Something’s afoot…

Stratfor reports that ‘Israel approached the United States with new requests for security-related purchases, including Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs for the Israeli air force, as well as a significant expansion of the emergency stores held by the U.S. Army in Israel, Haaretz reported June 8. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and director-general of the Defense Ministry Udi Shani made the requests during conversations with senior administration and Congressional officials in Washington. Israel also seeks to increase the amount of gear held by the U.S. Army in its emergency stores in Israel, from $800 million to $1.2 billion.’

In other news, Putin has just announced that the Blue Stream II natural gas pipeline might end in Turkey rather than continue to Israel, while As-Safir accuses Israel of preparing to steal gas from fields in Lebanon’s and Cyprus’s territorial waters (links not to Safir but to English-language report in Israeli newspaper). Meanwhile, both the Iranian Red Crescent and the Lebanese are preparing to send new aid ships to Gaza, while an Israeli general reacted to suggestions by Erdogan that he might personally sail to Gaza by stating that Israel would interpret this as an act of war and kill Erdogan. In Lebanon, Munir al-Maqdah, the military commander of Fatah in Lebanon and founder of the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades (see here for my interview with him in 2007) ‘told Agence France-Presse in a telephone interview that the Palestinian civil society and Palestinian factions in Lebanon were mulling the possibility of setting up what he called “Return Fleet” to occupied territories. “The idea of the Return Fleet to Palestine is to organize marches to penetrate the border, not only from the Lebanese side, but also from Jordan, West Bank territories and Gaza as well as all the Arab borders with Palestine,” Maqdah explained.’

These are interesting times indeed…

Oh look… that one’s alive!

It would seem they’re not all terminally brainwashed after all. Our annual prize for ‘working in the mainstream US media and inadvertently finding yourself actually making sense for one long second’ goes to Helen Thomas who, at the incredible age of 89, finally managed to escape the deadly embrace of cozy proximity that strangles what is called the ‘Washington press corps’. This is a bunch of people which you can find in every country – in Belgium we call them ‘wetstraatjournalisten’ – who pretend to be journalists but are so thoroughly cuddled and pampered by the power elite of their country that they end up completely identifying themselves with the lot, and stop performing their function of ‘watchdogs of democracy’ (if they had ever done so in the first place). Thomas’ desperate call for retirement from the fully paid-up crowd of uncriticising press release copy-and-pasters took the form of her stating that the Israelis ‘should get “the hell out of Palestine” and suggesting they go back to Germany, Poland or the US.’ An eminently reasonable proposal in and of itself of course (after all, the million-odd French colons eventually got the hell out of Algeria and the Belgians out of the Congo, to name but a few examples), but naturally a cardinal sin in that AIPAC-governed satellite country of Israel across the ocean, which seems as much colonised by the Israelis these days as Palestine – and with markedly less resistance, we should add. Still, her final lapse of reason got a lot of attention in those very same media who consider that what she said was a cardinal sin – a nice little piece of social hacking there, and just one of the astounding series of consequences of the Israelis’ final lapse into full-blown unashamed fascism. Next to the loss of one of their most important allies in the Middle East and indeed in NATO, the globalisation of calls to lift the siege on Gaza – spreading even to staunch allies of Israel such as France and the UK, the de facto lifting of the siege by the seemingly permanent opening of  the Rafah crossing by Mubarak, the inclusion of the issue of their nuclear warheads in an IAEA meeting and – perhaps most astoundingly of all – actually jolting Robert Fisk into writing the first sensible articles he has produced in years… As I keep repeating here, all anyone has to do to make the end of the zionist experiment come about is sit back, watch and enjoy. The Israelis have corrupted and disintegrated their society so thoroughly for so long that they have completely lost the plot, and it is only a matter of time before they destroy what’s left of themselves in their frantic suicidal mania of hate and slaughter. The only problem is that the mad dogs will try and take as many as they can of the rest of us with them on their way down. And as mentioned before, the Raving Rabbis do have 200 nuclear warheads to play with…

