The Gaza Offensive and Obama’s Opening with Iran

As is always the case with the designs and aspirations of Great Powers, whether they be of nations or multinational corporations, the little people – the civilians caught in the crossfire, or the workers shut out of management decisions affecting their fates – bear the brunt of the actions of decision-makers holding the cards.

Eyes are turned again toward Gaza as the Israeli Defense Forces amass troops in southern Israel and secure the Sinai border between Gaza and Egypt. The IDF and Hamas are exchanging rocket fire following the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jabari, a Hamas military leader. Jabari was a hardcore Hamas leader who refused to negotiate with Israelis directly, but who was described by Aluf Benn in Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, as a “subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza.” His death sparked rocket attacks into Israel that targeted the cities of Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ashdod. Jabari was engaged on the day of his assassination in efforts to secure a permanent cease-fire being brokered by Gershon Baskin, the Israeli peace activist who had helped obtain the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin reports that top Israeli officials knew of this effort but conducted the assassination regardless.

My take on what is happening in Gaza revolves around Israel’s well-stated position on Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made Israel’s hostility toward Iran acquiring a nuclear capability, thereby upsetting the balance of power nuclear-armed Israel holds in the Middle East, very clear. Netanyahu sought assurances from President Obama that a “red line” not be crossed by Iran on the uranium enrichment cycle issue, and President Obama wisely denied committing to any red line triggers to military action, choosing rather to pursue the tough international sanctions regime and attempts at diplomacy and negotiation with Iran. There are good indications this line of thinking will work for the better with Iran, barring an already dangerously unstable Middle East further erupting in violence. More on this below.

The private global intelligence firm, Stratfor, reports that at least one of Israel’s concerns in Gaza, which likely prompted the assassination of Jabari, is evidence that Hamas had acquired from Iran long-range Fajr-5 rockets that are able to target the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Short-range Qussam rockets, which factions not necessarily under Hamas control have fired against targets in Israel many times in the past, have had the effect of terrorizing the population but causing few deaths and little damage. Retaliatory strikes on these occasions against targets in Gaza by US-supplied fighter jets have caused many more deaths and much greater destruction among the captive Gaza population, prompting outcries of a disproportionate use of force by Israel. The presence, however, of Fajr-5 rockets in Gaza represents a significant escalation in capability by forces in Gaza, and in the event of an Israeli strike against targets in Iran, a threat Israel would not ignore. It appears Israel is taking measures to neutralize this threat now.

Hezbollah in Lebanon has so far remained cautious of the military actions taking place in southern Israel. It is reported by Stratfor that they are preventing Palestinian rocket fire into northern Israel from refugee camps in southern Lebanon in response to the Gaza offensive. It is well understood that Israel upon attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would suffer retaliatory attacks from Hezbollah, which makes no secret of its connections with Iran. But turmoil in Syria has weakened Hezbollah’s position and its ability to be supplied by Iran through Syria. The captive Palestinian population in Gaza are once again caught in the vice of much larger geopolitical forces vying for power in the Middle East to either keep the status quo or shift that power away from Israel.

The good indications that negotiations may avoid another catastrophic war in the Middle East come from Reza Marashi, Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and Sahar Namazikhah, Iranian journalist and Director of Iran Programs at the George Mason University’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. Reza Marashi is also a former State Department staffer who worked on the Iran desk. They write on the Al Jazeera website that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has publicly differentiated Obama from leaders in Israel, a first in publicly-stated internal Iranian opinion, articulating that they recognize that Obama “is not willing to rush into war.” MOIS opinions are reported to be read daily by top Iranian regime officials and for such opinions to be publicly stated is a significant development. MOIS is reported by Iranian journalists as “one of the most trusted sources of information among key Iranian decision-makers.”

Such a development indicates that within the Iranian state politics play a role; Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric and bellicose pronouncements are not representative of a monolithic regime bent on only one thing, the destruction of Israel. Pragmatism and national security (survival) temper the regime’s thinking. Obama’s foreign policy team would be wise to exploit this opening.

As for the Israeli offensive against Gaza, I hold out little hope the US will have anything but platitudes to say about the captive Palestinian population caught in the crossfire as Israel attempts to rid itself of the threats of violence coming from Gaza’s militarized factions.

The Top Ten (that profit from war… and why state and local budgets are in depression)

Military contractors lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they win the contracts they use some of that money to lobby Congress and the Pentagon for contracts, and once they…

The Top Ten.

