If you were concerned that the Syria WMD stories didn’t already feel enough like the Iraq WMD reports, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius had one just for you (12/19/12). Ignatius reports that according to a Syrian defector, the Assad government’s chemical weapons are indeed on the move. Ignatius tells readers that, according to his source,
technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that appeared, from the outside, to be similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.
The defector estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed. An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs.
Now it’s not that Ignatius doesn’t know that this story sounds, well, familiar. He places that giant caveat right near the beginning of his piece:
For some historical context, readers should recall the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who made allegations about Iraqi chemical weapons a decade ago that bolstered the case for war–but turned out to be fabrications.
So there’s reason to be skeptical. But evidently not too skeptical. Ignatius goes on:
Seeking corroboration for the Syrian report, I checked it with knowledgeable, independent sources, who confirmed some of the details. With that support, I want to share it with readers.
Ignatius has confidence in at least some of this story, as evinced by his lead:
Reports from inside two Syrian chemical weapons facilities offer chilling new evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime developed special vehicles last year for moving and mixing the weapons–and an unconfirmed allegation that Lebanese allies of the regime, presumably in Hezbollah, may have been trained 11 months ago in the weapons’ use.
What he’s saying, in other words, is that the mobile labs exist; the more frightening allegation–that the labs might be headed to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah–is “unconfirmed.” How solid is the sourcing? He writes:
A Syrian source provided a detailed account in a telephone conversation over the weekend, drawing on intelligence provided to him by a Syrian defector who worked inside the chemical weapons network.
So we have what would appear to be a secondhand account, delivered by phone, thanks to arrangements made by a Syrian opposition group. And how do we know the weapons were headed for Hezbollah? Ignatius tells us that his source says, “The officers placed the chemicals in a civilian vehicle and were seen driving across a bridge in the direction of the highway toward Lebanon.”
What does all of this mean? That’s impossible to say–though the idea that mobile chemical weapons labs were put together last year, after the revolt started, in order to coordinate transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah is, on its face, a little far-fetched.
Ignatius gives the Iraq stories all but one paragraph, but it’s important to recall more of the journalism from that period. As Seth Ackerman wrote in Extra! (7-8/03), one of the most embarrassing–and largely forgotten–episodes of the Iraq War came when NBC breathlessly reported the discovery of Iraq’s feared mobile bio-weapons labs:
On May 12, NBC News correspondent Jim Avila, reporting from Baghdad, declared that the labs “may be the most significant WMD findings of the war.” Joining him was hawkish former U.N. nuclear inspector David Kay (now an “NBC News analyst”), who was flown to Iraq to perform an impromptu inspection for the cameras. Armed with a pointer, he rattled off the trailer ‘s parts: “This is a compressor. You want to keep the fermentation process under pressure so it goes faster. This vessel is the fermenter….”
Kay’s explanation–”think of it as sort of the chicken soup for biological weapons. You mixed it with the seed stock, which came from this gravity flow tank up here into the fermenter. And under pressure with heat, it fermented”–was convincing enough for television news. Kay stated: “Literally, there’s nothing else you would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.”
Well, except for one problem: What they found was actually equipment to make hydrogen for weather balloons. But what they were looking for was what defectors told various officials they would find–and part of what Colin Powell told the world about Iraq’s WMD program on February 5, 2003. The old saying that when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail comes to mind.
Is “intelligence” on Syria any better? It’s unclear why we should think so. But for columnists like Ignatius, what someone told him on the phone based on what someone else may have seen is apparently good enough. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. As Ignatius once explained (Washington Post, 4/25/03):
Personally, I don’t much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein’s regime was still right.
Does he care this time whether or not the WMD stories he’s reporting as fact are imaginary or not? Or would toppling Assad’s regime be right no matter what?
- Obama’s War on Syria and its Implications (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Indian and Latin American cooperation
THIS year, India has shown a notable interest in increasing its economic relations with Latin American countries. Given the serious crisis in the Eurozone and the deceleration of the U.S. economy, nations south of the Rio Bravo are demonstrating greater macroeconomic stability and represent a major growing market.
For example, Brazil, the principal regional buyer of Indian products and the second-largest supplier to the country, increased imports from the Asian giant by 66.2% on the first seven months of 2012. Mexico, the second largest buyer and fourth Latin American exporter to India, raised its exports to the country by 72.1% in the first half of the year.
Other Latin American nations, essentially exporters of raw materials, also have a secure market in India at a time of financial instability. Indian business executives predict that, by 2014, bi-regional trade will be double that of 2011.
However, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that economic links with Latin America could be more developed, and thus exceed the current trade volume of $25 billion, an insufficient figure and equal to 10% of Chinese economic exchange with the region.
