Tag Archives: Syria

Dying for an imaginary right of return

Picking up on a report by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, blogger Elder of Ziyon recently found out that a Palestinian official used a meeting with diplomats to spread what can only be called a blood libel.

According to the Ma’an report, Fatah central committee member Mohammad Ishtayyeh said in a meeting with diplomats organized by the German Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ramallah “that the Palestinian Authority had attempted to negotiate the return of Palestinian refugees from Syria, but Israel had refused […] to allow them to come to the Palestinian territories.” The report noted that some “1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syria conflict, and around 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their homes in Syria due to violence in the country.”

But as Elder of Ziyon shows by quoting an AP report from January 10, 2013, Israel had “agreed to the return of those refugees to Gaza and the West Bank, but on condition that each refugee … sign a statement that he doesn’t have the right of return (to Israel).”

According to the AP report, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected this offer mediated by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, telling a group of Egyptian journalists in Cairo:

“So we rejected that and said it’s better they die in Syria than give up their right of return.”

With this callous statement Abbas demonstrated the hollowness and duplicity of Palestinian politics on several issues.

A report from this past January, entitled “Abbas hardens his stance on Palestinian ‘right of return,’” quotes Abbas stating in a recent speech:

“Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu-Mazen [Abbas], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return.”

If this was truly his position, Abbas would obviously also have no right to decide that Palestinians in Syria should remain in a dangerous war zone without even being asked if they wanted to give up their imaginary “right of return” to Israeli towns and villages they had never seen in order to find some safety in Gaza or the West Bank.

Quite unintentionally, Abbas also illustrated once more – and in multiple ways – how utterly ridiculous the Palestinian concept of a “right of return” really is. In early December 2012, a year before Abbas denied Palestinians in Syria the chance to find refuge in Gaza or the West Bank, he “returned to a triumphant homecoming in Ramallah after winning a resounding endorsement for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations General Assembly.” He told the cheering crowd:

“We now have a state… the world has said loudly ‘yes’ to the state of Palestine.”

Palestinians like to pose as a state at the UN (and on Twitter), they have countless embassies around the world, and the Arab League considers Palestine a member state. Yet, there are Palestinian “refugee” camps in the West Bank and Gaza, populated by residents who consider themselves “refugees” even though they and their parents were born in the territories that 138 UN member states supposedly recognize as the “State of Palestine.” They are “refugees” because, once upon a time, their grandparents lived in a place that is a few kilometers away from the place they live now, and it doesn’t matter that both places are supposedly in “historic Palestine.” As Abbas demonstrated once again by declaring that “it’s better” if Palestinians “die in Syria” than if they seek safety in the “State of Palestine” and give up the fantasy of “returning” to Israel, the so-called Palestinian cause is about one thing, and one thing only: trying to achieve what the Arab armies failed to accomplish in 1948 when they attempted to destroy the fledging Jewish state.

This is also the cause pushed so energetically by so-called “pro-Palestinian” activists – and they are as cynically open about it as Abbas: with their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” farce winding down, the Electronic Intifada published a post devoted to “Visualizing the discrimination faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.” Yes, it turns out, there is real apartheid in Lebanon, and activists know it very well.

 Lebanon apartheid

The text accompanying the graphics laments:

“After more than six decades of forced displacement, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon find themselves largely excluded from the formal labor market. As a result of discriminatory laws and biased attitudes, most Palestinians face precarious working conditions and economic hardship.

In Lebanon nowadays, when asked why they are paid less, many refugees can only reply ‘because I’m Palestinian.’ Why are you banned from practicing more than 70 professions? Why can’t you travel? Why can’t you own property? Why were you arrested at every security checkpoint? Why won’t Lebanese hospitals treat you?

The answer is always the same: ‘because I am Palestinian.’”

But no prize for guessing who’s to blame, and what’s the solution:

“In the last 66 years of forced displacement caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today survive but are deprived of the freedom to really live. […]

The most important question inside the Palestinian refugee camps is one which also has only one answer: what do you want?

The answer rings out: to return to Palestine and live in dignity.”

And needless to point out, to “return to Palestine” means to “return” to the part of “Palestine” that was “occupied” by Israel 66 years ago…

Whether it’s the Palestinian president or “Palestine Solidarity” activists in America, they don’t hide in any way what their “cause” is all about, and yet, hardly anyone notices that it’s not about the settlements. The world continues to pretend that it’s Israel’s responsibility that the Palestinians don’t have a state, while the Palestinians keep saying very clearly that they don’t want a state if that means accepting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day: Tribal Arab dictatorships

“In fact, among tribal and sectarian Arab dictatorships, no value is ascribed to the state or the people. In a place where tribal or sectarian loyalties are more important than any other affiliation, people have no sense of being part of a people or country. In a tribal state, the people can go to hell. Hundreds of thousands can lose their lives and millions can be uprooted from their homes, scattering in all directions. None of this makes an impression on the tribal leader. There is no room for soul-searching in such a tribal social structure, because it would be perceived as a sign of weakness. And that would ultimately result in a loss of the reins of power, along with a loss of tribal hegemony, the country and its resources.

Even the Arabic term ‘dawla’ (meaning ‘dynasty’) is derived from the tribal tradition, implying the decline of one tribe and the ascent of another. It always involved the mass slaughter of the members of the losing tribe and their allies. […]

The man at the helm of this tribal mafia is not going to change his ways. His entire existence is based on his imposition of terror. Any letup in this apparatus would spell an end to his regime, and could also spell his end in the more physical sense. Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure.”

