Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Mapping a World From Hell: 76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror

Tom Engelhardt writes for Tom Dispatch:

He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.

More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)

Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time — in October 2001, to be exact — Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy waragainst the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.

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Strength of Iran Protests Uncertain After a Week of Unrest

The Associated Press reports:

The strength of protests shaking Iran was unclear on Thursday after a week of unrest that killed at least 21 people, with fewer reports of demonstrations as government supporters again took to the streets in several cities and towns.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the drop in reports of new demonstrations challenging Iran’s theocratic government meant the protests are subsiding or that the authorities’ blocking of social media apps has managed to stop protesters from offering new images of rallies.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration acknowledged the speed and breadth of the protests took both it and the Iranian government by surprise.

The past week’s protests have been the largest in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, which ended in bloodshed. While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

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Why There Won’t Be a Revolution in Iran

Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

An Iranian woman raises her fist through the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran. Photo: AFP[…] There is a strong similarity to China, where the Communist Party is embedded in the very fabric of society.

Talking to young people in places such as Kashan or Mashhad showed me how solid the popular base was behind the Islamic Republic experiment. It was certainly more thought-provoking than listening to ayatollahs in Qom.

Still, what is happening now in Iran is that legitimate protests related to economic hardships have been hijacked by the usual suspects in a move to influence the minority. After all, Rouhani’s administration is comparatively liberal compared to the populist Ahmadinejad government.

So, what we have is a concerted attempt to turn legitimate protests into a “revolutionary” movement with the aim of bringing about a regime change. In all practical purposes, this would be civil war.

Well, it will simply not work. Anyone familiar with Iran knows the country’s civil society is far too sophisticated to fall into such a crude and obvious trap.

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How Western High-Tech Firms Are Secretly Helping Iranian Mullahs Spy On Iranian Activists

Richard Pollock reports for The Daily Caller:

Image result for Iranian MullahsThe Iranian government’s decision to shut down social media apps in the wake of countrywide protests is only the latest chapter in the Islamic regime’s use of internet technologies to secretly monitor and repress dissidents.

Since 2009, Iran’s mullahs have mastered the surveillance capabilities of the internet and smart phones, in large part due to critical help they’ve received from western telecom companies, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.

Their technical help permits Iranian authorities to read emails and text messages, track online activity as well as tap phone calls and monitor the movement of activists with their smart phones, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The sale of Western telecom technology to the Islamic state, which could be used to spy on its citizens, is the “West’s dirty little secret,” according to an Iranian dissident who once was attached to the U.S. Government’s Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Although he lives in the U.S., he asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Iranian regime.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be Dead in 11 Days

Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast:

Protests throughout Iran are cresting right as a crisis point for the landmark nuclear deal approaches.

Starting on January 13, a week from Saturday, Trump will face a deadlineover reimposing economic sanctions that the U.S. agreed to lift under the 2015 nuclear deal. Despite the agreement, those sanctions have remained in place, technically; it’s just that president Obama and, thus far, Trump, periodically agree not to enforce them, keeping the deal alive.

In other words, as unrest in Iran spreads, Trump has an imminent opportunity to kill the Iran nuclear deal he despises, all by doing nothing.

And as of right now, there’s no wave of concerted allied diplomacy aimed at keeping him in, The Daily Beast has learned.

That’s in marked contrast to the last time Trump brought the U.S. to the precipice of withdrawing from the Iran deal was October, when he “decertified” Iranian compliance with the deal, even though the International Atomic Agency has consistently found Iran to live up to its obligations under what’s formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Before he did, the White House and the State Department endured a full-court press from the U.S.’ traditional European allies to save the deal.

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Trump Promises Support for Iran Protests ‘At the Appropriate Time’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

US officials have been denying reports that they are behind the growing protests in Iran, but that hasn’t stopped President Trump from repeatedly openly endorsing the protests, and promising “great support from the United States at the appropriate time.

Trump’s repeated expression of support for the protesters, and the fact that the US has repeatedly backed such movements in other nations to try to impose regime change, has Iranian officials taking the matter to the UN, accusing the US of “grotesque meddling” against them.

Trump provided no indication of what the US support/intervention would ultimately look like, and US Ambassador Nikki Haley called on the whole international community to stand with the protesters.

