Friday, February 20, 2015

 

UN peace coordinator unwelcome by Palestinians

By Nicola Nasser*

The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) did not object to the appointment of new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, although he was described by Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, as “persona non grata” — not trusted by the Palestinians and nor qualified for the job.

The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously voted to appoint Bulgarian Mladenov, 42, to succeed Holland’s Robert Serry. He would also be the representative of the UN secretary general to the International Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and personal representative of the UN chief to the PLO (the State of Palestine) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Although protocol allows the PLO the right to reject diplomatic representatives to the organisation, observers cannot understand why it accepted Mladenov. There is no convincing answer except a futile desire by the PLO to appease the UN and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, at a time when PLO diplomatic efforts are focused on the UN and its agencies.

Mladenov not only failed in a similar mission as UN envoy to Iraq and resigned, he is someone who describes himself — and is described by the leaders of the Israeli occupation — as “a good friend of Israel”. As Bulgarian foreign minister, Mladenov suggested a “military alliance” between Bulgaria and Israel. He has often spoken about his bias towards “Israel’s right to exist” and its right “to defend itself” against Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation. He even admitted to being a Free Mason, served Jewish billionaire George Soros, and publicly advocated the US’s “constructive chaos” policies in the Arab world. In fact, his Jewish origins may be the least controversial aspect of him.

Meanwhile, the occupation state does not hesitate in ignoring the UN, its resolutions and representatives, disregarding and even assassinating them when necessary. Most recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to “expel” Mladenov’s predecessor Serry as “persona non grata”. Shortly before that, William Schabas, the head of the UN commission investigating the occupation’s recent war on the Gaza Strip, resigned after Israel refused to cooperate with him or allow him to enter the country.

After the UN tolerated the assassination of its first envoy to Palestine, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, at the hands of the Zionist Stern Gang led by Yitzhak Shamir (who later became prime minister of the occupation state), Israel was emboldened to adopt a permanent policy of disregarding the UN without deterrence so far.

In fact, over the past two years the occupation state has carried out a proxy war against the UN. It has facilitated logistics, intelligence, firepower and medical assistance to allow the domination of militias fighting the Syrian regime on its side of the disengagement zone between the liberated and occupied Arab Syrian Golan. This compelled the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to withdraw after its positions were attacked, dozens of its troops kidnapped and their weapons and equipment seized. Until today, the UN has not dared to rectify the situation, which resulted in the collapse of the UN-sponsored ceasefire and rules of engagement between Syria and Israel.

The Middle East is teeming with international peace envoys. The UN has one, so does the US, the EU, Russia, China and the Quartet. Their names change without anything on the ground in occupied Palestine changing. Except for expanding the occupation through settlements under the “peace” umbrella these envoys provide, without any hope that the international community they represent will be able to effect any real tangible change for the present and future of the Palestinian people on the ground.

So what can Mladenov do that his predecessors, the UN, the Quartet, the Arab League and others, couldn’t?

Khaled believes the real test, to remove Palestinian doubts about Mladenov’s role and mission, will be his position on the siege on Gaza and reconstruction there. However, Mladenov’s track record does not indicate there is cause for optimism. Nor does the track record of “UN special coordinators” since the creation of the position in 1994 and the subsequent expansion of its role, as well as the extensive history of choosing UN and US envoys of Jewish origins or related in the first degree to Jews, such as Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Quartet representative Tony Blair.

On 6 February, the secretaries general of the UN and Arab League issued a joint statement expressing “deep concern” about conditions in Gaza. They urged Arab and international donors to honour their financial pledges made at the Cairo Conference last October “as soon as possible”, in order to rebuild the Gaza Strip and end the siege there. A few days ago, James Rowley, UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, sent out an “urgent call” for these commitments to be fulfilled and an “immediate” lift of the siege on Gaza, because he is “very concerned another conflict will break out” if not.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the statement by the Quartet on 8 February after it met in Munich, Germany, as “short of expectations” because it ignored “all the old-new and evolving truths” of the occupation state.

The Quartet also said it is “deeply concerned” about the “difficult conditions in Gaza where reconstruction needs to be quicker” and urged donors to “pay their financial pledges as soon as possible”. However, it linked this to encouraging both sides to “restart negotiations as soon as possible”.

Restarting talks “as soon as possible”, nonetheless, must await the outcome of general elections in Israel and the US. This means the Palestinian people must wait for another two years in the vain hope of reconstructing Gaza. It is obvious the occupation state is enjoying the luxury of time, making easy the occupation without resistance, as well as building settlements without deterrence.

