28 May 2016

Israel’s Gigantic Nuclear Elephant

TeleSUR English

The online version of a recent Economist magazine article comes equipped with the tantalizing headline “Israel’s atomic angst: A textile factory with a difference.” The summary reads: “One of the world’s oldest nuclear plants helped build the Jewish state’s secret nuclear arsenal.”
The magazine offers a photograph of the Dimona reactor and cupola, complete with the caption: “Tough times in the garment trade.”The textile reference is to a spontaneous alibi deployed in 1960 by an Israeli official accompanying then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid on a flyover of the Negev Desert. An intensive construction operation near the town of Dimona, site of the now-aging nuclear plant, caught the inquisitive ambassador’s eye — and “textile factory” was apparently the first thing that came to the official’s mind.
And you thought The Economist couldn’t do sarcasm.
The article notes that at a conference in April, representatives of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission reported “1,537 small defects and cracks” in the reactor’s aluminum core. While the typical lifespan of such reactors is said to be 40 years, Dimona has kept on ticking for 53.
Despite having ostensibly done its time on earth, however, there doesn’t seem to be a funeral in sight for Dimona. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz explains that, “for political, scientific and economic reasons, Israel has no capability or desire to replace the core, an operation that would mean building a new reactor.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

17 May 2016

A neoliberal carnival in Brazil

Al Jazeera English

The joke on the street is that Lebanon has no president but Brazil now has a Lebanese one. 
Indeed, Lebanon's ruling elite recently surpassed its two-year anniversary of failure to select a head of state.
But as Brazil's new interim president - Lebanese descendant Michel Temer - takes over in that country, one suspects Brazilians might have been better off president-free.
Last week, legitimate Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Workers' Party was suspended from office to face an impeachment trial. She was replaced by Vice President Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, who will probably serve out the rest of the term.
What was the great crime that occasioned Rousseff's ignoble suspension? As Washington DC-based economist Mark Weisbrot put it, "she is accused of an accounting manipulation that somewhat misrepresented the fiscal position of the government - something that prior presidents have done". READ MORE AT AL  JAZEERA ENGLISH.

13 May 2016


Current Affairs
Today, May 13, Israel received a very slightly belated birthday present. Hezbollah announced that Mustafa Amine Badreddine, one of the organization’s top commanders, had been killed in Syria earlier this week.
Throughout the day, blame for the killing was intermittently directed at Israel. Haaretz claimed that “[i]nitial reports blamed Israel for the attack, but signs show that Israel was not responsible for Badreddine’s death.” Al Jazeera reported that the Israeli military had declined to comment on Hezbollah’s allegations concerning its guilt. The Guardian diplomatically put it like this: “Leading Hezbollah commander and key Israel target killed in Syria.”
“Key Israel target,” of course, translates into joint U.S.-Israeli nemesis. According to the sages of the U.S. State Department, Badreddine belonged to that exclusive club known as the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). The designation formerly included Badreddine’s brother-in-law Imad Mughniyah—assassinated in a collaborative CIA-Mossad operation in Damascus in 2008—as well as Samir Kuntar, victim of an Israeli airstrike on Syria in December. Badreddine was rumored to have been the target of a previous Israeli airstrike that killed Mughniyah’s son, among others.
Compounding his SDGT status, Badreddine is one of five Hezbollah members currently being tried in absentia in The Hague by a bizarre, United Nations-backed entity called the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)—incidentally the subject of my article for the forthcoming edition of Current Affairs.
The tribunal was created with the ostensible purpose of bringing to justice the murderers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, killed along with 21 others in a massive blast in 2005. Ever since the groundwork was laid for the judicial operation, however, its rather transparent goals have oscillated between sticking it to Syria, sticking it to Hezbollah, and sticking it to Hezbollah and Syria.
The STL is blazing all sorts of trails. In addition to being the first international trial in absentia since Nuremberg, the court advertises itself on its official website as “the first tribunal of its kind to deal with terrorism as a distinct crime.” Terrorism is defined in part as “something liable to create a public danger”—in other words, pretty much everything Israel has ever done in the country, unless you regard massacres of civilians and the saturation of Lebanese territory with unexploded cluster munitions as public safety maneuvers. READ MORE AT CURRENT AFFAIRS.

