Conn Hallinan

The Dark Saudi-Israeli Plot to Tip the Scales in Syria

A quiet meeting this past March in Saudi Arabia, and a recent anonymous leak from the Israeli military, set the stage for what may be a new and wider war in the Middle East.

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Violent Fascists and Anti-Semites: The Dark Side of the Ukraine Revolt

The April 6 rally in Cherskasy, a city 100 miles southeast of Kiev, turned violent after six men took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beat the Kikes” and “Svoboda,” the name of the Ukrainian ultranationalist movement and the Ukrainian word for “freedom.
– Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 12, 2013

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How Canada Became Subservient to Washington's Imperial Agenda

Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors. That explains why the answer to the joke “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road?” is “To get to the middle.”

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No End in Sight to the War-Spawned Chaos Engulfing Afghanistan

Gunmen in Pakistan on Monday set ablaze five trucks carrying NATO equipment out of Afghanistan as the international military alliance winds down it combat mission there, officials said.

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The Butcher Bill for Syria Is Going to Reach Well Over 70,000 People, and Even More Mideast Chaos

In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime—Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents—Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas.

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Why Civilian Control of the US Military Is Deeply Threatened

For decades the U.S. military has waged clandestine war on virtually every continent on the globe, but, for the first time, high-ranking Special Operations Forces (SOF) officers are moving out of the shadows and into the command mainstream. Their emergence suggests the U.S. is embarking on a military sea change that will replace massive deployments, like Iraq and Afghanistan, with stealthy night raids, secret assassinations, and death-dealing drones. Its implications for civilian control of foreign policy promises to be profound.

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Is War About to Break Out on the Israeli-Lebanese Border?

While the Middle East -- indeed, the world -- is riveted by the on-going crisis around Iran’s nuclear program, the most immediate danger of a war may be on Israel’s border with Lebanon: “Exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous” was how the Independent’s Robert Fisk described it last month.

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Is Israel About to Trigger a New Middle East War?

When Israeli Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled said recently that a war with Lebanon's Hezbollah was "just a matter of time" and that such a conflict would include Syria, most observers dismissed the comment as little more than posturing by a right-wing former general. But Peled's threat has been backed by Israeli military maneuvers near the Lebanese border, violations of Lebanese airspace, and the deployment of an anti- missile system on Israel's northern border.

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Disturbing Idea of Expelling Arabs from Israeli Territory Gains Ground

One of the more disturbing developments in the Middle East is a growing consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel -- in the words of advocates "transfer" -- its Arab citizens to either a yet as unformed Palestinian state or the neighboring countries of Jordan and Egypt.

Such sentiment is hardly new among Israeli extremists, and it has long been advocated by racist Jewish organizations like Kach, the party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as groups like the National Union, which doubled its Knesset representation in the last election.

But "transfer" is no longer the exclusive policy of extremists, as it has increasingly become a part of mainstream political dialogue. "My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines," Kadima leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a group of Tel Aviv high school students last December, "and among other things, I will be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, ' your national solution lies elsewhere.'"

Such talk has consequences.

According to the Israeli Association for Civil Rights, anti-Arab incidents have risen sharply. "Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism that damages freedom of expression and privacy," says Sami Michael, the organization's president. Among the Association's findings:

* Some 55 percent of Jewish Israelis say that the state should encourage Arab emigration;

* 78 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose including Arab parties in the government;

* 56 percent agree with the statement that "Arabs cannot attain the Jewish level of cultural development";

* 75 percent agree that Arabs are inclined to be violent. Among Arab-Israelis, 54 percent feel the same way about Jews.

* 75 percent of Israeli Jews say they would not live in the same building as Arabs.

The tension between Israeli democracy and the country's Jewish character was the centerpiece of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party's campaign in the recent election. His party increased its Knesset membership from 11 to 15, and is now the third largest party in the parliament.

Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement near Bethlehem, calls for a "loyalty oath" from Arab-Israelis, and for either expelling those who refuse or denying them citizenship rights. During a Knesset debate last March, Lieberman told Arab deputies, "You are only temporarily here. One day we will take care of you."

