The Obama administration, working through the Russian government, has secured an agreement from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to permit U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in parts of Syria, according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.
The reported agreement would clear away one of the chief obstacles to President Barack Obama’s plan to authorize U.S. warplanes to cross into Syria to attack Islamic State forces – the concern that entering Syrian territory might prompt anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian government’s missile batteries.
The usual protocol for the U.S. military – when operating in territory without a government’s permission – is to destroy the air defenses prior to conducting airstrikes so as to protect American pilots and aircraft, as was done with Libya in 2011. However, in other cases, U.S. intelligence agencies have arranged for secret permission from governments for such attacks, creating a public ambiguity usually for the benefit of the foreign leaders while gaining the necessary U.S. military assurances.
In essence, that appears to be what is happening behind the scenes in Syria despite the hostility between the Obama administration and the Assad government. Obama has called for the removal of Assad but the two leaders find themselves on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State terrorists who have battled Assad’s forces while also attacking the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and beheading two American journalists.
In a national address last week, Obama vowed to order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. So, in this case, Syria’s behind-the-scenes acquiescence also might provide some politically useful ambiguity for Obama as well as Assad.
Yet, this secret collaboration may go even further and include Syrian government assistance in the targeting of the U.S. attacks, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. That is another feature of U.S. military protocol in conducting air strikes – to have some on-the-ground help in pinpointing the attacks.
As part of its public pronouncements about the future Syrian attacks, the Obama administration sought $500 million to train “vetted” Syrian rebels to handle the targeting tasks inside Syria as well as to carry out military ground attacks. But that approach – while popular on Capitol Hill – could delay any U.S. airstrikes into Syria for months and could possibly negate Assad’s quiet acceptance of the U.S. attacks, since the U.S.-backed rebels share one key goal of the Islamic State, the overthrow of Assad’s relatively secular regime.
Just last month, Obama himself termed the strategy of arming supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels “a fantasy.” He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
Obama’s point would seem to apply at least as much to having the “moderate” rebels face down the ruthless Islamic State jihadists who engage in suicide bombings and slaughter their captives without mercy. But this “fantasy” of the “moderate” rebels has a big following in Congress and on the major U.S. op-ed pages, so Obama has included the $500 million in his war plan despite the risk it poses to Assad’s acquiescence to American air attacks.
Neocon Wish List
Without Assad’s consent, the U.S. airstrikes might require a much wider U.S. bombing campaign to first target Syrian government defenses, a development long sought by Official Washington’s influential neoconservatives who have kept “regime change” in Syria near the top of their international wish list.
For the past several years, the Israeli government also has sought the overthrow of Assad, even at the risk of Islamic extremists gaining power. The Israeli thinking had been that Assad, as an ally of Iran, represented a greater threat to Israel because his government was at the center of the so-called Shiite crescent reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut and southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah.
The thinking was that if Assad’s government could be pulled down, Iran and Hezbollah – two of Israel’s principal “enemies” – would be badly damaged. A year ago, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren articulated this geopolitical position in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
More recently, however, with the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front having seized Syrian territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – forcing the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers – the balance of Israeli interests may be tipping in favor of preferring Assad to having Islamic extremists possibly penetrating directly into Israeli territory.
Direct attacks on Israel would be a temptation to al-Nusra Front, which is competing for the allegiance of young jihadists with the Islamic State. While the Islamic State, known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, has captured the imaginations of many youthful extremists by declaring the creation of a “caliphate” with the goal of driving Western interests from the Middle East, al-Nusra could trump that appeal by actually going on the offensive against one of the jihadists’ principal targets, Israel.
Yet, despite Israel’s apparent rethinking of its priorities, America’s neocons appear focused still on their long-held strategy of using violent “regime change” in the Middle East to eliminate governments that have been major supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, i.e. Syria and Iran.
One reason why Obama may have opted for a secretive overture to the Assad regime, using intelligence channels with the Russians as the middlemen, is that otherwise the U.S. neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would have howled in protest.
The Russian Hand
Besides the tactical significance of U.S. intelligence agencies arranging Assad’s tacit acceptance of U.S. airstrikes over Syrian territory, the reported arrangement is also significant because of the role of Russian intelligence serving as the intermediary.