The Indian economy is historically based on manufactured goods and agriculture, being one of the principal world producers of sugar cane, cotton and jute. But in recent decades the country has diversified and developed into sectors such as space and aeronautics research, informatics, telecommunications, electronics, medicine, oil and natural gas.
In fact, India’s dynamic industrial development has caught the attention of companies worldwide, leading to the establishment of subsidiaries in the country, which possess a large qualified workforce.
As a member of the group of emerging economies, BRICS, together with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, India contributes half of global economic growth. In 2011, its Gross Domestic Product grew by over 8%.
In June 2012, a ministerial representation from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC) had a meeting in New Delhi with Indian government officials, during which both sides expressed a mutual interest in extending political relations and economic ones in particular. It was the first time that CELAC, comprising 33 countries in the region, had negotiated abroad as a bloc.
- Latin American Economy Expected to See More Growth in 2013 (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
In another blow to freedom of speech one more European satellite provider attacks Iran’s international TV channels.
Spain’s satellite provider Hispasat will take Press TV and Hispan TV off the air as of Friday. It has ordered Overon, another satellite company, to stop the transmission of the two international TV channels.
Overon says the ban on Press TV and Hispan TV follows a similar move by France’s Eutelsat company which has already taken several Iranian satellite channels and radio stations off the air. It says the channels will be removed because of “a wider interpretation of EU regulations”.
Overon says since the EU has blacklisted the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Hispan TV and Press TV must be taken off the air. This is while Hispan TV is officially registered in Spain and operates under that country’s media laws. And, the European Union has confirmed to Press TV that it’s anti-Iran sanctions do not apply to the country’s media.
Hispasat is partly owned by Eutelsat, whose French-Israeli CEO is blamed for the recent wave of attacks on Iranian media in Europe.
Press TV contacted Hispasat and the EU foreign policy chief’s office to get a reaction, but to no avail.
How to watch Press TV in the Americas
Following a recent move by the European satellite provider Hispasat to take Iranian channels, Press TV and Hispan TV, off the air in a flagrant violation of freedom of speech, the news networks’ viewers in the Americas can continue to watch the Iranian channels on the following frequency:
Optus D2 (152E)
IntelSat 20 (68.5E)
Intelsat 902 (62E)
NSS 12 (Encryption) (57E)
Express AM22 (53E)
Badr 5 (26E)
Badr 5 (26E)
Badr 4 (26E)
Eutelsat Hot Bird 13b (13E)
Eutelsat 7West A (7W)
Galaxy 19 (97W)
- PressTV Reports “Israel lobby groups press sat providers to ban Iran channels” (presstv.com)
- US Senate to blacklist and block the assets of Iranian broadcaster IRIB (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Peace is possible if justice is possible
A family in the ruins of their home, bombed to rubble in the latest Israeli offensive against the Palestinian people (grateful thanks to Fadi F Hamada)
My first Christmas greeting this year came all the way from Bethlehem itself, just yards from where the Big Story is supposed to have begun 2012 years ago. My friend Jiries is a survivor of the murderous 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity by Israeli troops in 2002.
These days, for me, Christmas has become a time to remember some of the extraordinary people I’ve met in the Holy Land… And none is more extraordinary than the veteran Catholic priest in Gaza, Fr Manuel Musallam, who hosted a visit by a small group I was with in 2007. The Gaza Strip had been under tight blockade for 18 months following Hamas’s 2006 election victory and the mood was strained to say the least.
In the church’s school assembly hall I was surprised to meet so many Muslim students. On one wall hung a huge portrait of the Pope and on the adjacent wall an equally large portrait of Arafat.
Fr Manuel whisked us off to a meeting at the House of Fatah and from there we drove to see the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and some of his colleagues, who received us with utmost courtesy and friendship and gave straight answers to straight questions. Haniyeh and Fr Manuel declared their unity to the TV cameras afterwards, emphasising that they were Palestinians first and Muslim or Christian second, in the struggle against a common foe.
When I got home to the UK Gaza’s health minister sent me, as he had promised to do, lists of desperately needed medical supplies and hospital equipment spares that had been blocked at the border by Israel. I forwarded these to my own Government direct and via my MP, but as far as I could discover they simply ignored them.
The following year – and who can forget it? – the Israelis launched their horrific 3-week blitzkrieg called Operation Cast Lead at Christmas-time and New Year 2008/9.
At the height of the killing spree, Fr Manuel sent this message from the smoking ruins to anyone who would listen:
“Our people in Gaza… eat but remain hungry, they cry, but no one wipes their tears. There is no water, no electricity, no food, only terror and blockade… Our children are living in a state of trauma and fear. They are sick from it and for other reasons such as malnutrition, poverty and the cold… The hospitals did not have basic first aid before the war and now thousands of wounded and sick are pouring in and they are performing operations in the corridors. The situation is frightening and sad.
“May Christ’s compassion revive our love for God even though it is currently in ‘intensive care’.”
