Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 30 July 2006

Good news from Stratfor?

Once the phone line was back up this morning - I surmise the connection in the bodgy junction box down the street shorted out on account of the rain and has now dried out – I found this in an email from Stratfor:

Israel does not have the reach for Iran. The Israelis could launch nuclear weapons, but that simply isn't an option politically. As for Syria, if Israel toppled al Assad, his successor regime would be worse unless Israel would want to occupy Syria. The United States cannot pacify Iraq with 135,000 troops; Israel doesn't have that many to devote to an occupation. Plus, the IDF has never captured a major enemy city in its history, declining to go into Beirut. If attritional warfare bothers Israel, taking Damascus is not an option. The invasion of Syria is not on the table, although selective air attacks are possible.

The widening of the war is not a serious military option. A cease-fire at this time would be politically disastrous for Israel. It must, given its options, try to inflict a decisive defeat on Hezbollah, and a cease-fire would deny Israel that opportunity. The political effect on the region would be dramatic. It may well be that the Israelis have no appetite for casualties or counterinsurgency. It may be that their view of Hezbollah is that it is more an irritant than a threat. Nevertheless, the current evolution of this conflict forces them to make some dramatic decisions.

We note that the war is routinized. That should not be taken as proof that more dramatic events are not being planned. If it turns out that Israel declines major ground operations and accepts a cease-fire, the political map of the region -- geographically and psychologically -- would change decisively and to Israel's massive disadvantage. Thus we must assume that with cease-fires approaching and no decision on the ground, Israel will shift its strategy.

As I read it, this is encouraging news. It would seem that the Israelis have two choices – either mount a large scale counterinsurgency operation in southern Lebanon or accept the perception of defeat at Hizb’allah’s hands, again.

The second option is clearly unthinkable. The massing of troops on the border strongly suggests the first. Furthermore, as I have been saying for the last few days, the scorched earth carpet bombing of the area reeks of ‘draining the sea’, as does the edict that anyone found in the region will be regarded as a terrorist and therefore fair game.

From the reports that Israeli planes fired missiles at the UN observation post for six hours in spite of pleas by the occupants to desist, there would seem to be little remaining doubt that the post was targeted deliberately, as Koffi Annan asserted at first. This would have two important effects – it precludes ‘independent’ UN observation of its depredations from that particular post, and predictably has led directly to the withdrawal of others. It also offers a disincentive for any country considering deploying troops as part of a peacekeeping force. After all, who would send troops to face the Israeli meatgrinder that acts with impunity?

There is plenty of talk about Bush performing a backflip and insisting on a ceasefire in the near term. I am dubious. Hizb’allah has already won to a large extent by surviving this long on its feet. Israel and its US backers will want to reverse that perception. A counterinsurgency war of attrition will do a great deal more damage to Lebanon and the Lebanese and could disable Hizb’allah in the short term, but there would never be a decisive victory and that would just exacerbate Israel’s humiliation.

It would be nice to think that the Israelis will rethink their strategy and their whole raison d’être in light the disaster this stupid adventure has turned out to be for them. But that’s just a dream. A more likely scenario would be for them to take out their frustration on the Palestinians.

One of the reasons – the main reason – the US provides so much material and moral support to Israel is that it serves the interests of US imperialism to have them there snarling at any neighbours who threaten to get out of line. If Hizb’allah succeeds in undermining the myth of Israeli invincibility, it will reduce Israel’s utility to the US to practically nothing. That could lead to the US severing the umbilical cord that is really all that stands in the way of Israel’s economic and military implosion. Hope springs eternal.

Perhaps more importantly, Hizb’allah has inflicted a bloody nose on US imperialism. Say what you like about Hizb’allah, they, and the Lebanese people who have borne the brunt of the Israeli air war, deserve the world’s gratitude.

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Chutzpah redefined

‘We are going to demand compensation for loss of clientele, damage to sales, and damage to manufacturing capability.’,7340,L-3278932,00.html

‘The traditional definition of chutzpah says it's when you murder your parents, then plead for clemency because you're an orphan.’

Clearly that can now be improved upon. When you bomb a neighbouring country to smithereens and sue the government of that country to compensate you for the economic losses you have incurred – now that’s chutzpah!

Steven Zunes, who has written quite sensibly and cogently about the Walt and Mearscheimer dog wagging hypothesis ( asserts:

The seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militiamen, apparently taken in retaliation against Israeli attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip, was clearly wrong. Israel would have a right to engage in a targeted paramilitary action to free the hostages and, if necessary, kill their captors.,0,2216844.story?coll=sfla-news-opinion

This is really quite puzzling, as he goes on:

Israel holds thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners seized within the territory of those nations by Israeli forces. Most of these Arab prisoners have not engaged in terrorism and many are non-combatants. How is Israel's seizure and detention of these people different from Hezbollah's seizure and detention of the two Israeli soldiers? Does Israel's refusal to release its hostages give Lebanon or Palestine, if they were capable of it, the right to engage in a massive bombardment of civilian targets in Israel?

This is the wrong question. What he ought to be asking in this context is: Does Israel's refusal to release its hostages give Lebanon or Palestine, if they were capable of it, the right to detain Israelis for use in a prisoner swap? Framed in this way, it is obvious that Hizb’allah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers, apparently an exploit planned well in advance, or the Palestinian capture of Cpl Shalit, are not ‘clearly wrong’. These abductions differ only in scale from Israel’s ongoing proclivity to incarcerate Arabs for all practical purposes for the crime of being Arabs. It’s sad when people get so muddled.

