Fakery, Fakery, and More Fakery

“I think if it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism. I think that we have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America.”

So says Sarah Huckabee-Sanders. The video the White House press secretary was referring to apparently is Project Veritas’  “American Pravda” report. That video–(in case you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here )–shows some private comments made by a CNN producer named John Bonifield, who apparently did not know he was being filmed. In the conversation, recorded covertly, Bonifield admits that CNN’s Russia coverage is “mostly bullshit” and that President Trump is right when he accuses the media of engaging in “witch hunting.” He also says the Russia coverage has been driven by ratings.

As for Huckabee-Sanders, her comments, shown in the video above, were made on Tuesday, June 27, one day after the Veritas video was uploaded.

“And I think if that is the place that certain outlets are going, particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that’s coming directly from the top, I think that’s even more scary and certainly more disgraceful,” she said.

It’s hard to ague with words such as these. Certainly reporting by the mainstream media has been disgraceful–not just on Russia but in a number of other areas as well. And certainly this malfeasance on the part of the media has taken us to a dangerous place in America.

But Huckabee-Sanders’ comments came less than 24 hours after her colleague in the Trump administration, Sean Spicer, made a preposterous accusation against the Syrian government while providing no evidence to back it up. According to Spicer, the US “has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

Spicer added, by way of warning, that if “Mr. Assad  conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

This is the Trump administration–the same administration that has been accusing the media of purveying fake news.

On April 6, US forces launched Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base over claims made by the media that Syria had carried out a chemical weapons attack in Idlib Province, killing dozens of people. This was one day after the New York Times had reported on what it referred to as the “worst chemical attack in years in Syria.”

“Dozens of people, including children, died–some writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth–after breathing in poison that possibly contained a nerve agent or other banned chemicals, according to witnesses, doctors and rescue workers,” the Times’ April 5 report said.

One of the reporters sharing a byline on that story was Michael R. Gordon, the same New York Times reporter who, along with Judith Miller, had reported on Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction back in 2002.

It’s almost like a revolving wheel, isn’t it?

And so now we have the White House claiming Assad is plotting to kill children–where pray tell did they get this information? Hard to say for sure, but certainly it’s possible it was fed to them by the Israelis. And the gullible idiots in the Trump administration either believed it…or simply followed orders and had Spicer go out, hold a press conference, accuse the Syrian president of mass murder, and threaten to attack the country again.

As I have said in previous posts, everything in America these days is centered around fakery. Even the people who accuse others of being fakes, are fakes themselves. The irate reporter who accuses Huckabee-Sanders of being “inflammatory” in the video above? What a charming segment! It’s almost like watching two fakes argue over who is the more talented.

A report published several days ago by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh suggests that the “chemical weapons attack” which prompted Trump’s April 6 attack upon Syria was not a deliberate chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, as was reported, but in fact a bombing of a jihadist meeting site and which used a conventional bomb dropped from the air.

The meeting, consisting of high level operatives from Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, was held in a two story cinder block building that was used for a variety of purposes including storage of fertilizers, weapons and ammunition, propane, cooking oil, insecticides, medicine, and chlorine-based decontaminants. Moreover, according to Hersh’s sources, the Americans even knew in advance that the attack was going to take place because the Russians had tipped them off to it (this was back when the Americans and the Russians in Syria were still speaking with, and coordinating their military movements with, each other).

The bombing of the building, says Hersh, “triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground.”

So this is what was portrayed in the media as a deliberate chemical attack by the Assad government. Hersh’s sources claim President Trump was advised as to the true details of the attack but that he deliberately chose to ignore it. Whether this is a self-serving statement on the part of an anonymous intelligence agent would be hard to say for sure, but here, in any event. is how Hersh reports it:

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.”

Hersh’s report was published by the German newspaper Die Welt. A commentary on it has also been published by Jonathan Cook, who makes some valid observations of his own–namely that those attempting to make a case for Assad’s use of chemical weapons must concede certain particulars that are highly implausible. Among these are that:

  1. Assad is so crazed and self-destructive – or at the very least so totally incapable of controlling his senior commanders, who must themselves be crazed and self-destructive – that he has on several occasions ordered the use of chemical weapons against civilians. And he has chosen to do it at the worst possible moments for his own and his regime’s survival, and when such attacks were entirely unnecessary.
  2. That Putin is equally deranged and so willing to risk an end-of-times conflagration with the US that he has on more than one occasion either sanctioned or turned a blind eye to the use of sarin by Assad’s regime. And he has done nothing to penalise Assad afterwards, when things went wrong.

