June 2012 Archives


This extraordinary revelation just in from Associate Press. Surely it is only a matter of time before the US recognises what’s going on in Israel . These are blatant examples of racial profiling and privacy violations, and how can it be acceptable that the Israeli government has the right to turn back from their country persons who are sympathetic to the needs of Palestinian people! Father Dave

Israel asks Arab visitors to open emails to search

JERUSALEM (AP) — When Sandra Tamari arrived at Israel’s international airport, she received an unusual request: A security agent pushed a computer screen in front of her, connected to Gmail and told her to “log in.”

The agent, suspecting Tamari was involved in pro-Palestinian activism, wanted to inspect her private email account for incriminating evidence. The 42-year-old American of Palestinian descent refused and was swiftly expelled from the country.

Tamari’s experience is not unique. In a cyber-age twist on Israel’s vaunted history of airport security, the country has begun to force incoming travelers deemed suspicious to open personal email accounts for inspection, visitors say.

Targeting mainly Muslims or Arabs, the practice appears to be aimed at rooting out visitors who have histories of pro-Palestinian activism, and in recent weeks, has led to the expulsion of at least three American women.

It remains unclear how widespread the practice is.

However, asked about Tamari’s claims, the Shin Bet security agency confirmed she had been interrogated and said its agents acted in accordance with the law.

Israel has a long history of using ethnic profiling, calling it a necessary evil resulting from its bitter experience with terrorist attacks. Arab travelers and anyone else seen as a risk are often subjected to intense questioning and invasive inspections, including strip searches.

The security procedures appear to be getting stricter: Recent searches of journalists at official events have been invasive enough to create a series of mini-uproars and walkouts — a situation that has dovetailed with increasing concerns that the government is trying to stifle dissent.

Diana Butto, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority and a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said the policy of email checks, once used sporadically, appears to have become more widespread over the past year.

Butto said she has led three tour groups to the region over the past year, and in each case, at least one member of the group was asked to open their email. She said Muslims, Arabs and Indians were typically targeted, and in most cases, were denied entry.

Butto said agents typically want to see people’s itineraries, articles they have written or Facebook status updates.

“The problem is there’s no way to honestly say you’re coming to visit the West Bank without falling into some type of security trap,” she said. “Either you lie and risk being caught in a lie, or you tell the truth … and it’s not clear whether you’ll be allowed in.”

Tamari, who is from St. Louis, said she arrived in Israel on May 21 to participate in an interfaith conference. She described herself as a Quaker peace activist and acknowledged taking part in campaigns calling for boycotts and divestment from Israel.

Given her activism, Tamari said she expected some security delays. But she was caught off guard by the order to open her email account. She said the agents discovered her address while rifling through her personal papers.

“That’s when they turned their (computer) screens around to me and said, ‘Log in,” she said. When she refused, an interrogator said, “‘Well you must be a terrorist. You are hiding something.'”

Tamari said she was searched, placed in a holding cell and flown back to the U.S. the following day. “The idea that somebody my age, a Quaker, on a peace delegation with folks from the U.S., would be denied entry — that never crossed my mind,” she said.

Najwa Doughman, a 25-year-old Palestinian American from New York City, said she underwent a similar experience when she arrived for a one-week vacation on May 26.

A female interrogator ordered Doughman to open her Gmail account, threatening she would be deported if she didn’t.

“She typed in gmail.com… and she turned the keyboard toward me and said, ‘Log in. Log in now,'” Doughman recounted. “I asked, ‘Is this legal?’ She said, ‘Log in.'”

She said the agent searched for keywords like “West Bank” and “Palestine” and made fun of a chat in which Doughman talked of reading graffiti on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.

“After she read a bunch of stuff, humiliating and mocking me, I said, ‘I think you’ve read enough,'” Doughman said, adding that agents jotted down names and emails of her friends as they inspected her chat history.

Doughman’s traveling companion, Sasha Al-Sarabi, said agents pulled her aside and checked out her Facebook page.

