Russian Gas Cuts: US-Afghanistan Connection?


Russian Gas Cuts: US-Afghanistan Connection?

Russia has made a serious mistake on this occasion both in hasty action and in failing to perceive the probable hand of the US and a trap, notes Christopher King.
You will probably have heard of the present situation – you might well be suffering from it. Russian gas for Europe is being disrupted in transit through Ukrainian pipelines. Ostensibly it is about payment by Ukraine for its gas and renewal of the Ukraine-Russia contract for transit of the gas.

Russia says that Ukraine has not paid for its gas and in retaliation has reduced the amount pumped into the pipeline by the Ukraine proportion. Ukraine, it is said, nevertheless continued to “steal” gas from the pipelines, so reducing the amount available to European Union customers. As a further escalation, Ukraine restricted the quantity of transit gas to the EU and, Russia says, finally closed the pipelines.

The Ukrainians say that they are not stealing gas and there are “technical difficulties” that have caused problems with the onward flow of gas. Russia, they say, has now shut down the pipelines.

Ukraine does seem to have been using gas after Russia reduced supplies by its proportion but it is a legal question as to whether Ukraine is paying and complying with terms of its contract etc. It is not clear whether Russia believes that Ukraine is taking more than its contractual proportion, which would in fact be theft. As it is mid-winter, this is the best time for Ukraine to attempt to force more favourable gas prices and transit terms from Russia. There was a similar dispute in the winter of 2006. By reducing the supply of gas to the pipeline and expecting Ukraine to stop using gas, the Russians have been heavy-handed and unwise even if all they say is correct. What is more important is who has closed down the pipeline. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other. This is question of fact that will be determined on investigation. Pipeline issues rely entirely on the integrity of the participants. Gas, oil or whatever is put into the pipeline at one end and hopefully it arrives at the other end as expected.

We should note, however, that it is absolutely not in Russia’s interests to close off the pipelines to the EU since the reliability of Russian gas supplies was an important issue in the 2006 dispute. Russia has been at pains to reassure the EU on this. The Ukrainian position is not so clear. Apart from a cash shortage, Ukraine has other issues with Russia, for example, Russia’s use of Sevastopol for its Black Sea Fleet. If the EU were to find alternative gas supplies due to Russian unreliability, so reducing Russia’s European market, Ukraine would be in a stronger position as a buyer of Russian gas. Ukraine is also engaged in discussions for joining the EU and NATO so a dispute with Russia might have advantages. In these circumstances the Russian version of the pipeline closure is more credible. This might be the entire position.

I wish to examine, however, if other parties might benefit from this dispute. It would be a simple matter to plan this dispute and to predict Russia’s response. It is a re-run of the 2006 dispute but has been made more severe than 2006 by the closure of the pipelines. The extreme concern in the EU, I repeat, is far from Russia’s best interests. However, from an EU viewpoint it is irrelevant whether the unreliable party is Russia, Ukraine or both. If the supply is unreliable the EU will seek alternative supplies. Who could gain from this?

As it happens, the United States wants to build a gas/oil pipeline through Afghanistan and, as you read, is slaughtering its inhabitants to gain control of that country for this purpose. As it also happens, the US’s new president ,Barack Obama, has stated that he will increase US troop levels and will ask the EU and NATO to contribute more troops to Afghanistan. The EU countries are increasingly reluctant participants. By contrast, our unelected prime minister, Gordon Brown, has already rushed to send 300 additional UK soldiers to risk their lives and kill more Afghans in this occupation that, along with Iraq, has disgraced the UK.

A perfectly credible scenario, therefore, is that the US is behind this dispute, with the objective to renew wavering EU support for its war in Afghanistan.

Why should anyone believe this? As I have outlined previously, Russia and the EU have developed close economic links and have been on track to create greater economic integration. It is in the interests of the US to prevent what could become an EU-Russian economic and military superstate. The US seeks confrontation with Russia, as evidenced by bringing former Soviet satellites into NATO, contrary to agreements, abrogation of the ballistic missile defence treaty with Russia, installation of a missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic on Russia’s borders and support for the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. The US needs trouble in Europe to maintain its own military and failing economic position. NATO officers and ministers are happy to support the US’s trouble-making in Europe and elsewhere, since peace means loss of jobs, promotion prospects and careers. NATO ministers, of course, get lucrative directorships and consultancy contracts with the defence industry after their periods in office. This is why NATO is in Iraq and Afghanistan and is rearming Georgia, none of which is in EU interests. There can be no doubt that the US is following a “spoiling” strategy with regard to EU-Russian relations.

One can easily see that wherever in the world there is trouble, the US is there as well, with troops, advisors, weapons or money. The US needs enemies, not only to feed its military-industrial complex that efficiently transfers public funds to private pockets, but because wars give opportunities. Peaceful business competition has now become very difficult for the US now that Asia has taken over most of the world’s manufacturing and it has undermined its own and the rest of the world’s financial system with its debt and worthless securities. For the time being, the US has an unchallengeable military force. Well, unchallengable in nuclear terms anyway, as the Afghans with a military budget of almost zero are demonstrating. It is seeking means of turning this to economic advantage. This is, after all, the only justification for having such a force. It needs to be used and preferably show a return.