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C.I.A. Names the ‘Dark Prince’ to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance

Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman reported for The New York Times in June 2017:

He is known as the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, nicknames he earned as the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the American drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians.

Now the official, Michael D’Andrea, has a new job. He is running the C.I.A.’s Iran operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, an appointment that is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign.

Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.

Iran has been one of the hardest targets for the C.I.A. The agency has extremely limited access to the country — no American embassy is open to provide diplomatic cover — and Iran’s intelligence services have spent nearly four decades trying to counter American espionage and covert operations.

The challenge to start carrying out President Trump’s views falls to Mr. D’Andrea, a chain-smoking convert to Islam, who comes with an outsize reputation and the track record to back it up: Perhaps no single C.I.A. official is more responsible for weakening Al Qaeda.

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How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017

Micha Zenko writes for Foreign Policy:

President Donald Trump at Yokota Air Base at Fussa in Tokyo on November 5, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)Back in March, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his proposed slashing of the Foreign Operations Budget by 31 percent on the grounds that, “As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.” A few weeks ago, he made an even more expansive claim, saying that, “Bringing the budget numbers back down is reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success in some of these conflict areas, getting these conflicts resolved.”

Needless to say, Tillerson’s aspirations — that the United States will be involved in fewer wars and deliver greater peace — have not been achieved. In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest in reducing America’s military commitments and interventions, nor committed itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them. Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has the right membership or motivation to turn things around.

President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited from his predecessor. As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled column in August, “Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented Levels.”

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This Is What Victory Over ISIS Looks Like

Megan Specia reports for The New York Times:

The declarations of victory played out across Iraq and Syria: The long campaigns to retake city after city from Islamic State militants had come to an end.

But the hard-won battles left vast destruction in their wake, and the celebrations from atop the rubble of once-grand buildings are ringing hollow for hundreds of thousands of displaced residents.

Iraqis and Syrians return to cities that are ghosts of their former glory, lacking the infrastructure for normal life to begin again. Now they must grapple with how to rebuild.

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Trump May Not Finish His Term But the Assassination Complex Will Live On

Jeremy Scahill writes for The Intercept:

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, NV - AUGUST 08:  A pilot's heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force's first "hunter-killer" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. The Reapers are expected to be used in combat operations by the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq within the next year.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Donald Trump’s speech on Afghanistan will briefly turn the media spotlight onto America’s longest war. Much of the media analysis will undoubtedly be about how the speech impacts Trump politically. Given the events of the past week, it seems unlikely that Democratic pundits will repeat their inane praise of the State of the Union address, in which Trump apparently became presidential for the first time. But this speech should serve as a moment to seriously examine the trajectory of the U.S. war machine from 9/11 to the present.

Amid the deluge of scandal, incompetence, and bigotry emanating from the Trump White House, the relative calm of the Obama era seems like a far-off galaxy. The reality that Trump may not even finish a full term as president, either due to removal or resignation, means that the palace intrigue must be reported on thoroughly by the press. But a dangerous consequence of the overwhelming, obsessive focus on the daily Trump affairs is a virtual dearth of coverage on the permanent, unelected institutions of U.S. power, namely the military and the CIA.

Spend just a moment studying moves of the Pentagon and Langley during the Trump era, and you will find that very little has changed in their post-9/11 course. Covert operations continue unabated throughout the Arab world and, increasingly, in Somalia. The U.S. remains in Iraq and Afghanistan and is becoming entrenched more deeply in Syria. If anything, the military and CIA are less restrained and are in greater control of decisions — that arguably create policy rather than implement it — than they were under Obama. And civilians are being killed at a greater rate under Trump, particularly in Iraq and Syria. There are reports that Trump has delegated more unilateral authority to the commanders than his predecessor and has relaxed rules ostensibly put in place to minimize civilian deaths. He has surrounded himself with generals who have spent their lives studying and preparing for war and know how to marshal the resources needed for overt and covert campaigns. This — combined with Trump’s questionable sanity, his pathological addiction to television and Twitter, and his compulsive need to respond to random pundits and congressmen at all hours — removes a crucial component of civilian oversight of the world’s most lethal force.

