Friday, April 13, 2012

Juan Cole, The Iran Conundrum


Tomgram: Juan Cole, The Iran Conundrum

By Juan Cole
Posted on April 12, 2012, Printed on April 13, 2012

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Check out Anis Shivani’s interview with me, focusing on themes from my book The United States of Fear, just up at Guernica magazine (a great online read by the way).  And remember, if you are an customer, arrive there via a TomDispatch book link, and buy anything whatsoever, book or otherwise, we get a modest cut of your purchase at no extra cost to you.  It’s an easy -- and appreciated -- way to contribute to this site. Tom]
Negotiators for Iran, the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany are to meet in Turkey this Friday, face to face, for the first time in more than a year.  There are small signs of possible future compromise on both sides when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program (and a semi-public demand from Washington that could be an instant deal-breaker).  Looking at the big picture, though, there’s a remarkable amount we simply don’t know about Washington’s highly militarized policy toward Iran.
Every now and then, like a flash of lightning in a dark sky, some corner of it -- and its enormity and longevity -- is illuminated.  For example, in 2008, the New Yorker’s indefatigable Seymour Hersh reported that the previous year Congress had granted a Bush administration request for up to $400 million “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran,” including “cross-border” operations from Iraq.  Just recently, Hersh offered a window into another little part of the U.S. program: the way, starting in 2005, the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command spent years secretly training members of M.E.K., an Iranian opposition-group-cum-cult that’s on the State Department’s terror list, at a Department of Energy site in the Nevada desert.
Similarly, from time to time, we get glimpses of the U.S. basing and naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, which is massive and ongoing.  As for the skies over Iran, last year the Iranians suddenly announced that they had acquired -- downed, they claimed (though this was later denied by the Americans) -- an advanced U.S. spy drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel.  Indeed, they had the photos to prove it.  Until then, there had been no publicity about American drones flying over Iranian territory and initially the U.S. military claimed that the plane had simply strayed off course while patrolling the Afghan border.
Last week, however, a range of typically anonymous officials leaked to Washington Post reporters Joby Warrick and Greg Miller the news that the CIA’s drone surveillance program over Iran was more than three years old, large-scale, and itself just part of an “intelligence surge” focused on that country.  According to their sources, “The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts, and an expanded network of spies.” In addition, under former CIA Director Leon Panetta, “partnerships” were built “with allied intelligence services in the region capable of recruiting operatives for missions inside Iran.”
Such reports and leaks give us at least the bare and patchy outlines of a concerted military, covert action, spying, surveillance, and propaganda program of staggering proportions (and that’s without even adding in the Israeli version of the same, which evidently includes the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists). All of this, we have to believe, is but part of an even larger set of intertwined, militarized operations against a modest-sized regional power with relatively limited military capabilities.  It’s a program that we’re sure to know less about than we think we do, filled with what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would have called “known unknowns” as well as “unknown unknowns.”
TomDispatch regular Juan Cole, who runs the always invaluable Informed Comment website, does a remarkable job of offering us a full-scale picture of the complex economic underpinnings of the present Iran-U.S.-Israeli crisis and the unnerving dangers involved.  But for the full, grim story of Washington’s campaign against Tehran, we are reliant either on the next Bradley Manning, a future WikiLeaks, or declassification of the necessary documents in time for our grandchildren to grasp something of the folly of our moment. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Cole discusses the consequences of sanctions on Iran, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Why Washington’s Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster
What History Should Teach Us About Blockading Iran

By Juan Cole
It’s a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians -- and possibly in the long run among Americans, too.  It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own.  Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program.  It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.  
The United States is already effectively embroiled in an economic war against Iran.  The Obama administration has subjected the Islamic Republic to the most crippling economic sanctions applied to any country since Iraq was reduced to fourth-world status in the 1990s.  And worse is on the horizon.  A financial blockade is being imposed that seeks to prevent Tehran from selling petroleum, its most valuable commodity, as a way of dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program.
Historical memory has never been an American strong point and so few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States.  The tactic is just as dangerous today.

