Friday, March 27, 2015

27-Mar-15: What a person can do with water is both less and more than most people think

They know most people will never bother to check the facts behind
the allegations [Image Source: A March 23, 2015 RT article]
We live in a country where water is a key enabler, and limiter, of habitation and success. Israel's approach to storing, treating, transporting, recycling and desalinating water is admired throughout the civilized world. It's a heroic aspect of Israel's unique history, and one of the most significant reasons why resource-poor postage-stamp-sized Israel does so well in so many different ways.

A Reuters syndicated report ["Fighters target vital water plants across Middle East: Red Cross"] published this past Wednesday seemed to be dealing with the way terrorists, who by definition, respect no red lines, are targeting water supply resources. "Militants", it says, using a common euphemism for terrorists, "in Syria, Iraq and Gaza have also used access to water and electricity supplies as "tactical weapons or as bargaining chips," the ICRC said in a report."

Reuters then seizes on an instance to prove the point:
Gaza's only power plant was damaged during the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants. The Gaza Company for Generating Electricity said an Israeli tank shell hit the main fuel tanks, taking out almost all capacity.
Electricity is vital to the effective management of water. So if "an Israeli tank" eliminated the capacity of the regime now ruling Gaza, Israel stands behind Gaza's water crisis. Right? No, not at all right, and understanding the real reasons why Gaza is chronically out of electric power is essential to making sense of allegations like the one we just saw. (We will come back to it here another time.)

Published to coincide with World Water Day 2015 this past Sunday (March 22), a report by NGO Monitor (online here) looks closely at the exploitation of water-centric issues as part of the multidimensional political warfare campaign that target Israel. Entitled "Water Myths and Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel", the report illustrates a fundamental truth about anti-Israel activism, expressed by its head, Prof Gerald Steinberg:
"Water is a regional issue, and one that, with close cooperation between all parties, can ensure equitable, maximal access to clean and safe water and help create a more peaceful environment... Unfortunately, NGOs would rather politicize this issue and demonize Israel than improve Palestinian access to clean water."
Some examples of how:
  • A coalition of NGOs  and UN organizations called EWASH (the lengthy membership list is here) opposed an EU-funded desalination project in Gaza that would improve water supply to the suffering inhabitants of the teeming, Hamas-dominated region. Why? Because the project would "accommodate the occupation" and "legitimize Israeli actions." Let the Gazans stay thirsty.
  • Constant and widespread repetition of one core claim - that Israel's hostility to Hamas "prevents Gaza's children from having normal drink clean water". In reality, Gaza's water problems stem from poor maintenance of water and sewage facilities by the ruling power, Hamas. As an unabashedly terrorist organization, Hamas' terrorist infrastructure and warfare requirements chronically take precedence over investing in their people. The neglect of vital civilian infrastructures is the inescapable result. But it's actually much worse than that. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1992, the management of Gaza's water sector has been entirely in Palestinian hands, while Israel provides millions of cubic meters of water annually as those signed agreements require. The incessant Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians have (astonishingly) not changed the reality that Israel continues to live up to the obligations agreed in the Oslo Accords. Even while under rocket from the people at the far end of the pipeline, Israeli water authority personnel repair and maintain the water supply to Gaza under the most stressful conditions.
  • Water gets lost in badly run systems no matter where in the world the bad management happens. This is mostly caused by leakage, spoilage, evaporation and inadequate delivery mechanisms (normally underground pipes). In the Gaza, those losses run at more than 40% of available supply. In the towns and villages under PA control, losses are around 33%. In Israel, it's less than a tenth of that.
  • Allegations are made that Mekorot, Israel's national water authority, gains from "Israeli control over a Palestinian captive market under occupation." So the claim is made that "Mekorot applies discriminatory water prices, charging Palestinians higher rates than Israelis”. (Click here to see this truthfulness-challenged assertion on the Who Profits website where it has been doing damage since 2013.) It's back-to-front wrong. The NGO-Monitor report shows how Mekorot sold water to the PA and Gaza in 2013 at a loss by honoring a set price contract to the Arabs. In reality, the price they pay is not more but in fact less than a third of what Israelis pay their own supplier. If Israel's aim is to make unjustified profits, it's an odd way to do it.
  • Another constant refrain: the Palestinian Arabs are prevented from creating a better water system because the Israelis make this hard for them. The reality, which depends on understanding treaties, agreements and opaque Palestinian Arab conduct (which most anti-Israel activists and a large part of their audience don't bother to do), is that water projects that have gotten all the necessary authorizations, including those needed from the Israeli side, and for which funding is available, routinely fail to deliver the goods because of conflict within the Palestinian Arab world, and the heavy lobbying of Palestinian sectoral interests, notably their agricultural sector.
  • And sometimes the attacks on Israel focus not on inadequate supplies of water but on too much of it. We took a close look at the beginning of March at how irresponsible, unprofessional and agenda-driven reporting from some of the world's largest creators of it can produce outrageous lies like the one claiming Israel uses an aggressive open-the-flood-gates strategy to drown the children of Gaza. It's here ["01-Mar-15: Facts, dam facts, and non-factual inventions aimed at the gullible"]
Foreign aid to the Palestinian Arabs is a notorious black hole. Somehow, the fact that they receive more money per capita than any other segment of mankind has in history keeps bumping up against their reality: photos of bedraggled mothers and children dragging gerry-cans among the rubble of bombed homes. Where did all that foreign cash go? Why do they still not have water or sewerage or reliable supplies of electric power?

Sadly, the process of painting Israel as the boogey-man of the Arab world pays dividends for the advocates of boycotts and sticking a finger in Israel's eye. The Dutch water company Vitens, the largest in its home market, canceled an agreement in December 2013 to collaborate with Mekorot. The Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry played an anti-Israel role in the affair. ACEA, an Italian water corporation, signed a co-operation agreement with Mekorot in December 2013 [source] which included provisions where Mekorot would play a role in under-resourced regions of Italy; ACEA came under heavy pressure to break it almost immediately. 

At the same time, cooperation agreements exist among, and deliver benefits to, Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. as they should. 

But in the hands of single-minded politically-motivated NGOs, water is a weapon of mass destruction. In many respects, those anti-Israel campaigns, involving high-profile non-governmental organizations, parrot the Palestinian Authority's political agenda, and that of Hamas. In addition to EWASH, they include Al Haq, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), BADIL, Coalition of Women for Peace/Who Profits, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, United Civilians for Peace (an umbrella group comprising Dutch NGOs ICCO, Oxfam Novib, IKV Pax Christi), Cordaid) and others.

The blame game is played in creative ways by the political activists who purport to be standing up for Palestinian Arab water rights. It's effective, as we noted, until people start looking close at the facts. Israel provides significant amounts of its own water, for instance, to supply the Palestinian Arabs and not the reverse as claimed by the hostile activist NGOs. Unfortunately, the facts - as the Reuters report at the top of this post shows - are inadequate to the task of defeating fact-free or fact-light political agitation.

As with so many other aspects of the disdain and demonization that Israel experiences in international relations, what bothers the hostile side has very little to do with Palestinian suffering. What they cannot abide is Israel's success. There's a name for the sort of activism.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

26-Mar-15: Australia's rising pre-occupation with its death-cultists

A widely-publicized image from Sydney's 2012 Hyde
Park riots
 [Image Source]
Australia, host to one of the world's most congenial societies, is undergoing wrenching changes that challenge Australians' sense of who they are. Its easy-going, live-and-let-live character has been embraced and increasingly exploited by people with the darkest of motivations and religious passions. In their wake, Australia seems a nation more polarized, more dangerous and more worried than the place we used to call home.

First a statistic, via an Associated Press report today, that expresses the scale of the change.
230 jihad suspects prevented from leaving Australia | Rod McGuirk | AP | March 26, 2015 | Counterterrorism squads have prevented 230 suspected jihadis from departing Australian airports for the Middle East this month, including at least three teenage boys, officials said Wednesday... Since counterterrorism units were attached to eight Australian airports in August, 86,000 travelers have been questioned and 230 people prevented from flying on suspicion that they were headed for the battlefields of Iraq and Syria to fight with groups including Islamic State, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament. Experts disagree about why Islamic State had been so effective recruiting in Australia, which is widely regarded as a multicultural success story, with an economy in an enviable 24th straight year of continuous growth.
The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence... center estimates that about 100 fighters came from the United States, which has more than 13 times as many people as Australia... “It is absolutely critical that the people of Australia appreciate that the death cult is reaching out to vulnerable and impressionable young people,” [Abbott] said, referring to the Islamic State group. “The death cult is reaching out, seeking effectively to brainwash people online.”
A report in today's Australian looks at a piece of the essential infrastructure that is so effectively reaping a harvest in gullible would-be Islamist foot soldiers who ache to become cannon fodder in the Arab-on-Arab slaughterhouses of the Middle East.
Online extremist propaganda is growing at an alarming rate | Sarah Martin | THE AUSTRALIAN | March 26, 2015 | A forum on extremism and social media yesterday at the Australian National University heard that Islamic State’s online promotion of its “brand and a lifestyle” was challenging the ability of authorities to respond effectively. The Australian Security Research­ Centre event heard that the growth of extremist material online was growing expon­entially faster than the ability of authorities to take it down. The government has promised a “counter-narrative” strategy and the forum was told this would include the need to undermine the intellectual arguments propagated by Islamic State, while promoting the “good story” of Australian ­society... Charles Sturt University national security lecturer Levi West, who is an expert in the use of technology in jihadist terrorism, said Islamic State had become the “market leaders” in online propaganda... The forum heard the government was taking a four-tiered approach targeting vulnerable people and community groups in an attempt to prevent high-risk individuals becoming radicalised. The strategy includes programs aimed at education, social ­inclusion and economic participation, and a focus on combating extremism online... Outlining a range of methods used to disseminate Islamic State’s message — from high production videos including militants giving “candy to kids” to how-to guides for foreign fighters — Professor West said there had been a “sudden and enormous spike” in extremist propaganda in the past year that was almost impossible to control. He said instead the government should seek to use intelligence from ­Islamic State sites, rather than shut them down.
The distribution power of the Internet and easy, anonymous access to its content, is central to the missionary strategy of the jihadists.
Islamic State launches step-by-step dossier for Aussie jihadists on how to get to frontline in Syria | Armando Cordoba | March 22, 2015 | News Corp Australia Network | The Islamic State has launched a step-by-step dossier to help would-be Australian jihadists flee the country and fight alongside the terror group. The online guide, posted to sympathisers’ social media network on March 14, includes details and advice on how to use a vast online support network on home soil and, ultimately, slip through security cracks... The new dossier, provided by an IS sympathiser, stresses the importance of contacts for foreign fighters travelling to Turkey from their country of origin. It even provides a series of ‘Useful Twitter contacts who are in IS to Private Direct message’...The dossier says that between 2012 to 2014 the most common method of crossing the border from Turkey to Syria was to enter Turkey, make contact with IS in Syria, then cross from the Bab al-Hawa and Baab al-Salaam crossing between Turkey and Syria. Now, due to heightened security in Turkey, IS fighters are directed to get a hotel room on arrival in Turkey and contact their Twitter correspondence ‘and they will together go to Sanliurfa in Turkey’...The dossier amplifies the importance IS places on the internet.
The how-to-get-to-Syria report illustrates, in passing, how those Islamism-minded would-be warriors, headed for the killing fields, become that way because of a claimed insensitivity on the part of Canberra's decision-makers:
Silma Ihram, a member of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association based in Sydney, says youths are drawn to IS because the Australian government "continues to create an us versus them" mentality... [News Corp]
Ms Ihram, born Anne Frances Beaumont, is an articulate advocate for racial tolerance and the notion that it isn't Moslems but just some angry peripheral people that give Islam a bad name. A 2006 Australian movie review called her "Erin Brockovich in a hijab". If she's right, this is all bound to end up peacefully and well, and the "them" (from that us -vs- them mentality she cites) will calm down and get on with living constructive lives. But it could all get a lot more serious if she's wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

24-Mar-15: In Canadian terror prosecution, research scientist and not-quite-stateless thug are convicted

From a news report highlighting enhanced security measures that
the foiled plot is provoking in Canada [Image Source]
In Canada, two men charged with plotting to derail a passenger train travelling between Canada and the US were convicted on eight terror-related charges on Friday. Their names are Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, and we wrote about them at the time of their arrests back in April 2013. See "22-Apr-13: Tentacles in Canada, and the Iranians are behind it according to police" and a follow-up, "28-Apr-13: Canadians learn that criminals can be saved from deportation if they persuade court they are "Palestinian""

The NPR version ("2 Men Convicted In Canada In 2013 Train Derailment Plot" | NPR | March 21, 2015) of the post-verdict report is brief to the point of laconic, avoiding mention of most of the points we raised two years ago. They write that Jaser is "of Palestinian descent" and Esseghaier is "Tunisian-born". That first descriptor is more relevant than they indicate, and points to something crazy in the way Palestinian Arabs can get away with murder (literally) via the current passion for political correctness in some quarters. The second conceals the real take-away which is that a poisonous passion for Islamist hatred, violence and showcase-scale murder is at the heart of this sequence of events.

Jaser immigrated to Canada with his parents on forged passports (as we noted here), and earned himself a criminal record as he grew to adulthood in the family's new land. Those offences, including making death threats, rendered him ineligible to become a Canadian citizen. The Canadian authorities tried to expel him, serving him with a deportation order in 2004. But in a Canadian court proceeding, Jaser's lawyer successfully argued that he could not be deported because, as a Palestinian, he was statelessSome time after that, Jaser received a pardon. Why is not clear but perhaps ought to be on the minds of Canadians today. Ditto for the fact that he was later granted permanent residency status in Canada.  

Convicted terrorist Jaser has his supporters, naturally
[Image Source]
As we said in our 2013 post, there is something startling about a criminal offender claiming to be a Palestinian as well as stateless and therefore exempt from being expelled - on the grounds that there is allegedly nowhere to send him - even when Canadian law requires it. That's something the Canadians might want to take up with the Palestinian Authority who declared themselves a state more than twenty-five years ago on November 15, 1988. Then 24 years after that, on November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted to give Palestine "non-member observer State status" and PA President Mahmoud Abbas called that the "birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine" [source]. For the freshly convicted terrorist, that must have felt like having your cake and eating it too. 

In its report on the convictions, Associated Press [Two men convicted of terrorist plot to attack New York-Toronto train, March 21, 2015] said of the Tunisian
Esseghaier appeared unruffled as the Toronto jury found him guilty on all five terrorism charges against him. He calmly repeated that he had not participated in the trial and did not want to take part in sentencing arguments either... Esseghaier, who was pursuing a doctorate in Montreal when he was arrested in 2013, chose not to participate in his trial because he had wanted to be judged by the rules of the Qur’an. He did not cross-examine any witnesses, refused to mount a defence and frequently fell asleep in the prisoner’s box.
Bionanotechnologist and convicted (though unkempt) would-be
murderer and terrorist [Image Source
A doctorate? Yes, plus a bachelors degree in Industrial Biology and a masters in Industrial Biotechnology [source]. Plainly no idiot, this passionate and ideologically-disciplined jihad-minded terrorist's professional advancement owes a great deal to Canada and Canadian taxpayers. It's they who underwrite the Quebec-based Biosensor BioMEMS Bionanotechnology Lab at INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique), one of Canada’s top universities, where Esseghaier, described here as an "unkempt, stuttering Tunisian", spent his days and his plotting time. A thank-you note was not, as far as we know, part of the evidence in the trial.

And did we mention that he "is known to have travelled to Iran"? According to the RCMP, "the duo received “direction and guidance” from “al-Qaeda elements in Iran” as they scoped out railway targets in Canada in hopes of derailing a New York-bound Via passenger train".

Now try to connect that to the fierce, perhaps impenetrable, state of mind that allows an accused to fall asleep while being tried for murder and terrorism.

It might have been interesting to see some speculation in the media analysis about how accurate or not the ever-popular model of desperate, disenfranchised, under-educated losers living on the fringes of society is when figuring out who the foot-soldiers of Islamist terrorism directed at the West really are. That opportunity was not taken in this round, unfortunately.

How easily might a murderous plot like this one have succeeded? Uncovering it involved co-operation among multiple agencies (listed alphabetically) - and perhaps others too, since only Canadian bodies are named in the source which seems unlikely:
Canada Border Services AgencyCanadian federal Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs); Canadian Security Intelligence ServiceCN Rail; Durham Regional PoliceOntario Provincial PolicePeel Regional PoliceRoyal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP); Service de police de la Ville de MontréalSûreté du QuébecToronto Police ServiceYork Regional PoliceVia Rail Canada physical security team
When the effort required is as self-evidently large as that, reasonable people are entitled to be very thankful that worse has not already happened. The resources called for in thwarting un-noticed plotters of terrorism on a colossal scale are not something any society can take for granted. Life would of course be simpler if such people walked around with signs stuck to their foreheads announcing what they are planning to do to the rest of us. Until that becomes the case, we're doomed to perpetual watchfulness and quiet optimism as we live our lives and advance our societies.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

22-Mar-15: Secretary Kerry, does making nice to the Iranians bring us closer to curbing terror?

Kerry and Iranian negotiators ("on the sidelines of a larger negotiating
session") at the UN, September 2013 [Image Source]
Dear Secretary Kerry,

This is not the first time we are writing to you. We don't really expect a reply this time either. If we take into account personal letters hand-delivered to your office, emails, Tweets and blog posts, we have gone through quite a number of failed attempts to get your attention on a matter that, at least to us and a handful of our friends, has a distinctly non-trivial nature.

This latest try comes after a volley of messages you and your staff initiated this weekend even while you are caught up in the super-sensitive matter of negotiating with the Iranian regime over their race to get a nuclear arsenal.

We don't envy you the pressure under which you are operating. The Iranians are a handful. The stakes could hardly be higher as we in Israel - living in their crosshairs and under a constant barrage of blood-curdling threats of our impending extinction - are only too aware.

Reuters reports this morning that the Iranian regime's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, whom it accurately calls the person who has "the last word on all matters of state", spoke publicly yesterday in ways that don't sound especially respectful or peace-like. In a harangue addressed to Iranians but probably aimed at you and the Obama administration, he squeezed in enough offensive war-like ideas to test even the coolest of diplomats.
Khamanei said his side would not be "pressured into giving in to Western demands", and do not accept "imposition and bullying from America". Reuters quotes him using the actual words "Death to America" (in his native tongue, natutrally). From where we sit, that sounds like a prediction, perhaps a threat, and not mere empty rhetoric. He said the US knows that the Iranians "are not pursuing nuclear weapons. But they just use that as an excuse to pressure the Iranian people." The US' aim is to "foment instability in the Middle East", which is an extraordinary thing to say when you take into account how many jihadist organizations owe their equipment, ideology, funding and existence to the man making those charges. Then in a surreal touch, he called Western countries "arrogant". That's because of their role in slashing world oil prices in half - an economic consequence that is evidently making his job more complicated than it was when free cash was gushing out of the Iranian dirt. [All italicized quotes are taken verbatim from the Reuters report.]
The Reuters editors wrap this up by mentioning Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president. Stepping around the vitriol of his boss, Rouhani calmly says there is "nothing that cannot be resolved". For some, that will have lightened the mood. He's not called "moderate" in the world's news media for nothing.

We don't actually see much that's moderate about Rouhani. We said why in a short post here two days ago ["20-Mar-15: This is how it looks when an Islamist state turns moderate"]. The depths of his disdain for the West are there for all to see, along with the things he has learned about dealing with Western governments. One of our posts from a month ago, "16-Feb-15: The duping and the dupees", looks at how fooling other people is something Rouhani claims proudly as a talent.

Why trouble you with all this now? Because of the bizarre steps your staff appear to have taken to convey some warm-ish sentiments ("deepest condolences") on behalf of the government and all Americans to Rouhani the "moderate". His mother passed away at the age of 90 a day or two ago. Anyone who has or had a mother understands the loss.

Here's what happened next (hat-tip to Aussie Dave):

The persistent reporter ("Are you sending flowers as well? What do you hope to achieve...?") in the video is, as you probably know, the Associated Press staffer who covers the US State Department. The answers he gets from your spokesperson fall short of the quality of the questions he asks.

State Dept tweet [Source]
This rings bells with us because we and your State Department spokespeople have some history. It happens to be over terror and semantics. We wrote about it several times here on our blog. Click here for a summary. 

The abbreviated version starts with what we posted (hereon August 14, 2013: 
A persistent reporter tackled the State Department's deputy spokesperson Marie Harf... on whether the murderers being bused tonight into the waiting arms of the two Palestinian Arab regimes are (a) freedom fighters or (b) terrorists.
For most people, that's probably easy to answer. But it turns out that for the US government and its diplomatic service. it's not. After the reporter asked, a strange exchange followed. This account comes from Washington Free Beacon and from this video clip:
Persistent reporter: Do you have any thoughts or position on whether these people who are going to be released [today] are political prisoners or are they terrorists? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI do not have a position on that. 
Persistent reporter: Do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as political prisoners? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI don’t have a position on that... 
Persistent reporter: ...Most of these people [in fact all of them - TOW] have been convicted of murder, of killing people. And the Israelis are very clear on the fact that they think that these people are terrorists, even though they’re releasing them. The Palestinians say that they are political prisoners and... have instructed their ambassadors, all their representatives around the world to refer to them as freedom fighters, political prisoners. And I want to know, if you don’t have a position... if there isn’t anything that you call them, do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as freedom fighters? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: The answer is, I don’t know and I will endeavor to get an answer for you on that as well. 
(As you might have guessed, the persistent reporter in the August 2013 exchange is the same one who challenged your spokesperson yesterday.)

We said then and we still believe that something seriously wrong is going on here. Marie Harf, the State Department's spokesperson, was being asked to react in your name to the release of Palestinian Arab terrorists. All of them had been convicted of murder, and all had spent years in Israeli prison cells. She was being asked to react to a letter sent to you personally by a group of Israeli families whose children had been murdered by those and other Palestinian Arab terrorists. We happen to be among those families. We helped draft and send the letter. 

That 2013 letter expressed a sense of astonishment that the United States was pressuring Israel to free homicidal convicts, not one of whom had served out the prison term to which he has been sentenced. All of them were certain to be received as triumphant heroes, congratulated for their crimes, by the Palestinian Authority's leadership and that seemed, to us, to be a massive step backwards on the road to peace. (And that of course is precisely what happened.) 

So this was about facing up to terror - recognizing it when you see it, and understanding the price of turning a blind eye to it. As bereaved families, we were not asking for condolences or sympathy from anyone. We were angry, felt a tremendous injustice was being done, wanted your assurance that you and your people actually know what terrorism is, even while you were agitating for undeserved freedom for its perpetrators. 

What we did not expect was that, many months later, Marie Harf, your mouthpiece, would still not have managed to get back to anyone on those questions posed by AP and us. An online article at the time, referring to us by name, explained how: 
Roth signed a letter sent Tuesday to Kerry asking him for a meeting. “Meet with us,” wrote Roth and 16 other family members of victims. “Let us explain why being complicit in turning the killers of our children into heroes and ‘freedom fighters’ must not be part of any policy befitting a great nation and moral exemplar like the United States...” Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told The Daily Beast, “We’ve received the letter today, and we’re reviewing it.” [Eli Lake, writing in The Daily Beast, August 14, 2013]
We know the August 13, 2013 letter we and our friends wrote did reach you. Marie Harf says so explicitly. It was a painful letter with a serious intent and it raised meaningful issues that are at least as relevant now, after the convicted killers were greeted as heroes back in their villages (guaranteeing more acts of terror), as they were then. Even more so, given that Iran's dedication to terrorism seems central to why we worry about their nuclear plans.

But as we noted, you and your team are still "reviewing" our letter. We followed-up numerous times. But no one from State has ever addressed what we raised. Or gotten back to us. Or even acknowledged what we said.

It's possible we over-estimated how seriously you and your staff relate to letters from bereaved Israeli victims of terror. If so, we want to respectfully remind you that those killings were in many cases directly linked to Iran and the violent extremism done by it and its clients - chief among them Hamas and Hezbollah. We will also mention that those murdered children (our daughter, for instance) were US citizens.

Now that Rouhani, coping with the grief brought on by his own mother's passing, has gotten the full benevolent attention of the US State Department in all its well-resourced splendor, it seems timely to point out again that being right or not right on terrorism has vast consequences. And dealing with the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions is about terrorism in the same way that the freeing of those Palestinian Arab killers of innocent Jews you told the government of Israel to do was about terrorism.

With tough negotiating opponents and an impending deadline, we're sure you and your team are under pressure. But having now seen the serious attention paid by State to the "moderate" Iranian in his moment of personal sadness, can we remind you that we are moderates too? Unlike the Iranians, we surely don't have "Death to America" on our lips. In fact, we don't know anyone more fervent about wishing you and your State and White House colleagues the greatest possible success in the Iran talks and in general than we are. Your success will mean everyone wins.

To us, terrorism is at the heart of those talks. Even when it's absurdly called violent extremism (the new preferred Washington euphemism), terrorism turns people's lives upside down in ways that are poorly understood outside the circle of those directly affected. It undermines basic notions of justice, embitters societies and has a painful impact on every aspect of the lives it hits. And it's hard to make the case that the civilized world is winning against it. For instance
  • The UN has never been able to agree on an international convention against terrorism because getting agreement on a definition of terror appears to be impossible. Astute observers say it never will get past this obstacle. The reasons don't need to trouble us here and now - you know them at least as well as we do. 
  • The US State Department, as we have just pointed out, squirms and twists rather than call convicted terrorists by that name. People notice this - people with a vested interest in past and future terrorism.
  • Being vague on terrorism complicates and (we say) undermines negotiations with the world's most active promoter of terror. The former head of the CIA, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said this week in a Washington Post interview that ISIS is not the biggest threat facing the United States in Iraq. Instead, it's "the Iranian-backed Shiite militias". If you reach an understanding with them in Switzerland on a nuclear deal, will that go away?
We still (barely) have hopes that Marie Harf will get your instructions to respond unambiguously to AP's Matt Lee and to us bereaved families. We are patient. But we are also puzzled. It's hard not to observe the sharp contrast between the way we, terror victims, are treated publicly by State and how you deal publicly with the Iranian arch-terrorists. And even if you remain too busy to get your spokesperson to call terrorism by its name, we're hoping you let the Iranians know the US absolutely knows what it is and who is doing it, and holds them fully accountable for it.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

Friday, March 20, 2015

20-Mar-15: A peek into how Middle East politics work in reality

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh in a Saudi news report
: “Whoever questions the legitimacy and independence of the
Shariah justice system is either ignorant or biased.”
Sweden's current government has a well-deserved reputation for irritating people, especially in our neighbourhood. It has recently given formal recognition to a state called Palestine, the first European country to do so. It has criticized Israel in ways that make people like us think the key members of its leadership are not especially well informed; the impression we have is they follow the politically-correct herd for ideological knee-jerk reasons. They're hardly alone in that - it has become something of an international disease.

But we're not writing this to make a case against Sweden. Nor - for that matter - are we especially for them. Instead, we want to explain why what is happening to Sweden is an object lesson in how international politics work in general, and how policy in the Middle East in particular is made and conducted. It's not so pretty.

Our starting point is an article in today's Washington Post [here]. It describes how Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's Foreign Minister and a woman occasionally called strident in the media, was blocked from talking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo. Who blocked her? The Saudis.
An Arab diplomat confirmed to AFP that Riyadh had stopped the Swede from making her opening speech. Wallstroem had been invited as an honorary guest to the Arab ministers’ meeting in praise of her government’s decision to recognize Palestine in October. Her canceled opening speech — published by the Swedish foreign ministry — mentioned neither Saudi Arabia nor Wallstroem’s feminist foreign policy agenda but stressed women’s and human rights. [AFP | March 9, 2015]
Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom
January 2015 [Image Source]
Sweden didn't sit on its hands. It responded by scrapping a major arms deal between Swedish industry and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was an agreement that had been in place for a decade and was up for renewal for a further five years in May. Sweden's arms industry watched, it would be fair to say, in astonishment.

Here's why: Swedish exports to Saudi Arabia were worth $1.3 billion in 2014. The now-scrapped military arms deal delivered Saudi Arabian purchase orders to Swedish factories of $39 million last year alone.

Wallstrom had already criticized the outrageous flogging of a Saudi blogger by the name of Raif Badawi. He managed a website that
"allowed social and political debate on Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government arrested Badawi in January 2012 on the charges of apostasy, insulting Islam and violations of Saudi laws on information technology." [source]
What's happening to Badawi is infuriating on any (non-Saudi) view. But in the realpolitik of international relations in our times, the customary thing is for such people - and the things officially done to them - to be ignored. Sweden not only did not ignore him; its foreign minister called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship, which on any reasonable view the absolute hereditary monarchy is.

From a Saudi campaign poster that cannot be viewed by women
without a male guardian's approval [Image Source]
The human rights climate in Saudi Arabia is a nightmare, to say the least.

With no real attempt to hide this, the authorities there routinely, systematically, oppress religious minorities, women and homosexuals, and imprison tens of thousands for their political views. Hangings and beatings for "crimes" that include apostasy and blasphemy are common. Two years ago, The Guardian reproduced a Saudi government King Khalid Charitable Foundation poster of a veiled female with a bruised eye, and this poignant slogan: "Saudi women can't do anything without a male guardian's permission – including see the advert".

Governments, like ordinary people, know this, obviously. But few say or do anything about it because, well, being polite to the Saudis has its own rewards. And being not nice can be very expensive.

Saudi Arabia's new and robust Swedish policy is just getting underway. And it promises to be uncomfortable for Stockholm's decision-makers. The Washington Post mentions several of the steps already taken:
  • On March 10, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, saying it was prompted by Sweden's "interference in its internal affairs."
  • The same day, Arab League foreign ministers issued a joint statement condemning Wallstrom's statement.
  • On March 18, the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador to Stockholm. In doing so, it issued a media release condemning Sweden and its "strong statements".
  • Also March 18, the Swedish ambassador was called in to the UAE foreign ministry for a harangue featuring “the UAE’s extreme condemnation of the statements made by the foreign minister of Sweden to the Swedish Parliament regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system”, a free lesson about the need to "respect the religious and cultural specificities of countries and societies" and a warning not to "violate the principle of sovereignty upon which normal relations between states are based", and not to engage in "interference in internal affairs".
  • Yesterday (March 19, 2015) Associated Press was told by a Saudi official that his country "would no longer issue business visas to Swedish citizens or renew the current visas of Swedish citizens inside Saudi Arabia."
  • Transparently staged criticisms of Sweden and its government are now a daily occurrence in Saudi news reports: "Behind Sweden’s tirade is a hidden Western agenda to tarnish Islam", for instance, in a Saudi news channel yesterday, along with "Swedish antics condemned" and "‘Ignorant critics of KSA laws’ slammed" today.
How does this feel to the Swedes? [WaPo]:
  • "This is going to have a vast negative impact for the companies with interest in the region," Andreas Astrom, the communications director at Stockholm's Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press. "This is not good for Swedish business society and, in the long run, jobs in Sweden."
  • "In a very real way, this is about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner," Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister and prime minister, told Defense News. "That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden. This whole situation is unfortunate."
  • Sweden's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dag Yulin Danflet, has been telling the Saudi press that he is seeking to "contain the crisis."
  • "Swedish firms fear losing business in Arab world", the lead article in a Swedish newspaper on Wednesday.
From which it's fair to assume that at some point, when the pressure gets to the right level, when the Foreign Ministry identifies the moment when it can save face, Sweden will climb down from its tree and adjust its foreign policy pronouncements to the prevailing winds of international trade. It's much less about rights; much more about credibility as a contractual partner and supplier.

That's how foreign policy is made, and that's how the world is. All the pronouncements about principles, human rights, self-determination and over-riding humanitarian concerns can be put back where they came from. What's really important is that those "religious and cultural specificities" are given the appropriate degree of genuflection.

The editors at the Washington Post got it right; the headline on today's report, the one we quoted above, is:
Sweden stood up for human rights in Saudi Arabia. This is how Saudi Arabia is punishing Sweden.

20-Mar-15: This is how it looks when an Islamist state turns moderate

The full report is here
The Islamic Republic of Iran, where daily life was recently described as consisting of "systematic arrest, torture, persecution of minorities and accelerated executions" has had a moderate political leader for nearly two years. Don't believe us? Then trust the headlines:
What kind of "moderate"? Newsweek laid it out for us a week ago ["State Executions Rise to Two Per Day in Iran" | Newsweek, March 13, 2015]. 

The article provides some stunning facts based on the research of Oslo-based human rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) together with the French group Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (Together against the Death Penalty). They held a press conference last week to reveal what they know - the full report is downloadable from here.

Some findings:
  • 753 people were executed by the Iranian regime in 2014, up 10% on 2013. By comparison, the total for 2005 was 94. 
  • But only 291 (39%) of these official 2014 state killings were announced via official Iranian government sources.
  • "Executions have risen dramatically since president Hassan Rouhani’s election in June 2013. In the 18 months before his election, there were 827 executions. In the 18 months after the election, this figure rose to 1,193."
  • About half those put to death were convicted, according to the state, on drug-related charges. 240 were executed for murder.
  • 14 of those killed were juveniles.
  • "At least 53 of the executions recorded were held in public, with children often present to watch the spectacle."
  • 26 were women. They include a woman of 26, Reyhaneh Jabbariconvicted of stabbing to death a man who lured her to his office and tried to rape her. She was 19 at the time, and spent 7 years in prison before being executed. (Details here).
  • "All the reported execution cases for 2014 were carried out by hanging. In most cases, public executions are carried out using cranes, while in prisons they are usually carried out by having the object the prisoner is standing on kicked out from beneath their feet, according to the report... Often the fall is not severe enough to dislocate the neck and thus cause sudden death, and so in some cases it has taken several minutes for a prisoner to die from suffocation or strangulation."
  • "Prisoners are forced to watch their fellow prisoners hanged before it is their turn."
The nightmare of today's Iranian moderate reality extends to additional fronts:
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, IHR's spokesperson calls the execution report's findings "shocking", which is understating it. He has a suggestion:
Today Iran depends on dialogue with the west to lift the sanctions and this is the time when the West can have some influence on the human rights situation by making demands. If they don’t do it now it will never happen.
What are the chances? Those currently negotiating intensively with the Iranians on nuclear issues may be so caught up with the moderation of their interlocutors that involving themselves in internal Iranian matters are almost certainly too much to expect. A US president who beams a message into Iran, as President Barack Obama did this week [BBC], saying a deal "to transform the relationship between" the US and Iran "could be within reach", is unlikely to want messy matters such as these to complicate his statecraft.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

19-Mar-15: Popular, polite, friendly, hard-working and desperate to play a role in the carnage

A Turkish news source carries this photo of
the arrested female today. It was taken in Turkey
while she was held there by the police [Image Source]
More developments today from the United Kingdom which, like virtually all of Europe, has been transformed into the staging ground for ongoing, religion-inspired carnage on a scale that not enough people actually comprehend:
A 21-year-old British woman was arrested today by counter-terror police at Luton Airport after landing on a flight from Istanbul, Scotland Yard said. Scotland Yard said the 21-year-old was detained at 11.15 this morning after landing on a flight from Istanbul. She was arrested on suspicion of preparation of acts of terrorism and is currently in custody at a police station in South London. [ITV News, today]
Another British source says the woman is a convert to Islam:
Jamila Henry, 21, was arrested this week in Turkey, but it is alleged she has been travelling on the passport of her identical twin sister, Jalila, who is not a Muslim... Turkish media later published images of Jamila Henry after she was arrested, wearing a black headscarf. Turkish daily Sabah reported that Jamila had admitted plans to travel to Syria to join Islamic State, because she had married a man who was fighting for the militant jihadi group. [Huffingtom Post UK, today]
At Times of London, they reported yesterday that she had been arrested earlier while on her way. That made her "the fourth Briton in less than a week... to be detained by the Turkish authorities on suspicion of trying to reach Syria and join Islamic State". As with similar cases of other men and women in their twenties (or younger), raised in democratic, open Western societies and now embracing the values of a death-and-murder cult, this woman and her sister are said to have been ‘popular and polite’ in their youth.
A fellow pupil at Sellincourt Primary School in Wandsworth, South London, said: "They were very nice, friendly, hard-working girls. I can’t imagine one of them ever wanting to join Islamic State." ...Relatives said she converted to Islam a few years ago and they have had little contact with her since... Jamila was arrested by Turkish security services as she prepared to board a bus in the capital Ankara. Agents suspect she was trying to travel to the border with Syria. Turkish officials said authorities apprehended the woman based on local intelligence and were not tipped off by British authorities. Messages and images on her mobile phone suggested she was planning to head to Islamic State territory, they alleged... At her £500,000 home in nearby Streatham, the twins’ mother, Patricia Henry, 50, said she was ‘getting together with her relatives’ to discuss how to respond to the arrest... Security services estimate 600 Britons have gone to Syria or Iraq to join militant groups. [Daily Mail UK, March 19, 2015]
By "militant", they of course mean the kind of terrorism-minded person who as a matter of religious obligation engages in bestial forms of incitementtortureabusehomicide and dismemberment - when the opportunity presents itself. Traveling to the killing fields of Syria is the shortest path to such opportunities. The attempt itself expresses a deeply sociopathic urge.

We can only hope the British authorities fully grasp the importance of sending an uncompromisingly discouraging message to other jihad-minded terrorism-tourists en route, already there (and perhaps thinking of coming back) or preparing to go. And that more Europeans manage to confront the process - going on daily under their noses - by which a teeny-tiny minuscule fraction of their neighbours' children are being converted into pathological, murder-seeking fanatics, brimful of hatred for the values and people of the societies that raised them.

19-Mar-15: In Tunisia, terrorists target tourists... again

Evacuating victims of Wednesday's terrorist attack in Tunisia
[Image Source]
A murderous attack by terrorists in broad daylight yesterday (Wednesday) left at least 19 people killed on the streets of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.
"They just started opening fire on the tourists as they were getting out of the buses ... I couldn't see anything except blood and the dead," the driver of a tourist coach told journalists... [Reuters, March 18, 2015]
The victims were assaulted outside the National Bardo Museum, located inside the "heavily-guarded" parliament compound. Other than two of the attackers, the dead (the numbers seem uncertain even now) are reported to be made up of 5 Japanese, 4 Italians (among hundreds from an Italian cruise ship, the Costa Fascinosa, touring the western Mediterranean), 2 Colombians, 2 Brits, 2 French, 2 Tunisians - one a civilian, one a police officer - and individuals from South Africa, Poland (perhaps 2), Australia (he may also be one of the two Colombian victims) and Spain. Dozens more were left injured, and some people are still regarded as "missing", including 14 (more or less) from the cruise ship.

The president of Tunisia says his country will now fight terrorism "without mercy", according to the BBC. Interesting to see how the BBC's notorious guidelines make it impossible for them to call yesterday's cold-blooded murders "terrorism", though their reports do freely quote other people - such as Tunisia's political leaders and security officials - using the "T" word.

Tunisia is "the Arab world’s most successful democracy" [NYTimes] having "recently completed its first free presidential elections and a peaceful rotation of political power". It's also "one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State" [NYTimes].

The new Tunisian prime minister, Habib Essid, who took office last month ["Tunisia's secular-Islamist coalition takes office", Al Ahram], said "two or three accomplices might still be at large", and urged urged "national unity", calling the massacre the first operation of its kind ever to occur in Tunisia

The synagogue in Djerba where a previous human bomb attack
targeted civilians, including tourists visiting Tunisia [Image Source]
The first? That's true only if we ignore (and ignore is exactly what most parts of the news media are doing) the April 11, 2002 Djerba synagogue bombing in which terrorists operating on behalf of Al Qaeda deployed a human bomb and a truck full of explosives to attack people, most of them tourists, visiting a historically-significant (and exceptionally beautiful) Tunisian synagogue. The death toll was heavy: 14 German tourists, 3 Tunisians, 2 French. 

Terrorism rarely needs a trigger. But there is speculation [here, for instance] that Wednesday's massacre is 
linked to the death of Ahmed al-Rouissi, Tunisia’s most-wanted terrorist, who had become a senior leader in Isil’s Libya group. Accused by the Tunisian government for a string of terrorist attacks in his home country, he was killed last weekend in a clash with Libyan militiamen.
Al Rouissi was one of the most wanted men in Tunisia, where he was considered the mastermind of a string of attacks carried out by the Ansar Al Shariah movement... Al Rouissi fled to Libya where he began fighting under the banner of the Daesh [ISIS] group, which already controls about a third of Syria and Iraq. Tunisia’s Interior Ministry has not confirmed Al Rouissi’s death, though the local Press has been filled with reports on the incident. [Khaleej Times, March 16, 2015]
BBC Watch has done a good job [for instance here] of tracking the history of anti-Jewish violence in Tunisia and the deaf ear and blind eye provided by the BBC.

What will be? For the optimists, there is the fact that, in the past few hours, the international community has sprung into decisive action. The U.N. Security Council last night "condemned the Bardo museum attack saying that no terrorist action can reverse the path of Tunisia toward democracy..." [Associated Press] and offering condolences to the victims. According to Xinhua (which calls the killers "terrorists" in quotation marks lest we suspect the Chinese news-agency of taking sides on such contentious matters) the UNSC "underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice." 

Fierce determination of this sort (excuse our cynicism) ignores the way the UN has for years struggled with defining terrorism. Because of "a lack of consensus on the definition of this phenomenon", it has consistently failed and
"a UN Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism, created by the General Assembly back in December 1996, has remained deadlocked as it tries to reach agreement on a comprehensive draft convention to eliminate terrorism" [Aljazeera]
We don't know any informed sources who believe the UN is ever going to get past that problem. The consequences of its condemnation and call to action in the wake of yesterday's terrorism are unfortunately predictable.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

17-Mar-15: French investigators: Arafat's death in 2004 was not from poisoning

Mr and Mrs Y. Arafat [Image Source]
This just in from Agence France-Presse:
Nanterre (France) (AFP) - French experts reexamining evidence have confirmed their earlier conclusion that the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was not the result of poisoning, a prosecutor told AFP Monday. The prosecutor for the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts found there was no foul play in Arafat's death, which sparked immediate and enduring conspiracy rumours... French experts "maintain that the polonium-210 and lead-210 found in Arafat's grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature," Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said... This confirmed French findings from 2013, which also matched those of a Russian team. However, a Swiss probe has said that the poisoning theory is "more consistent" with its test results. Arafat died aged 75 on November 11, 2004 at the Percy de Clamart hospital, close to Paris. He had been admitted there at the end of October that year after developing stomach pains while at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he had lived since December 2001, surrounded by the Israeli army. Arafat's widow Suha lodged a complaint at a court in Nanterre in 2012, claiming that her husband was assassinated, sparking an inquiry. The same year, Arafat's tomb in Ramallah was opened for a few hours allowing three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators to collect around 60 samples. Many Palestinians believe that the Israelis poisoned Arafat with the complicity of some people in his entourage. ["French experts reaffirm conclusion that Arafat was not poisoned", AFP, March 16, 2015]
It's unlikely that conspiracy theorists will be deterred by something as flimsy as expert conclusions: Arafat was poisoned - any idiot knows that. Some of those idiots:
  • "It’s now clear too that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned, probably by the Israelis, with radioactive polonium" [Tony Gosling, a British land rights activist, historian and investigative radio journalist | RT | June 20, 2014]
  • "A leading Jordanian doctor, Ashraf al-Kurdi, who regularly examined Mr Arafat, and last saw him two weeks ago, has said poisoning was the "highest" possible cause of death, the Associated Press news agency reports..." [BBC, November 12, 2004]
  • "Bassam Abu Sharif, former senior advisor to Yasser Arafat announced Monday the results of the tests conducted to identify the kind of poison that killed the late Palestinian president... This fatal substance is extracted from sea weed and comes in the form of a liquid that is colorless, tasteless and odorless. The tests, Abu Sharif explained, revealed that the poison used to kill Arafat is called “thallium,” a rare chemical substance whose effects are very hard to detect... Abu Sharif pointed out that the information he uncovered is part of a more comprehensive report whose details he will announce soon. “The information I have is not yet complete. This is just part of it.” ...Abu Sharif said that he also warned Arafat a few months before he was poisoned. “I specifically told him that poison is Israel’s main weapon.” [Al Arabiya News, January 11, 2011]
  • "A Palestinian commission of inquiry has concluded that ousted Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Dahlan was involved in the “poisoning” of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat. The commission’s report was published on Sunday by a number of Arab news websites, including al-Jazeera..." [Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post, July 8, 2011]
  • "Farouk al-Kaddoumi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization leader, claims that Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas was directly involved in the murder of former PA chairman and terrorist leader Yasser Arafat..." [Israel National News, July 14, 2009]
  • "Evidence Indicates that Ariel Sharon Ordered the Assassination of Yasser Arafat" By Stephen Lendman [Center for Research on Globalization | January 2, 2007]
  • "A top Hamas political leader, Khaled Meshaal, accused Israel Thursday of having poisoned veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in a French hospital aged 75. "I accuse Israel of having poisoned the blood of Abu Ammar," Meshaal told Arab television network Al-Jazeera" [Middle East Online | November 11, 2004]
Whatever did bring about his demise, there is little argument over the phenomenal wealth Arafat not-so-mysteriously accumulated in his lengthy career as a statesman. He died a billionaire, presiding over a nation that was essentially penniless and that has grown even needier over the past decade.