We all know how something like this would be taken if it was written by a western commentator or, to imagine the worst-case scenario, by a Jewish Israeli commentator.  But thankfully, this was written by the Israeli Druze poet and Ha’aretz columnist Salman Masalha.

Reflecting on the carnage and destruction in Syria, Masalha also notes that the Arab dictators he describes will always “continue to proclaim victory and the defeat of ‘imperialistic’ and ‘Zionist plots’ to overthrow him.”

What Masalha doesn’t mention is that until not that long ago, this went down very well with the “Arab street.” As a poll from 2008 documents:

“Across the Arab world, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is…the most popular leader, followed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The three leaders are seen as the only ones standing up against US influence in the region.”

I think Masalha’s observation that “Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure” applies not only to the Assad regime in Syria, but also to Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon and to the Iranian theocracy. But at least until a few years ago, a majority of Arabs apparently felt that standing up to the “West” and of course Israel was more important than the brutal suppression of their own people by those “heroic” regimes. This is one major reason why the region is in such a pitiful state when it comes to economic and social development.

 

The fall of Assad and the end of the Cold War

Guest post by AKUS*

 In a quiet office overlooking the Potomac River we can imagine that an old man lifts a glass to his lips and toasts himself.

As he no doubt  grimly watches the carnage in Syria on Al Jazeera, Henry Kissinger is witnessing the culmination of the strategy he put in place 40 years ago to end Soviet and then Russian influence in the Middle East. Starting with his shuttle diplomacy in 1973 at the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Soviets have gradually lost every foothold they had in this geopolitically critical region. Now the Russians are about to be expelled from Syria with the imminent fall of Bashar al Assad.

Although the Soviet military had in large part left Egypt in 1972, possibly to mislead Israel regarding Sadat’s intention to start a war in 1973, a substantial number of Soviet advisors remained until the Yom Kippur War[1]. As part of the peace agreement with Israel engineered by Kissinger, the US agreed to provide Egypt with billions in aid and military equipment. While Egypt viewed US aid as a win gained by its partial success in the war, Kissinger saw it as leverage to successfully wean Anwar Sadat and the Egyptian military from remaining Soviet influence through the supply of superior Western weaponry and military training to replace the outdated Soviet equipment the Egyptians lost in the war. Responding to the combination of peace agreement and aid, Sadat is reported to have said: “Soviets can give you arms but only the United States can give you a solution.”

Egypt has been a key state in the Middle East since at least the end of WW II. Under Nasser, who came to power in a coup in 1952, Egypt steered away from “colonial influence”. After a variety of Western misadventures such as the 1956 Suez Campaign led by Britain and France, Egypt came ever deeper within the Soviet ambit in a “non-aligned” strategy intended to play off the USA and the USSR against each other to Egypt’s benefit.

Nasser’s apparent success led to uprisings against colonial powers in other Arab countries. Egypt became a political and ideological leader for Arab countries and Nasser’s pro-Soviet bias was viewed with concern by the USA. As his influence grew, Nasser attempted to create a vast Pan-Arab federation with the abortive United Arab Republic (UAR), combining Egypt and Syria into the UAR for the brief period between 1958 and 1961.

But even though the UAR proved short-lived, it was clear that the Arab world swung between Cairo and Damascus when it came to political leadership, and in both countries the Communist party made strong inroads until crushed by Nasser in Egypt and the Ba’ath in Syria (which led to a split among the Ba’athists and the rise of the Ba’ath in Iraq). Nevertheless, in Cairo and Damascus Soviet influence greatly exceeded that of the USA, and aid and weapons flowed from the USSR in unprecedented quantities to both countries. Leveraging Egypt away from Soviet influence would be an enormous setback to Soviet aspirations in the Middle East.

Looking around the region in the early ‘70s, Kissinger would have noted that another significant area of Soviet influence was Iraq. The Soviets had established close relations with Iraq after the murder of Faisal II, essentially a British puppet ruler, in 1958. The Iraqis saw the Soviets as an effective counter to their former colonial rulers. Increasing ties with the USSR demonstrated that they were shedding their colonial past and dependence on their former rulers. In a similar manner, Gaddafi’s Libya welcomed the Soviets who were expelled from Egypt in 1972. Soviet influence extended from Baghdad to Tripoli. Western countries stopped arms sales to Libya, which only increased Soviet influence following a large arms deal in 1975. This influence continued to a greater or lesser degree until Gaddafi was finally toppled last year.

From the point of view of an American strategist desiring more influence in the Middle East, the geopolitical situation was made worse after the decisive defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. With the USA clearly supporting Israel, the Soviets were able to expand their influence even further by replenishing the destroyed weapons of Egypt and Syria. The British continued to supply Jordan, the third major opponent of Israel in the war and the remnant of Churchill’s Palestinian strategy, but the Iraqis, too, swung deeper into the Soviet camp. The USA was able to retain influence only through the Saudis and the Gulf petro-states (and for a time in Iran until the Shah was toppled in 1979).

Things began to swing in the USA’s favor when Kissinger and Nixon managed to move beyond containment of the USSR in the West through NATO to encirclement in the East via the opening to China. Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 while pretending to be ill during a visit to Pakistan. This could be viewed as the first real step to reducing the influence of the Soviet Union by providing China with a second super-power with which to do business, economically and politically.

