Archive for September, 2007

Where Is the Love?

September 30, 2007

This story only confirms what I long suspected about the Iranian Majlis (parliament). They’re huge fans of the American hip hop group Black Eyed Peas, and have been influenced by the group’s 2003 top 10 single “Where Is the Love?“, a song which accuses the U.S. government of hypocrisy and contains the following lyrics:

“Overseas we tryin’ to stop terrorism, but we still got terrorists here livin’, in the U.S.A., the big CIA, the Bloods and the Crips and the KKK…”

Iran to label CIA, US Army terror groups

Iran’s parliament on Saturday approved a nonbinding resolution to label the CIA and the US Army “terrorist organizations.” The move is seen as a diplomatic tit-for-tat after the US Senate voted in favor of a resolution urging the State Department to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

“The aggressor US Army and the Central Intelligence Agency are terrorists and also nurture terror,” said a statement by the 215 lawmakers who signed the resolution at an open session of the Iranian parliament. The session was broadcast live on state-run radio.

majlis2.jpg

 

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Denial From Arafat Former Aide

September 30, 2007

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(A photo of Bassam Abu-Sharif, dubbed “The Face of Terror” by TIME Magazine)

I believe the report from the British archives, personally. Those behind the British National Archives are more or less a disinterested party, and if true, the report is (more) damaging to the reputation of members of the late Yasser Arafat’s leadership for dissuading him from declaring a Palestinian state in the 1970s. Thus, denials like this from Bassam Abu-Sharif are to be expected. Especially as Abu-Sharif, an ex-member of the PFLP (Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine) who joined the PLO and became special advisor to Arafat in 1978, used to be very radical, particularly during the time period in question here. He is said to have made a turnaround towards backing peace initiatives in later years. See below for a short background on Abu-Sharif from the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly Newspaper:

Abu-Sharif spent most of his life fighting back: dubbed “the face of terror” by the American magazine Time, he was a member of the politburo of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in which capacity he allegedly masterminded a series of airplane hijackings (the multiple hijackings of Pan-Am, Swiss Air, and TWA aircrafts in Jordan in 1970), survived a letter bomb from the Israeli secret services, losing several fingers and an eye, and went on to become Yasser Arafat’s confidant and spokesman.

Arafat aide denies claims made in British intelligence reports (Ma’an News Agency)

The private aide to late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Bassam Abu Sharif, on Sunday countered the British intelligence reports which alleged that several Palestinian dignitaries had advised Arafat to avoid declaring an independent Palestinian state in the 1970s.

Abu Sharif said, “The truth is that the Palestinian dignitaries inquired about the declaration of a Palestinian state, wishing to play a role in its declaration.”

He also said that then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was extremely enthusiastic about the suggestion and had said, “It is your opportunity because wars lead to desired ends. I waged war and this is your opportunity, so join me.”

President Arafat, Abu Sharif said, was equally enthusiastic, but some Arab officials advised him to coordinate with Jordan, as Jordan was in charge of the West Bank, according to international law, and Egypt was in charge of the Gaza Strip.

For You History Buffs

September 27, 2007

arafat-jordan.jpg

This is interesting. According to recently released documents from the British National Archives, only four years after the events of Black September in 1970, in which Palestinian guerrilla organizations brought Jordan to the brink of civil war, (Yasser Arafat was head of the PLO at the time) King Hussein of Jordan invited Arafat to become deputy prime minister in his government.

 

Yasser Arafat offered leading role in Jordan (Daily Telegraph)

By Peter Day

King Hussein of Jordan was prepared to make Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, his deputy prime minister, according to newly released secret documents. The proposal was made through an intermediary in 1974 as the king faced the prospect of a Palestinian government in exile attempting to divide his country. The Jordanian West Bank territories — where most Palestinian refugees lived — were occupied by Israel as a result of the Yom Kippur war in October 1973.

Mr Arafat, as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, was agitating for their return to form an independent state. He was backed by Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

King Hussein feared the break-up of his kingdom, with territory on both sides of the Jordan river being ceded to the Palestinians, and sought to woo Arafat in 1974, according to files released yesterday at the National Archives.

