IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN ISRAEL’S AGREEMENT WITH EMIRATES AND BEIRUT’S PORT EXPLOSION?

Suppose the August 4th explosion at Beirut’s port and the agreement between Israel and the Emirates were linked. Suppose that Israel intended the port of Haifa to be the port of entry for the Emirates and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. For this to happen, Israel would have to destroy Beirut’s port, then blame Hezbollah for the attack. Suppose Israel had already begun to plan its attack on Beirut’s port back in March 2005 when it signed an agreement with China, specifically with the Shanghai International Port Group, with the stipulation that the overhaul and modernization of Haifa’s port be completed by early 2021.

Until August 4, 2020, Beirut’s port was not only the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean, it was also the confluence of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, a role Israel has long coveted. Ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948, Haifa’s port has played a secondary role to Beirut’s. The Arab boycott of the Jewish community in Palestine predated the formal establishment of Israel and this contributed to Haifa’s secondary status. By 1950, the boycott was extended to keeping all Israeli products out of Arab countries, further sealing Haifa’s fate. The boycott only became a thing of the past when Israel signed the recent agreement with the Gulf states.

The Gulf states import practically everything from heavy construction equipment to trucks and cars to food and sanitation products from Europe. Until August 4th, all these goods came through Beirut, the preeminent capital of commerce and finance for the Middle East. Since 1943, when it declared its independence, Beirut’s port has been the lifeline of the Lebanon’s economy furnishing Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. This suggests two possible scenarios. Israel only intended to destroy the port, not the city itself, and was unaware that the Lebanese government had confiscated thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate from an abandoned ship that had limped its way into Beirut’s harbor in 2013 and been improperly stored. Or, Israel knew of the material stored at the port and did not care what it destroyed so long as Haifa was elevated to its rightful place as the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean. 

The Lebanese government, forced to resign a week after the blast, officially attributed the incident to negligence but Lebanon’s president acknowledged the port’s destruction could have been the result of an attack by outside forces. Residents throughout the city saw and heard military aircraft flying overhead moments before the explosion. According to Asia Times, unnamed Western officials claimed that Western reconnaissance craft were in the skies above the Lebanese coast at the time of the blast. A US Central Command official told Asia Times that the cause of the first fire/explosion was still an unanswered question, adding that there is no actual evidence to support or confirm the blast was caused by ammonium nitrate, and that other alternatives were quite possible.

Despite eye-witness accounts of Western aircraft sighted during the explosion and a long history of Israeli attacks and daily Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, the US, Israel and their regional allies have all vigorously campaigned to pin the port blast on Hezbollah, even though there is no evidence linking Hezbollah to the explosion. In fact, the Lebanese resistance group would have everything to lose if it were involved.

Following the explosion, anti-Hezbollah groups, supported by the US, took over Lebanese government buildings and called for Beirut to demilitarize, an obvious demand for Hezbollah to lay down its weapons and end its fight against Israel which illegally occupied south Lebanon for twenty-two years (from 1978 until Hezbollah finally expelled them in 2000).

US Secretary of State Pompeo has portrayed his country as the noble protector of Lebanon but at the same time has threatened to impose more aggressive sanctions on Lebanon if it does not immediately expel Hezbollah from its government. The IMF has also refused to aid Lebanon at the request of the US government, which holds de facto veto power over the organization, until Hezbollah is removed even though it has thirteen duly elected members in the Lebanese parliament and enjoys not only the support of its fellow members but the majority of Lebanese.

The pro-Israel lobby group the American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted on August 9, five days after the port explosion, that international assistance to Lebanon “must be conditioned on the long-promised, long-avoided disarmament of Hezbollah,” something Hezbollah has refused to do, claiming its military power is Lebanon’s only deterrent to another Israeli attack. 

AJC has made it clear that Western aid will be hung over Lebanon like a sword of Damocles (an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power), adding that, “Unless the malignant role of Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah, is addressed there will never be meaningful change for the people of Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, as millions of Lebanese civilians suffer, financial analysts expect the US and Israeli campaign of economic warfare and maximum pressure to continue for the foreseeable future.

ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN AND ISRAEL

Few geopolitical hot spots are more complicated than the Middle East but renewed hostilities involving both the Levant and nomads from the Eurasian steppes, could be the exception. Deadly clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fighting over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh involves Turkey, Russia, Iran and Israel.

The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, held by Armenia, declared independence in 1991 shortly after the fall of the USSR but it was never recognized by the international community. Between 1988 and 1994 the Azerbaijani Army fought the Armenians over this republic, killing thirty thousand and wounding one million. A cease-fire was finally declared in 1994 with Nagorno-Karabakh entering the gray area of a “frozen conflict.”

In 1993, the UN approved no less than four resolutions demanding Armenia withdraw from what was deemed to be roughly twenty percent of Azerbaijani territory. This is the core of Azerbaijan’s rationale for fighting against what it sees as a foreign occupation army.  Armenia insists these resolutions are null and void because Nagorno-Karabakh (population 150,000) harbors an Armenian-majority population (90%) that wants to secede from Azerbaijan. In September 2020, Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s strongman, in power since 2003, launched a de facto war on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Historically, Nagorno-Karabakh (also called Artsakh) is one of three ancient provinces of Armenia, rooted in the 5th century B.C. and finally established in 189 B.C. Based on DNA samples, the Armenians claim they have been settled in Artsakh for at least 4,000 years.

Nagorno-Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1923. That set the stage for the future powder keg to inevitably explode especially since there was no Azerbaijan nation-state until the early 1920s. Historically, Azerbaijan was a territory in northern Iran. Azeris were well integrated within the Islamic Republic so the Republic of Azerbaijan actually borrowed its name from their Iranian neighbors.

Azerbaijan hatred of Armenians is a major concern in this conflict. Because of Azerbaijan’s military strength, Armenians fear a massacre. Next year marks one hundred years since the genocide against the Armenian people. An Azeri assault, if one were to take place, would be a sorrowful reminder of those tragic days. Since September 27th, when the righting resumed, at least three hundred people have already been killed. 

A Middle East-Eurasian conflict would not be complete without the added wrinkle of oil and gas. Two key gas pipelines pass through the conflict zone. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude pipeline is Azerbaijan’s main oil artery to world markets. The South Caucasus gas pipeline supplies Turkey and European countries. Azeri and Armenian forces are engaged on the “line of contact” between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. This is about 30-40 km. from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude pipeline and South Caucasus gas pipeline.  The fighting comes amid preparations for the start of gas exports to southeast Europe from the second phase of Azerbaijan’s BP-led offshore project. Exports to Europe will put Azerbaijan on the map as a truly international gas supplier.

Azerbaijan owes its military strength to Israel. In the last two weeks alone, four Azeri plans have flown directly from Baku to Uvda air base in southern Israel, the only Israeli airport from which plans loaded with explosive material are allowed to take off. Azerbaijan has purchased weapons from Israel to the tune of $5 billion including Israeli-made M095 cluster munitions. Cluster bombs, often referred to as area weapons, are designed to open in mid-air and disperse smaller submunitions called bomblets. They have been scattered on the Armenian residential areas of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital. Mossad, meanwhile, has Bottom of Formestablished a station in Azerbaijan, serving as the “eyes, ears and a springboard” for monitoring Iran.

Azerbaijan has also prepared an airfield that would assist Israel in case it decided to attack Iran. The Iranian nuclear archive that was stolen by Mossad agents in Tehran two and a half years ago was smuggled to Israel through Azerbaijan. Israel’s aerospace industries, Elbit, Rafael and other smaller companies are selling Baku just about anything despite the fact that Azerbaijan is considered one of the worst countries in terms of democracy and freedom. This includes artillery, missiles, naval vessels, intelligence equipment and a large number of drones. As far back as 2012, Israel was already granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan though a series of behind-the-scenes political and military understandings. It was assumed these bases would be used in Israeli air strikes against Iran over its nuclear program and any other tensions with Iran Israel deemed “a threat to its national security.”  

All of this interfaces with the fierce competition between Shi’ite Iran and Turkey for regional hegemony. The same bizarre pattern of behavior characterized by the Kremlim in Syria, with Vladimir Putin assisting the regime of Bashar Assad and the Iranians, while providing Israel with “silent encouragement” for carrying out air strikes against Iranian positions. To add to the confusion, Mossad and Turkish intelligence cooperate with each other, with Israel’s defense industries selling arms to Turkey for billions of dollars.