We have seen how the US has used military power to its advantage in Iraq, where it has been stealing oil since the invasion. There is Afghanistan and US ambitions for Iran, stalled for the moment due to the good work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the US’s firmest foothold in the Middle East. All trouble. This is before we consider Pakistan, India, the rest of Asia, North Africa and South America. The US creates trouble everywhere.

The Russians have probably fallen into an American trap. They were predictable because of the way they dealt with the 2006 dispute and that was used against them to get EU support for the war in Afghanistan for America’s pipeline there. Merely a conspiracy theory? On the US’s record of lies and deceptions that gave rise to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, absurd charges against Iran and the ruthless killing of people in their own countries everywhere – the pattern fits.

The reality is that the US is no-one’s friend. It seeks only its own interests. Here’s a UK example. UK and US soldiers fought together from their bases in the UK against Germany and spilled blood as comrades during World War II. The UK entered into a lend-lease purchasing agreement for equipment and supplies from the US that exhausted the UK Treasury. After the war, the UK did not have the funds to rebuild. The UK government sent the eminent economist J.M. Keynes to the US to attempt to have these obligations converted to a grant. Keynes and the UK government believed that the Americans would be sympathetic to their plight due to their recent experience as comrades-in-arms. Keynes wanted either a grant to cover the balance of payments deficit or an interest-free loan. The US negotiators were entirely unsympathetic, gave Keynes a very difficult time (he was ill and died soon after) and would only agree to giving the UK interest-bearing loans, although at a low 2 per cent interest. These, equivalent to about GBP 50 billion, were repaid in 2006.

Germany, which had created the trouble, received about GBP 20 billion (2005 RPI basis) of which 60 per cent was grants, 30 per cent economic loans and 10 per cent military aid. The Germans had cleverly argued that it was in the US’s interests to give them grants. Japan received about GBP 10 billion (2005 RPI basis) of which 77 per cent was grants and 23 per cent loans. That the US gave no consideration to the relationship forged in war between the US and UK appears to have affected Keynes deeply. This is the key to understanding US strategic considerations. It does nothing unless to its own perceived benefit.

It is highly probable, therefore, perhaps 90 per cent probability, that the US has offered inducements for Ukraine to disrupt gas transit to the EU in order to create insecurity about Russian supplies and gain support for its Afghanistan war. This would be very easy. One million dollars each in the Swiss accounts of, say, 20-40 key politicians and officials and Ukraine’s performance is guaranteed. And cheap. Paul Craig Roberts, who was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, says that in post he learned that simply giving cash is the preferred means of getting other countries, including Europe, to do what the US wants.

Perhaps I am too harsh on Ukrainian politicians. If they are true patriots the US can offer them strong support in joining the EU and NATO, as it has given the other former Soviet Union (FSU) countries. These countries, still recovering from Soviet occupation, have not thought through their obligations in the EU. They all have a grudge against Russia so a US offer of cash or benefits to land a punch on Russia would be irresistible.

Here’s an example of how the FSU politicians think. Recently, the Czech parliament voted to bring the country’s troops home from Afghanistan and Kosovo. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek condemned the vote and declared that he was “ashamed of being Czech”. On 18 December I attended a lecture by Mr Topolanek at the London School of Economics (LSE). (This lecture has not been made available on the LSE website) Unhappily, it was very general and uniformative. In the course of responding to a question from the audience, however, Mr Topolanek said, through an interpreter, “It was in 1991 that the last Russian soldier left my country. I lived 30 (?) years under communism and repression. The missiles are now my security.” This is a reference to the US missile system to which Russia objects so strenuously. Now Mr Topolanek is a mechanical engineer. It is possible that he really believes that there is a simple, mechanistic system by which a Russian attack on his country will be met by an automatic NATO attack on Russia. That scenario is extremely unlikely. Whatever else might happen in that event, he can be certain that if NATO does respond militarily, there would be a devastating, possibly nuclear war on Czech territory. Russia and NATO will choose their battleground carefully. He is either gravely politically naïve or has been bought (bought = 20 per cent probability. Fairly low) Watching him, I concluded that he:

• Dislikes the Russians intensely

• Believes that the US stands for freedom and democracy

• Has received specific defence assurances from the US and believes them. He has made deals with the US on the missiles, on Afghanistan and will doubtless support the US in the United Nations and in other respects

• Thinks of the EU purely in terms of economic benefits without regard to the underlying rationale that the EU’s purpose is to make war in Europe impossible through economic integration

• Will pursue his own objectives irrespective of the wishes of other EU members

Mr Topolanek is not a good European and seems to be typical of FSU politicians, whether these are their natural inclinations or whether they have been bought by the US. Mr Topolanek is “ashamed of being a Czech” because he cannot deliver on his deal with the Americans.

If the “Old European” members of the EU do not address these problems, the EU will fail and until they are addressed it should take in no new members:

• NATO acting as an arm of US foreign policy

• The US making unilateral deals with EU members

• The failure of former FSU countries to understand the purpose and implications of EU economic integration

• Formulating a Russia policy independently of the US, both for NATO and in terms of further Russian integration.