He also makes a point about Hersh’s critics–i.e. that to validate their case they must assume that Hersh “has decided to jettison all the investigatory skills he has amassed over many decades as a journalist to accept at face value any unsubstantiated rumours his long-established contacts in the security services have thrown his way.”

Russia’s response to the Trump administration’s latest fantasia on Syria came from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

“We heard about this statement,” Peskov told reporters. “We do not know what is the basis for this. And of course we categorically disagree with the ‘another attack’ wording.

“We also consider any similar threats to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic unacceptable,” he added.

“Unacceptable” is pretty strong language for Russian officials, who aren’t especially prone to making “inflammatory” statements. America, long touted for its supposed freedom of the press, is indeed in a “dangerous place.”  Huckabee-Sanders has at least that much right. It would be ironic if World War III, and possible planetary annihilation, were triggered by a long jet stream of fake news streaking across the sky, but that seems like a distinct possibility at this point.

Of course, none of this is intended to be “inflammatory” toward the poor, hardworking reporters at CNN who, naturally, are “only trying to do their job.”

The Facts Proving Corbyn’s Election Triumph

Watching the BBC’s coverage of the election, you could be excused for taking away two main impressions of last night’s results. First, that Theresa May had a terrible, self-sabotaging campaign; and second that, while Jeremy Corbyn may be celebrating, he decisively lost the election.

Those are the conclusions we would expect a pundit class to draw that has spent two years slandering Corbyn, calling him “unelectable”, warning that he appealed to little more than a niche group of radical leftists, and claiming that Labour was about to face the worst electoral defeat in living memory – if not ever. Corbyn’s social justice message was supposedly alienating the heartlands of the UK.

So let’s stand back, look at the voting figures and see how a Corbyn-led Labour party actually did.

Corbyn received 41 per cent of the vote, against May’s 44 per cent. Given the UK’s inherently flawed, first-past-the-post electoral system, he won some 50 fewer seats than the Conservatives, but that was still a big improvement on Labour’s share of seats in the last election, under Ed Miliband. There is now a hung parliament, and to survive May will need to depend on the votes of a small group of Northern Irish Ulster unionists, creating a deeply unstable government.

But how did Corbyn do in terms of the Labour vote compared to his recent predecessors? He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party.

They lost their elections. But what about Corbyn’s share of the vote compared to Tony Blair, his most high-profile critic, whose many allies in the parliamentary Labour party sought relentlessly to subvert Corbyn’s leadership over the past two years and tried to bring him down, including by staging a leadership challenge last year.

Here are the figures for Blair’s three wins. He got a 36 per cent share of the vote in 2005 – much less than Corbyn. He received a 41 per cent of the vote – about the same as Corbyn – in 2001. And Blair’s landslide victory in 1997 was secured on 43 per cent of the vote, just two percentage points ahead of Corbyn last night.

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997. But let’s recall the price Blair paid for that very small margin of improvement over Corbyn’s vote. Behind the scenes, he sold Labour’s soul to the City, the corporations and their lobbyists. That Faustian pact secured Blair the backing of most of the British media, including Rupert Murdoch’s stable of papers and TV channel. The corporations mobilised their entire propaganda machine to get Blair into power. And yet he managed it with only 2 percentage points more than Corbyn, who had that same propaganda machine railing against him.

Also, unlike Corbyn, Blair did not have to endure a large section of his own party trying to destroy him from within.

And in addition, Blair was able to rely on a strong Scottish vote for the party that no longer existed by the time Corbyn became leader. Most of that vote now goes to the Scottish National Party (SNP) over the issue of independence for Scotland.

All of this indicates the extent of Corbyn’s achievement.

Another point. Blair’s 1997 landslide was the peak of his success. As Labour members realised what he had done to achieve victory, support ebbed away relentlessly until he was forced to step down and hand over a profoundly damaged party to Gordon Brown.

With Corbyn, the election campaign proved that there is a huge appetite for his honesty, his passion, his commitment to social justice – at least when audiences got a chance to hear from him directly, rather than having his policies and personality mediated and distorted by a biased and self-serving corporate media. Unlike Blair, who destroyed Labour to turn it into a Thatcher-lite party, Corbyn is rebuilding Labour into a social movement for progressive politics.