The dismantling of the strategic alliance between Turkey and Israel was a systematic and deliberate process, begun by Erdogan a decade and a half ago and yet Israel has not used this opportunity to fulfill its historic duty to recognize the Armenian genocide. At the same time that Erdogan started distancing himself from Israel, Azerbaijan and Israel grew closer. It soon became clear that the two countries had set up a strategic alliance centered on their mutual hostilities towards Iran. Baku is also Israel’s top oil supplier, providing forty percent of its annual consumption, while Israel is the sixth-highest importer of Azerbaijani oil.

Until recently, Azerbaijan saw President Putin’s Russia as a hostile force trying to undermine its pro-Western policy while supporting neighboring Armenia in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. In early October, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev suddenly began praising Moscow, saying, “Azerbaijan and Russia are two neighboring friendly countries which are developing together and are ready to face world challenges.”

With the possibility of prolonged military operations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, could a shift in this conflict from a multilateral framework involving the US and France to a regional one mean that both Russia and Azerbaijan no longer consider the West a relevant player in their backyard and are willing to implement their own security strategies in the South Caucus? As for Russia and Turkey, are they engaged in what can best be described as competitive competition, the South Caucasus only one region, along with Syria and Libya, were this competition is most intense? Stay tuned.

THE SYRIAN WAR: CULTIVATED AND MARKETED BY THE WEST

According to Grayzone’s Ben Norton, Western government-funded intelligence cutouts trained Syrian opposition leaders, planted stories in media outlets from BBC to Al Jazeera, and ran a cadre of journalists. A trove of recently leaked documents entitled HMG Trojan Horse: From Integrity Initiative to Covert Ops around the Globe: Part 1: Taming Syria produced under the auspices of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office show how UK government contractors developed an advanced infrastructure of propaganda to stimulate support in the West for Syria’s armed opposition.

Virtually every aspect of the Syrian opposition was cultivated and marketed by Western (UK-US) government-backed public relations firms, from their political narratives to their branding, from what they said and where they said it. The leaked files reveal how Western intelligence cutouts played the media like a fiddle, carefully crafting English and Arabic language media coverage of the war on Syria to churn out a constant stream of pro-opposition coverage. US and European contractors trained and advised Syrian opposition leaders at all levels, from media experts to the heads of the parallel government-in-exile. These firms also organized interviews for Syrian opposition leader on mainstream outlets such as BBC and the UK’s Channel 4.

More than half of the stringers used by Al Jazeera in Syria were trained in a joint US-UK government program called Basma, which produced hundreds of Syrian opposition media activists. Western government PR firms not only influenced the way the media covered Syria, they also produced their own propagandistic pseudo-news for broadcast on major TV networks in the Middle East, including BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Orient TV.

These UK-US funded firms functined as full-time PR flacks for the extremist- dominated Syrian armed opposition. One contractor called InCoStart, said it was in constant contact with a network of more than 1,600 international journalists and “influencers,” and used them to push pro-opposition talking points. Virtually every major Western corporate media outlet was influenced by the UK-US government-funded disinformation campaign from the New York Times to the Washington Post, CNN to the Guardian, the BBC to Buzzfeed.

According to journalist Sharmine Narwani, all Western wars have been fought with imagery and disinformation. The US government calls it propaganda and accuses the Russians of doing it, but the US does it better than anyone else. It is literally the main tool in America’s military kit. Otherwise, the American people would never accept the never-ending wars. There used to be laws forbidding the US government from propagandizing the American people but the Obama administration undid many of those legal barriers.

All the firms listed in the leaked files were contracted by the British government, but many also were running “multi-donor projects” that received funding from the governments of the US and other Western European countries. Many of these Western-backed opposition groups in Syria were extremist Salafi-jihadists. Some of the UK government contractors whose activities were exposed in the leaked documents were supporting Syrian al-Qaeda afiliate Jabhat al Nusra and its fanatical offshoots.

