Archive | October 23rd, 2013

Is Saudi Arabia Holding Up The Geneva II Conference on Syria?


A UN vehicle returns to a hotel where experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are staying, in Damascus, Oct. 11, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)

UN Security Council Resolution 2118, passed unanimously on Sept. 27 dealing with the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, also calls “for the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference on Syria to implement the Geneva Communique,” which would lead to “the establishment of a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers, which could include members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.”

On Oct. 16, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he is intensifying efforts to convene the conference in mid-November. The next day, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told Reuters that the conference would take place Nov. 23-24, adding that Geneva II is “a way out for everyone.”

Following a meeting with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Cairo on Oct. 20, Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby also said the conference would take place on Nov. 23-24, although Brahimi, who is scheduled to travel to Qatar, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, said at the same news conference that the date has not been set.

Brahimi added that the opposition is facing “many problems” and that “A conference will not be convened without a convincing opposition that represents an important part of Syria’s opposition population.”

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, widely considered as the umbrella organization for the opposition, has said it “will participate in the proposed Geneva II conference when the military balance has changed and the regime has demonstrated a willingness to transfer power to a transitional government with full executive powers.”

The coalition will meet on Nov. 1 to discuss its participation in Geneva II. The Syrian National Council, a prominent member of the Coalition and backed by Saudi Arabia, has opposed taking part in peace talks with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with the support group for the Syrian opposition in London to encourage the opposition to participate in Geneva II.

While there might be some expected gamesmanship by Damascus about participating in Geneva II, as when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told Al-Monitor last month that he did not accept the coalition as the representative of the opposition to the conference, the bet here is that Damascus, in coordination with Moscow, and in the context of its cooperative approach to date in dealing with Resolution 2118, would likely be on board.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 14, Syria became a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, have been working in Syria since Oct. 1 to implement the UN resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.

Saudi Arabia has not welcomed the progress on the diplomatic and disarmament tracks. Riyadh would have preferred a US military attack on Syria and a proactive regime change policy toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The kingdom’s frustration spilled out last week when it refused a long-sought seat on the UN Security Council, in part because of “the Security Council’s inability to carry out its duties and responsibility” in Syria. The kingdom may now be working with its opposition allies and others for a more explicit statement that Assad would not stand for reelection in Syria’s 2014 elections as a condition of participation in the conference.

Nawaf Obaid wrote for Al-Monitor on the context for what he calls a more activist Saudi regional policy, building on what he describes as successes in Bahrain and Yemen, and including a “significantly expanded action by the Saudis in Syria.”

Madawi Al-Rasheed presented an alternative view, that Saudi Arabia’s digging in on Syria and rejecting a seat on the UN Security Council are signs of its isolation, not its leadership, as Obaid argues.  She wrote: “Being a constructive member of the regional and international community is by far much better than leading a club of conservative monarchs struggling to stop the tide of change in their own societies.”

The secretary-general’s goal to convene Geneva II in November is not the only deadline of urgency in Syria. There are also the Syrian presidential elections in 2014.

If Geneva II is delayed, or inconclusive, and fighting continues in Syria into next year, there is a chance Assad could extend his term beyond the 2014 elections, perhaps through constitutional amendment, if necessary, unless the current constitution allows an extension under exceptional circumstances.  Elections, even with international observers, which Syria might otherwise accept, could not be held in a war zone.

In other words, seeking to condition Geneva II on Assad’s not running in the 2014 elections, a likely deal killer for Damascus and Moscow, could have the consequence of assuring Assad stays longer, if elections are postponed.

The Saudi position stands in contrast to rumblings of change in Ankara’s Syria policy. On Oct. 15, Turkish forces responded with artillery fire to mortar shelling from Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), as reported by Milliyet and translated by Al-Monitor, a sign that the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may, finally, be responding to the crisis of the prospect of Islamic terrorists taking up camp along his border.

Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse columnists, and this column,  have written repeatedly of the urgency of Turkey’s border crisis, the domestic consequences of Erdogan’s unpopular Syria policy (72% of Turks polled oppose military intervention in Syria), and the international pressure on Ankara to reverse its own increasing isolation on Syria.

Semih Idiz wrote that while Turkey has frozen assets of groups and individuals linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the AKP government is still struggling with the transition, seeking to blame Iran for some of its troubles. Idiz connected the recent media pressure on Turkish Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to the turbulence over Syria policy. Fehim Tastekin reported forAl-Monitor on details of the cross border traffic in weapons and support for jihadists operating in Syria. Rasim Ozan Kutahyali observed that the agitation over Syria policy has led Assad to become a kind of hero among Turkish neo-nationalists.

Finally, this column acknowledges Jean Aziz for breaking the story of the release of nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who had been kidnapped in Azaz and two Turkish pilots abducted in Beirut, as part of a deal for the release of dozens of women prisoners held in Syrian jails. The deal was negotiated by Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, who conducted months of intensive shuttle diplomacy among Doha, Ankara, Damascus and other capitals. The deal did not include the release of the two Syrian bishops. The role of Qatar in the negotiations is significant, as it may also signal a trend toward a shift in its policies toward Syria, as Aziz noted.

