When Netanyahu Crossed the Line …

International Policy Digest

The bombing of an Israeli embassy car in Delhi threatens India’s diplomatic maneuvers between Israel and Iran, and has put India’s discreetly nurtured ties with Israel since 1992 through a severe test. Those who are attracted to Israel’s depiction of Iran as a terrorist threat to world peace would do well to read historian Mark Perry’s account, revealing that Israel is recruiting, and collaborating with, terrorist groups in a secret war with Iran. That low-level conflict is spreading. Israel’s latest reaction should be seen in the light of Perry’s revelations.

The Israeli government’s hasty and aggressive posture following the Delhi bombing has caused offense in the Indian capital. Officials in Delhi have made plain that India will not be recruited into the anti-Iran alliance under Israeli–U.S. pressure. India will not allow “Washington, the Jewish lobby and much of Europe to push the country into a corner” over Iran. How India conducts its ties with that country dating back to ancient times is its business. Furthermore, police investigations into the bombing cannot be rushed to suit external interests. The law of the land must take its course.

What particularly irked Indian officials was that immediately after the Delhi bomb (another device was defused by Georgian police in Tbilisi on the same day), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sought to upstage India’s police investigations into the incident. Netanyahu described the Iranian government as the world’s “largest terror exporter” and Hezbollah in Lebanon as Iran’s “protégé.” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went further saying, “We know exactly who is responsible for the attack and who planned it, and we’re not going to take it lying down.”

As if that was not enough. Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau intervened with his own comment, calling “India’s support for the Palestinians at the UN a mistake,” and that he intended to “persuade” the Indians to change their stand. And Israel reportedly asked India to help sponsor a resolution against Iran in the UN Security Council, of which India is an elected member at present.

A full-scale Israeli offensive to force a complete overhaul of Indian foreign policy was under way. In the unlikely scenario of it happening, such an event would be a geopolitical earthquake. India’s reliance on oil producers who are firmly in the U.S. camp would be dangerously high. There would be other consequences in the short run. An audacious attack by Israel on Iran, with or without U.S. support, could be nearer, and so would the prospects of a wider Middle East conflict. For these reasons, India now stands between the present and the worst case scenario.

Police investigations were only beginning in Delhi when Israeli ministers spoke with such shocking certainly––the worst kind of megaphone diplomacy. For those sitting in the Indian capital, certain inferences were difficult to avoid. India had recently announced that it would abide by the UN sanctions against Iran, but would not obey additional sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. India would continue to buy oil from Iran, and an Indian trade delegation would visit Tehran in coming weeks.

Delhi was by no means alone in asserting an independent stance. Other countries, too, have been resisting what they consider to be strong-arm tactics by the anti-Iran bloc of nations to force reluctant governments to toe the line. The United States, the European Union and Israel are far from happy about this.

That the affair threatened India’s massive trade with Iran, and could derail India’s capacity to formulate its foreign policy, was not lost in Delhi. A number of Indian politicians and senior officials made the government’s position clear. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that terrorism and trade were “separate issues,” and that business with Iran would continue. A former diplomat of India and now a leading commentator, M. K. Bhadrakumar, described the Israeli offensive as a “smear campaign” that “Tehran’s agents had been going about placing bombs in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.”

Meanwhile, police investigations, and a visit by an Israeli Mossad team to Delhi, were continuing. Indian officials insisted that there was no “conclusive evidence” to link the attack to any particular group or country. And a senior police officer was categorical in saying that there was no link between the Delhi bomb and explosions that occurred in Bangkok the day after.

The Indians are normally too polite to engage in crude public diplomacy. But when ministers of a country of under 8 million, albeit advanced and heavily militarized, try to dictate policy to a nation of 1.2 billion people, it is perhaps too much for the Indian sensitivities.

I am on record as saying that, in the challenging 1990s decade when the Soviet Union collapsed, India was hasty and ill-advised to build a “flyover” to Israel, and from Israel straight on to the United States. Over the years, Israel’s multi-billion dollar sales of weapons based on American and Russian technologies, and intelligence sharing, have given India easy access to arms bazaar. But there is a cost. India can be vulnerable to pressure, and has ignored its interests in the Muslim world. Simply put, successive Indian governments put too many eggs in the (Israeli–U.S.) basket.

