Tag Archives: Israel

The unsurprisingly sad irony of nuclear politics

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

While the war against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program continues – with its usual suspects at the forefront and behind the screens (1, 2, 3, 4 … and counting) and with the usual stream of unreliable ‘sources’ being quoted liberally by global media to prove evil Iranian schemes and distorting the issue beyond recognition – a related and very relevant news item has received surprisingly little attention.

Last week, Muslim-majority states in the UN nuclear assembly pushed for a resolution – albeit, a nonbinding resolution – urging Israel to allow UN inspection to all its nuclear sites and to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What is amazing is that this is the first time in 18 years the nuclear conference has been able to pass a resolution criticizing Israel for its illegal, ‘clandestine’ program.

It has been a public secret for years that Israel has the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, yet Israel has never confirmed or denied this. Furthermore, Israel is the only nation in the Middle East not to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is, of course, part of the absurdity in the global Israeli propaganda war and constant military threats against Iran that those Western and Israeli politicians, ‘experts’ and lobby groups so worried about an Iranian bomb rarely if ever discuss the issue of Israel’s weapons – as if it was completely unrelated to the nuclear politics of the region. It comes across as particularly hypocritical and ludicrous when the chief delegate of the US – a nuclear-armed nation that wages wars in the Middle East while actively obstructing any attempt to hold Israel accountable in the nuclear conference – rejected what she called ‘redundant’ and ‘an attempt to use this resolution to criticize a single country’.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Iranians have sought to capitalize on the resolution and the setback it represents for Israel’s allies who have prevented the resolution for nearly two decades. The Iranian ambassador Ali-Asghar Soltanieh has hailed the resolution as a ‘glorious moment’, and ‘a triumph for the oppressed people of Palestine’. He added that Tehran would happily pay the expenses connected with a probe into the clandestine Israeli nuclear program ‘for the sake of global peace and welfare’.

The Israeli response shouldn’t come as a surprise either. The Israeli delegate stated that the resolution was ‘openly hostile to the state of Israel’ and that the Iranians and Syrians are trying to create a smokescreen for their own pursuit of nuclear weapons.

It is the sad irony of nuclear politics that Israel is just as big a threat to the fragile NPT regime as Iran is: outraged when the US hints it might be a good idea for it to join the NPT, and then deriding the NPT for not being a ‘miracle cure’.

It is the sad irony of global politics that a state such as the current Iranian regime is put in a position to capitalize on the resolution and thus present itself in the Muslim world as a righteous power while doing its own dirty work at home.

However, none of this should come as a surprise. Should it?

Gaza? It’s more than that!

Guest post by Poya Pakzad, Independent Analyst, Denmark.

There is no longer any virtue in reviewing the premeditated US-Israeli massacre in Gaza from December to January. Virtually no disparity exists between the human rights organizations inside Israel or abroad. The record is unambiguously clear. Israel disrupted the “six months of lull”; maintained its “illegal blockade”; committed “grave breaches of international humanitarian law” and denied any attempt at continually offered nonviolent alternatives. As always, Israel reflexively denies any allegation without providing counter evidence. [1]

It’s hardly a challenge to lay bare this methodical pattern in the gladly forgotten record of Israeli aggressions.

No, one must refuse to plunge into this discussion. The largely manufactured hullabaloo serves for the most part to sidetrack attention from the rather palpable steps towards peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It bears crucial notice that an international consensus on a two state solution to the conflict has long subsisted in an otherwise changing world.  The following assessment is an attempt to elucidate this accord and two immediate discrepancies. (1) Why has the conflict not been settled? And (2), what is the efficacy of the resuscitated appeal for a one state solution? Each question merits a study much beyond the scope of this piece. The purpose of the subsequent text is to inform as well as incite an exchange.

The provisions of the broad agreement are based on the central diplomatic document, issued against the backdrop of the six day war, entitled UN Security Council Resolution 242. The preamble states that there can be no acquisition of territory by force in accord with customary international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The basic interpretation is a settlement along the “green line” with “minor and mutual adjustments” to uncurl the arbitrary cease fire lines.

The resolution further stipulates that all states in the region have a right to “live within secure and recognized borders.” The latter has been reiterated for decades, even as US-Israeli rejection of the conditions has been the chief motor of occupation since the seventies.