However, the proposal appears to have led nowhere and later that year the king conceded the prospect of a separate Palestinian state.

Egyptian Succession in the Spotlight

September 27, 2007

 

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By Andrew England
(Financial Times)

Ibrahim Issa, an outspoken editor of an independent daily newspaper, has long been a thorn in the side of the Egyptian leadership.

But earlier this month the veteran journalist seems to have pushed the regime to its limit when state prosecutors announced they were referring him to trial after he and his paper published articles about rumours related to the health of Hosni Mubarak, the president.

Activists see the case as part of crackdown on the media, while the government accuses Mr Issa of publishing false information and rumours in bad faith. What is certain is that he touched on one of the most burning topics facing Egypt today – who will succeed Mr Mubarak.

For several years there has been speculation about how much longer the president, 79, will go on, and whether his son, Gamal, is being groomed to succeed him. Recently the gossip intensified and lasted for several weeks.

Such was the clamour that Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador, felt the need to distance himself from reports linking him to the speculation; while Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, told worshippers that “Islam and all heavenly religions prohibit promotion and fabrication of false rumours”.

The fact that the rumours lasted for so long indicated that many no longer believe their government’s statements, analysts say.

The speculation is fuelled by uncertainty and a lack of transparency. It is the first time Egyptians have not known who their leader’s chosen successor is since the Mohammed Ali dynasty of the 1800s, says Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr Mubarak, who has been in power since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, has never appointed a vice-president.

“If the president disappears suddenly and there is a conflict in the top this will affect the interests of Egypt,” said Hafez Abu Seada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.

It would also affect the west’s interests. Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous nation with 79m people, a key US ally, and is one of only two Middle Eastern states to have reached a peace agreement with Israel.

Under the constitution, if a president is permanently disabled the speaker of parliament takes over with elections held within 60 days. Yet there is no standby candidate within the ruling National Democratic Party, with the exception of Gamal, who was promoted to be the party’s assistant secretary general in early 2006 but has always denied presidential ambitions.

Another great unknown is the stance – and influence – of the military and security services; would they accept Gamal, a young civilian, as commander in chief?

Since officers overthrew King Farouk I in 1952, Egypt’s three presidents have been military men.

“Egypt never was a military regime but all the time the military is playing the important role in the background. All the time they are here, but they are not clear in the theatre,” Mr Rashwan says. “I think they will play an important role. But we don’t have any information about how they are thinking.”

The prosecutor’s statement against Mr Issa claimed the rumours caused investors to withdraw $350m (€248m, £173m) from the stock market, although economists say this was linked to global market volatility.

Egypt has been attracting increasing amounts of foreign direct investment, with $11bn in the financial year to June. Still, investors do consider the succession issue “political risk”.

David Lubin, an economist at Citigroup, says the main factor is uncertainty.

“The risk isn’t easily quantifiable because we know so little about the underlying politics of the succession process. In addition to this, Egypt’s institutions are in some ways ‘Mubarak-shaped’, so it’s possible that the nature of Egyptian politics could change in a post-Mubarak era,” he says.

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Editor given two-year jail term

The editor of an opposition newspaper and two journalists were on Monday sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly publishing lies about the justice minister.

Human rights activists said the case was the latest example of a campaign of harassment against the media, which has been increasingly critical of the government.

Earlier this month four editors were sentenced to one year in prison for defaming President Hosni Mubarak and his son, Gamal.

Anwar al-Hawari, editor of the al-Wafd newspaper, and the two journalists were allowed to remain free after Monday’s verdict on bail of E£5,000 ($900, €640, £446) pending appeal. They were also fined E£2,201 each.

Livni Reportedly Meets with Syrian Foreign Minister in NY

September 27, 2007

Despite record high tensions between the two countries, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem two days ago in New York, A-Sinara, a newspaper published in Nazareth reported on Thursday.

According to the report, the meeting was brokered by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and received prior approval from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The meeting, which focused on Israel-Syria tensions and methods of maintaining calm, was also attended by Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, and the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Israel Radio reported.

