Friday, September 03, 2004

 

Syria Watch

The UN Security Council passed a resolution yesterday (UNSC Res. 1559) with a vote of 9-0 with 6 abstentions. The resolution (with my comments in brackets and bold text)
1. Reaffirms its call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon;

2. Calls upon all remaining foreign forces [namely Syria] to withdraw from Lebanon;

3. Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias [namely Hezbollah];

4. Supports the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory;

5. Declares its support for a free and fair electoral process in Lebanon’s upcoming presidential election conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence;

6. Calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the Security Council for the full implementation of this and all relevant resolutions concerning the restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty, and political independence of Lebanon;

7. Requests that the Secretary-General report to the Security Council within thirty days on the implementation by the parties of this resolution and decides to remain actively seized of this matter.
Is the Bush administration building up a case for war? Let me acknowledge that there is no real basis for this suggestion, but if it does play out like that, I want to be acknowledged as being ahead of my time. Also of interest are the statements of the different representatives (especially the US, Pakistan, and Lebanon).

 

Lessons from Beslan

The Guardian has two excellent commentaries (from John Kampfner and Simon Tisdall) that I highly recommend. From Kampfner:
But after the shock, after the anger and the grieving for those who have died, what then? The immediate response is despondency and despair. Putin's iron fist has got nowhere. This was a man who promised to restore order after what his supporters call the "chaos" of the Yeltsin years, including Chechnya. After two military invasions, thousands dead, rigged elections and countless bomb attacks in Moscow and the Caucasus, he appears further away than ever from victory in his own war on terror.
From Tisdall:
Britain and others can hide behind the pretence that, as Putin maintains, violence in the Caucasus is just another front in the US-led "war on terror" - and close their eyes to causes and remedies. They can give Putin what he wants, which is carte blanche to do whatever he deems necessary. Or they can find the courage to change the habit of the past decade. They can dispense with the sort of mealy-mouthed, turpitudinous shuffling-about indulged in by France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schröder at their recent meeting with Putin. And they can insist instead that in return for active western support, Russia must finally accept the obvious: that Chechnya is a pressing, international problem requiring an agreed, collective, non-violent, international response.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

 

Iran or Syria?

There has been a lot of talk about an "October Suprise" coming with a potential for attacking Iran. However, there may be a possibility that the US will turn back to Syria as the next in line in the Middle East. I will lay out my reasons for believing that the Syria option is gaining ground agains the Iran option.

1) Syria may well be easier to sell to defense strategists than Iran at this point - it is much smaller and less populous.

2) The US is currently pressuring the UN Security Council to withdraw from Lebanon. For more on this see Joshua Landis's much better informed comments on the matter.

3) Israel is really racheting up the rhetoric against Syria in the wake of the suicide bombings in Be'er Sheva. With Israel (who stayed out of the Iraq war) as an active ally in an attack on Syria, the going (militarily) would be easier for the US.

4) Recent allegations of AIPAC involvement in spying for Israel in the US focus mostly around US policy towards Iran (Juan Cole has been all over this, so for more information, go there). This bad publicity might make the Iran war less politically enticing to Bush administration people. So Iran moves down on the priority list and Syria moves up.

This is my reasoning. This whole idea just kind of dawned on me just now, so it's not totally well-thought-out. But who knows, Bush administration policy towards the Middle East doesn't always seem that well thought out either, does it? Something to think about.

 

Tom DeLay: "There is no nuance... "

This is the nuance-free world view of the Republican party: "My friends, there is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is only the global war on terrorism," DeLay told the crowd at the Plaza Hotel Monday. Yes, let's never look at underlying causes of conflict, let's never look at different situations or circumstances. Shit, let's just scrap that useless State Department and give all those wasted resources to Homeland Security.

Thanks to Amanda and Josh Marshall for finding this.

 

Palestinian Prisoners End Hunger Strike

The Palestinians are claiming that the Israelis agreed to some of their demands, the Israelis are saying that they did not. I don't know what actually happened but I don't think it is a coincidence that the hunger strike ended two days after the suicide bombings in Be'er Sheva that would have irreparably undermined the negotiating position of the Palestinian prisoners.

From the same article in Ha'aretz:
Meanwhile, a militant group associated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement has issued a death sentence against Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath for his readiness to meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom during the hunger strike.

