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Recent Publications by New English Review Authors
The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Impact of Islam
by Emmet Scott
Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies
by Ibn Warraq
Fighting the Retreat from Arabia and the Gulf: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly. Vol. 1
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Literary Culture of France
by J. E. G. Dixon
Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays
by David P. Gontar
Farewell Fear
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Eagle and The Bible: Lessons in Liberty from Holy Writ
by Kenneth Hanson
The West Speaks
interviews by Jerry Gordon
Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy
Emmet Scott
Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy
Ibn Warraq
Anything Goes
by Theodore Dalrymple
Karimi Hotel
De Nidra Poller
The Left is Seldom Right
by Norman Berdichevsky
Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
Virgins? What Virgins?: And Other Essays
by Ibn Warraq
An Introduction to Danish Culture
by Norman Berdichevsky
The New Vichy Syndrome:
by Theodore Dalrymple
Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky

These are all the Blogs posted on Wednesday, 28, 2012.
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Ahmed Zewail Wants The West To Intervene On The Side Of Syria's Muslim Rebels

One of a handful of Muslims -- two or three -- who have Nobel Prizes in real subjects (i.e., not Peace), Ahmed Zewail thinks the West should keep rescuing Arab and Muslim lands from their own endemic violence and aggression and inability to settle anything through non-violent means. 

His piece at the Huffington Post includes this:

"Syria is the proud heir of an ancient civilization that has a unique spectrum of minorities that encompasses Muslims and Christians of various denominations. There are at least ten such ethnic and religious groups. For centuries they all lived together peacefully. Now, with the internal war intensifying, this unity is dissolving into a civil and tribal war that not only will end Syria's nationhood, but will also spill over to the rest of the Middle East."

If he includes in those "minorities" the Jews who no longer are to be found in Syria, their history can hardly be described as ideal. He might recall the pogrom in Damascus in 1840. If he means that at least the Christians always got along with their Muslim neighbors, he might be reminded of the massacre of the Maronites in Damascus in 1860. If he thinks the Alawites, whose faith is not exactly that of Shi'a Islam, as so many appear to think, but rather a syncretistic blend of Muslim and Christian elements, with a notable veneration of Mary (Mariam), fit in quite well with the Sunni Muslims of al-Shams, he should perhaps be reminded of how they were treated for centuries by those same Sunni Muslims, among whom they were forced to endure, like the Jews and Christians, constant reminders of their own low status, and subject to constant humiliation. That is why the grandfather of Bashir Al-Assad once wrote admiringly of the Zionists who, despite the Muslims, had managed to return and to rebuild their homeland; the father, and the grandson, however, decided they could best protect the Alawites if they adopted the protective coloration of Ba'athism, which meant pan-Arabism, whcih meant demonstrating, on every occasion, their violent anti-Israel sentiments and the role of Syria as a center of  "resistance" against those same Zionists whom the grandfather had once written of admiringly.

Why does Ahmed Zewail ignore the real history of what minorities -- Jews, Christians, Alawites, Druse --  have had to endure from Sunni Muslims in Syria as elsewhere? Does he not know, or could ne not find out, that history? Does he not know that the only reason the Druse, and the Alawites, and the non-Arab Armenian Christians, have felt relatively safe in Syria over the past half-century is because the Alawite rulers ruthlessly suppressed the Ikhwan, that is the very Sunni Muslims who took Islam most to heart? 

Perhaps Ahmed Zewail is, like so many Muslims who fancy themselves seculariss and liberals, in the end incapable of recognizing what Islam teaches, what the attitudes and atmospherics of societies dominated by Muslims, suffused by Islam, are really like. He, after all, has lived for many decades in the West. He's been favored in that West, and made the most of its freedoms. But he still can't bring himself to recognize what ails, and what explains the many failures of, Muslim societies.

He reminds me a bit of Shirin Whateverhernameis, another Nobel Prize winner,  in Iran, who while able to withstand the pressure from the Islamic rulers, and while making special efforts to protect and defend the rights of women in that awful society, continues to pretend that the mistreatment of women is not connected to the clear teachings of Islam, but is, she maintains unconvincingly, merely a "cultural" matter. And those liberals and secularists in the Muslim world who cannot dare to analyze what Islam does to the minds of men, and who become furious at the mere mention of Wafa Sultan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ali Sina, and Ibn Warraq, are not true liberals, not true secularists, for they remain wilfully self-deceived about the texts and tenets of Islam, and in misstating to the Infiidels the nature and history of Islamic societies, and the treatment of non-Muslim minorities in those societies, they are engaged, nolens-volens, in a propaganda Jihad on behalf of Islam. They may not think that is what they are doing, but that in the end is the only way to characterize their mispresentation of the truth. 

Ahmed Zewail no doubt would be appalled by that description of what he has written. Let him be appalled. It happens to be true.

Posted on 11/28/2012 5:15 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Israeli Ambassador Oren On Hamas,And Its Willing Collaborators In The Western Press

From The Washington Post:

Nov. 26, 2012

Falling for Hamas’s media manipulation

By Michael Oren, Wednesday, November 28, 7:54 PM

Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

What makes better headlines? Is it numbing figures such as the 8,000 Palestinian rockets fired at Israel since it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the 42.5 percent of Israeli children living near the Gaza border who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? Or is it high-resolution images of bombed-out buildings in Gaza and emotional stories of bereaved Palestinians? The last, obviously, as demonstrated by much of the media coverage of Israel’s recent operation against Hamas. But that answer raises a more fundamental question: Which stories best serve the terrorists’ interest?

Hamas has a military strategy to paralyze southern Israel with short- and middle-range rockets while launching Iranian-made missiles at Tel Aviv. With our precision air force, top-notch intelligence and committed citizens army, we can defend ourselves against these dangers. We have invested billions of dollars in bomb shelters and early-warning systems and, together with generous U.S. aid, have developed history’s most advanced, multi-layered anti-missile batteries. For all of its bluster, Hamas does not threaten Israel’s existence.

But Hamas also has a media strategy. Its purpose is to portray Israel’s unparalleled efforts to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza as indiscriminate firing at women and children, to pervert Israel’s rightful acts of self-defense into war crimes. Its goals are to isolate Israel internationally, to tie its hands from striking back at those trying to kill our citizens and to delegitimize the Jewish State. Hamas knows that it cannot destroy us militarily but believes that it might do so through the media.

One reason is the enlarged images of destruction and civilian casualties in Gaza that dominated the front pages of U.S. publications. During this operation, The Post published multiple front-page photographs of Palestinian suffering. The New York Times even juxtaposed a photograph of the funeral of Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari, who was responsible for the slaughter of dozens of innocent Israelis, with that of a pregnant Israeli mother murdered by Hamas. Other photos, supplied by the terrorists and picked up by the press, identified children killed by Syrian forces or even by Hamas itself as victims of Israeli strikes.

In reporting Palestinian deaths, media routinely failed to note that roughly half were terrorists and that such a ratio is exceedingly low by modern military standards — much lower, for example, than the NATO campaign in the Balkans. Media also emphasize the disparity between the number of Palestinian and Israeli deaths, as though Israel should be penalized for investing billions of dollars in civil-defense and early-warning systems and Hamas exonerated for investing in bombs rather than bomb shelters. As in Israel’s last campaign against Hamas in 2008-09, the word “disproportionality” has been frequently used to characterize Israeli military strikes. In fact, during Operation Pillar of Defense this year, Hamas fired more than 1,500 missiles at Israel and the Israeli Air Force responded with 1,500 sorties.

The imbalance is also of language. “Hamas health officials said 45 had been killed and 385 wounded,” the Times’ front page reported. “Three Israeli civilians have died and 63 have been injured.” The subtext is clear: Israel targets Palestinians, and Israelis merely die.

The media perpetuated Hamas propaganda that traced the fighting to Jabari’s elimination and described Gaza as the most densely populated area on earth. Widely forgotten were the 130 rockets fired at Israel in the weeks before Jabari’s demise. For the record, Tel Aviv’s population is twice as dense as Gaza’s.

