An Israeli military commander says Tel Aviv is prepared to carry out an attack on Syria if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad collapses.
On Wednesday, Israeli Major General Amir Eshel said the Tel Aviv regime might launch a sudden war on Syria should Damascus fall.
“We have to be ready for any scenario, at a few hours’ notice,” Eshel stated.
He also said that the Israeli regime would even prepare for a “protracted” war with a “post-Assad Syria.”
The recent Israeli threat is seen as part of the Western-backed efforts to set up the scene for a military intervention in Syria.
The Tel Aviv regime has already carried out three air strikes on Syria.
On May 5, Syria said the Israeli regime had carried out an airstrike targeting a research center in a suburb of Damascus, following heavy losses inflicted upon al-Qaeda-affiliated groups by the Syrian army. According to Syrian media reports, the strike hit the Jamraya Research Center. The Jamraya facility had been targeted in another Israeli airstrike in January.
The May 5 Israeli aggression was Tel Aviv’s second strike on Syria in three days.
Turmoil has gripped Syria for over two years, and many people, including large numbers of Syrian soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the foreign-sponsored militancy.
Western powers and their regional allies including the Israeli regime, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are partners in supporting the militant groups in Syria.
Ankara – While all options are said to be still on the table, Barack Obama is clearly backing away from any deeper involvement in Syria now that it is clear that nothing but direct intervention is going to bring down the government in Damascus. In the past few months alone the armed groups have lost thousands of men. Although the conflict will grind on for some time yet, the Syrian military is steadily closing down the insurgency.
The sponsors of this adventure are in complete disarray. Like the Syrian National Council before it, the Syrian National Coalition has imploded. Muadh al Khatib is now a voice from the margins. Ghassan Hittu is the only person in the world who is the prime minister of a committee. These people are a completely lost cause.
In the real world and not the world of delusions there is horror at the video showing a ‘rebel’ commander cutting the heart out of the body of a dead soldier and biting into it. Perhaps it was the lungs or the liver. The media seems to be uncertain but somehow getting the organ right seems to be important. Far from denying this gory act, its perpetrator owned up to it before boasting of how he had sawed the bodies of captured shabiha into pieces.
Cannibalism appears to be a first but otherwise there is not much that the psychopaths inside the armed groups have not done in Syria. Or are people who can do such things not to be called psychopaths? They are the best people, after all, to fight such a vicious conflict. The self-styled Free Syrian Army says it will hunt down the man who cut out the soldier’s heart. Good. It can also hunt down the throat-cutters and the ‘rebels’ who have cut people’s heads off. It can hunt down the men who killed public servants before flinging their bodies from the top of the post office building in Al Bab. It can hunt down their comrades in arms who deliberately target civilians with car bombs. It can hunt down the murderers of the imam and 50 worshipers in the Damascus mosque and it can hunt down all the rapists and kidnappers, including the Chechens who abducted the two bishops still being held in Aleppo while the Christian leaders of western governments look the other way. In its hunting for all the individuals who have tainted its glorious reputation, the FSA won’t have to look far because many come from its own ranks. There is no shortage of evidence. The media is awash with gory mobile phone and video footage of the handiwork of these men because they take pride in their bravery and want the world to see. These are the people Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been arming and funding to take over Syria.
This is the reality behind the false narrative spun by the media for the past two years. It has regurgitated every lie and exaggeration of ‘activists’ and the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, according to which the Syrian ‘regime’ was about to fall any minute and every atrocity was actually the work of the Syrian military. With the exception of a few reports filed recently by Robert Fisk, virtually no one in the media mainstream has reported the fighting from the perspective of the Syrian government and army. Reporters were moved across borders by the armed groups and reported only their version of events. This is like relying on reporters embedded with the US army for an accurate account of what was happening in Iraq. And, again like Iraq, the same propaganda is being repeated about chemical weapons.
Finally, reality has had to take hold. It is not the ‘regime’ or the army which is on the point of collapse but the insurgency. Only direct armed intervention is going to save it and against the successes of the Syrian army and solid Russian support for the Syrian government this is extremely unlikely. Obama is being pushed to ‘do more’ but is showing no inclination to be sucked any deeper into this mess. The others will do nothing without the US taking the lead. Germany is against involvement and Austria has said that supplying arms to the ‘rebels’, which Britain has wanted to do, when the EU embargo ends on May 31 would be a violation of international law.
This week the spotlight has been on Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his trip to Washington to discuss Syria with Barack Obama. Turkey’s role in the unfolding of the Syrian conflict has been central. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya supplied the money and arms but it was Turkey whose territory was opened up to the mobilization of armed men crossing the border to bring down the ‘regime.’ Erdogan has not stepped back an inch from the position he took against Bashar al Assad more than two years ago. The only clear case of a chemical weapons attack has been the chlorine-based compound packed into a warhead and fired at a Syrian army checkpoint at Khan al Assal, killing a number of soldiers and civilians. Erdogan, however, is maintaining that it is the Syrian army that has used chemical weapons and by doing so has crossed Obama’s ‘red line. ’ Asked shortly before he left for Washington whether he would support a no-fly zone he replied: ‘Right from the beginning we would say yes.’
Last week cars packed with more than one ton of C4 and TNT were exploded in the Hatay province border town of Reyhanli. At least 51 people were killed. The destruction was massive. The municipality building and dozens of shops were obliterated. In the aftermath, cars with Syrian number plates were smashed and Syrian refugees attacked by enraged local people. As they milled around the destruction they cursed Erdogan. The atrocity followed a pattern that is familiar to Syrians: one bomb going off and then others exploding after people had gathered around the site of the first one, maximizing the death toll.
Notwithstanding the accusations of the Turkish government that this was the work of a terrorist group collaborating with the Syrian mukhabarat (intelligence), only the armed groups or one of the governments backing them would have a clear reason for setting up this outrage. The Syrian army is rolling up the insurgency, the ‘traitors’ council’ based in Doha has imploded and the Americans and Russians are sitting down to talk. The attack was very clearly designed to pull Turkey directly into the conflict across the border.
The attack on Reyhanli came a week after Israel launched a series of savage air attacks on Syria. This was not a one-off missile strike. Two attacks in three days, lasting for hours and with massive ordinance being dropped around Damascus, suggest that the aim was to provoke a Syrian response, opening the door to a general war in which Iran could be attacked. Israel claimed that the target was a shipment of missiles bound for Hizbullah but while a research station and a military food production plant were hit there was no evidence of any missiles being destroyed. The attacks appear to have been a strategic and political failure. In the aftermath Putin gave Netanyahu a dressing down and punished him either by supplying or threatening to supply Syria with advanced S300 anti-aircraft missiles. It is a measure of Israel’s arrogance that it insisted that it would launch further attacks if necessary and would destroy the Syrian government if it dared to retaliate.
Obama is now under pressure at home to ‘do more’. In Washington the same people who called for war on Iraq are now calling for widening the conflict in Syria. Senator Bob Menendez, a strong supporter of Israel, like virtually all congressmen and women, has introduced a bill calling on the administration to supply the ‘rebels’ with arms (as if it were not already doing that covertly or through support for arms being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar). Former New York Times editor Bill Keller supported the war on Iraq and also wants the US to arm the ‘rebels’ and ‘defend the civilians being slaughtered in their homes’ in Syria. He is not talking about the civilians who have been slaughtered by the armed groups, of course.
The Washington Post has been forced to admit that the Syrian army is winning this conflict but is still nonplussed at the unfavorable turns of events. ‘What if the US doesn’t intervene in Syria?’ it asks, before providing the answers. Syria will fracture along sectarian lines, with Jabhat al Nusra taking over the north and ‘remnants of the regime’ taking strips of the west. Sectarian warfare will spread to Iraq – as if it has not already as a consequence of US intervention – and Lebanon. Chemical weapons would be up for grabs, ‘probably forcing further interventions by Israel in order to prevent their acquisition by Hizbullah or Al Qaida’. If the US does not intervene to prevent all of this Turkey and Saudi Arabia ‘could conclude that the United States is no longer a reliable ally.’
