Wednesday, January 30, 2013

'I feel like a stranger where I live’

    Wednesday, January 30, 2013   No comments

"When you go swimming, it’s much healthier to keep your whole body completely covered, you know.” The Muslim lady behind the counter in my local pharmacy has recently started giving me advice like this. It’s kindly meant and I’m always glad to hear her views because she is one of the few people in west London where I live who talks to me.
The streets around Acton, which has been my home since 1996, have taken on a new identity. Most of the shops are now owned by Muslims and even the fish and chip shop and Indian takeaway are Halal. It seems that almost overnight it’s changed from Acton Vale into Acton Veil.
Of the 8.17 million people in London, one million are Muslim, with the majority of them young families. That is not, in reality, a great number. But because so many Muslims increasingly insist on emphasising their separateness, it feels as if they have taken over; my female neighbours flap past in full niqab, some so heavily veiled that I can’t see their eyes. I’ve made an effort to communicate by smiling deliberately at the ones I thought I was seeing out and about regularly, but this didn’t lead to conversation because they never look me in the face.


Canadian 'guilty of crimes against humanity in Libya'

    Wednesday, January 30, 2013   No comments

A professional bodyguard who worked on and off for years providing protection to the “playboy” third son of Muammar Gaddafi faces deportation from Canada within days, after an immigration board found he was complicit in atrocities committed during the final days of the regime.

Repeated trips made to Libya during the 2011 uprising came back to haunt Gary Peters, who is originally from Australia, after the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board ordered him deported after finding that he was complicit in atrocities committed by the Gaddafi’s in their last day’s in power and additionally had broken international laws in helping the son, al-Saadi, escape to Niger.

As a bodyguard to al-Saadi, Mr Peters effectively became a “member of the government apparatus” in Libya as it tried to quell the rebellion, a member of the Board, Alicia Seifert, said as she delivered the ruling.  She said that while Mr Peters received tens of thousands of dollars to ensure the safety of his client, the regime was committing acts of murder and torture as it struggled to hold on to power.




Monday, January 28, 2013

Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts

    Monday, January 28, 2013   No comments

Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town's mayor, in an incident he described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage.

Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor's office and an MP's residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.

French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said.

"It's true. They have burned the manuscripts," Cissé said in a phone interview from Mali's capital, Bamako. "They also burned down several buildings. There was one guy who was celebrating in the street and they killed him."

He added: "This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north."


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Syria: the danger of false dichotomies

    Sunday, January 27, 2013   No comments

by ISSA KHALAF

From the initial stirrings of the Syrian uprising, I have felt that unlike Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, or even Bahrain, it is incumbent on analysts to exercise caution, for Syria’s social structural complexity and vulnerability to external rivalries potentially exposes its people to extraordinary, protracted violence and collapse.

The elusive hope for Syria is peaceful change and democratization to preserve its unity. Many may argue that these views perilously echo the regime’s justifications for remaining in power. It does and doesn’t.

On the one hand, Syria’s geopolitical centrality historically turned it into a playground for all manner of cynical, violent, destabilizing external powers. This was true during the Cold War, and is just as true today, for Washington’s perception of its power and interests is little changed, and in fact, its hegemonic obsession with disciplining uncompliant groups and states has morphed into active militarism since the Soviet Union’s demise in 1989. The national security state exists on a steady diet of enemies. Israel and oil, the ‘challenge’ of China and Russia, Central Asia and pipelines, are central to American thinking.

Thus, the Syrian regime has it right, as one can plainly see from Lebanon’s perennial upheavals, Iraq’s precarious existence, and the organic causality between the internal Syrian situation and regional and international rivalries.


Terrorism in Algeria and war in Mali demonstrate the increasing reach of Islamist extremism in Africa

    Sunday, January 27, 2013   No comments

ON JANUARY 16th three dozen heavily armed Islamic extremists seized control of a gas plant in the Saharan desert near In Amenas, taking some 650 workers hostage. Their subsequent battle with Algerian special forces, fought across a sprawling landscape of pipeline bundles and housing containers, lasted four days. The hostage-takers were said to have planned to blow up the pipelines, which would have meant a significant drop in Algeria’s exports. But there was no explosion, and soon the hostage-takers were killed, as were at least 37 of the foreign employees at the plant. Algeria takes an uncompromising approach to terrorist attacks.