Associates of Livni denied the A-Sinara report, and said no meeting ever took place between the two politicians. (Jerusalem Post)

Texas Governor Establishes Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce

September 27, 2007

(Haaretz)

Gov. Rick Perry announced on Tuesday the establishment of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce, an agency meant to foster economic exchange and academic collaboration between the two. Perry also said he has asked the directors of the Employees Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System to divest their funds from companies doing business with Iran. The governor said Texans will not condone Iran’s support of terrorism.

“I personally believe that any company that does business with Iran is actively assisting those who seek to harm American men and women who are serving in the Middle East and funds terror attacks on our allies in the region,” Perry said.
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“And so, today, as we usher in a new era of relations between Texas and Israel, we speak of a grand vision of a world where terror is defeated by kinship, economic partnerships create new opportunity and people are free to work and live in peace,” he added.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously called for the destruction of Israel – an American ally in the Middle East.

Texas is Israel’s third largest U.S. trading partner, and the newly formed chamber is the first such statewide agency partnering with another country, the governor’s office said.

“Israel has a highly educated work force and is the site of valuable academic research. That has led 14 U.S. states to create formal programs to promote economic ties with the Middle Eastern country,” said Asher Yarden, Israel’s consul general in the Southwest.

“Israel’s technology industry was created to sustain homeland security and defense,” Yarden said.

“That could benefit Texas, which, like Israel, shares concerns about the security of its border,” Perry said during his visit to an engineering and research lab at the University of Texas at Dallas – which conducts research in audiology, computer science, nanotechnology, space science and telecommunications.

The Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce – created by the governor’s office and the
Israel-American Chamber of Commerce – will be based in the Dallas suburb of Richardson.

“Trade between Israel and Texas has grown quickly, particularly in the telecom, defense, biomedical and computer software and hardware fields,” said Russell Levine, the new chamber’s chief executive.

Israeli Academics and Writers Call for Dialogue With Hamas

September 24, 2007

This story reminds me of the debates that erupted in the United States after the release of the Iraq Study Group report, which controversially recommended, among other things, that the United States directly engage with Iran and Syria in order to resolve the crisis in Iraq. So the logic goes, in order to resolve conflicts a nation must engage even with its enemies. Afterall, regular talks and visits were held between leaders of the US and of the Soviet Union, The US’ old arch-enemy.

But in Israel the problem has much deeper historical roots. For one, Israel has been involved in a longstanding and almost intractable conflict with enemies who reside right on its borders — very small borders — and in various cases inside its borders, rather than on the other side of the world for a one-time war. In the past Israel used to decline to speak with the PLO on the same grounds that it was a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction, although (rightly or wrongly) it changed course during the Oslo Accords and is now bolstering Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, the PLO’s most powerful constituent organization, against Islamist rivals Hamas. As to whether Israel would be wise to talk to Hamas? You can decide for yourself.

Israeli writers urge Hamas truce (BBC News)

A group of prominent Israeli academics and writers have urged the government to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas, the militant group in control of Gaza.

In a petition, they said this would help bring an end to the suffering of Israelis and of Palestinians.

Internationally-acclaimed authors Amos Oz, David Grossman and AB Yehoshua were among the signatories.

Israel rejected the petition, saying a group dedicated to Israel’s destruction could not be a partner for any talks.

‘Counterproductive’

“Israel has in the past negotiated with its worst enemies,” the petition said.

“Now, the appropriate course of action is to negotiate with Hamas to reach a general ceasefire to prevent further suffering for both sides.”

In response, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev described the petition as counterproductive.

“The position of the government of Israel and that of the European Union, Canada and the United States is that we must engage with the Palestinian moderates,” he said.

“Giving recognition and legitimacy to Hamas can only strengthen the extremists and undermine the moderates,” Mr Regev added.

