Israel has recently decided to increase its number of official statements supporting closer relations with Saudi Arabia. As the West and Iran struck their nuclear deal, Israeli media leaks on secret meetings between representatives from the two countries intensified, prompting the Arab press to treat Riyadh and Tel Aviv as allies.
The Saudi-Lebanese media tycoon Waleed bin Talal only helped to reinforce this image by saying, “The kingdom, along with other Arab and Sunni Muslim countries, supports an Israeli attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear program.” This begs the question: Is it in the interest of Arabs to accuse Saudi of having an alliance with Israel?
There is very little evidence in the kingdom, officially and on the popular level, of any sentiment in favor of establishing ties with the Zionist state. One can only imagine the amount of US pressure Riyadh was subjected to after the invasion of Iraq and the September 11 attacks to open up to Israel.
So let us agree that there is no love lost between Saudi and Israel, but the Gulf monarchy is deeply antagonistic to Iran and fears Tehran’s regional influence. Add to that Western media analysis suggesting that the region is undergoing a shift in alliances, in which the US and Iran could return to their strategic partnership from the days of the Shah.
Undoubtedly, there is a meeting of interests between Riyadh and Tel Aviv in Syria, where both want the undoing of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its regional allies, Hezbollah and Iran. “It is our hope that Israel and Saudi initiate positive relations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is recently reported to have said, adding, “We have common interests in the economy and in regional politics.”
It appears that it is in the interest of Israel to publicly declare improving ties with Saudi Arabia, given the number of official statements and media leaks about the matter. For Tel Aviv, this is not only useful against Hezbollah and Iran, but Israel hopes that this will give it Arab cover to sign a peace agreement that is unfavorable to the Palestinians.
All indications suggest that, sooner or later, there will be a Saudi-Iranian summit, despite the tensions that exist today. Riyadh is in no rush for such a meeting, given its relatively weak position at this juncture. Tehran, too, is in no hurry – other Gulf nations are lining up to visit Iran, as was the case with the Emirates recently.
Rather than adopt Israel’s statements and leaks, it is more important that the Arabs protect Saudi from Zionist influence, perhaps by advising the kingdom to make adjustments in its foreign relations, particularly toward Syria and Iran. And in fact, reports suggest that there are active attempts by mediators to help mend fences between these countries, with many obstacles still preventing any breakthrough in the near future.
You cannot negotiate with Iran. That is what they told us for years. The Iranian leadership is too fanatical, they are not rational actors, they are “not like us.” One US official even recently said that deception is part of the Iranian DNA. But just over a week ago negotiations between the five permanent UN Security Council Members plus Germany and the Iranians produced an historic agreement that may be the first step toward a new era in US relations with the Middle East.
As Middle East expert Eric Margolis pointed out this week, for Iran’s major concessions it will only receive “$7 billion – of its own money, which has been frozen abroad by US-led sanctions.” That sounds like quite a bit of compromise for such a “fanatical” country.
Earlier this summer the same people made the same arguments about Syria. You cannot negotiate with Syrian President Assad, they said. He is insane; he is another Hitler. But not only was it possible, a deal was signed ending the threat of a US strike in exchange for Syria agreeing to give up its chemical weapons and the ability to manufacture new ones. Syria upheld its end of the agreement and the chemicals were all accounted for on schedule.
Why have the interventionists, the neocons, and the special interest groups claimed for so long that negotiation and diplomacy was tantamount to surrender; that countries such as Iran and Syria “only understand force”? It is because these groups are afraid of diplomacy. They do not want a peaceful resolution to these conflicts. They see US foreign relations only in the starkest terms: do what we say and we will give you aid, disobey us and we will bomb you.
Now the warmongers who call themselves “foreign policy experts” have been exposed. The whole world sees that they are wrong. Their advice is bad. Their limited vision of how foreign affairs should be conducted is actually dangerous to the United States. It is now clear that there are workable alternatives.
As with the US threats against Syria, public opinion polls on talks with Iran demonstrate that the American people are solidly behind diplomacy and opposed to another war. According to one recent poll, Americans support the deal reached with Iran by a margin of two-to-one.
Congress, however, is once again far behind the American people. Even as US negotiators were reaching agreement with their Iranian counterparts, US representatives and Senators were drafting legislation to increase sanctions on Iran. Instead of listening to the American people, many in Congress seem attached to special interests like the Israel and Saudi lobbies, which oppose anything less than full Iranian capitulation. Israel refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty yet it seeks to dictate the rules of the treaty to those who have signed it. Saudi Arabia is desperate to control the region politically and economically, and it views an Iran that is free to sell oil and other products on the open market as a threat to Saudi power.
For too long both Israel and the Saudis have benefited from a US military guarantee. It has created “moral hazard” that only encourages more belligerent behavior on both of their parts. It remains to be seen whether this six month trial period will develop into a permanent move toward normalization of relations with Iran. What if Congress refuses to give Iran its own money back? But we are moving in the right direction and we should be optimistic.
A better US relationship with Iran may signal the beginning of the end of US meddling in the region and serve as an incentive for Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf States to solve their problems themselves. This would be a great boost to US national security, just as an Iran open to US business and trade would be a great boost to our economic security. Is peace finally breaking out? Let’s hope so.
The agreement between the US and Iran is the best news coming out of the Middle East for some time. As Iran is not developing nuclear weapons it is not giving away too much, although it still went a long way to meeting US demands. Israel is furious. Netanyahu has done his best to prevent this point being reached and will be striving hard to make sure it goes no further. He will be appealing to Congress over the head of the president, the traditional tactic of Israeli prime ministers when they can’t get their own way. Israel’s lobbyists will be fully mobilizing for what is being represented as the greatest challenge to Israel in its history.
