Monthly Archives: June 2017

Gaza: Israel’s experiment on humans in situations of extreme stress and deprivation

Gideon Levy writes: Gaza is dying, slowly. Elsewhere, its suffering matters to no one. No one in Washington, or Brussels, or Jerusalem, or Cairo nor even in Ramallah. Incredibly, there is evidently almost no one who cares that two million people are abandoned to the dark at night and to the sweltering heat of the summer days, with nowhere to run and no shred of hope. Nothing.

One of the biggest experiments involving human subjects ever conducted anywhere is currently taking place right before our eyes, and the world is silent. This experiment on human beings, unsanctioned by any of the international scientific institutions whose oversight is required by the Helsinki Declaration, seeks to examine the human behaviour of no fewer than two million human beings in situations of extreme stress and deprivation. Read on here

Turkey launches Operation Euphrates Sword: keeping Russia and the US apart

Turkish forces have built up around the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis in the past couple of weeks, from where Operation Euphrates Sword is currently being launched by the Turkish armed forces without any official press release. The low key operation has been billed as a mere continuation of Operation Euphrates Shield. The small Russian contingent in Afrin has withdrawn in anticipation of the Turkish advance.

The area between Al-Bab, which is held by the Free Syrian army and Turkish support troops, and Afrin – including Sheikh Isa, Tal Rifaat and Menagh, where there is an old Syrian airbase – will be the initial target of the Turkish advance. The second objective will be the area between Afrin and Idlib, which is the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana talks, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, İbrahim Kalın, are in the process of setting up de-confliction zones in Syria. He announced that the parties to the talks (Russia, Turkey, Iran) ‘… are working on a mechanism that will probably involve Turkey and the Russians in Idlib, Russians and Iranians around Damascus and Jordanians and Americans in the Daraa area in the south.’ This particular involvement of the Americans is a proposal of the Russians and the Turks, which the US has yet to respond to (as of 07-07-2017 Trump and Putin agreed this at the G20 summit).

However, on another front, and since the consolidation of the alliance between the US and the YPG militias of the Kurdish Syrian PYD movement, Turkey is convinced that a Syrian-Kurdish state on its borders will be in the offing after the Raqqa operation is over. The massive arms supplies by the US to the YPG are being described by Gen. James Mattis as temporary, and he is described as probably being sincere on his own account. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that the American foreign policy establishment has for a long time been, and will continue to be, gunning for régime change in Turkey.

A consensus has formed in Turkey that the CIA was involved in the July 15 coup in Ankara last year with the help of the Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethulla Gülen. The American foreign policy establishment is using its soft power to propel the narrative that Turkey is breaching human rights and sullying its democratic record in its treatment of journalists, academics, soldiers and bureaucrats suspected of links with Gülen. Turkish authorities, however, refuse to back down on their controversial methods, however, which cast a net of suspicion over a wider number of people than can stand the test of the law.

The emergency measures are, nevertheless, intended to reduce the chances of a follow-up coup, in the light of obfuscation on the part of the Americans in regard to the events of the coup, as well as clear interference on the part of Germany in Turkey’s last referendum process. Were the US and German governments keen specifically on supporting human rights and democracy in Turkey, closer cooperation with Turkey in Syria and over the Gülen affair would be a natural way forward to allay the country’s fears. Clearly, however, the two Western countries are more interested in escalating tensions over Turkey’s security embarrassments, in order to further widen the divisions within Turkey, in the continual hope that the AKP government will at some stage be overwhelmed by events.

Irrespective of whether the PYD has legitimacy among its own Kurds or not, it serves the US narrative to push the agenda of a ‘secular’  movement against the conservative AKP alliance ruling Turkey at the moment. This is especially the case since the PYD is part of the wider Kurdish KCK organisation which is fighting a guerrilla war with Turkey against the state through the PKK. Furthermore, there is no lack of funding. US ally UAE is backing the PKK against Turkey just as it funded the attempted July 15 coup.

It is clear from the recent downing of a Syrian army jet and the aggressive posturing by the White House against the Assad régime that the US is in the process of carving out an enclave in northeastern Syria from which it will seek to pursue its plans against both Turkey and Iran. These recent moves have pushed Russia to advance the de-confliction plans at Astana more quickly than expected and to allow Turkey’s plans to expand its zone of control in northern Syria to include Afrin, and Managh airbase, where some of the YPG militias are based. Turkish timing in based on the current YPG focus on the fight in Raqqa.

