Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Making of a Virtual Palestinian State

Friday, September 24, 2010

Somalia: The Next Afghanistan?

Somalia has not had an effective government for almost 20 years. The Somali government has struggled to gain relevancy, but it has been plagued by corruption and has been battling warlords and militant groups such as the al-Qaeda- linked al-Shabab.

Recently, al-Shabab fighters disguised in Somali military uniforms stormed a hotel favored by lawmakers in the capital Mogadishu, firing indiscriminately and killing 32 people, including six parliamentarians. The attack came after a warning was issued by al-Shabab that a new "massive war" is about to be launched against the government. The militant group wants to establish a Taliban-style Islamic Sharia law in the country.

In a similar attack in December 2009, a suicide bomber detonated himself at a university graduation ceremony about 1.5 miles from the recent hotel attack, killing 24 people, including three government ministers, medical students and doctors.

These attacks show that al-Shabab, which controls wide areas of Somalia, can penetrate even the few blocks of the capital under the control of the government and African Union troops. The situation is reminiscent of Afghanistan before the entire country was overrun by the Taliban.

Is Somalia the next Afghanistan?

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Grinch Who Stole Eid

Today, 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe celebrate Eid al-Fiter, a three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan, however; one renegade pastor of a church, Rev. Terry Jones, with fewer than 50 members has cast a shadow on their festivities. For the past several weeks, the media has treated us to live theater of the absurd by amplifying a statement made by an unknown preacher from Gainesville, Florida proposing to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

Jones has garnered worldwide news media attention these past few days and become an overnight influence on American foreign policy and public image abroad, even receiving a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and many pleas from world leaders and celebrities asking him not to go ahead with his plans. The President of the United States urged him to listen to "those better angels," and military leaders warned that his actions would endanger U.S. troops and give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Direct Talks: Five Myths

Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis are scheduled to commence in Washington on September 2, a decade after the last real final-status talks, and nearly two years after the last direct talks. Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu will come face to face for dinner and talks in Washington as guests of President Obama after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy and indirect "proximity talks" headed by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell.

President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, along with Tony Blair, the special representative of the Middle East Quartet are also due to join the inaugural session in Washington.

While much hope has been placed on these talks culminating in an agreement within a year, most Palestinians and Israelis remain skeptical of their success. More importantly, hopes and expectations have been inflated in some media reports, adding confusion and creating myths about what might turn up only to be yet another photo op in DC.

Read More on the Huffington Post

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pakistan: A Slow-Motion Tsunami

2010 could go down in history as the year of natural and environmental disasters. We’ve witnessed earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, wildfires and a drought in Russia, a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now one fifth of Pakistan is submerged under water due to floods leaving more than 20 million people without potable water, food, shelter and medicine.

The United Nations general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, called this latest disaster a "slow-motion tsunami," and appealed for swift aid.

"Make no mistake, this is a global disaster," Ban said at the UN general assembly. "Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami. Its destructive powers will accumulate and grow with time," he warned.

Relief agencies say the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan is greater than this year's earthquake in Haiti; however, relief for Pakistan may be a long time coming.

According to a CBS news report, sixteen days after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, aid commitments totaled $1.4 billion. Sixteen days after Pakistan's floods began, promises added up to just $200 million.

Yet despite the heart-wrenching television images

broadcast across the globe showing massive destruction and enormous human suffering, the world has been slow to react to calls for aid. Why has Pakistan been forsaken?

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Iraq: Invading Is Easier Than Leaving

There are remarkably few positive things to say about Iraq today. The country seems to be in perpetual upheaval since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Dozens of people were killed across Iraq just days ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan, and more will probably lose their lives in the coming few days when insurgents typically step up their attacks. Yet the Obama administration has recently announced that the U.S. is "on target to end the combat mission." The U.S. government plans to withdraw its combat troops by the end of August and to remove all troops by the end of 2011.

But Iraq's most senior military officer, Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari, said that his forces, particularly the air force, were not ready to take over, cautioning that his security forces will not be able to secure the country until 2020.