Hamas is a flagrantly anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-feminist and anti-gay movement dedicated to genocide. The United States, Canada and the European Union all consider it a terrorist organization. Hamas strives to kill the maximum number of Israeli civilians while using its own population as a human shield — under international law, a double war crime. Why, then, would the same free press that Hamas silences help advance its strategy?

Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.

This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.

Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war.

Veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, writing for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on the terrorists’ successful media strategy against Israel, warned that “the trajectory of the media, from objective observer to fiery advocate,” had become “a weapon of modern warfare.” Kalb quotes a U.S. military expert who describes how perception has replaced reality on the battlefield and that the terrorists know it.

Israel will take all legitimate steps necessary to defend our citizens. We know that, despite our most painstaking efforts, tragic stories can emerge — stories that the enemy sensationalizes.

Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.

Posted on 11/28/2012 7:37 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Malaysia Muslims call for 'immoral' Elton John to be banned

From the Telegraph

Nasruding Hassan Tantawi, head of the youth wing of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic party (PAS), said the concert "must be cancelled". "Artists who are involved in gay and lesbian activities must not be allowed to perform in Malaysia as they will promote the wrong values," he said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, where almost two-thirds of the 28 million population are Muslim, and is punishable by caning and up to 20 years in prison.

Mr Nasrudin said that the PAS "will demand that the authorities cancel this immoral performance to protect our society from social degradation."

John, who is scheduled to perform at a resort outside of Kuala Lumpur on Thursday . . . has already courted controversy on the Asian leg of his current world tour. On Monday, he dedicated his concert in Beijing to the dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

It is unlikely, though, that the PAS's call for a ban will succeed. In November 2011, Mr John performed to a sell-out crowd in Malaysia despite similar protests from the PAS, a fundamentalist Islamic party who have called for the introduction of Sharia law in Malaysia.

Posted on 11/28/2012 2:27 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Life Made Harder For Iranians Who Go Down To The Sea In Ships
Posted on 11/28/2012 8:42 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
The Mass Killing Of The Amur Falcon (Falco Amurensis)

In October 2012, Conservation India documented the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migrating Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) in the remote state of Nagaland in north-eastern India. Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan estimate that between 120,000 and 140,000 Amur falcons are being slaughtered every year in NE India, which sees the largest congregations of these falcons along their vast migration route from Siberia through the Himalayas and all the way down to Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. They cover over 22,000 kilometers every year and undertake the largest sea crossing of any raptor when crossing the Indian Ocean to Africa – including several nights of flying in the dark. India is a signatory to the Convention of Migratory Species and thus have a duty under international law to ensure this killing is halted immediately. Conservation India has received undertakings from the Indian government to end all further trade in Amur falcons through better enforcement, but nothing seems to be happening… India is actually the President of the Convention on Biological Diversity for the next two years, yet blatantly ignore the importance of biodiversity conservation and halting the bushmeat trade to this international convention. The Indian government needs to make people and resource available to support the transition of these Amur falcon trappers to alternative livelihoods before it is too late. It is clear that the people of Nagaland urgently need better access to education and rural development programs that support sustainable livelihoods alongside biodiversity conservation in this beautiful region. I hope that the whole world will be watching what the Indian government does next year to stop this slaughter. Migratory species like Amur falcons drive home that we are a global community that needs global solutions to poverty, hunger, climate, and biodiversity conservation…

Andrew Keys

The amazing Amur Falcons undertake the longest regular overwater passage of any raptor, crossing over the Indian Ocean between W India and tropical E Africa - a journey of more than 4,000 km that also includes nocturnal flight. (Andrew Keys)

Andrew Keys

Amur falcons are small raptor that breed in SE Siberia and N China migrating over 22,000 kilometers every year to winter in S and E Africa. (Andrew Keys)

The local people filmed by Conservation India catching Amur falcons, breaking their wings, sorting them, smoking them, and trading in them, cannot possibly enjoy this annual activity and do this purely for money and trade goods. They may look forward to the arrival of the falcons, but only because of the commercial and subsistence opportunities. Most of the local community most likely celebrate the arrival of the falcons as a wonder of nature and simply marvel at it. This is not just happening in India. It has happening all over the world. It has happened before and caused extinctions… Remember the passenger pigeon of the United States? Right now, hundreds of thousands of African green pigeons in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being caught in nets, skewered, and smoked in a similar fashion… They will go locally extinct if we do not stop this unsustainable trade…


People in the DRC have even resorted to eating bonobos, our closest extant relatives on earth….?!


When everything is stripped away by poverty and hunger, life becomes very simple and breaking the wings of a falcon or a pigeon and keeping it alive to preserve the meat before smoking would make perfect sense. We will never halt the devastating impacts of the bushmeat and international wildlife trade until we address the striking inequalities in our global community, at village level, regional level, national level, and in the international community. To put yourself in place of the people involved in the Amur falcon trade please read how Dalvi and Sreenivasan describe the unethical process undertaken by trappers:

“The captured birds are kept alive in mosquito nets or cane baskets… so they can be exported alive to the customers and markets. From cane baskets, the birds are “transferred” to poles (long sharp skewers) for ease of carrying into villages and towns. Birds eventually die in the process and (these birds) are de-feathered, plucked and smoked for sale. (Smoking supports a) longer shelf life.”

Amur falcons are absolutely stunning in the wild and sought after by birders and wildlife photographers. To these people their value cannot be measured in Dollars or Pounds, but to the people of Nagaland they have a monetary value, as Dalvi and Sreenivasan explain:

“Each bird (Amur falcon) is sold for Rs16-25 in number of birds for Rs100 (=$1.90 or £1.20). This sale usually happens door-to-door.”

Unsustainable local consumption like in the DRC with the green pigeons, the extinct passenger pigeon in the United States, and this mass 2-week killing of over 100,000 Amur falcons are all caused by social and economic instability and inequality in the face of rapid development and exploitation of natural resources. Areas too unstable, remote or inaccessible to develop are simply ignored and local growing communities are left to support themselves with what they have… the land. Climate change and global financial systems make this difficult and many communities resort to destroying the natural heritage for food and warmth. Forcing people with ancestral heritage rights of land tenure to exterminate local wildlife and degrade the landscape is something we all need to take responsibility for, instead of sitting in judgement of the people filmed, their government, our government, those people, them, the “traders”… We watch them as they coldly and without emotion breaking wings, piling them up like dead carcasses, and skewering them for smoking, and judge them in the knowledge that we would not do the same in their circumstance… The suffering of the Amur falcons is immense and their only reward is death. For the Nagaland trappers there is little reward for destroying these birds and must only see this as a means to an end. We need a global solution for this situation.

Andrew Keys

Amur falcons arrive in their S African winter range in November or December and depart by early May, dispersing to feed mainly of insects, such as termites. (Andrew Keys)

Mark Drysdale

During the peak Amur falcon migration 12,000–14,000 falcons are hunted for local consumption and commercial sale everyday. This beautiful Amur falcon was photographed safe in South Africa. (Mark Drysdale)

Mark Drysdale

Amur Falcons are generally silent and only make high-pitched "kew-kew-kew" sounds when at communal roosts or when stressed like in the video. (Mark Drysdale)

According to Conservation India, the Indian government has repeatedly pointed out that migratory birds are being killed on their way to India, resulting, for example, in the Siberian Crane now being locally extinct in India. The hypocrisy of statements like this is clear, but the Indian government are not alone in this seemingly natural human behavioral trait of passing on blame and ignoring glaring problems until it is far too late. One day no Amur falcons will make it to South Africa and the South Africans will blame India. The Indian government already blames Russia for the disappearance of Siberian Cranes from India. The Congo forests may one day have no more green pigeons. Who do they have to blame? There must be someone? South Africa laments Vietnam and China for their role in the deaths of hundreds of rhino every year. Over the last 30 years, since rhinos almost went extinct due to poaching, South Africa has become a global hub for the wild-caught bird trade with traders and importers taking advantage of an advanced avicultural industry in a country with under-resourced enforcement and poorly trained permit officers.


