This is a powerful and brutal analysis of the current state of the State of Israel. Hedges pulls no punches. His starting point – that Israel has been “poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war” and “morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood” says it all! The rest is just commentary.
Having said that, the article is intended primarily as a review of Max Blumenthal’s new book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” – a book that is evidently equally blunt and brutal in its assessment of the Jewish state.
I have nothing but admiration for both of these men – Hedges and Blumenthal. They risk intimidation and ostracism by speaking out so frankly about the crisis in Israel. Most media outlets prefer to look the other way.
There are no guarantees that prophetic voices like Hedges and Blumenthal are going to bring about significant change, but we can be assured that if no one speaks out, nothing will change.
Imploding the Myth of Israel
By Chris Hedges
Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy.
And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state. It exposes the cynicism of a state whose real goal is, and always has been, the transfer, forced immigration or utter subjugation and impoverishment of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bear the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.
There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.
I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book.
“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other.
“Unarmed civilians were torn to pieces with flechette darts sprayed from tank shells,” Blumenthal writes. “Several other children covered in burns from white phosphorous chemical weapon rounds were taken to hospitals; a few were found dead with bizarre wounds after being hit with experimental Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs designed to dissolve into the body and rapidly erode internal soft tissue. A group of women were shot to death while waving a white flag; another family was destroyed by a missile while eating lunch; and Israeli soldiers killed Ibrahim Awajah, an eight-year-old child. His mother, Wafaa, told the documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe that soldiers used his corpse for target practice. Numerous crimes like these were documented across the Gaza Strip.”
By the end of the assault, with 1,400 dead, nearly all civilians, Gaza lay in ruins. The Israeli air force purposely targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, including power plants, to reduce Gaza to a vast, overcrowded, dysfunctional slum. Israel, Blumenthal notes, destroyed “80 percent of all arable farmland in the coastal strip, bombing the strip’s largest flour mill, leveling seven concrete factories, shelling a major cheese factory, and shooting up a chicken farm, killing thirty-one thousand chickens.”
“Twelve [years old] and up, you are allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” an Israeli sniper told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in 2004 at the height of the Second Intifada, Blumenthal writes. “This is according to what the IDF [Israel Defense Force] says to its soldiers. I do not know if this is what the IDF says to the media,” the sniper was quoted as saying.
The 2008 murderous rampage is not, as Blumenthal understands, an anomaly. It is the overt policy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates “a system of open apartheid.” Israel, as Blumenthal points out, has not lifted its state of emergency since its foundation. It has detained at least 750,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 women, in its prisons since 1967. It currently holds more than 4,500 political prisoners, including more than 200 children and 322 people jailed without charges, Blumenthal writes, including those it has labeled “administrative detainees.” Israel has a staggering 99.74 percent conviction rate for these so-called security prisoners, a figure that any totalitarian state would envy.
Blumenthal cites a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes on the Gaza bombing, known as Operation Cast Lead. The survey, by Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist from Tel Aviv University, concluded that the public’s “consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians, and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal tells Blumenthal “these attitudes are the product of indoctrination.” And Blumenthal sets out to chronicle the poison of this indoctrination and what it has spawned in Israeli society.
The racist narrative, once the domain of the far right and now the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream, demonizes Palestinians and Arabs, as well as all non-Jews. Non-Jews, according to this propaganda, will forever seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, in which Israeli victimhood is sanctified, is seamlessly conflated with Palestinian and Arab resistance to occupation. The state flies more than 25 percent of Israeli 11th-graders to Poland to tour Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps a year before they start army service. They are told that the goal of Arabs, along with the rest of the non-Jewish world, is another Auschwitz. And the only thing standing between Israelis and a death camp is the Israeli army. Israeli high schools show films such as “Sleeping With the Enemy” to warn students about dating non-Jews, especially Arabs. Racist books such as “Torat Ha’Melech,” or “The King’s Torah,” are given to soldiers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, the authors of the 230-page book, inform soldiers that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments [of Noah] … there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira and Elitzur write. The rabbis claim that under Jewish law “there is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
These narratives of hatred make any act of deadly force by the Israeli army permissible, from the shooting of Palestinian children to the 2010 killing by Israeli commandos of nine unarmed activists on the Turkish boat the Mavi Marmara. The activists were part of a flotilla of six boats bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The Israeli propaganda machine claimed that the small flotilla was a covert terror convoy. Never mind that the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when it was attacked. Never mind that no one on the boat, or any of the five other boats, was armed. Never mind that the boats were thoroughly searched before they left for Gaza. The Israeli lie was trumpeted while every camera, video and tape recorder, computer and cellphone of the activists on board was seized and destroyed—or in a few cases sold by Israeli soldiers when they got back to Israel—while those on the boats were towed to an Israeli port and detained in isolation. The ceaseless stoking of fear and racial hatred—given full vent by the Israeli government and media in the days after the Mavi Marmara incident—has served to empower racist political demagogues such as Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, a camp follower of Meir Kahane. It has also effectively snuffed out Israel’s old left-wing Zionist establishment.
