Posts Tagged ‘Mediterranean’

Libya: ‘Mogadishu on the Mediterranean’

October 21st, 2011 Comments off

"… [I say] we are capable of hitting these ships & are determined if they besiege our coasts,…"

May 26th, 2010 Comments off
July 14, 2006, Hezbollah fighters fired two anti-ship missiles at the Israeli navy’s INSHanit, a Sa’ar 5-class corvette, while Hanit was patrolling 10 miles off the Lebanese coast …. The second missile, this one possibly a smaller, electro-optically guided C-701, exploded over Hanit’s flight deck, killing four sailors and setting the 1,200-ton vessel on fire

Haaretz/ here

“… Israel imposed a sea and air embargo on Lebanon during its month-long war against Hezbollah in 2006, saying it needed to prevent the guerrillas from being resupplied with weapons.

“If you [Israel] put our coasts under siege in any future war, I say all military, civilian and commercial ships heading to Palestine’s coasts on the Mediterranean will be under the fire of the Islamic resistance fighters,” Nasrallah said. Earlier this year Nasrallah threatened to hit Israel’s Ben Gurion airport if the Jewish state struck Beirut’s international airport in any future conflict….

“When the world will witness how these ships will be destroyed in Palestine’s regional water nobody will dare to go there just as they will block (others) from coming to our coasts,” he told thousands of supporters…”

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Masked men vandalize UN summer camp for Gaza kids (AP)

May 23rd, 2010 Comments off

John Ging (3rd R), Director of Gaza operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, surveys a U.N. run summer camp after it was attacked by masked gunmen in Gaza May 23, 2010. Masked gunmen attacked the U.N.-run summer camp for children on Sunday after militants in the Gaza Strip accused the United Nations of promoting immorality in the religiously conservative enclave controlled by Hamas Islamists. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem  (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)AP – The top U.N. aid official in Gaza says dozens of masked gunmen have vandalized a U.N. summer camp being set up for children and teens on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast.

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God Only Knows

May 21st, 2010 Comments off

No doubt powered by a serious cocktail of amphetamines, Hosni Mubarak undertook his first trip abroad this week since he was hospitalized in Germany — a sign that he is gradually returning to business as usual, or at least that he wants to be seen as doing so. His regimen these days seems to be a meeting a day, and one major speech in two or three months. During his trip abroad — a summit with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he is said to be plotting to corner the hair dye futures market (a hot commodity from the Mediterranean region to the Gulf to South Asia) —Boss Hozz came out with the following pearl:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Wednesday that only God could know who would succeed him following his 29-year-old rule, the official MENA news agency reported.
Dogging a question on his possible successor by an Italian reporter, Mubarak spontaneously said that “only God could know that.”

It reminds me of something a friend of mine who’s often sought for commentary on succession used to frequently say about Egypt’s post-Mubarak future and the deliberately cultivated ambiguity about it: “not even God himself knows what Mubarak is thinking about succession.” This might be an apt time to reflect a to why Mubarak has never designated a successor or appointed a vice-president who would be seen as such. As I see it, there are three main reasons:

  1. In the early Mubarak period, there was a clear alternative from within the regime in Field Marshall Abu Ghazala, who was ousted from his position as minister of defense in 1989 and remained under house arrest (more or less) for the rest of his life. By not appointing a vice-president, Mubarak refrained from formalizing that alternative. After he consolidated power, Mubarak never saw a need to anoint anyone else with the vice-presidency, since even personalities not thought to be presidentiable (such as himself and Anwar al-Sadat) obtained legitimacy from the position. Cultivating a strategic ambiguity about succession has kept attention where Mubarak likes it best: on himself as kingmaker and ultimate decider.
  2. A second related reason has to do with threats from outside Egypt rather than inside it. Had there been a vice-president, it would become tempting for a certain major power (you know who you are!) looking to influence Egypt’s domestic and foreign policy to meddle in regime politicking. Just look at Pakistan’s history. It would have also been tempting for peer powers in the region — Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Israel — to also have another point of contact within the Egyptian regime that could present a credible alternative.
  3. A final and more speculative question that has to be asked, considering Gamal Mubarak’s rise in influence over the past decade, is whether Mubarak pere has been plotting to install his son for years. It’s probably more organic than that — Gamal’s rise stems from his father’s reluctance to share room at the top of the pyramid; a son is a natural trusted proxy (although not always, as deposed sultans of Oman and Qatar know). But one of the more interesting questions in today’s Egypt is how Hosni Mubarak feels about tawreeth: is he fully on board, reluctantly so, or even very ambivalent about in a “King Lear” elderly paranoid way? 