The myth of Israeli morality

In times like these, it takes a truly independent medium like Al Jazeera to connect the dots and point out the long and brutal history of Israeli violence oppressing peaceful resistance: ‘In 1988 the PLO invited international writers, artists and activists to travel by ship along with scores of Palestinians who had been deported by Israel and representatives of refugees to make a symbolic journey “of return”. After successfully intimidating Greek vessel owners from renting a ship to the PLO, Israel then bombed a Cypriot boat a few hours before the solidarity activists, including Westerners – Christians and Jews – were to board it. But while the 1988 bombing – at the peak of the first Palestinian intifada – aimed at blocking the journey itself, the ferocity of the armed campaign against the Gaza flotilla suggests that Israel, more than ever before, is deeply concerned about the success of peaceful means of resistance. Israel correctly viewed the Free Gaza Convoy as part of a Palestinian and international campaign not only to break the siege of the tiny Strip, but to end its occupation and to recognise legitimate Palestinian national rights.

But the idea that the use of military force can stop the campaign from spreading is ludicrous – unless Israel plans to blow up protests everywhere from the village of Bi’lin in the West Bank to London, Berlin and San Francisco. Israel has already employed a public relations campaign to demonise and discredit the growing boycott campaign – modelled after a similar campaign against the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. It has also been engaged in a weekly campaign of arrests and increasingly the shooting and wounding of Palestinian, Western and even Israeli activists protesting against the illegal segregation wall that has been eating up West Bank land in the villages of Bilin and Nilin. The Israeli government has been intolerant of diplomatic attempts by the Palestinian Authority to curtail the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the lifting of the siege of Gaza Strip. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, complained to George Mitchell, the American special envoy to the Middle East, that the PA had lobbied internationally to block the admission of Israel to the prestigious Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and accused the Palestinian government of incitement for endorsing a boycott of the produce of illegal settlements.’

True to its reputation, Al Jazeera was also the only major news organisation to have reporters on board the Peace Flotilla – why can’t the BBC or Euronews send people along? Afraid of a ‘negative’ scoop? The testimony of Jamel Elshayyel not only exposes the lies of the Israelis, he also points out that contrary to the Turkish authorities, the British didn’t even send a consul to check on their own kidnapped citizens: ‘Just after 4am local time, the Israeli military attacked the ship, in international waters. It was an unprovoked attack. Tear gas was used, sound grenades were launched, and rubber coated steel bullets were fired from almost every direction. Dozens of speed boats carrying about 15-20 masked Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth surrounded the Mavi Marmara which was carrying 600 or so unarmed civilians. Two helicopters at a time hovered above the vessel. Commandos on board the choppers joined the firing, using live ammunition, before any of the soldiers had descended onto the ship. Two unarmed civilians were killed just metres away from me. Dozens of unarmed civilians were injured right before my eyes. One Israeli soldier, armed with a large automatic gun and a side pistol, was overpowered by several passengers. They disarmed him. They did not use his weapons or fire them; instead they threw his weapons over board and into the sea.
After what seemed at the time as roughly 30 minutes, passengers on board the ship raised a white flag. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. The ships organisers made a loud speaker announcement saying they have surrendered the ship. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. I was the last person to leave the top deck. Below, inside the sleeping quarters, all the passengers had gathered. There was shock, anger, fear, hurt, chaos. Doctors ran in all directions trying to treat the wounded, blood was on the floor, tears ran down people’s faces, cries of pain and mourning could be heard everywhere. Death was in the air. Three critically injured civilians were being treated on the ground in the reception area of the ship. Their clothes soaked in blood. Passengers stood by watching in shock, some read out verses of the Qur’an to calm them, doctors worked desperately to save them. Several announcements were made on the load speakers in Hebrew, Arabic and English – “This is a message to the Israeli army, we have surrendered. We are unarmed. We have critically injured people. Please come and take them. We will not attack.” There was no response. One of the passengers, a member of the Israeli Parliament, wrote a sign in Hebrew, reading the exact same thing; she held it together with a white flag and approached the windows where the Israeli soldiers were standing outside. They pointed their laser guided guns to her head, ordering her to go away. A British citizen tried the same sign –  this time holding a British Flag and taking the sign to a different set of windows and different set of soldiers. They responded in the same manner. Three hours later, all three of the injured were pronounced dead. The Israeli soldiers who refused to allow them treatment succeeded where their colleagues had earlier failed when they targeted these three men with bullets. At around 8am the Israeli army entered the sleeping quarters. They handcuffed the passengers. I was thrown onto the ground, my hands tied behind my back, I couldn’t move an inch. I was taken to the top deck where the other passengers were, forced to sit on my knees under the burning sun. One passenger had his hands tied so tight his wrists were all sorts of colours. When he requested that the cuffs be loosened, an Israeli soldier tightened them even more. He let out a scream that sent chills down my body. (…) I remained on the ship, seated, without any food or drink, barring three sips of water, for more than 24 hours. Throughout this time, Israeli soldiers had their guns pointed at us. Their hands on the trigger. For more than 24 hours. (…) The only reason I believe I was released was because the Turkish prisoners refused to leave until and unless the other nationalities (those whose consulates had not come and released them) were set free. I was taken to Ben Gurion airport. When I asked for my passport, the Israeli official presented me with a piece of paper and said “congratulations this is your new passport”. I replied “you must be joking, you have my passport”. The Israeli official’s response: “sue me”. There I was asked again to sign a deportation order. Again I refused. I was put on a plane headed to Istanbul. Masked Israeli soldiers and commandos took me from international waters. Uniformed Israeli officials locked me behind bars. The British government did not lift a finger to help me, till this day I have not seen or heard from a British official. The Israeli government stole my passport. The Israeli government stole my lap top, two cameras, 3 phones, $1500 and all my possessions. My government, the British government has not even acknowledged my existence. I was kidnapped by Israel. I was forsaken by my country.’

