Navy wants commando ‘mothership’ in Middle East

The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.

In response to requests from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a “mothership,” the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show.

Special Operations forces are a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy to make the military leaner and more agile as the Pentagon confronts at least $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, declined to elaborate on the floating base’s purpose or to say where, exactly, it will be deployed in the Middle East. Other Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer.

Navy documents indicate that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route for much of the world’s oil supply. A market survey proposal from the Military Sealift Command, dated Dec. 22 and posted online, states that the floating base needed to be delivered to the Persian Gulf.

Other contract documents do not specify a location but say the mothership would be used to “support mine countermeasure” missions. Defense officials have said that if Iran did attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would rely on mines to obstruct the waterway.

With a large naval base in Bahrain, and one or two aircraft carrier groups usually assigned to the region, the Navy has a substantial presence in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters. Adding the mothership would do relatively little to bolster U.S. maritime power overall, but it could play an instrumental role in secretive commando missions offshore.

The deployment of the floating base could also mark a return to maritime missions for SEAL teams, which for the past decade have spent most of their time on land in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other details of the project became public Tuesday when the Military Sealift Command posted a bid request to retrofit the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport docking ship, on a rush-order basis.

Until December, the Navy had planned to retire the Ponce and decommission it in March after 41 years of service. Among other missions, it was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea last year in support of NATO’s air war over Libya.

Instead, the ship will be modified into what the military terms an Afloat Forward Staging Base. Kafka said it would be used to support mine-clearance ships, smaller patrol ships and aircraft.

The documents posted by the Military Sealift Command in December, however, specify that the mothership will be rebuilt so that it can also serve as a docking station for several small high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEAL teams.

Among the vessels listed are Mark 5 Zodiacs, inflatable boats that can carry up to 15 passengers and can roll up into bags, and seven-meter-long Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, which can carry an entire SEAL squad.

SEAL teams also deploy from regular warships, but most vessels in the Navy’s fleet must patrol or move around on a regular basis. A mothership can stay in one spot for weeks or months, effectively serving as a floating base for commandos as they monitor coastal areas or prepare for amphibious operations.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has sought a transportable floating base for several years, saying that a mothership would expand the range of commando squads operating from small speedboats, particularly in remote coastal areas.

Defense officials said the Ponce will serve as a stopgap measure until the Navy can build a new Afloat Forward Staging Base from scratch. In budget documents released Thursday, the Pentagon said it would fund that project starting next year.

The floating base also could be suited to the coast of Somalia, a failed state that is home to an al-Qaeda affiliate and gangs of pirates. A mothership there would give SEALs or other commandos more flexibility in missions such as Wednesday’s rescue of a pair of American and Danish hostages who had been held for months by Somali pirates.

The term “mothership” is also commonly used to describe a vessel used by Somali pirates. After hijacking a large container or cargo vessel, pirate crews often turn it into a floating base to extend the range of their skiffs or speedboats far into the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf.

U.S. military officials declined to say what prompted them to give the Ponce a sudden new lease on life. But contract and bidding documents underscore the urgency of the project.

One no-bid contract for engineering work states that the military was waiving normal procurement rules because any delay presented a “national security risk.” Other contract bids are due Feb. 3. The Navy wants the conversion work to begin 10 days later on the Ponce, which is docked in Virginia Beach.

By Craig Whitlock,

28 January 2012

© The Washington Post Company

Libya ‘cannot stop’ fighters joining Syria rebels

Libya’s foreign minister says the interim government cannot stop Libyans from joining the Syrian uprising, as Tripoli takes the hardest line in the Arab world against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

On Thursday, Libya’s transitional government gave Syrian diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, just days after it handed the Syrian embassy in Tripoli to the opposition Syrian National Council – the first country to take this step.

This week, former Libyan rebel fighters from the city of Misurata announced the combat deaths of three Libyan comrades fighting against the Syrian regime. Many former rebel fighters speak approvingly of heading to Syria to join an increasingly armed uprising against Mr Assad.

“Actually, we cannot stop anyone from going to Syria,” Ashour Bin Khayal, the career diplomat now heading Libyan foreign affairs told the FT. “People want to go and fight with the Syrians; no one is going prevent them. Officially, we don’t have this stance; but we cannot control the desire of the people.

“Libya took a very revolutionary step to recognise the Syrian National Council,” he said. “Those who are fighting the regime in Syria, we are supporting them.

“The Syrian regime is pushing the country toward a stage that no one wants. They are doing the same as Gaddafi did. The regime will fall sooner or later.”

Libyan rebels may be motivated by the support the Syrian president gave Colonel Muammer al-Gaddafi, the former president, until the very end of his life, hosting a television channel that lambasted the former rebels as stooges of the west.

Libya barely has a functioning government and is still struggling to define itself after 40 years of one-man rule. But as it emerges from almost a year of chaos, it has already begun to reposition itself on the global stage, altering its postures toward the west, Africa and the rest of the Arab world, the foreign minister said.

Mr Bin Khayal, who spent decades in North America, sought to assure the international community that Libya would serve as a force for peace following the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime.

“Libya now is not going to be a source of trouble,” he said. “It’s going to be a peaceful country.”

But the passions stirred by the Arab Spring uprisings that included Libya’s revolution may undermine the drive to normalise the country’s place in the world.

Mr Khayal said Libya would also reorient its approach to its southern neighbours, where Gaddafi lavished business projects. Libyans widely believe African regimes supported the former president during the uprising against his rule, supplying him with diplomatic support, weapons and mercenaries.

“The rules of the game toward Africa are going to be different,” Mr Khayal said. “The image of Africans among ordinary Libyans is not very good.”

He recently visited Niger, Chad and Mali and attended the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in part to “strengthen borders” between Libya and the rest of Africa to prevent the flow north of drugs, contraband and migrants.

But he also vowed to end the former regime’s nefarious activities in African countries. He revealed to his AU counterparts that Gaddafi was using Libyan diplomatic missions in 11 African countries to store and smuggle weapons and explosives, a practice he promised would end.

Mr Khayal predicted that the goodwill generated by Nato’s support for the Libyan uprising “is going to be translated in one way or the other” into better relations with western countries. His number one priority was to continue pushing western countries to release frozen assets held abroad. So far, restrictions on more than $100bn in assets have been lifted.

He was also trying to convince European and other international companies to return to Libya to staff oilfields and installations and to finish various construction projects, including a huge housing project in Benghazi.

Libya was “not yet at the stage” of trying to initiate debt relief or drum up new business. “We’re trying to focus on projects that are not finished,” he said.

By Borzou Daragahi in Tripoli

9 February 2012

@ Financial Times

Letter To President Ahmadinejad: Regarding Mr. Hekmati, Islamic Mercy And Rahmah

Dear President Ahmadinejad of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Court & the Iranian people:

*PLEA to IRAN: Please free Mr. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the Iranian American charged with espionage & sentenced to death in Iran. (1) Please show Islamic Mercy & compassion on behalf of Mr. Hekmati. Iran, Please show the world you are a leader in Restorative justice & that you believe in offering an Olive branch of Peace to others.

*ISLAMIC MERCY & COMPASSION: RAHMAH: (2) Mercy plays an important role in the Islamic religion; To God & the Iranian people, Please have Mercy & empathy on Mr. Hekmati; Please show Compassion & sympathy toward this Iranian American. “When God says in the Quran, ‘My mercy embraces everything’ (7:156), this means that God has mercy on the entire universe.” (3) Specifically, “The more weak & poor a human being is, the more we are required to show mercy to him & be gentle with him.” [Quran 93: 9-10] (4) May God & the Iranian people be gentle & sensitive to Mr. Hekmati’s suffering. As so beautifully said by Dr. Chittick & the Islamic religion: “The goal of love is to overcome separation, to escape from the darkness and (the) pain that define our existential plight, and to enter into the light. … It is to take advantage of the universal mercy that embraces everything”. (5) To the Iranian people, please overcome the separation, escape the darkness & pain of our existential plight, please enter into the light & please have Mercy on Mr. Amir Hekmati.

*RESTORATIVE JUSTICE:

*Dear President Ahmadinejad & the Iranian people, Please rise to a level of enlightened human consciousness: Rather than punish Mr. Hekmati – Please allow him to participate in a Restorative/Transformative Justice program [X] [Y] that focuses on a Unified justice — including dialogue between the victims, the offender & the involved community – involving the United States & Iran. Please give Mr. Hekmati the opportunity to take Responsibility for his actions, to repair any harm done with an Apology [X] & to make a commitment to an education in Peace & International Conflict studies in the United States. [Z] As Mr. Ross states regarding Mr. Hekmati & Restorative justice: “Sparing Hekmati’s life would be an act of grace on the part of Iran in accord with the inspired teachings of the world’s great religions. … It would also provide an opportunity for restorative justice”. (6) To the Iranian people, please offer Mr. Hekmati a kind, peaceful solution to this conflict.

*PRISONS, CAGES & HUMAN SUFFERING: President Ahmadinejad I believe: “Prisons are violent institutions that only perpetuate violence” (7) & which cause great suffering. (8) Prisons violate the human rights of prisoners including: the most tragic violation of civil rights: The Death penalty; Other prison human rights violations include: Prisoner isolation, poor medical care, drug abuse, rape, tuberculosis risk, etc.. (9) Prisons are: “A failed solution to social, political & economic problems”. (10) There are ways to develop (community) safety that don’t rely on “Caging … to address social, economic and political problems”. (11) Please offer Mr. Hekmati a dignified alternative to prison — Peace education.

