You can understand a lot about journalists and journalism by examining our professional nervous tics. We all have them – and they tell you a lot about the hidden assumptions that drive the news agenda.
Peter Beaumont, the Guardian’s new Jerusalem bureau chief, and a veteran reporter, is a good liberal journalist with both a broad and deep understanding of the region. In the article below he tells us about the long-awaited reconciliation pact between Fatah and Hamas.
But what does the following little tic tell us, not so much about him but about the news agenda he serves?
After the agreement was announced, Israel cancelled a planned session of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It also launched an air strike on a site in the north of the Gaza Strip, wounding 12 people including children, which underscored the deep mutual suspicion and hostility that persists.
Israel launched an unprovoked and, it seems, largely indiscriminate attack on Gaza that injured only civilians (as Haaretz reports) because two Palestinian factions signed a piece of paper. And that apparently “underscores the deep mutual suspicion” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peter, here’s another thing the attack may underscore: Israel’s cynical and determined effort to break the agreement before it has time to take hold.
Talking of comments revealing a lack of self-awareness, how about this corker in the same article from Jen Psaki, a state department official, who called the unity pact “disappointing”?
It is hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that doesn’t believe in its right to exist.
And yet the US seems quite happy to have the Palestinians negotiate with a government, Israel, that has never shown any indication that it believes in the right of Palestine to exist.
JERUSALEM (AFP) — President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that he would extend faltering peace talks with Israel only if it agreed to conditions, including a settlement freeze, which it promptly rejected.
Abbas listed his demands during a meeting with Israeli journalists at his headquarters in Ramallah just a week before a nine-month target for a peace deal.
His comments came as US envoy Martin Indyk went into a new meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a bid to save the US-sponsored talks from collapse.
Abbas said he would agree to an extension of negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline if Israel frees a group of prisoners as previously earmarked for release and discusses the borders of a future Palestinian state.
“There must be a total freeze of settlements,” by Israel in the occupied West Bank including annexed East Jerusalem, Abbas said.
“The borders between Israel and the state of Palestine must also be defined within a month, two or three,” if the talks are to be extended, he said.
The PLO and the international community have long viewed Israeli settlement construction as a major obstacle to peace talks.
The peace process was engulfed by crisis last month after Israel refused to free a fourth and final group of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners which would have completed an agreement that brought the sides back to negotiations last July.
“He who makes such conditions does not want peace,” a senior Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The official said that settlement building in Jerusalem would not be frozen and that Israel had never agreed to discuss the border issue separately from other core issues.
These include Palestinians refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, security and mutual recognition.
“It is impossible to define borders before an agreement on the other issues,” the Israeli official said.
He also reiterated that Israel planned on expelling to the Gaza Strip, or abroad, some of the last batch of prisoners that Abbas wants freed.
“This has been clearly explained to the Palestinians. Never has Israel committed not to carry out expulsions,” he said.
Israel has announced plans for thousands of illegal settler homes in the occupied West Bank and killed over 60 Palestinians since peace talks began in July.
Israeli officials have also refused to discuss withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the occupied Jordan Valley, which forms around a third of the West Bank.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report
The Obama administration plans to resume some military assistance to Egypt and deliver 10 Apache helicopters after the military-backed government in Cairo upheld its peace treaty with Israel.
The decision to lift the hold on the US aid was made because the Egyptian government is sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry told Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in a telephone call, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also informed his Egyptian counterpart, Colonel General Sedki Sobhi, of the decision in a telephone call, saying the Apache helicopters “will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian and Israeli security,” according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.
The decision comes despite concerns about failure of Egypt’s government to embrace democratic reforms following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi back in July. Since then, Egypt has been the scene of the government’s deadly crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, who have been holding street protests.
According to US law, when a military coup occurs in a country, economic and military aid should be cut off. But the administration’s decision means the controversial aid will be flowing to the Egyptian military again.
Before last year’s coup in Egypt, the US provided Cairo with $1.5 billion a year in aid, $1.3 billion of which was military assistance.
