Aipac: Israel’s Agent Feeling Squeezed?

Aipac:  Israel’s Agent Feeling Squeezed?

 Franklin P. Lamb

The American Israel public affairs committee (AIPAC) has seen headier days according to US congressional staffers forced to work regularly with the pro-Zionist agent of Israel.  The grip of fear and the lock on Congress that the Israel first organization has long touted in its service to Israel may be weakening against a backdrop of American Jews rejecting the increasing rants of Prime Minister Netanyahu that are driving many Jews to distance themselves from him, from AIPAC, from other Arabphobic US Zionist organizations, and from Israel.

 

AIPAC tells some Congressional aids that fund raising is hurting and it can’t keep promises it made to certain candidates that it would arrange “indirect” funding for their current election campaigns.  This at the same time Netanyahu is increasingly becoming the butt of jokes across the Israeli and American political spectrum. Several in his cabinet and member s of the US Congress reportedly consider him an embarrassment.  A perception likely added to by his recent General Assembly cartoon gimmick and his repeated Nazi style arm and hand gestures that were widely distributed by the main stream American media outlets especially Reuters, AP and even the Zionist Drudge Report.

 

In addition, there are signs that some members of congress and their staffs, who are heavily lobbied by AIPAC to donate cash, are beginning to chaff at heavy handed AIPAC fundraising tactics.

 

Perhaps reflecting financial pressures on its free spending policies  including astronomical administration costs in the 75% range, on 9/24/12, Jonathan Missner, AIPAC’s Director of National Affairs and Development sent out  more 500,000 emails in a desperate and thinly veiled bid to raise cash to defeat Obama.

Wrote Missner:

 

Dear Friend of Israel:

I am writing because we have not yet heard from you, and your support is greatly needed by September 30th.

As I’m sure you know, Israel and America are now facing serious threats throughout the Middle East. In recent months alone we have seen:

  • Protestors in multiple Arab countries storm U.S. embassies, burn American and Israeli flags, and chant “death to America, death to Israel,” amidst false reports that a video was created by an Israeli Jew and backed by 100 Jewish financiers.
  • Iran sent military personnel and large quantities of weapons across to Syria to aid the Assad regime’s violent crackdown.
  • A deadly terror attack along the Egypt-Israel border that killed 16 Egyptians and enabled terrorists to penetrate into Israel.
  • Leaders in Iran and its regional proxies increased their vitriol against Israel. The frequency and intensity of these recent statements has been troubling: “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (August 17th).
  • If you’re like most pro-Israel Americans, these events have made you more scared for Israel’s existence than you’ve likely felt in many years.
  • But as you watch these dangers continue to unfold, it is important to remember there is something you can do to help keep Israel safe.
  • You can join AIPAC, and help ensure that our leaders in Washington speak out clearly and unequivocally in support of Israel and that the aggressions shown toward our greatest ally Israel must immediately cease.
  • At this dangerous time, the number one strategic answer to the threats facing Israel is for America to express – in every possible way- an unwavering, unshakable commitment to Israel.
  • We must ensure that President Obama speaks out for Israel.
  • We must ensure that America stands by its full commitment to Israel’s security assistance for fiscal year 2013, which is vital for Israel to be able to defend herself.
  • And we must ensure that America continues to pledge 100% of its diplomatic support to Israel.
  • We must do all of this, so that we can send a strong and loud message that America stands by Israel and that any attacks on Israel’s security is an attack on America’s security.”

AIPAC appears to be failing in carrying out its orders from the Israeli Embassy in Washington “to defeat Obama, whatever is required.” The latest polls, including two commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and one from the Anti-Defamation League show  Obama likely  avoiding  defeat  on November 6th that Tel Aviv hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama currently leads Mitt Romney by a 69-20 percent margin among likely Jewish voters. If these polls hold, while they represent a marked decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008, they show Romney’s promise to put Israel “first no matter what “ is not resonating with American Jews. By even garnering 25% of the Jewish vote this shows there is plenty of resistance to the Romney  candidacy on a variety of  domestic social issues that increasingly among the American public matter more than Israel’s  perceived zany schemes. These poll projections may have been reflected at the UN last week when Netanyahu appeared to back off a bit from his pillorying of the Obama administration as being weak on terrorism.