This is a major blow to Israel and a well-deserved slap in the face for Netanyahu. He has lost no opportunity to humiliate the US president so there is probably a personal element in all of this amidst the grander strategic considerations. But the outcome is good for the Middle East and good for the US. The agreement sets up the development of a relationship which will reconfigure geostrategic realities. By signing it the US is implicitly accepting Iran’s right to maintain its own special relationship with Syria and Hizbullah. The Syria experience has clearly been a sharp learning curve. In the name of political transition the so-called ‘Friends of the Syrian People’ have unleashed the hounds of hell at the geographic heart of the Middle East. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is only the worst of the pack. The US administration has been backing away from its involvement and now clearly accepts that Bashar staying in power is the best option.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are dismayed at the refusal of their erstwhile allies to push the assault on Syria any further. Now they have the agreement with Iran to contend with and they are furious. Some of the commentary in the Israeli media is nothing short of demented. These two states have now formed their own axis of resistance – resistance to change, resistance to peace, resistance to the end of occupation, resistance to the White House and resistance to common sense. The recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut can safely be regarded as the work of one of them if not involving both. The Saudis are completely obsessed with destroying Shi’ism and Shia across the region. If they keep going like this their own special relationship with the US is going to suffer as well but they have already dropped hints that they don’t care.
Now that the Americans are talking to Iran they might start wondering what all the fuss was about. They are getting on with the Iranian negotiators, who are far more civilized and sophisticated than shills like Netanyahu and louts like Avigdor Lieberman. Furthermore, while Israel is an occupying state that has repeatedly gone to war to defend its ill-gotten gains, Iran, as commentators are pointing out, has not launched an aggressive war for more than two centuries, so which country shapes up as the most stable ally for the US in the region?
Saudi Arabia is another story. It is one of the most reactionary states in the world. It buys people, politicians, entire governments and newspaper editors. Money is its true god. Much of the revenue from its oil has gone into arms purchases from the US and European governments, all of which know that if they want this bonanza to continue they have to remain silent in the face of Saudi Arabia’s flagrant abuses of human rights. If there ever was a case for ‘regime change’ it is surely smack bang in the middle of Riyadh.
The agreement with Iran opens the way to significant commercial, political and strategic benefits for the US. It may well not be to Russia’s liking. By comparison, Israel is a dead weight around America’s neck from any perspective. It bleeds the US Treasury of more than $3 billion in arms and economic aid every year. It spies on the US and regularly defies the US. It has killed US servicemen in pursuit of its own strategic ends. It opens no doors and is of no commercial or economic benefit to the US and the days when it might have served some purpose as an armory during US military actions in the Middle East have probably gone for good. The American people have made it perfectly clear they do not want their government to be involved in any more wars in the Middle East and peace certainly offers the US far greater rewards than war.
The nuclear issue always was a distraction. The real issue for Israel is Iran’s growing influence across the region and its refusal to back away from its strategic alliance with Syria and Hizbullah despite economic sanctions and regular threats of war. The ruins of Gaza are testimony to Israel’s determination to destroy anyone and any thing standing in its way. Palestine is the wellspring but dig deep enough into the ruins of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and you will find Israel at the bottom. It will see the whole Middle East flattened rather than retreat from the territory it has seized through its wars of aggression. Since the war of conquest of 1948 it has launched six other wars against Egypt, Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, apart from shorter incursions, assassinations and aerial attacks such as those launched on Syria this year. By comparison the only war involving the Islamic republic of Iran is the one launched by Saddam Hussein in 1980.
Israel cannot afford to alienate the US. It needs American economic aid and weapons and it will need US support if it ever gets into a war which it can’t win. Israel’s defeats at the hands of Hizbullah confirm a picture of relative military decline over the past three decades. Even Gaza with its miniscule defences has been able to withstand the fury of Israeli assaults. The fortress state is beginning to crumble at its foundations and if Israel continues to alienate even its friends the day will come when it finds itself alone with its nuclear bombs.
This is an existential moment for Israel. It refuses to change, expecting its friends endlessly to accommodate its outrageous behavior. The White House is sending signals that it has had enough and indeed the agreement with Iran may even mark the beginning of the setting of the sun on the US-Israel ‘special relationship.’
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Oil prices dropped on Monday morning in Asia’s exchange markets after Iran and world powers reached an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran holds the fourth largest oil reserves in the world. Brent price fell by 2.26 per cent, or $2.51 down to $108.54 per barrel, while US light sweet crude fell by 89 cents to $93.95 per barrel (a less than one per cent decline).
After five days of intense negotiations, the major world powers and Iran announced a deal on Saturday evening stipulating that Iran will curb its nuclear activities in return for an easing of the economic sanctions against it. The interim deal paves the way for a new phase of negotiations in six months’ time. Western countries and Israel suspect Tehran of secretly developing nuclear military capabilities behind its civilian programme, but this is a claim that Tehran denies.
The oil markets had been intensely following the negotiations in Geneva. Economic analysts believe the deal could eventually lead to lifting the ban on Iran’s oil exports, which would supply the markets with a million additional barrels a day and help to reduce oil prices, which have dramatically risen as a result of the Iranian crisis and the geopolitical unrest in the Middle East.
Victor Shum, the managing director of IHS Purvin & Gertz Group in Singapore, observed on Monday that: “the impact of the deal on the global oil supply will be limited in the short term because the majority of the sanctions remain.”
Experts also confirmed that if sanctions are indeed lifted, then Iranian exports will increase while Saudi exports will decrease. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
An oil expert told the Dow Jones newswire that the agreement “does not mean that we will see an influx of oil exports in the markets, because Iran is a member of OPEC and any increase in the Iranian oil supply should be done within the quota system.”
The recent high-drama nuclear negotiations in Geneva were riveting, to be sure. Old foes shuttled between conference rooms, chatted amiably in corridors, colluded to guard the sensitive details of their discussions from an eager global media.
Every utterance from officials, every smile, grimace and gesture made its way onto the twitter feeds of foreign policy wonks and commentators, mostly frustrated by the lack of substance to report.
When a deal did not materialize between Iran and the P5+1, off went the pundits to dig up further minutiae. Who scuttled the agreement? What were the terms of the agreement on the table? Why are the Saudis, Israelis, Congress and the French being such spoilsports?