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Will the 9/11 Case Finally Go to Trial? Andrew Cockburn on New Evidence Linking Saudis to Attacks

Amy Goodman speaks with Andrew Cockburn, whose latest piece is headlined ‘Crime and Punishment: Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?(Democracy Now!)

Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Urges Trump to Privatize Afghan War and Install Viceroy to Run Nation

Amy Goodman speaks with longtime investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn about the White House considering an unprecedented plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan at the urging of Erik Prince, founder of the now-defunct private mercenary firm Blackwater. Prince told USA Today the plan would include sending 5,500 private mercenaries to Afghanistan to advise the Afghan army. It would also include deploying a private air force—with at least 90 aircraft—to carry out the bombing campaign against Taliban insurgents. The plan’s consideration comes as a federal appeals court has overturned the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad, killing 17 civilians when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space. (Democracy Now!)

Newly Declassified Documents Confirm U.S. Backed 1953 Coup in Iran Over Oil Contracts

Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak with Professor Ervand Abrahamian, author of Iran Between Two Revolutions, about the newly declassified State Department documents which show oil contracts played a key role in the U.S.-backed 1953 coup in Iran that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. (Democracy Now!) 

The Real Scandal: Americans Don’t Care About Afghanistan

Andrew J. Bacevich writes for The American Conservative:

“Dwelling on the past is just not useful,” not at least in the opinion of Brigadier General Roger B. Turner Jr., U.S. Marine Corps. General Turner’s current duty station is Afghanistan, where he commands a modest conglomeration of Marines and sailors known as Task Force Southwest.

We might empathize with General Turner. After all, what’s the point of getting hung up on the past when you are facing a dauntingly tough job in the here-and-now? That job requires Turner to do what a run of previous U.S. military commanders have been attempting to do without notable success for almost sixteen years: to pacify Helmand Province. Were he to reflect too deeply on the disappointments of those sixteen years— the U.S. troops killed and wounded, the billions of dollars expended, all to no evident purpose—Turner just might reach the conclusion that he and his charges are engaged in a fool’s errand conceived by idiots.

We don’t want brigadier generals entertaining such heretical thoughts about basic U.S. national security policy. Their proper role is to implement, not to formulate; to comply rather than to question; to do or die not to wonder why. So General Turner’s reluctance to dwell on the course that the Afghanistan War has followed since U.S. troops entered that country in 2001 qualifies as prudent and perhaps even necessary.

Unfortunately, the officials who issue Turner his marching orders seemingly share in his reluctance to contemplate the past. The people back at the White House and in the Pentagon who should be thinking long and hard about why America’s longest war has gone so badly even as it drags on and on appear incapable or unwilling to do so. A willful amnesia prevails.

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Trump Intel Chief: North Korea Learned From Libya War to ‘Never’ Give Up Nukes

Jon Schwarz reports for The Intercept:

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 12, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (front L) inspecting the command of Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 534.    AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS    REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP    ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS        (Photo credit should read KNS/AFP/Getty Images)The media is now filled with headlines about North Korea’s missile teston Friday, which demonstrated that its ICBMs may be able to reach the continental U.S. What isn’t mentioned in any of these stories is how we got to this point — in particular, what Dan Coats, President Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, explained last week at the Aspen Security Forum.

North Korea’s 33-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un is not crazy, said Coats. In fact, he has “some rationale backing his actions” regarding the country’s nuclear weapons. That rationale is the way the U.S. has demonstrated that North Korea must keep them to ensure “survival for his regime, survival for his country.”

Kim, according to Coats, “has watched, I think, what has happened around the world relative to nations that possess nuclear capabilities and the leverage they have and seen that having the nuclear card in your pocket results in a lot of deterrence capability.” In particular, “The lessons that we learned out of Libya giving up its nukes …  is, unfortunately: If you had nukes, never give them up. If you don’t have them, get them.”

This is, of course, blindingly obvious and has been since the U.S. helped oust longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. But U.S. officials have rarely if ever acknowledged this reality.

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UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia Ruled Lawful

BBC News reports:

A man among rubble after an alleged Saudi-led airstrike in YemenUK government arms sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful, the High Court has ruled, after seeing secret evidence.