Another nail in the coffin of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is what this would be if it was actually adopted as policy by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). I’m talking about a Dutch paper, sponsored by the US, UK and the Czech Republic, and submitted to the NSG meeting a couple of weeks ago, which proposed that the NSG take a more “open-minded approach aimed at cooperation with non-NSG members and promoting transparency of the NSG guidelines.” According to our favorite nuclear reporter Fredrik Dahl:
The discussion paper, seen by Reuters, outlined different types of “possible benefits the NSG could consider granting” a country that is adhering to its trade guidelines even though it is not in the secretive 48-nation grouping.
These could include sharing of information, access to NSG meetings and “facilitated export arrangements”, suggesting possible access to some nuclear trade with NSG countries, for example related to safety.
Currently, Israel is the only non-NSG country that fulfils the criteria regarding “adherence” to its guidelines although India and Pakistan have informally indicated that they also follow them, the Dutch Foreign Ministry document said.
So, under this new and improved approach, India, Pakistan and Israel, at least, would likely be promoted to receiving most if not all of the substantive benefits of membership in the NPT – including most importantly civilian nuclear trade with NSG supplier states. So we would go from one travesty – the India exemption already granted by the NSG in 2005 – to at least three and maybe more.
Again, these would be states that have not signed the NPT, but have clandestinely developed nuclear weapons stockpiles on their own. And under this proposal, they would be granted by NSG supplier states, nuclear trade access which the 157 Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) parties to the NPT had to give up their legal privilege to possess nuclear weapons in order to secure.
Is this a game of how far can we push NPT NNWS before they will finally be convinced that the NPT grand bargain is dead, and that they are upholding their NPT obligations and tacitly consenting to a system of nuclear apartheid for nothing?
This isn’t how Mark Hibbs sees it. Mark seems to think this is a fine idea. In the article he’s quoted as follows:
Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs said such an acknowledgement by the NSG would be important for Israel. “It would be a recognition from a very important nuclear non-proliferation related body that Israel is a responsible nuclear state,” Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said.
That’s not the point, Mark. Responsible or not, you can’t undermine one part of the grand bargain of the NPT without expecting the other parts to fall down too.
Lisbon’s water company EPAL has announced that it terminated a technology exchange deal with Israeli state water company Mekorot following protests over Mekorot’s role in Israel’s ‘water apartheid’ over Palestinians.
Portuguese MPs and campaign groups had argued that the deal amounted to support for Mekorot’s role in the theft of Palestinian water.
Mekorot, who lost out on a $170m contract with Argentinian authorities earlier this year following similar protests, illegally appropriates Palestinian water, diverting it to illegal Israeli settlements and towns inside Israel. The state owned company is the key body responsible for implementing discriminatory water polices that Amnesty International has accused Israel implementing “as a means of expulsion”.
“Many Palestinian communities suffer from a lack of access to adequate water due to the encroachment of Israeli settlers on water resources and to Israeli policies and practices that deny Palestinians the human right to water,” explained Dr. Ayman Rabi from Friends of the Earth Palestine / PENGON.
EPAL this week responded to fresh calls to terminate its relationship with Mekorot by announcing that it had terminated their relationship with Mekorot in 2010 when the public campaign against the collaboration was at its height. The campaign saw large demonstrations in Lisbon’s main square and pressure against local authorities.
A statement released by the coalition of Portuguese organisations that campaigned against Mekorot said that the decision will “strengthen and encourage the efforts of solidarity movements that work towards the international isolation of Israel because of its policies of ethic cleansing, occupation and colonization”.
The EPAL announcement follows a similar decision by municipal authorities in Buenos Aires and Dutch national water carrier Vitens and comes at the end of an international week against Mekorot that saw demonstrations and campaign actions take place across at least 12 countries.
In Paris, BDS France activists burst into a luxury hotel where delegates from Mekorot were taking part in a business breakfast as part of the Global Water Summit. Campaigners urged dozens of stunned delegates not to cooperate with the Israeli water company.
A French parliamentary report has accused Israel of imposing a system of “water apartheid” in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The French mobilisation followed a noise demonstration that disrupted a London water conference that was being addressed by Mekorot and other Israeli water companies.