The country has been facing many domestic challenges, such as a period of Sunni Arab insurgency, bloody attacks by al-Qaeda, confrontations with al-Sadr militias, and the ongoing tensions between various political factions; however, it's Iraq's vulnerability to neighboring countries that Zebari was alluding to.

"If America withdraws its forces and one of the neighboring countries causes problems, then we're going to have a problem," Zebari said.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Obama Must Bring Back That Magic to the Middle East

Will it be a strike against Iran by the U.S. and or Israel? Will there be political upheaval in Egypt after Mubarak's reign? And will Israel invade Lebanon or Gaza? These are some of the questions that can be heard on the streets of Cairo, Amman, and Beirut.

2010 is far from over, yet we have witnessed a series of close encounters in the Middle East that created major tensions and pushed everyone to the edge: a war on the Yemeni Saudi border, rapid deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey over the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, skirmishes between Israel and Lebanon over the cutting of a tree, and the looming prospect of an attack on Iran to mention a few. But what's really troubling is how fast attitudes have changed towards President Obama from a year ago; specifically in the period after newly-elected Barack Obama delivered his "New Beginning" speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds from a podium at the University of Cairo in Egypt.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Gilad Shalit Will Save Netanyahu

Mark my words, Gilad Shalit is coming home. He will soon be set free but not because of German mediations or the thousands of appeals made by his parents and their supporters. He's coming home because Bibi needs Gilad more than Gilad needs him.

In a television address aimed at countering public pressure for the government to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, said that "Israel is willing to pay a heavy price for the release of Shalit, but not at any price."

The man with the "three no(s) : no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no discussion of the case of Jerusalem, no negotiations under any preconditions," finds himself in a position to reluctantly say yes to negotiations with Hamas, a "terrorist' organization in his book, an entity he was keen to topple from day one.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Turkey Is Looking East

First came the clash at Davos in January 2009, when Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked off the stage after an angry exchange with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres during a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum.

Then came the surprise uranium deal with Tehran, undermining Western pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, followed by the Israeli assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which sailed under Turkish flags, sending shockwaves throughout the world. Most recently, Turkey and Brazil have become the only countries that voted against UN sanctions to impede Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons capabilities.

More on the Huffington Post

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Israel: Hasbara, Lies, and Videotape

As thousands of outraged demonstrators poured into the streets of Ankara and several capitals across the globe in the aftermath of Israel's bloody attack on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip early Monday, an Israeli sergeant stood in front of reporters claiming that the activists on board "were armed with knives, scissors, pepper spray and guns." He said he was armed only with a paintball rifle.

"It was a civilian paintball gun that any 12-year-old can play with," he said; yet, at least nine activists were killed, including a 19-year-old American who was shot in the head four times, and scores were injured.


Friday, May 28, 2010

The War on Islam Is Over, But...

In a clear break from former president George Bush's two national security strategies issued in 2002 and 2006 which endorsed unilateral military action and spoke of the threat posed by "Islamic extremism," President Obama has unveiled a new national security strategy which calls for more global engagement and aims to downplay fears that the US is "at war" with Islam.

President Obama also expressed his desire to break away from the unilateral military approach of "either you are with us or against us" established in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Russians Are Coming

Israel expressed "deep disappointment" Thursday over a meeting the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held this week in Syria with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, saying the organization must play a role in peace efforts.

Calling Hamas "a terror organization in every way," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it expected Russia to stand by Israel in its struggle against Hamas.

"Hamas is a terror organization whose declared goal is the destruction of the state of Israel...Hamas is responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, among them immigrants from the Soviet Union and also Russian citizens."

Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mubarak's War on Islamists

On Wednesday, an Egyptian court convicted 26 men of spying for Hezbollah and plotting attacks on Egyptian soil on behalf of the Lebanese militant group.