More excerpts from Elshayyel’s testimony are included in this article, ‘The hijacking of the truth: film evidence ‘destroyed’: ‘Mr Elshayyal, a reporter for the Arab channel al-Jazeera, was standing to one side of the ship and had a view of the front and back of the vessel when the fighting started. By his account, soldiers fired down on the protesters from the helicopters before an Israeli soldier had even set foot on the ship. A man next to him was shot through the top of his head, dying instantly. “What I saw were shots being fired from the helicopter above and moments later from below – from the ships,” Mr Elshayyal said. “As far as I am concerned, it’s a lie to say they only started shooting on deck.” At least two other eyewitnesses saw soldiers firing from above the ships before they landed on the Marmara’s deck. It is possible that this is what prompted the fierce resistance to the soldiers when they dropped down. Several passengers recount how organisers urged their peers to stop hitting the soldiers, aware of how it would harm their claim to be peaceful protesters. Others on the ship claim they raised a white flag, but say that it was ignored. They also used a loudspeaker to reiterate their message of surrender and requested that the injured be taken off the ship to get medical assistance. Again, they were ignored.’

And they still don’t get it…

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet has printed pictures of captured Israeli ‘elite’ commandos receiving treatment from the activists who the Israelis claim wanted to ‘lynch’ them.  This is in stark contrast to the fate of the wounded activists themselves, several of whom were left to die, denied treatment or transport to a hospital by the ‘most moral army in the world’. You can see the pix here. Meanwhile, Israel desperately keeps trying to fend off an international independent inquiry, as well as escalating calls from governments worldwide (including such staunch defenders of Israel as the UK and France) to lift the deadly siege on Gaza. As Juan Cole points out, a truly independent inquiry would reveal not just that the commandos started shooting people before even landing on the ship, it would also expose the extensive cover-up operation with the IDF confiscating and/or destroying all the audio and video shot by the activists which they could get their hands on – while at the same time using heavily edited parts of it to ‘prove’ their own point. And then they still continue, of course, their ridiculous continued attempts to paint unarmed peace activists as dangerous terrorists.

