Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Biggest Threat to Peace in Middle East

by Dr. Elias Akleh

A build up of heightened tension in the Middle East is escalating in the last few weeks. American and Israeli postures towards Lebanon, Syria, and Iran have become more threatening. Listening to speeches of political leaders one hears talks only about war not peace. Iranians and Israelis are continuously training hard for a possible showdown. Both sides are conducting extensive war games every month. This led Syrians to claim that Israel is preparing for a soon-to-come another war. The Jordanians also are warning that current stalemate of the peace process is an indication of a war breaking this summer. The Russian President and his army chief hinted, few months ago, that the US and Israel were planning for an attack on Iran.

Indeed Iran is, as it has been for last few years, the target of most of the threats and accusation of supporting terrorism. Escalating incitement against Iran the American Defense Department sent Last month (April) to Congress a report on Iran's military claiming Iran could develop intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US by 2015.Ignoring the fact that N. Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel are proven to have nuclear weapons while Iran does not, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose in her speech, to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference at the UN, to focus on Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions putting the whole world at risk as she put it. According to Clinton Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, rather than Israel's more than 200 nuclear bombs, is destabilizing the Middle East. She called on world's nations to rally around US efforts to hold Iran, not other nuclear countries, to account.

Accusation that Usama Bin Laden is living comfortably in Iran had received a boost after the broadcast of a documentary called "Feathered Cocaine". This echoed the June 2003 claims of the Italian newspaper Corre de la Sierra that Bin Laden was in Iran according to some intelligence report, and according to Richard Miniter's book "Shadow War". This accusation was countered by Ahmadinejad in ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos stating that, since Bin Laden was a previous partner of Mr. Bush, he is living comfortably in Washington DC not in Tehran. It was also widely reported that one of Bin Laden's wives was living in Tehran with six of his children and eleven grandchildren.

A recent Associated Press exclusive, May 13th, written by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, reported that according to CIA monitoring program RIGOR Saad, the son of Usama Bin laden and many Al-Qaeda leaders and operative had taken refuge into Iran after 911. This exclusive disqualifies itself stating that "But generally, the U.S. has only limited information about them.", and "Details are murky".

The American military capitalized on such rumors when the commander of US forces in the Middle East, general Petraeus, told Congress that Tehran is working with Al-Qaeda facilitating links between its senior leaders and affiliate groups.

Syria, in turn, was not spared from American and Israeli warnings and threats. Syria was accused of violating 2006 UN Resolution 1701 prohibiting the transfer of weapons to Lebanese Hezbollah. Just before the US Congress approves sending Robert Stephen Ford as American ambassador to Syria as a sign of improving relationships, the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, accused Syria of smuggling Scud missiles to Hezbollah. Peres' accusation prompted the Congress to suspend sending Ford to Damascus.

Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon was quoted by Lebanese daily An-Nahar as saying: "We have no evidence of any Scud missiles in UNIFIL's area of operations." The US, also, could not confirm any Scud missiles shipped to Lebanon. Scud missiles are large and are difficult to hide.

Although not mentioning Scud missiles in specific Israeli officials such as the head of the Israeli military intelligence research department, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, claimed that: "Weapons are transferred to Hezbollah on a regular basis and this transfer is organized by the Syrian and Iranian regimes." Syria was accused of transferring sophisticated weapons, such as M600 rockets, to Hezbollah. Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, accused Syria of importing weapons of mass destruction from North Korea to ship them to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak directly warned both Syria and Lebanon: "We make it clear once again that we see the government of Lebanon, and behind it the government of Syria, responsible for what happens now in Lebanon, And the government of Lebanon will be the one to be held accountable if it deteriorates."

The Americans parroted the Israeli claims. Hillary Clinton warned Syria of grave consequences of delivering weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas warning that such an act "could mean war or peace for the region … Hezbollah's acquisition of new weapons, especially long-range missiles, would threaten Israel's security and destabilize the region."

Robert Gates, the American Defense Secretary, had also accused both Iran and Syria of arming Hezbollah with sophisticated weaponry. Finally, citing what the White House alleged Syria's "extraordinary threat" to US security and foreign policy, Barack Obama decided to renew economic sanctions against Syria for another year. Obama said that Syria's "continuing support of terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the US".