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No Trace of ‘Sexual Jihad’ Girls In Tunisia


Despite a recent flurry of media reports about young Tunisian girls returning from ‘sexual jihad’ in Syria, there seems to be little concrete evidence of their existence. (photo by REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)
By: Hazem Al Amin

“Oh, lovers on Habib Bourguiba Avenue! … No, our girls did not go to Syria looking for love! They were forced to go there,” said an old drunken man, who was preaching to passersby late at night on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the Tunisian capital, facing the headquarters of the Interior Ministry. The latter is the site where Tunisia’s interior minister dropped the bomb by mentioning the “100 Tunisians girls who came back from sexual jihad [in Syria].”

The speech by Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou, which he delivered at the Constituent Assembly three weeks ago, about “sexual jihad” caused dozens of international media outlets and journalists to flock to Tunisia to look for these “sexual jihad” women. These women, however, have yet to be found.

Nevertheless, the story of Lamia, a Tunisian girl, has gone viral in Tunisian media. It has been said that Lamia went to Syria, came back pregnant and had contracted HIV, and has been locked at her home in the city of Bizerte in the far north of Tunisia. Journalists went to Bizerte in search of Lamia, whom the whole world has come to know, but there is no trace of Lamia.

Women’s rights organizations are part of the political divide. They want the minister’s statements to be true, but there is no firm evidence to prove them. Thus, they remain silent, because speaking out in the case would be to the advantage of the Islamic Ennahda movement — their traditional opponent, which is accused of facilitating the trip of young Tunisians to Syria to perform jihad.

Ahmed, a Salafist preacher, stands In front of the Al-Fateh Mosque in Tunis. This is where Seifallah ben Hassine — known as Abu Iyad al-Tunisi — emir of the dissolved Ansar al-Sharia group, used to pray. “We take our wives along with us to Syria, or we marry Syrian women there. This is what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said on the issue of sexual jihad.

So, why did the minister make these allegations? The viable explanation, in the absence of any evidence to this effect, is that the US report on the assassination of opposition member Mohamed al-Brahimi was to be brought up during the Constituent Assembly’s session. It has been asserted that the Ministry of Interior had been informed that Brahimi would be assassinated 11 days before his death and did not take any measures in this regard. Thus, to divert the attention away from this issue, Ben Jeddou has randomly brought up the story of “100 Tunisian women, who came back pregnant from Syria.”

Ennahda has embraced Ben Jeddou’s claims about sexual jihad to avoid a scandal that would make its government part of Brahimi’s assassination.

However, the scandal revolving around sexual jihad will soon be replaced with another scandal, if Ben Jeddou fails to find a way to deal with the issue. Yet, the story of the 100 Tunisian women who came back pregnant from Syria will not pass unnoticed, should it turn out to be fabricated.

Some observers expect that a few women will show up to uphold the minister’s claims. This is not to mention that Ben Jeddou has told a French media outlet that he has 15 documented cases only on this issue.

The flocking journalists, who have failed to find one case of the 100 cases that the minister talked about, started to dig into the source of the story. Preacher Mohammed al-Arifi — who some have said issued a sexual jihad fatwa — denied this.

According to some reporters who came to Tunisia, the number of words in the tweet that was attributed to Arifi exceed the number of words allowed in one tweet, which proves that it was a bogus claim. Moreover, the news was first heard on a Lebanese TV channel close to the Syrian regime.

Yet, Tunisia believed the story of sexual jihad. Everybody here knows that the government has allowed thousands of people to fight jihad in Syria, so what would prevent young women to follow suit? The story about these girls feeds the creative imagination of the Tunisian people. This is not to mention that offering sexual services under the umbrella of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is an appealing story that sparks much excitement.

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‘Widows of Martyrs’ Joke by Khomeini’s Granddaughter Sparks Controversy

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The granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Naeimeh Eshraghi, has faced criticism both from hard-line Iranian media and on social media after reportedly writing a joke about the widows of the Iran-Iraq war, revealing raw wounds from one of the most difficult and dark eras of Iranian modern history.

Eshraghi, who has since closed her Facebook account, initially wrote a joke on her page. In the comments section, another joke, which Eshraghi later claimed was written by a fake account pretending to be her, was written:

“Another joke we used to tell for Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] and he always jokingly referred to. Imam Khomeini: Hey Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guard], marry the widows of the martyrs. I wish I was a Pasdar.”


The war, which many believe killed half a million Iranians alone, left many widows unable to provide for themselves and their families. Some remarried when their husbands died; however, this topic has always been a sensitive issue.

The Iran-Iraq war, which is called the “Sacred Defense” or the “Imposed War” in Iran, plays a large part in both the discourse of the Islamic Republic and the psyche of many war veterans (who are now the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard) who have formulated an “Us Against the World” mentality, given that most of the world powers supported Iraq during the war. Today, many of the dead from the war have had their murals painted on the sides of buildings and many streets have been named after them.

Immediately after the Facebook comment, many Iranians shared screenshots of the comment on their Facebook pages, condemning her.

