Tag Archives: Operation Cast Lead

“Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies” – Norman Finkelstein lambasts the international community for its blind spot on Israel

Following the announcement that Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, Democracy Now! invited Finkelstein into their studio to give an extended interview.

Click here to watch the first section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. A leading scholar on Israel-Palestine and veteran political activist, Finkelstein is the author of many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. His latest book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

The full interview lasts more than 90 minutes and was broadcast in two parts [January 10th and 19th] – it is embedded below with all sections kept in the original sequence. For the purposes of clarity, however, I have decided to republish a selection of what Finkelstein said under three separate headings: criticisms of human rights organisations, of the UN and Ban Ki-moon in particular, and of recent US administrations. For the same reason, sections from the interview are cut and pasted not always in the original sequence. I very much encourage readers to watch to the full interview.

Click here to watch the second section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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The big lies

The Big Lie about Gaza is that it’s an aggressor, that Gaza is aggressing against Israel, and Israel is reacting in self-defense. It’s a double lie. The first lie is, most of the Israeli attacks on Gaza don’t even have anything to do with Gaza. So, if you take Operation Cast Lead, in 2008, ’09, why did Israel attack Gaza? Not because of Gaza. Not because of anything Gaza did. The Israelis were very honest. This is revenge for Lebanon. In 2006, Israel suffered a major defeat in Lebanon against the Hezbollah, the Party of God. And then Israelis began to panic. They’re losing what they call their deterrence capacity. And their deterrence capacity simply means—it’s a fancy, technical term for the Arabs’ fear of us. […]

The second big lie is, what does Gaza consist of. When you read the official reports, even when you read the human rights reports, they talk about this big arsenal of weapons that Hamas has accumulated. Number one, how do you know how many weapons they have? If you knew how many weapons they had—have, then you must know where they are. And if you know where they are, then Israel would preemptively strike. If it’s not preemptively struck, it’s because it doesn’t know anything about the weapons. Israel plucks numbers out of thin air, and then all the official media, and even the critical human rights organizations, repeat these numbers. They talk about Grad missiles and Fajr missiles.

What is Gaza? What are its weapons? What is its arsenal? Let’s take the last attack. We have exactly—we know exactly how much damage was done by these weapons. There were 5,000 so-called rockets and 2,000 mortars fired at—mortar shells fired at Israel. So, altogether, that’s 7,000 projectiles. You know the damage done? Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had a diary, listing all the damage done each day. Five thousands rockets, 2,000 mortar shells. One house was destroyed. One house. How is it possible that 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells can only destroy one house? Because they’re not rockets. They’re fireworks. They’re enhanced fireworks.

Click here to watch the third section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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On justifications for the 2014 military offensive

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu says two things: Number one, Israel had no option, and, number two, that it used the minimum amount of force. Well, let’s look quickly at those two points.

Point number one, everybody agreed that the reason they went—once the fighting began, Hamas had one goal. The goal was to end the siege of Gaza, to lift the siege. Under international law, that siege is illegal. It constitutes collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. The siege has been condemned by everybody in the international community. He had an option. He didn’t have to use force. He simply had to lift the siege. And then there wouldn’t have been a conflict with Gaza.

Number two, he claims he used minimum force. There’s a lot to say about that. You can decide for yourself whether it’s minimum force when Israel leveled 18,000 homes. How many Israeli homes were leveled? One. Israel killed 550 children. How many Israeli children were killed? One. Now, you might say, “Well, that’s because Israel has a sophisticated civil defense system, or Israel has Iron Dome.” I won’t go into that; I don’t have time now. But there’s a simple test. The test is: What did the Israeli combatants themselves see? What did they themselves say?

We have the documentation, a report put out by the Israeli ex-service—ex-combatant organization, Breaking the Silence. It’s about 110 pages. You couldn’t believe it. You know, I’ll tell you, Amy, I still remember when I was reading it. I was in Turkey. I was going to a book festival. I was sitting in the back of a car and reading these descriptions of what the soldiers did. My skin was crawling. I was like shaking. Soldier after soldier after soldier. Now, bear in mind, you want to say they’re partisan, the soldiers? Read the testimonies. They’re not contrite. They’re not remorseful. They’re just describing what happened. There’s no contrition. These aren’t lefties, supporters of BDS. What do they describe? One after another after another says, “Our orders were shoot to kill anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.” One after another after another says, “Israel used insane amounts of firepower in Gaza. Israel used lunatic amounts of firepower in Gaza.”

