Archive for October, 2009

When do you know that the Iran deal is bust? when Israel endorses it!

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Tony Karon in the National, here

The surest sign yet that the Iranian nuclear deal is in deep trouble is its endorsement by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A positive first step,” Mr Netanyahu called the deal. This was in marked contrast to his own defence minister, Ehud Barak, who complained earlier that the agreement accorded Iran “legitimisation for enriching uranium for civilian purposes on its soil, contrary to the understanding that those negotiating with it have about its real plans”.

Mr Barak and Mr Netanyahu march in lockstep when it comes to Iran. The reason for their apparent disagreement is simple. Mr Barak dismissed the proposed deal when it looked as if Iran might accept it. Mr Netanyahu’s approval came only after Iran’s response was interpreted by the western powers as a “no”.
….. The breakdown arose precisely because the two sides remain committed to mutually exclusive objectives. The more hawkish elements in the western camp, along with Israel, insist that Iran cannot be allowed to continue enriching its remaining uranium, even for energy purposes, because this would give it the means to move quickly to build a bomb. Tehran, on the other hand, saw the agreement as tacit acceptance of Iran’s right to enrichment. So when Mr Netanyahu spoke of a “first step”, he meant a first step towards ending all enrichment in Iran – which is what Iran feared.

When details of the agreement began to emerge, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced a torrent of domestic criticism – and not just from Iranian conservatives. Mir Hossein Moussavi, the leading opposition presidential candidate who claims Mr Ahmadinejad stole the election, cautioned that accepting the Vienna deal would be “putting the efforts of thousands of scientists to the wind”.
….. As a result, it has responded to the draft agreement with counterproposals that weaken the core western objective, which is separating Iran from most of its current nuclear stockpile – because Tehran sees that as a trap. Iran now proposes to deliver its uranium for enrichment abroad in smaller instalments over a longer period, and insists that it be supplied with reactor fuel first.
………… the more focused the stand-off becomes on the issue of getting Iran to hand over most of its stockpile quickly, the more likely Tehran is to dig in its heels; it would be, as Mr Netanyahu puts it, “an important first step”, but in what Iran considers the wrong direction.

The Vienna deal could collapse under the weight of the larger question that it tried to sidestep: whether Iran will maintain its uranium enrichment capability as part of its nuclear energy programme. Negotiators purposely avoided discussing Iran’s non-compliance with UN Security Council resolutions on suspending enrichment, or western demands that it give up on the very idea of enriching uranium as part of its nuclear programme, but it is the two sides’ differences on that issue that lie at the heart of the stand-off over the Vienna deal.
The lesson appears to be that it will be difficult to achieve agreement on an issue so sensitive to both sides without addressing their mutual mistrust. As long as the western powers pursue an end to uranium enrichment in Iran, and Iran resists that goal, no diplomatic solution is likely. The truth is that enrichment is already a reality in Iran. Neither Russia nor China …Iraq and Turkey – view uranium enrichment by Iran as necessarily posing a military threat, and are therefore unlikely to back serious sanctions. So Tehran is less likely to blink….
Having hailed the deal as a breakthrough that promised to clear out Iran’s stockpile in short order, the Obama administration now faces the reality that it’s not going to be quite so easy – and the likelihood that no diplomatic solution will be found that satisfies the western “no-enrichment” starting point. In what is fast become a familiar experience, Mr Obama may soon be forced to choose between accepting a compromise short of victory, or going down a road of escalating confrontation with uncertain outcomes.

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"… Halutz’s hubris did damage in Lebanon …"

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

“Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday that the IDF Chief of Staff who replaced him, Dan Halutz, made a number of serious mistakes during the Second Lebanon War.
“What happened with Dan Halutz was a tragedy. He was an excellent chief of the IAF and deputy chief of staff. But it was his hubris that did most of the damage in Lebanon,” Ya’alon said during a cultural event in Beersheba.
He stressed that IDF officials must remain humble. “We as generals need to maintain our humility and know our limitations,” Ya’alon added.
He said leadership based on setting a personal example was the best way to foster trust. “But officers in the army see only corrupt political leadership. When there is no personal example, it trickles down into the army,” the former chief of staff said.
Ya’alon added that Operation Cast Lead should have taken place sooner than it had. “I believe that offence is the best defense. In military operations today, we must transfer the dilemmas to the other side so it can consider whether to continue its provocations or not,” he said.
Ya’alon also spoke about Turkey, and said Israel was keeping track of its policies with concern. “Their tendency is to look eastward, to Iran and Syria. This necessitates an analysis of the situation on our part,” (Read: bite the bullet & shut up!) he said.”