Iranian journalist currently living in London, Masih Alinejad, who has been at the forefront of interviewing the family members of those who have lost their lives during the 2009 Green Movement, addressed Eshraghi directly. “This sentence you wrote about the wives of martyrs is cheap,” Alinejad wrote on her Facebook page. “This sentence is sickening and it is not comedy, it is not a joke. What you have written means that during the time that my own brothers and the brothers and fathers of others were at war such jokes were being told at ‘Imam’s’ house.”

Alinejad rejected the claim that it was written by a fake account, saying that she clicked on the name of the person that made that comment and it went back to Eshraghi’s original profile.

Fars News published a letter by the son of martyr Mohammad Ebrahim Hematcondemning Eshraghi for her joke. He wrote, “The first thing that comes to mind when one reads her post, is that when the children of this country were being torn to pieces by bullets, bombs and mortars, the leader, at whose command many went to the frontline, was making ugly jokes about them and their families.”

He continued that when this type of “shameful joke” is made, one would have to “lack sense and understanding,” to not realize that these types of comments make it less likely that during the “next war” intended to divide Iran, people will not be willing to defend their country. The letter ended with a threat that those around her should make sure that she “corrected her speech.”

In response to the letter by Hemat’s son, Eshraghi praised the efforts of martyrs such as Mohammad Ebrahim Hemat and said that peace which Iranians live with today is the result of the difficulties they endured. She also denied that the page belonged to her and wrote that she was closing her Facebook account.

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Morocco Restricts Mosque Access Between Prayers

Moroccan women walk past the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, Feb. 24, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol )
By: Mohammad Belaziz

Prayers had just ended at Morocco’s largest mosque [in Casablanca] and most of the worshippers had left. A lone sheikh was the only one to stay, before being asked by one of the mosque’s caretakers to leave. The mosque was then closed.

As the sheikh sat in the outer courtyard, he saw foreigners entering the mosque through a side door. When he asked about this, the caretaker said that foreigners paid $30 to visit the Hassan II Mosque, and that he — the sheikh — could enter for free during prayer time.

Mosques are closed between times of prayer. This has been going on in Morocco for years now. Meanwhile, Egypt is witnessing a heated debate after the Ministry of Religious Endowments decided to cancel Friday prayers in specific mosques and impose conditions for itikaf (an Islamic practice involving a period of retreat spent in a mosque). The ministry also stipulated that Friday prayer will only be held in mosques or premises with a surface area exceeding 80 square meters [262 square feet]. Additionally, the ministry annulled the permits of 55,000 imams, which are to be renewed. Therefore, this will subject the imams to short-listing. The ministry will also employ 3,000 imams who graduated from al-Azhar.

The decision raised the ire of Salafists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, because they will no longer be able to deliver sermons and will have to leave the mosques when prayers end. For his part, Mohamad al-Arefe, a Saudi cleric who issues transborder fatwas, criticized the act of prohibiting scholars, believers and sheikhs from proselytizing and preaching in mosques under the pretext that they are not al-Azhar-qualified.

The religious rhetoric about prayers is no longer enough to justify the decisions. Egypt’s minister of religious endowments said, “Some groups and factions are controlling a large number of mosques.” Elaborating, the minister said, “Limiting Friday prayers to big mosques is an issue of national and patriotic security.”

This is a late Egyptian discovery of the battlefield. In Morocco, the Ministry of Religious Endowments is talking about “spiritual security.” This is why mosques are closed in between prayer times and itikaf, and eating and sleeping in mosques are prohibited. Islamists were therefore taken out of the places of worship and have been exposed. This is a policy that has been espoused for three decades. In the 1990s, members the Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane group protested against such a decision by praying on beaches to get attention.

In addition to closing mosques, the Moroccan ministry is taking other measures. It has stipulated that the ministry must provide approval for the building of new mosques. Regardless of the party supervising the construction, a written approval must first be granted by the ministry. Furthermore, a permit must be granted for holding prayers in any place, even if it is not a mosque.

The ministry also intervenes in choosing the names of the mosques, “It [the ministry] names the mosques after the names and divine qualities of God and the names of [the Prophet Muhammad’s] companions. When the name of a mosque is to be changed, the ministry should be consulted and should grant approval. Naming the mosque after the person who built it is illegal.”

The result: There are no private mosques in Morocco, only public ones. The mosques are run by the state and there is no room for privatizing the religious domain.

The aforementioned policies were related to mosques as premises. When it comes to short-listing the people who will be in charge, the ministry also has some conditions. “Any person concluding a contract with the state to serve as an imam or spiritual guide in a mosque has to meet the following requirements:

  • They must be no more than 45 years of age at the time the contract is concluded.
  • They must enjoy their civil rights and be of good morals (a document specifying civil rights is issued by the police department. Good morals, however, are not specified by any document.)
  • They must be assigned after an announcement for presenting nominations pursuant to conditions specified by the governmental authority, which is in charge of endowments and Islamic affairs.
  • They must successfully pass the training session for imams and spiritual guides.”

This short-listing is then followed by monitoring: “If the governmental authority decided that an imam or spiritual guide was not fulfilling the assigned tasks according to the Maliki sect and Ashari doctrine, sanctions could be applied. Notably, the imam’s contract can be terminated at any time, taking into account notifying the contractor.”