There are other more likely answers to ‘what will happen’. This is that the Syrian army will eventually drive the surviving ‘rebels’ out of the country and Bashar will come out of this more popular than ever because he saw off the greatest challenge to the Syrian state in its history. Elections will be held in 2014 and he will be elected president with 75 per cent of the vote. This at least is what the CIA is predicting.
Erdogan came to Washington also wanting Obama to ‘do more’, but clearly the US president does not want to do much if anything more. The Turkish media reported that Obama said Assad ‘must’ go but this was not what he said. He chose his words carefully. In his press conference with Erdogan he did not say that said Assad ‘must’ go but that he ‘needs’ to go and ‘needs’ to transfer power to a transitional body. The difference is all-important. Personally, Obama will not want to end his presidency stuck in an unwinnable and unpopular war, one, furthermore, that could quickly shift from regional to global crisis. A recent Pew poll shows that the American people have had enough of wars in the Middle East and the talks between Kerry and Lavrov indicate that this time, having allowed the Geneva agreement of July, 2012, to fall flat, the US is serious about reaching a negotiated end to this crisis even if others aren’t. If there is any danger of the US position being derailed, it will mostly likely arise within the ranks of its friends and allies.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
More than 70 countries have refused to say yes to an Arab-backed resolution against Syria at the United Nations General Assembly.
Russia, China and Iran were among the 12 countries that opposed the resolution on Wednesday.
Russia called the resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, “counterproductive and irresponsible.”
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 107-12 with 59 abstentions. Argentina, Brazil, and more than a dozen other Latin American and Caribbean countries abstained from voting.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alexander Pankin called the resolution “very harmful and destructive,” saying it disregards “illegal actions of the armed opposition.” He also accused the resolution’s Arab sponsors of attempting to replace the Syrian government instead of trying to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari also stated that the resolution “seeks to escalate the crisis and fuel violence in Syria.”
The non-binding resolution, which was drafted by a number of Arab states, calls for a “political transition” and refers to the foreign-backed militants in Syria as “effective representative interlocutors” needed for the transition.
The Syria crisis began in March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.
Damascus says the West and its regional allies, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, are supporting the militants.
In an interview recently broadcast on Turkish television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that if the militants take power in Syria, they could destabilize the entire Middle East region for decades.
“If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control… the situation will inevitably spill over into neighboring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he stated.
The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.
There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.
These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings – nothing.
Except now the stakes are higher than before. A recession-bound West, the fast-rising BRICS and their respective regional allies are locked in a competition to consolidate power and influence in this important region before it finds its bearings.
The relatively new influencers on the Arab scene like Qatar and Turkey have recognized this as a unique opportunity to slip into region-wide leadership roles. For the entrenched old hands – Washington, Riyadh, Paris, London – a race is on to prevent the region from shrugging off their decades-long dominance and embracing the anti-imperialism of the Resistance Axis.
The result has been an onslaught of interventions. Every tool in the arsenal has come out to play. Money, espionage, propaganda, weapons, assassination and that old colonial trick: divide-and-rule.
The main game is still the old battle of the blocs, Iran versus the United States, with everyone else filing in line behind their team. There have been a few surprises thrown into the mix: the newcomers like Turkey and Qatar have moved over to the US side; the BRICS, however, have lent their considerable clout to team Iran. Iraq has moved behind the latter formation and Hamas still doesn’t know where to stand so it straddles the two.
This is not a game for the faint-hearted, and it permeates every major social, economic, and political decision in the region today. Want a new electrical plant outside Cairo, Beirut, or Kirkuk? Good luck choosing a national supplier who doesn’t offend. IMF loan? Allowing over-flights or passage for ships? Inking a trade deal? Formulating a new constitution? Scheduling a football match?
Mideast states are now paralyzed and polarized over such things, and governance has come to a standstill. But in this paralysis lies a dangerous volatility: a backlash in the brewing, a pressure cooker about to blow.
The Backlash Against Neo-Islamists
After decades of oppression and marginalization by pro-West, secular dictatorships, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and similar Islamist parties have catapulted to power and prominence in several states. Quite counter-intuitively, however, these Islamist governments appear to have lined up behind the US bloc, eager to please, or at least placate, the very powers that colluded in their oppression.
It is an unnatural marriage, and the longer this union endures, the more estranged Islamist parties will become from their domestic constituencies – in much the same way as their autocratic predecessors.
There is volatility in this balancing act between the two blocs, as groups like Hamas have come to discover. But for the new Islamist powerhouses in “post-revolution” states, yet another volatile contest is being played out to their detriment, this time on an entirely regional level: Qatar versus Saudi Arabia – or Sunni versus Sunni.
For years the Ikhwanists have been backed by the Qatari arrivistes, who are a thorn in the side of the other, larger Wahhabi state in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, for their own part, are throwing dollars and clout behind Salafists in all the countries where they intend to counter the influence of the Ikhwan and similar parties.
But Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now aggressively exporting their very personal competition to other Arab states – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Palestine – creating what I believe will evolve into a ferocious backlash among local populations, even as they reap the rewards of direct financial investment from these two Gulf states.
This competition has drawn in others like the UAE, Jordan, and Kuwait, appalled at the Qatari push to Ikhwanize the region. And it has turned the Arab League positively cannibalistic, devouring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states like Libya, Syria, and Palestine that it once pledged to protect.
Qatar finds support from AKP-led Turkey in this fight, but the two are a cause for concern in the United States, which secretly suspects that Ikhwanists are harder to control than Saudi-backed Salafists. Much of this fear is because that lynchpin of all US foreign policy calculations, the state of Israel, borders Ikhwan-heavy Egypt, Gaza, and Jordan – none of which have yet sufficiently proven their loyalty to the idea of Israel’s regional hegemony.
But the biggest victim of the Saudi-Qatari competition to influence the direction of political Sunnism is likely to be political Islam itself.
The rise of political Islam – once an inevitable byproduct of democratization – arrived too hard, too fast; too aggressively championed, organized, and weaponized by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Now, not only have the mentors lost credibility and support, but so have many of their political protégés in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Palestine.
Volatility? We haven’t even started.
What yesterday’s global powerbrokers seek from the incoming class of political Islamists is the maintenance of the status quo, including, among other things, embracing Israel and rejecting Iran. But an open pledge of allegiance to Israel is impossible for the Ikhwan and similar parties – their very legitimacy comes in part from denouncing the legitimacy of the Zionist experiment in Palestine.
Nothing tested their limits as dangerously as last November’s eight days of rocket-volley between Gaza and Israel. Each passing day drove home the fact that, despite their standard rhetoric to domestic and regional constituencies, Islamist heads of state in Turkey, Egypt, and Qatar were rendered paralyzed – and mute – as the Israeli army pounded Gaza.
Instead, it was firepower, training and strategic planning by Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria that propped up defiant Palestinians through those dark hours. The unexpected arsenal of rockets that countered Israeli aggression came from Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other smaller resistance groups, who became the heroes of that conflict.
Not one missile, bullet, or slogan came from the three new Qatari, Turkish, and Egyptian “Sunni kings” vying for power on the coattails of the Arab uprisings.
Had the battle gone on for another week or two, the entire Middle East might have been reconfigured in its aftermath. Never have the Israelis so quickly signed a ceasefire agreement.
The global battle of the blocs and the inter-regional Sunni power struggle crossed paths in that Gaza battle. In it, the US bloc and political Islam exposed their vulnerabilities. Both groups are currently upholding – against a tidal wave of popular sentiment – systems, values, and institutions that were supposed to be swept away by honor-and-dignity revolts. Any incident that highlights this fact can serve as a springboard for a backlash against the interests of the West and its Islamist allies in the region.