The world is a much smaller place in the 21st century and we need to take responsibility for all threats to our global ecosystem like this unacceptable and unnatural massacre of hundreds of thousands of Amur falcons. We need to act as a global community of Earth citizens…

Posted on 11/28/2012 8:49 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Nira Lee: What I Saw In The Operation To Stop Hamas Rockets

From The American Thinker:

November 27, 2012

What I Saw During Operation Pillar of Defense

By Nira Lee

Four years ago, watching the coverage of Operation Cast Lead from the comfort of my dorm, I was a conflicted college student. As supportive as I was of Israel, I still found it painful any time I heard about civilian casualties in Gaza. What I saw portrayed in the media didn't add up: on the one hand I knew that the IDF was engaged in careful efforts to prevent civilian casualties, despite Hamas's strategy of fighting from amongst its own civilian population. Yet the media made it seem like the IDF was actively targeting civilians.

Back then, I understood Israel's efforts at protecting civilians as a something akin to a talking point -- I had no personal involvement in the conflict. Yet I had no idea how true it is until I myself participated in last week's Operation "Pillar of Defense" as an officer in the IDF.

When I moved to Israel and enlisted, I joined a unit called the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is devoted to civilian and humanitarian issues. 

As an International Liaison Officer in the Gaza office, my job primarily entails coordinating transfers of goods, aid, and delegations into Gaza. I work closely with representatives of the international community, and although our perspectives may differ, we maintain relationships of mutual respect born of a common goal; I am here to help them succeed in their work improving the quality of life in Gaza.

While the day-to-day work is challenging in Gaza, I learned over the past ten days that the true test comes with crisis. At exactly the point where most militaries would use the heat of war to throw out the rulebook, we worked harder than ever to provide assistance wherever and whenever possible. 

The eight days of Operation "Pillar of Defense" have been some of the hardest I have ever known physically and emotionally. The college student from Arizona would never have thought it possible to work 20 hours a day, fueled only by adrenaline and longing for just an hour of sleep on a shelter floor -- wearing the same filthy uniform because changing, much less showering, wouldn't allow me to get to a shelter in time when the next rocket barrage hit. And no, wearing the green uniform does not mean that you aren't afraid when the sirens sound.

Had you told me four years ago that there were IDF officers who stayed up all night under a hail of rockets, brainstorming ways to import medical supplies and food to the people of Gaza, I am not sure I would have believed you. But I can tell you it is true because I did it every night. 

What amazed me the most was the singular sense of purpose that drove everyone from the base commander to the lowest ranking soldier. We were all focused completely on our mission: to help our forces accomplish their goals without causing unnecessary harm to civilian lives or infrastructure. 

It is harder to explain the emotional roller-coaster -- how proud and relieved I felt every time a truck I coordinated entered Gaza, and how enraging it was when we had to shut down the crossing into Gaza after Hamas repeatedly targeted it. Or how invigorating it was help evacuate two injured Palestinians from the border area, only to be informed minutes later that a terrorist had detonated a bomb on a bus near my apartment in Tel Aviv.

So after all that I see and do, nothing frustrates me more than the numbers game that is played in the media. The world talks about "disproportionate" numbers of casualties as the measure of what is right and wrong -- as if not enough Israelis were killed by Hamas for the IDF to have the right to protect its own civilians from endless rocket attacks.

In my position, I see the surgical airstrikes, and spend many hours with the UN, ICRC, and NGO officers reviewing maps to help identify, and avoid, striking civilian sites. One of our pilots who saw a rocket aimed at Israel aborted his mission when he saw children nearby -- putting his own civilians at risk to save Gazans. At the end of the day, what these "disproportionate numbers" show is how we in Israel protect our children with elaborate shelters and missile defense systems, whereas the terror groups in Gaza hide behind theirs, using them as human shields in order to win a cynical media war.

What's really behind the headlines and that picture on the front page? Every day, I coordinate goods with a young Gazan woman who works for an international aid organization. Last month we forged a bond when we had to run for cover together when Hamas targeted Kerem Shalom Crossing -- attacking the very aid provided to its own people. During the eight days of Operation "Pillar of Defense", not one passed without a phone call, just to check in. "Are you ok?" I would ask. "I heard they fired at your base. Please stay safe", she would reply. And every night I made her promise to call me if she needed anything. These are the things that the media fails to show the world, just as they underplay how Hamas deliberately endangers civilians on both sides of the border -- by firing indiscriminately at Israel from Gaza neighborhoods.

Maybe stories such as these make for less exciting headlines, but if they received more attention there would perhaps be more moral clarity, and thus more peace in the Middle East.

2nd Lt. Nira Lee is an Arizona native. She moved to Israel in 2010 and has been serving in the IDF for the past two years. She works as a liaison officer to international organizations out of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:04 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Suave, Anglophone, Goodlooking, Female, Plausible, And Most Meretricious, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Claims That Pakistan Is Not Pakistan

U.S., Pakistan ties fully repaired: Pakistan foreign minister

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar speaks during an interview with Reuters at the foreign ministry in Islamabad November 28, 2012. REUTERS-Mian Khursheed

ISLAMABAD | Wed Nov 28, 2012 

(Reuters) - Pakistan and the United States have restored full military and intelligence ties after relations hit a low point last year, and Islamabad will take further steps to support a nascent Afghan peace process, Pakistan's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Full cooperation between Islamabad and Washington is critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most NATO combat troops withdraw by 2014.

"There was a fairly difficult patch and I think we've moved away from that into a positive trajectory," Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Reuters in an interview, referring to Pakistani-U.S. relations.

"We are coming closer to developing what could be common positions. We wish to see a responsible transition in Afghanistan."

Relations between the uneasy allies were severely strained by a series of incidents in 2011. The crisis in ties began when a CIA contractor shot dead two men he suspected of trying to rob him in the city of Lahore.

Months later, U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid and kept the Pakistan military in the dark, humiliating the country's most powerful institution.

Then a NATO air raid mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border in November that year.

In response, Pakistan expelled U.S. military trainers and CIA agents and placed limits on the numbers of visas given to U.S. diplomatic personnel.

Pakistan, which relies heavily on American aid, also closed supply routes for trucks carrying supplies to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Now, Khar said, relations were fully repaired, including military and intelligence contacts.

"We are having very useful, deep conversations with the U.S.," she said, as the two countries try to find common ground on Afghanistan ahead of the scheduled 2014 pullout.

Both the United States and Afghanistan have long regarded Pakistan as an unreliable partner in the drive to bring stability to Afghanistan, accusing Pakistan's intelligence agency of backing Afghan insurgent groups.

Pakistan denies that.

Pakistan recently released mid-level Afghan Taliban prisoners to help facilitate peace talks between the militant group and the Kabul government, the clearest sign it was committed to advancing Afghan reconciliation.

Khar said Islamabad was willing to take further steps but would not say whether that would include releasing senior Afghan Taliban figures, like the former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

"I think it is important that we have intensive engagement on what needs to be done," she said.

Afghan officials think Baradar may be one of the few commanders with the stature to bring elements of the Taliban into peace talks after more than a decade of war.

During a recent visit to Pakistan by members of the Afghan High Peace Council, Pakistan agreed to release some prisoners, although not Baradar, and to provide safe passage for those wishing to enter talks, Khar said.

Pakistan would also encourage Afghan insurgents to enter into direct talks with President Hamid Karzai's government. So far, there have been only contacts.

"For us in Pakistan today, the most important capital in the world is Kabul," said Khar, because instability there could spill over into Pakistan, and fuel its own Taliban insurgency.

She said the Afghan and Pakistan governments were discussing ways to strengthen military cooperation.

Currently, relations are strained. Afghanistan still suspects elements in Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, despite denials from Islamabad. The Pakistan military, pursing Pakistani insurgents, has also shelled villages across the border in Afghanistan, prompting protests.


