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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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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Obama the Counter-Revolutionary

CounterPunch (March 24, 2011)

In my book Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan (Potomac Books, Inc., 2010), I described Barack Obama’s victory over his Republican opponent John McCain in the November 2008 presidential election as a revolutionary event. Tens of millions of Americans, men and women young and old, lined up patiently to cast their ballots, in the hope of overturning the excesses of the George W. Bush presidency, and bringing a nightmarish episode in American history to an end. The American people had had enough of George W. Bush, one of the most unpopular presidents in history as he left office. He was despised abroad, wreaking enormous damage to America’s moral and political leadership. An event by which the people constitutionally and peacefully voted to overturn the neoconservative Republican order under the Bush administration was nothing short of a “popular revolution.”

Ordinary Americans in extraordinary numbers attested to the term “popular revolution” by donating modest amounts of money – 10, 20, 50 dollars – to the Obama campaign. Among them were low-paid workers, trade unionists, teachers and students. It was their “audacity of hope” – not so much Obama’s – that gave them the belief that they could make the difference in a country tired of war and facing economic disaster. As Obama inched toward the Democratic nomination at the end of a bitter fight with Hillary Clinton, business magnates began to switch to the young pretender. Even then, support from the ordinary American accounted for more.

This widespread support at home, and goodwill abroad, was made possible due to Obama’s promises of disengagement from the Iraq war, which he described as the “wrong war,” (though the Afghan war was the “right war” for him), economic renaissance and setting aside “childish things.” These promises he reaffirmed at his inauguration speech, and promised to begin a dialogue with the Muslim world based on “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He devoted his celebrated, but now outdated, speech to mending the broken fences with the Muslim world in June 2009. In sum, Obama promised to transform the way in which his administration would work, and eventually a transformation of the United States of America.

However, I also observed in the same book that “I know of no revolution that has fulfilled all that it promised” in the long run. I mentioned the Soviet Union and China in the last century; Cuba is another example. Countries from the Soviet Central Asia to Central Europe were released from the shackles of Soviet domination as Soviet communism disintegrated. Two decades on, the situation in emerging states leaves a lot to be desired. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan are ruled with brute force by individuals or clans. Georgia, Poland, Romania are only slightly better. Other countries now firmly allied to the West have experienced racist authoritarian backlash.

Back to Obama’s historic victory and the “popular revolution” it was in November 2008. It was the people’s decisive response against George W. Bush’s wars – in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “war on terror” – that provoked resentment and violent opposition, opened up sectarian divisions and created Hobbesian conditions of war of all against all. The consequences were taking an exceptionally high toll in economic, human and political terms. The people’s mandate to Obama, the president, was to pull the United States out of the George W. Bush presidency’s toxic legacy. A year after taking over the presidency, Barack Obama was demonstrating the first signs that a counterrevolution was underway.

Two years on, Barack Obama, once preacher of change and hope, has become a counterrevolutionary. His administration has quickly adopted the imperialist “Project for the New American Century” of the Bush era, discredited, despised and dangerous. He has shamefully gone back on his promise of closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, hell on Earth made by torturers’ infamy during the Bush administration. Obama has lifted the suspension on military trials of the remaining detainees, most of them innocent or forced to confess under torture, confessions that reputable courts would not admit as evidence. Reasons given by Obama apologists that the prison camp was not closed because the U.S. Congress did not cooperate are simply not good enough. Scores of Democrats in both houses of Congress were elected on Obama’s coattail in November 2008, before the disaster struck the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. Where was his “Yes, we can!” rhetoric? Where was leadership? Guantanamo continues to be one of many blots on the United States of America. Compare Guantanamo to Castro’s regime today on the same island of Cuba. It is Washington’s shame.

Many more civilians, including women and children, continue to be massacred in Pakistan and Afghanistan in drone attacks that have escalated since Obama assumed the presidency. Unexplained killings of civilians and humiliation of night raids have proliferated. American death squads have massacred innocent civilians and kept their victims’ body parts as trophies. The latest pictures, just a few of many, published in Germany’s Der Spiegel are another bombshell. The Pentagon is once again “sorry.” These pictures threaten damage to the Obama administration like the Abu Ghraib photos damaged the Bush administration.

Obama’s promise of a dialogue with the Muslim world based on “mutual interest and mutual respect” has turned into an exercise in undisguised hypocrisy no different from George W. Bush’s. Obama’s response to the people’s nonviolent uprising in Egypt was slow. It was designed to ensure that, in the end, the Egyptian military remained in effective control, though Washington came to accept that it would have to abandon an old collaborator, President Hosni Mubarak. Even after the recent referendum, the situation in Egypt remains tenuous and prospects far from certain. Meanwhile the world’s attention has moved elsewhere.

Libya has become Obama’s first foreign military adventure, legal because it is based on a United Nations Security Council resolution but questionable in its legitimacy, as several scholars of international law have pointed out. But hypocrisy, double standards and callous disregard for human life and peoples’ aspirations for freedom in Bahrain and Yemen are there to see. Secretaries of state and defense, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, along with U.S. generals, have hijacked foreign policy, taking the lead before cameras. President Obama these days looks ill at ease, his once soaring rhetoric having abandoned him. He presides over a counterrevolution that is a travesty of promises he made en route to the White House.

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