Iran’s supreme theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly condemned the atom bomb and nuclear weapons of all sorts as tools of the devil, weaponry that cannot be used without killing massive numbers of civilian noncombatants.  In the most emphatic terms, he has, in fact, pronounced them forbidden according to Islamic law.  Based on the latest U.S. intelligence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has affirmed that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear warhead.  In contrast, hawks in Israel and the United States insist that Tehran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program is aimed ultimately at making a bomb, that the Iranians are pursuing such a path in a determined fashion, and that they must be stopped now -- by military means if necessary.
Putting the Squeeze on Iran
At the moment, the Obama administration and the Congress seem intent on making it impossible for Iran to sell its petroleum at all on the world market.  As 2011 ended, Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that mandates sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran’s Central Bank or buy Iranian petroleum (though hardship cases can apply to the U.S. government for exemptions).  This escalation from sanctions to something like a full-scale financial blockade holds extreme dangers of spiraling into military confrontation.  The Islamic Republic tried to make this point, indicating that it would not allow itself to be strangled without response, by conducting naval exercises at the mouth of the Persian Gulf this winter.  The threat involved was clear enough: about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum flows through the Gulf, and even a temporary and partial cut-off might prove catastrophic for the world economy.
In part, President Obama is clearly attempting by his sanctions-cum-blockade policy to dissuade the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  He argues that severe economic measures will be enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table ready to bargain, or even simply give in.
In part, Obama is attempting to please America’s other Middle East ally, Saudi Arabia, which also wants Iran’s nuclear program mothballed.  In the process, the U.S. government and its allies have even had Iran’s banks kicked off international exchange networks, making it difficult for that country’s major energy customers like South Korea and India to pay for the Iranian petroleum they import.  And don’t forget the administration’s most powerful weapon: most governments and corporations do not want to be cut off from the U.S. economy with a GDP of more than $15 trillion -- still the largest and most dynamic in the world.
Typically, the European Union, fearing Congressional sanctions, has agreed to cease taking new contracts on Iranian oil by July 1st, a decision that has placed special burdens on struggling countries in its southern tier like Greece and Italy.  With European buyers boycotting, Iran will depend for customers on Asian countries, which jointly purchase some 64% of its petroleum, and those of the global South.  Of these, China and India have declined to join the boycott.  South Korea, which buys $14 billion worth of Iranian petroleum a year, accounting for some 10% of its oil imports, has pleaded with Washington for an exemption, as has Japan which got 8.8% of its petroleum imports from Iran last year, more than 300,000 barrels a day -- and more in absolute terms than South Korea.  Japan, which is planning to cut its Iranian imports by 12% this year, has already won an exemption.
Faced with the economic damage a sudden interruption of oil imports from Iran would inflict on East Asian economies, the Obama administration has instead attempted to extract pledges of future 10%-20% reductions in return for those U.S. exemptions.  Since it’s easier to make promises than institute a boycott, allies are lining up with pledges. (Even Turkey has gone this route.)
Such vows are almost certain to prove relatively empty.  After all, there are few options for such countries other than continuing to buy Iranian oil unless they can find new sources -- unlikely at present, despite Saudi promises to ramp up production -- or drastically cut back on energy use, ensuring economic contraction and domestic wrath.
What this means in reality is that the U.S. and Israeli quest to cut off Iran’s exports will probably be a quixotic one.  For the plan to work, oil demand would have to remain steady and other exporters would have to replace Iran’s roughly 2.5 million barrels a day on the global market.  For instance, Saudi Arabia has increased the amount of petroleum it pumps, and is promising a further rise in output this summer in an attempt to flood the market and allow countries to replace Iranian purchases with Saudi ones.
But experts doubt the Saudi ability to do this long term and -- most important of all -- global demand is not steady.  It’s crucially on the rise in both China and India.  For Washington’s energy blockade to work, Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would have to reliably replace Iran’s oil production and cover increased demand, as well as expected smaller shortfalls caused by crises in places like Syria and South Sudan and by declining production in older fields elsewhere.
Otherwise a successful boycott of Iranian petroleum will only put drastic upward pressure on oil prices, as Japan has politely but firmly pointed out to the Obama administration.  The most likely outcome: America’s closest allies and those eager to do more business with the U.S. will indeed reduce imports from Iran, leaving countries like China, India, and others in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to dip into the pool of Iranian crude (possibly at lower prices than the Iranians would normally charge).
