12th October 2013 | European Coordination Committee for Palestine | Brussels, Belgium
In July 2013, the European Commission announced new guidelines that aim to prevent Israeli projects in illegal Israeli settlements from receiving research grant funding and prevent Israeli companies and institutions that operate inside illegal Israeli settlements from participating in financial instruments such as loans. The new guidelines were broadly welcomed by Palestinian and European civil society organisations.
But now Israel and its supporters are pressuring the EU to drop the new guidelines. There is a very real risk that the Commission will cave in to Israeli pressure and decide to continue the funding of, and support for, Israeli projects and organisations based in occupied Palestinian Territory. This would send a dangerous message that the EU lacks the political will to pressure Israel to end its war crimes and comply with international law.
Please use our simple e-tool to send a message to your members of the European Parliament and ask them to take action to support the new guidelines and make sure that the EU stops funding Israeli war crimes.
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Located in Boston, Northeastern University is a four-year college and graduate school offering degrees in law, political science, African American studies, and various other fields. The school seems to be generally well thought of, and is even involved in a research program to develop high-resolution images of human brain activity. But recently the university, or more specifically some of its faculty members, has come under attack by Zionists.
This of course is not new. Faculty members who criticize Israel have found themselves targeted at one university after another in America. Norman Finkelstein is probably one of the more famous cases in point, but he is not by any means the only one. Attacks at Northeastern have focused in the main on Denis Sullivan, professor of International Affairs and director of the school’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development; Economics Professor M. Shahid Alam; and Berna Turam, who also teaches in the International Affairs program.
On July 5, 2013 the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) wrote a letter to the university’s president, Joseph Aoun, calling for Sullivan’s and Alam’s dismissal, and also complaining about a campus student group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), whose activities—along with classroom comments made by the professors cited—are said to be causing Jewish students at Northeastern to “feel unsafe and uncomfortable.”
The issue has received considerable coverage in the Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner—this of course would be the same Algemeiner which just a couple of months ago published some fairly rancid accusations made by an official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center against musical entertainer Roger Waters.
In an October 4 article, the Algemeiner reports on “allegations of rampant anti-Semitism” on the Northeastern campus, and also airs an official response from the university that apparently was thought to have been issued in an insufficiently prompt manner:
Boston’s Northeastern University responded on Friday to allegations of rampant anti-Semitism from students by faculty on campus, after The Algemeiner pressed the school on why it hadn’t answered a formal letter from three months ago from the Zionist Organization of America, which helped the students make their case.
Also, it appears that Jewish students at the school have been videotaping classroom lectures—whether openly or clandestinely isn’t specified, but the 12-page letter to Aoun makes reference to “three separate and very disturbing videos,” and accuses faculty members of making “false and demonizing accusations against Jews and Israel.”
Of the three professors, Sullivan seems to have aroused the most ire. The ZOA letter devotes a full two and a half pages to his alleged misdeeds, including the following:
In one course, Professor Sullivan was promoting a so-called “one-state solution” to the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict. In effect, he was calling for the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel, to be replaced by another Arab state. A Jewish student in the class raised her hand an asked a legitimate question—what this “solution” would mean for Jews living in Israel. Instead of answering the question, Professor Sullivan personally attacked the student, as the rest of the class snickered. Understandably, the Jewish student felt unable to defend herself against her professor. She was so traumatized by the attack that she began crying in class and had to leave the room. This Jewish student was an international affairs major with a concentration in the Middle East. But she ended up changing her concentration because of the anti-Israel climate in the department.
Another female student—apparently also suffering from anti-Semitism-induced traumatization—“no longer wears a Star of David on campus, nor does she make it known that she is Jewish.”
The ZOA accuses the SJP of “vandalizing” the university by posting “anti-Israel stickers all over the campus,” and also speaks of the vandalization (for three years straight) of a campus menorah during Chanukah season. The damaging of the menorah is not specifically blamed on the SJP, but the student group is taken to task for disrupting a pro-Israel event as well as for posting “hateful falsehoods about Israel that cross the line into anti-Semitism” on a law school bulletin board.
But from the Zionist perspective, perhaps the gravest sin of all was that committed by Professor Alam—who apparently has counseled his students not to be too intimidated should they happen to be accused of anti-Semitism.
One professor not only has made false and demonizing accusations against Jews and Israel, but has also bragged about how students are now too intimidated to speak up and challenge his views. In a lecture delivered on April 10, 2012, M. Shahid Alam, an economics professor, accused “Zionist partisans” and “partisans of Israel”—code for Jews—of “trying to shut out the daylight, the daylight of truth about Zionism, about Israel and the hostility of these two and their crimes against humanity, the war crimes. Their brutality, their massacre, their ethnic cleansing.” Alam also outrageously told students in his lecture that Israelis’ “whole life depends upon defending lies. They have to defend lies.”
In addition to demonizing Jews and Israelis to students at Northeastern, Alam bragged about the hostile environment in his classes, where pro-Israel students are now afraid to speak up: “If there are one or two people who want to say something, they don’t because they can sense that they will get no support from the class.” Alam also embraced claims that he is anti-Semitic and encouraged students to follow in his footsteps: “You know we should really laugh away accusations of anti-Semitism. It has now become laughable. And there may come a time when you wear that label as a mark of distinction.”
