|Southwest Asia News Digest
Bush, Sharon Turn Palestinian Hopes To Dust
It did not take long for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give new Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen (also known as Mahmoud Abbas) the "Arafat treatment." On Jan. 14, just five days after the Palestinian election, Sharon issued a diktat to all Israelis, especially members of the Labor Party, which just joined his weak coalition government, that all contacts by the Israelis with the Palestine Authority (PA) are banned. Sharon's order came out as Israeli helicopters were pounding a medical center in the Gaza Strip with missiles. Israeli officials said that the medical center, near the Deir el Balah refugee camp, was linked to Hamas, through a charity called Al Salah. Sharon's action was backed by George W. Bush and his Administration, which expressed immediate "understanding" for Sharon's need to "defend" his country from terrorism.
But Bush's credibility, worldwide, is on the line. Washington intelligence sources report that Bush's legions received hefty support from "moderate" Arabs in the Persian Gulf, especially from certain Saudi royals, in return for a promise that Bush really would force through an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and stop destabilization of the region.
But, for any world leader to believefor the second timethat Bush is going to push Israel to move towards peace and a Palestinian state, is a farce. With a team comprised of Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and CIA Director Porter Goss, in terms of a peace initiative, the world, including the Palestinians and Arab leaders, should expect nothing but more war.
Look at the record. Bush's word is no good. Bluntly put, if he were not certifiably a mental case, he would be called a liar.
Look at the record: In the run-up to the Iraq war, Secretary of State Colin Powell was exposed as Bush's lapdog, when he promised Arab leaders that now that Iraq, a major threat to Israel, had been neutralized, Bush would work toward peace between Israel and Palestine. But, in 2003, when Abu Mazen was made Prime Minister, and succeeded in organizing a "hudna" (ceasefire) with militant groupsHamas and Islami Jihadthe Israelis continued assassinating the Palestinians on their long list, until the inevitable suicide bombing retaliation occurred. For more than 30 days, Sharon undermined the Abu Mazen regime; ultimately, Abu Mazen resigned. The Bush Administration blamed it all on Palestinian President Yassir Arafat, and so Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and the hardline neo-con ideologues around Dick Cheney, demonized Arafat. And from June 2003, the "unveiling" of the Road Map, until now, the Bush Administration allowed collective punishment to be meted out against the Palestinian people. - Poised for Attack on Gaza -
There's no question that Sharon is under pressureespecially financial pressure from Europe, Israel's main trading partnerbut with the Bush Administration willing to fund Israel to an unlimited degree, that pressure won't do anything.
Israeli planes, helicopters, tanks, and special forces stand poised outside the Gaza Strip to launch a "Fallujah" assault. They have been on "ready" since Jan. 14, when Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon imposed lockdown of all crossings in the Gaza Strip that give access to Egypt and Israel, "until the Palestinians take steps to fight terrorism."
That same day, Sharon spokesman Assaf Sharif announced a ban on all contacts between Israelis and the Palestinians. "Israel informed international leaders today that there will be no meetings with Abbas [Abu Mazen] until he makes a real effort to stop terror," he said.
The reason for these measures was a joint attack carried out by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on Jan. 13, at the Karni checkpoint crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. An explosion at this facility, a large depot for transporting food, merchandise, and other supplies, including medicine, killed seven Israelis, including a security guard, and injured four others seriously.
Israeli sources report that a large explosion blew up a door that separated the Israeli and Palestinian sides at the crossing, and then Palestinian gunmen opened fire. Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli security guards who returned fire.
Palestinian officials said it is ridiculous to hold Abu Mazen responsible, because he had not even yet taken office, and the world knows that Hamas, the Islami Jihad, and other militant Palestinians boycotted the Jan. 9 elections. The ban is even more ridiculous, since Bush had phoned Abu Mazen, and Sharon, and invited them to appear together at a big "peace" meeting at the White House in late February or early March. This dog-and-pony show was supposed to convince the world that Bush is serious about using his political capital for peace.
Things are moving fast, and are extremely volatile: A barrage of calls to Sharon from the Europeans and Washington, and messages from Egypt, warn him that he has to "give Abu Mazen a chance" to allow the PA to do its job; Labor Party elected officials, along with the pro-peace Yahad Party, are ignoring the government ban, and are going to Ramallah to meet Abu Mazen and the PA; the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee met and issued a declaration/order for Palestinians to stop all attacks on Israelis; sources in Israel say that Sharon gave the order to his military mad dogs to stand down, and not invade Gaza, but Sharon denies it.
A very senior Arab intellectual recently told me there is only one time since the 1948 Jewish-Palestinian war that the U.S. was effective in making Israel stand down: when President Eisenhower stopped the British-French-Israeli attack on the Suez Canal. Short of that type of action, Bush is full of empty words.
This article, by Michele Steinberg, originally appeared in the New Federalist, Jan. 24, 2005.
