Sunday, 31 December 2017

How Cheney and His Allies Created the North Korea Nuclear Missile Crisis


The Trump administration has been telling people for months that the crisis with North Korea is the result of North Korea’s relentless pursuit of a nuclear threat to the US homeland and past North Korean cheating on diplomatic agreements. However, North Korea reached agreements with both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations that could have averted that threat, had they been completed.

Instead, a group of Bush administration officials led by then-Vice President Dick Cheney sabotaged both agreements, and Pyongyang went on to make rapid strides on both nuclear and missile development, leading ultimately to the successful late November 2017 North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test.

The record shows, moreover, that Cheney and his allies derailed diplomatic efforts to curb North Korean nuclear and missile development, not because they opposed “arms control” (after all, the agreements that were negotiated would have limited only North Korean arms), but because those agreements would have been a political obstacle to fielding the group’s main interest: funding and fielding a national missile defense system as quickly as possible. The story of Cheney’s maneuvering to kill two agreements shows how a real US national security interest was sacrificed to a massive military boondoggle that served only the interests of the powerful contractors behind it.

Curbing North Korean Arms or Missile Defense?
In October 1994, the Bill Clinton administration reached a historic agreement with North Korea called the “Agreed Framework,” under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its existing plutonium reactor and related facilities within a month, with full monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and to dismantle them as soon as they could be replaced with light water reactors. The United States promised to provide the reactors, as well fuel oil, until the light water reactors were built. And even more crucially, the US also pledged to take steps to end the enmity toward North Korea and normalize relations between the two longtime adversaries.

No sooner had the Clinton administration negotiated the “Agreed Framework,” however, than the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in the 1994 election. That seismic political shift enabled a powerful lobby of military contractors pushing for a national missile defense system to achieve a congressional mandate for rapid development and deployment of such a system.

It was a fateful convergence, because the missile defense lobby’s strategy was to create a sense of urgency about an alleged imminent threat to the US homeland from ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons mounted by “rogue states” – Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

And the Clinton administration’s agreement with North Korea – the only “rogue state” known to have a nuclear weapons program as well as a missile program – threatened that missile defense lobby strategy.

When a 1995 CIA intelligence estimate said that none of the three “rogue states” would have ballistic missiles capable of threatening the United States for at least 15 years, the missile defense lobby got Congress to pass legislation creating a “national commission” on the ballistic missile threat that would contradict the CIA assessment. 

The commission, led by Republican hard-liner Donald Rumsfeld, asserted in its final report in July 1998 that either Iraq or North Korea might acquire long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States in as little as five years. In a craven retreat under political pressure, the CIA then largely adopted the commission’s argument.

North Korea had only carried out two tests of medium or longer-range missiles in the decade from 1988 to 1998, neither of which had been successful, so the Clinton administration was not focused on the threat of an ICBM: It held just two rounds of talks on the ballistic missile program between 1996 and 1998.

In fact, it was not the United States, but North Korea that proposed an agreement in 1998 that would end its development of new missiles as part of a broader peace agreement with Washington. 

When the United States failed to respond to the proposal, however, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket called the Taepodong on August 31, 1998, which the missile lobby and news media argued was a major step toward a North Korean ICBM. The missile lobby used that event to push for legislation establishing a national policy goal to deploy and “effective National Missile Defense System” as soon as technologically possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was using the regime’s missile development as a prod to get the Clinton administration to negotiate a deal that would include concrete steps toward normalization of relations. He even sent a personal envoy to Washington to present the outline of a new North Korean offer to give up the regime’s quest for an ICBM, as well as its nuclear weapons capability. In October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to Pyongyang, and the two sides came close to a final agreement that would have ended North Korean missile development as well as its nuclear weapons program and led to normalizing relations.

But Clinton didn’t go to North Korea to sign the deal in the final months of his presidency, and the election of George W. Bush in November 2000 was a major victory for the missile defense lobby. Bush named Rumsfeld, the primary political champion of a missile defense system, as his Secretary of Defense. And no less than eight figures with direct or indirect ties to Lockheed Martin, the leading defense contractor in the missile defense business, became policymakers in the new administration. The most important was Dick Cheney, whose wife, Lynn Cheney, had earned more than half a million dollars serving on the board of directors of Lockheed-Martin from 1994 to 2001.  

Cheney set about killing the Agreed Framework and securing the missile defense system even before Bush entered the White House. Cheney chose Robert Joseph, a hardline supporter of missile defense and foe of an agreement with North Korea, as a key member of the transition team that Cheney led. Cheney then made Joseph senior director on the National Security Council (NSC) staff with responsibility for both missile defense and “weapons of mass destruction” proliferation policy.