Surprisingly, the right of Palestinians to self determination remained unspoken between the partition of 1947 and the first unanimous international call in the seventies. The change is worth paying attention to. In 1973 the PLO tacitly agreed to a formula of full Israeli withdrawal and full Arab recognition in a General Assembly resolution. Yet another call was made informally through the Security Council in 1976, explicitly putting a Palestinian state on the international agenda. Israel flatly rejected it and the United States effectively vetoed.

In 1980, a Security Council Resolution repeated these legal obligations, the US vetoed and since then US-Israeli rejectionism has been consistent. A change occurred on the other side however, as the Palestinian National Council accepted the two state settlement in 1988 from tacit approval to formal advocacy. This put the US and Israel in total international isolation, deeming every departure point of “peace process” negotiations as a rejection of the consensus.

Today the consensus enjoys the support of authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies. The most representative political body in the world, the General Assembly, presents the modalities of the settlement each year and the vote has been identically lopsided every time. The entire state system is on one side and Israel with the US along with South Pacific atolls on the rejectionist side. In 2004 the International Court of Justice, the highest authoritative legal body in the world, rendered an advisory opinion on the wall Israel has built in the West Bank. The court judged the wall to be illegal; confirmed the illegality of “territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force” and deemed Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian Territory.” [2]

What might come as a surprise to the devoted reader of the press is the fact that Hamas since 2005 has been more forthcoming to this consensus than Israel. The first document Hamas signed when they were elected freely and fairly was the so-called Prisoner’s Document in which Hamas declares their agreement with Fatah on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – incidentally supported by 77 % of the Palestinian population. It has since been conceded, even by NY Times, that Hamas is willing to negotiate along the lines of the Saudi Peace Plan and to recognize Israel de facto but not de jure. All 22 Arab states have signed the Saudi Peace Plan, which is essentially a transcript of Resolution 242 – including non-Arab states such as Iran. [3]

What has been recognized as the most contentious aspect of the conflict, namely the right of return, has surprisingly not been the most disputed issue during negotiations. At Taba, they accepted a “pragmatic settlement” which wouldn’t change “the demographic character of Israel.” The main problem has been Israel’s unwillingness to have a 1:1 land swap, i.e. the “minor or mutual adjustments” [4]. The right of return is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 194 of 1949. It is unambiguously supported by the international community, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (and also in principle by Israeli Jews, who established their own state on the notion of that very right.)

American presidents including Barack Obama have demonstrated time and again, that they are not honest brokers. The institutional permanence of vast diplomatic, economic and military support suggests state guidelines across the political spectrum. The doctrine of policy deems Israel a “strategic asset” in the heart of the energy producing region, serving as “cops on the beat,” effectively “educating” the “savage Arab” into submission. This course of action serves to strengthen US-Israeli intransigence against Palestinians and renders the international corpus of rules null and void. It doesn’t require a doctorate to discover US hegemony in the region and the European Union toddling behind, maneuvering where it can, and obeying where it must.

This can be exemplified by comparing reactions towards state violations of customary norms, such as “serious breaches of the prohibition to use force”, the “right to self determination” and fundamental standards of human rights and humanitarian law. When the Security Council fails to perform in accord with Article VII owing to “the Tyranny of the Veto”, the General Assembly typically doesn’t hesitate to assert its duty by calling for the implementation of economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions, notably in the case of South Africa. Such comparisons can be found in an exhaustive study by Marc Weller and Barbara Metzger from Cambridge University. They conclude a “double standard” granting Israel “complete immunity” from reflexive remedies with regard to Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor such as “arms embargo,” “sanctions” and “international presence” of monitors and peacekeeping forces. [5]

Israel’s latest defiance of the Council’s calls has likewise been backed by US President Barack Obama’s administration. US support has continued and been amplified apart from Obama’s rhetorical superfluities. The near unanimous European euphoria over the election of Obama is a back hand admission of both its recognition of the double standard and its awareness that it isn’t able to do much without the consent of the Super Power. [6]

Recognizing this milieu of inaction and “facts on the ground”, elements of the left (and extreme right for dissimilar reasons) lends support to the proposal of a one state solution based on the egalitarian principles applied in South Africa and elsewhere. It requires a shift of paradigm terminologically replacing “occupation” with “Apartheid.” Indeed apartheid is a component of the occupation, yet annexation is a far worse crime than any comparable stage of colonization in South Africa. Annexation is an altogether different sort of imperialism, suggesting practically no alteration of behavior even if historical Palestine was to be developed into one state. A single state is no guarantee; take a simple look at the existing ones!

