12 April 2018

On Lebanon’s civil war anniversary, Israel's crimes are far from history

Middle East Eye

This May, Israelis will celebrate their 70th anniversary of "independence"  - a grotesque euphemism for ethnic cleansing and the forcible establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land. The process entailed the killing of some 10,000 Palestinians, the expulsion of 750,000 more, and the destruction of 500 or so villages.
April, meanwhile, hosts the 43rd anniversary of another terrible regional episode in which Israel played no minor part. This one goes by the name of the Lebanese civil war, a 15-year affair with complex and multifaceted causes, ranging from egregious socioeconomic injustice and a disproportionate distribution of political power and resources to increasingly self-fulfilling efforts to channel public discontent into sectarian antagonism.
The civil war is generally regarded as having commenced on 13 April 1975 - when right-wing Christian Phalangists massacred 27 Palestinianstravelling by bus through the Beirut suburb of Ein el-Rummaneh - and ultimately eliminated an estimated 150,000 people
An additional 17,000 were disappeared, their surviving family members condemned to continuous psychological punishment and grief due to the Lebanese state's unwillingness - to this day - to exhume mass graves or otherwise pursue accountability. After all, any such resurrection of the past would have obvious implications for the civil warlords who remain in power.
As in the case in the present Syrian conflict, however, the term "civil war" can almost be seen as a misnomer in the Lebanese context, given the extent of outside involvement. And while there are plenty of players - both foreign and domestic - with a surplus of blood on their hands, it’s useful to reflect on the Israeli role in particular, if for no other reason than to highlight the fact that Israel’s habitual terrorising of the Middle East has done nothing to jeopardise its service as BFF and supposed terror-fighting partner of the global superpower. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 April 2018

Neo-con warrior Elliott Abrams returns to conflict – in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

In a recent dispatch for Politico Magazine, Elliott Abrams - neocon extraordinaire, former component of the Ronald Reagan and George W Bush administrations, and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC - warns that “Lebanon is boiling” and that “thousands of Americans could get stuck in the middle of a war”.
The gist of the article, co-written by Abrams’ colleague Zachary Shapiro, is that the United States must formulate a comprehensive evacuation plan for its citizens in Lebanon, in preparation for the next seemingly inevitable showdown with Israel.
During the 2006 war, in which Israel killed an estimated 1,200 people in Lebanese territory - the majority of them civilians - the US deigned to evacuate some 15,000 citizens, after initially attempting to bill them for the privilege.
The US undersecretary of state for political affairs defended the attempted billing on the grounds that the government had had to “go out on an emergency basis and rent [evacuation] vessels”.
By contrast, rush-shipping bombs to the Israeli military was apparently neither too much of a hassle nor too much of an expense. 
Evacuation will be even trickier in the next war, Abrams and Shapiro argue, as “every indication is that it will be a fiercer conflict than in 2006”. This is presumably true, since Israeli officials have spent the better part of the last 12 years threatening that they will no longer hold back in Lebanon - as if they ever did. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 March 2018

World Water Day for a plastic world

Al Jazeera English

The theme of this year's World Water Day - marked annually on 22 March - is "Nature for Water", which, as the website of the United Nations Environment Programme informs us, "explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century." 
The challenges are clearly dire; as the UN notes, 2.1 billion people currently "lack access to safely managed drinking water services," while an estimated 1.8 billion "use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces." 
In theory, of course, nature-based solutions are the obvious answer to problems in nature. The UN advises planting more trees, restoring wetlands, and reconnecting rivers to floodplains.
But while the whole "NBS" campaign will no doubt generate handsome revenues for a UN system that specialises in self-enrichment, no solution to water or related challenges is possible within a global capitalist system that is itself destroying nature.
And even if water is considered a basic human right under international law, there isn't much room for "rights" in a neoliberal milieu of comprehensive commodification and the eradication of any sort of terrestrial harmony in favour of the financial tyranny of an elite minority. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