Russia also has problems that need to be addressed. Unless it moves in the direction of political reform, further integration will become difficult. Russia also needs to consider the perceptions of the EU countries more carefully. After the South Ossetian debacle it should be clear that the US’s political supporters, for their various reasons, will always put the worst possible interpretation on Russia’s actions. These, particularly our UK politicians, are supportive of the US to a dangerous extent. Their accusations against Russia over Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia were factually incorrect. This was a critical test case in which our politicians did not base their statements on facts. They rushed around for weeks shouting threats and blame without any knowledge of facts at all. Nor did they base their decisions on facts in their Iraq war vote. It is clear, therefore, that in the event of a real emergency these people will be worse than useless; they will be dangerous to the UK. We could find ourselves in a nuclear war because of their stupidity, as might have been the case if Georgia had been a member of NATO. This scenario, in which one of the FSU NATO members provokes a military response from Russia, conceivably influenced by the US, should be given urgent consideration by the EU.

Russia’s responses do lack subtlety and strategic thought. As its own responses were predictable, so were those of Ukraine. It should not have reduced gas supplies to Ukraine in the middle of winter, no matter what the provocation. It should have maintained supplies under loud protest and sorted the matter out in summer when it would have EU sympathy and appreciation. Clearly, Russia wants to be seen as independent and believes itself to be right in this dispute. It probably is. Nevertheless, its actions do not reassure the EU on energy security.

Here’s a strategy for Russia: This is really a marketing issue. Russia must create a strong brand or reputation that should be for predictability, reliability and factual correctness. It has an advantage here because the US and UK have squandered their trust and are believed by no-one. Russia should create a small informal consultancy group of trusted ministers or former ministers from Old Europe, perhaps Germany, Holland and Belgium – members of the former Iron and Coal Community. I would also include France if President Sarkozy were not a committed Zionist and US supporter, so France after Sarkozy has gone. It should be possible for ministers or Gazprom executives to call a video conference at short notice for the discussion of trade problems. This would be a kind of marketing focus group that would not only advise Russia, but also educate its executives and politicians about EU thinking, which is consultation before confrontation. Russia must learn to work more closely with the EU and with more trust if further economic integration is to occur. Former Russian Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar’s account (Days of Victory and Defeat) of the reform of the Russian political system and economy gives an indication of the thinking that probably persists in Russia.

I am aware that Russians will consider that this suggestion is asking them to behave with weakness and indecision. They want to project confidence, strength and independence, etc. The position is that everyone knows that Russia is strong militarily and is in a powerful position with regard to energy supplies. It does not need to respond aggressively to every provocation. In this case, consideration for the people of Ukraine’s welfare rather than an attempt to punish their probably bribed politicians would have gained enormous goodwill both in that country and the EU. This is what the true spirit of the EU must be. Russia must develop a more measured, considered and consultative approach. What does if matter if Ukraine is creating problems? The EU should be involved in sorting them out and if there is duplicity, let everyone see it. Russia has made a serious mistake on this occasion both in hasty action and in failing to perceive the probable hand of the US and a trap. It should attempt recovery by immediately restoring gas supplies as far as it can and by adopting measures to avoid similar problems in future.

Christopher King is a retired consultant and lecturer. He lives in London, UK. This article appeared in Redress Information & Analysis.


Report: US military re-supplying Israel with ammunition through Greece

Report: US military re-supplying Israel with

ammunition through Greece

author Thursday January 08, 2009 22:04author by Saed Bannoura – IMEMC News Report this post to the editors

As the Israeli military continues to pound the crowded, impoverished and imprisoned population of the Gaza Strip with the full force of its military might, Israel’s strongest ally, the United States, announced plans to ship large amounts of ammunition to the Israeli forces – as it did during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, when the Israelis ran out of (internationally-banned) cluster bombs, and the US shipped them tens of thousands more.

US-made ammunition en route to Israel
US-made ammunition en route to Israel

The US Military Sealift Command, on December 31st, published a solicitation for bids from shipping companies to ship two boats, each containing 168 TEU’s (twenty-foot equivalent container units) of ammunition, from Greece to Israel.

The description of the vessels required was brief:

Required: Request US or foreign flag container vessel (coaster) to move approximately 168 TEU’s [standard twenty-foot containers] in each of two consecutive voyages both containing ammunition.”

Bids were requested by January 5th, but it is unclear whether bids were submitted or if a contract was awarded by January 8th.

According to the US Military’s solicitation, “Funds are not currently available for this procurement. In the event funds remain unavailable, this procurement will be cancelled without an award being made.”

During the Israeli assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, in which 1,200 Lebanese people were killed, 90 percent of whom were civilians (and 168 Israelis were killed, 10 percent of whom were civilians), the US Congress approved funding for an ’emergency’ shipment of cluster bombs to Israel, after Israel had dropped their entire store of the banned weapon on civilian population centers in southern Lebanon.

