Antoun Issa

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say."
- Anaïs Nin
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Archive for October, 2010

Israel’s loyalty oath bill – deviating from reality

Posted By antounissa on October 27th, 2010

Check out my latest piece in Australia’s Online Opinion on Israel’s discriminatory loyalty oath bill.

Wikileaks reinforces dark reality of war

Posted By antounissa on October 26th, 2010

It’s been a few days now since Julian Assange dropped another bombshell with the revealing of dark and gloomy details of the Iraq War.

The media frenzy is still ongoing, the blogosphere is boasting “we told you so”, and Western politicians are scrambling to deal with the fallout.

But the Wikileaked documents reveal nothing out of the ordinary of what many believed was taking place in Iraq. Wikileaks simply confirmed what we all knew, but ignored for the past seven years.

Nevertheless, Wikileaks certainly has given us much to talk about. Most important to note are:

  • Modern warfare/rules of engagement: Whilst the US has attempted to reassure the public that modern wars are less brutal due to military technological advancement, the truth as revealed by Wikileaks depicts a starkly different picture.War is still brutal, entails despicable atrocities, and brings out the most evil in mankind. Technology cannot remove the human elements of war. The emotions that drive a man and woman with a gun or a missile are no different to a medieval soldier and his sword.
  • Media: Wikileaks is an embarrassment for mainstream media. Once again the multinational media organisations have been upstaged by activists, reinforcing the need for MSM to re-alter its approach in its coverage of conflicts, particularly those that involve home countries.Indeed, Wikileaks has only validated what the blogosphere has been reporting since US forces first set foot in Iraq in 2003. As independent online media, The Nation, recently tweeted, Wikileaks confirmed what they had already been reporting about Iraq.Whilst major media outlets such as Fox News lead the race to the bottom in news coverage, the blogosphere and independent media are picking up the pieces and proving to be more reliable sources of information.It is the media’s responsibility to tell the truth on war crimes, it is the media’s responsibility to hold warring parties accountable for their actions by divulging them to the public. It has grossly failed to do so in regards to both Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving it to small, but devoted teams of activists to fill the void ala Wikileaks.
  • US management of war: Wikileaks should serve as a serious reality check to the US and all great powers that embark on war adventures in the age of mass communication and information technology: You are going to be caught on camera, and your actions will be revealed to wide audiences.The battering Israel’s public image received after the highly publicised Second Lebanon War 2006, Gaza 2009 and the Flotilla killings is a clear indication of the diplomatic consequences states face in war. Accusations of Israeli war crimes were being made as the Gaza War was ongoing.

    Equally in Iraq, it is no longer the case where post-conflict analyses by academics reveal the brutal nature of war, but rather the powerful tools of mass media – from Wikileaks to a civilian’s smartphone – that bring us the news as it unfolds.The US has simply failed to manage this reality. Wars cannot be fought as it once was. We live in a highly transparent world, and the US – for reasons of legitimacy as the world’s most responsible superpower – had to be transparent in its investigations into war crimes committed by its forces and/or Iraqi security forces under its watch.

    It is extremely doubtful that either American or Iraqi security personnel will face The Hague, diminishing the hopes of many human rights activists.

    However, at a crucial time when the US is struggling to maintain its prestige as the world’s reliable superpower in the face of the emerging BRIC giants (Brazil-Russia-India-China), Washington can ill-afford to be seen as a hypocrite in regards to international law.

    Losing international legitimacy as a responsible power will render it more difficult for the US to effectively deal with emerging powers that are increasingly becoming more emboldened to challenge American supremacy. 

  • Human rights: Despite the constant reminders, from Hollywood and more, on the need not to repeat the horrors of World War II, the human rights of civilians during wartime still appear to vanish as soon as a bullet is fired.In an era where international organisations are attempting to regulate war, the facts – as revealed by Wikileaks – show that those regulations count for very little. No US soldier or politician will face war crimes charges, despite having violated many of the international laws on war put in place to safeguard civilians and bring justice.