Still, the Soviets continued pressing in the Middle East. Their ultimately disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Marxist government against the mujahedeen indicated that they, in turn, were establishing an Islamic bulwark from Syria, through Iraq, and into Afghanistan against the USA that could also exert pressure on the Saudis and Gulf states. The role of the USA in equipping and supporting the Afghan fighters in order to oppose the Soviets is well known, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the invasion. The last Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan by Gorbachev on February 15, 1989. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union had begun. The first step to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the retreat from Eastern Europe, long a goal of US policy, had been taken. The Middle East beckoned.

Kissinger was always at hand as various additional dominoes began falling in his favor. His shuttle diplomacy in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War wrested Egypt from Soviet influence, for example. Still, not everything went his way or could be planned for – Syria and Iraq remained in the Soviet and then Russian sphere. Libya was a setback, and he could not have anticipated the role of Afghanistan in curbing Soviet and Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, the enormous influence of Egypt in the Arab world was sufficient to reduce the Soviet role in the area significantly and expand the arc of US influence from the Saudis to the border with Libya. The French kept Libya’s western border controlled through their influence in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

If his goal was to push the Soviets back into Russia, Kissinger was able to influence US policy in the Middle East even after he left office as unexpected opportunities presented themselves.

Iraq, despite all its complexities, had the advantage, from Kissinger’s point of view, of offering a new opportunity to push the post-Soviet Russians further out of the Middle East. The development of a strong group of senior advisors in Washington who envisaged the fall of Iraq post 9/11 as leading to a more democratic Middle East – that is, a more Western-leaning Middle East – added leverage to Kissinger’s attempts to complete the Middle East puzzle. Out of office, but wielding considerable influence as an advisor, Kissinger met regularly with G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as Bob Woodward later reported [2]. It is not difficult to imagine that neocons leading the charge on Iraq such as Richard Perle, Doug Stief, and Rumsfeld were influenced by this grandmaster of the global game in developing their ideas about the centrality of Iraq in the Middle East.

Kissinger continues to argue for the centrality of Iraq. As the debate over withdrawal raged in Washington, Kissinger argued for maintaining US influence in Iraq, highlighting its geopolitical importance in an article in the Washington Post on February 3, 2010 [3]:

“Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center — indeed, through its capital. Iraq’s Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.”

Moreover, Kissinger identified radical Islam as a new and dangerous player that must be dealt with, and raised the question to what degree US success in Iraq will affect the war against radical Islam:

“Nor is it possible to separate Iraq from the conflict with revolutionary jihad. The outcome in Iraq will influence the psychological balance in the war against radical Islam, specifically whether the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq comes to be perceived as a retreat from the region or a more effective way to sustain it.”

Although the overall outcome of the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan may not be all that Kissinger would have liked to see, from one perspective the USA achieved a greater aim – the USSR and then Russia was eliminated almost entirely from the Middle East. Except in one country – Syria.

With the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the last domino owned by the Russian inheritors of Soviet influence in the Middle East is being pushed over. It is clear that the Western powers are supporting the rebels directly or through proxies such as the Saudis, while Russia and China refuse to allow direct intervention.

The Russians are also past masters of the great game, and realize that they have nothing to lose by continuing their support for the Assad regime. If, through massive force of arms, Assad remains in power, they will retain their foothold in the only country in the Middle East where they still have influence. If, as appears increasingly likely, he falls, they will have lost nothing by supporting him since it is clear that they will be sent packing by the rebels whom they refused to support in the early going. (The Chinese expect to be able to come in as neutrals and reap their share of the gains whoever wins, simply by supporting neither side until a resolution is reached.  They after all, care nothing for either side and possibly score points with undesirable but powerful leaders around the world for demonstrating reluctance to engage in regime change).

If the Russians are pushed out of Syria, the old man in Washington will see the fulfillment of the grand design he set in motion 40 years ago. From Cairo to Beijing, Kabul to Baghdad, he has helped move the pieces on the board with one major goal in mind – the removal of the Soviets, and then Russia, from influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When Syria, the last domino, falls, his strategy will have been fulfilled.

His time is almost over, and it will need a new Kissinger to devise the strategy to win the emerging multi-player global game – the USA versus the Chinese thrust for Asian hegemony, and the world against radical Islam’s global ambitions.  We have already seen Leon Panetta touring South East Asia, and the increasing awareness of the threat of what Charles Krauthammer has termed the “Islamic Ascendency”, as opposed to the increasingly meaningless “Arab Awakening”.

Perhaps while Panetta was encouraging Kissinger’s old enemy, the Vietnamese, to join an American alliance, Kissinger also smiled grimly at the strange way in which his actions in the Vietnamese conflict and its resolution almost 40 years ago have played out. But that game, and dealing with Islamic radicals, is for others to take care of.

He can toast himself while thinking that his work has been done. With the fall of Syria and the eviction of the Russians, the Cold War will truly be over.

 * * *

* AKUS is an Israeli-American who gained so much notoriety as a critic of the Guardian’s Israel coverage that he was banned from the site and is now free to channel his energies into occasional contributions for CifWatch. This is his first post for The Warped Mirror – with many more to come, hopefully!


[1] http://russiapedia.rt.com/on-this-day/july-18/ In July 1972, a large number of the Soviet troops left Egypt. They, however, belonged to the regular forces who, by 1972, had already fulfilled their mission and were dismissed, while the Soviet military advisors resumed their service in Egypt and the flow of military supplies to Egypt not only did not cease, but was increased.