Over one million cluster bomblets were dropped in southern Lebanon, largely due to the US ’emergency’ shipment. Many of those bomblets remain on the ground in Lebanon, unexploded two years later. They continue to kill and maim Lebanese civilians, mainly children and farmers, who come across the unexploded bomblets and step on them or pick them up.

According to Wired magazine’s security correspondent Nathan Hodge, the current solicitation for a shipment bid is the first such solicitation in several months. He said that, according to his research, the most recent announcement of a potential arms delivery to Israel was posted by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Sept. 29 — for sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Earlier that month, the agency notified Congress of the pending upgrades to Israeli Patriot missile fire units as well as sales of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.

Israel has long used US weapons in its attacks on the civilian population of the two Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the West Bank and Gaza. In addition to $3 billion in direct aid a year, the US government supplies around $3 billion in weapons transfers to Israel, and $6 billion in loan guarantees (none of which have ever been repaid by Israel).

category gaza strip | international politics | news report author email saed at imemc dot org
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The Old Testament and the genocide in Gaza

The Old Testament and the genocide in Gaza

An insight into Israeli identity

By Gilad Atzmon

9 January 2009

On 8 January, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accused the Israeli armed forces of failing to fulfil their duty to help wounded civilians in an incident in Gaza City that it described as “shocking”.

The ICRC said that its staff had found four weak and scared children beside their mothers’ bodies in houses hit by Israeli shelling in Zeitoun, just a few metres from Israeli army positions.

“The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded,” it said.

On the same day, the United Nations aid agency in the Gaza Strip suspended its operations following a series of Israeli attacks on its personnel and buildings.

The move came after Israeli tanks shelled a UN convoy earlier in the day, killing a UN worker and injuring two others, as lorries were travelling to the Erez crossing to pick up humanitarian supplies meant to have been allowed in during a three-hour ceasefire.

Two days earlier, on 6 January, at least 40 Palestinian civilians, including a number of children, were killed and 55 others injured when an Israeli tank attacked a United Nations-run school in Gaza in which the civilians had been sheltering.

At least 763 Palestinians, including more than 200 children, had been killed and 3,121 others wounded since the start of Israel’s latest aggression against Gaza on 27 December 2008.

Below, Israeli-born musician and writer Gilad Atzmon, who has renounced his Jewishness and Israeli nationality, examines the deep religious and cultural foundations of genocide, violence and hatred in the Israeli identity.

You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.
(Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 7-9)

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.
(Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

…do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them … as the Lord your God has commanded you…
(Deuteronomy 20:16)

There is not much doubt among biblical scholars that the Hebrew Bible contains some highly charged, non-ethical suggestions, some of which are no less than a call for genocide. Biblical scholar Raymund Schwager has found in the Old Testament 600 passages of explicit violence, 1000 descriptive verses of God’s own violent actions of punishment and 100 passages where God expressly commands others to kill people. Apparently, violence is the most often mentioned activity in the Hebrew Bible.

The Hebrew Bible’s saturation with violence and extermination of others may throw some light on the horrifying genocide conducted momentarily in Gaza by the Jewish state. In broad daylight, the Israeli armed forces are using the most lethal methods against civilians, as if their main objective is to “destroy” the Gazans while showing “no mercy” whatsoever.

Interestingly enough, Israel regards itself as a secular state. Ehud Barak is not exactly a qualified rabbi and Tzipi Livni is not a rabbi’s wife. Accordingly, we are entitled to assume that it isn’t actually Judaism per se that directly transforms Israeli politicians and military leaders into war criminals. Moreover, early Zionists believed that, within a national home, Jews would become “a people like any other people”, i.e. civilized and ethical. In that very respect, Israeli reality is pretty peculiar. The Hebraic secular Jews may have managed to drop their God — most of them do not follow Judaic law and are largely secular — yet they collectively interpret their Jewish identity as a genocidal mission. They have successfully managed to transform the Bible from being a spiritual text into a blood-soaked land registry. They are there, in Zion, i.e., Palestine, to invade the land and to lock up, starve and destroy its indigenous habitants. Accordingly, it seems as if the artillery commanders and Israeli air force pilots that erased northern Gaza two nights ago were following Deuteronomy 20:16 — they indeed did “…not leave alive anything that breathes”. But one question is left open: why should a secular commander follow Deuteronomy verses or any other Biblical text?

Some very few Jewish voices within the left are insisting upon telling us that Jewishness is not necessarily inherently murderous. I tend to believe that they themselves consider their words as genuine and truthful. But then one may wonder: what is it that makes the Jewish state’s brutality without parallel? The truth of the matter is actually pretty sad. As far as we can see, Zionism is the only secular ideological and political Jewish collective around and, as it happens, it has proved once again this week that it is genocidal to the bone.

As far as genocide is concerned, the difference between Judaism and Zionism can be illustrated as follows: while the Judaic Biblical context is soaked with genocidal references, usually in the name of God, within the Zionist context Jews are killing Palestinians in the name of themselves i.e. the “Jewish people”. This is indeed the ultimate success of the Zionist revolution. It taught the Jews to believe in themselves. To believe in the Jewish state. “The Israeli” is Israel’s God. Accordingly, the Israeli kills in the name of “his or her security”, in the name of “his or her democracy”. The Israelis destroy in the name of “their war against terror” and in the name the of “their” America. Seemingly, in the Jewish state, the Hebraic subject reverts to mass killing as soon as he finds a “name” to associate with.