“In Israel you have three systems of laws,” the Israeli Arab politician Ahmed Tibi observes in the Blumenthal book. “One is democracy for 80 percent of the population. It is democracy for Jews. I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy. The second is racial discrimination for 20 percent of the population, the Israeli Arabs. The third is apartheid for the population in the West Bank and Gaza. This includes two sets of governments, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers. Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid but we are being pushed there with … new laws.”
As Blumenthal documents, even Israeli Jews no longer live in a democracy. The mounting state repression against human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents has reached the proportions of U.S. Homeland Security. The overtly racist cant of the political elite and the masses—“Death to Arabs” is a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches—has emboldened mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, to carry out indiscriminate acts of vandalism and violence against dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and the hapless African immigrants who live crammed into the slums of Tel Aviv. Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that eerily resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.’ ” And all who denounce the steady march of Israel toward fascism—including Jewish academics—are attacked in organized campaigns as being insufficiently Zionist. They are branded as terrorists or collaborators with terrorists. As a headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz read: “The settlers are the real government of Israel.”
“Woody [a law school graduate from New York] became my initial liaison to Tel Aviv’s radical left, introducing me to a loose-knit band of a few hundred anarchists, disillusioned ex-soldiers, disaffected children of ultra-Zionists, queers, academics, and generally idealistic and disillusioned young people who came of age during the Second Intifada when the liberal Zionist ‘peace camp’ closed ranks with the militaristic right wing,” Blumenthal writes. “This tiny band of social deviants comprised the only grouping of people I met who sincerely embraced multiculturalism and who took concrete action against the discriminatory foundations of their country’s political apparatus. Right-wingers and many Jewish Israelis who considered themselves part of the social mainstream referred to members of the radical left as smolinim, which simply means ‘leftists,’ but the word carried a deeply insulting connotation of an unacceptable caste, an Other. As branded social outcasts, inflexible in their principles, disdainful of ordinary politics, and brazen in their racial liberalism they resembled nothing so much as the pre-Civil War abolitionists.”
The late Amnon Dankner, the former editor of Maariv, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Blumenthal notes, denounced “neo-Nazi expressions in the Knesset” and “entire parties whose tenor and tone arouse feelings of horror and terrifying memories.” David Landau, the former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, has called on Israelis to boycott the Knesset “to stand against the wave of fascism that has engulfed the Zionist project.” And Uri Avnery, a left-wing politician and journalist, says: “Israel’s very existence is threatened by fascism.”
The disillusionment among idealistic young immigrants to Israel dots the book. As one example, Canadian David Sheen is recorded as saying that everything he had known about Israel and Palestinians was, in Blumenthal’s words, “a fantasy cultivated through years of heavy indoctrination.” But perhaps what is saddest is that Israel has, and has always had, within its population intellectuals, including the great scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sought to save Israel from itself.
Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.
“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution.” He foresaw that “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. He knew that prolonged occupation of the Palestinians would spawn “concentration camps” for the occupied and that, in his words, “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”
But few, then or now, cared to listen. This is why Blumenthal’s new book is so important.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, has previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Pope Francis visiting Ramallah – now that would be a step in the right direction, and a far more promising development for Palestine than any number of farcical peace talks.
The reality is that the Israeli government is entirely comfortable with the status quo. Netanyahu has no reason to seriously consider any state for the Palestinian people. Keeping up appearances as a peace maker is important of course, but nothing substantial is going to happen until real pressure is placed on the Israeli government from outside of Israel’s borders, and the Pope is in precisely the right position to exert the necessary leverage!
Of course the Vatican has a very poor history when it comes to siding with the oppressed and the vulnerable. Even so, all he early indicators suggest that this new Pope may be the change that the church has been waiting for!
Who knows? If Pope Francis can get as far as Ramallah, perhaps he’ll venture into Gaza?!
Palestinian president hopes to use pen from pope to sign peace treaty
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a fancy pen as a gift, and Abbas told the pope, “I hope to sign the peace agreement with Israel with this pen.”
Pope Francis responded with his hope that the agreement would be reached “soon, soon.”
The exchange took place Oct. 17 in the papal library after the pope and Palestinian president had spent almost half an hour meeting privately.