Iran’s transaction costs are certainly increasing, its people are beginning to suffer economically, and it may have to reduce its exports somewhat, but the tensions in the Gulf have also caused the price of petroleum futures to rise in a way that has probably offset the new costs the regime has borne.  (Experts also estimate that the Iran crisis has already added 25 cents to every gallon of gas an American consumer buys at the pump.)
Like China, India has declined to bow to pressure from Washington.  The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which depends on India’s substantial Muslim vote, is not eager to be seen as acquiescent to U.S. strong-arm tactics.  Moreover, lacking substantial hydrocarbon resources, and given Singh’s ambitious plans for an annual growth rate of 9% -- focused on expanding India’s underdeveloped transportation sector (70% of all petroleum used in the world is dedicated to fuelling vehicles) -- Iran is crucial to the country’s future. 
To sidestep Washington, India has worked out an agreement to pay for half of its allotment of Iranian oil in rupees, a soft currency.  Iran would then have to use those rupees on food and goods from India, a windfall for its exporters.  Defying the American president yet again, the Indians are even offering a tax break to Indian firms that trade with Iran.  That country is, in turn, offering to pay for some Indian goods with gold.  Since India runs a trade deficit with the U.S., Washington would only hurt itself if it aggressively sanctioned India.
A History Lesson Ignored
As yet, Iran has shown no signs of yielding to the pressure.  For its leaders, future nuclear power stations promise independence and signify national glory, just as they do for France, which gets nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear reactors.  The fear in Tehran is that, without nuclear power, a developing Iran could consume all its petroleum domestically, as has happened in Indonesia, leaving the government with no surplus income with which to maintain its freedom from international pressures.
Iran is particularly jealous of its independence because in modern history it has so often been dominated by a great power or powers.  In 1941, with World War II underway, Russia and Britain, which already controlled Iranian oil, launched an invasion to ensure that the country remained an asset of the Allies against the Axis.  They put the young and inexperienced Mohammed Reza Pahlevi on the throne, and sent his father, Reza Shah, into exile.  The Iranian corridor -- what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the bridge of victory” -- then allowed the allies to effectively channel crucial supplies to the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany.  The occupation years were, however, devastating for Iranians who experienced soaring inflation and famine.
Discontent broke out after the war -- and the Allied occupation -- ended.  It was focused on a 1933 agreement Iran had signed with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) regarding the exploitation of its petroleum.  By the early 1950s, the AIOC (which later became British Petroleum and is now BP) was paying more in taxes to the British government than in royalties to Iran for its oil.  In 1950, when it became known that the American ARAMCO oil consortium had offered the king of Saudi Arabia a 50-50 split of oil profits, the Iranians demanded the same terms.
The AIOC was initially adamant that it would not renegotiate the agreement.  By the time it softened its position somewhat and began being less supercilious, Iran’s parliamentarians were so angry that they did not want anything more to do with the British firm or the government that supported it.
On March 15, 1951, a democratically elected Iranian parliament summarily nationalized the country’s oil fields and kicked the AIOC out of the country.  Facing a wave of public anger, Mohammed Reza Shah acquiesced, appointing Mohammed Mosaddegh, an oil-nationalization hawk, as prime minister. A conservative nationalist from an old aristocratic family, Mosaddegh soon visited the United States seeking aid, but because his nationalist coalition included the Tudeh Party (the Communist Party of Iran), he was increasingly smeared in the U.S. press as a Soviet sympathizer.
The British government, outraged by the oil nationalization and fearful that the Iranian example might impel other producers to follow suit, froze that country’s assets and attempted to institute a global embargo of its petroleum.  London placed harsh restrictions on Tehran’s ability to trade, and made it difficult for Iran to convert the pounds sterling it held in British banks.  Initially, President Harry Truman’s administration in Washington was supportive of Iran.  After Republican Dwight Eisenhower was swept into the Oval Office, however, the U.S. enthusiastically joined the oil embargo and campaign against Iran.
Iran became ever more desperate to sell its oil, and countries like Italy and Japan were tempted by “wildcat” sales at lower than market prices.  As historian Nikki Keddie has showed, however, Big Oil and the U.S. State Department deployed strong-arm tactics to stop such countries from doing so.
In May 1953, for example, sometime Standard Oil of California executive and “petroleum adviser” to the State Department Max Thornburg wrote U.S. ambassador to Italy Claire Booth Luce about an Italian request to buy Iranian oil:  “For Italy to clear this oil and take additional cargoes would definitely indicate that it had taken the side of the oil ‘nationalizers,’ despite the hazard this represents to American foreign investments and vital oil supply sources.  This of course is Italy’s right.  It is only the prudence of the course that is in question.”  He then threatened Rome with an end to oil company purchases of Italian supplies worth millions of dollars.