This doesn’t really leave us with too much room for speculation. The Jewish state is the ultimate threat to humanity and our notion of humanism. Christianity, Islam and humanism came along with an attempt to amend Jewish tribal fundamentalism and to replace it with universal ethics. Enlightenment, liberalism and emancipation allowed Jews to redeem themselves from their ancient tribal supremacist traits. Since the mid-19th century, many Jews had been breaking out of their cultural and tribal chain. Tragically enough, Zionism managed to pull many Jews back in. Currently, Israel and Zionism are the only collective voice available for Jews.

The past 12 days of merciless offensive against the Palestinian civilian population does not leave any room for doubt. Israel is the gravest danger to world peace. Clearly, the United Nations made a tragic mistake in 1947 by giving a volatile, racially-orientated identity an opportunity to transform itself into a national state.However, the United Nation’s duty now is to peacefully dismantle that state before it is too late. We must do it before the Jewish state and its forceful lobbies around the world manage to pull us all into a global war in the “name” of one banal populist ideology or another (democracy, war against terror, cultural clash and so on). We have to wake up now before our one and only planet is transformed into a bursting boil of hatred.

Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born musician, writer and anti-racism campaigner. A version of this article appeared in Palestine Think Tank.

In light of current events…

In light of current events…


In light of current events, I would like to re-post an older article on Israeli racism: The early years.

* * *

Deuteronomy 20:10-20

10. When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall propose peace to it.

11. And it will be, if it responds to you with peace, and it opens up to you, then it will be, [that] all the people found therein shall become tributary to you, and they shall serve you.

12. But if it does not make peace with you, and it wages war against you, you shall besiege it,

13. and the Lord, your God, will deliver it into your hands, and you shall strike all its males with the edge of the sword.

14. However, the women, the children, and the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoils you shall take for yourself, and you shall eat the spoils of your enemies, which the Lord, your God, has given you.

15. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.

16. However, of these peoples’ cities, which the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance, you shall not allow any soul to live.

17. Rather, you shall utterly destroy them: The Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you.

Joshua 11: 10-14

10 And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms.

11 And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was none left that breathed; and he burnt Hazor with fire.

12 And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and he smote them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed them; as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded.

13 But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only–that did Joshua burn.

14 And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any that breathed.

* * *

As you read, keep in mind that this story is about land theft, pure and simple. The Lord is here the ultimate fall guy, the original Nuremburg excuse: “Hey, we didn’t want to commit genocide; we were only following orders.”

Yes, yes, this all happened a very long time ago. I understand that. I understand that no person alive today can be held responsible for things said and done then. I also understand that serious questions of historicity surround this text.

Even so, this narrative remains relevant to current debates over the Israeli/Palestinian question, because — when the proverbial push comes to the proverbial shove — Israel’s apologists point to the Old Testament when they insist that a Jewish state must exist there and nowhere else. Few would contemplate any suggestion to purchase an equal-sized chunk of real estate in a fertile region of Africa, South America, Canada, or wherever. As several wags have noted, David Ben Gurion did not believe in God — yet he believed that God gave Israel to the Jews.

One of my critics cast aspersions on the Koran as a “racist” book. In my youth, I tried to read (or at least sample) all the scriptures considered sacred — the Analects of Confucius, the Upanishads, the Gita, various Mahayana texts, the Old and New Testaments. I must confess that I did not get very far into the Koran — which is reportedly much more impressive in the original. Is that book racist? I don’t know. All I can honestly say is that I found it dull.

(For some reason, I never even tried to read the Tao. My bad.)

In my explorations, I have never found any other “sacred” text dripping with the inexcusable bloodlust and hate one can find in the Old Testament. My sympathies now lie with the Gnostics, who considered much of that book evil. (Incidentally, Gnosticism originated within the Jewish community in Alexandria, a group no-one can call anti-Semitic.) Any Jews who want to insult the Islamic holy book should feel free to do so — but they would make a more persuasive case if their own “sacred” work were not so indefensible.

No Jew ever had a right to the land now called Israel. Not Solomon, not David, not Jesus, not Ariel Sharon. None of them. Of course, as I always quickly admit, I have no particular right to park my capacious hindquarters on land that belongs to the Chumash.

War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza’s Offshore Gas Fields

War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza’s Offshore Gas Fields

The military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.

This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline.

British Gas (BG Group) and its partner, the Athens based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) owned by Lebanon’s Sabbagh and Koury families, were granted oil and gas exploration rights in a 25 year agreement signed in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority.

The rights to the offshore gas field are respectively British Gas (60 percent); Consolidated Contractors (CCC) (30 percent); and the Investment Fund of the Palestinian Authority (10 percent). (Haaretz, October 21,  2007).

The PA-BG-CCC agreement includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline.(Middle East Economic Digest, Jan 5, 2001).

