So much news and commentary today. Am sure that the 9 items below are too much, and that I should have omitted more than I did. But as I’ve said before, it’s my job to furnish information. I trust you to select, I almost omitted Today in Palestine for Dec7, but didn’t. Who knows, some of you might have missed it. So now there are 9 items, plus a few extra links in case you want to know more.
So, item 1 relates that there were reprisals from Gaza for Israel’s killings the past 2 days—a total of 3 dead plus more injured. I selected the Ynet report because it at least acknowledges that these were reprisals (Haaretz does not). Every Israeli living in the South in the range of the rockets knows full well that when Israel attacks Gaza, there will be rockets coming from Gaza. That didn’t happen, however, after Wednesday’s killing. So Israel had to prod with 2 more deaths to bring about the reactions. Israel’s leaders can’t bear quiet and calm. There has to be ‘action’ somewhere. There has been quite a bit of talk recently from the military higher-ups about the need to go into Gaza and finish the job. Would it bother them to kill ½ a million or more? I doubt it. Anyhow, whipping up the retaliations gives ‘good’ excuse for a military campaign in Gaza. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t count on it not occurring. Why else these attacks on Gazans? And don’t take too seriously the list of ‘terrors’ any of the individuals killed engaged in. I don’t trust Israeli army reports further than I can throw a rock—and believe me, I can’t throw more than a few feet!
Items 2 and 3 are about discrimination, and item 5 about pure racism.
Item 2 should be enough proof for anyone who doubted it that Jews are not a ‘people’ or ‘nation.’ Israel as a country grounded on one religion-ethos is a tribal society, but that Jews are any more a ‘people’ than are Catholics or Protestants or Hindus or seculars is ridiculous. And this business of Ashkenazies discriminating against Sphardi girls shows clearly that Jews are not a ‘people.’
Item 3 relates that an East Jerusalem hospital (yes, that’s right, a hospital) has been cut off from all communication (phones, faxes, email, etc) because technicians are afraid to come in to the area without protection. This is a hospital in Israel, mind you. It is not in the West Bank. But it is in East Jerusalem, meaning that most of its patients are most likely Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or residency rights, but Palestinians nevertheless. Hence discrimintation. I can’t imagine this happening to a Jewish hospital in Jerusalem.
Item 4 quotes Eli Yishai, who says “Every African ‘infiltrator’ will return home.” Netanyahu supports this. Why? Because of the demographic threat! That’s what’s wrong with a state or country grounded on a single race, ethos, religion—a tribal society, in other words. This is pure racism for the purpose of keeping Israel free of non-Jews.
Item 5 is one that I agree with 100%: “How about an Israeli Destruction Freeze,” meaning by ‘destruction’ demolitions. Well, by now you know where I stand on that subject.
In item 6 Gideon Levy takes to task the fact that ‘peace has vanished from Israeli discourse.’ True. It’s hardly mentioned any more.
Item 7 and 8 are on the same subject: attacking Iran. Even their titles are similar, but the gist is different. Item 7 speaks of Israel, the U.S. and Britain, whereas item 8 focuses mostly on Britain when it says that ‘War on Iran has begun.’ Both articles are worth reading. I hope and hope and hope that Israel’s leaders and leaders of other countries will not be so stupid as to attack Iran. ‘No more war,’ said Sadat, speaking of Egypt and Israel. I wish that Israel’s leaders would make that their motto. But small chance.
Item 9 is, of course, Today in Palestine.
I hope that these reach you. Am still having problems. Someone is evidently playing games with my computer. But we shall overcome, I’m sure. Hopefully that’s true also of the occupation.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Back to Reality
Back to the bomb shelters in southern Israel Photo: Avi Rokach
Retaliation: Five rockets were fired from northern Gaza at Israel Thursday evening. The fire came several hours after two Al-Aqsa Brigades’ operatives were killed in an IAF strike in Gaza Strip.
A Grad rocket exploded on the outskirts of Beersheba and two other rockets hit an open area between the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regional councils. No injuries or damage were reported.