Such views are increasing, particularly among young Jewish Israelis, among whom a politicized historical education and growing hopelessness about the future has fueled a strong rightward shift.

In a recent article in Haaretz, Yotam Feldman writes about a journey through Israel's high schools, where students freely admit to their hatred of Arabs and lack of concern about the erosion of democracy.

"Sergei Liebliyanich, a senior, draws a connection between the preparation for military service in school and student support for the Right" Feldman writes, "' It gives us motivation against the Arabs. You want to enlist in the army so you can stick it to themI like Lieberman's thinking about the Arabs. Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud Party] doesn't want to go as far."

Feldman polled 10 high schools and found that Yisrael Beiteinu was the most popular party, followed by Likud. The left-wing Meretz Party came in dead last.

In part, the politicalization of the education system is to blame.

Mariam Darmoni-Sharviot, a former civics teacher who is helping implement the 1995 Kremnitzar Commission's recommendations on education and democracy, told Feldman, "When I talk to a civics class about the Arab minority, and about its uniqueness in being a majority that became a minority, my students argue and say it's not true that they [Arabs] were a majority." She said when she confronted teachers and asked why students didn't know that Arabs were a majority in 1947, the teachers become "evasive and say it's not part of the material."

In part, students reflect the culture that surrounds them.

"Israeli society is speaking in two voices," says Education Minister Yuli Tamir. "We see ourselves as a democratic society, yet we often neglect things that are very basic to democracy. If the students see the Knesset disqualifying Arab parties, a move that I've adamantly opposed, how can we expect them to absorb democratic values?"

All the major Israeli parties voted to remove two Arab parties, United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad, from the ballot because they opposed the Gaza war. Balad also calls for equal rights for all Israelis. Kadima spokesperson Maya Jacobs said, "Balad aims to exterminate Israel as a Jewish state and turn it into a state for all its citizens." Labor joined in banning Balad, but not Ta'al.

The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the move and both parties ended up electing seven Knesset members in the recent election.

"The ultimate aim here," says Dominic Moran, INS Security Watch's senior correspondent in the Middle East, "is to sever the limited ties that bind Jews and Arabs, to the point that the idea of the transfer of the Arab-Israeli population beyond the borders of the state, championed by Yisrael Beiteinu, gains increasing legitimacy."

This turn toward the Right also reflects an economic crisis, where poverty is on the rise and the cost of maintaining the settlements in the Occupied Territories and Israel's military is a crushing burden. Peace Now estimates that the occupation costs $1.4 billion a year, not counting the separation wall. Israel's military budget is just under $10 billion a year. According to Haartez, the Gaza war cost $374 million.

Some 16 percent of the Jewish population fall below the poverty line, a designation that includes 50 percent of Israeli Arabs.

"The Israeli reality can no longer hide what it has kept hidden up to now -- that today no sentient mother can honestly say to her child: ' Next year things will be better here,'" says philosophy of education professor, Ilan Gur-Ze'ev. "The young people are replacing hope for a better future with a myth of a heroic end. For a heroic end, Lieberman fits the bill."

Intercommunity tension manifests itself mainly in the Occupied Territories, where the relentless expansion of settlements and constant humiliation of hundreds of Israeli Army roadblocks fuels Palestinian anger.

This past December, settlers in Hebron attacked Palestinians after the Israeli government removed a group of Jewish families occuping an Arab-owned building. In response, the settlers launched "Operation Price Tag" to inflict punishment on Palestinians in the event the Tel Aviv government moves against settlers. Rioters torched cars, desecrated a Muslim cemetery, and gunned down two Arabs.

Settler rampages on the West Bank are nothing new, even though they receive virtually no coverage in the U.S. media. But a disturbing trend is the appearance of extremist settlers in Israel. Late last year Baruch Marzel, a West bank settler and follower of Kahane, threatened to lead a march through Umm al-Fahm, a largely Arab-Israeli town near Haifa.