Before handing over the reins to Mladenov, Serry described the failure of donors to pay their dues as “scandalous” and warned “if there is no progress in the coming months” — not two years — towards a two-state solution, “the reality will be a one state [solution]”: the single state of Israel. Former UN coordinator Terry Rod Larsen said in 2002, “the Palestinian patient is dying in the interim.”

Last December, Serry warned in his report to the Security Council that a war in Gaza “could re-ignite if conditions on the ground do not change” in the besieged Gaza Strip. It is clear that what Serry described as a “deadly diplomatic vacuum” coupled with the ongoing siege on rebuilding Gaza, are an explosive recipe in the besieged Gaza Strip, the outcome and ramifications of which are unpredictable.

The “scandal” of donors not paying their dues to rebuild Gaza, as Serry described it, under the pretext that the PLO government does not control the Gaza Strip, is a green light given by the international community to the occupation state to carry out another military assault on national resistance forces in Gaza.

The scandal of Arabs not paying their pledges at Arab summits to provide the PA with a financial “safety net” amounts to flagrant Arab pressure on the PLO to accept the Quartet’s proposal to restart talks with the occupation state “as soon as possible”.

This is Mladenov’s dual mission as the new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. PLO negotiators continue to wait for a breakthrough by “peace” envoys that are imposed on them and appointed by the US and the UN, although they represent the occupation state. Mladenov is the most recent. He will not change anything on the ground.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 February 2015.      




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 

Fighting ‘Islamic State’ is not the Israeli priority

By Nicola Nasser*

Defying a consensus that it is a priority by the world community comprising international rivals like the United States, Europe, Russia and China and regional rivals like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Israel, like Turkey, does not eye the U.S. – led war on the IS as its regional priority. Nor fighting Israel is an IS priority.

The Israeli top priority is to dictate its terms to Syria to sign a peace treaty with Israel before withdrawing its forces from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Palestinian territories and Lebanese southern lands.

For this purpose, Israel is determined to break down the SyriaIran alliance, which has been the main obstacle preventing Israel from realising its goals. Changing the ruling regime in either Damascus or Tehran would be a step forward. Towards this Israeli strategic goal the IS could not be but an Israeli asset.

“To defeat ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as the IS was previously known) and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly last September.

Therefore, “it should not come as a surprise that the (Benjamin) Netanyahu government has not yet taken any immediate steps against IS,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy on September 15.

However, information is already surfacing that Israel is “taking steps” in the opposite direction, to empower the IS and other terrorist groups fighting and infighting in Syria.

Israeli daily Haaretz on last October 31 quoted a “senior Northern Command officer” as saying that the U.S. – led coalition “is making a big mistake in fighting against ISIS … the United States, Canada and France are on the same side as Hezbollah, Iran and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. That does not make sense.”

Regardless, on September 8 Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has provided “satellite imagery and other information” to the coalition. Three days later Netanyahu said at a conference in Herzliya: “Israel fully supports President [Barack] Obama’s call for united actions against ISIS … We are playing our part in this continued effort. Some of the things are known; some of the things are less known.”
Obama’s call was the green light for Israel to support Syrian and non- Syrian rebels. Syrian official statements claim that Israel has been closely coordinating with the rebels.

Israeli statements claim theirs is confined to “humanitarian” support to “moderate” Syrian opposition, which the U.S. has already pledged to train and arm in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. A significant portion of the $64 billion earmarked for conflicts abroad in the budget legislation signed by Obama on December 19 will go to these “moderates.”

Both Israel and the U.S. have no headaches about whether the “moderates” would remain as such after being armed with lethal weapons or whether it remains appropriate to call them “opposition.”

But the Israeli “humanitarian” claim is challenged by the fact that Israel is the only neighbouring country which still closes its doors to Syrian civilian refugees while keeping its doors wide open to the wounded rebels who are treated in Israeli hospitals and allowed to return to the battle front after recovery.

IS close to Israeli borders

The Israeli foreign ministry on last September 3 confirmed that the U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff whom the IS had beheaded was an Israeli citizen as well. In a speech addressed to Sotloff’s family, Netanyahu condemned the IS as a “branch” of a “poisonous tree” and a “tentacle” of a “violent Islamist terrorism.”

On the same day Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon officially outlawed the IS and anyone associating with it.

On September 10, Netanyahu convened an urgent security meeting to prepare for the possible danger of the IS advancing closer to the Israeli border, a prospect confirmed by the latest battles for power between the IS and the al – Nusra Front on the southern Syrian – Lebanese borders and in southern Syria, within the artillery range of Israeli forces.

