Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

What’s in Trump’s “Deal of the Century”? The Answers are in Plain Sight

There are mounting signals that Donald Trump’s much-delayed Middle East peace plan – billed as the “deal of the century” – is about to be unveiled.

Even though Trump’s officials have given away nothing publicly, the plan’s contours are already evident, according to analysts.

They note that Israel has already started implementing the deal – entrenching “apartheid” rule over Palestinians – while Washington has spent the past six months dragging its heels on publishing the document.

“Netanyahu has simply got on with deepening his hold on the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and he knows the Americans aren’t going to stand in his way,” said Michel Warschawski, an Israeli analyst and head of the Alternative Information Centre in Jerusalem.

“He will be given free rein to do what he likes, whether they publish the plan or, in the end, it never sees the light of day,” he told Middle East Eye.

Eran Etzion, a former Israeli foreign ministry official, agreed: “Israel has a much freer hand than it did in the past. It feels confident enough to continue its existing policies, knowing Trump won’t stand in the way.”

Netanyahu ‘the winner’

According to the latest reports, the Americans may present their plan within days, soon after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Yossi Alpher, a former aide to Ehud Barak during his premiership in the late 1990s, said it was clear Netanyahu was being “kept in the loop” by Trump officials. He told MEE: “He is being apprised of what is coming. There won’t be any surprises for him.”

Analysts are agreed that Netanyahu will emerge the winner from any Trump initiative.

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli politician who was a pivotal figure in the Oslo peace process of the early 1990s, said Netanyahu would cynically manipulate the plan to his advantage.

“He knows the Palestinians will not accept the terms they are being offered,” he told MEE. “So he can appear reasonable and agree to it – even if there are things he is unhappy with – knowing that the Palestinians will reject it and then be blamed for its failure.”

Alpher agreed. “If the plan is rejected, Trump will say he did his best, he offered the parties the greatest deal ever, and that they must now be left to settle the issues on their own.”

He added that the only obstacle to Washington presenting the plan were fears about Abbas’s waning health. Trump’s team might then prefer to shelve it.

Even then, he said, Netanyahu would profit.

“He can then continue with what he’s been doing for the past 10 years. He will expand the settlements, and suppress the rights of Israelis who oppose him. He will move Israel towards a situation of apartheid.”

Fragments of land

In an early effort to win Trump’s favour, reported by MEE a year ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas proposed a land swap ceding 6.5 percent of the occupied territories to Israel. That was more than three times what had been accepted by the Palestinians in previous peace talks.

But the Palestinians appear to have lost the battle and are now braced for the worst. Abbas has derided the plan as “the slap of the century”, and has said he will not commit “treason” by agreeing to it.

According to Palestinian officials, they are likely to be offered provisional borders over fragments of land comprising about half the occupied territories – or just 11 percent of what was recognised as Palestine under the British mandate.

The Palestinian areas would be demilitarised, and Israel would have control over the borders and airspace.

Israel and the Palestinians would then be left to “negotiate” over the status of Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with Trump likely to back Netanyahu to the hilt, according to the analysts.

It is widely assumed that the Americans have rejected any principle of a right of return for Palestinian refugees, either to Israel or to the areas of the occupied territories that Israel wins US approval to seize.

Gaza and Golan windfalls

The US embassy’s move to Jerusalem last month appears to signal that the Trump administration will recognise all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That would deny Palestinians East Jerusalem, long assumed to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

And separate reports this month suggest that the announcement of the peace plan may be timed to coincide with new measures for Gaza and the Golan Heights. There have been rumours for several years that Washington and Israel have been pressuring Cairo to let Palestinians in Gaza settle in Sinai.

According to Israeli reports, Washington may be close to unveiling a scheme that would weaken the border between Gaza and Egypt, and allow Palestinians to work and maybe live in northern Sinai.

The aim would be to gradually shift responsibility for the enclave away from Israel on to Egypt and further undermine prospects for a Palestinian state in historic Palestine.

And in a separate move that would complete Netanyahu’s windfall, an Israeli government minister claimed late last month that the Trump administration may be ready to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

The Heights were seized by Israel from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed in violation of international law in 1981.

No longer ‘occupied’

A Jerusalem Post report last month suggested that the White House document would be unlikely to include a commitment to a “two-state solution”, reflecting previous comments from Trump.

That would free Israel’s hand to seize areas of the West Bank it has colonised with its ever-expanding settlements.

Noticeably, the latest annual report from the US State Department on the human rights situation by country, published in April, drops for the first time the term “occupied Palestinian territories”, implying that the Trump team no longer views much of the West Bank as under occupation.

Netanyahu told a recent meeting of his Likud faction: “Our successes are still to come. Our policies are not based on weakness. They are not based on concessions that will endanger us.”

So given Israel’s recent moves, what can we infer about the likely terms of Trump’s peace plan?

1. Gerrymandering Jerusalem

The most sensitive of the final-status issues is Jerusalem, which includes the incendiary Muslim holy site of al-Aqsa. Trump appears to have effectively recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by relocating the US embassy there last month.

The embassy move is likely to be interpreted by Netanyahu as a retroactive seal of approval from the US for a series of Israeli measures over recent months designed to engineer a Greater Jewish Jerusalem.

The main thrust are two legislative proposals to gerrymander the city’s boundaries and its population to create an unassailable Jewish majority. Both have been put on hold by Netanyahu until the announcement of the peace plan.

The first – called the Greater Jerusalem Bill – is intended to annex several large Jewish settlements close by in the occupied West Bank to the Jerusalem municipality. Overnight that would transform some 150,000 West Bank settlers into Jerusalem residents, as well as effectively annexing their lands to Israel.

In a sign of the impatience of members of Netanyahu’s cabinet to press on with such a move, the bill is due to come up for consideration again on Sunday.

A separate bill would strip residency in the city from some 100,000 Palestinians who are on the “wrong side” of a wall Israel began building through Jerusalem 15 years ago. Those Palestinians will be all but barred from Jerusalem and assigned to a separate council.

In addition, Israel has intensified harsh measures against Palestinians still inside East Jerusalem, including night arrests, house demolitions, the closing down of businesses, the creation of “national parks” in Palestinian neighbourhoods, and the denial of basic services. The barely veiled aim is to encourage residents to relocate outside the wall.

Experts have noted too that Palestinian schools inside the wall are being pressured to adopt the Israeli curriculum to erode a Palestinian identity among pupils.

2. Abu Dis: a Palestinian capital?

With Jerusalem as Israel’s exclusive capital, Trump’s team is reported to be seeking a face-saving alternative location for a future Palestinian “capital” outside Jerusalem’s municipal borders.

According to rumours, they have selected the town of Abu Dis, 4km east of Jerusalem and cut off from the city by Israel’s wall more than a decade ago.

The Abu Dis plan is not new. At the end of the 1990s, the US administration of Bill Clinton proposed renaming Abu Dis “al-Quds” – Arabic for “the Holy”, the traditional name of Jerusalem because of its holy places. That was seen as a prelude to designating it the future capital of a Palestinian state.

Reports about the elevation of Abu Dis in the new peace plan have been circulating since late last year. In January, Abbas rejected the idea outright.

Only last month Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s centre-right Yesh Atid party, highlighted reports about the imminent change of Abu Dis’s status in comments directed at Netanyahu.

Abu Dis is a densely populated village home to 13,000 Palestinians. In practice, it is all but impossible to imagine how it could function meaningfully as the capital of a Palestinian state – something that makes it an attractive proposition for most of Netanyahu’s coalition.

Currently, most of Abu Dis’s lands are under Israeli control, and it is hemmed in by the wall and Jewish settlements, including the 40,000 inhabitants of Maale Adumim.

Several government ministers have made Israel’s annexation of Maale Adumim a priority. Netanyahu has delayed such a move, again citing the need to wait for the announcement of the Trump peace plan.

Beilin said it was mistakenly believed that he and Abbas agreed on Abu Dis as a Palestinian capital back in the 1990s.

“It wasn’t credible as an idea then, and the map looks very different now,” he said. “The Palestinian capital has to be in East Jerusalem. Nothing else will work.”

3. Access to al-Aqsa

There has also been talk of a plan to create a narrow land corridor from Abu Dis to the al-Aqsa mosque, so Palestinians can reach it to pray.

However, Israel has been allowing ever larger numbers of settlers into al-Aqsa, which is reputedly built over two long-destroyed Jewish temples.

Meanwhile, Israel has been tightly restricting access to the site for most Palestinians. There have been long-standing Palestinian fears that Israel is seeking to engineer a situation where it can impose its sovereignty over the mosque.

David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and a benefactor to the settlements, only heightened such fears last month when he was pictured apparently accepting a photo doctored by religious settlers that showed al-Aqsa mosque replaced by a new Jewish temple.

4. Jordan Valley

Under the Oslo accords, some 62 percent of the occupied West Bank was classified as Area C, under temporary Israeli control. It includes much of the Palestinians’ best agricultural land and would be the heartland of any future Palestinian state.

Israel never carried out the withdrawals from Area C intended in the Oslo process. Instead, it has been accelerating the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements there, and making life as hard as possible for Palestinians to force them into the confines of the more densely populated Areas A and B.

The Trump plan is reported to offer recognition of provisional Palestinian borders on about half of the West Bank – effectively awarding most of Area C to Israel. Much of that land will be in the Jordan Valley, the long spine of the West Bank that Israel has been colonising for decades.

Last December, as the Trump plan took shape, Israel announced a massive programme of settlement expansion in the Jordan Valley, designed to more than double the settler population there. Three new settlements will be the first to be built in the valley in nearly 30 years.

At the same time, Israel has lately been intensifying the harassment of the ever-shrinking Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley, as well as other parts of Area C.

In addition to denying Palestinians access to 85 percent of the Valley, Israel has declared military firing zones over nearly half of the area. That has justified the regular eviction of families on the pretext of ensuring their safety.

Israel has also been developing accelerated procedures to demolish Palestinian homes in the Jordan Valley.

