from America am I not engaged in violent resistance. Ultimately though, resistance for the sake of resistance is not the answer – resistance must be for the sake of justice.

Press TV: Today, Susan Rice, US envoy to the UN, said that she wanted a war crimes report in the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive to disappear. In light of everything that’s taking place right now in Gaza, how do you find these comments in general?

Ken O’Keefe: I’ve long since reached the point where any US official of any stature is just not even worth listening to. If anyone takes these people seriously as if they have any agenda other than to serve tyranny then they are living in la la land.

This Susan Rice is a traitor as far as I’m concerned. They all are – Barack Obama and all of the top level Senators. To even deny that a massive war crime was committed in Zeitoon where friends of mine, the Sulooni family lives, is beyond debate – a massive war crime was committed there. We could talk about the Araja family that had a white phosphorus bomb explode into their home; six family members killed – one of them, a baby, was burnt to a crisp instantly. That is a massive war crime.
To even entertain the idea, that because Goldstone is threatened or bribed or simply doesn’t have the backbone to stand by his words – to entertain the idea that Susan Rice has any legitimacy — is ridiculous. She has none, absolutely none.

Ultimately, I don’t blame governments anymore; I blame us as people that we allow this type of thing to continue. We are allowing the Susan Rices and the Barak Obamas and the Tony Blairs and the David Camerons and all of these jokers to actually say this stuff as if there’s any truth to it. It’s really quite disgusting and it says a lot about us that we even tolerate it.

You’re saying that the people are allowing it, but for example, the family that you talked about saying that their baby was burnt to a crisp – the average American person when they turn on their TV are not seeing these images. Can you understand that a lot of them really don’t have any idea of what is actually taking place in Gaza?
Yes I know this very well because I was a brainwashed indoctrinated American, as well, and I used to say the pledge of allegiance, which ends with ‘liberty and justice for all’. You say that sort of stuff every day and it becomes true even though it has nothing to do with reality.

So I do understand and appreciate the fact that American people are generally good people; however, if you were taken to court for an alleged crime and you said in court that you didn’t know it was a crime, that would be no defense.

And from the American people not knowing that their government is using their tax dollars to commit mass murder — to commit crimes against humanity, to use depleted uranium, cluster bombs and other things — to kill people in extrajudicial assassination and then to claim well I didn’t know, is no defense.

You are guilty. You are paying for the mass murder whether you like it or not and it doesn’t matter whether you didn’t vote for that person or this person; it doesn’t matter.

Before I forget, there is a no fly zone over Libya. Why don’t we have a no fly zone over Palestine? Why not? Because our world is inherently corrupt ad because those that are in charge have no respect, at all, for human life on any level. There must be a no fly zone over Palestine now. All the jets and helicopter gunships flying over Palestine right now should be shot out of the sky. That is where the world should go and I’m sure we can make it so if we really decide to do something.

Press TV: How likely is it that Israel will once again invade Gaza in a full-fledged war? At the start of these Middle East revolutions and uprisings, political experts were warning to keep your eyes on what Israel is doing because as the international community’s attention is looking at these other ME countries, that it is likely that events will take place in Israel.

Ken O’Keefe: We have known about the ‘Samson’ option for some time now. For those not familiar – Israel has made it clear on more than one occasion that it is willing to use the Samson option i.e. to use its nuclear weapons; to target places in Europe and other parts of the world – this has always been a potential threat from Israel.

That must be our motivation to confront Israel because no nation — whether it is Israel or the US or any other nation — can be allowed to try and intimidate the rest of us by fear of them using their weapons.

Israel is like a mad dog being driven into a corner because it is losing. The Zionist project has peaked just like the American empire and it is heading down fast; there is no question of it. All the lies that it was getting away with for decades — incredible lies, perpetuating the notion that it was the victim and the Palestinians were the criminal…That day is now over.

All of these lies that they have lived off for decades are now coming tumbling down and the world is seeing the truth and realizing that they have been duped and that in fact the Palestinian people are the most remarkable people because despite having been through hell for decades and having been abandoned by everyone, including their Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters, they have not lost their humanity; they remain one of the most hospitable and beautiful people that you would ever want to meet. And they will not become the monster that is attacking them.