The Guardian’s Israeli correspondent sums up the domestic Israeli reactions to their ‘heroic soldiers’ action of self-defense’. If you thought it was only their government that is disgusting, this is a must-read: ‘The Israeli government has been forced to apologise for circulating a spoof video mocking activists aboard the Gaza flotilla, nine of who were shot dead by Israeli forces last week. The YouTube clip, set to the tune of the 1985 charity single We Are the World, features Israelis dressed as Arabs and activists, waving weapons while singing: “We con the world, we con the people. We’ll make them all believe the IDF is Jack the Ripper.” It continues: “There’s no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all.” The Israeli government press office distributed the video link to foreign journalists at the weekend, but within hours emailed them an apology, saying it had been an error. Press office director Danny Seaman said the video did not reflect official state opinion, but in his personal capacity he thought it was “fantastic”. Government spokesman Mark Regev said the video reflected how Israelis felt about the incident. “I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny,” he said. “It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it.” The clip features a group led by the Jerusalem Post’s deputy managing editor Caroline Glick, wearing keffiyehs and calling themselves the Flotilla Choir. The footage is interspersed with clips from the recent Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara. The clip has been praised in Israel, where the mass-circulation daily Yediot Aharonot said the singers “defended Israel better than any of the experts”. But Didi Remez, an Israeli who runs the liberal-left news analysis blog Coteret, said the clip was “repulsive” and reflected how out of touch Israeli opinion was with the rest of the world. “It shows a complete lack of understanding of how the incident is being perceived abroad,” she said. Award-winning Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport said the clip demonstrated prejudice against Muslims. “It’s roughly done, not very sophisticated, anti-Muslim – and childish for the government to be behind such a clip,” he said. A similar press office email was sent to foreign journalists two weeks ago, recommending a gourmet restaurant and Olympic-sized swimming pool in Gaza to highlight Israel’s claim there is no humanitarian crisis there. Journalists who complained the email was in poor taste were told they had “no sense of humour”. Last week, the Israel Defence Force had to issue a retraction over an audio clip it had claimed was a conversation between Israeli naval officials and people on the Mavi Marmara, in which an activist told soldiers to “go back to Auschwitz”. The clip was carried by Israeli and international press, but today the army released a “clarification/correction”, explaining that it had edited the footage and that it was not clear who had made the comment. The Israeli army also backed down last week from an earlier claim that soldiers were attacked by al-Qaida “mercenaries” aboard the Gaza flotilla. An article appearing on the IDF spokesperson’s website with the headline: “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be al-Qaida mercenaries”, was later changed to “Attackers of the IDF Soldiers found without identification papers,” with the information about al-Qaida removed from the main article. An army spokesperson told the Guardian there was no evidence proving such a link to the terror organisation.

While the debate over accounts of the flotilla raid continues, Israel is facing more boycotting. In the past week, three international acts, including the US rock band the Pixies, have cancelled concerts in Tel Aviv. Best-settling authors Alice Walker and Iain Banks have backed the boycott campaign, with Banks announcing his books won’t be translated into Hebrew. Dockworker unions in Sweden and South Africa have refused to handle Israeli ships, while the UK’s Unite union just passed a motion to boycott Israeli companies.’

Meanwhile in Israel…

Israeli racism 1: ‘The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be working closely with various local government departments to prepare for the possible deportation of children of Filipino migrant workers by Israel. It is still unknown how many Filipino children will be deported but the DFA on Friday said they are among the 1,200 minors that will be affected by an Israeli law which states that once migrant workers give birth to children in Israel, they must leave with their child or send the baby back home and continue their employment.’

Israeli racism 2: ‘Hundreds of people are demonstrating near the village of Beit Nuba against the partial opening of Highway 443 to Palestinian traffic. Security forces are using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, which demand full Palestinian access to the road.’