In addition to improving ties with Afghanistan, Khar said Pakistan also wanted to pursue closer ties with arch-rival India.

The United States has long believed that Pakistan would focus more closely on helping it pacify Afghanistan if relations with India improved.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947 and are at loggerheads over the status of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

"The Pakistani leadership has shown a great willingness to move forward, sometimes at the cost of losing some political capital, because sometimes improving ties with India might not be the most popular thing to do," said Khar.

Many Pakistani politicians blame India for Pakistan's insurgencies or spiraling crime rate, saying their wealthier, more populous neighbor wants to weaken Pakistan.

India, in turn, blames Pakistan for sending militants to infiltrate Kashmir over several decades and suspects Pakistan of shielding those behind a 2008 attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead. India executed the only surviving perpetrator in their custody, a young Pakistani man, last week.

That should be an opportunity for the two countries to put the attack behind them and move forward, said Khar. Their warming relations recently resulted in an agreement easing trade and travel restrictions.

"We are clear that we want Pakistani-India relations to move forward swiftly," she said.

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:09 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
If the National Union of Journalists won't defend journalism, what's the point of it?

Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph has resigned from the National Union of Journalists because of that body's failure to stand up for its members over the trifling matter of the freedom of the press. Its a little late, the protocol imposed on them by their union in the reporting of matters involving race, multiculturalism and allied matters should have caused journalists more concern than it did, but better late than never. I fear he will be alone. Incidently the by-election in Rotherham tomorrow was triggered by the resignation of MP Denis MacShane who was caught fiddling his expenses on a scale way beyond that of most crooked MPs. MacShane (or Mac Shame as he is aptly nicknamed) was the man responsible for the NUJ Guidelines on Race Reporting during his time as President of the union. Gilligan says of his resignation:

I’ve been a member of the NUJ for about ten years. To be honest, there was never all that much point. But I support the principle of trade unionism, I was grateful for the NUJ’s backing during the Hutton inquiry, and I valued the work it did for people who couldn’t stick up for themselves, particularly on local newspapers.

I’m now resigning from the NUJ in protest at what may be its existential mistake in failing to stick up for its entire membership. The union has decided to back a statutorily-underpinned regulator of journalists – a move taken without the slightest consultation with members, no doubt because they knew we would be against it.

The clincher for me was this chilling piece in the Press Gazette from the head of the NUJ’s “ethics council,” Chris Frost (pictured above), defending the union’s position. Mr Frost, an academic at Liverpool John Moores University, writes:

“The right to free expression…cannot be absolute…the key is to allow as much freedom as is concomitant with the rights of others balanced by the public interest…

“If I buy [a newspaper], I expect the news to be reasonably accurate, gathered ethically and a fair selection of the day’s important events…Those who say free expression is more important than those standards…make it clear they don’t understand free expression.”

Yes, you read that right: the union representing journalists wants a regulator to impose its idea of what constitutes a “fair selection of the day’s important events” on the press. . .

Now the NUJ is not a very important institution – but propaganda value of its stance to our enemies is considerable. If even the body supposed to represent journalists won’t defend journalism, what’s the point of it?

Several commentators believe that the point of the NUJ is contained in their Guidelines on Race Reporting.

"The NUJ believes that the attitude of our newspapers and broadcasting stations is crucial in race relations and the formation of opinion on asylum seekers."

"Outside the newsroom, the NUJ is encouraging its members to get involved with events within the wider trade union movement that are making a stand to oppose the divisive politics of far-right parties."

My own union CPS rejected its duty of care to long-standing members who were about to lose their jobs in preference to increasing the diversity of the Civil Service. They have sown the wind.

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:00 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Peter De Vries On God
"What baffles me is the comfort people find in the idea that somebody dealt this mess. Blind and meaningless chance seems to me so much more congenial - or at least less horrible. Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair."
Posted on 11/28/2012 9:44 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Kabul Bank Ponzi Scheme Net Nearly One Billion For Well-Placed Afghan Crooks

From The New York Times:

November 26, 2012

Audit Says Kabul Bank Began as ‘Ponzi Scheme’

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The chief judge in the Kabul Bank case, Shams Rahman Shams, at center behind desk, listened to a defense lawyer during a hearing this month. The United States has pressed for prosecutions.

Afghan and American officials had for years promoted Kabul Bank as a prime example of how Western-style banking was transforming a war-ravaged economy. But the audit, prepared this year for Afghanistan’s central bank by the Kroll investigative firm, gives new details of how the bank instead was institutionalizing fraud that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars and obliterated Afghans’ trust after regulators finally seized the bank in August 2010 and the theft was revealed.

Going further than previous reports, the audit asserts that Kabul Bank had little reason to exist other than to allow a narrow clique tied to President Hamid Karzai’s government to siphon riches from depositors, who were the bank’s only substantial source of revenue.

At one point, Kroll’s investigators found 114 rubber stamps for fake companies used to give forged documents a more legitimate look. And the auditing firms used by the bank never took issue with loan books that were “almost entirely fraudulent,” Kroll found, recommending that the Afghan government explore suing the last such auditor, A.F. Ferguson & Co., a private Pakistani firm with a franchise under PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When Afghan regulators, aided by American officials, first discovered the extent of the fraud at the bank in the summer of 2010, “we never imagined that the criminality was as deep as it was, that it was so widespread and that it included high-ranking officials and their relatives,” said Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, at the time the governor of the Bank of Afghanistan, the country’s central bank.

“At the beginning, I received information from the U.S. Embassy that maybe $150 million or $200 million is gone in bad loans to powerful people,” he said. The number soon climbed close to $900 million, though “we did not know who took the loans and that they were all tied to a few individuals.”

What Kroll’s audit found is that on Aug. 31, 2010, the day the Bank of Afghanistan seized Kabul Bank, more than 92 percent of the lender’s loan portfolio — $861 million, or roughly 5 percent of Afghanistan’s annual economic output at the time — had gone to 19 related people and companies, according to the audit.

Among the largest beneficiaries were a brother of Mr. Karzai and a brother of First Vice President Muhammad Qasim Fahim who each owned stakes in the bank that had been bought with loans from the bank, according to the audit and regulatory officials. For their part, both have insisted that they never took part in any fraud at the lender.

Reached for comment, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, stressed that the president considered the audit incomplete: Mr. Karzai still believes Kroll has to find out where all the missing money has gone, to which countries it was sent and to which accounts if the firm wants the report to be seen as credible, Mr. Faizi said.

The New York Times obtained a copy of the 277-page audit report, which Afghan and Western officials have confirmed was the one Kroll prepared.

The two men that Afghan prosecutors, Western officials and the Kroll audit accuse of profiting most from the fraud were the bank’s principal owners: Sherkhan Farnood, its chairman and a former World Series of Poker Europe winner, and his former bodyguard, Khalil Fruzi, who served as the bank’s chief executive.

Working with the bank’s executives, they devised simple, yet effective, schemes to fool weak and reluctant regulators, and the Americans who were advising them, the audit says.

The owners kept two sets of books, and hid loans to themselves and their shareholders by taking them in the names of friends, relatives and even domestic servants, according to the audit and Afghan officials. They grouped related loans together to better keep track of who owed what. Hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit loans were routed to Dubai through a money exchange controlled by Mr. Farnood, who founded the bank.

Kabul Bank employed people to forge documents for fictitious companies, which were then audited by accounting firms that appear to have been complicit, according to Kroll. That is where the rubber stamps came in: they bore the names of those false companies, like Abdul Mahmood Trading and Ali Jan Abdul Hadi Ltd., to lend an air of respectability to fake documents.

Toward the end, Mr. Fruzi even expensed foreign shopping sprees at stores like Louis Vuitton and Versace in Dubai and New Delhi. Mr. Farnood was snapping up villas in Dubai with bank money, though he has maintained they were investments gone bad, nothing more.

Bailing out depositors cost the cash-strapped Afghan government more than $825 million, and Afghan and Western officials say that only between $200 million and $400 million, depending on how assets are valued, has so far been recovered from shareholders.