What is Israel going to do? It is impossible to predict, they could do anything. I do know that they have an incentive to try and create a conflict right now because we have the next freedom flotilla coming and they’re scared to death of that, and there are other things happening also, which aren’t good for Israel such as the possibility for real representative democracy in the Arab world.

This is a nightmare for Israel, so like a mad dog driven into a corner, it’s impossible to predict exactly what it’s going to do; but it will fight back in some way. Options might include exacting war on Gaza again or the Samson option of nuclear detonation in Europe or another part of the world. It’s time to deal with this mad dog and deal with it right now.

Interview with Ken O’Keefe, Human Rights Activist, Gaza.

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Revolutionary Guard chief: Iran can hit ships as far away as Indian Ocean

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Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari tells Fars news agency that his forces are expanding their capabilities to strike back against possible attacks from outside the Persian Gulf region.

The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard says his forces are expanding their capabilities to retaliate against possible enemy attacks from outside the Gulf.

Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari says Iran can strike back against foreign warships launching attacks against Iran from as far away as the Indian Ocean. Jafari made the comments in an interview with the semi-official Fars news agency Friday.

Shahin missile, Iran - AP 9.03.2011 The purported launching of a Shahin missile during war games in Iran.
Photo by: AP

He made no direct mention of the U.S., but his remarks are a clear reference to American forces in the region.

Iran has sought to expand the range of its missiles and display a stronger naval presence in the region, including sending two warships in February into the Mediterranean for a stop at a Syrian port.

Earlier this week, the Fars news agency reported that the commander of the Iranian army’s ground force had warned that attacking Iran would be suicidal.

“Today no enemy has the requirements and the desire to carry out a military attack against the powerful Iran and military aggression against Iran is highly unlikely and even impossible and is synonymous with the suicide of the aggressor,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

The general boasted that Iran’s military capabilities were stronger than they have been at any point in history.

There has been much speculation that Israel or the United States plan on attacking Iran in order to stop its nuclear program, which many charge is being used to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this allegation.

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Damascus on the cusp of Revolution

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President Assad’s latest declarations are on par with the desperate measures taken by his Egyptian counterpart. Eventually, something will give.

Syrian President Bashar Assad promised this week to rescind his country’s emergency regime, after nearly 48 years. Later he announced that the police commissioner of the city of Banias would be dismissed because of the killing of demonstrators there, and that new laws relating to communication and political parties, as well as legislation permitting more than five people to assemble (thus legalizing demonstrations ), would be enacted.

Syria - Reuters - April 17, 2011 Boys hold a banner during a demonstration in the the Syrian port city of Banias April 17, 2011.
Photo by: Reuters

However, much of what has been taking place in the Syrian regime recently is reminiscent of the actions of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who used all manner of tricks to stay in power during his final days. Like Mubarak, Assad dismissed his government, used thugs in civilian dress to suppress demonstrations (in Egypt they were called baltajia; in Syria, shabiha ) and of course he also scattered promises of reforms and replacement of key officials. In any event, at this stage, Assad is still not yet where Mubarak was in the wake of the Tahrir Square protests: He has not yet been forced to appoint a deputy and to transfer his powers to him.

There is another major difference between Assad and Mubarak: In Syria, the army unequivocally stands behind the president. We can also assume that Assad, like Libyan ruler Muammar Gadhafi, has drawn what seems like the logical conclusion from Mubarak’s fall: to use as much brutality as possible and ignore American protests, since that is the only way to stay in power. Assad and Gadhafi, as opposed to Mubarak, did not rely on American support and therefore consider themselves free of the restrictions that Mubarak faced.

But the key word in Syria is “still,” for even Assad’s military support is likely to evaporate. On his orders the army and the security services have slaughtered civilians in Deraa, Latakia, Homs and Aleppo. That can’t go on forever.

Although the Alawite minority holds most of the important positions in the army there, there are enough Sunni officers in sensitive positions who will consider abandoning Assad if the trouble continues. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, for example, soldiers and policemen have deserted to the opposition.