Both women said they were approached because of their Arab family names, and were repeatedly asked about the nature of their visit, and whether they planned to go to the West Bank and participate in anti-Israel demonstrations.

While acknowledging she belonged to Palestinian activist groups when she was in college, Doughman said she insisted the one-week visit was purely for a vacation.

“The interrogator asked me, ‘Do you feel more Arab or more American? … Surely you must feel more Arab,” Doughman said. “I told her I was born in the U.S. and studied there, but she didn’t like my answer.”

After hours of questioning, both women were told they would not be allowed in. They said they were subjected to strip searches, placed in a detention center and sent back to the U.S. the following day. Doughman said they weren’t allowed to call the U.S. Embassy.

American Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said the embassy does not comment on specific cases. But he said the embassy is “usually” contacted whenever an American citizen is not allowed to enter Israel, or any other country.

The embassy typically remains in contact with local authorities throughout the process until a decision on entry is made.

He said the U.S. stresses to all governments “to treat American passport holders as Americans, regardless of their ethnic origin … At the same time, any sovereign nation has the right to decide who to let in, and not to let in.”

Israel has become increasingly strict following a series of run-ins with international activists in recent years, highlighted by a deadly clash two years ago between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Both sides accused the other of provoking the violence in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Since then, Israel has prevented international activists from arriving on similar flotillas as well as a pair of “fly-ins” by pro-Palestinian activists. Israeli officials acknowledge they used social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, to identify activists ahead of time and prevent them from boarding flights to Israel.

Emanuel Gross, a law professor at Haifa University, said such a practice would seem to be illegal in Israel.

“In Israel, you need a search warrant to go into somebody’s computer,” he said. “I’m skeptical that the security guards asked a judge first for a warrant and I’m skeptical that a judge would give it.”

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

This is encouraging news. Perhaps Norman Finkelstein is right – that the mood in the US really is changing? Certainly this is a blow to those who would inhibit free speech in American University campuses, even when that free speech is directed critically at Israel! Father Dave

Date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 3:36 PM

In blow to Zionist censors, California backs professor’s right to call for Israel boycott on state university website

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Tue, 06/05/2012 – 20:03


Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses continues to grow despite attacks by Israel lobby groups.

(Maureen Clare Murphy / The Electronic Intifada)

The Attorney General of California has rejected a request by a Zionist group to prosecute a professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) for “misuse of state resources” because he uses university servers to host a website on which he campaigns for the boycott of Israel.

As The Electronic Intifada reported in January, CSUN mathematics professor David Klein has been under intense fire from Zionist groups for organizing in opposition to the California State University system’s resumption of a study abroad program in Israel. In April, the Global Frontier Justice Center asked the California Attorney General to investigate and prosecute Klein.

Klein told me today that he was pleased and surprised by the decision of the Attorney General not to prosecute him, which he learned of by letter.

“I saw the letter in my mailbox and I thought uh-oh here we go, but then I opened it and heaved a sigh of relief,” Klein said, “I hope that it is a source of encouragement to other faculty members to do similar things, to go ahead and take a public stand against apartheid in Israel and ethnic cleansing, and all the injustices there.

The attacks on Klein prompted USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, of which he is an organizer, to launch a petition in his support.

Call to prosecute Klein for expressing his views

In April, the Global Frontier Justice Center sent a letter to the California Attorney General, alleging “the prolonged and continuous violation of a state statute” by Klein “and the complicity of his employer” for using his university webpage to express his opinions.

The letter went on to list Klein’s thought crimes, including, “(1) expressing hostility toward the State of Israel; (2) painting the Palestinian people as victims only–not aggressors; (3) encouraging people to boycott Israeli goods, Israeli scholarship and academics, and Israeli sports,” and encouraging other forms of divestment and boycott activities.

Attorney General finds claims against Klein baseless

In a 17 May letter to the Global Frontier Justice Center’s lawyers, a copy of which Klein posted on his website, the Attorney General’s office rejected the claims:

Thank you for your letter to Attorney General Harris concerning the alleged misuse of state resources by Professor David M. Klein. The Department of Justice is committed to upholding and enforcing state laws, and we take allegations like these very seriously.