Contracts are rarely terminated because the process of short-listing is effective and allows the ministry to assign taciturn imams, preventing any problems for the ministry, society or themselves.

The ministry rules out imams who deal with media outlets and comment on events taking place in Casablanca all the way to Jakarta, and those who shield themselves with the power of the media against the ministry that assigned them. The reason behind this is that the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Endowments is bothered by religious power, which encroaches on the border of the national state. The ministry filters foreign fatwas while Moroccan scholars turn a deaf ear to “international muftis” such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Therefore, rarely does the Moroccan national religious field intersect with the “international Islamist” domain.

This is how the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Endowments monitors its field of competence. It does not leave any vacancies that could be filled by untrustworthy people. This is why the ministry makes sure to work on the advancement of mosques and the role they play in the life of Muslims, and distribute all the needed supplies in mosques. It also holds religious ceremonies and launches broad campaigns regarding cleanliness in mosques.

When the state fulfills these tasks, it cuts the way short for overly religious persons whose intentions are unknown. This is how the house of worship is distanced from the conflict. Islamists fall short of welcoming environments and hideouts, and are therefore easily exposed. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi espoused the same policy in Egypt.

The plan has proven successful in Morocco, and due to it violations are rarely committed. The policy of mosques in Morocco is therefore applied through proactivity to avoid any problems. All Friday sermons delivered in the kingdom end with praying for the Amir al-Mu’minin [the Moroccan king] to be victorious and empowered. Amen.

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Assad Is a Hero For Turkey’s Neo-Nationalists


Turkish men flash the nationalist gray wolf gesture while carrying a poster of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration in support of Syrian government near the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis, Gaziantep province, Jan. 12, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Turkey experienced an amazing episode last week when Yilmaz Ozdil, the favorite writer of Turkey’s neo-nationalists who support the military against the ruling AKP, reacted to an interview of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aired by a pro-main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) TV channel, and was instantly branded a “traitor” by the neo-nationalists who adored him.

Ozdil, a columnist for the mainstream daily Hurriyet whose motto is “Turkey is for Tur ” was a guest speaker on a program hosted by neo-nationalist Ugur Dundar, a big, veteran name in Turkish television. A part of the program discussing current issues was a interview 20-minute segment of an  Assad had given to the pro-CHP Halk TV. Among other things, Assad said:

“How can someone support terrorists who have killed tens of thousands of people? This shows that Erdogan is not decent man. The Turkish people must know what a fanatical man Erdogan is. When someone adheres to an introverted ideology and bigotry he becomes a man with personal problems. He doesn’t even have minimal ethical values. Erdogan has a blend of problems arising from his personal problems and Ikhwan ideology.”

Yilmaz Ozdil responded indignantly to Assad’s remarks: “A leader of a country can’t speak like this. As an individual I might have gripes against my government. But no Hacivat [a comical figure of traditional shadow play who never gets anything right] has the right to get up and insult the prime minister of the Turkish Republic. The butcher of the Middle East must be made to eat these words. Are we going to learn democracy from this immoral killer? Nobody knows how many terror organizations this man and his father had nourished.”

Those remarks prompted an avalanche of denunciations from the main opposition CHP constituency who define themselves as secular, modern, leftist and neo-nationalists.

This incident and some other research show that Assad has at least 20% support among the Turkish public. As some like to say, if Assad were to run for election in Turkey, he could overtake the main opposition, whose share is fixed around 25%.

Yilmaz Ozdil then summarized the reactions to his reaction: “Assad used labels such as liar, bigot, unethical, personality flaws for Tayyip Erdogan. He praised CHP and spoke of secularism. He was more prudent when calling [Foreign Minister] Ahmet Davutoglu a liar, while totally refraining from saying anything about President Abdullah Gul, who is said to have soured relations with Erdogan. You would think he is the president of Switzerland, giving lessons in democracy. For Erdogan to be a bad guy doesn’t make Assad a good one.”

“Naturally I was swamped with messages. Duygu asked: ‘How much did Erdogan pay you?’ Mehmet said: ‘You are a lawyer for Tayyip.’ Utku added: ‘You insulted Assad, a beloved leader.’ Ulas was upset: ‘We saw that you are not Ataturkist.’ Levent wanted to know: ‘Couldn’t believe it. Was that you speaking or your double?’ ‘Did you react when Tayyip was insulting his own people?’ Erhan wanted to know. ‘You were the journalist I adored most, but clearly Tayyip has scared you. Damn you,’ Sadik said. ‘It was not proper for you to defend Tayyip,’ Bilgi commented. Ismail’s farewell note was, ‘We were waiting to see when they will buy you out. I couldn’t hold back my tears listening to you. I won’t buy newspapers from now on.’

“Cihan was furious: ‘You are speaking without knowing what Assad is going through. You’re a dishonorable so-called journalist.’ Bulent was softer: ‘I loved you like a brother, but Assad actually didn’t say enough.’ According to Baris, ‘You are a disappointment. Who are you to criticize Assad?’ For Pinar, I was a ‘Pen of Tayyip’ and for Erkan, ‘A dog of AKP.’ Nese sentenced me to the dustbin of history, while Emre asked if I was now on the US payroll. Hassan wondered, ‘Did you ever write about what Tayyip had done to Assad, how he tried to drag us into war, how he nourished terrorists at Hatay and then sent them to fight in Syria?’ Akin asked if I was pro-al Qaeda. A reader who did not give his name but used the alias Santor declared: ‘I prefer to be governed by Assad rather than be governed by AKP.’ Arzu said, ‘Muslim Brothers must be proud of you.’