    So do we continue to pursue an effective international law system that restrains conduct of war, regardless of it being routinely dismissed when it matters the most? It certainly puts into question the training methods and programs in the US military. Are rules of engagement and international law not part of the curriculum? What training did the US provide the now notorious Iraqi security forces, who happily torture their own citizens? Will Wikileaks prompt the US and other Western powers to rethink their military training, and place more emphasis on the need to be disciplined in action, and not allow the kind of emotions and recklessness that lead to atrocities? Easier said than done.

  • Iran: For the short-term political equation, this is perhaps the most important ramification … a reminder more so for the Arab world. For those Arabs looking to Iran as a reliable counter to Israel, look again. Iran’s actions in Iraq have shown it is as self-interested in expanding its power as the US, and – contrary to its propaganda – it is not the saviour and liberator of the Arab world.Iran champions the Palestinian cause on the one hand, and on the other allows its Iraqi Shia militia proxies to torture and execute Palestinian civilians in Iraq. And any sense of Shi’ite victimhood is now truly evaporated. Instead of reconstructing and mending fences in Iraq, the Iranians have permitted their Iraqi Shia proxies to run on rampage revenge killings that will only fuel anti-Shia sentiments among many Sunni circles in the Middle East. Iran’s hand in Iraq is equally deadly, and severely undermines the sovereignty and stability of the country. Neither the US nor Iran are delivering the war-ravaged country any benefits.

The majority of us were aware the Iraq War was a political and strategic blunder. We knew that the West had condemned the Iraqi population to years of pain, devastation and horror. This is all war has to offer, and Wikileaks has sent us a timely reminder of what we gave Iraq in 2003.

Israel’s loyalty oath “final straw” for British director

Posted By antounissa on October 18th, 2010

British director, Mike Leigh (formerly Lieberman), has cancelled a trip to Israel citing Netanyahu’s loyalty oath law as the “final straw”.

The response by the West and human rights activists to this blatantly discriminatory and ethno-centric legislation has been expectedly quiet. Yet, a few will rightly voice their objections, and so often it’s dissenters from within the Jewish community.

Read more in the Haaretz article.

Women take action: Congolese rape victims say enough

Posted By antounissa on October 18th, 2010

Congolese rape victims protest against sexual violence.

It is shamefully accepted that rape is an inevitable consequence of warfare.

But the mass rapes of Congo this year, up to 15,000, is awfully disproportionate, and not beyond help.

The above video link refers to 20,000 UN peacekeepers in Eastern Congo, plus thousands of active NGO staff.

With such a large presence, why the ineptness?

Shuffling and reshuffling – conceding Lebanon to Iran

Posted By antounissa on October 16th, 2010

Interesting comments by several Lebanese academics were quoted in this article by The Age’s Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, more or less surrendering Lebanon to Iran in the latest round of regional chess:

“It’s not just the Israelis who are hysterical about Iran,” says Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt – countries that have meddled in Lebanese politics for so long – have given up here. It’s Iraq they are trying to save from Iranian influence. They believe Lebanon is already lost.

Whatever else Mr Ahmadinejad was hoping to achieve with this week’s visit to Lebanon – including an array of economic, trade and cultural agreements – he provided tangible proof that Iran is in virtual control of Lebanon’s southern border, heightening security concerns within Israel and embarrassing the United States, which put significant pressure on Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to cancel the visit.

Many believe Lebanon, which emerged from 15 years of war in 1990, is once again headed towards internal rupture.

A United Nations Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri is soon to deliver findings that seem certain to implicate Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah will not tolerate it, because they cannot live with such an accusation,” says Professor Khashan. “So the current Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has a choice.

”He can denounce the tribunal’s findings, or he can leave the government. But he can’t support a finding that Hezbollah were involved in his father’s murder. He does not have anything like the power to do so. His time in politics has, in my view, already expired.

It was clear when Obama took office, and withdrew from Bush’s neocon drive to reshape the Middle East, that Lebanon would be surrendered to Syria and Iran.

As soon as the US changed course, Saudi Arabia threw in the towel, King Abdullah kissed and made up with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and ordered Hariri to do the same. The wayward Jumblatt rescinded on insults made towards Syria and Hezballah during the Bush years, and won forgiveness in turn.