"We have a cancer in our body capable of destroying the state of Israel," Marzel told The Forward, "and these people are in the heart of Israel, a force capable of destroying Israel from the inside. I am going to tell these people that the land of Israel is ours."

Arab-Israelis charge that settlers -- some of them extremists re-settled from Gaza three years ago -- played a role in last year's Yom Kippur riots in the mixed city of Acre and forced Arab families our of their houses in the east part of the city. Arabs make up about 14 percent of Acre and 20 percent of Israel.

Rabbi Dov Lior, chair of the West Bank Rabbinical Council, has decreed, "It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel."

The Adallah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights is urging Israeli Attorney General Mernachem Mazuz to investigate "Wild incitement to racism against Arabs in general and the [Arab] residents of Acre in particular."

On Oct. 15, three days after the Acre riots, two Arab apartments in Tel Aviv were attacked with Molotov cocktails. Seven Jewish men were arrested. The Arab residents of Lod and Haifa charge that they too are being pressured to move.

In the case of Lod, municipal authorities are open about their intentions. Municipal spokesman Yoram Ben-Aroch denied that the city discriminates against Arabs, but told The Forward that municipal authorities want Lod, to become "a more Jewish town. We need to strengthen the Jewish character of Lod and religious people and Zionists have a big part to play in this strengthening."

However, the growing lawlessness of West bank settlers and Jewish nationalists has begun to unsettle the authorities in Tel Aviv. After rightwing extremists tried to assassinate Peace Now activist Professor Zeev Sternhell, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said the intelligence organization was "very concerned" about the "extremist right" and its willingness to resort to violence.

Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "We are not willing to live with a significant group of people that has cast off all authority," and called Operation Price Tag a "pogrom."

So far, however, the government and Shin Bet have done little to rein in the rising tide of rightwing terror, which is aimed at Jews as well as Arabs.

Ahmad Tibi of the Arab Ta'al Party says that while Arab Israelis feel threatened by what Ben Gurion University political scientist Neve Gordan calls a "move toward xenophobic politics," Tibi warns that, "It is the Jewish majority that should be afraid of this phenomenon."
 

Israel Treated Gaza Like Its Own Private Death Laboratory

Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist, worked in Gaza hospitals during the recent war."It was as if they had stepped on a mine," he says of certain Palestinian patients he treated. "But there was no shrapnel in the wound. Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before."

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Starting the Next Cold War

Military alliances are always sold as things that produce security. In practice they tend to do the opposite.

Thus, Germany formed the Triple Alliance with Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to counter the enmity of France following the Franco-Prussian War. In response, France, England and Russia formed the Triple Entente. The outcome was World War I.

In 1949, the United States and Britain led the campaign to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deter a supposed Soviet attack on Western Europe. In response, the Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact. What the world got was not security but the Cold War, dozens of brushfire conflicts across the globe, and enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth a dozen times over.

NATO Lives On

The Cold War may be over, but you would never know it from NATO's April meeting in Bucharest. The alliance approved membership for Croatia and Albania, and only French and German opposition prevented the Bush administration from adding the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

"NATO," President Bush told the gathering, "is no longer a static alliance focused on defending Europe from a Soviet tank invasion. It is now an expeditionary alliance that is sending its forces across the world to help secure a future of freedom and peace for millions." NATO will soon begin deploying anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that are supposedly aimed at Iran, but which the Russians charge are really targeted at them. The alliance has encircled Russia with allies and bases, is increasingly sidelining the United Nations, has added troops to Afghanistan, and is preparing to open shop in the Pacific Basin.

But politics is much like physics: for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Shanghai Strikes Back

In this case the reaction is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an organization that embraces one quarter of the world's population, from Eastern Europe to North Asia, from the Arctic to the vast steppes and mountain ranges of Central Asia. Formed in 2001, its members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO is, in the words of a Financial Timeseditorial, "everything that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger -- who sought to keep Russia and China apart -- tried to prevent."