CONCLUSION: Dear President Ahmadinejad, The Islamic Revolutionary Court & the Iranian people: Please have Islamic mercy on Mr. Hekmati; Please offer the United States & Mr. Hekmati a gesture of Reconciliation & healing; & Please free Mr. Hekmati to the United States for an education in Peace & International Conflict studies.

Thank you. Respectfully & Humbly, Mary Hamer, M.D. Florida. U.S.A.

By Mary Hamer, M.D. U.S.A.

29 January 2012

@ Countercurrents.org

REFERENCES:

theweek.com. Will Iran Execute an American citizen? 1/10/12.

en.wikipedia.org. Compassion. Islam.

www.huffingtonpost.com. Chittick, William. Ph.D. The Islamic Notion of Mercy. 12/14/10.

www.islamweb.net. Islam the Religion of Mercy. 22/12/10.

www.huffingtonpost.com. Chittick, William. Ph.D. The Islamic Notion of Mercy. 12/14/10.

Ross, Sherwood. CIA Spy Conviction Gives Iran Chance to Boost Relation. 1/10/12. Countercurrents.org.

www.criticalresistance.org. Critical Resistance.

Hamer, Mary. Prisons, Cages & Human Suffering. www.countercurrents.org. 8/16/10.

voices.yahoo.com. Human Rights Abuses against Prisoners subsequently lead to Suicide. By RmarkbleCourage.

www.criticalresistance.org. Critical Resistance.

en.wikipedia.org. Critical Resistance.

NOTES:

*X. Restorative Justice: “Restorative Justice (also sometimes called “Reparative justice”A) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “To repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service”.B Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.D … “The most important process of restorative justice, is the concept of ‘healing.’” “Various methods of restorative justice are practiced; examples include victim offender mediation, conferencing, healing circles, victim assistance,ex-offender assistance, restitution, and community service.” “Restorative justice is defined as:…a broad term which encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights. These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission to innovations within the criminal and juvenile justice systems, schools, social services and communities. Restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all.”E. [en.wikipedia.org. Restorative Justice. Referencing: A. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research Volume 1, Number 1, 70-93, DOI: 10.1007/BF02249525 Reparative Justice: Towards a Victim oriented system. Elmar Weitekamp. B. “A New Kind of Criminal Justice”, Parade, 25 October 2009, p. 6. C. Marty Price, J.D. “Personalizing Crime,” Dispute Resolution Magazine, Fall 2001. D. Lawrence W Sherman and Heather Strang, Restorative Justice: The Evidence, University of Pennsylvania, 2007. E. Suffolk University, College of Arts & Sciences, Center for Restorative Justice, “What is Restorative Justice?”.]

*Y. Transformative Justice Definition: “Transformative justice is a general philosophical strategy for responding to conflicts. It takes the principles and practices of restorative justice beyond the criminal justice system. … Transformative justice uses a systems approach, seeking to see problems, as not only the beginning of the crime but also the causes of crime, and tries to treat an offense as a transformative relational and educational opportunity for victims, offenders and all other members of the affected community. … (Transformative justice) can be seen as a general philosophical strategy for responding to conflicts akin to peacemaking. Transformative justice is concerned with root causes and comprehensive outcomes. It is akin to healing justice more than other alternatives to imprisonment.” [en.wikipedia.org. Transformative Justice.]

*Z. Peace & International Conflict studies focuses on “The prevention, de-escalation, and solution of conflicts by peaceful means, thereby seeking (dual) ‘victory’ for all parties involved in the conflict. This is in contrast to war studies (polemology) which has as its aim on the efficient attainment of (solo) victory in conflicts.” [en.wikipedia.org. Peace & Conflict Studies. Referencing: John D. Brewer, Peace processes: a sociological approach, p. 7, Polity Press, 2010.]

 

Israeli Embassies Attacked: Whose Vengeance And Unholy Wars Are These?

Monday. February 13. 3.54 pm. A bomb explodes in the car of an Israeli diplomat. Three people, including the defence attaché’s wife Tal Yehoshua, are grievously injured.

30 minutes later, embassy officials are examining the remains of the vehicle in an area that has been cordoned off by the police.

Within three hours, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the Hizbullah and Iran: “Iran, which stands behind these attacks, is the largest exporter of terror in the world. The Israeli government and its security forces will continue to work together with local security services against these terrorist actions.”

He is pre-empting the inquiry, and the media is already talking about “Hizbullah in Delhi” and “Israel targeted in India”. We are calling ourselves a soft state when our own hardliners and security forces have been killing citizens inside the country.

The question is not whether global terror is being fought on Indian soil but how much of it is being arranged here. If it is legitimate to ask about the role of local handlers, then why has there been no concern about the incident of a planned vengeance by Israelis?

Cut to a report a few days ago when there was palpable revenge. The couple, Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi, arrived in India on a multiple-entry visa in March 2010. After the visa expired, they went back and returned within a month. What was their purpose that they paid a “disproportionately high rent” of Rs. 50,000 a month for a house in Fort Kochi, Kerala? A senior official was quoted in a report saying: “Central intelligence got an alert about a covert operation being carried out by suspected Israeli agents after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike in which south Mumbai’s Chabad House came under attack and six Jews, including a Rabbi and his pregnant wife, were killed. We have traced the couple’s financial transactions. They will be questioned before they are deported. Preliminary investigations suggest some Israelis are camping in various parts of the country.”

This comes from official sources and all that they think of is deporting the couple. There has been complete silence from the usually active dispensers of opinion, too.

Let us return to the scene of Monday’s crime. The Indian and international media have gone ballistic about it without a shred of evidence. If the argument is that the Indian prime minister’s house is in the vicinity and reveals lapses in our security, then why is no one apprehensive about our situation? It raises questions beyond safety measures. Why are we falling in line with Israeli rules? What is the American effort in this proxy war? It is not Hizbullah that is fighting in India, but Israel.

With the top leaders’ comments, Israel is not only holding India to ransom but also trying to play its victim-aggressor game here. A bomb that went off simultaneously in Georgia was defused, for it does not resonate well with the anti-Arab/Iran narrative. One is not condoning any such attacks, but this most certainly does not look like a war against Israel, a state that has got its armour in place. Mossad is as pervasive as the CIA.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “It just shows that Israel and its citizens face terror inside and outside of Israel. We deal with it every day. We know how to identify exactly who is responsible for the attack and who carried it out. We will not allow this to affect our agenda.”

Has anyone questioned the agenda? The identification process assumes reprisal.

Blindly accepting the Israeli version of domestic links with groups will obviously lead to the blanket indictment of ‘jihadi’ organisations, many of them imagined entities of the right-wing parties. Is it not possible that some Hindutva terror groups now openly asserting themselves and held culpable for such activities could be used for Israel’s covert operations? Israel does not have suicide missions, but it understands the masochism paradigm only too well.

***

The revenge space is never empty. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written: “The primitive sense of the just…starts from the notion that a human life…is a vulnerable thing, a thing that can be invaded, wounded, violated by another’s act in many ways. For this penetration, the only remedy that seems appropriate is a counter invasion, equally deliberate, equally grave. And to right the balance truly, the retribution must be exactly, strictly proportional to the original encroachment. It differs from the original act only in the sequence of time and in the fact that it is response rather than original act – a fact frequently obscured if there is a long sequence of acts and counteracts.”

We need to look at a few examples to emphasise our vulnerability.

Members of the orthodox Jewish Chabad India Trust have moved out of Nariman House and are residing in an unknown location due to security reasons. Soon after the Mumbai attacks, six members of a group called Zaka (acronym for Zihuy Korbanot Ason – Disaster Victim Identification) arrived in the city to collect and arrange the body parts and blood of Jews so that they could be returned to family members and were afforded a dignified burial according to Jewish law. The police investigations were not completed.

More recently, Israeli national Nurit Toker was booked by the Mumbai police under the Arms Act, 1959, for carrying two live cartridges in her backpack while travelling from Mumbai to Kathmandu. In her petition she mentioned that she had completed her compulsory three-year training in the Israeli army and these were her personal ammunition, compatible with the M-16 assault rifle acquired during her military training. She had not carried the rifle, though. Sec. 3 clearly states “there is no requirement of use or intention to use the arm or ammunition” to pursue the case. Yet, the Israel Consulate intervened to say that the accused had accidentally left bullets in her bag.

This is not the first such instance. In 2006, Noa Haviv had cleared customs at Mumbai airport as well as the security agencies of Israeli airline El Al at Tel Aviv and arrived with 16 bullets and a magazine in her check-in baggage. The Israeli consul general had stated then: “We have every reason to believe that it was an innocent mistake. She had borrowed this suitcase from her brother, who is a licensed weapons holder. She was not aware of the bullets inside when she packed her bags.” Amazingly, only the airline filed a case and not the Airports Authority of India or the security agencies of the government.

In a country that arrests whole families on mere “tip offs”, this leniency is alarming. Worse, all 171 passengers on the El Al flight had walked out of the green channel and cleared customs in 15 minutes. Why this express service? Even Indians returning from a holiday take longer. The customs official at the time had said, “…this was a flight coming from Israel, where security measures are stringent.”

Are we to depend on another state’s security assurances? Israel is not above suspicion. No country is.