To demonstrate the helplessness of Hariri at present, the Future Movement leader will most likely not dare to confront Hezballah over the possibility that the Shia movement was involved in the murder of his father.

Civil war is highly unlikely, simply because it’s impossible for any other faction to stand up to Hezballah. If Ahmedinejad’s visit signified anything, it was a clear warning to Hezballah’s Lebanese opponents that Iran is the guarantor of its ascendancy in the country, and any challenge to it will be quashed.

Ironically, the Saudis and the Hariri camp are turning to Syria to calm the situation. This is how Syria plays its cards in Lebanon, and it plays it well. Syria will always seek to ensure it is the major player in Lebanon, and thus shares an interest with Saudi Arabia and the US to not allow Iran to become overly dominant in the country.

History shows that Syria has sought to contain Iran in Lebanon once before, when it backed the Lebanese Shia Amal movement against Hezballah in the 1980s.

Of course times have changed. Hezballah is a crucial part of Syria’s military defence strategy vis-a-vis Israel, and will not abandon it. It will also not abandon its alliance with Iran, as Assad has reiterated in recent times. But as has been Syrian policy in Lebanon since the French separated the multi-confessional state from Damascus, the Syrians will seek to maintain some level of balance between the various factions in the country.

This effectively works as a guarantee for Lebanon’s non-Shi’ite communities against an ever-powerful Hezballah. The only thing Syria will ask in return is that Hariri abandon the UN’s Special Lebanon Tribunal. With strong Saudi backing, Hariri will have little choice but to accept this deal.

The irony that March 14 would find itself turning to Bashar al-Assad to contain Iran’s influence and Hezballah’s rise.

Simply another round of Lebanese chess.

Lebanon: Hariri and Hezballah still on collision course

Posted By antounissa on October 14th, 2010

As I highlighted in my previous post, Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon is likely to have more bearing on domestic issues.

Although the media is beating up the story of an Iranian president on Israel’s border, the Israelis – with the exception of a few extreme comments from the far-right – are keeping a low-profile.

The Israelis are keeping an eye, as everyone is, on Lebanon, waiting for the next twist in the never-ending saga of political bickering and instability. When will the country implode again?

Below is an excerpt from a post on Friday Lunch Club, where a few possible scenarios have been thrashed out should Hariri and Hezballah not arrive at a detente on the UN’s Special Lebanon Tribunal (SLT).

It seems further instability is inescapable for Lebanon, but rather it’s a question of restraining local factions from resorting to violence. Syria probably plays the most important role here in pulling the strings and calming Lebanese rivals.

Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon, however, may have the complete opposite effect and inflame internal Lebanese tensions with an ostentatious display of support for Hezballah. The Iranian leader’s visit will be exploited by Hezballah to add further pressure on Hariri to abandon the SLT.

Personally, I think it has always been ludicrous that the fate of the country should be determined by the assassination of a single man, when so many Lebanese have been killed without any pursuit of justice.

But this is Lebanon.

Friday Lunch Club
In the face of increasing pressure, Hariri has so far held firm, vowing on September 29 not to “let the blood of Premier Rafiq Hariri go to waste.” But with the expiration of Hizballah’s September 30 ultimatum, the stage appears to be set for a potentially violent political confrontation. Several scenarios are possible:

Hariri concedes. To avert a crisis, Hariri could decide to accept Hizballah’s demands, disavowing the STL, ending Lebanon’s funding for it, and calling for the withdrawal of Lebanese judges…..

Hizballah walks out. If the pressure campaign against Hariri fails, Hizballah could seek to bring down his government by asking its allies to withdraw from the cabinet. The group controls ten of the eleven cabinet members needed to produce such a collapse, so it would need the support of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt or one of President Michel Suleiman’s appointees (e.g., Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein, a Shiite placed on the cabinet with Hizballah’s consent)…

Hariri resigns. In an effort to preserve his dignity and uphold his father’s legacy amid Hizballah pressure, Hariri could decide to step down as prime minister — an option publicly floated last week by a member of his parliamentary bloc. Although some have suggested that such a move could strengthen Hariri’s hand by making it politically untenable for any other Sunni politician to accept a compromise on the STL, it could also give Hizballah the leverage needed to block formation of a new government, as in the previous scenario.