The BG licence covers the entire Gazan offshore marine area, which is contiguous to several Israeli offshore gas facilities. (See Map below). It should be noted that 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to Palestine.

The BG Group drilled two wells in 2000: Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2. Reserves are estimated by British Gas to be of the order of 1.4 trillion cubic feet, valued at approximately 4 billion dollars. These are the figures made public by British Gas. The size of Palestine’s gas reserves could be much larger.

Map 1

Map 2

Who Owns the Gas Fields

The issue of sovereignty over Gaza’s gas fields is crucial. From a legal standpoint, the gas reserves belong to Palestine.

The death of Yasser Arafat, the election of the Hamas government and the ruin of the Palestinian Authority have enabled Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza’s offshore gas reserves.

British Gas (BG Group) has been dealing with the Tel Aviv government. In turn, the Hamas government has been bypassed in regards to exploration and development rights over the gas fields.

The election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 was a major turning point. Palestine’s sovereignty over the offshore gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Sharon stated unequivocally that “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine” intimating that Gaza’s offshore gas reserves belong to Israel.

In 2003, Ariel Sharon, vetoed an initial deal, which would allow British Gas to supply Israel with natural gas from Gaza’s offshore wells. (The Independent, August 19, 2003)

The election victory of Hamas in 2006 was conducive to the demise of the Palestinian Authority, which became confined to the West Bank, under the proxy regime of Mahmoud Abbas.

In 2006, British Gas “was close to signing a deal to pump the gas to Egypt.” (Times, May, 23, 2007). According to reports, British Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on behalf of Israel with a view to shunting the agreement with Egypt.

The following year, in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  “to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority.” The proposed contract was for $4 billion, with profits of the order of $2 billion of which one billion was to go the Palestinians.

Tel Aviv, however, had no intention on sharing the revenues with Palestine. An Israeli team of negotiators was set up by the Israeli Cabinet to thrash out a deal with the BG Group, bypassing both the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority:

Israeli defence authorities want the Palestinians to be paid in goods and services and insist that no money go to the Hamas-controlled Government.” (Ibid, emphasis added)

The objective was essentially to nullify the contract signed in 1999 between the BG Group and the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.

Under the proposed 2007 agreement with BG, Palestinian gas from Gaza’s offshore wells was to be channeled by an undersea pipeline to the Israeli seaport of Ashkelon, thereby transferring control over the sale of the natural gas to Israel.

The deal fell through. The negotiations were suspended:

“Mossad Chief Meir Dagan opposed the transaction on security grounds, that the proceeds would fund terror”. (Member of Knesset Gilad Erdan, Address to the Knesset on “The Intention of Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Purchase Gas from the Palestinians When Payment Will Serve Hamas,” March 1, 2006, quoted in Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, Does the Prospective Purchase of British Gas from Gaza’s Coastal Waters Threaten Israel’s National Security? Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 2007)

Israel’s intent was to foreclose the possibility that royalties be paid to the Palestinians. In December 2007, The BG Group withdrew from the negotiations with Israel and in January 2008 they closed their office in Israel.(BG website).

Invasion Plan on The Drawing Board

The invasion plan of the Gaza Strip under “Operation Cast Lead” was set in motion in June 2008, according to Israeli military sources:

“Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago [June or before June] , even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.”(Barak Ravid, Operation “Cast Lead”: Israeli Air Force strike followed months of planning, Haaretz, December 27, 2008)

That very same month, the Israeli authorities contacted British Gas, with a view to resuming crucial negotiations pertaining to the purchase of Gaza’s natural gas:

“Both Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler agreed to inform BG of Israel’s wish to renew the talks.

The sources added that BG has not yet officially responded to Israel’s request, but that company executives would probably come to Israel in a few weeks to hold talks with government officials.” (Globes online- Israel’s Business Arena, June 23, 2008)

The decision to speed up negotiations with British Gas (BG Group) coincided, chronologically, with the planning of the invasion of Gaza initiated in June. It would appear that Israel was anxious to reach an agreement with the BG Group prior to the invasion, which was already in an advanced planning stage.

Moreover, these negotiations with British Gas were conducted by the Ehud Olmert government with the knowledge that a military invasion was on the drawing board. In all likelihood, a new “post war” political-territorial arrangement for the Gaza strip was also being contemplated by the Israeli government.

In fact, negotiations between British Gas and Israeli officials were ongoing in October 2008, 2-3 months prior to the commencement of the bombings on December 27th.

In November 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of National Infrastructures instructed Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to enter into negotiations with British Gas, on the purchase of natural gas from the BG’s offshore concession in Gaza. (Globes, November 13, 2008)

“Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler wrote to IEC CEO Amos Lasker recently, informing him of the government’s decision to allow negotiations to go forward, in line with the framework proposal it approved earlier this year.

The IEC board, headed by chairman Moti Friedman, approved the principles of the framework proposal a few weeks ago. The talks with BG Group will begin once the board approves the exemption from a tender.” (Globes Nov. 13, 2008)

Gaza and Energy Geopolitics

The military occupation of Gaza is intent upon transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel in violation of international law.

What can we expect in the wake of the invasion?

What is the intent of Israel with regard to Palestine’s Natural Gas reserves?