Israel has no contacts with Hamas, which it considers a terror group.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for almost daily rocket attacks on its territory from inside the Gaza Strip, where the Islamist group seized control in June.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Ahmadinejad Speaks at Columbia

September 24, 2007

 

As for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments during the speech, they were outrageous as expected. Aside from denying there were gay Iranians, he went on to contradict himself as he always does on the issue of the holocaust. In one part of the speech he states, “If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?” (different perspectives being those of the deniers such as David Irving and David Duke, the latter he invited to his holocaust conference in Tehran, receiving equal credibility as those of the affirmers). Then in the same speech he states, “Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?” He wants to have it both ways: The holocaust didn’t happen, but if it did, then the Palestinians shouldn’t have been made to bear the brunt.

The latter argument has become fashionable today and it’s something far leftists and rightist can agree on, though anyone with knowledge of the history of Zionism knows the movement long preceded the holocaust (the first Zionist immigrants began coming in the 1880s). True, the atrocities revealed after the holocaust shocked the world to the point of garnering support for a Jewish state in Palestine. But it is also true, though less commonly known, that the holocaust dealt a nearly fatal blow to the Zionist enterprise, after the bulk of potential immigrants from Europe that the Zionists hoped to bring over in order to strengthen the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish population of Palestine) by giving the Jews a substantive edge in population over the Palestinians, were killed off during the Holocaust.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger stated in Ahmadinejad’s introduction that it was important to “know thine enemies,” a key justification he gave for inviting Ahmadinejad to speak. But it was obvious from the outset we weren’t going to learn anything about Ahmadinejad that we didn’t already know. Equally obvious was that once given a platform, Ahmadinejad would spin it into a charade for propaganda purposes for the audience back home. Just look at the coverage it received from the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

 

IRI President addresses students at Colombia University

New York, Sept 25, IRNA
Ahmadinejad-Colombia Varsity-Address
Despite entire US media objections, negative propagation and hue and cry in recent days over IRI President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s scheduled address at Colombia University, he gave his lecture and answered students questions here on Monday afternoon.

On second day of his entry in New York, and amid standing ovation of the audience that had attended the hall where the Iranian President was to give his lecture as of early hours of the day, Ahmadinejad said that Iran is not going to attack any country in the world.

Before President Ahamadinejad’s address, Colombia University Chancellor in a brief address told the audience that they would have the chance to hear Iran’s stands as the Iranian President would put them forth.

He said that the Iranians are a peace loving nation, they hate war, and all types of aggression.

Referring to the technological achievements of the Iranian nation in the course of recent years, the president considered them as a sign for the Iranians’ resolute will for achieving sustainable development and rapid advancement.

The audience on repeated occasion applauded Ahmadinejad when he touched on international crises.

At the end of his address President Ahmadinejad answered the students’ questions on such issues as Israel, Palestine, Iran’s nuclear program, the status of women in Iran and a number of other matters.

 

 

 

Altalena The Film

September 22, 2007

The story of the Altalena is one of the most controversial and sensitive in Israel’s history. 60 years later after the fact, old wounds are likely to reopen with a new movie that tells the tale of one of Israel’s most bitter rivalries before and after independence – that of David Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin. (Haaretz)

Bleak Future For Iraq and the Region

September 22, 2007

This forward looking article, written by Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and published in their newsletter, discusses the political fallout likely to result from massive flows of Iraqi refugees in the region and other related issues borne of the Iraq war that have been overshadowed by current problems we face, as if they weren’t enough. You can see we have a lot to worry about in the coming years.

The Next Iraq Problem
Jon Alterman

Iraq’s refugees tell heartbreaking accounts of suffering, displacement, and shattered dreams, but these refugees represent more than mere human interest stories. Collectively, the outpouring of millions of Iraqi refugees into a very small number of neighboring countries poses a dramatic security threat to the Middle East, and there is no sign that threat is going away.

In the lead up to the Iraq war, most of the U.S. government discussion about refugees assumed that refugee flows would be sudden, massive and brief. When more than a million Kurds fled Iraq into Turkey and Iran in 1991 to avoid Saddam’s wrath, camps were set up within days. The U.S. military dropped food and supplies, and provided protection for those trapped within Iraq’s borders. A few months later, the crisis was over, and refugees returned to their homes.