5. The rest of Area C

Israel has been speeding up efforts to expand the settlements in other parts of Area C. On 30 May, it announced nearly 2,000 new homes, the great majority of them in isolated settlements that it was previously assumed would be dismantled in any peace deal.

Additionally, Israel has been quietly preparing to “legalise” what are termed “outposts” – settlements, usually built on private Palestinian land, that violate a “no new settlements” agreement with the US dating from the 1990s.

At the same time, Israel has been destroying Palestinian communities in Area C, especially those that stand in the way of efforts to create territorial continuity between large settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Late last month, France objected after Israel’s supreme court approved a plan to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, next to Maale Adumim. The families are supposed to be moved to a garbage dump in Abu Dis.

The French statement warned that Israeli actions were threatening “a zone of strategic importance to the two-state solution and the contiguity of a future Palestinian state”.

In its place, it was recently revealed, Israel is planning to build a new settlement neighbourhood called Nofei Bereishit.

In another sign of mounting international concern, some 70 Democratic members of the US Congress appealed last month to Netanyahu to stop the destruction of the Palestinian community of Sussiya, between the Gush Etzion settlements and Jerusalem.

US lawmakers expressed concern that the move was designed to “jeopardise the prospects for a two-state solution”.

6. Gaza and Sinai

It is becoming hard for the Trump administration and Israel to ignore the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza – one Israel helped to engineer with an 11-year blockade and intermittent military attacks. The United Nations warned some time ago that Gaza would soon be “uninhabitable”.

Seeking a solution, the White House hosted 19 countries at a meeting in March to consider the situation in Gaza. The PA boycotted the meeting.

At the time, Arab media reported that the Trump peace plan might include a commitment from Egypt to free up northern Sinai for a future Palestinian state. According to a Hamas official, Cairo offered reassurances that it was opposed to “settling Palestinians in Sinai”.

But a report in Haaretz has revived concerns that the White House may try to achieve a similar end by other means, by launching a Gaza initiative to coincide with the peace plan.

The paper noted that the Trump team had picked up proposals from an Israeli general, Yoav Mordechai, who participated in the White House meeting in March.

A reported initial stage would see Palestinians from Gaza recruited to work on $1.5bn worth of long-term projects in northern Sinai, funded by the international community. The projects would include an industrial zone, a desalination plant and a power station.

Egyptian opposition to such an initiative is reported to be weakening, presumably in the face of strenuous pressure from Washington and Arab allies.

Palestinian protests

The Palestinians are doing their best to try to halt the peace plan in its tracks. They are currently boycotting the Trump administration to show their displeasure.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called last month on Arab states to recall their ambassadors from the United States in protest.

And an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has proposed that an international peacekeeping force, modelled on those used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, be deployed to protect Palestinians.

In another sign of anger at the Trump initiative, the Palestinians defied the US by submitting a referral for the International Criminal Court at the Hague to investigate Israel for war crimes last month.

Etzion, the former Israeli foreign ministry official, however, warned that a turning point could be on the horizon.

“A Palestinian implosion is coming and that could change the situation in unexpected ways,” he told MEE. “The question is which implosion comes first: the humanitarian catastrophe about to engulf Gaza, or the political vacuum created when Abbas leaves.”

Arab pressure

Nonetheless, the Palestinians are facing huge pressure to give in to the peace plan.

The Trump administration has already cut funding to the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, which cares for more than two million refugees in the occupied territories. It is also poised to pull more than $200m of funding to the Palestinian Authority this summer.

Trump has also sought to recruit the Arab states to lean on Abbas. According to reports, the Palestinian leader was presented with a 35-page document originating from the Americans when he visited Saudi Arabia last November, and told to accept it or resign.

In recent years the Saudis have increased their aid to the Palestinian Authority, giving them greater leverage over the Palestinian leader.

In exchange for the Arab states acceding to Trump’s plan, Washington appears to be rolling out a more draconian policy towards Iran to limit its influence in the region.

The Arab states understand that they need to first defuse the Palestinian issue before they can be seen to coordinate closely with Israel and the US in dealing with Tehran.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Foundation For International Justice Is Anti-Imperialism

An Anti-Imperialist Mural in Caracas, Venezuela (from Telesur)

The United States has had a policy of imperialism beginning after the Civil War. The US way of war, developed against Indigenous peoples, spread worldwide as the US sought to extend its power through military force, economic dominance and diplomatic hegemony.

Imperialism is driven by what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified at the end of his life, the triple evils of racism, capitalism, and militarism. Lenin described imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Imperialism has justified mass slaughter, resulting in the US killing 20 million people since WW II. The People of the United States must say ‘no’ to imperialism.

Advocacy against imperialism is needed to prevent confusion around US militarism. The US disguises imperialism by attacking so-called “dictatorial” leaders who “use violence against their own people.” This results in Orwellian-phrased “humanitarian” wars – violence by US surrogates inside a country, massive funding to create opposition against a government or economic sanctions that cause widespread suffering.

The propaganda justifying these abuses hides the real intent — expansion of US domination so US corporations can profit from resources and cheap labor under a US-friendly government. People confused by this rhetoric sometimes repeat the propagandistic claims of US imperialists and help justify US intervention.

End US Imperialism (from PopularResistance.org)

Why US Imperialism Must Be Opposed Today

US imperialism is aggressively working on almost every continent through militarism, regime change, corporate trade agreements, economic blockades and creating indebtedness. The destruction of Libya, in an illegal “humanitarian” war, and the destruction of Iraq, in a falsely justified war, where both leaders were brutally assassinated, highlight the necessity of being clearly anti-imperialist.

There are many countries suffering from US imperialism today. Here are just a few:

Syria: Every president since the 1940s has sought to dominate Syria and has had specific plans for regime change. The Syrian conflict, often misdescribed as a civil war, is a war of aggression by the US, Saudi Araba, and Israel. During the George W. Bush administration, documents show plans to undermine the Assad government through terrorism, chaos and other attacks. In 2006, the United States started to finance an external opposition to Assad. In 2007, a plan for regime change in Syria was agreed upon between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The US began to use “color revolution” tools, organizing opposition in Syria, training citizen journalists and urging an “insurgency.”

During the Arab Spring-era in 2011, arrests of anti-Assad youth in Deraa resulted in protests. The police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, but on the third-day protests turned violent, even though Assad announced the release of the detained youths. The police fought armed protesters, resulting in the deaths of seven police. Protesters torched the courthouse and Baath Party Headquarters. Violent protests continued and escalated and the Syrian government responded with violence.

Robert Ford, the first US ambassador to Syria in five years, marched with the regime change protesters. He traveled through Syria inciting rebellion against Assad, according to this interview with a former CIA agent. He, Ford, had to flee the country out of fear.

The situation escalated into a seven-year war, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass displacement, war crimes on all sides and unproven accusations against Syria of using chemical weapons. This week, seventy Syrian tribes declared war on the US at a time when Israel and the US are increasing their military campaigns in Syria.

The US has multiple imperialist interests in Syria. The US would like to close Russia’s Navy base in Tartus, Syria on the Mediterranean. A gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey is competing with one from Iran to Syria. With large finds of methane gas in the coastal waters of Israel and Lebanon, it is likely they also exist in Syrian waters.

Iran: US imperialism in Syria is tied to Iran. As with Syria, domination has been the goal of the US since the 1950s when the CIA engineered a coup that put in place the Shah, a dictator who ruled until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The US has long sought to control Iran‘s vast oil resources.

The US used the same tools of regime change as in Syria and other countries; e.g., massive funding to build opposition to the government, supporting, building and manipulating protests, economic sanctions, and threats of militarism. These strategies have caused disruption but have failed to undermine the government.

Sanctions and the US violation of the nuclear agreement may backfire against the US as countries are fighting back against them and the US is being isolated in the UN. The US also conducts a false propaganda campaign, with the media playing along, about a nuclear weapons program that never existed and makes false claims of Iran sponsoring terrorism. And, as it did in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Israel is urging war on Iran. This may lead to the US creating a Syrian-like war in Iran, threatening world security.

Venezuela: Another country with vast oil resources, Venezuela has been threatened with regime change, coups and war due to US imperialism that is supported by the elites in the US. The US uses the same regime change tools; e.g., a propagandistic barrage of lies about a “dictatorship”, economic sanctions, high-levels of funding to build opposition, violent protests, terrorism and attempts to foment a civil war.

Venezuela has faced a continuous coup since the election of Hugo Chavez. In 2002, a coup against Chavez was reversed by people’s protests. There has been an economic war since then. Wikileaks’ documents show Hillary Clinton sought to undermine and replace the Chavez-Maduro government. A coup in 2016 was foiled. In 2017, there was an embarrassing failed coup supported by the US. Trump is continuing long-term US policies seeking to dominate Venezuela.

The economic war creates challenges for the Venezuelan government. The US economic war blocks food, medicine, and essentials, while traitors inside Venezuela, from the wealthy class, do the same. These internal traitors even call for sanctions and war. The US falsely claims a humanitarian crisis exists in order to justify intervention to steal the nation’s oil and natural resources.

Sadly, this fools too many people who are not clear on opposing US imperialism, while it also unites many in Venezuela against US imperialism. The US-allied internal traitors admitted to 17 years of crimes in a proposed amnesty law in 2016, when they controlled the National Assembly.

In Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, Colombia plays the role of Israel for the US as the point of the US spear threatening war. Colombia has long-worked with the CIA for regime change in Venezuela. Indeed, Colombia just brought the imperialism military tool, NATO, to Latin America. The US and its allies are looking toward war, making war preparations, conducting military exercises and are calling for a military coup. The world is saying ‘no’ to war against Venezuela as is much of Latin America.

In Venezuela, democratic elections resulted in a landslide victory for President Maduro, which was really a defeat of US imperialism. The election was important as the US, Canada, and the European Union were threatening Venezuela. It was a decisive election for the Bolivarian Revolution, which will continue for now.