Haven’t we been warned that this might happen?

The Most Dangerous Man in America

The latest addition to the Video page is a film entitled, The Most Dangerous Man In America, directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. This is what Henry Kissinger called Daniel Ellsberg in the followup of Ellsberg’s leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and the press describing the consistent, systematic lying about Vietnam coming from the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and later by extension, Nixon. Ellsberg was a devoted cold war numbers crunching analyst working at the Rand Corporation completely in the thrall of the idea that the spread of communism was antithetical to democratic Western ideals and needed to be stopped by force of arms. After witnessing first hand the fabrication of evidence supporting a scale up of involvement in Vietnam by Johnson, Ellsberg began questioning the entire house of cards.

This discovery came first by remotely collecting data from military personnel on the ground in Vietnam, and then by participating as a civilian in full uniform and with arms in the conflict. Ellsberg eventually saw that the manufactured crises reported to the public were by and large ruses giving cover for what amounted to mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians by eventually the hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs dropped indiscriminately on the countryside of North Vietnam.

When the truth of this became understood, Ellsberg weighed his options and after witnessing the resolve of draft-dodgers willing to go to prison rather to an unjust war, he sought to “cast his whole vote,” as Thoreau had advised in Civil Disobedience, and find a way to exert his maximum influence on stopping the war. The Rand report that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers was the top secret history of the Vietnam War documenting the US involvement in the war from Truman through Johnson, and became the means by which Ellsberg would accomplish this. Leaking this report first to members of Congress, who largely ignored it, and then to the press, most notably the New York Times, the entire course of the war took a turn.  Nixon’s overstep trying to bring Ellsberg down played a role in Nixon’s own downfall. (Kissinger’s advice to Nixon, revealed in the Nixon tapes and captured in this film, was for me shocking. Kissinger told Nixon in no uncertain terms, Nixon should seek to de-escalate and end the war honorably to avoid being seen by the world as “a butcher.” Nixon escalated the war.)

This latest addition to the video page is an excellent rendition of this history. Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, and a slew of interviews by many others involved in the work being conducted at Rand, in the government, or close to the participants in the leak tell the story of Ellsberg’s defection from the calculated brutality of cold war analytics that supported the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers and uncountable Vietnamese civilians to dedicated peace activist. It is a tale with deep relevance to our present state of affairs with our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proliferation of deception, torture, profiteering, and official state lies.

I think one thing the people will conclude when they’ve read it is that they have not asked enough, they have not expected enough or demanded enough in the way of fullness, in the way of responsibility, from their public servants. Make that known and I think that our Constitution will continue to function better than it has been in the past. (Daniel Ellsberg in a nationally broadcast interview with Dick Cavett)

 

The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies… … it is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and the reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it. (Daniel Ellsberg)

Bring Our War Dollars Home: Afghanistan

A recent article in Armed Forces Journal could not be clearer on the state of the war in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis writes in Truth, lies, and Afghanistan:

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

I came across this piece through the excellent online newsletter put out by the Afghanistan Study Group, the Afghanistan Weekly Reader. Wonkish and authoritative the ASG’s reports and news releases are non-partisan, and of the highest quality sort of analysis and information I’ve found on the subject of the decade-plus war being waged in Afghanistan.

The latest DoD request: $88 billion for the war effort in 2013 as the drawdown of troops continues. And for what, asks ASG’s Mary Kaszynski?

We’ve mentioned before that this number seems suspiciously high, considering the pace of the drawdown, We’re not the only ones who think so. At the budget briefing two weeks ago a reporter noted that the cut from last year’s war costs to this year “doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a reduction” and asked DOD officials to “give us some sense of what that’s for, that 88.4 billion?” JCS Chair General Dempsey’s response: “For recapitalization, for reconstitution, we’ve always said that it would take years following the end of the conflict to recapitalize the force.  And some of the OCO costs are caught up in that. ”

Dempsey’s answer is not that surprising. The need to “recapitalize” or “reset” the force after a decade of war is a favorite line for those who want to keep defense spending high. Trimming the defense budget, we are told, would hollow out our military forces and leave us open to all sorts of dangers.

The problem with this argument is that it’s simply not true. A new report from the Congressional Research Service says, in a typically understated way, “it can be argued that the use of the term “hollow force” is inappropriate under present circumstances.”

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