This reminds me of a joke:

An Israeli and a Palestinian have just left court and are on the bus going to prison. The Palestinian asks the Israeli what he’s in for. The Israeli replies, ‘I ran over a kid in my car and left the scene of the accident. The poor kid is crippled for life.’ And the Palestinian asks how long his sentence was. The Israeli tells him he got six months and asks what he’s in for. ‘I was caught driving without headlights.’ ‘So what did they give you?’ ‘Six years.’ The Israeli tells the Palestinian that seems a bit extreme, but the Palestinian tells him, ‘Actually, the judge was quite lenient. He said he’d have given me life if I had done it after dark.’

Yesterday, The Forward, sent me this advert:












But wait a second. Didn’t I just send you $3 billion? Oh, you spent it all on missiles. I guess that’s alright, then. I especially like the bit about ‘Anyone in need is being helped regardless of background or religious affiliation.’ Talk about chutzpah! I guess the Jews invented it, so we ought to be good at it

It’s getting a bit old by now, so I guess I’d better post this before it gets any older. If anyone is actually reading this blog, I strongly advise you to check out this brilliant analysis of an editorial in last Friday’s NY Times. I don’t think I could have done any better myself: Onya, Bazza!

And speaking of old stuff, I recently came across Moshe Machover’s December 2004 piece on the apartheid metaphor: I may do a little critique of it some time. Watch this space.

You’d think it would require a greater expenditure of resources to rebuild a power plant than to blow one up, but the generous Dr Rice yesterday ‘expressed concern for Lebanese suffering, and the United States said it would give $30 million to aid in the country’s recovery’. That’s about 20% of what the UN’s Jan Egeland said was essential just to keep the refugees alive for the next three months.

Monday, the United Nations appealed for $150 million in relief for Lebanon. Jan Egeland, who is in charge of humanitarian affairs for the United Nations, said the money was needed for emergency medicine, food and other supplies for the next three months. He said approximately 800,000 Lebanese had been affected by the bombardment.

I don’t think he factored in that the bombing and incursions haven’t stopped and the number of displaced people and lost infrastructure is only going to increase. And I don’t recollect anything about reconstruction in that figure. In contrast, the US probably provided 100% of the ordnance fired into Lebanon over the last fortnight. Which would certainly make the US responsible for what the Israelis are doing just as surely as the Iranians, who purportedly fund Hizb’allah to the tune of $100 million a year, must take the blame for Hizb’allah’s dastardly abduction of two enemy soldiers, etc. It’d be funny…

The same article reports:

Responding to criticism over the large number of civilian deaths in Lebanon, Mr. Dichter said: “A war is not a surgical operation, and air war is not a surgical operation. You identify the targets, bombs are sophisticated and accurate. But you see a cement truck and from the air it looks just like a Katyusha truck. Sometimes from the air you hit the wrong target.”

Whoops! Don’t they reckon that foreseeable ‘collateral damage’ is equivalent to deliberately targeting civilians – if you expect something to happen and it does happen, it doesn’t matter if that wasn’t your stated objective. But that rule doesn’t apply to ‘us’. On the contrary, blowing up ambulances in a good cause is ok:

Overnight, two Red Cross ambulances were bombed within moments of each other while taking wounded people to Tyre, the Red Cross said. One man who was being transferred died of his wounds, while others were severely injured, and six paramedics were hurt in the attack, in the town of Qana.

Last week, the Times reported:

Opinion polls show that Israelis back the Lebanon campaign because they see Hezbollah as a clear threat. They have also become inured to international criticism. Uri Dromi, director of international outreach for the Israel Democracy Institute, said, “Public opinion is not so sensitive, because we feel, generally speaking, the world is against us and we’re a little island in an ocean of enmity.”

International criticism is so unjust - it just makes you want to cry.

Another exchange of emails

This morning I sent the article in this link to my friend with the comment, ‘I think it is coloured by a fair degree of wishful thinking, but is worth considering’, and received this in reply:

I agree with you that the article is coloured by wishful thinking. As a matter of fact such fantasies by the Muslims are the real cause of the troubles they are facing at the moment. I believe all Muslim states must wake up after the thrashing they are getting from the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon (where American supplied weapons are being used by American consent). Muslims must realize that neither Israel nor America or UK will allow them to utilize the wealth of oil for themselves. Nor will these tyrannical powers tolerate them to acquire weaponry which will enable Muslim countries to defend and fight back when their children are killed and brutally wounded and their homes and other infrastructure is systematically destroyed to not only damage and injure them physically but also mentally. US, UK or their fellow Israelis do not care about the hatred developed among Muslims who are being subjected to such war crimes by these so called CIVILISED countries. I was amused to know that Mr. Bush and his close subordinates take great pride in their being Christians (I believe calling this group of politicians in the US who are killing Iraqis and who are sending bombs to Israel to kill Lebanese children and are enjoying the agony of a whole nation would be an insult to the great religion). Jesus Christ who even gave life to the dead would I believe never forgive those who kill and injure hundreds of children every week and then go to the church and call them his followers.

As a child I could never understand why the Nazis sent so many Jews to gas chambers. I could not understand how human beings can be so cruel to other human beings. Thanks to the actions of Israel and the US, I now fully understand why Hitler (who may also have been a proud Christian) had to resort to such actions. Comparing Hitler with the present aggressors, I believe Hitler had a very soft heart as he gave a quick death to Jews whereas Mr. Bush and Israelis are throwing bombs in civilian areas of Beirut wounding children, women and men who die a slow and extremely painful death. A psychologist friend of mine has analyzed the mental condition of Americans and British towards this mission of killing and wounding Muslims by their Ally. He says that a sadist enjoys the suffering of humans and animals. He is of the view that the sadist leaders sitting in the white house and No. 10, D Street are in a bliss over the agony and suffering of the children and other civilians in Lebanon and even Israel (by Hizbulla rockets) they are getting high level of pleasure from this suffering and want to prolong their sadistic ecstasy as long as possible. The laughs and broad smiles exchanged between Condi and Olmert yesterday are a proof of it. They very well know that no Muslim or Western country has the power to stop them. They are in full control of the world at the moment. Russia and China are economically dependent on the west. Moreover due to Chechen uprising Russia has no interest in helping Muslim states. China is only interested in selling its stuff to the west and has little interest in human suffering in Lebanon.