A Jewish student, apparently in class at the time Alam made the remarks, reportedly was so “horrified” by the professor’s comments he wrote a letter to Aoun and other university officials, a portion of which is quoted by the ZOA. “I sat painfully listening to Professor Alam insinuate, that students should be proud to be called anti-semitic,” the student wrote. “I had never in my life, ever, experienced anti-semitism first hand until this past year when I witnessed Professor Alam and Professor Sullivan display an age old hatred against the Jewish people.”
As for the ZOA’s letter to Aoun, it is signed by Morton A. Klein, national president, and Susan B. Tuchman, director of the Center for Law and Justice. Moreover, it contains what could be construed as a not-so-thinly veiled threat against the school (emphasis included):
All these problems raise the question of whether Northeastern University is complying with its legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We have enclosed a policy letter issued in October 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). OCR has made it clear that schools receiving federal funding must remedy a hostile environment for Jewish students and ensure that the hostility does not recur, pursuant to Title VI. If a school fails to comply with Title VI, then it risks losing its federal funding.
In a brief written statement issued last month, the university speaks of its “incredible diversity” and its commitment to “academically rigorous” standards, commenting also on its efforts to ensure a proper learning environment for all students.
If any member of our community feels marginalized for any reason, the university has a range of offices and avenues where grievances can be heard and resolved. This includes a dedicated Office of Diversity and Inclusion, our extensive student affairs operation, and the university ombudsman. We encourage members of the Northeastern community to take advantage of these many resources, which include the opportunity for confidential discussions.
Specific concerns presented by members of the Northeastern community are swiftly and thoroughly investigated. This is vital to maintaining a productive and enlightened learning environment.
However, unsubstantiated allegations made by third parties are not sufficient for Northeastern—or any university—to launch internal investigations. Pursuing unsubstantiated allegations is just as irresponsible as ignoring legitimate concerns.
“Dismissing the reports in our letter as ‘unsubstantiated’ allows the administration to avoid the real issue, about whether Jewish students are being subjected to a hostile learning environment and what must be done to remedy the problem,” Tuchman commented to the Algemeiner by way of response. “Northeastern’s reaction is just another slap in the face for students and their concerns.”
The videos mentioned above were produced by a 501c-3 organization called Americans for Peace and Tolerance. Whether the organization is affiliated with the ZOA, I do not know, but the video below follows closely the subject matter contained in the ZOA letter. “In many academic institutions around the US, Israel has become the subject of relentless criticism and outright demonization,” the narrator comments at the beginning. Could anything the Jewish state have done possibly account for these negative feelings having been aroused in such large numbers of people? The narrator doesn’t seem to think so. His video focuses almost exclusively on what he narrowly views as anti-Semitism, tendering, like a devalued currency, an official definition of “the new anti-Semitism” issued by the US State Department.
“Alam promotes the anti-Semitic conspiracy notion that a mostly Jewish elite group of neoconservatives sought to place American power in the service of Israel”—one almost has to laugh at an attempt to portray what is so obvious to so many people as being nothing more than a conspiracy fantasy. On the surface what we find here is a coordinated attack upon a university, similar to so many we’ve seen in the past, but looked at from a slightly different angle, the video and the ZOA letter can also be viewed as signs of a growing desperation, as an effort to stave off the rapidly accelerating disintegration of Israel’s “legitimacy” as a nation and the increasing recognition and awareness of its criminality. Compare the relatively benign statements made by the Northeastern University professors in the above video with the the racist, and in some cases outright genocidal, comments quoted in the video below:
If the people at the ZOA were intellectually honest, instead of harping solely upon comments by Sullivan and his colleagues would they not at least have acknowledged that a number of statements of a deplorable nature have been made by prominent Israelis, including officials of the Israeli government? And would this not have supplied some context, maybe even helped people to understand and make sense of the “relentless criticism and outright demonization” the poor Jewish state has had to suffer? I wonder why they left that out? Perhaps it just slipped their minds.
Moscow – A famous Russian traveler and photographer, Konstantin Zhuralev, was captured by Syrian armed opponents while traveling from Turkey to the Sahara by hitchhiking, some of his friends said today through social networks.
A note with a photo of Zhuralev’s passport posted on the internet by the Islamist group Liwa Al Tawhid, claims that he was a Russian spy who was involved in collecting information on the rebels for Russia’s and Syria’s secret services. The message also said footage of his interrogation would be posted soon.
One of his friends, Oleg Patsai, told Lenta.ru that Zhuravlev reached the war zone as part of the program “Alone with the desert,” and at this stage, he was supposed to spend 21 days in the eastern Sahara, but he has been untraceable since late September.
Diplomats from the Russian embassy in Damascus criticized Zhuralev and described him as irresponsible for embarking on such adventure during war time.
Born in 1981 in the Siberian city of Tomsk, Zhuralev is a well known programmer, photographer and blogger.
In 2008, he hitchhiked 18,000 km in three months across the Eurasian Federation, and four years later completed a world tour of 37 countries from all continents except Australia and Antarctica in 777 days.