A few days later he wrote:
“Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless. We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.”
When he retired in 2009 in failing health I remarked in an article: “I doubt if God has finished with him just yet. There’s a mountain of work to be done and good men are hard to find.”
And so it was to be. In the run-up to Christmas 2010 Fr Manuel was one of a trio of churchmen from the Holy Land touring Ireland to raise awareness of the plight of the dwindling Christian community under Israeli military occupation. He, Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Greek Orthodox Church) and Constantine Dabbagh (Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches) showed they were more than a match for western politicians who fancied they knew all about the Middle East. “We need only one thing, to be protected by the world against the crimes of Israel,” was their central message.
And they made this stark plea: “Act and intervene, or nothing will change.”
Fr Manuel told Irish Government ministers and their foreign affairs committee:
“I was in Gaza during the war [Operation Cast Lead] and suffered with my people for 22 days. I saw with my own eyes a phosphoric bomb in the school yard. I saw people injured by these phosphoric bombs, although these bombs are forbidden. These crimes against us were ignored by all the people of the world…
“What happened in Gaza was not a war. A war is a clash between soldiers, aircraft and weapons. We were victims, just victims. They destroyed Gaza. I was there and saw with my own eyes what happened. We in Gaza were treated like animals… We are not terrorists. We have not occupied Israel.
“We do not want to die to liberate Palestine. We want to live to build Palestine…. We are asking the world to give the Palestinian people their rights. The question is whether peace is possible. Despite all the difficulties, the crimes and the war, we as Palestinians say peace is possible if justice is possible.
“All we ask of Israel is to respect us and not treat us like animals. We also ask parliamentarians and governments across the world not to give us food aid. We do not need cookies from Israel. We do not even need to trade with Israel. All we need is to be protected. We are suffering a war that we have endured for more than 60 years.”
Christianity in the region had been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel, said Fr Manuel. “Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora.”
He told his listeners how he had seen the Israeli army target the Christian school in Gaza.
“Five Hamas ministers visited the school after it was attacked and promised they would repair the damage… Hamas paid more than $122,000 to repair all the damage caused. Afterwards I met the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. When he embraced me he said this, and we believed it. He said: ‘Go to your family, but be assured that Hamas will employ weapons against Muslims to protect Christians in Gaza.’ This is the reality. Christians in Palestine are not suffering persecution, because we are not considered to be a religious community, but rather the people of Palestine. We have the same rights and the same obligations.”
He finished by describing how things really are.
“We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the Government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink.
“We want to be given more opportunity to reach Jerusalem. I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990… We want to see an end to this occupation, and please do not ask us to protect those who are occupying our territory.”
Fr Manuel should have been a political leader. To improve the human condition, it seems to me, churchmen must also be politically minded and not afraid to ‘mix it’ with the out-and-out scoundrels who infest our political institutions and cloak themselves in a national flag.
The priest’s words are all the more poignant this Christmas after yet another bloody and cowardly assault on defenceless Gazans and the continued inaction, even connivance, of some (supposedly Christian) Western powers.
My Christmas message to Palestinians in the Holy Land therefore is, pray for a miracle.
And my Christmas message to politicians in the world outside the Holy Land is this: as Fr Manuel says, peace is possible if justice is possible, so get off your fat backsides and ACT to deliver JUSTICE.
Make peace possible.
Or go pack your bags, find other employment, for you offend all decent people.
- Connection to the Land Cannot Not Be Broken (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The US State Department issued a statement this week that included a rare criticism of Israeli policy, calling the ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land a “pattern of provocative action” that prevented the renewal of peace talks. Despite this critique, the Israeli government announced plans to move ahead with 6,000 new settlement units, mainly in the Jerusalem area.
After the Palestinian Authority pursued, and succeeded in obtaining, a vote for non-member statehood status at the United Nations last month, the Israeli government undertook a number of punitive measures against the Palestinians. These including illegally confiscating Palestinian Authority funds that would pay the salaries of teachers, doctors, pensioners and the disabled, as well as announcing a plan to increase settlement construction in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israeli forces have militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967, and have illegally seized large swaths of Palestinian land in order to transfer Israeli civilians onto this land, in direct violation of its obligations as an Occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Since a peace agreement known as the ‘Oslo Accords’ was signed in 1993, hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers have poured into the West Bank and established colonies. In 2005, around 5,000 settlers were paid by the Israeli government to move out of settlements in the Gaza Strip, although many of them ended up moving to other settlements in the West Bank.
In this week’s statement to the press, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, “Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution yet these actions put that goal further at risk.”
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon responded defiantly, “ We will continue to build in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests.”
1,500 units were approved on Monday by Israel’s Interior Ministry, and discussion is continuing throughout this week on the plans for 4,500 additional units, which are expected to receive final approval by the Israeli Interior Ministry early next week.
All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered to be violations of international law.