***

The attack on the embassy staff took place in India. We cannot allow investigations to be outsourced. Hillary Clinton offered US assistance to probe into “these cowardly acts” because the “scourge of terrorism is an affront to the entire international community”.

In an editorial, The Pioneer uses this incident for its grand-standing: “Governments around the world are mindful of such occasions when Israelis, both diplomats and civilians, are likely be targeted; sadly, the Government of India chooses to ignore them, busy as the Home Minister is defending himself in a corruption case while intelligence agencies are pre-occupied with snooping on the Congress’s political opponents and conducting ‘surveys’ in election-bound States”. It adds, with alacrity, that at least the people should be agitated “if not the Government whose Ministers are at the moment unabashedly pandering to Muslim extremism in Uttar Pradesh”.

Are we to be on our toes for Israel? Why did the papers not write editorials when suspicious activities of Israelis were noticed by these intelligence agencies? Why suppress those?

As expected, Pakistan and its Inter Services Intelligence are used as an example. There has been no proof. Israel is using Indian susceptibility with regard to relationship with Pakistan. There is an indeed an insurgency problem and the recent history of the Mumbai attacks. The fact that the Jewish Chabad House was one of the targets makes it appear as a legitimate connection. But Pakistan has closer ties with Saudi Arabia and is inimical to Iran, which is the current bone stuck in the throats of the western powers and Israel.

There are cursory references to the four Iranian nuclear scientists who were killed in the last two years. Instead, the bomb blast is being touted as revenge for the death of Hizbullah’s military chief Imad Mughniyeh in a car explosion. What is so important about the fourth death anniversary? Do also note that he was killed in Syria, so Israel has a virtual buffet meal at its disposal to point fingers at.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. “Israel perpetrated the terror actions to launch psychological warfare against Iran.”

There are sniggers, but Israel has every reason to perpetuate such mind-numbing ideas, if not actions. In 1948, Menachem Begin’s unit slaughtered the inhabitants of Deir Yassin. In 1953, Ariel Sharon led the slaughter of the inhabitants of Qibya, and in 1982 arranged for their allies to butcher around 2,000 in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. He had declared, “We must hit, hit and hit them incessantly – not by means of large-scale war. Suddenly someone disappears there, someone is found dead here and somewhere else someone is found stabbed to death in a European nightclub.”

The history if Israel is as damning as it is damaged. It has flouted every rule and yet got the benefit of protection.

India is most certainly not a soft power that some of our own commentators are shamelessly projecting it as. It is a bit obsessed and still suffers from a colonial hangover. It has created its cocoon of goodwill based on the flimsy delusion of being a developed nation where hybrid progress is sustained in a greenhouse. In that, it is not too different from some of the wealthy Arab states that are only concerned about how they sell their oil and for how much. Just as they have their pecking order, India maintains a stoical distance from the larger pool of South Asian countries by virtue of its “close relations” with those who matter.

Self-preservation is the goal of any society, but when it becomes opportunistic it is difficult to demarcate the lines of control and of control freaks. By a process of natural selection that imbues it as a ‘doctrinaire liberal’ society, India is being co-opted in an unholy war

By Farzana Versey

16 February 2012

@ Countercurrents.org

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.in/

Israel Vying For War: Attacking Iran Will Not Repeat History

On April 10, 2002, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons, “Saddam Hussein’s regime is…developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked.”

A year later, Blair, enthusiastically joined a US-led coalition that launched an illegal war against Iraq. Their hunt for weapons of mass destruction was futile because no such weapons actually existed. The Iraq Survey Group, a 1,400 strong member organization set up by the CIA and the Pentagon, made every attempt to prove otherwise, but only came back empty-handed. In its final Duelfer Report, released in September 2004, the group “found no evidence of concerted efforts to restart the [nuclear] program.”

One would think that the years between 1991 – the first war on Iraq – and 2003 would have been enough to convince US-led western allies that economically besieged, politically isolated and war torn Iraq had no capacity for producing such weapons. Still, Iraq was attacked with a ferocity that left hundreds of thousands dead and a destroyed country. The outcome of the misadventure may be history to some, but it is a devastating reality for millions of Iraqis.

Considering all of this, shouldn’t we at least expect a slight change of course?

‘Drums of war beat louder as Iran and Israel step up rhetoric,’ declared a story headline in the British Independent newspaper on February 4, while ABC news stated that ‘Fear of Israel War With Iran Grows Amid Heightened Nuke Concerns.’

Of course, there is great deal of journalistic trickery in how the story is being reported. Iran did promise retaliation if attacked, but the possible war is being initiated and engineered by Israel.

In fact, contrary to popular perception, the potential war is not an exclusively Israeli-Iranian matter. While Israel is sorting out logistical issues, Western allies are actively working to both choke Iran economically and isolate it politically. The strategy may give the impression that Israel is the predator moving for the kill, but all other details are being sorted out in Western capitals.

As was the case with Iraq, Western allies are now hatching up both legal and political discourses. As they continue to escalate on multiple fronts, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seem to conveniently run into all sorts of obstacles in Iran itself.

Meanwhile, mainstream media continues to hype the idea of Iran as a threat to Israel and the United States. Comments made during a Friday sermon by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which threatened serious retaliation in case of attack, were stretched in every possible direction to give an impression of dangerous Iranian leadership. This was intended to retrospectively cement the bizarre Israeli narrative that ‘Iran must be stopped before it’s too late’.

U.N. Nuclear Inspectors’ Visit to Iran Is a Failure, West Says,’ declared a headline in the New York Times, although the story itself pointed to the fact that the inspectors merely faced problems meeting a key scientists and would return later in the month.

The media anxiety reached an all time high with the publishing of a report in the Independent, which suggested that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “believes Israel could strike nuclear targets in Iran before the summer after concluding that military action might be needed before it was ‘too late’ to stop Tehran’s nuclear program”.

The saber-rattling that preceded the Iraq invasion prepared public opinion for a war that should never have taken place. In the case of Iraq, Israel was a central piece in the US justification for war. Defending Israel from some imagined Iraqi threat was used by every war enthusiast in the US government and media.

Now, it’s Iran’s turn. The ugly deed this time is likely to be perpetrated by Israeli hands as early as April, according to Panetta. (One would argue that a dirty war is already underway as a number of assassinations targeting Iranian scientists have been committed.)

While the very suggestion of war was an Israeli-US ‘option’ that has been tossed back and forth since at least 2005, no sensible Iranian position is to be found in Western media reporting.

“Iran argues that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has every right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes,” read a news article published in Iranian Press TV website.

No such claims will be assuring enough to the Israeli leadership. When Hamas’ feeble home-made rockets are viewed by Israel’s official discourse as an ‘existential threat’, one can imagine the trepidation of co-existing with a militarily strong Iran. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak are the two major proponents of the ‘bomb Iran before it’s too late’ argument. Considering Israel’s existing arsenal of nuclear weapons, subscribing to the Israeli logic is paramount to accepting that only Israel somehow has the moral capacity to use WMDs wisely.

Chillingly, officials used the annual conference of Israel’s security establishment at the Inter-Disciplinary Centre in Herzilya to mostly discuss the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of launching their attacks. Vice Prime Minister, Moshe Yaalon is determined that “one way or the other…(the) messianic-apocalyptic” Iranian nuclear project would be stopped. Yaalon is a passionate supporter of the theory that Iranian ungrounded facilities can in fact be penetrated by bunker-buster bombs.

However, using the Iraq war narrative for comparison must end here. The fact is, there are also significant differences between both cases. Iran is a major regional power, geographically massive and cannot be politically ‘contained’ or economically choked without exacting a high price from all parties involved. No ground invasion is possible, for the US is counting its losses in Iraq and is cutting down its military budget. Iran has had enough time to anticipate and prepare for all grim possibilities. The American-British-Western public willingness to subscribe to another war rationale is at an all time low. And an act of war could destroy any remaining semblance of stability in a strategically and economically precious region during a time of global recession.

If history ever repeats itself, it does so only when we fail to learn its important lessons. Israel might be prepared to take such chances, but why should the rest of the world?

By Ramzy Baroud

10 February 2012

@ Countercurrents.org

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

 

 

Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran’s nuclear scientists, U.S. officials tell NBC News

Updated: 11:14 a.m. ET — Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

ROCK CENTER EXCLUSIVE

The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980.

The attacks, which have killed five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and may have destroyed a missile research and development site, have been carried out in dramatic fashion, with motorcycle-borne assailants often attaching small magnetic bombs to the exterior of the victims’ cars.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign but has no direct involvement.

The Iranians have no doubt who is responsible – Israel and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, known by various acronyms, including MEK, MKO and PMI.

“The relation is very intricate and close,” said Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, speaking of the MEK and Israel.  “They (Israelis) are paying … the Mujahedin. Some of their (MEK) agents … (are) providing Israel with information.  And they recruit and also manage logistical support.”

Moreover, he said, the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, is training MEK members in Israel on the use of motorcycles and small bombs.  In one case, he said, Mossad agents built a replica of the home of an Iranian nuclear scientist so that the assassins could familiarize themselves with the layout prior to the attack.

Much of what the Iranian government knows of the attacks and the links between Israel and MEK  comes from interrogation of an assassin who failed to carry out an attack in late 2010 and the materials found on him, Larijani said. (Click here to see a video report of the interrogation shown on Iranian televsion.)