That battle, along with the escalating war in neighbouring Mali (see article), has raised the spectre of a new jihadism spreading across Africa. Western governments worry that conflicts in the vast Sahara, and in the countries of the Sahel that lie along its southern edge, have become increasingly linked. The attack on the Algerian gas plant was most likely launched from neighbouring Libya. Its architects, hidden somewhere in the sandy expanse hundreds, perhaps many hundreds, of kilometres away, claimed to be supporting the groups in Mali now being attacked by French and west African forces.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Qatar fueling the crisis in north Mali?

    Thursday, January 24, 2013   No comments
Oil-rich gulf state Qatar has a vested interest in the outcome of the north Mali crisis, according to various reports that have been picked up by French MPs, amid suspicion that Doha may be siding with the rebels to extend its regional influence.

Since Islamist groups exploited a military coup in the Malian capital of Bamako in early 2012 to take control of the entire north of the country, accusations of Qatari involvement in a crisis that has seen France deploy troops have been growing.

Last week two French politicians explicitly accused Qatar of giving material support to separatists and Islamists in north Mali, adding fuel to speculation that the Emirate is playing a behind-the-scenes role in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Africa.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Communist Party Senator Michelle Demessine both said that that Qatar had questions to answer.

“If Qatar is objecting to France’s engagement in Mali it’s because intervention risks destroying Doha’s most fundamentalist allies,” Le Pen said in a statement on her party website, in response to a call by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani for dialogue with the Islamists.
‘Cash from Doha’

The first accusations of Qatari involvement with Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups came in a June 2012 article in respected French weekly the Canard Enchainé.

In a piece title “Our friend Qatar is financing Mali’s Islamists”, the newspaper alleged that the oil-rich Gulf state was financing the separatists.





Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is Turkey Finally Ready to Make Peace with the Kurds?

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013   No comments

Last week's massive funeral in Turkey of three Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) activists killed in Paris last week speaks volumes about the PKK's appeal among the Turkish Kurds in Turkey's southeast.

Turkey recently entered peace talks with the PKK, and if these talks succeed, they could bring an end to the bitterest aspects of the four-decade-old conflict between Ankara and the group. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems determined to achieve a settlement with the PKK, if for no other reason than that brokering a peace deal will effectively eliminate the last hurdle to achieve his goal of getting elected as the country's next president in 2014.

Turkey has engaged in talks with the PKK before, but they were always in secret. This time, however, Erdogan is comfortable going public with the negotiations, suggesting that he is confident that the talks will succeed. This optimism most probably stems from the predicament of his counterpart, the PKK's jailed founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was caught by Turkish security forces, with U.S. assistance, in 1999, and sent to solitary confinement after standing trial. Ocalan, who has spent over a decade by himself on the Imrali island jail in the middle of the Marmara Sea, is aching to go free, and hence wants to strike a deal with Erdogan.

Such an agreement would involve a "ceasefire" between the Turkish government and the PKK, after which the PKK would pull its estimated 3,000 members out of Turkey. The PKK would then disarm. Next, Turkey would allow the PKK's top leadership to find a home in Europe while the group's rank and file would be allowed to return to Turkey and integrate into civilian life and politics.

In return, Ocalan would get his freedom, most likely entering house arrest. Even if Erdogan publically denies he will make this concession, the writing is on the wall.

For Erdogan to maximize his gains from the deal, the PKK needs not only to lay down its arms, but also to stay quiet. Fighting with the PKK has resulted in over 900 deaths since August 2011, according to a tally by the International Crisis Group, constituting the heaviest toll on Turkey in more than a decade.


The hawks’ wings are clipped

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013   No comments

YAIR LAPID, a former television talk-show host whose secular, middle-of-the-road party soared into second place in Israel’s election on January 22nd, wrote a popular column for years in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he would ask, “What is it to be Israeli?” What, in other words, does it take to feel you belong in the Jewish state? The question became his trademark. Now a large chunk of the electorate—a lot larger than the pollsters predicted—has given an answer that may reshape Israel’s future, not least by improving the chance of a durable peace with the Palestinians.

Mr Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), running for the first time, got 19 seats in the 120-seat parliament, against 31 for Likud-Beitenu, led by the incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is still expected to retain his post. But he will find it much harder in the next month or so to rejig his ruling coalition. Hawkish and religious parties that have been generally loth to offer the sort of territorial and other compromises needed to revive the peace process got half the seats. But the election result shows that Israelis on the more malleable middle ground are still a force to be reckoned with. The post-election bargaining will be a lot trickier than Mr Netanyahu expected.