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

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Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

How Israeli Moves in Jerusalem Are Scotching Trump’s ‘Ultimate Deal’

Global Research, May 30, 2017

A decision by Donald Trump this Thursday could prove fateful for the immediate future of Jerusalem, the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region.

He must decide whether to renew a presidential waiver, signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, that expires on June 1. The six-month waiver delays implementing a law passed by Congress in 1995 that requires the US to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy there from Tel Aviv.

It is a law every president for the past 22 years has baulked at. It would pre-empt the Oslo accords and negate Washington’s assumed role as “honest broker”. Carrying out Congress’s wish would deny the Palestinians East Jerusalem, the only credible capital of a future Palestinian state.

But equally significantly, the law would recognise Israel’s efforts to claim sovereignty over the Old City’s holy places, especially the incendiary site of Al Aqsa mosque. That could provoke a conflagration both locally, among Palestinians, and more generally in the Middle East.

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Al-Aqsa mosque (Source: Wikipedia)

Trump’s key advisers are reported to be bitterly divided. Some, such as secretary of state Rex Tillerson, warn that, if the president fails to approve the deferral, his claims to be crafting the “ultimate deal” to bring peace to the region will be doomed from the outset.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, including in the US Congress, are doing their best to pressure Trump in the opposite direction.

On Sunday, Netanyahu staged a provocative stunt, holding his weekly cabinet meeting in a tunnel under Al Aqsa mosque compound to announce measures to bring millions more Jewish visitors to the occupied Old City, including a new cable car to the edge of the mosque.

It was Netanyahu’s decision to open the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996, when he first became prime minister, that brought the Oslo process into almost terminal crisis at an early stage. Three days of clashes killed more than 100 Palestinians and 17 Israeli soldiers.

Next Tuesday, meanwhile, the US Congress and Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem are due to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s illegal occupation of the city in a ceremony conducted via video link.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that either Trump or vice-president Mike Pence are due to participate, in what could be interpreted as the first tacit recognition by the White House of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That would be a continuation of Trump’s break with official US policy towards Jerusalem during his visit to the region last week. He became the first sitting president to visit the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall, below Al Aqsa. It was unclear whether his advisers had explained that where he stood had been a Palestinian neighbourhood 50 years ago, before it was ethnically cleansed.

Trump stuffed a note into the wall, in what observers hoped was a plea for divine help in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the Western Wall visit was more probably an effort to placate his core supporters. Christian evangelicals paid for dozens of billboards across Jerusalem reminding Trump that he won the election only because of their votes – and that they expect the US embassy to be moved to Jerusalem.

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Western Wall in Jerusalem (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The day after Trump’s departure, Netanyahu exploited the president’s attendance at the wall to further damage prospects for peacemaking. He made a provocative speech to mark “Jerusalem Day”, Israel’s annual show of strength in East Jerusalem.

He claimed that Trump had disproved the “lies” promoted by the United Nations cultural body, Unesco, when it voted this month to re-state that Jerusalem is occupied.

In truth, it was Netanyahu who indulged in gross mendacity, claiming that East Jerusalem had been “desolate” and “neglected” before its occupation. Israel had “redeemed” the city, he said, while Al Aqsa mosque would “always remain under Israeli sovereignty”.

His supporters tried to give that claim concrete expression by staging the largest-ever march through the Old City on Jerusalem Day. Palestinians were forced into hiding or fled early as police allowed 60,000 Jewish ultra-nationalists to besiege the heart of East Jerusalem.

In a sign of the power balance in Israel, a small group of 50 left-wing Jews – many from the US – linked arms to try to block the march at the Old City’s entrance. Footage showed police brutally arresting them, grabbing them in chokeholds and breaking one woman’s arm.

Jerusalem is the most intractable of the final-status issues set out in the Oslo process. Those expecting miracles of Trump are going to be disappointed. His commitment to pressuring Netanyahu is weak, while the Israeli prime minister’s commitment to making concessions is non-existent.

Whether Trump signs the waiver or not on Thursday, all indications are that the US president – faced with domestic pressures and an intransigent Israeli government – is going nowhere with his “ultimate deal”.

The only real question to be decided on Thursday is whether Trump prefers to take the fast or protracted route to failure.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net.