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Abbas …."unity or bust"

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Reuters, here

“Abbas has no intention of going down in history as the man who legitimized the permanent and possibly fatal division of the Palestinian independence movement.
But he has called an election for January that could be a nail in the coffin of Palestinian unity, assuming his Islamist political rivals in control of the Gaza Strip are serious about their threat to ban the vote on their territory.
The outcome of an election held in the West Bank but not in the Gaza Strip would be “worse than the two Koreas,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, an expert on national security issues. “Here we would see a total rupture for a long period of time,” Qaq said. Gaza would be cut off and the West Bank would end up as little Gazas, with “transportational continuity rather than territorial continuity.”
So why would Abbas take such a gamble?
Analysts said Abbas has made Palestinian unity his priority goal and chosen the election deadline as his strategy. He is using it to persuade Hamas to make peace with the Fatah movement and end the deep split in Palestinian ranks.
“Abbas is aware that as long as he negotiates with Israel while he’s not in control of Gaza, the Israelis won’t give him anything,” said Bassem Zubeidi, political analyst at Birzeit university in the West Bank. After all, he points out, “they didn’t concede anything when the Palestinians were united.”…
If Hamas still reject a deal, Abbas can condemn them for putting their factional interests above those of 4 million Palestinians, but he will have to live with the ramifications…”

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Why Libya Should Not Pay Compensation To Northern Ireland…

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Ok, so Libya used to supply the IRA with weapons. And now Northern Ireland wants to get compensation for the acts of violence committed with these weapons (see the BBC article here). So far so good one could think – supplying the weapons had surely a big role to play in the violence. But: in the same way numerous peoples in Africa could demand compensation from the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the US. All these governments have approved of or actively supported weapons exports to countries that use these weapons to perpetrate acts of violence agains ttheir own and neighbouring peoples…

