Archive for October, 2007

‘India, Israel Planned to Hit Kahuta in 1980s’

October 31, 2007

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One has to be cautious when reports like this come out, especially when the evidence is flimsy. If true, it is extremely interesting that the Israeli air force had planned to attack Pakistan’s nuclear reactor at Kahuta in 1984, riding high in confidence just three years after the successful attack against Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 — fear of the so-called “Islamic Bomb” being the clear motive. Pakistan was to become the first Muslim country to acquire a nuclear bomb and the fear was they would spread the materials and technological know-how to fellow Muslim/Arab or enemy countries. And perhaps the Israelis had a point. The acclaimed book Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network by Gordon Corera details the damage done to the world’s security by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan who was finally stopped in 2004 after 30 years of selling nuclear materials and designs to Libya, North Korea and Iran. The rest is history. And continuing into today, we deal with a North Korean nuclear test, the headache of the Iranian nuclear standoff and an apparent rush by Sunni Arab states to acquire “peaceful nuclear energy” in compliance with IAEA regulations just in case they may need it to balance out Iran in the future. Then there is the looming threat of a possible Jihadist takeover and thus custodianship of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if the Musharraf regime or the regime of secular minded successors ever collapses. Though unlikely, no one can deny the absolute plausibility of this scenario.

The often-made argument “If Israel can have the bomb why can’t others?” is quite childish and annoying, and I strongly suspect proponents of this argument are more interested in pointing out a hypocrisy than in actually contemplating the harm that would be done to the security of us all when nuclear proliferation is “fair” across the board.

Most striking about this article is that Israel was planning to take the lead in this attack and not merely play the role of advising or providing intelligence to assist the Indian Air Force in doing the dirty work. Then Indian premier Indira Gandhi signed off to allow Israeli pilots to conduct the raids in cohorts with the Indian Air Force from Indian bases until the joint Israeli-Indian effort was forced down in the face of U.S. State Department threats. Recall that this was during the Cold War when U.S.-India relations were icy while Pakistan was a vital ally towards U.S. support of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet invasion and occupation. Oh, the foresight of U.S. foreign policy makers.

The evidence given in the below article from The Daily Times is based solely on a new book detailing Israeli-Indian intelligence links titled, “Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Conspiracy” by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, internationally renowned investigative journalists for The Guardian in London, who have been nominated three times for the British Press Awards. While citing this book, the article does not cite what evidence the authors cite, thus making it difficult to gauge the credibility of the claim — though they are highly esteemed journalists. Their journalistic connections may have afforded them access to some closed source information. If more comes out on this or I get my hands on the book, I will update.

 

(Daily Times) –‘India, Israel planned to hit Kahuta in 1980s’

LAHORE: India and Israel had secretly planned to hit Pakistan’s nuclear facility in Kahuta in 1983-84, but backed off when the CIA tipped off then president General Ziaul Haq.

According to APP, The Asian Age reported this in a report published on Sunday. The report states that a new book, “Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Conspiracy” by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, reveals details about India’s secret intelligence links with Israel. It claims that Indian military officials secretly travelled to Israel in February 1983 to buy electronic warfare equipment to neutralise Kahuta’s air defences.

According to the book, India put its plans on hold when the chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission warned the director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre that Islamabad would attack Mumbai if Kahuta were attacked.

It states that at this juncture, Israel suggested that it would attack Kahuta from Indian bases, adding that former premier Indira Gandhi signed off on the Israeli-led operation in March 1984. However, India and Israel backed off after the US state department warned India “the US will be responsive if India persists”.

The book also claims that Pakistan was preparing to use nuclear missiles against India during the Kargil war, citing a conversation between former US president Bill Clinton and former premier Nawaz Sharif from 1999.