Petitioning the American government and the United Nations to take over the Fukushima clean-up would be morally wrong and a political folly.
The argument goes that since TEPCO and the Japanese government have shown themselves incompetent and untrustworthy in their information policies regarding the Fukushima disaster, now the international community and especially the United States government should step in and take over.
However, looking at the US’s own track record in giving comprehensive and accurate information about its nuclear accidents and the failure of its nuclear industry to even implement the most basic safety precautions would actually be letting the fox guard the hen house. It wasn’t just the Three Mile Island disaster. In reality 56 of the 99 globally recorded reactor accidents occurred in the United States. And charging a US dominated UN organization with the task would not be any better. This would be similar to what happened with the fake swine-flu scare, where the Big-Pharma dominated WHO licensed Pharma corporations which before had been caught red-handed at contaminating ordinary flu-vaccines with live bird-flu viruses to produce anti-swine-flu vaccines.
Demanding an American take-over of the clean-up efforts at Fukushima would also imply that the Japanese, after a catastrophe like this happening to one of their nuclear installations, are incapable of cleaning up the mess themselves; that everything is fine and dandy with western — and especially American — nuclear facilities, since Americans and other westerners via the western dominated UN must step in to rescue the Japanese.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Al Jazeera documentary “Danger Zone: Ageing US Nuclear Reactors” the decrepit state of many American nuclear reactors and the corrupt relationship of the industry with its supposedly regulating government agency is shown in terrifying detail. Vital infrastructure at nuclear sites is often in a state of corrosion or are even falling apart. And still these reactors are getting their licenses renewed. Like in Japan, many reactors were built in earthquake-prone areas and to the same design as the Fukushima reactors and to standards that do not allow them to withstand major earthquakes beyond 7.2 on the Richter scale.
The money that has to be expended to repair and renew the infrastructure would make the reactors financially no longer viable. This means that the industry would have to shut down a large part of its reactors and the US government regulating agency therefore looks the other way rather than having to risk a shut-down.
This insane attitude endangers the American people and the rest of humanity just as much as a possible further melt-down at Fukushima.
While the Japanese government might have lots of reasons for not informing their own population of the severe danger they are in at the moment, especially the people of Tokyo, it has all the reasons in the world for the best and most carefully deliberated actions to clean up the fuel-pool at the Fukushima reactor 4.
The people who will be most effected by a further melt-down are the people of northern Japan, including the political and economic elites themselves. Once the nuclear clouds reach the rest of the northern hemisphere their impact will be far more diluted.
Japan is a highly developed country, has a population of 127 million people with many highly educated technicians, engineers and scientists in the nuclear field. The Japanese government already has consulted with foreign nuclear experts and without doubt they will do so in the future. There is no reason to believe that an American dominated international group of experts could do a better or more competent job than a Japanese dominated one. The Japanese people have the most to lose and would therefore be the most intent to avert a further nuclear catastrophe.
Japanese workers are already risking their lives every single day in the clean-up efforts motivated not by money but by wanting to protect their families and their fellow citizens. Those who will start the dangerous work in November will be no less motivated.
While the energy corporation TEPCO might be too cash-strapped to carry the enormous costs of the operation, the argument that the Japanese government could not carry them either does not hold any water at all.
While America is the greatest debtor nation on the planet, Japan is next to China as the second greatest creditor nation. It holds about 6% of the American debts in its central bank. Cashing in on those debts and using this money would certainly cover whatever astronomic costs might be incurred by the clean-up.
There is no necessity whatsoever to violate Japanese sovereignty over the Fukushima clean-up attempts.
To do so would create a dangerous precedent that would allow American and UN interference in a quasi take-over of every country that has suffered natural or man-made disasters.
It also would be a dangerous re-writing of international law and one more increase of power for the un-elected corporate elites which rule America and have enormous influence on most of the UN organizations.
Yes, we should have more transparency of information. Different from what the governments of our nations think, the general population has indeed a right to the truth and is quite capable of processing truthful information in a productive manner. One thing that would emerge out of it would be more pressure on governments all over the world to shut down or at least phase out their nations’ nuclear reactors and replace this dangerous form of energy-production with a better, less poisonous and destructive one.
A report by one of the world’s leading medical journals has supported earlier findings that Yasser Arafat, the late leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was poisoned to death nearly a decade ago.
According to British journal the Lancet, Arafat was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium 210.
The journal published a peer review of last year’s research by Swiss scientists, who have been researching the suspicious circumstances surrounding Arafat’s death.
The earlier work “found high levels of the highly radioactive element in blood, urine, and saliva stains” on Arafat’s “clothes and toothbrush,” according to a report on al-Jazeera.
In July 2012, experts at Lausanne University, Switzerland, said they had evidence Arafat might have been poisoned with polonium.
The investigation into Arafat’s mysterious death led to the exhumation of his body in November 2012 for further testing.
The decision to exhume Arafat’s body was made after French prosecutors opened a murder probe into his death in August 2012 following the discovery of high levels of polonium on his personal belongings.
Arafat died in 2004 at the age of 75 in a Paris military hospital.
The analysis at the time was that he had a rare blood disorder.