Israeli racism 3: “This was no mistake,” says a British activist who has been documenting life in the village for several months. “The pipe was deliberately unscrewed by hand so that the sewage would spill over into Beit Ummar. That has nothing to do with an electricity cut,” he told IPS. Villagers standing near a completely destroyed 70,000 sq m vineyard belonging to the Sabarneh family said they believe it was a deliberate act of sabotage and part of a concerted campaign by the settlers to harass their Palestinian neighbours and vandalise their property. Beit Ummar has been the target of a number of Israeli military raids at night last month. Activists who have been organising non-violent protests against the expropriation of their land for the settlements have been arrested and the village blockaded. In a similar incident last week the Palestinian village of Bruqin, in the northern West Bank, was flooded with sewage from the nearby Ariel settlement, causing contamination of underground water and springs and damaging crops. These incidents are part of a larger problem of scarce water resources where a Palestinian population of 2.5 million survives on 17 percent of the West Bank’s main underground aquifer. The remaining water is channelled towards the West Bank’s (including East Jerusalem) 500,000 Israeli settlers, and into Israel proper. The water shortage is compounded by the lack of wastewater treatment plants and inefficient treatment of waste and sewage in the Palestinian territory which fouls its water sources. Israeli rights group B’tselem released a study last year called ‘Foul Play: Neglect of wastewater treatment in the West Bank’.

‘There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza’ 1: ‘For decades Israel occupied Gaza reducing its people to total dependency as day-laborers in Israel. No infrastructure was built (no sewage, no paved roads, no sanitation system, no modern power grid etc). During the Oslo years, Israel remained in control of Gaza, allowing no independent Palestinian commerce to develop with the outside world. When Israel evacuated Gaza, they did so unilaterally and yet retained total control over all access and egress, thus insuring that the strip’s economy would remain stunted — with more than 65% of the population living below the poverty level and youth unemployment averaging 80% since the mid 1990’s. The on-going Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal and immoral. Gaza is one of the poorest places on earth (I’ve been there and been overwhelmed by what I experienced). Israel blames the Palestinians for their own plight, but Israel is the occupying power that has de-developed and/or strangled Gaza for over four decades. What they are doing now, I believe, amounts to racially motivated collective punishment against an entire population. The punishment of Gaza is extreme. People there (including US NGO’s) are unable to import basic materials needed to rebuild the thousands of homes that were destroyed in the January 2009 war. In addition there are severe shortages of potable water, power, fuel and medicines. Israel’s argument that “there is no crisis” owes to the fact that Gaza’s population are maintained at bare subsistence — which can only be acceptable if you view Palestinians as less deserving of consideration than other human beings.’

‘There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza’ 2:In recent days, coverage of the attack on the aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip has focused on the lack of availability of certain humanitarian goods. This fact sheet is a reference tool based on international aid agencies and human rights groups on the impact of the siege on the population of Gaza.

Electricity: The siege has led to a significant lack of power in the Gaza Strip. In 2006, Israel carried out an attack on Gaza’s only power plant and never permitted the rebuilding to its pre-attack capacity (down to producing 80 megawatts maximum from 140 megawatts). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the daily electricity deficit has increased since January of 2010 with the plant only able to operate one turbine producing only 30 megawatts compared to its previous average of 60-65 megawatts in 2009. The majority of houses have power cuts at least eight hours per day. Some have no electricity for long as 12 hours a day. The lack of electricity has led to reliance on generators, many of which have exploded from overwork, killing and maiming civilians. Oxfam reported that “[in 2009], a total of 75 Palestinians died from carbon monoxide gas poisoning or fires from generators, and 15 died and 27 people were injured in the first two months of this year.”

Water: Israel has not permitted supplies into the Gaza Strip to rebuild the sewage system. Amnesty International reports that 90-95 percent of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for consumption. The United Nations even found that bottled water in Gaza contained contaminants, likely due to the plastic bottles recycled in dysfunctional factories. The lack of sufficient power for desalination and sewage facilities results in significant amounts of sewage seeping into Gaza’s costal aquifer–the main source of water for the people of Gaza.