In the end, the Anglo-American blockade devastated Iran’s economy and provoked social unrest.  Prime Minister Mosaddegh, initially popular, soon found himself facing a rising wave of labor strikes and protest rallies.  Shopkeepers and small businessmen, among his most important constituents, pressured the prime minister to restore order. When he finally did crack down on the protests (some of them staged by the Central Intelligence Agency), the far left Tudeh Party began withdrawing its support.  Right-wing generals, dismayed by the flight of the shah to Italy, the breakdown of Iran’s relations with the West, and the deterioration of the economy, were open to the blandishments of the CIA, which, with the help of British intelligence, decided to organize a coup to install its own man in power.
A Danger of Blowback
The story of the 1953 CIA coup in Iran is well known, but that its success depended on the preceding two years of fierce sanctions on Iran’s oil is seldom considered.  A global economic blockade of a major oil country is difficult to sustain.  Were it to have broken down, the U.S. and Britain would have suffered a huge loss of prestige.  Other Third World countries might have taken heart and begun to claim their own natural resources.  The blockade, then, arguably made the coup necessary.  That coup, in turn, led to the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter-century later and, in the end, the present U.S./Israeli/Iranian face-off.  It seems the sort of sobering history lesson that every politician in Washington should consider (and none, of course, does).
As then, so now, an oil blockade in its own right is unlikely to achieve Washington’s goals.  At present, the American desire to force Iran to abolish its nuclear enrichment program seems as far from success as ever.  In this context, there’s another historical lesson worth considering: the failure of the crippling sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s to bring down that dictator and his regime.
What that demonstrated was simple enough: ruling cliques with ownership of a valuable industry like petroleum can cushion themselves from the worst effects of an international boycott, even if they pass the costs on to a helpless public.  In fact, crippling the economy tends to send the middle class into a spiral of downward mobility, leaving its members with ever fewer resources to resist an authoritarian government.  The decline of Iran’s once-vigorous Green protest movement of 2009 is probably connected to this, as is a growing sense that Iran is now under foreign siege, and Iranians should rally around in support of the nation.
Strikingly, there was a strong voter turnout for the recent parliamentary elections where candidates close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominated the results.  Iran’s politics, never very free, have nevertheless sometimes produced surprises and feisty movements, but these days are moving in a decidedly conservative and nationalistic direction.  Only a few years ago, a majority of Iranians disapproved of the idea of having an atomic bomb.  Now, according to a recent Gallup poll, more support the militarization of the nuclear program than oppose it. 
The great oil blockade of 2012 may still be largely financially focused, but it carries with it the same dangers of escalation and intervention -- as well as future bitterness and blowback -- as did the campaign of the early 1950s.  U.S. and European financial sanctions are already beginning to interfere with the import of staples like wheat, since Iran can no longer use the international banking system to pay for them.  If children suffer or even experience increased mortality because of the sanctions, that development could provoke future attacks on the U.S. or American troops in the Greater Middle East. (Don’t forget that the Iraqi sanctions, considered responsible for the deaths of some 500,000 children, were cited by al-Qaeda in its “declaration of war” on the U.S.)
The attempt to flood the market and use financial sanctions to enforce an embargo on Iranian petroleum holds many dangers.  If it fails, soaring oil prices could set back fragile economies in the West still recovering from the mortgage and banking scandals of 2008.  If it overshoots, there could be turmoil in the oil-producing states from a sudden fall in revenues.
Even if the embargo is a relative success in keeping Iranian oil in the ground, the long-term damage to that country’s fields and pipelines (which might be ruined if they lie fallow long enough) could harm the world economy in the future.  The likelihood that an oil embargo can change Iranian government policy or induce regime change is low, given our experience with economic sanctions in Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere.  Moreover, there is no reason to think that the Islamic Republic will take its downward mobility lying down.
As the sanctions morph into a virtual blockade, they raise the specter that all blockades do -- of provoking a violent response.  Just as dangerous is the specter that the sanctions will drag on without producing tangible results, impelling covert or overt American action against Tehran to save face. And that, friends, is where we came in.
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is available in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Cole discusses the consequences of sanctions on Iran, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

