An analyst exposes the parasitic links between Western organizations and pro-Israeli groups with dissidents who cause interwoven upheavals in Middle Eastern countries.
This evening, I listened to the radio program Tehran Rising produced by America Abroad—a program distributed by Public Radio International—and I must say that I was deeply disturbed by the way the program was framed. The program centers on “spreading Iranian influence” in the Middle East.
Frankly, it is somewhat fatuous to try to hang a story about change and unrest in the Middle East on the Iranian bogeyman. Haven’t we had enough of this?
Since nations such as Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq (all covered in the reporting for this piece) are hugely different in their internal and external dynamics, to make this a story about Iran really obscures any nuance whatsoever in the politics of the region, and implies that nothing would be happening if it weren’t for Iranian machinations.
There are certainly a few people in Iran who would exult in this misperception, however, here are a few of the myths offered in the program which I would like to debunk.
Myth #1: A “cold war” between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
This is a completely fictional construction. Saudi Arabia has long been wary and disturbed by the Shi’a majority in Hasa, its eastern oil territory. This was true even under the Shah and long before. The fear of the uprising in Bahrain has little or nothing to do with confronting Iran–it is driven by fear that the Bahraini uprising will spread over the causeway to its own province.
Myth #2: Iran’s spurring on of the Bahrain uprising.
The implication in the program was that Iran is doing something to spur on the Bahrain uprising. The program’s own interviewee, Kristin Smith Diwan, denied this.
Moreover, I just participated in a seminar for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa. Two military intelligence agents –fluent in Arabic and Persian – and former students of Middle East experts Ray Motaheddeh and Juan Cole – flatly denied that there was any evidence that Iran had any agents on the ground in Bahrain, based on their own extensive investigations in February and March of this year.
Myth #3: The bulk of Lebanon’s Hezbollah funds come from Iran.
My position on Hezbollah and that of virtually every other observer of Hezbollah is that Iran has no effective control over Hezbollah’s political actions today (as opposed to 30 years ago).
The program documented clearly the charitable actions carried out by Hezbollah that were supported by Iran. Iran never denied this. At the same time, the program clearly pointed out the correct statement that the bulk of Lebanon’s redevelopment funds came from foreign remittances and from the Gulf States.
The program misleadingly implies that Hezbollah is not receiving funds from the same sources. In fact, the bulk of Hezbollah’s funds come from those foreign sources, not from Iran.
Of course the Sunnis such as the one interviewed on the program are opposed to Iran, but look at the welcome President Ahmadinejad got from both Shi’as and Sunnis in his recent trip.
Myth #4: Iranian influence is negative or evil.
This implication that Iranian influence is somehow negative or evil as opposed to being just what nations do was prevalent in the program.
Turkey is trying to increase its influence in Central Asia, but no one complains about that. Iran is being squeezed economically and of course is trying to develop economic and political ties. It’s behaving as nations operate normally.
Myth #5: Iran is exploiting weak democracies.
Ash Jain, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and former State Department staff member, and all those at the WINEP are dedicated to propagandizing against Iran. The idea that Iran is “exploiting weak democracies” is rather silly. Iran can’t exploit anyone unless they are able to promulgate messages and actions that are welcome to the populations of other nations.
In fact, Iran has made little or no headway in any predominately Sunni nation. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment is quite right about the “self-limiting” nature of Iran’s influence. Case in point: Tajikistan. Persian speaking, culturally Iranian, the Tajiks should be susceptible to Iranian influence. Instead, they are extremely wary of Iran because Iranians are Shi’a and Tajiks are Sunni.
Myth #6: Iran has “won” because Hamas has gained power.
Ash Jain of WINEP claims that Iran has “won” because Hamas has stabilized and become a force in the Middle East. For heaven’s sake, one would think that the denizens of Hamas have no interest in their own affairs and future.
Does he think that Hamas lives only to fulfill some fantasy foreign policy influence on Iran’s part?
Myth #7: All Shi’a leaders agree with Iran.