The Jenin Martyrs Brigades, which operates in the Gaza Strip, has distributed a pamphlet warning Sha'ath not to enter Gaza, on penalty of death, Israel Radio reported Thursday.
This is idiocy. What, do the Jenin Martyrs Brigades think that Palestinians are going to win by not negotiating? Yeah, good plan guys - I'm sure a stunning, suprise military victory is right around the corner for the Palestinians. The only way that the Palestinians are able to achieve their goals are through meetings, negotiations, agreements with the Israelis. It might not be fair, it might be unfortunate (especially given the current Israeli administration) but it seems completely counterproductive to issue a death sentence to the Foreign Minister of your country for expressing readiness to meet with other foreign ministers. THAT IS HIS JOB!

 

Another US "Victory" in the "War on Terror"

In the NY Times today, an expose on the "Detroit terror cell" case that has recently absolutely fallen apart for the government. What was once hailed as a major victory for the war on terror inside the US (I can only imagine the number of times the word "homeland" was used in those press conferences), will now proceed on document fraud charges only. I wonder if George W. Bush thinks that we can win the war on document fraud? The lead prosecutor in the case has been dismissed and is now filing suit against the Department of Justice.
"To have one of the department's few wins move into the loss category is pretty remarkable," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. "The Detroit case is like a 20-car pileup for Ashcroft. You have an open feud with the former prosecutor and ultimately the abandonment of the case."
Now to anybody who thinks that we might somehow be letting real terrorists off on a technicality, I don't think that is the case. First of all, I don't think that if these guys posed a real threat they would be even mentioning letting them go. That's not the way this DOJ operates. Also, the flimsy case against them (on which they were originally convicted) has been absolutely destroyed.
After nine months of investigation, federal prosecutors compiled a wealth of evidence that they said fatally undermined every aspect of their terror case.

[...]

The strategy relied on three strands of evidence: drawings and a videotape suggesting the men were collecting intelligence on targets in the United States and abroad; the testimony of an associate who said the men were hatching terrorist schemes, and corroborating evidence that they were using methods consistent with terror operations.

"Unfortunately, numerous developments since trial, including the discovery of significant materials not disclosed by the prosecution, have undermined each part of this three-legged stool," the government said in its filing.

One crucial piece of evidence was a day planner containing sketches that prosecution witnesses said included a military hospital in Jordan and an American air base in Turkey. During the trial, prosecutors contended that a portion of the sketch depicted an aircraft hangar at the base in Turkey. Defense lawyers said it was simply a doodle drawing of the Middle East. The government now says American investigators in Germany concluded that the supposed hangar drawing was, in fact, an outline of the Middle East.

An Air Force colonel who testified at the trial created the false impression that military officials were in agreement that the sketch represented a hangar, the government now says. And a C.I.A. official showed the sketch to various experts who doubted it was significant.

Prosecutors contended that another sketch showed a Jordanian military hospital. At trial, defense lawyers had asked for any photographs taken by the government of the hospital. Two government witnesses suggested such photographs had not been taken. But the government said Wednesday that the prosecutors did have photographs.

"It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare the day planner sketches with the photos and see a correlation," the government said.

Another piece of evidence was a videotape of what looked like tourist footage. Prosecutors contended at trial that it was interspersed with potential targets, including the MGM Grand Hotel. But prosecutors failed to reveal that F.B.I. agents disagreed the video was surveillance footage.

"Under the court's established protocol, the government should have brought this information to the court's attention," the government said.
Ah yes. Shoulda woulda coulda. John Ashcroft and George W. Bush are absolute frauds when it comes to protecting us from terrorism.

 

Nepal: From Bad to Worse

The tragic killing of 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq seems to have touched off a powder keg in Nepal, where thousands of Nepalese rioted, torching a mosque, chanting "Down with Islam," sacking several Middle Eastern airline headquarters, and attempting to storm the Egyptian embassy. While I understand that emotions would be running high with the events in Iraq, this kind of Islamophobic hatred and wanton destruction is so so sad and just makes a bad situation worse. Then, to make things even worse, the Nepalese police ended up killing two people and wounding three as they attempted to get the situation under control. Is this the kind of stability and democracy that regime change in Iraq was supposed to bring?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

 

More on Chechnya

The Guardian provides the excellent service of publishing a round-up of Russian press reaction to the Chechen presidential elections.