[2] In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger was meeting regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the Iraq War. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward that the advice was the same as he had given in an August 12, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”

Cheering Assad for Palestine

The English version of Al Akhbar – a site that has been aptly described as the “Lebanese address for the red-green alliance of leftists and Islamists” – published this week a post that provides an excellent example of the delusions induced by full-fledged Palestine derangement syndrome.

The author of the post is Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a former assistant professor of political science at the Lebanese American University and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center (CMEC), where she was billed as a “leading expert on Hizbollah.”  She now has a blog named “Counter-hegemony unit: A propagandist-in-chief’s war on intellectual imperialism and pursuit of a resistance episteme.”

Yes, it sounds promising – and her post in Al Akhbar doesn’t disappoint. She begins by arguing that the divisions caused by the Syrian uprisings have led to the formation of an “anti-interventionist ‘third-way’ camp,” and she then explains why this is a most dreadful development [my emphasis]:

“Third-wayers, comprised of intellectuals and activists from academia, the mainstream media and NGOs, support elements in the home-grown opposition, reject the Syrian National Council (SNC) on account of its US-NATO-Israeli-Arab backing, and reject the Assad leadership on account of its repression of dissent and its alleged worthlessness to the Resistance project.

While the third-way camp is anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine in orientation, this hardly constitutes a political position. The Palestinian cause has become deeply etched in the Arab collective subconscious and has even become an increasingly pervasive slogan in western liberal activist discourse. Now the real litmus [test] of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership’s struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-Arab moderate axis’ onslaught against it.

Supporting Assad’s struggle against this multi-pronged assault is supporting Palestine today because Syria has become the new front line of the war between Empire and those resisting it. The third-way progressive intellectuals are failing to see the Syrian crisis through this strategic lens. They have shown an inability to “take a step back from the details and look at the bigger picture,” to quote Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.”

And no, you don’t have to read the whole thing, it goes on and on like this – a great illustration of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-Zionism-anti-Americanism-fixation that is a core tenet of the leftist-Islamist alliance and its pro-Palestinian activism.

It seems that Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit is blissfully unaware of the appeal of this ideological fixation among the “pro-Palestinian” crowd. Under the title “A deafening silence,” he writes in his recent column:

“During one year, the secular Arab nationalism of Bashar Assad has spilled more innocent blood than the Zionists have in decades. This Arab tyrant, who in the past was the darling of Arab Knesset members, is massacring his fellow Arabs in a way that Israel never did. Arab cities are being bombed, Arab women are murdered, Arab children are slaughtered. An Arab society is being shredded, and an Arab state shattered into fragments.

Despite all this, the The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is not demanding that the United Nations intervene to stop the bloodshed. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is not petitioning the International Criminal Court in the Hague to put the war criminals on trial. Large Land Day type demonstrations have not been called. Protesters who take part in mass marches every October aren’t marching. Arab students who mark the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 aren’t coming out against the Syrian Nakba of 2012. Israel’s Arab minority and its anti-Zionist left are watching as thousands of Arab are massacred – and are standing idly by.”

Shavit then goes on to argue that the failure to protest the slaughter in Syria reveals the hypocrisy of the anti-Israel crowd:

“But the Syrian tragedy has serious ramifications for Israel’s anti-Zionist community as well. The inability of this community to directly confront Arab evil undermines the moral basis for its battle against Israeli evil. Its unwillingness to demand that universal values be upheld in Hama and in Homs pulls the rug out from under its demands that universal values be upheld in Ramallah and Nazareth. Its silence when faced with the butcher of Damascus makes its condemnations of the State of Israel sound hollow. […]

Communism in the West was destroyed in the 1950s because it tolerated Stalin’s bloody dictatorship. Tolerance in the face of Assad’s bloody murderousness is liable to have the same effect on Arab-Jewish radicalism in Israel.”

I sure wish Shavit was right – but I doubt it. After all, the oppressive and brutal nature of the Assad-regime was never really in doubt, and the same holds true for Libya’s Gadhafi or the Iranian regime.

Yet, in 2010, a large delegation of Israeli-Arab leaders – including Knesset members – met with Gadhafi to affirm that they are “part of the Arab world” and to share with him their “problems.” One of the problems was apparently that Israeli-Arab Knesset members couldn’t visit all the Arab dictators and autocrats – which, as one of them fumed “angers us and violates our basic rights.” But as everybody knew, Gadhafi, ever the humanitarian, had already formulated a solution for all those terrible problems and human rights violations: get rid of the Jewish state and replace it with “Isratine.”

To be sure, there was a bit of embarrassment a year later, and all of a sudden, some members of the delegation felt it was time to come forward with some less glowing impressions from their visit.

Yet, there is also MK Haneen Zoabi, who reportedly said that in her view, “Iran’s role in Palestinian affairs was ‘more useful’ than that of regimes like Jordan and Egypt, in that Iran stood more firmly ‘against occupation than a lot of the Arab countries. This is our interest.’” She also reportedly believes that Iran’s quest for nuclear arms is to be welcomed since the specter of “Mutually Assured Destruction” would be the only way to curb Israel’s aggression.

These were the views Zoabi expressed in spring 2009, and she probably didn’t like it very much that a few months later, crowds of Iranian regime opponents used the Khomenei-ordained “Quds Day” – when Iranians are supposed to show their support for the Palestinian cause – to chant “Na Gaza, na Lebnan, jaanam fadaaye Iran” (Not Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life for Iran).