Let’s be clear. No Shi’a religious leaders outside of Iran agree with Iran’s form of government or want to emulate it. Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani of Iraq is flatly opposed to Iran’s brand of clerical rule, and disagrees with the idea that the Iranian Revolution should be spread abroad. Not that there’s hope of that anyway.
Therefore, the flat answer to the question of Iranian influence is: Some in Iran would like to see Iran have greater influence in the region, but their “success” is largely a figment of the imagination of overwrought Westerners looking about for another “cold war” enemy, to echo the framework of this program.
Much of what is attributed to Iran in this radio program and elsewhere is actually the result of the natural dynamics of the individual communities of the region playing out their own local interests.
The fact that some in Iran may be cheerleading from the sidelines doesn’t mean that Iran is in control. Nor does it mean that what Iran is doing is any different than any other nation in the world trying to create favorable relations for itself.
William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of Anthropology and specialist in Middle East Studies at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul Minnesota, formerly of Brown University.
PUL-I-ALAM: Foreign troops handed over to family the body of a 25-year-old man with his hand cut off six days after he was arrested on the charge of “links” with Taliban militants in central Logar province, officials said on Friday.
Amir Mohammad, the victim, had been arrested by foreign troops during an operation six days ago in Sheikhi village , Charkh district for alleged ties with the Taliban.
His body was handed over to his family on Thursday night, the provincial council chief, Dr. Abdul Wali Wakeel, told Pajhwok Afghan News. He said Mohammad had been arrested on the charge of having links to the Taliban, but had no link to the movement. His hands were cut off and throat had been slit before his body was handed over to his family, Wakeel said.
He said the family was reluctant to receive the body, but later they took the body and buried him at a graveyard. Mohammad had died two days after his arrest at the Bagram prison where he was taken by foreign troops. His dead body, with his hands cut and throat slit, was handed over to family four days after his death, the public representative said.
The district development council chief, Mohammad Naeem, said foreign troops had cut off Mohammad’s hands during interrogation.
He asked the central government to order an investigation into the death of Mohammad in detention. He feared the incident could spark violent protest demonstrations by residents.
The governor’s spokesman, Din Mohammad Darwish, confirmed the hand over of Mohammad’s body to his family, but provided to further details.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) media office in Kabul confirmed the death of Mohammad in detention and said he had died a natural death.
Specialist doctors operated upon Mohammad after his death to determine the causes which led to his demise, the force said in a statement. The signs on his body were operation wounds, it said.
Following his speech on Thursday night, and his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, US President Barack Obama spoke to the 2011 Policy Conference of AIPAC, the influential Israel lobby today.
Obama’s speech today contains a number of interesting elements of the United States’ and the president’s view: a hard-headed realism about the deep trouble Israel is in and an equally hard-headed determination to keep doing the same things that will make Israel’s prospects poorer over the long-run while prolonging the suffering for Palestinians. These contradictory impulses, will only heighten conflict and do little to advance the president’s stated goal: peace.
Obama also addressed the fake controversy following Netanyahu’s public rejection on Friday of the president’s reference to a peace “based on the 1967 lines.”
Here are some of the key points of Obama’s speech with analysis.
Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
Obama is simply pointing out the reality that Palestinians if not already, will soon be, the majority population in historic Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined).
Yet Obama does not call for a morally correct solution: equal rights for all who live within the territory and all who have been unjustly excluded from it on the basis of ethnicity, according to basic democratic principles.
Instead, the president exhorts Israel to rush to create a truncated Palestinian statelet in the false belief that a Palestinian mini-state on a fraction of historic Palestine can fulfill the rights of some 11 million Palestinians denied their human rights, and right to self-determination for decades.
Obama’s use of demographic scare-mongering indicates an acceptance of the fundamentally racist view that the mere existence of certain categories of humans (in this case non-Jewish Palestinians) in a country is unacceptable and dangerous – even if they or their parents or grandparents were born in that country. Palestinians “west of the Jordan River” are not interlopers or intruders. They are indigenous people of the country. Instead of searching for ways for Israel to escape them by gerrymandering a bantustan, Obama should be calling for full and equal rights, nothing less.