The U.S.-educated Larijani, whose two younger brothers run the legislative and judicial branches of the Iranian government, said the Israelis’ rationale is simple. “Israel does not have direct access to our society. Mujahedin, being Iranian and being part of Iranian society, they have … a good number of … places to get into the touch with people. So I think they are working hand-to-hand very close.  And we do have very concrete documents.”

Two senior U.S. officials confirmed for NBC News  the MEK’s role in the assassinations, with one senior official saying, “All your inclinations are correct.” A third official would not confirm or deny the relationship, saying only, “It hasn’t been clearly confirmed yet.”  All the officials denied any U.S. involvement in the assassinations.

As it has in the past, Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined comment. Said a spokesman, “As long as we can’t see all the evidence being claimed by NBC, the Foreign Ministry won’t react to every gossip and report being published worldwide.”

For its part, the MEK pointed to a statement calling the allegations “absolutely false.”

Response to article from the National Council of Resistance of Iran

Ali Safavi, a long-time representative of the MEK, underscored the denial after publication of this article,

“There has never been and there is no MEK member in Israel, period,” he said. “The MEK has categorically denied any involvement. The idea that Israel is training MEK members on its soil borders on perversity. It is absolutely and completely false.”

The sophistication of the attacks supports the Iranian claims that an experienced intelligence service is involved, experts say.

In the most recent attack, on Jan. 11, 2012, Mostafa Ahamdi Roshan died in a blast in Tehran moments after two assailants on a motorcycle placed a small magnetic bomb on his vehicle. Roshan was a deputy director at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and was reportedly involved in procurement for the nuclear program, which Iran insists is not a weapons program.

Previous attacks include the assassination of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, killed by a bomb outside his Tehran home in January 2010, and an explosion in November of that year that took the life of Majid Shahriari and wounded Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, who is now the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

In the case of Roshan, the bomb appears to have been a shaped charge that directed all the explosive power inside the vehicle, killing him and his bodyguard driver but leaving nearby traffic unaffected.

Although Roshan was directly involved in the nuclear program, working at the huge centrifuge facility between Tehran and Qom, Iran’s religious center, at least one other scientist who was killed wasn’t linked to the Iranian nuclear program, according to Larijani.

Speaking of bombing victim Ali-Mohammadi, whom he described as a friend, Larijani told NBC News, “In fact this guy who was assassinated was not involved in the nitty-gritty of the situation.  He was a scientist, a physicist, working on the theoretically parts of nuclear energy, which you can teach it in every university. You can find it in every text.”

“This is an Israeli plot.  A dirty plot,” Larijani added angrily. He also claimed the assassinations are not having an effect on the program and have only made scientists more resolute in carrying out their mission.

Not so, said Ronen Bergman, an Israeli commentator and author of “Israel’s Secret War with Iran” and an upcoming book tentatively titled, “Mossad and the Art of Assassination.”

Bergman said the attacks have three purposes, the most obvious being the removal of high-ranking scientists and their  knowledge. The others:  forcing Iran to increase security for its scientists and facilities and to spur “white defections.”

He explained the latter this way: “Scientists leaving the project, afraid that they are going to be next on the assassination list, and say, ‘We don’t want this.  Indeed, we get good money, we are promoted, we are honored by everybody, but we might get killed.  It isn’t worth it.  Maybe we should go back to teach … in a university.’”

There are unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran.  Among those killed was Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, director of missile development for the Revolutionary Guard, and a dozen other researchers. So important was Moghaddam that Ayatollah Khamenei attended his funeral.

Unlike the assassinations, Iran claims the missile site explosion was an accident; the MEK, meanwhile, trumpeted it but denied any involvement.

Indeed, there may be other covert operations carried out either by Israel acting alone or in concert with others, according to Bergman.

“Two labs caught fire,” said Bergman, enumerating the attacks. “Scientists got blown up or disappeared.  A missile base and the R&D base of the Revolutionary Guard exploded some time ago, with the director of the R&D division of the Revolutionary Guard being killed along with … his soldiers.”

Bergman added, “So, a long series of … something that was termed by an Israeli (Cabinet) minister … as ‘mysterious mishaps’ happening and rehappening to the project. Then the Iranians claim, ‘This is Israeli Mossad trying to sabotage our attempts to be a nuclear superpower.’”

Dr. Uzi Rabi, director of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, said the supposed accidents could all be part of “psychological warfare” conducted against Iran. “It seems logical. It makes sense,” he said of possible MEK involvement, “and it’s been done before.”

Rabi, who regularly briefs Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Iran also said the ultimate goal of the range of covert operations being carried out by Israel is “to damage the politics of survivability … to send a message that could strike fear into the rulers of Iran.”

For the United States, the alleged role of the MEK is particularly troublesome.  In 1997, the State Department designated it a terrorist group, justifying it with an unclassified 40-page summary of the organization’s  activities going back more than 25 years.  The paper, sent to Congress in 1994, was written by Wendy Sherman, now undersecretary of state for political affairs and then an aide to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The report, which was obtained by NBC News, was unsparing in its assessment. “The Mujahedin  (MEK) collaborated with Ayatollah Khomeini to overthrow the former shah of Iran,” it said. “As part of that struggle, they assassinated at least six American citizens, supported the takeover of the U.S. embassy, and opposed the release of the American hostages.”  In each case, the paper noted, “Bombs were the Mujahedin’s weapon of choice, which they frequently employed against American targets.”

“In the post-revolutionary political chaos, however, the Mujahedin lost political power to Iran’s Islamic clergy. They then applied their dedication to armed struggle and the use of propaganda against the new Iranian government, launching a violent and polemical cycle of attack and reprisal.”

U.S. officials have said publicly that the information contained in the report was limited to unclassified material, but that it also drew on classified material in making its determination to add the MEK to the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The MEK and its sister organizations have since the beginning been run by Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, a husband-wife team who have maintained tight control despite assassination threats and internal dissent. Massoud Rajavi, 63, founded the MEK, but since the U.S. invasion of Iraq has taken a backseat to his wife.

The State Department report describes the Rajavis as  “fundamentally undemocratic” and “not a viable alternative to the current government of Iran.”

One reason for that is the MEK’s close relationship with Saddam Hussein, as demonstrated by this 1986 video showing the late Iraqi dictator meeting with Massoud Rajavi. Saddam recruited the MEK in much the same way the Israelis allegedly have, using them to fight Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq War, a role they took on proudly.  So proudly, they invited NBC News to one of their military camps outside Baghdad in 1991.

“The National Liberation Army (MLA), the military wing of the Mujahedin, conducted raids into Iran during the latter years of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War,” according to the State Department report. The NLA’s last major offensive reportedly was conducted against Iraqi Kurds in 1991, when it joined Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression of the Kurdish rebellion. In addition to occasional acts of sabotage, the Mujahedin are responsible for violent attacks in Iran that victimize civilians.”

“Internally, the Mujahedin run their organization autocratically, suppressing dissent and eschewing tolerance of differing viewpoints,” it said. “Rajavi, who heads the Mojahedin’s political and military wings, has fostered a cult of personality around himself.”

The U.S. suspicion of the MEK doesn’t end there. Law enforcement officials have told NBC News that in 1994, the MEK made a pact with terrorist Ramzi Yousef a year after he masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.  According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Yousef built an 11-pound bomb that MEK agents placed inside one of Shia Islam’s greatest shrines in Mashad, Iran, on June 20, 1994.  At least 26 people, mostly women and children, were killed and 200 wounded in the attack.

That connection between Yousef, nephew of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and the MEK was first reported in a book, “The New Jackals,” by Simon Reeve. NBC News confirmed that Yousef told U.S. law enforcement that he had worked with the MEK on the bombing.

In recent years, the MEK has said it has renounced violence, but Iranian officials say that is not true, that killings of Iranians continue.  Still, through some deft lobbying, the group has been able to get the United Kingdom and the European Union to remove it from their lists of terrorist groups.

The alleged involvement of the MEK in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists provides the U.S. with a cloak of deniability regarding the clandestine killings. Because the U.S. has designated the MEK as a terrorist organization, neither military nor intelligence units of the U.S. government, can work with them.  “We cannot deal with them, “ said one senior U.S. official. “We would not deal with them because of the designation.”

Iranian officials initially accused the Israelis and MEK of being behind the attacks, but they have since added the CIA to the list. Three days after the Jan. 11, 2012, bombing in Tehran that killed Roshan, the state news agency IRNA reported that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had sent a diplomatic letter to the U.S. claiming to have “evidence and reliable information” that the CIA provided “guidance, support and planning” to assassins directly involved in the attack.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  immediately denied any connection to the killings. “I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” Clinton told reporters on the day of the attack.

But at least two GOP presidential candidates have no problem with the targeting of nuclear scientists.  In a November debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed “taking out their scientists,” and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum called it, ”a wonderful thing.”

The MEK’s opposition to the Iranian government also has recently earned it both plaudits and support from an odd mix of political bedfellows.

A group of former Cabinet-level officials have joined together to support the MEK’s removal from the official U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list, even taking out a full-page ad last year in the New York Times calling for the removal of the MEK from the U.S. terrorist list.  Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy were among those whose signatures were on the ad.

“There’s an extraordinary group of bipartisan or even apolitical leaders, military leaders, diplomats, the United States … the United Kingdom, the European Union, even a U.S. District Court in Washington, said that this group that was put on the foreign terrorist organization watch list in 1997 doesn’t deserve to be there,” Ridge said in November on “The Andrea Mitchell Show” on MSNBC TV.