“A professor counseled: ‘Instead of telling us about the mistakes of our prime minister, you attacked Assad. That was funny. I hope you will continue to be Yilmaz Ozdil who doesn’t seek financial benefits.’ Burak offered a history lesson: ‘I am 20 years old. I have been reading you since I was 13. Now I rue the years I wasted and my stupidity in reading you. You are not a secularist. Read some history and remember who Mustafa Kemal fought against.’ Yucel asked, ‘Please tell the truth. How much did you get paid to line up our youth behind Tayyip and send them to war?’ Yucel found me as one of the biggest disappointments of his life. Kurtulus said, ‘I used to love reading you, but you praised counterrevolution by resorting to anti-Assad rhetoric. Go be an adviser to Tayyip.’

“Aykan thought I was a patriot but instead I had turned out to be a disgrace. Faik declared, ‘You owe the Turkish people an apology for what you said about Assad.’ For Sinan, Assad was the only person to defend them. Nevzat decided I was a ‘dog of Israel’ and for Ekrem ‘a puppet of Wahabis,’ and it goes on and on.”

Yilmaz Ozdil, who has been one of harshest critics of the AKP government, attributed these reactions to him from secular, leftist neo-nationalists and Kemalists to the AKP and said:

“This is a proof of what the AKP has inflicted onto this society. The fact that a leader of another country is seen as a ‘hope’ and people count on help from abroad is a vision not only the government, but the opposition parties which the people have given up on, must listen to carefully.”

The reality is that today in Turkey for at least 20% of the people, the only hope of toppling Erdogan is Bashar al-Assad.

Middle East expert academics must think hard and long on how Baathist Assad has become a hero for the nationalists and leftists of Turkey.

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How Long Will I$raHell Stay Off the Nuclear Hook?


View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Dest outside Dimona, Aug. 6, 2000. (photo by REUTERS)


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is totally right.

As he said in his speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday, Oct. 6, there’s certainly room to ask the Iranian regime: “If you only want peaceful nuclear energy, why do you insist on centrifuges to enrich uranium and on plutonium reactors?” Indeed, dozens of countries produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without these elements, which are essential for the production of bomb-grade fissile material.

In talks held last week with senior European Union diplomats, I found out that Brussels isn’t rushing to buy the smiles of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a closed-door meeting with several senior European officials, stressed that Iran’s immediate concern included deterring Pakistan, which is a nuclear-weapon state, and that Iran has no interest in provoking or attacking Israel. Although Zarif’s talking points emphasized, explicitly, that Iran did not seek a nuclear weapon, Zarif’s concern with Pakistan might itself be a rationale for an Iranian nuclear capability.

Zarif stressed that Iran does not rely on Europe to stand at its side in the next war. It remembers well the West’s support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, during which Saddam used chemical weapons with the knowledge of the United States.

The Iranians are asking, rightly so from their point of view, why the international community picks on Iran while ignoring the Pakistani bomb. According to various research institute estimates from 2011, Pakistan has a hundred operational warheads. The Shaheen-2 rocket produced in Pakistan, with a range of almost 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles), was supposed to have become operational, in addition to nuclear-capable land-based and airborne cruise missiles.

The regime in Tehran is more stable and no less rational than the one in Islamabad. Osama bin Laden did not find refuge for years in an Iranian village. The danger that radical groups will overthrow the government in Pakistan and take control of the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal is greater than such a thing happening in Iran.

The Iranians are wondering, rightly so from their point of view, where Israel gets off threatening to attack a sovereign state to prevent its acquiring weapons which a complete majority of experts in the world believe Israel itself has had for decades. After publication of the interview conducted by Avner Cohen with Arnan (Sini) Azaryahu, who was an aide to Minister Israel Galili, it’s extraneous to tack on the words “according to foreign sources” when discussing Israel’s capabilities.

In the interview published on the web site of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Azaryahu, who was the right hand of one of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s closest confidants, said that at the end of a discussion held by the war cabinet on Oct. 7, 1973, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan suggested, “We should also prepare a nuclear option for demonstration.” Dayan said that Shalhevet Freir, who was at the time chairman of the Israel Atomic Energy Committee, was waiting outside the room for orders to start preparations. Azaryahu recounted in the interview that Galili said to him right after the meeting that Meir had rejected the idea and decreed, “Forget it.”

Meir rebuffed the idea, even though several minutes earlier she heard Dayan warn that Israel was on the verge of “destruction of the Third Temple.” In an interview for a TV series about the Yom Kippur War and in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Henry Kissinger, who served as US national security adviser and secretary of state, said that if asked on that day to approve the use of a nuclear bomb, the United States would have rejected the request.