Israel's fear was heightened by the visit of Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, to Syria, the first visit to Damascus by Russian ruler since 1917, to sign an arm trade agreement by which Russia would supply Syria with Mig-29 fighters, truck-mounted Pantzir short range surface to air missiles, and anti-aircraft artillery system. Building a Syrian nuclear power plant with Russian help was also discussed by the two leaders.

Turkey's improved relationships with Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and its sympathy towards Palestinians worry the US and Israel the most. Since Davos incident in January 2009 between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Israel's president Shimon Peres, Turkey seems to adopt the Palestinian cause. Turkey had sent humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza within "Viva Palestina" and "Break the Siege" campaigns, and is also sending three humanitarian ships to Gaza within the "Freedom Flotilla" campaign.

Turkey and Syria had dramatically improved their political, economic, socio-cultural, and military relationships. The two countries conducted, last April 2009, a three-day military exercise along their borders and signed a technical military cooperation agreement to strengthen collaboration between their defense industries.

Turkey had improved relationship with Iran, where trade between the two countries is expected to increase to $30 billion. Turkey had opposed economical sanctions against Iran, had repeatedly played down the alleged threat of Iran's nuclear program, and defended Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy. This month, May 2010, Turkey and Brazil convinced Iran to accept nuclear fuel swap on Turkish soil.

Turkey seems determined to protect its good relationships with Syria and Iran to a point of deploying anti-aircraft batteries along the Syrian border in the Iskenderun district to repel any US or Israeli aerial attack against Iran or Syria, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet. In a phone call with Al-Manar TV, Mustafa Ozcan, a Turkish political analyst, confirmed this fact.

A Middle Eastern geopolitical alliance between Turkey, Iran, and Syria and Lebanon seems to take shape. This alliance seems to provide a counterbalance for Israel's military superiority in the region, and a deterrent to any further Israeli terrorist attack against Gaza, Lebanon, or Syria. Israelis are afraid that they may not be able to win a war as convincingly and with impunity as they used to do, especially after their failures in 2006 Lebanese war and 2008 Gaza onslaught.

Israel's whining about Iran's and Syria's weapons is meant to portray the Israelis as the poor victims, and to justify any Israeli aggression against its neighbors. It is meant also to draw in the US for its rescue, as usual. Israel wants a joint American/Israel attack against Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis before their alliance become any stronger. American involvement is the wild card, as it always has been, that will maintain Israel's superiority in the region.

While supplying Israel with weapons allegedly for self defense the US denies this right to Palestinians, Lebanese, and Syrians. Coming to Israel's rescue, again, the US described Iran as the greatest threat to America, to its allies, to the Middle East, and to world peace by claiming that Iran is the region's greatest proliferator of weapons and supporter to terrorist groups.

Obama cited the possibility of nuclear Iran supplying nuclear material to some terrorist groups to be used against the US and its allies. The documented facts proved that the US is the only nuclear country that had secretly supplied nuclear material to terrorist Israel to build its nuclear bombs.

In his article "America's Loose Nukes in Israel", Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, explains how large quantities of America's highly enriched uranium and plutonium was smuggles to Israel via the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), part of Apollo Steel Company plant in Pennsylvania. A 1965 audit by Atomic Energy Commission discovered the shortage of 220 pounds of enriched uranium, and in September 1968 587 more pounds of enriched uranium went missing immediately after the visit of 4 Israelis, including Mossad agent Rafi Eitan. Also refer to the 1978 declassified report "Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion" regarding the investigation between 1957 and 1967 of the loss of highly enriched uranium in NUMEC.

Whistleblower former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds testified that Richard Perle, Doughlas Feith, and Marc Grossman, high ranking officials in G.W. Bush administration, were passing sensitive data and nuclear technology to Israel's military industrial complex.

Based on 30 declassified government documents from the National Security Archive in April 2006 Avner Cohen and William Burr published the article "Israel Crosses the Threshold" in the May-June 2006 issue of the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" indicating that the Nixon's administration decided to accept and to live with Israel's ambiguity of its nuclear weapons program, knowing very well that Israel had already built nuclear bombs.