Hang. On. One. Minute.
For any dedicated critic of western policies in the Middle East, this last bit was just mind-boggling. For a change, nobody was blaming the Iranians for anything much. Instead, an atypical set of people and parties were being held accountable as “spoilers.”
Really, in that moment, the world turned a fraction faster. Brought us into the future, it did.
Because here’s the actual deal: deal or no deal at the negotiating table in Geneva, we have entered a new era in the Middle East. Iran is the center of all things important to all the parties that count. Today, nothing of consequence can be done in any of the major military and political theaters in the region without the cooperation of the Islamic Republic.
Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain… If Washington is keen to exit from its myriad of Mideast entanglements without leaving behind more chaos, it will need an able local intermediary with the clout to promote stability. None of its allies can do this job – not its economically distressed western partners, not a war-wary NATO, not an isolated Israel, not a sectarian Saudi Arabia, not a politically diminished Turkey, and not an Egypt in turmoil.
Deal or no deal, phase 1 in Geneva was already a success. It set the scene for what-comes-next quite effectively. Whether you noticed it or not, your view of good-guys and bad-guys in the Middle East changed in a Swiss conference room. Your perceptions shifted while you were cheering on a historical agreement with Iran, while you watched world-class foreign ministers sweep into town in deference to the importance of this moment, while you rolled your eyes at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s protestations and suspected France of trading “peace” for Saudi cash.
And nobody corrected you much on this perception shift in the days to follow.
No Deal in Geneva
On the sidelines of the Iran nuclear negotiations early this month, the talk was already about Syria and other regional matters. These weren’t distractions – they are the real goals of this Geneva made-for-television showcase.
Washington and Tehran – the two main poles in this 30+ year standoff – have already figured out that they will both have to put enough on the table to satisfy each other’s most difficult constituencies and walk away with a few victories.
If there are spoilers – and there are plenty out there with interest in undermining a historic rapprochement – a deal may not get done, but a new set of understandings will nevertheless exist between the US and Iran that will allow them to move ahead and tackle regional dangers critical to both.
Iran can live with sanctions for a while longer. International tolerance for unilateral sanctions has plateaued anyway, with courts turning back some, and Iran’s trading partners finding innovative ways to bypass others. If there’s no Geneva deal, the US Department of Treasury can also soft-peddle its responses to sanctions violations at the will of the White House – even if Congress remains belligerent.
Washington can live with Iran’s nuclear program for a while longer too. The Geneva talks spawned a measure of public confidence in Iranian goodwill – and Iran seized this momentum by striking further agreements with the IAEA on nuclear transparencies.
The US and Iran have bigger fish to fry. Deal or no deal, the attention has shifted to new arenas.
Fixing some big problems
As hesitant as the US has been over direct military engagement in Syria for the duration of that country’s 32-month conflict, it played the “strike” card in September – and lost.
Washington blinked because it couldn’t predict the “outcome” of military strikes. The only option left after that escalation was an “exit” which was quickly pursued with the Russian-brokered proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
But in the works was a much more important strategic shift in regional priorities and alliances:
Despite a decade-long “war on terror,” there has never been a greater threat of extremism than in the Middle East today. Arab uprisings produced power vacuums that were rapidly filled by aggressively competing interests – and increasingly, by the kinds of Islamist militants who thrive in chaos.
There are jihadists in every state touched by uprisings, and they are crossing borders to destabilize neighbors with impunity. While a certain amount of “controlled instability” has always been a favored western lever to keep client states and adversaries in check, the regional landscape has suddenly moved into an “uncontrolled” and highly unpredictable zone.
And the US’s traditional regional partners are in no position to help reverse that trend. Israel views itself as a beneficiary of Arab instability – it believes that conflict will weaken and divide its neighbors, leaving Arabs unable to challenge Israel’s political and economic hegemony in the region.
Saudi Arabia is a primary financier and promoter of the Salafist extremist groups and networks engaged in terror and destabilization activities. The Saudis have aggressively sought to militarize various conflicts in the region to roll back revolts against friendly regimes and unseat unfriendly ones. And they are pursuing these policies with a single-mindedness that Washington has been unable to impact or reverse.
To the US’s endless frustration, the Israelis and Saudis have also sought to draw Washington into fronting their Mideast agendas at a time when Americans are keen to exit the region and focus on matters closer to home.
But who in the region shares these new Washington priorities? Which country in the Mideast is willing and able to take on militant jihadists, to promote stability, to provide a security blanket in the strategic Levant and Persian Gulf areas?
Bordering Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and the Gulf states, Iran straddles the danger zone and extends its influence into Syria and Lebanon, two other hot spots. Arguably one of the more advanced and stable democracies in the region, many US analysts point to the Iranian leadership as pragmatic, opportunistic, rational and shrewd in their political calculations. In the past two years, Iran has also come under the protective umbrella of Russia, China and other BRICS states, the former two states also proactively concerned about the rise in influence and presence of Salafi terror networks in their own regions.
Together with its newest regional ally Iraq, Iran is set to become the Mideast’s main energy hub, which is already of paramount strategic interest to countries emerging as the next-generation global economic powerhouses.
Hostilities aside, Washington and Tehran have cooperated in Afghanistan and even in Iraq when interests occasionally converged. The US is also intimately familiar with the disastrous consequences of going up against the Islamic Republic in those arenas. But today, Iran can help the US exit landlocked-Afghanistan by its 2014 year-end target date – and can play a role in maintaining stability on borders and in pockets within the country. In Iraq, where the Islamic Republic wields significant influence, Iran can be an able partner in defusing sectarian tensions, tackling political violence and mediating disputes.
The Iranians are also capable of brokering political solutions inside Syria and Lebanon, leveraging Turkish clout when “Sunni” solutions are required, thwarting the rogue behaviors of an increasingly belligerent Saudi Arabia, checking Qatari delusions of grandeur, mediating with and for the Kurds, de-escalating the battle in Yemen, guaranteeing the security of the Persian Gulf, and wielding a necessary “stick” to deter Israel’s regional aggressions.
