Category - Middle East

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

The London Review of Books, By Seymour M. Hersh, May 21

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’
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As hundreds of civilians killed, Saudis propose pause in Yemen fighting

CNN, By Hakim Almasmari, Jason Hanna & Josh Levs, May 7

Sana’a, YemenSaudi Arabia proposed a five-day ceasefire Thursday in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can be distributed.

The nation of more than 27 million people, to Saudi Arabia’s south, has been racked by war. A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes to assist the ousted, but still internationally recognized, Yemeni government in its fight against Houthi rebels.

“There will be a ceasefire everywhere (in Yemen) or nowhere,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday, sending the message to rebel leaders that violence anywhere in the country could end a ceasefire.

Houthi leadership will meet and discuss the proposal, two senior Houthi officials told CNN.

At a news conference in Riyadh with al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United Sates welcomes the proposal and that work is being done to determine the details. Kerry said he believes more would be announced Friday, when he and al-Jubeir are expected to be in Paris.

Asia Times Online: Rejoice with the ‘new’ House of Saud
Empire Burlesque: Murder’s Loophole: US Cluster Bombs Rain Mass Death on Yemen
Empire Burlesque: Sham and Shame: Saudi-US Slaughter in Yemen Shows Truth of Terror War
CounterPunch: Saudi Arabia’s Attack on Yemen
CTV: Saudi-led airstrikes batter rebel stronghold in Yemen
Gannett’s Military Times: Saudi intensifies bombing of Yemeni rebel stronghold



Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More

Saudis Said to Aid Israeli Plan to Bomb Iran

Exclusive: As the Obama administration is rushing to complete a nuclear agreement with Iran and reduce regional tensions, the Israeli media is reporting on a deal with Saudi Arabia to let Israeli warplanes transit Saudi airspace en route to bombing Iran, reports Robert Parry.

Consortium News, By Robert Parry, February 25

According to an Israeli media report, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli warplanes fly over Saudi territory to save fuel while attacking Iranian nuclear sites, the latest indication of how the two former enemies have developed a behind-the-scenes alliance that is reshaping geopolitics in the Middle East.

“The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran,” a European official in Brussels told Israel’s Channel 2 in a report broadcast on Tuesday and described in other Israeli media outlets.

Riyadh’s only condition was that Israel make some progress in peace talks with the Palestinians, a stipulation that may be mostly cosmetic so the Saudis can save face with other Arab states without really interfering with an Israeli flyover to strike Iran.

Disclosure of this Israeli-Saudi military cooperation comes as the United States and five other world powers rush to finish an agreement with Iran to curtail but not eliminate its nuclear program, which Iran says is only for civilian purposes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to appear before the U.S. Congress on March 3 to undercut President Barack Obama’s negotiations.

The reported Saudi permission for Israeli warplanes to take a shorter route to bomb Iran also suggests that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork for his own plans to attack the Iranian nuclear sites if the international negotiations are successful. Netanyahu has denounced a possible deal as an “existential threat” to Israel.

Snow breaks Istanbul record in Mideast cold snap

Al Arabiya, February 20

Parts of the Middle East continue to grapple with blizzards as heavy snowfall breaks a chilling new record in Istanbul and a third snowstorm in Lebanon prompted the education minister to order all schools in mountainous areas to shut on Friday and Saturday.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality said Thursday that the snowfall in Istanbul has broken a 28-year record in the Turkish city, with snow reaching as high as 75 cm in the Çatalca district, in the westernmost region of greater Istanbul, The Hurriyet Daily reported.

“Our teams used 18,543 tons of salt and 926 tons of [chemical] solution to keep the roads open,” The Hurriyet Daily quoted Istanbul’s municipality as saying in a statement.

Despite the efforts to melt the icy sheets, the record snowfall is said to have paralyzed many areas of the city, and many locals took to social media to complain that the 1987 snow storm did not hurt Istanbul as much.

Hagel Stepping Down as Defense Chief Under Pressure

New York Times, By Helene Cooper, November 24

Washington – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down under pressure, the first cabinet-level casualty of the collapse of President Obama’s Democratic majority in the Senate and a beleaguered national security team that has struggled to stay ahead of an onslaught of global crises…

The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration.

Related, Andrew Bacevich on the Middle East: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Perpetuate Our Middle East Policy Train Wreck.

Dmitri Orlov: How to start a war and lose an empire

I somewhat infrequently read Dmitri Orlov. He’s Russian born, but moved to the US as a child, was educated here and wrote a book called Reinventing Collapse which I found illuminating. He recently penned a piece about our indelicate handling of the rest of the world, taken from his Russian perspective. I don’t necessarily share all of Dmitri’s beliefs, but I do think it important to understand how the world looks from the vantage points of others. How to start a war and lose an empire.

A Climate of Unaccountability

They’re back!  John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney – the people who pushed the U.S. into the devastating mistake that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have discovered yet another existential threat ready and able to destroy the world.  Back then it was Saddam Hussein and his mythical cache of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Now it is ISIS and its army of fanatical jihadists who are torturing, raping, crucifying, decapitating and genocidally killing anyone who stands in the way of the new caliphate they are building in what is left of the nations of Iraq and Syria.  It is precisely because there is a political, military, and economic vacuum in the heart of the Middle East that ISIS is able to thrive and expand.