Click here to watch the final section of the first part of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Human rights organisations

In my opinion, Israel has a problem, has always had a problem. The problem is, it keeps getting bad press, because when it keeps carrying out these massacres or these shootings, it gets bad press. And so, obviously, what’s the solution? Eliminate the press, eliminate the witnesses. So, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, they prevented any reporters from coming in. So, for three weeks, it was a free-for-all. Then, after Operation Protective Edge, they didn’t let any human rights organizations in, so they couldn’t see what was the damage done. So, then the human rights organizations, what they did was, in my opinion, crazy. They said, “If Israel doesn’t let us in, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t commit the war crime.” But that just incentivizes Israel not to let human rights organizations in. You get an agnostic verdict rather than a guilty verdict. […]

There were no human rights reports. Human Rights Watch published—for Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, it published seven quite substantial reports. After Operation Protective Edge, it published one tiny report, one tiny report of 15 pages. Amnesty International was the only major human rights organization that published major reports, but they were all whitewashes of Israel. They were a disgrace. I go through them systematically. The Amnesty chapter is one of the longest chapters in the book. Just going through it, as I said, Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies.

Blame on both sides? Look at the numbers…

And the main propaganda, even—or especially by the human rights organizations, is the pretense that there’s blame on both sides, there’s blame—there’s death and destruction on both sides. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, it’s just ridiculous to put them in the same category. I gave you a chart, you know, to illustrate the numbers in Operation Protective Edge. Civilians killed, roughly 1,600—1,600 to six, civilians killed. Houses destroyed, 18,000 to one. Children killed, 550 to one. You go down the list. How can you create balance out of a balance sheet like that? You know? Out of a grotesquely imbalanced balance sheet like that? And what the human rights organizations do is they simply inflate what happened on the Israeli. So, for example, you take Amnesty International. One child was killed. One child was killed. They describe the child’s death over two pages. So, you say, “OK, you know, it’s a child’s death. What’s wrong with two pages?” Well, then let’s have balance. Five hundred fifty Palestinian children were killed. Did you give that 1,100 pages? […]

You take Operation Protective Edge. Again, there is no evidence. I’ve read through all the human rights reports. None of them finds any evidence of human shielding. What they do claim they find is—there’s a technical term under international law that when you’re engaging in a military combat, you have to take feasible precautions to protect civilians, and that if you fighting in the vicinity of civilians, you are then guilty of a violation of international law. It’s not a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They claim Hamas fired or attacked Israel in the vicinity of civilians, so is guilty of not taking all feasible precautions, which is different than human shielding, which is a conscious practice of, as it were, inserting a human being between you and the enemy, for which there’s no evidence. […]

But then, Amnesty says something outrageous—in my opinion, outrageous. You know what it says? It says that Hamas should go to open areas and fight in the open areas of Gaza. Now, on its face, that might sound reasonable, except for, number one, there are very few open areas in Gaza; number two, the law does not say you have to do that. The law does not say you have to relocate all your troops in an open area. But then, number three, Gaza is not occupied internally by Israel. Gaza is surrounded by Israel, and it’s an occupation that is executed externally. So, here’s the problem. […]

Now, international law—according to these human rights organizations, they all say all of Hamas’s weapons are illegal under international law, because they’re indiscriminate. The law is, you can’t use indiscriminate weapons. Hamas’s weapons are very primitive, to say the least. So, international law says its so-called rockets are illegal, its so-called mortar shells—its mortar shells are illegal. Now, what are you left with? Amnesty says to Hamas, “You have to go into an open space, but you can’t use any of your weapons.” But if you can’t use any of your weapons, because they’re indiscriminate, how do you defeat an externally controlled occupation? The only thing Amnesty didn’t tell them to do was to line up like ducks and let the Israeli airplane come in and mow them down.

Now, you might smile at that, but that’s literally—that’s where you’re left. That’s where you’re left, with what these human rights organizations are saying. It’s not to defend Hamas. It’s just to look at the law objectively, rationally, and ask yourself, “Is what—are what the human rights organizations saying fair? Is it true?” All the human rights organizations, they’ll always say Israel used disproportionate force. They’ll say Israel used indiscriminate force.