But of course, the Iranian regime prevailed with its unrestrained brutality, and its well-practiced thugs can now afford to help Assad suppress the Syrian uprising.

Who cares as long as Iran’s role in Palestinian affairs is “useful”…

Palestine ÜBER ALLES!!!

UPDATE:

A piece published today by the British writer and researcher Shiraz Maher provides yet another example of the same ideological fixation for the British politician and Viva Palestina campaigner George Galloway. Maher notes that Viva Palestina’s most recent “aid” convoy to Gaza was scheduled to pass through Syria, but that apparently nobody in the organization thought of “aiding the tens of thousands of Syrians who have been systematically tortured, abused, or displaced in that country.” As Maher points out:

“This is boilerplate hypocrisy for Galloway who has spent his career in obsequious servitude to any tyrant on condition that he has money, is anti-Israel, and anti-Western. In Iraq he famously told Saddam Hussein, ‘Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability – a man who arguably killed more Muslims and Arabs than any other leader in the region. But Saddam is no more, so on to the next. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad crushed the ‘Green revolution’ Galloway has showered the regime with fawning praise and unfettered encomiums. In Damascus, where no political parties are allowed, where no elections take place, and where human rights are a mere fantasy, he told a handpicked audience, ‘Syria is lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her president.’”

(h/t Martin Kramer)

Another very relevant piece is a previous article by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, where she sets out to explain, or rather justify, “Why Hezbollah Supports the Assad Regime.” Her central point is that

“Syria’s strategic value does not merely lie in its arms’ supply role [for Hezbollah], but derives from its status as the Arab linchpin of the resistance front, or to borrow Nasrallah’s words, “the only resistance regime in the region”. On balance, “the Syrian leadership can be credited with the preservation and maintenance of the Palestinian cause,” for Hezbollah. So indispensable was the Assad regime to Palestine that Nasrallah boldly declares: “the continuation of this Syrian position” (and by implication, the preservation of the regime), is “the precondition to the continuation of the Palestinian cause.” Accordingly, any threat to the regime’s security and survival is a “danger” not only to Syria, but to Palestine and — considering its role in ending the Lebanese civil war — to Lebanon as well.”

(h/t Bella Center)

The relatively short article published in Al Akhbar is supposedly only part of a larger “study” that, according to a note at the end of the piece, “was originally published by the Conflicts Forum.” However, following the link only leads to the homepage of the notorious organization and a “page not found” notice; a search on the website also fails to turn up the piece. Could it be that Saad-Ghorayeb’s unabashed shilling for Hezbollah and Assad was a bit too much even for the conflict-promoting Conflicts Forum?

Anyone unfamiliar with this organization should check out the excellent exposé by Hussein Ibish and Michael Weiss, who point out:

“Conflicts Forum, which received $708,000 from the EU between 2007 and 2009, is the brainchild of Alastair Crooke, a former long-serving British intelligence agent and adviser to the former EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. In recent years Crooke has emerged as the leading Western champion of Arab and Muslim extremists and anti-Western regimes. Conflicts Forum, in other words, does not seek to resolve conflicts but rather exacerbates them. […]

Most of the publications on the Conflicts Forum website reflect official Iranian ideology and foreign policy, including articles explaining ‘Iran’s commitment to the Palestinian cause,’ attacking the Palestinian Authority, strongly supporting Hamas, celebrating the ‘principled foreign policy of Ayatollah Khamenei,’ and casting the Arab Spring as an Iranian-style ‘Islamic awakening.’”

Quote of the day

Let us pause here in front of this state of [Assad’s] mad dictatorship, and compare it with what Israel has committed against us [i.e. the Arabs] in recent times […] particularly the Lebanon and Gaza wars. The entire world rushes to stop Israel’s aggressions against Lebanon in 2006, and this war ended after approximately two months, claiming the lives of 1,200 Lebanese. The same thing applies to the Gaza war, which had approximately the same death toll. In both wars, the public opinion in the Arab world rushed to take action, whilst counterfeit “friends of Israel” lists were issued, masterminded by the al-Assad regime; indeed a number of Arab politicians attempted to exploit this tragedy, most prominently the al-Assad regime. However we did not hear anybody ask – even now – why did these wars happen? Whose interests did these wars, and more, serve? Who was responsible for this?

Today, in the case of al-Assad, we have seen the Syrian forces brutally killing their own people on our television screens over the past year – not two months – whilst the death toll stands at more than 8,000 and the tyrant of Damascus’s troops have destroyed mosques, tortured and assassinated children, as well as women and the elderly, simply in order to allow al-Assad to cling to power. Despite all this, we find some countries, politicians, media organizations and figures, who are procrastinating; it is as if we – as Arabs – are saying that if the killer is also an Arab, then this is something that we can accept, however if he is an Israeli, then we must all move as one to put an end to this! This is a saddening and shameful state of affairs, particularly when somebody like Hassan Nasrallah shamelessly comes out to defend al-Assad!

Tariq Alhomayed, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, in a widely noted op-ed with the provocative title “Let us compare al-Assad to Israel.”  But as nice as it may be to read Alhomayed’s  condemnation of “the growing hypocrisy in our region” and “the lie of the resistance,” it is worth keeping in mind that Asharq Al-Awsat is a Saudi paper owned by a member of the Saudi royal family. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Alhomayed is doubtless bright enough to have known everything he wrote in this op-ed already years ago; yet, his paper used to feature regular columns by Assad’s media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban until last spring.  By fall of last year she was called by one of her former fellow-columnists what she always had been: “the ‘make-up artist’, or the embellisher of the Syrian regime’s ugly face.”