The Yom Kippur War illustrates that the prevailing assumption in Egypt and the whole world that Israel possesses nuclear bombs did not deter the Egyptians and the Syrians from attacking Israel. Israel’s deterrence capability rests on its international standing and the military superiority it has acquired in the area of conventional weapons. (The Global Firepower website ranked the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 13th place out of 68 armies in the world, without taking into account nuclear weapons, strategic alliances and clandestine methods. Among the countries of the Middle East, Israel is ranked first, followed by Egypt and Iran.)

The civil war in Syria has eroded the country’s military to dust and keeps Hezbollah busy. Egypt’s army is busy operating against radical Islamic groups that threaten Israel, too, and Hamas has lost its power bases in Cairo, Damascus and Tehran.

The only threat bothering Israel today is “conventional” terrorism and international isolation in reaction to its occupation and settlements policy, and the loss of its democratic and Jewish character. These problems cannot be tackled with nuclear weapons.

Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said on Oct. 8, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, that the next war will open by “a precision missile attack on the General Staff building at the heart of the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, or a cyberattack on a site providing essential services to Israelis. Stoplights would malfunction, banks would shut down. A tunnel packed with explosives that reaches a kindergarten, or with an Arab mob charging on a borderline town.” In such a war, as we all know, nuclear weapons are not very valuable.

What strategic advantage does Israel gain therefore from its policy of “nuclear ambiguity“? Furthermore, how long will the international community be willing to overlook the anomaly of Israel’s refusal to sign the treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to cancel its membership in the nuclear club?

“Against this background [regarding the Syrian chemical arsenal], the question is whether Israel can make do with a response of the sort given by the Foreign Ministry,” said retired senior ambassador Shimon Stein in an article published on the site of the Institute for National Security Studies. He was referring to the Sept. 11 statement by the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, according to which “Israel will not ratify the convention as long as other countries in the region, which do not recognize Israel and threaten its destruction, possess chemical weapons.”

Stein foresees that the decision to rid Syria of its chemical weapons will set off a process of disarmament from weapons of mass destruction in the region, in which Israel will have to do its part. The attribution of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Peace to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons brings back to the surface Israel’s refusal to ratify international treaties concerning weapons of mass destruction.

In this regard he recalls the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin from Sept. 19 that “Israel will eventually have to agree to give up nuclear weapons, like Syria is giving up chemical weapons these days.”

On the eve of the 1996 elections, the director of military intelligence said the Iranians were hoping Netanyahu trumps his opponent, then-Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, and wins. Indeed, no Israeli leader has done more than Netanyahu for the loss of Israel’s nuclear superiority, according to foreign sources, in the Middle East. Who knows, maybe he will go down in history as the leader who moved the world closer to disarmament from weapons of mass destruction.

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Aleppo’s Children Left Behind As War Shutters Schools

A view shows a damaged wall at a school in Aleppo, Jan. 15, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman)

ALEPPO, Syria  — Maryam, no more than 9 years old, sells biscuits and sweets from a cardboard stall on the pavement. I pass her almost every day on my way downtown, and occasionally stop to buy some of her cheap, inedible merchandise. She still has that impish and innocent smile that all children have, but her eyes betray a deeper sadness. They have seen what no child should ever have to see, and her little soul has endured what nothing so fragile should ever have to bear.

I asked her one day, “Are you in school?” She smiled and responded, “I am in school, but I don’t go to school.” Maryam was living in a nearby school along with her family and others displaced by the fighting. That was a bitter irony for young Maryam: She was in school all the time, but not getting any education. Tragically, her case is not unique, and thousands of other children like her, both internally displaced in Syria or living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, are missing out on vital education pivotal to their mental and social development.

Education in Syria, before the war, was like everything else here: decrepit and haphazard, a contradictory mix of good and bad. On the plus side, education has always been free, right up to university and postgraduate degrees. The state would even grant scholarships for Ph.D. programs abroad to students who excelled, provided they agreed to return and put themselves to good use in state or educational institutions for a few years.

Basic education was also compulsory until high school, with school books provided free of charge, helping dramatically decrease illiteracy rates. High-school graduates in rural areas were encouraged to attend universities and offered free housing at dorms and much lower acceptance scores.

The downside, however, was that the standards of the public education system grew appallingly dismal. They were racked with many deep rooted problems such as outdated curricula, ill-trained staff, physical and verbal abuse of students, overcrowding and corruption. More importantly, up until just a few years ago, there were only four universities, all state-run, to cover a Syrian population of more than 20 million.

This led to ridiculously high acceptance scores, overcrowding and many students missing out. The alternative was for well-to-do families to send their children to study abroad in Jordan, Lebanon or Russia and the former Soviet states. Only the very rich sent students to Europe or the United States.

This changed, however, when private universities and schools were finally allowed to open and officially operate in Syria in the mid-2000s. Although quite expensive, they provided a higher standard of education, lower acceptance scores and an alternative to travel.

But as the current conflict intensified, the problems became more acute, placing formidable challenges in the face of an already weak and overstretched system. Many students were simply unable to attend school for a variety of reasons. Roads and highways across Syria became impassable and private universities, required by law to have their main campus in the countryside, shut down.