In an excerpt from Robert Reuel Naiman’s book “Wikileaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath,” he showed, in the case of Syria, that regime change has been a long-standing goal of US policy; that the US promoted sectarianism in support of its regime-change policy, thus helping lay the foundation for the sectarian civil war and massive bloodshed that we see in Syria today. Wikileaks cables suggest that the US goal as early as December 2006 was to undermine the Syrian government by any means possible. In public, the US was opposed to “Islamic extremists” but in private it saw the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presene of Islamist extremists as an opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase.

According to the US Special Forces Unconventional Warfare manual, propaganda is fundamental to US efforts to maintain hegemony. Everything starts and ends with “scene setting” and “swaying perceptions” to prepare a population to support invasion, occupation, drone warfare, “humanitarian interventions,” rebellions and regime change. It was no different in Syria.

ISRAEL’S EXPORT OF OCCUPATION POLICE TECHNIQUES

In many cities across the United States the image of the friendly cop on the beat has been replaced by intimidating, fully armed military-style troops. Israel has played a large part in this transition. The militarization of US law enforcement has been driven by the creation of various homeland security initiatives and billions of dollars of surplus military-grade equipment donated to local departments since 9/11. Thousands of high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small, from New York to Washington, D.C, Orange Country and Oakland to St. Louis, have traveled to Israel for privately funded seminars in what is described as counter-terrorism techniques.

Since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have sent police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains on fully paid rips to Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories to observe the operations of the Israeli national police, the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli border police and the country’s intelligence agencies. The training also includes meetings with officials from Israel’s Shin Bet, the security agency behind surveillance, as well as the torture and targeted assassinations, of Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories. The fact that thousands of American police officers have been trained by Israelis, thus the burgeoning of violent military-like tactics used against ordinary Americans, is only one link in a long chain of deadly exchanges between the two countries. Over 100 Minnesota law enforcement officers attended a 2012 conference organized by the Israeli consulate in Chicago and conducted by the Israeli police. The neck technique taught by Israeli trainers was incorporated into the Minneapolis police manual.

The growing Israeli role in shaping the American security state has allowed Israel to push its political priorities past its traditional stronghold over the US Congress to individual cities and city councils across the country. Even if some of the Israeli tactics, which are currently applied by the US police, are discontinued under the collective chants of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Israel, if not stopped, will continue to define Washington’s security priorities because their relationship is much stronger and deeper than anyone ever imagined possible.

According to Jewish Voice for Peace, the oppression goes both ways: “One of the most dangerous places where the US and Israel converge are in exchange programs that bring together police, ICE, border patrol and FBI from the US to soldiers, police, border agents and the like from Israel. In these programs, ‘worst practices’ are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing practices that already exist in both countries, including extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.

These programs transform Israel’s 70 years of dispossession and 50 years of brutal military occupation into a marketing brochure for ‘successful’ policing. According to Stefanie Fox, Jewish Voice for Peace’s deputy director, “Under the banner of counterterrorism training, high-ranking police and immigration officials visit checkpoints, prisons, settlements, police stations, and other key sites that are central to Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid.”

Police exchanges with US officers are premised on Israel’s experience with terrorism and its security forces handling of continued risks. Israel began its campaign of ethnic cleansing when in 1948 it forced the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. It continued in 1967 during the Six-Day war when Israel seized control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Since then it has maintained its occupation, including building illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, itself a violation of international law.

Now, the same security forces accused of mistreating its citizens and stateless Palestinian subjugates are training American police. Israel is trying to get the US to see the world as divided into camps of good and evil, and they want to tighten the US commitment to Israel all the while claiming it is on the front lines of fighting terror. The whole project is a political project, and that may be the intended outcome.

Looking at the recent riots in Minneapolis, it is hard not to agree with Israeli author and peace activist, Jeff Halper, himself a native of Minnesota, when he claims “that people around the world are being ‘Palestinianized’ while their governments and law enforcement agencies are ‘Israelised’ when citizens exercise their democratic right to challenge injustice. With over 70 years of experience suppressing Palestinians who happen to be the ‘wrong’ ethnicity, Israel has developed a culture of militarism that has become the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world, including some which claim to be democracies.”