Hizballah takes to the streets. ….
Ahmadinezhad’s visit — aimed in part to reinforce Lebanon’s further shift toward Syria and Iran — may signal the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase in Hizballah’s intimidation campaign. This weekend, for example, Nasrallah reiterated his determination to “stop this American and Israeli attempt to destroy the resistance.” With few other choices, Hariri and the Saudis appear to be placing their faith in Syria to restrain Hizballah and maintain calm — a role that Asad relishes ….

Although Hizballah and its allies have directed their pressure campaign against Hariri, their ultimate aim appears to center on challenging overall support for the STL by forcing the international community to choose between justice and stability. The Obama administration should use its nascent dialogue with Damascus to make clear that Syrian efforts to undermine the tribunal will have adverse consequences….. Washington should continue to reaffirm support for the tribunal and make clear that it will not countenance any political deal over its future…. “

New blog, new look … Ahmedinejad in Lebanon and Turkey’s play

Posted By antounissa on October 14th, 2010

Master degree out of the way … tick

Chosen a city to live in for at least a year … tick

Ready to write again. I must say it’s quite refreshing to be sitting here typing away after a near year hiatus.

And what a better way to restart my political blog, the week of Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon.

A lot is happening in Lebanon this week, with Turkey’s Erdogan to meet Ahmedinejad in Beirut on Friday.

What is the significance of this trip?

As noted by Hezballah expert, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the visit reinforces the Iran-Syria-Hezballah-Hamas alliance in the face of the US and Israel. Perhaps it is a signal of contempt towards Obama’s recent drive for peace talks  – although the Israelis poured cold water on this move before it ever gathered pace – or simply a reminder to Washington that it is not the only force in the Middle East with the ability to influence the end game.

For Hezballah: Hezballah is also showing its strength to its domestic rivals, currently at loggerheads over the UN Special Lebanon Tribunal that is expected to indict several Hezballah members in the Hariri assassination. Is it a case of ‘don’t mess with me, look who’s behind me’, an attempt to scare Hezballah’s domestic allies from provoking it?

For Iran: Josh Landis comments in the same Bloomberg article that Iranian domestic issues are also at play in Ahmedinejad’s visit to Lebanon. Landis states that the Iranian leader is trying to “shift the focus from his internal failures” by highlighting the one success in Iranian policy, Hezballah/Lebanon.

Erdogan: A get together between long friends in Iran and Hezballah is not exactly going to raise too many eyebrows. However, Erdogan’s attendance to the after party will perhaps be the most significant element of this visit. Turkey’s shifting regional policy has been well documented, reaching fever point with the flotilla raid.

Erdogan’s visit will further cement that shift, potentially complicating any American/Israeli attempt to exert maximum pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. More importantly for Israel, Erdogan’s public appearance with Ahmedinejad in a visit to Hezballah will automatically signal Turkey’s symbolic support for the Lebanese Shia group.

Whilst Erdogan’s visit to Lebanon is undoubtedly going to heighten concerns in Tel Aviv and Washington, Turkey is actually increasing its stocks as a very important player in any final peace settlement in the region.

Let’s not sugarcoat Obama’s charade that are the peace talks. Time and time again the US invites Israel, the PA and its local Arab puppets in Mubarak and Abdullah to a meeting in the White House, and dubs it a renewed regional peace track. Egypt and Jordan are not the two states the US needs to gain support from for the peace talks to work.

No peace deal is going far without Iran and Syria. And with Hezballah’s continued rise in Lebanon, coupled with their leverage over Hamas, any “peace talk” between an already reluctant Israel and PA is hardly going to reap any rewards.

The only power in the region that has best positioned itself to broker peace talks between all sides is Turkey. Erdogan keeps his phone book full. Indeed, his strong criticism of Israel in recent times and his accompanying visit to Lebanon with Ahmedinejad this week is a clear sign to the US that Turkey is no American foot soldier in the Middle East (ala Egypt and Jordan), but a friend nonetheless that brings benefits with its connections.

Will the US smarten up and utilise Turkey’s potential?

*Also, a good read here from the Huff Post on Iran’s growing soft power in the Middle East.