Arguments for a one state solution is usually based on justice – acknowledging quite accurately that the two state solution is far from just. Yet, justice, apart from discussions in academic seminars, is limited in the real world by the fact of feasibility. No one says that Hopi Indians should renounce their claim to their ancestors’ land, but then, no one advocates it either. The arguments become tautological: “No settlement is acceptable unless it’s acceptable.”

If there is a series of steps leading to the one state solution it should by all means be discussed. Trying to create an environment conducive to this settlement today seems impossible and may well be a recipe for further conflict. The idea of boycotts and divestiture requires the active participation of important actors within Israeli society. The struggle in South Africa took decades to establish with mayors already committed to civil disobedience and corporations agreeing to the “Sullivan conditions.” If such a strategy will look like an attack on Israeli society it is likely to be counterproductive. I have seen serious debate regarding the efficacy of the two state settlement. How can you divide Cis-Jordan for example? How can Palestinians realize a “rump state”? Yet, as an interim solution, far from the final status anathema it has become, the struggle for normalization, fulfillment of rights and integration shall continue.

[1] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The six months of the lull arrangement,” December 2008 |Human Rights Watch, “Precisely Wrong,” June 2009 | Human Rights Watch, “Rain of fire,” March 2009 | Amnesty International, “Israel/Gaza: Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and destruction,” July 2009 | Bt’Selem, “Guidelines for Israel’s Investigation into Operation Cast Lead,” February 2009.

[2] International Court of Justice, ”Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 2004.

[3] Avi Issacharoff, “Poll: 77 % of Palestinians support the Prisoner’s Document,” June 2009, Ha’aretz | Mouin Rabbani, “A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part II,” Summer 2008, Journal of Palestine Studies vol. 37 | Avi Issacharoff, “Meshal: Hamas backs Palestinian state in ’67 borders,” April 2008, Ha’aretz | Amira Hass, “Haniyeh: Hamas willing to accept Palestinian state with 1967 borders,” September 2008, Ha’aretz | Middle East Online, “Hamas calls for Palestinian state in 1967 borders,” June 2009 |Hamas, “We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea,” February 2006, Washington Post | Jay Solomon & Julien Barnes-Dacey, “Hamas Chief Outlines Terms for Talks on Arab Israeli-Peace,” Juli 2009, Wall Street Journal.

[4] Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?,” Autumn 2001, Survival p. 31-45, The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

[5] Marc Weller & Barbara Metzger, “Double Standards,” September 2002, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department | for further deliberations see: Yoram Dinstein, “War, Aggression and Self Defense,” 4th ed., 2005, Cambridge University Press p. 302 and David Cortright & George A. Lopez, “The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s,” 2000, Lynne Rienner.

[6] The Bush Sr. administration went beyond rhetoric objecting to illegal settlement by denying economic support for them. Oppositely, Obama administration officials state that such dealings are “not under discussion” and that any pressures will be “largely symbolic”: Helene Cooper, “U.S Weighs Tactics on Israeli Settlement,” May 2009, NY Times | Grant F. Smith, “$2.775 Billion in US Aid Supports Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program,” June 2009, Online Journal.

Reactions to Ahmadinejad’s Geneve performance

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Here is a short summary of the reactions in Iranian media to Ahmadinejad’s show at the Durban II conference yesterday. More headlines (and, if I can find the time, a proper analysis) will be added later today or tomorrow.

KEYHÂN (state-run, close to the Leader):

“With his speech, Ahmadinejad bombarded Israel”

“Ahmadinejad: ‘Despite the wishes of the West, I will attend all global meetings’”

“The support of 210 Majles deputies for the president’s viewpoints in the Geneve conference”

IRNA NEWS AGENCY (state-run):

“United Nations must be the epitome of freedom of speech and democracy”

“The president’s intelligent speech at the Durban conference has aroused global praise”

“By leaving the Durban meeting, the Zionist supporters have increased the importance of Ahmadinejad’s speech”

FÂRS NEWS AGENCY (state-affiliated)

“Ahmadinejad’s braveness cannot be found in any other country’s leader”

RAJÂ NEWS AGENCY (close to Ahmadinejad):

“Ahmadinejad made Israel’s ambassador flee Switzerland”

“Ayatollah Hossein Nuri-Hamadani: ‘Ahmadinejad’s courage is inspired by The Imam’s courage”

MEHR NEWS AGENCY (state-affiliated):

“Insulting actions against Ahmadinejad testifies modern barbarity”

“The way Iran’s message was conveyed at the Geneve conference was a victory for the political system”

“Anti-Zionists are beloved: Ahmadinejad bursted Israel’s blister”

TÂBNÂK (‘moderate’ conservative, Mohsen Reza‘i-affiliated).

