Just Foreign Policy News, January 28, 2013
Admin extends 2001 AUMF to Mali; Bringing ‘5 Broken Cameras’ to Israeli youth
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Guy Davidi: Bringing ‘Five Broken Cameras’ to Israeli youth
Bringing the award winning film "Five Broken Cameras" that tells the inspiring story of a Palestinian non-violent movement to Israeli youth. Compelling video: "we’re not allowed to learn about this in school."
Get the Facts: Land Confiscation and the Palestinian Protest Villages
Read and share our fact sheet.
**Action: Urge Senators to Challenge Brennan on Drone Strikes
President Obama has nominated John Brennan to lead the CIA. Human Rights Watch – and the Washington Post editorial board have called for the CIA to stop conducting drone strikes, because of the CIA’s lack of transparency and accountability to international law. Urge your Senators to question Brennan on drone strike policy and the demand that the CIA get out of drone strikes. Brennan’s hearing is Feb. 7.
Sunday, February 17th: rally and march in Washington, DC for action on climate
In his second inaugural, President Obama promised action on climate change. First step: stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Sierra Club, 350.org, and others are organizing a major action in DC on Feb 17.
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1) The Obama Administration has apparently made a legal determination that the conflict in Mali is covered under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Most of the reservations about whether President Obama has the legal authority to engage in military operations in Mali were resolved, the New York Times reports, after it was determined that the main targets were linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This means that the Administration is using the same legal authority to intervene that it is using to conduct drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, which means that the Administration could conduct drone strikes in Mali under this interpretation of the 2001 AUMF.
But the degree to which President Obama wants to get involved in Mali is still an open question, the Times says. In the case of Mali, one official said, American intelligence assessments have concluded that the Islamic extremists have little ability to threaten the United States. U.S. French officials have offered differing objectives for the military operation in Mali, the Times says. The French defense minister said the goal is the total reconquest of Mali." But Gen. Carter Ham, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, has said, "Realistically, probably the best you can get is containment and disruption so that Al Qaeda is no longer able to control territory."
2) Chuck Hagel’s interest in a book about Eisenhower’s actions during the 1956 Suez crisis suggests a U.S. policy in the Middle East independent of Israel, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. The book, "Eisenhower 1956," tells the story of how Eisenhower forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from their invasion of the Suez Canal. It’s impossible to read David Nichols’s book without thinking of recent tensions between the US and Israel over the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, Ignatius writes.
3) A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, saying he would make the US "a weaker country," the New York Times reports. Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Hagel as "anti-Gay," "anti-woman" and "anti-Israel" in ads and mailers. The media campaign to scuttle Hagel’s appointment reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, the Times says.
4) Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso attacked Hagel in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, saying he "seems more focused on eliminating American nuclear arms than eliminating the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran," criticizing his support for the Global Zero report’s recommendation to eliminate the "Minuteman land-based ICBM.", notes Marsha Cohen at LobeLog. Pork barrel opposition to cutting the nuclear weapons budget is likely playing a big role in Barrasso’s attack, Cohen notes: Wyoming is home to a military base that hosts silo-based missiles, and if those weapons are cut, Wyoming’s military base might be shut down to cut costs.
5) At least five unarmed young Palestinians, including a 21-year-old woman, have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers in 13 days since the start of the year, prompting mounting concern about the unwarranted use of live fire, the Guardian reports. "None of [the dead] posed a threat that justifies the use of lethal force," said Sarit Michaeli, of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and the author of a report published on Monday which analyses the IDF’s use of crowd control weapons in the West Bank. "Swift action by the army is required to transmit a clear message to soldiers that the lives of Palestinians have equal value and that firing live ammunition in non-life threatening situations is illegal."
6) A Yemeni cabinet minister criticized the use of U.S. drones against suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen, Reuters reports. Yemen has witnessed a rising tempo of U.S. missile strikes in recent weeks, Reuters notes.
The comments by Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour, formerly a top activist in the mass unrest that ousted President Saleh, reflect growing public unease about the strikes and amounted to rare criticism from within the government, Reuters says. "We’re committed to fighting terrorism but we’re calling for changing the means and strategies," Mashhour said. "These means and strategies can be applied on the ground without harming civilians and without leading to human rights violations." Mashhour also said she wanted to see a fair trial for anyone suspected of involvement "in terrorist activities."