For many Afghans, the scandal surrounding Kabul Bank, a linchpin of the economic order established here by Americans and their allies, has cemented the opinion that the United States brought crony capitalism, not free markets, to Afghanistan. The audit is likely to reinforce that view while raising potentially troubling questions about who is being prosecuted here in connection with the scandal, and who is not.

The United States and its allies have pressed hard for prosecutions, threatening to cut aid if no action was taken. The completion of the forensic audit, which was financed by international donors and delivered in March, was another demand by the international community, as was a separate report, due later this week, by an Afghan government-funded but largely independent corruption watchdog commission composed of Afghan and foreign experts.

Mr. Farnood and Mr. Fruzi top the list of 22 defendants charged so far, and both are on trial in Kabul. Many others on the list are Kabul Bank executives who are accused of helping to carry out fraud, though it is unclear whether they personally profited.

Few officials have any problem with those prosecutions. But there are questions about the charges brought by Afghan prosecutors against a few officials at Afghanistan’s central bank. Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed worries that those cases appeared to be intended to end further investigation into Kabul Bank. Kroll has said it has no evidence that the Bank of Afghanistan’s staff members were complicit in Kabul Bank’s collapse.

In the most prominent such case, the former chairman of the Bank of Afghanistan, Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, has been indicted primarily for failing to warn the Afghan government about Kabul Bank and concealing the fraud there — an accusation that one Western official called “laughable.” Several Western and Afghan officials insist that Mr. Fitrat had actively pressed inquiries of Kabul Bank, and believed he had been indicted in order to scare him off. He fled the country last year.

Even Mr. Farnood said Mr. Fitrat had done nothing wrong: “Fitrat was the one person who was not involved in any bribing,” he said in a telephone interview.

The situation was particularly galling, the officials said, because apart from Mr. Farnood and Mr. Fruzi, the other “high-value beneficiaries” — each of whom still owes at least $5 million to the bank, Kroll estimates — have yet to face any legal action. That group includes Mahmood Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, the vice president’s brother.

In an interview, Mahmood Karzai said he had repaid all the money he originally owed, an amount he put at $5.3 million. He insisted that Kroll had miscalculated and included assets he never owned, like a villa in Dubai, when it tallied his liability at $30.5 million.

He called Kroll “a piece of puke” and said it had relied too heavily on evidence provided by Mr. Farnood, who in the summer of 2010 began cooperating with American officials and, subsequently, Afghan investigators after a dispute with his fellow shareholders.

Neither Mr. Fahim nor Mr. Fruzi responded to phone messages seeking comment.

Kabul Bank did serve some legitimate functions — for instance, the United States paid the salaries of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and teachers through it.

But many of the bank’s practices seemed tailor-made to lure depositors by any means available. One popular gimmick detailed by the audit was known as a Bakht account, which offered those who opened them a chance to win houses, cars and jewelry at glitzy prize drawings.

The only real winners, however, were the bank’s senior managers and their friends, the audit found. The new depositors’ money was used principally “to provide free financing to the other business interests of senior management and a group of connected persons.”

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:53 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Matthew Rosenberg: More On Corrupt Karzai And The Kabul Bank Fraud

From The New York Times:

November 28, 2012

Political Meddling Hampers Inquiry Into Kabul Bank Debacle

KABUL, Afghanistan — Persistent political interference has hampered efforts to unravel the colossal fraud at Kabul Bank, with President Hamid Karzai and a small panel of his top aides actually dictating to prosecutors who should be charged and who should not, according to Afghan and Western officials and the results of a public inquiry into the scandal.

According to a report, which was prepared by an independent corruption watchdog commission at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and which is to be released Wednesday, Mr. Karzai’s aides called in prosecutors to tell them who would be indicted in the fraud and collapse of Kabul Bank, even specifying what charges should be brought. A senior Afghan official with knowledge of the decisions, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Karzai was among those directly making the decisions.

The president had previously signaled that he would do so. Ahmad Qaderi, a senior official at the attorney general’s office of Afghanistan, acknowledged the president’s role last year, telling reporters, “President Karzai will decide which accounts should go into receivership and which into the courts.”

The indictments in the case, in June, were hailed as important first steps in finally bringing accountability for officials who profited from a fraud scheme that involved hundreds of millions of dollars and brought down Kabul Bank in 2010. But some were troubling: the indictment list included prominent Afghan financial regulators who were trying to untangle the mess at the bank and had often clashed with Mr. Karzai’s administration, according to the report and Afghan officials.

Further, some of the people who owned large stakes in the bank and received millions in loans with no expectations that they would repay them, including President Karzai’s brother Mahmood Karzai, and Haseen Fahim, the brother of the Afghan first vice president, have escaped indictment.

Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president, said that Mr. Karzai would answer all the many “allegations” around his government’s handling of the Kabul Bank crisis at a news conference in the coming days.

The new inquiry report, along with the revelation of the details of a forensic audit by Kroll Investigations that described Kabul Bank as a Ponzi scheme to funnel riches to roughly a dozen members of country’s elite, is a formalization of the frustrations and suspicions that many Afghan and Western officials have held for months about how the government is handling the investigation.

The implications for the country are potentially huge: the Kabul Bank case is increasingly becoming a test for some of the Western donor nations that must decide whether to keep pouring billions of dollars into the Afghan government as the NATO combat mission comes to a close.

“If there’s not a conviction of these guys,” one senior Western official said, “the donors are going to come down hard on them. Without donor support, the government would fall apart.”

The official was talking specifically about the two men suspected of having orchestrated the fraud: Sherkhan Farnood, Kabul Bank’s founder and former chairman, and Khalilullah Frozi, its former chief executive.

The two are suspected of having stolen the most from Kabul Bank, and they are being tried alongside a number of Kabul Bank executives who helped carry out or cover up the theft of nearly $900 million in cash and assets.

The new inquiry report, by the Independent Joint Anticorruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, called the beginning of the men’s trial “a major achievement.”

Yet it was sharply critical of the decision to charge eight current and former central Bank of Afghanistan officials who were all involved in investigating or cleaning up Kabul Bank. The charges against them range from negligence for not uncovering the fraud earlier to actively helping conceal the crimes committed at the bank, and some are standing trial.

American and European officials believe the charges against the regulators are, at best, the result of sloppy investigative work, or, at worst, intended to end any further serious investigations of Kabul Bank.

Neither the inquiry report nor the forensic audit found evidence that the central bank officials were complicit. The audit detailed how regulators lacked resources and training, were actively deceived by Kabul Bank’s owners and feared that pressing back too hard could lead to a bank run, which is what happened when the Central Bank eventually seized the lender.

The inquiry report described the prosecutors’ focus on the regulators to the exclusion of others — an apparent reference to Mahmood Karzai and Mr. Fahim — as “difficult to reconcile with what is known about Kabul Bank today.”

The former governor of the central bank, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, is charged with failing to prevent and concealing the fraud. He fled the country last year after a series of disputes with President Karzai over how to handle fallout from the scandal.

Currently on trial in Kabul is the chief of the central bank’s financial crimes unit, Muhammad Mustafa Massoudi, who worked closely with American officials on the Kabul Bank case and other investigations, including at least one that targeted a close associate of President Karzai’s.

An American official said he believed that Mr. Massoudi was being prosecuted because he was “too zealous in digging around trying to find out what happened at Kabul Bank and a few other places.”

In an interview, Rahmatullah Nazari, the deputy attorney general, stood by the charges against the central bank officials, because “they were aware of the problems within Kabul Bank and did nothing.”

He contrasted the regulators with Mahmood Karzai and Mr. Fahim, describing both men as ordinary borrowers, nothing more. They were not even shareholders, he said.