“The insulting action of Westerners: Exit from the auditorium during Ahmadinejad’s speech” (carries a picture of empty chairs at the conference, something that state-run news agencies did not bring)

E‘TEMÂD-E MELLI (‘reformist’, Karubi-affiliated)

“The noisy appearance of Ahmadinejad in Switzerland”

ÂFTÂB-E YAZ (‘reformist’, Karubi-affiliated)

“Karubi and Musavi’s criticism of Ahmadinejad’s travel [to Geneve]“

[Karubi:] “When experts deem insults possible why is it necessary to participate in such meetings?”

KHORDÂD (‘reformist’-affiliated):

“Ahmadinejad attacked by protestors”

AFTÂB (‘centrist’, allegedly Rafsanjani-affiliated)

“[Mir-Hossein] Musavi: ‘Insults against other countries cannot be hidden by sentences of epic poetry’” [see below]

“Zibakalam’s analysis of the throwing of things against Ahmadinejad in Geneve”

NOTES

I haven’t had time to read all the news items, but it seems clear that only the ‘reformist’-affiliated media outlets’ description of the events fits that of major international media.

State-run and pro-Ahmadinejad media interprets the speech as a historic victory for the Islamic Revolution that shows that Iran is now a superpower and a leader of the Muslim world community. These portrayals reduce the protests against Ahmadinejad’s speech to isolated provocative acts financed by some states who are against Iran.

In the meantime, Ahmadinejad has promised to show up at every international gathering from now on; that ‘the divine promise and shining day for humanity’ is near; and that if the European countries would allow a ‘referendum’, it would show that ’70% of the people’ in Europe ‘supports the Iranian nation since the speeches of the Iranian nation arises from God’s inner nature’. Last but not least he promised to hold a similar referendum in Iran, which he promised would show that ’100% of the Iranian people is against your [i.e., the West's] policies in the world’.

Allegedly, the people who came out to greet the returning president answered with the slogan ‘O, you, the hope of the dispossessed; you turned Geneve into Tehran; welcome to Iran’.

Zibakalam, professor at Tehran University, argued that Ahmadinejad’s speech might not benefit Iran in the way his supporters believe.

Zibakalam stated that apart from Ahmadinejad’s own entourage, “only a number of diplomats from Arab countries (Sudan)” clapped for the president. Not only was the topic of his speech not that important or necessary right now, argued Zibakalam, the speech itself could have been formulated better. “The important issue is that we will have to decide whether Iran’s foreign policy strategy should be aimed at national interests or ideological [goals]“, stated Zibakalam, referring to the national(ist)/ international(ist) dichotomy, which is as old as the Islamic Republic itself.

ZIbakalam concluded that Iranians could ask themselves which was more important: “the Sudanese’s encouragement and applause or the exit of diplomats from many influential countries of the world during Iran’s president’s speech?”.

(By the way, Sudan’s ‘Justice Minister’ stated today in Tehran that the international arrest order for Sudan’s president is due to the fact that Khartoum does not recognize Israel).

In today’s Âftâb-e yazd, the chief editor wrote that the insult against Ahmadinejad was also an insult against Iran, but that the president’s trip to Geneve was completely unnecessary when only three presidents of insignificant countries attended the conference. Furthermore, the editor stated that Ahmadinejad had nothing new to say at the conference and that, apart from the UN general secretary and the Swiss president, Ahmadinejad did not meet any world leaders, as promised. Indeed, the editor concluded, Ahmadinejad’s Geneve performance was not the ‘epic’ act that his supporters have named it.

So far, the most notable criticism from within the system has come from Musavi. While he stated that the provocative act against Ahmadinejad (the clowns? the exodus?) was deplorable and an insult against Iran, he also blamed the president’s advisors for not warning Ahmadinejad of the possible ‘scenes’ he could encounter at the conference. He then implied that when uttering ‘words of epic poetry’ (kalamât-e hamâsi) one should know the outcome – in other words, that Ahmadinejad should have worded his views differently to prevent the embarrassing scene. By using the word ‘hamâsi‘, Musavi might also be playing with the words: could we maybe even translate it as ‘Hamas wording’? Anyhow, Musavi then said:

“The repetition of such an event will threaten our reputation and the reputation of the Islamic Republic and  that of Iranians abroad. This event should not be repeated. After all, for what purpose have we established such a magnificent diplomatic institution? I think there is a problem.”