On November 9, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM), which has been operating against the Egyptian army, released an audio clip pledging allegiance to the IS to declare later the first IS Wilayah (province) in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, south of Israel.

On last November 14 The Israeli Daily quoted Netanyahu as saying in a private defense meeting that the IS is “currently operating out of Lebanon … close to Israel’s northern border. We must take this as a serious threat.”

However, “in truth, as most of Israel's intelligence community has been quick to point out, there are no signs that anything of the sort is actually happening,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy five days later.

Moshe Ya’alon told journalists in September that “the organization operates far from Israel” and thus presents no imminent threat. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, on November 14, wrote: “The present and former generals who shape Israel's policy can only smile when this ‘danger’ is mentioned.”

Israel “certainly does not see the group as an external threat” and the “Islamic State also does not yet pose an internal threat to Israel,” according to Israeli journalist and Associate Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations,  Dimi Reider, writing in a Reuters blog on last October 21.

What Netanyahu described as a “serious threat” in the north does not yet dictate any Israeli action against it because “we must assume that Hizballah,” which is allied to Syria and Iran, “does not have its house in order,” according to the Israeli premier.

The presence of the IS Wilayah on its southern border with Egypt is preoccupying the country with an internal bloody anti-terror conflict that would prevent any concrete Egyptian contribution to the stabilization of the Arab Levant or support to the Palestinians in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of their land, let alone the fact that this presence is already pitting Egypt against Israel’s archenemy, Hamas, in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and creating a hostile environment that dictates closer Egyptian – Israeli security coordination.

Therefore, Israel is not going to “interfere” because “these are internal issues of the countries where it is happening.” Israel is “informally … ready to render assistance, but not in a military way and not by joining the (U.S. - led) coalition” against the IS, according to the deputy head of the Israeli embassy in Moscow, Olga Slov, as quoted by Russian media on November 14.

Jordan is another story

However, Israel’s eastern neighbours in Jordan and Syria seem another story.

Jordan feels threatened by IS. We will cooperate with them one way or another,” ambassador Slov said. Jordanian media has been reporting that more than 2000 Jordanians had already joined al-Qaeda splinter the IS, al-Qaeda’s branch al-Nusra Front or other rebels who are fighting for an “Islamic” state in Syria. Hundreds of them were killed by the Syrian Arab Army.

The Daily Beast on last June 27 quoted Thomas Sanderson, the co-director for transnational threats at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying that Israel considers the survival of Jordan as “a paramount national security objective.”

If Jordan requested Israeli assistance in protecting its borders, Israel would have “little choice” but to help, the Beast quoted the director of the Israeli National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, as saying.

As a precaution measure, Israel is building now a 500-kilometre “security fence” on its border with Jordan.

While Israel is willing and getting ready to “interfere” in Jordan, it is already deeply interfering in Syria, where the real battle has been raging for less than four years now against terrorists led by the IS.

A few weeks ago The Associated Press reported that the IS and the al-Nusra had concluded an agreement to stop fighting each other and cooperate on destroying the U.S. – trained and supported rebels (The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Hazm movement) as well as the Syrian government forces in northern Syria.

But in southern Syria all these and other terrorist organizations are coordinating among themselves and have what Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) called “a gentleman’s agreement” with Israel across the border, according to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy on June 11.

Last October, Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, al-Nusra, was among the rebel groups which overtook the only border crossing of Quneitra between Syria and the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights. Israel has yet to demonstrate its objection.

“Many Sunnis in Iraq and the Gulf consider ISIS a bullet in their rifles aimed at Shiite extremism, in their bid to restore their lost standing,” Raghida Dergham, a columnist and a senior diplomatic correspondent for the London – based Arabic Al-Hayat daily, wrote in the huffingtonpost on September 19.

A political public agreement between Israel and the Gulf Arabs has developed on a mutual understanding that the dismantling of the SyriaIran alliance as a prelude to a “regime change” in both countries is the regional priority, without loosing sight of the endgame, which is to dictate peace with Israel as the regional power under the U.S. hegemony. The IS is “the bullet in their rifles.” From their perspective, the U.S. war on the IS is irrelevant, for now at least.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).     




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

 

Israeli role in Syrian conflict brought into the open

By Nicola Nasser*

Overtly, the Israeli superpower of the Middle East has been keen to posture as having no role whatsoever in the four-year old devastating conflict in Syria, where all major regional and international powers are politically and militarily deeply involved and settling scores by Syrian blood.