Links for 10.29.09 to 10.31.09

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

? Daily News Egypt – In Focus: The Brotherhood Crisis | Khalil al-Anani's take on the Brothers' troubles.
? Frontlines: Who will be the next leader of Egypt? | Front Lines – the week that was | Jerusalem Post | Funny how much traction Amr Moussa's comments have made in Israel, where they remember vividly his criticism of Israel.
? Is this the man to follow Mubarak as Egypt’s next president? | World news | | On Amr Moussa.
? Powerful Islamic movement sees leadership struggle | On MB's woes.
? War and Peace | New blog from Rob of Arabic Media Shack, focusing on war, history and strategy.
? Lesson Unlearned | Foreign Policy | Nir Rosen says the 1983 attacks on Us Marines in Beirut was the fault of senior Reagan officials who intervened in Lebanon's civil war on the side of Christian militias.
? A Witness In Palestine | Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American pro-peace activist.
? A search engine with a mind on settlements | Antony Loewenstein | I'm switching to Bing, and I hate Microsoft: "Jewish Billionaire, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, donated $1 million to the so-called Hebrew national Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which heavily encourages Jews around the world to immigrate to Israel and the United States. The organization is one of the biggest supporters of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories."
? In Afghan Village, French Outreach Yields an Ambush – | On French Foreign legion in Afghanistan: "Some Legionnaires, like a pensive Italian art history graduate, had enlisted for adventure. Others, like a thin Estonian, signed up to escape potentially lethal problems at home. The Legion wipes out minor criminal records and provides new identities and a French passport in exchange for a five-year contract. "Believe me, I feel safer here in Afghanistan," the Estonian said."
? Alaa Al-Aswany: When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists – Commentators, Opinion – The Independent | On Somalia and extremism, among other things.
? BBC NEWS | Technology | Egypt seeks ethical mobile users | Code says "don't annoy people by having loud conversations", "choose non-annoying ringtone", etc. Akhiran! Wonder if it says, "Don't sit at qahwa trying different ringtones for an hour" or "Answer phone quickly or put it on silent rather than stare at it for 10 rings".
? Squaring the circle and erasing the margins | Good commentary on the recent J Street conference.
? YouTube – ????? ????? – ??????? ?????????‎ | Khaled Daoud interviews Richard Goldstone on al-Jazeera.
? Lebanon: Israel arranged Katyusha fire to keep tensions high – Haaretz – Israel News | Suleiman was praised by West before, will he be listened to now: "Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Thursday suggested that Israel had arranged for collaborators in his country to fire Katyusha rockets at the Galilee earlier this week, in a bid to keep tensions high in the area."
? ‘Israel’s Self-Described Greatest Concern’ – Jeffrey Goldberg | More poisonous Jeffrey Goldberg: anti-Zionist Jews are not real jews, they're anti-Zionists with Jewish parents; the Leveretts are apologists for Tehran. No sense of irony here about Golberg's sycophancy towards Bibi Netanyahu here.
? West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge | These people are insane: ""But over the past quarter of a century, the Israeli army lawyer and then military judge at the forefront of arguably the most significant battle in the occupied West Bank – the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of Jewish settlements – has come to see himself as in service of a higher duty. In an unusually frank interview, which offers insights into the melding of religion, politics and law that underpins land seizures in the occupied territories, Agassi has laid out his belief that Israel has a biblical claim to territory beyond its borders and that he, even as an immigrant, has a right to live on it when those born there do not. `When we [Israelis] say that this is a political conflict, then we lose the battle,` he told the Guardian, adding that it should be remembered that the ancient land of Israel is `given to us by the Bible, not by some United Nations`.
? Tens of Thousands of Palestinian Children at Risk of Forced Displacement in OPT | "Whilst most attention has focused on home demolitions and community evictions, new research by the children`s charity Save The Children has revealed intolerable living conditions are driving families to abandon their land and homes, even though most will be worse off once they do so."

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Sundry items on the Goldstone report

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Good interview with Goldstone on Al Jazeera English:

Here’s the second part:

Zeev Sternhell writes in Haaretz:

It is not the Goldstone report that has opened another painful phase in the erosion of Israel’s credibility, but rather the cavalier attitude here toward the heavy Palestinian losses. In broad circles of Western European and American intelligentsia – in the universities and among cultural and media figures – Israel arouses ever-deepening hostility.

The London Review of Books’ Adam Shatz writes about the “mobile phone wars” behind Mahmoud Abbas’ early decision to postpone consideration of the Goldstone report:

In the Western press, Abbas’s blunder was widely described as an act of realpolitik that backfired in the court of public opinion, but the real story may have more to do with a mobile-phone company called Wataniya, a joint venture set up by a group of investors from Kuwait and Qatar (57 per cent share) and the Palestine Investment Fund (43 per cent), whose head is Abbas’s chief economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa. In July 2008, Tony Blair brokered a deal between the PA and Israel that would have allowed Wataniya to become Palestine’s second mobile-phone operator, with a bandwidth of 4.8 MHz; the launch date was meant to be 15 October this year.

In divided Palestine, economic development is factional politics: Wataniya had to succeed, if only to provide proof that Palestinians are better off under the PA in the West Bank than in Hamas-controlled Gaza. It’s an argument Netanyahu has also been keen to make, in the hopes that middle-class West Bankers can be bought off, the Gazans forgotten, and statehood consigned to oblivion.

But on 15 September, Richard Goldstone released his findings. According to Jonathan Cook in the National, Israel warned Abbas that unless the Palestinian Authority withdrew its draft resolution on the report, it would deny Wataniya all of its radio frequencies; the PA promptly fell into line, requesting a six-month delay on the resolution. It isn’t hard to imagine what Abbas and his associates were thinking: if the deal collapsed, the PA would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties, and would also suffer a major loss in investment and jobs (more than 2000). Why should war crimes in Gaza get in the way of the West Bank telecommunications industry? Couldn’t this wait another six months?

