Archive for March, 2008

‘Keeping Iran away from ‘members-only’ Arab club’

March 29, 2008

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No, the Iraq war didn’t spread freedom, democracy and stability like a tidal wave across the Middle East, as we were told it would. But let’s not be overly critical here — it succeeded in precipitating the spread of other things, like millions of refugees, terrorism, suicide bombings and Iranian influence.

(Haaretz) — “But it is not the Lebanese crisis only that shows signs of Iranian involvement: Iraq is also under Iranian influence, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia have virtually no leverage there, and Sudan also maintains close ties with Iran. Egypt’s fear is that Iran is building a web of diplomatic influence among Egypt’s neighbors, and thereby building itself up as a rival to the Arab club – and especially to members of what is known as the moderate axis…” Click for full article

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‘Palestinian political reconciliation campaign to march for unity on Wednesday’

March 25, 2008

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(Ma’an News Agency) – “The Palestinian Popular Campaign for National Reconciliation is holding its first event in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Scouts, Palestinian dignitaries, and representatives of more than 160 politically unaffiliated NGOs will take to the streets in a rally to call for rival Palestinian factions to unite… Representatives of Hamas and Fatah signed a nonbinding agreement to resume dialogue on Sunday, although high-ranking Fatah officials have since rejected the agreement…” Click for full article

Lebanon to boycott Arab Summit in Syria

March 25, 2008

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(Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa)

(Bloomberg) — “Lebanese officials will boycott an Arab League summit in Syria this month to protest a political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president since November, a senior aide to the premier said..” Click here for full article

‘Cairo climbs the nuclear pyramid’

March 25, 2008

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(Jerusalem Post) — “The driving force behind that decision was the ongoing nuclear crisis with Iran. Egypt, which is proud of its status as the largest and most powerful Arab country, cannot afford to ignore nuclear technology – today an essential part of a country’s power and strength. Sunni Egypt was compelled to enter the field to counterbalance Shi’ite Iran’s growing threat to the international community and to the Middle East. One must not forget that, according to a UN report, the oil and gas reserves of Egypt will start to dwindle in 2016, while Egypt’s population will have gone past the 100-million mark and it will need a lot of energy to produce its electricity. It is therefore obvious that whatever the angle, Egypt has no choice but to develop its nuclear energy. It’s original intentions might be for peaceful purposes, but military considerations will undoubtedly come later…” Click for full article

‘Robert Fisk: The cult of the suicide bomber’

March 16, 2008

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(The weapon of the 21st century science fiction writers never envisioned)

A very disturbing article from Robert Fisk on the remarkable rise and spread of suicide bombers in Iraq and increasingly beyond its borders. Those who still believe the Iraq war is making us safer and the Middle East more stable ought to read this article. The fact that the surge has lowered the number of attacks in Iraq — and even this supposed “success” is likely only to be a quick fix before conditions get worse in the long term — has very little relevance unless you consider the wider goals of the Iraq war to be a decrease in the number of attacks against us there. I don’t. In my opinion the byproducts of the war, which intensify the longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq and the images continue to be broadcast into living rooms across the Middle East, are far more menacing and dangerous than the ones we hear about within the narrow confines of the current debate, circling around the success or failure of the surge and “winning in Iraq.” Read for yourself:

(The Independent) — A month-long investigation by The Independent, culling four Arabic-language newspapers, official Iraqi statistics, two Beirut news agencies and Western reports, shows that an incredible 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq. This is a very conservative figure…

This is perhaps the most frightening and ghoulish legacy of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq five years ago. Suicide bombers in Iraq have killed at least 13,000 men, women and children – our most conservative estimate gives a total figure of 13,132 – and wounded a minimum of 16,112 people. If we include the dead and wounded in the mass stampede at the Baghdad Tigris river bridge in the summer of 2005 – caused by fear of suicide bombers – the figures rise to 14,132 and 16,612 respectively.

Never before has the Arab world witnessed a phenomenon of suicide-death on this scale. During Israel’s occupation of Lebanon after 1982, one Hizbollah suicide-bombing a month was considered remarkable. During the Palestinian intifadas of the 1980s and 1990s, four per month was regarded as unprecedented. But suicide bombers in Iraq have been attacking at the average rate of two every three days since the 2003 Anglo-American invasion.

Even more profoundly disturbing is that the “cult” of the suicide bomber has seeped across national frontiers. Within a year of the Iraqi invasion, Afghan Taliban bombers were blowing themselves up alongside Western troops or bases in Helmand province and in the capital Kabul. The practice leached into Pakistan, striking down thousands of troops and civilians, killing even the principal opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto. The London Tube and bus bombings – despite the denials of Tony Blair – were obviously deeply influenced by events in Iraq…Click for full article

Nir Rosen on ‘The Myth of the Surge’

March 15, 2008

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(An Iraqi policeman flashes a V-sign as he poses for a picture with members of Al-Sahwa, also known as “the Awakening.”ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images)

And this is the “success of the surge” John Mccain is riding on to win the 2008 election. Don’t be surprised if it works.