Meanwhile, Assad will continue announcing reforms and surviving from Friday to Friday, the day when major demonstrations are held, hoping they’ll peter out. It is clear the president and his people are trying to keep Damascus free of riots, and they are succeeding so far. That is also a major difference as compared to Egypt: There have been almost no major protests in Syria’s capital. If unrest erupts in Damascus, too, Bashar, his wife Asma and the rest of their family will be forced to start looking for refuge. Tehran might just fit the bill.

Unlike Eastern Europe in the 1980s, in the Middle East of 2011 there is no single solid cornerstone, like the Soviet Union. Not even Egypt. And yet, it is impossible to ignore the far-reaching international influences of recent events. In a world with Al Jazeera around, it is doubtful whether a young man in Damascus will accept life without certain rights while his counterpart in Cairo is having his voice heard for the first time.

Changing of the guard

The negotiations over a prisoner exchange to redeem kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit made major headlines this week, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that nothing significant has happened since December 2009. April 2011 is an era of a changing of the guard, in this realm. Senior Mossad official David Meidan will be replacing Hagai Hadas as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy for the negotiations. According to Hamas, Gerhard Conrad will resign and be replaced by another German mediator.

The spring and summer months offer the media many occasions to report on the family’s suffering again: another seder without Gilad, another anniversary of his kidnapping (in June ), another birthday in captivity (in August ). Journalists, seeking opportunities to attack Netanyahu, exploit these dates to emphasize the his inactivity.

The relationship between supply (protests by the family and Shalit’s supporters ) and demand (by the media ) generates phenomena that contribute nothing to the effort but another headline. These have included stopping traffic around the country for five minutes, having a seder on the sidewalk in front of the Netanyahu residence, holding a demonstration during the cabinet session, holding solidarity visits to the protest tent. But the Shalit family never really removes its gloves, and at this stage, even in light of the flood of images and gimmicks, it is doubtful whether any of the protest measures are having an effect.

According to various statements by Netanyahu, the heart of the dispute between Israel and Hamas is where to send the 450 senior terrorists that Hamas demands to be freed. The prime minister is refusing to release some of them, and is insisting others be expelled to Europe or Gaza – not to their West Bank homes. In December 2009 Netanyahu went further than his predecessor Ehud Olmert had earlier that year, but even that was not enough to close the deal.

There are two main reasons for this. The first and more important one concerns Hamas’ military leadership: Ahmed Jabari and Mohammed Def are rejecting any deal that does not humiliate Israel. Sometimes it seems they would only agree if all 450 prisoners were to be released to their homes (along with 550 additional prisoners chosen by Israel ). Although Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Hamas political branch in Damascus, said this week that “Hamas will not be able to obtain the release of all prisoners” – he does not seem to have a definitive role.

Despite the fact that the political wing in Damascus and the political leadership in Gaza apparently want to close a deal, the military wing’s veto is preventing this. One of Israel’s significant failures in the negotiations so far involves its maneuverings between Hamas’ divisions. Another is Netanyahu’s behavior. Toward the very end of Olmert’s term, it was reported that Netanyahu had granted his predecessor an “open ticket” to strike a deal before his new government took power. Even in his first months on the job, Netanyahu appeared willing to advance an agreement, but Jabari’s stubbornness apparently changed his mind.

Last month Haaretz journalist Yossi Verter quoted Netanyahu as telling Likud MKs that he is standing “all alone” in the face of pressure to conclude an agreement that would free large numbers of murderers. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who often attacked Olmert for his refusal to be more flexible, has fallen silent. Even in the meeting with the Shalits before Passover, Netanyahu said he did not intend to be more flexible.

Are there other ways to pressure Hamas to be more conciliatory? Hadas, who was highly praised as a Mossad operative, supports such measures. There may even be some going on, as reflected in recent reports of the kidnapping of Hamas engineer Dirar Abu Sisi in Ukraine and the assassination of Tayser Abu Snima of Rafah, who was involved in Shalit’s kidnapping.

In an announcement made on his behalf by the Prime Minister’s Office, Hadas said he is leaving for family reasons, thus not responding to speculation that his departure is due to Netanyahu’s indecisiveness.