This might not seem as harsh criticism compared to the international outcry. Nonetheless, in my interpretation – and I welcome alternative readings – this is quite harsh for a figure so high up in the political system as Musavi: he is stating that Ahmadinejad’s actions were wrong and that the diplomatic institution is not working correctly despite all its ‘splendor’ (sarcastic?). Also note the way Âftâb has distorted Musavi’s words in the headline. As far as I can see, there is no mention of ‘insults’ against ‘countries’ in the text itself. Nonetheless, an editor must have ‘read’ this between Musavi’s lines. Furthermore, Musavi is quoted slightly differently on other sites (see for example Entekhâb)

Finally, by mentioning ‘Iranians abroad’, Musavi reflects the feeling I have gotten from browsing the internet today: that many Iranians, in particular those in the West, are simply embarrassed with their president.

The Other War

by Sune Haugbolle.

Below is a translation into English of my op-ed on Gaza, published January 9 in the Danish daily Information (to non-Danes: Information is a leftist daily roughly equivalent to the Independent – in fact they publish Robert Fisk’s pieces). Link to the Danish piece here.

The Other War

One the eve of January the 4th, as the IDF rolled over the border crossing into Gaza, the Israeli government’s spokesman Mark Regev appeared on TV screens across the world and assured viewers that the ongoing conflict is nothing more than a defence against Hamas’ rocket attacks. The war simply put.

Israel unquestionably has a security problem in form of Hamas. But this war is about more than Hamas’ rocket attacks and the Israelis’ brutal attempt to stop them. Israel’s attempt to portray the war in 2009 as a defence against the assault of a terrorist enemy conveys a here-and-now image which suits the short time frame of our TV reality, and which consciously tries to obfuscate the broader lines of the Middle East conflict.

Without too much information, or historical memory, it is easy to sympathise with the state of Israel’s wish to neutralise an aggressive enemy on its door step. Regev’s simple formulation probably won the sympathy of many Danes, despite Israel’s continued bombing of densely populated areas and the many reports of civilian casualties, which viewers have had to swallow with their nine o’clock tea – the regrettable collateral damage that we have been taught to accept in every conflict against terrorists.

While the land invasion continues to rage it is important that we keep in mind that the tight Israeli blockade was one of the reasons why Hamas on the 19th of December chose to end the ceasefire from last summer. In the words of one Hamas leader, the blockade gave them choice between starvation and continued struggle. The group probably also reasoned that fighting could provide a way to ease the pressure on them from an increasingly desperate population looking to the de facto government of Hamas for solutions.

The blockade, which several international observers have condemned as an inhuman form of collective punishment, officially serves the purpose of restricting smuggling of weaponry and ammunition into Gaza. Even though Israel in 2005 ended its occupation of the Gaza strip, the IDF still controls access and hence are masters of the area’s aid dependent economy. The southern border crossing is still controlled by another former occupation force in the strip, Egypt.

To Gaza’s citizens, the blockade feels more like a form of collective strangling. By minimising the import of basic goods, materials and fuels to the Gaza strip, Israel has within the last year made most of its 1.5 million inhabitants completely dependent on international aid organisation. According to UNRWA and the World Food Program, which together provide for more than half of Gaza’s total population, in the last two months only a small percentage of clothes, medicine and other basic goods have arrived, as a direct consequence of Israel restricting the number of trucks into Gaza dramatically. How shoes, medicine and tea mugs can be a security threat to anyone is really not clear.

On November the 5th, Israel closed the border crossings to Gaza completely in response to rocket attacks from Hamas, which in their turn came in response to an Israeli incursion killing six Hamas members. The total blockade and quick worsening of an already dire energy and nutrition situation in a few weeks turned a serious humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe.

The blockade is not the only reason for the war, of course. Hamas can be blamed for gambling with ending the ceasefire and attacking Israel when they must have known that the coming Israeli elections could prompt its leaders to react harshly. In a wider sense, the situation today in Palestine also bears witness to what a miserable deadlock the Palestinians’ historic struggle for independence has ended in since the second Intifada in 2000 all but put an end to the Oslo peace process. Yasser Arafat’s successors in Fatah have been too weak, and lacked sufficient American support, to continue the negotiations for an independent Palestinian state, which came close to succeeding at Camp David in 2000.