The Color Red alert did not sound across the western Negev prior to the salvo, a fact which is now being investigated. The Color Red alert sounded in the greater Beersheba area prior to the Grad’s explosion.
Then later two rockets fired from the northern Gaza Strip at the western Negev landed in open areas in the Ashkelon area. No injuries or damages were reported. Air raid sirens were heard in the area.
Earlier, the defense establishment directed the security coordinators at the Negev communities to be vigilant. Residents of the Gaza vicinity communities were asked to remain near their shelters over concerns that rockets will be fired on the area.
“We are on high alert since the strike and are following defense establishment directives,” said Sderot Municipality security coordinator Kobi Herosh.
Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Head Alon Shuster said that after the IAF strike, all farming operations near the border with the Gaza Strip were halted.
“Residents within seven kilometers from the security fence were directed to remain near their shelters,” he said, adding: “Children will remain within the kindergarten shelters tomorrow and will not be allowed outside.”
Bnei Shimon Local Council Head Sigal Moran said: “We hope their response is over, but we aren’t counting on it. When we heard the news we realized we might not have a quiet night. We hope they don’t start another round but from previous experience, it’s usually more than one salvo.”
Later Thursday,the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that Israeli Air force jets fired on the Zeitoun area of Gaza City.
The news agency reported that IDF artillery was fired at the area and that drones were circling the region. No injuries were reported.
Roee Nahmias contributed to this report
2. [just goes to show that talk about Jews being ‘a people’ is nonsense! D]
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Israel’s High Court to hear petition against segregation at ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools
Petition submitted by Noar Kahalacha organization and social activist Yoav Laloum, who headed the fight against ethnic segregation at the Beit Yaakov girls school in the West Bank settlement Immanuel in 2008.
A petition against the Education Ministry, Jerusalem and several other municipalities is to come before the High Court of Justice today seeking to stop the “apartheid-like” ethnic segregation at state-funded, ultra-Orthodox girls high schools.
The petition was submitted by the Noar Kahalacha organization and social activist Yoav Laloum, who headed the fight against ethnic segregation at the Beit Yaakov girls school in the West Bank settlement Immanuel in 2008.
At question are mainly Mizrahi girls – those whose families’ origins are in the Arab-speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
The petitioners demand that the Education Ministry and municipalities of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Ilit and Betar Ilit stop the discrimination against Mizrahi girls in these schools and revoke the quotas restricting their admission.
“This is no ordinary petition,” Laloum said yesterday. “This is a grave indictment against the Education Ministry, which is abandoning thousands of girls to the ultra-Orthodox political hacks. The discrimination must end now. We demand a transparent and supervised registration process for the schools. The quotas must be done away with.”
Laloum said dozens of girls are sitting at home after being rejected by ultra-Orthodox high schools merely because of their Mizrahi origin. He submitted lists of 25 Mizrahi girls in Jerusalem, 48 in Bnei Brak, six in Betar Ilit and 11 in Beit Shemesh.
The petitioners submitted papers showing that the quota for Mizrahi girls at 25 state-funded high schools in Jerusalem does not exceed 30 percent and is often much lower. They also submitted a list of ninth-grade students’ names in four randomly checked classes in one Jerusalem high school.
“We may not believe our eyes and ears, but in this school there is apartheid-like segregation between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi girls,” says the petition, submitted by Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College.
“You don’t have to be an expert sociologist to know that Bernstein, Korngold and Rothstein … are Ashkenazi names, while Gabbai, Biton, Mualem and Arbiv are Mizrahi. The discrimination screams out from the list and is a shameful mark on the schools’ forehead.”
The best ultra-Orthodox girls high schools practice this discrimination, which is clearly dictated by the local authorities, the petitioners say.
Laloum collected dozens of complaints from Mizrahi girls who were forced to enroll in Mizrahi schools after being rejected by the good Ashkenazi schools because of their ethnicity.
“Instead of measuring a school’s prestige by its academic standards, virtually the only criterion for these schools’ standing is the rate of ‘Mizrahi’ girls in it,” the petition says.