In short, there is simply no other Mideast state as well positioned as Iran to troubleshoot, mediate, cajole and push its neighbors into action – to lead the way, as it were.
And Washington is out of “useful” allies right now. Like it or not, its primary regional adversary Iran is its only solution to a wide range of problems.
Not out of the woods yet
Last week, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned that the region could head to war if a US-Iran deal is not struck. If that sounds too dramatic, think again. The Mideast is a tinderbox at this moment – any constellation of events could set off a conflagration in multiple countries, and there are parties now gunning for this outcome.
We had a taste of this in Beirut on Tuesday – on the eve of Iran nuclear talks in Geneva – when a massive suicide bombing attack outside the Iranian embassy threatened to raise the temperature in the Levant/Persian Gulf yet again.
The US is uncomfortably aware that its closest regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia would like nothing better than a last-ditch war to try to turn the tide back in their favor. Both nations eagerly pushed Washington to the brink in Syria two months ago.
The fact is that even if phase 1 of the Geneva deal goes through, there’s a good six months in which spoilers can try to sabotage a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. And let’s not kid ourselves here: the west and Iran have little in common after decades of hostilities – just a few urgent mutual interests and much room to exploit differences.
In the meantime, the clock is ticking on regional dangers – and the US, Russians and Iranians want to get down to business to thwart these.
Yes, an agreement over the Iranian nuclear file will help smooth the way, but the new priorities and tentative alliances have already been cast far away from Swiss conference rooms. The verdict? Iran is a necessary partner in the Middle East today. At the next round of talks in Geneva this week – deal or no deal – that reality will define the way forward.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is leading from the front in criticizing the recent election of China and Russia to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ top rights body.
Concerns about human rights records in China and Russia are highlighted on a regular basis in western media. One cannot argue much with the fact that they have both struggled in this area.
The US, however, is not well placed to criticize or sermonize. Severe human rights violations are rampant in the US prison system. According to Pew Research, imprisonment rate (per capita) in the US is almost 50 percent higher than Russia’s and 320 percent higher than China’s.
The racist and arbitrary application of the death penalty is on historic record. African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person and non-white Latinos are almost three times more likely to be incarcerated, says the Pew Center.
America’s privatized health care system exclusively for the wealthy is an equal disgrace.
While critiquing China and Russia, the US has supported and is supporting some of the worst human rights violators in the world: Saudi-Arabia and Uzbekistan to name but a few. It has and is supporting the overthrow of democratically elected leaders all over the world. And, then there is Guantanamo and the drone attacks.
What’s noteworthy is that the US has not objected to other notorious human rights violators becoming members of the UN Human Rights Commission in the past.
Among the rights bodies, the US-based HRW (Human Rights Watch) has called the election “troubling” calling the new entrants ‘negative players”. I think, HRW has done outstanding work in some countries and written pro-US, biased reports in others.
Incidentally, Ms. Power, the US delegate to the UN HR Commission, had also written a eulogy for Richard Holbrooke, the man who made a career out of covering up US supported massacres in East-Timor and elsewhere and highlighting massacres by official US enemies.
She works in the same vein, much ado about human rights abuses by official enemies, apologetic about US and US-sponsored atrocities.
Being selective about human rights violations does not make the world a better place; it makes matters worse, since it sends out a clear message to the tyrants of the world. “Be on our side and do whatever you please, as long you take care of our interests, otherwise you are toast … “.
However, it would be unfair to point fingers to the US exclusively. The US is indeed not alone with its “selective indignation”.
France, UK, any EU-member state, China, Russia, Israel, they are all faithful followers of the same doctrine that divides human rights atrocities in three technical categories:
1) Human rights abuses (real ones and invented ones) committed by our official enemies: they are ‘human rights abuses’.
2) Human rights abuses committed by ourselves, our allies, our friends: they are retaliation, surgical strikes, slightly excessive responses, tactical mistakes based on incomplete information, lack of democratic culture (ours), our enemies placing their children at military target sites, etc etc … the list of excuses is endless. After all, we are ‘the good guys’.
3) Human rights abuses committed somewhere by someone where we have no interests, where we do not care, they are relegated to small print on the back pages, ‘violent clashes’, ‘a culture of internecine violence‘, … or ignored completely.
I am not inventing anything here. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky analyzed the political instrumentalisation of human rights already in 1979 in their seminal books ‘The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I. The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism and Volume II. Postwar Indochina & The Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology. Their case studies may be somewhat outdated, but their analysis still applies today.
It comes down to this. Our terrorism is not ‘terrorism’. Their terrorism is ‘terrorism’. We may from time to time make mistakes, judgment errors, exaggerate, but our intentions are always good, by imperial definition.
The reaction of the US to the Russian and Chinese accession to the UN HR Commission fits perfectly into that mold.
Is there a way out? Mass media not perpetuating this mythology but exposing it for the sham it is would be a start. Unfortunately and as much as it pains me to admit, today that is hardly the case.
Does this mean one should refrain from exposing human rights abuses? Certainly not. When doing so, just apply the same standards of judgment to all human rights abuses everywhere. That’s how you get credibility and real impact.
The list of US spying targets now includes the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a new report reveals.
The US National Security Agency and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters infiltrated OPEC’s computer systems to access an internal study in the organization’s research division, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported, citing documents provided by American whistleblower Edward J. Snowden.
A list of individuals targeted for surveillance included “Saudi Arabia’s OPEC governor”.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the targeting.
Der Spiegel said the information on OPEC had been available to the NSA for years, but in 2008 the agency infiltrated the organization, and has since been able to access Relevant Products/Services information specifically regarding oil exporting countries and the price of oil.
The infiltration however, was not easy for the NSA. A document from GCHQ, released in 2010, announced that after a long period of meticulous work, the two spying agencies had finally infiltrated the systems.
There is no national security justification for the spying effort. But the US needs the information to maintain its economic dominance in the world, some experts say.