My book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, now in its third edition, can be found here: 

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SANCTIONS IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

 

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran has reached epic proportions, suggesting tens of thousands could die. The crisis has prompted several countries to demand a temporary respite from US sanctions intended to cripple the Iranian economy.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, unilateral US sanctions on Iran had created a deep recession and shortages of foreign goods.

The sanctions were implemented after the 2018 US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency stated that Iran had fully complied with the agreement, yet the US still introduced sanctions to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran.

In practice, this “maximum pressure” meant crippling poverty for the people of Iran even as its government continued to comply with the nuclear agreement.

Human Rights Watch revealed that even before the coronavirus pandemic the sanctions were directly impacting the health of Iranian citizens.

“On several occasions, US officials have indicated that the pain US sanctions are causing for ordinary Iranians is intentional, part of a strategy to compel Iranian citizens to demand their autocratic government to ‘change behavior’– a recipe for collective punishment that infringes on Iranians’ economic rights,” Human Rights Watch reported.

Starving a population in order to force them to oust their government would be something that is usually subtle and cloaked in rhetoric and propaganda, but the US has been unapologetic about its campaign, and such a policy rarely works. Citizens can vigorously oppose whatever government rules over them but most of them will join together and resist if they fear their country is going to be attacked, occupied or otherwise humiliated.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinks otherwise: “Things are much worse for the Iranian people, and we are convinced that will lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime.”

These sanctions appear to have a siege-mentality intended to “starve them out.” Besieging a city and depriving it of resources in order to break the population is a war crime under international humanitarian law.

When done to an entire country, however, such strategies are portrayed by the media as a light-handed measure that can be freely used as a foreign policy tool by economically powerful nations.

Economic sanctions were already a brutal punishment on the weakest populations in the target country. Now that COVID-19 is creating an unprecedented health-crisis in Iran, calling these sanctions cruel is putting it mildly. Even as the US is struggling with its own Coronavirus crisis, for which its president takes “no responsibility,” it presents Iran’s ineffective and opaque fight against COVID-19 as a wholesale and purposeful murdering of Iranians by its government.

In his March 17 remarks on the matter, while announcing empty gestures that will provide no relief to the thousands of infected Iranians, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice.” In return for these meaningless gestures, Pompeo had the unmitigated gall to state “in the spirit of humanitarian gestures the United States also continues to call on Iran to immediately release all wrongfully detained Americans being held inside of that country.”

As the US buckles under the consequences of its own non-transparent and ineffective early measures against the virus, it intends to let Iranians starve and die for their government’s similar ineptitude. The US still hopes that those Iranians who survive the current Coronavirus crisis will blame and overthrow their own government. Until that happens, the US appears committed to their inhumane siege of Iran.

Cathy Sultan is the author of five books on the Middle East. They can be found here:

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AIPAC IS A HATE GROUP

 On February 15, 2020, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote that “Israeli soldiers were allowed to shoot children. Sometimes they wound them, sometimes they kill them. Sometimes the children wind up brain dead, sometimes disabled. Sometimes the children have thrown rocks at soldiers, sometimes Molotov cocktails. Sometimes, by chance, they wind up in the middle of a confrontation. They almost never put the soldiers’ lives in danger. There is no room to express any regret for shooting children in the head. There is no room for mercy, an apology, an investigation or punishment, let alone compensation.”

Gideon Levey can write a harsh condemnation of the Israeli Defense Forces’ use of force against Palestinian children, but no one else can. When a member of the US Congress, someone who has visited the Palestinian Occupied Territory and eye-witnessed the atrocities, voices her concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons she is accused of antisemitism and promoting hate speech.

As vice-chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota believes defending human rights and freedom are foundational to America’s national security and democracy, but she says, “the struggle to advance Palestinian human rights inevitably results in confronting entrenched forces determined to dehumanize, debase and demonize individuals or entire populations to maintain dominance and an unjust status quo. Hate is used as a weapon to incite and silence dissent. Unfortunately, this was my recent experience with IPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).”

AIPAC used her image in paid Facebook ads to weaponize antisemitism and incite their followers to attack Congresswoman McCollum for her work. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an AIPAC petition linked to their ads designed to mobilize supporters stated, “It is critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS and—maybe more sinister—right here in the US Congress.”