In his geopolitical weekly analysis, entitled “The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East,” on November 25 Stratfor’s George Friedman raised eyebrows when he reviewed the effects which the terrorist group had on all regional powers, but seemed unaware of the existence of the Israeli regional superpower.

It was an instructive omission that says a lot about the no more discreet role Israel is playing to maintain what the Israeli commentator Amos Harel described as the “stable instability” in Syria and the region, from the Israeli perspective of course.

Friedman in fact was reflecting a similar official omission by the US administration. When President Barak Obama appealed for a “broad international coalition” to fight the Islamic State (IS), Israel -- the strongest military power in the region and the well - positioned logistically to fight it -- was not asked to join. The Obama administration explained later that Israel’s contribution would reflect negatively on the Arab partners in the coalition.

“Highlighting Israel’s contributions could be problematic in terms of complicating efforts to enlist Muslim allies” in the coalition, said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at AIPAC’s arm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Covertly however Israel is a key player in prolonging the depleting war on Syria and the major beneficiary of neutralizing the military of the only immediate Arab neighbor that has so far eluded yielding to the terms dictated by the U.S. - backed Israeli regional force majeure for making peace with the Hebrew state.

Several recent developments however have brought the Israeli role into the open.

First the latest bombing of Syrian targets near the Damascus international civilian airport on December 7 was the seventh major unprovoked air strike of its kind since 2011 and the fifth in the past 18 months on Syrian defenses. Syrian Scientific research centers, missile depots, air defense sites, radar and electronic monitoring stations and the Republican Guards were targeted by Israel.

Facilitating the Israeli mission and complementing it, the terrorist organizations operating in the country tried several times to hit the same targets. They succeeded in killing several military pilots and experts whom Israeli intelligence services would have paid dearly to hunt down.

Foreign Policy on last June 14 quoted a report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki – moon as saying that the “battle – hardened Syrian rebels ... once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria,” describing the arrangement as a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in February this year visited this “military field hospital” and shook hands with some of the more than 1000 rebels treated in Israeli hospitals, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Foreign Policy quoted also Ehud Yaari, an Israeli fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying that Israel was supplying the rebel – controlled Syrian villages with medicines, heaters, and other humanitarian supplies. The assistance, he said, has benefited civilians and “insurgents.” Yaari ignored the reports about the Israeli intelligence services to those “insurgents.”

Israel facilitates war on UNDOF

Second, the latest quarterly report by the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 1 confirmed what eight previous similar reports had stated about the “interaction … across the (Syrian – Israeli) ceasefire line” between the IOF and the “armed members of the (Syrian) opposition,” in the words of Ki-moon’s report to the Council on December 4.

Third, Ki-moon in his report confirmed that the UNDOF “was forced to relocate its troops” to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line, leaving the Syrian side a safe haven zone for the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, which the UNSC had designated a “terrorist group.”

UNDOF’s commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha told the UNSC on October 9 that his troops were “under fire, been abducted, hijacked, had weapons snatched and offices vandalized.” Australia was the latest among the troop contributing countries to pull out its forces from UNDOF.

UNDOF and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) operate in the buffer zone of about 80 km long and between 0.5 to 10 km wide, forming an area of 235 km². The zone borders the Lebanon Blue Line to the north and forms a border of less than 1 km with Jordan to the south. It straddles the Purple Line which separates the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights from Syria. The west Israeli side of this line is known as "Alpha", and the east Syrian side as "Bravo."

Speaking at the U.S. military base Fort Dix on Monday, President Obama warned those who “threaten America” that they “will have no safe haven,” but that is exactly what Israel is providing them.

Israeli “interaction” has practically helped the UNDOF “to relocate” from Bravo to Alpha and to hand Bravo as a safe haven over to an al-Nusra Front – led coalition of terrorist groups.

Al-Nusra Front is officially the al – Qaeda affiliate in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Committee on Foreign relations on this December 9 that his administration considers the IS to be a branch of al – Qaeda operating under a different name. Both terrorist groups were one under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and only recently separated. Whoever accommodates either one is in fact courting the other.

“The 1,200-strong UN force is now mostly huddled inside Camp Ziouani, a drab base just inside the Israeli - controlled side of the Golan Heights. Its patrols along the de facto border have all but ceased,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on last September 18.

Israeli air force and artillery intervened several times to protect the al-Nusra Front’s “safe haven” against fire power from Syria, which is still committed to its ceasefire agreement of 1974 with Israel. Last September for example, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was bombing the Front’s positions, only three weeks after shooting down a Syrian drone over the area.

