Tag Archives: Israel

With Strikes Against Iran, Netanyahu Risks Jeopardising his Closest Alliance

Every Israeli prime minister – not least Benjamin Netanyahu – understands that a military entanglement with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s armed Shia movement on Israel’s northern border, is a dangerous wager, especially during an election campaign.

It was Shimon Peres who lost to Mr Netanyahu in 1996, weeks after the former prime minister had incensed Israel’s Palestinian minority – a fifth of the population – by savagely attacking Lebanon in a futile bid to improve his military, and electoral, standing.

Lebanon proved a quagmire for Ehud Olmert too, after he launched a war in 2006 that demonstrated how exposed Israel’s northern communities were to Hezbollah’s rockets. The fallout helped pave Mr Netanyahu’s path to victory and his second term as prime minister three years later.

Mr Netanyahu has faced off with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for the full 13 years he has been in power. But unlike his political rivals, he has preferred to play a cautious hand with his Lebanese opponent.

Which makes a recent spate of drone attacks by Israel across the region, including in Lebanon, all the more surprising, even in the context of a highly contested election due to take place next Tuesday. During the campaign, Mr Netanyahu has been buffeted by yet more corruption allegations.

According to the Israeli media, two drones dispatched over Beirut late last month were intended to destroy Iranian-supplied equipment that would allow Hezbollah to manufacture precision-guided missiles.

It was the first such Israeli attack on Lebanese soil since a ceasefire ended the 2006 war. Hezbollah and Israel have preferred to flex their muscles in neighbouring Syria, weakened after more than eight years of war.

The attack outraged Lebanon’s leaders, with Mr Nasrallah warning that Hezbollah would shoot down any Israeli drones encroaching on Lebanese airspace. He also vowed revenge, which finally came a week ago when Hezbollah fired at an Israeli military vehicle carrying five soldiers close to the border. Israel said there were no casualties.

That was followed by Hezbollah shooting down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon early on Monday. The Israeli army confirmed it had been on a “routine mission” when it fell in Lebanese territory.

In retaliation for last week’s attack, Israel shelled Hezbollah positions, a clash Israeli media described as being a “hair’s breadth” from escalating into all-out war.

Neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear to want such an outcome. Both understand the likely heavy toll in casualties and the damaging political consequences.

Nonetheless, Mr Netanyahu appears to be stoking a fire he might ultimately struggle to control – and not just in Lebanon. Around the time of the Beirut attack, Israeli drones were also in action in Iraq and Syria.

First, Israel hit a building near Damascus, killing two Hezbollah operatives. According to Israel, they were working with Iranian forces to prepare a drone attack on the Golan Heights, Syrian territory annexed by Israel in violation of international law.

Then a day later, more Israeli drones – apparently launched from Azerbaijan – targeted depots housing Iranian weapons close to the Iraqi-Syrian border.

There have been reports of half a dozen such attacks since mid-July. They are the first known Israeli strikes on Iraq’s territory in four decades.

The running thread in these various incidents – apart from Israel’s violation of each country’s sovereignty – is Iran.

Until recently, Israel had launched regular forays deep into Syrian airspace to target what it said was the transport through Syria of long-range precision missiles supplied by Iran to Hezbollah, its Shia ally in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Iran view this growing stockpile of precision weapons – capable of hitting key military installations in Israel – as a vital restraint on Israel’s freedom to attack its neighbours.

Over the past year, Israel’s ability to hit missile convoys as they pass through Syria has narrowed as Bashar Al-Assad has regained control of Syrian territory and installed more sophisticated, Russian-made air defences.

Now Israel appears to be targeting the two ends of the supply chain, from deliveries dispatched in Iraq to their receipt in Lebanon. In the words of Mr Netanyahu, Iran “is not immune anywhere”.

The US has not taken kindly to Israel’s actions in Iraq, fearing that a local backlash could endanger the 5,000 troops it has stationed there and push Iraq further into Iran’s arms. In response, the Pentagon issued a statement condemning “actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq”.

So what is Mr Netanyahu up to? Why risk provoking a dangerous clash with Hezbollah and alienating his strongest asset, a supportive US administration headed by Donald Trump, at this critical moment in the election campaign?

The answer could be that he feels he has little choice.

The same weekend that Israel launched its wave of attacks across the region, French President Emmanuel Macron engineered an unexpected visit by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the G7 summit in Biarritz.

It was part of efforts by Mr Macron, and Europe more generally, to encourage Mr Trump to repair relations with Tehran after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement last year and reimposed sanctions. Mr Netanyahu has taken partial credit for the administration’s tough stance.

Now he has been jolted by Mr Trump’s apparent willingness to reconsider, possibly to protect shipping lanes and oil supplies in the Gulf from Iranian disruption, just as the US president seeks re-election.

Any U-turn would conflict sharply with Mr Netanyahu’s agenda. Domestically he has long presented Iran as the ultimate bogeyman, hell-bent on gaining a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel. His strongman image has been built on his supposed triumph both in reining in Tehran and recruiting the Trump administration to his cause.

If Mr Trump indicates a readiness for rapprochement with Iran before polling day, Mr Netanyahu’s narrative is sunk – and the corruption allegations he faces are likely to take a stronger hold on the public imagination.

That was why, as he headed to London last Thursday, Mr Netanyahu issued a barely veiled rebuke to Mr Trump: “This is not the time to talk to Iran.”

It might also be why a report in the New York Times last week suggested that Israel is contemplating a risky, go-it-alone strike on Iran, something Mr Netanyahu has reportedly been mulling for several years.

Certainly, he has every interest in using attacks like the recent ones to provoke a reaction from Iran in the hope of pre-empting any US overture.

It is a high-stakes gamble and one that risks setting off a conflagration should Mr Netanyahu overplay his hand. These are desperate times for Israel’s longest-serving but increasingly embattled prime minister.

• First published in The National

Both Israel and Hezbollah Imagined a Horrid Black Hole and Stopped

There are rare moments in history, when even the most determined enemies can suddenly recognize the futility of battle. Sometimes, just for a moment or two. Sometimes, for longer. Such moments of sanity may save thousands, even millions human lives. And, such moments are not expressions of weakness or cowardice; on the contrary; they are embodiments of courage.

I want to believe that what happened at the Lebanese – Israeli border in August 2019, was precisely one of those such rare moments of sanity.

It changes nothing in terms of the big, geopolitical picture: Israel is a Western outpost in the Middle East. It is tormenting the Palestinian people, illegally occupying the Golan Heights, bombing Syria, and antagonizing Iran.

But an important point was established: there are limits! Israel will not go ‘all the way’, risking self-annihilation, and the annihilation of the entire region. This fact alone gives a fragile but at least some hope for a better future of this long-suffering territory.

*****

What prompts me to write the above?

At the end of August, it appeared that Israel had lost its mind. It attacked, without warning, four countries simultaneously, within just 24 hours: Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. It used drones full of explosives, as well as fighter jets.

Palestine and Syria have been attacked, regularly, for years and decades. Iraq, still de facto under US occupation, was quite a different story. There, a group of outraged lawmakers, ‘exploded’, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the US, and calling the Israeli attack a ‘declaration of war’.

Lebanon, too, did not remain silent. Israeli drones damaged the media center of Hezbollah in Beirut. They also attacked a communist Palestinian faction in the Beqaa Valley. For years, the Israeli air force has been violating Lebanese airspace, during the bombing raids of Syria. But this time it was different. This was an attack against a neighboring, sovereign state.

Even the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, an enemy of Hezbollah, and a man who holds double citizenship (Saudi and Lebanese), protested, asking the United States and France for protection. The President of Lebanon called it out rightly, a declaration of war.

The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, went live on television, and in a chilling statement promised a ‘measured response’.

At that point, it became clear that the entire region could soon be consumed by flames.