 While you think about that, listen to this track (dedicated to Mystic Mubarak):

And then go on to read Adam Shatz masterful portrait of late Mubarak Egypt at the London Review of Books, Mubarak’s Last Breath:

Under Mubarak, Egypt, the ‘mother of the earth’ (umm idduniya), has seen its influence plummet. Nowhere is the decline of the Sunni Arab world so acutely felt as in Cairo ‘the Victorious’, a mega-city much of which has turned into an enormous slum. The air is so thick with fumes you can hardly breathe, the atmosphere as constricted as the country’s political life.

Frustration, shame, humiliation: it does not take much for Egyptians to call up these feelings. It’s still often said that ‘what happens in Egypt affects the entire Arab world,’ but nothing much has happened there in years. Egypt has fallen behind Saudi Arabia – not to mention non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran – in regional leadership. Even tiny Qatar has a more independent foreign policy. Egypt is by far the largest Arab country, with 80 million inhabitants, yet it’s seen by most Arabs – and by the Egyptians themselves – as a client state of the United States and Israel, who depend on Mubarak to ensure regional ‘stability’ in the struggle with the ‘resistance front’ led by Iran.

Read the whole thing.

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ISRAEL: Emergency plan will not solve energy shortage

May 18th, 2010 Comments off
OXFAN: Excerpts:
Electricity production capacity is about 11,000 megawatts (MW). During peak periods, reserve capacity is only 5%. Moreover, electricity usage is growing almost in parallel with growth in GDP. Even disregarding anticipated expansion in the use of electric cars (which could use up to 10% of electricity within ten years) and the use of desalination plants to double water production to 600 million cubic metres (using 3 kilowatt hours of electricity per cubic metre), electricity usage will increase by an estimated 20% by 2020….. even if all the privately owned production plants come on stream as planned (which seems unlikely), Israel will face shortages. Another crisis is inevitable by 2021 ….. Israel is a world leader in solar energy use. …. However, so far only two tenders, each for the production of 250 MW, have been let. A major problem is that this option requires 2-4 square kilometres per 100 MW of production — too much for such a small country.

Atomic and hydroelectric. That leaves only two other options, both problematic:

1. Atomic. Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau recently suggested that Israel should build an atomic power plant by 2021. However, this would be very expensive, since shoreline space is scarce so cooling water would have to be piped to an inland site. Also, the area is very seismically active and the safest place for an atomic plant is deep in the Negev desert. The twin threats of earthquakes and hostile attacks mean that it would have to be specially reinforced at very high cost. Engineers have suggested waiting until ‘4th generation’ breeder reactors become available around 2035. These would be safer and require no water for cooling, and would also eliminate the need to find a place to store nuclear waste.