“Joseph really hated the Agreed Framework,” Larry Wilkerson, then in the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, told journalist Mike Chinoy. “His objective was first to kill the Agreed Framework and to make sure that nothing like it could ever get created again.”

Joseph’s first project was to draft a National Security Presidential Directive that laid out a “new strategic framework,” essentially built around a ballistic missile defense system, as Joseph later told a National Defense University researcher

Joseph drafted a speech that the president gave on May 1, 2001, in which Bush debuted a new central argument for national missile defense. “Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation,” Bush declared, adding that missile defense system could “strengthen deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation.”

Cheney and Bolton Go for the Kill
Colin Powell’s State Department posed the main obstacle to the Cheney group’s plans for trashing the Agreed Framework. The Department’s East Asian Bureau got Bush’s approval for a formal policy review on North Korea, which concluded by defining the policy goal of exploring a deal with North Korea that would involve “an improved relationship.”

But Cheney had a bureaucratic strategy to frustrate that endeavor and finish off the Agreed Framework. The NSC staff initiated a “nuclear posture review,” which was carried out without any participation by Powell’s allies. The final document included North Korea on a new list of countries that could be targets for US use of nuclear weapons.

That designation, which was leaked to the press in March 2002, conflicted directly with the US pledge in the Agreed Framework to “provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.” 

Then Bush’s State of the Union message in January 2002 introduced the idea of North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq. That was not merely a throwaway line introduced by a speechwriter, but reflected lobbying by Cheney and Rumsfeld for “toughening sanctions and isolation to lay the groundwork for regime change in North Korea,” according to Condoleezza Rice’s memoir, No Higher Honor.

John Bolton, Cheney’s proxy in the State Department on proliferation issues, writes in his memoir Surrender is Not an Option that he considered the “axis of evil” speech a signal that he could now begin a bureaucratic offensive aimed at killing the Agreed Framework. Bolton recalls that he pushed the State Department to adopt the position that North Korea was out of compliance with the Agreed Framework for having “failed to make a complete and accurate declaration of its nuclear activities and refused to allow inspection of related facilities.”

However, Bolton was misrepresenting the terms of the agreement, which provided that North Korea would come into full compliance with its safeguards agreement, including the accuracy and completeness of its declaration on its nuclear program, “[w]hen a significant portion of the LWR [light water reactor] project is completed, but before delivery of key nuclear components…” Construction on the light water reactor had not even begun in 2002, when the State Department notified Congress that North Korea was out of compliance.

Bolton’s plan was frustrated temporarily by resistance from the NSC, over which then-National Security Adviser Rice had some influence. But the decisive blow to the Agreed Framework came in July 2002, when, according to his memoir, Bolton obtained an intelligence assessment stating that North Korea “began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities” in 2001, and that it had “obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.” Bolton recalls that the new intelligence finding was “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” He argued in interagency meetings that North Korea had pledged to “take steps to implement the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and therefore any North Korean move toward uranium enrichment violated its commitment.

Bolton was creating another false issue. Robert Carlin, a North Korea expert and adviser to the US negotiators, has pointed out that the reference to that document was an “afterthought” and that “no one really believed that the reference to the North-South agreements would constitute one of the core DPRK obligations” in the agreement. 

Bush’s negotiator with North Korea, Charles L. Pritchard, suggested bringing the uranium enrichment issue into the Agreed Framework, using the North Korean interest in normalization as negotiating leverage, according to Bolton. He also warned that if the United States withdrew from the agreement, North Korea would resume its plutonium program or start a new uranium program.

However, Bolton recalls telling Pritchard that wouldn’t make “the slightest difference,” because North Korea already had enough plutonium for “several weapons.” In fact, it was not at all clear that Pyongyang had already converted plutonium into a single nuclear weapon.

However, Bolton showed no apparent concern about North Korea’s long-range missile program, which the Clinton administration and North Korea had agreed would be negotiated in conjunction with moves toward normalization. “I wanted a decisive conclusion that the Agreed Framework was dead,” Bolton writes.

In October 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly went to Pyongyang with explicit orders, which Rice attributes to those who were undermining diplomacy, to accuse Pyongyang of cheating on the agreement by having a uranium enrichment program. North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju did not deny the government’s interest in uranium enrichment, but said it was a response to the clear indications from the Bush administration that it had no intention to improve relations with his government. He also said North Korea was prepared to negotiate on all enrichment, including uranium, if the United States changed its hostile policy.

However, at an NSC meeting a week later, no one disagreed with the assertion that the Agreed Framework was dead, according to Bolton. In December 2002, the Bush administration strong-armed its Japanese and South Korean allies to end their supply of oil to the North Korea, officially terminating the Agreed Framework.  