So what should be the strategy to counter this aggression. Since the US and Israel will not let the weak Muslim countries acquire military power to defend themselves, the oil rich Muslim countries should invest in Russia, France and China and sign defense pacts with these countries. When Russia and China will become stronger economically, they will not be dependent on the US and would support morally and militarily the oppressed Muslim countries. If Russia sends its air force and navy to defend Lebanon or Iraq, neither the Israelis nor the sadist American leaders would dare to kill Lebanese and Iraqi children.

Israel is a reality now. Whether Muslims like it or not they have to accept it.. They should all recognize Israel and put pressure on the US through Russia, France and China to compel Israel to squeeze into its pre 1967 borders. Muslim countries should discourage supporting those organizations which the US calls terrorists. They may try following Gandhi’s philosophy of peaceful protests.

And here is my response:

Thanks for yet another thought provoking email. And again, I sympathise a bit with your views, but differ on a lot of particulars.

I definitely don’t agree that anyone just has to accept Israel. Unlike many other Jews, I don’t accept that a sectarian Jewish state has a ‘right to exist’ as such, any more than I accept that a sectarian Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian state does. And even if I accepted the principle that sectarianism is a basis for statehood, I still couldn’t accept Israel, or Pakistan, for that matter – but for somewhat different reasons. Israel’s right to exist rests on a foundation of terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Of course these are an artifact of the sectarianism in the first place, but are unacceptable whatever their origins. Furthermore, Israel was created quite explicitly as an outpost of European imperialism in the oil rich Middle East, and that, too, is sufficient reason, all by itself, to reject Israel. It’s all very well to squeeze the Israelis back into the 1967 ‘borders’ (Israel has never demarcated its borders – that’s what Olmert’s ‘convergence’ plan is all about), but what of the Palestinians? Is the creation of a non Jewish apartheid state the solution to the Jewish apartheid state? Is it reasonable to expect the some 5 million Palestinians currently living in the area of Mandatory Palestine to survive in an area the size of Gaza and the West Bank? If the Palestinians have ‘a state of their own’, how will that affect the status of the Palestinians with Israeli nationality? Would they all be ‘transferred’ into it? What about the millions of refugees? They are entitled to resume their property, whether in the Occupied Territories or in ‘Israel proper’. How would the establishment of a Palestinian state affect their entitlements? What are the prospects of such a state ever becoming economically viable? Even if the infrastructure hadn’t been demolished and the olive orchards uprooted, what do they really have to live on besides Christmas and easter tourism? Would that support a population of, say, 7 million? And then there’s the little question of the corridor connecting Gaza with the West Bank. This would need to be over 20km long. However high the causeway, however deep the tunnel, Israel would always have the capacity, and almost certainly the desire, to close it. None of the two state ‘solutions’ adequately addresses this issue. Those who support a two state ‘solution’ always claim that a unified democratic secular state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is a pipe dream – there is not enough good will in Israel for that ever to happen. And they are right. But when you look at the alternatives they propose, they rely on a level of Israeli good will that is at least as improbable. Meanwhile, by accepting Israel’s right to exist, they have to take responsibility for all that that implies about endorsing terrorism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, racism, and imperialism. I’ll stick with my own pipe dream, realizing, unlike the two staters, that that’s what it is.

It’s interesting you should mention Gandhi in this connection. There is a story, maybe apocryphal, that when he was practicing law in South Africa, he went to a party and somebody asked him, ‘Well, Mr Gandhi, what do think you of Western civilization?’ To which Gandhi is purported to have replied, ‘That would be a good idea.’

I think you are right to say that the Israelis don’t care what anyone thinks of them, least of all Muslims. This is one of the reasons I am not that supportive of the proposed academic and cultural boycott. The Israelis are likely to say, ‘Well, we never needed the Goyim anyway. We’ve always been better than them.’ Even a full blown economic boycott would be of little impact as long as the US is prepared to foot the bill. But then, a lot of Palestinians are calling for this kind of action, and that trumps my objections, although I still articulate my reservations.

You are quite wrong to think there was anything humane about the Nazi death camps. I don’t know what the proportions were – I don’t think anybody does – but many, many Jews were starved and worked to death over a period of years of torture. Even those who did perish in the gas chambers in most cases suffered slowly up to that point. The Holocaust was an excruciatingly slow process. Imagine watching your friends and relatives being taken away and never knowing when your turn would come, or what awaited you when it did. I recently read John Hersey’s novel The Wall about the Warsaw Ghetto. You might like to read it. It could provide some insight into the Holocaust and, not coincidentally, Palestine. The parallels are striking. If you haven’t seen The pianist, about a Jewish pianist in Warsaw and how he survives that period, I would definitely recommend it. I reckon it’s the single best new movie I’ve seen in the last five years or so.