Congresswoman McCullum had introduced legislation that would amend a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law” that would prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel.

AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization but its use of hate speech makes it a hate group. By weaponizing antisemitism and hate to silence debate, AIPAC mocks core American values. Its language is intended to demonize, not elevate policy debate. Vile attacks such as this may be commonplace in the Trump era, but they should never be normalized.

“I will not back down from my commitment to peace, justice, equality and human rights for Palestinians and Israelis,” said Congressman McCollum. “I want Jews, Muslims, Christians, and all people to be safe, secure and able to find hope and opportunity in the US, in Israel and in Palestine.”

Cathy Sultan has written extensively about the Middle East. Her books, and in particular her Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides can be found here:

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TRUMP’S “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”

Much of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” came as no surprise. The so-called “Vision for Peace” unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state. The White House has discarded the traditional US position as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and in so doing has given a foreign power the right to eternally occupy someone else’s land.

This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv and was meant to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner. In fact, Kushner copied large parts of his proposal nearly word for word from A Durable Peace, written by Benjamin Netanyahu — a man who has never wanted to genuinely negotiate with the Palestinians.

According to independent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Trump/Netanyahu annexation plan was written with the clear intention of getting the Palestinians to reject it. Jared Kushner’s anti-Palestinian nastiness was not an accident or a blunder. It was just part of the annexation plan.

Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley while Israel will continue to have full military control over the West Bank, and eventually the annexation of the entire West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.

The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are also incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound to create a prayer space for extremist Jews, as has occurred in Hebron.

The Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (some 350,000) currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.

The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.

All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state solution”, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 percent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 percent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 percent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.

 

The document was not just a gift to Israel. It embodied every Israeli demand ever made to Washington and effectively destroyed every effort made by the UN Security Council; every UN resolution on Israeli withdrawal; every effort of the EU and the Quartet on the Middle East to produce a just and fair resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli war.

Trump benefits personally from this plan, too. Aside from offering a distraction from his impeachment hearings, it offers a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.

Trump is also coming to the aid of his useful political ally. Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March and cower the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him.

According to Gideon Levy, journalist for Haaretz, “this plan was the final nail in the coffin of that walking corpse known as the two-state solution in which international law and the resolution of the international comunity are rendered meaningless.

Palestinians now have to face this reality. The PLO’s recognition of Israel in 1993 has finally hit a dead end. The US, international law, UN resolutions were never going to come to their rescue, and in this sense alone, Trump’s brutal plan has done Palestinians a favor. It has dashed, once and for all, any hope they may have had of their own state.

 

From a Palestinian perspective, what has to begin is a new wave of struggle for equal rights in one state on all of the land of historic Palestine. This will involve a huge fight. No one should underestimate what will happen if the Palestinian people rise up again. But no one should be in any doubt, either, of the consequences of acquiescence.

 

This is the first time since 1948 that all Palestinians can join together to do this. They have to seize the opportunity or wither away as a footnote in history. A proud tradition of standing up and resisting Israel and its brutal occupation suggests the resilient Palestinian people will not let that happen.

Cathy Sultan’s book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, as well as her other books on the Middle East can be found on Amazon

 

 

 

IS IT ANY WONDER THEY HATE US?

On January 5, 2020, the Iraqi Parliament passed a non-binding resolution demanding American troops withdraw from Iraq. Trump was angered by the vote to oust all US forces following Washington’s assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. He promptly responded with a threat warning Iraq that if it moved to enforce the resolution Washington would shut down Baghdad’s access to a key account Iraq’s central bank holds with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York—an account that is crucial to the management of Iraq’s oil reserves and its overall financial stability—an account that belongs to Iraq.

More than 200 central banks, government and international official institutions hold accounts with the New York Fed, thanks to the oversized role the US dollar plays in global financial transactions. The Central Bank of Iraq’s account at the Fed was established in 2003 following the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and is currently estimated to be $35 billion.

The US has repeatedly used the dominant position of the dollar as a preferred currency and medium of exchange to force other countries to toe the line on its policies, essentially using the dollar as a weapon in US economic terrorism against other countries.