That suggests that despite the U.S.-Russian estrangement over the Ukraine crisis, the cooperation between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been extinguished; it has instead just gone further underground.
Last year, this growing behind-the-scenes collaboration between Obama and Putin represented a potential tectonic geopolitical shift in the Middle East. In the short term, their teamwork produced agreements that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria last September (by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal) and struck a tentative deal with Iran to constrain but not eliminate its nuclear program.
In the longer term, by working together to create political solutions to various Mideast crises, the Obama-Putin cooperation threatened to destroy the neocons’ preferred strategy of escalating U.S. military involvement in the region. There was the prospect, too, that the U.S.-Russian tag team might strong-arm Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
So, starting last September – almost immediately after Putin helped avert a U.S. air war against Syria – key neocons began taking aim at Ukraine as a potential sore point for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explaining how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.
“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.
By early 2014, American neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals were conspiring “to midwife” a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a phrase used by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in an intercepted phone conversation with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was busy handpicking leaders to replace Yanukovych.
A neocon holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, Nuland had been a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which prepared the blueprint for the neocon strategy of “regime change” starting with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The U.S.-backed coup ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and sparked a bloody civil war, leaving thousands dead, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But the Gershman-Nuland strategy also drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin, seeming to destroy the possibility that their peace-seeking collaboration would continue in the Middle East. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]
New Hope for ‘Regime Change’
The surprise success of Islamic State terrorists in striking deep inside Iraq during the summer revived neocon hopes that their “regime change” strategy in Syria might also be resurrected. By baiting Obama to react with military force not only in Iraq but across the border in Syria, neocons like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put the ouster of Assad back in play.
In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, McCain and Graham used vague language about resolving the Syrian civil war, but clearly implied that Assad must go. They wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda was a distortion at best – in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement – the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: a necessary step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.
That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran always meant to follow. The idea was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. But the neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.
Still, the neocons retained their vision even after Bush and Cheney departed. They also remained influential by holding onto key positions inside Official Washington – at think tanks, within major news outlets and even inside the Obama administration. They also built a crucial alliance with “liberal interventionists” who had Obama’s ear. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]
The neocons’ new hope arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But it was hard to envision expanding the war into Syria without ousting Assad.
Now, however, if the source’s account is correct regarding Assad’s quiet assent to U.S. airstrikes, Obama may have devised a way around the need to bomb Assad’s military, an maneuver that might again frustrate the neocons’ beloved goal of “regime change.”
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Syrian media accused Arab governments Tuesday of giving Washington prior agreement for military action against jihadists, with one daily calling for Damascus to form an alternative alliance with Moscow and Tehran.
The commentary comes ahead of talks in Saudi Arabia on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and US regional allies on joint action to tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State group in both Syria and Iraq.
“Washington, which used the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction to enter the region militarily in 2003 and draw new geopolitical lines… is returning today under a new false pretext, the fight against terrorism,” said the Al-Baath newspaper.
“The Arabs meanwhile, are absent from every decision and are playing secondary roles,” it added.
The Baath party daily was referring to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 in which notoriously the alleged chemical and biological weapons that were used to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime were never found.
Kerry is set to meet foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and the six Gulf Arab states in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The talks are part of US efforts to build a coalition to tackle ISIS, which has seized large tracts of territory in both Syria and Iraq, and carried out abuses including the decapitation of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese and two American journalists.
On Sunday, the Arab League pledged to take “necessary measures” to confront ISIS, and said it was ready for “international cooperation on all fronts.”
But Syria, and its ally Iran, will not be present at the talks in Saudi Arabia, and Damascus fears efforts to tackle ISIS will involve air strikes on its territory without its permission.
State-run newspaper Al-Thawra warned: “The United States is setting the stage to bring new wars to the region.
“Its local partners are ready to carry out its orders without even knowing the details of the American plan,” it added.
Government daily Tishrin questioned why Kerry and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel were coming to the region “when the Arab League has already given its prior agreement for a new war in the region organized by the United States.”
A newspaper called for the formation of an alternative “Russian-Iranian-Syrian coalition” against the jihadists to that being put together by Washington.
