Friday, June 10, 2011

Abbas Is 'Trapped With September'

by Gavriel Queenann

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas wants to "climb down from the tree" and restart talks with Israel, but can't due to widespread pressure, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

According to PA sources several senior PA officials are advising Abbas to forgo plans to seek a unilateral declaration of PA statehood at the UN in September due to opposition to the move from the United States.

However, the sources say the sense is that having announced his intentions to pursue the unilateral UN path, Abbas has "left himself with little room to maneuver and may proceed with the UN gambit simply to avoid a loss of credibility."

"We are trapped with September," one official told the AP. "We don't know what to do after that."

The PA officials, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, said several top PA advisers were having second thoughts about the unilateralist track at the UN.

Among them are PLO second-in-command Yasser Abed Rabbo, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat; and former PA representative to the UN Nasser Al-Qidwa.

Qidwa noted the limits of Abbas's unilateral UN track earlier this week, saying the PA should still rally behind statehood efforts at the UN, "but we should distinguish between getting support and getting recognition."

"We cannot get recognition simply because the US will veto it," the AP quoted Qidwa as saying.

Qidwa's comments suggest a growing realization that the unilateral UN track is problematic and promises an unclear conclusion that may not only change nothing, but may backfire and trigger a new wave of violence PA leaders cannot control.

Abbas attempt to step down from his self-created political precipice may be due to serious discussion in the US congress over cutting funding to the PA, which comes as the PA finds itself amidst another budget crisis. Abbas had previously said he would pursue the unilateral track irrespective of US objections - and even if US funds were cut.

Earlier this week, senior Israeli and PA negotiators traveled to Washington and held separate meetings with US officials to explore the possibility of restarting negotiations.

The meetings come as Hamas considers leaving the business of politics and governance to Fatah saying its involvement therein has "weakened the resistance enterprise."


Gavriel Queenann

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Analysis: The Implications of the Washington Post-ABC News Poll

by Dr. Amiel Ungar

The Osama bin Laden interlude and the false prophecies of Barack Obama's electoral invincibility are now history. As could have been expected, the narrative of the 2012 elections has pivoted back to the bread-and-butter issue of the faltering US economy.

The joint poll by the Washington Post and ABC news displaying former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading President Obama, and a broad majority of Americans blaming the Obama administration for the state of the economy, have reinvigorated the 2012 race.

Governor Romney is a major beneficiary. He is considered competent by most respondents. In 2008, versus the Obamamania juggernaut, that may not have proven enough. This year, with the unemployment rate refusing to subside and the prices of homes in the doldrums, it may suffice, and the major issue for Republicans this year will be who can beat Obama. If Mitt Romney can convince Republican voters that he has the best chance, he may be home free because it means that they do not have to look elsewhere.

This puts the pressure on former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has to establish his economic credentials in a hurry and he must create product differentiation with Romney and other contenders.

That is what brought Pawlenty this week to the University of Chicago in Obama's hometown and the center of his political organization. At the University, Pawlenty accused Obama of class warfare by attempting to pin responsibility for America's economic crisis on the rich and by proposing punitive tax brackets for them. Republicans like a candidate who can stick it to the opposition and especially those who negate Obama's claim that he is a unity figure and a post-partisan president.

Pawlenty broke new ground on economic proposals. He proposed simplifying the federal income tax to two tax brackets. It is axiomatic to most Americans that the tax system is too convoluted for normal people to understand so that this idea will resonate with voters.

Pawlenty recaptured the approach of Woodrow Wilson. The Democratic response to Republican ideas about tax-cutting is that the Republicans are always looking out for their well-heeled buddies in Wall Street and corporate America. Pawlenty has been campaigning on the theme of abolishing assistance to special interests irrespective of their political affiliation. He has made a splash in Iowa of opposing subsidies for ethanol, something that would appear to be political bravery or political suicide in an agricultural corn growing state like Iowa.

If Pawlenty miraculously emerges the victor from the primaries and takes the nomination, he will have created a potent synthesis of liberalism and populism with which to challenge Barack Obama and the Democrats at their own game.

That is why his proposals were savagely attacked by the Democrats and allied commentators and aroused interest amongst conservative papers such as the Wall Street Journal.

What is important for the candidate is that he has attracted interest that may boost his name recognition and prospects against Romney.


Dr. Amiel Ungar

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Reclaiming a Historical Truth

by Efraim Karsh

I agree with Shlomo Avineri, in his op-ed "Zionism does not need propaganda" (Haaretz English Edition, May 23), that the tragedy befalling the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 was exclusively of their own making, and that there is therefore "a grave moral defect in the Nakba discourse."

I am surprised, however, by his assertion that "despite decades of research, to this day no document or broadcast has been found confirming ... [any order] by the Arab leadership for the population to leave." This claim couldn't be further from the truth. While most Palestinian Arabs needed little encouragement to take to the road, large numbers of them were driven from their homes by their own leaders and/or the "Arab Liberation Army" that had entered Palestine prior to the end of the Mandate, whether out of military considerations or in order to prevent them from becoming citizens of the prospective Jewish state. Of this there is an overwhelming and incontrovertible body of contemporary evidence - intelligence briefs, captured Arab documents, press reports, personal testimonies and memoirs, and so on and so forth.

In the largest and best-known example of Arab-instigated exodus, tens of thousands of Arabs were ordered or bullied into leaving the city of Haifa (on April 21-22 ) on the instructions of the Arab Higher Committee, the effective "government" of the Palestinian Arabs. Only days earlier, Tiberias' 6,000-strong Arab community had been similarly forced out by its own leaders, against local Jewish wishes (a fortnight after the exodus, Sir Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner of Palestine, reported that the Tiberias Jews "would welcome [the] Arabs back" ). In Jaffa, Palestine's largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC ordered the transfer of women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several neighborhoods, while in Beisan the women and children were ordered out as Transjordan's Arab Legion dug in.

Avineri mentions the strenuous Jewish efforts to persuade the Haifa Arabs to stay but not the AHC's order to leave - which was passed on to the local leadership by phone and secretly recorded by the Haganah. Nor does he note the well-documented efforts of Haifa's Arab leadership to scaremonger their hapless constituents, reluctant in the extreme to leave, into fleeing. Some Arab residents received written threats that, unless they left town, they would be branded as traitors deserving of death. Others were told they could expect no mercy from the Jews.

In the words of a British intelligence report: "After the Jews had gained control of the town, and in spite of a subsequent food shortage, many would not have responded to the call for a complete evacuation but for the rumors and propaganda spread by the National Committee members remaining in the town. Most widespread was a rumor that Arabs remaining in Haifa would be taken as hostages by [the] Jews in the event of future attacks on other Jewish areas: and an effective piece of propaganda with its implied threat of retribution when the Arabs recapture the town, is that [those] people remaining in Haifa acknowledged tacitly that they believe in the principle of a Jewish State."

