The arrogance of Netanyahu

Obama-Netanyahu

The current wrangle between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and President Barack Obama’s administration is another clear sign of the kind of arrogance that Israel has displayed in security matters across the middle east. Netanyahu who has travelled to the United States to address Congress, bypassed all formal protocol with the white house when he accepted the invitation from the Republican Party’s John Boehner – who is speaker of the House of Representatives, even when all sensible reason advised against such a move. Despite wide condemnation of the visit, Benjamin Netanyahu who faces an election in which his popularity is uncertain, barely 2 weeks from now gave a speech attacking Tehran and its nuclear ambitions in which he not only fiercely criticises the US led negotiations in Switzerland, but left no doubt of his contempt for the US government – the very same hand that feeds, arms, protects, and even tolerates Israel’s aggression.

But what’s behind Netanyahu’s public intervention in the domestic politics of the US, so much that he is willing to sidestep Obama’s administration?

It seems like yesterday when an annoyed Bill Clinton, emerging from his first meeting with Netanyahu remarked: “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” (Others quoted Clinton to have said “he thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.” )

That was 1996. This time, the attrition is between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran which has been building nuclear reactors for purported peaceful purposes. The US and other nations believe that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, and numerous governments have made exhaustive efforts to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Obama is of the view that the crisis should be handled through talks where concessions can be made, to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Israel believes that whatever deal that is to be reached from the talks, will still leave Iran with the expertise and materials to build a nuclear weapon. So, according to Prime minister Netanyahu, Iran should be stripped of its centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure, a move which is unlikely to deter Iran, and which the Obama administration has called ‘unrealistic’ and unattainable.

First and foremost, President Barack Obama as the supreme commander of the United States of America has the ultimate authority to shape America’s foreign policy whichever way he sees fit. The Republican Party is in opposition and despite America being a federalist state where presidential powers can be checked, it is president Obama who is in control, a fact which many Republicans don’t sit comfortably with. It is state-protocol that any head of state travelling to country A notifies the office of the president in country A. It is also not constructive that any head of state opts to travel to country A only to meet the opposition party because he/she does not agree with country A’s foreign policy. Heads of states cannot be seen to take sides in domestic politics especially when there are fresh disagreements regarding policies hovering about.

Netanyahu’s camaraderie relationship with the Republicans undermines Obama’s administration as being incompetent in the face of a nuclear Iran. In a recent interview, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser criticised Netanyahu when she said:

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington to deliver the speech two weeks before the Israeli elections has injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship

The White house agrees with Ms. Rice’s depiction of Netanyahu’s visit and President Obama has refused to meet him. Vice President Joe Biden who is president of the senate is supposed to be present for Netanyahu’s speech, but he has said he will be travelling abroad. Secretary of State John Kerry also said he will be in Switzerland negotiating with the Iranians. The Israeli prime minister was however invited for a meeting by Democratic senators, but he declined. Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat said,

We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong. His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades”.

Even J Street, the influential pro-israel advocacy group criticised the visit accusing Netanyahu of using Congress as “a prop” for his election campaign, putting out a campaign to distance itself from Netanyahu.

After the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said she was

“saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States . . . and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of nine Jewish senators criticized what she called “circular reasoning” in Netanyahu’s speech which she said proposed a better deal, but yet claimed Iran could never be trusted. How then can you have a deal when you can’t trust the other party?

“I don’t know what he’s saying: Should we work for a better deal or should we cut off any negotiations at this time? . . . It was not helpful at this point to criticize a deal that hasn’t even been completed.”

In a week where leaked cables revealed that Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim was contradicted by Mossad, one would have thought that Mr Netanyahu’s speech would have taken a conciliatory or at least mild tone. Especially after last summer’s Gaza incursion, which left over 2140 Gazans dead including 513 children. Yet the speech was anything but mild.

The Israeli prime minister vehemently attacked international talks with Iran on its nuclear ambitions despite the rift that might be caused. Whether this was a move to infuriate Obama or some publicity stunt designed to portray Netanyahu as a strongman, with a view to drum up political support back home prior to the elections is anyone’s guess? However, what the speech did not do is make it easier for Netanyahu to have his way. From the kind of reactions the speech has received, it is clear that it’s not won him much mainstream support.

Previously, Mr Netanyahu said,

Therefore I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran

Iran_is_a_THREAT_to_peace_by_Latuff2

Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to stop diplomatic talks with Iran must be viewed with scepticism if not suspicion. Especially after the unreliable things he has said in the past – as reported by Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper here. In a volatile time in the Middle-East, the most mature thing to do is to negotiate with the Iranians over their nuclear infrastructure. In any case, unlike Saudi Arabia and others who have offered only verbal support, Iran is infact fighting ISIS, and is suffering casualties and fatalities (including losing a high profile general). What Mr Netanyahu wants is to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and according to him, the only way to do that is through military action. Any talk of negotiations and whether the Iranians are entitled to a nuclear propgramme of sorts is irrelevant according to him. Obviously, there is no way Iran would consent to such demands, because Iran as a sovereign state also wants nuclear capability as achieved by every powerful nation in the world, including the likes of Pakistan and India.