The men, including Lebanese, Egyptians, Palestinians, and one Sudanese, received sentences ranging from six months to life in prison.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has strongly criticized the Egyptian courts for jailing the men accused of working for his organization. He said the judgment by the Security Court in Cairo was "unjust and politicized."

Amnesty International on Thursday called for a retrial of 26 defendants, criticizing the use of an emergency court.

"These men should be retried by an ordinary court which gives them a chance of getting a fair trial," said the London-based rights watchdog.

Hezbollah’s differences with Egypt hit a pinnacle during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Egypt’s decision to keep the Rafah exits from Gaza sealed infuriated Nasrallah, who, on December 28, 2008, called for the Egyptian people to help the besieged Gazans and called on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border crossing.

"Oh Egyptian official, unless you open the Rafah border crossing, unless you help your brethren in Gaza, you will be accomplices to the crime, accomplices to the killing, accomplices to the siege, and accomplices in generating the Palestinian catastrophe," he said in a televised speech.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem

Day 51: Ashira joins her friend Bakrieyh on a tour of some Palestinian villages that were emptied out in order to make way for Jewish immigrants in 1948. Today marks Israel's Independence Day, which is known to Palestinians as al-Nakba, the Catastrophe; when Palestinians lost their country and Israel came to being.

In Gaza, Eman pays a visit to her friend Umm Walid who lives in Beit Lahia.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Deporting Gandhi from Palestine

The Israeli government's recent announcement of Army order No. 1,650 was just the latest act of provocation in a series of calculated measures to derail any possible resumption of peace negotiations. Under this new draconian measure, anyone who doesn't have a "permit" to be in the West Bank is to be considered an "infiltrator" and subject to expulsion or risk up to seven years in jail.

Expulsions and deportations are not something new for the Israeli military administrative system which was established in 1969, shortly after the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War. At the time, the Israeli military was given the legal power to expel "infiltrators" without trial for various unspecified "security reasons."

Two particular Palestinian communities will be impacted by order No. 1,650: Palestinians with Gaza residencies and Palestinians with East Jerusalem residencies, as well as foreign-born residents of the West Bank. But many Palestinian and Israeli experts believe that it's the foreigners living amongst Palestinians who are the real target of the Netanyahu government. Many believe that this is part of an ongoing Israeli effort to silence dissent and crack down on international solidarity members and activists who travel to Palestinian areas to support protests and rallies, often bringing with them the eyes of the outside world.

Now that Israel has almost completed its "Separation Wall", it wants to build a "Wall of Silence" and control the flow of information and limit the presence of foreign-born eyewitnesses on the ground. The question is, why now?

Read more on the Huffington Post

Friday, April 9, 2010

Look Who's Missing from Washington

This upcoming Monday and Tuesday, President Obama will also meet with leaders of more than 40 countries with the expectation of issuing a joint statement on the challenges and importance of nuclear security. He hopes to bring everyone to agree on a common "work plan" for cracking down on the illicit trade of nuclear material. Of course we know that Iran, which will be absent from the summit, will top the agenda.

But it's not only Ahmadinejad who will be missed at the summit on nuclear security; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his visit to the US.

According to Israeli media sources, PM Netanyahu made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal. "Presumed" that is, because Israel has never confirmed or denied that it possesses atomic weapons.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Call it "Elections in Sudan"

The Iraqi elections are over but failed to produce a clear winner. While former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi narrowly finished first in the poll, it might take weeks before we find out if he'll be able to build the coalition needed to achieve the magic number of 163 seats in the Iraqi Parliament in order to form a government. But there is another election soon to take place in Sudan, and let me start by predicting the results: current President Omar el-Bashir will be elected for another term.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Strained US-Israel relations

Joe Biden, the US vice president trip to Israel in early March had been billed as the most significant state visit of the Obama Administration to the country.

But then came an announcement that 1600 new homes were to be built in East Jerusalem. For the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, the expansion of settlements has been cause of serious disagreements and the timing of the announcement – right in the middle of vice president Biden's visit soured the mood between the two allies.