Iraq’s refugees now are not like the refugees then. They have fled slowly, not suddenly. They live in capital cities such as Damascus and Amman, not in open fields or encampments. And they are not peasants or craftsmen who can eke out a living on meager resources; they are white-collar workers with education and training but little future in their homeland.

Iraq’s refugees give little sign of returning home, and it is no wonder why. Iraq continues to unravel, and life is especially dangerous for the cosmopolitan petit bourgeoisie whom many assumed would inherit post-Saddam Iraq. Today’s Iraq is no place for a doctor or a professor, especially one with a young family. Sectarianism plays in as well. Perhaps half of the refugees are Sunni Arabs, a group that represents about a fifth of the Iraqi population but had been the backbone of Saddam’s regime. They see their country sliding not only into Shi’a control, but to rule by a Shi’a mob that is bent on revenge.

In many ways, however, fleeing the country provides only a brief respite. Few refugees are allowed to work in their new homes, and savings are running out. Children are sometimes barred from school, and others go to schools bursting at the seams. Health care, when it is available, is often expensive. The refugee flow has dramatically boosted housing prices, not only raising costs for the new émigrés, but also squeezing the young and working class in countries such as Syria and Jordan who see affordable housing sliding beyond their grasp.

The refugee flows are massive, and they are squeezed into a very small number of countries. Syria alone claims to have more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees—representing about eight percent of Syria’s population—mostly concentrated in the Damascus area. The economy is far from booming: foreign subsidies have dried up, the country’s small oil reserves are fast depleting, and foreign investors balk at penetrating a government bureaucracy that is slowly reforming but remains profoundly opaque. While some Iraqis maintain businesses back home while living in the safety of Damascus, desperation forces many more into prostitution and other crimes.

Syria periodically raises the possibility of cutting off the refugee flow or pushing Iraqis out, but doing so would require a dramatic shift in the ruling party’s pan-Arab ideology. The government seems caught, yet determined to muddle through.

Difficult as Syria’s problems are, Jordan’s are even more dire. Jordan has accepted 750,000 Iraqis, who now constitute more than ten percent of Jordan’s population. When combined with the 60 percent of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, the ruling Hashemites and their East Bank Jordanian allies have become an even smaller minority in their own country. Jordan has always been more homogenous than Syria, but the influx of hundreds of thousands of Shi’a Arabs has put an end to that.

Jordan’s refugee problem is compounded by a crisis brewing on its western border. With Hamas’ rise in the Palestinian territories, and the Fatah-led government’s determination to squelch it, instability there leaches into Jordan’s majority Palestinian community. The peril increases as U.S. policymakers and others push Jordan to deepen connections to the West Bank as a way of improving conditions in Palestine and supporting President Mahmoud Abbas. It may all work out well, but the danger is that Jordan falls prey to the crises on its eastern and western borders.

Other countries have taken smaller numbers of refugees but many have taken few or none. It is here, perhaps, that the United States is leading by example. The United States accepts 70,000 refugees per year worldwide, and only a small fraction have been from Iraq. Post-September 11 security concerns are partly in play, but more important is a reluctance to admit the magnitude of problems in Iraq and the likely permanence of the refugees’ displacement.

For too long, the Iraqi refugee problem has been seen merely as a humanitarian problem. It is that, but it is also a strategic one. Hundreds of thousands of increasingly desperate, unassimilated refugees can do dramatic things, and among them is threatening the stability of their new home. Assimilating these populations has its own challenges, especially in essentially authoritarian systems with limited resources and existing patronage networks.

For the United States, the strategic implications of Jordanian instability are clear, so deep is the military, intelligence, and diplomatic cooperation with that country, and so important is the Jordanian role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Instability in Syria is feared less, although it could make the country even more hostile to U.S. interests. In addition, few have contemplated the long-term impact of violent extremists mixed into these refugee populations, networked throughout the region and representing a new and virulent threat to their host societies.

No amount of money or time will make this problem go away. It is an international problem, and it will require international cooperation. More refugees will need to be absorbed outside of the Middle East, and lives will need to be put back together. There will need to be extensive screening of migrants, and robust intelligence cooperation. Making all of this work will require leadership, and the United States has not led nearly as much as it needs to.