 

Meanwhile, according to an Arab American Institute (AAI)  poll, 52 percent of all Arab-Americans say they plan to vote for Obama, compared to 26 percent who have declared their support for Romney. Broken down by religion, Arab American Muslims support Obama overwhelmingly (75% to 8%), while Orthodox/Protestants support Romney by a 16% margin.  According to the poll, Arab American Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin (46% to 22%), continuing a steady migration away from the GOP toward the Democratic Party since 2002.

 

Congressional staffers report that the Obama White House is rejecting the tactics being employed behind its back to assert pressure for the “red lines” that Netanyahu’s has been pushing and that the administration is aware that AIPAC is actively working to defeat President Obama on November 6th.

What is confusing many in the American Jewish community appears to be the same as what perplexes a growing segment of the non-Jewish American public. And that is Netanyahu’s nonsense over Iranian progress in having nuclear weapons and the history of this “the sky is falling-we must cry wolf!” canard.

 

It was back in April  of 1984, that the British defense magazine Jane’s Defense Weekly got things started with its false claim that Iran was “engaged in the production of an atomic bomb, likely to be ready within two years.”

 

Jane’s became embarrassed since it could offer no proof to back its sensationalist claim and soon admitted that its speculation was based on a West German intelligence source which turned out to be an assistant engineer who visited the unfinished Bushehr nuclear reactor that year and became curious. Soon, a pillar of the US Zionist lobby,  US Senator Alan Cranston’s  picked up on the report and declared that Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1991.

 

The next year, Benjamin Netanyahu, a onetime campaign volunteer for Cranston, now an Israeli parliamentarian, began a campaign to inform the World that Iran could develop nuclear weapons within “three to five years” and therefore must be stopped through “an international front headed by the US.”

 

The current President of Israel Shimon Peres announced in 1992 that Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1999.  As noted by Robert Fisk in the UK Independent, current Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in 1996 that Iran would have a nuclear arsenal by 2004.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined the project and reported to Congress in 1998 that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear or a biological payload that could hit the US within five years. Secretary of State Colin Powell soon claimed in 2004 that if fact, Iran had been working on technology to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile. These allegations boldly came from Powell’s less than one year after his Iraqi weapons of mass destruction assertions were being proven to be false.

 

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined the project and reported to Congress in 1998 that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear or a biological payload that could hit the US within five years. Secretary of State Colin Powell soon claimed in 2004 that if fact, Iran had been working on technology to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile. These allegations boldly came from Powell’s less than one year after his Iraqi weapons of mass destruction assertions were being proven to be false.

 

For his part, Netanyahu reportedly got into an ugly argument with the American ambassador to Israel last month over the Obama administration’s unwillingness to take matters regarding Iran to a more aggressive level. The Israeli prime minister was, according to the New York Times, “at his wit’s end” because, he claimed, Iran was “only four to six weeks away from a nuclear bomb”. A few weeks later, Netanyahu backtracked and pushed the deadline “to six or seven months away.”

And round and round it goes.

 

Congressional sources insist that White House staff will not forget Netanyahu’s blatant attempts to humiliate and defeat their boss.

 

The American public, as well as the international community are exhibiting exhaustion over this incessant hysteria which was summed up recently by Professor Stephen M. Walt, writing in Foreign Policy. “Those prophesying war with Iran are starting to sound like those wacky cult leaders who keep predicting the End of the World, and then keep moving the date when the world doesn’t end on schedule. At what point are we going to stop paying attention?”

 

One Congressional source emailed this observer: “Time will tell if next year’s AIPAC conference finds President Obama or any of his top aides on its program.”

Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon

PLEASE SIGN HERE!

http://www.petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html

“Failure is not an option for the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, our only choice is success”

15 year old Hiba Hajj, PCRC volunteer, Ein el Helwe Palestinian Camp, Saida, Lebanon

Please check our website for UPDATES:
www.palestinecivilrightscampaign.org

Franklin P. Lamb, LLM,PhD
Director, Americans Concerned for
Middle East Peace, Wash.DC-Beirut

Board Member, The Sabra Shatila Foundation and the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Beirut-Washington DC
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp
Beirut Mobile:
00961- 71-899-164
Office:  +961-01-551-798
fplamb@palestinecivilrightscampaign.org

Advertisements

Is Netanyahu Insane or Suicidal?