For example, Ebla University has a campus near the rebel stronghold of Saraqeb on the Aleppo-Damascus highway. It shut down this spring, as the highway became a conflict zone. There are still around 200 students staying in dorms there, some with their families, even though all classes have stopped. Most of them are unable to attend the university’s second campus inside Aleppo, as many are wanted by the regime and dare not cross any checkpoints.

On the regime side, many schools and dorms were used as temporary housing for the thousands of families displaced by fighting after the rebel assault on Aleppo in the summer of 2012, making them unavailable to students. A lot of desks were destroyed, as refugees used them for firewood during the harsh winter.

What little schools remained were overcrowded and barely functioned, with a severe shortage of staff and books. Classes were cut short and students were often sent home. Outbreaks of lice became common after the problem was nearly unheard of for decades. Private schools started to spring up everywhere, sometimes in inadequate facilities like converted homes and without any oversight or accreditation.

These schools were also too expensive for most families, which meant a lot of students got subpar or no education. Ahmed, a taxi driver, told me how he and his family were unceremoniously thrown out of a nearby school, with only a few hours’ notice.

“They wanted us out so they could begin classes, but we have nowhere to go,” he said. Ahmed and his family slept in his minivan after they were evicted. They later returned to rebel-held east Aleppo. Others who had nowhere to go were sent to unfinished housing projects with no tiles, windows or plumbing.

On the rebel side, the situation was far more chaotic. Many schools and university campuses were used as rebel bases and were subsequently bombed, rendering them unusable. The Khaleej University campus, for example, just off the Aleppo-Damascus highway, suffered such a fate.

What few schools remained intact were manned by activists and volunteer teachers who tried their best to run makeshift operations and gather enough donations to provide books and keep the schools afloat.

Despite their best efforts, most of those schools would prove to be failures because of a confusion of curricula, with some choosing Egyptian or Libyan programs over the official Syrian curriculum, and a plethora of grading systems and report cards. One such school is the Mustafa Karman School in Bustan al-Qasr, posthumously named after the activist who helped set it up. Al-Qasr was killed by regime shelling last year at a protest, the day he was delivering a consignment of donated books to the school.

A report card issued by the school after the first semester featured on its cover a verse from the Quran, a quote from a well-known cleric, a quote from the Prophet Muhammad and one from Nelson Mandela, reflecting the various and sometimes contradictory secular and religious forces at play within the Syrian opposition.

Recently, some schools in rebel areas have readopted the Syrian curriculum, but refuse to teach what they deem objectionable material like religious or political studies. In a disturbing new development, all the schools in the town of Al Bab in Aleppo province now under the control of Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham militants were mandated tohu Akbar” and “Prophet Muhamm change the traditional flag salute in the morning assembly to a religious one, with cries of “Allaad is our leader.”

When you combine all this adversity with the low education standards, you will unfortunately end up with an undereducated society where ignorance and poverty are rife. What scars these children today will come back to haunt Syria in the future. As the country faces the largest brain drain and migration of professionals in its history, the issue then turns to educating the next generation, which will be responsible for rebuilding a nation our generation has effectively destroyed.


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Zionist anti-Syria: letter to protest venues hosting Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix



This is a letter that can be sent to every venue that is hosting Mother Agnes-Mariam De La Croix as a speaker. It can be personalized and altered as required. As activists and responsible human beings, we cannot stand by while an apologist for genocide is given a platform in spaces that claim to promote peace, justice, and human rights:

Dear Sir/Madam,

In reference to the visit of Mother Agnes-Mariam De La Croix, the Superior of the Monastery of Deir Mar Yacoub, (and any other persons participating at DATE/ADDRESS), we would like to draw your attention to the following:

Large scale massacres against civilian populations have been committed by government military forces and pro-regime militias in Syria. Those invited to speak about this immense tragedy should be examined carefully as to their position in support of the forces behind the massacres. It is unethical to give a platform to persons who support these massacres or facilitate them by spreading information that has been proven again and again to be misleading, false, and in many cases pure propaganda of the regime perpetrating the crimes. It would be completely unconscionable for a religious or spiritual organization to put their facilities at the disposal of such persons.

We fully respect the principle of debate and freedom of expression, but in this case the person you have invited expresses blind support for a dictator who has massacred and is still massacring his own population, including over 11,000 children. The only reason for this violence is the regime’s intention to crush any and all people who stand up for their human rights and who they deem to be a threat to their tyrannical rule. The regime has killed countless numbers of people for trying to exercise their right to free expression. It is clearly evident that the uprising in Syria started peacefully, and was not militarized. Nor was it based on religious intolerance or sectarianism. It began with non-violent protests demanding reforms and basic freedoms that they had been denied for far too long. These protests were met with extreme violence and repression, and in order to justify that, a machine of propaganda was put in place, disseminating lies, passing off hoaxes as fact, and claiming that minorities in Syria were under threat of harm from religious extremists. The speaker you have invited is one of the key players in this propaganda machine, many of her claims have been debunked by experts and witnesses, while the voices of those murdered by the regime have been silenced once and for all.

The peaceful nature of the protests that your guest attempts to depict as a violent insurgency against Syria’s minorities has been recognised by the European Union, the United States and the United Nations. The crimes against humanity committed by Assad have also been recognised by these entities, as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. People in Syria only took up arms against the regime when the killing had reached such a scale that they were forced to defend themselves and their families militarily.