And, There Are More: These are three examples of many. In Latin America through non-governmental organizations and US agencies, the US funds oligarchy, opposition to democracy and support for neoliberal policies and has a long history of US coups. In Nicaragua, the same tools of regime change are being used. There has been a US-supported soft coup in Brazil and Honduras.

Coups and militarism are not limited to Latin America. During the Obama era, US coups in Ukraine and attempts in the Middle East occurred. Ukraine deserves special mention as this country, which borders Russia, was a long-term imperial aim of the United States. State Department official Victoria Nuland said the US spent $5 billion to build an opposition to the government and manage a coup. There are now proposals to arm Ukraine against Russia, so the danger is growing.

The dramatic protest against democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 was a US coup spearheaded by violent neo-Nazis. This Obama-era coup was “the most blatant coup in history,” according to the corporate CIA-firm, Stratfor.  The US has taken over their gas industry, putting Joe Biden’s son and a longtime friend of John Kerry on their board, has taken over agriculture, has a former State Department official serving as finance minister, picked their Prime Minister and put in place the US’s “Our Ukraine Insider” president. In the US, media propaganda is constant, focusing on Crimea returning to Russia and demonizing Putin.

While there are more current examples of US imperialism, we will finish with a brief discussion of Africa, where the US seeks to dominate the land, resources, and labor of a continent which holds natural resources critical to 21st Century technology and oil and where $100 billion in US corporate theft occurs annually. Under Obama, AfriCom greatly expanded and the US now has bi-lateral military agreements across the continent, military bases, drone basesSpecial Operations Forces and a military presence in 53 of 54 countries creating an imperial-scale military presence.

The Congo, which has suffered 500 years of European and US imperialism and where four million people have been recently displaced, deserves special focus. The Congo has natural resources more valuable than the entire EU’s GDP. Tech companies violate human rights, such as children as young as seven mining cobalt for lithium batteries.  Africa is shaping up to be the center of 21st Century imperial US wars.

American Imperialism (from Countercurrents.org)

Anti-Imperialism: The Foundation For A Just Foreign Policy

These conflicts are all rooted in resource sovereignty in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Do these countries control their natural wealth or will US imperialism steal it from them? Peace and justice movements must build on a foundation of anti-imperialism and not be fooled by the lies of elected officials, militarists, and the corporate media.

Some will attack those clearest on opposing imperialism. At the Left Forum, a small group criticized long-time US human rights and peace advocate, Ajamu Baraka, for his stance opposing US imperialism in Syria.  The previously unknown group, the “League for the Revolutionary Party”, was made up of a small number of members of the International Socialist Organization and Democratic Socialists of America. They showed how those who do not make opposition to imperialism a foundation of their advocacy are easily confused.

They had to misquote Baraka and take his views out of context to justify their attack. By protesting Baraka, they attacked the leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, making their protest racist. They also protested someone who challenged the war party duopoly, as he was the vice presidential nominee of the Green Party. Their protest not only supported US militarism in Syria but sought to weaken the rebuilding of the black peace movement and challenges to the war parties.

If we ground ourselves in anti-imperialism, we will not be as easily misled. We must respect the sovereignty of other nations and support popular struggles without promoting US intervention.

The people of many countries unite in opposition to US imperialism, economic warfare and threats of militarism. It is our job in the United States to act in solidarity with them and say ‘no’ to US imperialism.

Under Trump, the Israel Lobby is a Hydra with Many Heads

The Trump administration’s recent steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should surely lay to rest any doubts about the enormous, and dangerous, power of the Israel lobby in Washington.

Under Trump, the lobby has shown it can wield unprecedented influence – even by its usual standards – in flagrant disregard for all apparent US interests.

First, there was the move this month of the US embassy to Jerusalem, not quietly but on the 70th anniversary of the most sensitive day in the Palestinian calendar, Nakba Day. That is when Palestinians commemorate their mass expulsion from their homeland in 1948.

By relocating the embassy, Trump gave official US blessing to tearing up the 25-year-old peace process – and in choosing Nakba Day for the move, he rubbed the noses of Palestinians, and by extension the Arab world, in their defeat.

Then, the White House compounded the offence by lauding Israeli snipers who massacred dozens of unarmed Palestinians protesting at the perimeter fence around Gaza the same day. A series of statements issued by the White House could have been written by Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself.

At the United Nations, the US blocked a Security Council resolution calling for the massacre to be investigated, while Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN envoy, observed to fellow delegates: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

None of these moves served any obvious US national interest, nor did Trump’s decision the previous week to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that has long been reviled by the Israeli government.

In fact, quite the contrary: These actions risk inflaming tensions to the point of a regional war that could quickly drag in the major powers, or provoke terror attacks on US soil.

Wall of silence

It should be recalled that two decades ago, it was impossible even to mention the existence of an Israel lobby in Washington without being labelled an anti-Semite.

Paradoxically, Israel’s supporters exercised the very power they denied existed, bullying critics into submission by insisting that any talk of an Israel lobby relied on anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power.

The wall of silence was broken only with the publication in 2006 of a seminal essay – later turned into a book – by two prominent US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

But in a sign of the immense weight of the lobby even as it was being dragged into the light, the pair were unable to find a publisher in the US. Instead, the essay found a home across the Atlantic in the prestigious, if obscure, London Review of Books. One of the pair, Stephen Walt, has publicly admitted that his career suffered as a result.

Since then, a little leeway has opened up on the subject. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a staunch advocate for Israel, has conceded the lobby’s existence.

In 2011, he explained a well-established, if astounding, ritual of US politics: that the Congress greets every visiting Israeli prime minister more rapturously than the American president himself.

Friedman observed: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Intimidating Congress

Friedman was alluding to the network of Jewish leadership organisations and political action committees in the US, all of them hawkishly pro-Israel, that at election time can channel large sums of money for or against Congressional candidates.

It is not that these pro-Israel organisations control the Congress. It is that they have mastered the techniques of political intimidation. They understand and exploit a flawed American system that has allowed lobbies and their money to dictate the agendas of most US lawmakers. Congresspeople are vulnerable as individuals – not only to the loss of donations, but to a generously funded opponent.

In Trump’s case, the follow-the-money principle could not have been clearer. In the early stages of his battle to become the Republican party candidate for president, when most assumed he stood no chance and he was funding the campaign himself, he was relatively critical of Israel.

Hard as it is to believe now, he promised to be “neutral” on the Israel-Palestine issue; expressed doubts about whether it made sense to hand Israel billions of dollars annually in military aid; backed a two-state solution; and refused to commit to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

All of that got ditched the moment he needed big funders for his presidential bid. The kingmaker in the Republican party is Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire and champion of the kind of Israeli ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab politics in which Netanyahu excels. Adelson likes Netanyahu so much he even bought him a newspaper, Israel Hayom, which Adelson has grown into the largest-circulation daily in Israel.

In the end, Adelson backed Trump’s election campaign to the tune of $35m. It was the need for Adelson’s support that ensured Trump appointed David Friedman, a long-time benefactor of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in the supposedly non-partisan position of US ambassador to Israel. And it was Adelson who was among the honoured guests at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem this month.

The anti-Semitism canard

Those who accuse anyone raising the issue of the Israel lobby of anti-Semitism either misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent what is being claimed.

No one apart from easily identifiable Jew haters is updating the century-old Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery by supporters of the Russian czar supposedly proving that “the Jews” sought world domination through control of the banks and the media.

For starters, the argument for the existence of an Israel lobby does not refer to Jews at all. It is about a country, Israel, and its outsize influence over the policies of the US.

Other countries or groups of US citizens try to exercise such influence, either through similar lobbies or through subterfuge.

No one would deny there is a Cuba lobby that helped influence US policy in seeking to oust revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. And most US lawmakers are currently frothing at the mouth about what they see as covert Russian efforts to influence US politics to Moscow’s advantage.

Why would we expect Israel to be any different? The question isn’t whether the lobby exists, but why the US political system is doing nothing to protect itself from its interference.

If Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s supposed hidden hand in the US is such a threat, why isn’t Israel’s?

Five lobbies in one

Rather than exposing and confronting the Israel lobby, however, US presidents have more typically bent to its will. That was only too obvious, for example, when Barack Obama folded in his early battle with Netanyahu to limit the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But under Trump, the Israel lobby has come to exercise unrivalled power, because it is now far more than just one lobby. It is a five-headed Hydra worthy of Greek mythology, and only one of its heads relates directly to Israel or organised American Jewry.

In fact, the lobby’s power now derives not chiefly from Israel. Since Trump’s election, the Israel lobby has managed to absorb and mobilise an additional four powerful lobbies – and to a degree not seen before. They are: the Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex, and the Saudi Arabia lobby.

Domestically, Trump’s election victory depended on his ability to rally to his side two groups that are profoundly committed to Israel, even though they are largely indifferent, or actively hostile, to the Jews who live there.

Leaders of the US alt-right – a loose coalition of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups – are infatuated with Israel but typically dislike Jews. That sentiment has been encapsulated by alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a “white Zionist”.

In short, the alt-right treasures Israel because it has preserved a long-discredited model of a fortress-like, belligerent racial homeland. They want the US reserved exclusively for an imagined “white” community, just as Israel defines itself as representing an exclusive Jewish community.

Trump’s reliance on the alt-right vote was highlighted by the early appointment to his administration of several leading figures associated with the movement, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka.

Fulfilling God’s prophecy

But more significant still has been the role of evangelicals. That is why Mike Pence, a devout Christian, was chosen as Trump’s running mate. Trump’s team understood that the votes of tens of millions of Americans were assured if Trump pandered to their prejudices.

And happily for Netanyahu, their keenest prejudice is fanatical support for Israel – and not just for Israel inside its internationally recognised borders, but also for Greater Israel, which includes many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land.

The Christian Zionists believe that Jews must be corralled into their biblical homeland to fulfill divine prophecy and bring about the Second Coming of the Messiah.