Industry: Prior to the siege, the industrial sector employed 20 percent of Gaza’s labor force. One year after the siege began, the Palestinian Federation of Industries reported that “61% of the factories have completely closed down. 1% was forced to change their scope of work in order to meet their living expenses, 38% were partially closed (sometimes means they operate with less than 15% capacity)”. A World Health Organization report from this year states: “In the Gaza Strip, private enterprise is practically at a standstill as a consequence of the blockade. Almost all (98%) industrial operations have been shut down. The construction sector, which before September 2000 provided 15% of all jobs, has effectively halted. Only 258 industrial establishments in Gaza were operational in 2009 compared with over 2400 in 2006. As a result, unemployment rates have soared to 42% (up from 32% before the blockade).”

Health: Gaza’s health sector, dramatically overworked, was also significantly damaged by Operation Cast Lead. According to UN OCHA, infrastructure for 15 of 27 of Gaza’s hospitals, 43 of 110 of its primary care facilities, and 29 of its 148 ambulances were damaged or destroyed during the war. Without rebuilding materials like cement and glass due to Israeli restrictions, the vast majority of the destroyed health infrastructure has not been rebuilt. Many medical procedures for advanced illnesses are not available in Gaza. 1103 individuals applied for permits to exit the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing for medical treatment in 2009. 21 percent of these permits were denied or delayed resulting in missed hospital appointments, and several have died waiting to leave Gaza for treatment.

Food: A 2010 World Health Organization report stated that “chronic malnutrition in the Gaza Strip has risen over the past few years and has now reached 10.2%. Micronutrient deficiencies among children and women have reached levels that are of concern.” According to UN OCHA: “Over 60 percent of households are now food insecure, threatening the health and wellbeing of children, women and men. In this context, agriculture offers some practical solutions to a humanitarian problem. However, Israel’s import and access restrictions continue to suffocate the agriculture sector and directly contribute to rising food insecurity. Of particular concern, farmers and fishers’ lives are regularly put at risk, due to Israel’s enforcement of its access restrictions. The fact that this coastal population now imports fish from Israel and through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border speaks to the absurdity of the situation.” 72 percent of Gaza’s fish profit comes from beyond the three nautical mile mark, but further restrictions by Israel’s naval blockade prevents Gazans from fishing beyond that mark. Between 2008 and 2009 the fishing catch was down 47 percent.’

How to defend the indefensible

Stephen Walt, he from paper of the Israel lobby, wrote a short guide at Foreign Policy for states to crisis-manage the aftermath of horrible crimes in 21 easy steps. It is excellent, and we have just seen Israel go through all the stages and variations from step 4 onward. Here goes:

1. We didn’t do it! (Denials usually don’t work, but it’s worth a try).

2. We know you think we did it but we aren’t admitting anything.

3. Actually, maybe we did do something but not what we are accused of doing.

4. Ok, we did it but it wasn’t that bad (“waterboarding isn’t really torture, you know”).

5. Well, maybe it was pretty bad but it was justified or necessary. (We only torture terrorists, or suspected terrorists, or people who might know a terrorist…”)

6. What we did was really quite restrained, when you consider how powerful we really are. I mean, we could have done something even worse.

7. Besides, what we did was technically legal under some interpretations of international law (or at least as our lawyers interpret the law as it applies to us.)

8. Don’t forget: the other side is much worse. In fact, they’re evil. Really.

9. Plus, they started it.

10. And remember: We are the good guys. We are not morally equivalent to the bad guys no matter what we did. Only morally obtuse, misguided critics could fail to see this fundamental distinction between Them and Us.

11. The results may have been imperfect, but our intentions were noble. (Invading Iraq may have resulted in tens of thousands of dead and wounded and millions of refugees, but we meant well.)

12. We have to do things like this to maintain our credibility. You don’t want to encourage those bad guys, do you?

13. Especially because the only language the other side understands is force.

14. In fact, it was imperative to teach them a lesson. For the Nth time.

15. If we hadn’t done this to them they would undoubtedly have done something even worse to us. Well, maybe not. But who could take that chance?