The PA made its second U-turn, in response to Palestinian public opinion, on 6 October: the resolution on the Goldstone Report wouldn’t be postponed after all. On 15 October, the day Wataniya was set to launch, Israel ‘re-awarded’ it 3.8 MHz of airwave frequency spectrum. This was still 1 MHz shy of the 4.8 MHz it needs to be fully operational – Israel’s three major mobile-phone firms each have between 20 and 46 MHz. Why the shortfall? Israeli officials say it’s because the PA has failed to honour certain unnamed ‘commitments’; one of those commitments may have been deferring to its wishes on Goldstone.

Harpers’ Ken Silverstein interviews Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the UN fact-finding mission led by Goldstone:

4. Critics have also said that Hamas deliberately inserted its fighters among civilians and that doing so increased the civilian toll. Did you find that to be the case?

We found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages. I had expected to find such evidence but did not. We also found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions. Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion. Gaza is densely populated and has a labyrinth of makeshift shanties and a system of tunnels and bunkers. If I were a Hamas operative the last place I’d store munitions would be in a mosque. It’s not secure, is very visible, and would probably be pre-targeted by Israeli surveillance. There are a many better places to store munitions. We investigated two destroyed mosques—one where worshippers were killed—and we found no evidence that either was used as anything but a place of worship.

There is a sinister and foolish notion among certain proponents of insurgency warfare that to fight an insurgency means that civilians will inevitably be killed. But if you give the state authority to be indiscriminate with the lives of civilians in pursuing insurgents, it plays into the hands of the insurgents. Dead bodies are grist to the insurgents’ mill: if the dead are on your side they represent insurgent victories and if the dead are on their side then they have martyrs.

5. What is your view of the claim by Israeli officials that the IDF is the most “moral” army in the world?

Given the tactics, the weapons used, and the indiscriminate targeting, I think this is a dubious claim.

6. What other issues do you think need to be addressed?

We were disturbed by the lethality and toxicity of weapons used in Gaza, some of which have been in Western arsenals since the Cold War, such as white phosphorous, which incinerated 14 people, including several children in one attack; flechettes, small darts that are designed to tumble upon entering human flesh in order to cause maximum damage, strictly in breach of the Geneva Convention; and highly carcinogenic tungsten shrapnel and dime munitions, which contain tungsten in powder form. There is also a whole cocktail of other problematic munitions suspected to have been used.

There are a number of other post-conflict issues in Gaza that need to be addressed. The land is dying. There are toxic deposits from all the munitions that have been dropped. There are serious issues with water—its depletion and its contamination. There is a high instance of nitrates in the soil that is especially dangerous to children. If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms.

I have to say that while I appreciate Judge Goldstone’s professionalism (as shown in various interviews), I find it rather inappropriate for him to keep on repeating that he is a Zionist and loves Israel (as he has done on occasion.) Not just because, for me, Zionist is a dirty word that implies racism and the denial of the existence of a Palestinian people. But rather because Goldstone and his peers are meant to be professional assessors of the recent conflict in Gaza; they should keep their political views to themselves.

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Arab Knowledge Report 2009

October 31st, 2009 Comments off


The Arab Knowledge Report 2009 is out. From the press release:

Dubai – Arab societies need nurturing institutions and supportive policies to experience a significant boost in knowledge production and creation, according to The Arab Knowledge Report 2009. The report, launched today, maintains that political, institutional, cultural and intellectual reforms, as well as reform of the media and information technologies are vital if Arab societies are to bridge the knowledge gap.

The Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards productive intercommunication for knowledge, emphasises two central and mutually dependent premises. The first is the connection between knowledge, development and freedom. The second is the close relationship between the demands of development and the building of the knowledge society.