According to a report released on the Times of India website, the book states that Sharif was unable to inform Clinton of his military’s moves. The president then warned Sharif that he would release a statement pinning all blame for Kargil on Pakistan if Sharif refused to pull his forces back. agencies

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Nuclear Ambiguity: Israel Stays Mum as Sunni States Clamor for Nuclear Power

October 31, 2007

(Jerusalem Post) — Israel was noticeably quiet Tuesday, a day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced a plan to build several nuclear power plants – a proposal heralded in the Egyptian press as a major national project.Israel was noticeably quiet last Tuesday as well, the day French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Morocco and pledged that France would help the country build a civil nuclear energy industry. This pronouncement came a day after Sarkozy met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Paris and took a forceful stand on stepping up sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear program.And Israel was noticeably quiet when Yemen signed an agreement last month with a US company to build nuclear plants over the last 10 years.

There are two patterns here. The first is that one Sunni country after another is expressing interest in developing a nuclear program for “peaceful needs,” and the second is that Israel is not saying anything, at least publicly, about it.

The first pattern – the blossoming of Sunni-dominated countries that have proclaimed an interest in a civilian nuclear capacity – is due both to Shi’ite Iran and to domestic politics.

As far as Iran is concerned, Teheran’s march toward nuclear capacity has already given it added clout and prestige in the region. As a result, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and, of course, Egypt want some of the prestige that comes from being in possession of nuclear technology, civilian or otherwise – if not to embark on a nuclear weapons program, then at least to have the technology in place “for a rainy day” if Iran does develop a bomb.

But even if Iran stops its nuclear program, possession of nuclear technology would place these countries in a different league in the region, a league they want to join. And it’s not only in this region; countries all over the world, from South Africa to Brazil and Argentina, have expressed interest in developing a civilian nuclear capacity.

There is also a domestic component to the sudden announcements of the various Arab nuclear plans.

In Egypt, it is no coincidence that Mubarak’s announcement came just a week before his party, the National Democratic Party, holds a major conference. This type of national project is likely to strengthen Mubarak in the eyes of his public, because developing a nuclear capacity is viewed very much as a prestige issue. Indeed, Mubarak’s son Gamal’s call last September for plans for an Egyptian nuclear program – a call that reversed a policy that shelved such plans as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl accident – also took place around the time of the party’s convention.

Israel is carefully monitoring all these developments, but publicly saying nothing.

Privately, as well, Israel is keeping a low profile on the matter, with its stated policy being that it believes every country has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as long as those countries fulfill international obligations to prevent proliferation and on condition that everything is transparent.

As one of the few countries in the world that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel is obviously not going to go up on a soap-box and lobby against nuclear know-how for peaceful needs going to countries that are willing to sign the NPT. Israel has no interest in doing anything that would attract attention to its own unique nuclear status in the region.

But behind the scenes, Israel is saying that it has no problem with Arab states having nuclear energy, as long as it is under tight supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international bodies. Israel’s aim is not to keep countries like Egypt from gaining a nuclear energy capacity, but rather ensuring that everything is done according to strict international rules, regulations and supervision.

The question of what would happen to this nuclear technology if, for instance, Mubarak died and Islamic radicals took power is an issue of real concern, but not one being discussed out loud.

Mosul Dam At Risk of Catastrophic Collapse

October 30, 2007

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This is one of the scariest stories coming out of Iraq. The engineering catastrophe known as the Mosul Dam was constructed in 1984 out of water-soluble gypsum, a very poor choice of material. Though the U.S. has warned the Iraqi government it poses a major threat of collapse, and despite a $27m US-funded reconstruction project to help repair the dam, there has been virtually no progress. This would be problematic enough if it were only a challenge for the engineers, but given the level of sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq which seems to know no boundaries, it is a major target for insurgent and/or Al Qaeda attack, threatening large numbers of Iraqi civilians. The mainly Kurdish northern Iraqi city of Mosul where the Dam resides, is known to be one of the calmer and more prosperous Iraqi cities today but there is already a past precedent of at least one massive attack there, the multiple truck bomb attack against the Yazidi tribe which killed upwards of 400 people. The Dam could well be a target for insurgents, (and when that occurs Fox News will read the attack as proof the insurgents are so desperate that it shows the surge is working.) As this article points out, one of the reasons the Iraqi government hasn’t addressed this story upfront is for the very fear it may bring attention to it among insurgents. In a letter Gen. David Petraeus and US ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Malik in May, they stated that, “A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.” The estimated loss of life, should the dam collapse, is estimated at as many as 500,000 people. That is more than double the estimated death toll from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings.