"My Speech For Palestine Awareness Week At SDSU"

Amazing speech by Miko Peled:

Category Archives: gaza

My Speech for Palestine Awareness Week at SDSU.

I want to begin by thanking the members of AIPAC the Jewish Zionist community who are here tonight. I am glad that they decided to set aside time to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. I know that you will listen to the tapes and view the recordings of my remarks tonight and you will study them well and hopefully you will realize that you are supporting evil. You see, I too came from a deeply Zionist background, far more Zionist and Jewish than most of you here tonight. My grandfather was a signer on the Israeli declaration of independence, and my father, a general, one of the giants who planned and executed Israel’s most definitive military victories, namely 1948 and 1967. So I know what you were taught and I know what you think. But its time to sweep away the Zionist myths and uncover the truth so that we may all finally live in peace. The myths I will address tonight are the three most common myths:
1. The myth of 1948.
2. The myth of the existential threat of 1967.
3. The myth of the Jewish democracy.
I want to read to you a passage from my upcoming book The General’s Son, and I quote: (Growing up we were taught to believe that the Arabs had left Eretz Israel partly on their own and partially at the directive of their so called leaders, and that therefore taking their land and homes was morally OK. It never occurred to us that even if they did leave willingly, we had no right to prohibit their return. But then Israeli historians had found that what Palestinians have been saying for decades was true.) end quote. In other words when Palestinians claim something is true we doubt it but when Israelis claim it themselves, well now that is a different story. So Israeli historians found that Israel and Palestine the exact same place. But when Israel was created it was created on the ruins of Palestine.
Now, although Palestine was not a state yet, it would have become one had it not been so thoroughly destroyed. Palestine had bustling cities where commerce and trade were taking place, they had a middle class, they had judges and scholars and a rich political life and indeed they had culture and a unique identity that set them apart from the rest of the Arab world. What the Palestinians did not have, the one thing in which they did not invest was a military. And while they constituted the vast majority of the population, when the Jewish militias attacked, they were helpless.
The Jewish community in Palestine at the time was small, numbering less than half a million people but it had developed its own state like institutions separate from those of the Palestinians. Based on the principle of Hafrada, or segregation, they had developed their own schools, a nationalized health care system, a quasi government and a strong, well trained militia with young men like my father who were dedicated to creating a Jewish state in Palestine disregarding the existence of the vast majority of the population who were, Palestinians.
In 1948 the Jewish militia became the Israeli army but between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949 they destroyed close to 500 towns and villages and exiled close to 800,000 Palestinians who to this day are not permitted to return. So, it turns out that the creation of Israel had not, after all, been a haphazard fight in which the Arabs fled their homes due to the directives of their own leaders. It had been a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish militia involving massacres, terrorism, and the wholesale looting of an entire nation.
My mother remembers the homes of the Palestinians who were forced to leave West Jerusalem. She herself was offered one of those beautiful spacious homes but refused. She could not bear the thought of living in the home of a family that was forced out and now lives in a refugee camp. She said the coffee was still warm on the tables as the soldiers came in and began the looting. She remembers the truckloads of loot, taken by the Israeli soldiers from these homes.
Once the state was established, Israel had worked tirelessly to efface the remnants of prior Palestinian existence by demolishing towns and villages and historic sites including an estimated two thousand mosques. I recall the Israeli TV series Tkuma or “Rebirth,” (an outstanding series that describes the rebirth of the Jewish people and the establishment of the Jewish state. In one interview a veteran brigade commander of 1948 was asked if it was true that the Jewish forces burned down Arab villages. He looked up slowly into the camera and said: “Like bonfires,” he replied, they burnt like bonfires.)
After the war was over, the Palestinians who remained within the newly created Jewish state were forced to become citizens of a state that forced itself upon them and they were designated as “The Arabs of Israel” a designation that denies them a national identity and rights. They are Arabs in a Jewish state and they are citizens of a state that is despised by all its neighbors.
Another widely accepted Zionist myth is that in 1967 Israel had to defend itself against an existential threat as invading Arab armies were about to wipe it off the face of the earth. And it just so happened that miraculously the Israelis won and conquered lands to the north, east and south defeating three massive armies. Well, setting aside the countless books that have been written in Hebrew, English and Arabic and documentaries that were filmed and disprove this myth, and clearly show that Israel attacked in order to conquer, as part of the research for my book, I sat for days at the Israeli army archives reading through the minutes of the meetings of the Israel army general staff. Here is another quote from my book: (In a stormy meeting of the IDF top brass and the Israeli cabinet that took place on the 2nd of June, 1967, my father General Matti Peled told the cabinet in no uncertain terms that the Egyptians needed at least a year and a half in order to be ready for a full scale war. His point was that the time to strike a devastating blow against the Egyptian army was now, not because of an existential threat but because the Egyptian army is NOT prepared for war. The other generals agreed. But the cabinet was hesitant. The cabinet members and Prime Minister and a tug-of-war of unimaginable proportions ensued. During that same stormy meeting my father said to the Prime Minister: “Nasser (Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser) is advancing an ill prepared army because he is counting on the cabinet being hesitant. He is convinced that we will not strike. Your hesitation is working in his advantage.”) No mention of an existential threat but of an opportunity to assert Israeli strength. Years later this was confirmed by other Generals, including the butcher Ariel Sharon.