The Backlash Against Sectarianism
Shia versus Sunni. Christianity versus Islam. Vilifying the “other” is common in conflict, especially when there exists some historic animosity or tension between sects, nationalities, and communities.
But since the onset of the Arab uprisings there has been a concerted effort to escalate the Shia-Sunni divide and link it wholesale to an Iranian-Arab one.
With the loss of its dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Washington wasted no time in formulating a divide-and-rule strategy to preserve its regional interests. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) for the Middle East jump-started the task by initiating a secret exercise to divide Arabs and Iranians in March 2011.
Gulf-backed media channels dove headfirst into exaggerating the threat from Iran, while hardline clerics issued increasingly belligerent fatwas against the Shia. Against this backdrop, Shia civilians began to be targeted with violence throughout the region – with very little outcry or objection from the international community, so successfully have they been conflated with a “threatening” Iran and Hezbollah.
But as Christians began to be targeted, assaulted, and killed in Egypt and Syria, the issue of sectarianism exploded beyond the old, more common storylines, and has made avoidance of this subject impossible.
Dragging the sordid issue of sectarianism – which is invariably accompanied by extremism – into the light has had an interesting effect on regional discourse: most Arabs don’t want to be part of it in much the same way they rejected al-Qaeda a decade ago.
A recent Pew Research Center poll of Muslims worldwide reveals, among other things, that 85 percent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa view religious freedom for people of other faiths to be “a good thing.” A majority of Muslims are “somewhat or very concerned” about Islamic religious extremism, while a minority of Muslims view Shia-Sunni tensions to be a problem at all. The poll indicates that religious strife remains a major cause for concern among Muslims in many MENA states, and that perceived hostilities between Muslims and Christians are on the high side in Egypt, but low in Lebanon, another country that has experienced these hostilities.
But even as sectarian tensions flare in various countries, the headlines do not tell the whole story. Many Arabs are rejecting these divisions, some of which is attributable to the shocking new level of violence now associated with sectarianism:
From Egypt to Kuwait, Bahrain to Syria, young Arabs are hearing – many for the first time – about women being raped because of their sect; about the cutting of heads, the hacking of limbs, the burning of bodies. This is not yesterday’s segregation of sects; this is the stuff of horror movies and genocidal sprees.
The backlash here has already begun. As violent sectarianism rises, so too does the realization that there is another discourse on the rise besides Shia versus Sunni or Muslim versus Christian.
Simply put, there is a new paradigm forming in the region that didn’t exist when it was just Iraq suffering the consequences of violent sectarian carnage: Today, throughout the Middle East, “sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians are increasingly facing down “anti-sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians. The re-framing of this issue is crucial in undermining sectarian strife. It offers millions an alternative communal identity to the one that always forces them to “defend sect first.”
Interestingly, one communal identity they are tending to embrace is a national identity, i.e., “I am Bahraini, not Shia or Sunni.”
In Bahrain, despite efforts to paint a two-year popular uprising as an “Iranian project” pitting the majority Shia population against a minority Sunni government, Bahrainis hoist their national flag at every opportunity to defy the negative sectarian characterizations of their “national” democratization project.
In Lebanon, where sectarianism is boiling in reaction to events in neighboring Syria, each incident has so far been thwarted by inter-sect efforts on a national level, and a growing desire among the population to empower the “national” army.
In Syria, widespread revulsion against what has to be the most violent manifestation of sectarianism in the region has morphed into a new language to define the conflict there: Instead of being pro or anti-government/opposition, many Syrians are now underlining their allegiance to Syria first. Despite the international media’s partiality toward framing the Syrian conflict as a sectarian one, many pro-government and pro-opposition figures tend to reject this characterization outright. This is certainly notable among pro-government Syrians, many of whom have undergone a hasty conversion from political apathy to intense nationalism in a short time, and who reject being defined as “pro-Assad.”
“It is too limiting,” says one staunchly secular Syrian about that definition. “This is about my country and keeping it whole – it is not about a person or a government,” says another, an observant Sunni who backs her national army’s efforts to weed out mostly Islamist rebels.
The irony is that the very “sectarianism” encouraged by competing Islamists and their allies in pursuit of political objectives in the region may have spawned the backlash to hasten their demise. Nationalism has long been the enemy of political Islam in the Middle East, and nationalism can once more bury it.
Throughout the Arab world, minority sects and non-sectarian groups are being thrust together to protect against the more zealous elements of political Islam, giving form to important civil coalitions that will form the backbone of new grassroots opposition movements in these countries – previously a position held almost exclusively by Islamists.
The backlashes are here, now. They will target all the interventionists clinging on to the status quo, and those keeping progress at bay. They may grow incrementally and tentatively – or they may explode onto a national or regional stage one fine day. “More of the same” will only hasten their arrival.
And it’s okay. These “backlashes” will be the revolutions you thought we already had.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman doesn’t understand how on earth the Boston bombers could rationalize their act of violence–and believes that some aspects of Muslim culture must answer for it.
According to reports of the interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers were motivated in part by the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this has the Times columnist scratching his head about the problem with Muslims:
This is a popular meme among radical Muslim groups, and, to be sure, some Muslim youths were deeply angered by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East. The brothers Tsarnaev may have been among them.
But what in God’s name does that have to do with planting a bomb at the Boston Marathon and blowing up innocent people? It is amazing to me how we’ve come to accept this non sequitur and how easily we’ve allowed radical Muslim groups and their apologists to get away with it.
A simple question: If you were upset with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why didn’t you go out and build a school in Afghanistan to strengthen that community or get an advanced degree to strengthen yourself or become a math teacher in the Muslim world to help its people be less vulnerable to foreign powers? Dzhokhar claims the Tsarnaev brothers were so upset by something America did in a third country that they just had to go to Boylston Street and blow up people who had nothing to do with it (some of whom could have been Muslims), and too often we just nod our heads rather than asking: What kind of sick madness is this?
Friedman goes on to claim that we “must ask a question only Muslims can answer,” which is: “What is going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believes that every American military action in the Middle East is intolerable and justifies a violent response?”
It is worth asking questions about how different communities or societies react to violence. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States bombed and occupied Afghanistan, based on the argument that the government of that country had tolerated the presence of Al-Qaeda and thus must bear the retribution. As a result, many thousands of people who had nothing to do with terrorism were killed.
Or on to the invasion of Iraq, which was sold as part of a “Global War on Terror” following the 9/11 attacks as well, even though there was never a connection between Iraq and the terrorist attacks. So why did the United States invade Iraq? Tom Friedman explained it to Charlie Rose on May 30, 2003.
To Friedman, there was a “terrorist bubble” in that part of the world, and “we needed to go over there and take out a very big stick…and there was only one way to do it.” He added:
What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.” That, Charlie, is what this war is about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia; it was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
What kind of sick madness is this?
The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, saying he lacks neutrality.
The statement said Damascus would stop cooperating with Brahimi unless he severs his ties with the Arab League. “Brahimi’s report (on April 19) to the United Nations Security Council was marked by (a tone of) interference in Syria’s internal affairs and a lack of the neutrality required by his mission as international mediator,” the statement said.
Brahimi said at a closed-door session of the Security Council that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not have the right to run for president in the upcoming election scheduled for next year.
“Syria has cooperated and will cooperate with Brahimi only as UN envoy, because the Arab League is complicit in the conspiracy against Syria,” the statement read.
“If Brahimi wants his mission to succeed, we expect him to start working to stop the violence and terrorism along with the parties concerned, and to expose the roles played by France, Britain, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which finance and arm Al-Nusra Front’s terrorists,” it added.
Hezbollah has never been shy about declaring its support for the Syrian regime. Since the launch of a Western and Arab campaign against the Resistance in 2005 – which only intensified after the July 2006 war – the party has never been reluctant in repeatedly confirming its close affinity to Damascus.