Obama’s failure to call on Israel to respect the full and equal rights of the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, will also be taken as a signal by Israel that the president is fine with the growing raft of racist legislation directed against this indigenous community.
Obama’s use of the demographic scare-tactic would have had its equivalent during the existence of apartheid South Africa in a US president urging the defunct racist regime in Pretoria to rush to create more bantustans so that South Africa could remain a ‘white and democratic state.’
When Obama claims, as peace process insiders often do, that the vision he laid out for “peace” is “is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation” it is important to remember that these are “formulas” made by power players without reference to millions of Palestinians – especially refugees – who have never been consulted and who certainly don’t consider their own mere existence a threat to anyone’s “democracy.”
Military force is not enough
…technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace
Obama is acknowledging that military superiority is insufficient to maintain Israel in the absence of political legitimacy. But again there is a contradictory impulse: the unconditional US commitment to give Israel any and all technology and military means allows Israel to delude itself that it can rely forever on force of arms in lieu of a peace agreement.
Waning US hegemony means Arab public opinion now matters
…a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
For decades the whole concept of the “peace process” was based on Israel signing treaties with unelected Arab leaders in spite of their publics’ deep opposition to such agreements that did nothing to restore the rights of Palestinians and only freed Israel’s hands to attack and occupy more. The 1979 Israel-Egypt and 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaties are prime examples, and for many years the US sought a similar deal between Israel and Syria.
Obama is acknowledging that if the United States is unsuccessful in imposing new obedient client leaders on Arab states (or maintaining the ones it still supports), Israel would actually have to be acceptable to Arab publics and electorates. This is true enough, but again, his solution: a truncated Palestinian bantustan is hardly a sufficient answer to the challenge.
Isolation of Israel will be unstoppable even with US support
Several times in his speech Obama vowed the United States would stand up against the “delegitimization” of Israel. That is the term Israel and its supporters have applied to the global Palestine solidarity movement, calling for equal rights, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Obama also referred specifically to the Palestinian Authority effort to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian state this September. Despite these US commitments, Obama observed:
But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success.
This seems to be a clear warning to Israel and it should serve as an encouragement to Palestine solidarity activists everywhere. However, the president offered no sense that under his leadership the United States will take any action other than presidential speeches that have any “prospect of success.”
Obama backs Bush’s view on “1967 lines”
Perhaps the centerpiece of Obama’s speech today was when he addressed the fake controversy over his mention of the 1967 lines on Thursday. Today, Obama said:
Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.
Here Obama appears to be deliberately returning to a formulation that his predecessor President George W. Bush used in his famous April 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In the letter, which assured Israel of US support for annexation of West Bank settlements built in violation of international law, Bush wrote:
As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.
It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
(Note: the 1949 armistice line is the June 1967 line – i.e. the line that existed between the 1949 Rhodes Armistice agreement and the Israeli surprise attack that launched the Six-Day War on 4 June 1967).
As the language I’ve highlighted shows, Obama is reaffirming the essential points made by Bush: the 1967 line is infinitely malleable (to suit Israel) and thus the reference to it does not in any way preclude massive Israeli annexations to the east of it.
Second, any border must be by “mutual agreement.” Given the hopefully lop-sided balance of power, and Obama’s affirmation that the US will steadfastly continue to put no pressure on Israel, this means in effect that the commitment to the 1967 line is devoid of content. Despite the fireworks there is no practical difference between Obama and Netanyahu.
…the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements.
Obama handed Netanyahu an excuse to continue to avoid the negotiations Obama claims are urgent, until Hamas learns –politically speaking – to sing HaTikva and dance a hora. Obama has never called on Israel to recognize fundamental Palestinian rights as a precondition for negotiations, and as we know has abandoned any effort to get Israel to adhere to international law or signed agreements by stopping settlement construction.
Obama could have learned something from President Clinton’s much more deft approach to the Irish peace process, but instead he chose to pander to Israel’s obstructionist preconditions diminishing the prospects for negotiations even further.