In the end the cabinet succumbed to the enormous pressure placed on them by the generals and approved a pre-emptive attack against Egypt, that began on June 5, 1967. Again I quote:(The surprise attack led to the total destruction of Egypt’s air force, the decimation of the Egyptian army, and the re-conquest of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula in a matter of days. The Israeli army also knew the Syrian army was in shambles, and the Jordanians were no match to the IDF strength. After the campaign against Egypt went so smoothly, the generals, turned their attention to the West Bank and the Golan Heights, two regions Israel had coveted for many years. Both had strategic water resources and hills overlooking Israeli territory, and the West Bank contained the heartland of Biblical Israel, and the crown jewel, the Old city of Jerusalem. In six days it was all over. Arab casualties were estimated at 15,000, (15,000 dead in 6 days!) Israeli casualties 700, and the territory controlled by Israel had nearly tripled in size. Israel had in its possession not only land and resources it had wanted for a long time, but also the largest stockpiles of Russian-made arms outside of Russia. Israel had once again asserted itself as a major regional power.)
Now here is where something of immense proportion takes place: remember this was 46 years ago (At a meeting of the General Staff after the Six Day War, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was beaming with the glory of victory. But when the meeting was nearing its end, my father raised his hand. He was called on, and he spoke of the unique chance the victory offered—to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. For the first time in Israel’s history, we were face to face with the Palestinians, without other Arabs between us. Now we had a chance to offer them a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. He claimed with certainty that holding on to the West Bank and the people who lived in it was contrary to Israel’s long-term strategy. Popular resistance to the occupation was sure to arise, and Israel’s army would be used to quell that resistance, with disastrous and demoralizing results. It would turn the Jewish state into an increasingly brutal occupying power and eventually into a bi-national state. This was nothing short of prophetic as today we live this exact reality. As he was saying this, the future leaders of the Intifada (the Palestinian uprising) were still lying in their cradles.)
His words were ignored, his claims brushed aside and instead, blinded by their newly gained access to places with mythical/biblical names like Hebron and Bethlehem, Shilo and Shcem Israeli leaders began a massive settlement project to settle Jews in the newly conquered land. A few years later my father called on Israel to negotiate with the PLO: The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He claimed that Israel needed to talk with whoever represented the Palestinian people, the people with whom we shared this land. He believed only peace with the Palestinians could ensure our continued existence as a state that was both Jewish and democratic.)  Now, all these years later people talk of creating a Palestinian state in the WB but that option no longer exists.
The myth of Israel being a democracy is still being perpetuated even in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While Jewish Israelis over there and AIPAC over here like to think they are the only rightful citizens of their land and will argue that they live in a democracy, this is far from being true. Israel has been in control of the West Bank for over four decades and had built and invested heavily in the West Bank. But Palestinians who make up the vast majority of the population in the West Bank are excluded from any of it. In other words, 100% of the construction in the West Bank was done to bring Jews into the WB and exclude the close to 3 million Palestinians whose land this belongs to in the first place. 3 million Palestinians are left out, disenfranchised even as they see their lands taken, their homes destroyed and roads, malls, schools and gated communities being built for Jews only with no access to them or their families. Some democracy.
And that is not the worst of it. Water, the scarcest resource of all is controlled and distributed by the Israeli water authority, including the large amounts of water that exists within the WB. According to Betselem, the Israeli human rights organization the ground water from the Mountain Aquifer is a shared water source for Israeli and Palestinians. It is the largest and highest quality water source in the area, producing 600 million cubic meters (mcm) of water annually. Israel holds almost complete control of the aquifer and exploits 80 percent of the production for its needs, leaving the remainder for the Palestinians’ use. “The discriminatory and unfair division of shared water resources creates a chronic water shortage in the West Bank, and is liable to harm Palestinians’ health.” The World Health Organization recommends a minimal per capita daily consumption of 100 liters. The daily per capita consumption in Israel is 242 liters, the consumption in the West Bank is 73 liters per person. “In certain districts, consumption was as low as 37 liters (Tubas District), 44 (Jenin District), and 56 (Hebron District).” So  Palestinians have to buy their own water back from Israel, as Israel does not recognize Palestinian rights to the water that exists under Palestinian land. As absurd as it sounds Palestinian farmers are prohibited from digging wells on their own land. When seen as a per year distribution it is even more alarming. Israel distributes the water as follows: Per capita, Israeli Jews receive 300 cubic meters of water per year. Per capita Palestinians receive 85 cubic meters per year. (World Health Organization recommends 100 per year) Per capita, Jewish settlers in the WB are allocated 1500 cubic meters of water per year. In other words while Palestinians have barely enough to drink, Jewish settlers not 500 yards away have swimming pools and green lawns. So does anyone seriously think that this can go on forever? Democracy indeed. Now in light of the peoples uprising in the Middle East we can expect to see dictatorial regimes falling like dominos. Can we expect that 5 million Palestinians will continue to live under a regime, that is democratic for Jews but is a brutally oppressive one to Palestinians? There are close to 6 million Israel Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians sharing the same country under different laws.