Israeli Official Calls for Syrian President Assad’s Assassination

[ Ed. note – It never ceases to amaze me–the bottomless depths of compassion the Israelis try to convince us they feel for the suffering people of Syria…while at the same time they display open hatred and contempt for Palestinians. The mainstream media are now pedaling a State Department claim about Syria operating a “crematorium,” ostensibly to dispose of the bodies of thousands of murdered prisoners, and a member of the Israeli cabinet, Housing Minister Yoav Galant, has used the opportunity to issue an open call for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad (see article below).

All this comes just a week after revelations that Israeli police staged a mock execution of a “terrorist” in front of a group of school children. A video of the demonstration, showing the children looking on, can be found here, and in a commentary on the episode, Jonathan Cook notes that in the video the youngsters can be heard clapping:

As he [the “terrorist” in the demonstration] lies badly wounded, the officers empty their magazines into him from close range. In Israel it is known as “confirming the kill”. Everywhere else it is called an extrajudicial execution or murder. The children can be heard clapping…The purpose of exposing children at an impressionable age to so much gore and killing is not hard to divine. It creates traumatised children, distrustful and fearful of anyone outside their tribe. That way they become more pliant soldiers, trigger-happy as they rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.

So it appears that in the Israeli scheme of things, it is okay to murder Palestinians but not Syrians, or at least not the terrorists that certain foreign backers paid good money to equip, finance, and send into Syria for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s democratically elected president. Of course, the “news” that the Syrian government incinerated massive numbers of people in a crematorium is in all probability about as fake as last month’s chemical attack, but no matter. The Zionists will likely milk it for all it’s worth. ]

RT
An Israeli minister has bluntly called for Syrian leader Bashar Assad to be assassinated after unsourced media reports claimed Damascus was using a “crematorium” to cover-up mass killings. He said the “serpent’s head” in Tehran should be dealt with next.

“The reality whereby Syria executes people, intentionally uses chemical weapons to hurt them and, now, in the most recent move of extremism, is burning their bodies – this has not been seen in the world in 70 years,” said Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant, as cited by Haaretz.

“We are crossing a red line and, in my view, the time has come to assassinate Assad,” he continued.

“And when we finish with the tail of the serpent, we will reach the head of the serpent, which can be found in Tehran, and we will deal with it, too,” he said.

What appears to be the first recorded Israeli threat to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Assad came after the US Department of State alleged, without presenting any hard evidence, that the Syrian government is using “a crematorium” outside Damascus to burn the bodies of people killed by the government.

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Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant

Earlier on Tuesday, Galant told Israeli Army radio that Assad’s rule has been the worst since Nazi Germany. “What is happening in Syria is defined as genocide, under all its classifications,” he said on Army radio, according to Jerusalem Post.

Galant, a retired IDF general, added that Israel wants to see Assad and his Alawite government ousted from power and replaced by a moderate Sunni ruler.”

Some previous attempts to compare Assad’s government to the Nazi regime have been met with public outcry. White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who claimed that Hitler’s death squads hadn’t used chemical agents during the Holocaust “in the way that Assad used them” sparked outrage in the US and beyond.

Certain journalists have used the Assad-Hitler comparison when covering claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, but those remarks were dismissed by the public.

Assad, a UK-educated doctor, has been in power since the 1999 passing of his father, Syria’s long-time president, Hafez Assad. Syria is one of the few Arab countries where the president is elected through a nationwide vote.

Israel Tutors Children in Fear and Loathing

Nazareth

A display of Israeli-style community policing before an audience of hundreds of young schoolchildren was captured on video last week. Were the 10-year-olds offered road safety tips, advice on what to do if they got lost, or how to report someone suspicion hanging around the school?

No. In Israel, they do things differently. The video shows four officers staging a mock anti-terror operation in a park close to Tel Aviv. The team roar in on motorbikes, firing their rifles at the “terrorist”.

As he lies badly wounded, the officers empty their magazines into him from close range. In Israel it is known as “confirming the kill”. Everywhere else it is called an extrajudicial execution or murder. The children can be heard clapping.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of a near-identical execution captured on film last year. A young army medic, Elor Azaria, is seen shooting a bullet into the head of an incapacitated Palestinian in Hebron. A military court sentenced him to 18 months for manslaughter in February.