18 March 2018

Iraq, 15 years on: A toxic US legacy

Middle East Eye

Fifteen years ago this month, the United States spearheaded a fantastically bloody war on Iraq as part of its ongoing effort to ensure the Iraqi nation’s perpetual misery.
Straight-up carnage aside, there were some other more trivial, yet still “spectacularly unsavoury”, results of the invasion, as veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn recalls: “Soon after US occupation officials took over Saddam Hussein’s palace complex in central Baghdad as their headquarters,” for example, “the lavatories in the palaces all became blocked and began to overflow. Mobile toilets were rapidly shipped into the country and installed in the palace gardens.”
As it turned out, the Americans had failed to read up on bathroom traditions in the Middle East, or to realise that in many parts of the world, defecation is not accompanied by massive quantities of toilet paper.
And while such visuals were no doubt also metaphorically relevant, given the excrement that passes for US policy in the region, the fallout of the war on Iraq has been toxic in far more extraordinarily pernicious ways.
Consider, for instance, Cockburn’s 2010 article for The Independent, headlined “Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’”. In it, he outlined the results of a study by British scientist Chris Busby and colleagues Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi on the increase in reports of cancer, birth defects, infant mortality and other forms of suffering in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the focus of a particularly vicious US assault.
To be sure, as one of the top polluters on the entire planet, the US military has never been thrilled about acknowledging what would appear to be obvious: that saturating the environment with toxic materials will have repercussions on both environmental and human health, including the health of the United States’ own warriors, as underlined by the afflictions affecting veterans of the Vietnam War and first Gulf War, among other imperial escapades. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

17 March 2018

Iran and Honduras: A Tale of Two Protests

The Washington Spectator

When scattered protests broke out in Iran at the end of December, Donald Trump took enthusiastically to Twitter to interpret the events for the rest of the world: “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”
And again: “The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
The press breathlessly followed suit. As Oxford-based historian of modern Iran Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi observed on December 30, “Within the space of some 24 hours, nearly every mainstream Western media outlet has inclined to assimilate legitimate expressions of socio-economic distress and demands for greater governmental accountability into a question of ‘regime change.’”
Unsurprisingly, no such ruckus was elicited by events much closer to home—in that part of the so-called U.S. “backyard” known as Honduras—where protests following November elections that were widely denounced as fraudulent had reportedly left at least 31 dead by the beginning of January.
Indeed, the United States has never watched too closely for human rights violations in Honduras—perhaps because the United States is itself often complicit. (Not that the gringos haven’t been implicated in abuses in Iran: the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the demo- cratically elected prime minister, comes to mind, as does the ensuing reign of the notoriously repressive shah, a dedicated U.S. ally and obsessive purchaser of American weapons.)
Back in the 1980s, for example, Honduras was the playground for the CIA-trained death squad Battalion 3-16, while also serving as a launchpad for the U.S. Contra war on neighboring Nicaragua—a lengthy affair that was blatantly irreconcilable with even the most forgiving of human rights standards. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

04 March 2018

Elections, migrants, and a fascist renaissance in Italy

Middle East Eye

Earlier this year, Italian politician Attilio Fontana warned radio listeners that the "white race" was under existential threat thanks to the usual suspects: immigrants.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quotes his analysis as follows: "We must decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society should continue to exist or should be erased."
Fontana is a member of the political party known until recently as the Northern League (Lega Nord), before the "Northern" qualifier was dropped to accommodate right-wing maniacs in central and southern Italy.
The League, commanded by European Parliament deputy Matteo Salvini, is part of what is described as a centre-right coalition, although it is anyone's guess how the "centre" fits in. Led by the Forza Italia party of Italy's recurring affliction, Silvio Berlusconi, the coalition is predicting favourable returns in Italy's general election on 4 March.
According to Salvini, who is also quoted in the Corriere della Sera article, the problem with immigrants is not so much "skin color" as the "Islamic presence in the country," which has resulted in a situation in which "we are under attack; at risk are our culture, society, traditions, and way of life ... Centuries of history are at risk of disappearing if Islamisation prevails."
Salvini credits the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci with having prophesied the attack, which indeed she did, in numerous unhinged rants on subjects ranging from alleged Muslim plots to blow up Saint Peter's cupola in Rome to equally nefarious Muslim schemes to replace European mini-skirts with chadors and cognac with camel's milk.
(Nor did Fallaci confine her ominous forecasts to the European continent. She also lambasted US universities for permitting persons by the name of Mustafa and Muhammed to study biology and chemistry despite the threat of germ warfare.)
In 2006, Fallaci threatened to explode a mosque and Islamic centre slated for construction in Tuscany, no doubt a rather ironic solution to the problem of terrorism.
Salvini, meanwhile, may have a particular problem with Muslims, but that doesn't mean that all other "others" are off the hook. The League has pledged mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa, while Berlusconi has put the number of prospective deportees at 600,000.
Despite a long history of misdeeds - from tax fraud to mafia ties to infamous "bunga bunga" parties - billionaire Berlusconi is back in the game yet again, although he is barred until 2019 from holding office.  READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 February 2018