My father who was a military giant but had also spent years fighting for justice for the Palestinian cause, was often asked about the question of Palestinian terrorism. I mention his reply in my book because it is classic: “Terrorism,” I recall him saying in an interview on Israeli television, “is a terrible thing. But the fact remains that when a small nation is ruled by a larger power, terror is the only means at their disposal. This has always been true, and I fear this will always be the case.”
My father’s predictions have all come true. The work of the Israel lobby in this country not withstanding, people around the world are beginning to realize that there are in fact two nations who live between the Jordan River and the Med sea and that the brutal regime under which Palestinians live is unacceptable.
And speaking of AIPAC, I remember seeing many of you, the mighty San Diego AIPAC bunch who are sitting here tonight, at the vigil that was held for the innocent victims murdered by Israel in Gaza. It was held a couple of months ago in Balboa Park. You were draped in the Israeli flag, singing and dancing as we who were there too, separated from you by a line of police and a sense of morality tried to recall the names of over 1400 dead, innocent civilians, police officers, children, women and men who were killed by the state of Israel in a matter of three weeks.
Those were three weeks of such death and destruction that one can hardly comprehend. I recall stories of the Israeli air force pilots who flew sortie after sortie, dumping hundreds of tons of bombs on Gaza, exposing a civilian population to unimaginable horror and then returning home to their families to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, you see the attacks took place during Hanukah. Then these pilots, having enjoyed the celebration slept well in the comfort of their homes and their beds only to get up the next morning and do it again, and again, and again. I recall that during the vigil you who were draped in the Israeli flag held signs that told of the warning the Israeli army gave the people of Gaza prior to the attacks. They dropped thousands of leaflets to let the besieged people of Gaza know that this nightmare was about to begin. I can only imagine the mother who saw the warnings. Knowing that the death and destruction were pending and knowing also that there was no where to go, nowhere to take her children no where to hide them from the fire, the smoke, the chemicals and the phosphorous that melts the flesh and won’t be extinguished – no where to go because Israel had imposed a siege, a never ending lockdown on the people of Gaza. So for the Israeli air force pilots, young men who Israelis and Jewish Zionists everywhere consider their finest, this was nothing more than shooting fish in a barrel as they began their merciless onslaught at precisely 11:25 am on December 27, 2008. A date that will forever be etched in our memory as one of the darkest and most shameful days in the long history of the Jewish people. A day when the Jewish State committed horrendous shameful crimes by dropping hundreds of tons of bombes at the precise time that Gaza children were out on the street. Between 11 and 11:30 AM 800,000 children of Gaza are on their way to school or returning home from school, it is at this time that the two shifts of the school day change. That was the time chosen by the Israeli decision makers to begin the assault.
To emphasize the how criminal this is, I want to read to you the quote from Charles Glass a veteran writer and middle east reporter: In “The Tribes Triumphant” arguably the one of the best books ever written about the Middle East, journalist Charles Glass describes children in Gaza on their way to school in the morning. Everyone should read his book, by the way, and here is what he writes about children in Gaza: “ smocks of blue or grey little girls with white fringe collars, boys leading their younger brothers…with canvas bags of books on their backs, hair brushed back and faces scrubbed .. Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools…Gaza is a children’s land. …beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.” these are the people Israel attacked on that dark, dark December day. Those of you who are here because you support Israeli brutality will no doubt claim that Israeli had the right to act as it did because it was acting in self-defense. Self defense from kassam rockets fired by Hammas militants in Gaza. Thousands of rockets that were launched to kill innocent civilians in Israel.
I know a thing or two about kassam rockets. I was sitting with my children and relatives in a kibbutz, a stones throw from Gaza relaxing on a Saturday afternoon as the rockets began flying over us and the alarms went off. It was frightening. Just this last December a kassam rocket fell in the same kibbutz near the kindergarten, when children were present. The children were hurt. There were bloody scratches, shattered glass everywhere and several children were hospitalized in a state of shock. I saw the hole in the ground created by the rocket, the size of a large soccer ball. And then I remembered what a crater made by a one-ton bomb looks like. It is the size of a city block. Children do not suffer shock or scratches, they are decimated and burned and buried in the rubble and suffocated from the fumes. Now, multiply that by 100 and multiply that again and again and keep in mind that in Gaza population density is one of the highest in the world 10k per sq mile. Yet the Israeli lobby will justify this. Those among you who are Jewish will be familiar with the story in the book of Genesis, chapter 18, verses 23-26: God decides to destroy the city of Sodom and Abraham, the patriarch chastises him and says “wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked, perhaps there be fifty righteous within the city” and God promises he will spare the city if he finds 50 righteous people. But in Israel today there is no Abraham, for as we know there are 800,000 children in Gaza and Israel did not spare them the horror. Hard to imagine.