A federal judge refused on Friday to allow a court-appointed attorney to represent Abu Anas al-Libi, a Libyan man who was abducted by US military forces in Tripoli on October 5.
The refusal came after some US defense lawyers from the Federal Defenders of New York demanded to be allowed to represent al-Libi, arguing there is no legal basis for holding him “offshore” on a navy vessel.
However, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan claimed it was premature because the Libyan man has not apparently been formally arrested.
“The government denies that any federal criminal arrest has taken place, and there is no evidence to the contrary,” wrote Kaplan.
Kaplan also said even if an arrest is made, the appropriate time to assign counsel would depend on the first court appearance.
Al-Libi was abducted over his alleged involvement in the 1998 twin bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and is believed to be held in military custody and interrogated on board a navy ship, the USS Antonio, in the Mediterranean.
According to a law enforcement source, authorities in New York have not indicated when or if he might be brought to the US.
Kaplan said that the Federal Defenders have expressed concerns about the legality of the man’s detention but added that the matter is outside his jurisdiction.
Officials say al-Libi has not been Mirandized, and is facing open-ended interrogation on the ship without access to a lawyer.
Even US Secretary of State John Kerry last week defended al-Libi’s abduction as “legal” and “appropriate.”
Dr. Randy Short, an American human rights activist, who talked Thursday to Press TV on the arrest of al-Libi, said “I am just intrigued that the same government that funded al-Qaeda to destroy Libya” and “the same government [that] funds and supports al-Qaeda which is fighting and killing people in Lebanon and in Syria now goes back retroactively and attack someone who may have even been in their service”.
The Pentagon has spent the last two decades plowing hundreds of millions of tax dollars into military bases in Italy, turning the country into an increasingly important center for U.S. military power. Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.
At bases in Naples, Aviano, Sicily, Pisa, and Vicenza, among others, the military has spent more than $2 billion on construction alone since the end of the Cold War—and that figure doesn’t include billions more on classified construction projects and everyday operating and personnel costs. While the number of troops in Germany has fallen from 250,000 when the Soviet Union collapsed to about 50,000 today, the roughly 13,000 U.S. troops (plus 16,000 family members) stationed in Italy match the numbers at the height of the Cold War. That, in turn, means that the percentage of U.S. forces in Europe based in Italy has tripled since 1991 from around 5 percent to more than 15 percent.
Last month, I had a chance to visit the newest U.S. base in Italy, a three-month-old garrison in Vicenza, near Venice. Home to a rapid reaction intervention force, the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), and the Army’s component of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the base extends for a mile, north to south, dwarfing everything else in the small city. In fact, at over 145 acres, the base is almost exactly the size of Washington’s National Mall or the equivalent of around 110 American football fields. The price tag for the base and related construction in a city that already hosted at least six installations: upwards of $600 million since fiscal year 2007.
There are still more bases, and so more U.S. military spending, in Germany than in any other foreign country (save, until recently, Afghanistan). Nonetheless, Italy has grown increasingly important as the Pentagon works to change the make-up of its global collection of 800 or more bases abroad, generally shifting its basing focus south and east from Europe’s center. Base expert Alexander Cooley explains: “U.S. defense officials acknowledge that Italy’s strategic positioning on the Mediterranean and near North Africa, the Italian military’s anti-terrorism doctrine, as well as the country’s favorable political disposition toward U.S. forces are important factors in the Pentagon’s decision to retain” a large base and troop presence there. About the only people who have been paying attention to this build-up are the Italians in local opposition movements like those in Vicenza who are concerned that their city will become a platform for future U.S. wars.
Most tourists think of Italy as the land of Renaissance art, Roman antiquities, and of course great pizza, pasta, and wine. Few think of it as a land of U.S. bases. But Italy’s 59 Pentagon-identified “base sites” top that of any country except Germany (179), Japan (103), Afghanistan (100 and declining), and South Korea (89).
Publicly, U.S. officials say there are no U.S. military bases in Italy. They insist that our garrisons, with all their infrastructure, equipment, and weaponry, are simply guests on what officially remain “Italian” bases designated for NATO use. Of course, everyone knows that this is largely a legal nicety.
No one visiting the new base in Vicenza could doubt that it’s a U.S. installation all the way. The garrison occupies a former Italian air force base called Dal Molin. (In late 2011, Italian officials re-branded it “Caserma Del Din,” evidently to try to shed memories of the massive opposition the base has generated.) From the outside, it might be mistaken for a giant hospital complex or a university campus. Thirty one box-like peach-and-cream-colored buildings with light red rooftops dominate the horizon with only the foothills of the Southern Alps as a backdrop. A chain link fence topped by razor wire surrounds the perimeter, with green mesh screens obscuring views into the base.
If you manage to get inside, however, you find two barracks for up to 600 soldiers each. (Off base, the Army is contracting to lease up to 240 newly built homes in surrounding communities.) Two six-floor parking garages that can hold 850 vehicles, and a series of large office complexes, some small training areas, including an indoor shooting range still under construction, as well as a gym with a heated swimming pool, a “Warrior Zone” entertainment center, a small PX, an Italian-style café, and a large dining facility. These amenities are actually rather modest for a large U.S. base. Most of the newly built or upgraded housing, schools, medical facilities, shopping, and other amenities for soldiers and their families are across town on Viale della Pace (Peace Boulevard) at the Caserma Ederle base and at the nearby Villaggio della Pace (Peace Village).