We have carefully reviewed the letter and materials you sent to this office on April 2, 2012, in which you request we prosecute an alleged misuse of the name and resources of the California State University, Northridge by Dr. Klein. Because we conclude upon review that the evidence provided does not support a finding of misuse of such name and resources, we find no basis for any action on our part.

Latest setback to “lawfare” efforts

“I’m not sure that their efforts are over but I think this is a defeat for them that they’ve been unable to enlist any legal authority to take action against me,” Klein said of Global Frontier Justice Center.

Klein praised the strong support he has received from university administrators, especially CSUN Interim President Harry Hellenbrand who has publicly stood by Klein’s right to free speech.

In April, Hellenbrand distributed a public letter on campus titled “J’Accuse: The New Anti-Anti-Semitism” in which he dismissed accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Klein as “partisan and sectarian” and noted that, “invoking the apparatus of the state to proscribe broad categories of speech in hubs of innovation and disruption like public universities will have the paradoxical effect of chilling public exchange while heating up zealotry.”

The failed effort to bring state censorship down on Klein represents the latest setback for Zionist groups attempting to use “lawfare” – legal harassment – to silence and intimidate the Palestine solidarity movement.

In February, a judge in Olmypia, Washington threw out an Israel-backed lawsuit intended to force the Olympia Food Co-op to abandon its boycott of Israeli goods.

And in January, a federal judge in San Francisco threw out a lawsuit by members of a Zionist student organization alleging that administrators at the University of California Berkeley had allowed an “anti-Semitic climate” to develop due to the activities of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Organization.

Who is the Global Frontier Justice Center?

The Global Frontier Justice Center has also threatened to sue the University of New Mexico over a protest by students at a speech by StandWithUs propagandist Nonie Darwish at which theprotesting students were physically attacked.

But the organization appears to be have little real-world existence. It has a Twitter account, which only tweeted twice, on 2 April, in relation to David Klein:

CSUN Professor’s Use of Public Resources to Bash the Jewish State Could Subject Him to Thousands in Fines twitdoc.com… @terrychea

— GFJusticeCenter (@GFJusticeCenter) April 2, 2012

— GFJusticeCenter (@GFJusticeCenter) April 2, 2012

The web address given in its Twitter bio (gfjc.org…) is a dead link. It has a Facebook pagelaunched in April and active for only a few days, which states:

The Global Frontier Justice Center is a civil rights law organization dedicated to enforcing basic human rights through the legal system.

However, virtually every posting on the page is about Israel.

There is no listing on Guidestar for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the name “Global Frontier Justice Center.”

A front for Israeli far-right group Shurat Hadin

It would appear that the Global Frontier Justice Center is a front for Shurat Hadin a well-funded far-right Israeli lawfare group known also known as the Israel Law Center.

The 2 April Global Frontier Justice Center letter demanding prosecution of Klein is signed by two people: Kenneth A. Leitner Esq., and Meir Katz.

16 October 2011 Jerusalem Post article identifies Kenneth A. Leitner as the “director of American affairs” of Shurat Hadin. The article reported that the group was set to launch a “hotline” for “Jewish college students who are victims of anti-Semitism on their campuses.” The article adds:

“It is time for us to go on the legal offensive,” said Leitner, who noted that the trend of campus anti-Semitism is growing. “We want Jewish students to know that there is a number to call when they are victimized by extremist groups promoting anti-Israel and anti- Semitic hate on American college campuses.”

It appears that Shurat Hadin did go on the offensive against Klein, but the California Attorney General was not buying it. It is unclear whether Kenneth Leitner is related to Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the founder of Shurat Hadin.

A call to Leitner early this morning was not returned by the publication time of this post.

Shurat Hadin: Stifling human rights work and celebrating crime

Among Shurat Hadin’s efforts to stifle the Palestinian solidarity movement was its filing of spurious legal complaints in Greece intended to stop flotilla boats from sailing to Gaza last summer.