People like Bush and Tory Blain and Olmert may indeed be sadists and enjoy observing the suffering they inflict, although if that were the case, I’d expect them to want to take a more hands on approach to it. The smiles you observed are probably mainly just diplomatic. But why wouldn’t they smile when they are literally getting away with murder, whether or not they actually take pleasure in causing so much grief? In any event, that can only be a subsidiary motivation for them. The fundamental job of these so called ‘leaders’ is to ensure the profitability of their national businesses. And if hundreds of thousands or millions have to suffer and die to secure their control over crucial energy supplies, so be it. Of course, in Bush’s case, there’s this bizarre millenarian streak that may contribute to his motivation. He seems to be among those christian fanatics who believe that Christ will only return when the Jews have conquered all of Palestine and don’t care much what they have to do to accomplish this. They say politics makes strange bedfellows and few would be stranger than the christian Zionists and the Jewish Zionists. But there you go.

Christians, like the adherents of any other religion, and indeed like many who profess no religion – liberals and the like, are perfectly capable of holding opposing views at the same time, or saying one thing and doing another. I call it hypocrisy, but in more charitable moments, I reckon it’s that they don’t think through the implications of their views and take responsibility for them. Christian dogma, taken at face value, is largely pacifist, but that has never kept Christians from torturing and slaughtering Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Confucians, animists of various stripes, witches, heretics, apostates, adherents of opposing christian cults, and anyone else who got in their way. So why should Bush and Blair be any different? Bush claims to get his instructions directly from the almighty, so who can argue with that? He must be doing the right thing. Anyway, forgiveness is supposed to be one of the preeminent christian virtues, so I’m sure Christ himself would manage to extend it even to such as these. But then, Christ has been dead for nearly 2 millennia, so it hardly matters who he’d forgive in the here and now.

If your reasoning is that Russia would not line up with Muslim countries because of its problems with the largely Muslim Chechens, then I guess you would have to say China would never do so, either, because of their little problems with the mainly Muslim Uyghurs. As for the French, remember Algeria? They do. But religion isn’t really a significant factor in all this. The other side of the coin can be seen if you look at the relations between the Turks, the Syrians, the Iraqis, and the Iranians with the Kurds. Muslim solidarity has not got them self determination any more than the idle promises of the British and the French. The Americans don’t hate the Iraqis because they’re Muslims. They hate the Iraqis because they are sitting on top of ‘our oil’. Full spectrum dominance isn’t just military dominance. If the US wants to remain the economically dominant country, they have to control supplies of energy to their economic rivals – China, Japan, and Europe.

In this context, if Kuwait or Saudi Arabia blew off the Americans and tried to form closer relations, much less a defence pact, with China or Russia, I expect that would mean world war. A lot of Americans really believe that they somehow have a right to the oil. But more importantly, they know that they need control over it to retain their economic position, so right or wrong, they are going to do whatever it takes to retain and extend their control. Can you imagine? Three years after they were caught red handed with their WMD lies, they come up with this preposterous Iranian ‘nuclear ambitions’ bullshit and the media have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. And of course, in accordance with the Bush doctrine, Iran has a perfect right not only to develop nukes, but to rain them down on NY and Washington, preemptively. It’s not just the fevered imagination of the Iranian regime that makes them think the US is threatening them, as it was with the US and Iraq. I’d be too embarrassed to try something like that, but, as I always say, ‘Trying to embarrass a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is as futile as trying to embarrass a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.’ It’s just something they do and they’re not at all self conscious about it.

When I write of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or the US, of course, what I mean is their governments acting on behalf of the ruling class. Ordinary people, even those sucked into supporting their rulers’ adventures, have no stake in these wars and stand to gain nothing. They, we, are just the victims. The bombs fall on us, we are displaced, and we are sent to slaughter and be slaughtered by other ordinary people. The principal obstacle to changing things decisively for the better is precisely that ordinary people don’t realize that the guy threatening them with a bayonet or an RPG is their ally and their common enemy is the generals and businessmen ‘on both sides’. They send us to fight and die for their profits. To put it another way, I hope you’d agree that as a Pakistani Mulsim, you have more interests in common with me, a US born ethnic Jew, than you do with, say Gen Musharraf, another Pakistani Muslim?

The people and organizations the US calls ‘terrorists’ are, as you know quite well, often the very same people they called ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘the moral equivalent of the founding fathers’ a year ago or a decade ago. What they call them and when doesn’t depend on who they are or what they do, but whose interests they are perceived to serve at any given time. You might have read that just this week they erected a plaque at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem commemorating the terrorist attack Menachem Begin’s Irgun Jewish terrorist organization carried out there on 22 July 1946 ( The Brits got their knickers in a twist over it. Anyway, when these groups are fighting the common enemy, I have to support them unconditionally. Their methods are objectionable because they are ineffective and counterproductive. When the IRA bombs the London Underground or a pub, they are driving their most important potential ally, the English working class, into the arms of the oppressor. However many Israelis are killed by Qassam rockets or suicide operations, there will always be more to take their place, and they will be angrier and more self righteous. Acts of this kind also always have the inevitable side effect of exacerbating repression all around. Witness the draconian ‘anti terror’ legislation that the US, Britain, Australia, and everybody have rushed into law in the wake of 9/11, just for example. But most importantly, the force that really can make a change – the vast majority of ordinary, exploited working grunts of whatever nationality – is disempowered by the heroic warriors who risk life and limb on their behalf. If the Martyr’s Brigade is going to save me, why should I do anything? In this crucial respect, ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ are no different from parliamentarians. Their aim is to substitute themselves for the mass of ordinary people. However courageous and well intentioned they may be, ultimately what they do is defer the struggle that can really make a difference.

On a lighter note, have you seen Paradise now? I’ve bought four copies of it and finally got one that plays on our dvd player. It’s about these two young Palestinian guys who volunteer for a suicide mission and a young woman who tries to sway them towards nonviolence. I thought she could have made a stronger case, but other than that, it was a pretty good movie. Also, there seem to be working copies of The road to Guantanamo around in the video shops. I’d recommend that, if only for the scenes of Pakistan, but there’s a lot more going for it than that. Another movie you might want to see, although I can’t in good conscience recommend it, is Hostel. It is a gruesome and disgusting movie depicting plenty of gory torture, but it does bear on your views regarding sadism.