 

Winning the War on Terror

There has been lots of talk recently about George W. Bush saying we can't win the war on terror, then saying we can, then everybody making a big deal about it. Honestly, I don't care about what Bush says about the war on terror. What I'd like to point to is how Bush is going about winning the war on terror. Look at the allies that Bush has chosen, and the style of counter-terrorism that he has chosen to emulate and glorify. Two of the US's "allies" in the war on terror have been Russia and Israel. Russia and Israel have both clammored to get on board with the US, mostly to be able to do whatever they want in Chechnya and the West Bank/Gaza respectively. They have made the most of it, acting with impunity and without regard for international opinion, knowing that the US is the only real game in town when it comes to international support. And the past week or so has shown the kind of results that Russia and Israel are getting from their war, the same war that Bush wants the US to fight.

Yesterday, two suicide bombers killed 16 people in the Israeli city of Be'er Sheva. Israel has responded by warning Hezbollah, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority (despite the fact that Hamas was the group that claimed responsibility) that they "will not sleep soundly." Also, Israel has surrounded the city of Hebron, where the suicide bombers were from, not allowing anybody to enter or leave. I fear for the lives of innocents in Hebron, especially given the insights of an in-depth article by Amos Harel and Arnon Regular in Ha'aretz:
While elsewhere in the West Bank the IDF has relatively good intelligence sources, they are more or less groping in the dark when it comes to Hebron.
The article also points out that the leaflet distributed by Hamas after the bombing called the attack a "gift" to the hunger striking prisoners - as I wrote yesterday, this is the kind of "gift" that the hunger strikers could go without - but that "the attack in Be'er Sheva was apparently not coordinated with Hamas in the Strip." This might explain the counterproductive strategic timing of the attack, especially in regards to the hunger striking prisoners.

Recently, Russia has reaped the rewards of its "war on terror" in Chechnya and the wider Caucasus region. First, two planes that took off from Moscow crashed - it was later revealed that they were taken down by terrorists. While the investigation continues, it seems that a Chechen woman on each plane exploded herself, serving to take the planes down, killing all the passengers. Last night, another Chechen woman blew herself up in a Moscow subway station, killing ten others. Today, about 20 armed guerillas stormed a school in North Ossetia, taking hostages.
At one point, Russian news agencies put the number of hostages between 200 and 400 and said some of the attackers wore suicide belts of explosives. Later, authorities revised the figures downward to between 120 and 150 hostages. As evening approached, news services reported the release of 15 hostages.
This comes shortly after the presidential election in Chechnya where the Russian-backed candidate was victorious. So much for installing democracy - obviously that is not the key to winning the war on terror. In fact, the hostage takers "insisted they would negotiate only with the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia" (two of the Caucasian regions that neighbor Chechnya). The response of Russian officials?
President Vladimir Putin blamed the outbreak of violence across Russia on international terrorists linked to al Qaeda in league with separatist Chechens. In comments made as news of the school seizure was breaking, Putin told journalists he would continue his policy of not negotiating with Chechen guerrillas. "We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them," he said.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also vowed to give no quarter to what he called internationally inspired terrorism in the wake of Wednesday's deadly blast outside Moscow's Rizhskaya metro station. "War has been declared on us," he told reporters here, "where the enemy is unseen and there is no front."
Sound familiar to anybody? I write this not to gloat or say "I told you so" or anything of the kind. Rather, it is imperative that we see the disastrous results of the way that the Bush administration has decided to fight the war on terror. This is not winning. These are desperate acts, but that doesn't mean anything - the lifeblood of terrorism is desperation. So whether George W Bush says we are winning or that we can't win or that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, hardly matters. Talk is cheap; the proof is in the pudding. The Bush-Putin-Sharon war on terror puts more innocent lives at risk, and that's the real issue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

 

Bad News, Bad Timing, Bad Strategy

Two suicide bombers killed 12 (so far) and wounded 91 others in twin bus bombings in Be'er Sheva today. When I first read about the attacks, no group had claimed responsibility. I began thinking about how stupid this act was (in addition to the horror of suicide bombings), not just in terms of wasted lives but also in terms of accomplishing goals. I feel as though a lot of effort has been put toward promoting the goals of the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. I have read that this hunger strike was largely organized by Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists inside Israeli prisons. So, I thought, why would the leadership of Hamas or Islamic Jihad want to draw attention away from the hunger strikers and significantly cripple their efforts? I came to the conclusion that it would probably be claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, who seem to have less invested in the hunger strike and also seem to act with the least oversight and the least strategic thinking. But now, checking back on the story, I see that Hamas has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the attacks were "revenge for Israel's assassinations last spring of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi." Obviously, these attacks have been in planning for a while. Quite a bit of thought has to go into them, in order for them to be carried out, without the suicide bomber being caught by the Israelis (as happened earlier today at the Erez checkpoint). So why, then, would absolutely no thought be put into a greater strategy. Who in Hamas didn't realize that this would be a disaster for the hunger strikers? Not only will they suffer from a decrease in sympathy for their condition, but will mostly suffer from an incredible drop in attention. The first suicide bombings in five months are going to be on every front page tomorrow. What a complete and utter waste.