Thus, it would be a human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale, but on a political level it would also be an enormous calamity for the Unites States’ mission in Iraq. Despite U.S. efforts to make it look as though the Iraqi government is sovereign and in charge of the country, it will face blame if the Mosul dam collapses. Lets face it, the Iraqi government is impotent, and a country with over 150,000 foreign troops is not sovereign. The Iraqi government couldn’t even succeed in banning Blackwater USA from operating in its territory. Under international law an occupying power assumes responsibility for the problems that befall that country. This dam was problematic from the time it was built, but legal definitions aside, everyone in the Middle East will understand such a collapse as a result, even if indirectly, of the U.S. war in Iraq. The U.S. would be wise to do whatever it takes to guard the dam from insurgent attack as well as provide the necessary repairs even if this entails building a backup dam right in front of it.

(BBC) — The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.

In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a “significant loss of life”.

However, a $27m (£13m) US-funded reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.

Iraq says it is reducing the risk and insists there is no cause for alarm.

However, a US watchdog said reconstruction of the dam had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded “short-term solutions” had yet to significantly solve the dam’s problems.

SIGIR found multiple failures in several of the 21 contracts awarded to repair the dam.

Among the faults were faulty construction and delivery of improper parts, as well as projects which were not completed despite full payments having been made.

‘Fundamentally flawed’

The dam has been a problem for Iraqi engineers since it was constructed in 1984.

It was built on water-soluble gypsum, which caused seepage within months of its completion and led investigators to describe the site as “fundamentally flawed”.

In September 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam, 45 miles upstream of Mosul on the River Tigris, presented an unacceptable risk.

“In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world,” the corps warned, according to the SIGIR report. “If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely.”

A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad
US letter to Iraqi government

The corps later told US commanders to move their equipment away from the Tigris flood plain near Mosul because of the dam’s instability.

The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker then wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging him to make fixing the dam a “national priority”.

“A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad” the letter on 3 May warned.

“Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.”

If that were to happen some have predicted that as many as 500,000 people could be killed.

Alarm bells

Iraqi authorities, however, say they are taking steps to reduce the risk and they do not believe there is cause for alarm.

The Iraqi Minister for Water Resources, Latif Rashid, told the BBC that a number of steps were being taken to tackle the problem, including a reduction in water levels in the reservoir and a round-the-clock operation to pump grouting into the dam’s foundations.

Work would also begin next year on a longer-term plan to make the foundations safe by encasing them in a concrete curtain, he added.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the debate over the dam has gone on largely behind the scenes so as not to cause public panic or attract the interest of insurgents.

Taking Taboo To a Whole New Level

October 26, 2007

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So usually I don’t post on items like this, but I don’t get enough readers for anyone really to get offended, and frankly this is just bizarre. A new Israeli film set to screen in Tel Aviv this weekend exposes the Nazi-themed porn sensation in Israel in the early 1960s. Not my field of expertise, but this looks to me like the relatively logical and easy to understand (if weird) result of a society deeply repressed and disturbed over a few issues, the holocaust in particular. And built-up repression always has the most unhealthy ways of surfacing. Talk of the holocaust was extremely taboo in Israeli society and a source of guilt and shame until at least the 1960s and continues until today. The diaspora Jews, the victims of the holocaust, were often viewed, whether fairly or unfairly, as weak to have allowed the Nazis to do what they did without offering much of an answer. That was the epitome of the problem to which Zionism was supposed to be the solution. Adolf Eichmann’s capture in Argentina by the Mossad in 1960, followed by his trial and subsequent hanging in Jerusalem finally opened the flood gates. Arguably trying Nazi war criminals for their crimes against the Jewish people followed by a national discussion is a healthier way to address this taboo subject than viewing holocaust porn. Read for yourself, and don’t shoot the messenger:

Mentioning the unmentionable

(Jerusalem Post)

An awkward topic in almost any context, pornography is an even more uncomfortable subject when its consumers are Israeli and it features Nazis as objects of lust. But prison camp porn, regardless of how anyone feels about it now, proved a best-selling sensation in early 1960s Israel, just as the country began to come to grips with the scale of the Nazi genocide.

Desire and memory – and their suppression – form the inspiration of a fascinating new documentary by the director Ari Libsker, whose latest film, Stalagim, focuses on the Nazi-themed porn and screens Saturday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

Sharp, compelling and not even a little erotic, the film takes its title from the German abbreviation for “stammlager,” the POW camps that served as the setting of the Hebrew-language porn.

While Stalag books differed in the details, they relied, the film notes, on stories that were simple and consistent: An Allied pilot, on a bombing raid over Europe, is forced to parachute into Nazi territory, where he is captured and sent to a Stalag to be beaten and sexually dominated by female officers of the SS. In many of the Stalags, the inmate eventually kills his captor and escapes, but not before the book describes the pair’s sexual encounters in lurid and often sadistic detail.

Clandestinely sold at Tel Aviv’s central bus station, Stalag books were the underground bestseller of their day, a Hebrew pulp fiction that simultaneously addressed two of the period’s most unmentionable topics: sex and the Holocaust.

Those taboos have long since broken down, but the young Jewish state of the 1960s remained a “puritan, conservative” place, the narrator observes early in the film. Young adolescents – the first Israelis born after the creation of the state – were often left to figure out sexuality on their own, while Jewish victimhood under the Germans was treated as a symbol of shame, a failure of those insufficiently Zionist to flee.

Stalag books, not coincidentally, dealt with both topics just as the first Israeli-born teens were coming of age, giving the genre a sort of double appeal for curious, information-deprived adolescents.

The books, whose covers frequently featured busty blondes with swastikas and weapons, took off in popularity not long after the start of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, the watershed event that brought the Final Solution into the open. Stalags would briefly break into the mainstream, with ads for the books appearing in major publications like Ha’olam Hazeh next to coverage of the trial.

But Stalags’ visibility also hastened their downfall, leading to efforts to have them banned as pornography. Copies of the most notorious of the books, I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch, were eventually tracked down and destroyed by the Israel Police, one of the film’s experts says.

On their own, the psychological, sexual and free speech issues connected with the books should capture Stalagim’s viewers. But the documentary, it turns out, also makes a number of interesting observations about sex and the way the Holocaust is memorialized today.

For although the Stalag genre might now be dismissed as merely a kitschy embarrassment of the past – an historical oddity on the path to Playboy and Penthouse – the film also calls attention to the writings of K. Tzetnik, the first Israeli writer to deal with the Holocaust. His 1953 novel, The House of Dolls, presented itself as the story of the author’s sister, a figure forced to work as a prostitute at Auschwitz’s infamous Block 24. For five decades a classic of Israel’s Holocaust literature, the book joined the national high school curriculum in the 1990s – and is itself now considered by academics pornographic and at least partially fabricated.

Why, the film wonders, should the Stalags be reviled and Tzetnik revered, when the former, if nothing else, were at least transparent in their fictional nature? (Among doubtful plot points in The House of Dolls is its placement of a Jewish woman in Auschwitz’s so-called “Pleasure Block.” Though the death camp indeed contained a brothel of sex slaves, and though Jewish women were indeed raped by the Nazis, German race laws prevented Jews’ inclusion at institutions designated purely for sex, even at Auschwitz.)