It was primarily for the sake of these Christian Zionists that Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. And it was why two evangelical pastors with a history of anti-Semitic remarks, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, were called on to offer their blessings at the opening ceremony.

Trump’s indebtedness to the evangelicals is one reason to be worried about his policies in the region. The Christian Zionists have no interest in fairness, justice or international law. Rather, they are prepared to inflame tensions in the Middle East – and even trigger Armageddon itself – if they think it might benefit Israel and further God’s prophecy.

Eisenhower’s warning

The military-industrial complex has enjoyed a much longer, if more veiled, influence on US politics. A former US army general who became president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the looming threat posed by an increasingly dominant corporate sector dependent on war profits back in 1961.

Since then, the power of these corporations has accreted and expanded in precisely the ways Eisenhower feared. And that has only helped Israel.

In the early 1980s, Noam Chomsky, the dissident US intellectual, observed in his book The Fateful Triangle that Israel and the US had different conceptions of the Middle East.

The US was then what Chomsky termed a “status quo power” that was mostly interested in preserving the existing regional order. Israel, on the other hand, was committed to destabilisation of the region – its Balkanisation – as a strategy to extend its hegemony over feuding, internally divided neighbouring states.

Today, it is not hard to see which vision of the Middle East prevailed. The US-headquartered war industries lobbied for – and have profited enormously from – an endless, global “war on terror” that needs their expensive killing toys. The West has even been able to market its wars of aggression against other sovereign states as “humanitarian” in nature.

The benefits to the military industries can be gauged by examining the ever-surging profits of large US arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon over the past decade.

Cultivation of fear

Israel has not only benefited from the sanctioning and dismemberment of regional rivals, such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, but it has exploited the opportunity to make itself indispensable to these war-profiting industries.

It has, for example, been the linchpin in developing and refining new ways to exploit the cultivation of fear – most significantly, the ever-expanding “homeland security” industry.

Using the occupied Palestinian territories for experimentation, Israel has specialised in developing surveillance and biometric technologies, lethal and non-lethal crowd control methods, complex incarceration systems, psychological profiling of subjugated populations, and highly dubious redefinitions of international law to lift existing restraints on war crimes and wars of aggression.

That has proved invaluable to the military industries that have sought to profit from new wars and occupations across the Middle East. But it has also meant Israel’s expertise is much sought-after by US political and security elites who wish to pacify and control restless domestic populations.

Israel’s encouragement of the Middle East’s destabilisation has raised new threats in the US – of protest, immigration and terrorism – for which Israel has then supplied readymade solutions.

Israel has helped to rationalise the militarisation of police forces in the US and elsewhere, and provided the training. It has also gradually introduced to the US and other Western countries the kind of racial and political profiling that has long been standard in Israel.

That is the reason why Israeli academic Jeff Halper has warned of the danger that the “war on terror” could ultimately turn all of us into Palestinians.

Alliance with Saudi Arabia

But perhaps the most significant additional boost to Israel’s power in Washington has been its newfound and barely concealed alliance with Saudi Arabia.

For decades, the oil lobby in the US was seen as a counterweight to the Israel lobby. That was why Israel’s supporters traditionally reviled the US State Department, which was viewed as an Arabist outpost.

No longer. Trump, ever the businessman, has cultivated even stronger ties to the Saudis, hoping that arms and technology sales will revive the US economy and his political fortunes.

During a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the US in March, Trump noted: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

But Washington’s close ties to the Saudis are increasingly a boon to Israel rather than an impediment. The two have found common cause in their feverish opposition to Iran, and its Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon, and their determination to prevent them from gaining more power in the region.

Israel wants a military hegemony over the Middle East that Iran could undermine, while Riyadh needs an ideological and financial hegemony that Iran might be able to disrupt.

And the Palestinians – the only issue that continues formally to divide Israel and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly viewed by bin Salman as a chess piece he is ready to sacrifice in exchange for Iran’s destruction.

Trump tore up the nuclear accord agreed by Obama with Iran with such incendiary abandon this month because his two Middle East allies jointly demanded he do so.

And the indications are that he may do worse – even attacking Iran – if the pressure from Israel and the Saudis reaches a critical mass.

Time for a little humility

All of these various lobbies have long wielded significant power in Washington, but remained largely separate. In recent years, their interests have come to overlap considerably, making Israel ever more unassailable in US politics.

Under Trump, their agendas have aligned so completely that this multi-headed lobby has as good as collectively captured the presidency on matters that concern it most.

That is not to say that the Israel lobby will not face future challenges. Other pressures are emerging in reaction to the unaccountable power of the Israel lobby, including progressive voices in US politics that are, for the first time, breaking with the long-standing bipartisan nature of the debate about Israel.

Bernie Sanders’s unexpected surge in the Democratic nomination race for the presidency, the rise of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the growing alienation of young US Jews from Israel, and the US public’s ever-greater exposure on social media to Israel’s crimes are signs of trends it will be difficult for Israel to counter or reverse.

Israel is getting its way at the moment. But hubris is a fault we have been warned about since the time of the ancient Greeks. Israel may yet come to learn a little humility – the hard way.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Trump is Alienating Europe: This Is a Good Thing

Thesis: the main achievement of the Trump administration to date has been to alienate European allies, in particular Germany, France and Britain, thus weakening the Atlantic Alliance. Originally concerned by candidate Trump’s questioning of NATO’s continuing relevance, they have been satisfied by Trump’s re-commitment to the alliance (even as he moans about the member countries’ general failure to shell out the 2% for “defense” the pact theoretically entails). But they’ve been dismayed by the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate, its pullout from the Iran nuclear deal (threatening sanctions on European companies that in accordance with the deal want to trade with Iran), its abandonment of coordinated policy on Israel, its imposition of tariffs on European steel and aluminum, and its general barking tone.

These days Angela Merkel is feeling more in common with Vladimir Putin than Donald Trump. Putin speaks to her in fluent German, treats her with respect, and is generally predictable, unlike the erratic Trump.

He tells her: let’s make more energy deals for mutual benefit, whatever the Americans think. And please don’t support the expansion of NATO; enough already. We are a formidable power, but our military budget is tiny compared to NATO’s and we are not about—and have no reason to—invade you. We just don’t want your military alliance to completely encircle us. We understand that, as a U.S. ally, you had to echo Washington’s condemnation of our annexation of Crimea and apply sanctions to us. But you know as well as I do that if Ukraine had been brought into NATO as the U.S. planned after the 2014 coup, our Crimea naval bases would have been transferred to NATO and we could never accept that. If you make the lifting of sanctions contingent on Russian withdrawal from Crimea, sorry, we will just have to accept them while applying counter-sanctions. Let us work together on the issues that unite us, like combating climate change and implementing the Iran agreement and protecting these agreements against U.S. obstruction.

This is potentially a key moment in which finally the unholy alliance based on a Faustian bargain between the U.S. and European anticommunists in the late 1940s fractures. What is the greater threat to Europe? The Russian state, which has gone through the agonizing process of full-scale capitalist restoration and a period of total chaos in the 1990s giving way to recovery under Putin, and which currently spends about 14% of what the U.S. devotes to military expenses every year? Or the U.S., which (still) wants to dictate European policy, even as its GDP dips relative to Europe’s? The EU GDP is now 90% of the U.S.’s.

Putin told Emmanuel Macron at the recent St. Petersburg economic conference: “Europe depends on U.S. in the realm of security. But you don’t need to worry about that; we’ll help. We’ll provide security.” I don’t think it was a joke.

Imagine a Europe not dominated by German banks deeply invested in support for U.S. imperialism using EU architecture to hold nations hostage to imposed austerity programs. Imagine a Europe of independent countries seeking rational equidistance between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has envisioned a free trade union including the EU extending from Vladivostok to Lisbon. It would be facilitated by China’s “new Silk Road” infrastructure projects, which may indeed unite Eurasia as never before, even as the U.S. recedes into the Grey Havens.

Russia will keep Crimea, as it has for most of the last three centuries; Ukraine will have to accord autonomy to the Russian-speaking Donbas region; Europe will lift its Russia sanctions gradually, because they are not in Europe’s interest (and punish Europe for the U.S.’s sake); contempt for the U.S. will mount so long as Trump is president, and could even deepen if he’s succeeded by Pence. The EU will continue to split on issues of immigration, austerity, Russian ties and other issues and the splits will deepen. The understaffed and clueless State Department will continue to urge trans-Atlantic unity. But having violated that unity repeatedly the U.S. has no moral authority to demand its continuation.

Meanwhile Putin plans a meeting with Japan’s Abe Shinzo to resolve the Northern Islands question. Probably a swap of islands, Russia returning two to Japanese sovereignty. This would end the formal state of war between the two countries and pave the way to huge Japanese investments in Russia. And given the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Japan will likely be drawn more into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization dominated by China and Russia.

India under Modi is basking in a period of U.S.-Indian friendship. Having (without clear explanation) forgiven India for its robust nuclear weapons program the U.S. seeks more cooperation with India versus China. But the U.S. alienates New Delhi over Iran sanctions. India buys Iranian oil and will continue to do so.

Xi Jinping in China enjoys a good relationship with Trump, having cleverly flattered him and Ivanka. But he is not pleased with Trump’s trade war threats and challenge to Chinese construction on the South China Sea atolls. The Chinese economy grows by leaps and bounds, and China’s military strengthens inevitably. China is the main rival to the U.S. geopolitically, and it is strategically aligned not only with Russia but with Central Asian countries, former Soviet republics, in general.

The U.S. could at least once boast of hegemony over Latin America, where military dictatorships once comfortably secured U.S. interests. Now these are gone.  Latin America in general militates in different ways against U.S. imperialism. The spectacle of a U.S. president demanding the construction of a wall to keep out Mexican illegal immigrants and demanding that Mexico pay for it appears to hundreds of millions of people as a perverse, sadistic move. Reports of kids separated at the border from their parents and disappearing in their hundreds doesn’t help.