Ritter: Bremer Used Death Squads for De-Ba'athification
With the U.S. military now a broken force, and on the defensive in Iraq, the Pentagon is said to be considering the training and equipping of death squads, teams of Iraqi assassins who would be used to infiltrate and eliminate leaders of the Iraqi resistance, Al-Jazeera reported Jan. 20. The "Salvador option" would not be the first embrace of assassination as a tool of occupation undertaken by the U.S. in Iraq, writes former arms inspector Scott Ritter.
In the months following Paul Bremer's takeover of the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2003, the streets of Baghdad were crawling with assassination squads, Ritter reveals. Among these, were units drawn from the Badr Brigades, the armed militia of SCIRI. In what Ritter calls the "black side" of de-Ba'athification, using information provided by American CIA and Special Forces operatives, the Badr squads killed dozens of Ba'athists in and around Baghdad. Eventually, Bremer rescinded his de-Ba'athification program, and ordered the Badr assassination squads to stand down.
But by this time, the "Sunni-based resistance, having been targetted by the Badr assassins, struck back with vengeance.... Having started the game of politically-motivated assassination, the U.S. has once again found itself trumped by forces inside Iraq it does not understand, and as such, will never be able to defeat."
Two Old Fascists Demand U.S. Stay in Iraq
"It is not time to leave Baghdad," say Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, in a commentary published in the Italian daily La Stampa on Jan. 21. The article says that the debate on Iraq has taken a new turn, in that, with the elections planned for Jan. 30, "an exit strategy is being called for," meaning "an explicit limit to the duration of the U.S. intervention." The two declare, "We reject this demand," and go on to say that the "prerequisite for an acceptable exit strategy is a sustainable result, not an arbitrary date, because the next ten years of U.S. .foreign policy will depend on what becomes of Iraq." A debacle would lead to convulsions in the region, by radicals and fundamentalists. A "precipitous withdrawal would almost certainly unleash civil war," and the neighboring countries would transform their current involvement into a real intervention.
As for the elections, "We owe ourselves clarity on what result is compatible with our values and our global security. And we owe the Iraqis a result which enhances their capacity to give shape to their future." The basic idea is to set up a government in Iraq that is "considered legitimate by the people so as to be able to recruit an army capable of defending the institutions."
What would a successful government look like? Some people expect a panoply of democratic institutions, but Iraqi society has a tradition of ethnic conflicts, so the challenge is to define political objectives which go in the right direction.
If there are 60% Shi'ites and 15-20% Kurds, and if a Sunni domination is refused, a "democratic majority exists almost automatically." The Shi'ites have learned the lesson of the failure of the Iranian model, so "a pluralistic society under Shi'ite leadership would actually be a happy result." But much depends on what the Shi'ite leadership wants. It was they, especially Ayatollah al-Sistani, who demanded elections.
The National Assembly which is elected will be "in some measure sovereign," but "American assistance cannot cease."
Now, legitimacy of a government will depend on international acceptance, so an "international contact group" should be set up to help reconstruction. "As for our European allies, it's about time that they stopped sitting at the windowa disgrace for them and for our traditional alliance: however they see things, the ongoing political process will influence their future even more than ours. Countries like India and Russia, with their large Muslim populations, should not be treated as spectators of results on which their internal stability also depends."
Israelis Understand 'Cheney-Speak'
In case you are wondering just how all of Dick Cheney's veiled suggestions concerning Iran are being received in Israel, consider the following, quoted directly from the Jan. 20 Washington Post, on the heels of Vice President Dick Cheney's Inauguration Day comments to radio host Don Imus.
"In June 1991, during a visit to Israel after the Persian Gulf War, then-Defense Secretary Cheney gave Maj. Gen. David Ivri, the commander of the Israeli Air Force, a satellite photograph of the Iraq nuclear reactor, Osirak, which the Israelis had taken out in an airstrike ten years earlier. 'For General David Ivri,' Cheney wrote on the photo, 'with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm.' "
The article's author Al Kamen, who was writing in his Post column "Inside the Loop," asks, was this "diplo-speak to the Israelis to 'do the right thing?' "
Sharon Son To Be Indicted
Israel's Channel Two television, as covered in the Jerusalem Post Jan. 21, is reporting that Israeli Attorney General Manahem Mazuz will indict Ariel Sharon's son Omri for violating the Israeli election financing law. The case involves a series of shell companies created by Omri and Sharon's attorney Dov Weisglass, which were used to funnel funds from U.S. supporters into Sharon's 1999 primary campaign for the leadership of the Likud party. The same report indicates that neither Sharon nor Weisglass will be indicted. The latter is Sharon's key contact man with the Bush White House, particularly with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Omri Sharon could be indicted either for violating the political party lawwhich is not a criminal violationor for criminal violation of corporate law. Nonetheless, it seems that Mazuz's strategy is to do everything possible not to indict Sharon. By indicting him for non-criminal charges on the assumption that he acted without his father's knowledge, he could close the case. This is despite the fact that there is clear evidence that Ariel Sharon knew exactly what was going on.