Now that India asserts its strategic interests independent of the United States and Israel, with the other members of the group called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), it faces a trial of strength. The outcome will depend on whether Delhi can establish its capacity to turn away from what look like instant gains, and promises for future, to secure its long-term interests that are essential for India’s place on the world stage.

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Iran Cutting Off Oil to Six European Union Countries – Press TV

Iran’s State TV (Press TV) says Iran is cutting off oil supplies to six European Union countries: France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. It said Iran will only sell to those European countries that agree to strike long-term agreements and guarantee payment.”

The French and the Dutch governments had become among the most anti-Muslim, anti-Iran, ruling elites in recent years. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are the most vulnerable economies in the European Union. So after a long time of Western bashing, Iran has responded with a significant retaliation. Counter-sanctions against France will hit President Sarkozy’s reelection prospects while, at the same time, hitting the weakest European Union economies has implications for EU unity.

However, the Guardian newspaper later reported that Tehran had denied cutting off oil supplies. What is known for sure right now is that the ambassadors of the six countries were called in to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran today and held separate talks with a senior Iranian official.

Oil prices began to rise after the initial Press TV report. Whatever turns out to be the case (supplies cut off or not), it shows how jittery the oil markets are.

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When is an ‘NGO’ not an NGO? Twists and Turns Beneath the Cairo Skies

Richard Falk writes in a guest column -

A confusing controversy between the United States and Egypt is unfolding. It has already raised tensions in the relationship between the two countries to a level that has not existed for decades. It results from moves by the military government in Cairo to go forward with the criminal prosecution of 43 foreigners, including 19 Americans, for unlawfully carrying on the work ofunlicensed public interest organizations that improperly, according to Egyptian law, depend for their budget on foreign funding. Much has been made in American press coverage that one of the Americans charged happens to be Sam LaHood, son of the present American Secretary of Transportation, adopting a tone that seems to imply that at least one connected by blood to an important government official deserves immunity from prosecution.

Washington has responded with high minded and high profile expressions of consternation, including a warning from Hilary Clinton that the annual aid package for Egypt of $1.5 billion (of which $1.3 billion goes to the military) is in jeopardy unless the case against these NGO workers is dropped and their challenged organizations are allowed to carry on with their work of promoting democracy in Egypt. And indeed the U.S. Congress may yet refuse to authorize the release of these funds unless the State Department is willing to certify that Egypt is progressing toward greater democratization. President Obama has indicated his intention to continue with the aid at past levels, given the importance of Egypt in relation to American Middle Eastern interests, but as in so many other instances, he may give way if the pressure mounts. The outcome is not yet clear as an ultra-nationalistic Congress may yet thwart Obama’s seemingly more sensible response to what should have been treated as a tempest in a teapot, but for reasons to be discussed, has instead become a cause celebre.

The Americans charged are on the payroll of three organizations: International Republican Institute (IRI), Democratic National Institute (DNI), and Freedom House. The first two organizations get all of their funding from the U.S. Government, and were originally founded in 1983 after Ronald Reagan’s speech to the British Parliament in which he urged that help be given to build the democratic infrastructure of newly independent countries in the non-Western world put forward as a Cold War counter-measure to the continuing appeal of Marxist ideologies. From the moment of their founding IRI and DNI were abundantly funded by annual multi-million grants from Congress, either directly or by way of such governmental entities as the U.S. Assistance for International Development  (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy. IRI and DNI claim to be non-partisan yet both are explicitly affiliated with each of the two political parties dominant in the United States, with boards, staffs, and consultants drawn overwhelmingly from former government workers and officials who are associated with these two American political parties. The ideological and governmental character of the two organizations is epitomized by the nature of their leadership. Madeline Albright, Secretary of State during the Clinton presidency, is chair of the DNI Board, while former Republican presidential candidate and currently a prominent senator, John McCain, holds the same position in the IRI. Freedom House, the third main organization that is the target of the Egyptian crackdown also depends for more than 80% of its funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and is similarly rooted in American party politics. It was founded in 1941 as a bipartisan initiative during the Cold War by two stalwarts of their respective political parties, Wendell Wilkie and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Against this background the protests from Washington and the media assessments of the controversy seem willfully misleading. Since when does Washington become so agitated on behalf of NGOs under attack in a foreign country? Even mainstream eyebrows should have been raised sky high when Martin Demsey, currently the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, while visiting Cairo was reported to have interceded with his military counterparts on behalf of these Americans made subject to a travel ban and faced with the threat of prosecution. When was the last time you can recall an American military commander interceding on behalf of agenuine NGO? To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ‘the answer my friends, is never.’ So even the most naïve among us should be asking ‘what isreally going on here?’