A new territorial arrangement, with the stationing of Israeli and/or “peacekeeping” troops?

The militarization of the entire Gaza coastline, which is strategic for Israel?

The outright confiscation of Palestinian gas fields and the unilateral declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Gaza’s maritime areas?

If this were to occur, the Gaza gas fields would be integrated into Israel’s offshore installations, which are contiguous to those of the Gaza Strip. (See Map 1 above).

These various offshore installations are also linked up to Israel’s energy transport corridor, extending from the port of Eilat, which is an oil pipeline terminal, on the Red Sea to the seaport – pipeline terminal at Ashkelon, and northwards to Haifa, and eventually linking up through a proposed Israeli-Turkish pipeline with the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Ceyhan is the terminal of the Baku, Tblisi Ceyhan Trans Caspian pipeline. “What is envisaged is to link the BTC pipeline to the Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, also known as Israel’s Tipline.” (See Michel Chossudovsky, The War on Lebanon and the Battle for Oil, Global Research, July 23, 2006)

Map 3

In the US, Gaza is A Different War

In the US, Gaza is A Different War

05/01/2009 In the US, Gaza is A Different War
By Habib Battah
Posted by Al-Jazeera

The mainstream US media has been careful to balance images of Gazan suffering with those of Israelis, leading to accusations it is not reflecting the unequal death toll.

The images of two women on the front page of an edition of The Washington Post last week illustrates how mainstream US media has been reporting Israel’s war on Gaza.

On the left was a Palestinian mother who had lost five children. On the right was a nearly equally sized picture of an Israeli woman who was distressed by the fighting, according to the caption.

As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her.

The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.

Arab frustration
To understand the frustration often felt in the Arab world over US media coverage, one only needs to imagine the same front page had the situation been reversed.

If an Israeli woman had lost five daughters in a Palestinian attack, would The Washington Post run an equally sized photograph of a relatively unharmed Palestinian woman, who was merely distraught over Israeli missile fire?

When the front page photographs of the two women were published on December 30, over 350 Palestinians had reportedly been killed compared to just four Israelis.

What if 350 Israelis had been killed and only four Palestinians – would the newspaper have run the stories side by side as if equal in news value?

Like many major news organizations in the US, The Washington Post has chosen to cover the conflict from a perspective that reflects the US government’s relationship with Israel. This means prioritizing Israel’s version of events while underplaying the views of Palestinian groups.

For example, the newspaper’s lead article on Tuesday, which was published above the mothers’ photographs, quotes Israeli military and civilian sources nine times before quoting a single Palestinian. The first seven paragraphs explain Israel’s military strategy. The ninth paragraph describes the anxiety among Israelis, spending evenings in bomb shelters. Ordinary Palestinians, who generally have no access to bomb shelters, do not make an appearance until the 23rd paragraph.

To balance this top story, The Washington Post published another article on the bottom half of the front page about the Palestinian mother and her children. But would the paper have ever considered balancing a story about a massive attack on Israelis with an in-depth lead piece on the strategy of Palestinian militants?

Context stripped
Major US television channels also adopted the equal time approach, despite the reality that Palestinian casualties exceeded Israeli ones by a hundred fold. However, such comparisons were rare because the scripts read by American correspondents often excluded the overall Palestinian death count.

By stripping the context, American viewers may have easily assumed a level playing field, rather than a case of disproportionate force.

Take the opening lines of a report filed by NBC’s Martin Fletcher on December 30: “In Gaza two little girls were taking out the rubbish and killed by an Israeli rocket – while in Israel, a woman had been driving home and was killed by a Hamas rocket. No let up today on either side on the fourth day of this battle.”

Omitted from the report was the overall Palestinian death toll, dropped continuously in subsequent reports filed by NBC correspondents over the next several days.

When number of deaths did appear – sometimes as a graphic at the bottom of the screen – it was identified as the number of “people killed” rather than being attributed specifically to Palestinians.

No wonder the overwhelmingly asymmetrical bombardment of Gaza has been framed vaguely as “rising tensions in the Middle East” by news anchors.

With the lack of context, the power dynamic on the ground becomes unclear.

ABC news, for example, regularly introduced events in Gaza as “Mideast Violence”. And Like NBC, reporters excluded the Palestinian death toll.

On December 31, when Palestinian deaths stood at almost 400, ABC correspondent Simon McGergor-Wood began a video package by describing damage to an Israeli school by Hamas rockets.

The reporter’s script can be paraphrased as follows: Israel wanted a sustainable ceasefire; Israel needed to prevent Hamas from rearming; Hamas targets were hit; Israel was sending in aid and letting the injured out; Israel was doing “everything they can to alleviate the humanitarian crisis”. And with that McGregor-Wood signed off.

Palestinian perspective missing
There was no parallel telling of the Palestinian perspective, and no mention of any damages to Palestinian lives, although news agencies that day had reported five Palestinians dead.

For the ABC correspondent, it seemed the Palestinian deaths contained less news value than damage to Israeli buildings. His narration of events, meanwhile, amounted to no less than a parroting of the official Israeli line.