When the crisis in Syria erupted, Hezbollah sought to distinguish between what it saw as legitimate demands by the Syrian people for reforms that would end one-party rule and attempts by foreign power to seize the opportunity to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
For a year or so after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the party did not deem it necessary to intervene in the conflict, until military operations came close to areas of concern to Hezbollah on many levels.
Gradually, its role in Syria grew until the party became responsible for protecting a large number of Lebanese living in Syria – in addition to some Syrians, as well – who are under threat of being expelled from their lands by armed opposition groups backed by foreign powers.
Another area of concern for Hezbollah was the increasing role Israeli intelligence, backed by the West, began to play in the conflict, particularly in targeting people and places of concern to the Resistance.
The party did not stop at simply protecting its supporters in order to prevent their displacement, but took a further step of giving them the wherewithal to defend themselves from any attacks. It did this openly before the eyes of the public and in coordination with the regime, losing several of its fighters in the process.
The days will come when the details of Hezbollah’s role in Syria will be revealed, exaggerating the party’s involvement to such an extent as to suggest that it was the key factor in saving the regime, or to frame its largely defensive military activities as a crusade against the Sunnis of Syria.
Many of Hezbollah’s supporters in Lebanon and the Arab world are certainly not comfortable with its involvement in Syria, prompting party leaders to come up with convincing explanations to justify their actions. But if it is willing to give so much life and blood for the sake of the resistance, losing some of its popularity in defending what it considers to be a key ally in the struggle is not such a terrible sacrifice.
On the other side, those very same parties that threw themselves into the Syrian crisis from day one, supporting the armed opposition, do not let a day pass without attacking Hezbollah for fighting in Syria, while at the same time keeping quiet about the ugliest crimes being committed by the armed groups.
They raise empty slogans about Syria’s national unity despite the fact that 1.5 million Syrians from the country’s various minorities have been displaced at the hands of jihadi groups, who by all accounts have become the dominant current among the opposition forces.
With every denunciation of the Resistance for its role in Syria, the ground is slowly being prepared for war against the party under the banner of solidarity with the Syrian revolutionaries.
This is as Lebanon’s new guardian, Saudi Arabia, is doing its best to impose a government similar to that of Fouad Siniora in 2005, which spared no effort to undermine the Resistance even in the midst of the Israeli assault in 2006 and its aftermath.
This is yet another sign that there are preparations underway for a total war in the region. It could erupt due to a miscalculation by a particular side or as a result of a bloody explosion somewhere. And all we can do in this situation is sit and wait.
Following the Lebanese prime minister’s resignation, Saudi Arabia has been working behind the scenes to boost its presence in Lebanon. Here’s a look at how the kingdom views a future Lebanese government.
During the two-year tenure of Najib Mikati’s government, Saudi Arabia, to some extent, kept its distance from Lebanese affairs. Yet one question remained largely unanswered: Did Mikati take office with a green light from Saudi?
Throughout the lifespan of the previous Lebanese government, all attempts by Sunni Lebanese leaders to get answers failed miserably. Today, as the country searches for a new government to replace Mikati’s outgoing cabinet, Lebanon is once again a hot topic in Saudi Arabia’s corridors of power.
Despite all the reported affirmations that Saudi will let Future head Saad Hariri name a candidate for the post, Arab and Lebanese sources say that Riyadh has a special agenda.
As part of that agenda, Saudi has resolved to make a comeback in Lebanon, in accordance with a formula that mimics the former role of Syria. In other words, the kingdom would not act as a party to the internal conflict, but rather as a “referee,” managing and helping resolve crises among Lebanese factions.
According to the sources, it is possible that in the coming days Lebanese figures from different sects will visit Saudi to discuss solutions to the present crisis. The same sources maintain that though it was Riyadh – in addition to Washington – that instructed Mikati to resign, Saudi Arabia is in favor of him returning to preside over the future government. The goal, the sources claim, is to form another government led by Mikati, but under a different set of alliances and conditions.
In short, Riyadh wants Mikati to return to lead a government not dominated by the March 8 coalition, especially with the Free Patriotic Movement controlling the lion’s share of cabinet portfolios. From the Saudi point of view, Mikati would help safeguard the moderate-centrist ground in the political spectrum.
Designating Mikati to form a cabinet again would also alleviate the March 8 and 14 polarization. This would produce a “moderate” and religiously diverse bloc, bridging the gap between Hezbollah and the Future Movement – the source of most Sunni-Shia tension.
To successfully see its bid through, Riyadh is betting, among other things, on President Michel Suleiman adopting a strong stance in favor of its scheme. Furthermore, Riyadh is acting based on the assumption that Hezbollah wishes to defuse Sunni-Shia tension.
While leaving the door open to discussions, Saudi prefers to see Mikati form a government that is neutral in appearance. In this vein, Suleiman reportedly intends to stand his ground on several issues, like holding the 2013 general election within the constitutional deadlines.
Behind closed doors, Suleiman shares Riyadh’s view that Mikati is the best choice for prime minister, as he has shown an ability to manage the political game despite its complexities.
Another item on the Saudi agenda, which also happens to be Mikati’s signature stroke, is the dissociation policy over the conflict in Syria. The policy remains desirable internationally, despite recent reservations.
More than ever, Riyadh is enthusiastic about Lebanon’s dissociation approach. For one thing, Saudi is rumored to be planning a gradual withdrawal from the quagmire in Syria. The same sources reckon that Damascus is aware of this recent shift in Saudi attitudes, but that it remains cautious.
It is worth noting that Riyadh, throughout the previous phase, had postponed tackling the situation in Lebanon, waiting instead for the dust to settle in Damascus. But the sources believe that Saudi has finally decided to stop putting its Lebanon policy on hold.
Ankara – In the ugly panorama that is the contemporary Middle East a light hardly flickers on the horizon. Iraq has been destroyed as a unitary Arab state and jihadis unleashed in Syria are burning out another room in the Arab house. Lebanon has again been brought to the brink of implosion through the intrigues of outside governments and local proxies incapable of putting the interests of their country ahead of their sectarian and power intrigues. The Palestinians are divided between those who live under the authority of one man who has bound himself to Israel and the US and two others who have bound themselves to Egypt and Qatar. Fitna – the spreading of division and sowing of hatred amongst Muslims – is being fanned across the region by governments brazen enough to call themselves Muslim. Whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, Shiism is the enemy. Ceaselessly stirring this pot from the outside are governments that feast on division in the Arab world.
There are those who loathe Bashar so much that they are willing to commit or tolerate any crime in the name of getting rid of him, including the deliberate bombings of civilians, one taking the lives of a leading Sunni Muslim scholar and 48 other worshippers in a Damascus mosque only recently and another killing 100 people, amongst them children waiting for their school bus. A country Gamal abd al Nasir once described as the ‘beating heart of Arabism’ is being destroyed. Its enemies have their hands inside the body and they intend to rip the heart out. The cooperative at work on this venture includes the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the local and foreign-born jihadis who are their tools whether they realize it or not.
That the Syrian system needs changing goes without saying. In Syria possibly no-one understands this better than the much reviled Bashar al Assad. He could go tomorrow but that would solve nothing because the system would stay the same; for those who hate him, someone worse might take his place. Bashar has made serious mistakes, including the adoption of free market policies which have enriched the merchant class while further impoverishing the peasantry, who are now said to be many of the foot soldiers of the armed groups, but Syria is an easier place than it was under his father. The abolition of the Baath as the central pillar of state and society and the multi-party elections held last year were a start to political reforms. The elections were not perfect but if anyone is looking for perfection in the Middle East, they should look somewhere else. These are threads that could have been teased out if the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ had any serious interest in the best interests of the Syrian people. A process of national dialogue has begun in Damascus but this has been ignored, too, because these ‘friends’ want nothing less than the destruction of a government which is a strategic ally of Iran and Hezbollah and forms with them the ‘resistance axis’ to US-Israeli hegemony.