On the other hand, Hamas and Hezbollah are apparently working to guarantee that Shalit will not be the Islamic terror groups’ only Israeli captive.

Post-Goldstone

Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed in The Washington Post expressing partial regret for his eponymous report on Operation Cast Lead was enthusiastically received in Israel, but it had only a minor effect internationally. The other members of his United Nations commission attacked him, and Netanyahu’s declared intent to establish an Israeli team to have the report formally voided is no more than a public relations move. The main thing the article did is to allow Goldstone once again to attend Yom Kippur services at his South Africa synagogue.

In any case, Goldstone, who did in fact change his mind (with considerable courage ), is not really exempting Israel from condemnation and international sanctions in the next round of fighting, whether in Lebanon or Gaza, which will not differ greatly from Cast Lead.

The fact that Military Advocate General Avichai Mandelblit came to his senses and belatedly convinced then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to begin a extensive investigation into the operation’s alleged war crimes reduced the Goldstone report’s damage and spurred Goldstone to reconsider. But the refusal by Barak and Ashkenazi to allow people outside the army to participate in the investigation – ostensibly as a show of support for IDF soldiers – damaged Israel’s argument.

Article 5 in the Turkel Commission mandate for investigating the deaths aboard the Gaza flotilla examines Israel’s policy of investigating violations during times of combat. Last week the commission heard testimony from several people, including Tel Aviv University Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, one of the leading Israeli experts on international law.

In a sharp, detailed and reasoned document, Benvenisti takes issue with Mandelblit’s testimony before the commission, saying that he has been mistaken in refusing to recognize international law as totally binding, and that he allows himself too much freedom to decide when to open investigations and how to conduct them.

Benvenisti claims that during combat, the army has “an obligation: to intentionally not harm civilians,” as anchored in the IDF’s own binding ethical code. The army’s obligation to investigate complaints is not limited to “the vague obligation to act in good faith,” he notes. “Investigation is an inseparable part of the framework designed to ensure that essential obligations are upheld during combat.”

He continues: “The obligation to investigate falls particularly on the military command, not only as a matter of principle but also due to specific instructions to prevent war crimes and to punish perpetrators.

“If these obligations are not met, the commanders may bear criminal responsibility for their subordinates’ actions,” Benvenisti writes, adding, “The civilian legal system is directly obliged to investigate civilians who were responsible, directly or through their orders, for combat violations.”

He notes that in general, partial information about suspected war crimes is enough to require an investigation: “According to the MAG’s document, the military prosecution appears to take a passive attitude … waiting for evidence without taking steps to clear up erroneous information and is even liable to get dangerously close to the boundaries of criminal prohibition.”

Benvenisti adds, “The MAG operates almost in a vacuum in constitutional terms. The civilian system inappropriately shrugs off its authority and responsibility in the field of combat rules, granting the military the exclusive authority to set the rules for warfare, examination and investigation and even the trial process.”

The MAG himself has a conflict of interest because the chief of staff can decide whether he will receive the personal rank of general (as happened to the two previous MAGs ), notes Benvenisti. The MAG’s rank must be determined via regulations, he says.

“It is only natural that the chief of staff will not want to give up the power to grant a rank to a potential critic,” he adds.

Benvenisti believes it is not clear whether the civilian system can properly monitor whether the chief of staff has abided by proper combat rules, without discussing the IDF’s de facto conduct.

He proposes a series of alternatives: establishing a Justice Ministry department to set combat regulations, manned by international law and combat experts, to help determine the IDF’s operative instructions along with the military prosecution and the Foreign Ministry’s legal advisers. He also proposes expanding the powers of the Justice Ministry’s police investigations department to handle combat violations and investigations. He proposes that this unit advise the military police, as well, and also recommends drafting a guide with obligatory combat rules – like “every self-respecting Western army” has.

These are important and interesting suggestions, but one thing is clear even now: If the Turkel Commission even considers implementing Benvenisti’s suggestions, Defense Minister Barak and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz will make every effort to prevent it.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Damascus on the cusp of Revolution

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