U.S. politicians also have been pushing the U.S. government to protect the 3,400 MEK members and their families at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, about 35 miles north of Baghdad.  With the departure of U.S. troops, the MEK feared that Iraqi forces, with encouragement from Iran, would attack the camp, leading to a bloodbath. At the last minute, however, agreement was brokered with the United Nations that would permit the MEK members’ departure for resettlement in unspecified democratic countries.  As of this week, there’s been little movement on the planned resettlement.

The Iranians see what’s happening as terrorism and hypocrisy by the United States.  They have forwarded documents and other evidence to the United Nations – and directly to the United States, they say.

“I think this is very cynical plan.  This is unacceptable,” said Larijani. “This is a bad trend in the world.  Unprecedented.  We should kill scientists … to block a scientific program?  I mean this is disaster!”

Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and also a senior fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said that if the accounts of the Israeli-MEK assassinations are accurate, the operation borders on terrorism.

“In theory, states cannot be terrorist, but if they hire locals to do assassinations, that would be state sponsorship,” said Byman, author of the recent book, “A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism.” “You could argue that they took action not to terrorize the public, the purpose of terrorism, but only the nuclear community.  An argument could also be made that degrading the program means that you don’t have to take military action and thus, this is a lower level of violence and that really these are military targets, where normally terrorist targets are civilians.”

But ultimately, Byman said, there is a “spectrum of responsibility” and that Israel is ultimately responsible.

Ronen Bergman, while not speaking on behalf of the Israeli government, suggests that there is a justification, citing an oft-repeated but disputed quote in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.

“Meir Degan, the chief of Mossad, when he was in office, hung a photograph behind him, behind the chair of the chief of Mossad,” notes the Israeli commentator.  “And in that photograph you see — an ultra-orthodox Jew — long beard, standing on his knees with his– hands up in the air, and two Gestapo soldiers standing — beside him with guns pointed at him.  One of — one of them is smiling.

“And Degan used to say to his people and the people coming to visit him from CIA, NSA, et cetera, ‘Look at this guy in the picture. This is my grandfather just seconds before he was killed by the SS,’” Bergman said. “’… We are here to prevent this from happening again.’”

9 February 2012

By Richard Engel and Robert Windrem

@ NBC News

Richard Engel is NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent; Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer.

Israel Prepares For War Against Iran

A lengthy article, “Will Israel Attack Iran,” published in this week’s New York Times confirms that Israel has made advanced preparations for military strikes on Iran. The author—Ronen Bergman, a well-connected political analyst with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth—concluded: “After speaking to many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”

Bergman corroborated previous articles in the Israeli press reporting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak have been pressing for the country’s security cabinet to authorise an attack on Israel. Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Bergman last week: “It is a matter of months before the Iranians will be able to attain military nuclear capability… We are prepared to defend ourselves in any way and anywhere that we see fit.”

Claims that Iran is on the point of constructing a nuclear weapon are not supported by facts. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report—a political document designed to justify the latest US and European sanctions against Iran’s oil exports—provided limited evidence of Iranian research related to aspects of building a nuclear bomb. Much of the “evidence” came from US, European and Israeli intelligence sources. Most of the research projects were discontinued after 2003. Iran continues to deny any plans to build nuclear weapons.

Highlighting the bogus character of Israeli claims, veteran journalist Robert Fisk commented in the Independent: “The Israeli President [Peres] warns us that Iran is on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon… Yet we reporters do not mention that Shimon Peres, as Israeli Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing in 1996… And we do not recall that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.”

The prominence given to the New York Times article suggests that Bergman is the conduit for a message from the Israeli establishment to pressure the Obama administration and more broadly the US ruling elites to take more aggressive action against Iran. The US and European Union have effectively imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, as well as the country’s central bank, to operate fully from July.

In a barrage of comments, senior Israeli figures this week called for tougher measures. Defence Minister Barack demanded “very strong and quick pressure on Iran,” repeating the lie that Iran was producing “nuclear weapons without hindrance.” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz questioned whether the US/EU embargo was sufficient and called for “a massive blockade” of Iran by sea and air—itself an act of war under international law. Yesterday, former Israel Defence Force (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi stressed that Israel had to “keep a reliable [military] option on the table with the willingness to use it if necessary.”

In Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama boasted that his administration had ensured that Iran was “more isolated than ever before” and “faced with crippling sanctions.” He pointedly warned: “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” In other words, the US is prepared to launch war against Iran on the pretext of halting its nuclear programs.

Bergman’s article underlined the close collaboration between the US and Israel, and pointed to the likely timetable for an attack on Iran. Barak told the journalist that “no more than a year remains to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weaponry.” A senior Israeli security source declared: “The Americans tell us there is time, and we tell them that they only have about six to nine months more than we do, and that therefore the sanctions have to be brought to a culmination now, in order to exhaust that track.”

Bergman explained that the Israeli military, particularly since Barak became defence minister, “has prepared in unprecedented ways for a strike against Iran.” The Israeli Air Force “maintains planes with the long-range capacity required to deliver ordnance to targets in Iran, as well as unmanned aircraft capable of carrying bombs to those targets and remaining airborne for up to 48 hours.” The IDF had also prepared plans to deal with any Iranian retaliation.

The article detailed the criminal covert war of assassination and sabotage waged by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad inside Iran since 2004. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mossad was given “virtually unlimited funds and powers” for a “five-front strategy,” involving “political pressure, covert measures, proliferation, sanctions and regime change.” Mossad chief Meir Dagan sent a secret cable to Washington in August 2007 stressing that “the United States, Israel and like-minded countries must push on all five fronts in a simultaneous joint effort.”

The gangster-like operations of Mossad, acting with the complicity or involvement of the US, included financial sabotage, computer viruses, the sale of faulty parts and raw materials, unexplained plane crashes, explosions at Iranian facilities, and the murder of Iranian scientists, most recently of Massoud Ali Mohammadi on January 11. The article indicated that Mossad had financed, armed and trained two groups—the Muhjahedin Khalq (MEK) and the Sunni extremist outfit Jundallah—to carry out the assassinations.

The barely disguised gloating over these crimes, in Bergman’s article and by Israeli leaders and officials, points to their real purpose—to goad Iran into retaliation that could provide for the further media demonisation of the regime and the pretext for war. This thuggery underlines the fact that the greatest danger of war in the Middle East stems from Israel, which has an estimated arsenal of 300 nuclear weapons and has repeatedly resorted to wars of aggression to maintain its dominance, and its backers in Washington, which has already invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq and is now menacing Iran.

While publicly the Obama administration has focussed on the “crippling sanctions” on Iran, it is also carrying out preparations for military action—a subject openly debated in US newspapers and journals. The Pentagon this month doubled the number of aircraft carrier battle groups near the Persian Gulf and thus its capacity to wage an air and sea war against Iran.

Washington’s allies in Europe are getting ready for war as well. French and British warships accompanied the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, into the Gulf last Sunday. British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond declared on Monday: “The UK has a contingent capability to reinforce its presence in the region should at any time it be considered necessary to do so.”

By recklessly escalating the economic embargo and military threats against Iran, the US, Israel and the European powers are heightening the danger of a slide into war that has the potential to engulf the region and to spread internationally

By Peter Symonds

27 January 2012

@ WSWS.org

Is There Such A Thing As Ethical Capitalism?

In response to a growing realisation that neo-liberal capitalism is morally and literally bankrupt, Britain’s political leadership have provided three visions of ethical capitalism for us to aspire to. So, is there such a thing as ethical capitalism? And why is this question being asked now?

What is Ethical?

First, we must decide how we approach this question: from a binary or a spectrum view of ethics. In binary views of ethics, to use a metaphor, you are either pregnant or not. You can’t be half pregnant. Therefore, the question has a yes or no answer. However, using a spectrum view, there is a sliding scale ranging from the most heinous unethical extreme at one end, to the apex of moral good standing at the other. In short, binary ethics asks ‘if’ something is ethical, spectrum ethics ‘how’ ethical it is.

It is interesting that this question – ‘is there such a thing as ethical capitalism?’ – is asked in binary terms, yet often answered in spectrum. Notice the question is not ‘what is the most ethical economic system?’ or ‘which economic model promotes the most ethical economy?’

Furthermore, the very question itself acts as a ring fence around the resulting debate, concentrating the imagination within the boundaries of just this one system – capitalism. The reason it is answered in spectrum might well be that the unethical behaviour associated with capitalism is so overwhelming and unignorable, that even the most ardent defence relies on relativity arguments – ‘given human nature’, ‘compared with communism’, ‘would you rather live here or North Korea?’.

Therefore I consider the question itself to be unethical. It is either insincere or ignorant. Insincere, in that it has been posed in response to plans for ‘ethical’ capitalism by Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband, with knotted brows and solemn voices, as if it were consistent with the conversation happening outside of the rarefied air of Whitehall. It is not. The conversation outside is around what an ethical society would look like, and what structures, economic included, would need to exist to support that.

If, however, the question is not insincere then it must be asked in ignorance of the myriad alternative economic models available and the broader social, economic, ecological and political questions being asked by individuals and movements, such as Occupy, UK Uncut and Climate Camp.

However, if people have themselves in knots over ethics, this is small beer compared to the state of our understanding of capitalism.

What is Capitalism?

Our understanding of capitalism is incredibly limited. Despite this being the prevailing world economic system, it is not taught until University in the United Kingdom. This means the vast majority of the population have never even had a structured, informed conversation around the mechanics and iterations of capitalism, let alone whether it is ethical or not. People, on the whole, don’t know what it is, what it does, what it means, where it came from or what it replaced.