Monday 24 July 2006

Gone Fishing

In yesterday’s NY Times, one Stanley Fish, ‘a law professor at Florida International University’, had an op ed on academic freedom.

In the context of a discussion of calls to sack ‘Kevin Barrett, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, …who has a one-semester contract to teach a course titled “Islam: Religion and Culture”. Apparently, he ‘shared with students his strong conviction that the destruction of the World Trade Center was an inside job perpetrated by the American government.’

Prof Fish sagely opines:

It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur.

On the face of it, this seems like a fair, reasonable, even handed approach. The issue he neglects to canvass, however, is what of the professor who embraces a particular political viewpoint and rather than explicitly and honestly urge it upon students, simply assumes it and implicitly demands that the students do so, too?

What, for example, if a professor assumed that 9/11 was the work of al Qa’ida without explicitly adducing the evidence for and against this hypothesis? What if a professor were to speak of the ‘war on terror’ without inviting the students to investigate whether it was a war and whether it was on terror? What about a professor who failed to query the concept of ‘installing democracy’? Would these, in Prof Fish’s view, be moments ‘no college administration should allow to occur’?

Common sense and the unstated in general are the most effective forms of propaganda. They insinuate themselves into our consciousness without our awareness most of the time. We imbibe some of them with our mother’s milk, or at any rate with our Cheerios, and they can colour our perceptions throughout our lives.

We don’t know from Prof Fish’s article whether Prof Barrett simply mentioned to his students that he held this view so they would know where he stood, whether he promoted it by showing how the evidence supported, or whether he suggested they consider the possibility, examine the evidence for and against his hypothesis, and come to their won conclusions. Nor is it clear whether Prof Fish would have forgiven Prof Barrett in any of these cases.

By restricting his criticism to those who articulate their views Prof Fish establishes that he is firmly on the side of the status quo. What goes without saying is never contentious and doesn’t drive the thought police into a frenzy. So the ones who sneak their views in surreptitiously, whether because they are accomplished propagandists, or more likely, because they have never bothered to question their own cherished assumptions, are off the hook.

Classic counterinsurgency

This morning I received this email from a colleague:

Hi, I have tried your blog but I cannot open it either. If it contains info on Palestine or Lebanon, it will be blocked by the Americans and their allies as I believe they do not want the common person to know about the real suffering of the children and other civilians in Lebanon and Palestine. Last night the American correspondent of Sky News said that 99.9% of common Americans who get their knowledge of international affairs from American media support the killing of Lebanese civilians (40% small children) and destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure by American weapons purchased by using American Tax Payer's money and supplied by America to the enemy of Lebanon for the sole purpose of destroying Lebanese infrastructure. The American leaders and their voters are sadistically enjoying the pain and suffering of the Lebanese infants and children and with broad smiles are telling the world that they donot want a ceasefire yet as they do not want their enjoyment and pleasure that they are deriving from the images of bleeding, burnt and maimed children and complete destruction of infrastructure (yesterday Sky News showed a six month old baby hit in the stomach and was bleeding profusely and was crying in agony, her 10 year old brother burnt by American supplied precision bombs, her father killed and her house destroyed). I believe the majority of Americans brought up watching Hollywood’s Horror films (which sadists enjoy watching) consider the real killings of children in Lebanon a scene from a Hollywood scare movie. As sir Richard Attenborough once said “these horror movies have taken away the ability of persons of low I.Q to get shocked”. It is therefore not strange to me that not a single American gets shocked by the images of suffering children. I get extremely upset when I see Israeli children being hit by rockets since these children have nothing to do with the conflict. By the way the American precision bombs have killed 10 times more civilians as compared to home made Hezbolah rockets (this comparison shows that the civilians are being deliberately targeted by the precision bombs).

I believe untill we have balance of power in the world, the unarmed civilians of states that are weak militarily would be killed, maimed and burnt alive by the aggressors. The weak nations of the world would have to wait till Russia wakes up and rebuilds its lost might and China and France decide to stand against the oppressor. This, in my view would not take longer than five years. By that time we may also have sane leadership in the US. Till then, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Iranians and the Syrians should abide by the orders of the only super power present in the world today and not try to infuriate it or its allies in any manner, otherwise they will meet the same fate as did the Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese.

And here is my response:

First of all, Sky News is a Murdoch organ, so I would definitely not believe anything they report. As for the figure of 99.9%, I am skeptical. I start out skeptical about statistics, and I think I know enough about collecting statistics to have sound reasons for this, but a report on Sky, and particularly when the figure is that high, makes me much more dubious. Furthermore, that is just the proportion of those who rely on the mainstream media for information. It wouldn’t be anything like a majority, but an increasing proportion rely on other sources. America purports to be a democracy, but then so does Pakistan, and Israel. So I wouldn’t be too quick to place the blame for US government policy on the American people, although they certainly have to take some responsibility for where their tax dollars go. If the statistic you cite has any significance, it is that those who are deluded through manipulation of their opinions by the mainstream media are the ones who support the bombing and invasion of Lebanon. So it’s not entirely their fault. Even in the US, not everybody has access to the internet and some people have no choice but to rely on Fox and the like for their information. It’s not really an excuse, but it’s a partial explanation.