Two key consequences may ensue. One is that Naftali Bennett, the religious hawk who rejects the idea of Palestinian state altogether, may not have to be brought into a government. Pollsters had expected his new party to do so well that Mr Netanyahu would have had to give him a senior post.

The other is that it may prove impossible for Mr Netanyahu to include both Mr Lapid’s secular party and other religious parties in a ruling coalition.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Death of Fatah and the Future of Palestine

    Saturday, January 19, 2013   No comments

RAMALLAH -- After nearly a half-century of existence, Fatah has left many loyalists and critics alike pondering its accomplishments. On New Year's Eve, the Palestinian political party -- which has led the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for decades and currently holds the presidency of the Palestianian Authority (PA) -- celebrated its 48th anniversary. In Ramallah, a few thousand mostly young men marched across the West Bank city to the Muqata', the headquarters of the PA president and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The streets were lined with the party's younger supporters, some elderly veterans clad in military fatigues and several high-ranking members of the group's leadership who are based in the West Bank.

As the marchers converged upon the headquarters -- once a ravaged icon of the second Intifada, today it stands a revamped modern military compound -- many started to trickle away. Addressing the enthusiastic group that remained, Abbas, looking every day of his 77 years, spoke of Palestinian leaders of years past. He started with Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian figure unrivaled in his persona, then moved on to Abu Jihad and Abu Eyad -- both icons of Palestinian resistance -- and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas's late spiritual leader, whose group Fatah has been at loggerheads with since it wrested control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Abbas recited the litany of names as if lamenting his party's failure to deliver a unifying leader since Arafat to guide Palestinians through exceptionally troubling times: a moribund peace process, dire economic circumstances brought about by dwindling international aid, mushrooming Israeli settlements, and a political and geographical rift with the Gaza Strip.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Al Jazeera: Must do better

    Friday, January 18, 2013   No comments



AL JAZEERA, the Qatari satellite television network that revolutionised Arab news coverage a decade ago, has long defied its critics. No other network has seen its bureaus both bombed by the American air force and torched by Egyptian revolutionaries. None has been damned by so diverse a range of governments and politicians. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi blasted it for fomenting revolution. Syria’s embattled regime accused it of building Potemkin sets of Syrian cities to stage fake anti-government protests. And Al Jazeera was recently described on Fox, a rival American news network, as an “anti-American terror mouthpiece”.

Since launching a 24-hour Arabic satellite news channel in 1996, Al Jazeera has added others devoted to sports, documentaries, local news and children’s programmes, as well as a widely admired English-language current-events channel. Although Al Jazeera English is popular in the State Department cafeteria in Washington, the network’s unfair notoriety as a supposed promoter of jihadism has largely shut its channels out of the broader American market. But its recent purchase of Current TV, a cable network partly owned by Al Gore, a former vice-president, for a reported $500m may extend its footprint to 40m American households, paving the way to launch another dedicated local service, Al Jazeera America.


In militias we trust: Libya's conundrum

    Friday, January 18, 2013   No comments
Libya
Uthman Mleghta, commander of the powerful al Qaaqa brigade from the Nafusa Mountains town of Zintan, rejects being described as a qatiba (militia). On a recent foreign NGO’s visit to his heavily guarded headquarters in Tripoli, Mleghta presented his “group’s” activities, including a newly launched print newspaper and an education programme for Libyan youth.

But his visitors were more interested in al Qaaqa’s security role. Al Qaaqa is responsible for, among others, controlling the border pass with Tunisia, guarding certain oil fields and the protection of some high profile Libyan politicians. When asked about al Qaaqa’s well-armed fighters, Mleghta matter-of-factly answered  “we are the army”.

The rapid disintegration of Muammar al Gaddafi’s armed forces and police meant that the militias born out of the revolution were the only ones equipped to fill the security vacuum left behind. This scenario led to a number of the cities or towns seeing their militias play key roles in the revolution, gaining significant influence.