As a snapshot, capitalism is a socio-economic ideology, a theory and the current global economic paradigm. It originated in the West, gained a foothold in the 1700s and 1800s and ultimately replaced feudalism. It has gone through various incarnations, or developments, from Mercantilism, Industrialism, Keynesianism, and the latest, Neo-Liberalism. It exists in established democracies and totalitarian dictatorships.

Yet I have had conversations on the topic of a world without capitalism with intelligent people who, without irony, have stated that capitalism has always existed and will always exist because people will always want to exchange things with each other. To be clear, you can have an economy without it being capitalist. You can have trade of ideas, labour, skills and products without capitalism. Capitalism is not synonymous with any of these things.

I mention this not to belittle, but to demonstrate how successfully and misleadingly capitalism has been branded as natural, inevitable, permanent and, arguably the most intriguing, ‘post-ideological’. It is none of these things. But consider for a moment: if most people believe it is, then does it matter whether it is ethical at all? If something is natural, inevitable, permanent and not based in ideology, isn’t even entering a conversation about the ethics of it somewhat irrelevant outside of the curiosities of academia?

This is precisely how this conversation becomes pointless, for most, fast. This is where the conversation slides into a rational black hole, we hang our heads and bemoan the cursed world and go back to watching the telly. This is how quickly and easily a question seemingly challenging of capitalism, leads inexorably to a conclusion in favour of the defence of the status quo. The question itself acts as a kind of cerebral sat-nav guiding anyone who answers it without first analysing it, straight to the pre-set destination: turn right at the false dilemma, left at the pop psychology and come to a stop at the dead end.

This is why I have taken the time to set the question in some context before even attempting to address the material content of it.

A Matter of Context and Perspective

These matters of context and perspective are sadly missed in the current and painstakingly narrow debate conducted at sound bite level across the rolling news channels today. A large part of the thinking taking place at venues such as The Bank of Ideas, a building repossessed by Occupy London for the purpose of a Free University Campaign, is around placing questions of ethical economics in context and shifting perspectives from ‘western’ based to a more holistic view.

Be it economic stability, education, health, famine, poverty, security, the global commons, climate change, civil liberties, human rights, technological and scientific progress – any mode of economy needs to be consistent with social goals related to these elements. Why? Because if it is inconsistent, then you place individuals and organisations in a position of conflicting social and economic priorities. Either they honour the social goals, the economic goals, or they search for some compromise – and there is often not a compromise to be found as the goals are diametrically opposed.

For example, technological and scientific progress rely on the broadest population of educated, innovative, critical thinkers with access to means of contributing ideas, skills and capabilities to achieve breakthrough results. Yet in order to safeguard the profit from any venture, it makes economic sense to have the smallest group of people involved as possible, operate secretively, and use patents and licenses to prevent others from ‘stealing your idea’ and making the profit from it that you yourself seek. In order to progress more quickly, one would need to over-ride or compromise this economic imperative. There has been fascinating work recently covered in TED talks on this matter and I’ll use one example: cancer research.

Jay Bradner, a researcher at Harvard University, and his lab discovered a molecule JQ1 which they thought might explain how cancer cells know they are cancer cells – and wanted to explore if this finding could be used to outfox cancer. He expounds on the success of the decision of his microbiology lab to refuse to patent JQ1, and instead to publish their findings, post them out to 40 other labs, and open source the development of their work. Please watch the short video below.

The work is truly inspiring. This case demonstrates two things. Firstly, that scientific progress does not rely on competition, but collaboration. Secondly, people are driven as much by purpose and passion, as they are by financial gain, or put another way – actual success and economic success not synonymous.

Even in this case, participation is still limited by the need to make money from it at all, and no doubt Jay Bradner and his team made less money than they ultimately could have if they had chosen to stay in the secretive, closed, patent model. This is important as it is exactly what has the majority of people remain in the model which Bradner and his team have demonstrated is a de facto slow lane for research and development.

Supporters of capitalism might ask ‘why should people not benefit financially from their skills and capabilities?’, yet it could equally be asked of capitalism, ‘why would you penalise people for collaboration?’, or ‘why would you incentivise behaviour which holds us back?’

Do we want, as a society, to make people choose between personal wealth and making the best decisions on critical matters like curing cancer?

Far from progress being caused by capitalism, in many areas progress has been made in spite of capitalism. Considering the incredible pace of scientific and technological advancements with these limits in place, the mind boggles at what would happen to human progress if the collective mental and physical power of the three billion people currently starving in the world, were available.

This is why context is so important when addressing the matter of ethical economy, and one way in which capitalism places ethical dilemmas into just one area of our lives.

Moving on to perspective, this is vital in addressing questions of ethics, particularly in the case of capitalism. One of the hardest argued cases for capitalism is the aforementioned progress. Capitalism, it is said, propels people to work hard, in order to succeed financially, and therefore wider society benefits from the increased productivity of the population. It is also leads inexorably to individual liberty, freedom and democracy.

Now, superficially, taking a ‘Western’ view of this, the post industrial revolution period of history has seen extraordinary leaps of progress in science, technology, human rights and democratic participation. So for many people, compared to feudalism, capitalism is an improvement. People cite democracy, universal healthcare, education and the welfare state as representative of this progress. Let us assume for the moment that they are.

If you were born into another family, country or region of the world – you would have seen quite the opposite. From Foreign Direct Investment, to The Debt Trap, to coups of democratic leaders in order to install dictators who would ultimately generate a profit for western corporations, to Structural Adjustment Programmes used by the IMF on African and Latin American countries shifting production to foreign trade rather than domestic need, to the morally defunct trade in weapons, to a toothless UN general assembly and a pointless US dominated UN Security council. All of these policies, decisions and institutions, created in order to perpetuate and stimulate ‘progress’ on one side of the world, at the direct and indirect expense of survival, let alone progress, on the other. This argument is not refuted by realists of politics, economics or international relations – it is defended and justified. It is only neo-liberals and neo-liberalist ‘idealism’, that seeks to wash its hands of any responsibility for generating this mass dispossession, suffering and death – whilst claiming to be the only show in town in terms of dealing with it. It could be argued that rather than replacing feudalism, capitalism merely globalised it.

It is unconscionable, to the Citizens of the World perspective exemplified by the global Occupy movement, that this progress continue to be made at the cost of, and with little or no benefit to, the majority of people on the planet. On the whole, set in context, they find it difficult to see how on earth, given the competitive nature of it, a capitalist economic model is the choice model for the globalised civil society emerging in the 21st Century.

The Least Unethical Thing?

For those people who see the ethos of capitalism itself as unethical, when people ask ‘is there an ethical or more ethical form of capitalism’ the initial response is a palm to the forehead.

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the UK government and leader of the Liberal Democrat party, is currently trumpeting the idea of what he calls a John Lewis economy. It is not clear that it means anything at all. John Lewis is a department store; it operates within a capitalist economy. Aspiring to a John Lewis economy is like aspiring to Scout Club Christianity, or Air Cadets Security. John Lewis is a company, the world isn’t. A wistful, ‘oh wouldn’t it be nice if all our companies acted like John Lewis?’ does not translate into a just and ethical economic model – what of currency control, trade agreements, migration – what would John Lewis do?

Furthermore, even if we take the statement at face value, assuming it to mean a more equitable, responsible, fair capitalism, the concept is still problematic if capitalism itself is considered unethical. In this light, talking about John Lewis Capitalism, is comparable to talking about Theresienstadt Nazism or expounding the virtues of ‘separate but equal’ over slavery. They may well be moving in the direction of ethical on a spectrum scale, but what is the point of making such an unethical thing, slightly less unethical? Surely, one could conclude, our collective time and energy would be far better spent in the act of creating an ethical scenario, than seeking – cynically or otherwise – to dampen the worst impacts of an unethical one.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

As before, in the dying days of feudalism, human society is once more at the point where its economic model no longer fits the ethical or social ambitions of the majority of its constituents. There is friction, fracture and frustration. Discontent hangs in the air, as does the unspoken terror that is (in stage whisper) ‘change’.

So, is there such a thing as ethical capitalism? I believe not. More importantly, despite the failure of political and other institutions to do so, broader social movements are resetting the horse before the cart by asking first – what kind of society do we want? We can then move into ‘what kind of economy will best deliver on those ambitions?’, ‘what economic model serves that society best?’

The people today refusing to entertain even the conversation, or imagining of a post-capitalist economy, are no different to the feudal barons and peasants who could not foresee or were hostile to the dynamic newcomer capitalism in centuries past. For them, humanity has reached the apex of its ability to generate economic and political ideas.

To hold a view of humankind as static, or finite in our ability to innovate and create is, in my opinion, to fundamentally close one’s mind to the facts, as demonstrated by human history. It has been said before, that the economy is a great servant but a terrible master. This is demonstrated perfectly by a glance at the current state of our world. It seems we have forgotten that we, human beings, invented this economy. If it has ceased to serve us then our best efforts should – and in the tent cities, repossessed public buildings and occupied homes across the world are -being made to design another.

A day will come when whatever new model replaces capitalism also ages, withers and no longer fits our future society’s ambitions, and the process of socio-economic evolution will continue. This is the reality of human existence, and in my view, the wonder of it. Let us take this opportunity to be not the desperate hangers-on to a dying, unjust regime, but the instigators of evolution and the architects of our social and economic destiny.