The Turks see this new operation as necessary to cover their backs in the coming effort to police the rebel held areas around Idlib, while the Russians do not wish to have any sizeable commitment on the ground beyond the strategic capabilities already in place at the Khmeimim airbase, which will provide air cover for the Turks. An agreement between Russia and Turkey in that zone will alleviate Russia’s difficult position by reducing the risk of outright air confrontation with the US. This is definitely in the global interest. Russia’s S-400s can easily clear the air of US fighter jets in the region, but such action would lead to a serious global escalation. Best keep the S-400s as a threat than actually use them (I think Sun Tzu said something like that).

These developments are in the interests of world peace in that they reduce the chances of conflict between Russia and the United States. Apart from the possibility of a joint US-Jordanian participation in a southern deconfliction zone, direct US influence in Syria will be limited to the area east of the Euphrates. More important is the fact that the permanence of Russian bases in the country in the Latakiyya area are no longer dependent merely on Assad’s de juro backing, but on Turkey’s de facto protection. The US is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for its double dealing with the Turks, as James Jeffrey, previous Ambassador to Ankara, predicted would happen.

Hostile takeover underway: UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed now controls Saudi Arabia’s ruler

‘Secrets of the Arabs’ reports that with the arrival of Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to the position of crown prince in Saudi Arabia, and thus acting king (on the basis of his father’s advanced dementia), the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) succeeds in his second important coup in the Arab region, after his orchestration of the military coup in Egypt.

MbZ is almost completely in control of 32 year old MbS. From the very moment MbZ began to flirt with MbS, his plan had been to topple his arch-enemy Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. WikiLeaks had revealed that MbZ had called Mohammed bin Nayef’s father, at the time that Prince Nayef was interior minister and one of the most powerful people in Saudi Arabia, a “monkey”. Mohammed bin Nayef clearly stood in the way of MbZ’s ambitions. The video released of MbS kissing Mohamed bin Nayef’s head and hands as the latter appeared to accept his replacement, had in fact been filmed days before the succession was announced, and followed Mohamed bin Nayef’s house arrest within the grounds of the royal enclosure.

What most of the international press fail to grasp is that the blockade of Qatar is actually part of a planned isolation of Saudi Arabia by MbZ, who intends to direct MbS’s internal reforms sidelining the Saudi religious establishment and privatising Saudi oil assets, which MbZ wants to pick up on the cheap as part of his long held dream of splitting up Saudi Arabia. Qatar, with far stronger tribal links in Arabia than MbZ’s Nayahan family, would have most certainly stood in the way of his dream of buying up Aramco on the cheap. So, the trap was set for Trump at the Riyadh summit by the UAE, while the list of 13 demands made of Qatar (and issued by the UAE’s Anwar Gargash, rather than by Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir) were intentionally made to be provocative, and clearly impossible for Qatar to even consider fulfilling. So, the Qatari blockade is not – as some would have it – presaging a war with Iran. It presages rather the approaching implosion of the Saudi régime.

Saudi Arabia’s isolation began with the unnecessary decision to execute Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and the subsequent severing of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, relations which the UAE is careful to continue maintaining.  The execution in January 2016 was intentionally provocative and raised sectarian tensions in Saudi Arabia at a time when the Kingdom was facing numerous internal challenges relating to the fall in oil prices and the need to cut government salaries as a result. The move had all the fingerprints of MbS’s aggressive approach, and must be considered in the context of the execution of 47 other (Sunni) Muslim clerics at the same time. It was clearly a warning to all MbS’s critics, and like the Yemen War happened to have an international dimension, but had a purely domestic rationale.

Meanwhile, on an old matter, it has been revealed in leaked Libyan videos of the interrogation of Saadi Ghaddafi that an old 2003 assassination plot against King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah, blamed by the UAE on the Qatari leadership and used by MbZ’s cohorts as one of the many excuses for  imposing the blockade on Qatar, had nothing at all to do with Qatar. In fact, the perpetrator of the plot, Mohamed Ismail, appears to have ties with the UAE and currently lives in Abu Dhabi.