That said, the US government, which certainly does not represent the views of the American public when it comes to Iraq, bears significant blame for the whole fiasco. Some commentators are citing the current ‘crisis’ as irrefutable vindication of Walt and Mearscheimer’s hypothesis that the tail wags the dog and the US just falls into line behind whatever insane adventure Israel decides to undertake. Others claim it as irrefutable evidence that W&M were completely wrong and that it is the US that calls the shots and has specifically directed Israel to do this now. My own view is that the interests of the US and Israeli ruling classes are so similar and so integrated with each other, that they typically come down on the same side. But certainly, insofar as there is shot calling going on, it would have to be the Yanks who set the agenda, or at least have a veto over Israeli plans. This particular plan was shared with the US about a year ago, so there is definitely no question of the capture of the soldiers on 13 July being anything other than a pretext. And some sources reckon the captured soldiers were captured in Lebanon, where they had made a raid into Aitaa al-Chaab village near the border.

One thing that I have found astonishing about a lot of the coverage is the way in the course of just a few days, they have managed to reverse the order of events, so that the decimation of Lebanon’s infrastructure has now become retaliation for Hizb’allah’s rocket attacks, when in reality, the Israeli bombing preceded the rockets. People forget so fast! Of course not many people have forgotten that the Israeli Army kidnapped two Palestinian civilians inside Gaza the day before Cpl Shavit, whose name everyone knows, was captured at Keren Shalom. That’s because hardly anyone even knows it. The media have been incredibly cooperative with the Israeli propaganda machine in deciding when hostilities began, so they can just airbrush the immediate provocation out of the picture, even if they occasionally do mention the 9000 Palestinian prisoners the Israelis are holding at present.

I think you are completely mistaken to assert that the US arms Israelfor the sole purpose of destroying Lebanese infrastructure’. For one thing, those arms are also used to destroy Palestinian homes and infrastructure, to bomb PA offices, to fire missiles at ‘suspected terrorists’, taking out a dozen civilians in the process, as if there were any excuse for extrajudicial execution under any circumstances. And don’t forget about shelling the beach in Gaza. But the main reason the US arms Israel is because Israel’s main function is just to be there, right in the Arab Middle East, armed to the teeth and to all appearances vicious and crazy. Sort of like a Doberman straining at the leash. It’s supposed to keep the oil producers in line. In the current context, however, I’m pretty sure the Israeli and US strategists have some devious plan that extends way beyond destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure. I’m sure the Israeli military wants revenge after their ignominious expulsion from Lebanon at Hizb’allah’s hands in 2000. But that would be a tertiary motivation at best. The Israelis definitely would love to have access to the Litani water, if not complete control. I fear that they have Syria in their sights and wouldn’t rule out an air strike on Iran. But the fact is that my mind doesn’t work in as underhanded ways as theirs and I hesitate to speculate about their real motivation. Maybe they are just ‘pushing the envelope’ to see just how much they can get away with. The so called Arab street is very pissed off at the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian…governments’ supine posture and explicit condemnation of Hizb’allah. Who knows where that might lead and whether it is part of the Machiavellian plan, or an unintended, but predictable and almost certainly predicted, consequence? ‘Destroying Lebanese infrastructure’ is a means to an end. I doubt if there is more than a handful of people anywhere who would mistake a news report for a Hollywood movie.

The significance of the numbers killed on each side is really more in the proportions than in the absolute values. Nearly all those killed by the Israeli bombing have been civilians, while about half of those killed by the Hizb’allah rockets have been military. The two Palestinian children killed near Nazareth were playing in a swimming hole near Israeli arms manufacturing facilities. The Palestinians of northern Israel are effectively human shields for these weapons stores. Precisely what the Israelis accuse the Palestinians of doing, with a straight face. Furthermore, you don’t see footage of ‘Israeli Arabs’ huddling in bomb shelters in Nazareth. That’s because none were built in areas where mostly Palestinians live. Anyway, what this suggests is, as you mention, that the Israelis appear to be specifically targeting civilians. What always gets glossed over, if mentioned at all, is the number of wounded. Everyone knows you can do more damage in combat by wounding than by killing. A kill gets rid of one enemy combatant. A wound disables at least three temporarily and makes demands on many others. In this case, it stretches the health facilities beyond breaking point, those that survive the bombing and have power and supplies, anyway. Other than that, I think all the numbers killed and so forth actually prove is that Israel can hurt a lot more people with scores of tonnes of ordnance than Hizb’allah can with a couple of hundred short range rockets.

Before 1989, we did have a balance of terror, and I can’t see that it saved a lot of people from suffering. Wars raged throughout the 80s in Angola, Namibia, all over Central America, just to name a few, not to mention Palestine itself. If China manages to challenge the US’s economic hegemony, it is not inevitable that this would lead to military conflict, or even military competition. Japan did very well economically against the US for half a century while it was defenseless. That said, China may be what this is all about. Certainly the invasion of Iraq was mainly to gain control of the world’s second largest supply of petroleum so that supplies to America’s economic rivals were under US control. And that’s certainly what the saber rattling against Iran is about, too. I think Iraq was more generally directed against Japan and Europe, as well as China, none of which have sustainable supplies of oil of their own. So if the US controls the spigot in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, it has its competitors by the short and curlies. But I think Iran is more specifically about China. Anyhow, if China could and did challenge the US, it would certainly not be to ‘stand against the oppressor’. It would be competition between two oppressors.