Cheney and his allies were clearing the political path to full funding for the national missile defense system they wanted to rush to deployment as quickly as possible. Rumsfeld had created a new Missile Defense Agency in the Pentagon in early 2002, which had unprecedented freedom from congressional or Department of Defense oversight. 

They were also opening the floodgates for North Korean nuclear and missile development. 

Cheney Kills Rice’s North Korea Agreement
For the next three years, the Bush administration refused direct negotiations with North Korea. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got Bush to agree in September 2005 to a joint statement of principles with North Korea in the context of Six-Party Talks. 

In October 2007, Washington and Pyongyang negotiated an agreement under which Pyongyang would first seal and then disable its plutonium-based facilities for shipment of heavy fuel and provide a full accounting of its entire nuclear program, including uranium. For its part, the US pledged to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and lift other trade restrictions. In a later phase, the two sides would agree on a verification system and on steps leading to normalization of relations.

Then Cheney sabotaged the new agreement. In April 2007, Israel claimed Syria had built a nuclear reactor in the desert in eastern Syria with North Korean assistance. Bush’s advisers all accepted the Israeli claim as true, but nearly a decade later, the IAEA’s expert on North Korean reactors at the time revealed detailed technical evidence that had led him to conclude with certainty that the Syrian site could not possibly have been a North Korean-designed reactor.

Cheney seized on the alleged Syrian reactor to wrest control over North Korea policy from Rice. In a January 4, 2008 White House meeting, he recalls in his memoirs In My Time how he successfully prodded Bush and Rice to agree with his assumption that a “failure to admit they’ve been proliferating to the Syrians would be a deal killer.” Two months later, Bush gave Cheney power to approve any joint US-North Korean text negotiated by the State Department.

Under pressure from Cheney, Rice adopted a new diplomatic strategy. In addition to their obligations in the first two phases of the October 2007 agreement, she writes in No Higher Honor, “[t]he North Koreans would also have to agree to a verification protocol to govern the on-site inspection of all aspects of their nuclear program.”

That verification protocol – not the actions pledged by Pyongyang in the October 2007 agreement – would now be the basis for deciding whether the administration would take North Korea off the terrorist list and stop the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Rice was changing the rules after the fact. After had North Korea delivered its declaration on its plutonium enrichment program in late June 2008, US negotiators sought North Korean agreement for inspectors to go into any site, whether declared or not, including sensitive military sites. Pyongyang conveyed its strong private objections to that, as well as to environmental sampling by inspectors. The 45-day period during which the United States was supposed to have taken its two small steps toward normalization came and went.

North Korea immediately accused the United States of violating the October agreement and suspended the disabling of its nuclear facilities. The US negotiator, Chris Hill, got what he regarded as North Korean verbal agreement to an amended version of the verification protocol, but North Korea would not sign it. On the basis of that unwritten understanding, Bush agreed to take North Korea off the US list of terrorist sponsors, and the physical disabling of the North Korea’s plutonium complex was completed. 

But Bush insisted that North Korea sign the verification protocol, and in December, after Barack Obama’s election, Pyongyang rejected the Bush administration’s unilateral rewriting of the agreement, issuing a statement that it would only agree to intrusive inspections when US “hostile policy and nuclear threat to the North are fundamentally terminated.” US-North Korean diplomacy on the October 2007 nuclear deal came to a halt.

Cheney and his allies had prevented the successful completion of two agreements that could have averted the present crisis with North Korea. When Bush took office in 2001, North Korea was believed to possess less than an atomic bomb’s worth of plutonium. By the end of his second term, North Korea was already a nuclear power, with several nuclear weapons.

Even more significant, however, the Bush administration never even attempted to negotiate limits on North Korea’s long-range missile program. That failure was very costly to the interests of the American people – but it was a gift to the national missile defense program that has kept on giving. 

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted atporter.gareth50@gmail.comReprinted from TruthOut with the author’s permission.

Mohammed Bin Salman's regional failures are leaving Saudi Arabia isolated

On 19 December, Saudi Arabia intercepted missiles fired by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) from Yemen towards the Yamama Palace, the official residence of King Salman in Riyadh. The attack perhaps came as a stern response to a Saudi-made animated video that went viral on social media few days before. The clip depicts a Saudi invasion and regime change in Tehran.