At the Global Summit on Nuclear Security, last April, the US tried to rally nations against Iran's nuclear program, and supported the call for Middle East nuclear-free zone. Yet the US supported Israel's claim that it would consider signing the NPT and supporting such a nuclear-free zone only if there is a comprehensive Middle East peace.

The US, with 5,113 self-declared nuclear bombs and free of any IAEA monitoring process, is trying to use the NPT to monopolize nuclear technology and deny it to other countries. After signing the START Treaty on April 8th President Obama called for $80 billion in nuclear funding to modernize the US nuclear weapons complex to meet the need to "rebuild and sustain America's aging nuclear stockpile". This means making the bombs smarter, smaller in size, and more powerful. This $80 billion came on top of more than the additional $100 billion for nuclear deliver systems like submarines. The US has no intention of reducing its nukes, but to improve them.

War clouds are looming over the Middle Easter. Israeli military officials keep threatening to attack Iran claiming they can use military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel is primed to attack Iran boosted Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon. Iran is taking these threats seriously and is preparing for war through war games; two of them this month. Iran's strongest warning to Israel came Wednesday May 19 from Iranian Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, stating that if Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week. Sunday May 23 Israel is conducting its most intensive and comprehensive war games called "Turning Point-4" lasting five days and including 68 cities and towns. Could this be preparation for another war this summer?

During its short 62 years history Israel had fought 8 wars against its Arab neighbors. It had developed nuclear weapons and did not sign the NPT. It had used chemical and nuclear (DU) weapons against civilians. It violated many UN resolutions. It committed war crimes and many massacres against civilians. It had refused all Arab peaceful gestures and keeps threatening to attack its neighbors. It occupation and destruction of religious sites, especially Islamic, might provoke religious war in the region. Israel is the biggest threat to peace in the Middle East.

DR. ELIAS AKLEH: Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer from a Palestinian descent born in the town of Beit Jala. His family was first evicted from Haifa after the "Nakba" of 1948, then from Beit Jala after the "Nakseh" of 1967. He lives now in the US, and publishes his articles on the web in both English and Arabic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Defying the Universe

by Samah Sabavi

Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall
Do they need the army’s permission
For their prayers to reach the sky
For their love to cross the ocean
And touch your thirsty heart
Are your loved ones trapped

Do you yearn to be in your family home
And when you call them
Do they always say
“we are well, alhamdollelah”
Does it surprise you
That they are whole
But you… you are broken

Must they always worry about you
Urge you to have faith in your exile
Must they pity you
For not breathing the air
Of your ancestors’ land

Must they always comfort you
Even when the bombs are falling
Do you ever wonder who is walled in
Is it you, or is it them
And when it finally dawns upon you
That their dignity sets them free
Do you feel ashamed of your liberty

Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall
Do they tell you stories
Of how they survive
The trees they’ve replanted
The homes they’ve rebuilt

Do they assure you life goes on
Old men still fiddle with their prayer beads
Mothers still bake mamoul on eid
Families still gather under the canopies
With loaded bunches of grapes
Dangling above their heads
They nibble on watermelon seeds
They drink meramiah tea

Women perfect the art of match-making
Men talk of freedom and democracy
Children climb on a sycamore tree
Lovers woe in secrecy
And no matter how the conditions are adverse
Do your loved ones defy this universe

Your loved ones defy this universe
NOTE: Samah Sabawi is a Human Rights and Social Justice advocate. She was born in Gaza and shortly after her birth her family was displaced as a result of Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip in 1967. She has lived and worked in many countries around the world and is currently residing in Melbourne, Australia. In addition to numerous articles and poems (published in as many publications and web-sites), she has also co-authored with her father, Abdel-Karim Sabawi, a play “Cries from the Land” which was sponsored and produced by Friends of Sabeel and She has also produced the play “Three Wishes” based on her adaptation of Deborah Ellis's book "Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israelis Speak Out". Samah Sabawi is also former Executive Director and Media Spokesperson for the National Council on Canada Arab Relations.