The spokespersons for the organizations treat the allegations as a simple case of interference with the activities of apolitical and benevolent NGOs innocently engaged in helping Egyptians receive needed training and guidance with respect to democratic practices, especially those relating to elections and the rule of law. Substantively such claims seem more or less true at present, at least here in Egypt. Sometimes these entities are even referred to by the media as ‘civil society institutions,’ which reflects, at best, a woeful state of unknowing, or worse, deliberate deception. Whatever one thinks of the activities of these actors, it is simply false to conceive of them as ‘nongovernmental’ or as emanations of civil society. It would be more responsive to their nature if such entities were described as ‘informal governmental organizations.’ (IGOs).

It is hardly surprising that a more honest label is avoided as its use would call attention to the problematic character of the undertakings: namely, disguised intrusions by a foreign government in the internal politics of a foreign country with fragile domestic institutions of government by way of behavior that poses at the very least a potential threat to its political independence. With such an altered interpretation of the controversy assumes a different character. It becomes quite understandable for the Egyptian government seeking to move beyond its authoritarian past to feel the need to tame these Trojan Horses outfitted by Washington. It would seem sensible and prudent for Egypt to insist that such organizations, and especially those associated with the U.S. Government, be registered and properly licensed in Egypt as a minimum precondition for receiving permission to carry on their activities in the country, especially on matters as sensitive as are elections, political parties, and the shaping of the legal system. Surely the United States, despite its long uninterrupted stable record of constitutional governance, would not even consider allowing such ‘assistance’ from abroad.  If it had been proposed by, say, Sweden, an offer of help with democracy would have been immediately rebuffed, and rudely dismissed as an insult to the sovereignty of the United States  despite Sweden being a geopolitical midget and U.S. being the gorilla on the global stage.

And these Washington shrieks of wounded innocence, as if Cairo had no grounds whatsoever for concern, are either the memory lapses of a senile bureaucracy or totally disingenuous. In the past it has been well documented that IRI and DNI were active in promoting the destabilization of foreign governments that were deemed to be hostile to the then American foreign policy agenda. The Reagan presidency made no secret of its commitment to lend all means of support to political movements dedicated to the overthrow of left-leaning governments in Latin America and Asia. The most notorious instances involving the use of IRI to destabilize a foreign government is well known among students of American interventionist diplomacy. For instance IRI funds were extensively distributes to anti-regime forces to get rid of the Aristide government in Haiti, part of a dynamic that did lead to a coup in 2004 that brought to power reactionary political forces that were welcomed and seemed far more congenial to Washington’s ideas of ‘good governance’ at the time. IRI was openly self-congratulatory about its role in engineering a successful effort to strengthen ‘center and center/right’ political parties in Poland several years ago, which amounts to a virtual confession of interference with the dynamics of Polish self-determination.

Although spokespersons for these organizations piously claim in their responses to these recent Egyptian moves against them to respect the sovereignty of the countries within which they operate, and especially so in Egypt. Even if these claims are generally true, ample grounds remain for suspicion and regulation, if not exclusion, on the part of a territorial government. An insistence upon proper regulation seems entirely reasonable if due account is taken of the numerous instances of covert and overt intervention by the United States in the political life of non-Western countries.