“For this reason the schools don’t examine each candidate’s knowledge or skills but focus on her ethnic origin. If a girl is found to be Mizrahi, her chances of being admitted are almost nil unless she belongs to one of the ‘aristocratic families’ close to the government.”
“We wanted to enroll our girl in high school,” a Mizrahi father in Jerusalem told Haaretz. “We were rejected again and again by six schools, although the girl had an excellent report card. Her grades and qualifications are much higher than the Ashkenazi girls who were admitted right away.
“In one school the interview ended after five minutes and the principal told my wife shamelessly: The Mizrahi quota is full. She said she’d accept her only if we registered her under my wife’s maiden name, Liebowitz.”
According to a girl from Bnei Brak, “They all came to me before registration to study from me, because I had the highest grades. All I wanted was to go to the best high school with all my friends, but they humiliated me, rejected me, just because my skin is a little darker. Friends who got much lower grades were admitted only because they’re Ashkenazi, and I don’t understand, why? I’ve been home alone for almost three months, wasting time.”
A 2009 ruling by the High Court of Justice ordered the Immanuel school to integrate Ashkenazi and Mizrahi girls. In April last year the court fined the parents who violated the ruling and some of them were sent to prison.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
East Jerusalem hospital cut off from all communication due to technicians’ fears to visit area
Al-Quds maternity hospital in Kafr Akeb is an Israeli hospital under Health Ministry supervision; technicians will not visit hospital to fix phone line, internet service, outside separation fence, without security escort.
Three months ago, the fax line to the Al-Quds maternity hospital in East Jerusalem’s Kafr Akeb neighborhood was disconnected. Two weeks ago, the hospital’s Internet service was cut off, followed by the phone line a few days later.
Apparently, the communications cables were stolen. But Bezeq technicians are afraid to visit the area, which is outside the separation fence, without a security escort, so the hospital has been left without any communications.
On Tuesday, a woman in labor arrived in great distress. She gave birth prematurely in an emergency operation that saved her life. The baby was rushed to Al-Muqaddas Hospital in East Jerusalem. But the medical file, which is usually sent by fax, could not be delivered.
“I went to the pharmacy, located about 100 meters from the hospital, to send the faxes from there,” said Helmi Barak, the hospital’s administrative director. “But it didn’t arrive. They kept telling me to try again. In the end, the baby arrived before the medical reports. Afterward they asked for another report, and I had to go to the pharmacy again.”
The hospital cannot receive the results of routine laboratory tests, so infants are discharged without the test results about diagnosed sensitivities or diseases.
Mothers delivering babies, ambulance drivers, suppliers and staff members are forced to contact the hospital by calling senior doctors’ cell phones.
“At night, the hospital is cut off from the world,” Barak said.
Al-Quds is an Israeli hospital under Health Ministry supervision, within Jerusalem’s municipal borders. Most of its patients are Israeli citizens or legal residents.
The hospital has appealed to Bezeq repeatedly to fix the lines.
“They said the problem was with the underground cables, but the police and the Israel Defense Forces don’t enter the area,” Barak said. “Then a technician came and said the problem lies near Atarot Airport. We’re an Israeli hospital. Is there any hospital in the world without a fax?”
The separation fence has effectively cut the hospital and Kafr Akeb off from the Israeli authorities, but the Palestinian Authority is forbidden to operate in the area. The result is anarchy, residents say.
“There are no laws, no security,” said Munir Zahar, who heads the neighborhood council. “Everyone does whatever he likes. The municipality cannot enter because it needs a security escort; the police won’t enter without the army’s escort; and the army has no time.”
Due to this situation, telephone lines and communication cables are repeatedly stolen, and Bezeq is unable to fix them.
Some 50,000 residents of Kafr Akeb and other nearby neighborhoods suffer from inadequate municipal and state services. They are also forced to wait for hours at the checkpoint on the way to and from Jerusalem.
Following recent improvements, the municipality now collects some 70 percent of the neighborhood’s garbage. The rest the people have to burn themselves.