“Western and regional governments are excluding the nations that really want to fight terrorism,” it said, charging that the US-led coalition included nations that “support terrorism financially, military and logistically.”
Damascus considers all rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad “terrorists” and has long accused the rebels’ supporters, particularly Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, of funding “terror.”
Similarly, critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.
On Monday, a study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military issue arms and weapons supplied to the so-called moderate rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.
Here is an article with lots of useful information about how “indiscriminate” Israel’s weapons really are. This interests me a great deal because I have been raising problems about the interpretation of international law used by leading human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, on this point since the 2006 Lebanon War.
At that time I got into a dispute with HRW’s Middle East policy director, Sarah Leah Whitson, who argued that Hizbullah was committing war crimes by definition when it fired rockets at Israel, even if it hit military targets, because those rockets were primitive and inherently inaccurate. By contrast, Israel’s missiles were not inherently inadmissible because they were considered by HRW to be precise (see my articles here and here.) That was clearly nonsense in 2006. During the war, Israel dropped millions of cluster munitions – little bomblets that serve effectively as land mines – all over southern Lebanon, endangering the whole civilian population of the area.
But Norman Finkelstein recently pointed out the more general problem with this view:
By this standard, only rich countries, or countries rich enough to purchase high-tech weapons, have a right to defend themselves against high-tech aerial assaults. It is a curious law that would negate the raison d’être of law: the substitution of might by right.
It may not be entirely surprising that HRW and others interpret international law in a way that serves rich and powerful western states, however many civilians they kill, and criminalises developing states, however few civilians they kill. The current fighting in Gaza illustrates this point in dramatic fashion. Some 95% of the Israelis who have been killed during the fighting are soldiers; some 75% of the Palestinians who have been killed are civilian.
But this Guardian article adds another layer of insight into HRW’s dubious distinctions. Ignore the irritating framing of the article, which suggests that the high Palestinian death toll may be down to human or systems errors. Experts discount this theory in the article and also point out that Israel is often not checking whether its shooting is accurate. In short, it gives every indication of not taking any precautions to ensure it is hitting only military targets (or rather targets it claims are military in nature) – that recklessness makes it fully culpable.
But we also have experts here who make the point that much of Israel’s precise weaponry is not precise at all.
Andrew Exum, a former US army officer and defence department special adviser on the Middle East, who has studied Israel’s military operations, says this:
There are good strategic reasons to avoid using air power and artillery in these conflicts: they tend to be pretty indiscriminate in their effects and make it difficult for the population under fire to figure out what they’re supposed to do to be safe.
“Pretty indiscriminate”! So doesn’t that mean Israel was committing war crimes by definition every time it made one of those thousands of air strikes that marked the start of Operation Protective Edge, and that it is continuing to make now?
But it’s not just strikes from the air that are the problem. There’s more:
However, military analysts and human rights observers say the IDF is still using unguided, indirect fire with high-explosive shells, which they argue is inappropriate for a densely populated area like Gaza …
[Israel's 155m howitzer] shells have a lethal radius of 50 to 150 metres and causes injury up to 300 metres from its point of impact. Furthermore, such indirect-fire artillery (meaning it is fired out of direct sight of the target) has a margin of error of 200 to 300 metres.
Read that again: a margin of error of up to 300 metres, plus a lethal radius of up to 150 metres and an injury radius of 300 metres. So that’s a killing and injury zone of close to half a kilometre from the intended “precise” site of impact. In a territory that is only a few kilometres wide. In short, the main shell Israel is using in Gaza is entirely imprecise.
Set aside what Israel is trying to do in Gaza. Let’s assume it is actually trying to hit military targets rather than being either reckless about hitting civilian targets or deliberately trying to hit civilians, as much of the evidence might suggest.
Even if we assume total good faith on Israel’s part that it is trying to hit only Hamas and other military sites, it is clear it cannot do so even with the weaponry it has. The inherent imprecision of its arsenal is compounded many fold by the fact that it is using these weapons in densely built-up areas.
So when are we going to hear HRW or the UN’s Navi Pillay stop talking about proportionality or Israel’s potential war crimes, and admit Israel is committing war crimes by definition?
Israeli occupation forces snuck into Lebanon and abducted a shepherd from the southeastern town of Shebaa at dawn Wednesday, one day after they stole a herd of goats from the same area, state media reported.