Of course the lack of Israeli will to end their settlements is the real reason for the death of the Oslo process, but it doesn’t change the sad fact that is the divided and ineffective Palestinian national movement today, since Fatah lost the elections to Hamas in 2006 and was evicted from Gaza in May, 2007.

Since then, Gaza’s international status has, more than ever before, been unclear. Officially the Gaza strip forms part of the Palestinian National Authority, but in effect they are now ruled by Hamas, who, it must be said, have not exactly been the picture of good governance according to reports by Amnesty International and others.

When Fatah left Gaza in 2007, the area entered into a status of no man’s land, in terms of international law. Add to its isolation the fact that many in the West have chosen to adopt the Israeli view of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and a key opponent in the war on Islamist terror in which we are supposedly engaged. These discursive constructions of Gaza as illegitimate and isolated make the war tolerable and justifiable to the Western public. They are designed to do so. And they make it possible to drink that nine o’clock tea even if it’s now starting to taste a tad bit bitter from the increasing hundreds of civilian casualties.

What ever one might think of Hamas’s violent ideology and the negative impact it has had on the peace process, there is no denying the fact that the group is the main political representative of the Palestinians in Gaza. And the Palestinians must not be robbed of political representation in the face of Israel – that would, politically speaking, be the greatest crime of all. For the time being, there is no alternative to Hamas. Even if they are really toppled in the coming weeks, it is impossible to see Mahmoud Abbas somehow entering Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank.

In fact, despite the pounding they are taking in these days, Hamas in all probability will remain the political representatives. The lessons Israel should have learned from the war against Hizbollah in 2006 is that such organisations which rest on social networks cannot be knocked over by bombs. Hamas is not a series of buildings, but an ideology of Islamic resistance that will only be strengthened by a long and bloody fight.

In a regional context, Hamas belongs to the group of Islamic non-state organisations which, like Hizbollah, claim the right to fight Israel independent of the state. What Israel and the West have apparently failed to register is that these organisations thrive on war and sacrifice. Seen through the optic of martyrdom even a bloody defeat is the foundation of future victory.

Thus, the war is part of a regional struggle between Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who support an American dictated peace in the Middle East – and to which group Abbas belongs – and on the other side the rejection front consisting of Hizbollah, Syria, Iran and Hamas.

If the strategic calculation from Israel’s side has been to strengthen Mahmiud Abbas and the moderate Arab states by neutralising Hamas militarily, then that is unlikely to succeed, an besides an almost incredible misreading of the empathy of other Palestinians and Arabs. The longer this war continues, and the more civilians are killed, the more support Hamas will get from Arab populations. Exactly like in 2006, the war in 2009 spells out a dilemma in Arab politics, namely that while most Arab governments have been edging towards normalisation with Israel, great parts of its populations back up the uncompromising Islamic resistance groups.

That fact is not least due to the direct, unmitigated and often emotional view of the war offered by TV channels. Al-Jazeera, still the most widely viewed Arab TV channel, has so far covered the war in way that bears witness to the strong, and in may ways understandable, wish among Arab media and Arab publics to counter what they see as the West’s hypocritical attempt to cover this as a war of two equal sides – Mark Regev’s “rocket logic.” The result so far has been a media coverage which, to a large extent, makes Hamas the heroes and martyrs they want to be.

This is what the war in 2009 is about: structural violence against a brutalised people, a divided Palestinian political class, and strengthening of the extreme positions in Israel, which will soon be lead by a right wing government, among the Palestinians, who can be forgiven for giving up hope that they have a partner for peace in Israel, as well as in the Arab populations who turn against their own leaders in disgust. Violence breeds violence and, what is worse, self-righteousness.

Boroujerdi, Rafsanjani, executions, counterterrorism

A selective glance at Iran and Iranian media, November 30.

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

The dissident Ayatollah Seyyed Hosein Kazemeyni-Borujerdi has allegedly been beaten up and brought to an unknown location. Borujerdi has advocated the separation of religion and government. Here is some interesting footage from two years ago of Borujerdi, his followers and his opponents; here is an older article and here a more recent piece.

Mohammad Hashemi-Rafsanjani, younger brother of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has aired the possibility he might be a presidential candidate for the reformists. He has also stated that he do not know whether his older brother will be a candidate himself. Khatami’s former first vice-president, Mohammad-Reza ‘Aref, has also declared that he will run for presidency – if he receives support from the reformists.