 

Al-Jazeera sees its best days

Saudi Arabia and the UAE want Qatar to close down Al-Jazeera, Arabi21, Rassd, Middle East Eye,  and Al Araby al-Jadeed before they lift their embargo! I, personally, will have little left to read or watch should this happen, which is highly unlikely, given that

(1) Qatar doesn’t fund all of those news outlets anyway

(2) Qatar will fight to the end before closing or interfering in Al-Jazeera, and

(3) Al-Jazeera became a substantially more valuable property the moment those demands were made

All the opinion pages that insist Qatar will pay a price are wrong. Qatar scored a major coup by soliciting an official presentation of the Saudi/Emirati demands (which include shutting down the Iranian Embassy and the Turkish military base). What Qatar has now done is classic: officially stating the demands are unreasonable, plunging Saudi Arabia and the UAE into an international diplomatic situation they cannot retreat from without loss of face. Britain and Germany in particular have insisted on an immediate resolution of the crisis on the basis of a respect for Qatar’s sovereignty. If Trump found the idea of closing Al-Jazeera funny, Theresa May and Angela Merkel didn’t.

Rejuvenating tyranny: Mohamed bin Salman power grab. Treatment of Qatar, a warning to critics

Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) buys a £472m yacht from Russian oligarch Yuri Schefler, as he imposes austerity on Saudi Arabians and total misery on the Yemeni population.

The endless pointless war in Yemen, as I wrote when it started, has ‘everything to do with [his]’ succession’ to the throne. More than 8,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition launched the military campaign in March 2015, 17 million people face dire food shortages – 7 million of whom are only one step away from famine, in a country now ravaged by illness including a cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 1,100 people.

The Yemen War was launched to subjugate Muqrin bin Abdulaziz after he had been sidelined from the line of succession to the throne, together with  Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz who controlled of the National Guard. The Qatar blockade, on the other hand, was instituted in order to put Al-Jazeera and the outspoken Sheikh Tamim on the back foot while Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz was in the process of being removed and, it is said, put under house arrest. Now that two of the major obstacles to MbS’s ambitions as his dementia-ridden father’s direct successor, have been overcome. Given his roles as Secretary to the Court (i.e. Prime Minister), Defence Minister, and Economic Supremo, MbS is thus effectively acting king.

Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi (MbZ) has guided the young prince to power, and gained his confidence despite having plotted against him and his father when Abdullah bin Abdelaziz was still king. The apparently odd alliance between them, however, is testament to the extent to which there is generalised mistrust between members of the Saudi royal family, as well as the extent to which MbS is gullible.

MbZ will undoubtedly want his pound of flesh, which as far as I can see will involve the division of Yemen to enable him control the entire South and with that, control of the Bab al-Mandab straits. This must ultimately lead to conflict between Saudi and the UAE, at some stage. Expect also conflict between members of the royal family after the unprecedented political changes which were engineered in hushed and rushed meetings before dawn of the 21st. The dawn of the longest day was also the night of the long knives.

The ‘arrival’ of MbS is feted in some quarters as the prospect of the rule of a millennial, who will ‘open up’ his country and take it out of its tawdry past. But for that to have any credence the country must become a democracy not merely a neoliberal paradise in an autocratic cage. The influence of the religious establishment on the daily life of the Saudis may be waning, but a series of recent tweets by the Ulama evidences the fact that Saudi religion will consolidate its role as the protector of autocracy against democracy.

Egypt: consolidating repression under Sisi

Public criticism and peaceful opposition to the government remain effectively banned in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. Security forces routinely tortured detainees and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people during 2016.

Having jailed tens of thousands of political opponents since the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsy in 2013, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government in 2016 took unprecedented steps to criminalize human rights work and cripple independent civil society groups.

“President al-Sisi’s government is consolidating and escalating repression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Absent strong responses from the international community, authorities will continue to squeeze the space for exercising basic freedoms into nothing.”

In late November, Egypt’s parliament approved a highly restrictive draft law on associations that, if signed by al-Sisi, would place the work and funding of independent groups under supervision of a committee including representatives of the Interior, Justice and Defense Ministries and the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s top spy agency.In September, a Cairo criminal court approved a request from a panel of investigative judges to freeze the assets of three human rights groups and the personal assets of five people who founded or led such groups.

Authorities have banned at least 15 group directors, founders, or staff members from traveling outside Egypt, most of them in 2016, since the judges opened their investigation into the foreign funding of such groups. On December 7, one of the investigative judges ordered the arrest and interrogation of Azza Soliman, founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. Soliman was released after paying bail, but it was the first time the judges had ordered the arrest of a human rights defender.