The U.S. is alienating Canada, for god’s sake, by steel tariffs. Good good good good good. Let’s break the whole thing, Donald!

The emergence of a multilateral world—in which the U.S. cannot oblige its allies (as it did in the case of the Iraq War) to embrace its own lies, and share in the ramifications of their acceptance—is on the horizon. The world sees a moron in the White House, handles him carefully, its leaders probably trading notes on his disturbing and unstable personality. Leaders assess the U.S. as a declining power with a horrifying arsenal and more horrifying willingness to invade countries for no good reason but diminishing geopolitical clout. The flurry of exchanges between European and Iranian leaders after the U.S. announcement on the Iran deal and stated determination of the Europeans to beat U.S. secondary sanctions, and strong EU statements of indignation at the US. decision, may signal a sea-change in relations.

European Council President Donald Tusk (a former Polish prime minister) last week criticized “the capricious assertiveness of the American administration” over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea. adding: “Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies? But, frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump. Because, thanks to him, we got rid of all the illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

You realize what this means?

These are significant words, under-reported by the U.S. media, that appears to simply assume the continuation of the existing U.S. hegemonic order in the world, is addicted to the cult of promoting military “service” as a good in itself, and—while wanting to bring down Trump for various reasons—cannot challenge capitalism and imperialism or make astute analyses of present conditions because they are paid by corporations that have vested interests in promoting the CNN and NYT concept of reality. The fact is, the post-war U.S.-dominated world is collapsing, as it should. As empires do.

The fact that this collapse is aided by a colorful idiot in the White House merely adds dramatic appeal to the historical narrative. He will grandiloquently preside over some sort of Korean agreement to satisfy his ego, then perhaps attack Iran with zero European backing but frenzied Israeli and Saudi support, inaugurating a major if not world war. This would not further endear this country to the planet in general.

Universities, Branding and Saudi Arabia

The modern university is a tertiary colonising institution.  Like the old mercantilist bodies – the Dutch East India Company and its equivalents – the educational world is there to be acquired by bureaucrats, teachers and, it is hoped, suitable recruits.

To that end, a good degree of amorality is required.  Scruples are best left to others, and most certainly not university managers, who prefer counting the sums rather than pondering deontological principles.  Such a point seems very much at the forefront of an arrangement between the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The MGSE, which seems, in acronym, similar to a salt brand, struck gold in its arrangement to reform the Kingdom’s school curriculum – some 36,000 schools in all comprising 500,000 teachers.

“This project,” stated the Minister for Education Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Issa, “will have a significant impact on the development of the new educational process in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  It will require “patience”, and the contributions of “international experts”.

Irons were already being laid in the fire the previous year, with thirty teachers from Saudi Arabia engaging a six month program “designed,” according to the MGSE dispatch, “to transform their teaching knowledge, skills and attitudes.”

The search for such experts is part of a broader Saudi mission, the “Vision 2030” ostensibly designed to produce a new generation of “critical” thinkers.  “A system of transmitting existing knowledge,” opined Al-Issa to a gathering of education and business figures at the Yidan Prize Summit in Hong Kong last year, “is no longer adequate.  We need to rethink education from preschool through graduate schools and we need to do this urgently.”

Al-Issa has spread matters broadly, with his ministry signing an agreement with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in November 2017 “to explore opportunities to further deepen cooperation on the design and implementation of education reform in Saudi Arabia.”

The Melbourne University newsroom was beaming with remarks sweetened by success. MGSE’s Dean Jim Watterston kept it vague and professional. “We look forward to working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deliver evidence-based research methods into classrooms.”  The impression given by Watterston is a system of education that enlightens rather than indoctrinates, something distinct from what passes for Saudi teaching fare.

Which brings us to the sticking, and even fatal, point behind the whole ghastly business.  As the chief Sunni state wages remorseless war on Yemen, in the process robbing cradles and breaching human rights in the name of geopolitical goals, business is still to be done.  Australian education envoys, sent by overly managed universities, are the ideally blinkered.  Given that it remains the country’s third largest earner of gross domestic product, principles would be a needless encumbrance.

What gives this whole matter of pedagogical enterprise between the MGSE and Saudi Arabia a good lashing of irony is that the Kingdom is at war with what it deems extremism.  Only its own Wahhabi brand, the same sort that inspired those who flew the murderous missions on September 11, 2001 against US targets, is tolerated.

Saudi Arabia, for one, boasts an education program that lends itself to the standardised, hardened teachings of Wahhabism.  Nina Shea, director of the Centre for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, told the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade in July 2017 how “violent and belligerent teachings” abounded in the curriculum like dandruff.

Two years after the 9/11 hijackers reaped sorrow, the National Dialogue in Saudi Arabia sported the findings of a scholarly panel commissioned by King Abdullah.  The religious studies curriculum, in particular, “encourages violence towards others, misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate each other.”

According to Shea, not much had changed.  The textbooks authorised by the Ministry of Education still taught “an ideology of hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Muslims, such as Shiites, Sufis, Ahmadis, Hindus, Bahais, Yizidis, animists, sorcerers, and ‘infidels’ of all stripes, as well as other groups with different believes.”  If you hate, hate well, thoroughly and diligently.

Behind the current agenda of the Ministry of Education is an effort to root out rival Islamic doctrines, a program that is only critical in its evisceration and selective censorship.  In March this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS television that the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood had found its way into the Saudi school system, a carcinogenic force that needed a good dose of administrative chemo.

The Kingdom, he promised, will “fight extremist ideologies by reviewing school curricula and books to ensure they are free of the banned Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda”.  This act of pedagogical cleansing was promised to be harsh, seeking to “ban books attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood from all schools and universities and remove all those who sympathise with the group.”

Short shrift, in other words, is being given to the functions of actual critical thinking, the very stuff Watterston boasts about somewhat uncritically.  But that will not bother him, or those who have put their signatures in this particular form of international engagement.  The perks are bound to be endless.  Like the selling of arms, education is a business designed to line pockets, feed the parasites of management, and enhance an empty brand.  Forget the students – they are the last in the dismal food chain. Even more importantly, ignore the politics of it all.

Pompeo Challenged at Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had every reason to expect that his first official appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be the usual slam-dunk as mostly obedient, respectful Senators aligned with his testimony.

Instead of the typically gratuitous compliments and undeserved deference, there was a display (albeit a minority) of some moral courage with a rare slice of truth on Capitol Hill, epitomizing the real-time requirements of a Senator’s job: to be skeptical, provide oversight and demand accountability from every Federal government witness, no matter the rank – once referred to as ‘grilling the witness.”

Besides fraternizing with America’s most privileged citizens, endless rounds of lavish Capitol Hill receptions, wide ranging international travel opportunities (aka junkets), a liberal vacation  policy and exorbitant benefits out of step for the minimal accomplishments actually achieved, the current Senate paradigm has allowed too many Members to degenerate into a protuberance of greedy, sniveling, weak-minded buffoons with no genuine regard for their constituents or what was once the greatest democracy on the planet.

Days earlier, as the nation’s top diplomat, Pompeo delivered the Trump Administration’s controversial “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy” in a decidedly undiplomatic speech to a less than enthusiastic audience at the Heritage Foundation.  That aggressive strategy included a dozen doomed-to-fail, untenable demands that were little more than a precursor for military intervention and regime change.

Before the hearing began, Pompeo unexpectedly read a crude letter from President Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cancelling the June 12th summit citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” and concluded with the moronic “If you change your mind …, please do not hesitate to call or write me.”  To date, Trump has softened his stance against a meeting and hints the June summit may occur on schedule.

As the hearing began, most Senators expended their allotted time by steadfastly avoiding the massive foreign policy blunder that had just been dropped in their laps.  The following excerpts focus on two Members, Sen. Rand Paul (R-SC) (1:58) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) (2:19/3:27) since they had the most extensive dialogue with Pompeo and because they gave Pompeo the most grief.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or) (3:34) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) (3:15) questioned implications of the upcoming Authority for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Sen. Paul launched into a rapid-fire critique exposing the inadequacies of Pompeo’s Iran Plan with a much needed dose of reality as he methodically decimated the strategy, beginning with the requirement that Iran reveal the ‘military dimensions’ of its nuclear program:

Let’s substitute Israel for Iran. Does anyone believe that Israel is going to reveal the military dimensions of their nuclear program? ” Paul inquired whether the Saudi’s would be willing to discuss “anything they’ve done to develop nuclear weapons or reveal the military dimensions of their nuclear program. So really what you’re asking for is something they (Iranians) are never going to agree to.”

Regarding the requirement that Iran end its proliferation of ballistic missiles, Paul explained that:

… when we supply weapons, the Saudis buy weapons, the Saudis have a ballistic weapon program, they (Iran) respond to that. The Saudis and their allies …spend more than eight times Iran so when you tell Iran that you have to give up your ballistic missile program but you don’t say anything to the Saudis, you think they are ever going to sign?

If you leave Saudi Arabia and Israel out of it and look at Iran in isolation, that’s not how they (Iran) perceive it. We want Iran to do things that we’re not willing to ask anybody else to do and that we would never do.

Regarding Pompeo’s demand to end military support for the Houthi rebels:

Once again, you’re asking them to end it but you’re not asking the Saudis to end their bombardment of Yemen.  If you look at the humanitarian disaster that is Yemen, it is squarely on the shoulders of the Saudis.

Paul then drew attention to the demand for Iran to withdraw all its forces from Syria noting that:

ISIS is getting weapons from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are ten times the problem. The people who attacked us came from Saudi Arabia. We ignore all that and lavish them with bombs.

It was naïve to pull out of the Iran Agreement and in the end, we’ll be worse off for it.

Pompeo was Stunned and the Silence was Deafening.  Pompeo had absolutely no reaction to Paul’s devastating analysis of US foreign policy in the Middle East, offering no explanation, no excuse, no correction or thoughtful response; nor did any other Senator present dare step into the swamp.