Viva Palestina: the Syrian connection

After hackers managed to obtain access to the e-mails of some high-ranking officials at the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Ha’aretz got hold of some of the mails and posted them together with relevant background information. One of the articles focuses on the correspondence between “Viva Palestina” organizer George Galloway, a notorious former British MP, and Assad’s media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.

Ha’aretz correctly notes that Galloway is “identified with the extreme left in Britain” and is well known for his “close contacts with dictators and extremist elements in the Arab world.”

Given Galloway’s history, it is hardly surprising that in August 2010, he contacted Assad’s media adviser to ask her for Syria’s support in organizing an “aid” convoy to Gaza.  Indeed, it turns out that the Syrian regime provided “outstanding assistance” to Galloway’s “Viva Palestina” campaigns “on previous occasions” and Galloway showed his appreciation by praising Syria as “the last castle of Arab dignity.”

Assad’s media adviser responded warmly to Galloway’s request, assuring him that she was “happy to put my time and energy to help with this most important cause of the Twenty Firtst [sic] Century.” Pathetically, she added: “I hope you are following my writings in Counter Punch.”

Of course, Counter Punch is viciously hostile to Israel, but the fact that a supposedly left-wing and progressive newsletter would happily feature contributions from the spokeswoman of Syria’s president is still a great illustration of the depths to which the assorted Israel-haters are ready to stoop.

Equally revealing is the cozy tone of the e-mail exchange between the Syrian dictator’s media adviser and the supposedly pro-Palestinian human rights activist George Galloway: he signs one of his e-mails with “Yours fraternally,” and she responds to “Dear George” and signs off with “As ever, Bouthaina.”

In the meantime, Bouthaina Shaaban may have realized that not everyone in Syria seems to agree with her notion of what constitutes the “most important cause of the Twenty Firtst [sic] Century.”

However, Shaaban herself certainly spared no effort to tout her “most important cause.” As a regular columnist for Asharq Alawsat, she excelled in writing long-winded articles that, irrespective of her ostensible subject, eventually ended up demonizing Israel and frequently also the US and the West in general.

In Januar 2011, she wrote on “Nations and Their Image in the Media,” where she claimed that “the Arabs’ image is being manufactured by their enemies, while Israel’s image has remained that of ‘an oasis of democracy’, although it launches wars and practices genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.” She lamented at length that the Palestinian plight – and its cause: Zionist evil – wasn’t getting enough media attention, and concluded with a call to mend this dire situation:

The Palestinian people have shown legendary steadfastness for over 63 years in front of the most brutal aggressive power in the history of humanity. They sacrifice their life and future for their country. Don’t they deserve from all of us that we tell the real story of their struggle for freedom and justice to all the free people of the world?

A month later, she commented on the protests in Egypt and other Arab countries under the title “The voice of the masses.” Unsurprisingly, Shaaban wanted her readers to believe that the protests were “a cry for the dignity of Arab citizens, a dignity humiliated by seeing their people besieged in Gaza and seeing six million Palestinians imprisoned in large prisons inside their occupied country, occupied since 1948 and in refugee camps and being killed on a daily basis amidst total Arab impotence.”

And of course, when Robert Fisk gave Shaaban a chance for a sympathetic hearing in The Independent in late October 2011, she seized the opportunity to claim that “we found weapons that were Israeli. I told our people they should show these weapons to the media.”

There is perhaps no better illustration for the gruesomely Orwellian quality of Shaaban’s pronouncements than the fact that UNICEF has recently stated:

“Nearly 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths and injuries of hundreds of children. There are reports of children being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sexually abused while in detention.”

Will any of the “Viva Palestina” activists recoil now and reflect on their cynical practice to accept hatred of Israel as the lowest common denominator?

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

All these years, Arab MKs have traveled to seek the favor of the Syrian ruler who is now butchering his people. They sat with the killer-leader, soaking up his every word, and after all that, there isn’t a single voice among them saying “Enough bloodshed.” […]

I remember October 2000, when 13 Israeli Arab citizens were shot dead by the security forces. The whole country trembled from the demonstrations in the Galilee and in Wadi Ara […]

And here we are, in the days of “spring” that have turned into a horrifying winter, and all I hear is the most popular MK in Jewish society, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, taking the podium to read, with unusual fervor, a feuilleton about a wacko racist MK from Yisrael Beiteinu. How brave! How sharp!

He knows that this is idle chatter and a distraction, because today another hundred were slaughtered, not by malicious Jews but by the hands of his own people. But there is no outcry. Neither he nor anyone else from the Arab civil leadership took to the podium to add his voice to the world’s demand to stop the killing.

 Eliezer Yaari, Syria crisis reveals hypocrisy of Israel’s Arab MKs.

Let me add to this a quote from an article published in May 2010 in The National (Abu Dhabi) by Jonathan Cook, yet another writer who has made a career of demonizing Israel (while residing in Nazareth).