Iraqi officials warned of economic collapse if the US made good on its threat to cut off its access to its US-based bank account. In a call to the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister Trump warned he would charge the Iraqis “sanctions like they’ve never seen before,” and would block Iraq’s $35 billion “right now sitting in an account in the US.”

Iraq is the second largest oil producer of OPEC and its oil revenues which are paid in dollars into the Fed account daily, fund ninety percent of Iraq’s national budget. An Iraqi official said “Iraq is an oil-producing country. Those accounts are in dollars. Cutting off access means totally turning off the tap. It would literally mean the collapse of Iraq and the government would not be able to carry out daily functions or pay salaries. Such a move would prompt the Iraqi currency to fall in value.”

Trump told the Iraqi Prime Minister it “should pay back the United States for its investments in the country over the past several years or the American military will stay there.”

The State Department said that Washington would not hold discussions with Baghdad regarding troop withdrawal. “At any time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership, not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right to an appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”

Trump is also considering other options. One would be refusing to renew a temporary waiver that Washington had granted to Iraq in 2018 that allowed Baghdad to import gas from Iran to feed its gutted power grid, despite US sanctions on Tehran’s energy sector. If Washington does not renew the waiver in February, then the Trade Bank of Iraq which buys the gas, could face secondary sanctions for dealing with blacklisted Iranian entities. Iraqi officials insist such threats would eventually push Iraq into the arms of Russia, China and Iran. “We’d have to form a separate economy with those countries in order to survive.”

More and more the US is relying on illegal unilateral coercive measures in place of war or as part of a build-up to war. Economic sanctions are an act of war that kills tens of thousands of people each year through financial strangulation. Currently, the US’s economic sanctions effect a third of humanity with more than 8,000 measures in thirty-nine countries. As a result, nations are challenging the US dollar domination. They are seeking to conduct trade without the dollar and are no longer treating the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Ultimately, the de-dollarization of the global economy will seriously weaken the US economy and lead to the demise of the US empire.

Cathy Sultan has written five books on the Middle East. Her books can be found on Amazon.

THE SOLEIMANI ASSASSINATION

 

In times of crisis, I always turn to my most trust journalists for some clarity. In the case of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, I can think of no better clear-headed analyst than Pepe Escobar who writes for the Asia Times.

Contrary to what we were led to believe in the US press, General Soleimani had flown to Baghdad on a normal carrier flight carrying a diplomatic passport. He had been sent by Tehran to deliver, in person, a reply to a message from Riyadh on de-escalation across the Middle East. Those negotiations had been requested by none other than the Trump administration.

Again, contrary to what our mass media claims is “all the news that’s fit to print,” we now learn, after the fact, that Baghdad was officially mediating between Tehran and Riyadh, at the behest of Trump, and Soleimani was the messenger. Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was supposed to meet Soleimani at 8:30 am, Baghdad time, last Friday. But a few hours before the appointed time, Soleimani died as the object of a targeted assassination at Baghdad airport. Also killed by the drone was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kateab Hezbollah, both a powerful pro-Iranian paramilitary group and a legal, fully recognized Iraqi military entity. The US may consider paramilitary commanders like Muhandis to be evil terrorists but for many Shia Iraqis, he and his group were the people who fought against Saddam Hussein and defended them against ISIS.

As Mr. Escobar so emphatically points out: “Let this sink in, readers, for the annals of 21st Century diplomacy. It matters not whether the assassination order was issued by President Trump, the intelligence community or Israel. The fact is that the United States government on foreign soil, as a guest nation, has assassinated a diplomatic envoy who was on an official mission that had been requested by the United States government.

Following the assassination, the Iraqi Parliament approved a non-binding resolution asking the Iraqi government to expel US troops by cancelling a request for military assistance from the US.

Predictably, the US will refuse the demand, and Trump said as much himself: “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

US troops already are set to remain in Syria illegally – to “take care of the oil.” Iraq, with its extraordinary energy reserves, is an even more serious case. Leaving Iraq means Trump, US neocons and the Deep State lose control, directly and indirectly, of the oil for good.