OPEC has twelve members and is dedicated to coordinating the policies of the oil-exporting countries.
The American public, some IT corporations, and foreign leaders are all targets of the US super spying agency over the past years, according to documents released by Snowden, who is now in Russia where he was granted temporary asylum. Snowden is wanted in America for espionage charges.
- Oil Espionage: How the NSA and GCHQ Spied on OPEC (spiegel.de)
Despite a deal to lift the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown, the United States is far from a respite, as it won’t address the underlying, internal issues that have usurped its power in the world, economics professor Rodney Shakespeare told RT.
RT: The default is averted. That’s good news, isn’t it?
Rodney Shakespeare: Nothing has been averted. Instead, there’s going to be some sort of meeting between the Democrats and the Republicans, who are two sides of the same coin. And there are three subjects, which they’ll refuse to discuss. The first is the out of control military budget, which ought to be cut to one tenth of what it is at the moment to bring it in line with comparable nations. The second thing is that the system works by exporting jobs. They’ve exported the jobs to about 56,000 enterprises over the last 11 years. That’s five million jobs – and each job creates another three. That’s roughly 15 million jobs which aren’t coming back. And the third thing, which they aren’t going to discuss at this ‘wonderful’ meeting between the Democrats and the Republicans – they will not discuss the core of the issue, which is a corrupt banking system, whose center is the Federal Reserve. Instead, what they’ll do is they’ll blame everything on the poor. So, you see, nothing has been put off. Nothing has been solved. Nothing has been addressed. The situation goes on and ultimately it’s going to result in the final collapse of the dollar. But that may be a year or two off at the moment.
RT: It’s only a temporary fix for the US debt ceiling. But what happens when America is on the verge of running out of cash again?
RS: The same thing is going to happen as is happening at this moment, except that another two or three months will have passed, in which they’ve failed to address the underlying issues and their vanity and the essence of the corruption of the system will not have been addressed. So, you’re going to find at some point that they’ll then…the world will wake up to the overall level of the American debt, which is now just at the point when it becomes unrepairable. And when that happens, you’ll get a sudden, irrevocable slide in the dollar. So, they’ll kick the can down the road for a bit.
RT: It may also be difficult for the rest of the world to understand why there had to be so much last-minute drama in Washington, DC before they reached an agreement. A domestic squabble that held the rest of the world to economic ransom – can the global community afford to risk that again?
RS: The world community should continue doing what it’s quietly doing at the moment: starting to organize it in ways which are separate [from] and outside the West. They should do it in their banking agreements. I’m pleased to say that the BRICs are creating on optic fiber cable, so that the banking can be done away from the West. They should do it by creating different national and central banks, which put out interest-free money. They should make agreements among themselves, particularly among the non-allied nations. This should be political agreements and financial agreements. They must accept that the West now…its economic powers have declined; its political powers have declined. And as of America’s moral authority? Forget it! They are putting out a poisonous depleted uranium. They’re attacking. They’re assassinating. They have no moral authority whatsoever. Everybody else should get on with organizing themselves away from the pariah states, which are now the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, with their poodles, which are the UK and France. I say to the rest of the world: Get on with it. Organize yourselves and give up this corrupt, out-of-date system, which no longer is providing adequate leadership.
- RT: Losing faith: Global financiers look to de-Americanize (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
This year, the mandatory Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, will compound the Palestinians’ woes. Palestinian pilgrims will be greeted by a company that assists in their repression – and even torture – under the Israeli occupation regime. Indeed, hajj this year will be brought to you by none other than G4S.
This is not the first time that the Saudi government has hired the private security firm, which has recruited a staggering 700,000 to provide hajj-related services this year, according to exclusive information obtained by Al-Akhbar. Most of the leaked reports indicate that security for the hajj season since 2010 has been entrusted to al-Majal G4S, an affiliate of the parent company G4S.
The CEO of al-Majal G4S is a former security official in Saudi named Khaled Baghdadi. The Saudi subsidiary is fully owned by the British-Danish firm.
The parent company has not disclosed the nature of the contracts it has signed with the Saudi authorities. In its periodic reports, G4S makes limited references to its Saudi operations, such as winning a contract with Jeddah Metro to assist with security during the hajj, or stating that the company assists in the transport of more than 3 million pilgrims who visit Mecca each year. In 2011, the website Asrar Ararabiya – Arab Secrets – published an ad by the company asking people to apply to work in Mecca for seven days only, during hajj.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has not been sitting idly by. In a press conference on Wednesday, October 2, the campaign sent a clear message to the Saudi government, urging it to terminate the contract with the company that happens to provide equipment and security services to protect Israeli settlements, occupation checkpoints, and police facilities. The private security contractor has also been implicated in enabling the torture of administrative detainees in Palestine, including children, according to BDS activist Zaid Shuaibi.
BDS activists were not the only ones to react to the news. Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem and the imam of al-Aqsa Mosque, has proclaimed, “This company operates in security, and has activities and commitments in areas under Israeli occupation. Those who help the occupation must be held accountable and are complicit in the crime, as those who help aggressors also are aggressors.”
Shuaibi, speaking to Al-Akhbar, said that the BDS campaign contacted the Palestinian Ministry of Economy, being the competent authority in the issue of boycotting settlements, such as the ones serviced by G4S. But according to Shuaibi, “The ministry did not bother to respond or take action to stop the abuse, even as the company violates Palestinian law by continuing to provide services to the settlements.”
G4S in Israeli Prisons and Interrogation Centers
G4S’ subsidiary in Israel (Hashmira) was awarded a contract with the Israeli Prison Service in July 2007 to supply equipment and security services that enable violations of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The company provides security systems and centralized control systems to the Hasharon-Ramonim prison, which contains a section for Palestinian political prisoners.