But Mr. Karzai and Mr. Fahim have never hidden their ownership stakes in the bank. Mr. Karzai, in fact, has often acknowledged buying his 7 percent stake with a loan from the bank.
Posted on 11/28/2012 9:51 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Neil Macfarquhar, The New York Times, And "Occupied Palestinian Lands"

Having discovered, some years ago, even before the American government did so, that the world of Islam was divided between Sunnis and Shia (forget about Ibadi Muslims, because it's too hard to remember them, and besides, they hardly count), Neil Macfarquhar has been harping on this theme ever since. The complications of Islam, the ethnic divisions between Arab and non-Arab Muslims (Kurds, Berbers, black Africans, and so on) that are unusally sharp because non-Arab ethnicity dilutes or even works against identification with Islam, while Arab ethnicity strengthens such identification, and the contumely with which Arabs routinely treat non-Arab Muslims has made those non-Arab Muslims more aware (and the Western world could help that awareness to grow by talking, loudly, about the matter) that Islam is now, and always has been, a vehicle for Arab supremacism, the cultural contempt of northern Arabs (as in Syria, especially) for the uncultured but now fabulously-rich "Bedu" of the Gulf and the Peninsula, Jazirat al-Arab, and the economic resentment (which can be made to grow) of the poor Arabs and Muslims for the rich Arabs, who share so very little of their colossal, and unearned wealth -- what's a few billion to Qatar, after all, when it sits on 500-600 billion dollars in past surpluses, with more tens of billions added every year? and the same goes for Kuwait, the Emirates, and even more populous Saudi Arabia?-- with their fellow members of what is supposed to be one Umma, and after all, those oil-and-gas riches that the rich Arabs did nothing to deserve were surely, were they not?, gifts from Allah, and Allah surely intended them to be shared with other Muslims -- or so those who wish to sow dissension and resentment in the Camp of Islam would do well to repeat, loudly.

Although a number of exaggerations and misstatements, about Sunnis and Shia, and about this supposed "alliance" between Qatar, Turkey, and Egypt -- a figment of Western imagination, and one which ignores all the diferences in the behavior, attitudes, and calculations of each of these states -- are par for the American government, whose views are apparently being dutifully conveyed, in all their complacent self-assured confusion, by Neil Macfarquhar, that's not the point of this re-posting of the latest semi-vaporings.

I've put in bold the sentences that are most infuriating, and most wrong. They have to do with Israel, and with taking sides, and with mistatements of history and of law: the bland unapologetic use of the word "occupation" to describe Israel's winning, in a war of self-defense, the territory known as "the West Bank" -- because the Jordanians renamed it that in 1949 in the same way, and for the same reasons,  that nearly two millennia before the Romans had renamed "Judea" as "Palestine" (from "Syria palaestinorum" or "Syria of the Philistines") - is  simply unacceptable. And I have also put in bold italics, a few comments I make along the way about the most egregious of Macfarquhar's misstatements about other things.

Here's Macfarquhar's piece in today's New York Times,, with the  most offending sentences in bold:

Sunni Leaders Gaining Clout in Mideast

RAMALLAH, West Bank — For years, the United States and its Middle East allies were challenged by the rising might of the so-called Shiite crescent, a political and ideological alliance backed by Iran that linked regional actors deeply hostile to Israel and the West.

But uprising, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by a Sunni Muslim alliance of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. That triumvirate played a leading role in helping end the eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza, in large part by embracing Hamas and luring it further away from the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah fold, offering diplomatic clout and promises of hefty aid.

For the United States and Israel, the shifting dynamics offer a chance to isolate a resurgent Iran, limit its access to the Arab world and make it harder for Tehran to arm its agents on Israel’s border. But the gains are also tempered, because while these Sunni leaders are willing to work with Washington, unlike the mullahs in Tehran, they also promote a radical religious-based ideology that has fueled anti-Western sentiment around the region.

Hamas — which received missiles from Iran that reached Israel’s northern cities — broke with the Iranian axis last winter, openly backing the rebellion against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. But its affinity with the Egypt-Qatar-Turkey axis came to fruition this fall.

“That camp has more assets that it can share than Iran — politically, diplomatically, materially,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group. “The Muslim Brotherhood is their world much more so than Iran.”

The Gaza conflict helps illustrate how Middle Eastern alliances have evolved since the Islamist wave that toppled one government after another beginning in January 2011. Iran had no interest in a cease-fire, while Egypt, Qatar and Turkey did.

But it is the fight for Syria that is the defining struggle in this revived Sunni-Shiite duel. The winner gains a prized strategic crossroads.

For now, it appears that that tide is shifting against Iran, there too, and that it might well lose its main Arab partner, Syria. The Sunni-led opposition appears in recent days to have made significant inroads against the government, threatening the Assad family’s dynastic rule of 40 years and its long alliance with Iran. If Mr. Assad falls, that would render Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, isolated as a Shiite Muslim alliance in an ever more sectarian Middle East, no longer enjoying a special street credibility as what Damascus always tried to sell as “the beating heart of Arab resistance.”

If the shifts seem to leave the United States somewhat dazed, it is because what will emerge from all the ferment remains obscure.

Clearly the old leaders Washington relied on to enforce its will, like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, are gone or at least eclipsed. But otherwise confusion reigns in terms of knowing how to deal with this new paradigm, one that could well create societies infused with religious ideology that Americans find difficult to accept. The new reality could be a weaker Iran, but a far more religiously conservative Middle East that is less beholden to the United States.[when did any Muslims anywhere feel "beholden" to the United States? That word misleads. The rich Arabs -- Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia -- look to the American military to protect and when necesssray to rescue them from military threats, as Kuwait was rescued in 1991, and that is the only reason Saudi Arabia temporarily allowed an American base in the early 1990s, and the only reason Bahrain and Qatar allow American bases is not because they are "pro-American" or that they feel in the slightest "beholden" to America, but because they've discovered that they can get the Americans not only to protect them, but to feel "beholden" to the Arabs for allowing them those bases. Macfarquhar gets the situation exactly backwards.]

Already, Islamists have been empowered in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, while Syria’s opposition is being led by Sunni insurgents, including a growing number identified as jihadists, some identified as sympathizing with Al Qaeda. Qatar, which hosts a major United States military base, also helps finance Islamists all around the region.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi resigned as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood only when he became head of state, [a pro forma resignation that meant nothing but he still remains closely linked with the movement. Turkey, the model for many of them, has kept strong relations with Washington while diminishing the authority of generals who were longstanding American allies.

“The United States is part of a landscape that has shifted so dramatically,” said Mr. Malley of the International Crisis Group. “It is caught between the displacement of the old moderate-radical divide by one that is defined by confessional and sectarian loyalty.”

The emerging Sunni axis has put not only Shiites at a disadvantage, but also the old school leaders who once allied themselves with Washington.

The old guard members in the Palestinian Authority are struggling to remain relevant at a time when their failed 20-year quest to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands makes them seem both anachronistic and obsolete.

“Hamas has always argued that it is the future of the changes in the region because of its revolutionary nature, that it is part of the religious political groups who have been winning the revolutions,” said Ghassan Khatib, an official at Birzeit University and former government spokesman.

The Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, will address the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to request that it recognize Palestine as a nonmember state. The resolution is expected to pass, but analysts view it as too little, too late in the face of the new regional mood.

At a busy Ramallah bakery, that mood was readily evident.

“If this situation continues, so what if Abu Mazen gets recognition, so what?” said Salah Abdel Hamad, 50, a teacher, referring to Mr. Abbas. “It will not bring any substantial change.”

The bakery’s owner dared hang in the window a mourning poster for Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief whose assassination by Israel helped to set off the latest conflict.

“The resistance,” said Tha’er al-Baw, 23, referring to Hamas, “proved that they are much better than the negotiating camp. In the days of Arafat, we used to think peace could be achieved through negotiations, but nobody believes this now.”

Even before the conflict, the emir of Qatar visited Gaza, promising $400 million in aid. Qatar did not donate that sum just to have its investment bombed to smithereens every few years.[what does this mean? That Qatar will work to prevent rockets from entering Gaza, which rockets would undoubtedly prompt Israrel to destroy them?]

As Egypt’s president, Mr. Mubarak, who reviled the Muslim Brotherhood, was basically content to have Israel periodically smash Hamas, effectively the Brotherhood’s Gaza cousin.