Next up was Sen. Markey citing Trump’s reference to North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility” and inquiring:

How did you expect North Korea to react to comparisons between Libya and North Korea, between the fates of Kim Jong Un and Qaddafi? Why would you expect anything other than anger and hostility in reaction to these comparisons?

Markey was referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s  comment that “Kim Jong Un will end up like Qaddafi if he does not make a deal” and National Security Advisor John Bolton’s  “we have very much in mind the Libya model of 2003-2004.”

As background, in 2003 Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi relinquished his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons allowing inspectors to oversee and verify the process.  By 2011, with US and NATO instigation, Libya experienced a violent overthrow of its government with Qaddafi brutally murdered.  And who can ever forget former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s macabre glee “we came, we saw, he died“.

Pompeo expressed “misunderstanding taking place with this idea of a Libya model” and that he “hadn’t done the work to find out what that was…when Libyans chose to give up their nuclear weapons in 2003.  That’s the Libya model.”

Markey explained:

The Libya model, as Kim Jong Un has been interpreting it, is that the leader of the country surrenders their nuclear capability only to then be overthrown and killed.  Why would you not think that Kim would not interpret it that way as it continued to escalate with Bolton and Vice President talking about the Qaddafi model? .…why would you think there would be any other interpretation at what happened to Qaddafi at the end of his denuclearization which is that he wound up dead?  Why would that not elicit hostility from a negotiating partner three weeks prior to sitting down..

From there Markey and Pompeo bantered back and forth with Pompeo consistently failing to grasp the connection between Qaddafi’s 2003 disarmament agreement and US military interference in Libya in 2011 that resulted in Qaddafi’s death as sufficient reason for North Korea to feel threatened.  No matter how precise the clarification, Pompeo continued to respond as a dense, one-dimensional thinker unable to wrap his mind around logic that challenged his view of a simulated reality, as if looking at the same object through a different lens.

Committee chair Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) agreed with Markey.

I opposed so strongly what the Obama administration did in Libya was exactly the argument you are laying out right now…to have someone like Qaddafi who gave up their nuclear weapons and then go kill him to me sent exactly the signal that you are laying out right now.

Corker then announced that he ‘just had discussion with Secretary’s staff and he is now 15 minutes late for a meeting.  I’m going to allow a couple of comments but going to stop it in five minutes.”

Markey immediately inquired:

Who is the meeting with Mr. Secretary.. if you are not going to stay here and answer questions from us.. can you not push that meeting back another 15 minutes…

Corker:

This is getting a little bit, this type of discourse, I’m sorry, I’m the one doing this. I’ve been very generous.

Markey:

…but we agreed to two seven- minute question periods and it is being ended here for two members..

Markey continued until Sen. Corker gavelled his time had expired.

As the Foreign Relations Committee contemplates an upcoming markup and vote on a Forever AUMF next week, it will be a time for other Committee Senators to step outside the Matrix and dig deep to find their own moral fortitude.

Saudi Wahabbism Serves Western Imperialism

When the Saudi Crown Prince gave an interview to the Washington Post, declaring that it was actually the West that encouraged his country to spread Wahhabism to all corners of the world, there was a long silence in almost all the mass media outlets in the West, but also in countries such as Egypt and Indonesia.

Those who read the statement expected a determined rebuke from Riyadh. It did not come. The sky did not fall. Lightning did not strike the Prince or the Post.

Clearly, not all that the Crown Prince declared appeared on the pages of the Washington Post, but what actually did, would be enough to bring down entire regimes in such places like Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei. Or at least it would be enough under ‘normal circumstances’. That is, if the population there was not already hopelessly and thoroughly indoctrinated and programed, and if the rulers in those countries did not subscribe to, or tolerate, the most aggressive, chauvinistic and ritualistic (as opposed to the intellectual or spiritual) form of the religion.

Reading between the lines, the Saudi Prince suggested that it was actually the West which, while fighting an ‘ideological war’ against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, handpicked Islam and its ultra-orthodox and radical wing – Wahhabism – as an ally in destroying almost all the progressive, anti-imperialist and egalitarian aspirations in the countries with a Muslim majority.

As reported by RT on 28 March 2018:

The Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism began as a result of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post.

Speaking to the paper, bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia’s Western allies urged the country to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union…

The interview with the crown prince was initially held ‘off the record’. However, the Saudi embassy later agreed to let the Washington Post publish specific portions of the meeting.

Since the beginning of the spread of Wahhabism, one country after another had been falling; ruined by ignorance, fanatical zeal and fear, which have been preventing the people of countries such as post-1965 Indonesia or the post-Western-invasion Iraq, to move back (to the era before Western intervention) and at the same time forward, towards something that used to be so natural to their culture in not such a distant past – towards socialism or at least tolerant secularism.

*****

In reality, Wahhabism does not have much to do with Islam. Or more precisely, it intercepts and derails the natural development of Islam, of its strife for an egalitarian arrangement of the world, and for socialism.

The Brits were behind the birth of the movement; the Brits and one of the most radical, fundamentalist and regressive preachers of all times – Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

The essence of the Wahabi/British alliance and dogma was and still is, extremely simple: “Religious leaders would force the people into terrible, irrational fear and consequent submission. No criticism of the religion is allowed; no questioning of its essence and particularly of the conservative and archaic interpretation of the Book. Once conditioned this way, people stopped questioning and criticizing first the feudalist, and later capitalist oppression; they also accepted without blinking the plunder of their natural resources by local and foreign masters. All attempts to build a socialist and egalitarian society got deterred, brutally, ‘in the name of Islam’ and ‘in the name of God’”.

Of course, as a result, the Western imperialists and the local servile ‘elites’ are laughing all the way to the bank, at the expense of those impoverished and duped millions in the countries that are controlled by the Wahhabi and Western dogmas.

Only a few in the devastated, colonized countries actually realize that Wahhabism does not serve God or the people; it is helping Western interests and greed.

Precisely this is what is right now happening in Indonesia, but also in several other countries that have been conquered by the West, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Were Syria to fall, this historically secular and socially-oriented nation would be forced into the same horrid direction. People there are well aware of this, as they are educated. They also see what has happened to Libya and Iraq and they definitely do not want to end up like them. It is the Wahhabi terrorist fighters that both the West and its lackeys like Saudi Arabia unleashed against the Syrian state and its people.

*****

Despite its hypocritical secular rhetoric, manufactured mainly for local consumption but not for the colonies, the West is glorifying or at least refusing to openly criticize its own brutal and ‘anti-people’ offspring – a concept which has already consumed and ruined both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In fact, it is trying to convince the world that these two countries are ‘normal’, and in the case of Indonesia, both ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’. At the same time, it has consistently been antagonizing almost all the secular or relatively secular nations with substantial Muslim majorities, such as Syria (until now), but also Afghanistan, Iran (prior to the coup of 1953), Iraq and Libya before they were thoroughly and brutally smashed.

Aghanistan-US-air-force-Bagrani-base

It is because the state, in which the KSA, Indonesia and the present-day Afghanistan can be found, is the direct result of both Western interventions and indoctrination. The injected Wahhabi dogma is giving this Western ‘project’ a Muslim flavor, while justifying trillions of dollars on ‘defense spending’ for the so-called ‘War on Terror’ (a concept resembling an Asian fishing pond where fish are brought in and then fished out for a fee).

Obedience, even submissiveness – is where, for many reasons, the West wants its ‘client’ states and neo-colonies to be. The KSA is an important trophy because of its oil, and strategic position in the region. Saudi rulers are often going out of their way to please their masters in London and Washington, implementing the most aggressive pro-Western foreign policy. Afghanistan is ‘valued’ for its geographical location, which could potentially allow the West to intimidate and even eventually invade both Iran and Pakistan, while inserting extremist Muslim movements into China, Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Between 1 and 3 million Indonesian people ‘had to be’ massacred in 1965-66, in order to bring to power a corrupt turbo-capitalist clique which could guarantee that the initially bottomless (although now rapidly thinning) natural resources could flow, uninterrupted and often untaxed, into places such as North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Frankly, there is absolutely nothing ‘normal’ about countries such as Indonesia and the KSA. In fact, it would take decades, but most likely entire generations, in order to return them to at least some sort of nominal ‘normalcy’. Even if the process were to begin soon, the West hopes that by the time it ends, almost all of the natural resources of these countries would be gone.

But the process is not yet even beginning. The main reason for the intellectual stagnation and lack of resistance is obvious: people in countries such as Indonesia and KSA are conditioned so they are not able to see the brutal reality that surrounds them. They are indoctrinated and ‘pacified’. They have been told that socialism equals atheism and that atheism is evil, illegal and ‘sinful’.

Hence, Islam was modified by the Western and Saudi demagogues, and has been ‘sent to a battle’, against progress and a just, egalitarian arrangement of the world.

Poster of radical FPI in Jakarta

This version of religion is unapologetically defending Western imperialism, savage capitalism as well as the intellectual and creative collapse of the countries into which it was injected, including Indonesia. There, in turn, the West tolerates the thorough corruption, grotesque lack of social services, and even genocides and holocausts committed first against the Indonesians themselves, then against the people of East Timor, and to this day against the defenseless Papuan men, women and children. And it is not only a ‘tolerance’ – the West participates directly in these massacres and extermination campaigns, as it also takes part in spreading the vilest forms of Wahabi terrorism and dogmas to all corners of the world. All this, while tens of millions of the followers of Wahhabism are filling the mosques daily, performing mechanical rituals without any deeper thought or soul searching.

Wahhabism works – it works for the mining companies and banks with their headquarters in London and New York. It also works extremely well for the rulers and the local ‘elites’ inside the ‘client’ states.

*****

Ziauddin Sardar, a leading Muslim scholar from Pakistan, who is based in London, has no doubts that ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ is, to a great extent, the result of the Western imperialism and colonialism.