A Pentagon Spending Spree
Beyond Vicenza, the military has been spending mightily to upgrade its Italian bases. Until the early 1990s, the U.S. air base at Aviano, northeast of Vicenza, was a small site known as “Sleepy Hollow.” Beginning with the transfer of F-16s from Spain in 1992, the Air Force turned it into a major staging area for every significant wartime operation since the first Gulf War. In the process, it has spent at least $610 million on more than 300 construction projects (Washington convinced NATO to provide more than half these funds, and Italy ceded 210 acres of land for free.) Beyond these “Aviano 2000” projects, the Air Force has spent an additional $115 million on construction since fiscal year 2004.
Not to be outdone, the Navy laid out more than $300 million beginning in 1996 to construct a major new operations base at the Naples airport. Nearby, it has a 30-year lease on an estimated $400 million “support site” that looks like a big-box shopping mall surrounded by expansive, well-manicured lawns. (The base is located in the Neapolitan mafia’s heartland and was built by a company that has been linked to the Camorra.) In 2005, the Navy moved its European headquarters from London to Naples as it shifted its attention from the North Atlantic to Africa, the Middle East, and the Black Sea. With the creation of AFRICOM, whose main headquarters remain in Germany, Naples is now home to a combined U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa. Tellingly, its website prominently displays the time in Naples, Djibouti, Liberia, and Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, Sicily has become increasingly significant in the Global War on Terror era, as the Pentagon has been turning it into a major node of U.S. military operations for Africa, which is less than 100 miles away across the Mediterranean. Since fiscal year 2001, the Pentagon has spent more on construction at the Sigonella Naval Air Station—almost $300 million—than at any Italian base other than Vicenza. Now the second busiest naval air station in Europe, Sigonella was first used to launch Global Hawk surveillance drones in 2002. In 2008, U.S. and Italian officials signed a secret agreement formally permitting the basing of drones there. Since then, the Pentagon has put out at least $31 million to build a Global Hawk maintenance and operations complex. The drones provide the foundation for NATO’s $1.7 billion Alliance Ground Surveillance system, which gives NATO surveillance capabilities as far as10,000 miles from Sigonella.
Beginning in 2003, “Joint Task Force Aztec Silence” has used P-3 surveillance planes based at Sigonella to monitor insurgent groups in North and West Africa. And since 2011, AFRICOM has deployed a task force of around 180 marines and two aircraft to the base to provide counterterrorism training to African military personnel in Botswana, Liberia, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Tunisia, and Senegal.
Sigonella also hosts one of three Global Broadcast Service satellite communications facilities and will soon be home to a NATO Joint Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance deployment base and a data analysis and training center. In June, a U.S. Senate subcommittee recommended moving special operations forces and CV-22 Ospreys from Britain to Sicily, since “Sigonella has become a key launch pad for missions related to Libya, and given the ongoing turmoil in that nation as well as the emergence of terrorist training activities in northern Africa.” In nearby Niscemi, the Navy hopes to build an ultra high frequency satellite communications installation, despite growing opposition from Sicilians and other Italians concerned about the effects of the station and its electromagnetic radiation on humans and a surrounding nature reserve.
Amid the build-up, the Pentagon has actually closed some bases in Italy as well, including those in Comiso, Brindisi, and La Maddalena. While the Army has cut some personnel at Camp Darby, a massive underground weapons and equipment storage installation along Tuscany’s coast, the base remains a critical logistics and pre-positioning center enabling the global deployment of troops, weapons, and supplies from Italy by sea. Since fiscal year 2005, it’s seen almost $60 million in new construction.
And what are all these bases doing in Italy? Here’s the way one U.S. military official in Italy (who asked not to be named) explained the matter to me: “I’m sorry, Italy, but this is not the Cold War. They’re not here to defend Vicenza from a [Soviet] attack. They’re here because we agreed they need to be here to do other things, whether that’s the Middle East or the Balkans or Africa.”
Location, Location, Location
Bases in Italy have played an increasingly important role in the Pentagon’s global garrisoning strategy in no small part because of the country’s place on the map. During the Cold War, West Germany was the heart of U.S. and NATO defenses in Europe because of its positioning along the most likely routes of any Soviet attack into Western Europe. Once the Cold War ended, Germany’s geographic significance declined markedly. In fact, U.S. bases and troops at Europe’s heart looked increasingly hemmed in by their geography, with U.S. ground forces there facing longer deployment times outside the continent and the Air Force needing to gain overflight rights from neighboring countries to get almost anywhere.
Troops based in Italy, by contrast, have direct access to the international waters and airspace of the Mediterranean. This allows them to deploy rapidly by sea or air. As Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith Eastin told Congress in 2006, positioning the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Dal Molin “strategically positions the unit south of the Alps with ready access to international airspace for rapid deployment and forced entry/early entry operations.”