16. In fact, no responsible government could have acted otherwise in the face of such provocation.

17. Plus, we had no choice. What we did may have been awful, but all other policy options had failed and/or nothing else would have worked.

18. It’s a tough world out there and Serious People understand that sometimes you have to do these things. Only ignorant idealists, terrorist sympathizers, craven appeasers and/or treasonous liberals would question our actions.

19. In fact, whatever we did will be worth it eventually, and someday the rest of the world will thank us.

20. We are the victims of a double-standard. Other states do the same things (or worse) and nobody complains about them. What we did was therefore permissible.

21. And if you keep criticizing us, we’ll get really upset and then we might do something really crazy. You don’t want that, do you?

Repeat as necessary

Meanwhile in Brussels…

Have you been wondering, like me, why we haven’t heard about anything coming out of the meeting of NATO ambassadors convened by Turkey on Tuesday? Israel – which is not a NATO member, of course, like this rogue pariah state is also not a member of the IAEA or a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty – has after all launched a deadly military attack in international waters on a civilian ship flying under the flag of a loyal NATO member – Turkey. Especially in the light of the Turkish navy detachment of 4 fregates sailing to Cyprus right now to accompany the Rachel Corrie on its trip to Gaza, this is not an unimportant issue. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, gives us a valuable glimpse inside NATO’s HQ on his blog: ‘What I was being told last night was very interesting indeed. NATO HQ in Brussels is today a very unhappy place. There is a strong understanding among the various national militaries that an attack by Israel on a NATO member flagged ship in international waters is an event to which NATO is obliged – legally obliged, as a matter of treaty – to react. I must be plain – nobody wants or expects military action against Israel. But there is an uneasy recognition that in theory that ought to be on the table, and that NATO is obliged to do something robust to defend Turkey.
Mutual military support of each other is the entire raison d’etre of NATO. You must also remember that to the NATO military the freedom of the high seas guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is a vital alliance interest which officers have been conditioned to uphold their whole career. That is why Turkey was extremely shrewd in reacting immediately to the Israeli attack by calling an emergency NATO meeting. It is why, after the appalling US reaction to the attack with its refusal to name Israel, President Obama has now made a point of phoning President Erdogan to condole.
But the unhappiness in NATO HQ runs much deeper than that, I spoke separately to two friends there, from two different nations. One of them said NATO HQ was “a very unhappy place”. The other described the situation as “Tense – much more strained than at the invasion of Iraq”. Why? There is a tendency of outsiders to regard the senior workings of governments and international organisations as monolithic. In fact there are plenty of highly intelligent – and competitive – people and diverse interests involved. There are already deep misgivings, especially amongst the military, over the Afghan mission. There is no sign of a diminution in Afghan resistance attacks and no evidence of a clear gameplan. The military are not stupid and they can see that the Karzai government is deeply corrupt and the Afghan “national” army comprised almost exclusively of tribal enemies of the Pashtuns. You might be surprised by just how high in Nato scepticism runs at the line that in some way occupying Afghanistan helps protect the west, as opposed to stoking dangerous Islamic anger worldwide. So this is what is causing frost and stress inside NATO. The organisation is tied up in a massive, expensive and ill-defined mission in Afghanistan that many whisper is counter-productive in terms of the alliance aim of mutual defence. Every European military is facing financial problems as a public deficit financing crisis sweeps the continent. The only glue holding the Afghan mission together is loyalty to and support for the United States.
But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the Unted States, but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member? Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”. Therefore what is troubling the hearts and souls of non-Americans in NATO HQ is this fundamental question. Is NATO genuinely a mutual defence organisation, or is it just an instrument to carry out US foreign policy? With its unthinking defence of Israel and military occupation of Afghanistan, is US foreign policy really defending Europe, or is it making the World less safe by causing Islamic militancy?
I leave the last word to one of the senior NATO officers – who incidentally is not British: “Nobody but the Americans doubts the US position on the Gaza attack is wrong and insensitve. But everyone already quietly thought the same about wider American policy. This incident has allowed people to start saying that now privately to each other.”
You can visit Craig Murray’s blog here.