Against such a background, several conclusions follow: first, the individuals being charged by Egypt are not working for genuine NGOs or civil society institutions, but are acting on behalf of informal government organizations or IGOs; secondly, the specific organizations being targeted, especially the DNI and IRI are overtly ideological in their makeup, funding base, and orientation; and thirdly, there exist compelling grounds for a non-Western government to regulate or exclude such political actors when due account is taken of a long American record of interventionary diplomacy. Thus the Washington posture of outrage seems entirely inappropriate once the actions of the Egyptian government are contextually interpreted.

Yet the full story is not so simple or one-sided. It needs to be remembered that the Egyptian governing process in the year since the uprising that led to the collapse of the Mubarak regime has been controlled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAP), which is widely believed by the Egyptian public to be responsible for a wave of repressive violence associated with its fears that some democratic demands are threatening their position and interests in the country. A variety of severe abuses of civilian society have been convincingly attributed to the military.  As well the military is responsible for a series of harsh moves against dissenters who blog or otherwise act in a manner deemed critical of military rule. In effect, the Egyptian government, although admittedly long concerned about these spurious NGOs operating within its territory even during the period of Mubarak rule, is itself seemingly disingenuous, using the licensing and funding technicalities as a pretext for a wholesale crackdown on dissent and human rights so as to discipline and intimidate a resurgent civil society and a radical opposition movement that remains committed to realizing the democratic promise of the Arab Spring.

There is another seemingly strange part of the puzzle. Would we not expect the United States to side the Egyptian military with which it worked in close harmony during the Mubarak period. Why would Washington not welcome this apparent slide toward Mubarakism without Mubarak? Was this not America’s preferred outcome in Egypt all along, being the only outcome that would allow Washington to be confident that the new Egypt would not rock the Israeli boat or otherwise disturb American interests in the region. There is no disclosure of U.S. motives at this time for its present seemingly pro-democracy approach, but there are grounds for thinking Washington may be reacting to the success of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour (Salafi) Party in the Egyptian parliamentary elections and even more so to the apparent collaboration between these parties and the SCAF in planning Egypt’s immediate political future. In such a setting it seems plausible that sharpening state/society tensions in Egypt by siding with the democratic opposition would keep alive the possibility of a secular governing process less threatening to U.S./Israeli interests, as well as inducing Egypt itself to adopt a cautious approach to democratic reform. Maybe there are different explanations more hidden from view, but what seems clear is that both governmental in this kafuffle have dirty hands and are fencing in the dark at this point, that is, mounting arguments and counter-arguments that obscure rather than reveal their true motivations.

In the end, Egypt, along with other countries, is likely to be far better off if it prohibits American IGOs from operating freely within its national territorial space, especially if their supposed mandate is to promote democracy as defined and funded by Washington. This is not to say that Egyptians would not be far better off if the SCAF allowed civilian rule to emerge in the country and acted in a manner respectful of human rights and democratic values. In other words what is at stake in this seemingly trivial controversy lies hidden by the smokescreens relied upon by both sides in the dispute: weighty matters of governance and democracy that could determine whether the remarkable glories of the Arab Spring mutate in the direction of a dreary Egyptian Autumn, or even Winter.

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Revealing the Obvious

The conflict in Syria continues to take lives on both sides in what increasingly looks like a civil war. The bloodshed in Homs has captured most attention in recent days, but we should not forget violence in the capital Damascus and other Syrian towns, under government control, where lives have been lost and a climate of fear prevails. Twenty-four hour news coverage means unlimited hunger for detail, factual, exaggerated or invented. Newspapers and broadcasters have acquired a taste for ‘privileged’ information from interest groups, and report it uncritically as if it were true, especially since the events of September 11, 2001. For interest groups offering ‘privileged’ information, what is revealed, and when, becomes central in the propaganda war, and news outlets are mere tools.

This tendency is again apparent in the reporting of the conflict in Syria. Groups of Syrian exiles, such as the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (the name reminds of the Libyan National Council), have gained a grip over what we hear in Western countries. The Syrian government’s reluctant dealings with the foreign media have not helped, but there are indications of it learning the lesson slowly. One lobby group calling itself the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights projects itself as the authentic voice on events inside Syria.