The achievements of this axis need to be set against the record of collaboration of those Arab governments who are now bent on destroying it. Iran and Syria have been solid in their support for the Palestinians, hosting resistance movements and working together to provide Hamas with the weapons it needed to defend Gaza. No weapons came from the direction of Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It was Hezbollah, the non-state partner in this alliance, that finally drove Israel from occupied southern Lebanon after nearly two decades of struggle involving not just the bravery of part-time soldiers but the mastery of electronic warfare, enabling Hezbollah to penetrate Israeli communications, including drone surveillance, as was made clear when Hasan Nasrallah produced intercepted film showing that an Israeli drone had been shadowing Rafiq Hariri for three months and was overhead when he was assassinated in February, 2005. When Israel tried to take revenge in 2006 it was humiliated. Hezbollah stood firm, destroyed its supposedly invincible Merkava tanks, disabled one of its warships in a missile attack and prevented its ground forces from advancing north of the Litani river. At the time, it might be remembered, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia vilified Hasan Nasrallah for bringing on this war, as they saw it.
It was Hezbollah which scored another triumph by breaking Israel’s spy network in Lebanon, now in the public eye because of the revelations that an Australian-born Mossad agent, Ben Zygier, had provided it with the names of two of its agents. The official Israeli version of the Zygier affair is that he handed over this information with the ultimate intention of setting up the assassination of Hasan Nasrallah. However, as the case is regarded as one of the most serious threats to national security in Israel’s history, much more might be involved than the collapse of a spy network. It is hard to imagine any agent who was not in fact a double agent doing what Zygier is reported to have done. What other information he might have passed on is a matter of conjecture but Israel’s nervousness about this affair could be a sign that far darker secrets are involved than the exposure of two spies.
Both Iran and Syria have been targeted with economic sanctions because of their disobedience. Iran has been threatened with military attack ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now that the attempt to destroy the government in Damascus through armed proxies has clearly failed, if more than two years of trying qualifies as failure, the US is sending out signals that it is prepared to intervene directly despite the regional and global risks. The collapse of the Syrian National Council last year has now been followed by the disintegration of the Syrian National Coalition, with ‘president’ Mu’adh al Khatib resigning and the chief of its military wing refusing to recognize the authority of new ‘prime minister’ Ghassan al Hitto. Riad al Assad, the displaced former commander of the self-styled Free Syrian Army, has just been carried back across the border into Turkey with only one leg, the other having been blown off by a roadside car bomb. Some sources say it was only a foot but either way he is out of action for a long time to come. As the leading armed groups do not recognize the authority of Mr Assad or the squabbling coalition of which the FSA is supposed to be the military arm, his absence from the scene is not going to make a great deal of difference.
For Muadh al Khatib to be given the Syria seat at the recent summit of the Arab League in Doha is farcical in more than one respect. Al Khatib is no longer even a member of the group Qatar is trying to set up as an alternative government. The group itself is in a state of complete collapse, with al Khatib walking out and other members rejecting the appointment of Hitto, a Syrian-born American who has not visited the country of his birth for decades. That Al Khatib should demand that his ragged, motley crew be given Syria’s seat at the UN goes beyond preposterous. The government of Syria sits in Damascus, not Doha, and Bashar al Assad is still its president, not the former imam of the Umayyad mosque. Compounding this theatre of the absurd, it was the ruler of Qatar who directed that Al Khatib be given the Syrian seat at the Doha summit, underlining the degree to which the Arab League has become no more than an instrument of this gentleman’s drive for regional dominance. That King Abdullah should have stayed away from Doha is a sign of the deepening rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, especially over how to manage Syria. The determination of the ruler of Qatar to persevere with this chaotic bunch of exiles is the measure of his determination to destroy the government in Damascus.
On the ground the armed groups are taking a beating at the hands of the Syrian army but like an irresponsible trainer sending a punched-out boxer out from his corner for the next round, their outside sponsors are pouring arms into Syria to keep them on their feet. The tactics of these groups include bombings aimed at civilians that in other circumstances their backers would not hesitate to call terrorism but steadfastly refused to call terrorism when Syrians are the victims and their proxies are the perpetrators. Al Khatib’s dissatisfaction with his ramshackle coalition was possibly brought to a head by the assassination in Damascus of Sheikh Muhammad Said Ramadan al Bouti, a former colleague and a man he greatly admired. Al Bouti and close to 50 other worshippers were murdered in the Iman mosque by a suicide bomber. Two days earlier an armed group had loaded CL 17 chlorine – an ingredient normally used in swimming pool cleaner – into the warhead of a small missile and fired it at a Syrian army checkpoint, killing 26 people. Soldiers were among the dead and the army was there to look after the survivors, so the claims of activists that ‘the regime’ was responsible had even less traction than usual. Having warned of direct intervention in Syria should chemical weapons be used, the US had little to say now that such a weapon had been used, not by the Syrian army, but by the ‘rebels’ it has been supporting.
Hezbollah, Syria and Iran’s record of resistance has to be compared with the long Saudi and Qatari record of collaboration with the US and Israel. Having deserted Damascus in its hour of need, what does Khalid Mishaal think he is going to get from the ruler of Qatar besides money and somewhere to stay? What is Ismail Haniyeh expecting from Muhammad Morsi, who began his presidency by blocking off the tunnels into Gaza and confirmed where he intends to take Egypt with his letter calling Shimon Peres ‘my dear friend’? Is it forgotten already, apart from his record in violence and destruction going back to 1948, that it was Peres who authorized the attack on southern Lebanon in 1996 which took the lives of more than 100 people sheltering inside the UN compound in Qana? If the friend of my enemy is my enemy, where does that leave Haniyeh, Misha’al and Abbas?
The beneficiaries of intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria are outside and regional governments who have combined forces to reshape the Middle East in their own interests. As Ibrahim al Amin has remarked (‘Partitioning Syria at the Doha summit’, Al Akhbar English, March 25, 2013), they are fighting a global war against Syria in the name of bringing the people freedom and justice. In truth, western governments only intervene in their own interests and the people always end up being sliced and diced on the chopping board of their grand designs. There has been no exception to this rule. Civilization, liberation, freedom, democracy, the rights of the people and the responsibility to protect are the unctuous phrases that have rolled off the lips of western prime ministers, foreign ministers and presidents for two centuries. This is the rhetorical buildup to a self-assigned ‘duty’ to intervene: the only real difference between intervention in the 19th century and intervention in the 21st lies in the vastly increased killing power of western governments and the development of weapons that would have been regarded as science fiction until only recently.
As they always get away with it, there is no reason for them to stop. Iraq was a terrible crime but while the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court points the finger at Robert Mugabe, Umar al Bashir or Saif al Islam al Gaddafi it never points the finger at western politicians whose crimes are infinitely greater. Slobodan Milosevic was a rare exception but even his crimes do not measure up to what George Bush and Tony Blair authorized in Iraq in and after 2003 – not to speak of the horrors that Bush senior, Clinton and Blair authorized through the decade of sanctions which followed the attack of 1991. Because they are protected by a world system which is highly selective about who it punishes, the politicians who follow them feel free to repeat the experience. They know that whoever suffers, whoever is bombed, whoever has to look at the faces of dead parents, children, aunts, grandfathers and neighbors being dug out of the rubble of bombed cities and towns, it is not going to be them. William Hague is perfectly comfortable in his desire to give more weapons to the ‘rebels’ because he knows that the calamitous consequences of decisions he takes are never going to bounce back on his own doorstep.
It is obvious but needs to be said anyway that the first priority of people across the Middle East should be solidarity rising above ethnic and religious divisions. No problem can be solved without it and certainly not the core issue of Palestine. In his recent Edward Said memorial lecture, Noam Chomsky drew attention to what is going on while the world’s attention is diverted by the ‘Arab spring.’ In 1967 the Jordan Valley had a Palestinian population of 300, 000. The policy of ‘purification’ pursued by the Israeli government has now reduced that population to 60,000. On a smaller scale the same policy has had the same results in Hebron and elsewhere in the occupied territories. There is nothing accidental or incidental about this. Netanyahu is no more than faithful to the racist policies set in motion by Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion. Continuing without letup for 65 years these policies are neither forgettable nor forgivable.