(Rolling Stone) — We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority,” says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. “Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future...” Click for full article

‘McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq’

March 15, 2008

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(Mccain on the march to victory. Whatever that means)

At first I thought Mccain was running on the status quo of current U.S. foreign policy. I was wrong, he’s worse.

(Bloomberg) — John McCain is at least as determined as George W. Bush to stay the course in Iraq and more confrontational than the president on foreign policy issues ranging from Russia and China to North Korea. “This is a man who hasn’t seen a country he doesn’t want to bomb or invade,” said Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration who has advised Democrat Barack Obama in his run for the White House. By emphasizing his more moderate approach on detainee policy and climate change, the former naval aviator has been able to cloak his more hawkish position on non-proliferation, China and Russia,” said Daalder...” Click for full article

‘Chuck Norris the only WMD in Iraq, say U.S. troops’

March 11, 2008

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(Chuck Norris touring Iraq)

(Reuters) — Hollywood action star Chuck Norris, known for his martial arts prowess and tough-guy image, has become a cult figure among the U.S. military in Iraq and an unlikely hero for some in Iraq’s security forces. A small cardboard shrine is dedicated to Norris at a U.S. military helicopter hub in Baghdad, and comments lauding the manliness and virility of the actor have been left on toilet walls across Iraq and even in neighboring Kuwait, soldiers say. The fastest way to a man’s heart is with Chuck Norris‘s fist,” reads one message at the shrine, which consists of a signed photo of the actor surrounded by similar statements. “Chuck Norris puts the laughter in manslaughter,” reads one and “Chuck Norris divides by zero,” reads another… Click for full article

Phalanx anyone?

March 6, 2008

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(Ship mounted Phalanx artillery battery)

In light of the explosive situation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it’s surprising that this story, now a few weeks old, has hardly garnered the attention it deserves. Ha’aretz correspondent Reuven Pedatzur reports that the ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system under development by Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Systems is useless to protect Sderot and other Israeli towns in the western Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The reason is simple, as Pedatzur points out, “The distance from the edge of Beit Hanun (in the Gaza Strip) to the outskirts of Sderot is 1,800 meters. Therefore, a rocket launched from Beit Hanun takes about nine seconds to hit Sderot. The developers of Iron Dome at Rafael Advance Defense Systems know that the preparations to simply launch the intercept missiles at their target take up to about 15 seconds (during which time the system locates the target, determines the flight path and calculates the intercept route). Obviously, then, the Qassam will slam into Sderot quite a number of seconds before the missile meant to intercept it is even launched.”

One needs not be a weapons expert to realize the incompetence behind the project. How could it be, with so many intelligent scientists and arms experts in Israel, nobody raised this rudimentary problem before the Israeli Defense Ministry decided to invest in the doomed project? Especially when there’s a much cheaper, more effective and readily available alternative found in the American made Phalanx artillery battery, developed by Raytheon to protect sitting duck warships from incoming missiles. The system has a radar (looks like R2D2) which tracks the trajectory of incoming projectiles and is then capable of firing 6,000 shells per minute at its target. And at least one of those shells usually scores a hit. The Phalanx also has a precedent of use over land, as seen in its deployment in the Green Zone in Iraq to protect U.S. forces from missiles and mortar barrages. I’m usually not one to pin my hopes on technological solutions, as though some new weapon system could finally put an end to the long-standing political conflict between Arabs and Israelis, but this could clearly help diffuse the situation.

Dr. Nathan Farber, a highly reputable ballistics expert believes that a mere five Phalanx artillery batteries, costing $1 million a piece (peanuts by the standards of Israel’s defense budget), would provide immediate relief to the residents of Sderot and other towns in the western Negev from daily Qassam barrages. Farber also writes off any environmental concerns as practically a non-issue, because the shells travel at such a high rate of speed, those which miss their target would end up somewhere over the Mediterranean before landing, and thus won’t pose a danger to residents of Israeli towns. Dr. Farber legitimately asks, “Why not deploy Phalanx batteries in the meanwhile (while Iron Dome is still under development), and protect the residents of Sderot? It will be cheaper, no less efficient, and above all provide immediate protection. If it’s good enough for the Americans in Iraq, why can’t it be good for us?” Pedatzur suggests that so-called “blue and white” economic motives were behind the decision to develop the homegrown Iron Dome system despite its obvious shortcomings in comparison to superior foreign-made alternatives. If true, it’s totally shameful and if not, the incompetence explanation isn’t much more promising. Those in the Defense Ministry should realize a rapidly escalating war with Hamas is ultimately far more costly, and in more ways than financial cost.

Most importantly, the advantages of the Phalanx don’t end with protecting the residents of the western Negev. If the system proves itself capable of intercepting most Qassams, it will end Israel’s immediate crisis, giving it some breathing space to seek a longer-term solution, undercut Hamas’ leverage over Israel, avert the inevitable large scale Israeli invasion of Gaza, and save a lot of lives in the process — including those Gazans who support the rocketing of Israel but don’t realize how much it’s hurting them. For these reasons alone, isn’t it at least worth trying? Dr. Farber has pleaded with the Defense Ministry to deploy Phalanx artillery batteries immediately, so far to no avail.

Pretty cool toy