7) U.S. sanctions policy towards Iran has triumphed beyond the anticipation of its many detractors, as Washington has convinced a large segment of the international community to abjure Iranian commerce, writes Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations in the New York Times. But the more the sanctions policy succeeds, the more reluctant the great powers become to exchange any of their gains for a modest compromise. Takeyh argues that a "grand bargain" is not realistic now and the West should try to get a deal on stopping 20 percent enrichment, and should be willing to offer sanctions relief to get that deal.
8) Western concern over the growing strength of jihadist rebels in Syria is mounting, Reuters reports. "A good number of Christians and Alawites don’t see themselves represented neither in the regime nor the insurrection which they fear is increasingly dominated by radical Islamists," former senior Syrian military official and prominent defector Manaf Tlas told France’s Le Monde newspaper.
A French diplomatic source acknowledged that the spread of weapons from Libya to Mali after the Western intervention in Libya was informing Western judgments about arming rebels in Syria, Reuters says. "We have also learnt from experience and we’re seeing it in Mali with weapons that came from Libya to the armed groups there now. What we don’t want is weapons falling into the hands of the wrong people," the French source said.
9) The rise of Kerry, who held up funding for secretive U.S. democracy-building programs in Cuba, and Hagel, who has called the U.S. embargo "nonsensical" and anachronistic, to State and Defense is leading observers on both sides of the Florida Straits to say the time could be ripe for a reboot in relations, AP reports. Exit polls showed 49 percent of Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for Obama, AP notes.
1) U.S. Weighing How Much Help to Give France’s Military Operation in Mali
David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, January 25, 2013
Washington – The Obama administration is debating how much more aid it can give the French military forces who are battling Islamic militants in Mali, weighing the benefit of striking a major blow to Qaeda-linked fighters in Africa against concern about being drawn into a lengthy conflict there.
The immediate issue is whether and how to supply American aerial refueling planes that would allow French jets to provide close-air support to ground forces moving north into territory held by the extremists. French and American officials have been in discussions for days, according to American and European officials, and administration officials say they expect a decision soon.
All indications are that the administration is trying to find a solution, but that any refueling would probably be approved only with restrictions. "The discussions center on cost, and the concern about whether this becomes an open-ended mission for the French in Mali," one Defense Department official said. "What does that mean about our commitment?"
Most of the reservations about whether President Obama has the legal authority to engage in military operations were resolved, officials said, after it was determined that the main targets were linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But the degree to which President Obama wants to get involved in Mali is still an open question, presenting the president and his national security team with the latest in a series of decisions about how heavily to intervene in remote conflicts.
[…] Mr. Obama’s aides say that the model under way in Mali now – with the French taking the lead, and a force from the region backing them up – is exactly what they want to encourage. But some officials say they believe the French went into Mali hastily, in the words of one official "before they understood exactly what they were biting off."
White House officials say they want to understand the broader political and strategic plan to end the conflict before they get more involved.
But since France entered the conflict in early January, there has been little time for strategic planning. The United States has begun transporting a 600-member French mechanized battalion and its gear to Mali, and is providing intelligence information, including satellite imagery, American officials said on Friday. "The spigot is opened all the way," one official said.
[…] But the refueling would bring the American involvement to a new level, directly supporting military attacks. And for Mr. Obama, who devoted part of his Inaugural Address on Monday to a celebration of the end of a war in Iraq and the winding down of the American commitment in Afghanistan, the prospect of getting involved in a conflict against a shadowy enemy far from the United States is unwelcome.
The issue also comes as major national security posts are in transition. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has one more week in office, and the Senate is considering the nomination of her successor, Senator John Kerry, along with Chuck Hagel, Mr. Obama’s choice as the next defense secretary. Both have been outspoken in the past about not intervening in conflicts that American partners can handle, or where American interests are somewhat remote. In the case of Mali, one official said, American intelligence assessments have concluded that the Islamic extremists have little ability to threaten the United States. "But they can threaten the region," he said, "and that’s where the argument for American involvement comes in."
The government of President François Hollande has said it will stay in Mali and the surrounding region as long as needed. The United States has been more hesitant about supporting the new government in Mali, which came to power in a coup mounted by an American-trained military leader.
Mr. Obama talked on the phone on Friday with Mr. Hollande, but White House officials did not say whether the leaders had dwelled on the refueling issue. A White House statement said they had talked about the need to quickly establish an African-led force in Mali, as well as the importance of Mali’s establishing a path to elections and to "restoration of democratic governance" in the country.