“Kafr Akeb is a Jerusalem neighborhood,” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef Alalo. “It is entitled to all basic services. It is unthinkable that 50,000 people should be totally neglected by the municipal and state authorities.”
Bezeq said Kafr Akeb’s communication cables have been “repeatedly stolen in recent months. Bezeq is doing all it can to reconnect its clients there. As for the hospital, Bezeq is looking into alternative solutions to resume service.”
The municipality said that “garbage is collected in Akeb four times a week. Recently the city has increased sanitation work there … The contractor was instructed to pay adequate attention to garbage removal from the hospital.”
4. Jerusalem Post Thursday, December 8, 2011 12:57 IST
Photo by: Yonathan Weitzman / Reuters
Yishai: Every African ‘infiltrator’ will return home
Interior minister dismisses notion that some Africans are asylum seekers or refugees: “These are economic migrants”; PM’s plan to face vote.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai vowed Thursday to exert every effort to see that “the last of the infiltrators return to their countries,” referring to the some 50,000 African economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees currently in Israel.
Speaking with Army Radio, Yishai dismissed the notion that Sudanese, Eritreans and other Africans in Israel have any standing to seek political asylum. “These are not refugees, these are economic migrants who want to come to Israel for work,” he said.
Their presence “is an existential threat” to the State of Israel, he asserted, vowing to “defend the Jewish majority.” The interior minister added, “Each and every one of them will return to their countries.”
The statements come as the government is advancing the construction of a detention center in the South to house asylum seekers and infiltrators and construction of a border fence along the Egyptian border is being accelerated.
Next Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s NIS 630 million plan to complete construction on the fence and build the detention center will be submitted for cabinet approval, the PMO said in a statement released Wednesday.
The cost is in addition to the NIS 1.5 billion that has already been invested. In order not to break the budgetary framework, all ministries will be asked to allocate two percent of their budgets, the PMO stated.
An additional NIS 280 million will be allocated to complete the fence on the Egyptian border, which the government anticipates will be completed within a year’s time. A 70-kilometer section of the fence has already been completed. The fence is expected to be 240 kilometers in length when completed, stretching from the Kerem Shalom crossing in the west to the Taba crossing in the east.
NIS 250 million will be allocated for a new detention center in the South. An additional NIS 100 million will be allocated to operate and maintain the center, which is expected to hold 8,000 people.
Netanyahu said of the infiltrator problem, “Israel is a small country. We cannot allow ourselves to be flooded by illegal work infiltrators. This threatens our society, our economy and our security. Therefore, we must expedite our dealing with the problem.”
5. Al Jazeera Thursday, December 08, 2011
How about an Israeli destruction freeze?
Obama should demand an immediate halt to all Israeli destruction of Palestinian property in the West Bank.
Many Palestinians have been left homeless after occupying Israeli forces demolished their homes [EPA]
Washington, DC – Much was made of what many in the media described as a “confrontation” between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama over the building of illegal Israeli settlements (or colonies) in Occupied Palestinian Territory. From the very beginning of the Obama administration, the pursuit of a freeze on Israeli settlement activity was a stated goal – one that was never really accomplished and never adequately pursued.
The idea of a settlement freeze, which was wrongly attributed to the now-resigned special envoy George Mitchell, was actually stipulated in the Bush administration’s Road Map and accepted by the parties in 2003. A freeze on all settlement activity was a first-phase Israeli obligation – not to mention an obligation under international law. It should go without saying that the Israelis failed to fulfill this obligation, and instead the Israeli government, then led by Ariel Sharon, presided over the single largest and most aggressive period of settlement activity in the West Bank since the Menachem Begin government in 1977-83.
Still, Israeli settlement construction is not the only belligerent behaviour conducted by the occupation regime in Palestinian Territory. To paraphrase the now-former US Congressman Brian Baird, if the law is “thou shall not build on territory which does not belong to you”, an equally important corollary of this law is “thou shall not destroy what belongs to others in territory which does not belong to you”. Of course, apart from the regular construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there is also the regular destruction of Palestinian buildings and infrastructure in the same territory.
Both the construction of illegal settlements and the destruction of the homes and property of the native Palestinians stem from the same origin: Israel’s unbridled assertion of power over the native Palestinians in the context of total impunity.
Much destruction occurs in Area C of the West Bank. This territory comprises roughly 60 per cent of the West Bank, and Israel maintains full control over security, planning and zoning.
The United Nations Organisation for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories (UNOCHA) noted in a recent report:
“In the first six months of 2011, OCHA recorded the Israeli authorities’ demolition of 342 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, including 125 residential structures, displacing a total of 656 Palestinians, including 351 children. This is almost five times as many structures demolished and people displaced as during the equivalent period in 2010.”
Take, for example, the time when 30 Israeli vehicles and 100 soldiers entered the village of Ein al-Duyuk and demolished the homes of four different Palestinian families deep in the West Bank. Or the dawn raid of Jaba’a near Hebron which led to the demolition of another family’s home. Or the demolition of five homes in Khan al-Ahmar, near Jerusalem, which left 71 people, including 60 children, homeless. Or when a mosque, two homes and a barn housing children’s pet rabbits were demolished in the village of Um Fagareh. Or the demolition of wells near Idhna, which debilitated Palestinian farmers. Or Khirbet Susa’s rural primary school, which currently educates 36 Palestinian children and has recently received demolition orders after it was last demolished a year ago. Or the solar panel complex, built by a Spanish NGO for €300,000 ($401,310) in 2009 to provide much-needed sustainable electricity to the isolated Palestinian village of Imneizel, which also has demolition orders pending.
Or, perhaps most disturbing of all, is that all of the above-mentioned Area C demolitions and demolition orders were executed or handed down only in the past 90 days.
Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes and buildings, like the construction of illegal settlements, is part of a matrix of control aimed at limiting Palestinians to an existence on only a fraction of a fraction of their land. No objective observer can take the argument that the destruction of Palestinian village schools, water wells, solar panels and homes provides anyone with security. Likewise, Palestinian villagers left homeless at the hands of an Israeli bulldozer will rightly find claims that Israeli politicians want peace to be farcical.
Yet this destruction persists today at accelerated levels, with little objection from an Obama administration that races to show its support for Israel as we enter an election year.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration should demand an immediate halt to all Israeli settlement construction because it is illegal, and an immediate halt to all Israeli destruction in the West Bank because it is simply inhumane.
Yousef Munayyer is the Executive Director of the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC.
6. Haaretz Thursday, December 08, 2011
How peace vanished from Israeli discourse
The hope of peace has vanished from the sky of our lives and the Palestinians’ lives, and Israel bears critical responsibility for this.
Tags: Palestinians Mahmoud Abbas Benjamin Netanyahu Middle East peace
It happens a lot. A figure once significant in our lives fades away gradually. Not with a slam of the door or a tough fight, but almost imperceptibly, a kind of slow evaporation, until one day we suddenly notice he has completely disappeared.
That’s how peace has vanished from our lives. Nobody talks about it anymore; even the negotiations about it, the longest in history, are officially dead – and we didn’t even notice. There is no peace, no negotiations, not even a dream. The only context it’s mentioned in, if at all, is the awful danger lurking within it. It doesn’t occur to anyone that there are also conditions of real peace, with few risks and the promise of another reality – that in peace there is no shooting, for example. Only in war.
Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted his detailed answers to the Quartet, failing to elicit even a yawn around here. Jerusalem didn’t even bother to respond. This week the prime minister gave his ambiguous speech at Ben-Gurion’s grave, and it didn’t occur to anybody he was talking about the most forgotten notion in our lives.
Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of “courageous decisions” and said “we are all here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision.” He spoke about the founding father “who understood that that decision carried a heavy price, but realized that not making that decision had a heavier price” – and everyone knew what he meant.
“Courageous decisions” to advance a peace agreement? Decisions “we are all here because of” to end the occupation? No. Netanyahu was talking about bombing Iran. Until a few years ago we’d still have guessed he was talking about peace. Now it’s clear that when the prime minister talks about historic decisions he is talking about bombing.
Thus peace dropped out of our lives. First the Israelis lost interest in it, then their proteges the Americans did too. Their envoys have scattered in every direction. The obvious condition posed by the Palestinians to finally freeze settlement construction serves as an excuse for Netanyahu not to conduct even make-believe negotiations. The “peace-making” game is over. It may seem a good thing that this masquerade has ended, but a troublesome thought remains – if there’s no peace and no talks, what comes instead? There’s only one certain answer – this void will fill up.
If there is no peace, no dream and not even negotiations, something else will take their place. If the Palestinians’ faint hope of freedom is doomed, they will be forced again to take another path. What else can they do? Wait around doing nothing for an entire generation? Sit idly by for two generations? Of course not. This vacuum will be filled by another circle of bloodshed, more horrible than the previous ones. The first uprising was the stone-and-knife intifada, the second was the suicide bombers’ intifada. The third is likely to be even more violent.
It’s not waiting around the corner. The Palestinian people are divided, bleeding and without fighting spirit. Their lives are relatively comfortable now, but that won’t be enough for the next generation. The Arab states won’t sit idly by either. They are preoccupied with internal affairs, but when these are sorted out, maybe there will be a few free Arab states that mobilize to help their brothers who are not free.
When the storm passes, when the clouds clear, the new Middle East may be one in which the most oppressed Arabs live under “the only democracy in the Middle East.” They will not be silent then. Nor will the world. Millions of people deprived of civil rights are not a matter to be tolerated indefinitely in the new world.
Sometimes even false hopes have value. As long as there was talk of peace here, as long as negotiations were held, we had a horizon. It was deceptive, illusive and receding, but it was there, somewhere. Now it too has vanished from the sky of our lives and the Palestinians’ lives, and Israel bears critical responsibility for this.
The government appears to be pinning hopes on a bombing raid. The only courageous decision the prime minister can imagine is launching another offensive, and the thought that this could go on forever causes a shudder. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this: Where’s George Mitchell when you need him? Where’s the illusion we need now?
Guardian Wednesday 7 December 2011 20.59 GMT
7. War on Iran has already begun.
Act before it threatens all of us. Escalation of the covert US-Israeli campaign against Tehran risks a global storm. Opposition has to get more serious
Iranians carry honorary coffins and pictures of a Revolutionary Guards commander killed in an explosion at the Alghadir missile base. Photograph: Reuters
They don’t give up. After a decade of blood-drenched failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, violent destabilisation of Pakistan and Yemen, the devastation of Lebanon and slaughter in Libya, you might hope the US and its friends had had their fill of invasion and intervention in the Muslim world.
It seems not. For months the evidence has been growing that a US-Israeli stealth war against Iran has already begun, backed by Britain and France. Covert support for armed opposition groups has spread into a campaign of assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare, attacks on military and missile installations, and the killing of an Iranian general, among others.
The attacks are not directly acknowledged, but accompanied by intelligence-steered nods and winks as the media are fed a stream of hostile tales – the most outlandish so far being an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US – and the western powers ratchet up pressure for yet more sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The British government’s decision to take the lead in imposing sanctions on all Iranian banks and pressing for an EU boycott of Iranian oil triggered the trashing of its embassy in Tehran by demonstrators last week and subsequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London.
It’s a taste of how the conflict can quickly escalate, as was the downing of a US spyplane over Iranian territory at the weekend. What one Israeli official has called a “new kind of war” has the potential to become a much more old-fashioned one that would threaten us all.
Last month the Guardian was told by British defence ministry officials that if the US brought forward plans to attack Iran (as they believed it might), it would “seek, and receive, UK military help”, including sea and air support and permission to use the ethnically cleansed British island colony of Diego Garcia.
Whether the officials’ motive was to soften up public opinion for war or warn against it, this was an extraordinary admission: the Britain military establishment fully expects to take part in an unprovoked US attack on Iran – just as it did against Iraq eight years ago.