Nor was this phenomenon confined to Palestinian cities. The deliberate depopulation of Arab villages too, and their transformation into military strongholds was a hallmark of the Arab campaign from the onset of hostilities. As early as December 1947, villagers in the Tul Karm sub-district were ordered out by their local leaders, and in mid-January Haganah intelligence briefs reported the evacuation of villages in the Hula Valley to accommodate local gangs and newly arrived ALA forces.

By February, this phenomenon had expanded to most parts of the country, gaining considerable momentum in April and May as Arab forces throughout Palestine were being comprehensively routed. On April 18, the Haganah's intelligence branch in Jerusalem reported a fresh general order to remove the women and children from all villages bordering Jewish localities. Twelve days later, its Haifa counterpart reported an ALA directive to evacuate all Arab villages between Tel Aviv and Haifa in anticipation of a new general offensive. In early May, as fighting intensified in the eastern Galilee, local Arabs were ordered to transfer all women and children from the Rosh Pina area, while in the Jerusalem sub-district, Transjordan's Arab Legion ordered the emptying of scores of villages.

To sum up, Zionism needs no propaganda to buttress its case, yet the historical truth needs to be reclaimed after decades of relentless distortion.


Efraim Karsh is research professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King's College London, director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and author, most recently, of "Palestine Betrayed."

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

NYU's Superficial Entrapment Study

by IPT News

A new report from New York University's law school exaggerates the government's role in "manufacturing" evidence to support the claim of a rise in homegrown terrorism while also relying on a series of flawed and biased reports from groups hostile to law enforcement's counterterrorism efforts, an analysis by the Investigative Project on Terrorism shows.

The report, "Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the 'Homegrown Threat' in the United States," was released May 18 by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, a division of the NYU School of Law. It contends that federal and local law enforcement agencies are unfairly targeting Muslims without any evidence they are involved in unlawful behavior. In some cases, the report contends, the government has used paid informants who unfairly trapped defendants into participating in terror plots.

In their effort to discredit federal cases against those suspected and/or convicted of terrorism-related plots, the report's authors have relied extensively on a series of studies written by their political allies, legal arguments by sympathetic but usually unsuccessful defense attorneys, and family members of convicted terrorists.

For example, in a section they entitle, "The Myth of Radicalization," the authors criticize a 2007 New York Police Department study on radicalization and call it "thinly sourced" and "reductionist." However, the source cited in the report's footnotes indicates it was another study by an allied group affiliated with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

To prove their points, the authors cite three cases in particular:

    • U.S. v. Cromitie, in which four men were convicted of plotting to bomb a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York.

    • U.S. v. Shnewer, which is also known as the Fort Dix, N.J., plot.

    • U.S. v. Siraj, in which a Pakistani immigrant living in Brooklyn was convicted of plotting to blow up a New York City subway station.

The cases cited in the report have all been upheld by courts throughout the country. In each case, defense attorneys and friends and family of the defendants claimed they were entrapped by law enforcement agencies. In each case, judges and juries rejected their claims.

In essence, the NYU report relies on the authors' and their allies' opinions that entrapment occurred, not the legal rulings of numerous juries and judges.

The report also relies on sources tied to the defendants for its claims about bias and profiling. For example, it claims there are "dozens of cases where informants were inserted into Muslim communities to lure young Muslim men into participating in concocted plots." The source for that contention was the opening statement of Troy Archie, the defense attorney for Eljvir, Dritan and Shain Duka, who were convicted of plotting to attack Fort Dix, N.J. in 2008.

In each case cited in the report, judges and juries have ruled against the entrapment claims made by the NYU authors.

U.S. v. Cromitie

In this case, federal agents arrested James Cromitie, also known as Abdul Rahman, and three other defendants in May 2009 and charged them with plotting to blow up a synagogue in Riverdale, the Bronx, and shoot down military aircraft at a nearby base with surface-to-air Stinger missiles.

The defendants claim they were entrapped by Shahed Hussain, an FBI informant. Last September, Hussain testified in federal court that he secretly recorded Cromitie and other defendants plotting to destroy the synagogue and other targets.

Cromitie and the others – Onta and David Williams and Laguerre Payen – told Hussain repeatedly that they planned to commit acts of violence, according to the recordings submitted as evidence in the case. "Without hesitation I will kill 10 [Jews] and then I will have to think 20,000 times before I kill one Muslim," Cromitie told Hussain.

Despite the defendants' claims of outrageous government conduct by the prosecutors, the court rejected their arguments. In a ruling issued May 3, the court wrote "there is absolutely no doubt that the defendants committed the charged crimes. … All facts pertinent to conviction were uncontested, except one – whether the defendants were predisposed … to commit the heinous crimes they were obviously prepared to carry out."

In their attempt to discredit the successful prosecution, the report's authors cite interviews with Williams' mother and brother saying that he tried to turn his life around after his release from prison. While that's a laudable goal, it doesn't prove entrapment. They are also hardly unbiased sources.

The authors don't even claim that Williams was innocent. Instead, they quote Alicia Williams, David Williams' aunt, saying she and her family "were pulled into a political game" created by the FBI. Perhaps, but that doesn't alter the facts that David Williams and the others agreed to participate in the scheme laid out by Hussain.

U.S. v. Shnewer

Known as the Fort Dix plot, this case involved a series of Albanian immigrants who were accused of plotting to attack the New Jersey military base. It involved two FBI informants, Mahmoud Omar and Besnik Bakalli, who helped obtain weapons to use in the attack, including a rocket-propelled grenade.

The five defendants – Mohamad Shnewer, Serdar Tatar and Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka – were convicted in December 2008 of plotting to kill soldiers at Fort Dix. They were acquitted of attempted murder charges.

Attorneys for the defendants raised the entrapment defense, but the judge rejected it before the trial. The NYU authors also report that the Dukas' defense attorneys didn't even emphasize entrapment. Instead, they claimed the brothers weren't aware of any plot at all.

So, their report, which leans heavily on the claims of entrapment, shows that the defense attorneys themselves didn't have confidence in the entrapment defense and didn't use it. The report also cites two news reports as evidence of concerns about entrapment. In both examples, however, the stories quote defense attorneys raising the issues, not objective reports.

U.S. v. Siraj

Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay conspired to plant explosives at Manhattan's 34th Street subway station in August 2004, just before the beginning of the Republican National Convention that was held at the nearby Madison Square Garden. Elshafay pled guilty to conspiracy in October 2004, and testified against Siraj at his trial. Additionally, an NYPD undercover police officer, known as Kamil Pasha, testified against Siraj. The jury convicted Siraj in May 2006 in Brooklyn federal court on all four counts of conspiracy, and the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison in January 2007.