The tragedy of American foreign policy is that the people who helped create that vacuum – who set into motion a war of aggression and choice – have never been held accountable for their mistake.  So here they are, this time doing the bidding of ISIS, spreading terror and fear into the hearts of the American people, priming the country for yet another war of aggression.  The foreign policy of these cheerleaders is encapsulated in one sentence, which ought to be carved on the tombstone of Bill Kristol, the man who said this: “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?”   Read More

How Saudi Arabia Helped Isis Take Over the North of Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade.

The Unz Review, By Patrick Cockburn, July 13

How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.
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Israel makes first ground incursion in Gaza

Al Arabiya, July 13

Israeli navy commandos launched a ground operation overnight in the north of the Gaza Strip, the first since the offensive against Hamas began, Israeli public radio said early Sunday.

The brief incursion targeted a rocket launcher site, it said in statements quoted by Agence France-Presse.

The armed branch of Hamas confirmed that Israeli commandos had exchanged gunfire with some Palestinian fighters during a raid on the coast of the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The incident is considered the first such gunfight of a six-day Israeli offensive on the territory aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire.

Fox News Latino: Thousands of Palestinians seek safe refuge at U.N. offices in Gaza
New York Daily News: Israeli military orders Palestinians in northern Gaza Strip to evacuate ‘for their own safety’ as death toll rises
BBC: Thousands flee northern Gaza after Israeli warnings
Al Jazeera: Thousands flee Gaza as Israel raids continue

Israel launches major offensive against Hamas militants

AP, July 8

The Israeli military launched what could be a long-term offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday striking nearly 100 sites in Gaza and mobilizing troops for a possible ground invasion aimed at stopping a heavy barrage of rocket attacks against Israel.

The military said “Operation Protective Edge” looks to strike the Islamic Hamas group and end the rocket fire that has reached deeper into Israel and intensified in recent weeks.

[…]

Nearly 300 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel in recent weeks, including a barrage of close to 100 projectiles on Monday alone, the military said, a huge surge after years of relative quiet that followed a previous Israeli campaign to root out Gaza rocket launchers.

Israel has responded with dozens of air strikes, and eight Palestinian militants were killed Monday. Israel had signalled that it would not launch a larger offensive if the militant group Hamas ceased the rocket fire. But at the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the military to prepare options for every scenario.

Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said the current round of hostilities was being dictated by Hamas and Israel would continue its barrage so long as its citizens were under fire from Gaza. “We don’t expect it to be a short mission on our behalf,” he said.

The Guardian: Israel steps up offensive against Gaza – live updates
Ha’aretz: LIVE UPDATES: Israel plans to call up 40,000 IDF reservists

Bill Moyers with Charles Lewis

Here’s the link to the video and transcript: The Lies That Lead to War

The Lies That Lead to War
June 27, 2014

As the exploding crisis in Iraq spotlights once again the tragic record of American policy in the Middle East, Bill speaks with investigative journalist Charles Lewis, whose new book, 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity details the many government falsehoods that have led us into the current nightmare.

Lewis details the deceptions and illusions that have caused “most Americans and their elected representatives to completely ignore facts, logic and reason in the rush to war.” A complicit partner, he says, is a media intent on preserving the status quo and never offending the ruling elite.

Lewis tells Bill, “An outrageous thing happened. We lost $2 trillion. More than 100,000 people died. Folks are going to be maimed for life in the tens of thousands… And no one has ever acknowledged that this was a war on a lark. It was a complete war of choice, because a certain little faction wanted to do it and they orchestrated it… Did they make statements that weren’t true? The answer is yes.”

This week’s show begins with an essay by Bill on the foresight of the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, who, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, predicted the trap in which the West would fall attempting to interfere in the Middle East.

Well…, nothing really new here. No smoking gun revelations…, but it is a message that needs to continue to be sent. Because…, as Lewis says in closing:

…there are a lot of Americans who need to frankly, start paying attention.

Yeah…, we may not be able to make them pay attention…, but we need to damn sure make it hard for them to ignore.

Bill Moyers with Andrew Bacevich

Here’s the link to the transcript and video Chaos in Iraq

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. They said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could turn the smoking gun into a mushroom cloud, and they were wrong. They said Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, and they were wrong. They said the war would be a cakewalk, and they were wrong. Over and again they were wrong, yet 11 years, thousands of lives, millions of refugees, and trillions of dollars later, the very same armchair warriors in Washington who from the safety of their Beltway bunkers called for invading Baghdad, are demanding once again that America plunge into the sectarian wars of the Middle East.

A chorus of kindred voices fills the echo chamber: the same old faces, the same old arguments, never acknowledging the phony premises and fraudulent intelligence that led to disaster and chaos in the first place. A headline at the website ThinkProgress sums it up: “The People Who Broke Iraq Have A Lot of Ideas About Fixing It Now.”

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