[Is the man so enamored of himself that he would initiate a suicidal war with Iran, believing that he has the power to compel the US President to defend Israel against its own actions?  Judging from his habit of making wild accusations and wild hand gestures, even resorting to crayons and craft paper to make his demented points, it is easy to judge the man unbalanced.  But is he so irrational in his wild fantasies that he would initiate WWIII, not knowing for certain that Obama would have his back?  Nagging Jewish doubt might yet save them from themselves.  If Israeli leaders were not traditionally doubt-ridden over this very issue, then we would never have learned about the Israeli apocalyptic “Samson Option,” the Israeli “we’re taking everybody with us” nuclear strategy to nuke European capitals if the Western democracies allow Israel’s destruction.  In my opinion, Netanyahu would have no problem at all in carrying-out a Samson option.  Dropping a few dozen bunker-buster bombs on Iran seems far less harsh than that.  Preventing him from doing that will probably require a credible threat from the American President to use force, as required, to prevent IDF bombers from launching from any site.]

Insight: Azerbaijan eyes aiding Israel against Iran

By Thomas Grove

BAKU

Israel’s “go-it-alone” option to attack Iran’s nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a “red line” for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.

But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?

Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran’s far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.

That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan – notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews – such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.

It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.

Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.

“Where planes would fly from – from here, from there, to where? – that’s what’s being planned now,” a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. “The Israelis … would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan.”

“ICEBERG” RELATIONSHIP

That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state – and an object of scorn in Tehran – is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel’s thirst for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.

Israel’s foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.

But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as “like an iceberg, nine tenths … below the surface”.

That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan’s “frozen” conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even China all jockey for influence.

Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:

“Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling,” Musabayov told Reuters.

“I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.

“We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations,” he added.

U.S. CONCERNS

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel’s occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.

Having also invested in Azerbaijan’s defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit toAfghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.

The Azeri president’s team insist that that will not happen.

“No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation,” said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev’s staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.

Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.

Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.

Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be “landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets”.

A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel’s U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.

INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION

There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran’s nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu’s “red line” speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely – for at least a few months.

Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.

A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft “ludicrous” – but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.

The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.

As part of last year’s arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what’s happening in Iran, while we protect our borders,” legislator Musabayov said – a view shared by Azeri former military sources.

Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however – though none believed any deal was yet settled.

The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi’ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.

The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington’s role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.

One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: “There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is ‘officially’. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used.”

The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel’s Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

RECONNAISSANCE, RESCUE

Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.

With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said – or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.

Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.

Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.

Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.

Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.

Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev’s government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: “We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel.”

However, Israel’s confrontation with Iran may turn out, the arms build-up in Azerbaijan, including recent Israeli upgrades for its Soviet T-72 tanks, may have consequences for the wider region and for the stand-off with Armenia – consequences that would trouble all the powers with stakes in the Caspian region.

“We keep buying arms. On the one hand, it’s a good strategy to frighten Armenia,” one of the former Azeri officers said of the shaky, 18-year-old ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh. “But you don’t collect weapons to hang on the wall and gather dust.

“One day, all these could be used.”

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Chechen ex-militant: Georgia trained anti-Russian terrorists, then killed them in false flag op

Chechen ex-militant: Georgia trained anti-Russian terrorists, then killed them in false flag op

 Georgian police snipers ride along a road in a mountain gorge near the border with Russia’s Dagestan region, on August 29, 2012 (AFP Photo)

 

A former Chechen militant has accused Georgia of training a network of Islamic terrorists, claiming that a recent anti-terrorist mission on the border with Russia was in fact a pseudo-operation targeting Georgian-trained jihadists.

Last month Georgia claimed its forces had killed 11 militants who infiltrated the country through the Russian republic of Dagestan in a special operation personally led by the Georgian interior minister.

But Khizri Aldamov, who was an emissary of Chechen militants in Georgia for 18 years, before switching sides and returning to the fold of Moscow loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov earlier this year, has now put forward a different version of events.