The evidence against Siraj also included secretly taped conversations between him and an NYPD paid informant, Osama Eldawoody, an Egyptian engineer. In those conversations, Siraj expressed his hatred for the United States and his interest in placing explosive devices in various parts of New York City. Siraj's sole defense at trial was his claim that he was entrapped by Eldawoody. In its analysis of the law of the entrapment defense, the trial court noted that Siraj's evidence of government inducement was minimal:

"The only evidence defendant offered on this subject was his own testimony that the confidential informant constantly talked to him about the war in Iraq and inflamed his anger against the United States and its treatment of Muslims, for example, by showing him pictures of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib." U.S. v. Siraj, 468 F. Supp. 2d 408, 415 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed Siraj's conviction, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

"[A] rational jury could find that Matin failed to carry his burden," the Second Circuit panel noted. "Matin's only evidence of inducement was his own testimony. And that testimony was contradicted by the testimony of a cooperating witness and the case agent. The government further undermined Matin's credibility by demonstrating that he had lied under oath. We therefore conclude that the evidence sufficed to convict Matin."

But like their discussion of the previous two cases they use as examples, the NYU report authors ignore the decisions of the courts and jury and present the defendant's version of the facts of the case from the mouths of the defendant's family. Siraj's mother is quoted as saying, "Many men in our communities have been targeted, and the women and children are left out in the cold."

After their cursory discussion of these cases, the authors make generalized and sweeping conclusions that "[t]hese cases and other documented practices are suggestive of larger patterns of law enforcement activities that are targeting Muslim communities around the country." As evidence of this statement, the authors direct the reader to several footnotes which cite reports by their political allies, such as the ACLU and the Council for American-Islamic Relations, which have consistently opposed all counterterrorism efforts by the US government since 9/11. Why do these cases demonstrate profiling and impermissible actions? Because they say so.

With no independent corroboration, the study recommends sweeping changes in the way terrorism investigations are conducted. Among them: "The FBI is explicitly and consistently prohibited from using informants to engage in entrapment or inducement to commit crimes."

Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that such drastic changes would crimp law enforcement's ability to thwart budding terrorist plots. In a speech given in December to a Muslim lawyers group, Holder acknowledged sting operations may be unpopular, but they work.

"Since 2001, more than 400 individuals have been convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related violations in federal courts," he said. "And in those terrorism cases where undercover sting operations have been used, there is a lengthy record of convictions."

"Those who characterize the FBI's activities in this case as 'entrapment' simply do not have their facts straight - or do not have a full understanding of the law," Holder added.

"Our nation's law enforcement officials deserve our gratitude – and respect. Without their work – and their willingness to place public safety above personal security – government simply could not meet its most critical responsibility of protecting American lives."

The NYU report simply re-argues points defense counsel have argued unsuccessfully in the legal system. To rely on circular reasoning to claim that the government is "manufacturing the homegrown threat in the United States" is nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate the defendants' claims after they have lost.


IPT News

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

All Ahmadinejad's Men

by Ali Alfoneh

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's sacking of foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has opened another chapter in the ongoing power struggle between the president and the supreme leader, Ali Khamene'i. Interpersonal as it may seem, this confrontation symbolizes the struggle between the Islamic Republic's old elites and Ahmadinejad's burgeoning patronage network, which challenges their authority. How has the president managed to build such a formidable power base? Who are the key members of his coterie, and will they enable their benefactor to outsmart the supreme leader to become Iran's effective ruler?

Was Khamene'i the Real Target?

The sacking of Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, on December 13, 2010, was a clear snub to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamene'i, and opened another chapter in the ongoing power struggle between him and President Ahmadinejad.

On December 13, 2010, while the foreign minister was on an official visit to Senegal, Ahmadinejad replaced Mottaki with Ali-Akbar Salehi, former Iran Atomic Energy Organization director.[1] Following the public outrage about dismissing a cabinet minister on a diplomatic mission, "an informed source" claimed that the government was unaware that Mottaki was abroad.[2] But upon release of the news that Ahmadinejad himself had ordered Mottaki to deliver a personal message to the Senegalese president,[3] first vice president Mohammed-Reza Rahimi and senior assistant Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi said that Mottaki had been informed of the dismissal prior to the trip—a claim which the foreign minister denied.[4]

A model career diplomat, Mottaki was never a key player in the Islamic Republic regime and owed his cabinet membership to Khamene'i. This, along with newly revealed information about the circumstances of his sacking, provides insights into Ahmadinejad's real target: the supreme leader.

According to Ayandeh News, approximately a week prior to Mottaki's dismissal, Ahmadinejad had privately complained to Khamene'i of "lack of coordination between [government] agencies and [the presidency's] restricted authority" and had voiced his resolve to replace the foreign minister. No decision was made, and Ahmadinejad did not raise the issue on his next meeting with Khamene'i on December 6, 2010. However, upon leaving the supreme leader's office, the president told one of Khamene'i's secretaries that "he had forgotten to raise the issue of Mottaki's dismissal with Ayatollah Khamene'i and asked him to inform him [Khamene'i] about it."[5]

Khamene'i has hitherto failed to comment on Mottaki's dismissal in public but gave the green light to various foes, such as parliamentarians and the press, to criticize Ahmadinejad.[6] He also opened another front against the president as the judiciary announced it was investigating corruption charges against Vice President Rahimi.[7] But as Ahmadinejad ignored the public outrage, Khamene'i took a defensive position. According to Ayandeh News, in a conversation "with one of the grandees," Khamene'i stressed that "Mottaki's dismissal had not been coordinated with him and that his approval had not been sought concerning appointment of the acting foreign minister [Ali-Akbar Salehi]."[8]

The President's Permanent Purge

The sacking of Mottaki continues a relentless purge begun during Ahmadinejad's first term in office. Upon entering the presidential palace in 2005, he faced the same challenge encountered by all his predecessors: Though the president has the prerogative of appointing cabinet ministers, more often than not, these appointments are imposed on him by the regime's ruling elites.