Volunterrorism in Israel?

Middle East Eye

On a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago, my mother had the misfortune to encounter another American tourist, of 70-some years of age, who was apparently not content to sit back and enjoy her holiday and instead insisted on trying to recruit people to volunteer on Israeli army bases.
Having recently taken part in a programme organised by the American outfit Volunteers for Israel (VFI), the woman swore it was the opportunity of a lifetime: free room and board, a worthy cause - and you didn’t even have to be Jewish!
My mother chased her off but kept the slip of paper on which the woman had written the VFI website as well as that of its Israeli partner Sar-El, the National Project for Volunteers for Israel, which places international volunteers on bases and oversees their activities.
VFI advertises itself as a “nonprofit, non-political, non-sectarian organisation” - although it’s a bit difficult to think of anything more political and sectarian than material support for a Zionist military dedicated to ethnic cleansing and frequent massacres of civilians.
The website explains that the program started in 1982 “during the first war with Lebanon, when Israeli farmers in the [occupied] Golan Heights faced the prospect of losing their crops".
The cause of the agricultural predicament: “Most able-bodied men and women were called up for army reserve.” The solution: bring in volunteers from the US to “harvest crops and save the economy". The result: “More than 600 volunteers responded immediately, and the crops were saved.”
Plus, the experience was “so personally rewarding and successful” that it spawned a whole volunteer enterprise. The Sar-El website notes that as of 2010 the project had “brought in over 132,000 volunteers".
Meanwhile, the Golan crops may have been saved, but the same couldn’t be said for some 20,000 victims of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the great majority of them civilians. It bears mentioning, too, that this was not in fact the “first war” on that country - the able-bodied men and women of the Israeli armed forces having performed a similar routine four years earlier, albeit with a lower casualty count. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 May 2016

Israel: 68 Years Old and as Backward as It Gets

TeleSUR English

On a flight from Turkey to the United States last year, I was seated behind a young man from Ramallah who, having finally completed an arduous hoop-jumping process, was en route to see his Palestinian wife in a suburb of Houston. Accompanying him was a gigantic binder stuffed with documents. 
As the young man did not read English, he ceded his customs declaration form to me to fill out. All went smoothly until we got to numbers five and seven on the form, which were, respectively, “Passport issued by (country)” and “Country of Residence.”
For the first one we went with “Palestinian Authority.” For the second, we were instructed by an elderly Palestinian resident of Jordan sitting down the aisle to put “West Bank,” which he insisted was the proper response. In the end, West Bank it was—and I crossed my fingers that the immigration official on duty was at least somewhat human.
To be sure, the West Banker was luckier than many Palestinians in that he was able to travel at all—albeit not conveniently—as opposed to languishing in the open-air prison of the Gaza Strip or in refugee camps in Lebanon, where conditions aren’t much better.
Surviving members of the first wave of Palestinian refugees to Lebanon have now clocked 68 years in the country but are still denied citizenship and attendant liberties, including the right to work most jobs. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

04 May 2016

Spain: A non-governmental organisation?

Al Jazeera English

During a visit to Barcelona in December just after Spain’s general elections, I walked past a signboard outside a restaurant displaying the following quip in Spanish: "If the Spaniards were dinosaurs, we'd have voted for the meteorite."
The implication, of course, was that by regularly voting for destructive political formations Spaniards were facilitating their own doom.
The metaphorical meteorite in this case was the incumbent right-wing Popular Party (PP), which has in recent years presided over punitive austerity measures and rampant corruption. Spain's industry minister recently resigned after the Panama Papers revealed problematic offshore investments.
Unemployment in Spain is currently more than 20 percent, and youth unemployment is even higher. The effects of the economic crisis have also been acutely felt by the victims of mass home evictions; in 2012, the Associated Press reported that 500 such operations were being carried out per day across the country. The eviction epidemic was widely linked to a spike in suicides. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.