In a recent video conference at Moscow’s Ria Novosti news agency, he claimed the people shot were recruited by Georgia to stir up Chechen separatism in Russia, and the whole operation was staged.

“Georgian President Saakashvili’s plan was to send his own guys across the border into Russia, not the other way round, and then shoot them. But there was no mission; this was a set-up,” Aldamov told RT.

He says the purpose of the operation was to frame Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and present Georgia as an anti-terrorist force, while getting rid of those Aldamov says “knew too much” about the country’s Islamic training program.

“Saakashvili is allergic to Russia, allergic to Putin, allergic to Kadyrov,” said Aldamov.

The two neighbors have been locked in a long-standing dispute over the two republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose independence Moscow supports, a conflict which escalated after the August 2008 war.

Along with some of the Georgian media, Aldamov questions some of the details of Tbilisi’s operation against the militants, the aftermath of which was shown on Georgian television.

“First of all, their weapons were American-made, second – none of them fired a single shot. That’s not all; the uniforms of these so-called fighters were brand new,” he alleges.

Aldamov claims that in his role as a go-between for Georgia and Chechen separatists, he trained many Islamist recruits himself. The practice supposedly continues today in Georgia, through the official Counter Terror Center.

“Everything is still controlled by the center – all the Mujahideen are in its hands. Any Chechen who lives in Georgia and wants to study in an Islamic country has to go through the center, and there they recruit him.”

Aldamov’s allegations caused a stir, but have not received universal endorsement.

Badri Nachkebia, a Georgian expert in conflict and political violence present at the conference, questioned whether Aldamov had a pro-Russian agenda after his sudden return to Chechnya. He also contradicted the assertion that the militants had been killed with one shot each – as if by their trusted allies – noting that three Georgian special services soldiers had been killed during the operation, and six more injured.

Meanwhile, political expert Nana Devdariani said that while the country may have harbored Chechen militants, it is unlikely that the operation was an inside job, or that there was a border crossing from Georgia into Russia, considering how well fortified the Russian side is.

On the official level, Georgian ministers insist there was a crossing from Dagestan, while Russian officials have categorically denied the claim.

In the clandestine circumstances of a simmering regional conflict where both sides have an agenda (not to mention that Georgia faces a national election next week), the truth will be hard to come by, and claims such as Aldamov’s may be impossible to confirm or deny.

Armenia Is Being All Things To Everybody, Except for Azerbaijan and Turkey

In Facing Its Adversaries, America’s Got a Hidden Lever: Armenia


Soldiers from various countries including Armenia

 

BY DANIEL GAYNOR
From The Truman Project

Most Americans wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the largest American embassy in the world is in Baghdad, Iraq. But the second-largest is in a surprising place: Armenia. It begs the question: why?

The best explanation is a real estate mantra: location, location, location. Armenia, a landlocked country with just three million people, might be in the roughest neighborhood in the world. But in America’s eyes, it might be in the most important position of any US ally to advance President Obama’s foreign policy agenda.

What it lacks in natural resources–it has little oil, gas or jewels–it makes up for in geography. Few countries are in better position to shape US foreign policy than Armenia.

Armenia borders Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran. As a part of the former Soviet Union, it relies on nearby Russia extensively for trade and military backing. The US has a significant stake in all five countries, and Armenia is now coming into view as a potentially potent lever to advance American aims.

That is, if the Armenians can be won over.

As the US tries to woo Armenia to become a stronger ally in the region, the term “geostrategic” has never been more apt. Armenia is literally at the center of a number of countries that Washington considers among its top priorities. As President Obama tries to accomplish key foreign policy objectives–like preventing Iran from attaining nuclear bombs or seeing democracy flourish in Russia–he’s got to encourage Armenia to play along.

To Armenia’s south, one such issue is unfolding in Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Last  week, a media skirmish between the US and Israel boiled over when Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated publicly that America had no “moral right” to say whether or not Israel could bomb Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama reportedly called Netanyahu at 3AM to quell tensions.

America is racing to develop every diplomatic pressure point it can on Iran, lest Israel launch a preemptive attack and embroil America in a third Middle East war in ten years. One of those pressure points goes straight through Armenia.