G4S has installed a central command room in Megiddo Prison, in addition to supplying a wide array of security services to the Damon and Ketziot prisons. In Ofer, the prison where more than 1,500 Palestinians are detained – mostly administrative prisoners – G4S has also installed a central command room and provided protection through peripheral defense systems on the walls surrounding the prison. The company routinely supplies systems for command and control, IT, CCTV, and communications to Israeli prisons.
In the Jalma and Maskoubieh interrogation centers, which are also serviced by G4S, not even children are spared from torture. It is in one of those centers that Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat was tortured to death earlier this year. There, too, Luay al-Ashqar, a Palestinian administrative detainee, became permanently paralyzed in his left leg when he suffered a triple fracture in his spine during his detention.
Under Israeli military law, prisoners can be detained for investigation for 60 days without access to a lawyer, which means that lawyers cannot witness interrogation methods used against their clients. All these practices and more are facilitated by G4S.
Checkpoints, Settlements, and Police Stations
According to a report by Who Profits, “G4S Israel supplied luggage scanning equipment and full body scanners to several checkpoints in the West Bank, including the Qalandia checkpoint, the Bethlehem checkpoint…[and] the Erez checkpoint in Gaza.” The company also provides security equipment to Israeli police facilities in the E1 zone of the West Bank, near the settlement of Maaleh Adumim.
Meanwhile, G4S-serviced checkpoints make life extremely difficult for more than 23,000 Palestinians who work in Jerusalem and the territories of 1948 (Israel proper), who have to wait and are often delayed as they undergo humiliating inspection each morning. G4S also operates in the Israeli settlements, catering to businesses and private citizens.
BDS campaigns have been able to achieve some success in Europe while Saudi Arabia continues to ignore appeals to terminate contracts with G4S. The company lost several contracts in Europe, including with Oslo University back in July after pressure by student groups.
In the United Kingdom, the East London Teachers Association put pressure on local authorities to terminate contracts with G4S, which provides services to more than 25 schools in the British capital. Campaigns to boycott G4S have spread to Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and the rest of Europe. In April this year, G4S failed to renew a 2008 contract to provide security services for parliament buildings in Europe.
G4S in the Arab World
The scope of G4S’ operations and profits in the Arab world is nearly six times the size of its operations and profits in the Jewish state. In truth, its market share in Saudi alone is about 10 times its share in Israel.
The company is active in 16 Arab countries, with a turnover of 501 million British pounds ($805 million) last year, or 6 percent of its total revenues. It employs nearly 44,000, who work in operations ranging from providing security for airports in Baghdad and Dubai, Arab embassies, various Arab sports events, as well as protection for private businesses.
In comparison, G4S earns about 100 million pounds ($160 million) from its Israeli operations, or 1 percent of its total yearly revenues.
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Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said Tuesday that the way the US acts regarding Iran’s nuclear issue would determine the possibility of holding further talks between the two sides, according to IRNA.
Commenting on recent talks held between Iranian and US officials in New York last week, Afkham said the talks were “limited to Iran’s nuclear issue.”
“No talks have been held on Iran-US ties,” the spokeswoman stressed during her weekly press briefing.
She added Iran’s nuclear issue was the main topic of discussion between Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his US counterpart John Kerry.
Referring to the phone conversation between the presidents of Iran and US made at the end of President Hasan Rouhani’s visit to New York, Afkham said the conversations focused on “Iran’s interaction with the P5+1” as well as finding a solution to the nuclear issue.ˈ
Asked if it was possible that the next round of talks between Iran and Group 5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) would be held at the level of heads of state, Afkham said “It is too soon to talk about that.”
“We are at the beginning of a long road which is full of ups and downs,” she stressed.
Referring to a report about President Rouhani’s possible visit to Saudi Arabia, Afkham said, “No official invitation has been received yet from the Saudi side through diplomatic channels in this connection.”
Until joined by the Islamic government in 1979 and then by Hizbullah in the 1980s, Syria was Israel’s most visceral enemy. This enemy is now being destroyed but not by Israel. So-called Muslims backed by so-called Muslim governments – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – are doing the job for it, in alliance with the traditional western enemies of the Arabs. Syria’s cities and towns have been devastated. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed. Millions more have been displaced, scattered across Syria or seeking refuge beyond its borders. Reconstruction will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Recovery will take decades. Without spending a penny or losing a life, Israel has been handed one of the greatest strategic victories in its existence.
Michael Oren let the scarcely concealed cat out of the bag the other day when he said Israel would prefer a Syria without Bashar al Assad to a Syria in the hands of the jihadists. The outgoing Israeli ambassador in Washington, Oren was only bringing something to the surface that could be seen underneath it despite the vociferous denials of Israel’s lobbyists. Israel wants the government in Damascus destroyed. Netanyahu has been trying to hide its interest behind a mask of indifference but as the likelihood of a US military ‘strike’ – for a war that would engulf the region – slipped away, the lobbyists in Washington broke cover. They buttonholed every congressman and women, only for the vote on war to be postponed indefinitely, much to the chagrin of the gulf and Turkish governments, their armed and political protégés and the Israeli government.
While the Syrian army continues to grind the armed groups down, there seems no end to the volume of money, armaments and men outside governments are still prepared to pour into this conflict. Obama is still trying hard to get Russian agreement on a UNSC resolution that would allow the US to begin another war in the Middle East by attacking Syria. In the meantime the armed groups are continuing with the war they are waging. In his recent interview with former US congressman Dennis Kucinich and Fox news correspondent Greg Palkot, Bashar al Assad estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the armed men are Al Qaida-type takfiri jihadists. The ‘defence’ consultancy HIS- Janes puts the figure at about 50 per cent but whether it is 50 per cent or 90 cent, whether they are foreign or Syrian, the jihadists are dominating the fighting. Talk of moderates is deception. Only in the last few days the main fighting groups – all takfiri – have again rejected the authority of the exile Syrian National Coalition and the so-called Free Syrian Army. This is presented as something new when at least a year ago the very same groups issued the same kind of declaration saying the same things. The so-called FSA is the western standard bearer for ‘moderation’ in this struggle even though its brigades are every bit as fanatical as Jabhat al Nusra or any of the other takfiri groups.