There has been little sign of soul-searching since. Most Israelis, including government officials, call Azaria a hero. In the recent religious festival of Purim, dressing up as Azaria was a favourite among children.

There is plenty of evidence that Israel’s security services are still regularly executing real Palestinians.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem denounced the killing last week of a 16-year-old Jerusalem schoolgirl, Fatima Hjeiji, in a hail of bullets. She had frozen to the spot after pulling out a knife some distance from a police checkpoint. She posed no threat, concluded B’Tselem, and did not need to be killed.

The police were unrepentant about their staged execution, calling it “a positive, empowering” demonstration for the youngsters. The event was hardly exceptional.

In communities across Israel this month, the army celebrated Israel’s Independence Day by bringing along its usual “attractions” – tanks, guns and grenades – for children to play with, while families watched army dogs sicking yet more “terrorists”.

In a West Bank settlement, meanwhile, the army painted youngsters’ arms and legs with shrapnel wounds. Blood-like liquid dripped convincingly from dummies with amputated limbs. The army said the event was a standard one that “many families enjoyed”.

The purpose of exposing children at an impressionable age to so much gore and killing is not hard to divine. It creates traumatised children, distrustful and fearful of anyone outside their tribe. That way they become more pliant soldiers, trigger-happy as they rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A few educators have started to sense they are complicit in this emotional and mental abuse.

Holocaust Memorial Day, marked in Israeli schools last month, largely avoids universal messages, such as that we must recognise the humanity of others and stand up for the oppressed. Instead, pupils as young as three are told the Holocaust serves as a warning to be eternally vigilant – that Israel and its strong army are the only things preventing another genocide by non-Jews.

Last year Zeev Degani, principal of one Israel’s most prestigious schools, caused a furore when he announced his school would no longer send pupils on annual trips to Auschwitz. This is a rite of passage for Israeli pupils. He called the misuse of the Holocaust “pathological” and intended to “generate fear and hatred” to inculcate extreme nationalism.

It is not by accident that these trips – imparting the message that a strong army is vital to Israel’s survival – take place just before teenagers begin a three-year military draft.

Increasingly, they receive no alternative messages in school. Degani was among the few principals who had been inviting Breaking the Silence, a group of whistle-blowing soldiers, to discuss their part in committing war crimes.

In response, the education minister, Naftali Bennett, leader of the settlers’ party, has barred dissident groups like Breaking the Silence. He has also banned books and theatre trips that might encourage greater empathy with those outside the tribe.

Polls show this is paying off. Schoolchildren are even more ultra-nationalist than their parents. More than four-fifths think there is no hope of peace with the Palestinians.

But these cultivated attitudes don’t just sabotage peacemaking. They also damage any chance of Israeli Jews living peacefully with the large minority of Palestinian citizens in their midst.

Half of Jewish schoolchildren believe these Palestinians, one in five of the population, should not be allowed to vote in elections. This month the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called the minority’s representatives in parliament “Nazis” and suggested they should share a similar fate.

This extreme chauvinism was translated last week into legislation that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people around the world, not its citizens. The Palestinian minority are effectively turned into little more than resident aliens in their own homeland.

Degani and others are losing the battle to educate for peace and reconciliation. If a society’s future lies with its children, the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians is bleak indeed.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

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Syria is the Dam Against More Bloody Chaos

MAY 9, 2017

A decade ago I published a book, Israel and the Clash of Civilisations, that examined Israel’s desire to Balkanise the Middle East, using methods it had refined over many decades in the occupied Palestinian territories. The goal was to unleash chaos across much of the region, destabilising key enemy states: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The book further noted how Israel’s strategy had influenced the neoconservative agenda in Washington that found favour under George Bush’s administration. The neocons’ destabilisation campaign started in Iraq, with consequences that are only too apparent today.

My book was published when efforts by Israel and the neocons to move the Balkanisation campaign forward into Iran, Syria and Lebanon were stumbling, and before it was clear that other actors, such as ISIS, would emerge out of the mayhem. But I predicted – correctly – that Israel and the neocons would continue to push for more destabilisation, targeting Syria next, with disastrous consequences.

Today, Israel’s vision of the region is shared by other key actors, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Turkey. The current arena for destabilisation, as I warned, is Syria. But if successful, the Balkanisation process will undoubtedly move on and intensify against Lebanon and Iran.