While the US has cut off formal relations with Iran–Washington talks through Switzerland’s embassy there–it’s no secret that it employs a variety of foreign policy crowbars to influence and destabilize Iran’s ruling regime. Some, like President Obama’s latest round of economic sanctions, are well known. Partnering with Armenia is not, but could have a major impact. Through economic and diplomatic incentives, the US is actively trying to shape Armenia into an ally. As President Obama seeks to economically isolate Iran–his sanctions have cut the value of Iran currency in half–he is trying to regionally isolate the regime, as well. Armenia is key to that strategy.

For Armenia, the game is far less simple. Partnering with the US–with whom it has a good, but not great, relationship–could alienate the few friends Armenia has left in the South Caucasus region. It wants military cooperation with Russia, but economic access to the west.

While it has tried to deepen relations with the European Union and the US, Armenia’s two best friends at the moment are arguably the US’s most challenging adversaries: Russia and Iran. That’s not necessarily because of shared ideologies, or even shared interests; it’s because Armenia doesn’t have many friends to pick from.

Of its four neighbors, two–Turkey and Azerbaijan– have have closed off their borders to Armenia. To go on a road trip, every Armenian must pass through either Tbilisi, Georgia or Tehran, Iran.

Why the frosty reception? Turkey, which the New York Times recently called “the historic nemesis of the Armenians,” is still steaming mad over the negative PR associated with Armenian Genocide. The Turks claim rogue military elements are responsible; Armenians believe the Turkish government is reluctant to take the blame.

In either interpretation, the facts are stark: about 1.5 million Armenians perished in a war with Turkey between 1915 and 1918. The Turks closed off its border in 1993, and with it, a significant chunk of Armenia’s economy disappeared. In the decades since, Armenia has pressed for international recognition of the genocide–and rightfully so–but that has only stoked the fire with the Turks.

But, while one would think that the genocide rift is what led Turkey to close off its border, it’s not. Instead, Turkey is standing in solidarity with another neighbor over a contested territory.

Azerbaijan, another fromer Soviet republic, shut its borders with Armenia after the two battled over an Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan, called Nagorno-Karabakh, in the 1990′s. Today, the territory remains a “semi-autonomous” area; meaning that the Azeris want it back, the Armenians believe they control it, and the Karabakhtis has declared independence (which no country has formally recognized).

Meanwhile, the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan is sliding downhill. Last week, Azerbaijan made a deal with Hungary to extradite a convicted Azeri murderer. (The man, eight years ago, nearly decapitated a sleeping Armenian serviceman with an axe at a NATO-sponsored English class.) He was returned under the condition that he would serve at least 25 more years in jail.

Instead, as the New York Times put it, he received “a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero.” Uproar in Armenia ensued. Armenia’s President released a statement warning, “The Armenians must not be underestimated. We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win.”

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is enjoying the windfall from oil exports. Israel, in particular, has strengthened relations with the Azeris, purchasing 30 percent of their oil from them, as well as selling them over $1.5 billion in military supplies. The US is also a buyer of Azeri oil. As the New York Times points out, Azerbaijan invested more money in its military than Armenia’s entire state budget last year. Hardly the sign of harmonious relations to come.

So far, Armenia’s walked a diplomatic tightrope with skill. As my Lonely Planet travel book explains, “Despite its limited resources, Armenia has become a master at geopolitics. What other country in the world can say it maintains good relations with the US, Russia and Iran?”

Given the cards they’re dealt, Armenia has been a remarkable success story. If America hopes to engender greater cooperation, it’s got to sweeten the deal–through trade agreements, offering economic reforms and encouraging private sector development in Armenia.

Armenia became independent in 1991. Two decades later, it’s still trying to find its footing in the region. It may not have gold, oil, gas or jewels to give to the US. But, instead, it may have something more useful: a strategic position in the most critical—and potentially most dangerous—region in the world.