And we’ve seen the Pentagon take advantage of Italy’s location since the 1990s, when Aviano Air Base played an important role in the first Gulf War and in U.S. and NATO interventions in the Balkans (a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). The Bush administration, in turn, made bases in Italy some of its “enduring” European outposts in its global garrisoning shift south and east from Germany. In the Obama years, a growing military involvement in Africa has made Italy an even more attractive basing option.
“Sufficient Operational Flexibility”
Beyond its location, U.S. officials love Italy because, as the same military official told me, it’s a “country that offers sufficient operational flexibility.” In other words, it provides the freedom to do what you want with minimal restrictions and hassle.
Especially in comparison to Germany, Italy offers this flexibility for reasons that reflect a broader move away from basing in two of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations, Germany and Japan, toward basing in relatively poorer and less powerful ones. In addition to offering lower operating costs, such hosts are generally more susceptible to Washington’s political and economic pressure. They also tend to sign “status of forces agreements”—which govern the presence of U.S. troops and bases abroad—that are less restrictive for the U.S. military. Such agreements often offer more permissive settings when it comes to environmental and labor regulations or give the Pentagon more freedom to pursue unilateral military action with minimal host country consultation.
While hardly one of the world’s weaker nations, Italy is the second most heavily indebted country in Europe, and its economic and political power pales in comparison to Germany’s. Not surprisingly, then, as that Pentagon official in Italy pointed out to me, the status of forces agreement with Germany is long and detailed, while the foundational agreement with Italy remains the short (and still classified) 1954 Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement. Germans also tend to be rather exacting when it comes to following rules, while the Italians, he said, “are more interpretive of guidance.”
War + Bases = $
The freedom with which the U.S. military used its Italian bases in the Iraq War is a case in point. As a start, the Italian government allowed U.S. forces to employ them even though their use for a war pursued outside the context of NATO may violate the terms of the 1954 basing agreement. A classified May 2003 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler and released by WikiLeaks shows that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government gave the Pentagon “virtually everything” it wanted. “We got what we asked for,” wrote Sembler, “on base access, transit, and overflights, ensuring that forces… could flow smoothly through Italy to get to the fight.”
For its part, Italy appears to have benefited directly from this cooperation. (Some say that shifting bases from Germany to Italy was also meant as a way to punish Germany for its lack of support for the Iraq War.) According to a 2010 report from Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, “Italy’s role in the war in Iraq, providing 3,000 troops to the U.S.-led effort, opened up Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Italian firms, as well as cementing relations between the two allies.” Its role in the Afghan War surely offered similar benefits. Such opportunities came amid deepening economic troubles, and at a moment when the Italian government was turning to arms production as a major way to revive its economy. According to Jane’s, Italian weapons manufacturers like Finmeccanica have aggressively tried to enter the U.S. and other markets. In 2009, Italian arms exports were up more than 60 percent.
In October 2008, the two countries renewed a Reciprocal Defense Procurement Memorandum of Understanding (a “most favored nation” agreement for military sales). It has been suggested that the Italian government may have turned Dal Molin over to the U.S. military—for free—in part to ensure itself a prominent role in the production of “the most expensive weapon ever built,” the F-35 fighter jet, among other military deals. Another glowing 2009 cable, this time from the Rome embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Dibble, called the countries’ military cooperation “an enduring partnership.” It noted pointedly how Finmeccanica (which is 30 percent state-owned) “sold USD 2.3 billion in defense equipment to the U.S. in 2008 [and] has a strong stake in the solidity of the U.S.-Italy relationship.”
Of course, there’s another relevant factor in the Pentagon’s Italian build-up. For the same reasons American tourists flock to the country, U.S. troops have long enjoyed la dolce vita there. In addition to the comfortable living on suburban-style bases, around 40,000 military visitors a year from across Europe and beyond come to Camp Darby’s military resort and “American beach” on the Italian Riviera, making the country even more attractive.
The Costs of the Pentagon’s Pivots
Italy is not about to take Germany’s place as the foundation of U.S. military power in Europe. Germany has long been deeply integrated into the U.S. military system, and military planners have designed it to stay that way. In fact, remember how the Pentagon convinced Congress to hand over $600 million for a new base and related construction in Vicenza? The Pentagon’s justification for the new base was the Army’s need to bring troops from Germany to Vicenza to consolidate the 173rd brigade in one place.
And then, last March, one week after getting access to the first completed building at Dal Molin and with construction nearly finished, the Army announced that it wouldn’t be consolidating the brigade after all. One-third of the brigade would remain in Germany. At a time when budget cuts, unemployment, and economic stagnation for all but the wealthiest have left vast unmet needs in communities around the United States, for our $600 million investment, a mere 1,000 troops will move to Vicenza.
Even with those troops staying in Germany, Italy is fast becoming one of several new pivot points for U.S. warmaking powers globally. While much attention has been focused on President Obama’s “Asia pivot,” the Pentagon is concentrating its forces at bases that represent a series of pivots in places like Djibouti on the horn of Africa and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Bahrain and Qatar in the Persian Gulf, Bulgaria and Romania in Eastern Europe, Australia, Guam, and Hawai’i in the Pacific, and Honduras in Central America.