More provocatively, the film goes on, what is the nature of interest in the Holocaust, and how should the period be discussed in Israeli schools now?

With images of memorial ceremonies and school trips to Auschwitz in the background, one educator describes students’ “eager questions that become almost embarrassing,” while another says, “I’ll be frank. In a way, I make use of” students’ interest in the macabre.

Some viewers may bristle at hearing one Stalagim participant describe “Holocaust professionals” and “merchants,” but the film, which will also air Tuesday on Yes Docu, nevertheless concludes with several notable points.

Stalag books, it implies, sprang from repression, a society that believed history could be avoided and human urges ignored.

Two generations later, sex and the Holocaust are no longer taboo, having moved from the fringes to the culture’s mainstream. Young people carry fewer questions today than they did in the past, but do so in a society arguably consumed with sexuality and death. They’re better off, no doubt – but not as much, the film suggests, as this liberal society might want to believe.

Lebanese Army Fires on IAF Jets

October 25, 2007

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This is more of an attempt for the Lebanese army to assert itself in South Lebanon vis a vis Hizbullah than it is to shoot down the overflying Israeli jet. I don’t think they even wanted to hit it, knowing the repercussions it would bring. It also brings attention to the fact that Israel is continuing its overflights into the country despite last summer’s ceasefire. This comes amid recent reports that Hizbullah is back to its pre-war strength. The Lebanese army may also be flexing its muscle and riding a degree of prestige it gained after defeating the Islamist uprising in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp over the summer. Yes, it took them all summer to defeat a handfull of hardcore Islamist fighters, but last I hear from Lebanon, they’re issuing credit cards with army camouflage design in harmony with the rise in nationalist sentiment.

(Jerusalem Post) — Lebanese troops opened fire Thursday on IAF warplanes flying low over southern Lebanon, but no hits were reported, Lebanese officials said.

Lebanese soldiers opened fire midmorning with machine guns and light anti-aircraft weapons mounted on armored vehicles at two planes that flew by just east of Marjayoun near the border, a Lebanese security official said. A total of 150 rounds were fired, he added.

A senior military officer also said the army “confronted” the Israeli planes, but gave no details.

It was the first time Lebanese troops had opened fire on Israeli aircraft since the August 14, 2006 cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War.

It is also the first time since February that the Lebanese army, which deployed in the south after the fighting, has fired on the Israelis.

Since the cease-fire, the IAF has conducted regular low-altitude flyovers over southern Lebanon, a tactic that has sparked protests from Arab nations and the international community.

The UN has condemned Israel’s flyovers. In November 2006, the UNIFIL peacekeeping force’s chief liaison officer, Col. Alexan Lalan, told The Jerusalem Post that the daily IAF flyovers were strengthening Hizbullah and creating new militants for the Shi’ite group.

“The flyovers harm the credibility of UNIFIL, the credibility of the LAF and the credibility of the state of Lebanon,” Lalan said in a phone interview from his office in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura.

“Every flyover creates new Hizbullah militants and new sympathy for Hizbullah since it shows and demonstrates that UNIFIL and the LAF are not powerful and able to stop them,” Lalan said.


Syria to Close Iraq Border, Send Back Refugees

October 21, 2007

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(Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press)

Friends of mine who were in Syria over the summer tell me that the flow of Iraqi refugees has caused significant strain on the country. For example, by raising demand, the cost of goods has gone up in general, and the country’s electrical system has struggled to cope with power demand. Thus it’s not uncommon for multiple power black outs to occur over the course of an average day, effecting businesses of every sort and disrupting daily life. Levels of crime and prostitution, borne of desperation, have also risen significantly. That said, Iraqi refugees have now become a favorite scapegoat and receive blame for all of Syria’s problems to an absurd degree, as though many of these problems didn’t exist before the refugees arrived. If the new rules ordering Iraqi refugees out of the country are strictly enforced, Syria may have to return to blaming Israel for its problems, tried and true.