In Rome, a ‘water checkpoint’ street theatre protest highlighted the campaign against collaboration between Mekorot and the city’s water company ACEA. The campaign is backed by the broad coalition of campaign groups resisting privatisation of water.
In Argentina, the Congress of the Trade Union Federation Capital (CTA Capital) was dedicated to the campaign against Mekorot and hosted a discussion of how Mekorot is attempting to export discriminatory water policies developed in Palestine to Argentina. The session celebrated the successful campaign that led to Mekorot losing out on a $170m contract and discussed how best to prevent Mekorot from being awarded other contracts it has won or is bidding for.
A seminar in Uruguay brought together Palestine solidarity, environmental and anti-privatisation groups to discuss struggles for water and land in Uruguay and Palestine.
On March 22 world water day, more than 250 people joined a Thunderclap Twitter storm that had a social reach of over 300,000 people.
Campaigns against Mekorot are also underway in Greece.
“The amazing reach of the first week against Mekorot and the fact that public authorities are increasingly refusing to collaborate with Mekorot are further signs that people and governments across the world are no longer prepared to fund Israeli apartheid,” said Jamal Juma’ from Stop the Wall, a member of PENGON/Friends of the Earth Palestine, one of the Palestinian organisations that called for the week of action against Mekorot.
“We call on people all over the world to continue to take action against Mekorot and its attempts to export Israel’s discriminatory water policies,” he added.
BETHLEHEM – In a new policy, Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel will begin receiving army conscription papers, Israeli media said Tuesday.
Israeli news site The Times of Israel quoted Army Radio as saying that though joining the Israeli army would remain voluntary for Christians, they would now be receiving recruitment papers starting at the age of 16.
Previously, a decades-old policy required Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel to initiate contact with the army if they wanted to join, the Times of Israel report said.
In February, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill that created an identity marker for Christians, separating them from the “Arab” identifier previously used for all Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“It’s a historic and important step that could balance the State of Israel and connect us to the Christians, and I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs,” bill sponsor Likud MK Yariv Levin said in January.
Christians are “our natural allies,” Levin said, adding that Muslims “want to destroy the state (of Israel) from within.”
PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, herself a Christian, condemned the law as an effort to divide the Palestinian community.
The Israel Defence Forces detain nearly 22,000 deserters and “undisciplined soldiers” every year, Haaretz newspaper revealed on Sunday. The paper said that nearly 13,000 of the soldiers are detained in army prisons while the rest are held inside military bases.
The paper quoted data from the Military Police, which revealed that around 400 escape attempts, rebellions and acts of violence occur inside army prisons annually. At least 13,452 soldiers were detained in 2013; 76 per cent of them were charged with evading military service, while 18 per cent were soldiers classified as “undisciplined” and 6 per cent had committed criminal offences.
According to the data, 13 per cent of detained soldiers are of Ethiopian origin although they represent only 3 per cent of the total personnel in the IDF.
Israeli police reportedly blocked a top UN diplomat, alongside other diplomats and Palestinians, entrance to a pre-Easter Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Israeli authorities called a ‘micro-incident.’
Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for Middle East peace, said he and Palestinian Christians were making their way to attend the ‘Holy Fire’ ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried before rising from the dead.
Despite earlier promises of unrestricted access to the church, Israeli police refused to let the group of worshipers pass, saying they had orders to that effect.
Serry said he, along with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats, were forced to wait for up to 30 minutes, crushed by the excited crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his request to speak with a superior, according to Reuters.
“A precarious standoff ensued ending in an angry crowd pushing their way through,” Serry said, lashing out at “unacceptable behavior from the Israeli security authorities.”
“It became really dangerous because there was a big crowd and I was pushed against a metal fence the police put up there, the crowd tried to push really hard,” the diplomat said, adding they might have been trampled had police not finally let them pass.
Serry in a statement called on “all parties to respect the right of religious freedom, granting access to holy sites for worshipers of all faiths and refraining from provocations, not least during religious holidays.”