Although commentators tend to focus on the “evil monsters” who lead the states targeted for destruction, it is worth remembering that before their disintegration most were also oases of secularism in a region dominated by medieval sectarian ideologies, whether the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia or the Orthodox Judaism of Israel.

Syria’s Bashar Assad, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi are or were ruthless and brutal in the way all dictators are, against opponents who threaten the regime. But before their states were targeted for “intervention”, they also oversaw societies in which there were high levels of education and literacy, well-established welfare states, and low levels of sectarianism. These were not insignificant achievements (even if they are largely overlooked now) – achievements that large sections of their populations appreciated, even more so when they were destroyed through outside intervention.

These achievements were not unrelated to the fact that the regimes were or are more independent of the US than the US and Israel desired. The rulers of these states, which comprise disparate sectarian groups, had an interest in maintaining internal stability through a carrot and stick approach: benefits for those who submitted to the regime, and repression for those who resisted. They also made strong alliances with similar regimes to limit moves by Israel and the US to dominate the region.

Balkanisation has been a powerful way to isolate and weaken these states, allowing the process to be expanded to other renegade states.

This is not to excuse human rights violations by dictatorial regimes. But it is to concentrate on an even more important issue. What we have seen unfolding over the past 15 years is part of a lengthy process – often described in the West as a “war on terror” – that is not designed to “liberate” or “democratise” Middle Eastern states. If that were the case, Saudi Arabia would have been the first state targeted for “intervention”.

Rather, the “war on terror” is part of efforts to violently break apart states that reject US-Israeli hegemony in the region, so as to maintain US control over the region’s resources in an age of diminishing access to cheap oil.

Although it is tempting to prioritise human rights as the yardstick according to which the parties should be judged, by now there should be little doubt that the conflicts unfolding in the Middle East are not about the promotion of rights.

Syria offers all the clues we need.

The agents trying to overthrow Assad in Syria are no longer civil society groups and democracy activists. They were too small in number and too weak to bring about change or threaten the Assad regime. Instead, whatever civil war there may initially have been has transformed into a proxy war. (In a closed society like Syria, it is of course almost impossible to know what drove the initial opposition – was it a fight for greater human rights, or growing dissatisfaction with the regime concerning other issues, such as food shortages and population displacements that were themselves a consequence of long-term processes triggered by climate change?)

A coalition of the US, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Turkey and Israel exploited those initial challenges to the Syrian regime, seeing them as an opening. They did not do so to help democracy activists but to advance their own, largely shared agendas. They used Sunni jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS to advance their interests, which depend on the break-up of the Syrian state and its replacement by a void that empowers them while disempowering their enemies in the region.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states want Iran and its Shia allies weakened; Turkey wants a freer hand against Kurdish dissident groups in Syria and elsewhere; and Israel wants to foster the forces of sectarianism in the Middle East to undermine pan-Arab nationalism, thereby ensuring its regional hegemony will go unchallenged.

The agents trying to stabilise Syria are the regime itself, Russia, Iran and Hizbollah. Their concern is to use whatever force is necessary to repel the agents of anarchy and restore the regime’s dominance.

Neither side can be characterised as “good”. There are no “white hats” in this gunfight. But there is clearly a side to prefer if the yardstick is minimising not only the current suffering in Syria but also future suffering in the region.

The agents of stability want to rebuild Syria and strengthen it as part of a wider Shia bloc. In practice, their policy would achieve – even if it does not directly aim for – a regional balance of forces, similar to the stand-off between the US and Russia in the Cold War. It is not ideal, but it is far preferable to the alternative policy pursued by the agents of anarchy. They want key states in the Middle East to implode, as has already happened in Iraq and Libya and has been partially achieved in Syria.

We know the consequences of this policy: massive sectarian bloodspilling, huge internal population displacement and the creation of waves of refugees who head towards the relative stability of Europe, the seizure and dispersal of military arsenals that spur yet more fighting, and the inspiration of more militant and reactionary ideologies like that of ISIS.

If Syria falls, it will not become Switzerland. And if it falls, it will not be the end of the “war on terror”. Next, these agents of anarchy will move on to Lebanon and Iran, spreading yet more death and destruction.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Abbas Fears the Prisoners’ Hunger Strike; 6500 Political Prisoners in Israeli Jails

“Abbas is publicly supportive of the strikers, but in private he is said to want the protest over as quickly as possible. Reports at the weekend revealed that he had urged Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to intercede with America and Israel to help.”