It is not surprising that Israel’s strongest supporters always have been similar colonial settler states. There are no exact parallels but the Zionist settlers in Palestine and the American colonists both turned on the mother state while setting out to crush the native people. Thomas Paine had much to say about the American ‘war of independence’ that is relevant to Palestine. First of all, it was an ‘independence war’ being fought on land long since inhabited by another people. The colonists wanted to be independent of the mother country, which planted them in this foreign soil in the expectation that they would maintain it as part of the king’s domains. A loyal colony was what the British also sought in Palestine but the American settlers and later the Zionists had other ideas. The war between Britain and the American colonists was brutal, generating deep hatreds on both sides, just as the Zionist war against the British did in Palestine.
Paine was writing of settler feelings towards the savagery of the mother country but the words equally apply to the people who were the victims of double colonialism in North America or, nearly two centuries later, in Palestine:
‘Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of Great Britain and still hoping for the best are still apt to call out come, come, we shall be friends against for all this. But examine the passions and feelings of mankind; bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature and then tell me whether you can hereafter love, honor and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land. If you cannot do all these then you are only deceiving yourself, and by your delay bringing ruin upon posterity. Your future connections with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honor, will be forced and unnatural and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched than the first. But if you say you can still pass the violations over, then I ask hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or child by their hands and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have and can still shake hands with the murderers, then are you unworthy the name of husband, father, friend or lover; and whatever may be your rank or title in life you have the heart of a coward and the spirit of a sycophant.’
Paine was a democrat within the limitations of his time. He was writing for the settlers and had no thought of admitting the indigenous people of North America to representation in the colonies. Except for the passage of almost 250 years Paine might be a Zionist today, but the two and a half centuries make all the difference. Israel was an anomaly from the beginning, a colonial state arising at the tail end of colonialism. It would be no more possible to imagine Thomas Paine supporting an America in which native and Afro-Americans did not have the vote now than it would be to imagine him supporting a situation where a people not only did not have the right to vote but had been denied the right to live on the land where they or their forebears had been born.
In today’s world Paine could not support an Israel built on blatantly racist and discriminatory lines. Everything he says in the passage quoted above applies to Israel. The wounds it has inflicted have gone deep and far from making any attempt to heal them Israel has endlessly inflicted new wounds. The state of Israel – to be differentiated from those pockets of its citizens who oppose its brutal mindset – is not interested in any kind of genuine settlement with the Palestinians. It is not interested in them as a people. It is not interested in their stories of suffering. It is not interested in its own guilt because it is blind to its own guilt. It has no humility and would scoff at the idea of penance for crimes it refuses to admit it has committed, like the worst recidivist offender hauled before a court. It is interested in the Palestinians only as a problem to be solved and the solution is for them somehow to disappear or to be made to disappear. Hence the ‘purification’ in the Jordan Valley and the daylight oppression of the Palestinians in Hebron and the racist demographic war being waged in East Jerusalem. These are crimes against humanity.
If we substitute Israel and the Oslo process for the reconciliation proffered by the British monarch the result is the same: the policy, wrote Thomas Paine, is there ‘in order that he may accomplish by craft and subtlety in the long run what he cannot do by force and violence in the short one’. His conclusion that ‘reconciliation and ruin are nearly related’ sums up the consequences for the Palestinians of the Venus fly trap known as the ‘peace process.’ Violence works but ‘peace’ has a deadly potency of its own: whatever the means employed, the Zionist aim of reducing the Palestinians to dust that will eventually be whirled away by history has not changed in 100 years.
By themselves, however bravely they have resisted, the Palestinians have never had the power to fend off the forces arrayed against them. This has been true from the time Britain implanted the Zionist project in Palestine until the present day. Britain and the US were not just any countries but the two most powerful states of their time and with their support both Zionist success and Palestinian failure were assured. Never have the Palestinians been able to draw on anything like such sources of strength despite the immense potential in their own backyard. Israel’s dominance as a regional power is still sustained by the US while being continually replenished by Arab weakness: Arab weakness is built on chronic Arab disunity, now being promoted in sectarian form by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As long as there is no way out of this trap the Palestinians will remain stuck in their trap.
Sectarianism is a powerful weapon but would be useless if people were not susceptible to it. A people divided are doomed to be dominated. George Antonius prefaced The Arab Awakening with a quote from Ibrahim Yaziji: ‘Arise Arabs and awake!’ That was in 1938. An Arab awakening did follow and while it would be tempting to say the Arab world has gone back to sleep, in reality what is happening is far worse than sleep. A fire is raging and it is hard to see how and when it will be put out.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Ancestral land that for generations has served as home and livelihood for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Ethiopia is being leased out, on 99-year renewable contracts at nominal sums to foreign corporations. The land giveaway or agrarian reforms as the government would prefer to present them began in 2008 when the Ethiopian government, under the brutal suppressive Premiership of Meles Zenawi invited foreign countries/corporation to take up highly attractive deals and turn large areas of land over to industrial farming for the export of crops. India, China and Saudi Arabia were all courted and along with wealthy Ethiopians have eagerly grabbed large pieces of land at basement prices; rates vary from $1.10 to $6.05 per hectare (HA), comparable land in India would set you back $600 per ha.
A total of 3,619,509 ha, the Oakland Institute (OI), a US based think tank, estimate has been leased out. Land made available by the forced re-location of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people under the government’s universally condemned Villagization progamme, which aims to forcibly re-locate over 1.5 million people from their homes.
Indian corporations have taken the lion’s share, acquiring around 600,000 ha concentrated in Gambella and Afar, split between 10 investing companies. The term ‘investing’ implies benefits for Ethiopia, which is misleading; ‘profiteering’, or ‘exploiting’ sits closer to the truth of these land deals, as the OI make clear, “taking over land and natural resources from rural Ethiopians, is resulting in a massive destruction of livelihoods and making millions of locals [farmers and pastoralist communities] dependent on food handouts”. With small scale farmers being evicted from their land, prices of staples such as Teff, used by millions throughout Ethiopia to make Injera (bread), has rocketed in price, according to Ethiotribune 22/5/2012, increasing fourfold since 2008.
Corporate expansionism: small change big profits
In line with its ambitions of diversity and world food dominance – Karuturi Global, the world’s largest grower of roses, leads the Indian charge, leasing 311,700 ha in Gambella. Not satisfied with this, GRAIN (an international NGO, working to support small farmers) report Mr.Karuturi “wants to set up farming operations [throughout Eastern and Southern Africa] on more than 1 million [ha]” – too much never enough in corporate expansionism.
Almost a quarter of Gambella’s 25 million ha has been earmarked by the federal government for agricultural ‘development’. Karuturi, whose profits “rose 55.13% to Rs 1.21 crore [10 million] in the quarter ended June 2012”, took their chunk without even seeing it, paying only $1.10 per ha. For the Indian giant it is, John Vidal in ‘Land Grab Ethiopia (LGE)’ says, “the sale of the century”. ‘Green Gold’ is how Mr. Karuturi in GRAIN (‘Who’s Behind the Land Deals’), describes his 300,000 ha of Ethiopian soil, “for which he pays $46 per ha per year including water and labour and expects at least $660 [per ha] in profit per year”. (Ibid)
In addition to paddy, Indian farmers are being sub-contracted to grow maize, cereals, palm oil and sugarcane amongst others. All of which are destined for export, either to India or Europe, where companies farming in Ethiopia (and other Sub-Saharan African nations), benefit from lower import duties applied to developing countries, notwithstanding the fact that the land is leased to, and the crops produced and sold by, multi million-rupee rich companies.