But there’s one thing they’ll never say. You know what they’ll never say? Israel targeted the civilians. Because that’s the no-no. You see, under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Disproportionate attacks are war crimes. Targeting civilians are war crimes. That’s the law. But then there’s public opinion. Public opinion, it’s willing to turn a blind eye to disproportionate attacks. Actually, how can you even prove an attack is disproportionate? It’s almost impossible. They’ll even say, yeah, indiscriminate attacks, because it’s hard to separate civilians from soldiers. The one thing public opinion won’t tolerate is the targeted attack on civilians. That’s exactly what Israel does in every one of its massacres, and that’s exactly the thing that the human rights organizations—now, not during Operation Cast Lead, now, after the Goldstone debacle—that’s the one thing they all shy away from. They don’t want to say Israel targets civilians. […]

Israel is always targeting children. You have so many cases, like you have children playing on a roof. Right? A drone comes in. Human Rights Watch says—its report was called “Precisely Wrong,” after Operation Protective Edge—excuse me, Operation Cast Lead. The drone comes in. Human rights report says the drone can see very clearly what it’s targeting. The drone, it could—up to the very last minute, very last minute, it could divert. Goes right for the kids.

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UN and Ban Ki-moon

In 2014 there was a more notorious incident when an Israeli gunboat targeted a group of children playing games on a beach. The murders were carried out directly in front of a hotel packed with reporters.

So, what does the U.N. Human Rights Council report say, the one by Mary McGowan Davis? “Israel didn’t take all feasible precautions.” All feasible precautions? There was no battle going on. There was no—there was no combat. There were only children there. “We don’t know why Israel mistook these children for militants.” […]

Yeah, when [Ban Ki-moon] was U.N. secretary-general, he does all the bidding for the United States when it comes to Israel-Palestine. I don’t want to go through—I can’t go through this whole sordid record, but the—Israel attacked seven U.N. shelters, which were housing civilians during Operation Protective Edge. And then, on August 3rd, finally, Ban Ki-moon has to say something. And he says, “This is a disgrace, this is outrageous, attacking civilian shelters.” August 3rd, Obama, he no longer has a fig leaf. Ban Ki-moon backed out.

And now—and now Obama is alone on the world stage. So, August 3rd, the same day, Obama attacks Israel for the shelters, bombing the shelters. And now, Netanyahu, the day before, August 2nd, he says, “I’m not leaving Gaza.” After Obama says, “You can’t do this,” he leaves. Same day, August 3rd. Now, it is true, it did go on for another three weeks. It went on for another three weeks because you entered into the negotiation period, where Israel always brings in its most force to try to extract the best terms.

Click here to watch part two of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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US administrations past and present

On the bipartisan support for Israel

Well, it’s a little complicated question, how U.S.-Israeli policy works. But in general, you could say, when major U.S. national interests are at stake, the Israel lobby has very little power. We saw that, for example, during the negotiations over the agreement with Iran. That was a major U.S. international interest. The lobby was dead set against it. Netanyahu was dead set against it. But the agreement went through. And many of Israel’s strongest supporters—Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, the whole gang—they supported the agreement.

But when a major U.S. interest is not at stake, the lobby is quite powerful. So you take, in this particular case, it was clear the Saudis, which is a U.S. major interest, didn’t care what the U.S. did with Jerusalem. They gave the green light: “If you want to give it to Israel, that’s fine with us. We don’t care.” So, no U.S. natural interest is at stake, and so Trump does what anybody does: He rewards his donors. In this case, it was Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who was strongly supporting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

But we have to bear in mind, it wasn’t just Trump. You know, sometimes the media wants to pile up on Trump. And they forget it’s not just Trump. Charles Schumer, the current Senate minority leader, Schumer was constantly attacking Trump, right after he got elected: “Why aren’t you recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital?” When Trump did recognize it, Schumer, Charles Schumer, he said, “He did it because of me. I was the one that urged him to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” So that’s the Senate minority leader speaking. And for the same reason—if you look at Schumer’s money, he gets it mostly from conservative, right-wing Jews and from Wall Street, the same sources of income as Trump, the same streams of income.

And on these questions, a lot of the Democrats, including Schumer—or especially Schumer, I should say—are worse than Trump. So, for example, after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israel killed the passengers aboard the humanitarian vessel, the Mavi Marmara, killed 10 passengers, Charles Schumer, he went before a group of Orthodox Jews, and he said, “The people of Gaza voted for Hamas. They voted for Hamas, and therefore economic strangulation is the way to go.” Now, bear in mind what that means. We’re talking about a population, more than half of which are children, who are living under a medieval siege. And what he’s effectively saying is we should continue starving them, until they vote or get rid of Hamas. Now, what do you say about something like that?

Under Obama

Look, the Obama administration was—played a really wretched role in all this. Let’s just take the obvious examples. Operation Cast Lead, it ends on January 17th. Now, remember, Obama was elected in November 2008. Operation Cast Lead ends January 17th, 2009. Obama didn’t say anything after he was elected. Do you know why it ends January 17th? Because Obama signals to the Israeli government, “Don’t mess up my inauguration, January 20th. I don’t want any distractions. You’ve got to end the operation.” That’s why they ended.