NAZARETH // Six Arab members of the Israeli parliament returned last week from a visit to Libya at the personal invitation of its leader, Muammer Qadafi, to a storm of protest in Israel, including threats to prosecute them and bar them from standing in future elections. The delegation of 39 public figures from Israel’s Arab minority, who were flown to Tripoli on Mr Qadafi’s private plane last weekend, had requested the visit in the hope of breaking their isolation in the Arab world. […]

“Israel forced us into a political and cultural ghetto for decades and is targeting us because we are breaking out of this abnormal situation by engaging with the Arab nation to which we belong,” said Haneen Zoubi, one of the MPs in the delegation. […]

They were later hosted by Mr Qadafi in Sirte, his hometown and the venue of the Arab League summit. Calling them “Arabs of ’48″ – a reference to the fact that they were part of the Palestinian people until Israel’s creation in 1948 – Mr Qadafi told the delegation last Sunday that they had been invited because “I want the world to hear you”. In comments widely reported in the Israeli media, the Libyan leader warned that Israel’s actions were pushing it “to the edge of the precipice” and that the West’s pursuit of a two-state solution, as opposed to a single binational state, was “stupid and unrealistic”.

He added that the Arab minority should concentrate on having more babies to defeat Zionism, arguing that a “human explosion is stronger than nuclear weapons” […]

Dead Syrians and settlement construction

Where would you have to go to read that the Russian and Chinese veto of a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the bloody violence in Syria was “the same” as a US veto of a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction cast in February 2011 ?

“America was simply providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights by its regional ally. So there is something hollow about condemning Russia and China for doing the same.”

Welcome to the world of +972, a left-wing Israel-Palestine blog that “wants to sound the alarm on a Jewish state it believes is destroying itself.” Israelis don’t take much notice of the English-language publication, but outside of Israel, there is of course a large market for everything that is “critical” of the Jewish state. To amplify this criticism a bit, the German Heinrich Böll Stiftung supports +972 in the context of the foundation’s “differentiated and pluralistic agenda” in Israel, and since one of +972 co-founders has been awarded a scholarship by the British Council, he is currently busy “criticizing” Israel in London.

Of course, “criticizing” Israel also often means “criticizing” US support for Israel, and that’s what Noam Sheizaf is presumably hoping to do when he equates the Russian and Chinese veto – widely expected to embolden Assad to intensify his brutal crackdown on the Syrian opposition – with the US veto that prevented the umpteenth condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.

The US veto that Sheizaf decries as “providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights” was cast almost exactly a year ago, and it’s worthwhile to re-read the AP report from back then, because it ends by noting:

“Several countries took themselves off the list of co-sponsors of the final draft [of the resolution condemning Israel] including Syria, which didn’t think the resolution was strong enough, and Libya which wants a single state for Israelis and Palestinians.”

No doubt the principled stand of Assad’s Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya was appreciated back then by many of Israel’s “critics”.

Sheizaf of course knows full well that the settlement construction that the international community enthusiastically wanted to condemn yet another time has long been restricted to the major settlement blocs which every peace proposal has envisaged as part of Israel, in exchange for land swaps. It is also well-known that the built-up areas of the settlements “gobble up” less than 2 percent of the pre-1967 West Bank territories, including East Jerusalem.

Yet, Sheizaf still thinks that a veto preventing a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction is somehow comparable to a veto that prevents serious pressure on a tyrant who has been busy for months killing, imprisoning and torturing his own people. At the same time, Sheizaf himself points out:

“Estimates put the total number of casualties since the protests [in Syria] began at around 7,000, possibly more. This is not a civil war – it’s mass murder.”

But apparently, in the world of +972, stopping this mass murder is not really more important than condemning the construction of a few additional buildings in an already built-up neighborhood – in both cases, Israel’s “critics” will see “a systematic violation of human and civil rights.”

While I don’t have any illusions about a post-Assad regime being in any way less hostile towards Israel, I still wish the Syrians that the UN and all the activists that are so eager to fight for human rights when Israel is accused of violating them — even if it is just by building — would be as energetic and engaged when it comes to murderous atrocities that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.

UPDATE:

Over at +972, Noam Sheizaf doubles down with a post on “American veto history: Protecting occupation, apartheid.” He refers to my post here as a “strange blog post, which in the usual spirit of right-wing propaganda, accuses me of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

In response, I have submitted a comment that has not yet been approved, where I write:

As the author of “this strange blog post”, I would like to know on what basis you justify your claims that I accuse you “of opposing the UNSC resolution on Syria myself.”

I don’t-because I don’t think that you oppose the resolution. I simply point out the undeniable fact that your post suggests an entirely inappropriate equivalency between the US veto against the umpteenth attempt to condemn Israeli construction in settlement blocks and the Russian/Chinese veto that is widely seen as a “license to kill” for Assad.

One additional point re. my supposed “right-wing” inclinations: So far, I haven’t even once (in my 30+ year life as a voter) voted for a party to the right of Labor. I’m not sure what I will vote in the next election, but writings like you publish here simply tell me that this is not the left I used to support.

A left that ignores all relevant context in order to argue that the US is really not much better as Russia and China is not a left I want to be part of.

Of peace and myths

A few days ago, Fouad Ajami tackled “Five myths about the Arab Spring” in the Washington Post. Myth number 5 was: “The rebellions will further damage prospects for the Arab-Israeli peace process.” Ajami argued:

It’s true that hooligans overran the Israeli Embassy in Cairo after Mubarak’s fall. But Arab-Israeli accommodation hardly flourished in the time of the dictators. Despite a peace treaty that was the precondition of American patronage of his regime, Mubarak kept Israel at arm’s length. During his three decades in power, he went to Israel once — to attend the funeral of the slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Mubarak’s reign was an incendiary mix of anti-modernism, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. The 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was kept, but it was a cold peace with no intimacy between the two countries.