Another major Indian company leasing land in Gambella is the decidedly green sounding BHO Bioproducts. Following the corporate rhetoric, BHO Chief Operating Officer Sunny Maker told Bloomberg in 2010 that, they have “plans to invest more than $120 million in rice and cotton production”, which, by 2017, should “generate about $135 million a year from sales divided equally between domestic [Indian] and international markets.” He added that the “incredibly rich fertile land”, will all be “cleared within the next three years”. Cleared yes, violently, indiscriminately and totally; villages, people, forests, woodland, all destroyed, burnt, relocated, displaced, desecrated. The governments promise to such prized investors is that the land is handed over stripped of everything and everyone. Dissent is not allowed and dealt with brutally should it occur, as Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of OI makes clear. “The repression of social resistance to land investments is even stipulated in land lease contracts, [it is the] state’s obligation to ‘deliver and hand over the vacant possession of leased land free of impediments’ and to provide free security ‘against any riot, disturbance or any turbulent time.”
The ‘rich fertile land’, lovingly cultivated at the hands of the men and women who have farmed it for generations, is unlikely to be nurtured so carefully by Indian (or indeed Chinese or Saudi Arabian) corporations with their thirsty ‘GM seeds’ (Ibid). For as Oxfam in their detailed report ‘Land and Power’ diplomatically point out, “investors short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation, undermining agricultural production.”
The devolution of development
Land is a prime cut asset in the commercialization of everything, everywhere, and the “rich fertile land” in Ethiopia is cheap, even by Sub-Saharan African standards. Along with long-term leases, the government offers a neat bundle of carrots, including tax incentives and unrestricted export clauses, incentives that the OI state “deny African countries economic benefits” from land deals that the Ethiopian regime wraps up neatly in its complete disregard for the human rights of the indigenous people. Government indifference encouraging corporate irresponsibility – and they need little encouragement. Businesses hardly seem to be grabbing the land, so much as accepting it as a gift, parceled up and ready to be torn open.
In exchange for such attractive deals, the Ethiopian government has been extended, the OI reports “a $640 million line of credit… over five years to boost sugar production in the country’s Lower Omo region”. Not a philanthropic gesture, more a sales trap by India’s EXIM (export and import) Bank, who stipulate, “Ethiopia must import 75% of the value of the credit line in the form of Indian goods and services.”
The government-owned sugar plantations in the Lower Omo are themselves attracting a great deal of concern and criticism from human rights groups, who highlight the environmental and human damage being perpetrated. Government acts of violence and abuse, in the various land deal regions, are justified under the overused and misleading title of ‘development’; a term appropriated by the international monetary machine – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) primarily – misunderstood and distorted by government development agencies, acting in line with foreign affairs policies by promoting national self interest and perverted by the corrupt ideologically-blinkered governments of developing nations. An undeveloped ideological trinity whose actions have drained the 21st century sacred cow and its stable mate ‘growth’ – dry of any true and relevant meaning. Far from supporting human and or social development the “unfair terms and near give-away prices [of land deals]… are hindering development…. Foreign corporations and the World Bank are pressuring African leaders to give them exemptions from taxes, import and export duties, and local labor laws – not to mention water and mineral rights that could be worth billions”, the OI confirm.
More concerned with sitting at the top table and cultivating the right international allies than with doing their constitutional duty and serving the needs of the people, the Ethiopian government is in danger of giving away, and for peanuts, it’s ‘rich and fertile’ land to overseas companies who have no interest in Ethiopia, it’s environment, its culture and even less in its people.
Hunger and poverty stalk the land of both Ethiopia and India. 12 – 15 million people survive on food aid in Ethiopia, which ranks at the bottom of the World Hunger Index at 76. India, with the highest rate of malnourished children in the world, where 25% (around 270 million) of the world’s hungry live, despite the fact that, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), “the country grows enough food for its people”, comes in 65th of the hungriest nations, below Niger and the Sudan – neither of which, to my knowledge, boast 61 billionaires and 200,000 dollar millionaires unlike India. And whereas “most countries have made consistent progress in reducing hunger, India has seen hunger rise over the last decade compared with the late 1990s.”(Ibid) This so-called economic miracle nation refuses to feed it’s own people.
Food insecurity, the WFP makes clear is caused not by lack of produce, but by an unwillingness to share the Earths bounty equitably. The states in India with the greatest numbers suffering from hunger and malnutrition, as per WFP records, “include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh”; these are the states where the poorest (Adivasi – indigenous and Dalit) people in the country and quite possibly in the World happen to live. The poor are dying of hunger not because India cannot feeed everyone, as the United Nations report on regional cooperation makes crystal clear, “the root cause of hunger across the sub-region and the world today is not a lack of food. It is the economic and social distribution of that food which leaves populations undernourished and hungry.”
Men women and children living in dire poverty starve to death, in India, Ethiopia and throughout the world. They starve and die for want of the food that is rotting in warehouses, food served up to rats or destroyed by the Indian government, because it is cheaper to burn it than to distribute it to those in need. As Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (26/01/13) said, “globally, a third of all food produced is wasted, and… if one could avoid this waste it would be possible to feed all the hungry people [in the world] and have food to spare.” Food to spare!Such is the inhumane ethos that underpins market fundamentalism, that allows men women and children, young and old to starve – simply because the do not have the financial means to feed themselves. Shame on governments Indian and the rest, that allow such inhumane injustice to prevail, as a wise teacher said, “throughout the world there are men, women and little children who have not even the essentials to stay alive; they crowd the cities of many of the poorest countries in the world… My brothers, how can you watch these people die before your eyes and call yourselves men”.
The commercialization of the countryside in India and Ethiopia, which is displacing large numbers of small-scale farmers and concentrating crop production in the hands of multi-nationals, is intensifying existing levels of hunger. Substantive agricultural reform and real development would see the army of skilled small scale producers, with generations of local knowledge and love of the land, supported with the needed capital and technology, given access to markets that corporations bring. Such an agrarian revolution, ethically founded, environmentally healthy and socially sustained, would build long-term food security and feed the hungry.
Soft targets easy profits
India as the WFP makes clear, has no domestic need for food produced by the overseas industrial farms that are causing such far-reaching damage, to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people of Ethiopia as well as the natural environment. The movement in Ethiopia mirrors what is taking place to a much greater degree in India. The government has shifted all support away from Indian farmers and is supporting the transfer of land from the rural poor to large companies – wealthy government benefactors, causing the displacement of millions (60 million to date, according to Arundhati Roy) of indigenous people.
Corporations are targeting countries with “poor governance”, Oxfam 7/02/2013 makes clear, that “allow investors to secure land quickly and cheaply…. [They] “Seem to be cherry picking countries with weak rules and regulations”. Needy nations like hungry people make easy targets for multi-national men, whose pockets governments are desperate to nestle inside. The driving force behind such destructive land developments, undertaken by corporations obsessed by an insatiable desire for growth and world leading economic development, is, as Oxfam suggests, profit and profit alone.
Though President Obama last year rejected a proposal from the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA to directly arm Syrian rebel fighters, his administration is once again edging closer to directly intervening in the Syrian war.
As the Washington Post reported Tuesday, “The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide the rebels with equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and possible military training and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria’s opposition political coalition.”
White House spokesperson Jay Carney confirmed the Post‘s reporting Wednesday, stating that the U.S. is “constantly reviewing the nature of the assistance we provide to both the Syrian people, in form of humanitarian assistance, and to the Syrian opposition in the form of non-lethal assistance.”
The exact nature of the additional U.S. assistance is expected to be announced Thursday at a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” in Rome. The U.S. has previously sent communications equipment and night-vision goggles to rebels fighting in Syria.
John Kerry the Interventionist
The – perhaps – unlikely driver of the reported shift in U.S. policy on Syria has been none other than new Secretary of State John Kerry. The very man many continue to insist on mislabeling a dove.