I am often accused of being one sided and not mentioning Palestinians terrorism. Well this time I will: as my father said it decades ago, when a small nation is governed by a brutal larger power, some sort of violent resistance is to be expected. And the victims are always innocents.  As for my family’s brush with terrorism it was what drove us to learn more about the conflict and to reach out to our Palestinian neighbors: And the drive, the final push for me to reach out to Palestinians came as a result of a devastating tragedy:  I quote again from my book The General’s Son: Then, in the fall of 1997, disaster. My niece Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Hours later, there we were, driving along the road to the cemetery. Police escorted our procession on motorcycles, making way for vans carrying the devastated family members of another Jewish casualty. As we got out of the van, someone approached and asked me to carry the small coffin. My heart felt far heavier than the heartbreakingly slight weight on my shoulders. Israelis and Palestinians, family members and friends from across the political spectrum, famous leaders and ordinary people, came to give eulogies or express their sorrow at this unspeakable loss. Smadar was laid to rest near my father, her grandfather, in a small hilltop cemetery just outside of Jerusalem. To this day my sister Nurit cannot forgive herself for leaving her baby girl alone out in the cold, damp ground. But when she came out of her room to face the thousands of mourners she did not ask for retaliation. She did not beg for revenge. Instead she said this:  “No real mother would want such a terrible thing to happen to another mother.”
It seemed impossible to carry on. But my mother always said that life was stronger than death. And so we went on. But something had changed. I felt I had to do something and I knew that meeting and talking to Palestinians was the right thing to do. And so I did, and I began right here in San Diego where I was welcomed by the warm embrace of the local Palestinian community.
The experience of meeting Palestinian was comforting, liberating and heart wrenchingly difficult. It was comforting because I found that we were very similar, it was liberating because I found we are not doomed to be enemies forever and it was heart wrenching because I realized I did not have full possession of the truth – that is where you my AIPAC supporting friends are right now: you are not in full possession of the truth and I suggest you get over it and join me in what was so eloquently described by the great Clovis Maqsoud as The “Constituency of Conscience”.
I can only imagine that the whites in SA upon seeing the end of apartheid wanted so badly to hang on to their dying way of life, corrupt as it was. I can only imagine that white racists in the Southern states were doing the same as legalized racism and discrimination came to an end in this country. We see brutal tyrants everywhere these days, from Libya to the Gulf states do the same. Holding on even as they fall one by one.  Now Zionists and their supporters do the same, holding on to the notion that a racist regime can last, that injustice and horror can last that crimes against others who are different can go unpunished. But we are near the end. The Zionist dream of an ethnically, religiously homogenous state was shattered by the Zionists themselves with their insatiable hunger for land. In their own hands they created a bi national state, a state where half the population is not Jewish or Israeli but Palestinian Arab. True they have no rights, true also that they are not counted but that will change and sooner than you think.
Change will come because the non-violent resistance movement in towns and villages all over Palestine will prevail. In Beit-Umar, In Bil’in, in Nabi Saleh, in Silwan in Ni’ilin, in Shekh Jerrakh, in Maasara, dear friends Palestinians and Israelis who are committed to justice and democracy, organize non-violent marches every single week. And this is why we who believe in justice and democracy are optimistic. The people, grass roots Palestinian leaders who are dedicated and relentless.
In East Jerusalem, just outside the walled old city and not far from the Jewish Quarter, sits the neighborhood of Silwan with close to 50,000 residents. Israel wants to expel families from Silwan in order to build an archeological park that glorifies its Jewish past. They claim that king David built a city there some 3000 years ago and they hope to find the remnants of this city under the homes of the people of Silwan. Thousands of families may have to leave so that Israel can build a park to glorify a conquest that took place 3000 years ago, never mind that not a shred of scientific evidence exists that such a king ever lived, any more than there is evidence the world was created in 6 days. The past trumps the present in Israel – a state that wants to eliminate the existence of people who live on their land to solidify the myth of a glorious past.
But the Palestinians constantly and stubbornly interfere with the Zionist myth making and so the Palestinians, men, women, children and the elderly along with their schools and mosques, churches and ancient cemeteries and all evidence of their existence must be destroyed so that Zionist claims to exclusive rights to the land may be substantiated.
So, those of you who wish to associate yourself with Zionism and AIPAC and drape yourselves in the Zionist flag, the flag that has come to symbolize intolerance, hate, racism and brutality, feel free to do so. But know this: When the trials begin, when the tribunals take their seat, when the “truth and reconciliation” commission begins its work and when you are finally shamed into admitting that you are wrong, remember to go down on your knees and beg for forgiveness of the people you so blatantly wronged. You will not be able to claim that you “did not know” because we watched you dance as others were counting their dead. Remember and never forget that you and I and these witnesses were here today. Because I will not forget you, they will not forget you and worst of all, your conscience will not let you forget that you draped yourself in the flag, you supported the killing and you mocked the bereaved.
The rest of us will move on, and along with the rest of the Middle East we will follow the example of the brave people of Egypt to create what will surely be tremendous accomplishment: A democratic, secular state in our shared homeland, A state where Muslims Christians and Jews live as equals. A shared state, a secular democracy, where every vote counts and people raise their children to love their diverse homeland with its multitude of cultures, its rich history and its promising future. It is true that there is a misguided assumption that sharing the land means nations have to be enemies but that is not true. Israelis and Palestinian will join together in their shared homeland and form something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Thank you very much.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Our Men in Iran"

Posted by Seymour M. Hersh

From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.

It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. . . .

Full text at