By Kerry-anne Mendoza

6 February 2012

@ OpenDemocracy

Kerry-anne Mendoza camps at Occupy London Finsbury Square, participates in the media team there and is a student of the LSE (Politics & International Relations) and a freelance management consultant.

 

 

 

 

Is Holocaust II (shorthand for another great turning against the Jews) Inevitable?

The Gentile me believes this question needs to be addressed because there is a very real danger that the rising, global tide of anti-Israelism, which is being provoked by Israel’s terrifying arrogance of power and sickening self-righteousness, will be transformed into anti-Semitism unless two things happen.

The notion that anti-Israelism could be transformed into anti-Semitism is not new. In his book Israel’s Fateful Hour, published in 1986, Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel’s longest serving Director of Military Intelligence, gave this warning:

“Israel is the criterion according to which all Jews will tend to be judged. Israel as a Jewish state is an example of the Jewish character, which finds free and concentrated expression within it. Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots. Nevertheless, any flaw in Israeli conduct, which initially is cited as anti-Israelism, is likely to be transformed into empirical proof of the validity of anti-Semitism. It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.”

The fact that (pre-1967) Israel is a Zionist not a Jewish state – how could it be a Jewish state when a quarter of its citizens are Muslims (mainly) and Christians? – in no way diminishes Harkabi’s message.

He was, in fact, treading a quite well worn path. Prior to the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust, and as I document in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, most Jews, eminent American and British Jews especially, were opposed to Zionism’s enterprise in Palestine. They believed it to be morally wrong. They feared it would lead to unending conflict with the Arab and wider Muslim world. But most of all they feared that if Zionism was allowed by the major powers to have its way, it would one day provoke anti-Semitism.

Today, in my opinion, it can be said that Zionism wants and needs anti-Semitism in order to justify anything and everything its monster child does.

So what are the two things that must happen if anti-Israelism is not to be transformed into anti-Semitism (assuming as I do that the Zionist state is not going to change course in the direction of peace)?

One is that the mainly Gentile citizens of the Western world among whom most Jews live become aware of the difference between Judaism and Zionism, and thus why it is wrong to blame all Jews everywhere for the crimes of the hardest core Zionist few in Israel. The difference can be simply stated. Like mainstream Christianity and mainstream Islam, mainstream Judaism has at its core a set of moral values and ethical principles. Zionism, which created a state for some Jews in the Arab heartland mainly by ethnic cleansing and terrorism, is without moral values and ethical principles. Its driving ideology, conditioned by Jewish experience of persecution on-and-off down the centuries, is that might is right. Mainstream Judaism and Zionism are, in fact, total opposites. (In April one of the anti-Zionist Jews I most admire, Nazi holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer, is giving a talk in Luxembourg with the title How Israel betrayed all the human values of Judaism).

In the paragraph above I insist on the term “few” in Israel being to blame because the truth is that most Israeli Jews have been brainwashed by their leaders. (As the headline over an article by Gideon Levy for Ha-aretz put it on 5 February, Israelis should be afraid of their leaders, not Iran). Most Israeli Jews are, for example, totally unaware that the vast majority of Palestinians and most Arabs everywhere have been ready for many years for peace on terms which any rational government in Israel would have accepted with relief.

The other thing that must happen if anti-Israelism is not to be transformed into anti-Semitism stems from the fact, perhaps I should say overwhelming probability, that no American president is ever going to be free to use the leverage he has to oblige the Zionist state to be serious about peace because of the Zionist lobby’s control of policy for Israel-Palestine in Congress.

So as things are Israel is a nuclear-armed monster beyond control. (From recently de-classified documents we now know that in a memorandum dated 19 July 1969, Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser, warned President Nixon that the Israelis “are probably more likely than any other country to actually use their nuclear weapons.” And as I mentioned in my post of 30 January with the headline Is Israel on the road to “self-destruction”?, Golda Meir said in an interview I did with her for the BBC’s Panorama programme when she was prime minster that in a doomsday situation Israel “would be prepared to take the region and the world down with it.”)

On reflection it seems to me that whether or not anti-Israelism is transformed into anti-Semitism will depend not only on the Westerners among whom most Jews live understanding why it is wrong to blame all Jews everywhere for the crimes of the few, but also on what the Jews of the world, European and American Jews especially (I mean the majority of them), do from here on.

In my view they have two options.

OPTION 1 is to stay silent which, at this moment in time, is still the preferred option of most European and American Jews.

That said it has to be acknowledged that recent years have seen an increase in the number of Jewish groups which are critical of Israel’s polices and, in some cases, have even endorsed the call of Palestinian civil society for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. But the voices these groups represent are those of only a minority of Jews.

On the debit side of this particular balance sheet is also the fact that by limiting their campaigns to calls for an end to Israel’s occupation to make the space for a two-state solution, most if not all of the “progressive” (critical of Israel) Jewish groups are demonstrating that they are out of touch with or don’t want to recognise the reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine. The reality is that Israel’s still on-going consolidation of its occupation of the West Bank has made a two-solution impossible. It is not yet formally buried but it is dead.

My own understanding of why began with a private conversation I had with Shimon Peres in early 1980. At the time he was the leader of Israel’s main opposition Labour party and seemed to be well placed to win Israel’s next election and deny Menachem Begin and his Likud party a second term in office – an outcome for which President Carter was praying. After learning that Carter had said behind closed doors that institutional diplomacy could not solve the Palestine problem because of the Zionist lobby’s control of Congress and that what was needed was some informal and unofficial diplomacy, my purpose was to invite Peres to participate in a secret and exploratory dialogue with PLO chairman Arafat with me as the linkman. The idea was that if we could use the 18 months or so before Israel’s next election to get agreement in principle on the way to the two-state solution to which Arafat’s PLO was by then committed, Peres and Arafat could begin to do the business for real when Peres became prime minister. (I was aware that a two-state solution would not provide the Palestinians with full justice, but at the time I shared the hope of those, including Arafat, who believed it was not impossible that within a generation or two the peace of a two-state solution could open the door to One State for all by mutual agreement, thus allowing all Palestinians who wanted to return to do so).

Peres welcomed the idea of an exploratory dialogue with Arafat with me as the linkman, but at a point in our conversation before I went off to Beirut to secure Arafat’s agreement to participate, he, Peres, said, “I fear it is already too late.”

I asked him why.

He replied: “Every day sees new bricks on new settlements. Begin knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s stuffing the West Bank with settlers to create the conditions for a Jewish civil war because he knows that no Israeli prime minister is going down in history as the one who gave the order to the Jewish army to shoot Jews (in order to end the occupation).” Pause. “I’m not.”

Question: If it was too late in 1980 when they were only about 70,000 illegal Jewish settlers on the West Bank, how much more too late is it today when the number of illegal Jewish settlers is in excess of 500,000 and rising, and the political influence of Israel’s religious fanatics and other bigots is growing?

In the words of an old English cliché, Jewish groups which are critical of Israeli policy but limit their effort to calling for an end to Israeli occupation are flogging a dead horse.

My considered Gentile take on why most Jews are silent on the matter of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and denial of their rights is in my book. For this post I’ll make only two brief points.

One is that deep down, if only in their sub-consciousness, most Jews fear (in large part because they are conditioned by Zionism to fear) that there will one day be another great turning against them. Holocaust II. So they perceive Israel as their refuge of last resort, and they tell themselves they must say nothing, do nothing, that could undermine Israel and put their insurance policy at risk.

The other, no doubt related, is that private discussion about publicly criticising Israel or not can and does tear Jewish families as well as communities apart. So for the sake of at least the appearance of Jewish unity it’s best not to discuss the matter.

The problem with Jewish silence is that it’s not the way to refute and demolish a charge or assertion of complicity in Zionism’s crimes. So continued silence by the majority of European and American Jews is most likely to assist the transformation of anti-Israelism into anti-Semitism.

OPTION 2 is for the Jews of the world to distance themselves from the Zionist state.

A most explicit statement of this as a possible option was made in October 2001 by Dr. David Goldberg, the prominent, widely respected, liberal London rabbi and author of a popular introduction to Judaism, The Jewish People, Their History and Their Religion. He dared to say, in public, “It may be time for Judaism and Zionism to go their separate ways.”

Eight years on the late Tony Judt, a professor of history at New York University and director of the Remarque Institute, put some flesh on that bone. British-born of a Jewish mother whose parents emigrated from Russia and a Belgian father who was descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis, Judt started out as an enthusiastic Zionist. He helped to promote the migration of British Jews to Israel, and during the 1967 war he worked as a driver and translator for the IDF. But after that war, his belief in the Zionist enterprise began to unravel. “I went with the idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country through work, but I started to see that this view was remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country and were suffering in refugee camps to make this fantasy possible.”

In an article for the Financial Times on 7 December 2009, Judt wrote this:

“If the Jews of Europe and North America took their distance from Israel, as many have begun to do, the assertion that Israel was ‘their’ state would take on an absurd air. Over time, even Washington might come to see the futility of attaching American foreign policy to the delusions of one small Middle Eastern state. This, I believe, is the best thing that could possibly happen to Israel itself. It would be obliged to acknowledge its limits. It would have to make other friends, preferably among its neighbors.”