The incident comes as the Holy City, which is of religious importance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, prepares Pope Francis’s Holy Land visit next month.
Israel dismissed the UN diplomat’s complaint, calling it an attempt to exaggerate a “micro-incident” while crediting police with maintaining order as crowds of worshipers descended on the city.
Later on Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed Serry’s account as “an odd communique on a non-event.”
“Christian dignitaries of the highest level have this evening thanked the Jerusalem Police Department for its efficient service, which has enabled the Holy Day’s celebrations to take place without any hindrance,” the ministry said.
“Had any harm come to the pilgrims due to uncontrolled crowd movements, Mr. Serry would have been prompt to cast responsibility on the same police which he now condemns for doing its job properly,” the Israeli statement added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Jerusalem in May, an event that may be overshadowed by a breakdown in US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians, who face an April-29 deadline to resolve their differences.
By Gilad Atzmon | November 21, 2009
‘Israel is the light unto the nations’ says the Torah. Indeed it is, and not just because the Torah says so. Israel is ahead of everyone else in many fronts. Take for instance, terrorizing civilian populations and practicing some of the most devastating murderous tactics upon elders, women and young.
The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, visited Israel earlier this week to study “IDF tactics and methods that the military alliance can utilise for its war in Afghanistan.” A senior Israeli defence official added “The one thing on NATO’s mind today is how to win in Afghanistan… Di Paola was very impressed by the IDF, which is a major source of information due to our operational experience.”
I would advise both the Israeli official and Admiral Di Paola to slightly curb their enthusiasm. The IDF didn’t win a single war since 1967. Yes, it murdered many civilians, it flattened many cities, it starved millions, it has been committing war crimes on a daily basis for decades and yet, it didn’t win a war. Thus, the IDF cannot really teach NATO how to win in Afghanistan. If NATO generals are stupid enough to follow IDF tactics, like the Israeli generals, they will start to see the charges of war crimes pile up against them. They may even be lucky enough to share their cells with some Israelis in due course, once justice is performed.
Admiral Di Paola spent two days with the infamous IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the man who led the IDF into Gaza last December.
In the Jewish state they were very enthusiastic with Admiral Di Paola’s visit. They regarded it as just another reassurance of ‘business as usual. The visit of a NATO high supreme official was there to convince them that no one takes note of the Goldstone report. “Di Paola’s visit is significant” says the Jerusalem Post, “since it comes at a time when the IDF is under increasing criticism in the wake of the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead as well as a decision by Turkey – a NATO member – to ban Israel from joint aerial exercises.”
However, it would be crucial to elaborate on the emerging mutual interests between the two parties, Israel and NATO. “During their meeting on Wednesday, Ashkenazi and Di Paola discussed ways to upgrade Israeli-NATO military ties as well as the plan to include an Israeli Navy vessel in Active Endeavor, a NATO mission established after the 9/11 attacks under which NATO vessels patrol the Mediterranean to prevent illegal terror trafficking”. This is indeed a necessary move for the Israelis. At the moment the Israeli Navy is operating in the Mediterranean as a bunch of Yiddish Pirates (Yidisshe Piraten), assaulting, hijacking and robbing vessels in international waters. Once operating under the NATO flag, the Israelis would be able to terrorise every vessel in the high seas in the name of the ‘West’. For the Jewish state this would be a major step forward. Until now the Israelis have been committing atrocities in the name of the Jewish people. Once operating under the NATO flag, the Israelis will be able to perform their piracy in the name of ‘Europe’. Such a move is further evidence of the spiritual and ideological transition within Zionism from ‘promised land’ into ‘promised planet’.
While the Israelis desperately need NATO’s legitimacy, NATO is far more modest. All it needs is knowledge and tactics. For some reason it insists on learning from the Israelis how to inflict pain on a civilian population. More pain, that is, than it is already making. “NATO’s Defence officials said that Di Paola used his meetings with the IDF to learn about new technology that can be applied to the war in Afghanistan”. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is a “known world leader in the development of specialized armor to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), otherwise known as roadside bombs.” This is indeed the case. Israeli generals realised a long time ago that their precious young soldiers prefer to hide in their tanks rather than engage with the ‘enemy’ i.e. the civilian population, kids, elders and women. But it doesn’t stop there, Di Paola was also interested in “Israeli intelligence-gathering capabilities and methods that the IDF uses when operating in civilian population centers.” Di Paola noted that “NATO and the IDF were facing similar threats – NATO in Afghanistan and Israel in its war against Hamas and Hizbullah.”