Global Research, May 02, 2017
Jonathan Cook

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet Donald Trump in the White House on Wednesday to discuss reviving the long-cold corpse of the peace process.

Back home, things are heating up. There is anger in the West Bank, both on the streets and within the ranks of Abbas’s Fatah movement. The trigger is a two-week-old hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners.

Last Thursday, Palestinians shuttered their businesses in a show of solidarity, and the next day youths clashed with the Israeli army in a “day of rage”.

About a quarter of the 6,500 political prisoners held by Israel – almost all of them in Israeli territory, in violation of international law – are refusing food in protest at their degrading treatment. They want reforms to Israel’s industrial system of incarceration. Some 800,000 Palestinians – 40 per cent of males – have passed through Israel’s cells since 1967.

Israel hopes to break the prisoners’ spirits. It has locked up the leaders in solitary confinement, denied striking inmates access to a lawyer, taken away radios, and last week began confiscating salt rations – the only sustenance along with water the prisoners are taking.

The strike is led by Marwan Barghouti, the most senior Palestinian leader in jail – and the most popular, according to polls.

Abbas is publicly supportive of the strikers, but in private he is said to want the protest over as quickly as possible. Reports at the weekend revealed that he had urged Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to intercede with America and Israel to help.

In part, Abbas fears the influence of Barghouti, a man often described as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela and seen as Abbas’s likely successor. Notably, the Palestinian president has repeatedly sidelined him within Fatah.

But Abbas is also concerned that the hunger strike will provoke violent clashes in the West Bank with Israeli security forces, damaging his efforts to persuade Trump to back his diplomatic campaign for Palestinian statehood.

Instead, he wants to prove he can snuff out any signs of what Trump might see as “terrorism”. That requires tight security cooperation with Israel.

The visit to Washington and the hunger strike have brought into sharp relief the biggest fault line in the Palestinian national movement.

Abbas’s strategy is strictly top-down. Its starting point is that western states – those that have consistently betrayed the Palestinian people over many decades – can now be trusted to help them attain a state.

From this dubious assumption, Abbas has sought to suppress anything that plays badly in western capitals. Pressure has only intensified under Trump.

By contrast, the “battle of empty stomachs” is evidence of a burgeoning bottom-up strategy, one of mass non-violent resistance. On this occasion, the demands are limited to prison reform, but the strike’s impact could spread.

Not least, the model of protest, should it succeed, might suggest its relevance to a Palestinian public disillusioned with Abbas’s approach. They too are living in cells of Israel’s devising, even if larger, open-air ones.

The starkly different logic of these two strategies is harder than ever to ignore.

To stand a hope of winning over the Trump administration, Abbas must persuade it that he is the sole voice of the Palestinians.

That means he must keep a lid on the hunger strike, encouraging it to fizzle out before prisoners start dying and Palestinian fury erupts across the occupied territories. His approach is reported to be creating severe tensions within Fatah.

Wishing only to add to those difficulties, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded last week that Abbas halt financial aid to the prisoners’ families, calling it compensation for terrorism.

Abbas also feels compelled to assert himself against his Hamas rivals in Gaza. That is why last week he stopped funding the fuel needed to generate electricity there, having recently cut medical services and salaries to Gaza’s civil servants.

His hope is that, as he turns the screws, Hamas will be toppled or forced to submit to his rule.

But more probably, the fissure with Hamas will deepen, forcing the cornered Islamist movement into another bloody confrontation to break free of Israel’s decade-old blockade. These divisions, most Palestinians increasingly understand, weaken rather than strengthen their cause. Mass non-violent resistance such as the hunger strike, by contrast, has the potential to reunite Fatah and Hamas in struggle, and re-empower a weary Palestinian populace.

Reports have suggested that Barghouti has reached a deal with jailed Hamas leaders committing to just such a struggle in the occupied territories once Abbas has departed.

A popular struggle of non-violence – blocking settlement roads, marching to Jerusalem, tearing down walls – would be hard to characterise as terrorism, even for Trump. It is the Israeli army’s nightmare scenario, because it is the only confrontation for which it has no suitable response.

Such a campaign of civil disobedience, however, stands no chance of success so long as Abbas is there to undermine it – and insists on obediently chasing after illusions in Washington.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

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