Ismail Khalil Nabaa was kidnapped in Shebaa and taken to the nearby occupied Shebaa Farms area.
UNIFIL is working to secure his release, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA ) said.
The owners of the kidnapped herd, Mohammed Khalil Nabaa and Khodour Hamdan, said they had escaped an Israeli ambush on Lebanese territory on Tuesday.
The report did not speculate over why Israeli forces kidnapped the goats and shepherd.
MP Qassem Hashem called Nabaa’s kidnapping a violation of national sovereignty and international charters, NNA reported.
“The Zionist enemy continues its aggression, abducts Lebanese shepherds and seizes their flocks. The UNIFIL must fully perform its duty,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday praised the Palestinian resistance defending Gaza from Israel’s ongoing assault on the besieged strip, saying that Israel was failing in its war and headed on a path of suicide.
“Gaza today is holding funeral processions for its martyrs, and has achieved victory in resistance,” Nasrallah said in a rare live appearance from a complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs to mark the annual Jerusalem Day.
“When we reach day 18 [of the Israeli assault] and the Zionists together with the world are incapable of achieving any goal in Gaza, it means the resistance has achieved victory in Gaza.”
“[Former defense minister] Ehud Barak … had said in any future war waged by Israel in Gaza will lead to a very quick and decisive victory.”
“Gaza today is responding and saying ‘You the cowardly people who hide behind warplanes and kill children, if you confront our heroes you will be defeated and your army will be defeated’,” Nasrallah said.
“I say to the Zionists, You in Gaza are working within the circle of failure. Don’t go beyond Gaza to the circle of suicide,” Nasrallah added.
Over 800 Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched its terror campaign against Gaza on July 8.
“The Israeli army didn’t go to war as an army which is fighting. It went as an army which kills children. This is the army we knew in Lebanon,” Nasrallah said.
“We must salute the souls of the martyrs of Gaza and the wounded of Gaza and the mujaheddin and heroes of Gaza and the people of Gaza who are standing with steadfastness on this day,” he added.
Palestinian fighters in Gaza have vowed to press on with the war until Israel ends its eight-year-long land, air and sea blockade of the strip, which prevents the movement of people and goods, including the importation of basic necessities and medicine.
Nasrallah said those demands were just.
“The siege means death on a daily basis for the people of Gaza, not for 18 days but for years. I must repeat, there must be political, media, financial, material support and support with arms,” he said.
“We must remind everyone here, Iran and Syria together with the resistance in Lebanon, and especially Hezbollah in accordance with its capabilities, for many long years never spared any efforts in supporting the Palestinian resistance — politically, on media, morally, financially, from material angles, weapons, logistical support and expertise.”
Nasrallah also said despite all the attempts by Israel to divide Palestinians and force them to abandon their cause, they remained strong willed to return to their land.
“Despite all their pain and suffering and wounds and massacres and all the factors of despair and frustration, they did not surrender and they did not forget,” Nasrallah said.
“Palestinian people in and out of Palestine and in refugee camps, despite harsh living conditions and incentives for emigrating to Canada and Australia and Europe in order to fragment and divide this Palestinian human body, despite all this the Palestinians held on to their land and cause and farms and fields, and they rejected to surrender and to bow down.”
Twenty five Israeli shells have so far fallen on Kfarshuba outskirts, Halta and Majidiyah causing only material damages, the National News Agency reported.
Zionist army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said artillery units had fired a barrage at “suspicious positions” sighted over the border.
This came as unknown persons fired at dawn today two 107mm Katyusha rockets which landed in the area east of Metula settlement on the border with Lebanon. Lebanese army intelligence inspected the area where the rockets were being launched and found two more missiles ready for launching and defused them immediately. Another rocket exploded while still on its launchpad.
The Lebanese army found military gear in Ain Arab, reports also said.
The Army Command issued on Friday the following statement: “Today, between 1:00 and 6:00 in the morning, an unknown party fired three rockets from the area of Marjayoun – Hasbaya towards the occupied Palestinian territory. Afterwards, the army conducted patrols in the area and carried out a wide-scale search operation in which it found two platforms with two rockets set for launching, while the military expert arrived to the scene and worked on disabling the platforms.”