Mr. Morsi changed little from Mr. Mubarak’s playbook, though his tone shifted. He sent his prime minister to lift morale. Ten foreign ministers, including those of Turkey and the newly Islamist government in Tunisia, also part of the new axis, visited Gaza during the fighting.

Egypt, Qatar and Turkey all want a more quiet, stable Middle East, which they have said repeatedly requires an end to the Israeli occupation. [should read:  "an end to what they routinely call "the Israeli occupation."]But the new Islamist governments do not talk about a two-state solution much, so analysts believe some manner of long-term truce is more likely. [a "hudna" or Truce Treaty is all thatr anyone can or should expect, and the only way to keep the "truce" is through deterrence, that is through Israel keeping a clear military edge over all of its enemies, and the best way to ensure that is for the Americans, and the rest of the West, not to provide military aid, not to sell military weaponry unless it has been jiggered to self-destruct whenever Western computers,including Israeli ones, give the command, and not to give Egypt or any other Arab state aid that can be used for military projects.]

“As Hamas moves closer to Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, it will be weaker as a ‘resistance’ movement because those three countries do not want a resistance movement,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese academic specializing in Arab-Iranian relations.[an absurd prediction]

Those countries will not supply arms, however, so Hamas will maintain contacts with Tehran. Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, told CNN that ties are “not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing of relations.”

Where Hamas and Hezbollah were once allies, the fact that they are now at times at loggerheads illustrates the shift to the new Sunni axis.

A Western diplomat seeking to explain the changes recently drew a cross through the region, the meeting point representing Syria. Along the East-West line, he wrote “febrile crescent,” a play on the traditional “Fertile Crescent” used to describe the stretch of the Middle East where civilization began. The febrile crescent represents the volatile fault line between Sunnis and Shiites, with Syria the prize.

The other axis was labeled “Sunni Struggles,” representing the wrestling within the dominant Muslim sect over what governments and what ideology will emerge triumphant from the current political tumult. The deepest change, of course, is that the era of dictators seems to be closing.

“These are populist governments, which are much more attuned to the domestic public opinion than were previous regimes,” said Rashid Khalidi, an Arab studies professor at Columbia University. “Before the Arab revolutions you had a frozen situation where it was easy to see how things would go.”

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Fitzgerald: Occupation? What Occupation?
{Re-posted from 2005 -- a re-posting prompted by Macfarquhar's  invocation of "occupation" as "Occupation" in his story, twice, and prompted in particular by this sentence in his story today:

"The old guard members in the Palestinian Authority are struggling to remain relevant at a time when their failed 20-year quest to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands makes them seem both anachronistic and obsolete"

That calls for a reply, even if thatreply was written years ago:

A poster at a well-known website recently recommended that readers acquire “knowledge of the day to day lives of the Palestinians and their experience under occupation."

"Occupation"? What "occupation"? All the territories the Israelis now possess are theirs by legal right -- the right conferred by the League of Nations Mandates Commission, when it carefully defined the territory which would be set aside, from the vast territories in the Middle East that had formerly been in the control of the Ottoman Turks as part of their empire, and which had been won by the Allies. An Arab State, a Kurdish State, and a Jewish state were all promised. The Arabs got their state -- no, in the end, they got far more than their state but rather, in 2005, 22 members of the Arab League, the most richly endowed with natural resources of any states on earth, enjoying the fruits of the greatest transfer of wealth in human history The Kurds did not get their state, because by the time things had settled, Kemal Ataturk was driving a hard bargain and would not permit it. The Jews got the Mandate for Palestine set up for the express purpose of establishing the Jewish National Home, which would inexorably become, all parties realized, in time a Jewish state. It did not seem wrong then, and does not seem wrong now, that the Jews should have a state of their own. They asked only for the right to have no barriers put up to their immigration, and no barriers put in the way of their buying land. That was it. That was the sum total of what they demanded. Until the 1948 war, when five Arab armies attacked, not a single dunam of Arab-owned land (and remember that nearly 90% of the land, in any case, remained the possession of the state or the ruling authority, as in the Mandatory period) was appropriated. No one should dare to write about this subject without having done the research on demography, land ownership, and law.

The Israeli claim to the West Bank (as Judea and Samaria were carefully renamed by Jordan after 1948, in precisely the same way, and for the same reason, that the Romans, nearly two thousand years before, had renamed Judea as "Palestine" and Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina) is not that of a military occupier, though it is also that. The main legal and historic claim is that based on the League of Nations Mandate, which in turn, was based on a considerable historic and moral claim recognized by the educated leaders of the then-civilized world, who actually knew something of the history of the area, and were not nearly as misinformed as so many have been by the mass media, and the laziness and prejudice of journalists today.

The notion of "occupation" of course evokes imagines of Occupied Paris, or Occupied Berlin, after the war. It implies no justification for the claims of the power with the military presence. But the claim of Israel to the lands it took in 1967 are based, for the Sinai, on the standard rules of post-war settlement, the rules which have obtained for centuries, whereby a victor in a war of defense keeps what he has won. If the Israelis chose not to, or were forced not to exercise that right, it does not mean that the right did not exist. It did, and it applies even more forcefully to Gaza and the West Bank. But the claim there is not based merely on the successful conquest of territory to which otherwise Israel had no claim. It did have a claim, a claim based clearly on the Mandate for Palestine -- and like all the other League of Nations Mandates, was formally accepted, taken over as it were, by the United Nations when it came into being. This is a matter of record. It cannot be undone.

Whatever else one wishes to say about the West Bank or Gaza, the word "occupation" is a tendentious, and cruel, misnomer. What it seeks to imply, what it seeks to implant in the minds of men, is clear: Israel has no rights here. This is nonsense. This is the very reverse of the truth. Read the Mandate, and the Preamble to the Mandate, for Palestine. Then read the records of the Mandates Commission -- and especially how they reacted when the British unilaterally announced that the terms of the mandate would not be applied to Eastern Palestine -- that is, the consolation prize given to Abdullah of the Emirate of Transjordan.

Read it, and understand it.

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:46 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Hungarian Marton Gyongyosi Is A Security Risk (As Are All Antisemites, Especially Those With Links To Islam) The West Must Watch

'National security risk': Far-right leader pushes Hungary to draw up list of Jews

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- A Hungarian far-right politician urged the government to draw up a list of Jews who pose a "national security risk", stirring outrage among Jewish leaders who saw echoes of fascist policies that led to the Holocaust.

Marton Gyongyosi, a leader of Hungary's third-strongest political party Jobbik, said the list was necessary because of heightened tensions following the brief conflict in Gaza and should include members of parliament.

Attila Kovacs / EPA

Deputy leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party Marton Gyongyosi delivers a speech in Budapest on Tuesday.

Opponents have condemned frequent anti-Semitic slurs and tough rhetoric against the Roma minority by Gyongyosi's party as populist point scoring ahead of elections in 2014.

Jobbik has never called publicly for lists of Jews.

"I am a Holocaust survivor," said Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Hungarian Jewish Congregations' Association. "For people like me this generates raw fear, even though it is clear that this only serves political ends. This is the shame of Europe, the shame of the world."

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, according to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest. According to some accounts, one in three Jews killed in Auschwitz were Hungarian nationals.

Gyongyosi's call came after Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said Budapest favored a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as benefiting both Israelis with Hungarian ancestry, Hungarian Jews and Palestinians in Hungary.["Palestinians" in Hungary? How many "Palestinian" Arabs, how many other Arabs, how many Muslims, has Hungary foolishly allowed to settle within its borders?]

Gyongyosi, who leads Jobbik's foreign policy cabinet, told Parliament: "I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel, and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary," according to a video posted on Jobbik's website late on Monday.

"I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary." [now why is that?]