The court rejected campaigners’ claims ministers were acting illegally by not suspending weapon sales to the kingdom, which is fighting a war in Yemen.

The UN claims strikes on Houthi rebels caused thousands of civilian deaths.

The government said defence exports would continue to be reviewed but the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said an appeal against the ruling was planned.

The group had claimed the UK has contravened humanitarian law and attacked the refusal of the Secretary of State for International Trade to suspend export licences for the sale or transfer of arms and military equipment.

Lord Justice Burnett and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, sitting in London, said the decision to carry on the arms trade was not unlawful.

The judges said “closed material”, which had not been made public for national security reasons, “provides valuable additional support for the conclusion that the decisions taken by the secretary of state not to suspend or cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia were rational”.

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One Year on From the Failed Coup, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is More Autocratic Than Ever

Soner Çağaptay, author of The New Sultan, writes for The Guardian:

Image result for ErdoğanThis week is the first anniversary of the failed coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a coup he has used since to further alienate his opponents. Most recently, on 16 April, he won a referendum to become head of state and head of government simultaneously, emerging as the most unassailable Turkish politician since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the secular republic in 1923.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Atatürk shaped Turkey in his own image as a western society. In his Turkey, the state banished religion to the private sphere and discriminated against pious citizens. But since 2003, Erdoğan has dismantled Atatürk’s societal model, flooding political and education systems with rigidly conservative Islam, as well as pivoting Turkey away from Europe and the west.

This is, paradoxically, Erdoğan’s Atatürk side. Of course, Erdoğan does not share his values, just his methods. Just as Atatürk reshaped Turkey, so Erdoğan is building a new country, but one that sees itself as profoundly Islamist in politics and foreign policy – to make it a great power once again.

Erdoğan is an anti-Atatürk Atatürk. As I explain in my book The New Sultan, having grown up in secularist Turkey and faced social exclusion at a young age because of his piety, Erdoğan is motivated by animosity towards Atatürk’s ways. Yet he has dismantled Atatürk’s system by using the very tools that the country’s founding elites provided: state institutions and top-down social engineering.

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Why the Media Really Hates ‘War Machine’

Scott Beauchamp writes for The American Conservative:

War Machine, the new Netflix original movie starring Brad Pitt playing a disturbingly over-confident General based on Stanley McChrystal, is controversial for all the wrong reasons.

First there was the kerfuffle at Cannes, where Netflix was booed for breaking tradition by submitting films that would be released on laptops instead of theaters. Then there was the casting of Brad Pitt, which some categorized as a colossal misstep. Variety said that the almost surreal comic role should “have gone to John Goodman, or some comparably gifted character actor.” And then there’s the focus of the film itself. Is it an “irrelevant and brash” alpha-male misfire? Or an “assured and nervy black satire” that tries to have it both ways by mocking the war even as it sympathizes too heavily with the officers who wage it?

What gets ignored in all of these various reactions is the reality of the ongoing war itself and how this film relates to it. Sure, it’s novel and interesting that online streaming companies are producing original films. And of course the wisdom of casting a Peter Pan hunk like Brad Pitt as an American general is up for debate. But isn’t the real scandal that there’s an ongoing occupation to critique at all? If the film comes off as brash, it’s because it conveys an irreverent confidence that almost seems to anticipate the media missing the forest for the trees. A major theme of the film is, after all, how mass media fails us on a moral level, always transforming events that require somber moral reflection into superficial sleaze. And so I can’t help but wonder if reviews of War Machine have been so uniformly unfavorable because of the disconnect between the ongoing war and popular culture, and how the film implicates the media in sustaining that rift.

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Al-Jazeera, Insurgent TV Station That Divides the Arab World, Faces Closure

Hugh Miles, author of Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World, writes for The Guardian:

Image result for Al-JazeeraOn Monday a bold and controversial experiment in Middle Eastern media and politics may be abruptly brought to an end. Al-Jazeera – once heralded as the beacon of free Arab media that broke the hegemony of the western networks and reversed the flow of information from east to west for the first time since the middle ages – faces closing its doors for good.