Our bases in Italy are making it easier to pursue new wars and military interventions in conflicts about which we know little, from Africa to the Middle East. Unless we question why we still have bases in Italy and dozens more countries like it worldwide—as, encouragingly, growing numbers of politicians, journalists, and others are doing—those bases will help lead us, in the name of American “security,” down a path of perpetual violence, perpetual war, and perpetual insecurity.
Copyright 2013 David Vine
Once heralded as a communication tool free from eavesdropping, Skype is now reportedly under scrutiny for secretly and voluntarily handing over personal data on users to government agencies.
The Microsoft-owned instant-messaging site, used by some 600 million people worldwide, is being probed by Luxembourg’s data protection commissioner over concerns about its secret cooperation with the US National Security Agency’s Prism spying program, according to a report in the Guardian, the UK newspaper that first broke the story on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Skype, believed to be the first Internet company among many to be brought within the NSA program, could potentially face criminal and administrative charges, as well as hefty fines if it is found to be in violation of Luxembourg’s data protection laws.
If found guilty, Skype [could] be banned from passing along user data to the US spy agency, the newspaper reported.
The Luxembourg commissioner initiated an investigation into Skype’s privacy policies following revelations in June about its ties to the NSA, the Guardian said. No additional comments were immediately available.
Microsoft’s purchase of Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011 “tripled some types of data flow to the NSA,” the Guardian said, citing secret documents in its possession.
But even before the Microsoft buyout, Skype had initiated its own secret program, dubbed Project Chess, which sought ways of making customer communications “readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials,” The New York Times reported.
According to the NSA files shown by Snowden to the Guardian, Skype was served with a directive to comply with an NSA surveillance request signed by US Attorney General Eric Holder in February 2011. Several days later, the NSA had successfully monitored its first Skype transmission.
Skype, founded in Estonia in 2003 and now headquartered in Luxembourg, is facing a public backlash in the wake of the Prism disclosures.
“The only people who lose are users,” Eric King, head of research at human rights group Privacy International, said in comments to the Guardian. “Skype promoted itself as a fantastic tool for secure communications around the world, but quickly caved to government pressure and can no longer be trusted to protect user privacy.”
In the wake of terrorist attacks that invariably seem to benefit Israel, an increasingly expected feature is the incredible tales of lucky escapes — some less credible than others — subsequently told either by Israelis or Tel Aviv’s foreign agents. Soon after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the former chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in New York explained how his wife’s insistence that he not miss a dermatologist’s appointment that morning saved him from almost certain death in the Twin Towers. The owner of the World Trade Center had spent every morning subsequent to July 26 holding breakfast meetings in the Windows on the World restaurant and getting to know his new tenants right up to the morning of September 10. Within hours of three WTC towers being demolished, Silverstein’s close friend Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that the day’s horrific events would be “very good” for Israel’s relations with the United States.
Like the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., stories have also emerged of Israelis who miraculously escaped serious harm or death during last month’s terrorist attack on the Israeli-owned Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. As Albert Attias, the head of the Jewish community in the Kenyan capital and an Israeli military veteran, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
No Jews were among the victims of the attack, according to Attias, which occurred as many community members attended the bar mitzvah celebration of an Israeli diplomat’s son.
However, one member of the Jewish community, comprised mostly of Israeli businessmen and their families, who wasn’t lucky enough to have been attending the bar mitzvah celebration hosted by the anonymous diplomat as the attack started at the Israeli-owned Artcaffe brasserie, had his incredible tale recounted by a named Israeli diplomat. Reports The Jewish Press:
Omri, an Israeli employed at the Kenyan capital Nairobi Westgate shopping center which is still under terrorist attack this weekend, told Israeli consul Sima Amitai that he saw a hand grenade rolling between his legs and exploding. Both Omri’s legs were injured in the explosion, but only lightly. “It was a miracle,” he said.
Amitai met Omri in a Nairobi hospital where he had been treated for his injuries. She then took him to recover in her own apartment in toen [sic].
A report in Israel Hayom that only refers to “Omri” as “another Israeli who suffered light shrapnel wounds in his lower limbs” provides little further explanation of the consul’s surprising move:
He was taken to a local hospital, but the Israeli consul in Nairobi, Sima Amitai, decided to transfer him to her home for the reminder [sic] of his treatment.
Interestingly, the caring consul’s previous posting appears to have been to Bulgaria, a country that also recently experienced a murky terrorist attack on an Israeli target. There are reports of Amitai attending events in Sofia in 2006 and 2009, but it is unclear whether she was still working in Bulgaria during the Burgas bus bombing on July 18, 2012, or if by then she had already been posted to Kenya.
The Jewish Press also reports that Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy’s security officer arrived at the command center of the local security forces soon after the first reports about the attack:
“We knew the shopping center is owned by Israelis and renowned as a place where many Israelis hang out,” Lopez told Maariv. “Four of the restaurants there are also owned by Israelis and many Israelis are employed in the place. They were our main concern—but we also support our Kenyan friends and ready to assist in whichever way they ask.”