During coverage of the event, on both Press TV and RT, I warned against the enormous danger: Israel was attacking every armed Shi’a group in the region, and was only stopping short of attacking Iran itself. A few more assaults like these, and the entire region could explode, dragging into the conflict countries like Saudi Arabia, on the side of Israel, and Iran, on the side of Syria, Palestine and Hezbollah. Realistically, that could lead to the annihilation of entire areas and nations.

*****

In that period of time, I drove to, and managed to enter the border region. I first arrived at the city of Naqoura on the Mediterranean coast, and then drove all the way to the Lebanese border with the occupied Golan Heights, following the so-called Blue Line, controlled by UNIFIL.

At several places on my right, the huge Israeli border wall was now clearly visible. UNIFIL patrols consisted of armored vehicles, manned mainly by indifferent looking Indonesian soldiers. Some were taking selfies, with Israel behind them. For the United Nations, there seemed to be no urgency in the region. In fact, right after the Israeli attacks, the UN began discussing the possibility of cutting the number of UNIFIL soldiers, as well as the UNIFIL budget.

As always when visiting this border, what appeared striking to me was the proximity of Israeli and Lebanese villages; tens of meters only, in some areas.

*****

What followed, was a chilling, tense silence.

Then, about one week after the Israeli attacks, Hezbollah retaliated.

I was called by a TV station, asked to analyze events. As I spoke, journalists were getting the latest news from the border.

Hezbollah fired anti-tank rockets at an Israeli vehicle patrolling near the Blue Line. It hit an Israeli tank (other reports said ‘armored vehicle’). According to Hezbollah, all Israeli soldiers inside the vehicle either died or were injured. Allegedly, among the casualties, was an Israeli top-ranking commander – described as ‘a General’.

Those who are familiar with Israeli tactics for Palestine and the Golan Heights know that Israeli ‘retaliations’ in such scenarios, include the bombing of civilian targets, and the destruction of houses or entire blocks of houses.

Entire Lebanon held its breath.

This time it became clear that Hezbollah was not going to back down. And Lebanon in general obviously has reached the point when it was ready to confront Israel, if that was what it would take to maintain its dignity.

I spoke to many Lebanese people. They were frightened, concerned, particularly if they had family and children. But they were also surprisingly calm. “If this is what fate brings, then so be it!”

Then, quickly, events became bizarre and confusing:

Israeli newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, began quoting the Israeli Defense Forces, who were claiming that ‘Yes, an attack against Israel took place, but there were no Israeli casualties.’

Almost simultaneously, Israeli-leaked videos began appearing on YouTube and elsewhere, showing Israeli soldiers carrying injured buddies to helicopters. Later, these very clips were blocked by YouTube itself, for “violating terms and conditions”.

A few days later, the entire discussion generally stopped, at both ends.

Israel ‘retaliated’ promptly. In the most peculiar way, too: it fired around one hundred rockets into Lebanon. But all the rockets landed in fields. No target was hit. Meaning: it was decided not to aim at any targets, considering the Israeli capacity to hit with great precision. More exactly: it was decided to make sure that no target would be hit. In the end, nobody was killed, and no one injured.

As I wrote above, villages, several towns and settlements are constructed right near the border line. Both Israel and Hezbollah have enormous firepower. If they wanted to, they could inflict tremendous damage and losses of lives on each other.

For some reason, they decided not to.

*****

I think this is what happened:

By attacking four countries simultaneously, Israel miscalculated. Iraq and Lebanon were not ready to accept the humiliation and barefaced attacks against their territories.

There were clear signals sent in Tel Aviv’s direction. And Netanyahu understood.

For days after the Israeli attacks, Hezbollah and Israel faced each other, in chilling defiance, separated only by a concrete wall, and by the inept UNIFIL troops. Both sides were aiming at each other great arsenals of missiles and other weaponry.

One wrong move, and the entire region could go up in flames. One tiny, erroneous move, and who knows how many lives of innocent people would be lost.

I believe, or perhaps I want to believe, that both sides suddenly imagined a huge ‘black hole’ – what this part of the world could become. They envisioned smoke, destruction and death; inevitable if they would not decide to immediately back down.

At the last moment, they did. They backed down. I don’t know how, who made the decision first. Were they communicating, even coordinating the de-escalation?

It was what, in Asia, we call ‘saving face’.

Shots were fired. Most likely, no one died. Halas!

Was an Israeli ‘general’ killed? I don’t know. Actually, I do not want to know. I am absolutely fine with the outcome: no full war in the Middle East. For now, this is the best we can get.

Of course, this should be just the beginning. The insanity has to end. I am not convinced that it will. But what happened at the end of August 2019 clearly indicates that it could.

Unfortunately, we are living in a world when only strength guarantees survival. If
Hezbollah was not as strong as it is now, Israel would most likely not have thought twice; it would have overrun the entire Lebanon, in order to destroy its Shi’a adversary inside it.

But Hezbollah is strong.

And also, we have just learnt that there are at least some ‘boundaries’ which Israel is not willing to cross. In brief: Netanyahu is brutal, but he is not suicidal. For now, Lebanon, Israel and the rest of the Middle East, have survived. For now.

• First published by NEO – a journal of Russian Academy of Sciences

The United States: A Nation on Suicide Watch

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan required major shifts in national resources from civilian to military purposes and contributed to the growth of the budget deficit and public debt. Through FY 2018, the direct costs of the wars will have totaled more than $1.9 trillion, according to US Government figures. Pollution is a serious issue. The United States (US)  is a “large emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels; deals with water pollution from runoff of pesticides and fertilizers; has limited natural freshwater resources in much of the western part of the country that require careful management. Deforestation; mining; desertification; species conservation; and invasive species (the Hawaiian Islands are particularly vulnerable) are widespread. Long-term problems for the US include stagnation of wages for lower-income families, inadequate investment in deteriorating infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, energy shortages, and sizable current account and budget deficits.

The onrush of technology has been a driving factor in the gradual development of a “two-tier” labor market in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. But the globalization of trade, and especially the rise of low-wage producers such as China, has put additional downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on the return to capital. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households. Since 1996, dividends and capital gains have grown faster than wages or any other category of after-tax income…In December 2017, Congress passed and President Donald TRUMP signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which, among its various provisions, reduces the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%; lowers the individual tax rate for those with the highest incomes from 39.6% to 37%, and by lesser percentages for those at lower income levels…The new taxes took effect on 1 January 2018; the tax cut for corporations are permanent, but those for individuals are scheduled to expire after 2025. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) under the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new law will reduce tax revenues and increase the federal deficit by about $1.45 trillion over the 2018-2027 period.

Are those the words of some left wing liberal publication or fake news from the mainstream media or conspiracy tinfoil hats? No, they are excerpts from the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) 2019 World Factbook, an unflinching look at all the planet’s nations and their political systems, military expenditures, resources and internal and transnational troubles.

We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

Yes, indeed, the US has real problems, not imagined, as Republicans, Democrats and those with “Star Spangled Eyes” like to claim otherwise. “The US is the greatest country in history with the world’s most powerful military. God Bless America!” they shout out or proclaim after every speech.

Perhaps at one point in history’s past the nation had a shot to be the greatest of all time, at least in this solar system. Maybe that could have come after WW II, or the end of the Vietnam War, or even the largely successful Civil Rights movement. But now the country and its people are delusional in thinking that “everything’s groovy”.

What’s to worry about? Gas prices are low, the National Football League season is underway and the Major League Baseball playoffs are just around the corner. What fun to watch these sporting events as military aircraft fly overhead and 20-something millionaires run around the baseball diamond or up and down the football field in stadiums, by the way,  largely financed by the public. Who cares about lead infused water in Newark, New Jersey; Flint and Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?