On 23 June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt subjected Qatar to unprecedented diplomatic and economic sanctions, followed by an aggressive blockade and threats of further action if Qatar fails to meet a list of 13 demands, one of which is to shut down the al-Jazeera network.

If Doha capitulates – and there are no signs it will – it will effectively have lost its sovereignty and become a vassal state of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Yet defying the deadline could lead to regime change in Qatar, or even war.

Whatever happens, it is a credit to al-Jazeera that, 21 years after its launch, it is still so disruptive and challenging to those in power. Few other media outlets can claim to be so influential. But al-Jazeera is not like other broadcasters. It is a unique phenomenon which, since it started broadcasting in 1996, has revolutionised the Arab media, and in 2010 played a major role in bringing about a real political revolution across much of the Arab world.

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64 Years Later, CIA Details Long-Hidden Role in Iran Coup

Aaron Maté speaks with Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archives about the quiet release of long-awaited and long-hidden CIA documents offering key details on how the U.S. and Britain overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953. (The Real News) 

Seymour Hersh: Trump Ignored Intel Before Bombing Syria

Aaron Maté speaks with veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who reports that President Trump bombed a Syrian military airfield in April despite warnings that U.S. intelligence had found no evidence that the Assad regime used a chemical weapon. His latest piece for Die Welt is titled: Trump’s Red Line(The Real News)

Inside Israel’s Secret Program to Get Rid of African Refugees

Andrew Green reports for Foreign Policy:

[…] For decades after its founding in 1948, Israel welcomed refugees from outside the Jewish faith. The country was an early signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. In his first official act as prime minister in 1977, Menachem Begin granted refuge to 66 Vietnamese who had been rescued at sea by an Israeli ship. During a visit to the United States later that year, he recalled the St. Louis — a ship loaded with more than 900 European Jews who attempted to flee Germany in 1939 — to explain his decision. The St. Louis’s passengers were denied permission to disembark in Cuba, the United States, and Canada and ultimately returned to Europe. A quarter of the passengers are thought to have died in the Holocaust.

“They were nine months at sea, traveling from harbor to harbor, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They were refused,” Begin said. “We have never forgotten the lot of our people … And therefore it was natural that my first act as prime minister was to give those people a haven in the land of Israel.”

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert echoed Begin’s act when he granted temporary residency permits to nearly 500 Sudanese asylum-seekers. But as the number of African migrants swelled in subsequent years, Israel’s receptiveness began to flag. The vast majority of the new arrivals were fleeing long-standing authoritarian regimes in Eritrea and Sudan. They chose Israel for many reasons: because it was a democracy, because it was easier to reach than Europe or — for many Sudanese — because it was an adversary of their own government. They hoped that the enemy of their enemy would look kindly on them.

But Israeli authorities soon became overwhelmed. According to the Ministry of Interior, nearly 65,000 foreign nationals — the vast majority from Africa — reached Israel between 2006 and 2013. As the government struggled to accommodate the newcomers, many languished in poor and overcrowded neighborhoods in southern Tel Aviv. Dozens squatted in a park across the street from the city’s main bus station for weeks on end. A handful of high-profile incidents — including the alleged rape of an 83-year-old woman by an Eritrean asylum-seeker in 2012 — dominated media coverage and fueled unease among Israelis, many of whom already fretted that refugees were taking their jobs.

By the time Benjamin Netanyahu secured a third term as prime minister in 2013, the tensions had hardened into outright hostility. That year, Israel sealed off its border with Egypt and implemented a raft of policies aimed at making life more difficult for asylum-seekers already in Israel. Then it began secretly pressuring Eritreans and Sudanese to leave for unnamed third countries, a shadowy relocation effort in which Semene and thousands like him are now ensnared.

Israeli officials have kept nearly everything else about this effort secret, even deflecting requests for more information from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. But a year-long investigation by Foreign Policy that included interviews with multiple Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers as well as people involved at various stages of the relocation process — including one person who admitted to helping coordinate illegal border crossings — reveals an opaque system of shuffling asylum-seekers from Israel, via Rwanda or Uganda, into third countries, where they are no longer anyone’s responsibility.