Speaking as early as February 13, Secretary of State Kerry proclaimed that there were “additional things that can be done” to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aside. And on Monday, Kerry again went on to reiterate that the West was “determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad.”
“We are examining and developing ways to accelerate the political transition that the Syrian people want and deserve,” Kerry commented further.
Although a policy change for the Obama administration, advocating for a more direct role for the U.S. in Syria has long been Kerry’s position. As Kerry commented in May of 2012: “The concept of a safe zone is a reality and worth the discussion. The concept of working with the Turks and the Jordanians, if everybody is on the same page, there could be some [military] training [of the opposition forces]. If we can enhance the unity of the opposition, we could consider lethal aid and those kinds of things.”
In the same interview Kerry went on to voice support – under the right conditions – for “U.S.- or NATO-led airstrikes on the Syrian military.”
This should come as no surprise given Kerry’s previous support for U.S. bombing campaigns in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Some dove! Of course, the American foreign policy establishment as a whole has steadily veered toward a greater affinity for missile and bomb diplomacy.
“Once war was considered the business of soldiers, international relations the concern of diplomats,” C. Wright Mills wrote of the U.S. over 50 years ago in The Power Elite. “But now that war has become seemingly total and seemingly permanent… Peace is no longer serious; only war is serious.”
If nothing else, then, Kerry has proven himself once again to be a rather “serious” man.
Intervention by Proxy
While Kerry helps edge Washington closer to direct military intervention into Syria, U.S. proxies continue to ramp up their campaign to topple the Syrian regime.
As the New York Times reported Monday, Saudi Arabia has recently begun to funnel heavy weapons purchased from Croatia to Syrian rebel groups via Jordan. The Saudi shipments, the paper goes on to note, “have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad.”
The U.S. role in the Saudi arms flow, the Times reports, “is not clear.” Yet, it is hard to fathom that such shipments were not sanctioned by Washington, given the close military ties the U.S. maintains between those involved. After all, Saudi Arabia remains one of the largest purchasers of U.S. arms. The Pentagon, meanwhile, maintains “a robust military-to-military relationship with Croatia,” providing the Croatian military with “training, equipment, equipment loans, and education in U.S. military schools.” And U.S. military aid to Jordan tops $300 million a year.
Moreover, the U.S. has had upwards of 150 military planners stationed along the Jordanian border with Syria since last summer, where the Croatian arms are reported to have passed into rebel hands. It has long been reported that the CIA is overseeing the arms shipments to Syrian rebels from within Turkey.
The U.S. is thus already well entangled in the Syrian war – albeit if by the use of proxy forces.
The push to further enhance the degree of U.S. intervention – from guiding regional proxies to direct military support – comes as the rebel drive to oust Assad appears to be reaching its limits. In fact, Mouaz Mustafa, the political director of the U.S.-based Syrian American Task Forced, recently argued that, “Assad cannot be deposed without the consent of the U.S.”
This realization has even left some in the West to admit that Assad still retains a sizable base of domestic support. As former U.S. diplomat Karen AbuZayd commented in a recent interview with CBC Radio, “there’s quite a number of the population, maybe as many as half, if not more, who stand behind him [Assad].”
Thus, we see the exiled Syrian opposition – long opposed to dialogue – now hinting at a new willingness to engage in negotiations with the Syrian regime. Yet, the U.S. continues to insist that any political dialogue must be preempted by regime change.
As State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell commented on Wednesday, “the [political] process has to include Assad leaving, but it’s really up to the Syrian people.” Another example of the limits of America’s democratic ideals, as we see that the choice for the Syrian people begins and ends with supporting Washington’s agenda.
Of course, as long as a sizable segment of Syrians stand behind Assad – or at least refrain from supporting the armed rebels – demanding that Assad leaves only portends a protracted military struggle. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was left to comment Monday, “It seems extremists, who bet on a military solution to Syria’s problems and block initiatives to start dialogue, have for now come to dominate in the ranks of the Syrian opposition.” And the ranks of Washington, it appears as well.
Yet, even as Washington and its European allies antagonize Russia by preparing to heighten their intervention into Syria, they still desperately seek the legitimacy of a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a military intervention. And for this they need Moscow.
Cajoling Russia to Pave the Road to Tehran
Writing in Foreign Policy, Christopher Chivvis of the RAND Corporation and Edward Joseph, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, argue that the threat of Western military intervention is what is needed to bring Russia around to supporting the “regime change” line.
“Changing the Russian position means changing Moscow’s calculus on Syria,” Chivvis and Joseph write. “And that means presenting the Kremlin with an alternative that it finds more unpalatable than the status quo: a NATO-backed, Turkey-led military coalition invited by the Arab League to intervene in the Syria conflict.”
And here we have the bankruptcy and hubris of the American foreign policy elite. It’s all rather transparent: capitulate to our demands, or face the brunt of military force. Only war is serious.
Of course, Chivvis and Joseph go on to tout the “blow to Iran and a boon to the United States and its regional partners and allies” a toppled Assad would present. “Israel would be a primary beneficiary, with its antagonist, Hezbollah, having been dealt a serious setback,” they continue.
How all this is supposed to entice Moscow is not exactly clear. What is good for American is good for the world, it appears. Indicative, perhaps, of what Chalmers Johnson once wrote to be the self-aggrandizement of imperial rot.
And so with the typical delusions of grandeur, the U.S. edges closer to direct military intervention into Syria – closer, too, to unleashing a dangerous regional conflagration. In fact, the Iran war drums are already beating louder; for regime change in Damascus only paves the road to Tehran.
Ben Schreiner can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today the Washington Post (2/6/13) reported some news that it’s known for years, but had decided not tell us until now: The CIA has a drone base in Saudi Arabia.
Their rationale for withholding this information was simple: The government didn’t want them to. And from what the Post is telling us today, they weren’t the only ones.
After explaining that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by an attack “carried out in part by CIA drones flown from a secret base in Saudi Arabia,” the paper explains:
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an Al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
So why did the Post finally report this news today?
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.
So there was an “informal arrangement among several news organizations” not to report important news because the government felt that it could make things difficult for them.
It would appear that “another news organization” is the New York Times, which reported today:
The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.
Not long afterward, the CIA began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the CIA used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.
The fact that the Post was keeping something secret was known in 2011, as FAIR noted (FAIR Blog, 7/27/11), quoting the paper:
The agency is building a desert airstrip so that it can begin flying armed drones over Yemen. The facility, which is scheduled to be completed in September, is designed to shield the CIA’s aircraft, and their sophisticated surveillance equipment, from observers at busier regional military hubs such as Djibouti, where the JSOC drones are based.
The Washington Post is withholding the specific location of the CIA facility at the administration’s request.
As FAIR also pointed out then, this was reminiscent of another decision by the Post to withhold news. In 2005, the paper delivered an explosive story about “black sites” where CIA was interrogating suspects–places where, in many cases, the agency could reasonably expect the prisoners to be tortured. The Post’s valuable expose was undercut by its decision not to name the countries involved. As the paper explained:
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
This week, a new report from the Open Society Institute documented that more than 50 countries were involved in the CIA “extraordinary rendition” program. It’s certainly possible that some countries might have stopped helping the U.S. government torture people if it had been made known that they were doing so.
Likewise, it’s possible that Saudi Arabia will stop allowing the CIA to use its territory to conduct a secret drone war against a third country now that the secret is out. But the possibility that news might affect the world is not a reason to stop doing journalism. Indeed, it’s the best reason to do journalism.
UPDATE: The Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan has weighed in on her blog (2/6/13), and what’s most notable is the opinion of the paper’s managing editor Dean Baquet, since it basically confirms the point we were making above:
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts. ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.”
So the Times believes that it should refrain from reporting news that people in Saudi Arabia might object to–especially if it wound up complicating our government’s plans to launch military attacks from their country.