[…] American and French officials have offered differing objectives for the military operation in Mali. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defense minister, said recently that the goal of France’s military action was to reclaim control of the north from the Islamist militants.
"The goal is the total reconquest of Mali," Mr. Le Drian said. "We will not leave any pockets."
But Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, voiced more limited objectives. "We would all like to see the elimination of Al Qaeda and others from northern Mali," General Ham said on Thursday in a speech at Howard University here. "Realistically, probably the best you can get is containment and disruption so that Al Qaeda is no longer able to control territory."
2) What the Suez crisis can remind us about U.S. power
David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 25
Chuck Hagel means it when he describes himself as an "Eisenhower Republican." He kept a bust of President Dwight Eisenhower in his Senate office for a dozen years and has a portrait of Ike on the wall of his current office at Georgetown University.
But the most compelling evidence of Hagel’s fascination is that he purchased three dozen copies of an Eisenhower biography and gave copies to President Obama, Vice President Biden and then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates, according to the book’s author, David Nichols.
The book that so interested Hagel, "Eisenhower 1956," examines one of the most delicate and dangerous moments of Ike’s presidency. Published in 2011, it’s basically the story of how Eisenhower forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from their invasion of the Suez Canal – thereby establishing the United States as the dominant, independent power in the Middle East.
It’s impossible to read Nichols’s book without thinking of recent tensions between the United States and Israel over the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Just as Egypt’s mercurial leader Gamal Abdel Nasser posed the preeminent threat to Israel in the 1950s, so it is today with Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What’s interesting about Eisenhower is that, while sympathetic to Israel’s defense needs, he was also determined to maintain an independent U.S. policy and avoid a war that might involve the Soviet Union.
"We believe that the power of modern weapons makes war not only perilous – but preposterous," Eisenhower said on Nov. 1, in his final speech before the 1956 election, which coincided with the Suez crisis and the Soviet invasion of Hungary to put down a revolution there. It truly was the moment that tested the old warrior’s belief that there should be no more war.
As the Senate deliberates Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary, it should consider the "Eisenhower 1956" narrative carefully. It’s a useful guide to how Hagel thinks about American power in the Middle East – and it explains ideas he has shared with the top U.S. policymakers, Obama and Biden.
Many themes came together at Suez: the falling empires of Britain and France; the rising global hegemony of the United States; the turmoil of the Arab world; and the assertive, unpredictable role of an Israel that, then as now, saw itself fighting for its life amid hostile Muslim nations.
Eisenhower had been watching the Middle East with foreboding since he became president in 1953. He said in a January 1956 news conference that the United States should pursue an Arab-Israeli policy that was "above politics" and encouraged "some kind of friendship, at least cooperation between the two sides." This gauzy idea of evenhandedness would be severely tested.
Ike said in a March 29, 1956, letter to Winston Churchill that the Middle East was "the most important and bothersome of the problems that currently confront our nations." His anxiety increased in July, when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal.
The British, French and Israelis – unbeknown to Eisenhower and his advisers – were secretly plotting to roll back Nasser’s control of Suez. Their tripartite alliance, code-named "Operation Musketeer," was formalized in an Oct. 24 secret protocol that specified that Israel would invade the Sinai Peninsula five days later. The three collaborators designed what Nichols calls "smoke screens" to conceal their plans from the United States.
When the Israeli invasion came on Oct. 29, a week before the U.S. election, Eisenhower was irate. He told Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: "Foster, you tell ’em, goddamn it, that we’re going to apply sanctions, we’re going to the United Nations, we’re going to do everything that there is so we can stop this thing." The United States did, indeed, win a cease-fire resolution at the United Nations, despite opposition from Britain, France and Israel.
Eisenhower took a political risk. He was blasted by his Democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson, who charged on Nov. 1 that if the United States had acted more forcefully to support Israel, it might have avoided war. But Ike prevailed, winning reelection, forcing the attackers to withdraw from the canal and enunciating a strategy for U.S.-led security in the region that came to be known as the "Eisenhower Doctrine."
How does this story apply to modern-day Israel and America – especially for an Obama administration that, while committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, devoutly hopes to avoid military action? The parallels are impossible to draw precisely, but it matters that the cautious and fiercely independent Eisenhower is a role model for the prospective future defense secretary.
3) Secret Donors Finance Fight Against Hagel
Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, January 26, 2013
A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States "a weaker country."
Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as "anti-Gay," "anti-woman" and "anti-Israel" in ads and mailers.
Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Mr. Hagel’s confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging. But the effort comes with a built-in consolation prize should it fail: depleting some of Mr. Obama’s political capital as he embarks on a new term with fresh momentum.
The media campaign to scuttle Mr. Hagel’s appointment, unmatched in the annals of modern presidential cabinet appointments, reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions and was a major reason for the record spending by outside groups in the 2012 election. All told, these independent and largely secretly financed groups spent well over $500 million in an attempt to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats, a failure that seemed all the greater given the huge amounts spent.
[…] Groups like his would have been able to operate freely against Mr. Hagel even before Citizens United. But the ruling has served to erase what had been traditional fears among donors that their involvement in the fight of the day would lead to legal trouble or, for those who prefer to stay anonymous, unwanted public exposure. That confidence, in turn, has helped spur the increase in the number of political organizations that pop up to engage in the big political entanglement of the moment.
American Future Fund was formed under a section of the tax code that allows it to keep its donors secret. It spent more than $20 million seeking to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
[…] For instance, the biggest individual financier of the so-called super PACs that sought to defeat Mr. Obama, Sheldon Adelson, is so invested in the fight over Mr. Hagel that he has reached out directly to Republican Senators to urge them to hold the line against his confirmation, which would be almost impossible to stop against six Republican "yes" votes and a unified Democratic caucus.
Given the more than $100 million he donated to the anti-Obama effort last year, no lawmakers need to be reminded of his importance to their future endeavors. People briefed on his involvement said Mr. Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and a longtime supporter of Israel, was calling in conjunction with the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group he has financed for several years.
[…] Whatever its chances of success, the blitz against Mr. Hagel is of a sort that has generally been reserved for elections and some Supreme Court nominations. The last major cabinet skirmish, over President George W. Bush’s nomination of John R. Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, had no comparable outside media blitz. Though goaded along by a phone campaign organized by the political action arm of the liberal group MoveOn, Democrats succeeded in blocking him in the Senate, forcing Mr. Bush to appoint him during a congressional recess.
That was before the Citizens United decision.
"This is the first big cabinet fight since Bolton," said Michael Goldfarb, a strategist for a conservative group opposed to Mr. Hagel called the Emergency Committee for Israel and a founder of a conservative Web site called The Washington Free Beacon, which is running a steady stream of anti-Hagel news articles. "And things have evolved in the last seven years."
The most mysterious of the new groups is Use Your Mandate. Portraying itself as a gay rights group, it has sent mailers to voters in seven states – including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Montana – and run television ads against Mr. Hagel in New York and Washington. It has sent out posts on Twitter questioning his gay rights record and asking, "Is this what we worked so hard for?" Established gay rights activists have expressed skepticism about the group’s authenticity.
It has no Web site and it only lists as its address a post office box in New York. But paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission link it back to Tusk Strategies, a bipartisan political group founded by Bradley Tusk, a former strategist for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.
In an interview, Mr. Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic "gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the country."
Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona; the 2010 Senate campaign of Christine O’Donnell, who was known for positions against homosexuality, in Delaware; and, as it happens, the Emergency Committee for Israel.
4) John Barrasso vs. Chuck Hagel
The Military-Industrial Complex Strikes Back
Marsha B. Cohen, LobeLog, January 25th, 2013
Barely a week after the 53rd anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address he prepared to leave office, warning the nation of the perils to peace emanating not just from America’s enemies, but from the increasingly rapacious appetite for power and profit of its defense industries. This week, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) offered what should have been a sobering reminder of Eisenhower’s worst fears.
On the surface, Barrasso’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on January 23, headlined Chuck Hagel’s Unsettling History, seems to be just another regurgitation of (Bill) Kristol-lite complaints and (Jennifer) Rubinesque rants about Chuck Hagel – stale smears about "the Jewish lobby," his voting record in the Senate, and a straw-man claim that Hagel believes that "Iran would act responsibly." Indeed, Barrasso’s arguments appear to be part of the organized attempt to deride Hagel’s character and capabilities through the casually meretricious "let’s just throw stuff at him and see what sticks" mode employed against President Obama that has become the norm in neoconservative bluster.
But Barrasso’s career also deserves scrutiny and one of his paragraphs revealed – intentionally or unintentionally – the next line of attack against the Secretary of Defense nominee: Hagel’s stance on U.S. nuclear policy.
‘On the issue of nuclear weapons, the candidate for U.S. secretary of defense actually seems more focused on eliminating American nuclear arms than eliminating the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Mr. Hagel was the co-author of a 2012 report for the group Global Zero, "Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture," that included a recommendation to eliminate the "Minuteman land-based ICBM." That could leave America dangerously vulnerable. Even Mr. Obama has promised to modernize our ICBMs, not scrap them.’
[…] The vehemence of Barrasso’s opposition to the Senate’s ratification of the START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia in 2010 surprised even his Wyoming constituents. Only 11 Republican senators voted with Democrats in favor of START; Mike Enzi, Wyoming’s senior senator, wasn’t among them either. Wyoming was once one of the largest suppliers of uranium to the the nuclear weapons industry, but production has been on the decline since the 1980s. It hopes to revitalize the yellowcake industry, capitalizing on rising prices. Barrasso and Enzi both have been forthright about their state’s vested interest in perpetuating US reliance on nuclear weaponry and upgrading the US nuclear weapons arsenal.
Bill McCarthy of WyoFile points out that Wyoming’s Warren Air Force Base contributes $364 million to the Cheyenne area economy, including $221 million in payroll from the base, about $81 million in construction projects and the rest from jobs created in and around the base. The cutback or loss of any of these revenue sources and the commerce generated by them would also damage the rest of the state’s economy. But cutbacks at Warren appear inevitable. Former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright and General Robert Kehler, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, stated in 2011 that they don’t believe funding will match past spending. Warren is at a disadvantage relative to other nuclear weapons delivery systems and facilities:
‘Along with the potential that silo-based missiles in Wyoming might be considered a Cold War relic compared to submarine- and aircraft-based weapons, for example, Warren is an Air Force base without a "flight line." There are no facilities on base to land and maintain military aircraft.
So, although Barrasso opposed New START on strategic grounds, he had plenty of parochial reasons to try to stop the treaty or protect the weapons overseen from Cheyenne.
While hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent over the next decade on nuclear weapons, there will be fierce competition for fewer dollars.’
[…] It’s incumbent upon the media to point out that it is not just national security concerns, or conservative ideology, but behind-the-scenes economic considerations that will be playing a role in the political grandstanding surrounding Chuck Hagel’s confirmation. "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," Eisenhower warned. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist." Case in point: John Barrasso.
5) Palestinian deaths raise concern over Israeli army use of live fire
At least five young unarmed people shot by soldiers despite rules permitting live fire only in extreme circumstances
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Sunday 27 January 2013
At least five unarmed young Palestinians, including a 21-year-old woman, have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers in 13 days since the start of the year, prompting mounting concern about the unwarranted use of live fire. A sixth was killed on his 17th birthday last month, and a seventh death this month is disputed by the Israeli military.
The commander of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the West Bank, Brigadier-General Hagai Mordechai has ordered all commanders to reiterate to all soldiers the rules of engagement, a military spokesman told the Guardian.
The use of live fire is permitted only in extreme circumstances, and shooting to kill only in a life-threatening situation. "None of [the dead] posed a threat that justifies the use of lethal force," said Sarit Michaeli, of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and the author of a report published on Monday which analyses the IDF’s use of crowd control weapons in the West Bank. "Swift action by the army is required to transmit a clear message to soldiers that the lives of Palestinians have equal value and that firing live ammunition in non-life threatening situations is illegal."
The youngest to be killed was 15-year-old Salah Amarin, who died last Wednesday, five days after being shot in the head during clashes near Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. According to the IDF, he had been launching stones from a slingshot.
The same day as Amarin died, Lubna al-Hanash, 22, was shot in the face while walking on a college campus south of Bethlehem. According to the IDF, a routine patrol in the area had opened fire in self-defence after being "confronted by Palestinians with Molotov cocktails". But Suad Jaara, a friend who was injured in the shooting, told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an: "An Israeli soldier was shooting from his rifle while a white car was parked on the roadside. There was no one in the area except Lubna and I."
Sixteen-year-old Samir Awad was shot on 15 January after crossing a fence that forms part of the security barrier near his home in the village of Budrus. He had just completed school exam before a midterm break from school when he was grabbed by soldiers, broke free and ran away. Soldiers opened fire, hitting him from behind in the back and the head. The IDF said Awad was "attempting to infiltrate into Israel".
Three days earlier, Uday Darwish, 21, was also shot in the back while running away from soldiers after attempting to cross the separation barrier south of Hebron, according to Palestinian sources. The IDF said "soldiers at the scene fired towards his legs".