(New York Times) — Long the only welcoming country in the region for Iraqi refugees, Syria has closed its borders to all but a small group of Iraqis and imposed new visa rules that will legally require the 1.5 million Iraqis cuqrrently in Syria to return to Iraq.The change quietly went into effect on Oct. 1. Syrian officials have often threatened to stem the flow of refugees over the past eight months, but until now have backed down after pleas from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

For more than a year, 2,000 to 4,000 Iraqis have fled into Syria every day, according to United Nations officials. On the last four days that the border remained open, the officials said, 25,000 Iraqis crossed into Syria.

“The door is now closed to Iraqis in every direction,” said Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman here for the United Nations refugee agency.

It is unclear whether Syria will enforce the rules for the Iraqis already in the country. United Nations officials believe Syria is likely to continue its practice of not deporting citizens of other Arab countries whose immigration status is illegal…

Report: Syrians Dismantling Facility Hit by IAF

October 19, 2007

The Washington Post is reporting in a story co-written by the highly credible Robin Wright that Syria has begun dismantling the site hit by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) last month. We should know in a little more time whether this is confirmed, as the press has been allowed nearby to the site and if they are kicked out, any country in the world with advanced intelligence capability is watching over with satellite reconnaissance and there may be more leaks on the story. If true, it’s the strongest indication yet it was either a nuclear facility of sorts, or if not, at least something important enough for the Israelis to really want to hit and the Syrians to want to cover up — and not just a standard missile shipment to Hizbullah that the Israelis selected as a generic target to practice for Iran or send a warning message — or an agricultural facility as the Syrians have claimed. The former is not likely, as no such facility needs to be built in order to make a simple weapons shipment to Hizbullah, or dismantled later to hide evidence. If it were the latter, what does Syria have to hide? Are they afraid journalists will come and discover some burnt out tractors and crops to confirm their narrative of the story? Assuming the Syrians are acting with rationality and sound judgment, they would have to believe that dismantling the facility in question, however damning, is less damning than if the international community were to learn the facility’s true nature. In the next few days, you can expect some denials and counter-denials over this report, in addition to some new stories published about it.

(Washington Post) — “Syria has begun dismantling the remains of a site Israel bombed Sept. 6 in what may be an attempt to prevent the location from coming under international scrutiny, said U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack.Based on overhead photography, the officials say the site in Syria’s eastern desert near the Euphrates River had a “signature” or characteristics of a small but substantial nuclear reactor, one similar in structure to North Korea’s facilities.

The dismantling of the damaged site, which appears to be still underway, could make it difficult for weapons inspectors to determine the precise nature of the facility and how Syria planned to use it. Syria, which possesses a small reactor used for scientific research, has denied seeking to expand its nuclear program. But U.S. officials knowledgeable about the Israeli raid have described the target as a nuclear facility being constructed with North Korean assistance…”

What Syrians Say About the Israeli Air Raid

October 18, 2007

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(The Economist) — EIGHTEEN days after a mysterious Israeli air raid on a Syrian target that neither country has so far identified, near the town of Deir ez-Zor in the north-eastern desert on the Euphrates river, an air-raid siren wailed in Damascus, the capital. Barely anyone looked up. Syrians are used to being on a war footing with their neighbour and the sirens are regularly tested. While the Western media speculated excitedly over exactly what was hit and why, most Syrians accept the official version of events—or at least accept that it may be a while before they know the full story.

Rumours and theories still swirl. Missiles on their way to Hizbullah, the Shia movement that Syria backs in Lebanon? A nuclear reactor in the early stages of construction? Were North Korean nuclear technicians involved? A full three weeks after the attack, President Bashar Assad gave a supposedly definitive account to the BBC: “They bombed buildings and constructions [sic] related to the military, but it’s not used, it’s under construction, so there are no people in it, there is no army.” Only the next day did Israel confirm that it had, indeed, hit a military installation. Syria’s foreign minister confusingly said the place was agricultural, not military.