2. Hydroelectric. Israel has long discussed using the 400-metre drop from the Mediterranean or Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea to produce hydroelectric power. Among its many advantages, it would help to refill the Dead Sea, which is shrinking 1 metre per year. However, Israel could not build a canal without Palestinian and Jordanian permission, which is currently unlikely for political reasons….. Jordan also has a severe water shortage and is carrying out an experimental project, using a pipe to bring seawater to the Dead Sea. If the experiment succeeds, a large border canal and a hydroelectric plant would have to be built in conjunction with the Israelis. However, while resolving problems for both countries, this would connect Israel’s electrical net up to the Jordanian one. Jordan is already in a grid with Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, which have consistently vetoed any connection between their lines and the Israeli system. …
(below, the Hasbani in Lebanon: An israeli ‘dream’…’)

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US Troop Withdrawal in Iraq on Track

May 14th, 2010 Comments off

WaPo says that the Obama administration is still on track to draw down to 50,000 troops in Iraq by September 1, despite press speculation to the contrary in the past couple of days. There are now roughly 92,000 – 94,000 US troops in that country, down from 160,000 when President Obama was first elected. Another 5,000 are expected to come out in May, and the pace will pick up to 10,000 a month this summer.

What drove the speculation about a freeze of the withdrawal process? First, it seems clear that some generals have long opposed the Status of Forces Agreement and the Obama Administration’s withdrawal timetable, and my guess is that their offices occasionally float news of a halt in the process in order to to keep the pressure on for a slowdown. So far, Obama has just ignored them.

Second, it is possible that some commanders in Iraq are playing head games with the Sunni Arab guerrilla cells. You wouldn’t want them to grow so emboldened by the US drawdown that they make a concerted push to paralyze the country and overthrow the government or inflict substantial damage on it. Putting them on notice that if they go too far, they will actually interfere with one of their main goals, of getting the US out, is a way of giving them an incentive to go slow. This imperative would grow out of the bold and coordinated guerrilla attacks earlier this week that killed over 100 persons and hit targets everywhere from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. Another bombing on Thursday killed 9 and wounded 32 at a Shiite coffeehouse in Sadr City, Shiite east Baghdad.

Third, the US left wing does not believe that Obama is committed to leaving Iraq. What, they say, of the huge permanent bases, of the need to safeguard US petroleum companies’ operations, etc.? So the left blogosphere magnifies the footdragging reports leaked by elements in the Pentagon.

But there are no such things as permanent bases. You build a base when you need a base, when you are in control or have a willing host. The US is a superpower, but generally speaking bases are bilateral agreements with the host country. When the Philippines asked the US navy to leave in 1989, it did so. The Iraqi parliament has asked the US to withdraw by the end of 2011 and Bush signed that treaty.

Obama needs the Iraq withdrawal for lots of reasons. I think he has a Christian moral vision, and he sees the Iraq war as having been immoral, and views the withdrawal as a sort of penance. He also frankly needs a successful withdrawal to campaign on in 2012. And he needs those troops now in Iraq (many of whom don’t have that much to do since independent patrols in the cities ended) for his Afghanistan escalation. The reduced expenditure in Iraq might also offset the expense of the Afghanistan war, a potentially controversial issue at a time of domestic economic bad times, as Tomdispatch points out.

The withdrawal isn’t entirely as advertised, of course, and won’t be as complete as the SOFA imagines. The 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq as of September will actually be combat troops rebranded as trainers, and will include 4500 special operations forces actively tracking down and fighting guerrilla cells. But aside from the special operations guys, most of the US troops will not be doing active war fighting and will in fact mostly be training Iraqi troops, the quality and capabilities of which are definitely improving.

From September 2010 until December 2011, roughly 3,000 troops on average will come out each month (though that is just an average and the departures may be more bunched up at some points).

In the end, a very small force may remain, of trainers, special operations, and air force. Iraq’s air force planes and helicopters have been ordered but won’t arrive until 2013 and Iraqi pilots will need long and complicated training on them. The remaining US troops will be there, if at all, with the consent of the Iraqi government. They are unlikely to do any war fighting at all on their own. Close air support will likely be provided by the US to Iraqi infantry and armor in any pitched battles with militias from al-Udeid air force base in Qatar or from Incirlik in Turkey.