Israel is not violating the Syrian sovereignty only, but violating also the UN – sponsored ceasefire agreement and the UNSC anti-terror resolutions. More important, Israel is in fact undermining the UNDOF mandate on the Israeli – occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

This situation could only be interpreted as an Israeli premeditated war by proxy on the UN presence on the Golan Heights.

Israel is the most interested in having (UN) peacekeepers evacuated from the occupied Golan so as to be left without international monitoring,” Syria’s permanent envoy to the UN, Bashar al- Jaafari, told reporters on September 17.

The UNSC seems helpless or uninterested in defending the UNDOF mandate on the Golan against Israeli violations, which risk the collapse of the 1974 ceasefire arrangements.

Syrian Foreign Ministry was on record to condemn these violations as a “declaration of war,” asserting that Syria reserves its right to retaliate “at the right moment and the right place.” Obviously a regional outbreak is at stake here without the UN presence as a buffer.

Upgrading unanimously Israel’s status from a “major non – NATO ally” to a “major strategic partner” of the United States by the U.S. Congress on December 3 could explain the UNSC inaction.

The undeclared understanding between the Syrian government and the U.S. – led coalition against the self – declared “Islamic State” (IS) not to target the latter’s forces seems to have left this mission to Israel who could not join the coalition publicly for subjective as well as objective reasons.

The AP on September 18 did not hesitate to announce that the “collapse of UN peacekeeping mission on Golan Heights marks new era on IsraelSyria front.” Aron Heller, the writer of the AP report, quoted the former Israeli military liaison officer with UNDOF, Stephane Cohen, as saying: “Their mandate is just not relevant anymore.” Heller concluded that this situation “endangers” the “status quo,” which indeed has become a status quo ante.

Israeli strategic gains

The emerging fait accompli seems very convenient to Israel, creating positive strategic benefits for the Hebrew state and arming it with a pretext not to withdraw the IOF from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian territories.

In an analysis paper published by The Saban Center at Brookings in November 2012, Itamar Rabinovich wrote that, “Clearly, the uncertainty in Syria has put the question of the Golan Heights on hold indefinitely. It may be a long time until Israel can readdress the prospect of giving the Golan back to Damascus.”

Moreover, according to Rabinovich, “the Syrian conflict has the potential to bring the damaged Israeli – Turkish relationship closer to normalcy … they can find common ground in seeking to foster a stable post – Assad government in Syria.”

The hostile Turkish insistence on toppling the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, the concentration of the IS and other rebel forces in the north of the country and in central, eastern and southern Syria are diverting the potential and focus of the Syrian Arab Army northward and inward, away from the western front with the Israeli occupying power on the Golan Heights.

The protracted war on the Syrian government is depleting its army in manpower and materially. Rebuilding the Syrian army and the devastated Syrian infrastructure will preoccupy the country for a long time to come and defuse any military threat to Israel for an extended time span.

On the Palestinian front, the rise of the IS has made fighting it the top U.S. priority in the Middle East, which led Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to several U.S. administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to warn in Foreign Policy early in September that the rise of the IS would pose “a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood.”

The expected fallback internally of the post – war Syria would “hopefully” relieve Israel of the Syrian historical support for the Palestinian anti – Israeli occupation movements, at least temporarily.

Netanyahu on Sunday opened a cabinet meeting by explicitly using the IS as a pretext to evade the prerequisites of making peace. Israel “stands … as a solitary island against the waves of Islamic extremism washing over the entire Middle East,” he said, adding: “To force upon us” a timeframe for a withdrawal from the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, as proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN Security Council, “will bring the radical Islamic elements to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem. We will not allow this.”

Israel is also capitalising on the war on the IS to misleadingly portray it as identical with the Palestinian “Islamic” resistance movements because of their Islamic credentials. “When it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas,” Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on September 29.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).     




Friday, November 21, 2014

 

Gaza bombings rock Palestinian reconciliation

By Nicola Nasser*

It is ironic that the annual commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat should turn into an occasion for rekindling the flames of internal strife. This was clearly the aim of last week’s bombings that targeted the homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza, as well as the podium for the commemorative ceremonies of Arafat, who strove to make Palestinian national unity one of the pillars of his political legacy.

How desperately those concerned need to be inspired by the political legacy of that great president.

During a visit to demonstrate solidarity with the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyar, where settlers, under the protective eye of occupation soldiers, set fire to a mosque, Director of the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Kamel Abu Aliya remarked that his ministry have documented 20 similar attacks on mosques in the West Bank since 2011.