According to Chinese Foreign Minister Yeng Jiechi, last August's SCO meeting in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, prioritized "mapping out Sino-Russian ties and upgrading bilateral strategic coordination." The two nations also agreed "to join forces to tackle other major security issues, in a concerted effort to safeguard the strategic interests of both countries."

It is useful to remember that it was less than 40 years ago that Chinese and Soviet troops clashed across the Ussuri River north of Vladivostok. According to China's People's Daily, SCO discussions included strengthening the U.N. and "the common challenge facing the two countries, emanating out of the U.S. plans to deploy the missile-defense plans targeting Europe and the East."

China is deeply concerned about the Bush administration's anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) which could cancel out Beijing's modest Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) force. This past May 23, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao issued a joint statement condemning the ABM as a threat to "strategic balance and stability."

The Bishkek summit adopted a declaration that took direct aim at the Bush administration's foreign policy, including condemning "unilateralism" and "double standards," supporting "multilateralism," and "strict observance of international law," and underlining the importance of the U.N.

Is the SCO evolving into a political alliance with a strong military dimension, like NATO? Not yet, but its member states have carried out joint "anti-terrorist" maneuvers, and the organization is closely tied to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The Un-NATO

The CSTO, established in 2002, includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. It is a full-blown military alliance whose members have pledged to come to one another's support in case of an attack. It is currently developing a rapid-reaction force similar to the one being built by NATO.

M. K. Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat who served as India's ambassador to Uzbekistan, argues that that the two organizations may eventually merge. "The SCO may focus on the range of so-called 'new threats' [terrorism] rather than on the conventional form of military threats, while the CSTO would maintain a common air-defense system, training of military personnel, arms procurement, etc."

In the same week that the SCO met in Bishkek, the Russians announced their response to NATO's ABM system: a resumption of strategic air patrols, improving Moscow's anti-missile system, modernizing the Topol-M ICBM, and constructing new missile firing submarines.

Next Stop: Central Asia

To counter the SCO's growing influence -- the organization now has official observer status at the U.N., and a working relationship with the Association of South East Asian Nations -- the United States launched a "Great Central Asia" strategy to try and drive a wedge between Central Asian nations and Russia, and to woo India by playing on New Delhi's apprehension of China's growing power.

But, according to Bhadrakumar, the Central Asian part of the strategy is not likely to be very successful, with the possible exception of Turkmenistan. With the United States deeply mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, "U.S. stock is very low" in the region.

Washington may have more success with India, but New Delhi is clearly of two minds about the SCO. On one hand, many Indians are nervous about the growing power of China. On the other, India desperately needs the energy resources of Central Asia.

India will probably chart a middle course, keeping itself free of political alliances, but making sure it doesn't do anything that might disrupt the flow of gas and oil to its growing industries. For instance, New Delhi sharply rejected the Bush administration's efforts to halt a pipeline deal between India and Iran.

Whether the SCO will turn into an eastern NATO is by no means clear, but the economic side of the alliance is solidly grounded in self-interest.

NATO in Trouble

NATO, on the other hand, is an alliance in trouble. While the organization has agreed to help bail the United States out of the Afghan quagmire, member nations are hardly enthusiastic about the war. At the April meeting the U.S. plea for more troops turned up 700 French soldiers. As Anatol Lieven, a professor of War Studies at King's College London, points out, this comes to one for every 400 square miles of Afghanistan.

NATO did back the ABM deployment, but no one besides Washington is breaking out the champagne. Some 70% of the Czech public opposes it, and the Poles are using the issue to blackmail the United States into modernizing its military. As one U.S. policy analyst cynically remarked to Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman, the ABM is "a system that won't work, against a threat that doesn't exist, paid for by money we don't have."

The U.S. ABM program has run up a bill of over $100 billion and, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report, it hasn't been successfully tested with "sufficient realism."

Translation: the tests are rigged.

If NATO falls apart, and the SCO never develops into a military alliance, history suggests that we will probably all be better off. Military alliances have a way of making people miscalculate, and miscalculating in a world filled with nuclear weapons is a dangerously bad idea.