And, according to Max Blumenthal, Shurat Hadin is partly funded by John Hagee, the Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and homophobic radical Christianist founder of Christians United For Israel.

And what about that commitment to “civil rights” and the law? Shurat Hadin sponsors an annual “Ultimate Mission to Israel” on which tourists who pay thousands of dollars can observe or participate in illegal activities and human rights abuses, such as watching Palestinians paraded through Israel’s military kangaroo courts in the occupied West Bank, or going on jaunts in occupied Syria.

The package even includes an “Inside Tour of the IAF [Israel Air Force] Unit Who Carries Out Targeted Killings” – in other words you might even become an accessory to planning extrajudicial executions in occupied territories.

None of that bothers Shurat Hadin, of course, because the group denies that there are any “occupied Palestinian territories” in the first place.

Links to the Amcha Initiative

The Global Frontier Justice Center’s 2 April letter is cc’d to a number of state and California State University administrators and to one person who is neither a state official nor university administrator: one Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.

Rossman-Benjamin is the founder of the Amcha Initiative, which as Kristin Szremski reported in April is a newly-formed group that has lobbied California university administrators to clamp down on student Palestine solidarity activists.

In February, Amcha tried and failed to convince the California State University system to refuse to sponsor lectures by historian Ilan Pappe. Amcha’s request was rejected by three presidents of CSU campuses at which Pappe was scheduled to speak.

In his April open letter, CSUN Interim President Hellenbrand said that if Amcha had its way, it would “eliminate nearly all political speech that had the slightest trace of public funding in higher education.” CSU, at least, has not been prepared to pay that price for the sake of shielding Israel from criticism and thankfully the Attorney General agrees.


Sonja Karkar of Australians for Palestine writes:

Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are fighting for their most basic rights.  It is critical that the voices of people around the

world remain raised and clear, calling for freedom for all Palestinian prisoners.  Please contact your government representatives urging them to demand that Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike receive immediate medical attention and release and that Israel bring to an end the isolation of Palestinian prisoners and allow them contact with their families and lawyers.  It is the least that we can expect from our world’s leaders who remind us constantly of the need to uphold human rights while blatantly ignoring the basic rights and dignity of Palestinian prisoners under Israel’s punitive system.  In Australia, please contact Foreign Minister Bob Carr

War rages on Palestinian soccer – Free Mahmoud Sarsak (81 days on hunger strike)


by Ramzy Baroud

The Palestine Chronicle

6 June 2012

On June 4, Palestinian national soccer team member Mahmoud Sarsak completed 81 days of a grueling hunger strike. He had sustained the strike despite the

fact that nearly 2,000 Palestinian inmates had called off their own 28-day hunger strike weeks ago.

Although the story of Palestinian prisoners in Israel speaks to a common reality of unlawful detentions and widespread mistreatment, Sarsak’s fate can also be viewed within its own unique context. The soccer player, who once sought to take the name and flag of his nation to international arenas, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in July 2009 while en route to join the national team in the West Bank.

Sarsak was branded an “illegal combatant” by Israel’s military judicial system, and has since been imprisoned without any charges or trial.

Sarsak is not alone in the continued hunger strike. Akram al-Rekhawi, a diabetic prisoner demanding proper medical care, has refused food for over 50 days.

At the time of writing of this article, both men were reportedly in dire medical condition. Sarsak, once of unmatched athletic build, is now gaunt beyond recognition. The already ill al-Rekhawi is dying.

According to rights groups, an Israeli court on May 30 granted prison doctors 12 more days before allowing independent doctors to visit the prisoners, further prolonging their suffering and isolation. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI), which has done a remarkable job battling the draconian rules of Israeli military courts, continues to petition the court to meet with both Sarsak and al-Rekhawi, according to Ma’an news agency.

Sadly, the story here becomes typical. PHRI, along with other prisoners’ rights groups, are doing all that civil society organizations can do within such an oppressive legal and political situation. Families are praying. Social media activists are sending constant updates and declaring solidarity. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is merely looking on – not due to any lack of concern for human rights, but due to the selective sympathy of Western governments and media.