The Zionist army said one projectile fired from Lebanon struck “northern Israel” causing no harm or damages. “One projectile hit an open space near Kfar Yuval, between (northern Israeli towns) Metula and Kiryat Shmona,” a military spokeswoman told Agence France Presse.
The Zionist officials said it was unlikely the rockets were fired by Hezbollah and believed they were fired by a small Palestinian group in solidarity with Gaza.
The United States moved Thursday to blacklist a group of companies it claimed covertly helped Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement acquire components for surveillance drones.
The US Treasury placed sanctions on Beirut-based Stars Group Holding, which it said purchased electronics and other technology via offices in China and Dubai to support Hezbollah’s military operations.
That included the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Treasury claimed were used against rebels in Syria and for surveillance of Israeli sites.
The material bought by Stars Group included engines, communications, electronics, and navigation equipment acquired from suppliers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
It named for sanctions the company, its subsidiaries, its owner, executives Kamel Amhaz and Issam Amhaz, and two Stars Group managers, Ayman Ibrahim and Ali Zeaiter.
The sanctions place a freeze on any of their assets under US jurisdiction and ban Americans from any business with them.
Open Letter Welcoming Massive Attack
Dear Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall,
On behalf of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, we are delighted to welcome you to Lebanon for your forthcoming performance on July 29 at the Byblos International Festival, and to salute Massive Attack’s commitment to justice for Palestine and the Palestinian people.
Our campaign is one of solidarity with the Palestinian people, struggling against racism, dispossession, apartheid and occupation under Zionism, but it is also a form of resistance by the Lebanese people themselves. Tens of thousands of Lebanese have been killed by Israel over 66 years of multiple invasions and bombing campaigns targeting residential areas, medical facilities, and fundamental infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been denied their right to return to their homes and lands – for which they have been struggling for over 66 years.
Through your active engagement and public support of the boycott of Israel, you are taking a stand against the bombs, the invasions, and the war machine of apartheid Israel.
On far too many occasions, we write to artists to call upon them to cancel their performances in Israel before they plan to perform in Lebanon. It is, therefore, a refreshing change to instead write to you welcoming your visit to Lebanon. Through your active engagement and public support of the boycott of Israel, you are taking a stand against the bombs, the invasions, and the war machine of apartheid Israel.
We are particularly delighted to hear Robert Del Naja stating that: “If the EU and the US pressured Israel for change and forced the end of the blockade, we might get somewhere. That pressure should also come culturally… So it doesn’t sit right for me to go back to Tel Aviv while there is a giant wall and an economic stranglehold on a whole nation of people.”
It is particularly important for artists and cultural workers, and for bands whose music, like yours, is heard around the world, to be heard clearly upholding Palestinian rights and refusing to engage with occupation – and Massive Attack presents an excellent example to other international cultural performers in this regard. We fully support Del Naja’s comments that “musicians have a major role to play…I find the more I get involved, the more the movement becomes something tangible. I remember going to ‘Artists Against Apartheid’ gigs, and ‘Rock Against Racism’ gigs around the same sort of time.” The legacy of cultural campaigns for justice in the past continues today in the cultural boycott of Israel.
We would like to invite you to meet with us during your visit to Lebanon, and arrange for you to visit Qana, the site of the 1996 and 2006 massacres of civilians by Israeli airstrikes; the detention centers in South Lebanon, where Israeli forces imprisoned Lebanese; and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. We would also like to discuss your involvement in cultural boycott and support for Palestine with Lebanese campaigners.
Again, we welcome you to Lebanon and salute your ongoing commitment to keep up the needed pressure through refusing to be part of the cultural machinery of war, apartheid, and occupation and supporting the Palestinian, Arab and international “picket line” boycotting Israel.
Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon
The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon started in 2002 after the massacre in the Jenin refugee camp, and they are the first country-based BDS organization that documents, exposes, and protests Lebanese companies dealing with Israel.
Photo - Sultan/thepoliticalforums.com
Aletho News | May 21, 2014
The US House of Representatives on Monday voted to give the Congressional Gold Medal to Israel’s outgoing president, Shimon Peres.