Ahmadinejad, however, has moved away from the political traditions and elites of the past and has systematically purged those cabinet ministers forced on him by other groups, beginning with the roads and transportation minister, Mohammed Rahmati,[9] whom he had inherited from his predecessor, President Mohammed Khatami. From the camp of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad dismissed economy and finance minister, Davoud Danesh-Ja'fari,[10] and oil minister, Mohammed-Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh.[11] He even dismissed cabinet ministers imposed on him by Khamene'i, including interior minister, Hojjat al-Eslam Mostafa Pour-Mohammedi,[12] and intelligence minister, Hojjat al-Eslam Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhehi.[13] Other ministers dismissed by Ahmadinejad were cooperatives minister, Mohammed Nazemi Ardakani;[14] education minister, Mahmoud Farshidi;[15] industry and mines minister, Ali-Reza Tahmasbi;[16] and welfare and social security ministers, Mohammed Nazemi Ardakani[17] and Parviz Kazemi.[18] Mottaki's dismissal—the first purge in Ahmadinejad's second tenure—eliminates any pro-Khamene'i and pro-Ali Larijani representatives in the cabinet since the foreign minister was active in Larijani's 2005 presidential bid.[19]

Ahmadinejad's Network

Ahmadinejad's history of purging, as well as his sacking of Mottaki, have demonstrated that inclusion in the president's network, rather than subservience to Khamene'i, who is either unwilling or incapable of defending his own favorites, is the best career move for the Islamic Republic's elites. Members of what Iranians call the "Party of the Wind (Hezb-e Bad)," ranging from American University professor Hamid Mowlana,[20] to Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam,[21] who recently defected from Rafsanjani's camp with his praise of Ahmadinejad's chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, are trying to join the president's ranks. This, however, is easier said than done. Bagher Alayi, Ahmadinejad's classmate at Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) in the 1970s, recalls his colleague's university network:

They did not easily allow anyone to join their team … They had to be completely convinced that this person thought the same way as themselves and to be convinced of his loyalty before allowing him to join their ranks. They would also make investigations, and even then would be careful.[22]

Ahmadinejad has not changed much since his university days. His network is recruited from a closed circuit comprising his fellow IUST alumni, local government and security executives who served in the northwestern parts of Iran in the 1980s, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers who received civilian academic degrees from IUST in the 1990s, those who served Ahmadinejad during his brief tenure as Tehran mayor (2003-05), along with a few family members, and some high ranking IRGC officers who seem to have a power base independent of Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's Mentor and Strategist

To find the roots of Ahmadinejad's circle of trust, one must look into the political dynamics at play at Iran University of Science and Technology on the eve of the 1979 revolution. It was there that the future president's road to radical politics began and where he forged the most important friendship of his life with Samareh Hashemi, his fellow IUST student, religious mentor, and political strategist. Unlike Ahmadinejad, who hails from an unprivileged family of immigrants to Tehran, Hashemi belongs to the religious upper-middle class in Kerman province, is the nephew of Islamist theoretician and prime minister, the late Mohammed-Javad Bahonar, and is also the uncle of current parliamentarian Mohammedreza Bahonar. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, Hashemi and Ahmadinejad headed a radical Islamist student faction at IUST,[23] following the line of "the late [Ayatollah Ali] Ghoddousi, representative of the leader's deputy [Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri[24]] at the IUST," unlike the other faction which followed the "representative of the leader at the university."[25]

Hashemi and Ahmadinejad's group suffered a major setback at the November 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Inspired by the late Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, the Islamic Republican Party cofounder, their faction had opposed the takeover. Beheshti himself had held secret negotiations with U.S. diplomats a week before the seizure and was not interested in the release of the documents,[26] instead advocating the takeover of the Soviet embassy. But the seizure of the U.S. embassy and the taking of U.S. diplomats as hostages proved a tremendous success for the perpetrators. Envious of the prestige of the leftist hostage takers, Hashemi and Ahmadinejad readily aligned themselves with the rightist revolutionary faction, especially the Islamic Republican Party. They established the Office of the Consolidation of Unity Student Organization and together with the late party firebrand, Hassan Ayat, set in motion what became known as the Cultural Revolution,[27] namely, the closure of universities in Iran for over a year, the purge of Iranian universities of undesirable academics and students—including Marxists—and the rewriting of academic materials according to the Islamic Republic's ideological and political doctrines.[28]

Building the Rings of Power

The Cultural Revolution did not prove the astounding success Ahmadinejad and Hashemi had hoped for, and its management was soon handed over to the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution. The two students abandoned university life in pursuit of further revolutionary adventures in the shadow of the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, but they allegedly swore to their leftist opponents, "We will return to conquer the country!"[29]

The Northwestern Ring. The path to conquest went through executive and security positions in the northwestern parts of Iran, which at the time was in a state of civil war—either because of ethnic conflict over Kurdistan or political upheavals as a result of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed-Kazem Shariatmadari's rivalry with Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—which challenged central government authority. Ahmadinejad himself served as governor of Makou and Khoy and advised the governor generals of Kordestan Ardebil.[30] His colleagues from this era, known as the "Ardebil ring" (perhaps better called the northwestern ring), are heavily represented in Ahmadinejad's second cabinet. These include Hashemi, who served as West Azerbaijan governor general and Kordestan's political deputy, and who is today a senior assistant to Ahmadinejad;[31] Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, who established the IRGC intelligence unit in Kurdistan and was promoted to the local security council of the West Azerbaijan province;[32] first vice president Rahimi, who served as Kordestan governor general;[33] housing and urban development minister, Ali Nikzad, who was Ardebil governor general;[34] welfare minister and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Sadegh Mahsouli, who served as West Azerbaijan deputy governor in the early 1980s,[35] and Martyr Foundation director, Masoud Zaribafan, who is a relative of Ahmadinejad's and served as Mahabad governor and also on the Tehran Islamic City Council when Ahmadinejad was mayor.[36]

The Science and Technology Ring. Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war, many former Revolutionary Guards officers pursued academic studies to prepare themselves for public office. So did Ahmadinejad and Samareh Hashemi who returned to the university. Back at IUST, they kept the university's doors wide open to friends they had made in the Guards and security services in the northwestern parts during the war. In the 1990s, the IUST developed into a veritable PhD factory for the Revolutionary Guards, which explains the over-representation of IUST and IUST/IRGC alumni in Ahmadinejad's cabinet. The list includes commerce minister, Mehdi Ghazanfari;[37] industry minister, Aliakbar Mehrabian, who is also Ahmadinejad's nephew;[38] labor and social affairs minister, Abdel Reza Sheikholeslami;[39] and roads and transportation minister, Hamid Behbahani.[40]

The Tehran Municipality Ring. Ahmadinejad's tenure as mayor of Tehran proved as important to his network as his university days and executive posts in northwestern Iran.[41] Prominent Tehran municipality personalities of his coterie include recently sacked National Youth Organization director, Mehrdad Bazrpash;[42] science and technology deputy, Nasrin Soltankhah;[43] and industry minister, Aliakbar Mehrabian.[44] Parallel with the rise of Rahim-Mashaei, came a meteoric rise by former Mashaei subordinates at the Tehran municipality during Ahmadinejad's tenure as mayor. Hamid Baghayi, Iranian cultural heritage handicrafts and tourism organization director, is the most prominent among Mashaei's protégés.[45]