Several media outlets have stated that Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf’s presidential campaign has started. Qalibaf is the mayor of Tehran and former chief of police. He is considered a ‘moderate conservative’ and he is known for his somewhat ‘modern image’ aimed at appealing to the young and affluent. At least Admiral Shamkhani, former Defense Minister, is ‘wise enough not to become a candidate!’.

The centrist / ‘moderate conservative’ Hasan Rowhani – a top advisor to Khamene‘i, former nuclear negotiator and currently the head of the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research – has warned against paramilitary powers taking over the process of privatization in Iran. “Up until now, it was the government that hampered privatization, now it is being hampered by supra-governmental and paramilitary sectors”.

While one man was executed on November 18 for being an ‘Israeli spy’, authorities have now announced that they have unraveled a network of Israeli spies inside Iran. The network allegedly spied on Iran’s nuclear facilities (in English). Furthermore, three men have been sentenced to death for the April bombing of a mosque in Shiraz. Allegedly, the three are members of ‘a terrorist group’. They will be hanged in public.

Meanwhile, Iran has opened a Center for Advanced Studies in Counterterrorism. It is the purpose of this center to study the history of terrorism, ‘scientific strategies of counterterrorism’ and the ‘real face of the US’ as the culprit behind international terror today.

Miliband and Europe’s endorsement of Bashar’s self-image

by Sune Haugbolle.

What to think about the recent spout of European state visits to Damascus, and the Western attempt to engage Syria? First, let’s be realistic about the engagement: the many debates about what it would mean are moot, because it has in fact already happened, and there is little reason to believe that it won’t continue on the all important American front once Obama takes office early next year. David Miliband’s visit this week completes an extended “summer of love” for Bashar al-Asad, who can now look back at the time in 2005 and 2006 when his regime seemed under real pressure, from the Hariri tribunal and the general international sidelining of Syria, and smile. He has been vindicated in his policy of steadfastness, and he knows it. Ordinary Syrians may still be struggling with dire economic problems outside the Damascus circle of prospering cronies, and the UN tribunal may still throw up surprises that could incriminate the regime when it comes into action in the coming years. But unlike in 2005, these are now hurdles Bashar will feel he can handle from a position of strength.

That strength partly derives from the changing regional and international conjectures: a weakened US in the Middle East and the defeat of Bushism generally, Hizbollah’s steadfast resistance to Israel’s attempt to wipe it out in 2006, Lebanon’s inability to present a united front, and new leaders in France and now the US who appear to have “rediscovered” Syria’s potential as a central arbiter in the Middle Eastern jigsaw. Bashar is exactly where he wants to be, because Western diplomats increasingly see him as he wants to be seen: as a man in control of a country that would be chaotic without him, and with fingers in every regional pie of any importance, from Iran to Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. To near-quote The Streets, he is good to know, and he knows it.

What we also know is that there is a dark side to Asad’s Syria. Western diplomats have not found this the right moment to confront Bashar with his country’s human rights record, which is arguably no less appalling than Saudi Arabia’s or Egypt’s, but still unacceptable. The “regrettable” aspects of Syria’s policies for Europe and the US have always been Damascus’ self-styled role as “capital of Arab resistance,” ie. its links with Tehran, Hizbollah, and Palestinian and Iraqi groups. It is only right that Miliband and others should cease to view Syria’s foreign policy as a stumbling block for negotiations. After all, Bashar al-Asad has shown that he can be moved, and that there is room for negotiation on almost all of the abovementioned fronts. Syrian-Israeli peace may even be within reach, to the benefit of all people in the region.

But it is not right that Miliband and other visitors to the Qasiyoun palace leave the complete lack of democratic reforms in Syria out of their policy of engagement. In fact, it is a slap in the face for the people who have struggled for years for political and human rights reform, and who continue to be imprisoned for asking for the most basic rights. Allowing Syria back in the fold without asking tough questions about these well-documented facts is nothing short of an endorsement of Bashar on all fronts. And although he may not be as bad as some have portrayed him, Bashar al-Asad’s legacy of stalled reforms is not one we should endorse, however badly we wish for normalisation in the Middle East. One can only hope that the US engagement, when it starts to take shape early next year, will do what the Europeans seem incapable of doing, and raise all the issue that are not part of Bashar’s self-image but that are very much part of daily life in Syria.