And what can be said about the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria? Where’s the victory to put in the US “Win” column? The American public has largely forgotten these tragic conflicts save those whose families have made a sacrifice. But sacrifice for what? Testing out new equipment, technology and war fighting doctrine? The War on Terror has siphoned off cash badly needed for US infrastructure repairs and has taken the lives of thousands of Americans.

Yes, it is correct that there has been no repeat of the 911 attacks, but the US is dealing with its own home grown terrorist problem: active shooters. Is the US military going to start hunting them down here like they do Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East and Africa?

Hell on Earth

At any rate, the only maniacs who want US personnel to remain in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, three hell-holes created, in part, by the US, are zealous military leaders, defense contractors/suppliers, corrupt officials the US has propped up in the three countries, and black market operators eager to steal American weapons and sell them to the Taliban or groups like the Islamic State.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (the Baron Harkonenn of the US government) and his boss President Donald Trump who are eager for war with Iran (which borders Iraq and Afghanistan, among other nations). That push has already started with the US exiting from the nuclear accord with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in May 2018. The Trump administration has since unleashed punishing economic sanctions, and has adopted a blind-support policy for Israel and the bloodthirsty Saudis who would like nothing better than to have the US go to war with Iran. Yes, lets “do Iran” if not by direct military action then through subterfuge and dicey intelligence likely to be used to justify an ill-advised invasion.

The attack-Iran crowd has been singing the same old tune for at least 40 years now and it should have long ago been dust-binned. But here we are, again, moving toward the precipice of conflict.

According to the National Iranian American Council:

The past 40 years in U.S.-Iran relations have been riddled with missed opportunities. While the Iranians and Clinton administration failed to initiate serious dialogue after Mohammad Khatami’s election, the George W. Bush administration pocketed Tehran’s assistance after the U.S.invasion of Afghanistan, put the country in its “axis of evil,” and ignored its offer for a grand bargain. Under the Trump administration, however, we are likely witnessing the greatest missed opportunity in four decades: a failure to capitalize on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal.

War planners in the US have already sorted through all the airstrike contingencies and have plans, classified, of course, for air/missile strikes. But you need not wait for the day when the aircraft and missiles take to the skies over Iran and the talking heads from left, right and center media rant and rave about a brand new war, or retired generals show up to blather about this and that weapon system. Prepare yourself now. Be an educated armchair warrior by reviewing Anthony Cordesman’sOptions in Dealing with Irans Nuclear Program. It addresses the use of conventional and nuclear weapons by the US and Israel.

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

It is commonplace for Americans to lionize US military leaders and look to them as calming voices, counterweights to warmongering government officials and their advisors. Ironic, isn’t it? Can we look to our divine US military leaders to change the current thinking of the war hawks in the administration, congress and the think tanks that dot the Washington, DC Metro region?

Nope.

Consider this review by William Bacevich, a decorated combat veteran, of the newest US Central Command boss, Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie. McKenzie’s area of responsibility (AOR) includes Iran.

General Kenneth McKenzie became the twenty-fourth commander of CENTCOM (more formally known as United States Central Command).  On May 8, at an event sponsored by the Institute for the Perpetuation of War and the Promotion of Regime Change, more formally known as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), he outlined his plans for building on the legacy of his 23 predecessors.  None of those predecessors, it should be acknowledged, succeeded in accomplishing his assigned mission. Nor, I’m willing to bet, will he.

The essence of that mission, according to General McKenzie himself, is to promote stability. “A stable Middle East underpins a stable world,” he announced, and “our steady commitment to our allies and partners provides a force for stability.” As to how the region became unstable in the first place, he offers no opinion, leaving listeners with the impression that previous exertions by CENTCOM forces in invading, occupying, bombing, and otherwise spilling blood throughout his Area of Responsibility (AOR) had nothing to do with the absence of stability existing there today…This much seems clear: To listen to McKenzie, Iran is the ultimate source of all evil. To cite just one example, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the general charges that “at least 600 US personnel deaths in Iraq were the result of Iran-backed militants.” This was indeed nefarious, and one is hard-pressed to think of a comparable episode in recent military history, although US support for Saddam Hussein pursuant to his war of aggression against Iran might fill the bill.”

Don’t Bogart that Joint, My Friend

How are we faring in that other Long War, the War on Drugs?

The Office of National Drug Control and Policy’s (ONDCP) 2019 National Drug Control Strategy document describes the massive US local, state, and federal machinery set up to defeat drug trafficking organizations from getting their products to US streets and into the bodies of American citizens.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program provides assistance to law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States. HIDTAs provide an umbrella to coordinate Federal, state, local, and tribal drug law enforcement agencies’ investigations, and act as neutral centers to manage, de-conflict, analyze, provide intelligence, and execute drug enforcement activities in their respective regions. With the recent inclusion of Alaska, the first new HIDTA in 17 years, the 29 regional HIDTAs now include designated areas in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. The regional HIDTAs bring together more than 21,000 Federal, state, local, and tribal personnel from 500 agencies through 800 enforcement, intelligence, and training initiatives, all designed to disrupt illicit drug trafficking and dismantle criminal and drug trafficking organizations.

The US military, of course, plays a key role in the US War on Drugs, supporting HIDTA’s among other activities. Take, for example, US Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) role in the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-South). A 2005 briefing by former US Coast Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hathaway shows that no less than 14 agencies worked, and likely still do, chasing down illicit drugs in the SOUTHCOM AOR. These include the National Security Agency; the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines; the US Coast Guard,  and the National Reconnaissance Office, among others. According to one of Hathaway’s slides, every step involved in JIATF-South operations from interdiction to prosecution leads to intelligence. That is an interesting point. So 14 years later and all the intelligence collected has led to what, exactly?

Let’s revisit the CIA’s 2019 World Factbook for a read on how the War on Drugs effort is going. The US is the “world’s largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana; a major consumer of ecstasy and Mexican methamphetamine; a minor consumer of high-quality Southeast Asian heroin; an illicit producer of cannabis, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and methamphetamine. It is also a money-laundering center.”

Great!

This piece could go on and on citing data from a myriad of sources showing, among other things, the 500% growth rate of the US prison population, income inequality according to the Gini Coefficient which sees the US (41.5) right near Iran (40), or that one in six children in the US live in hunger. But, hey! The stock market is up, unemployment is down, and the dollar menu at McDonald’s is fabulous.

The forever wars on Drugs and Terror, or the trumped up wars to come; income equality; homelessness; hunger, infrastructure collapse and the fracturing of US society into tribes is clearly a nationwide social, political and cultural sickness: perhaps mental illness. Even the Internet/World Wide Web, once viewed as a global unifying/liberating force for change/good has become what is termed the Splinternet, reflecting large in-group fanaticism, censorship and a polarization of political beliefs. It is now polluted with advertisements just as radio and television are.

But there’s still time left on the clock to change the direction of the country. Who or what will do that and when it will happen I’m not sure. But I take heart in Robert F. Kennedy’s insight below that there are many who long to make “life worthwhile” for everyone in America, once again.

For Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product…if we should judge the United States of America by that—counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel 

On September 1, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevitable response to a series of Israeli strikes that targeted four different Arab countries in the matter of two days.

The Lebanese response, accompanied by jubilation throughout Lebanon, shows that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have overplayed his cards. However, for Netanyahu it was a worthy gamble, as the Israeli leader is desperate for any new political capital that could shield him against increasingly emboldened contenders in the country’s September 17 general elections.

A fundamental question that could influence any analysis of the decision to strike Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza is whether the strategy originated from the Israeli government or the limited personal calculations of Netanyahu himself. I contend that the latter is true.

Israel has already violated the sovereignty of all of these regions, bombing some of them hundreds of times in the past, but striking all at once is unprecedented. Since neither Israel, nor its US allies offered any convincing military logic behind the campaign, there can be no other conclusion that the objectives were entirely political.