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Trump‘s Red Line

Seymour M. Hersh reports for Die Welt:

Retaliation: Tomahawk missiles from the "USS Porter" on the way to the Shayrat Air Base on April 6, 2017On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack,  including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. “None of this makes any sense,” one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“

Within hours of the April 4 bombing, the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.

The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons.

To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

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Saudi Arabia’s Bankrolling of Egypt Is Tied to Internal Crackdown

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to the Egyptian film director and writer, Omar Robert Hamilton. In 2011, he co-founded the Cairo-based Mosireen Collective, which worked to film and document the Egyptian revolution. Hamilton’s debut novel is just out, titled The City Always Wins. (Democracy Now!)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Arundhati Roy on Telling the Truth of the Atrocities in Kashmir Through Fiction

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speak with acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy about Kashmir, which has been one of the most militarised zones in the world. According to Roy, it’s also a territory that’s nearly impossible to capture in nonfiction writing. which she has attempted to do in in her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. You can view the full one hour interview here. Roy also contributed to the book, Kashmir: The Case for Freedom(Democracy Now!)

 

Study: U.S. Only Admits to About One in Five Lethal Drone Strikes

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

A new report compiled by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies has found that the United States only admits officially to about one fifth of their drone strikes which end up killing someone, saying this hurts accountability.

That the US has been deliberately evasive about its drone program is hardly news, but this appears to be the first study aimed at specifically figuring exactly how many lethal drone strikes have been officially acknowledged.

This has been a growing problem with US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well, with official Pentagon figures on civilian death tolls dramatically lower than those recorded by private NGOs, with the difference often a factor of ten or more as the US downplays the tolls.

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Tillerson Calls for Regime Change in Iran

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani reports for Think Progress:

The new U.S. policy towards Iran includes regime change, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson was asked on Wednesday whether the United States supports regime change inside Iran. He replied in the affirmative, saying that U.S. policy is driven by relying on “elements inside of Iran” to bring about “peaceful transition of that government.”

He made the comments in a hearing on the 2018 State Department budget before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) asked Tillerson about U.S. policy towards Iran, including whether the U.S. government would sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and whether the U.S. supported “a philosophy of regime change.”

“They are doing bad things throughout the world, on behalf of terrorism and destroying human rights of many people,” Poe said, referring to the IRGC. “I’d like to know what the policy is of the U.S. toward Iran. Do we support the current regime? Do we support a philosophy of regime change, peaceful regime change? There are Iranians in exile all over the world. Some are here. And then there’s Iranians in Iran who don’t support the totalitarian state. So is the U.S. position to leave things as they are or set up a peaceful long-term regime change?”

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What Connects Brexit, the DUP, Dark Money and a Saudi Prince?

Fintan O’Toole reported for The Irish Times in May:

Arlene Foster told the BBC in February she did not even know how much the mystery donor had given the party.  Photograph: Niall Carson/PA WireIf Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction.

To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from.

We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council.

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Theresa May Blames ‘Tolerance of Extremism’ But UK Policies Help Terrorists

Aaron Mate speaks with investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed who says British government policies benefit extremists and endanger civilians. (The Real News)

Gideon Levy: What I’ve Seen in 30 Years of Reporting on the Israeli Occupation

Gideon Levy writes for Haaretz:

[…] I began to write about the occupation almost by chance, after many years during which, like all Israelis, I had been brainwashed, convinced of the justice of our cause, certain that we were David and they Goliath, knowing that Arabs don’t love their children the way we do (if at all) and that they, in contrast to us, were born to kill.

Dedi Zucker, then a Ratz MK, suggested that we go see a few olive trees that had been uprooted in the grove of an elderly Palestinian, who was living in the West Bank. We came, we saw, we lost. That was the beginning, gradual and not planned, of exactly three decades of coverage of the crimes of the occupation. Most Israelis didn’t want to hear about it and still don’t want to hear about it. In the eyes of many citizens, the very act of covering this subject in the media is a transgression.

Treating the Palestinians as victims and the crimes perpetrated against them as crimes is considered treasonous. Even the depiction of Palestinians as human beings is viewed as provocative in Israel. What a furor was generated in 1998 by Ehud Barak’s answer to the simple question of what he would have done if he’d been born a Palestinian (it’s likely he would have joined one of the resistance organizations, he said).

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