The unexpected rift put the issue of illegal settlements into the headlines. The strong language from the White House was echoed in the US media. The reporting in the Arab world was a little more skeptical – media commentators there are waiting for the American rhetoric to be followed by action.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Iraq: Elections But No Stability

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. In 2003, the architects of the war envisioned that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would lead to the birth of a democratic Iraq. They told us that elections in Iraq would help spread democracy and liberalism across the Middle East, but this could not have been further from the truth.

The Middle East is more chaotic than ever, and the vast majority of its citizens are leaning politically towards Islamic theocracy and not liberal democracy. Iraqis are still searching for stability.

More on the Huffington Post

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mossad's Little Helpers

The assassination of al-Mabhouh has thrown an unwanted spotlight on the workings of Mossad and its specially trained assassination team, known as a kidon, the Hebrew word for bayonet, something that the Israeli government had not bargained for when the approval to conduct such an operation came directly from the top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Incidentally, it was also during Mr. Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in 1997 when a kidon unit of the Mossad bungled the attempted assassination of Khalid Mish’al, the current leader of Hamas, in the streets of Amman in Jordan by injecting a mysterious poison into his ear.

Read More on the Huffington Post

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Mossad Reality Show

The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas military commander had all the elements needed to shoot it to the top of editorial priority lists around the world. There was mystery, political rivalry, stolen identities and most importantly, footage – 27 minutes of it, all filmed by numerous surveillance cameras around Dubai.

Soon after investigations began, Dubai Police declared it was "99 per cent certain" that agents of Israel's secret intelligence agency - Mossad - had committed the murder. But reporters looking to Israel for concrete information got none – the official policy on sensitive security issues is one of deliberate ambiguity.

Jamal Dajani joins the conversation on Al Jazeera’s Listening Post to examine the trail of clues left by al-Mabhouh's assassins and the changing narratives of media across the world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Winning the Afghanistan War in Pakistan

Not too long after some 15,000 U.S., British, and Afghan national forces launched the largest attack on Taliban forces since President Obama signed orders to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, news broke of the arrest of the second most senior Afghan Taliban commander since 2001, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

According to officials, he was seized in a secret raid in Pakistan several days ago by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence forces. His capture reflects a markedly changed attitude by Pakistani intelligence toward an insurgent force that the country had allowed to operate with relative impunity for the past eight years.

Stunned by the success of this operation, however, a Taliban spokesman denied reports of Mullah Baradar's capture, saying he was still in Afghanistan, actively organizing the group's military and political activities.

"Mullah Baradar has not been arrested, he is in Afghanistan, I don’t know who spread the rumor, but it’s absolutely false,” Qari Mohammed Yousef, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani media's response to the arrest of Mullah Baradar has been surprisingly muted.

Read More

Friday, February 12, 2010

Iran Opposition Unplugged

Last June, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed a "landslide" victory election triggering months of upheaval. Tehran and other cities have seen the largest street protests and rioting since the 1979 Iranian Revolution by supporters of reform candidates alleging voter fraud. For the past several weeks, Iranian opposition groups and various media outlets have been predicting a repeat of this past summer's events during the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

The anniversary is the most important day in Iran's political calendar.

Instead, the opposition turnout was dwarfed by huge crowds at the state-run celebrations in the center of Tehran waving Iranian flags and carrying placards declaring the "US and Britain the brothers of the devil", and "Down with Israel."

A triumphant Ahmadinejad declared that Iran was now a "nuclear state" and would soon triple its output of 20% enriched uranium.

"By God's grace, it was reported that the first consignment of 20 per cent-enriched uranium was produced and put at the disposal of the scientists," he addressed the cheering crowd who had gathered in Tehran Azadi square to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
Read more on the Huffington Post.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Israel: Occupation or Apartheid?

The dreaded "A-Word" has once again made its way into Israeli media, not by a leftist "self-hating Jew", but by a prominent Israeli politician, the Minister of Defense, who is a decorated soldier and a former prime minister as well. "A" is for Apartheid.