One obvious sign that the attacks were meant to benefit Netanyahu, and Netanyahu only, is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister violated an old Israeli protocol of staying mum following this type of cross-border violence. It is also uncommon for top Israeli officials to brag about their country’s intelligence outreach and military capabilities. Israel, for example, has bombed Syria hundreds of times in recent years, yet rarely taken responsibility for any of these attacks.

Compare this with Netanyahu’s remarks following the two-day strikes of August 24-25. Only minutes after the Israeli strikes, Netanyahu hailed the army’s “major operational effort”, declaring that “Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Regarding the attack on the southeast region of Aqraba in Syria, Netanyahu went into detail, describing the nature of the target and the identities of the enemy as well.

Two of the Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria were identified by the Israeli army, which distributed their photographs while allegedly travelling on the Iranian airline, Mahan “which Israel and the United States have identified as a major transporter of weaponry and materiel to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon,” according to the Times of Israel.

Why would Israel go to this extent, which will surely help the targeted countries in uncovering some of Israel’s intelligence sources?

The Economist revealed that “some … in Israel’s security and political establishments are uncomfortable” with Netanyahu’s tireless extolling of “Israel’s intelligence-gathering and operational successes in surprising detail.”

The explanation lies in one single phrase: the September 17 elections.

In recent months, Netanyahu has finally managed to wrestle the title: the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, a designation that the Israeli leader has earned, despite his checkered legacy dotted with abuse of power, self-serving agenda and several major corruption cases that rope in Netanyahu directly, along with his wife and closest aides.

Yet, it remains unclear whether Netanyahu can hang on for much longer. Following the April 9 elections, the embattled Israeli leader tried to form a government of like-minded right-wing politicians, but failed. It was this setback that pushed for the dissolution of the Israeli Knesset on May 29 and the call for a new election. While Israeli politics is typically turbulent, holding two general elections within such a short period of time is very rare, and, among other things, it demonstrates Netanyahu’s faltering grip on power.

Equally important is that, for the first time in years, Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing real competition. These rivals, led by Benjamin Gantz of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) centrist party are keen on denying Netanyahu’s every possible constituency, including his own pro-illegal settlements and pro-war supporters.

Statements made by Gantz in recent months are hardly consistent with the presumed ideological discourse of the political center, anywhere. The former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli army is a strong supporter of illegal Jewish settlements and an avid promoter of war on Gaza. Last June, Gantz went as far as accusing Netanyahu of “diminishing Israel’s deterrence” policy in Gaza, which “is being interpreted by Iran as a sign of weakness.”

In fact, the terms “weak” or “weakness” have been ascribed repeatedly to Netanyahu by his political rivals, including top officials within his own right-wing camp. The man who has staked his reputation on tough personal or unhindered violence in the name of Israeli security is now struggling to protect his image.

This analysis does not in any way discount the regional and international objectives of Netanyahu’s calculations, leading amongst them his desire to stifle any political dialogue between Tehran and Washington, an idea that began taking shape at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. But even that is insufficient to offer a rounded understanding of Netanyahu’s motives, especially because the Israeli leader is wholly focused on his own survival, as opposed to future regional scenarios.

However, the “Mr. Security” credentials that Netanyahu aimed to achieve by bombing multiple targets in four countries might not yield the desired dividends. Israeli media is conveying a sense of panic among Israelis, especially those living in the northern parts of the country and in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Golan Heights.

This is hardly the strong and mighty image that Netanyahu was hoping to convey through his military gamble. None of the thousands of Israelis who are currently being trained on surviving Lebanese retaliations are particularity reassured regarding the power of their country.

Netanyahu is, of course, not the first Israeli leader to use the military to achieve domestic political ends. Late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, has done so in 1996 but failed miserably, but only after killing over 100 Lebanese and United Nations peacekeepers in the Southern Lebanese village of Qana.

The consequences of Netanyahu’s gamble might come at a worse price for him than simply losing the elections. Opening a multi-front war is a conflict that Israel cannot win, at least, not any more.

“We are waiting for war”

Israel is right here behind this wall

After the recent Israeli attacks against Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, the Middle East has found itself in the midst of undeclared war.

Almost everyone in Lebanon appears to agree. “This time Israel went too far. In just two days, it bombed three countries,” I am told by a local UN staffer based in Beirut.

The same day, my local barber was talking like he saw it all, his voice full of sarcasm and determination:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing tough elections at home, while his wife is on trial for fraud. A bit of excitement during the evening news can only help his chances of regaining attention from his electorate. But we here have had enough; we are ready to fight for our countries.

But ‘fighting for their countries’ could prove lethal, as Netanyahu threatened to attack Lebanon as a whole, if Hezbollah decides to retaliate.

My barber is not just a barber. He is a Syrian engineer, exiled in Lebanon. The entire region is dispersed, derailed and intertwined, after NATO and Israeli attacks, occupations and destabilization campaigns.

On August 25, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, put it bluntly during his televised speech in Lebanon:

The dawn suicide attack is the first act of aggression since August 14, 2006. The Lebanese state’s condemnation of what happened and referral of the matter to the Security Council is good, but these steps do not prevent the course of action to be taken. Since 2000, we have allowed Israeli drones for many reasons but no one moved. Israeli drones entering Lebanon are no longer collecting information, but [carrying out] assassinations. From now on, we will face the Israeli drones when they enter the skies of Lebanon and we will work to bring them down. I tell the Israelis that Netanyahu is running with your blood.

President of Lebanon Michel Aoun went even further, calling the drone attack against his country a “declaration of war.

Meanwhile, a powerful block in the Iraqi Parliament – the Fatah Coalition – insists on holding the US “fully responsible” for the Israeli attacks, “which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.” The Fatah Coalition wants all US troops to get out of Iraq, as soon as possible.

There is no doubt that Mr Netanyahu, with his recent combat-drone incursions and bombings, has thrown the entire region into great and unexpected turmoil.

Israel has been regularly attacking Syria and bombing Palestine for decades. But Lebanon is a totally different story: only its airspace has been habitually violated by the Israeli jets flying towards the Syrian targets. Bombing Iraq is also clearly an escalation of Israel’s bellicose strategy. A bizarre escalation, considering that Iraq is still de facto a state occupied by Israel’s closest ally – the United States.

Everything that is Shia – short of Iran itself (for now) – suddenly became a ‘legitimate target’ for Israel. For many years, Shia Islam has been synonymous with the ideological resistance to Western imperialism in the Middle East: Iran itself, several factions inside Iraq, and Hezbollah, among others.

Lebanon is deeply divided 

Lebanon is one of the most ‘strategic’ countries in the Middle East and the most divided one. It is based on a ‘confessional’ system. Its government is always at least ‘shaky,’ but often totally dysfunctional. Compared to its Israeli counterpart, its air force consists of toy aircraft, like converted Cessnas.

The latest Maserati and Ferrari cars drive past some of the most miserable slums in the Middle East. Posh restaurants and cafes are often just a few meters away from destitute beggars. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in this tiny country, from all over the region: Palestinians, living in dangerous, overcrowded camps with very little hope; Iraqis fleeing war and NATO occupation; and victims of the Syrian war.

The Lebanese government and the elites are profiting from the refugee crises, allegedly pocketing money from ‘foreign aid.’ Almost nothing is left for social services, or even for defense, let alone for the poor and the lower-middle class.

Israeli and Lebanese spying installations face to face

Hezbollah, on the contrary, is providing social services including food supplies, medical care and education to all people residing on Lebanese territory, regardless of race or religion. Plus, it is fighting Israeli invasions, taking into its ranks all Lebanese citizens who want to join. It also fights terrorists in Syria. It is closely linked to Iran. All this, of course, infuriates the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah is firmly on the ‘terrorist list’ of the West and its associates.