What was dismissed by the former foreign secretary Jack Straw as “unthinkable”, and for David Cameron became an option not to be taken “off the table”, now turns out to be as good as a done deal if the US decides to launch a war that no one can seriously doubt would have disastrous consequences. But there has been no debate in parliament and no mainstream political challenge to what Straw’s successor, David Miliband, this week called the danger of “sleepwalking into a war with Iran”. That’s all the more shocking because the case against Iran is so spectacularly flimsy.
There is in fact no reliable evidence that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report once again failed to produce a smoking gun, despite the best efforts of its new director general, Yukiya Amano – described in a WikiLeaks cable as “solidly in the US court on every strategic decision”.
As in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the strongest allegations are based on “secret intelligence” from western governments. But even the US national intelligence director, James Clapper, has accepted that the evidence suggests Iran suspended any weapons programme in 2003 and has not reactivated it.
The whole campaign has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it. Iran, which says it doesn’t want nuclear weapons, is surrounded by nuclear-weapon states: the US – which also has forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military bases across the region – Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India.
Iran is of course an authoritarian state, though not as repressive as western allies such as Saudi Arabia. But it has invaded no one in 200 years. It was itself invaded by Iraq with western support in the 1980s, while the US and Israel have attacked 10 countries or territories between them in the past decade. Britain exploited, occupied and overthrew governments in Iran for over a century. So who threatens who exactly?
As Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, said recently, if he were an Iranian leader he would “probably” want nuclear weapons. Claims that Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel because President Ahmadinejad said the state “must vanish from the page of time” bear no relation to reality. Even if Iran were to achieve a nuclear threshold, as some suspect is its real ambition, it would be in no position to attack a state with upwards of 300 nuclear warheads, backed to the hilt by the world’s most powerful military force.
The real challenge posed by Iran to the US and Israel has been as an independent regional power, allied to Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas movements. As US troops withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia fans sectarianism, and Syrian opposition leaders promise a break with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the threat of proxy wars is growing across the region.
A US or Israeli attack on Iran would turn that regional maelstrom into a global firestorm. Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the US and US Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.
All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, said last week it would be a “catastrophe”. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that it could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret”.
There seems little doubt that the US administration is deeply wary of a direct attack on Iran. But in Israel, Barak has spoken of having less than a year to act; Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has talked about making the “right decision at the right moment”; and the prospects of drawing the US in behind an Israeli attack have been widely debated in the media.
Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the war talk is more about destabilisation than a full-scale attack. But there are undoubtedly those in the US, Israel and Britain who think otherwise. And the threat of miscalculation and the logic of escalation could tip the balance decisively. Unless opposition to an attack on Iran gets serious, this could become the most devastating Middle East war of all.
8. Independent Sunday, 04 December 2011
Paul Vallely: War on Iran has begun. And it is madness
One of the more embarrassing features of the internet is that, from time to time, I find myself being confused with a namesake. Paul E Vallely is not me. He is a retired US major-general who is now the senior military analyst for Rupert Murdoch’s outrageously right-wing Fox News. Among other things, he wants to bomb Iran, which I decidedly do not.
There is something deeply disquieting about the deterioration in relationships between the West and Iran in recent days. William Hague was well within existing protocol to expel all Iran’s diplomats from Britain after a mob sacked the British embassy in Tehran. But what is proper is not always wise.
Paranoia has long characterised Anglo-Iranian relations. An old Persian proverb warns: “If you trip over a stone in the road, it was put there by an Englishman.” British memories may stretch back to 1989 when Iran’s then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued his fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for his blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses. But Persian memories are longer still.
It was MI6, along with the CIA, which orchestrated the overthrow in 1953 of the popular, democratically elected, secular prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. He had brought about major social reforms but had also had the temerity to nationalise the petroleum company which became BP. Through the Sixties and Seventies, Britain backed the Shah of Iran, a man whose regime rested on secret police and torture but who was seen as a plausible counterweight to Soviet influence.