This direct attack on the kingdom's highest political leadership and the symbol of Saudi authority is highly significant. Such an attack would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago, but Saudi Arabia's poorly managed foreign and regional policies recently have left it largely short of respect, exposed and regionally isolated.
Saudi Arabia's regional policies have been an utter failure and have left it largely isolated

Antagonising Turkey

While Turkey has been very keen on maintaining positive relations with Saudi Arabia, on a diplomatic level the kingdom has largely disregarded its approach. This has been especially so after Turkey stood firmly by Qatar and sent troops to the emirate following the GCC diplomatic crisis in June. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain decided to cut their relations with Qatar and practically besieged it.
Initially Turkey tried to keep an equal distance from all parties involved in the crisis, repeatedly emphasising the need for dialogue and lending support to the Kuwaiti mediation efforts. When fears of a looming invasion of Qatar and a possible regime change were growing, Turkey deployed troops to the Gulf emirate, a move that was not well received by Saudi Arabia.
It was not long before a Saudi journalist, with close ties to the ruling class, interviewed Fethullah Gulen, a religious leader who lives in exile in the US and is designated by Turkey as a terrorist. Gulen is accused of being the mastermind behind the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. He is viewed as a public enemy and his case is viewed as a matter of national security in Turkey.
Turkish President Erdogan and Iranian President Rouhani attend a welcoming ceremony in Tehran (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's low-level diplomatic representation to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in response to US President Donald Trump's declaration on Jerusalem was another departure from regional solidarity. It also reflected its siding with the US and Israel in the region, which puts Saudi Arabia at odds with Turkey, which is seeking religious leadership of the Muslim world. 

Two days before the OIC summit, Okaz, a Saudi newspaper, published an interview with Riza Altun, the "foreign minister" of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey has designated a terrorist organisation. The interview was initially meant to be with Cemil Bayik, head of the PKK. This could not have happened without the direct approval of Saudi political authorities.

Turkey holds the PKK responsible for killing many civilians and security personnel; as with Gulen, the situation is regarded as a matter of national security. The interview definitely aimed to send a message. It was as if Saudi Arabia was asking for trouble from Turkey.

Turkey, like Iran, is a regional powerhouse. Being at odds with the two main regional powers leaves the kingdom largely isolated in the region.

Satellite states falling out of orbit

Saudi Arabia's radical approach with Qatar has scared off other GCC states, forcing them to look for strong regional backers. For example, Kuwait, which has tense relations with Iran and expelled its ambassador mid-2017, began to foster closer relations with Turkey, including plans to boost military cooperation.
The Kuwaiti emir, who represented his country at the OIC Jerusalem conference, is certainly wary of Saudi foreign policy, which explains why he is moving closer to Turkey.
Oman is another GCC state whose relations with Iran are relatively better than any other. It might not feel the need to rush toward Turkey but it will still seek to boost its security vis-a-vis Saudi designs, as mentioned by an Omani diplomat to Middle East Eye.
The Saudi leadership's most irresponsible act was forcing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign, holding him practically against his will in Riyadh.
This united the Lebanese political elite and public against Saudi Arabia in a manner unprecedented in the history of relations between the two countries. It also detained Jordanian billionaire Sabih al Masri as part of a "corruption probe" to put pressure on Jordan to accept Trump's declaration on Jerusalem. 
Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam, is under the authority of the king of Jordan through past agreements. It constitutes one of very few sources of political legitimacy for the Hashemite kingdom. And this explains why the Jordanian king was present at the OIC summit despite being under huge pressure to boycott it.
Jordan is certainly going to pivot away from Saudi Arabia, get close to Turkey and very likely closer to Iran as well. To sum up, one can count Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon and Jordan as states falling out of the Saudi orbit or pivoting away from it.

Defeat of Saudi policies?

Saudi Arabia is not only pushing away a regional powerhouse such as Turkey and smaller states but is also undermining its image in the Arab world and among Arab public opinion.
Aside from its contribution to the ongoing catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen, manifestations of disrespect to the Saudi leadership are being expressed across the region.
Algerian football fans raise a banner depicting King Salman and Donald Trump, with the tagline "opposite sides of the same coin” (Twitter)

Last week, during a football match  in Algeria, President Trump and King Salman were depicted as "two faces of the same coin" on the Jerusalem question. During demonstrations in Gaza against Trump's Jerusalem declaration, Palestinian protesters set fire to pictures of Trump, King Salman and his son the crown prince.
Iran has taken note of this, with the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Hossein Salami, describing it as a "defeat of Saudi policies".
Iran knows there is no better time to send a message by targeting Riyadh through its Houthi proxy. It is also a clear and direct message to the crown prince, who once thundered that he will take the battle to Tehran.
Saudi Arabia, already facing a local crisis, will have to deal with another problem - a growing sense of insecurity as missiles could again potentially explode over Riyadh for everyone to hear.
Saudi Arabia's regional policies have been an utter failure and have left it largely isolated. Should it continue in the same direction it will become even more isolated.  
 Mustafa Salama is a political analyst, consultant and freelance writer, with extensive experience and an academic background in Middle East affairs.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Israeli jets strike Gaza after shelling with ‘Iran-supplied missiles’