In fact, the Israeli government view typically went unchallenged on major US networks.

Interviews with Israeli spokesmen and ambassadors were not juxtaposed with the voices of Palestinian leaders. Prominent American news anchors frequently adopted the Israeli viewpoint. In talk show discussions, instead of debating events on the ground, the pundits often reinforced each other’s views.

Such an episode occurred on a December 30 broadcast of the MSNBC show, Morning Joe, during which host Joe Scarborough repeatedly insisted that Israel should not be judged.

Israel was defending itself just as the US had done throughout history. “How many people did we kill in Germany?” Scarborough posed.

The blame rested on the Palestinians, he concluded, connecting the Gaza attacks to the Camp David negotiations of 2000. “They gave the Palestinians everything they could ask for, and they walked away from the table,” he said repeatedly.

Although this view was challenged once by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US official, who appeared briefly on the show, subsequent guests agreed incessantly with Scarborough’s characterisation of the Palestinians as negligent, if not criminal in nature.

According to guest Dan Bartlett, a former White House counsel, the Palestinian leadership had made it “very clear” that they were uninterested in peace talks.

Another guest, NBC anchor David Gregory, began by noting that Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, “could not be trusted”, according to Bill Clinton, the former US president.

Gregory then added that Hamas had “undercut the peace process” and actually welcomed the attacks.

“The reality is that Hamas wanted this, they didn’t want the ceasefire,” he said.

Columnist Margaret Carlson also joined the show, agreeing in principal that Hamas should be “crushed” but voicing concern over the cost of such action.

Thus the debate was not whether Israel was justified, but rather what Israel should do next. The Palestinian human tragedy received little to no attention.

Victim’s perspective
Arab audiences saw a different picture altogether. Rather than mulling Israel’s dilemma, the Arab news networks captured the air assault in chilling detail from the perspective of its victims. The divide in coverage was staggering.

For US networks, the bombing of Gaza has largely been limited to two-minute video packages or five minute talk show segments. This has usually meant a few snippets of jumbled video: explosions from a distance and a momentary glance at victims; barely enough time to remember a face, let alone a personality. Victims were rarely interviewed.

The availability of time and space, American broadcast executives might argue, were mitigating factors.

On MSNBC for example, Gaza competed for air time last week with stories about the economy, such as a hike in liquor sales, or celebrity news, such as speculation over the publishing of photographs of Sarah Palin’s new grandchild.

Most US networks have reported exclusively from Israel.
On Arab TV, however, Gaza has been the only story.

For hours on end, live images from the streets of Gaza are beamed into Arab households.

Unlike the correspondents from ABC and NBC, who have filed their reports exclusively from Israeli cities, Arab crews are inside Gaza, with many correspondents native Gazans themselves.

The images they capture are often broadcast unedited, and over the last week, a grizzly news gathering routine has been established.

The cycle begins with rooftop-mounted cameras, capturing the air raids live. After moments of quiet, thunderous bombing commences and plumes of smoke rise over the skyline. Then, anguish on the streets. Panicked civilians run for cover as ambulances careen through narrow alleys. Rescue workers hurriedly pick through the rubble, often pulling out mangled bodies. Fathers with tears of rage hold dead children up to the cameras, vowing revenge. The wounded are carried out in stretchers, gushing with blood.

Later, local journalists visit the hospitals and more gruesome images, more dead children are broadcast. Doctors wrap up the tiny bodies and carry them into overflowing morgues. The survivors speak to reporters. Their distraught voices are heard around the region; the outflow of misery and destruction is constant.

Palestinian voices
The coverage extends beyond Gaza. Unlike the US networks, which are often limited to one or two correspondents in Israel, major Arab television channels maintain correspondents and bureaus throughout the region. As angry protests take place on a near daily basis, the crews are there to capture the action live.

Even in Israel, Arab reporters are employed, and Israeli politicians are regularly interviewed. But so are members of Hamas and the other Palestinian factions.

The inclusion of Palestinian voices is not unique to Arab media. On a number of international broadcasters, including  BBC World and CNN International, Palestinian leaders and Gazans in particular are regularly heard. And the Palestinian death toll has been provided every day, in most broadcasts and by most correspondents on the ground. Reports are also filed from Arab capitals.

On some level, the relatively small American broadcasting output can be attributed to a general trend in downsizing foreign reporting. But had a bloodbath on this scale happened in Israel, would the networks not have sent in reinforcements?

For now, the Israeli viewpoint seems slated to continue to dominate Gaza coverage. The latest narrative comes from the White House, which has called for a “durable” ceasefire, preventing Hamas terrorists from launching more rockets.

Naturally the soundbites are parroted by US broadcasters throughout the day and then reinforced by pundits, fearing the dangerous Hamas.

Arab channels, however, see a different outcome. Many have begun referring to Hamas, once controversial, as simply “the Palestinian resistance”.

While American analysts map out Israel’s strategy, Arab broadcasters are drawing their own maps, plotting the expanding range of Hamas rockets, and predicting a strengthened hand for opposition to Israel, rather than a weakened one.

Habib Battah is a freelance journalist and media analyst based in Beirut and New York.