Israel is using the fight against Hezbollah and against Iranian-allied positions to justify bombing various countries in the region. It keeps ‘uncovering new plots’ and carrying out ‘pre-emptive strikes’ with the full support of the US administration.

During the latest escalation, Israel reportedly conducted three drone strikes in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley on a base belonging to the secular, Marxist-Leninist, pro-Syrian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is, predictably, an ally of Hezbollah.

Blue Line 

Just a few days ago, I managed to drive to the border between Lebanon and Israel, and then went east, following the so-called Blue Line which is patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), for tens of kilometers.

Israelis have already erected a wall almost all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Golan Heights – the Lebanese frontier.

More than a year ago, the government of Lebanon claimed that ‘building the wall would amount to an act of war.’ Israel couldn’t care less. It put up a huge concrete structure right in front of the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah, and UNIFIL.

On many occasions, Israelis actually crossed the border, at least a few meters or centimeters, while erecting the wall,” I was told by several local farmers in the village of Markaba. And nothing happened.

At the town of Kfarchouba, known as a Hezbollah stronghold right next to an eerie wall decorated with children’s drawings, people told me that they are “ready for a conflict; ready to die… if necessary.”

Kfarshouba is where the Israelis ‘discovered Hezbollah tunnels,’ which was an official justification for the construction of the walls.

Nonsense,” I was told by the locals. “Tunnels were there for decades, and Israelis knew about them all along. They were fully barricaded for many years and posed no danger to Israel.

 

Right in front of the horrid new Israeli fence, three flags are waving in the wind – those of Palestine, Lebanon and Hezbollah. Next to them, three UNIFIL armored vehicles are parked. Indonesian soldiers are resting, taking selfies.

Are you going to take action if Israel crosses the line?” I ask them.

They are grinning at me. No coherent reply is given.

Indonesian UNIFIL selfie takers at war zone

The Israeli-occupied Golan Heights are just 10km from this point. And several Israeli villages and towns are right behind the wall.

With the firepower that Hezbollah has, they could be leveled to the ground in just one minute.

Although Hezbollah is apparently on ‘high alert,’ so far, the talk about ‘retaliation’ is just talk.

‘Inertia is like slow death to Lebanon’ 

In order to bomb targets inside Iraq, Israeli jets had to fly either over the territory of its former ally, Turkey, or over Saudi Arabia. As reported by Al-Jazeera:

Israel and the Saudis do not have formal diplomatic relations but are believed to have established a behind-the-scenes alliance based on their shared hostility towards Iran.

Is Israel trying to provoke several Arab countries of the Middle East into yet another war?

Or is this just another ‘humiliation’? Are Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad just going to count punches and remain idle? Are they going to quote, again and again, the UN resolutions, while Israel continuously bombs their cities and countryside, with total impunity and with the approval of the West?

New Middle East Israel Style

It is a very tough decision to make. If Lebanon or Hezbollah decide to retaliate, or simply protect their country, thousands will die. Perhaps immediately.

If they don’t retaliate, new walls will be erected, and the ‘low-key’ bombing campaigns by the Israelis will continue for, most likely, many years to come. As a result, the entire region will continue to be paralyzed.

My local colleague was more expressive: “This inertia is like a slow death for the whole of Lebanon.

• Originally published by RT

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Israel has attacked Lebanon and Syria: So what?  

On August 25th, 2019, Israel attacked Lebanon. It has done it again.

Just as it attacked Syria, the same night.

RT reported the same day:

Israeli drone flights were “an open attack on Lebanese sovereignty” and an assault on UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, Hariri said on Sunday, just hours after reports of two Israeli UAV incidents in Beirut.

Hariri called the drone incursion a “threat to regional stability and an attempt to increase tensions.”

He said there’s a heavy presence of planes in the airspace over Beirut and its suburbs, adding he will consult with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on what could be done to repel the “new aggression.””

So, what? Really, we have been ‘here’ before, on so many occasions.

PM Hariri is fuming, but he is one of the closest allies of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in the region. In fact, he is a Saudi citizen. Is he going to do anything, like getting into a war with Israel? Never.

Can he actually do anything?  No. Nothing, even if he would want to. The truth is that practically he can do absolutely nothing. Not he, nor Lebanon’s President Aoun, or even the Lebanese armed forces. Lebanon has no means with which to repel any Israeli attack. Absolutely no means! The country’s air force is pathetic, consisting of several flying toys, like modified Cessnas, old helicopters, and several A-29 Super Tucanos. That could hardly frighten some of the mightiest and well-trained squadrons in the world – those of the Jewish state.

The bitter and uncomfortable truth is, also, that Israel can basically do anything it desires, at least in this part of the world.

Just a few days ago, I dared to drive, again, from Beirut all the way down to Naqoura, and then, along the Blue Line (‘protected’ by the United Nations), east to Kfarkela.

Now, the repulsive Israeli wall which is scarring one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Middle East, has almost been completed, all along the border. One year ago, the Lebanese government protested, calling it almost an act of war. The Israelis did not care. As always, they did what they wanted. They came right towards the line, or more precisely, at least on several occasions, they crossed the line; and constructed their concrete monstrosity right in front of the eyes of the Lebanese soldiers and the UN personnel. “So, now, what are you going to do?” they were practically saying, without pronouncing it.

New Israeli Wall (Photo: Andre Vltchek)

Nobody has done anything in retaliation. Zero! Now UNIFIL Indonesian soldiers are taking selfies right in front of the Blue Line, leaning against their armored vehicles, while Hezbollah flags are waving only a few meters away from Israel. All this horror show is just some 10 kilometers from the Israeli occupied Syrian territory of the Golan Heights. You can see the Golan Heights easily from here. A few years ago I was there, in the Golan Heights; I ‘smuggled’ myself there, to write a damming report. I learned then, and I am getting more and more confirmation now: Israelis are really great experts at building the walls that are ruining and fragmenting the entire region!

But then and now, nothing that can stop them!

Whatever Israel bombs it gets away with it, no one dares to intervene.

Today as the Israel drones, full of explosives, flew into Lebanon, UN battle ships were docked in the harbor of Beirut. After an explosion rocked a Shi’a neighborhood, damaging the Hezbollah Media Center (which I visited some two years ago), the ships did not even change their position, let alone depart from the harbor in order to defend Lebanon!

So why are these ships there? No one knows. No one asks, obviously.

Here, it is always like that. I drive to a Hezbollah area. There is a private checkpoint. I photograph it. They stop me. A huge guy with a machinegun blocks my way. I jump out of the car, put my hands together: “Do you want to arrest me?” He gets insecure. I ignore him. I drive away. I am pissed off: why not better fight the Israelis and their constant invasions, with such a physique and weaponry?

A friend of mine, a top UN official from the Gulf who doesn’t want to be identified, just told me bitterly:

There is no condemnation: there is complete silence from the United Nations and from the West.

Hariri feels obliged to protest, as his nation was attacked. But is he really outraged? Hardly. He hates Syria, he hates Hezbollah.

Lebanon is only united by a few iconic dishes, culinary delights; not by politics.

Is the country ready to defend itself? Hardly. Those who have money are too busy racing their European cars, without mufflers, on potholed streets, or showing their legs in various five-star malls.

The poor people of Lebanon do not matter; they do not exist. Palestinians matter nothing, living and dying, cramped like sardines in repulsive camps with hardly any rights. This has been going on for long decades.

Many Lebanese Christians actually secretly cheer Israel. Or not so secretly… And they are so enamored with everything Western, that, as they told me on several occasions, they would love to be colonized by France, again.