And no praise ought to be showered on the kind of “peace” that Damascus has observed with Israel since the 1973 October War. The Syrian-Israeli border has been quiet, but Syria has had the Lebanon-Israel border from which to harass the Jewish state. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent statement that the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be “a blessing for the Middle East” is on the mark.

The leaders of the Arab rebellions may not be fervent, public advocates of peace with Israel, but they have emerged out of the recognition that the dictatorships used the conflict with Israel as a convenient alibi for their own political and economic failures. Does anyone truly believe that the people of Homs dread Israel more than Assad’s tyranny?

As it happens, we now have some indication of what the people of Homs think of the matter. Al-Ayyam – a new online publication “founded by Syrian pro-democracy activists seeking […] to provide in-depth analysis by Syrians on the current situation” which describes itself as “revolution-minded” – has posted a statement by the Homs Revolution Council reacting to Israeli news reports about preparations for Alawite refugees in case the Assad regime collapses.

According to Al-Ayyam, the statement is “hitting back at Israel and accusing it of colluding with the Syrian regime to strike fear in Syria’s minorities and misrepresent the revolution.” The Council’s statement reportedly characterized comments by Israeli Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, as:

1) An attempt at influencing world opinion and portraying the Syrian revolution as a sectarian conflict rather than a just quest for freedom and democracy,

2) Portraying Israel as a generous and humane country that opens its doors to refugees while it has turned millions of Arabs into refugees throughout its history,

3) Striking fear in some Alawites and pushing them to fight alongside the regime in an effort to protect themselves,

4) Misleading members of other sects into believing that Israel enjoys a special relationship with Syria’s Alawites and fostering suspicions between sects.

Al-Ayyam further reported:

The statement said that Gantz’s comments parallel the regime’s campaign to incite sectarianism. It emphasized that many Alawites have joined the revolution and that they enjoy the respect and protection of their revolutionary peers.

Other Syrian activists are also denouncing the comments as ill-conceived and intended to damage the revolution. Facebook users have started posting a status update that reads, “I am a Syrian revolutionary. I close the door to Israel and open it to anyone who is seeking shelter,” to counter the Israeli statement.

While the people of Homs may not “dread Israel more than Assad’s tyranny”, there  doesn’t seem to be a particularly clear “recognition that the dictatorships used the conflict with Israel as a convenient alibi for their own political and economic failures.”

Or, to put it differently: it’s a myth that Arab revolutionaries hate everything about the dictators they want to topple – the one thing that will survive long after every Arab dictator is gone is the popularity of “Israel as a convenient alibi for their [the Arabs’] own political and economic failures.”

Israel and the Syrian uprising

In an excellent post at Harry’s Place, Israeli writer Hadar Sela explained recently that calls for international intervention in support of Syria’s protesters ignore or downplay some very serious risks for Israel. After all, it can be taken for granted that Assad would try to spin any intervention as a “Zionist aggression” that he would happily answer with attacks on Israel.

A “Letter to a Syrian rebel” from Amotz Asa-El’s “Middle Israel” column in the Jerusalem Post reflects some additional concerns. Asa-El notes that already some 12 years ago – in an article advocating a “Golan-for-peace” deal – he anticipated that Syrians might one day rise up against the brutal rule of the Assads:

Now all have come to share my early faith in your cause. The question therefore is where you will head the morning after you remove your evil leaders. And since as long as you remain underground so do your thoughts, you will have to forgive us for keeping our expectations low. The fact that the people who ruled you for the past several decades never asked your opinion about anything, does not mean that when finally free to talk what you will say will please our ears.

We have been around this neighborhood long enough to assume, until proven otherwise, that you too hate us, certainly if you are Islamist, but also if you are not. And even if you are Druse, or Christian, or a Kurd, and therefore less hostile, or even secretly sympathetic to us, you will have to forgive us for remaining pessimistic; we have had bitter experience meddling in this sorry region’s minority politics, and can therefore be counted on to avoid it this time around.

Moreover, chances are high that your Syria, while undoing the alliance with Iran, will become the proxy Turkey now wants to make of you, and who knows what such a configuration will mean for all of us.

Perhaps there is a hint of what this will mean in a commentary on the Arab uprisings of 2011 written recently by Michael Young, the opinion editor of Lebanon’s Daily Star.

The [Syrian] president did not foresee that the narrative he held up as a basis for why he and the Syrian people were in purported harmony – their common embrace of a narrative of resistance to America and Israel above all – would count for little in the face of demands by Syrians for internal transformation.

That’s the real message from the Arab world this year. Societies may sympathise with foreign policies opposed to the West, the United States and Israel, but they no longer will allow regimes to use foreign antagonisms to validate stifling, sadistic, security-dominated political systems at home. Nor will they tolerate giving foreign matters precedence over their own welfare and that of their children.

If Young is right and this is “the real message from the Arab world this year,” the message is much less hopeful than he seems to suggest: holding on to the default preference for anti-western and anti-Israel policies means that the politics of resentment will continue to hamper rational political analysis and discourse in the Arab world. As I have argued elsewhere, there is unfortunately much reason to be concerned that in some crucial respects, the “new” Middle East will bring changes for the worse: while a secular despot like Assad would cynically view the anti-western “beliefs of the people” as a means to cement his grip on power, the region’s newly empowered Islamist rulers may turn out to be “true believers” in the vile conspiracy theories that have long been popular in the Arab world.