Ziauddin Sardar and Andre Vltchek discussing Islam at Mr. Sardar’s club in London

In a conversation which we had several years ago, he explained:

Trust between Islam and the West has indeed been broken… We need to realize that colonialism did much more than simply damage Muslim nations and cultures. It played a major part in the suppression and eventual disappearance of knowledge and learning, thought and creativity, from Muslim cultures. The colonial encounter began by appropriating the knowledge and learning of Islam, which became the basis of the ‘European Renaissance’ and ‘the Enlightenment’ and ended by eradicating this knowledge and learning from both from Muslim societies and from history itself. It did that both by physical elimination – destroying and closing down institutions of learning, banning certain types of indigenous knowledge, killing off local thinkers and scholars – and by rewriting history as the history of western civilization into which all minor histories of other civilization are subsumed.

As a consequence, Muslim cultures were de-linked from their own history with many serious consequences. For example, the colonial suppression of Islamic science led to the displacement of scientific culture from Muslim society. It did this by introducing new systems of administration, law, education and economy all of which were designed to impart dependence, compliance and subservience to the colonial powers. The decline of Islamic science and learning is one aspect of the general economic and political decay and deterioration of Muslim societies. Islam has thus been transformed from a dynamic culture and a holistic way of life to mere rhetoric. Islamic education has become a cul-de-sac, a one-way ticket to marginality. It also led to the conceptual reduction of Muslim civilization. By which I mean concepts that shaped and gave direction to Muslim societies became divorced from the actual daily lives of Muslims – leading to the kind of intellectual impasse that we find in Muslim societies today.  Western neo-colonialism perpetuates that system.

*****

In Indonesia, after the Western-sponsored military coup of 1965, which destroyed the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and brought to power an extreme pro-market and pro-Western regime, things are deteriorating with a frightening predictability, consistency and speed.

While the fascist dictator Suharto, a Western implant after 1965, was said to be ‘suspicious of Islam’, he actually used all major religions on his archipelago with great precision and fatal impact. During his pro-market despotism, all left-wing movements and ‘-isms’ were banned, and so were most of the progressive forms of arts and thought. The Chinese language was made illegal. Atheism was also banned. Indonesia rapidly became one of the most religious countries on Earth.

At least one million people, including members of the PKI, were brutally massacred in one of the most monstrous genocides of the 20th century.

The fascist dictatorship of General Suharto often played the Islamic card for its political ends. As described by John Pilger in his book, The New Rulers of The World:

In the pogroms of 1965-66, Suharto’s generals often used Islamicist groups to attack communists and anybody who got in the way. A pattern emerged; whenever the army wanted to assert its political authority, it would use Islamicists in acts of violence and sabotage, so that sectarianism could be blamed and justify the inevitable ‘crackdown’ – by the army…

‘A fine example’ of cooperation between the murderous right-wing dictatorship and radical Islam.

After Suharto stepped down, the trend towards a grotesque and fundamentalist interpretation of the monotheist religions continued. Saudi Arabia and the Western-favored and sponsored Wahhabism has been playing an increasingly significant role. And so has Christianity, often preached by radical right-wing former exiles from Communist China and their offspring; mainly in the city of Surabaya but also elsewhere.

From a secular and progressive nation under the leadership of President Sukarno, Indonesia has gradually descended into an increasingly radically backward-looking and bigoted Wahhabi-style/Christian Pentecostal state.

President_Abdurrahman_Wahid_Gus_Dur

After being forced to resign as the President of Indonesia during what many considered a constitutional coup, a progressive Muslim cleric and undoubtedly a closet socialist, Abdurrahman Wahid (known in Indonesia by his nickname Gus Dur), shared with me his thoughts, on the record:

These days, most of Indonesian people do not care or think about God. They only follow rituals. If God would descend and tell them that their interpretation of Islam is wrong, they’d continue following this form of Islam and ignore the God.

‘Gus Dur’ also clearly saw through all the tricks of the military and pro-Western elites. He told me, among other things, that the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta was organized by the Indonesian security forces, and later blamed on the Islamists, who were actually only executing the orders given to them by their political bosses from the pro-Western military regime, which until now is being disguised as a, ‘multi-party democracy’.

In Indonesia, an extreme and unquestioning obedience to the religions has led to a blind acceptance of a fascist capitalist system, and of Western imperialism and its propaganda. Creativity and intellectual pluralism have been thoroughly liquidated.

The 4th most populous nation on the planet, Indonesia, has presently no scientists, architects, philosophers or artists of any international standing. Its economy is fueled exclusively by the unbridled plunder of the natural resources of the vast, and in the past, pristine parts of the country, such as Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), as well as on the brutally-occupied Western part of Papua. The scale of the environmental destruction is monumental; something that I am presently trying to capture in two documentary films and a book.

Awareness of the state of things, even among the victims, is minimal or out rightly nonexistent.

In a country that has been robbed of its riches; identity, culture and future, religions now play the most important role. There is simply nothing else left for the majority. Nihilism, cynicism, corruption and thuggery are ruling unopposed. In the cities with no theatres, galleries, art cinemas, but also no public transportation or even sidewalks, in the monstrous urban centers abandoned to the ‘markets’ with hardly any greenery or public parks, religions are readily filling the emptiness. Being themselves regressive, pro-market oriented and greedy, the results are easily predictable.

In the city of Surabaya, during the capturing of footage for my documentary film produced for a South American television network TeleSur (Surabaya – Eaten Alive by Capitalism), I stumbled over an enormous Protestant Christian gathering at a mall, where thousands of people were in an absolute trance, yelling and lifting their eyes towards the ceiling. A female preacher was shouting into a microphone:

God loves the rich, and that is why they are rich! God hates the poor, and that’s why they are poor!

Von Hayek, Friedmann, Rockefeller, Wahab and Lloyd George combined could hardly define their ‘ideals’ in more precise way.

*****

What exactly did the Saudi Prince say, during his memorable and ground-breaking interview with The Washington Post? And why is it so relevant to places like Indonesia?

In essence, he said that the West asked the Saudis to make the ‘client’ states more and more religious, by building madrassahs and mosques. He also added:

I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it.

People? The Saudi themselves? Clerics in such places like Indonesia? The Western rulers?

In Teheran, Iran, while discussing the problem with numerous religious leaders, I was told, repeatedly:

The West managed to create a totally new and strange religion, and then it injected it into various countries. It calls it Islam, but we can’t recognize it… It is not Islam, not Islam at all.

*****

In May 2018, in Indonesia, members of outlawed terrorist groups rioted in jail, took hostages, then brutally murdered prison guards. After the rebellion was crushed, several explosions shook East Java. Churches and police stations went up in flames. people died.

Destroyed Aleppo

The killers used their family members, even children, to perpetrate the attacks. The men in charge were actually inspired by the Indonesian fighters who were implanted into Syria – the terrorists and murderers who were apprehended and deported by Damascus back to their large and confused country.

Many Indonesian terrorists who fought in Syria are now on their home turf, igniting and ‘inspiring’ their fellow citizens. The same situation as in the past – the Indonesian jihadi cadres who fought against the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan later returned and killed hundreds and thousands in Poso, Ambon and other parts of Indonesia.

Indonesian extremists are becoming world-famous, fighting the battles of the West as legionnaires, in Afghanistan, Syria, Philippines and elsewhere.

Their influence at home is also growing. It is now impossible to even mention any social or god forbid, socialist reforms in public. Meetings are broken up, participants beaten, and even people’s representatives (MP’s) intimidated, accused of being “communists”, in a country where Communism is still banned by the regime.

The progressive and extremely popular Jakarta governor, Ahok, first lost elections and was then put on trial and thrown into jail for “insulting Islam”, clearly fabricated charges. His main sin – cleaning Jakarta’s polluted rivers, constructing a public transportation network, and improving the lives of ordinary people. That was clearly ‘un-Islamic’, at least from the point of view of Wahhabism and the Western global regime.

Radical Indonesian Islam is now feared. It goes unchallenged. It is gaining ground, as almost no one would dare to openly criticize it. It will soon overwhelm and suppress the entire society.

And in the West ‘political correctness’ is used. It is lately simply ‘impolite’ to criticize Indonesian or even the Saudi form of ‘Islam’, out of ‘respect’ for the people and their ‘culture’. In reality, it is not the Saudi or Indonesian people who get ‘protected’ – it is the West and its imperialist policies; policies and manipulations that are used against both the people and the essence of Muslim religion.

*****

While the Wahhabi/Western dogma is getting stronger and stronger, what is left of the Indonesian forests is burning. The country is literally being plundered by the Western multi-national companies and by its local corrupt elites.

Extremist attacks against Indonesian churches

Religions, the Indonesian fascist regime and Western imperialism are marching forward, hand in hand. But forward – where? Most likely towards the total collapse of the Indonesian state. Towards the misery that will come soon, when everything is logged out and mined out.

It is the same as when Wahhabism used to march hand in hand with the British imperialists and plunderers. Except that the Saudis found their huge oil fields, plenty of oil to sustain themselves (or at least their elites and the middle class, as the poor still live in misery there) and their bizarre, British-inspired and sponsored interpretation of Islam.

Indonesia and other countries that have fallen victims to this dogma are not and will not be so ‘lucky’.

It is lovely that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke publicly and clarified the situation. But who will listen?

For the Indonesian people, his statements came too late. They did not open many eyes, caused no uprising, no revolution. To understand what he said would require at least some basic knowledge of both the local, and world history, and at least some ability to think logically. All this is lacking, desperately, in the countries that have found themselves squashed by the destructive imperialist embrace.

The former President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, was correct: “If God would come and say… people would not follow God…”

Indonesia will continue following Mr. Wahab, and the capitalist dogma and the Western imperialists who ‘arranged it all’. They will do it for years to come, feeling righteous, blasting old North American tunes in order to fill the silence, in order not to think and not to question what is happening around them. There will be no doubts. There will be no change, no awakening and no revolution.

Until the last tree falls, until the last river and stream gets poisoned, until there is nothing left for the people. Until there is total, absolute submission: until everything is burned down, black and grey. Maybe then, few tiny, humble roots of awakening and resistance would begin to grow.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Scourging Yemen

On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.

Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.

In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.

The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.

As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.

On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen; i.e., an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”

Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.

“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”

Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”

On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”

The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.

At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.

Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.

Cartoon: S. Reynolds CC BY-SA 4.0

Do You Want to Travel Around the Middle East? Think Twice!

Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!

Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.

Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:

There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…

Israeli wall in Bethlehem

I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”

The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:

West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.

My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.

Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.

During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”

They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.

That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.

Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.

An Israeli tank being moved towards Syrian Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.

You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.

*****

For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.

Empty Jordan-Syrian border

Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.

Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.

Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.

Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.

Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.

Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.

In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.

Turkey building a new huge wall on the Syrian border

All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.

For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.

*****

For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.

With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.

Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.

Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.

*****

Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.

Flight from Doha to Nairobi

All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.

Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.

The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.

*****

This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.

Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.

Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.

In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.

A bridge blown up by ISIS near Mosus, Iraq

This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.

A suicide car bomb near Mosul, Iraq

Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.

*****

As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.

Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.

The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Israel’s Murderous Strikes on Syria (via “Pacified” Lebanon)

On April 9, 2018 at least 14 people were killed during the murderous strike by the Israeli air force on the Syrian T-4 airfield at Homs.

Israeli F-15 fighter jets flew over Lebanese airspace, as they have done on many previous occasions, in total disregard of international law.

Both Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, and the latest action could easily be considered as yet another shameless provocation. Apparently, whatever terror Western allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel decide to spread throughout the region, their actions will always go unpunished.

To add insult to injury, instead of condemning Israel, the Western mass media outlets began their predictable and embarrassing servile howling against the government in Damascus, some ‘correspondents’ even calling President al-Assad an “animal” (The Sun, 9th April, 2018).

This time, Lebanon, which in the past suffered from several brutal Israeli invasions, and where Israel is commonly referred to as ‘Palestine’, decided not to protest too loudly against the violation of its airspace. There were some statements made by individual Lebanese politicians, as well as a statement by the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which objected to the attack against Syria, claiming that Lebanon will file a complaint to the UNSC. Most of the statements, however, appeared only in the Arabic language. There was definitely no robust national response, as one would have expected.

Ms. Zeinab Al-Saffar, an Iraqi educator and television anchor based in Beirut, Lebanon, shared her thoughts on the subject:

It is not the first time that this is happening.  Israeli forces have been violating the airspace of Lebanon, as well as the land and sea belonging to Lebanon. Violation of the territory of Lebanon [by Israel] became something ‘regular’. What happened recently is a flagrant intrusion which should not go unanswered, as they were using Lebanese air space in order to attack the Syrian land. I believe this is the right time for the U.N. to do something more than just to make the reports and write numbers. This is an extremely serious situation; to use the territory of a neighboring country in order to attack a third nation; it is a barefaced crime.

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Why do Lebanon’s protests not resonate louder?

There are several reasons. One: the country recently ‘secured’ an enormous package of mostly loans from the West, at a ‘Paris conference’, amounting to more than 11 billion dollars.

Two: A great percentage of the ‘elites’ of Lebanon is accustomed to taking orders from the West. The West is where their villas are, where their relatives live, and their permanent residency cards issued.

A much greater war may be nearing; both the U.S. and Europe are now attacking Syria directly. In this decisive time, the Lebanese rulers are opportunistically showing where their allegiances lie: not with the people of the devastated Middle East, but with Paris, London, Riyadh and Washington.

But back to the first point – to money. As reported by Reuters on April 6, 2018:

“The pledges include $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, France’s ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said on Twitter…”

Donors in turn want to see Lebanon commit to long-stalled reforms. In a nod to those demands, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri pledged to reduce the deficit of the budget as a percentage of GDP by 5 percent in the coming five years.

Macron told Hariri in a news conference the aid aimed to give Lebanon a fresh start, adding that it put “an unprecedented responsibility” on authorities there to carry out reforms and preserve peace in the country.

“It is important to continue reforms in the coming months,” Macron said, adding: “We’ll be by your side.” …

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the conference: “… Lebanon needs major reforms of its economy, structural and sectoral.””

‘Structural reforms’ is a key term. This shameful package of loans which will further tie the hands of Lebanon could insure the complacency of the country: both economic and political obedience at the time when the West is ready to unleash a new wave of its military onslaught in the region.

There is hardly any transparency in Lebanon, and therefore almost no guarantee that the loans will be used to improve the standard of living of the suffering population. Corruption in Lebanon is endemic – it is institutionalized – to the point that it is often not even called ‘corruption’ anymore.

Social services are almost non-existent. Here, the contrasts are truly appalling. Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as outrageously expensive sailing boats, co-exist side-by-side with absolute misery and lack of social services, such as, at least periodically, garbage collection.

Hezbollah, a movement which is on the so-called terrorist list of many Western countries, is often the only reliable source of social services in the country.

The West will now demand more and more neo-liberal ‘reforms’. Almost nothing social will be built. Funds will disappear into the deep pockets of the shameless Lebanese ‘elites’ and ‘leaders’. It will be the poor, who will be expected to service the loans, as the rich in Lebanon hardly pay taxes.

In exchange for their booty, many Lebanese politicians will be further obliged to follow the Western line towards the region, including the neo-liberal and increasingly neo-colonialist policy of Washington and France (Lebanon’s former colonial master) towards Syria and the rest of the region.

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And across the border line, the war is still raging. Washington and London fulfilled their shameful promises to perform ‘punitive actions’; to ‘chastise Syria’ for something that was clearly invented/manufactured just in order to justify an invasion, destabilization and in the end, the destruction, of this small but strong and proud nation.

A Syrian intellectual, who lives in both Beirut and Damascus, offered his analyses for this article. However, he requested not to be identified by his name, afraid of repercussions from both Lebanon and the West:

The Israeli attack comes at a time when the Syrian army is winning its fight against terrorist groups in Damascus suburbs, and it could be read as an indirect answer to these wins. It is also a dangerous move since the T4 airbase is heavily involved in the fight against the remaining of ISIS in Syria. This attack is unacceptable aggression against a sovereign nation and it is a violation of international laws. It also shows that Israel is helping directly and indirectly various terrorists groups operating on the Syrian territory.

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However, the commentaries that are being spread by the Western mainstream press are increasingly defying all logic. They are progressively turning out to be racist, supremacist. Well, actually now they are what they have always been earlier, throughout the centuries of European and then North American colonialism.

In Damascus, shelling a park right next to the Four Seasons Hotel, the UN acommodation from East Ghouta

Just read The Guardian article from April 9th, 2018- “Israel has launched countless strikes in Syria. What’s new is Russia’s response”:

Israel has launched many previous strikes into Syria, mainly to protect its borders from a buildup of Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces and armaments on the Golan Heights. Israel, has not, as a rule, attacked al-Qaida or Islamic State positions in Syria.

On all previous occasions, Russia – which has controlled Syrian air space since it sent troops to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2015 – has turned a blind eye. There had been an understanding that Israeli interests in Syria would be preserved by Russia, primarily by limiting the presence of Iranian-backed troops in Syria’s south-west. The Israeli fear is that access to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights allows Hezbollah to launch attacks into Israel.

At least The Guardian does not pretend that it believes in the Western fabrications that President Assad is poisoning his own people…

But the article is clearly trying to justify and find logic behind the Israeli terrorist attacks against the independent nation.

‘Poor Israel – it is worried about ‘Hezbollah forces and armaments on the Golan Heights.’

Spy-surveillance base on the hill overlooking Syria

But the Golan Heights is by international law an inseparable part of Syria. I repeat: by all international norms! Including, the United Nations Security Council UN Resolution 497. Golan Heights had been attacked, occupied and forcefully (and it looks like indefinitely) annexed by Israel, during the so-called ‘Six-Day War’ in 1981.

I visited the Golan Heights. I worked there, for several days, clandestinely, some 5 days ago. What I encountered there was true horror: ancient villages were totally destroyed, most of the original population deported from their land, Israeli-paid spies and provocateurs approaching and scrutinizing random visitors. All around – scattered rich Israeli agricultural enterprises protected by barbed wire and tall concrete walls. It all felt like working in Angola or Namibia, during the South African apartheid, or perhaps even worse; divided communities, stolen land, electric wire, and omnipresent fear and oppression.

Horrid border at Majdal al-Shams

But it is Israel which now has the right to ‘worry’ and to murder people in the name of its ‘security’. That is precisely what the tone of the Western mainstream periodicals clearly suggests.

Israel had stolen more than a thousand kilometers square of the Syrian territory in 1981, and now it is mercilessly bombing its victim; from Lebanese territory, in order to assure its ‘safety and security’. It is doing so from the territory of Lebanon, a country which was invaded by the Israeli military, on several occasions.

And the West is cheering.

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Of course, Israel is acting with total impunity, because it enjoys both the support and encouragement from its allies: The United States, the U.K. and Macron’s France.

Lebanon is panicking. Its’ ‘elites’ are trying to both survive, and not to anger the West.

Syrians have, it often appears, nerves of steel.

They worry but are determined not to give one single inch of their land to the invaders.

My friend in Damascus wrote to me, just a few hours before I submitted this report:

People are worried and they constantly follow up the news. My brother asked us to go to Safita for one month, as it is safer there. I’m not sure if we do it, but we are closely monitoring the situation.

My colleagues and comrades on the ground in Syria are angry, very angry. They can clearly see through the lies, which are being spread by the West.

Israel is repeatedly bombing heroic Syria.

On April 29, 2018, the Israeli attacks killed 26 Syrians and Iranians, just before Midnight, near Hama and Aleppo.

The U.S. and Europe are bombing and threatening to cause even more damage.

But this is 2018, not those dark years when the West could murder and rape without any consequences. If these attacks continue, there will be a counterpunch: fully justified, determined and powerful.

Then even the tiny Lebanon would have to decide where it stands.

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• First published by New Eastern Outlook – NEO

• Photos by Andre Vltchek