Zintan, the small town in the Nafusa mountains where al Qaaqa hails from and where Saif al Islam Gaddafi is being held, went from being politically insignificant to being awarded the Defence ministry portfolio of the last transitional government, assigned to Zintani commander Osama al-Juwali


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Syrian forces launch push on rebel-held Aleppo

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013   No comments
Syrian forces mounted an offensive in central Aleppo on Wednesday, a day after two explosions at a university in the west of the city killed at least 87 students and wounded almost 200 others.

The military and opposition units have continued to blame each other for the attack, one of the deadliest single acts of violence in the Syrian civil war.

Aleppo university is in the north-west of the city, an area firmly controlled by regime forces and the loyalist militia known as the Shabiha. It has been a hotbed of activism throughout the 22 months since the uprising began, with numerous students abandoning their studies and joining the armed push to oust the regime of the president, Bashar al-Assad, which began in March 2011.

However, many more have remained and some were sitting exams on Monday at the time of the attack. What caused the blasts has yet to be determined, but suspicion is focusing on rocket fire from the western outskirts, an area mostly held by rebel groups, including the jihadist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra.



Obama wants Netanyahu to recognize that Israel’s settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013   No comments

Shortly after the United Nations General Assembly voted in late November to upgrade the status of the Palestinians, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it would advance plans to establish a settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E-1, and that it would build 3,000 additional housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A large settlement in E-1, an empty zone between Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement city of Maaleh Adumim, would make the goal of politically moderate Palestinians -- the creation of a geographically contiguous state -- much harder to achieve.

The world reacted to the E-1 announcement in the usual manner: It condemned the plans as a provocation and an injustice. President Barack Obama’s administration, too, criticized it. “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
‘Best Interests’
But what didn’t happen in the White House after the announcement is actually more interesting than what did.

When informed about the Israeli decision, Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah -- one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend -- it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Ben Affleck was surprised by Best Director and Best Drama wins for 'Argo'

    Monday, January 14, 2013   No comments

The Golden Globes left Hollywood muddled on Sunday with Iran hostage thriller “Argo” winning best drama and director for Ben Affleck (pictured) while presumed big-winner “Lincoln” by Steven Spielberg received only one prize.
...

“Argo” won the top prize, best dramatic movie, and Ben Affleck was named best director for the film, three days after he failed to get an Oscar nomination in the same category.



Sour U.S.-Russia relations threaten Obama’s foreign policy agenda

    Monday, January 14, 2013   No comments

By Anne Gearan
A poisonous unraveling of U.S. relations with Russia in recent months represents more than the failure of President Obama’s first-term attempt to “reset” badly frayed bilateral relations. It threatens pillars of Obama’s second-term foreign policy agenda as well.

From Syria and Iran to North Korea and Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds cards that he can use to help or hurt Obama administration objectives.

Obama badly needs Russian help to get U.S. troops and gear out of landlocked Afghanistan. He also wants Russian cooperation — or at least a quiet agreement not to interfere — on other international fronts.

Putin, however, appears to see little reason to help. Since his election last year to a third term as president, his political stock has risen among many Russians as he has confronted the West, and the United States in particular. The pro-democracy street demonstrations of a year ago have evaporated, leaving the former KGB officer in clear control.

In December, both countries passed punitive laws that capped a year of deteriorating relations. A U.S. law targeting Russia’s human rights record and a tit-for-tat law banning American adoption of Russian children reflected domestic politics and national chauvinism, and they reinforced many of the worst suspicions that each nation holds about the other.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Over 100 dead in French strikes and fighting in Mali

    Saturday, January 12, 2013   No comments


More than 100 people including rebels and government soldiers were killed in Mali during French air strikes and fighting over the strategic town of Konna, Malian military sources and witnesses said on Saturday.

An army officer at the headquarters of Mali's former military junta in Bamako said nearly 30 vehicles carrying Islamist fighters had been bombed and "over 100" rebels had been killed in fighting.

"We have driven them out, we are effectively in Konna," Malian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Diaran Kone told Reuters. "We don't know if they have planted mines or other traps, so we are moving with caution. There were many deaths on both sides."

A shopkeeper in Konna said he had counted 148 bodies in four different locations in the town. Among the dead were several dozen uniformed government soldiers. Others wore traditional robes and turbans.

Fighters from the Islamist coalition that currently controls northern Mali do not wear military clothing.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Syria says Turkey involved in looting

    Friday, January 11, 2013   No comments

SYRIA has accused neighbouring Turkey of involvement in looting factories in the industrial city of Aleppo, in letters sent to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.