The Syrian Observatory is a London-based group that regularly makes unverifiable claims of large casualties in the conflict, victims of Assad’s forces. The observatory rarely talks about casualties on the government side and is dedicated to Assad’s overthrow. When accuracy in reporting Syria is paramount, news outlets in the West are saturated with questionable sources and uncorroborated claims. From areas in government control, information is sparse.

Professing to tell a secret whose veracity, or lack thereof, is already known to people has an underlying and deliberate motive. The BBC recently said it had seen a ‘leaked’ NATO report showing what the major actors were up to in Afghanistan. Among the secrets were indications that the Taliban were expanding their influence in the country; they were infiltrating the Afghan army, the police, made possible by government corruption; the militants were gaining support in the population; Afghans preferred Taliban rule, not that of the present government; and Pakistan’s military intelligence agency ISI was continuing to manipulate senior Taliban leaders, whose whereabouts and activities were known to it. How many times have we heard all that before?

The context of the ‘leaked’ NATO report was more important than its recycled content. That the Taliban have a relatively small, though unknown, membership is not a secret. Support for them is growing in Pashtun areas, and on the rise, is no secret either, given their activities and reach. Penetration of the militants into the army and the police has been obvious for years. One needs to remember attacks from inside Afghanistan’s security forces on fellow Afghan and foreign troops, government buildings and officials. Afghans have learned through history that foreign occupiers have come and gone. Afghan has to live with Afghan, including Taliban relatives and neighbors.

That Pakistan’s military intelligence ISI has been involved in Afghanistan is a story at least 30 years old, first with the Mujahideen and then their successors, the Taliban. Indeed the CIA armed the Mujahideen in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation forces, and then the Clinton administration in the 1990s briefly flirted with the Taliban as they expanded their control in Afghanistan. I discuss all this in my book, Breeding Ground (Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C., 2011).The ISI’s relationship with these groups is rather like the CIA’s or the Soviet KGB’s activities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and other parts of the world. Claims about the NATO report telling anything new are absurd.

A more interesting aspect of the ‘leaked’ report concerns realpolitik. The leak was timed to coincide with a visit by Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul, where she was holding talks with President Karzai. The visiting foreign minister was left responding to accusations against her country’s role in Afghanistan going back 30 years or more, instead of talks she had just had.

Two events in 2011 caused a breakdown in America’s relationship with its ally in the ‘war on terror.’ One was the covert operation by U.S special forces to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad deep inside Pakistani territory in May. The other event was the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by the Americans inside Pakistan. U.S. attempts to blame the incident on the Pakistanis made it worse. Washington has had to pay a price in lost cooperation, including access to Shamsi airbase in a remote part of Balochistan province, and blocked NATO supply routes.

Further, the direct relationship President George W. Bush had forged with Pakistan’s military has soured. And the military and Pakistani courts are, in their separate ways, lining up against President Asif Ali Zardari and his civilian government. Speculation is rife in Islamabad that the Supreme Court will find Zardari’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gailani in contempt for not initiating corruption charges against the sitting president. And if Gailani were to be found guilty, it would trigger an early general election, which Zardari’s People’s Party could lose.

Context is everything in news. The ‘leaked’ NATO report on the military situation in Afghanistan was largely recycled information, useful for the official leakers and journalists who got the scoop. Immediately after the ‘leak’ came the U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta’s statement that the Obama administration may wind down American combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013, a year before had been envisaged until recently. Was the NATO ‘leak’ an attempt by the military establishment to pre-empt President Obama’s plan for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan? The timing certainly complicated the Pakistani foreign minister’s talks with President Karzai in Kabul. Who might gain from the NATO report? And in Syria, in the midst of an escalating conflict and its human cost, who might lose or gain among the internal and external actors? These are the questions that beg answers. For without such context, reporting is no more than a means to serve the interests of political actors making news and journalists chasing scoops.

 

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