The bill which authorizes the creation of the gold medal and its award to Peres, HR 2939, is co-sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA). It touts Peres’ “pivotal role in forging the strong and unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel” and states that “[b]y presenting the Congressional Gold Medal … Congress proclaims its unbreakable bond with Israel and reaffirms its continual support for Israel.”
The following excerpt from an open letter by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel recounts Peres’ career, emphasizing a record of war crimes:
On 18 April 1996, when Israel still occupied southern Lebanon, Shimon Peres was Prime Minister. He was in the midst of an election campaign, so he took a decision to do something to change his “dovish” image because doves are not respected in Israel. He launched “Operation Grapes of Wrath” causing 400,000 Lebanese to flee their homes, with almost 800 of them fleeing to a UN base in Qana, South Lebanon.
On 18 April the Israeli army shelled the UN shelter in Qana, killing 102 civilians, mainly women, children and the elderly. Many more were injured. Human Rights Watch, the UN and Amnesty International subsequently disproved the myth that the Israeli army did not deliberately intend to shell the UN base. Shimon Peres said at the time, “In my opinion, everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way. I am at peace.”
The Qana massacre led to Shimon Peres being denied the job he coveted at the time: that of UN Secretary-General. He should have been denied it anyway for being the architect of Israel’s nuclear programme — one which remains outside the scrutiny of the world even as Israel bays for the cessation of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
Peres is on record for being responsible for other war crimes, from building colonies on occupied Arab land to endorsing a policy of extra-judicial killings, which murders Palestinians and other Arabs without the benefit of a trial or, in fact, any proof other than that provided by Israeli Intelligence, the Shin Bet. He also supports the siege on Gaza, the destruction of its airport, and the elaborate system of checkpoints all across the West Bank. He defends the demolition of Palestinian homes, and he justified the atrocities committed by the Israeli army in its recent war on Lebanon in 2006.
Peres is also on record for defending land gained during war, claiming that Israel has the right to the Golan Heights because it was gained during war.
A Senate version of the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), passed by unanimous consent in March.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) does not miss an opportunity to undermine its credibility and damage its image. This behavior is not restricted to the public prosecutor’s office, but to the trial chamber itself, which is supposed to be keen on implementing justice and presenting a positive image of the tribunal to the public.
The latest development is a decision issued by the tribunal’s First Chamber, which is in charge of trying the defendants in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The decision stipulated concealing the amount of money that the public prosecutor’s office pays to witnesses under the rubric of “expenses.” On May 9, the tribunal issued a decision granting the prosecution’s office the right to conceal the amount from the defense teams.
The decision came after the defense team for Hussein Oneissi requested that the tribunal order the prosecution’s office to disclose information it has on whether two of the public prosecution’s witnesses or members of their families were paid money from the office itself, from the international investigation committee or from the Lebanese authorities. Oneissi’s defense team argued that the issue is relevant to its defense strategy since it casts doubt on the credibility of some of the witnesses the public prosecutor is going to present to the court. After deliberations, the court decided to keep the matter a secret and not force the public prosecutor to disclose the information.
According to the decision, the tribunal reviewed similar cases in other international courts whereby it became evident that courts cover the expenses and costs of witnesses living in the Netherlands. Besides, some international courts (and national ones, according to the STL’s First Chamber) have developed clear standards under which they pay the “expenses of the witnesses.” It added that some courts pay the witness a monthly stipend in lieu of their salary that they were receiving as compensation for moving to the Hague to testify. The amount is equivalent to the minimum wage that a United Nations employee earns in the country where the witness comes from. The tribunal pointed out that it reviewed the amounts that the prosecution’s office paid as expenses to the witnesses and found them “reasonable.” It added that the defense team did not present proof that the two witnesses received sums beyond what is deemed reasonable. Therefore there is no need to reveal how much was paid as expenses to them.
But neither the prosecution nor the tribunal were able to rule out whether the two witnesses or one of them or members of their families received money from parties other than the prosecution’s office. This will continue to be a point of contention in the future because of how deeply it affects the credibility of the witnesses’ testimonies, especially those that the public prosecution is going to present as witnesses to be relied on to convict the defendants even though their testimonies have changed from one stage of the investigation to another.
In another matter, the public prosecutor gave a bizarre excuse for not giving the defense team of one of the defendant’s documents it requested that include information on students at one of Lebanon’s universities between the years 2004-2005 in addition to information about specific individuals at the same university in 2006. The public prosecution’s office had received this information from the Lebanese authorities which never denied any of the former’s requests. The public prosecutor cited several reasons for turning down the defense team’s request including the claim that this information would enable the defense team to breach the confidentiality of one of its witnesses.
But the most bizarre and most laughable excuse is the public prosecutor’s claim, in his letter to the tribunal on May 9, 2014, that handing over this information to the defense team might “violate the privacy of these students.” Let’s remember that the public prosecution’s office had insisted on getting the Lebanese people’s telecom data, health records, university records, travel records, insurance records and market licenses and – as experience has shown – was unable to protect its records and prevent them from being leaked. This same office is now claiming to care for the privacy of Lebanese students in order to prevent the transfer of information about them to their own colleagues – the defense lawyers – at the tribunal.
Statements by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday point to a significant development in the relationship with Iran. Saudi’s so called “hawk” and Iran’s number one enemy in the kingdom is now welcoming a dialogue with the Islamic Republic. But the implications will not be felt in Tehran or Riyadh, but in Baghdad, Homs, Beirut, and Vienna.
Saudi Arabia’s call for a dialogue with Iran is no small matter, neither in its substance, “to settle differences and make the region safe and prosperous,” or in its timing, regionally, internationally, and in relation to the nuclear issue, or the fact that it was issued by one of the kingdom’s most hawkish members.
Information from Tehran maintains “the Iranian position did not change.” It indicated that, “ever since President Hassan Rouhani reached power, [Iran] declared its openness to dialogue with the Saudis and announced the issue publicly several times.” This included statements during the recent tour of Gulf countries by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, in which he kept hoping to visit Riyadh. However, “the rejection was also coming from the Saudis, despite all the openness to reconciliation expressed by Iran.”
According to the same sources, several mechanisms were proposed to start a constructive dialogue, following negotiations through Omani mediation. Muscat was later forced to suspend its role after its relations with Saudi Arabia began to falter. However, a few months ago, Kuwait took up the mantle and became the main mediator between the two sides. The sources revealed that one such mechanism was suggested by the Saudis and entailed parallel trust-building steps. They would begin with a meeting between representatives of both countries’ foreign ministers, then between the two actual foreign ministers, and then to ultimately have a visit by Rouhani to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah.”
The information, which was obtained from circles concerned with relations between Tehran and Riyadh, maintained that the Saudis recently proposed through the Kuwaitis a visit by assistant Iranian foreign minister, Amir Abdel-Lahian, to hold talks. However, “Iran was not satisfied with the suggestion. They believed the atmosphere in Saudi and that surrounding the proposal, its mechanisms, and the position and authority of negotiators from either side would not lead to a serious breakthrough.”
So why did the invitation come now, at this particular time? And what are the motives behind it?
The sources point to the wider picture. “The Iraqi elections show that [Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki will have a larger parliamentary bloc than in the previous parliament and it is certain that he will continue through a third term. This is in addition to the latest developments in Homs, which means that the axis supporting [Syrian] President [Bashar] al-Assad now has the upper hand on the ground. There is also the situation in Lebanon, which shows beyond doubt that there will be no presidential elections, without the consent of the axis of resistance. It seems all those factors, including pressure by the US and the push by Kuwait, led the Saudis to take such a step.”
US pressure was manifested in the visit by US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, meeting with the kingdom’s leadership to discuss the Syrian and Iranian files. Kuwait’s push, on the other hand, will be apparent during the visit by the Kuwaiti Emir to Tehran on June 1. He is expected to discuss bilateral relations, including disagreements concerning the continental shelf. But the essence of the meetings will be relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Saudis in particular, in addition to Syria and other matters.
The Saudi foreign minister had announced earlier that the kingdom sent out an invitation to Mohammed Javad Zarifi, “We want to meet with him. Iran is a neighbor with whom we have relations and we will conduct negotiations with Iran.”
Faisal was speaking at a press conference during the First Forum on Economy and Cooperation of Arab Countries with the Central Asian States and the Republic of Azerbaijan. “We will talk to them and if there are disagreements we will settle them in a manner that will satisfy both countries,” he explained. “We also hope that Iran would join the efforts to make the region safe and prosperous and not be part of the problem of a lack of security in the region.”