Last month, Mohammed al-Salaymeh was killed by a female soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron while en route to buy a cake to celebrate his 17th birthday. The IDF said he had brandished a toy gun. Grainy video footage of the incident appears to show the youth struggling with a soldier, and then being shot three times. The third and final shot is fired as Salaymeh is leaving the scene.
In Gaza, Anwar al-Mamlouk, 19, was shot in the abdomen 50 metres from the border fence on 11 January by Israeli soldiers, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Three days later, a 21-year-old farmer, Mustafa Abu Jarad died after being shot in the head. The IDF denied it was responsible.
According to B’Tselem, IDF regulations say live fire is permissible "in a case of violent rioting by the separation barrier, when there appears to be a real threat of damage to, or breaching of, the barrier, and when less severe methods have proved to be ineffective, the commander of the force may, as a last resort, authorise the firing of single shots of live ammunition at the legs of those people identified as central agitators".
At least 46 Palestinians have been killed since 2005 by live ammunition fired by soldiers at stone-throwers, says its report, Israel’s Use of Crowd Control Weapons in the West Bank. The most common crowd control weapons are tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and "skunk" – the use of foul-smelling liquid in water cannon.
[Palestinians refer to these "rubber-coated bullets" as "plastic-coated steel bullets," but this is an advance over Western media reports that have referred to them as "rubber bullets." -JFP.] […]
6) Yemen minister urges ground ops, not drones, against militants
Mahmoud Habboush, Reuters, Tue, Jan 22, 2013
Dubai – A cabinet minister criticized on Tuesday the use of pilotless U.S. drones against suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen, a tactic that has outraged communities in targeted areas, and urged a move to ground operations to avoid hurting civilians. Yemen, an Arabian Peninsula country plagued by lawlessness that has been exploited by al Qaeda to launch attacks on Arab and Western targets, has witnessed a rising tempo of U.S. missile strikes in recent weeks.
"To have an innocent person fall, this is a major breach," Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour told Reuters on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, voicing rare public opposition to the tactic by a member of the cabinet. The comments by Mashhour, formerly a top activist in the mass unrest that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh a year ago, reflect growing public unease about the strikes and amounted to rare criticism from within the government. Saleh’s successor, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has praised drone operations.
But dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen on January 4 to protest against drone strikes which they said had killed innocent civilians.
[…] Asked for her position on the use of drones, Mashhour did not mention the United States or assert that any specific strike had killed civilians. But she said: "I am in favor of changing the anti-terrorism strategy, I think there are more effective strategies. "We’re committed to fighting terrorism but we’re calling for changing the means and strategies," she said on the sidelines of a U.N. Yemen humanitarian appeal meeting in Dubai. "These means and strategies can be applied on the ground without harming civilians and without leading to human rights violations."
[…] Mashhour also said she wanted to see a fair trial for anyone suspected of involvement "in terrorist activities"."This is our idea, to do this through the judiciary. But the United States said that it’s in an open war with them and they declared the U.S. as an enemy. The (U.S.) declared (militants) as enemies who could be targeted wherever they are found.
"All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial," Mashhour added.
7) A First Step With Iran
Ray Takeyh, New York Times, January 25, 2013
[Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.]
As diplomacy once more reclaims its place in U.S.-Iran relations, a peculiar psychological barrier continues to bedevil prospects of a settlement.
The great powers are busy imposing sanctions on Iran that they will amend only if Tehran dismantles key aspects of its nuclear program. In the meantime, Iran is hesitant to make concessions, aware that the expansion of its nuclear capability enhances its bargaining power. In the search of negotiating advantage, neither side is willing to part with what they consider to be their leverage.
The best means of breaking this vicious cycle is not to search for a grand deal, but a limited one that breaches the wall of mistrust and potentially sets the stage for further-reaching arms control measures.
The basic U.S. strategy has rested on the notion that increased economic penalties can produce a reliable interlocutor prone to negotiating a viable agreement.
The intriguing aspect of this policy is that it is burdened by its own partial success. The American sanctions policy has triumphed beyond the anticipation of its many detractors, as Washington has convinced a large segment of the international community to abjure Iranian commerce. And yet, ironically, the more the sanctions policy succeeds, the more reluctant the great powers become to exchange any of their gains for a modest compromise.
The Islamic Republic has been bedeviled by its own accomplishments. It is the conviction of the clerical state that America is not interested in its atomic program, but is cynically using Iran’s nuclear ambitions to foster regime change. By steadily increasing the size and scope of its nuclear infrastructure, Tehran believes that it is in a better position to extract concessions from the international community.