Now, you go to Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Every day, Obama or one of his officials said, “Israel has the right to protect itself. Israel has the right to protect itself,” as Israel is leveling Gaza. There was no—actually, there was no comparison between Protective Edge and Cast Lead. It was so much worse.

Under Trump

They’re using this moment—with Trump in power, they’re using this moment to try to eliminate as many witnesses as they can, keep everybody out. They want to do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza. It’s very hard for an outsider to get into Gaza. And now, the Israelis are carrying on in a very brazen way—the land grabs, the merciless killings of civilians, the brutal killings of civilians. And so, they want to clear the field of any witnesses. And they’re using the Trump presidency as a moment to seal off Gaza from any—excuse me, seal off the West Bank from any potentially hostile witnesses, to turn the West Bank into what they turned Gaza into. It’s hermetically sealed. There’s no way to witness the crimes as they unfold in real time.

And on the threat of the U.S. cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA

First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza—let’s just call them Gazans—70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be—it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American—the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all U.S. expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the U.N. expense—UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Israel, Palestine, USA

Oh, what a lovely war…! Gaza, ISIS and Ukraine

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.

An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.

The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.

So says Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen, writing an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Not enough war! – at first glance Cowen’s argument might appear not just shocking, but plainly nonsensical (or “counterintuitive” as Cowen puts it), although that’s mainly because ordinary folk (such as you and I) are in the habit of forgetting how war is extremely good business – if only for those in the business of war. What Cowen’s article reveals above all, therefore, is a cold calculating detachment that has always been secretly preferred by those moving within select circles. A moral relativism that has come to dominate in our degenerate age of coldly calculating neo-liberal orthodoxy. Cowen is unabashed in telling it like it (i.e., as he wishes to find it), because the vision of a better, saner alternative has been totally abandoned by his type.

He writes:

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.1

Reading Cowen’s case for war causes me to remember Orson Welles’ famous speech in The Third Man:

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

It reminds me too of the less celebrated scene that leads into Orson Welles’ most famous soliloquy. When high over postwar Vienna, gently rocking in a cabin on that famous old Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (played by Welles), who is racketeering in penicillin, justifies his actions to his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), saying that he really shouldn’t worry so much about what happens to ‘the dots’:

Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

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Gaza

The Gaza Strip is tiny. Twenty-five miles long and less than ten miles wide, yet home to nearly two million Palestinians. Unsurprisingly then, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It also happens to be one of the poorest.

Since 2007, Gaza has been blockaded on all sides. And with its air space tightly restricted and regularly patrolled by Israeli fighter jets and drones it is not so much a reservation for Palestinians, the majority of whom are forced to live in refugee camps composed of concrete shacks and open sewers, but also their de facto internment camp. For Gaza as a whole might better be thought of as the world’s largest prison:

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

So begins Noam Chomsky in an article he entitled “Impressions of Gaza” published in late 2012. Chomsky continues:

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy.2

The Gaza War, as Operation Cast Lead is also known, cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians at least 900 of whom were civilians. Over 4,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 residents displaced. On the Israeli side, ten soldiers were killed (four due to friendly fire) and three civilians also lost their lives. These figures alone show how this previous “Gaza War” was actually no war at all, but a one-sided, single-minded slaughter.

Then, in 2012, there was Operation Pillar of Cloud (sometimes translated, presumably to heighten the absurdity, as Operation Pillar of Defense). A blitzkrieg of aerial bombardment that ended with more than a hundred Palestinian civilians dead. Pillar of Defense – hardly. Pillar of something most definitely… and yet another tissue of lies.

And now, less than two years on, we are in the midst of another massacre being carried out under the even more risibly named Operation Protective Edge. To date more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed (a number that grows by the hour), the majority of whom are again civilians, and predominately women and children.

For what happens every few years is simply this: the Israeli generals, at the behest of their government, make the decision to “mow the lawn”. Meanwhile, the official pretext remains, that the escalating spiral of violence is solely the fault of Hamas and that hostilities will end only once the firing of Hamas rockets on Israel is stopped. The fact is, of course, that Israeli hostilities are never-ending. That those hostilities will end once Gaza is no longer a prison camp, which is a decision only Israel can make. Meanwhile, the regular collective punishment of the Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas can neither be morally nor legally sanctioned, and from a strategic point of view it is inexpedient in the extreme – presuming that the long-term aim really is to bring an end to the cycles of violence. For whilst clearly in violation of international law, this current outrage is not just extremely damaging to Israel’s international reputation, but also, and inevitably, it is bolstering support for Hamas, and just as their influence was beginning to wane. We must conclude therefore that those in charge of Israel are either remarkably stupid, or that they are more intent on keeping the conflict going, as well as keeping Gaza under siege, rather than seeking any offers of lasting peace.