Initially cautious, the government in Damascus sought to manage the news. The official media huffed and puffed, describing the raid as “wild” and “a new act of piracy”, then dropped the topic from the headlines. When an Israeli journalist on a foreign passport visited the area and published a snapshot of himself posing outside the supposed target, Syrian commentators showed less interest in the target and more outrage at how the reporter had slipped in unnoticed. The authorities then organised a rural outing for foreign journalists to an agricultural set-up near Deir ez-Zor, who duly reported the baffled denials from Syrian crop scientists who said they had neither seen nor heard a thing.

If Syrians do not appear to be driven to discover the details of the attack, it may be that they think they know the motive. “It’s Bush, pushing us into a provocation with Israel,” was a typical comment. “But I don’t think there’s going to be any war.”

Syria’s government has lodged a formal complaint with the UN. It has consulted its neighbours and encouraged Turkey to mediate. The state news agency said that Mr Assad’s visit this week to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, had gained importance thanks to the recent raid. The Turks were the first to protest against it because the Israelis had encroached on their air space and had dropped empty fuel tanks on Turkish soil on their way home.

Elsewhere in the region, many Arab analysts joined in the speculation. Was the raid an indirect way for Israel and its American ally to warn the Iranians of what may happen if they continue to enrich uranium? Or was it just an Israeli exercise to test Syria’s air-defence system, said to have been upgraded by the Russians? Most Arab commentators, however, suggest that the raid was meant to stir bad blood between the two old enemies and ensure that Syria would refuse to attend the Israel-Palestinian peace conference expected to be held in America next month.

Washington Denies Reports of Establishing US bases on Lebanese territories

October 18, 2007

(Kuwait News Agency) — US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman denied on Thursday newspaper reports of establishing US bases on Lebanese territories.
Feltman’s comment came in a press release as a response to local Lebanese newspapers’ report regarding a recent visit by a US high ranking military official and speculations of establishing US bases in several areas on the Lebanese territories.
The US Ambassador said they were not here to build bases in Lebanon, stressing at the same time that similar reports would be considered an insult to Lebanese army.
Feltman added the recent visit by the US military official aimed at providing support to the Lebanese army.
A local Lebanese newspaper said in its Thursday’s issue that the US is formally asking Lebanon to establish military bases in various areas on Lebanese lands.

Hashish Thrives Amid Lebanon’s Instability

October 16, 2007

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This is an interesting article about Lebanese marijuana cultivation as it relates to the country’s political climate. It’s also a prime example (strangely giving you faith in humanity) that no matter how badly things deteriorate, there’s always someone who figures out how to make a bunch of money off of it. I remember reading that during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), or the “golden years” of Lebanon’s marijuana cultivation as this article refers to it with terrible irony, occasionally young Israeli soldiers occupying the country couldn’t resist buying stashes for themselves, and would even trade weapons for it. The way things are going in Lebanon there could be a real future for marijuana farmers…

(Christian Science Monitor) — Farmers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are growing more marijuana now that government forces are once again too busy with conflicts to stop them.

By Nicholas Blanford

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Ali plucks a sprig of the cannabis sativa plant and sniffs its distinctive leaves with appreciation. This Lebanese farmer’s field of marijuana, a splash of bright green on the sun-baked plains of eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, will yield around 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of cannabis resin, or hashish, which he will sell for about $10,000, many times more than he could hope to earn from legitimate crops and for almost no work at all.

“All I have to do is throw the seeds on the ground, add a little water, and that’s it,” says Ali, who spoke on the condition that his full name was not used. “I would be crazy not to grow [marijuana].”

It has been a bumper year for marijuana cultivation in the Bekaa Valley, the largest, growers say, since the “golden years” of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when marijuana and heroin grown and processed here flooded the markets of Europe and the United States.