For the sake of discussion there’s a case for saying that an Israel that was obliged by European and America Jews to acknowledge its limits might also be an Israel in which many Israeli Jews were prepared to open their minds to the wise words of one of their own – Avraham Burg. Between 1999 and 2003 he was the speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. By the end of his term in that office he was a leading advocate of the idea that Israel and a viable Palestinian state could coexist in peace. In August 2003 he wrote a most remarkable essay which was published in its original Hebrew by Yediot Aharonot and subsequently newspapers in Europe and America.

His lead point was that Israel had to “shed its illusions” and choose between “racist oppression and democracy.” The Jewish people, he wrote, “did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programmes or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto nations. In this we have failed.”

And the following is what Burg had to say about Israel’s need to change course and the choices:

Here is what the prime minister should say to his people: the time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.

Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish state – not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.

Do you want the greater land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages.

Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse – or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements – all of them – and draw an internationally recognised border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish law of return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.

“Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box. (Here, I note, Burg was being less than explicit about the consequences of Greater Israel giving full citizenship and voting rights to everyone. At the point not too far into the future when the Palestinian Arabs outnumbered the Jews of Greater Israel, Zionism would be voted out of existence. Palestine would effectively be de-Zionized, opening the door to One State for all).

The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire and suicide bombers or a recognised international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.

In my view Judt’s assumption that Israel “would” be obliged to acknowledge its limits if the Jews of Europe and America took their distance from it is questionable. Why? It’s rational, based on reason, and Israel’s deluded leaders are beyond reason. They are never going to shed their illusions and present the choices for Israel’s Jews in the terms outlined by Burg.

But the main argument for European and American Jews distancing themselves from the Zionist state and its policies is self-interest. By demonstrating that they were not complicit in Zionism’s crimes, they would be playing their necessary part in preventing anti-Israelism from being transformed into anti-Semitism.

But even if self-interest (in the context above) is the direction in which most European and American Jews might move, events on the ground suggest to me that the time left for them to decide whether or not to actually distance themselves from Israel is running out. And here is my brief summary of why.

Given their determination to keep for all time much if not all of the occupied West Bank (despite what they sometimes say to the contrary for propaganda purposes), Israel’s leaders have got to find a way to defuse the ticking, demographic time-bomb of occupation (the coming of the day when the Palestinians will outnumber the Jews of Greater Israel).

The evidence of the past 44 years is that Israel’s leaders believed they could do it in one of two ways.

One was by making life hell for the occupied Palestinians in the hope that very many of them would either give up their struggle in despair and accept crumbs from Zionism’s table – a few disconnected Bantustans which they could call a state if they wished; or, better still, abandon their homeland and seek new lives elsewhere. Neither of those two things happened or are going to happen.

The other was having in place a compliant, puppet, Palestinian leadership which could be bullied and bribed, with American assistance, into forcing its people to accept crumbs from Zionism’s table. It might be that Israel’s leaders still hope they can make this scenario work with Palestinian “President” Abbas or his successor, but it won’t work.

And that will leave them, Israel’s leaders, with only one way of defusing the demographic time-bomb of occupation – creating a pretext to drive the Palestinians off the West Bank and into Jordan, Syria or wherever. The final ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

I think that will be Zionism’s final solution to its Palestine problem. I also think that such an event will guarantee that the rising, global tide of anti-Israelism is transformed into anti-Semitism, meaning, as Harkabi warned, that Jews throughout the world will pay the price of Israel’s “misconduct”.

I’ll end by re-asking my headline question and giving it an explicit answer.

Is Holocaust II (shorthand for another great turning against the Jews) inevitable? Yes unless the Jews of Europe and America distance themselves from the Zionist monster before it’s too late to do so.

By Alan Hart

24 February 2012

@ Alanhart.net

Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent. He is author of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. He blogs at http://www.alanhart.net and tweets via http://twitter.com/alanauthor

Income inequality: Who exactly are the 1%?

The very rich in America increasingly work in finance, marry each other and care passionately about politics

MITT ROMNEY is not the first multi-millionaire to seek the presidency, nor the richest. Ross Perot, the record-holder, spent some of his billions earned from computer data on losing bids in 1992 and 1996. Since then men who owe their or their family’s fortunes to oil, sport, publishing, trial law, ketchup, beer and bestselling autobiographies have followed.

But Mr Romney, who earned his $200m or so as a private-equity executive buying and selling companies, is the first candidate from the world of high-octane finance. As such, he illustrates the changing complexion of America’s rich. The wealthiest 1% of Americans not only get more of the pie (see chart); they are increasingly creatures of finance.

The average household income of the 1% was $1.2m in 2008, according to federal tax data. The ultra-rich skew that average upwards: admission to the 1% began at $380,000 in 2008. The Congressional Budget Office puts the cut-off lower, at $347,000 in 2007, or $252,000 after subtracting federal taxes and adding back transfers. Measured by net worth, rather than income, the top 1% started at $6.9m in 2009, according to the Federal Reserve, down 23% from 2007.

The richest 1% earn roughly half their income from wages and salaries, a quarter from self-employment and business income, and the remainder from interest, dividends, capital gains and rent. According to an analysis of tax returns by Jon Bakija of Williams College and two others, 16% of the top 1% were in medical professions and 8% were lawyers: shares that have changed little between 1979 and 2005, the latest year the authors examined (see chart). The most striking shift has been the growth of financial occupations, from just under 8% of the wealthy in 1979 to 13.9% in 2005. Their representation within the top 0.1% is even more pronounced: 18%, up from 11% in 1979.

Steve Kaplan of the University of Chicago thinks finance explains much of the rise in inequality. Updating a series developed by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Mr Kaplan notes that the share of income going to the 1% reached an 80-year high of 23.5% in 2007, only to sink to 17.6% in 2009 as the financial markets deflated (see chart). The trend is even more pronounced for the top 0.1%, whose share of total income rose to 12.3% in 2007 but sank to a still disproportionate 8.1% in 2009.

Mr Kaplan and Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University note that investment bankers, corporate lawyers, hedge-fund and private-equity managers have displaced corporate executives at the top of the income ladder. In 2009 the richest 25 hedge-fund investors earned more than $25 billion, roughly six times as much as all the chief executives of companies in the S&P 500 stock index combined.

Although the 1% have been gaining share in most countries, a recent OECD report shows that the trend began sooner, and has gone further, in America. Some scholars, noting that inequality has risen more in English-speaking countries, think social and political values may play a role: in mainland Europe and Japan, corporate governance, tax laws and unionisation have tended to lessen income disparities. But the relatively large role of the financial sector in English-speaking countries could also be a factor: even more of the top 1% work in finance in Britain than in America.

Membership in America’s 1% is relatively stable; three-quarters of the households in the percentile one year will still be there the next. Although the proportion shrinks over time, one study found that the vast majority of the top 1% were still in the richest 10% a decade later. Kinship plays a big part: rich parents tend to produce rich kids. High levels of educational attainment and stable families help in this. According to Gallup, 72% of the 1% have a college degree, and half have a postgraduate degree; those are two to three times the proportion of the other 99%. The 1% are more likely to be married and to have children.

The rich also increasingly marry people like themselves. Mr Bakija and his co-authors found that between 1979 and 2005, the share of spouses of the 1% who had blue-collar or “miscellaneous” service-sector backgrounds declined slightly, from 7.9% to 6.4%. The share of spouses who worked in finance, property and law rose from 3.5% to 8.8%.

Politically, Gallup polls find that the 1% are more likely than the 99% to identify themselves as Republicans (33% to 28%) and less likely to be Democrats (26% to 33%). A survey of 104 wealthy families in the Chicago area, led by Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, found the budget deficit was their leading worry, followed by unemployment; for the broader population, the reverse is true. Still the rich, like most voters, have eclectic views, often supporting liberal and conservative positions simultaneously. For example, Keith Whitaker, who advises wealthy families on behalf of Wells Fargo, says many of them sympathise with the Occupy Wall Street movement. A lot of them became rich by building businesses and consider Wall Street “the place where businesses are taken apart and run by someone else”.

Bob Perkowitz embodies these contradictions. A rich entrepreneur, he now devotes much of his time to a non-profit environmental outfit. He is a lifelong Republican who objects to George Bush junior’s tax cuts for the wealthy, and backed Barack Obama in 2008. Having restructured companies himself, he has no trouble with Mr Romney’s private-equity work but agrees with Occupy Wall Street that corporations have too much power.

Until recently he split his time between conservative Charlotte, North Carolina, and liberal Washington, DC. His wife, Lisa Renstrom, used to manage hotels inherited from her father, a prosperous Republican businessman. Now she campaigns on climate change and backs Wealth for the Common Good, a group of rich people who back Occupy Wall Street. Her father used to give his occupation as “capitalist”. “I grew up believing that [capitalists] were making the world a better place,” she says. “The capitalism we have has left us with degraded infrastructure, threats to our health, and global warming.”

Most of the 1% prefer not to talk about their good fortune. As the New York Times recently observed in an article on the 1%, “Some envisioned waking up to protesters on the lawn; others feared audits by the IRS or other punitive government action.”

But Mr Perkowitz and Ms Renstrom are utterly typical of the 1% in that they are far more politically engaged than the average 99-percenters. Nearly all the rich people surveyed by Northwestern vote, 68% make campaign contributions, nearly half had contacted a member of Congress and a fifth had solicited contributions on behalf of a candidate. A good chunk of those calls were meant to help their businesses. But many were motivated by the common good, defined in as many different ways as the sources of their wealth.

By The Economist

21 January 2012