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After writing this, I came across an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, Head of the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies, and published in the Jerusalem Post. In the piece, Sherman unflinchingly calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip. He writes:

Mowing the lawn’ won’t cut it

The reluctance to face unpalatable realities has spawned new terminology to paper over intellectual surrender, and mask unwillingness to accept the need for regrettably harsh but essential policies.

First, we were told that since there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, we should adopt an approach of “conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution.”

Now we have a new term in the professional jargon to convey a similar perspective: “mowing the grass.” This is the name for an approach that entails a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable.

Its “rationale” – for want of a better term – was recently articulated by Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, as: “The use of force, not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather [as a] long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”

Sadly, what we have seen is that far from “debilitating the enemy capabilities,” because said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.

It is an open question just how many more rounds of “mowing” the residents of southern Israel will endure before losing confidence that the government will provide adequate protection and choose to evacuate the area.

No, periodically mowing the lawn is not a policy that can endure for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.3

Click here to read Martin Sherman’s full article.

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ISIS

Where did ISIS come from?” a friend asked a few months ago. Well, although they first spread their obscene wings in the war on Syria, I reminded him, and in common with all factions within al-Qaeda, you can actually trace their ugly origins right back to Saudi Arabia. Then there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was al-Baghdadi who officially founded the group he called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – now translated, for reasons unknown to me, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or ISIS) – during April last year. Back then, ISIS were closely affiliated with another al-Qaeda faction known as Jabhat al-Nusra but soon afterwards bloody factional infighting caused a rift and a formal separation from the rest of al-Qaeda.4

More recently again, in fact just a month ago, al-Baghdadi called on other Muslims to rush to the aid of his pan-Islamic caliphate, now simply called ‘Islamic State’, whose caliph is, somewhat unsurprisingly, al-Baghdadi himself.5 At the time indeed the news was full of it – constantly repeating those promotional videos for ISIS. There is a growing concern that British Muslims may be attracted to the Jihadist cause by these glossy new commercials, we kept hearing… like a commercial.

Aside from having generous sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and fingers have been pointed toward Saudi Prince Adbul Rahman al-Faisal in particular6 – many in the ranks of this latest batch of Islamists were also more directly assisted with training courtesy of the British, French and US across the border in Jordan. This is denied, of course, since officially we only trained “ the moderates”. But then prior to the well-advertised emergence of ISIS, western powers had become remarkably candid in their disinterest when it came to making careful distinctions between the various “rebel forces”. Any enemy of Assad was a friend of ours.

And, in reality, the moderates in the Syrian conflict had been rather quickly squeezed out (as I pointed out in a number of previous articles), so that when groups like al-Nusra and then ISIS moved in to spearhead the continuing offensive, the West had knowingly continued to back them (I refer the reader again to previous posts and recommend following the “al-Nusra” tag).

Not that this feckless approach to foreign policy is particularly novel. Al-Qaeda was always an American formulation, having been purpose-built to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since which time, its growth has been encouraged less directly thanks to power vacuums which followed in the wake of attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria. Added to which, weapons and forces from Libya were more deliberately transported into Syria as Seymour Hersh, amongst others, has since exposed. So, and to answer my friend’s question more fully, ISIS is to a very great extent our own monster. For it is western foreign policy that has allowed ISIS to establish itself, and without continued support from the Gulf States – our allies – ISIS might now be rather promptly eradicated.

If the aim is to stop al-Qaeda in their tracks (or at least their latest branch, ISIS), then it would be very much more profitable to pull the whole operation out by its roots – roots that lie fully exposed in Saudi Arabia. So instead of drone attacks or air strikes on Iraq (and in the likely future Syria), why aren’t we sending our ultimatum to the Saudis?

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Ukraine

The conflict over Palestine goes back some seventy years to the very formation of Israel, and whilst the rise of al-Qaeda across wide expanses of Iraq and Syria can easily be traced to the illegal Iraq War that was ignited by Bush and Blair more than a decade ago (and which has never properly ended), the immediate origins of today’s escalating “crisis” in Ukraine take us back just a few months.