Men of the IRGC

Apart from those guardsmen who are somehow related to Ahmadinejad, there are also a number of IRGC officers who do not seem to owe their appointments to the president's benevolence and may well be the choice of the Revolutionary Guards. The list includes former IRGC Quds Force members, cabinet secretary, Majid Doustali,[46] and defense and armed forces logistics minister, Ahmad Vahidi.[47] Apart from Hashemi, Mehrabian, Mahsouli, and Sheikh al-Eslami mentioned above, other former IRGC officers in Ahmadinejad's second cabinet include communications and information technology minister, Reza Taghipour Anvari;[48] cooperatives minister, Mohammed Abbasi;[49] culture and Islamic guidance minister, Mohammed Hosseini;[50] education minister, Hamidreza Hajibabayi;[51] energy minister, Majid Namjou;[52] interior minister, Mohammed-Mostafa Najjar;[53] oil minister, Masoud Mirkazemi;[54] and science and higher education minister, Kamran Daneshjou.[55]

The strong cabinet presence of former IRGC officers who have a shorter acquaintance with Ahmadinejad, and who neither belong to the northwestern ring nor owe their civilian academic degrees to Ahmadinejad and Hashemi, has important implications. It suggests that Ahmadinejad has had to reciprocate the IRGC's contribution to his reelection. Increased IRGC participation in the country's economic life and its seizure of publicly-owned economic enterprises—such as Iran Telecommunications in the largest trade in the history of the Tehran Stock Exchange[56]—is another price Ahmadinejad has had to pay to remain in office.


Ahmadinejad's sacking of Mottaki is the latest example of his systematic purge of political rivals and their replacement with his own protégés, so as to make the cabinet cohesive and relatively easy to control. At the same time, this patronage network excludes members of powerful elites who have ruled Iran since 1979, and who will consequently feel free to criticize the president since they are not involved in the decision-making process.

No less importantly, the move constitutes yet another public snub to Khamene'i, who seems unwilling and unable to protect his own protégés, thus opening the door to his further weakening. Is Khamene'i ready for a showdown with Ahmadinejad, or will he continue to watch his prestige crumble amidst his rival's provocations? Regardless of the outcome of the power struggle between the two, a third party could be the ultimate victor: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose power will only grow as the civilian politicians continue their war of attrition.

[1] Tabnak News Agency (Tehran), Dec. 13, 2010.
[2] Khabar Online (Tehran), Dec. 19, 2010.
[3] Farda News (Tehran), Jan. 1, 2011.
[4] Ibid., Dec. 19, 2010.
[5] Ayandeh News (Tehran), Jan. 2, 2011.
[6] Parsineh (Tehran), Dec. 13, 2010; Mehr News Agency (Tehran), Dec. 13, 2010; Kayhan (Tehran), Dec. 14, 2010.
[7] Asr-e Iran (Tehran), Dec. 20, 2010.
[8] Ayandeh News, Jan. 2, 2011.
[9] Aftab News Agency (Tehran), July 7, 2008.
[10] Fars News Agency (Tehran), Apr. 4, 2008.
[11] Now-Andish News (Tehran), Aug. 19, 2007.
[12] Farda News, May 17, 2008.
[13] Tabnak News Agency, July 26, 2009.
[14] Aftab News Agency, Oct. 28, 2006.
[15] Ibid., Nov. 23, 2007.
[16] Fars News Agency, Aug. 8, 2007.
[17] Hamshahri (Tehran), Nov. 18, 2006.
[18] Aftab News Agency, Sept. 25, 2006.
[19] Radio Farda (Prague), Dec. 14, 2010.
[20] "President Appoints Professor Mowlana as Advisor," President of the Islamic Republic of Iran website (Tehran), Aug. 19, 2008.
[21] Mahramaneh News (Tehran), Jan. 19, 2011.
[22] Shahrvand-e Emrouz (Tehran), Nov. 13, 2007.
[23] Ebtekar (Tehran) Apr. 16, 2008.
[24] See, "An Ayatollah Condemns an Unjust Ruler," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010, pp. 73-6.
[25] Shahrvand-e Emrouz, Nov. 13, 2007.
[26] Tabnak News Agency, Apr. 23, 2008.
[27] Shahrvand-e Emrouz, Nov. 13, 2007.
[28] "Negahi Be Tarikhcheh-ye Showra-ye Ali-ye Enghelab-e Farhangi," Secretariat of Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution website (Tehran), accessed Jan. 3, 2011.
[29] Shahrvand-e Emrouz, Nov. 13, 2007.
[30] "Zendeginameh," Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran website (Tehran), accessed Jan. 3, 2011.
[31] Hamshahri, Apr. 14, 2009.
[32] "Mashaei Yek Moemen Va Yek Modir-e Velayat-Madar Ast," Masha News (Tehran), accessed Jan. 3, 2011.
[33] Mardomsalari (Tehran), Apr. 22, 2008.
[34] Fars News Agency, Aug. 21, 2009.
[35] Jahan News Agency (Tehran), Nov. 8, 2009.
[36] Alef News Agency (Tehran), Mar. 4, 2007.
[37] Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA, Tehran), Dec. 16, 2009.
[38] Ham-Mihan News Agency (Tehran), May 7, Aug. 23, 2009.
[39] Jame'-ye Eslami-ye Karegaran-e Esfahan (Isfahan), Aug. 25, 2009.
[40] Hamshahri, July 29, 2008.
[41] For a survey of Ahmadinejad's tenure as Tehran mayor, see Frederic Tellier, "The Iranian Moment," Policy Focus, no. 52, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2006.
[42] Ham-Mihan News Agency, May 10, 2009.
[43] Fars News Agency, Sept. 21, 2009.
[44] Ham-Mihan News Agency, Aug. 23, 2009.
[45] Mahramaneh News, Jan. 11, 2011.
[46] "Tabarshenasi-ye Koudetachian," Enghelab-e Eslami Dar Tab'id (Paris), accessed Dec. 8, 2009.
[47] Tabnak News Agency, Sept. 1, 2009.
[48] "Mo'arrefi-ye Mohandes Reza Taghipour Be 'Onvan-e Vazir-e Ertebatat Be Majles," Ministry of Information Technology and Communication website (Tehran), Aug. 21, 2009.
[49] Hamshahri, Mar. 25, 2007.
[50] Jam-e Jam (Tehran) Aug. 29, 2009.
[51] "Hamidreza Hajibabayi Kist?" Kanoun-e Farhangian-e Esfahan website (Isfahan), Nov. 13, 2009.
[52] Tabnak News Agency, Nov. 8, 2009.
[53] Hamshahri, Mar. 25, 2008.
[54] Ibid., Apr. 4, 2007.
[55] Fars News Agency, Aug. 21, 2009.
[56] Ali Alfoneh, "The Revolutionary Guards' Looting of Iran's Economy," Middle East Outlook, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., June 2010.