Mr Netanyahu’s arrogance echoes of the Republican Party’s foreign policy of pre-emptive strike during the administration of George Bush. The Iraq War is the epitome of Bush’s policy where the whole campaign ended disastrously for America’s image and the Middle-East. Currently, with an unstable Syria and Iraq, it would be negligent for the world powers to engage Iran in any other way outside of diplomatic talks. It is therefore possible that Netanyahu’s siding with the Republicans is because he believes that that the Democrats are treating the Iran situation with “kid gloves”. So he probably thinks that going through the Republicans, who have a majority in both houses will halt the deal between the US and Iran.

In this regard, Republicans in the Senate are responding to Netanyahu’s address by fast tracking legislation requiring Congress to review any agreement with Tehran, and to issue more sanctions against Iran which can sabotage the talks. President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any such legislation, and after the speech – which has alienated Democrats, it looks very unlikely that the Republicans will have 13 Democratic votes to override the president.

Whichever way it goes, Mr Netanyahu’s actions are very dangerous to world peace and security. This kind of aggressive behaviour is precisely the very reason why nations seek to build nuclear weapons. So that they can deter hostile situations that arise from rhetoric such as this. Mr Netanyahu’s trip is being seen by others as the beginning of a strained relationship between the US and Israel. Yes, we may all agree that a country whose unpopular and former revolutionary guard leaders have claimed Israel is illegitiate must not come anywhere near nuclear weapons. But it is the manner which Netanyahu has sought to deliver his speech without securing authority from the highest office of the country, that has many people including the Democrats shunning him. If Israeli leaders begin to frustrate political figures from a country that supports them the most, they risk losing their biggest ally. And once the US starts sayng NO, everybody will say NO. It isn’t Iran who is a danger to world peace. In an already volatile region, it is Mr Netanyahu’s belligerence, arrogance and short-sightedness that will cost Israel peace and stability.

Who should we believe on Ukraine: East or West?

The rhetoric coming from the West especially the USA is that Russia is supporting the pro-Russian rebels with weapons and men. The conflict has seen shell battles between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian rebels, struggling to gain foothold in the eastern major towns of Ukraine such as Luhansk, Debaltseve and Donetsk. As a new ceasefire is in place, America’s foreign secretary has warned Russia to stop aiding the rebels or face further isolation and economic sanctions. However, the US and other major Western states have constantly  made the accusation that Russia is providing the rebels with military material in the absence of evidence. The only evidence provided are satellite images which appear pixelated and purportedly showing heavy Russian military hardware in Ukraine. But can America and their cronies’ accusations be trusted?

On the 12th September of 2002, George Bush addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on the threat that Saddam posed for the world. In his own words George Bush said,

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapon is when, God forbid, he uses one.’

12 days later, on 24th September 2002, the UK Government of Tony Blair published a dossier which accused Saddam Hussein of stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that were a threat to the world. Blair in the foreword of the dossier wrote,

In recent months, I have been increasingly alarmed by the evidence from inside Iraq that despite sanctions, despite the damage done to his capability in the past, despite the UN Security Council Resolutions expressly outlawing it, and despite his denials, Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMDs, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region, and the stability of the world.’

That October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  released a detailed report on how the Iraqi government continued with WMD programmes in the biological, chemical, nuclear and missiles field.

Retired Army General, Norman Shwarzkopf agreed with the general rhetoric that Saddam had WMDs and he said,

If we invade Iraq and the regime is very close to falling, I’m very, very concerned that the Iraqis will, in fact, use weapons of mass destruction.’

At some point, Condoleeza Rice even claimed that there was substantial evidence to prove that Saddam’s Ba’ath Party had strong links with Al-Qaeda. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other important dignitaries in the USA, all warned of a Saddam Hussein who was nearing completion of his nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier, on September 9, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard also demonstrated his support through his speech,

‘..There’s no doubt, on the evidence of the intelligence material presented to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.’

Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appealed to European nations and the US to stand together in ridding Hussein of WMDS,

Europe and the United States must stand together in…preventing tyrannical and irresponsible regimes…[from] having weapons of mass destruction… Iraq is ruled by such a regime… The United Nations must live up to its responsibility to stop the spreading of the weapons of mass destruction. It will be too late when the toxic gases have…spread over one of our cities…’

The list of western leaders who supported the evidence that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs, and was willing to deploy them in conventional warfare with other countries, is endless. Despite the efforts of Russia, India, Iran, China and France to settle the matter with UN inspectors to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, war was on the table.