I very much doubt that any remaining troops, and their numbers will likely be tiny, would be detailed to provide security for Exxon Mobil in developing the oil fields of south Iraq. If the local Iraqis don’t want the oil majors operating there, they can easily sabotage them, and no number of US troops would likely be able to stop the sabotage. (The northern pipeline from Kirkuk to the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean has been routinely sabotaged all the time the US has been in Iraq and the US military has never seemed able to do much about it). Foreign militaries do not operate effectively at the micro level, for the most part. The Iraqi military would have to provide that security, and Iraqi authorities would be best placed to offer local clans incentives to allow the work to go ahead.

Iraq is in the US sphere of influence now, as the Philippines are, but in neither case does this modern form of great power politics require a big military presence. The Neocons’ dream of a division (25,000 – 30,000) US troops permanently in Iraq has been defeated by the Mahdi Army, the Baathists, and Sunni fundamentalists. But it was never a military necessity. In the case of the Neocons, they likely wanted that division as some sort of protection for Israel. It is an outmoded way of thinking.

Whether Iraq will remain in the US sphere of influence is not clear. It is alleged by journalists and retired officials that the US was behind the 1968 coup that brought the Baath Party to power. Yet by the late 1970s Baathist Iraq had developed much closer ties to the Soviet Union and to France than to the US. Iraq could easily drift back away from Washington over time. The new Iraqi elite will be pro-Hizbullah (this Lebanese Shiite party-militia was formed in some important part with the help of Iraqi expatriate members of the Da’wa or Islamic Mission Party in Beirut). Da’wa has since 2005 provided the prime minister for Iraq. In further Israeli-Hizbullah violence, Iraqi Shiites will side with Hizbullah

If US-Iran tensions rise, the new Iraqi political class that Bush did so much to install might well side with Iran, at least behind the scenes. It is already clear that the new Baghdad rejects Israel just as the old one did (and for Shiites ruling in the American shadow, doing so burnishes their Arab nationalist credentials).

Iraq is also clearly eager to develop strong ties with China, which will likely be a superpower by 2020. If the US is too overbearing, the Iraqis could migrate east in their political alliances.

Conservative pundit and media darling Bill Kristol thought that the time was ripe in the 21st century for a restoration of imperial governance on the British Empire model. He was wrong, in this as in everything else, because empire was ended by popular mobilization in the global South, and mobilization is actually easier now than ever before. Empire dispenses with spheres of influence, because direct rule makes the latter (and the hard diplomatic work they entail) unnecessary. But empire is gone, having foundered on the access of the world’s little people to communications technology, party organization, and firearms and munitions.

In the absence of empire, the US can only hope to remain influential in the world by being a good and trusted friend to others and being seen to abide by and champion international law. Future US-Iraqi relations will depend on what the Iraqi public thinks of the US, and will not grow out of the barrel of a gun or out of the imperatives of military bases.

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Lebanese women parading skimpy bikinis, miniskirts or shorts will all technically ‘breaking the law’ …

May 10th, 2010 Comments off
My country: A Joke unto nations!

AFP/ here

“Outlaws & Mavericks…”

“… More than 60 years after the tiny Mediterranean country gained independence from France, its penal code is still bogged down with archaic laws, some of which date back to the Ottoman Empire….. One 1941 law, for example, still prohibits women from donning a two-piece and hitting the beach.

Their punishment? A fine of 250 Lebanese-Syrian pounds — a currency that no longer exists…..

Lebanon has not yet introduced into its legal system words such as “Alzheimer’s”, “Parkinson’s”, or even “coma”. Instead, judges use the words “insane” or “fool” for the person in question — as did their predecessors in the days of Ottoman rule over Lebanon from 1513 to 1918…. A rapist, for example, is let off the hook if he marries his victim, and the perpetrators of “crimes of honour” may benefit from “extenuating circumstances.”……

“Another completely absurd law is one which recognises civil marriage while prohibiting the actual ceremony on Lebanese soil,” Azzi said. “It’s both tragic and comic when a judge can divorce such couples ‘in the name of the Lebanese people’ but ‘under the law of Sweden, France, Cyprus’,” he added.