Gyongyosi, 35, is the son of a diplomat who grew up mostly in the Middle East and Asia -- Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and India -- and whose office is decorated by Iranian and Turkish souvenirs. He graduated with a degree in business and political science from Trinity College in Dublin in 2000. [Did he take his clothes to be cleaned at The Swastika And Bells? Or did his Trinity Colletge stay possibly prompt a wish to  elicit a Book of Kvells?]

He worked for four years at the Dublin office of KPMG, then returned to Budapest in 2005. He has been active in Jobbik since 2006 and became their representative in parliament in 2010.

Posted on 11/28/2012 10:38 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Why Israel Needs Buffer Zones and Fences
After Israel (bizarrely) allowed Hamas' "security personnel" to go close to the Israel-Gaza border fence, thereby ending the long established 300 metre buffer zone, it would seem the decision has claimed its first casualty and it doesn't require a seer of great power to accept there will be many more to come:
Soldiers killed a suspected Gaza terrorist early Monday after he broke into a Jewish home and stabbed a girl before fleeing.  

The IDF discovered a hole in the nearby Gaza security fence, and footprints from the area matched the shoes of the intruder, who had escaped to the Moshav Sde Avraham's greenhouses after he tried to kill the girl.
Soldiers caught up with him and tried to arrest him, and then shot and killed him when he tried to escape.
The wounded girl is in fair condition. She was stabbed in her family’s home in Moshav Sde Avraham, originally named Yesodot HaDarom. It is a southern community adjacent to Gaza and was founded in 1982 by victims of the expulsion from the Yamit communities in Sinai that was part of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979.
The stabbing of a child in a family home is a striking parallel to that of the savage attack on the Fogel family last year but, interestingly, such a significant violation of Israeli territory, and debased violence, has not been reported to even a modest extent by the international media! Surely this is an oddity after they produced a substantial volume of content relating to the November 23rd border shooting, and a great deal of material critical of Israel’s 300 metre border buffer zone?
Posted on 11/28/2012 12:09 PM by Robert Harris
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
A Musical Interlude: "Nem Vagyok Egy Tedd Ide" (Vali Rácz,Tibor Weigand,

Nem Vagyok Egy Tedd Ide -- which Laszlo Lorand and the ghost of Albert Szent-Gyorgy once assured me  meant "Your Guess Is As Good As Mine."

Listen to these two singers --  both suspiciously sympathetic with "Hungarian national security risks" of an earlier day -- here.

Posted on 11/28/2012 12:31 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Michael Flaster: Why Hamas Led Me To Leave Amherst
Read his report here.
Posted on 11/28/2012 2:19 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Ottolenghi And Dubowitz: Preventing Iran's Shell Game

From Forbes:

Sanctions On Iran: How Washington Can End The Game Of 'Catch Me If You Can'

A general view shows the reactor building at t...

The reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 1200 kms south of Tehran. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

By Emanuele Ottolenghi and Mark Dubowitz

Since the European Union announced a new round of sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program last October, it has enacted new measures and an impressive group of companies to its blacklist. Meanwhile, the United States continues to designate Iranian people and companies, and Congress is preparing new legislation to tighten the screws even further.

With nuclear talks once again looming in December, one can only hope that Tehran has finally gotten the message.

But is the policy of blacklisting Iranian companies working?

Last Tuesday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano, told reporters that the IAEA sees no evidence that sanctions are having any impact on Iran’s nuclear activities. When it comes to shutting down proliferating entities, at least, he is right: These measures work, but only briefly and partially.

Over the years, Iran has circumvented sanctions by obfuscating its activities, creating front companies, establishing firewalls to shield its businesses, and building holding companies and structures that look more like Russian matryoshka dolls than legitimate corporate entities.

The challenge for Western officials is to keep up with Iran’s game of “catch me if you can.” Iran’s successes in this department buy it time, and provides legal loopholes through which companies can continue dealing with Iran without fear of being sanctioned.

Take the case of Tidewater Middle East Co., an Iranian port operator blacklisted by the U.S. in June 2011 as an entity owned by the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has “links to Iranian proliferation activities.” It took the EU until January 2012 — more than six months — to follow Washington’s lead and impose sanctions on the company.

Tidewater — not to be confused with the New Orleans-based Tidewater Inc. — used to run Iran’s most important container terminal, the Shahid Rajaee Port Complex at Bandar Abbas, at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, where it oversaw an estimated 90 percent of Iran’s bulk and cargo traffic. The joint pressure of the U.S. designation and EU sanctions against Tidewater should have brought commerce with Iran almost to a standstill.

In a briefing on the U.S. action in July 2011, the international law firm Holman Fenwick Willan LLP concluded that, “Because Tidewater has operations at seven of the main ports in Iran, that is likely to have a very serious effect on trade to and from Iran.”

This would have been likely had Tidewater Middle East Co. remained officially in charge of handling container traffic for most of Iran’s ports. But it didn’t.

The action had little “serious effect” on trade to and from Iran because in the time EU policy makers took to discuss the pros and cons of following the U.S.’ lead, Tidewater was busy creating a new set of front companies to elude Western sanctions.

On July 1, 2011 — seven days after the U.S. action and almost seven months before the EU sanctions against Tidewater went into effect — the port operator registered a new company named Faraz Royal Qeshm LLC, and put it in charge of the container terminal.

The company has three board members. Farshad Fattahinia is the chief financial officer at Bahman Investment Co., a group considered by Iranian opposition groups to be a Revolutionary Guard holding. Ali Asghar Bahramian used to be Tidewater’s financial administrator. And Abbas Argon was chief executive officer of Negin Sahel Royal Co., Tidewater’s main shareholder and itself reportedly a Revolutionary Guard company.

Bahramian is also a board member of Bandar Abbas Arya Container Terminal, an integral part of the Shahid Rajaee container terminal complex that Tidewater used to manage. Argon is its vice chairman. Although there is little publicly available information about Faraz Royal Qeshm — its website,, is still under construction — the 2012 Tariff Book for the Bandar Abbas container terminal is no longer in the care of Tidewater, but of Faraz Royal Qeshm.

So, you can sanction Tidewater, and Tidewater passes all its assets and business to Faraz Royal Qeshm. Before you catch up with this, Iran will have another trick to pull out of its hat.

For European shipping companies, these tricks may make little difference. EU sanctions prevent these businesses from filing claims arising from accidents at Iranian ports, regardless of who operates them, meaning the companies are loath to deliver cargo there.

This doesn’t apply, however, to Asian and Middle Eastern shipping companies. According to companies’ shipping schedules, the following still stop at Bandar Abbas:

Their cargoes are being handled by Tidewater’s new front company. And the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is still reaping the profits.

The U.S. and its allies should stop playing catch me if you can. They should stop trying to establish that each entity is owned or controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, or linked specifically to weapons of mass destruction or terrorism.

Instead, Congress should use its secondary sanctions authority to impose blanket prohibitions on doing any business with Iran’s port, energy, shipbuilding, and shipping sectors. This would include Tidewater and all its affiliates, fronts and successor entities. Each of these sectors is linked to Iran’s proliferation activities, and essential to the operation of Iran’s energy business and its economy as a whole.

If the U.S. can find that an entity is operating in these sectors, that should be sufficient to include it in this blanket ban.

Meanwhile, both the EU and the U.S. should plug the holes, adding Faraz Royal Qeshm, Bandar Abbas Arya and their interchangeable managers to the blacklist. And the U.S. should encourage Asian shipping lines — all of which have significant business interests in the U.S. — to comply with U.S. sanctions laws or face stiff penalties.

Before the EU sanctioned Tidewater Middle East Co., the U.S. put pressure on European shipping giants such as Maersk Line and CMA-CGM SA to stop calling at Bandar Abbas, and they eventually did. Threatening to inflict penalties on Asian companies under sanctions law is the least the U.S. can do. Forcing a choice between doing business in America and trading with Iran may be the key.

Tidewater’s terminals might now be operated by a different company, but the Revolutionary Guards remain in control — and doing business with them helps finance Iran’s efforts to build the bomb.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Mark Dubowitz is Executive Director.

Posted on 11/28/2012 9:20 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald

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