Yet despite the large number of Israeli employers, employees and customers one would normally expect to have been in the Westgate mall, “Omri” appears to have been only one of three Israeli nationals left inside the mall during the siege:
Two other Israelis had been trapped inside the mall. One, a woman, was eventually rescued by Kenyan forces. She reported hearing shots and hand grenade explosions around her hiding place. She kept in phone contact with embassy staff throughout the ordeal. A third Israeli managed to flee on his own from the mall.
Haaretz confirms the unexpectedly low Israeli presence at the time of the not unexpected attack:
Officials in the Israeli foreign ministry said that three Israeli citizens that were in the mall at the time of the attack were able to escape unharmed and were collected by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy security officer that were present on the scene.
Two Israeli men that managed to escape on their own and an Israeli woman that hid in one of the businesses and was rescued by the local security forces. A senior official at the foreign ministry said that the families of the Israelis that escaped the incident were informed. The ministry said that beyond these persons it is believed that no other Israelis were present.
Although Israeli police and intelligence sources are claiming that “they fell down badly in Kenya,” with Israeli security agents apparently having failed to detect extensive terrorist surveillance of the Westgate mall and the smuggling into it of large stocks of ammunition, they must at least be relieved that no Israeli suffered more than light shrapnel wounds in an attack that resulted in at least 72 deaths — and another massive boost for Israel’s already booming “security” industry.
Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @O_Cathail.
An internal memo from the union that represents pilots for US Airways claims there have been “several cases recently” throughout the airline industry of what the union believes are “dry-runs” for potential attacks with or on an aircraft.
The memo – released sometime just before September 11, 2013 – from the US Airline Pilots Association states “there have been several cases recently throughout the (airline) industry of what appear to be probes, or dry-runs, to test our procedures and reaction to an in-flight threat.”
The union memo, titled “9/11 Security Update,” went on to detail one “typical example” that happened on a US Airways flight to Orlando International Airport (MCO) originating at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Washington, DC.
“A group of Middle-Eastern males boarded in DCA. Shortly after takeoff, one got up and ran from his seat in coach towards the flight deck door. He made a hard left and entered the forward lav, where he stayed for a considerable length of time! While he was in there, the others got up and proceeded to move about the cabin, changing seats, opening overhead bins, and generally making a scene. They appeared to be trying to occupy and distract the flight attendants.
Both US Airways and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) verified the incident.
The TSA responded to the original story with a statement, saying it “takes all reports of suspicious activity on board aircraft seriously,” and that “the matter required no further investigation at this time.”
One skeptical US House member, however, called for further review of the event.
“Any suspicious reported incident of this nature should be properly investigated,” said Congressman John Mica (R), who represents area north of Orlando. “It is government’s obligation and responsibility to remain vigilant. While the specifics of the US Air incident are not public, federal authorities must review the matter.”
The union memo was obtained and reported by WTSP in Tampa Bay.
At least one unnamed Federal Air Marshal was interviewed for the original WTSP story and a follow-up published Friday morning.
The source said the TSA’s motivations should be received with suspicion.
“They’re liars. They’re flat out liars.”
According to WTSP, the Air Marshal and other airline employees said several flights they have worked on have been the target of “dry-runs,” no matter what the TSA reports.
The security update memo followed the first DCA-to-MCO example with “another interesting twist to this case,” according to its authors.
“It just so happens that on the return flight from MCO – DCA, with the same flight number, a group of 8 Middle Eastern females — concealed in full burkas — were in the boarding area for the flight to DCA. This flight did not have a (Federal Air Marshal) team, even though it was supposed to have a significant VIP aboard. (He was rebooked when all these details were made known to his security detail.)
A pilot for Delta Airlines who is also chairman of the Aviation Security Committee for the Air Line Pilots Association, International – a pilots union for many North American airlines, not including US Airways – told WTSP any belief that another major attack on or with an aircraft will not happen again “is very foolish.”
The events of 9/11 were “an incredible attack on us. It was very well orchestrated and they’re going to try it again… 100 percent, no question in my mind. They’re going to try it again,” said Wolf Koch.
The union memo urges aircraft crews to be aware of safety protocols.
“ALWAYS, ALWAYS use the cart as a barrier when the flight deck door is opened in flight because, ladies and gentlemen, if a bad guy gets into the cockpit (it only takes 2 seconds!) and another 9/11 happens — its GAME, SET and MATCH in favor of the bad guys!”
One airline ground crew member told WTSP ground crews are not screened and could plant bombs or weapons in a lavatory, for example.
“We could just carry our backpacks right through the turn style (sic) gate and could have anything we wanted to put on that plane.”
The memo includes inflammatory and political commentary that appear to be meant to motivate union members to stay vigilant.
“Islamic terrorists have a thing about significant dates, and it just so happens that the 12th anniversary of 9/11 is in a few days. Do you remember that day? You can bet The Enemy does. Remember Benghazi? That’s when the US was attacked again on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. (And no, it was not about an anti-Muslim video.)
“Right now the Middle East is burning as the ‘Arab Spring’ turns into the Arab Winter and the conflagration is consuming an entire region of the world. Tensions are high — and that is when bad things happen. Whatever the US does in the Middle East will be used as an excuse to kill Americans. As always, but especially now, keep the safety of your passengers and crew a top priority. Don’t cut corners.”