A 1925 law still forbids women who marry foreigners from passing citizenship on to their children or spouses. Another can land women in prison for two years for adultery — even without being “caught in the act”, a prerequisite for adulterous men to be indicted…..

….. As for shorts and bikinis, these are unlikely to disappear any time soon, archaic laws or not. “You have women who are half naked in nightclubs and on the street and we’re talking about shorts here,” said Roula Nehme, 31, a manager at a Beirut restaurant. “If anything, women are showing more and more flesh and nothing will stop them from doing so.”

…but, Lebanon wins the Hummus war… here

“… Lebanon on Saturday claimed another victory in the continuing battle with Israel over which country can make the largest plate of the chickpea delicacy hummus. The new plate broke all the Guinness record for the world’s largest plate of hummus. Lebanon on Saturday presented a 10452 Kg Hummus plate ( 1 kg per each square Km of Lebanon’s area)…”

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Costa Gravas’s "Z"

May 6th, 2010 Comments off

My favorite political film of all time is Costa Gravas’ “Z”, an allegory about the political situation in Greece in the late 1960s made shortly after the Colonels’ Coup there. It was shot in recently liberated Algeria, with a smattering of great French actors like Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant and the fantastic music of Mikis Theodorakis, who mixed martial beats with the ticks of an IBM Selectric typewriter in a fantastic final scene in which military coup plotters are charged with the murder of Montand’s assassinated politician. Trintignant’s prosecutor who investigates the assassination, with his hyper-chic graduated shades, stays icily cool as he is put under pressure to bury the case. It is a case study in how dictatorships and police states work.

For me, “Z” is not only a perfectly executed political thriller, but a fantastic testimony of the political solidarity that existed across the Mediterranean against a series of takeovers by reactionary forces in the 1960s, often with the backing of the CIA. (Indeed, for much of the world, the 1960s were not a period of great liberation and free love as Westerners tend to remember, but of the establishment of tyrannies.) The irony of course is that “Z” was itself shot in Boumedienne’s Algeria, the product of a coup against Ben Bella which rid the country of any democratic, constitutional institutions.

Many of the scenes in “Z” will seem eerily familiar to Egyptians and others in this region, from the use of plainclothes thugs against democracy activists to the ubiquity of police and army officers and their plots against any challengers. (Right now, an Egyptian might replace “Z” with “B”…) 

I mention this because AUC is hosting Costa Gravas tonight (details after the jump) in a panel discussion with veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau. 

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Veiling ban in Belgium: It is all about the State

May 1st, 2010 Comments off

The bill proposing a ban on the niqab or the kind of Muslim veil that covers the entire face, passed by the lower house of the Belgian parliament, is not really about religion, crime or even immigration. It is about the primacy of state interests over individual preference.

James Scott in his Seeing like a State argues that modern governments need their populations to be “legible” or transparent. In the UK, it has gotten so you cannot go so much as 50 miles without being photographed on closed circuit television.

The state interest is often asserted in niqab debates by arguing that the police have to know who it is they have pulled over for a moving vehicle violation. Of course that the anonymous citizen is an “other” and coded as dangerous, makes state knowledge of the individual all the more imperative.

That it is not a purely east-west issue or Christian-Muslim one is easy to show. Turkey bans not only the full face veil but even just headscarves on public property, e.g. schools.

Likewise, in 2007, Tajikistan forbade any veiling in public places Of course, in the Soviet period the Muslim-heritage Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics insisted that women give up the veil. (See the footnotes for works of Northrop and Kamp on this issue). Again, this move was a way of asserting the primacy of the state in a region where kinship and traditional roles like that of the clergy presented strong rivals to government authority. And the Soviet state was a jealous state.