If the Syrian government does fall – and at the moment it is not only holding its ground but steadily driving the takfiris back – chaos would prevail in Syria on a far greater scale than Libya at present or Algeria in the 1980s. The country would implode. This is so self-evident that the US and its allies must know it and if they know it, one has to presume that this is what they want. Saudi Arabia is out to destroy the Syrian government regardless of the consequences. Britain and France are following the US and US policy on any issue in the Middle East is largely fashioned according to the interests of Israel. Turkey is the odd man out. Whatever Recep Tayyip Erdogan thought he was going to get out of confronting Syria his own country has been very adversely affected by his decisions. The breakdown of Arab states into sectarian enclaves permanently at war with each other has been an Israeli strategic objective for decades. It has happened in Iraq and now the specter of the collapse of another unitary Arab state hovers over Syria.
While the takfiris do their best to destroy Syria, Israel is getting on with the colonization of Palestinian territories as fast as it can. The current wave of settlement expansion is the greatest since 1967. In the past year edicts have been pouring out of the Housing Ministry authorizing the construction of thousands of housing ‘units’ in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank. The strategic focus is on settlement expansion in and around East Jerusalem and the construction of highways and roads that will simultaneously integrate the settlements into the greater Jerusalem municipality (enlarged immediately after the 1967 war) and, along with the Separation Wall, further cut the Palestinians off from the city. In the first quarter of 2013 alone there was a 176 per cent increase in settlement expansion over the same quarter for 2012.
In August this year, just as the ‘peace talks’ were resuming, Israel announced the construction of thousands more housing ‘units’ in East Jerusalem settlements. The mainstream media tells us that settlement expansion is ‘impeding’ peace, ‘threatening’ the peace talks and the ‘two state’ solution. The plain fact is that there are no ‘peace talks’. They are the camouflage for the war Israel has been waging against the Palestinians for seven decades. To their discredit and dishonor Mahmud Abbas and Saib Urayqat are giving these ‘talks’ a Palestinian face. By announcing settlement construction in the same breath as announcing the resumption of ‘peace talks’ Israel shows its absolute contempt for both of them.
Land expropriation and development for agricultural purposes continues unabated. So does the theft of water. The Council for European Palestinian Relations estimated recently that the settlers consume an average of 280 liters of water a day compared to 86 liters for the Palestinians, below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 100 liters. Only 60 per cent of the water allocated to the Palestinians is potable. While taking their land Israel simultaneously uses it as a rubbish dump, with solid waste from West Jerusalem being dumped at Abu Dis, once set up by Israel as the Palestinian ‘capital’ of East Jerusalem even though it was not even inside the municipality until Israel put it there. The settlers do the same, dumping their rubbish and household waste water on Palestinian land in the valleys below their settlements on the hilltops.
In a statement handed to the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Palestine in February this year, Al Haq (Law in the Service of Man) presented some statistics. In 2012, 202 ‘incidents’ of settler violence along with dispossession, home demolitions, forcible evictions and intimidation; more than 200 settlements established since 1967, including 14 in East Jerusalem, and more than 500,000 settlers now living in them; and more than 42 per cent of the land of the West Bank as well as most of its resources allocated to Jewish settlements. Al Haq notes that the Israeli High Court ‘has rendered the question of the settlements non-justiciable’.
The Council for European Palestinian Relations estimates that the population in the West Bank settlements is growing at an average of five per cent a year compared to 1.8 per cent for the rest of occupied Palestine. It puts the total number of settlers at 467,000, of which number 385,000 are living in between the Separation Wall and the 1967 ‘green line.’
Every brick laid by Israel on the West Bank, every liter of water pumped out for settlements swimming pools and lawns and the presence of every settler represents a violation of international law. Yet, says Naftali Bennett, the Religious Services Minister and leader of the Jewish Home Party: ‘We will continue building and you will see this soon.’ He was speaking before the August announcement that more housing ‘units’ would be added to Jewish colonies in East Jerusalem. ‘I am sending the message from here to all the parties in the negotiations: the land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel’. He has pledged to do ‘everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.’
In a leaked exchange with another cabinet minister Bennett said that ‘I’ve killed many Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.’ He complained that the conversation had been taken out of context, because what he meant was that he had ‘only’ killed them in the context of operations. There was one such ‘operation’ on the West Bank last week. Heavily armed soldiers stormed into the Jenin refugee camp, broke into the house of the Tubaisi family, shot Islam al Tubaisi, 19, in the leg, dragged him downstairs, his head banging on every step and shot him dead before an ambulance took him to hospital. Perhaps in time the members of this unit will be bragging in time about how they also have killed many ‘Arabs’.
Dig deep enough into the crises in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and the confrontation with Iran and eventually you will find Palestine. It remains the central issue, the pivot on which US policies, dominated by Israeli interests and demands, has turned for more than six decades, yet for the takfiris affiliated with Al Qaida, killing other Muslims (and Christians) in a variety of countries takes precedence. It is striking that the same heads of government inveighing against terrorism and expressing their outrage at the slaughter of innocents in Nairobi have not once expressed outrage at the slaughter of innocents in Syria unless they thought they could blame the Syrian government.
The call of unity sounds through modern Arab history like the cry of a lost bird. United the Arabs will stand and divided they will continue to fall. As long as they are not able to put common interests first they are going to be ripe for the plucking. What is at stake in Syria is not the political system but Syria itself and for the past three years it has been systematically and deliberately destroyed by an unholy coalition of outside governments and the gangs of armed men doing their dirty work in the name of Islam.
The dominant Arab actors in this deliberately induced catastrophe are the regimes in Riyadh and Doha. They engage with Israel behind the scenes even as it colonizes Palestinian land and sends uniformed gangsters into the Haram al Sharif to beat Muslim worshipers trying to protect one of the holiest sites in Islam. While consorting with the enemy and abandoning the Palestinians these two regimes – infinitely less representative of the will of the people than the government in Damascus – take the lead in the destruction of an Arab state. The greatest beneficiary of their actions on one hand and their inaction and neglect on the other is Israel. This is surely as great a disgrace as any in Arab and Islamic history.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Bashar’s acceptance to let go of his “Nukes of the poor” arsenal could mean that the Syrian government has assessed the potential outcome of an American sustained offensive to be a game changer and desperately agreed to any way out.