"Some 1000 factories in the city of Aleppo have been plundered, and their stolen goods transferred to Turkey with the full knowledge and facilitation of the Turkish government," the foreign ministry said in the letters.

"It is an illegal act of aggression that amounts to piracy. It is an act of aggression against the Syrian people's livelihood," the ministry added.

The ministry charged that Turkey, which backs the armed rebellion against the Damascus government, "is supporting terrorism while providing the conditions to help plunder Syria's riches.

"This requires a reaction by the UN Security Council," the ministry said.

Turkey's alleged actions "contribute directly to cross-border crime and piracy, which require an international reaction", it said.

The ministry also called on Turkey to "return the (looted) property to its owners, and pay compensation to those affected".


Hagel, Obama Forged Bond Over Iraq

    Friday, January 11, 2013   No comments

By JULIAN E. BARNES, ADAM ENTOUS, SARA MURRAY and CAROL E. LEE

Chuck Hagel was the one Senate Republican willing to help Barack Obama when he needed it most—in July 2008, as Mr. Obama, then an Illinois senator, prepared to fight Sen. John McCain in the presidential election.

Mr. Hagel, at the time a GOP senator who had already fallen out of favor with Mr. McCain and other Republican Party leaders, agreed to join Mr. Obama on a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan, just weeks before the national conventions. Running against a war hero with long experience in foreign policy, Mr. Obama had never visited Afghanistan and been just once to Iraq.

The overseas trip was intended to bolster Mr. Obama's foreign policy credentials and claims to bipartisanship. But through the long plane rides, cramped quarters and endless meetings, Mr. Obama came to see Mr. Hagel as a kindred spirit, as much for his beliefs as his pragmatism, said people who were there. As they relaxed in a Kuwait hotel room trading jokes and talking shop, a senior administration official said, it was obvious the two men "just kind of clicked."


Thursday, January 10, 2013

US Should Defuse Tensions With Iran, China

    Thursday, January 10, 2013   No comments

...
Meanwhile, in East Asia, maritime disputes between China and its neighbours regarding contested island chains in the South China Sea and East China Sea have become increasingly hostile and contentious. The White House should also use its foreign policy capital to alleviate the security dilemma between Washington and Beijing that lurks in the background of these ongoing disputes and is helping to fuel them.

In concrete terms, it should announce both an indefinite cessation of arms transfers to Taiwan and a moratorium on US surveillance flights within China’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, and temporarily suspend all joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific. It must also return to the previous US policy of strict non-intervention in the various maritime sovereignty disputes in East and Southeast Asia, and pressure its regional allies at the centre of those disputes, namely Japan and the Philippines, to cease engaging in coercive diplomacy towards China.

Neither Iran’s uranium enrichment programme nor China’s sovereignty claims over uninhabited islands in East and Southeast Asia represent a grave or imminent threat to US national security. Both Iran and China are militarily weak and economically underdeveloped countries that are almost entirely surrounded by US allies and strategic partners. A precipitate war against either state would roil international financial markets and push America’s already fragile economy and overstretched military to the breaking point.

By contrast, the careful conciliation of both states would reduce the risk of war and facilitate the realisation of negotiated solutions to Iran’s nuclear programme and China’s maritime claims. Even more importantly, it would enable the administration to concentrate on rebuilding the economic sinews of US power in order to confront more severe geopolitical threats in the decades to come.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The U.S. must rein in Turkey before a conflagration further complicates America's options toward the Syrian civil war

    Wednesday, January 09, 2013   No comments
Syria promises to be a major headache for the Obama administration during its second term. But if Washington works with Ankara effectively, Turkey can help the U.S. achieve an endgame in Damascus. To facilitate this coordination, Washington should assign a full-time, high-level White House envoy to work with Ankara on Syria. Escalating clashes along the Syrian-Turkish border have raised fears that Turkey, a NATO ally, might prematurely get pulled into the Syria conflict. Policymakers and the Turkish public held their breath following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet in June 2012, and escalating artillery duels have raised fears of imminent Turkish intervention. To avoid this risky scenario, Washington must be able to anticipate Ankara's next steps, and find ways to pull Ankara back when necessary. This is where a White House envoy could play a crucial role. The Turks, reveling in their post-imperial glory, would greatly appreciate a specially-designated White House representative who would talk to them, and they would listen to this envoy, too. Although Turkey and the United States both want Assad to go, the two countries are in different places. For Washington, Syria is a smoldering conflict, and Americans abhor the Assad regime. But Washington fears the unknown after Assad, and is reluctant to get dragged into a war in another Muslim country. So, the United States has been taking baby steps in Syria and avoiding military engagement. The American strategy is designed in anticipation of a soft-landing in Syria. The hope is that the opposition will coalesce and take over the country gradually, deposing Assad and avoiding the anarchy that would ensue if the Assad regime were to evaporate overnight. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Israel, Iran quarrel on Obama’s Pentagon pick