Hashish production is illegal in Lebanon, and each year since the early 1990s police backed by troops bulldoze the crops before they can be harvested, leaving farmers penniless. But the failure of United Nations and government programs to encourage the growth of legitimate crops, coupled with months of political crisis, deteriorating economic prospects, and a frail security climate have encouraged farmers to return to large-scale marijuana cultivation.

“The worse the security situation is in Lebanon, the more we can grow,” says Ali.

Worth the risk, farmers say

Despite the threat of police raids destroying their crops, farmers say the financial returns justify the risk. This year they were lucky, however. The Army was unable to spare troops to provide security for the police raids because of the raging battle during the summer growing season against Islamist militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Furthermore, the heavily armed local farmers made it clear to the police that they would resist attempts to wipe out their marijuana crops.

“We told the police that for every [marijuana] plant they cut down, we would kill one policeman,” says Ibtissam, the wife of a marijuana farmer in the village of Taraya.

Cannabis cultivation has a long history in Lebanon. For centuries, farmers have grown marijuana in the fertile Bekaa. However, it was not until Lebanon’s civil war that marijuana and opium poppy growing really took off. By the end of the 1980s, the northern Bekaa was awash with both crops, generating an annual local economy worth $500 million, a massive sum for one of the poorest districts of the country, turning local farmers into multimillionaire drug barons.

The biggest of them all was Jamil Hamieh, a simple farmer from Taraya who built a fortune from cannabis and heroin production, cutting deals with Colombian drug lords and mafia dons and earning him the dubious distinction of being the only Lebanese on the US government’s list of leading international drug “kingpins.”

Now retired from active drug production, Hamieh lives in an air-conditioned tent where he hosts visitors with tiny cups of bitter coffee.

“It wasn’t the government that made me stop. I was tired of being ripped off by all the foreigners I was dealing with,” he says with a rueful chuckle.

With the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese government launched a drug eradication program in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Encouraged by promises of state support and international funding, the farmers stopped growing cannabis and by 1994 the UNDP declared the Bekaa drug free.

But the development funds never fully materialized. Of the $300 million the UNDP assessed was required to develop the Bekaa without resorting to drug cultivation, only $17 million was received by 2001.

The program fizzled out a year later, although the UNDP continues to seek new ways of persuading farmers to grow alternative legal crops, such as plants with medicinal qualities that can be sold to pharmaceutical companies. The UNDP is about to launch a one-year pilot project to grow industrial hemp, which comes from cannabis but does not have narcotic properties.

“The farmers can sell the fibers to make money. We have had a lot of interest from factories overseas,” says Edgar Chehab, the head of the UNDP’s energy and environment division in Lebanon.

The northern part of the Bekaa Valley – where the bulk of the marijuana is grown – is dominated by Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hizbullah party. Hizbullah officially disapproves of drug production, but it has chosen to turn a blind eye to the practice rather than risk a confrontation over the issue with its grass-roots supporters.

Indeed, Hizbullah in the past has co-opted cross-border drug smuggling networks between Lebanon and Israel, allowing narcotics to flow south into the Jewish state in exchange for intelligence gathered by Israeli drug dealers.

Will local drug use increase?

The promise of easy money dampens any moral misgivings farmers may have about producing cannabis and hard drugs. But some expressed uneasiness that the difficulties in smuggling drugs out of the country will mean that most of the cannabis will end up being sold in the local market which could increase domestic drug dependency.

“All the borders are in lockdown so we have to sell it in the Lebanese market as cannabis only has a two-year life,” says Ahmad, a former marijuana farmer and heroin refiner.

Brigitte Khoury, a clinical psychologist and professor at the American University of Beirut, says that domestic drug use rises with the rates of production within Lebanon. “I am sure that if the marijuana planting increases there will be a corresponding increase in domestic drug use,” Ms. Khoury says.