In targeting mosques, the occupation is clearly targeting major symbols of national and popular unity. Mosques, by definition, gather people together rather than drive them apart. Inside the mosque all the factions of the national struggle that are at odds with each other assemble as one with their fellow men, in solid ranks with a single heart.

The occupation has never foregone any means at its disposal to drive a wedge into the Palestinian national ranks. This has not changed. So it is ironic that the bombings would become an occasion to present the occupation with the gift of factional polarisation and a war of words, at a time when the factions most need to be united, and that they would serve to turn the national compass away from Jerusalem, on which Arafat had set his national compass until his dying breath.

But here is another important point. Both sides of the dispute — Fatah and Hamas — have condemned the attacks, denied all charges of responsibility and insist on the need to conduct an investigation into bombings as quickly as possible.

If these two factions can agree on these points, what would keep them from agreeing to form a joint fact-finding committee that would include representatives from all other factions (most notably the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front) and independent figures from civil society that would be committed to publishing its findings in fulfilment of the right of the Palestinian people to know the truth?

Moreover, why couldn’t the creation of a joint committee such as this become a new mechanism for enhancing national reconciliation and ending acrimonious exchanges before they spiral out of control?

In this regard, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that he is not interested in “an investigation by them” — referring to Hamas, of course — but does not propose an alternative investigatory mechanism, he is not helping efforts to unearth the truth, which his people are more eager to learn than the two factions whose protracted dispute has exhausted their people.

But the most appalling irony resides in their aversion to turning the finger of accusation in the direction of the ultimate beneficiary from all this — namely, the Israeli occupation authority and its state. A focus on that beneficiary would suffice, in and of itself, to contain the dangerous repercussions of the bombings on national unity and, simultaneously, to expose the truth about the existence of parties who fear their interests would be jeopardised by the end of the rift in both the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip.

These parties are exploited, knowingly or not, by the occupation, and collectively they form a “fifth column” that works to obstruct the process of national reconciliation in order to safeguard their interests.

But even if those who carried out the bomb attacks were Palestinian this does not obscure the identity of the first and foremost beneficiary. This, moreover, comes at a time when the occupation is escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people under occupation.

It is increasing its forces in the West Bank, intensifying its repressive measures and moving to augment its budget for settlement expansion. More significantly, the Israeli government recently approved a bill of law to extend the laws of the Israeli state to the Jewish colonies in the West Bank, as is the case in East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In other words, we are effectively speaking of another Israeli annexation bid.

The history of dissension and strife is repeating itself. A statement by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) urges Fatah and Hamas to exercise restraint and to remain alert to the conspiracies that are being woven against the Palestinian people.

It cautions the two factions against falling into the Israeli trap of igniting Palestinian discord and urges them to give competent agencies and relevant political authorities sufficient time to unearth the threads of the crime.

Yet this statement, which applies perfectly to the current situation, was issued by the PFLP in July 2008 after four Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigade members were killed in a bombing on Gaza beach. At the time, Hamas accused Fatah and the Fatah charged Hamas with carrying out an “internal purge.”

Nothing appears to have changed, apart from the fact that today Fatah accuses Hamas of planting the bombs and the latter responds that the attack was related to an internal conflict inside Fatah. In both cases, the occupation power and its government come out innocent!

That rush to judgment and finger pointing before the smoke has cleared is suspicious and raises questions regarding the political motives behind such reactions. One is reminded of a similar case of accusations that were hurled after the assassination of  former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005.

Before his blood had dried some fingers in Lebanon pointed to Syria, even though it was palpably evident that Damascus could not have been behind the crime as it was fully aware that it could only be harmed by the consequences.

The same applies to Hamas today. After its long political experience it would realise that it could only stand to lose from the Gaza bombings.

The hands that carried out the bombings in Gaza might be Palestinian and even Fatah or Hamas hands, but those who issued the orders could not have been Palestinian decision-makers. Anyone familiar with the history of Palestinian assassinations knows this.

The perpetrators may have been motivated by personal interests but the consequences cannot possibly serve Palestinian interests, factional or otherwise. They can only serve the occupation authority and its state, especially as the victim is certainly the Palestinian people and their national unity.

The fifth column that benefits from Palestinian division and that feels threatened by its end is still searching for opportunities to sabotage Palestinian national reconciliation. It must have seen the Gaza bombings as a perfect opportunity to fan the flames of discord, offering a service free of charge to the occupation (presuming the best possible intentions under that situation), or not free of charge (presuming the worst).