I would suggest to Admiral Di Paola to immediately read the Goldstone report thoroughly, so he grasps his own personal legal consequences once he starts to implement ‘Israeli tactics’. If Admiral Di Paola wants to serve his army, he should indeed visit Israel, he should also meet every war criminal both in the military and politics so he knows exactly what NOT to do.
NATO’s chances of winning in Afghanistan are not limited, they are actually exhausted. It can only lose. Some military analysts and veteran generals argue that it is lost already. NATO has brought enough carnage on the Afghani people without achieving any of its military or political goals. Given that Israel was severely humiliated in Lebanon in 2006 by a tiny paramilitary Hizbullah and failed to achieve its military goals in Operation Cast Lead in its genocidal war against Hamas, there is nothing for NATO to learn from the Israelis. Should NATO proceed in implementing added IDF tactics, all it will achieve is a dramatic reduction of security across Europe and America.
If we are concerned with peace and we want it to prevail, what we have to do is to move away as far as we can from any spiritual, ideological, political and military affiliation with Zionism, Israel and its lobbies. If ‘Israel’ is indeed a ‘light onto the nations’, someone better explain to us all, why its prospect of peace is becoming slimmer and darker.
My answer is actually simple. Israel can be easily seen as the ‘light of nations’ as long as you learn from Israel what not to do. In fact this is the message passed to us by the great humanist prophets Jesus and Marx. Love your neighbour, be among others, transcend yourself beyond the tribal into the realm of the universal. In fact this is exactly what the Israelis fail to grasp. For some reason, they love themselves almost as much as they hate their neighbours.
If Admiral Di Paola wants to win the hearts and the minds of the Afghan people (rather than ‘winning a war’), he should first learn to love. This is something he won’t learn in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Gaza, Ramallha and Nablus are more likely.
PA police coordinate with Israeli border police to control Palestinian access to Jerusalem at the Bethlehem checkpoint. (Photo: ActiveStills.org)
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his predominantly rightwing cabinet. In a recent interview with The Economist, Elkin used the familiar tone of being conceited and oblivious to such notions as international or human rights, and reaffirmed his rejection of a Palestinian state.
Instead, Elkin wants Israel to annex a chunk of the West Bank. There is nothing new here, as such language is now official Israeli discourse. But one statement stood out, one that many Palestinians would find bewildering and exasperating.
These days, said Elkin with a chuckle, the West Bank is “the most stable part of the Middle East”.
The bewilderment would stem from the fact that the West Bank is an occupied Palestinian territory. Its population is held at gunpoint; they have no freedom, and enjoy no rights. Their land is seized by force to make room for more settlements and illegal Jewish settlers, now numbering well passed the half million mark.
Needless to say, the West Bank should not be stable.
Instead, Palestinians should be leading their own revolution until they achieve their full rights and freedom. This is not a call for violence, but a natural human course. However, Palestinians are not rebelling. Many factors are holding them back, one of which is the very Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Its troops are in constant ‘security coordinations’ with Israel. Its ‘elite forces’ are trained by US generals and Arab armies. The PA mission is not to liberate Palestine, but to ensure the subservience of the Palestinians while Israel carries on with a colonial project that has extended for decades.
Deputy foreign minister Elkin knows this. Netanyahu himself, along with every Israeli official, understands that the PA, despite Mahmoud Abbas’ occasional attempts at appearing defiant and rebellious, is no threat to Israel, nor will it ever be. This will be so even if the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the PA passes and even if Abbas took the seemingly daring step of signing the applications to join 15 international organizations. Abbas and his men understand that there are red lines which they cannot cross under any circumstances.