Think of the uproar made by US media over the fate of blind Chinese political activist Chen Guangcheng. When he took shelter in the US embassy in Beijing, a near-diplomatic crisis ensued. Guangcheng was finally flown to the US on May 19, and he recently delivered a talk in New York before an astounded audience.

“The 40-year-old, blind activist said that his lengthy detention [of seven years] demonstrates that lawlessness is still the norm in China,” reported the New York Post on May 31. “Is there any justice? Is there any rationale in any of this?” Chen asked. Few in the US media would contend with the statement. But somehow the logic becomes entirely irrelevant when the perpetrator of injustice is Israel, and the victim is a Palestinian. Al-Rekhawi is not blind, but he has many medical ailments. He has been in Ramle prison clinic since his detention in 2004, receiving severely inadequate medical care.

Sarsak, who has been a witness to many tragedies, is now becoming one. The 25-year old had once hoped to push the ranking of his national team back to a reasonable standing. If Palestinians ever deserve to be called “fanatics”, it would be in reference to soccer. As a child growing up in Gaza, I remember playing soccer in increments of a few minutes, braving Israeli military curfews, risking arrest, injury and even death. Somehow, in a very crowded refugee camp, soccer becomes tantamount to freedom.

Palestine’s ranking at 164th in the world is testament not to any lack of passion for the game, but to the constant Israeli attempts at destroying even that national aspiration.

The examples of Israeli war on Palestinian soccer are too many to count, although most of them receive little or no media coverage whatsoever. In 2004, Israel blocked several essential players from accompanying the national team out of Gaza for a second match against Chinese Taipei. (Palestine had won the first match 8-0.) The obstacles culminated in the March 2006 bombing of the Palestinian Football Stadium in Gaza, which reduced the grass field to a massive crater. Then, in the war on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead 2008-09), things turned bloody as Israel killed three national soccer players: Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe. It also bombed their stadium again.

Sarsak was a promising new face of Palestinian soccer. In times of Palestinian disunity and factionalism, it was the national team that kept a symbolic unity between Gaza and the West Bank – and indeed Palestinians everywhere. These young men exemplify hope that better times are ahead. But Sarsak’s star is now fading, as is his life. His mother, who hasn’t seen him since his arrests, told Ma’an that she thinks of him every minute of each day. “Why is there no one moving to save his life?” she asked.

Writing in the Nation on May 10, Dave Zirin wrote:

“Imagine if a member of Team USA Basketball – let’s say Kobe Bryant – had been traveling to an international tournament only to be seized by a foreign government and held in prison for three years without trial or even hearing the charges for which he was imprisoned … Chances are all the powerful international sports organizations – the IOC [International Olympic Committee], [global football’s organizing body] FIFA – would treat the jailing nation as a pariah until Kobe was free. And chances are that even Laker-haters would wear buttons that read, ‘Free Kobe’.”

Sarsak is the Bryant of his people. But ask any political commentator and he will tell you why Mohmoud Sarsak is not Kobe Bryant, and why al-Rekhawi is not Chen. It is the same prevalent logic of a powerful Washington-based pro-Israel lobby and all the rest.

Even if the logic was founded, why are international sports institutions not standing in complete solidarity with the dying Sarsak? Why don’t soccer matches include a moment of solidarity with killed Palestinian players, and the dying young man aching to join his teammates on the field once more? Why is Israel not fully and comprehensively boycotted by every international sports organization?

“As long as Sarsak remains indefinitely detained and as long as Israel targets sport and athletes as legitimate targets of war, they have no business being rewarded by FIFA or the UEFA, let alone even being a part of the community of international sports,” wrote Zirin (the second being the European footballing organization).

That would be a belated step, but an unequivocally urgent one, for Palestinian sportsmen are literally dying.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com…. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.