In his speech on Thursday, Obama mentioned in passing that “Israeli settlement activity continues” in the occupied West Bank. But he pointedly did not make any call on Israel to stop building settlements. In today’s speech he didn’t mention the settlements at all.
Thus while exhorting Israel to rush toward a “two-state solution” in order to save itself from the terrifying threat of Palestinian infants, Obama has given up completely on any effort to confront the main obstacle to his preferred outcome: Israel’s accelerated colonization of the little remaining land.
Perhaps this more than anything sums up the competing impulses evident in Obama’s speech: an urgency to address an an “unsustainable status quo,” and his administration’s total commitment to the disastrous American policies that have brought us to precisely this point.
At least 32 killed as Syrian troops open fire headlines the Washington Post:
BEIRUT — Defying a stern warning from President Obama, Syrian forces opened fire on protesters after Friday prayers, killing at least 32 people as the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad showed no sign of easing its military crackdown.
But the piece does not explain when, where and under what circumstances those 32 have supposedly died. There is not one bit of information in the piece about this. In which cities did this happen? Who opened fire? When was this? Where is that number coming from?
In addition to the 32 deaths, about 200 people were injured by gunfire aimed at protesters, and the toll could rise, said Tarif, the human rights activist.
That would be one “Wissam Tarif of the human rights group Insan”. Insan is an organization in Spain with a website that does not say much about the group. There is especially no say as to who is funding it. The FAQ on the side only has this:
[S]ince 2009 INSAN has re-strategized its approach, turning, instead to project partners and funding institutions for support.
No project partner or institution is listed. This organization could be a front for about anything. I have no idea why any decent journalist would trust it especially when it throws out numbers without any factual backing.
The group claims to have grown out of other organisations:
INSAN began in 2001 as an awareness and educational project in Syria under the name ‘LCCI.’
The lobbying and opinion-forming organization which was born from this endeavor was to be called ‘FDPOC’ (Foundation for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience).
There is no trace on the Internets of LCCI and an FDPOC link to FDPOC.com in a Wikipedia article is dead. The current nameserver for FDPOC.com is NS1.SUSPENDED-FOR.SPAM-AND-ABUSE.COM. I find one Syria bashing piece from 2008 that mentions FDPOC and Wissam Tarif.
My hunch is that Wissan Tarif and INSAN are front for some intelligence service.
But the Post doesn’t bother. Some numbers thrown around of some people killed in Syria, no matter from where, seems to be enough for a big headline and a piece which doesn’t back it up.
AL-KHALIL — Israeli occupation forces fired teargas into citizens homes in the Old City of Al-Khalil on Saturday night and earlier wreaked havoc in a nearby village.
Witnesses said that Jewish settlers during a march in the Old City threw stones at Palestinian homes and burnt Palestinian flags and banners while shouting racial slurs.
They said that soldiers escorting the march fired teargas and sonic bombs at the Palestinians who retaliated against the settlers’ provocations.
The locals said that Palestinian ambulance vehicles carried 8 Palestinians to local clinics to be treated for gas inhalation including four children.
Meanwhile, an Israeli border police patrol stormed the village of Qalqas southeast of Al-Khalil city escorting an officer of the civil administration and military bulldozers. They closed the main road in the village and blocked hundreds from heading to their fields.
Local sources said that the soldiers demolished a sheep pen at the entrance of the village at the pretext of being built without permit and plowed and destroyed ten dunums of cultivated land.
The inhabitants denounced the destruction streak, and appealed to human rights groups to expose the occupation’s crimes.
US-led forces have shot and injured the spokesman for the provincial governor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, as he was entering his office.
Spokesman Zalmay Ayoubi said on Sunday that he was shot in the leg by the US-led troops as he was entering his office at the government’s heavily-guarded compound, a Press TV correspondent reported.
The provincial spokesman added that the incident occurred after he refused to allow US-led forces to frisk him.
He added that the US-led forces have been tasked with providing the security of the office of Kandahar’s governor following the recent violence in the Afghan province, but they are not allowed to frisk the officials.
Two weeks ago, militants attacked the heavily guarded compound of the governor, leaving several people injured.