We are astonished that you have made your venue available to supporters of a murderous dictatorship. What is happening in Syria is in the public domain and cannot be ignored. Support for this project may amount to complicity in crimes against humanity. This is not just a legal issue but also a moral one.

It is extremely ironic that the photo used by the organisation promoting the event depicts damage in Syria caused by airstrikes. It is common knowledge that ONLY the regime possesses air power and the capacity to bomb cities and residential areas in this way. The use of the image in this way is further evidence of the bad faith of the organisers of this event. 

We request that you cancel this event immediately and we would like to suggest that you organise a new event that will present what is happening in Syria in a truthful and objective way. We thank you for your solidarity with the people of Syria.

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The Piper Report

The Piper Report Oct 21, 2013

by crescentandcross



Download Here


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Canada’s racism contradictions

Stop the racist JNF

Openly racist Jewish National Fund receives Canadian public funds and political support

By Yves Engler

In Canada it is illegal to restrict the sale of property to certain ethnic or religious groups but many of our business people and politicians promote an organization that does exactly that in Israel.

In the 1950s restrictive land covenants in many exclusive neighbourhoods and communities across Canada made it impossible for Jews, Blacks, Chinese, Aboriginals and others deemed to be non-“white” to buy property. It was not until after World War II that these policies began to be successfully challenged in court.

In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property contained the following clause:

The lands and premises herein described shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased, rented or in any manner whatsoever alienated to, and shall never be occupied or used in any manner whatsoever by any person of the Jewish, Negro or coloured race or blood, it being the intention and purpose of the Grantor, to restrict the ownership, use, occupation and enjoyment of the said recreational development, including the lands and premises herein described, to persons of the white or Caucasian race.

Noble and Wolf tried to get the court to declare the restriction invalid but they were opposed by the Beach O’ Pines Protective Association. Both a Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist covenant. But, Noble pursued the case – with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress – to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a 6-to-1 decision the highest court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property.

Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered this blow to racist property covenants, a Canadian charity that discriminates in land use continues to receive significant public support. Ottawa provides financial and political support to the Jewish National Fund… [whose] bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews.

The publicity surrounding the case prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants and in 2009 the Conservative government defined the Noble and Wolf v. Alley Supreme Court case “an event of national historic significance” in the battle “for human rights and against discrimination on racial and religious grounds in Canada”.

Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered this blow to racist property covenants, a Canadian charity that discriminates in land use continues to receive significant public support. Ottawa provides financial and political support to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which owns 13 per cent of Israel’s land and has significant influence over most of the rest. Established internationally in 1901 and nine years later in Canada, the JNF’s bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews.

A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report found that the JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 per cent of the country’s population. According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively”, which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination”. Similarly, after an Arab Israeli couple was blocked from leasing a house in the mid-1990s they took their case all the way to Israel’s High Court and in 2005 the court found that the JNF systematically excluded Palestinian citizens of Israel from leasing its property.

More recently, the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices detailed “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel. The report noted, “Approximately 93 per cent of land was in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 per cent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In May 2002, JNF Canada’s executive director for eastern Canada, Mark Mendelson, explained: “We are trustees between world Jewry and the land of Israel.” JNF Canada’s head, Frank A. Wilson, echoed this statement in July 2009: “JNF are the caretakers of the Land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”

The JNF’s bylaws and operations clearly violate Canadian law. Yet JNF Canada, which raises 7-10 million dollars annually, is a registered charity in this country. As such, it can provide tax credits for donations, meaning that up to 40 per cent of their budget effectively comes from public coffers.

Independent Jewish Voices has launched a campaign to revoke the JNF Canada’s charitable status for its racist land use policies and role in dispossessing Palestinians. On 1 December Harper will be greeted by protesters in Toronto while a protest is also planned for the JNF gala in Ottawa on 29 October.

On top of its charitable status, JNF Canada has received various other forms of official support. Alberta and Manitoba, for instance, have signed multimillion dollar accords with the JNF while Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are strong supporters of the organization. Over the past 16 months ministers Jason Kenney and John Baird have spoken at JNF galas while Peter Kent toured southern Israel with officials from the organization. On 1 December Harper is set to be honoured at the JNF Negev Dinner in Toronto, which will be the first time a sitting Canadian prime minister has spoken to a JNF gala in the organization’s 100-year history.

Does Harper support the JNF’s racist land use policies?

Independent Jewish Voices has launched a campaign to revoke the JNF Canada’s charitable status for its racist land use policies and role in dispossessing Palestinians. On 1 December Harper will be greeted by protesters in Toronto while a protest is also planned for the JNF gala in Ottawa on 29 October.

In 2011, Stop the JNF in England pushed British Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw his patron status from the JNF. Additionally, at least 68 members of the UK parliament have endorsed a call to revoke the organization’s charitable status because “the JNF’s constitution is explicitly discriminatory by stating that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews”.

Here in Canada it would be nice to see progressive politicians such as New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies or Green Party leader Elizabeth May circulate a similar call to their colleagues in the House of Commons. At least some federal politicians must oppose Canada subsidizing racist property restrictions.

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