Daniel Gaynor is Truman’s Writer and Digital Strategist. He can be followed on Twitter @DannyGaynor

Rebel support ‘pushes Syria deeper into the abyss of bloody sectarianism’ – Lavrov

Rebel support ‘pushes Syria deeper into the abyss of bloody sectarianism’ – Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary)

Those who insist on a ceasefire only by the Syrian government encourage the opposition to intensify its hostilities, and “take upon themselves an enormous responsibility,” Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

The shortest way to stop the loss of life in Syria, Lavrov said, is to adhere to the commitments in the Geneva communique, which were agreed upon by the Action Group as follow-up of the Kofi Annan Plan.

“We proposed to adopt a resolution in the UN Security Council that would endorse the Geneva communique as the basis for negotiations at the beginning of the transitional period, but this proposal had been blocked,” Lavrov noted.

“Those who oppose the implementation of the Geneva communique,” he explained, “in fact push Syria even deeper into the abyss of bloody sectarian strife.”

Lavrov noted that the deepening of internal conflict in Syria is of particular concern because the militarization of the conflict is combined with open calls for foreign intervention.

“We have consistently called for the consolidated efforts of the international community to compel the government and its opponents to immediately cease the violence and come to the negotiating table,” Lavrov said, adding that so far, there has been no progress in reaching unanimity on how to create conditions towards achieving that goal.

The foreign minister also expressed concern about the growing number of war crimes on both sides of the conflict, as recorded in a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council.

“Extremist organizations including al-Qaeda have become more active in Syria – they perpetrate terrorist attacks against innocent civilians and civil infrastructure,” Lavrov said.

The situation in the region requires the international community to use a comprehensive approach, and to reject“simplified and ideology-driven patterns and double standards,” the FM asserted.

He also condemned any unilateral sanctions “imposed by a state or a group of states sidestepping the United Nations to advance their political goals.”

“We have no doubt that such sanctions, especially when they are applied extra-territorially, weaken the unity of the international community and undermine the effectiveness of its efforts,” Lavrov said, adding that the events of recent years have clearly shown that “unilateral actions that violate international law and go beyond the decisions of the UN Security Council or distort the substance of these decisions do not do any good.”

He urged the UN to discuss the consequences of such actions and to resume discussions on the humanitarian limits of sanctions, a topic that, he said, somehow “faded away” in the UN.

Meanwhile on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would contribute an additional $15 million in “non-lethal gear” to the “civilian opposition” trying to oust Assad. Another $30 million will be sent in humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the continuing conflict, Clinton said at a Friends of Syria meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA.

“It is no secret that our attempts to move forward at the UN Security Council have been blocked repeatedly, but the United States is not waiting,” Clinton said.

Islamist-Baath divide still torments Syria

Islamist-Baath divide still torments Syria

Gulf News

Today’s civil war has deep roots in Hafez Al Assad’s crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rebellion has increasingly taken on an Islamist colouring

By Patrick Seale | Special to Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

The pitiless, vengeful, blood-thirsty battle now being waged in Syria is not something new or unexpected. Nor is it a mere by-product of the Arab Spring, although events in Tunisia and Egypt have undoubtedly contributed to creating an insurrectionary atmosphere in the whole region. Rather, the Syrian uprising, as it has gradually evolved over the past 18 months, should be seen as only the latest, if by far the most violent, episode in the long war between Islamists and Baathists, which dates back to the founding of the secular Baath Party in the 1940s. The struggle between them is by now little short of a death-feud.

This is not to suggest that the present rebellion is driven only by religious motives and sectarian hate. Although these are real enough, other grievances have piled up over the past decades: the ravages of youth unemployment; the brutality of Syria’s security services; the domination of key centres of economic, military and political life by the minority Alawi community; the blatant consumerism of a privileged class, grown rich on state patronage, in sharp contrast with the hardship suffered by the mass of the population, including in particular the inhabitants of the ‘poverty belt’ around Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. These deprived suburbs are largely the result of inward migration from the long-neglected countryside, which in the past decade has suffered catastrophic losses from a drought of unprecedented severity.