“With solid commitment and long-term vision, the route to the knowledge society will not be impossible,” asserted Adel El Shared, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. “This is what we have sought to achieve over the past two years, emphasizing our commitment to the purpose and objectives for which the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation was established – strengthening the knowledge economy in the Arab world, which can only be achieved through close cooperation with serious partners who share our vision and objectives. Today we are happy to launch the fruit of such a collaborative effort with UNDP: the Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards productive intercommunication for knowledge,” he elaborated.

The Report addresses the factors that impede the establishment of a knowledge society in the Arab world and assesses the state of education, information and communication technologies, research and innovation in the region. It concludes with a roadmap for action so that the Arab world can integrate itself in a rapidly globalising knowledge society.

via Brian Whitaker.

Here’s the link to the full 300+ page report in PDF.

Glancing quickly through the report, and as the PR blurb above shows, much of the report is about creating a “knowledge society” and developing ICT. It contains a lot of turgid language about moving towards that. I would have liked to see (but may very well have missed in the report) a section looking at syllabus content, teaching techniques, and why so many countries that have expressed a need for primary and secondary educational reform have thus far done so little (and also the politics of teachers and reforming teachers’ training, a big issue in Morocco and Egypt and I’m sure elsewhere.)

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Michael Onfrey: a correction

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

Emilie sent me this: “One important correction on the quotes that I’ve just realized: the quotes I thought came from Onfray’s preface (the ones from the link:) are actually the back cover summary of the book by the editor. Sorry about my misreading (I was in a hurry when I wrote and mistook the “préface de Michel Onfray” first line in the text for an indication of the source of the text quoted under it). So here it was in fact the “anarchist” editors who were racist…You can find actual quotes from Onfray’s preface here in this book review though, and they aren’t any better (yes, I double-checked and read slowly and I’m sure it’s Onfray being quoted this time): « Le politiquement correct de notre temps transforme en islamophobe quiconque a l’audace de tenir pour juste la pensée des philosophes des Lumières sur les sujets de la religion, de la laïcité, de la démocratie, de la raison et de la philosophie, prévient Michel Onfray dans la préface [my underlining]. D’où le mérite de la parole rare de Hamid Zanaz. Car l’auteur nomme un chat un chat et dit clairement ce que toute intelligence bien faite devrait affirmer haut et clair : l’islam est intrinsèquement incompatible avec les valeurs de l’Occident [emphasis added] qui sont l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, l’égalité entre les croyants et les non-croyants, l’égalité entre les modes de vie sexuels, l’égalité entre les peuples, ce que valide la Déclaration des droits de l’homme à laquelle un musulman ne peut souscrire, non pas conjoncturellement, mais structurellement [emphasis added] parce que sa religion ignore la séparation du spirituel et du temporel, qu’elle pose dans le texte même du Coran une inégalité fondamentale entre l’homme et la femme, entre le croyant et le non-croyant, entre le musulman et le non-musulman, entre le fidèle et l’apostat, entre le disciple d’Allah et celui d’un autre Dieu. »
I apologize for the confusion. This quote is still just as terrible as the book cover though, and this time it is all Onfray’s writing guaranteed… Sorry again for the misreading. All the rest, and especially the two critical analyses I linked to, remain valid.”

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American liberals: when they feign disgust

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

“AT THE height of the French-Algerian War, good American liberals were appalled and disgusted by revelations of torture by the French army. The pack was led by then-Senator John F. Kennedy, who called for every kind of sanction against France. In the event, possibly as much as any other single factor, it was the reaction against la torture, across the world and within Metropolitan France itself, that won the war for the Algerians—though, when it came to atrocities, their hands were by no means spotless. Yet, when 9/11 struck, out of horror at what had been perpetrated, many of those good Americans who had so vigorously opposed torture as practiced by the French in Algeria stifled their qualms and at best averted their gazes from excesses committed in Guantánamo, waterboarding within the homeland or rendition abroad for other less squeamish regimes to do what was necessary. Or they more actively supported the Rumsfeld-Cheney line for the extraction of information at any cost.” (thanks laleh)

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An Arab who insists on traveling with a concealed knife

October 31st, 2009 Comments off

He was asked if he was carrying any sharp objects or weapons, and he said no. And he smiled too. (thanks Noura–his wife)

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