Abbas may be weak, but he is clever. He knew that Kerry’s peacemaking efforts would not go anywhere and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would find a way to thwart the process. If Abbas were lucky, Kerry could even blame Israel for derailing the peace process, as he already has. Then, Abbas would do what many would find reasonable; seek further international recognition for the state of Palestine. This might frustrate the Americans a little, anger the Israelis a lot, but it would give his supporters reason to promote the 79-year-old leader as another Yasser Arafat, heroic and defiant to the very end.
The Israelis still need Abbas. He is important in maintaining ‘stability’ in the West Bank. This means the continuing of the security coordination that ensures the safety of the armed settlers, providing an extra layer of protection to Israeli soldiers as they kill at will, seize more land, demolish homes and trees, erect walls, dig trenches, and level mountains. So what if some imaginary state existed on papers in the files of some international body in Geneva or Brussels. For Israel, the law is that of its military, and reality is what is taking place in Area C, not in some European capital.
This is why Elkin is chuckling. He is at ease, in the same way the Israeli political establishment is. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, a deal was struck between Israel and what became a pervasive, controlling and corrupt Palestinian political class. Israel maintained its military occupation, carried on with its colonial project and continued to disfigure the occupied territories in any way that it found consistent with its ‘security’ needs. Palestinian elites were granted economic privileges and access that is denied to the vast majority of the Palestinians.
The PA’s constant challenge is to maintain a level of legitimacy. True, it uses its monopoly on force, which is readily sanctioned by Israel, in order to arrest, torture and kill resisting Palestinians when necessary. It uses the logic of trickle-down economics to hold the bulk of Palestinians hostage to winning their daily bread. But that is not enough. It needs a brand to market itself as the exclusive harbinger of freedom for Palestinians. It uses slogans, flags and kuffiyas to promote that brand through its control of the media. Many PA supporters dance to that tune and playact that Abbas and only Abbas is capable of exacting the coveted liberation of Palestine from the obstinate hands of the Israeli prime minister.
Palestinian officials are proficiently inflating Abbas’ image to ensure that Palestinians don’t question the wisdom of their aging leader, after the latest and predictable failure of the peace process, which was never truly meant to succeed anyway. A Palestinian official spoke of Abbas’s refusal to heed a call by US Secretary of State John Kerry to halt applications to join international treaties. He claimed that Kerry warned Abbas of a ‘strong (Israeli) response to Palestinian action. Abbas replied: “Israel’s threats scare no one. They can do what they like.”
The words were repeated in Palestinian media. The Abbas image is being overstated once more. There is no space for those who question the man’s credibility, legitimacy or failed methods. More posters of the old man are now erected in the occupied Palestinian towns. His latest antics will help perpetuate the myth that the PA is a platform for resistance, not capitulation.
As long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, and as long Abbas, and those that follow him continue to sell Palestinians old illusions of revolutions that never took place, and heroes that only exist on colored posters hung around the streets of Ramallah, Elkin will continue to chuckle.
And as long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, Palestinians will never achieve their freedom, for submission achieves no rights; only resistance does.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).
The Iranian defense minister says the Islamic Republic will by no means negotiate on its defense prowess and missile program in nuclear talks.
Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan made the statement in reaction to comments by top US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman who said that Iran’s ballistic capabilities should be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement in nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group.
“Iran’s missile might is our concern. We are the ones in charge and we will not brook interference from anyone [in this issue],” Dehqan said Wednesday.
The official stressed that the issue is not up for talks under any circumstances.
He said that the West claims that Iran may acquire nuclear warheads for missiles, thus insisting that the issue of the country’s missile program be part of the talks, but he reiterated that nukes have no place in the country’s defense doctrine.
Dehqan said that Iran by no means seeks nuclear arms, citing a fatwa by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on the prohibition of building and using such weapons.
Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, France, Britain, Russia, China – plus Germany wrapped up their latest round of the talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive deal on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program last week. Iran and the six countries agreed to meet again on May 13.