But beyond all this is the decades-long hostility of Islamists for Syria’s Baath-dominated regime. Formed by two Damascus schoolmasters soon after the Second World War, the Baath party was created as a secular and socialist movement dedicated to bringing about Arab unity and independence. Schoolboy members of the party clashed repeatedly at that time with members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood. When the party seized power in Damascus in 1963, its clash with the Islamists burst into the open. The civilian leadership of the party had by then been largely displaced by Baathist officers ‑ including Hafiz AlAssad, father of the current President Bashar Al Assad‑ mostly from minority backgrounds. In turn, these Baathist officers had allied themselves with Akram AlHawrani, the charismatic leader of a peasant revolt, which was challenging the great landowners of the central Syrian plain, most of them resident in Hama.

Hama is today remembered as the centre of the Muslim Brothers’ armed uprising against Hafiz Al Assad, which he crushed in blood in February 1982, leaving a bitter legacy of sectarian hostility. Few recall, however, that 18 years earlier, in April 1964, rioting by Muslim rebels against the Baathist regime had already flared into something like a religious war. Funded by the old land-owning families, enraged at being dispossessed, and egged on by the imam of the Sultan Mosque in Hama, the rebels threw up roadblocks, stockpiled food and weapons, ransacked wine shops to spill the offending liquor in the gutters, and beat up any Baath party man they could find.

After two days of street fighting, the regime shelled the Sultan Mosque where the rebels had taken cover and from where they had been firing. The minaret collapsed, killing many of them. Many others were wounded but many more disappeared underground. The shelling of the mosque outraged Muslim opinion, igniting a fever of strikes and demonstrations across the country.

Thus, today’s civil war ‑ for that is what it has become ‑ has deep roots in modern Syrian history. The rebellion has increasingly taken on an Islamist colouring, as the Swedish writer Aron Lund explains in an informative 45-page report on Syrian Jihadism, published this month by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. It is striking, as he points out, that virtually all the members of the various armed insurgent groups are Sunni Arabs; that the fighting has been largely restricted to Sunni Arab areas only, whereas areas inhabited by Alawis, Druze or Christians have remained passive or supportive of the regime; that defections from the regime are nearly 100 per cent Sunni; that money, arms and volunteers are pouring in from Islamic states or from pro-Islamic organisations and individuals; and that religion is the insurgent movement’s most important common denominator.

In the last few months, the Syrian National Council (SNC) ‑ that is to say the Turkey-based civilian ‘political’ opposition ‑ has been largely up-staged by fighters on the ground. Most of these fighters are grouped into nine Military Councils (majlis askariya) of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), each Council divided into a number of brigades (kataib). But, in much the same way as these Councils have marginalised the SNC, so they also seem unwilling to take orders from the Turkey-based FSA commander, Col Riad AlAssad.

Lund points out that, with rare exceptions, the FSA is an entirely Sunni Arab phenomenon, and that most FSA brigades use religious rhetoric and are named after heroic figures or events in Sunni Islamic history. It is thought that about 2,000 non-Syrians, some linked to Al Qaida, are now fighting in Syria, about 10 per cent of the total rebel manpower, estimated at about 20,000 (although some sources put the figure twice as high at 40,000.) Most of these fighters would seem to be active only in protecting their home areas.

Three major fighting units, among a score of others ‑ Jabhat Al Nosra, the Ahrar Al Sham Brigades and Suqur Al Sham Division ‑ are among the most extreme Salafi groups in the Syrian rebel movement. The first has been linked to suicide and car bomb attacks in Syrian cities and to the assassination of pro-regime figures; the second carries out ambushes and uses remotely-triggered bombings and sniper fire against army patrols; and the third uses suicide bombers and frames its propaganda in jihadi rhetoric. The leaders of the last two have declared that their aim is to establish an Islamic state in Syria. All three seem to have welcomed AlQaida fighters into their ranks.

These fighting groups have gravely destabilised the Syrian regime but, without a foreign military intervention in their favour, they seem unlikely to topple it. The regime is fighting back with air and ground attacks, evidently determined to crush all pockets of armed rebellion on Syrian territory.

This is the conundrum facing the UN peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. His task is to persuade the world community to impose a ceasefire on both sides, before bringing them to the table. But only when all are persuaded that there can be no decisive win for either side might they heed his call. In the meantime, thousands more will die or be driven from their homes and the country will sink further into blood and chaos, making the divide between the Islamists and President Bashar AlAssad virtually unbridgeable.

 

Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs