Russia has said it will supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian government hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks in Geneva fail next month.
Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300 missiles if they were sent to Syria, as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes over Israel. Israel has conducted three sets of air strikes on Syria this year, [purportedly] aimed at preventing missiles being brought close to its border by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.
“The shipments haven’t set out yet and I hope they won’t,” Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli defence minister, said. “If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.” [++]
Israeli military commanders and parliament members argued Wednesday in favor of changing regulations for soldiers operating in the West Bank in front of a Knesset committee, claiming that the rules governing their actions against Palestinians were too restrictive.
According to the Israeli daily Maariv, three reserve commanders – Amram Mitzna, Danny Yatom and Uzi Dayan – spoke during a Knesset security committee meeting, saying that Israel should address a situation deemed dangerous by Israeli soldiers and field commanders.
Knesset member Moshe Feiglin said Israeli forces felt “impotent” when facing Palestinian demonstrations because of regulations restricting their possible response, Maariv reported.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon spoke of increasing incidents of soldier injuries, adding that the Israeli army needed to do everything it could to reverse the trend.
Nissim Zeev, a Knesset member and member of the ultra-Orthodox political party Shas, said that “there is nowhere else in the world where soldiers in a situation of confronting the enemy are powerless.”
Zeev described the situation in the West Bank as one of “asymmetrical warfare” in which he claimed the well-armed Israeli troops were disadvantaged when faced against Palestinian protesters.
Israeli occupation forces routinely use an arsenal of live bullets, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and skunk water against Palestinians, even during peaceful demonstrations. Palestinians protesters typically respond by throwing rocks and occasional molotov cocktails.
Wednesday’s session was attended by the chief of Israeli forces’ central command, along with heads of West Bank Jewish settlement councils and chief security officers.
According to Maariv, the security committee will hold a closed-door meeting to be attended by the Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Yaalon. The participants will address possible means to “restore Israeli forces’ deterrence and dignity in the West Bank” and give Israeli soldiers more leeway in their dealings with Palestinians.
Since January 2009, Israeli forces have killed 59 Palestinians – including 14 youths aged 18 and under – in the occupied West Bank, while Israeli settlers have killed five, according to Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.
In January, 15-year-old Salih al-Amarin from the Azza refugee camp near Bethlehem, was shot in the head and killed during a protest, and a week earlier, Samir Ahmed Abdul-Rahim,17, was shot four times and killed by Israeli soldiers in Budrus, near Ramallah.
In April, Amer Nassar, 17, and Naji al-Balbisi,19, were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes in Tulkarem.
On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers shot 12-year old Atta Sharadeh in the chest while he was walking with school friends near Ramallah. Sharadeh was in sent to the hospital in critical condition.
And then there are the wild cards. Israel has announced that it intends to carry out further air strikes against Syrian territory. According to the (London) Sunday Times, Assad has given orders that any further attacks will be responded to by missile strikes on Tel Aviv. A second wild card is ‘chemical weapons,’ which was a focus of President Obama in his statements while visiting Turkey. As numerous analysts and Syrian military leaders have commented, it would be senseless for Syria to use chemical weapons while having control of the air and being able to bomb rebel positions. Thus it is clear that the only military purpose of using chemical weapons at this point would be to encourage US intervention. Who would have the motive for such a step? Hardly Syria.
“The principle of the lesser evil is often presented as a dilemma between two or more bad choices in situations where available options are, or seem to be, limited….Both aspects of the principle are understood as taking place within a closed system in which those posing the dilemma, the options available for choice, the factors to be calculated and the very parameters of calculation are unchallenged. Each calculation is taken anew, as if the previous accumulation of events has not taken place, and the future implications are out of bounds.” - Eyal Weizman
[…] The siege of Gaza was part of a larger transformation of Israeli power and control, from direct physical occupation to “unilateral” withdrawal in 2005 and “humanitarian management” thereafter. In 2007, Israel decreed Gaza a “hostile entity,” and imposed tight restrictions on the inflow of all essential resources. The stated objective was to “put Gaza on a diet” while preventing a “humanitarian crisis,” which was understood as mass starvation. Gaza became a walled-in laboratory within which thresholds of suffering could be tested and pushed. The proportionality algebraists worked to determine the contents of a humanitarian minimum, a concept that does not exist in IHL. To challenge the siege in the HCJ, as Adalah and eleven other human rights organizations did, lawyers had to wrangle with the Israeli military over how little—calories, vitamins, electricity, building materials—was too little to avert crisis. In larger terms, Israel’s obligations as an occupying state were pushed aside by the cult of proportionality.
The growing field of humanitarian forensic architecture and the proportionality assessment of ruins evince a larger transformation by which “the expression of care for victims was replaced by attempts to uncover the mechanisms of violations.” Marc Garlasco has become the preeminent practitioner in this field and the best example of the kinds of collusions between humanitarians and militaries that define the humanitarian present. Garlasco served for seven years as a US military expert in targeting and “battle damage assessment.” He acquired the skills to predict the likely number of civilian casualties in specific bombings, and how to calibrate the amount of force and the directionality of strikes to achieve “pinpoint” effects. In 2003, he joined Human Rights Watch, where his expertise was used to “interrogate” ruins. This information was the substance of assessments and allegations of violations of proportionality. After Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the United Nations sent an investigating commission headed by Richard Goldstone. Garlasco’s reading of the ruins for Human Rights Watch formed a significant empirical element of the Goldstone Report.
Weizman sums up the trajectory of the humanitarian present that culminates in forensic architecture: Developments in precision bombing ushered in aerial targeted assassinations, along with capacities to predict civilian casualties. Together, these allowed for proportionality analysis prior to bombings and ex post facto assessments by humanitarians who could study and interpret the details of attacks. The result is that “today’s forensic investigators of violence move alongside its perpetrators.”
A standard objection to the Palestinian campaign for the boycott of Israel is that it would cut off “dialogue” and hurt the chances of peace. We’ve heard this again in the wake of Professor Stephen Hawking’s laudable decision to withdraw from Israel’s Presidential Conference in response to requests from Palestinian academics – but it would be hard to think of a more unconvincing position as far as Palestinians are concerned.
One of the most deceptive aspects of the so-called peace process is the pretence that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides, equally at fault, equally responsible – thus erasing from view the brutal reality that Palestinians are an occupied, colonised people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth.
For more than two decades, under the cover of this fiction, Palestinians have engaged in internationally-sponsored “peace talks” and other forms of dialogue, only to watch as Israel has continued to occupy, steal and settle their land, and to kill and maim thousands of people with impunity.
While there are a handful of courageous dissenting Israeli voices, major Israeli institutions, especially the universities, have been complicit in this oppression by, for example, engaging in research and training partnerships with the Israeli army. Israel’s government has actively engaged academics, artists and other cultural figures in international “Brand Israel” campaigns to prettify the country’s image and distract attention from the oppression of Palestinians.
The vast majority of Palestinians, meanwhile, have been disenfranchised by the official peace process as their fate has been placed in the hands of venal and comprised envoys such as Tony Blair, and US and EU governments that only seem to find the courage to implement international law and protect human rights when it comes to the transgressions of African or Arab states.
When it comes to Israel’s abuses, governments around the world have offered nothing but lip service; while dozens of countries face US, EU or UN sanctions for far lesser transgressions, it has taken years for EU governments to even discuss timid steps such as labelling goods from illegal Israeli settlements, let alone actually banning them. Yet the peace process train trundles on – now with a new conductor in the form of John Kerry, the US secretary of state – but with no greater prospects of ever reaching its destination. So, enough talk already.
The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) aims to change this dynamic. It puts the initiative back in the hands of Palestinians. The goal is to build pressure on Israel to respect the rights of all Palestinians by ending its occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees who are currently excluded from returning to their homes just because they are not Jews; and abolishing all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
These demands are in line with universal human rights principles and would be unremarkable and uncontroversial in any other context, which is precisely why support for them is growing.
[…] When we look back in a few years, Hawking’s decision to respect BDS may be seen as a turning point – the moment when boycotting Israel as a stance for justice went mainstream.
What is clear today is that his action has forced Israelis – and the rest of the world – to understand that the status quo has a price. Israel cannot continue to pretend that it is a country of culture, technology and enlightenment while millions of Palestinians live invisibly under the brutal rule of bullets, bulldozers and armed settlers.’
And as if it were totally unexpected - Stephen Hawking: Furore deepens over Israel boycott
Just when the red line charade was reaching fever pitch – but still buried in the sand – and he had to choose between the US “exercising restraint” or “directly involving itself” in the Syrian war, (see The Syria-Iran red line show, Asia Times Online, May 2, 2013) President Obama was saved by Bibi Netanyahu’s Israeli government.
The temptation was oh so great for Obama to replay Ronald Reagan and gloriously wear the mantle of Obama The Syrian Mujahid, just as Reagan did in the 1980s with his beloved freedom fighters of the Afghan jihad. That will have to wait – perhaps not too long.
Let’s cut to the chase. Israel’s bombing of Syrian army installations at Jamraya near Damascus is a provocation and an act of war. Israel acted as a Washington proxy – which may have even provided the list of targets. And Washington – not to mention those useless puppets in Brussels – won’t condemn the bombing, which for the umpteenth time makes a mockery of international law.
… [A]fter much huff and puff, Obama ended up with something way more comfortable than a no-fly zone: targeted strikes – with jets and/or missiles, conducted by the Israelis. The blueprint could be Operation Desert Fox (the Bill Clinton-ordered bombing of Iraq in 1998.) The objective, to “send a clear message” to Syria.
The next bombings may target airfields, concentrations of aircraft, more weapons depots, tanks and artillery. Collateral damage, inevitably, will soar, proportionately to the level of provocation.
Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, very close to the Clinton clan, has already gamed on ABC News that Obama is “leaning towards aerial strikes”. Yes; this is just the beginning. Mini-Shock and Awes await.
The question is why did it take so long. The destruction of Syria – as conceptualized by Sheikh Nasrallah – with the West once more collaborating with jihadi gangs, has been in the cards for years. See how Seymour Hersh outlined it in 2007. And see how badly the bipartisan Washington establishment craves regime change.
And Damascus, of course, is just a stop towards Tehran. The proverbial anonymous sources have leaked to the Rupert Murdoch-ownedSunday Timesin London that a “Defense Crescent” is becoming a reality.
Israel has given the go-ahead to build nearly 300 homes in the settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, a spokesman said, just two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly ordered a freeze on construction.
“The Civil Administration has given the green light for 296 housing units at Beit El, but this is only the first stage of a process before actual construction can begin,” he said, speaking on behalf of a unit within the defense ministry which administers the West Bank.
He explained that the construction plans were part of a compensatory measure for settlers who were evicted last year from Ulpana, an outpost unauthorized by Israel on the outskirts of Beit El. Ulpana was evacuated in June 2012 following a High Court ruling.
Israel had previously given final approval for 90 new homes in Beit El in February.
The announcement came two days after a report said Netanyahu had quietly ordered a freeze on tenders for new settler homes in a bid to give a chance to US-led efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials slammed the decision to approve settlement expansion.
“We condemn this new decision which is proof that the Israeli government wants to sabotage and ruin the US administration’s efforts to revive the peace process,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
“This is a message to the American administration and a blow to the peace process,” he said, pointing to the “intense” shuttle diplomacy being conducted by US Secretary of State John Kerry to try to bring both sides back to negotiations.
“This aims to drag the region into violence instead of peace and stability,” Erakat added.
Hagit Ofran of Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog also denounced the move.
“This initiative proves Netanyahu is deceiving the world,” she told AFP.
“On the one hand, he lets us believe that he is putting the brakes on settlement and on the other, he gives the go-ahead for an enormous building project.”
According to Peace Now data for 2012, at least 1,747 new settlement housing units were built in the past year, and plans were approved for the construction of 6,676 more homes.
The international community views all Israeli construction on occupied Palestinian land as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,
The Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes construction on land they want for a future state.
If anyone had doubts that Syria’s gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel’s string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.
The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were of course immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.
But it’s only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.
Israeli officials have let it be known that the attacks, launched from Lebanese airspace, were aimed at stockpiles of Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement and governing party. They were not, it was said, intended as an intervention in Syria’s civil war – but as a warning to Iran and protection against Hezbollah attacks in a future conflict.
That’s not how it seemed to the Syrian rebel fighters on the ground, filmed greeting the attacks with cries of “Allahu akbar”, unaware of who had actually carried them out. By bombing the Syrian army, which has recently made advances in some rebel-held areas, Israel is clearly intervening in the war.
The raids follow the public declaration by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah last week that his fighters are supporting government forces inside Syria – which are also backed by Iran, Russia and China. It is Syria’s role as the pivot of Iranian influence across the Middle East that has turned the Syrian war into a potential regional conflagration.
Having hedged its bets, Israel has now started to make clear it regards the prospect of Islamist and jihadist groups taking over from the Assad regime as less threatening than the existing “Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis”, as the Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad put it recently.
… [W]hat began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.
The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.
The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical.
The result will certainly be to ratchet up the death toll and spread the war. If they were genuinely interested in saving lives – instead of neutralising Syria to undermine Iran – western leaders would be using their leverage with the rebels’ regional sponsors to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Syrians to determine their own future.
If Israel’s bombing of Syria, which apparently killed more than 100 Syrian troops, is meant as a warning to Iran—as various analysts in Israel and The Jerusalem Post suggest—then the message is: We can strike a nearby, war-embattled nation just minutes from our bases. It really says little about Israel’s ability to strike Iran, a far more complex target much, much farther away. But it does put Israel into a firm alliance with Saudi Arabia (and the Sunnis) in a very dangerous Sunni vs. Shiite sectarian conflict.
President Obama, who, as noted in this blog, repeatedly, awkwardly boxed himself in with his off-the-cuff “red-line” comments about Syria’s alleged (and let us repeat, “alleged”) use of chemical weapons, should decline Israel’s violent invitation to take sides in the anti-Iranian crusade. But John McCain, who’s wanted to bomb Syria from the start, is urging Obama to accept Israel’s invitation to join the fight. Unfortunately, too many Democrats, mostly liberal interventionists and allies of the Israel lobby, agree.
Perhaps his readiness to intervene in Syria will be tempered by the fact that it now appears as if the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons, too, according to the United Nations. But as The New York Times reports, the United States and its allies were, “in secret,” already discussing air strikes against Syria. But Obama should instead seek an immediate cease-fire, with Russia’s support—Secretary of State John Kerry is heading for Moscow—and then work out a political accord.
In any case, it’s hard to take Israel’s assertion that its strikes against Syria on Friday and again on Sunday, more massively, were aimed simply at rockets that may or may not have reached Hezbollah in Lebanon. From early reports, it appears that the attacks were aimed at key bastions of the Syrian government and military in and around the capital, Damascus:
The attack, which sent brightly lighted columns of smoke and ash high into the night sky above the Syrian capital, struck several critical military facilities in some of the country’s most tightly secured and strategic areas, killing dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace, a high-ranking Syrian military official said in an interview.
Last night, speaking on CNN, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said that the new attacks mean that Israel is now firmly in an alliance with Al Qaeda against President Bashar al-Assad. He’s right. It’s an alliance that the United States, already entangled in the war, doesn’t need to join.
The attacks also create a major public relations problem for the rebels, mostly militant Islamists, Al Qaeda types, Muslim Brotherhood activists, and other Sunni religious folks, all of whom are not enthralled by the idea of getting overt Israeli help in toppling Assad. According to The New York Times, the rebels issued a confused statement noting that they don’t want assistance from “external occupying forces,” that is, from Israeli forces occupying Palestine. Some of them are critical of the Assad government for refusing to confront Israel.
Syria is threatening to retaliate against Israel, but really there isn’t much that they can do, and Iran, too, isn’t likely to allow itself to be provoked by the Israeli attack. That could change though, if Israel continues to bomb Syria in what would be an overt alliance with the rebels. But with Benjamin Netanyahu now in Beijing, it isn’t likely that Israel will continue to attack Syria, for now.