With a single stroke, the assassination of Soleimani has managed to unite not only Iraqis but Iranians, and in fact the whole Axis of Resistance. And no US mass media PR will be able to disguise a massive strategic blunder – not to mention yet another blatantly illegal targeted assassination.

 

My favorite economist, Michael Hudson, sheds morea light on the killing: “The assassination was intended to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves, and to back Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi troops (Isis, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the US dollar. That remains the key to understanding this policy, and why it is in the process of escalating, not dying down.”

Neither Trump nor the Deep State could fail to notice that Soleimani was the key strategic asset for Iraq to eventually assert control of its oil wealth, while progressively defeating ISIS.

Killing Soleimani does prove that Trump, the intelligence community and Israel all agree on the essentials: there can be no entente cordiale between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Divide and rule remains the norm.

SYRIAN OIL FIELDS AND THE KURDS

Would the international community condone Syria if it sent its troops into US territory to secure US oil refineries for its own use? Of course not.

Why then is there no public outcry when the US forcibly occupies northeastern Syria and robs that war-ravaged country of its oil and gas reserves?

The Al Omar oil field in Deir Ez Zor is the largest in Syria. Prior to 2011, it produced 350,000 barrels of oil per day and exported about half. Today, because of the destruction caused by US bombing raids, it produces only about 24,000 barrels per day, hardly enough to cover Syrian domestic needs. And because of rigid US sanctions, imposed by Trump, Syria is prevented from importing oil to cover those losses.

Initially, the US president had ordered a withdrawal of all US troops from the region around Deir Ez Zor, but then, at the last minute, reversed that decision, deciding, instead, to establish a long-term US occupation of northeastern Syria in order to “secure the oil fields.” Since that reversal, the US military has increased its troop size, built two new military bases in Deir Ez Zor, and invited Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism in Syria, to help repair and extract the black gold. In addition to the oil field in Deir Ez Zor, the US now occupies three other fields along with the largest gas facility in Syria and a crucial power plant.

Shortly after the uprising began in 2011, the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party), which had been encamped with the PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party) in northern Iraq, returned to Syria, bringing with them a contingent of fighters. In July 2012, it took advantage of the regime’s security force withdrawal from Kurdish areas to firmly establish its political and security presence, ousting Syrian government officials from municipal buildings in at least five of its strongholds and replacing the Syrian flag with its own. In so doing, it openly asserted itself as the authority in charge of state institutions in the region, and against the wishes of the local Arab-Sunni population, established relations with the US military.

The Kurds, a distinct ethnic group with their own language, are comprised of mostly moderate Sunnis with a small percentage of Shiites, Christians and Jews. Some thirty million Kurd live scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, with some 200,000 of them settled along Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. The Kurds tried but failed to form a separate state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and instead carved out self-governed regions in Syria and Iraq. After World War I, Western powers divided the former Ottoman Empire into the current Middle East, promising the Kurds a part of present-day Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. The Treaty of Lausanne, three years later, scrapped the decision to grant the Kurds a homeland and instead established Turkish sovereignty on the new Republic of Turkey. Today, Kurds make up twenty percent of Turkey’s population.

When the US president ordered the US troop withdrawal, Turkey took advantage of the void and invaded the area. And as the Turks considered the Kurdish militias belonging to the PKK to be terrorists, those Kurds suffered enormous losses. In the face of imminent ethnic-cleansing at the hands of the Turks, the Kurds beseeched Damascus to come to their rescue, which it did, and a renewed alliance was established which saw the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian military police arriving into the area to protect the Kurdish as well as other local residents.

When Trump decided to keep US troops in northeastern Syria, the PYD Kurds, even though they had just formed an alliance with the Assad government, agreed to continue working with the US occupation forces in the oil fields much to the dismay of the local Arab Sunni residents who distrust not only the Kurds but the US military, blaming both for robbing them of their oil wealth.

It is quite possible, because of Trump’s ill-fated decision to keep a US presence in northeastern Syria, that US forces will soon find themselves up against violent local resistance similar to that which US troops continue to experience in their prolonged occupation of Iraq. Is that not too high a price to pay for a few extra gallons of oil?

Cathy Sultan is the author of two books about the war in Syria. Both The Syrian and Damascus Street

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