Review: The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media

Middle East Eye

In 1988, his final year of service as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief before being appointed diplomatic correspondent in Washington, Thomas Friedman gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, in which he proposed some symbolic concessions to the Palestinians in order to keep them in line.
The Palestinians must be given "something to lose", argued Friedman, because "I believe that as soon as Ahmed has a seat in the bus, he will limit his demands."
Writing shortly thereafter, Noam Chomsky wondered whether a prominent journalist might also be promoted to the post of chief diplomatic correspondent by "urg[ing] South Africans to 'give Sambo a seat in the bus', or propos[ing] that Jews be granted something to lose, because 'if you give Hymie a seat in the bus, he may limit his demands'".
Now, three decades later, Friedman remains regrettably institutionalised at the Times, despite having told the nation of Iraq to "suck on this". But even without his assistance, the US newspaper of record has exhibited enthusiastic dedication to traditions of Orientalist contemptuousness and other forms of bias.
In a new book titled The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media, Greg Shupak, a professor of media studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto, undertakes to document- and correct - the warped media narrative on Palestine-Israel. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 February 2018

Is Mexico the most dangerous country on earth?

Al Jazeera English

In 2006, Mexico launched a war on drugs with the fervent backing of its ever-helpful neighbour to the north, the United States of America.
Now a bit more than a decade later, some 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed thus far as a result, with an additional 30,000 or more disappeared and a continuous discovery of unmarked mass graves.
Recent reports suggest that 2017 was, in fact, Mexico's most violent year, in terms of homicides, since the Mexican government began publicising crime data in 1997. More than 29,000 murders were recorded last year alone. 
And what do you know: Drugs continue to flow into the US, where the proscription of mind-altering substances that are in sky-high demand is precisely what has rendered the drug business in Mexico so lethally lucrative in the first place. 
Arturo Cano, a journalist with the prominent Mexican newspaper La Jornada, once commented to me on the perverse symbiosis that has long characterised the US-Mexico relationship: "Mexico provides the cheap labour and the US provides the deportees. Mexico provides the dead and disappeared and the US the armies of drug users". 
Cano went on to invoke a lament attributed to former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, who died in 1915: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States". 
Indeed, thanks to acute geographical misfortune, Mexico has been an easy target for economic abuse by its northern neighbour - entailing magical forms of "free trade" in which the US is permitted to freely bombard the Mexican market with subsidised products while driving several million Mexican farmers out of business. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

01 February 2018

US continues trafficking in deceit with Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’ unit

Middle East Eye

Last month, the US Justice Department announced the launch of an exciting new project: the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), which will continue the US effort to paint the Lebanese group as the epitome of global evil and criminalise its supporters.
The announcement comes on the heels of a December 2017 three-part Politico "expose", tantalisingly headlined: "The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook."
Who knew that the president who dropped 26,172 bombs on seven Muslim-majority countries in a single year - while wildly increasing US military aid to Israel - was an old softie on the Party of God?
Providing helpful ammunition to the current administration of Donald Trump, the Politico article highlights allegations that Obama recklessly ignored Hezbollah's "narcoterrorist" activity in order to appease Iran in the run-up to the beloved nuclear deal.
Never mind that drug trafficking is fundamentally at odds with Hezbollah's religious orientation; reality has never been a prerequisite to manufacturing threats.
According to Fox News, the HFNT will "begin its work by reviewing investigations stemming from Project Cassandra" - a decade-long operation overseen by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 
The existence of Project Cassandra, Politico notes, was first revealed in 2016 along with the operation's target: "the drug- and weapons-trafficking unit known as Hezbollah's Business Affairs Component". (Hezbollah, for its part, has never mentioned a Business Affairs Component, but US law enforcement agencies clearly know best.) READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

16 January 2018

The United States: Addicted to special forces

Al Jazeera English

The Special Operations forces of the United States - currently 70,000-strong and thus larger than the regular militaries of many sizable countries - occupy a very special place in US national mythology. 
According to TIME Magazine, Special Ops "heroes" are the "planet's most skillful soldiers" and "toughest warriors" - operating in their very own "secret world". 
Newsweek hails them as "dead accurate, lethal and all-but-silent. They are the military's elite - highly trained badasses armed with bullets and brains in equal measure".
The obsequious glorification of "badass" warriors is of course hardly surprising, given that US society has been inculcated to view international relations as a sort of video game in which the US gets points for blowing things up.
More surprising, perhaps, are the dimensions of the oh-so-secretive world.
In a recent dispatch, investigative journalist and author Nick Turse reveals that Special Operations forces were active in no fewer than 149 countries in 2017 - meaning that the "secret world" has managed to encompass 75 percent of the globe.
This record high is courtesy of US President Donald Trump, that self-appointed "very stable genius" who is now building on the special forces frenzy fuelled by his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.  READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.