Lebanon is so fragmented by race, religion, social status, that it cannot stand on its feet. Turkish powerplant platforms are providing energy. Infrastructure has collapsed. Filth is everywhere. Cynical corruption consumes everything. But exhibitionism and showing off never stop. Money is there only for hedonistic clubs and sojourns to Nice. Hezbollah is the only institution which cares about the welfare of all Lebanese people; the only force ready to defend the country against foreign interventions. Israel and the West know it. And they are doing all they can to destroy Hezbollah.

Lebanon has become a laughing stock in the region. Like this, it is very difficult to face one of the mightiest militaries on earth.

*****

Just a few hours before Lebanon was hit, Israel admitted that its air force hit the Shi’ite militia and Iranian targets in Syria. It declared that it took out “killer drones” prepped by the Quds Force to carry out attacks in Israeli territory.

Israel justifies everything by its ‘defense’. Any outrageous attack, any bombing, is always ‘preventive’. The world has become used to it, by now. The world is doing nothing to stop it.

People die. Many do; annually. So, ‘the Israeli citizens can be safe’. So the West and its allies can control the region, indefinitely.

On August 25th, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, described the ongoing situation in the Middle East as ‘very, very dangerous’:

U.S. tries to revive Daesh in Iraq… U.S. helicopters are rescuing Daesh in Afghanistan…

He spoke about the attack on Lebanon:

The drones that entered the suburbs at dawn are military aircraft. The first aircraft was a reconnaissance aircraft flying at low altitude to get an accurate picture of the target. We did not shoot down the plane, but some young men threw stones at it before it fell. What happened last night was a suicide drone attack on a target in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Netanyahu would be mistaken if he thinks that this issue can go unnoticed. Lebanon will face a very dangerous situation if this incident goes unaddressed. The dawn suicide attack is the first act of aggression since 14 August 2006. The Lebanese State’s condemnation of what happened and referral of the matter to the Security Council is good, but these steps do not prevent the course of action to be taken.  Since 2000, we have allowed Israeli drones for many reasons but no one moved.  Israeli drones entering Lebanon are no longer collecting information, but assassinations. From now on, we will face the Israeli drones when they enter the skies of Lebanon and we will work to bring them down.  I tell the Israelis that Netanyahu is running with your blood.

The West and its allies are escalating tensions all over the Middle East. Some say, “war is possible”. Others say “it is imminent”. But it is not just a possibility. There is a war. Everywhere. In Afghanistan and Syria, in Yemen and Iraq. Wherever you look! Even in Lebanon.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common

Writing under the title of “If the El Paso shooter had been Muslim”, Moustafa Bayoumi stated the obvious.

“If the El Paso shooter had been a Muslim,” Bayoumi wrote in the British Guardian newspaper on August 6, US President Donald Trump “would be lobbing accusations such as ‘Islam hates us’ in the direction of Muslims and not lecturing the public about video games.”

Bayoumi was referring to the double standards that define much of western official and media discourses regarding violence. When the alleged perpetrator of violence is a Muslim, then the case becomes a matter of national security and is categorically dealt with as an act of terrorism. When the perpetrator is a white male, however, it is a whole different story.

On August 3, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius carried out a mass shooting in a Wal-mart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 innocent people.

Neither US authorities nor media used the term “terrorism” in describing the heinous act. Instead, the Justice Department is “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime charges against the killer, CNN reported.

On the other hand, Trump reasoned that “mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” in another attempt at whitewashing violent crimes by white individuals.

The “mental illness” explanation, in particular, has served as the convenient rationale for all similar violence.

For example, when 28-year-old Ilan Long opened fire on college students in Thousand Oaks, California, in November 2018, killing 12 people, Trump offered this logic. “He was a very, very mentally ill person,” he said, referring to Long. “He’s a very sick — well, it’s a mental health problem. He is a very sick puppy. He was a very, very sick guy.”

The mental illness argument was infused repeatedly, including last March, when Brenton Tarrant opened fire on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people.

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” Trump said of Tarrant’s anti-Muslim terrorist attack.

Compare this to Trump’s response to the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, which was blamed on two Muslims. Trump immediately assigned the word “terrorism” to the violent act, while calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.

But we do, in fact, know “what is going on”, a truth that goes beyond the typical western double standards. Crusius, Tarrant and many such white terrorists are connected through a deep bond that exceeds the supposed claim of mental illness into something truly sinister.

These individuals are all part of a larger phenomenon, an amalgamation of various ultra-nationalist governments, political movements and groups all around the world, all united by their hate for immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Crusius and Tarrant were not “lone wolf” terrorists, as some would want us to believe. Even if they were single-handedly responsible for the mass murder of those innocent people, they are members of a large, ideological, militant network that is dedicated to spreading hate and racism, one which sees immigrants — especially Muslims — as “invaders”.

In his “manifesto”, a 74-page document that he posted online shortly before he carried out his heinous act, Tarrant references the far-right, the racist ideologues who inspired him, along with fellow “ethno-soldiers” — like-minded murderers who committed equally horrific acts against civilians.

It was not by accident that Tarrant named his document the “Great Replacement”, as it was framed after a similarly named conspiracy theory made popular by a strong Israel supporter, Renaud Camus.

Camus is an infamous French writer whose “Le Grand Remplacement”, an even more extreme interpretation of Francis Fukuyama’s Clash of Civilizations, envisages a global conflict that sees Muslims as the new enemy.

The Great Replacement, along with other such literature widely popular among the far right, represents the ideological foundation for the, until recently, disorganized and disconnected efforts by various ultra-nationalist movements around the world, all united in their desire to address the “Muslim invasion”.

The common thread between violent white males who commit mass killings is obvious: a deep indoctrination of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and hate for Muslims. Like Tarrant, Crusius also left his own manifesto, one that is, according to CNN, “filled with white nationalist and racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics, blaming immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs and the blending of cultures in the US”.

Moreover, both seemed to subscribe to the same intellectual discourse, as they had posted links to a 16,000-word document on Twitter and 8chan that was “filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments”.

“The writer of the document linked to the El Paso suspect expressed support for the shootings of two mosques in Christchurch,” CNN also reported.

White militants are gripped by the groundless fear that they are being “replaced”. “Great Replacement” promoters argue that Islam and the Islamic civilization are “ethnically replacing” other races, and that such a supposed phenomenon must be stopped, using violent means if necessary. Unsurprisingly, they see Israel as a model country that is succeeding in fighting against the “Muslim menace”.

What makes violent white supremacists even more dangerous is the fact that they now have friends in high places. Trump’s refusal to address the issue of white nationalist militancy in a serious way is no accident. But the American president is not alone. The rising star of Italian politics, Matteo Salvini, for example, has a great deal of sympathy for such movements. Following the Christchurch massacre, the Italian defense minister refused to condemn white extremists. Instead, he said: “The only extremism which should be carefully addressed is the Islamic one.”

The list of far-right ideologues and their benefactors is long and constantly expanding. But their hate-filled speech and disturbing “theories”, along with their fascination with Israeli violence and racism, would have been assigned to the bins of history if it were not for the high price of violence that is now associated with this movement.

Our understanding of white nationalist violence should move beyond the double-standard argument into a more wholesome analysis of the ideological links that tie these individuals and groups together. In the final analysis, no form of violence targeting innocent people should be justified or tolerated, regardless of the skin color, religion or identity of the perpetrators.

Venezuela and Iran in the Crosshairs of Murderers Inc.

Imagine just for a moment, the World would stand up in unison, sick and tired of the aggressive killer arrogance of the United States and her vassals – and their joint war-force called NATO – and this World, our World, what’s left of it when you deduct Washington and its Brussels allies, would at once block every shipment of everything destined for the ports of the United States of America; every sea port, airport and road port. Hermetically. Nothing would enter. Nothing, no food, no medicine, no electronics, no cars – no nothing. And nothing could leave. No exports, no petrol, no grains, no meat, no pharmaceuticals and foremost, no weapons. Nothing.