It does not take much effort to reach the above conclusion. However, building on it by containing the unpatriotic repercussions of the attacks requires great thought and effort in order to prevent outbursts of factional acrimony or to keep them contained in order to safeguard national reconciliation from collapse.

This is essential to ensure that the reconstruction of Gaza moves forward, to sustain the national unity government and to return the focus to solidifying national ranks in the face of the occupation’s ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, their security and wellbeing and their sanctities, and behind the political battle that the Palestinian presidency is waging in the international arena.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on November 20, 2014.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

By Nicola Nasser*

Dismantling what the former US President George W. Bush once described as the Syria – Iran component of the “axis of evil,” or interrupting in Iraq the geographical contiguity of what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent,” was and remains the strategic goal of the US – Israeli allies in the Middle East unless they succeed first in “changing the regime” in either Damascus or Tehran.

The US, Israel and their regional allies have been on the record that the final target of their “regime change” campaign in the Middle East was to dismantle the SyriaIran alliance.

With the obvious failure of Plan A to dismantle the self- proclaimed anti-Israel and anti - US Syrian – Iranian “Resistance Axis” by a forcible “regime change” in Damascus, a US – led regional alliance has turned recently to its Plan B to interrupt in Iraq the geographical contiguity of that axis.

This is the endgame of President Barak Obama’s strategy, which he declared on last September 10 as ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS).

This would at least halt for the foreseeable future all the signed and projected trilateral or bilateral Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian pipeline networks to carry oil and gas from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian coast at the Mediterranean.

Israeli Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council anticipated in writing on last January 21 what he called the “Salafi Crescent” that is dangerously emerging to challenge the “Shia Crescent.”

“The growing involvement of Sunni Salafi jihadis in Iraq (since 2003), among the rebels in Syria (since 2011), and in Lebanon has created a ‘Salafi Crescent’ … from Diyala [in eastern Iraq] to Beirut,” he wrote.

“A positive outcome” of this Salafi Crescent “will be the decline in Iranian influence in the region,” Shay concluded.

Conspiracy theories aside, the eventual outcome is a sectarian Sunni military and political wedge driven into the Iraqi geographical connection of the Iran-Syria alliance in a triangle bordering Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Jordan in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south and extending from north eastern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala which borders Iran.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already effectively an independent state and cut off from the central government in Baghdad, but separating Iran and Syria as well and supported by the same US – led anti – IS coalition.

Amid the misinformation and disinformation, the fact is that the IS threat is being used as a smokescreen to confuse and blur this reality.

The IS was conceived and delivered in an American womb. The US – drafted and enforced current constitution produced the sectarian government that is still trying to rule in Iraq. Sectarian cleansing and exclusion of Sunnis could not but inevitably create its antithesis.

The IS was the illegitimate fetus born and nurtured inside the uterus of the US -   engineered political process based on a constitution legalizing a federal system based in turn on sectarian and ethnic sharing of power and wealth.

This horrible illegitimate creature is the “legacy” of the US war on Iraq, which was “conceived” in the “sin” of the US invasion of the country in 2003, in the words of the president of the Arab American Institute, James J. Zogbi, writing in the Jordan Times on last June 16.

US Senator John McCain, quoted by The Atlantic on last June 23, thanked “God,” the “Saudis and Prince Bandar” and “our Qatari friends” for creating the “monster.”

The pro-Iran government of former Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki was squeezed by the IS military advances to “request” the US help, which Washington preconditioned on the removal of al-Maliki to which Iran succumbed. The IS gave Obama’s IS strategy its first success.

However, al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi in August has changed nothing so far in the sectarian component of the Iraqi government and army. The US support of Iraq under his premiership boils down only to supporting continued sectarianism in the country, which is the incubator of the survival of its IS antithesis.

Moreover, the destruction of the Iraqi state infrastructure, especially the dismantling of Iraq’s national army and security agencies and the Iraqi Baath party that held them intact, following the US invasion, has created a power vacuum which neither the US occupation forces nor the sectarian Shiite militias could fill. The IS was not powerful per se. They just stepped in on a no-man land.

Similarly, some four years of a US – led “regime change” effort, which was initially spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is still financed, armed and logistically facilitated by the US regional allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as by allied western intelligence services, has created another power vacuum in Syria, especially on border areas and in particular in the northern and eastern areas bordering Turkey and Iraq.

US Senator Rand Paul in an interview with CNN on last June 22 was more direct, accusing the Obama administration of “arming” and creating an IS “safe haven” in Syria, which “created a vacuum” filled by the IS.