The clerics are trapped in their own achievement: The more their nuclear program advances, the less inclined they are to concede its core features.
The danger of such unimpeded proliferation is that as Iran’s program crosses successive technological thresholds, a constituency is emerging within the regime that argues that an Iran with a bomb maybe in a better position to renegotiate its re-entry into the global economy.
The Iranian and American narratives do occasionally coincide on one issue: Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium.
The United States has long identified Iran’s higher-grade enrichment as its most dangerous and destabilizing activity. On various occasions, the Islamic Republic has seemingly been open to an agreement that addresses its high-grade enrichment program.
The Iranians’ claim has always been that they were compelled to move to higher levels of enrichment because the international community had failed to provide them with sufficient fuel for the operation of Tehran’s medical research reactor. Whatever the merits of Iran’s assertions, it does establish the precedent for ceasing 20 percent enriched uranium production for a measure of sanctions relief.
The critics of an agreement that focuses solely on 20 percent enriched uranium will correctly stress that cessation of such efforts would not significantly curb Iran’s nuclear trajectory. They will also argue, reasonably, that an agreement will not undo Iran’s mastery of complex nuclear technologies.
But the principal aim of such a bargain would be to nudge the two sides away from their existing narratives. An accord – however modest and tentative – may convince the Western powers that Iran can indeed be an arms-control interlocutor. Moreover, a cessation of 20 percent enriched uranium production can still extend the timeline of Iran’s nuclear program and ease some of the anxieties in Western capitals and Israel. An agreement may also help to move the Islamic Republic away from its corrosive perception that diplomacy is merely a ruse to increase pressure on its regime.
Although the nuclear dispute between Iran and the United States is often portrayed as a disagreement over technical issues, it is important to break the psychological barriers to deal-making.
Although various grand bargains and proposals have been contemplated, the level of mistrust is simply too high to facilitate comprehensive settlements. A modest compromise may not fundamentally alter the technical complexion of Iran’s nuclear program, but it may change the political milieu that has thus far obstructed an accord. Only then can the great powers and Iran move toward a more fundamental resolution of their lingering dispute.
8) West’s fears over Syria Islamists mount as coalition flounders
John Irish and Mohammed Abbas, Reuters – Fri, Jan 25, 2013
Paris/London – Western concern over the growing strength of jihadist rebels in Syria is mounting, hindering aid to the moderate Syrian National Coalition opposition and possibly pushing it into the arms of religiously conservative backers, diplomatic sources said.
The widely recognized coalition has failed to gain traction on the ground in Syria since being formed in November, its credibility undermined by its failure to secure arms and cash in the battle to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the coalition’s lack of cohesion – it this week failed to form a transitional government – has deterred the West from boosting aid to the group, in particular the guns and ammunition coalition fighters are crying out for.
That has left the door open to Islamist groups, funded and armed by wealthy Gulf states and individuals, to become the strongest fighting factions in Syria. They command local respect for their effectiveness, but alarm some in the West.
On Monday, Western and Syrian coalition officials hope to break the deadlock at a meeting in Paris, amid coalition accusations of broken promises of aid and splits in the West on how to address the Islamist presence in the Syrian rebel ranks.
[…] Syrian coalition officials say the best way to make an impact is to provide its poorly equipped fighters with weapons. But Western diplomats are wary of the coalition’s disunity, and are mindful of the spread of weapons to Islamists in Syria and across the volatile region.
French forces are currently battling Islamists in Mali, the insurgents armed with weapons thought to have come from Libya after the Western-backed 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi. "We have also learnt from experience and we’re seeing it in Mali with weapons that came from Libya to the armed groups there now. What we don’t want is weapons falling into the hands of the wrong people," the French source said.
[…] Complicating matters are apparent divisions on how to handle Islamist groups such as the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most coherent and disciplined anti-Assad forces in Syria. The United States has proscribed the group as a terrorist organization, and Britain is understood to share its concerns. "It is a concern that the strongest groupings are Islamist fighters possibly linked to al Qaeda, and that clearly is a vital national interest for us to make sure that does not happen," said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
But the Syrian coalition, mindful of alienating a group fighting for Assad’s downfall, criticized the U.S. move, while France downplayed the Islamist influence.
[…] Conservative Gulf backing could make the coalition less inclusive, alienating Syrian minorities such as Alawites, Christians and Kurds and fanning ethno-sectarian violence.