Handing over chemical weapons in a gradual more controlled manner would have been understandable but giving up the location of the chemical sites with such immediacy hints to a much weakened Syrian position. It is no secret that the details given to the UN will eventually end up in Israeli hands, then why would the Syrian government accept such a deal other than Assad’s real fear of loosening his grip on power?
Netanyahu’s remarks following the chemical handover deal that “negotiating with Syria and Iran with a real and present threat to use force is the only way to make them cooperate” suggests that Syria’s president is indeed at the mode of fighting for survival. But that too is too simplistic provided that, surrendering chemical weapons or not, the US is sure to pursue him to the very bitter end. Then why give up such a strong deterrent?
The fact of the matter is that Bashar al-Assad is an intelligent man who at the very least understands that betraying Russia and Iran, who have been supporting his efforts in the past two years, would be a serious mistake. Therefore, any big decision Syria makes has to have been consulted with its main backers and has been given some sort of guarantees that giving up chemical weapons is not as risky as it might appear and that a credible backup plan is in place.
Smartly, Syria is giving both the US and Russia a face saving mechanism to avoid any further escalation between the two super powers and at the same time it is buying crucial time. Bashar himself declared that at least one full year is required to clear Syria of chemical weapons.
For Syria, chemical weapons are much harder to dispose of than replenish because Syria’s allies have stockpiles upon stockpiles of them. And so if the US chooses to change course somewhere during the period of chemical disarmament and attacks Syria, the very scenario that has been averted would be quickly reintroduced.
One ship full of chemical weapons is all that is required to rearm Syria, after all the main target of such weapons is a country the size of a province; Israel. Moreover, the Iranian and Hezbollah threat of intervening by attacking Israel will not be changed by simply handing over the chemical weapons.
Of course, the decision to hand over the weapons which buys the Syrian government crucial time is unwelcome by the “saboteur” of the region, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The real danger for them is that this could actually lead to further weakening of the Syrian opposition and force them unto Geneva peace talks; talks which have just been strengthened by Syria’s agreement to declare its chemical arsenal.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia know well that their stances on Syria in the past two years makes it impossible for relations with Bashar’s Syria to normalize or even a negotiated Syria where opposition participates in governance.
Regardless of Turkish and Saudi stances, the US administration and Israel had strong interests in making sure that a war is averted in some way. Had the US congress vote gone ahead and disapproved of any attack on Syria in order to fulfill the wishes of the American people, it would have been a huge blow to them.
For Obama, it would have meant being stripped of legitimacy as it relates to Syria and wider international engagements and for Israel it would have meant the weakening of the Zionist lobby within US politics and a disastrous counter attack from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Bashar’s objectives to consolidate alliances and weaken the counter alliance and buying time have all been thus far satisfied. The one year disarmament period that Bashar suggested will be needed is no speculation at all; it is well calculated period during which time to weaken the opposition and its supporters and to deny the US and her allies any legitimate pretext to attack Syria.
Moreover, if Iran and Hezbollah felt justified to intervene early on, now any attack from the US or her allies before the chemical disarmament is complete makes the Iran and Hezbollah retaliation against Israel with the support of Russia even more justified.
On the other hand, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, (the latter seeming more keen than the US to overthrow Bashar’s government), provided that the SNC is in a weakened position and the desperation of the trio is acute, places them in a real danger of open colluding with the likes of Al Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front. So much for fighting “terrorism”!
Every time one sees a billboard advertising Syrian International Trade Exhibition across the world one wonders how can a government in a war state for over two years manage to facilitate an environment where its factories can produce? The answer could simply be that Syria is not nearly as chaotic or as weak as Western media portrays it to be. That position has just been strengthened by Syria’s agreement to disarm.
The objective of the US and Israel has always been to disarm any Arab army that might use its weapons against Israel; the issue is not whether a country owns a huge arsenals of weapons or not, but whether it has enough potential will to use them against Israel.
The Saudis are armed to the teeth and so are the Turkish but it is their clear stance on ensuring Israel’s peace that makes them allies rather than enemies. It is for that reason that Syria is a prime target as was Saddam’s Iraq.
Five armies that pose serious threat to Israel were the priorities of the US and Israel namely Iranian, Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi and Hezbollah and so far only one has been dealt with; that of Iraq. In the case of Egypt, the US and Israel are pleased because the Egyptian army is suspect and they truly believe they will eventually buy out its generals. That means Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are left to fight this war that will not stop until one side secures a clear victory.
Where Russia had disappointed in the past as was the case with Iraq, now it appears poised to put up a stronger posture and as such days ahead will clarify the longevity of the new Russian posture. But the latest events have revealed that Russia is no longer a mere Security Council voter but a physical actor in world events.
Therefore, it is naive to assume that Russia has been blackmailed or tricked by the US into pressuring Syria to surrender her most prized deterrent against Israel. Syria will comply albeit at a calculated pace and will give America and Israel no legitimate pretext to attack it and as such Russia will have no choice but to stand its ground. If an attack takes place, Russia’s response is likely to be far stronger than the recent showdown in the Mediterranean or else Russia becomes a goofball.
The stance of Western media and Aljazeera is a good indication that the US and her allies are not in a war mood. When a war is imminent, there are certain networks that have a duty to fulfill and that is drumming for war. They are not doing that just yet!
While it will be naive to assume that Bashar will hold on to power indefinitely, it is clear that the Syrian civil conflict will be a long term struggle and will not end nor conclude the way the US and Israel are hoping for.
- Nasrallah: Saudi Arabia, Turkey have failed in Syria (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Questions on Syria’s Chemical Weapons disarmament (alethonews.wordpress.com)