And so it continued. Britain consistently backed the wrong leader. We favoured Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. We derided the reactionary mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so much that when he was elected President, another Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Kham-enei, talked about the British as “the most evil” of diplomats. In 2009, the BBC World Service Persian channel so annoyed Tehran that anyone interviewed on it was harassed or arrested. During the post-election protests that year a member of the British embassy’s Iranian staff was jailed. For the past year, Iran has had no ambassador in London and has failed to explain the vacancy.
So Britain taking the lead in international opinion against Tehran’s nuclear programme – arguing that its goal is not nuclear fuel but nuclear weapons – is perceived in Iran in the context of a long history of British perfidy. London is seen as an intelligence-gathering stooge for Washington, which has no embassy in Tehran. Britain is “the Little Satan” in contrast to the United States, which is “the Great Satan”.
It was the Little Interventionist Tony Blair who first began sanctions on Iran. And the build-up of hostilities has unnerving parallels with the case for war conjured by Blair and George Bush against Iraq. We have another dodgy dossier, in the shape of the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which claims Iran is developing nuclear weapons but says so largely on the basis of intelligence which ends in 2003. It relies on documents on a laptop, found in 2004 by the Israelis, whose reliability prompted deep scepticism among Western intelligence at the time. The foreign scientist said to have worked on a bomb with the Iranians turned out to be a nanotechnologist. And a former IAEA chief inspector has said the type of explosion chamber referred to in the report could not be used in a nuclear test.
On that, is based hawkish noises and sabre-rattling sanctions. Intelligence chiefs publicly say such things as, the West must use covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme. Politicians make thinly veiled threats of military attack using weasel words such as “all options are on the table”. Pardon me if it feels like Iraq all over again.
Of course, some political leaders in Tehran do want the bomb. It is not hard to understand why. Everyone else in the region has one – Israel, Pakistan, India and Russia. US nuclear weapons have Tehran within range.
But Iran is a big, politically sophisticated country whose constitution of parliament, president, councils and assemblies of religious experts, creates a system of checks and balances in which change is possible. Reformers have held sway at times in this political pluralism. The Iranian establishment is fragmented into factions; a third of MPs did not vote for the measure to reduce the diplomatic status of Iran’s relations with Britain last Sunday. But it is precisely the wrong reactionary factions which are strengthened by the bellicosity of the West.
And make no mistake, the war has begun. Virulent computer viruses disabled Iran’s nuclear centrifuges last year. Two of the nation’s leading nuclear physicists have been assassinated, and a third was wounded by assassins on motorbikes. The UK’s decision to freeze $1.6bn of Iranian assets – which is what provoked the violence at the British embassy – was the fourth round of sanctions. Hawks like my military namesake talk openly of deploying unmanned drones against nuclear power stations and provoking an uprising against the government in Tehran. And now comes all the EU sound and fury about not bowing “to Iran’s intimidation and bullying”. The hollow laughter from Tehran reflects heightened nationalist resolution and increased hostility to the West.
What is needed is the opposite. Instead of feeding a siege mentality in Tehran we should find ways of keeping open the engagement through trade and cultural exchange as Washington does with Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons appear to have provoked no threats of US attack.
There is another consideration. Iran is the world’s second-largest producer of oil and gas. (Which does make you wonder why it needs to exercise its “inalienable right” to produce nuclear fuel.) Last week, the EU reached agreement in principle to impose an oil embargo on Iran. But it delayed any detailed decision to mid-January in order to allow countries including Italy, Spain and Greece – which import large amounts of Iranian oil – the time to find alternative supplies from Saudi Arabia or Libya.
But what if Iran were to turn the tables and cut off oil to Europe, concentrating on its massive sales to India and China? With Europe already in fiscal turmoil, that could create another oil shock on the scale of those in the 1970s, which deflated the global economy, triggered a stock market crash, caused inflation to soar and led to a wave of unemployment that toppled governments.
Or Tehran might announce a selective oil embargo against Britain, France and Germany – leaving its biggest clients in southern Europe untouched. The markets have already anticipated this: oil went up by $2 in a day after the storming of the British embassy and oil futures are up 4 per cent on the week.
This rush to madness could backfire terribly in so many ways. If we had as long an historical memory as the Iranians we would know that.