Western powers are keen to avoid such an outcome. "One of the main objectives of my diplomatic engagement and those of my Western colleagues is to keep the pressure on the national coalition to expand into the center ground of Syrian opinion," said the Western diplomat.
The coalition has dismissed such concerns, but fears are mounting among Syria’s minorities. "A good number of Christians and Alawites don’t see themselves represented neither in the regime nor the insurrection which they fear is increasingly dominated by radical Islamists," former senior Syrian military official and prominent defector Manaf Tlas told France’s Le Monde newspaper.
9) Could Kerry, Hagel Drive Reboot In US-Cuba Ties?
Paul Haven, Associated Press, January 26, 2013
Havana – The nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry, once held up millions of dollars in funding for secretive U.S. democracy-building programs in Cuba. Defense Secretary hopeful Chuck Hagel has called the U.S. embargo against the communist-run island "nonsensical" and anachronistic.
Both men are now poised to occupy two of the most important positions in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, leading observers on both sides of the Florida Straits to say the time could be ripe for a reboot in relations between the longtime Cold War enemies – despite major obstacles still in the way.
Kerry’s confirmation hearing was held last Thursday, with Hagel’s likely to begin next Thursday. In a day marked by platitudes and praise from his longtime colleagues, the Massachusetts Democrat up for top U.S. diplomat sidestepped two questions on Cuba without giving any hint of his opinion on bilateral relations.
Yet Kerry’s record has showed some openness to relaxing the tough U.S. stance on Cuba.
"I think having a secretary of state and secretary of defense who understand and are willing to speak publicly that isolation is counterproductive is a very good start," said Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the nonpartisan Cuba Study Group, which advocates using engagement to spur democratic change. "I’m optimistic about the opportunity."
Carlos Alzugaray, an ex-Cuban ambassador to the European Union and the author of several studies about Cuba-US relations, said that if both men are confirmed, no Cabinet since the Carter administration would have such high-level voices in favor of rapprochement.
At the same time, the composition of Cuban-Americans in Florida is evolving, with younger voters less emotionally attached to the issue than their parents and grandparents. Exit polls showed 49 percent of Cuban-Americans in the state voted for Obama, roughly the same percentage as four years ago, an indication the group no longer plays the make-or-break role it once did in presidential politics.
The atmosphere is changing in Cuba as well.
Alzugaray noted that the island has taken many steps that would normally be welcomed by Washington such as freeing dozens of political prisoners, opening the economy to limited capitalism, hosting peace talks for war-torn Colombia and eliminating most restrictions on travel for its own citizens. "Cuba is changing, and it is changing in the direction that the United States says Cuba must change," Alzugaray told The Associated Press in an interview in his Havana apartment.
The greatest obstacle to better ties is undoubtedly the continued imprisonment of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the state after he was caught setting up clandestine Internet networks as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development democracy-building program.
Havana has insisted the 63-year-old Gross will not be released unless Washington considers freeing five Cuban agents held in the United States. One is out on supervised release but was ordered to remain in the country, and the other four are still incarcerated.
[…] As committee chairman in 2011, Kerry held up millions of dollars in funding for the same program that Gross was involved in, out of concern that it was ill-conceived and a waste of money. He later cut a deal with Menendez to free up the money. At the hearing on Thursday, Kerry said that as secretary of state, he would support such programs worldwide, but did not mention Cuba.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, has termed the 50-year-old trade embargo an "outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy" and said the U.S. should engage with the island, just as it does with other communist countries such as Vietnam and China.
In his first term, Obama eliminated restrictions on the number of times Cuban-Americans can visit their relatives on the island, and the amount of money they can send back in remittances. He also has made it much easier for American travelers to get licenses to visit the island on cultural, educational and religious exchanges, though tourism is still barred.
Since 2009, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has nearly doubled from 52,000 per year to 103,000 in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the firm the Havana Consulting Group. Trips by Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives rose from 335,000 to 476,000 a year during the same period. The surge puts the United States second only to Canada as the source of travelers to the island.
But just as American officials have met Cuban reforms with lukewarm indifference, Cuban leaders have dismissed Obama’s overtures as window-dressing, saying he has in many ways strengthened the embargo by going after companies that do business with the island.
[…] Alzugaray, the longtime Cuban diplomat, threw up his hands and shrugged when asked why he was not more optimistic that the stars would align for better relations this time around. "That dog has bit me several times," he laughed. "I’ve often thought that now is the time, the possibilities are there, but always something has complicated things."
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