Abbas had given the pope a Bible and a framed scene of Bethlehem, West Bank. The pope gave Abbas a framed scene of the Vatican along with the pen, “because you obviously have many things to sign,” which is when Abbas spoke about his hopes to sign a peace treaty.
A Vatican statement about Abbas’ meeting with the pope and a later meeting with the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said, “The reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” was a topic in both conversations.
“The parties expressed their hope that this process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict,” it said. “Hope was expressed that the parties to the conflict will make courageous and determined decisions in order to promote peace” and that the international community would support their efforts. The U.S.-mediated talks began in July.
The Vatican statement did not mention Pope Francis’ possible trip to the Holy Land, although when Abbas greeted Archbishop Mamberti he told him that he had invited the pope to visit. Abbas’ delegation also included the mayor of Bethlehem, which likely would be on the itinerary of a papal trip.
In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited the pope, and Israeli media have been reporting that a papal visit is expected in the spring. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Oct. 16 that the prime minister would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome Oct. 23 and meet the pope during the same trip.
The Vatican statement on Abbas’ meetings said the pope and Palestinian leader also discussed the ongoing war in Syria and expressed their hopes that “dialogue and reconciliation may supplant the logic of violence as soon as possible.”
The two also discussed the work underway on a Vatican-Palestinian agreement regulating “several essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” as well as the situation of Christian communities in the Palestinian territories and the contributions Christians make to society throughout the Middle East.
if you can’t view this video, click here.
I’ve been feeling nothing but cynicism towards this latest round of Israel/Palestine peace talks but I’m encouraged to find that many persons I respect are taking them very seriously.
Warren Clark, Executive Director of ‘Churches for Middle East Peace‘, is one such person. He believes that there have been real and substantial changes since the last round of pointless dialogue – most especially the European Parliament joining the BDS!
Personally, I am still skeptical about both of Clark’s alternatives – ‘soon’ or ‘never’. I really don’t think change is coming soon – not unless the Arab world can suddenly unite and bring real pressure to bear on Israel. At the same time though, I do believe that change will have to come eventually.
The Impossible Dream – It’s Soon or Never
The impossible dream of peace in the Holy Land – the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank; secure and recognized boundaries for Israel and Palestine; a just solution of the refugee problem; a shared Jerusalem with East Jerusalem for a Palestinian state; recognition and normal relations between Israel and the 53 member countries of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and an end of conflict and an end of claims – seems less impossible today than it did only a short time ago. This week Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington for the first time in three years and have set a nine month timetable for an agreement.
I said here on June 7 that President Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank in March and the subsequent efforts of Secretary Kerry seemed to create a fundamental improvement in the outlook for direct talks and progress toward an agreement.
Since then, two other developments have helped cause a tectonic political shift. First was the realization of Israel’s increasing international isolation in response to its settlement expansion. This month the European Union published regulations that distinguish between trade, investment, cultural and other cooperation with Europe and Israeli entities located within the 1967 lines and with those Israeli entities located east of the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem. While the immediate economic impact of the regulations will be limited, the political message was strong. The European governments not only do not recognize settlements but are willing to sanction Israel for continuing to build them.
Second, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political rhetoric has changed. While he said in 2009 for the first time under U.S. pressure that he supported the idea of a Palestinian state under certain circumstances, his continued support of settlement expansions suggested he had little interest in advancing the two state goal. However, the Prime Minister has said recently that a bi-national state would be “disastrous” for Israel and that he believes peace talks are necessary to prevent that.
There remains great skepticism that after so many false starts that any agreement can be reached. Palestinians fear that talks without an agreement will be used to buy more time for Israeli expansion into the West Bank as it was in the 1990s during the Oslo “peace process” when the settler population doubled to 400,000 (it is now over 500,000) and no agreement was reached. The failure of talks then led to the terrible violence of the second intifada. The same specter of violence exists should these talks fail again.
To overcome Palestinian distrust, Israel has agreed to a phased release of 104 “heavyweight” Palestinian prisoners who were jailed for capital crimes before the Oslo talks began more than 20 years ago.
For their part, Palestinians have apparently agreed not to use their political leverage against Israel as long as the talks continue – namely, a bid to sanction Israel in the UN system, especially in the International Criminal Court, and perhaps to bid for full UN membership.
The question remains whether any real chance of an agreement exists after decades of failed peace efforts, including Oslo, Taba, the Wye River, the Arab League plan, the Roadmap and Annapolis. The status quo remains far less tolerable for Palestinians living under occupation than for the more prosperous and secure Israelis, but that balance seems to be changing.
read the rest of this article here.
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