Father Roy writes:Is what we have here not a clear provocation?It’s certainly a violation of International Law. It’s also a violation of God’s law:“Thou shalt not steal… etc.” Peace, Roy

Gov’t to approve 551 new housing units in West Bank

06/06/2012 20:13

Housing and construction minister says new homes to be built in addition to 300 in Beit El; PM says the gov’t is acting responsibly in decision to evacuate West Bank Ulpana outpost, strengthening settlement enterprise.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Photo: GPO / Amos Ben-Gershom

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias announced Wednesday evening that his ministry would approve the construction of 551 housing units in the West Bank.

They will comprise 117 units in Ariel, 92 in Ma’aleh Adumim, 114 in Adam, 114 in Efrat and 84 in Kiryat Arba. The new housing units will be built in addition to the three hundred that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has already promised to build in Beit El following the evacuation of the apartment buildings in the West Bank outpost Ulpana.

This decision was reached in a conversation Wednesday between Netanyahu and Atias.

“Increasing the supply of land helps young couples, and construction in the West Bank strengthens the settlements. Although 30 apartments will be evacuated, 850 will be built instead. Under the circumstances, this is the appropriate solution,” said Atias.

Earlier Wednesday, in a televised statement Netanyahu said that the government is in the midst of a very complex environment, and is upholding democracy and strengthening the overall settlement enterprise in its decision over the Ulpana outpost.

A bill to legalize the West Bank outpost was defeated by a vote of 69-22 on Wednesday.

Netanyahu said that the government had acted with responsibility and discretion, and thanked his coalitions partners.

Heexpressed sympathy for the pain of the families living in the Ulpana outpost who are due to be evacuated. However, he said, “you have to understand, we are working in a very complex reality; internally, internationally and in terms of the law.” He emphasized that his government would continue to strengthen the settlements, at the same time as strengthening democracy in Israel.


Patrick Seale really nails it in this article.  Why is the US and Europe so passionately committed to regime change in Syria. Only a fool would believe that their unrelenting effort is motivated by compassion for suffering Syrians.

The record of the Syrian government has been far from perfect, but we must not forget that Syria has been a haven of religious tolerance in the Middle East for many years, and one of the last places where Christians have been able to worship freely. And now Obama and his allies are arming the radical jihadists in an attempt to overthrow Assad. Why? The answer should be obvious, but only Seale and a handful of independent commentators seem to have the insight to see it and the courage to state it.

The end-game is not Syria at all but regime change in Iran. And why does Obama hate Iran so much? Has he genuinely taken on the agenda of the Zionist extremists and American neo-conservatives or is he just playing politics? That’s a question that even Seale doesn’t feel confident to answer.

Father Dave (nb. highlights are mine)

From Middle East Online


What Is Obama’s Game Plan?

President Barrack Obama’s Middle East policies seem increasingly problematic. His expanded use of missile strikes by Predator drones against targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere — now being launched at a rate of about one a week – seem certain to create more ‘terrorists’ than they kill. They arouse fierce anti-American sentiment not least because of the inevitable civilian death toll. Obama is said to decide himself which terrorist suspect is to be targeted for killing in any particular week, as if to confer some presidential sanction on operations of very doubtful legality.

Even more worrying is Obama’s apparently wilful sabotage of two diplomatic initiatives, one by Europe’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the other by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Ashton has been leading an attempt by the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) to negotiate a win-win deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, while Annan has been struggling to find a negotiated way out of the murderous Syrian crisis. Obama seems intent on compromising both initiatives.

Catherine Ashton managed to launch the P5+1 talks with Iran in Istanbul on 14 April once she had agreed the ground rules with the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili. She pledged at that time that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would be a key basis for the talks, thus sending a clear signal that Iran, as a signatory of the NPT, had the right to enrich uranium up to 3.5% for power generation and other peaceful purposes. She also declared that the negotiations would “be guided by the principle of the step-by-step approach and reciprocity,” thus giving a strong indication that sanctions would be lifted in stages once Iran gave up enriching uranium to 20% and provided convincing evidence that it was not seeking nuclear weapons. Iran responded favourably to this approach and the talks got off to a good start.