Divisions between East and West regions, pro- and anti-Russia, that had been festering but were mostly dormant found a new expression. What was then widely presented as a grassroots pro-European uprising in fact turning out to be nothing other than a EU-inflamed and US-coordinated colour revolution ending in a bloody coup. Not a glorious liberation from oligarchy, but simply the replacement of one oligarchical coterie with another, more western-oriented oligarchical coterie. Worse, for this new clique were openly affiliated with leading members of the extreme right. The fascist party Svoboda now linked arms with the even more odious Right Sector as both sought a share of power; grabbing the chance of appointing one another into office.

Embedded below is an uncharacteristically candid BBC report about who really seized power in Kiev. It was broadcast in February on Newsnight:

Has the subsequent election (which was not even recognised as legitimate in many Eastern regions) of chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko as President of Ukraine helped to reign in the extremists? Well, this is the situation as it currently stands: three members of the cabinet including Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych are Svoboda representatives, whilst the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, more recently announced the complete dissolution of the Communist Party faction in the Verkhovna Rada. The banning of political parties is one measure of how far Ukraine is from functioning like a democratic state. Another being the monthly fist fights that take place inside the Rada.

This was April:

And this happened just a few weeks ago:

There is also President Poroshenko himself. The following is taken from a Guardian report published on Sunday July 13th , little more than one month after he had assumed office:

Over the weekend there was an escalation of both military action and rhetoric in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian jets carried out air strikes against separatist positions. On Friday, 23 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an attack using Grad missiles.

“For every soldier’s life, the militants will pay with dozens and hundreds of their own,” said Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, after Friday’s attack.7 [bold emphasis added]

Hardly the voice of reconciliation. And lastly, a more recent report, this time from BBC news, which delves into who exactly is fighting on the pro-government side of the conflict:

Mikael Skillt is a Swedish sniper, with seven years’ experience in the Swedish Army and the Swedish National Guard. He is currently fighting with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer armed group in eastern Ukraine. He is known to be dangerous to the rebels: reportedly there is a bounty of nearly $7,000 (£4,090; 5,150 euros) on his head. […]

As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi. […]

Mr Skillt believes races should not mix. He says the Jews are not white and should not mix with white people. His next project is to go fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because he believes Mr Assad is standing up to “international Zionism”.

Leaving Mr Skillt’s sordid opinions to one side, what are the thoughts of his comrades in arms?

Not all of Mr Skillt’s views are widely shared in the Azov Battalion, which is about 300-strong in total.

He says his comrades do not discuss politics much, though some of them may be “national socialists” and may wear swastikas. On the other hand, “there is even one liberal, though I don’t know how he got there”, he adds, with a smile in his voice.8

So much for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, an already latest benighted region suffering from an extreme economic crisis, and now deeply fractured by a terrible civil war from which, the UN reports, a hundred thousand refugees have already fled9, and where another thousand civilians have so far lost their lives.10

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For months, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating intense pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold-war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that have risen to the level of war crimes.11

So writes Stephen Cohen, who is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, in an article published by The Nation magazine on June 30th. A few weeks later, on July 18th, Cohen appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the ramifications of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the loss of all 298 lives on board. Asked: “what do you think we should understand about what has taken place?”; Cohen began:

The horror of it all, to quote Conrad, watching your reports on Gaza, knowing what I know but what’s not being reported in the mainstream media about what’s been going on in eastern Ukraine cities—these cities have been pounded by Kiev—and now this. “Emeritus,” as you call me, means old. I’ve seen this before. One function of cold war is innocent victims. The people who died, nearly 300, from many countries, are the first victims, nonresidential victims, of the new Cold War. This crash, this shootdown, will make everything worse, no matter who did it.

There are several theoretical possibilities. I am not a conspiracy buff, but we know in the history of the Cold War, there are provocations, people who want to make things worse. So, in Moscow, and not only in Moscow, there are theories that somebody wanted this to happen. I just can’t believe anybody would do it, but you can’t rule anything out.

The other possibility is, because the Ukrainian government itself has a capability to shoot down planes. By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons.

Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—that they had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.

There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them, possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, “Did anybody have a motive?” and the Russians certainly had no motive here. This is horrible for Putin and for the Russian position.