The US has never had sane leadership in the sense I think you mean, and I doubt if there’s any prospect for that in the future. Of course, they are probably quite sane in pursuing their own objectives. In Bush’s case, one of these would seem to be to gut the constitution and concentrate all power in the executive. But more importantly, I think he wants to guarantee the continued profitability of US capital and the thinkers who are influential with his regime believe that this entails ‘full spectrum dominance’ militarily. And they have identified non state resistance movements, what they like to call ‘terrorists’, as a barrier to their coveted dominance. As Mao observed, guerrillas are like fish swimming through the sea of the population. Accordingly, counterinsurgency has always involved ‘draining the sea’, by eliminating, moving, or concentrating (in ‘strategic hamlets’ and the like) the population thought to be supportive of the resistance. The operation against Lebanon makes reasonably good sense in the context of counterinsurgency operations. I’m pretty sure that Israeli strategists don’t actually believe that attacking the Lebanese population will make them turn against the Hizb’allah resistance, which at this stage has become their only defence, or encourage the release of the captives. It’s never worked before.

Friday 21 July 2006

Truer words

"The Middle East has been through too many spasms of violence, and we have to deal with underlying conditions so that we can create sustainable conditions for political progress there." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Truer words were never spoken, at least by Ms Rice and the neocons. Now, if only she meant them for real. But that would be asking for too much – as the aphorism goes, ‘Trying to embarrass a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is as futile as trying to embarrass a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls’.
And while on the topic of dogs’ balls, here’s what the Forward’s editorial had to say This fight began when Israel was attacked on its southern border on June 25, without provocation and without a shred of justification. The attackers were armed gangs that are sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state and make no other pretense. On July 12, a second front was opened on Israel's northern border, this time by an armed gang from a neighboring state that does not even have a semblance of a territorial dispute with Israel.
Don’t they think anyone will have noticed the two Palestinian civilians kidnapped within Gaza’s ‘borders’ by the Israeli military on 24 June, the very day before Shalit’s capture ‘without provocation’? The Forward may not have reported it, but it’s widely known. And even if they happened to have succeeded in insulating themselves, as well as their readers, from this inconvenient little fact, in my dialect of English, which is the same as theirs, blockading Gaza, shelling the beach with or without casualties, shelling residential buildings and infrastructure, and extrajudicial executions with or without ‘collateral damage’, separately or collectively, all count as provocation.
Don’t they think, moreover, that anyone will remember the Shebaa Farms?
And then you read all the crap about how the ‘terrorists’ manipulate the western media!
Writing of the similarity of the situations in Beirut and Haifa, Juan Cole writes, ‘The big international companies with offices not far from where the rockets landed include Microsoft, and the danger posed to Israel of capital flight in the billions dwarfs in magnitude the Lebanese losses of $100 million a day, mainly in forfeited tourism.’ I would have thought that the destruction of literally all of Lebanon’s infrastructure would come to more than that, not to mention the losses sustained by individual households of their dwellings and possessions as the Israelis quite publicly and deliberately drive them north of the Litani, as Cole himself reports. Expelling civilians is of course a war crime, but what difference will one more war crime make, when committing war crimes is effectively Israel’s raison d’etre.
In the same piece on Salon, Cole is at pains to assure the reader that ‘There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, and to respond appropriately to Hezbollah's illegal and immoral abduction of two soldiers and killing of others.’ Indeed, he makes the same point twice, ‘Of course Israel has the right to defend its citizens against missile attacks and its soldiers against being attacked.’ I suppose this could be a vain attempt to insulate himself from the inevitable accusations of anti-Semitism, but he should be used to that by now. He probably believes that this is obvious.
Indeed, a state does, in principle, have not just the right, but the responsibility, to protect its residents. But this raises two issues: How can a state legitimately do this? And do states in reality take on this responsibility?
In the context of Israel, little could be more obvious than that the most effective way of protecting Israelis from Hisb’allah rocket attacks would have been to refrain from bombing Lebanon in the first place. The rockets were a response to the bombing, not the other way around. The bombing was a response to the capture of two soldiers, but it was not the only possible response, it was not the most effective response, and, unless you happen to agree with Bolton’s racist comments about the relative value of Lebanese and Israeli lives, not the most humane, either.
It is one thing to protect citizens from rocket attacks by provoking rocket attacks, but what about protecting citizens from other perils. There’s an advert in Ha’aretz every day appealing to me to help feed the third of Jewish children in Israel who go to bed hungry. With the homeless camped on their doorsteps, Israeli politicians gleefully go off and squander their US billions on war toys.
Jonathan Cook reports from Nazareth:
Several Israeli armaments factories and storage depots have been built close by Arab communities in the north of Israel, possibly in the hope that by locating them there Arab regimes will be deterred from attacking Israel's enormous armory. In other words, the inhabitants of several of Israel's Arab towns and villages have been turned into collective human shields – protection for Israel's war machine…. The fifth of the Israeli population who are not Jewish but Arab are rarely to be found hiding in public shelters because the authorities neglected to build any in their towns and villages.
It all makes things look as if the Israeli state is not that concerned about protecting its citizens per se. Rather, they are interested in proclaiming that they protect certain citizens from certain perils, while assiduously inciting those perils in the first place.
If Israel were serious about protecting its citizens from rocket attacks, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Releasing the prisoners and withdrawing to the 1967 ‘borders’ would probably do the trick, although there is much much more Israel would have to do to redress the Palestinians’ legitimate grievances.
Cole concludes his article, ‘Just as their 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the south haunted them for a generation, they will be living with the blowback of their ill-considered war on hapless little Lebanon for decades to come. Tragically, the United States, as Israel's closest ally, will also have to suffer for its actions.’
So what’s so tragic about that? The US congress and Senate have speedily passed resolutions applauding Israel’s wanton attack. ‘It harshly condemns Israel's enemies and says Syria and Iran should be held accountable for providing Hezbollah with money and missile technology used to attack Israel.’ (AP). But the US$3 billion plus per year Americans spend arming Israel, and not feeding its poor starving Jewish children, is a non issue.
Meanwhile, back in Turkey, according to Reuters, ‘Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rapped the United States on Tuesday for tolerating Israel's attacks on its enemies in Lebanon while refusing to allow Ankara to crush Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq.’ So Israel now has the distinction of setting new standards in international diplomacy.
Many thanks to Information Clearing House (, which provided links to most of the material I have discussed here. It looks like a particularly valuable resource and the guy who runs the site is obviously putting in a monumental effort. I have donated to the site and if you are reading this, you probably should consider doing so too.