But, at the next meeting on 23 May, held this time in Baghdad, they ground to a virtual halt. No progress of any sort was made save for an agreement to meet again in Moscow on 18-19 June. The early optimism was dispelled because Obama had hardened the U.S. position. There was to be no recognition of Iran’s rights to enrich lower grade uranium — indeed the P5+1 refused even to discuss the subject — and no easing of sanctions. On the contrary, Iran was faced with the prospect of even stiffer sanctions coming into force on 1 July. The only sweetener was an offer of some spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft in exchange for an Iranian pledge to freeze 20% enriched uranium. Iran was asked, in effect, to give up its trump card in exchange for peanuts. It was no surprise that Tehran considered the miserly offer insulting.

Obama seems to have been persuaded that Iran, already reeling under crippling sanctions, would meekly submit to American demands if still more pressure were applied. This was a fundamental error of judgement. Far from submitting, Iran reacted defiantly. Hopes for a win-win deal evaporated. There are now no great expectations of a breakthrough at the Moscow talks.

What is Obama up to? He seems to have adopted Israel’s hard line view that Iran should be compelled to close down its nuclear industry altogether — a clear deal-breaker. It is not altogether clear whether he is doing so to counter accusations of weakness from his Republican challenger Mitt Romney or whether his hard, uncompromising line is intended to stave off Israel’s much-trumpeted threats to attack Iran in the coming months which, in view of the American electoral calendar, would inevitably suck in the United States.

Obama has already joined Israel in clandestine warfare against Iran. In a major article last week in the New York Times, David E Sanger revealed that “from his first months in office, President Barack Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities…” The United States and Israel then jointly developed the cyber-weapon Stuxnet, which caused considerable damage to the centrifuges in Iran’s Natanz facility.

By any standards, launching Stuxnet against Iran was an act of state terrorism. That Israel should engage in such practices is not surprising: Its entire regional policy is based on subverting and destabilising its neighbours so as to ensure its own supremacy. But how can the United States, which claims to be the supreme guardian of the international order, justify such base behaviour?

Not content with sabotaging Catherine Ashton’s efforts, Obama is also undermining Kofi Annan’s difficult mission in Syria. The American president pays lip service to Annan’s peace plan while, at the same time, secretly coordinating the flow of funds, intelligence and weapons to Bashar al-Asad’s enemies. Numerous sources attest that the United States has taken upon itself the role of deciding which among the various armed rebel groups deserve support. One must only suppose that, in his eagerness to bring about the fall of the Syrian regime, Obama will not fall into the trap of funding and arming jihadis, many of them linked to al-Qaida, who have flowed in from neighbouring countries to fight the Syrian regime.

In a word, Obama seems to have embraced the argument of Israeli hawks and American neo-conservatives that bringing down the Syrian regime is the best way to weaken and isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran, sever its ties with Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements, and eventually bring about regime change in Tehran.

The puzzle is to understand what has happened to Obama. This former professor of constitutional law was expected to correct the flagrant crimes of the Bush administration — such as the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the water-boarding, the network of secret prisons where torture was routine, the practice of extraordinary rendition. Instead, by his own violent and questionable acts, he is widening the gulf between the United States and the Muslim world.

No less a person than Henry Kissinger has, in a recent Washington Post article, reminded the United States of the dangers of humanitarian intervention in Syria. “If adopted as a principle of foreign policy,” he wrote, “this form of intervention raises broader questions for U.S. strategy. Does America consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any non-democratic government…?” If Asad were overthrown, he argues, a new civil war could follow as armed groups contest the succession. “In reacting to one tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another.”

Kissinger’s main point is that states are sovereign within their borders. The United States may have strategic reasons to favour the fall of Asad but “not every strategic interest rises to a cause for war; were it otherwise, no room would be left for diplomacy.” In other words, the world should support the Annan peace plan and give it time to work.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).

Copyright © 2012 Patrick Seale – distributed by Agence Global