Saud al-Faisal also expressed the desire to resume contacts between the two countries as expressed by Iran’s president and foreign minister, “We sent out an invitation to the [Iranian] foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia, but the will to make the visit has not become a reality yet. However, we will meet him anytime he wishes to come.”
Whether by coincidence or planning, Hagel’s visit and Faisal’s call coincided with the final phase of nuclear talks between Iran and the West. But it came at a time when Zarif had just arrived to Vienna to head the delegation to the nuclear talks.
What is certain, however, are the statements by Ali Khamenei on Tuesday and the several signals he gave, which aimed to provide an umbrella to the Vienna negotiations. He emphasized that the US is unable “to do anything rash, militarily or otherwise…We depend on our own powers, strengthening them and focusing our efforts on our own potential, which will defeat plans by the Americans and other powers to force the Iranian people to surrender through exerting pressures.”
Khamenei spoke in front of a large crowd of residents in the Ilam province on the anniversary of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb’s birth. “The major powers ought to know that the Iranian people will not yield to their ambitions, because it is a living people and its youth are moving and acting in the right direction.”
These clear words are perhaps behind Zarif’s assertions from Vienna that “the difficult part” had only started and the desired deal might be aborted, even in the absence of a consensus on just “2 percent of the topics for discussion.” Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 groups is entering a new highly sensitive phase, with the drafting of what has become known as the “final agreement.” Tuesday night, Zarif met with the EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the P5+1 countries, over dinner. Actual negotiations will begin on May 14 and will continue until Friday.
Unlike previous sessions, Zarif and Ashton will be heading most of the meetings.
The most contentious issue in this round is the item related to the Arak heavy water reactor, which the West wants closed, and the ability to enrich uranium, which Iran hopes to keep.
The West’s belief that it could reach some kind of nuclear deal is probably due to both sides’ need for an agreement. In addition to building his foreign policy on reaching a settlement with Iran, US President Barack Obama has his hands tied in congressional midterm elections at the end of this year. It has become clear that he needs a foreign victory to ensure the victory of his party, especially after the collapse of his project for the Arab Spring and failing to reach a Palestinian-Israeli settlement or to topple Bashar al-Assad, not to mention his crisis in Ukraine.
Rouhani, on the other hand, seems to be betting on a nuclear deal that would lift the sanctions, and thus improve the economic situation inside Iran, which would give him leverage over his fundamentalist opponents. However, he realized, albeit late, that international sanctions are linked to four files, of which nuclear power is a minor issue. The other three are terrorism, human rights, and the rockets. The sanctions would only be lifted after closing all four files. And even if that happened, Obama has to solve his problems with the US Congress, which still rejects any lifting of sanctions against Iran.
German authorities on Tuesday raided the offices of a charity organization that allegedly has ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, accusing it of raising money for the group.
Around 150 police officers searched premises across six states and confiscated cash, computers and around 40 boxes of files.
Two bank accounts with a total of around 60,000 euros were frozen but no arrests were made, the German interior ministry said.
The ministry said it had outlawed the “Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon” (Orphan Children Project Lebanon) with immediate effect.
“The name of the group masks its actual purpose,” ministry state secretary Emily Haber said in a statement.
She said the organization based in the western city of Essen had raised 3.3 million euros ($4.5 million) in donations between 2007 and 2013 for the Lebanese Shahid Foundation, which supports families of fallen Hezbollah fighters.
Haber claimed the funds were used to recruit fighters “to combat Israel, also with terrorist measures” and compensate the families of suicide bombers.
The statement did not cite its evidence. Hezbollah used to carry out suicide missions against Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon prior to their retreat in 2000.
The group has not used that tactic since Israel pulled its army from Lebanon 14 year ago.
“Organizations that directly or indirectly from German soil oppose the state of Israel’s right to exist may not seek freedom of association protection,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in the statement.
He said the group’s goals violated Germany’s constitution.
The European Union in July last year also listed Hezbollah’s so-called military wing as a “terrorist organization.” But the EU said it would continue to deal with Hezbollah as a political entity.
The German interior ministry said it had put Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon, which has about 80 members, under surveillance since 2009.