That’s what we know so far. Maybe we’ll know more. We may never know who did this.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Most of the news media went into a rapid and sustained feeding frenzy after the downing of flight MH17, but the question of whether or not it was the Russian separatists who shoot down the plane using “Putin’s Missile” remains hanging. One very laudable exception to the rule was tenacious Associated Press reporter Matt Lee. Here is Lee questioning US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, about the lack of evidence being presented. His main question: is there anything besides those uploads on social media? Her flustered answer can be summed up succinctly as no:

In defending the inherent flimsiness of the US position, which is that it’s suddenly common sense to trust in social media, Marie Harf told Lee that the State Department does have other evidence which proves the separatists were responsible, though she intimates that it is too sensitive to be released. But then the same US State Department made identical claims a mere twelve months ago, and had they been believed, we might have been rushed to launch air attacks against Damascus. As it turned out, however, the White House was lying and deliberately exaggerating the evidence they really held about the sarin attack on Ghouta. Contrary to what Marie Harf asserts, therefore, it is common sense to presume that the State Department would be prepared to deliberately lie again.

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s subsequent disclosure of the US evidence relating to the gas attack on Ghouta.

As the civil war in Ukraine worsens, we have been constantly reminded that this is Putin’s war. Just as the cause of the tragedy of MH17 was “Putin’s missile!” Not that Putin organised the overthrow of an elected government in Kiev, nor that Putin ordered a missile strike against a passenger plane, nor even that Putin’s “separatist” forces are deliberately shelling homes in Eastern Ukraine – the shelling of homes, as in Gaza, is the work of government forces. Putin is not presumed guilty on any of these counts even by his most vehement opponents, but he is found guilty on the grounds that he is covertly backing the anti-Kiev rebels (as we might alternatively call them), and arming them. Guilty, in other words, of doing what the West have done and are very likely still doing in Syria.

I take no pleasure in defending Putin, who is rightly vilified on so many other counts, but the facts remain and should speak for themselves. And it is Russia, not Putin, that we should be talking about in any case. For Russia has her own interests, and so long as Nato continues its encirclement, whoever holds office in the Kremlin will be held to account for protecting those interests. But we are being encouraged to obsess over Putin. What was once Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Bin Laden… is now Putin, Putin, Putin!

Meanwhile, the facts surrounding the crash of MH17 are still unclear. Not only do we not know which army fired the missile, but, with absolute certainty, we still do not know whether it was a missile that brought down the plane. Until a full and independent forensic investigation can establish the truth of what happened, we will continue remain in the dark.

Click here to read an article by Jason Ditz, writing for antiwar.com [July 22nd], which outlines the flimsiness of the evidence thus far presented by the US State Department.

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Final thoughts

I was exploring the byways of the web recently, scrolling across old territory and keeping a careful eye out for neglected news stories and offbeat opinions, when I came across a Guardian article from a decade ago that firmly arrested my attention. The article began as follows:

Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected Anglo-American claims that Saddam Hussein already possesses weapons of mass destruction and told Tony Blair that the best way to resolve the conflict of evidence is not war, but the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

With a tense Mr Blair alongside him at his dacha near Moscow, the Russian president took the unusual step of citing this week’s sceptical CIA report on the Iraqi military threat to assert: “Fears are one thing, hard facts are another”.

Times were rather different then, of course – as the closing statement in the same article reminds us:

Mr Blair called Mr Putin “a critical partner for ourselves and the whole of the western world.”

And times were different in another way too:

In his remarks Mr Blair, very much the bridge between the hawks in Washington and wider global scepticism, again said that “conflict is not inevitable” but that the international community must give a “strong and clear signal” to Baghdad to comply with its demands.12

Conflict was indeed not inevitable, but it happened anyway. And as the leakedBush-Blair memo later revealed, only months after meeting with Putin, Blair had been scheming with Bush on plans to launch their invasion – including a discussion of ways they might provoke Saddam Hussein into a confrontation. In the finish, however, no provocation was needed; barefaced lies would be enough.

Today marks a moment precisely a hundred years since the western world first went mad for war. The centenary of the start of that “war to end all wars”. Which didn’t happen: the wars go on. The blood-drenched mud of the trenches providing fertile ground for the rotten fruit of fascism to grow upon. The interwar period turning out to be just a lull before the still greater storm of carnage which was the Second World War – the bloodiest war that the world has ever known. Since when, with a Cold War promptly established against our former ally Russia, conflicts have constantly flared up in places far and wide. For sadly, no other century in history can compete with this last one when it comes to war.

It appears that pressure is rising again, with the many on-going regional wars worsening and spreading, and so one wonders with horrible trepidation where all this might be leading. Especially now that we are giving a “strong and clear signal” not to Baghdad but to Moscow. For what is the West’s real objective when it comes to tightening sanctions on Russia? Is the aim simply to pressure Putin with the hope of unseating him (an unlikely outcome given his current popularity), or will this eventually lead to a full-blown economic war. Sanctions in the past have opened the way for military conflict, so does war against Russia remain unimaginable… well yes, for the sane it does!