The two sides had reached an interim deal in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 24, 2013. The deal took effect on January 20
Seven months after the end of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, the Syrian army is making progress in the Damascus countryside and the opposition is exerting all its military might to achieve a strategic victory in Aleppo. Recently, news of the regime using poison gas against the opposition has reemerged with Israel leading the charge.
All the voices calling for organizing the Geneva III conference for negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition have faded. The circumstances on the ground that allowed the regime not to give concessions at Geneva II still hold. The Syrian army continues, with its allies, to make progress on the ground. This allows the regime, once again, not to give any serious concessions in any negotiations that will take place in the foreseeable future. It is on this basis that the opposition’s latest battles in Quneitra, Daraa, Kassab, Idlib and Aleppo have been waged.
Until now, it appears that of all the battles, the battle of Aleppo stands in a class of its own. In the battles of Damascus, its countryside (Eastern Ghouta and Qalamoun), Homs and its nearby surroundings, the opposition forces acknowledged their loss. They put up a strong fight just to make the other side pay a heavy price. All the other battles do not make up, in military or moral terms, for losing in Damascus and the central region, except the battle for Aleppo. That is why we see the opposition forces’ massive mobilization in the economic capital of Syria.
The opposition is not merely talking about making progress in Aleppo but is promising to take complete control of the largest city in the north. Based on its discussions, the opposition wants to achieve a quick victory in Aleppo before the regime and its allies finish their battles in Damascus and Homs. Achieving stability in the capital and the central region for the regime will free up a large segment of the elite forces and will allow the Syrian army and its allies to move towards other active fronts. It would then be very difficult for the opposition to achieve progress of any strategic value in the north or the south. Until today, the al-Qaeda-inspired fighters have not been able to make a strategic breakthrough in the north. In Aleppo, the war is led by Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Foreign Fighters and Supporters) which includes mostly Caucasian fighters who are well-trained and have combat experience.
Against this background, news has emerged once again that the Syrian army has used chemical weapons. Last August, the Syrian government asked for an investigation of an incident whereby militants used chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal in Aleppo. But after the attack on Eastern Ghouta, the regime was accused by Western forces of using poison gas against the opposition. Washington led a campaign threatening an attack on Syria until Russia proposed a solution that required Syria to give up its chemical arsenal. This time, the Syrian government sent a letter to the United Nations on March 25 saying that it monitored communications between the opposition in Jobar, which is adjacent to the capital, indicating that “the terrorist organizations are going to launch attacks by using poison gas with the aim of framing government forces.”
While the opposition has remained silent, Israel this time led the charge of accusing the regime of using chemical weapons. On April 7, the Israeli Channel 10 website reported a “major Israeli security source” saying that the Syrian army has gone back to using chemical weapons against the opposition forces. It used it at least in one case on March 17 in Harasta, eastern Damascus. According to the Israeli security source, the material used was not deadly chemical weapons found on the list of prohibited materials based on the agreement with the West, but rather substances that cripple those exposed to it for several hours.
After four days, the Syrian opposition grabbed the accusation and ran with it. The Syrian National Coalition issued a statement asking the international community to investigate the use of poison gas by the regime in Harasta. The Western press started again to play the tune of the regime using chemical weapons. Yesterday, the regime and the opposition exchanged accusations about using poison gas in the town of Kfar Zita in the Hama countryside.
Washington has distanced itself from this debate so far. The State Department’s spokesperson, Jennifer Psaki, said yesterday that her country does not have proof of chemical weapons use. The British and the French seem more excited than others to take up the issue. Western diplomatic sources in Paris say that since the failure of the Geneva II conference, the French authorities have been talking about the possibility of the Syrian regime using chemical weapons that are not internationally prohibited and that the international community must act to deter the regime.
The source likened this claim to the audio recording of a secret meeting of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s work team published on March 27 in which they talked about creating a pretext that would allow Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria. But intervention does not seem possible at this point. According to a source close to the regime in Syria, the goal of “this intimidation is twofold. Exonerating the opposition of what it is doing and a desperate attempt to draw red lines in front of the the Syrian army and its allies in their battle in the Damascus countryside so the opposition can make some progress in the north.”