“We have been fighting alongside al Qaeda, fighting alongside ISISISIS is now emboldened and in two countries.  But here's the anomaly.  We're with ISIS in Syria.  We're on the same side of the war.  So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria.  That is the real contradiction to this whole policy,” he said.

The former 16 - year member of the US Congress and two - time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, writing in the http://www.huffingtonpost.com on last September 24, summed it up: The IS “was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.”

The US ‘Trojan horse’

The IS could have considered playing the role of a US “Frankenstein,” but in fact it is serving as the US “Trojan horse” into Syria and Iraq. Fighting the IS was the US tactic, not the US strategy.

On record, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “the best way of fighting ISIS and terrorism in the region is to help and strengthen the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have been engaged in a serious struggle” against the IS. But this would not serve the endgame of Obama’s strategy, which targets both governments instead.

Beneficiaries of the IS “Trojan horse” leave no doubts about the credibility of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian doubts about the real endgame of the US – led declared war on the IS.

The United States was able finally to bring about its long awaited and promoted “front of moderates” against Iran and Syria into an active and “air-striking” alliance, ostensibly against the IS.

In Iraq, the IS served the US strategy in wrestling back the so called “political process” from the Iranian influence by proxy of the former premier al – Maliki. Depriving al – Maliki of a third term had proved that there is no unified Iran – backed “Shia house” in Iraq. The US has its own influence inside that “house.”

Installing a US Iraqi satellite was the strategic goal of the US – led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Instead, according to Doug Bandow, writing in Forbes on last October 14,Bush’s legacy was a corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian state, friendly with Iran and Syria, Washington’s prime adversaries in the Middle East. Even worse was the emergence of the Islamic State.”

This counterproductive outcome of the US invasion, which saw Iran wielding the reigns of power in Baghdad and edging Iraq closer to Syria and Iran during the eight years of al-Maliki’s premiership, turned the red lights on in the White House and the capitals of its regional allies.

Al-Maliki, whom Bush had designated as “our guy” in Baghdad when his administration facilitated his premiership in 2006, turned against his mentors.

He edged Iraq closer to the Syrian and Iranian poles of the “axis of evil.” Consequently he opposed western or Israeli military attack on Iran, at least from or via the Iraqi territory. In Syria, he opposed a regime change in Damascus, rejected direct military “foreign intervention” and indirect proxy intervention and insisted that a “political solution” is the only way forward in Iraq’s western Arab neighbor.

Worse still was his opening Iraq up to rival Chinese and Russian hydrocarbon investments, turning Iraq a part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipeline network and buying weapons from the Russian Federation.

Al- Maliki had to go. He was backed by Iran to assume his second term as prime minister in spite of the US, which backed the winner of the 2010 elections for the post, Ayad Allawi. The US had its revenge in the 2014 elections. Al-Maliki won the elections, but was denied a third term thanks to US pressure.

The IS was the US instrument to exert that pressure. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Baghdad on last June 23 warned that Iraq was facing “an existential threat.”

It was a US brinkmanship diplomacy to force al-Maliki to choose between two bad options: Either to accept a de facto secession of western and northern Iraq on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan or accept the US conditional military support. Al-Maliki rejected both options, but he had paid the price already.

The turning point came with the fall of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul to the IS on last June 10. Iraqi Kurdistan inclusive, the northern and western Iraq, including most of the crossing points into Syria and Jordan in the west, were clinched out of the control of Baghdad, i.e. some two thirds of the area of Iraq. Al-Maliki was left to fight this sectarian Sunni insurgency by his sectarian Iran-backed Shiite government. This was a non-starter and was only to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation.

Al- Maliki and Iran were made to understand that no US support was forthcoming to reign in the IS until he quits and a less pro-Iran and a more “inclusive” government is formed in Iraq.

The creation of the IS as the sectarian Sunni alternative against Iran’s ruling allies in Baghdad and Damascus was and is still the US tactic towards its strategic endgame. Until the time the US strategy succeeds in wrestling Baghdad from Iran influence back into its fold as a separating wedge between Iran and Syria, the IS will continue to serve US strategy and so far Obama’s strategy is working.

“America is using ISIS in three ways: to attack its enemies in the Middle East, to serve as a pretext for U.S. military intervention abroad, and at home to foment a manufactured domestic threat, used to justify the unprecedented expansion of invasive domestic surveillance,” Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University, wrote in http://www.counterpunch.org/ on last September 19.

As a doctrine, since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate early in the twentieth century, western powers did their best to keep Arabs separated from their strategic depth in their immediate Islamic proximity. The SyriaIran alliance continues to challenge this doctrine.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).     



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