Israel conducted airstrikes in Gaza for a second straight day after shells reportedly launched from the area landed in its territory. The IDF blamed Iran for the attack, claiming it supplied the unknown attackers with weapons.
The Israeli military said its warplanes targeted a Hamas position in southern Gaza late Saturday in response for  the shelling carried out by the yet unidentified militants on Friday. While Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said it’s “too early” to name those culpable in the attack, he promptly blamed Tehran for the incident. “Iran has supplied these missiles to numerous groups,” Lieberman told Israeli media, saying that an initial examination of the shells fired “confirms they are from Iran.”
“The Iranian regime continues to risk the safety of the residents of the Gaza Strip and puts them in grave danger. Wherever the Iranian regime operates or is involved, it only wreaks havoc and destruction,” the IDF tweeted after the attack. The IDF also accused Iran of deliberately fomenting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through its proxies – “rogue and extremist terrorist groups” – by funnelling arms to them in an attempt to reignite stalled hostilities “after years of quiet.”
Berating Iran, Lieberman appeared to heap rare praise on Hamas for steering clear of direct military confrontation, alleging that the group could no longer keep tabs on various minor formations, that are responsible for the spike in tensions. “Hamas is being careful because they do not want war, as we do not, but the Salafist and extremist Muslim groups are acting on their own,” the minister, known for his hawkish views, told Hadashot News in an interview.
The shelling took place Friday afternoon and resulted in no casualties. It was reported that two of three shells were either intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system or fell in non-residential areas. One projectile, however, reportedly damaged a building in the Negev region bordering the Gaza Strip in a direct hit. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it responded by targeting Hamas outposts in northern Gaza with tank fire and airstrikes.
The shelling and retaliatory strikes comes amid violent unrest in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital on December 6. The controversial move drew widespread international condemnation, praise from the Israeli authorities, and prompted calls for a new Palestinian uprising, a “blessed intifada” against Israel and Washington.
A wave of violent clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters in the borderline areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip ensued. At least 14 Palestinians have been killed and some 3,000 injured as Israeli forces repeatedly fired live ammunition and rubber bullets to target the “instigators” and quell the unrest.
Tehran, which has been increasingly at odds with both US and Israel, joined the chorus of those denouncing the Jerusalem move, with Iran’s Defense Minister, General Amir Hatami, arguing, that if anything, it would “hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime.” Iranian lawmakers recently approved a bill that would require its government to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
Iran’s support for Hezbollah, which is fighting along President Bashar Assad’s  army in Syria and has contributed to the dismantling of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS,ISIL) terrorist group in there, has also long angered Israel. The IDF frequently struck military targets in Syria, citing the need to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah.Tel Aviv claims Tehran is trying to secure foothold in Syria to attack Israel, with PM Benjamin Netanyahu contending that Iran shares Nazi Germany’s “ruthless commitment to murder Jews.”
Another lingering point of contention is the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA )nuclear deal, which has repeatedly been slammed by Tel Aviv and Washington as inherently flawed. The US and Israel further said the landmark agreement will enable Iran to continue pursuing its nuclear programme and develop WMD, despite Tehran’s assurances that their nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful. The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has on numerous occasions confirmed that Iran is in full compliance with the multilateral agreement.

Gandhi said a woman who slaps an attacker is not committing violence

Twelve days ago, Ahed Tamimi slapped an Israeli soldier, and it is the slap heard round the world. Norman Finkelstein, a scholar of Gandhi’s views on nonviolence, sent along this quote on slapping from the leader of India’s liberation.
“Gandhi Says a Woman Who Smacks Her Attacker is Not Committing Violence
“When a woman is faced by a maniac, what is she to do? . . . In her rage she will slap him . . . That is to say, the woman will use all her physical strength. Will that not constitute violence? . . . In a situation like [this], slapping or scratching, if the occasion demands it, does not constitute violence. The trust of a woman who slaps is not in the slap, her trust is in God . . . Her expression is not an expression of violence, only of her opposition . . . Her anger, her alarm, proclaims for herself as well as for the man her preparedness to die . . . Instead of feeling helpless and scared, she should say to herself: “I shall offer up my body and life, but shall not become a coward.” Her slap or scratching indicates this resolve. It is in itself non-violence. She has no strength to cause harm. Hence her act is not violence.”
Mahatma Gandhi, “What Women Should Do in a Difficult Situation,” Collected Works, 4 September 1932
It should be noted that the soldier in the Ahed Tamimi case was occupying her back yard, in defense of an illegal settlement, and that earlier that day an Israeli soldier had shot Ahed’s cousin in the face.
P.S. Finkelstein has suggested a #METOO! campaign by Palestinian women, in which they slap Israeli soldiers. He acknowledges that such gestures would entail an enormous amount of risk.
About Philip Weiss
Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Israeli journalist who called for unspeakable acts against Ahed Tamimi tries, and fails, to backpedal I