But there are also those who dream along the lines of Tyler Cowen. They view war as an opportunity, more than a threat, because they know that war is good for business. “Victims?” says Harry Lime, “Don’t be melodramatic.” Lime is a villain, but he knows the score.

War is a Racket is a pamphlet that was written by America’s most highly decorated soldier, General Smedley Butler. In it Butler explains, in painstaking detail, who actually won the First World War. The major corporations and financiers were its only real victors, he tells us, pointing out how the same can be said for all of the many other wars he helped to fight in. And so, as today we solemnly remember the sacrifice of the millions who laid down their lives a century ago, let this be the lasting lesson we take from that war. “War is a racket. It always has been.” Lest we forget.

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Update:

Israel’s month-long assault has so far left at least 1,865 Palestinians dead. As Israel pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip under the 72-hour ceasefire, Democracy Now! spoke with Jewish author, historian and political activist Norman Finkelstein, to discuss the events of the last month, and what in light of the new ceasefire, the likely outcome of talks will be. He began:

Well, the first thing is to have clarity about why there is a ceasefire. The last time I was on the program, I mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, he basically operates under two constraints: the international constraint—namely, there are limits to the kinds of death and destruction he can inflict on Gaza—and then there’s the domestic constraint, which is Israeli society doesn’t tolerate a large number of combatant deaths.

He launched the ground invasion for reasons which—no point in going into now—and inflicted massive death and destruction on Gaza, where the main enabler was, of course, President Obama. Each day he came out, he or one of his spokespersons, and said, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Each time he said that, it was the green light to Israel that it can continue with its terror bombing of Gaza. That went on for day after day after day, schools, mosques, hospitals targeted. But then you reached a limit. The limit was when Israel started to target the U.N. shelters—targeted one shelter, there was outrage; targeted a second shelter, there was outrage. And now the pressure began to build up in the United Nations. This is a United Nations—these are U.N. shelters. And the pressure began to build up. It reached a boiling point with the third shelter. And then Ban Ki-moon, the comatose secretary-general of the United Nations and a U.S. puppet, even he was finally forced to say something, saying these are criminal acts. Obama was now cornered. He was looking ridiculous in the world. It was a scandal. Even the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was now calling it a criminal act. So finally Obama, the State Department said “unacceptable,” “deplorable.” And frankly, it’s exactly what happened in 1999 in Timor: The limits had been reached, Clinton said to the Indonesian army, “Time to end the massacre.” And exactly happened now: Obama signaled to Netanyahu the terror bombing has to stop. So, Obama—excuse me, Netanyahu had reached the limit of international tolerance, which basically means the United States.

The youtube clip embedded above is a slightly truncated version of the original. Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Tuesday’s [Aug 5th] Democracy Now! also interviewed Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security at MIT and a leading missile expert, who believes there is no convincing evidence that Israel’s much-vaunted missile interception system Iron Dome is effective. This has not stopped President Obama signing a bill on Monday which grants an additional $225 million in emergency funding for Israel to replenish its arsenal of interceptor missiles for Iron Dome. American “foreign aid” that will be transferred directly into the pockets of one of America’s largest weapons companies, Raytheon. Postol doesn’t describe this as a racket, but if the Iron Dome is really as unreliable as he claims, then what else can such an enormous transfer of money from public to private hands be called…?

Click here to read the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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To hear more about the rise of ISIS, I also recommend the following Democracy Now! interview with Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, speaking on August 13:

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1 From an article entitled “The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth” written by Tyler Cowen, published by The New York Times on June 13, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/upshot/the-lack-of-major-wars-may-be-hurting-economic-growth.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

3 From an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, published in The Jerusalem Post on July 24, 2014. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Into-the-fray-Why-Gaza-must-go-368862

7 From an article entitled “Ukraine’s shelling could have irreversible consequences, says Russia” written by Shaun Walker, published by the Guardian on July 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/ukrainian-shell-russian-border-town-donetsk

8 From an article entitled “Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden” written by Dina Newman, published by BBC news on July 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28329329

9 “Since the start of 2014, approximately 110,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Russia – with only 9,600 requesting asylum – while more than 700 others went to Poland, Belarus, Czech Republic and Romania.”

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48159#.U96_7qOg6Uk

11 From an article entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities” written by Stephen F. Cohen, originally published in The Nation magazine on June 30, 2014 (revised on July 7 and July 17). http://www.thenation.com/article/180466/silence-american-hawks-about-kievs-atrocities#

12 From an article entitled “Putin demands proof over Iraqi weapons” written by Michael White, published in the Guardian on October 12, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/oct/12/russia.politics

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