And now, take your mind a step further – and imagine the same – exactly the same, a total and full blockage of Israel – nothing would enter, no food, no fuel, no medication, no machinery and especially no weapons – and nothing would leave; a full and total blockage.

This would, of course, be totally illegal; illegal and unacceptable, by any international law, by the standards of the UN Charter, by the Human Rights Laws and Directives, by any ethical values of human morals. Wouldn’t it?  Yet, this is exactly what these countries are doing, have been doing for decades, sanctioning to strangle and murder entire populations into death or submission. The US with Cuba; Israel with Palestine. And the coercion and strangulation go on, unabated.

The longest embargo — illegal, inhuman and outright criminal — Washington imposed on Cuba 60 years. Because Cuba has chosen socialism as her form of state and government. Cuba survived and will never give in to the tyrant of the north.

Now the US is expanding her palette of killing by impunity to dominate and subjugate nation after nation which they do not consider bending sufficiently to the dictate of their masters. Venezuela has been targeted for two decades, ever since former President Hugo Chavez was democratically elected in 1998; and Iran, ever since the US-imposed Shah was deposed in 1979, exactly 40 years ago by Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Both Venezuela and Iran are rich in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons but also in gold, rare earths and other precious metals and stones.

Contrary to what one would like to imagine, international world bodies, like the United Nations and her sister and associated organizations remain just about silent. When a high-level official utters some benign criticism of the US or Israel it flairs up for a moment in the ‘news’, then it disappears again, as if it never happened. And indeed, nothing happens. They – the US and Israel – go on with their crimes in impunity.

The latest is an open declaration of economic warfare by Washington, a total embargo on Venezuela; the embargo is now being turned into a naval blockade. Similar steps are to be taken for Iran. That literally means that no merchandise, no matter how vital for survival, like food and medication, is allowed into Venezuela. Three days ago, the US seized, totally illegally, a cargo ship attempting to deliver food and medication to Venezuela in the Panama Canal, territory which the US does not own or control anymore.

The ship was carrying soy cakes, from which Venezuela was to produce food. Never mind, that the cargoes are fully paid for by Venezuela. And this seems to be just the beginning. Vessels leaving Venezuela with petrol deliveries to client countries are also targeted for blockage, thus confiscating, or rather stealing, Venezuela’s main source of income on which she intends to survive and feed and provide health care for her people. This, in addition to the more than 130 billion dollars total Venezuelan assets confiscated – stolen – by the US worldwide.

And nobody says beep. Almost. Yes, there are some collective protests by countries in solidarity – like key members of the Sao Paulo Forum, as well as more than 60 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM – total 120 members) that have become especially active in recent years in defense of Venezuela within the United Nations. Protests and protest declarations also take place by ALBA members, a Latin American trade alliance (ALBA — Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America — (11 members: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Grenada and the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis).

But most interesting are the hypocrites, those who write and scream that Venezuelans are starving to death, that the Maduro government neglects its people, yet these accusers-in-falsehood, let the US and her vassals strangle Venezuela and steal her foreign assets, including foreign reserves and gold, food and medical imports, they are saying zilch, nada, nothing. Just watching.

To top it all off, the Human Rights Commissioner, Madame Michelle Bachelet, Hypocrite-in-chief, who recently visited Venezuela, at the invitation of President Nicolas Maduro, on a Human Rights mission, and who delivered a devastating report about Venezuela’s HR, full of lies, half-truths and outright omissions, not mentioning with one word the US inspired coup attempts, the US-funded opposition and its bloody atrocities perpetrated on the Chavista population, and the strangulating and starving by the US and US-dictated European sanctions, Madame Bachelet now came forward condemning the naval blockade. Great. But she did not stand up against the deadly embargo by the US and the European Union.  What credibility remains for the Human Rights Commission?  The world can see it.  It’s all bought, coerced into submission, like so many other UN agencies by the Murderers Inc.

If we are not careful, they are soon going to rule the globe. Thanks god, for Russia and China, which are also subjects of US-EU sanctioning and targeted for take-over. But they are a tiny little bit too big and too strong for this sort of games by the decaying US empire and her obedient rats on the sinking ship.

Similarly, the European Union, despots as they have been for hundreds of years as colonialists in Africa, Asia and Latin America – and continue in a modern colonial role through economic control of much of Africa, this very EU has been sanctioning Venezuela for years on the orders of Washington, naturally, who else?  Now they condemn the naval blockade, but continue their routine sanctions regime.

According to a study carried out by the Washington DC based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), under guidance of Mark Weisbrot, CEPR co-director and Jeffrey Sachs, economics professor, Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, New York, US and EU sanctions have cost some 40,000 Venezuelan lives. This mainly since August 2017, when Washington escalated its unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela and her state oil company, PDVSA, cutting them off international financial markets.

Yes, the world would have plenty of reasons to stand up and dish out similar naval and air blockades against the US and Israel. Just as a teaser to begin with, and if that doesn’t send a strong enough wake-up message, perhaps such embargoes should be considered on a longer-term indefinite scale. It’s illegal. But we are living in a world where international laws don’t count, where laws are made, as we go, by the self-declared hegemon, the US of A, and her symbiotic Middle East ally, Israel. So, why not nudge the legal, moral and ethical order back into balance?

United Church of Canada should Come Clean on Anti-Palestinian Accord

Toronto church Trinity-St. Paul’s shameful suppression of a Palestinian youth cultural event highlights anti-Palestinian rot festering in the United Church of Canada. It ought to also shine a light on a little discussed anti-Palestinian accord UCC leaders signed with Israel lobby groups five decades ago.

Under pressure from B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Defence League the Trinity-St. Paul Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts recently canceled a room booking “to celebrate the artistic and cultural contributions of Palestinians in the diaspora.” The Palestinian Youth Movement’s spoken word event was to “showcase the winners of the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship”, which the JDL and B’nai B’rith chose to target on the grounds the famous novelist was a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the early 1970s. After Kanafani and his 17-year old niece were assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon’s Daily Star labeled the novelist “a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”

As I detailed in this article Trinity-St. Paul’s spiritual leader is anti-Palestinian leftist Cheri DiNovo. Since publishing that piece the former NDP MPP admitted — to vicious anti-Palestinian/Islamophobe Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, of all people — that she forwarded B’nai B’rith’s concerns to the church’s board, which then cancelled the event. Dropping her progressive standing further, DiNovo unfriended a number of individuals on Facebook who politely questioned her role in suppressing the Palestinian cultural event.

To be fair to DiNovo she isn’t the only Progressive Except for Palestine voice in the UCC. “What happened at Trinity St. Paul’s is not isolated”, wrote Karen Rodman, an ordained UCC minister and prominent Palestine solidarity activist. Last year the UCC seminary at the University of Toronto’s Victoria University withdrew from a Palestinian Liberation Theology program with Reverend Naim Ateek. According to Rodman, work had been underway on Emmanuel College’s continuous learning initiative with Ateek for a year when pressure was brought to bear by Israeli nationalist groups.

Resolutions endorsed at UCC conventions in the 2000s called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as an ethnic/religious supremacist state. The 2009 motion called for “the emergent State of Palestine” to recognize “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within safe and secure borders.” In an interview after the 2009 convention Palestinian Canadian journalist Hanna Kawas complained the UCC was asking the victims of a European colonial movement to endorse the supremacist ideology that dispossessed them. In 2012 the UCC “advised against the use of ‘the language of apartheid’ when applied to Israel” and called for a solution to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return so long as it “maintains the demographic integrity of Israel.”