In Egypt in the past few years, the rector of al-Azhar Seminary (among the foremost such centers of Muslim religious study) has forbidden the full-face veil..

Al-Azhar takes this step because its faculty are mainstream Sunnis, and they fear more radical forms of Islam, such as the Salafi refomists or puritanical Wahhabis, many of whom insist that women wear the full face veil. There is something of a rivalry between Gulf lifeways and those of the Levant, as well (many Gulf women and/or their families prefer the niqab, while it is rare in the Mediterranean). So in the Muslim world a ban on veiling has lots of potential meanings, from sectarian competition to a state preference for secularism.

Amnesty International and some Muslim organizations protested the ban as an infringement against individual liberty.

In a way, they are right. This struggle is a way for the state and major social institutions to inscribe themselves on the bodies of women, the very citizens who produce other citizens.

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Netanyahu Commits to Colonizing East Jerusalem; First Palestinian Expelled under new Policy

April 23rd, 2010 Comments off

The new Israeli policy of deporting Palestinians from the West Bank on arbitrary grounds has kicked in with Ahmad Sabah, who has just been deported to Gaza and separated from his family in the West Bank. The measure contravenes the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations, and it also goes contrary to the undertakings Israel made toward the Palestine Authority in the course of the Oslo peace negotiations.

The episode underlines the ways in which their forced statelessness leaves Palestinians (almost uniquely among major world nationalities) completely vulnerable to loss of the most basic human rights. That he was forcibly moved to Gaza by the Israelis suggests that many of those singled out for potential deportation from the West Bank may be moved to the small slum along the Mediterranean, which the Israelis have cut off from its traditional markets and which they keep under a blockade of the civilian population (a war crime). The Israeli establishment has decided not to try to colonize Gaza, and its isolation and hopelessness make it an attractive place for them to begin exiling West Bank residents, thus making more room for Israeli colonists.

The new policy, which is illegal six ways to Sunday in international law, is the brainchild of the government of far rightwing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, an Israeli hawk and expansionist, slapped President Barack Obama in the face again Thursday when he confirmed that he refused to halt construction of new homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem, which is militarily occupied by Israel.

Netanyahu’s announcement is probably the nail in the coffin of any two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (in which the Israelis have thrown most Palestinians now living beyond the Green Line off their land and deprived them of citizenship in a state and all the rights that go with such citizenship). Palestinians are so despairing that only 57 percent even believe in having an independent Palestinian state any more. The rest are resigned to becoming Israelis in the distant future, when demographic realities and perhaps world-wide boycotts of Israel for its Apartheid-style policies toward the occupied Palestinian will force Israel to accept them.

At the same time, Netanyahu tried to throw sand in peoples’ eyes by talking about recognizing an ‘interim’ Palestinian state with “temporary” borders.

Palestinian leaders reject this formulation, which is intended to allow the Israelis to continue aggressively to colonize Palestinian territory while pretending that they are engaged in a ‘peace process.’ The Palestine Authority, established in the 1990s, was already a sort of interim state then, and Palestine’s borders were then ‘temporary.’ So temporary that Israel has made deep inroads into them through massive colonies and building a wall on the Palestinian side of the border, cutting residents off from their own farms and sequestering entire towns and cities.

Netanyahu’s various moves this week, from illegally expelling a Palestinian from the West Bank to Gaza– to blowing off the president of the United States and hitching his wagon to massive increased colonization of Palestinian land– all of these steps are guaranteed to mire Israel in violent disputes for years and perhaps decades. And the US, which has already suffered tremendously in Iraq and elsewhere from its knee-jerk support of illegal and inhumane Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, will suffer further.

Meanwhile, in the wake of a vicious attack on Barack Obama by New York senator Chuck Schumer, Steve Clemons of the Washington Note frankly wonders whether Schumer understands he is in the US Senate or whether he is under the impression he is serving in the Israeli Knesset.

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