Ali Alfoneh is a resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Tragic Fight for Gilad Shalit

by Frimet Roth

There are myriad reasonable paths available for securing the freedom of Gilad Shalit, kidnapped and held by Hamas five years ago. So why has Israel persistently pursued the suicidal release of hardened murderers in order to bring him home?

Senior PA officials revealed last week that an agreement between Hamas and Israel on a mass Palestinian prisoner release is imminent. We have PM Netanyahu’s serial bungled handling of Shalit’s captivity to thank for this sorry state of affairs.

Many opportunities presented themselves for pressuring Hamas to free Shalit without the disastrous return of convicted mass murderers to Hamas. Netanyahu caved-in on each occasion.

One confounding example is his recent payment of tax revenues to the PA. In response to the PA’s unity deal with Hamas, Netanyahu initially withheld those funds, totaling $100 million, from the PA for two weeks.

The Shalit family urged Netanyahu to remain firm and freeze that money until Shalit’s return. Yet their call won no support from the Israeli media; their desperate lone voice went unheeded. Under pressure from the West, and from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu capitulated and transferred the funds to the PA.

The Shalit’s push for a prolonged revenue freeze aimed to hurt the perpetrators of Shalit’s kidnapping: Hamas and its new accomplice, the Palestinian Authority. Clearly, if the PA has genuinely reunited with Hamas terrorists, it now shares responsibility for all of Hamas’ actions, including, of course, the Shalit kidnapping.

As Noam Shalit said: “Today, after the reconciliation deal… the PA is actually responsible for the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by his captors, who are also part of the new government set to be formed.”

After the release of the funds, Shalit noted: “Unfortunately we received no explanation of why the tax funds were transferred to the PA given these facts.”

Of course not. There was no rational explanation.

In return for the transfer of funds, Israel received – in the words of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – “reassurances and clarifications that the money would not find its way to terrorists’ hands…”

Whom was he kidding? Those commitments come from the same Fatah and PLO people who promised that they would never join forces with the terror organization, Hamas.

Despite this, and throwing all caution to the wind, Israel has gone ahead and transferred the funds to the PA while failing to implement any mechanism for tracking the transferred funds.

After the confounding release of those tax revenues, Noam and Aviva Shalit turned to the US for help. They called on Congress to halt its financial assistance to the PA in the wake of its union with Hamas, until his son’s release. Since Fatah and Hamas have agreed to form a unity government, the letter argued, the PA can no longer disclaim responsibility for Gilad’s fate, and the threat of losing Washington’s annual $400 million donation might encourage it to take action. They even pleaded directly with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to halt that funding.

The Shalits reminded the two US legislators that under the Rome Statute of the International Court 1998, it is a war crime to hold someone hostage.

Then last week, the Shalits and several supporters successfully blocked a courier service truck at the Gaza border forcing it to return to Jerusalem. The truck was attempting to transfer fresh shekels to Gazan banks which Shalit activists want withheld until Gilad Shalit is granted visitations from the Red Cross.

All of these moves to free their son have been only briefly reported by the Israeli press. The successful blocking of the aid funds earned nothing but a 270- word report in Haaretz.

No columns or editorials referred to these efforts, let alone galvanized the Israeli public. The silence of the Israeli press has been deafening. It contrasts sharply with the encouragement that Israeli journalists and columnists exude whenever the Shalits insist that Israel release all the terrorist murderers that Hamas demands in return for their son’s freedom.

The message to the Shalits could not be clearer: the media will assist you unstintingly as long as you stick to the prisoner release route. But once you try to punish the Palestinians for Shalit’s captivity – you are on your own.

In other words: Let the Israeli public pay the price for Shalit’s return – just leave the poor perpetrators alone.

Turning a blind eye to the activities funded by those revenues is unforgivable. The PA provides a monthly stipend for all Palestinian and Israeli Arab terrorists imprisoned in Israel. Included on the payroll are the terrorists who carried out the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in central Jerusalem on 9th August 2001, the massacre that cost the life of our daughter Malki, 15, and many other innocents. [ JPost].

The fungibility of PA money means that while the US, the EU and other Western donors are not explicitly promoting terrorism, their gifts enable the PA to divert other funds toward that end. [ Source: " PA to Pay Salaries to All Terrorists in Israeli Prisons"]

Together with the European Union, the US provides the bulk of financial aid that reaches the PA. Only 22% of the $530,000,000 received since the beginning of 2010 came from Arab donors . The total amount of foreign aid received directly by the PA was $1.4 billion in 2009 and $1.8 billion in 2008

I have vowed to my dead daughter that I will never cease pleading and fighting for justice toward her murderer, Ahlam Tamimi.

Often misleadingly described as the woman who transported the bomb that was used in the Jerusalem Sbarro terror attack, Tamimi was actually the main perpetrator of that massacre. She selected the target, a venue packed at that hour with women and children. She transported the 10 kg. of explosives, met up with her accomplice, handed him the bomb, deposited him at the target and instructed him on the precise timing the attack so that she could escape unharmed.

Last week the website of Al-Qassam Brigades, the wing of Hamas to which Tamimi belonged, revealed that the streets of Ramallah – the “moderate” Abbas’ headquarters – are emblazoned with posters of Tamimi’s smiling face.

The site also mentions Tamimi’s conviction and sentence: 16 life sentences along with “a recommendation not to release her in any possible exchange of prisoners.”

The judges foresaw the current predicament we are in but their clause is one we, the victims, have never heard or read from any other source. Presumably it is one that the media and the government would prefer to bury.

If the PA officials are correct, Israel is about to add fuel to the very fire of terrorist danger that IDF commanders warn is about to ignite. Once again, our leaders, entrusted with the job of protecting their constituents, are content to place us in the line of fire in order to remove one very painful political thorn in their sides.

And we, the parents of murdered Jewish children, will weep alone for our second loss.

Frimet Roth is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. Her daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the Sbarro restaurant bombing (2001).

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Pro-Syrian Palestinian Group Kills 11 Palestinian Refugees Who Opposed Anti-Israel Golan Activities

by Khaled Yacoub Oweis

Gunmen from a Palestinian faction loyal to Syria shot dead at least 11 Palestinians at a refugee camp near Damascus Monday in a dispute over the group's backing for Damascus, Palestinian sources said Tuesday.

Hundreds of angry refugees had tried to storm the headquarters of the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in Yarmouk camp on the edges of Damascus.

They accused the group of sacrificing Palestinian lives by encouraging protesters to demonstrate at the Golan Heights, where several were shot by Israeli forces.

Syria said 23 people, including a woman and a child, were killed and 350 wounded Sunday when Israeli troops fired on Palestinian protesters who surged against the fortified boundary fence on Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel, with U.S. backing, accused Syria of orchestrating deadly confrontations on a ceasefire line between the two countries as a distraction from Damascus's bloody crackdown on an 11-week-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

"There has been a mood of deep frustration in the camp since Friday that Palestinian blood is cheap and Palestinians were being used by the Syrian regime to deflect attention from its internal crisis," one of the sources at the camp said.

He was referring to sympathy among Palestinian refugees for the plight of Syrian protesters calling for political freedoms in demonstrations during which hundreds of civilians have been killed by security forces, according to human rights groups.

The sources said that the unrest at the camp began when mourners at a funeral for eight Palestinians killed in the Golan turned into a protest against leftist pro-Syrian Palestinian factions during which mourners threw stones at Palestinian figures who had praised Assad.

Hundreds of refugees armed with sticks and stones then headed to the PFLP-GC headquarters and tried to storm it. Several protesters managed to get in and killed one PFLP-GC gunman, they added.

"The confrontation lasted from the afternoon to well after midnight," another source said.

Like several other Palestinian factions in Syria, the PFLP-GC, which is headed by veteran guerrilla leader Ahmad Jibreel, is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States.


Khaled Yacoub Oweis
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman)

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

RAND Corp: Iran 8 Weeks from the Bomb

by James Lewis

According to a RAND report, the United States and the world have blown the chance to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Half a year ago, US air strikes and a no-fly zone might have prevented a nuclear bomb in the hands of the martyrdom ideology of Khomeinist Iran. That window has now slammed shut. In about 8 weeks, the RAND report concludes, Iran will have the nuclear material for its first bomb.

RAND Corporation's Gregory S. Jones believes that Iran has produced almost 40 kilograms of uranium enriched near 20% percent. Jones suggests that air strikes can no longer stop Ahmadinejad's rush to nuclear weapons.

It appears that the Obama administration knowingly allowed the optimal window of opportunity against Iranian nuclear weapons to pass. As a result, the world has suddenly become immensely more dangerous.

The slogan "Death to Israel! Death to America!" has been chanted on a daily basis by mass meetings in Iran. It is sheer wishful thinking to believe that after 30 years of daily threats they don't really mean it. The Obama Administration either believes there is no looming nuclear threat, or that it's willing to live with it. But the Saudis and other neighboring countries don't agree.

Thirty years after Jimmy Carter allowed Iran to be conquered by the Ayatollah Khomeini, a proponent of martyrdom war to spread Shiite Islam, Iran has the means to strike countries it has threatened directly, including Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran's ballistic missile program, with major North Korean help, may be able to reach the United States by 2015. ICBMs only require a flight time of about half an hour.

It is likely that Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt will import their own nuclear weapons from Pakistan, which is now rushing to build an advanced plant for uranium production. An American nuclear scientist who visited a North Korean centrifuge plant recently reported that the plant he saw was so advanced it could only have been built with Chinese help. North Korea therefore seems to have been working as a Chinese proxy to promote worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Iran is dominated by a martyrdom ideology. Ahmadinejad was likely involved in mass suicide charges in the Iran-Iraq war, in which boys wearing green plastic "Keys to Paradise" were ordered to drive their motorcycles into Saddam Hussein's minefields. Ahmadinejad is thought to be a "Twelver," a devout believer in the Shiite Mahdi (messiah), who will bring Armageddon to infidels and victory to an extremist sect of Shi'ism.

No nuclear war has occurred in the last sixty years since Stalin's (stolen) atom bomb explosion. Rational nations do not commit suicide. The Iranian Twelver regime is the first openly suicide-promoting regime since the Japanese Imperial cult of World War II. Ahmadinejad is a religious fanatic who claims to have direct conversations with Allah and the Twelfth Imam, a claim that has led to internal struggles between Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard factions. Khamenei recently arrested Ahmadinejad supporters accusing them of practicing witchcraft against the dominance of the religious elite.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor when Khomeini overthrew the Shah, has recently said that Obama's demand for Israel to pull back to its 1949 ceasefire lines was not strong enough. Brzezinski apparently wants greater concessions from Israel.

Newt Gingrich has called Obama's demand "an invitation for Israel to commit suicide." Michele Bachmann has called it "a betrayal" of Israel.

It is now beyond serious doubt that Obama and Carter have empowered the most radical and dangerous forces in the Islamic world.

1. In 1979 Jimmy Carter brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power by undermining the Shah, who was a modernizer and relatively enlightened on issues like women's education. The result is 30 years of a reactionary Islamist regime, the Iran-Iraq war, and now, nuclear weapons.

2. A few months ago Obama publicly pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power in Egypt. The result has been a rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and an apparent breakdown of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The Saudis are outraged and frightened by the "Arab Spring," which is bringing down regimes all over the Arab world. Pakistan is ready to supply the Saudis and Egypt with nuclear weapons, probably backed by China.

The world has had 30 years to prepare for this moment. Only the United States has the military power to knock down Iran's nuclear industry and impose a no-fly zone that will keep Iranian missiles and aircraft from being launched. Israel is motivated to do it, but cannot sustain a long air campaign. The only option Israel seems to have is to launch its own weapons of mass destruction first.

Dr. Jones' eight-week estimate for the first Iranian Bomb may be off by weeks or months. Nobody can doubt that we will be facing a nuclear Iran some time soon. George W. Bush was mercilessly mocked for launching a preemptive war against Saddam Hussein because Bush did not want to take the risk that Saddam might have WMD's. It now appears that Obama has failed to preempt Iran's nuclear breakout. We will therefore have an opportunity soon to find out what happens when the United States does not try prevent rogue regimes from getting nukes.


James Lewis

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Syria Changes the Subject

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is now trying to direct the heat toward Israel.

Like most of the Arab dictators, Assad wants Israel to be held responsible for instability and violence.

Facing growing protests in his country, Assad has decided to send Palestinians living in Syria to march on the border with Israel, even if that means that some of them could get killed or wounded by land mines or gunfire from Israeli troops.

Assad, of course, has never cared about the Palestinians. He is not sending them to the border with Israel because he supports their "right of return to Palestine."

Nor is the tyrant in Damascus sending young men, women and children to confront and provoke Israeli soldiers because he wants to help Palestinians or alleviate their suffering.

He is dispatching them to the border because he wants to divert attention from his serious problems at home. Assad wants the international community and media to focus their attention on the Israel-Syria border and not on the daily massacres that his regime has been perpetrating against Syrians in the past few weeks.

The Assad regime has banned Arab and Western media representatives from covering the massacres that his soldiers are committing. Journalists from different parts of the world have been denied entry to Syria out of fear that they would report on the brutal crackdown on innocent civilians and anti-government demonstrators.

While Syria TV has refrained from carrying live coverage of the daily anti-Assad demonstrations in the country, the station this week reported extensively and live from the clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate the border into the Golan Heights.

State-controlled Syria TV has been reporting about the events inside Syria as if they are "isolated and sporadic cases of violence instigated by armed gangs and thugs who receive support from external forces." Assad's TV station is continuing to pretend as if everything is fine and calm in Syria and that the only problem is with a tiny minority of armed gangsters and thugs who are shooting and torturing civilians and members of the Syrian security forces.

When Syrians began demonstrating against his regime a few weeks ago, Assad also tried to blame Israel, the US and some Arab countries and TV stations. Clearly, many Syrians have not bought that claim and are continuing to demand regime change in defiance of Assad's tanks and ruthless measures.

Now Assad is hoping to use the Palestinians in his country as cannon-fodder to save his regime. That is why he has allowed Palestinians and some Syrians to march on the border with Israel.

For the past four decades, Assad's army stopped everyone from coming close to Israeli soldiers and the Israel-Syria border was the calmest and most peaceful front. The events along the Israel-Syria border in recent weeks are a sign that Assad has decided to change the rules of the game to salvage his regime.


Khaled Abu Toameh

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What They Don't Want You To Know About The Turkish Flotilla

by Adam Daifallah

Brace yourselves: the Gaza flotilla is back for a repeat performance this summer. Political activists, led by Turkey's Islamist IHH, are in the midst of preparing "Freedom Flotilla 2," a convoy of ships intent on breaking through Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. The flotilla will be led by the same ship as last year – the Mavi Marmara – and will reportedly be joined by others, including one backed by a taxpayer-funded Canadian coalition.

There are five easy, safe and legal crossing-points in Israel through which to reach Gaza: the northern Erez crossing, the eastern Karni crossing (specifically designed for cargo), the southern Sufa crossing, the Kerem Shalom crossing and Rafah. If the flotilla's real intention were to deliver aid to Palestinians, it could be done wth no problem by passing through any of these points.

Items truly for humanitarian aid get through to citizens already. It is only those deemed as "dual-use" -- things like steel pipes, fertilizer and cement -- that are blocked. Some of the items on last year's flotilla included ballistic vests, gas masks, night-vision goggles and clubs. You can expect more of the same this time.

The timing is also questionable. The Middle East today looks a lot different than it did a year ago. Gaza is now as lavish as any place in the Middle East. There are appalling refugee camps in Gaza, but since for several years, it has been under the full control of its own government, Hamas, presumably these humanitarian crises should be laid wholly at the door of the Arabs. Why, therefore, are they not being held accountable? Further, these camos [camps] are perpetuated and presided over by the UN, why is the UN not being held accountable?

Egypt, which had re-opened its borders for a few days, making the transport of supplies to Palestinians easier, has now closed them again: Why is Egypt not being held accountable?

We may be headed for the same messy ending as last year – a violent one – which is exactly what these professional provocateurs want, and which would end up embarrassing Israel in the international media.

The organizers do not even hide that fact. IHH president Bulent Yildirim is openly taunting Israel in the media, encouraging the IDF to attack the flotilla. "Even if we sacrifice martyrs, we will be on the side of justice," he reported said in a recent interview. Yildirim claims 10,000 people have signed up to be get on board the ships.

The IHH, which was behind last year's flotilla, was founded in 1992 and was designated by Israel in July 2008 as a terrorist organization. There has been pressure from the Dutch to place the IHH on the EU's list of terrorist organizations and also in the U.S. The group has documented links to jihadist groups in Europe and Africa and has even been linked to al Qaeda.

The new flotilla plans come at a critical time in Turkey, with the Islamist government of Prime Minister Erdogan preparing to face the electorate in a June 12 vote. Erdogan's tacit support of the IHH and the flotilla is a sombre reminder of how far the Turks have drifted toward radicalism.

Even a Canadian group calling itself "Canadian Boat to Gaza" is organizing a ship to form part of the convoy. Canada's government has been on the right side of most foreign affairs issues of late, and they are again this time. Indeed, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is urging those wishing deliver aid to do so through established channels, calling the unauthorized efforts "provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza." But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of Canadians on the other side of the issue.

According to a report, one group helping to organize the ship, Montreal-based Alternatives International, which describes itself as "social and political movements struggling against social injustices, neoliberalism, imperialism and war," has received $5-million in Canadian taxpayer funding in recent years.(A dual Israeli-Canadian citizen has filed a lawsuit against the boat and Alternatives International, charging that they are raising funds for and providing material support to Hamas, a banned terrorist organization in Canada.)

Provocation is the sole point of this exercise. Any Israeli retaliation to block the effort will be portrayed by the media as "excessive" – the strong beating down the weak, which fits neatly into these activists neo-Marxist dialect. Last year, Israeli navel commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara were attacked by activists. The result was nine dead Turks and five wounded Israeli soldiers. The rabble-rousers hope for the same outcome this time.

Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of Prime Minister Erdogan. The changes in the Arab Middle East have been disconcerting for the Turks, who are now flailing around trying to find a way to stay relevant.

By doing nothing to stop IHH and the flotilla, Erdogan is encouraging them, further shoring up his support with Islamists before the election. Tacitly supporting the IHH is not the only thing he has done in this regard: sex tapes featuring members of the MHP, the largest opposition party, have recently been leaked, leading to a mass resignation of senior officials -- and allowing Erdogan to paint the opposition as immoral.

Many suspect Erdogan's AKP political party is behind the move, as there have been no sex tapes of members of the AKP, and no offical effort to investigate the source of these tapes.

In another troubling development, a senior Turkish general, Bilgin Balanli, was arrested and sent to prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government as part of the so-called "Sledgehammer" case. A Turkish report noted that 29 of the current 300 active-duty Turkish generals are currently under arrest for coup-plotting, as are more than 160 active and retired soldiers. These arrests serve only to give the AKP a veneer of strength heading into the vote.

The toxic combination of crass electioneering on the part of Erdogan, the desire of Islamists to provoke Israel and the apparent willingness of useful idiots in the West make to go along for the ride makes the second coming of the flotilla just as dangerous – if not more – than the first.


Adam Daifallah

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