In another sign of the church hierarchy’s encouragement of a colonial ideology, Rodman was harassed and bullied for supporting Palestinian rights. Church officials purportedly called her a “terrorist” for traveling to the West Bank. In response to attacks and biased review process, Rodman filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against the UCC for discriminating against her anti-Zionist worldview. Last year the HRTO granted Rodman a hearing, which awaits scheduling, to show her anti-Zionist worldview/creed is not just a political view.

(The UCC has supported labelling settlement goods and condemned other aspect of Israel’s occupation. But these resolutions have not been implemented. As an example, no congregation or UCC body implemented a 2012 resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting or supporting the occupation even though a resolution was passed at the subsequent General Council requesting implementation of the 2012 resolution.)

An anti-Palestinian deal UCC leaders brokered decades ago has influenced the church’s indifference to the plight of Palestinians. In the 1950s and 60s the UCC passed a number of resolutions upholding the rights of Palestinians, including those of the refugees to return to their homes. More significantly, the UCC’s influential magazine championed the Palestinian cause. With a circulation of 350,000 in the early 1970s, The Observer criticized Israeli human rights violations. But editor Rev. A.C. Forrest’s support for Palestinians prompted vicious attacks. Emboldened by the blow Israel delivered against pan-Arabism in the 1967 war, B’nai B’rith dubbed Forrest a “Haman”, “Pharaoh” and “anti-Semitic”.

In response, Forrest threatened to sue for libel. B’nai B’rith countersued. A high-profile battle between B’nai B’rith and the UCC ensued. But, new UCC leaders didn’t care much about Palestinians and opposed Forrest, as well as a pro-Palestinian resolution passed at the 1972 UCC convention. Moderator Bruce McLeod and General Secretary George Morris soon sought a “gentleman’s agreement” in which both the UCC and B’nai B’rith would drop the lawsuits. Couched in the language of interfaith sensitivity, the 1973 “peace pact” was about deterring criticism of Israel. As then Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) President Sol Kanee wrote in a private letter, “it would appear the United Church is determined to chart a more positive course with regard to Israel and the Jewish people, which we hope will be reflected in the ‘Observer.’”

Dozens of pages detail the B’nai B’rith-UCC battle at the Canadian Jewish Archives in Montréal. In one internal file CJC officials say only part of the B’nai B’rith-UCC agreement was published (a similar agreement is thought to have been made between the UCC and CJC and/or Canadian Council of Churches). Part of the “peace pact” published noted, “we recognize and appreciate the interests of Jews everywhere and of the United Church for the events in the Middle East and in the survival of Israel.”

As part of the agreement, the UCC seems to have committed to inform B’nai B’rith/CJC about Israel related affairs or even seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. A 2009 Globe and Mail article reported that UCC general council officer Bruce Gregersen indicated that CJC president Bernie Farber “gave his blessing to the UCC resolution” on Israel.

Rodman and others have pushed the church hierarchy to reveal whether the anti-Palestinian agreement is still respected. But UCC leaders have failed to release the full agreement or say it is no longer being followed.

The agreement with B’nai B’rith/CJC has undercut grassroots initiatives within the church that challenge Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession. But, the decision to succumb to B’nai B’rith’s disingenuous attacks 45 years ago has had another equally damaging impact on Palestinians. It has emboldened the anti-Palestinian group to make evermore outrageous demands.

After a half-century more of Israeli land theft and violence, B’nai B’rith demanded a Toronto church suppress an event because it included the name of a famous novelist driven from his home as a child and then blown up by Israel (a quintessential victim of terrorism). If Kanafani’s name “glorifies terrorists and murderers”, as B’nai B’rith claims, then what should we say of a group that defends every act of Israeli violence, including the assassination of a novelist and his niece?

If the UCC won’t have anything to do with a Palestinian youth group that mentions Kanafani’s name they sure better sever all ties to groups promoting Israeli “terrorists and murderers”.

Why Should Iran be Cherished and Defended?

As I pen this short essay, Iran is standing against the mightiest nation on earth. It is facing tremendous danger; of annihilation even, if the world does not wake up fast, and rush to its rescue.

Stunning Iranian cities are in danger, but above all, its people: proud and beautiful, creative, formed by one of the oldest and deepest cultures on earth.

This is a reminder to the world: Iran may be bombed, devastated and injured terribly, for absolutely no reason. I repeat: there is zero rational reason for attacking Iran.

Iran has never attacked anyone. It has done nothing bad to the United States, to the United Kingdom, or even to those countries that want to destroy it immediately: Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Its only ‘crime’ is that it helped devastated Syria. And that it seriously stands by Palestine. And that it came to the rescue of many far away nations, like Cuba and Venezuela, when they were in awful need.

I am trying to choose the simplest words. No need for pirouettes and intellectual exercises.

Thousands, millions of Iranians may soon die, simply because a psychopath who is currently occupying the White House wants to humiliate his predecessor, who signed the nuclear deal. This information was leaked by his own staff. This is not about who is a bigger gangster. It is about the horrible fact that antagonizing Iran has absolutely nothing to do with Iran itself.

*****

Which brings the question to my mind: in what world are we really living? Could this be tolerable? Can the world just stand by, idly, and watch how one of the greatest countries on earth gets violated by aggressive, brutal forces, without any justification?

I love Iran! I love its cinema, poetry, food. I love Teheran. And I love the Iranian people with their polite, educated flair. I love their thinkers. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

You know, you were, of course, never told by the Western media, but Iran is a socialist country. It professes a system that could be defined as “socialism with Iranian characteristics”. Like China, Iran is one of the most ancient nations on earth, and it is perfectly capable of creating and developing its own economic and social system.

Iran is an extremely successful nation. Despite the embargos and terrible intimidation from the West, it still sits at the threshold of the “Very high human development”, defined by UNDP; well above such darlings of the West as Ukraine, Colombia or Thailand.

It clearly has an internationalist spirit: it shows great solidarity with the countries that are being battered by Western imperialism, including those in Latin America.

*****

I have no religion. In Iran, most of the people do. They are Shi’a Muslims. So what? I do not insist that everyone thinks like me. And my Iranian friends, comrades, brothers and sisters have never insisted that I feel or think the same way as they do. They are not fanatics, and they do not make people who are not like them, feel excluded. We are different and yet so similar. We fight for a better world. We are internationalists. We respect each other. We respect others.

Iran does not want to conquer anyone. But when its friends are attacked, it offers a helping hand. Like to Syria.

In the past, it was colonized by the West, and its democratic government was overthrown, in 1953, simply because it wanted to use its natural resources for improving the lives of its people. The morbid dictatorship of Shah Pahlavi was installed from abroad. And then, later, again, a terrible war unleashed against Iran by Iraq, with the full and candid support of the West.

I promised to make this essay short. There is no time for long litanies. And, in fact, this is not really an essay at all: it is an appeal.

As this goes to print, many people in Iran are anxious. They do not understand what they have done to deserve this; the sanctions, the US aircraft carriers sailing near their shores, and deadly B-52s deployed only dozens of miles away.

Iranians are brave, proud people. If confronted, if attacked, they will fight. And they will die with dignity, if there is no other alternative.

But why? Why should they fight and why should they die?

Those of you, my readers, living in the West: Study; study quickly. Then ask this question to your government: “What is the reason for this terrible scenario?”

Rent Iranian films; they are everywhere, winning all festivals. Read Iranian poets. Go eat Iranian food. Search for images of both historic and modern Iranian cities. Look at the faces of the people. Do not allow this to happen. Do not permit psychopathic reasoning to ruin millions of lives.

There was no real reason for the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. The West perpetrated the most terrible imperialist interventions, ruining entire nations.

But Iran – it all goes one step further. It’s a total lack of logic and accountability on the part of the West.

Here, I declare my full support to the people of Iran, and to the country that has been giving countless cultural treasures to the world, for millennia.

It is because I have doubts that if Iran is destroyed, the human race could survive.

First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)