    Tuesday, January 08, 2013   No comments

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next U.S. secretary of defense has caused jitters in Israel, where some circles view the former Nebraska senator as unsympathetic or even hostile. Meanwhile Iran, Israel’s arch-foe, says it is hopeful that Hagel will be appointed to lead the Pentagon.

Hagel’s positions on Israel’s two most pressing foreign policy issues, Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians, appear to be at odds with the Israeli government, and critics fear the appointment could increase pressure on Israel to make unwanted concessions. The appointment could also signal further strains in what is already a cool relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli Parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said. Rivlin’s comments reflected what has been a common sentiment among analysts and commentators in recent days. In their evening news broadcasts, Israel’s three main TV stations Jan. 7 all portrayed Hagel as cool toward Israel.

Known as a maverick in the Senate, Hagel has raised eyebrows in Israel with a series of comments and actions over the years that some here have deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel. Hagel once said “the Jewish lobby [in the United States] intimidates a lot of people here” and does some “dumb things” that aren’t “smart for Israel.” He also said that “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel,” he said. Six years ago, he refused to sign a letter pressing the European Union to declare the Lebanese Hezbollah a terrorist organization.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Turkey’s Energy Challenges

    Friday, January 04, 2013   No comments

By Daniel Wagner and Giorgio Cafiero

Turkey has managed to maintain impressive growth rates over the past decade in spite of a lack of indigenous sources of energy. Ankara has pursued a foreign policy aimed at diversifying the country’s energy imports while simultaneously positioning itself as a major energy hub. Turkey’s geostrategic position makes achieving this dual objective challenging, but it has managed to strike a balance between being assertive and deferential in acquiring and managing its energy supply. While the Turkish government’s power to influence events in the region is of course limited, it will be compelled to make some difficult foreign policy decisions in the near term that could substantially impact its long-term energy interests.


Turkey
Turkey imports 91 percent of its oil and 98 percent of its natural gas. In 2011, approximately 51 percent of its oil came from Iran and 55 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Iraq’s resurrection as a major oil and gas exporter to the world offers Turkey an opportunity to become an increasingly influential energy hub between the Arabian Gulf and European markets. However, the tense triangular relationship between Turkey, Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government has greatly complicated the energy trade with Iraq. This has also cast doubt about the long-term reliability of the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline that exports nearly 400,000 barrels per day to the important port of Ceyhan in southern Turkey. Turkey’s perennial battle with Kurdish separatists has served to ensure that the relationship with Iraq remains problematic and uncertain.


How Obama Decides Your Fate If He Thinks You're a Terrorist

    Friday, January 04, 2013   No comments

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has begun to formalize a so-called "disposition matrix" for suspected terrorists abroad: a continuously evolving database that spells out the intelligence on targets and various strategies, including contingencies, for handling them. Although the government has not spelled out the steps involved in deciding how to treat various terrorists, a look at U.S. actions in the past makes evident a rough decision tree.

Understanding these procedures is particularly important for one of the most vexing, and potentially most dangerous, categories of terrorists: U.S. citizens. Over the years, U.S. authorities have responded with astonishing variety to American nationals suspected of terrorism, from ignoring their activities to conducting lethal drone strikes. All U.S. terrorists are not created equal. And the U.S. response depends heavily on the role of allies, the degree of threat the suspect poses, and the imminence of that threat -- along with other factors.

What follows is a flow chart (click here, or the image below, for the full interactive feature) that takes us through the criteria and decision points that can lead to a suspect terrorist's being ignored as a minor nuisance, being prosecuted in federal court, being held in a Pakistani prison, or being met with the business end of a Hellfire missile.



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