Activists fear the judges will eventually charge them with illegally receiving foreign funding, punishable by up to 25 years in prison.Officers of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency routinely tortured and forcibly disappeared suspects with few consequences. Many of the victims were accused of sympathy with or membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Between August 2015 and August 2016, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, documented 912 victims of enforced disappearance by the police, 52 of whom had not reappeared by the time the group issued its report.

Between January and October 2016 alone, 433 detainees were able to register claims that police or prison officers mistreated or tortured them in custody, according to the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. When these claims were reported in November, authorities froze the Nadeem Center’s assets and banned its co-founder, psychiatry professor and longtime anti-torture activist Aida Seif al-Dawla, from leaving the country.

Pakistan and the changes in the Middle East balance of power

 

In the wake of Turkish troop deployment to Qatar, Pakistan also sent troops, to the anger of Saudi Arabia with whom Pakistan has been a traditional ally. Last week in Jeddah, the Saudi King berated Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawas Sharif, over the move, but Sharif wouldn’t back down on a stance he considers to be “neutral”.

Pakistan’s circumstances are changing with a changing Asia. The massive investment China is making in Pakistan as part of the inter-Asian “One belt-one road” project, linking the Chinese north-western communications hub Urumqi with the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar in southern Pakistan, has transformed the Pakistani economic situation and given it greater financial independence.

After the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who guided the CIA to the place of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, where he was killed in 2011 in Abbottabad, relations with the US soured. Obama, after a while, sought to turn things around towards the end of his administration, by endorsing in 2016 a $ 1 billion aid package.Trump, however, is seeking to cancel the greater part of the package.

The move to place troops in Qatar is part of Pakistan’s strategy for better relations with Iran, and its declaration of independence from Saudi tutelage. This in the long term is seen as serving its interests in Afghanistan, where it can usefully cooperate with Iran, and in Asia more generally. The decline of Saudi Arabian influence in Central Asia, which is  accelerating since its blockade of Qatar, will ultimately impact on US influence in a region where, in the past, Saudi has been an important partner.

Macron confounds sceptics, revives De Gaulle’s European vision

Emmanuel Macron’s new party, La République En Marche (LRM), established weeks ago on the internet streaked ahead in parliamentary elections. The main opposition party LR (Les Républicains, the conservative right, which has been changing its name for the umpteenth time since 1950) obtained around 21 percent of the vote, equaling François Fillon’s score in the presidential elections. They were counting on a parliamentary victory to challenge President Macron during his five-year-mandate, but this has been a failure. LR will get only one-sixth of the seats in the Assembly. The Parti Socialiste (PS), on the other hand, does a vanishing act; with a meager 10 percent, the Marxist Left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FLI) would only get 11 percent of the vote, while the Front National (FN) of Marine Le Pen scored less than 14 percent.

According to estimates, the second round of the elections would give LRM between 415 and 455 seats out of 577, with LR, the main opposition, getting between 70 and 110. PS, which had controlled half of the seats in the outgoing National Assembly, would only get between 20 and 30 seats; LFI between eight and 18 seats; and FN would achieve between one and five seats. This is a landslide victory for Macron and represents total destruction of established French politics.

Macron met Theresa May yesterday floating the idea that if Britain wanted to stay in the EU, it could. That was sheer PR: Macron wants to see the back of Britain and will give as much as necessary to see that happen. His political strength in France will allow him to rekindle the vision of Europe last held by Charles de Gaulle in 1968, one without Britain and without US interference (albeit that the balance of power between the two nations has changed). The US under Trump has given up on Europe after the impossibility of getting TTP through, and with worsening relations with Germany. While Merkel will come back to power happy that Macron is in a good place, it will be Macron who will set the pace, since he doesn’t only have reform of French laws in his sights but also reform of the EU.

Germany is stuck in a rut of its own making with massive intra-EU trade imbalances, and needs the momentum garnered by Macron in France to set a new course. Macron will invest this situation to return to the Gaullist vision of the French-German alliance which the German Bundestag, dominated by its US colonial masters, had undermined in the 1960s.

Mohamed Morsi is dying of neglect in jail

The life of imprisoned former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is in danger because of his deteriorating health and lack of treatment. A week ago today, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud filed a complaint with the public prosecutor asking for an investigation into the medical negligence he is facing. He told them he experienced two diabetic comas this month and did not receive proper treatment in prison, and is demanding to be moved to a private hospital at his own expense. No one is listening