The USA and allies attacked Iraq on 19th March 2003, and the war known as the ‘Iraq War’ only lasted up to 9 April. The Iraqi army was heavily defeated in 21 days, but all the purported stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq were nowhere to be found. The evidence provided by the British and American government was proven to be false when it was found that Saddam had no WMDs. The rhetoric suddenly changed to that of liberation and freeing Iraqi’s of a cruel dictator!

Earlier in 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Andrew Gilligan aired a programme that suggested that the ‘dossier’ commissioned by Prime minister Blair, which made the case for the Iraq war was exaggerated. Gilligan claimed to have had a high-ranking source in the government who imparted the claim that Iraq could launch WMDs in a matter of 45 minutes. This claim even though it came from an unreliable source, was published in the dossier to warn of Iraq’s capabilities of WMDs. Gilligan was later grilled by MPs  to name his source but refused to reveal the name of his source. Later on a government Scientist David Kelly admitted to having met Gilligan but claimed that he believed he was not Gilligan’s source. The Hutton Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue, and Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly were quizzed on the matter.

Gilligan later wrote of his experience with the ‘dossier’ issue on a column in the guardian newspaper,

I thought, a realistic idea of how politicians, intelligence officers and civil servants behaved. But over the months and years that followed, my views, and those of most of the country, changed. To borrow the famous words of David Astor over Suez, we had not realised that our government was capable of such folly and such crookedness.’

Today, although the leaders may have changed, it is essentially the same western governments who used false information over Iraq making claims that Russia is aiding the rebels in Eastern Ukraine with satellite image evidence that is unreliable at best. The Russian government has always challenged the notion that they are aiding the rebels, and have requested credible evidence from those states that believe they are complicit in the Ukraine crisis.

This challenge could be genuine, or it could be false.

In truth Ukraine and Russia share a very long border at 1,426 miles. Under any circumstances, it can’t possibly be an easy task monitoring against proliferation such a long border that is spread over rural (and in some cases remote) terrain. Not when your government is short of money as Kiev has been in recent months – relying on multi-billion euro loans from the EU to run its economy. Thus, it is probable that some equipment and military personnel slipped through the border into eastern Ukraine.

Still no state has produced any reliable evidence showing Russian troops aiding pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine, and Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not too long ago concluded that there was no evidence of Russian military equipment or personnel during the period in which they were monitoring the area. And yet many large media organisations such as FOX continue to claim that Russia is aiding the pro-Russian rebels with sophisticated military hardware, conveniently ignoring claims that some English-speaking people are fighting in Ukraine.

And at the front of this media campaign is the US Government, with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry saying that the Russian government has been lying about its involvement in Ukraine. Even Obama mentioned ‘Russian aggression’ as a threat to the US. However, world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, alludes to the lies of western politicians in this video here. He correctly makes the important point that Ukraine is right at the core of Russia’s geostrategic concerns, and to have NATO usurp Ukraine is not only a treachery, but a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Consequently, events that saw Crimea annexed by Russia prove that Russia is not an innocent bystander. Russia initially refused to admit that its military officials had entered Crimea, and were stirring unrest, even when there was some reliable evidence to support such a claim. But after the Crimean snap elections which saw it become a Federal state of Russia, they backtracked from their initial position and Vladimir Putin confirmed Russian involvement when he declared “Ofcourse, Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces

Further, even in Ukraine there have been several video evidence emerge of Russian tanks in East Ukraine, including captured Russian soldiers – whose passports the president presented at the Minsk talks. In addition, several independent journalists have come forward claiming there was Russian presence in Ukraine. Still, these have been disputed by the Kremlin.

My question is, if the intelligence of the USA and its allies got it wrong with Saddam Hussein and WMD’s, how are we to trust them over the numerous claims they have made about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? It is hard to believe such information because it was Blair’s dossier and the CIA’s report that ultimately convinced the world that Iraq had WMD’s and in the end, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians died over incorrect information. If anything, I believe the satellite images provided as evidence that Russia is aiding the separatists can be easily doctored in this age of technological advancement.

In this war of words and guerilla maneuvering between the East and the West, misinformation reins on both sides. Such misinformation has indeed reached dizzying new heights with unsubstantiated claims last week that Russia moved Saddam’s WMD’s to Syria. (See another link here making the same claim)

I believe neither side can be trusted to tell us the truth. It’s clear that there are agendas. Both sides have ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis, as they tend to do everywhere else. Therefore, it would be equally erroneous for one to think that information coming out of Washington or London is always correct, as it is to believe Russia’s rhetoric on Ukraine. Even though looking at how Putin came back to lead Russia, after the placeholder that was Dmitry Medvedev, most people know he cannot be trusted. What was not always clear (and here if any of us forgot about some of the wars of the 20th century, then  remember Vietnam), is that the military engagements of the 21st Century will have opened our eyes to western leaders waging interests driven wars under the pretext of democracy and liberation.