Silence Is Betrayal

Dan Handelman is haunted by two images of Iraq that most Americans never see on television.

One is a frail two-year-old slowly dying of dehydration in a Basra hospital while his mother sits next to him, helpless to stop the ravages of diarrhea and infection. He is, according the World Health Agency, one of the 5,000 Iraqi children who die of water-borne diseases and malnutrition each month.

The other is a group of children begging in the streets. "There were no beggars in Baghdad before the Gulf War, and now many of them have to beg rather than be in school," he says. Indeed, Iraq used to have the highest literacy rate in the Arab world -- 95 percent -- but according to UNICEF, 30 percent of its children no longer attend school.

Handleman, a member of Friends of Voices in the Wilderness, is from Portland, Oregon, and along with a handful of other Americans, has traveled to Iraq to witness first hand the ravages of war and sanctions--and to record what is being done in our name.

The young boy in Basra is dying because the U.S. systematically targeted water purification plants and electrical generators in the 1991 Gulf War. We certainly didn't bomb those targets by accident. According to Col. John Warden, the deputy director of strategy, doctrine, and plans for the U.S. Air Force, the purpose of the attacks was "to accelerate the effects of [economic] sanctions" and increase "long-term leverage."

The bombing knocked out almost 97 percent of the country's electrical capacity, a disaster in a highly mechanized and electricity dependent society like Iraq. In the first eight months following the war, 47,000 children died of diseases like cholera, typhoid, and gastroenteritis. More than a half million have followed them in the past decade, and infant mortality has tripled.

Much of the responsibility for this rests on the shoulders of the Clinton administration, which knew what was happening to Iraq's children. In 1996, Leslie Stahl of CBS asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but price, we think the price is worth it."

Such bombing is in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly states that "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works."

There is a cruelty in all this that most Americans would recoil from. "The sanctions let water pumps in," says Handleman (which are essential for combating water-borne diseases), "but not the ball bearings that they need to function." He adds the sanctions let in syringes, "but not needles. You can get IV (intravenous) bags for combating dehydration, but not the needles that allow you to put the fluids into a child."

The so-called "Food for Oil" program has been a flat-out failure, and not, according to the UN, because of the Hussein government. "The magnitude of the humanitarian needs is such," states a 1999 UN report, "that they cannot be met within the parameters set forth in Resolution 986,"(the Security Council resolution that set up Food for Oil).

Malnutrition is spreading, in large part according to the UN, because of the "massive deterioration of the basic infrastructure, particularly in the water supply and disposal system." Besides the deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure, the backwash of war also continues to take a steady toll on Iraqi civilians. Southern Iraq was saturated with almost a million rounds of Depleted Uranium Ammunition, which has raised radioactive levels 150 to 200 times over background levels.

Basra Hospital Director Akram Abed Hassan says, "Our cancer incidence has increased 10 times during the past few years. Before, we had very few patients under 30, now we're operating on 10-year-old girls with breast cancer." Leukemia and kidney failure rates have also risen sharply.

The Bush administration says we are after Saddam Hussein, but for the past 10 years, as Handelman points out, the victims have been "the 23 million people of Iraq." A new war, he argues, will immeasurably worsen an already terrible situation.

Iraq lost several thousand civilians in Gulf War I, and the Pentagonrojects Gulf War II will kill another 10,000, not counting those who will die from the consequences of bombing. Of course, in a sense, we are already at war with Iraq. The U.S. and Britain have dropped more bombs on Iraq since 1999 than were dropped on Serbia in the Kosovo War, and have sharply stepped up the air campaign over the past two weeks.

That bombing has taken a steady toll on civilians, as it has in Afghanistan. For all the hype about "smart bombs" and "surgical strikes," more than 3,000 Afghan civilians have died from U.S, bombs, and it is scary to contemplate what an aerial assault on Baghdad, a city of five million, will do.

All of this will be carried out in our name unless Americans do something to stop it. "A time has come when silence is betrayal," Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said about Vietnam, another war that targeted civilians, "that time is now."

Conn Hallinan is provost at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus.

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