An awful word that evokes awful memories, presumably left behind in the annals of history in places such as Soweto and Cape Town. A word that has invited rage, insults, and attacks against a former US president who received a Nobel Peace Prize.

This past Tuesday, however, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that if Israel does not achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians, it will have to become a binational state or be an undemocratic apartheid one if it remains as it is. Read More

Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti: A View from the Middle East

Seldom does one watch a lead news story on Middle Eastern satellite television that does not offer a steady rotating stream of images of death, destruction, and devastation from places like Gaza, Fallujah, or Kabul. These past few days, however, although the images were familiar, they were from Haiti, and the devastation was not man-made.

Large networks such as Al Jazeera rushed to send their crews to Port-au-Prince, and the vast majority of news satellite networks operating in the region have been competing to update their viewers about the devastation and human agony in this tiny Caribbean country, but à la Middle East had to be about more than just Haiti.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jordan: Al-Qaeda Hotbed?

The recent incident of the Jordanian suicide bomber who blew himself up at a Central Intelligence Agency base in Khost Province, Afghanistan, took many Jordanians by surprise, especially when they learned through the media about the depth of the cooperation between their government's intelligence service Mukhabarat and the United States in its "War on Terror." The Jordanian intelligence services recruited Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi and put him in touch with the CIA, and Jordan has since been deeply embarrassed by the fact that Balawi turned out to be a double agent.

Jordanians have also recently been made aware of the fact that an increasing number of their nationals have been volunteering to join the Taliban and al-Qaeda to fight against the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Only days after the funeral of Captain Sharif Ali bin Zeid, the Jordanian Mukhabarat agent killed in the Khost attack, which was televised on Jordanian television and attended by King Abdullah II and other high ranking officials, a memorial took place for a Jordanian al-Qaeda member who was recently killed in a U.S. drone attack along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Bearded men poured into a reception hall in the town of Irbid to offer their condolences to his family.

Read More on the Huffington Post

Friday, January 8, 2010

CIA: Lost in Translation‎

"The buck stops with me," declared President Obama on Thursday as he spoke about the results of an internal investigation into the failed Christmas Day airline bombing attempt. The president avoided blaming any particular agency or official for the security failures that allowed Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board an American airliner heading from Amsterdam to Detroit wearing explosives in his underpants.

Now, after the fact, this incident has sparked a renewed interest in Yemen, a country I warned about as a "powder keg" back in August, and a slew of new security measures at airports to make our travel experience more miserable than it currently is.

Travelers will soon get used to going through full-body scanners, like they have gotten used to taking off their shoes at security checkpoints at airports, since Richard Reid, a/k/a the shoe-bomber, tried unsuccessfully to take down another airliner in late 2001. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda and other groups will try to find other methods to bypass the new security measures until they succeed.

Read more on the Huffington Post

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gaza: Forsaken but not Forgotten

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Border- They came in buses and cars from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Galilee: Palestinians, Israelis, and few international activists. They waved Palestinian flags and carried banners chanting in Arabic and Hebrew: "Break the Siege," "Set Gaza Free," and "Down with Netanyahu and Mubarak."

"Welcome to Erez Crossing Point," the sign reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The ultimate irony, as no one is allowed to cross in or out except for a lucky few, such as diplomats and aid workers, or the unlucky ones who suffer from terminal illnesses. The rest of the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants remain caged in like animals in the largest open air prison on earth, called Gaza.

Eighty-six international activists were allowed to enter the Strip last night from Egypt through Rafah. We were told that they too, accompanied by hundreds of Gazans, were chanting and waving on the other side of the border, but we could not see or hear them. Between them and us were a few hundred meters, a wall, a steel gate, and armed Israeli soldiers.

More than a thousand activists from around 40 countries remained in Cairo after the Egyptian government declined them entry due to the "sensitive situation" in the Palestinian territory. When was it not a "sensitive situation" in Palestine?

More on the Huffington Post