Thursday 20 July 2006

W was right!

‘All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment… Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?’
In September 2002, US president George W Bush delivered these words to thunderous applause at the UN.
Now you might think that what he meant by ‘the purpose of its founding’ had something to do with the principles enunciated in the Preamble to the UN Charter:
· to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
· to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
· to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
· to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
· to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
· to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
· to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
· to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

But predictably, that was not his intention at all. The words omitted from the quotation are, ‘Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence?’. In other words, he was asking whether the UN would provide a fig leaf for the US’s desired interpretation of wording the US had itself approved and managed to force other Security Council members to accept. Would the UN do as instructed by the US, or would the US do as it pleases regardless of the UN position? By ‘irrelevant’, he meant the latter option. In reality, of course, either course renders the UN irrelevant.
Today, the UN is at yet another impasse. It is not just that it is sitting on its hands rather than saving the current generation from the scourge of war in Lebanon. There are plenty of precedents for that. When the UN effectively endorsed the US invasion, undertaken without SC authorization, a principled organization would have admitted its irrelevance and dissolved.
But for all the lofty rhetoric, the UN has never been anything other than a club of the governments of nation states, and not of the people they rule over and oppress. It is a sick joke that people refer to Security Council decisions as the will of ‘the international community’.
What raises the UN to a whole new level of irrelevancy is this, reported in yesterday’s NY Times:
A Ghanaian member of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as Unifil, was killed along with his family here on Sunday by an Israeli bomb. And more than 24 hours later, peacekeeping troops could not even leave their base to dig out his body, because the short trip to his house was too dangerous.
The Council has met three times to discuss Lebanon without taking any action or making any statement. On Monday, John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, discouraged talk of either a multilateral force or a cease-fire, both proposals that Mr. Annan has made.
They have about a week of diesel fuel left and are running short of food and water, and the bases have come under fire, said Richard Morczenski, a civil affairs officer with the force.
A UN ‘peacekeeper’ slaughtered with his family in the course of an unjustified assault by one member state on another, much weaker, member state and the UN doesn’t have the gumption to so much as protest.
Yet illusions die hard. The usually sensible Dahr Jamail, reporting from the Lebanese border with Syria, writes:
‘As if any country in war ever abides by the Geneva Conventions nowadays. And without a functional UN to actually take a stand for human rights or real justice, why should they?’
‘A functional UN’? Well, it’s functioning now as well as it ever has, and as well as it ever could.

War crimes

This morning, I received this email from Jewish Voice for Peace:

Once again, the House of Representatives is sticking its unbalanced hand into Middle East affairs and threatening to make matters even worse.

The House is currently considering a bill that puts all blame for the current violence between Israel and Hizbullah on one side. There is no doubt that Hizbullah initiated this round of the conflict with a blatantly illegal act. Nor can it be doubted, as Human Rights Watch points out here (, that their attacks on Israeli cities are also criminal. At this writing, 12 Israeli civilians have been killed.

But Israel's response has been a massive attack on Lebanese civilians, with over 300 killed already. Israel's attack has been overwhelming and disproportionate, and Israel's refusal to negotiate leaves no other course but one which will lead to the deaths of more Lebanese and Israeli civilians. The House bill makes no mention of any of this, other than to justify it.

Click here to write your representative and tell her or him that you expect the United States to take a balanced approach. Tell them that it is in the best interests of Americans, Israelis, Lebanese and Palestinians for Israel to accept a cease-fire and begin immediate negotiations to resolve the issues, including prisoners on all sides and other grievances, as well as, finally, an end to Israel's 39-year old occupation of Palestinian lands.

JVP and HRW may not be in any doubt about who ‘initiated this round of the conflict’, but that is just an artifact of how they have decided to divide up ‘rounds of the conflict’.

Both organizations would, I am sure, evenhandedly condemn the Israeli government’s long history of taking hostages, or whatever the word is for civilians captured and held against their will without benefit of ‘due process’. But obviously, they can’t condemn Israel’s actions and condone Hisb’allah’s. It is up to ‘the international community’ resolve the issue in accordance with ‘international law’.

What they probably understand in their heart of hearts but can’t bring themselves to admit openly is that the international law they are relying on has no substance. The UN can only take action on a Security Council resolution and the US will veto anything it doesn’t like. Even without a veto, it would still require some enforcement mechanism. And without US cooperation, no enforcement is possible. Everyone remembers and cites UNSC resolution 242, for example, requiring Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967, but has there ever been any action to implement it?

The sad fact is that, for all practical purposes, what the US does and condones is the law. And regardless of what the Universal Declaration and the International Covenants may say, what displeases the US is, if not exactly ‘illegal’, at least punishable, and punished severely.

With no prospect of Israel releasing Lebanese hostages either voluntarily or under duress from the ‘international community’, taking Israeli soldiers hostage with a view to exchange seems a reasonable thing to do.

Of course the response of Israel and the international community was entirely predictable, which raises questions about Hizb’allah’s motives. But that is beside the point. And ultimately, so is the question of ‘who started it’.

The real question is: Which side are you on? And anyone avering that they take the side of international law can only mean that it’s ok with them for the imperialists to do their worst with impunity.