Prominent Israeli journalist Ben Caspit caused international furor last week, when he wrote in his Maariv article that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.
Caspit has certainly felt the heat in response to his insidious suggestions, and probably began fearing not only for his reputation, but possibly for his job, which besides Maariv also includes the respected Al-Monitor. Israeli activist Ofer Neiman tweeted: “He can’t have it both ways– writing for a liberal peace-oriented outlet and inciting rape/murder/violence.”
Caspit’s article was in Hebrew, but now he is trying to backpedal and ‘clarify’ in English – in a Jerusalem Post article from yesterday.
Caspit titles his piece “Fighting a shaming campaign with the truth”, framing himself as a victim who has simply been misunderstood. He describes his ‘ordeal’:
“Within hours you discover that you’ve turned into Public Enemy No. 1, a modern day pariah; a man who calls for the rape of young girls and destruction of families; a contemporary Nazi. A rare combination of circumstances, a phrase taken out of context, an inaccurate translation and a great deal of evil intention have planted in your keyboard things you never said, and in your brain, things you never thought. All that is left it to chase after the eternal wind in the cyber willows.”
I am proud to say I am one of those who have publicly and critically referred to his first article, though not the first. The critical and most egregious sentence mentioned above, had appeared in mainstream media a day later – for example AP and CBS. The translation was accurate and furthermore, in my article, I provided a greater context than was available otherwise, precisely in order to relate to Caspit’s greater message of incitement, and how that phrase played into it.
The other quote, which Caspit does not refer to at all in his ‘clarification’, is this, as I had written:
“There is no stomach which does not turn when witnessing this clip”, Caspit says, referring to Zionist stomachs, that is.  “I, for example, if I were to encounter that situation, I would have long ago been in detention until end of procedures”. In other words, Caspit is saying he would run amok on the girls to a degree that would get him arrested. That’s what he’s indirectly suggesting would be ‘normal’, because he would do it…
You see, Caspit’s unspecified suggestion for a “price” to be “exacted”, is conditioned by his incitement mentioned here. We don’t know the details of the actions which Caspit imagines would get him arrested. And do we even want to know them? If Caspit suggests he would do those unspeakable actions in the daytime, even if there were cameras filming – what are we to think of the things he, or the others influenced by his suggestions, might do in the dark?
Caspit seeks to portray himself as a ‘man of peace’, who couldn’t possibly suggest that such insidious things be done to Palestinian girls:
“No one bothers to ask him/herself whether or not you’ve devoted your entire career to the peace cause, supported and continue to support the peace agreements and proposals, support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, see the settlements an enterprise that has caused more harm than good and is considered in Netanyahu’s office as one of the right’s greatest media enemies”, he bemoans.
In other words, Caspit is trying to point out that all these “leftist” points should count, and that if they were counted, they would ostensibly outweigh any ‘misunderstanding’ of his text. Yet as I have pointed out earlier this month, an Israeli ‘leftist’ general, interviewed extensively on the same Maariv, was calling for ‘tearing the Palestinians apart’ and ‘tossing them across the Jordan’. Being an Israeli leftist proves nothing of the kind that Caspit seeks to prove.
Caspit reduces the whole filmed episode of the soldiers occupying the Tamimi lawn to a “meeting”:
“What’s this all about?”, he asks. “A meeting between two IDF soldiers and the Tamimi family from the village of Nabi Saleh that was leaked to thee Israeli media last Monday”, he answers himself.
One is almost persuaded to think that the Tamimis sat at their kitchen table with two IDF soldiers, perhaps discussing politics and daily trivia. But no, this was not it at all. As Ahed’s father, Bassem, wrote in his excellent piece in Newsweek two days ago,
“Less than half an hour earlier, a soldier shot Ahed’s 14-year-old cousin in the face at close distance with a rubber coated steel bullet, causing severe injuries and leaving him in a coma. Then, two soldiers had jumped the wall of our backyard and forced their way on to our property when Ahed confronted them in an effort to make them leave.”
For Caspit, the video of Ahed slapping the soldier was infuriating: “The video made every Israeli’s blood boil, regardless of his/her political inclinations”, he writes. But this is not true. I am an Israeli, and it was not the video itself that caused my blood to boil. Rather, it was the madness and incitement sweeping across Israeli society, leadership and media – including, in particular, Caspit’s vile incitement.
Caspit is arguably more dangerous than the rightists who regularly bark racist statements against Palestinians (like for example lawmaker Oren Hazan, Likud, who yesterday got on an ICRC bus of Palestinian family relatives from Gaza traveling to an Israeli prison, calling their children “dogs”). It’s precisely because Caspit wears the cloak of a respectable, leftist journalist, that such suggestions coming from him can carry weight also for those ‘peaceniks’ (whose blood nonetheless boils when 16-year-old girls provoke them…)
Caspit tries to argue that actually, he wasn’t inciting at all, quite the opposite, as it were. He claims that the essence of his article was hailing ‘restraint’:
‘In the article itself, I praised the IDF soldiers, for their “superhuman restraint” against Palestinian provocation’, he writes.
There is of course no provocation whatsoever in all this, from the soldiers, in Caspit’s rendering (let us also put aside the seldom mentioned slap from the Israeli soldier which hit Ahed 5 seconds before she slapped him). Anyway, in Caspit’s original Maarivarticle, he wasn’t actually hailing their restraint for itself, but rather for its PR value:
“Sometimes also restraint is power, and in the case before us, the combatants are worthy of a medal of honor, not reprimand. To keep one’s restraint in this impossible situation is far more difficult than applying force, especially when the bitter enemy in front of you is three girls who do everything to get beaten up, knowing fully well that any laying of a hand by armed combatants upon supposedly innocent girls will serve as a deadly propaganda weapon in the endless war fought for hearts on social media”, he wrote last week (as I had also quoted in my earlier piece).
Caspit is bewildered as to how people (of the “social media masses”) could possibly have misunderstood him so badly:
“Where, then, did the social media masses find the story, according to which I had proposed that the IDF should rape Ahed Tamimi under the cover of darkness? Where did the Satanic plan – accredited to me – to make Palestinian families disappear or to carry terrible crimes on them in the dark come from?”, he asks.
Well, I for one did not say that Caspit necessarily suggested that the girls would be raped. But his suggestion, with its insidious language (paired with the above mentioned additional incitement), certainly left a huge open space for creeps and their wild imagination. On this I wrote:
These are not just words. It’s like when last year, an Israeli former chief educator suggested in a Sheldon Adelson paper that Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström might get the ‘Bernadotte treatment’ (assassination), for daring to suggest that Israel might be applying a policy of extrajudicial assassinations. The author, Zvi Zameret, later said that he didn’t actually suggest her assassination. Just like Caspit was not actually saying Ahed Tamimi should be beaten or raped. The details of the crime can be left to the wild imagination of those perpetrating it, “in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.
Caspit suggests that all this “misunderstanding” came exclusively from non-Israelis:
“No one in Israel understood my article in this light because it was read in the right context – regarding the argument over the timing of Ahed Tamimi’s arrest”, he writes.
Whoa. I’m an Israeli. I understood it “in this light” (or rather darkness). Ofer Neiman, who by the way recently started a petitionto hold Caspit to Press Council discipline, has certainly understood it “in this light”. Shani Litman asks today in Haaretz (Hebrew):
“Did the hand of Ben Caspit tremble when he wrote these lines? In polished, clerk-like language, and without saying anything explicitly, the prominent journalist Ben Caspit managed to write a sentence which in its entirety is a threat of chilling violence against the young Tamimi women.”
Litman additionally quotes Caspit who wrote that “the IDF has sufficient capabilities, creativity and means to create such inputs, without paying an exorbitant public price”, and Litman then asks:
“Did the editor hesitate when they read this sentence, the thickness of the words “girls”, “in the dark, without witness and cameras” and “creativity”, and feel totally comfortable with it? How is it possible that no one stopped for a moment to digest these words, that no one’s stomach turned?”, Litman writes (echoing Caspit who wrote that “there is no stomach which does not turn when witnessing this clip”).
These are Israeli people, folks. We’re not that stupid. And Caspit, in his desperate attempt to backpedal, is providing an even more pathetic article, which suggests that its just the goyim who didn’t understand Israeli jargon. So take it from us, the ‘other’ Israelis – you didn’t really misunderstand him. He is now trying to convince us that his whole suggestion was just about timing – arrest them in the night, rather than in the day, as it were (and remember, no cameras, and be creative). Nothing to look at folks, move quietly on.
No, there’s a lot to look at here, and Caspit should be doing a major soul-searching, rather than investing time in such tiring self-apologia.
Towards the end of his Jerusalem Post article, Caspit shows his ‘reasonable’ and ‘merciful’ face concerning Ahed Tamimi:
“As this article is being written, it has been announced that Ahad Tamimi’s custody has been extended by four days. Just as I had originally thought that it was best to arrest her quietly, I now believe that it is unnecessary to keep her for so long in custody.”
So now Caspit is complaining that Ahed is being treated too harshly! Crocodile tears? The system is simply being ‘creative’ – isn’t that what Caspit was suggesting? Ahed Tamimi has been carried around to various prison facilities, put in cold cells, and not even allowed a change of clothes at least in her first 6 days of detention. Israeli-Palestinian lawmaker Ahmad Tibi tweetedyesterday (Hebrew):
‘Ahed Tamimi aged 16 is detained for 6 days and despite the decision of the court President to provide her clothes, this has not been done. “The system” is exacting revenge’. 
That ‘revenge’ is the ‘price’ that the system is now ‘exacting’ upon Ahed Tamimi and her family. It is happening in the darkness of cold cells, where there are no cameras or witnesses. And Ben Caspit has been a part of the incitement leading to all this.
About Jonathan Ofir
Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