PS. The point of this post is not that suicide bombing is bad only because it is counterproductive in terms of accomplishing anything for the Palestinians. But I think it is important to understand that the groups that send suicide bombers see it as a strategic move - to prove that even under brutal occupation, even without any military to speak of, even in these conditions the Palestinian people have the ability to fight back, to terrorize, to cause pain to the Israelis. And it is important that in order to put an end to suicide bombing, or at least to curtail it severely, it needs to be impressed upon those that support it that it is to their strategic, not their moral or ethical or any of that hypocritical nonsense, but their strategic interests to stop suicide bombings. This disclaimer shouldn't be necessary, but I want to be clear.

Monday, August 30, 2004

 

A New Cold War Update

Yesterday, India tested an Agni II surface-to-surface missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The trial, on the testing range on Wheeler Island off eastern Orissa state, was the third trial of the Agni II, which has a range of up to 2,500 kilometres (1,560 miles) and can carry a warhead weighing up to a tonne. (Guardian)
Pakistan was informed of the test before hand and there does not seem to be any great increase in tension between the two as a result of the test. Also, in missile testing news, photos of Iranian tests run three weeks ago indicate that the Shihab-3 missile has been upgraded to allow slower entry into the atmosphere (to better protect the warhead) and to increase its range.
It is also likely that the Iranian effort is not limited to the Shihab-3, which has a range of about 1,300 kilometers, but also to the Shihab 4, planned with a range of 2,000 kilometers or more.

At present the Shihab-3 can already come within range of Turkey, which is a member of NATO, as well as most Saudi Arabian cities and oil fields. On the last test of the Shihab-3 on August 11, the missile did not pass the maximum trajectory that had been determined for it.

[...]

In addition to the new warhead, the missile was fired from an operational vehicle and not from an ordinary surface launcher. In all the other Shihab-3 tests, the warhead was cone-shaped, but this time it has a new, flatter shape and appears to have various short wings. (Ha'aretz)
These developments might not be front page news, but it seems to me that for all the talk of making us safer from WMDs, the Bush administration has seemed disinterested in non-proliferation and diplomatic efforts to keep nuclear tensions to a minimum. For all the talk of "the greatest threat" being the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups, it seems to me that the more likely threat comes from the continuing development and proliferation of nuclear arms among state actors. I must say that I am much more afraid of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and India (not to mention the United States and North Korea and, still, Russia) than I am of the possibility of al-Qaeda somehow setting off a "dirty bomb." Let's get serious. When it comes to WMDs, the Bush administration points to Libya and Iraq as its success stories. That is laughable. In the context of the articles above, the 'dismantling' of 'WMD-related programs' in Iraq (Meaning what? A few sarin gas canisters left over from the Iran-Iraq war?) and the same in Libya (where we managed to spare the world from hundreds of aluminum tubes... that were incapable of being turned into centrifuges for nuclear material) proves the dismal failure of the Bush administration when it comes to real threats to the security of the whole world.

 

An Illustrative Example

In an article in today's Ha'aretz there is a perfect example of the way the Israeli government goes about its business in the occupied territories. Here is the passage:
In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, morning, police and soldiers evacuated the illegal Giborim outpost, close to Hebron, and the adjacent Hazon David synagogue. This is the 19th time that the outpost has been removed, and the 15th time that the makeshift synagogue dismantled.

Settlers vowed to retake both sites.
The 19th time that the outpost has been removed and the 15th time that the synagogue has been dismantled. Is there any doubt that the settlers will, as they vowed, succeed in retaking both sites? And in the meantime, the Israeli government can point its finger at the effort it is making in cracking down on "illegal" settlement activity. The result is a short-term PR victory for the government, a further magnified sense of heroism, persecution, and contempt for government amongst the settlers, and no real progress at all.

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