America’s Moral Authority No More

Author: Martin Berger

The recent chain of events in the UN General Assembly has clearly shown that the world is not just no longer willing to obey Washington’s global dictate, it’s now fully aware of the decline in America’s moral authority that allowed it to play a part in solving global challenges. Yet, we witness the reluctance of the overwhelming majority of countries to take into account Washington’s position on a number of global issues.

Less than two weeks ago, the United States and the Ukraine found themselves pretty much the only states that chose to oppose the adoption of a resolution condemning glorification of Nazism at the UN General Assembly, with a total of 133 states choosing to support the resolution. Those speaking in front of the UN General Assembly would express their deep concern over repeated attempts made in certain states to make fascist forces in any shape and form look heroic, along with the steps made by certain players to provide an excuse to the members of the destroyed Waffen-SS by honoring their memory through memorials. At the same time the resolution would recognize repeated attempts to desecrate or even destroy those monuments that were erected in memory of those who sacrificed their lives fighting the German Nazi regime in Germany during the Second World War.

The document draws attention to the rise of fascist groups and ultra-right parties that are getting an ever increasing number of seats held in a number of national and local parliaments, while openly expressing racist and even xenophobic views. The UN General Assembly would urge all countries to take concrete steps both in the legislative and educational spheres to prevent the revision of the Second World War through the denial of those despicable crimes against humanity committed by Nazi forces throughout the conflict. The UN General Assembly vote and even the wording of the above mentioned resolution demonstrates an ever-growing chasm in the approaches enjoyed by the United States and the rest of the world, that is still determined to uphold true human values. Against this background it’s no wonder that Washington’s repeated attempts to isolate Russia have basically failed.

It is noteworthy that on the same day the above mentioned resolution was adopted the General Assembly would vote on the issue of Crimea, the fact that Washington was planning to abuse in its anti-Russian propaganda campaign aimed at isolating Moscow through the consolidation of the so-called Russophobic coalition. However, the vote on this issue left Washington in a pretty shameful position, with a total of 76 abstaining from voting, with a total 25 countries openly supporting Russia’s position. But what is more curious is that about a dozen delegations would choose not to honor the discussion by their presence.

But there’s little doubt that the decision of the White House to demand the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has put the final nail in the coffin of America’s diplomatic standing. The outright armature foreign policy of the Trump administration has been turned down by the UN General Assembly. It is noteworthy that the UN GA voting was preceded by an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, where a total of 14 members of the Council would vote against this step, leaving Washington on the ropes. With no other option but to veto the UN Security Council vote, Washington was forced to face a special session of the UN General Assembly that hasn’t been assembled in many years. It’s curious that no state can exercise veto during the UN General Assembly vote, thus Washington initiative to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli territory was rejected by a majority vote of 128 states. Moreover, it is very revealing that the resolution was supported by the majority of EU states, which manifest the ever growing alienation of Brussels.

Washington’s repeated attempts to avert the PR disaster that the resolution condemning American recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital has proven to be through intimidation that was employed by President Trump himself and the sitting United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley produced to no positive result. Washington has made it very clear that the states supporting the resolution in question won’t receive America’s assistance, marking the most boldest attempt to blackmail UN members states in the history of the UN. One cannot be so naive not to assume that this very assistance has been used repeatedly to affect decisions made by foreign players, but this has never been done so openly.

Due to these empty threats and the fact that Trump has no authority at the international stage even the states that can be described as Washington’s obedient satellites like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with the regional partners and allies of those like Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq would all vote against America. It’s curious that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan would find the words to express the position of all those outraged by this latest blackmail attempt noting that his country was not for sale. As a result, the majority of state would condemn Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while stressing that this decision has no legal bearing whatsoever.

Of course, this grave blow will not force the stubborn Trump administration to adjust its position, instead it will get increasingly more critical of the United Nations.              

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”