Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

An Inconvenient Truth? Al Gore Sells Out to Big Oil

January 14, 2013

The television network Current TV was recently purchased by the international news outlet Al Jazeera. The transaction will leave $125 million in former vice-president Al Gore’s pocket. Gore, who is a green living advocate, ironically sold the company to a news outlet owned by Qatar – an oil rich country.

Assad Still Confident That He Can Control Syria

January 14, 2013

Washington Post
Liz Sly

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he can ride out the maelstrom engulfing his country, casting into doubt prospects that intensified efforts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed can succeed, according to Syrians familiar with the thinking of the regime.

Although Assad isn’t winning the fight against the rebels, he isn’t losing, either — at least not yet, or by enough of a margin to make him feel he needs to abandon his efforts to crush the rebellion by force and embark on negotiations that would end his hold on power and expose his loyalists to the threat of revenge, the Syrians and analysts say.

It is hard to imagine Assad ever being in a position to restore his authority over the many parts of Syria that have slipped beyond his control. The rebels seeking to topple him have steadily been gaining ground, most recently seizing control of a strategically important airbase in the north of the country, and if the current trajectory continues, the eventual demise of the four-decade-old Assad family regime seems all but inevitable, analysts say.

But concerns are growing about how long that might take, and at what cost, prompting many Syrians to question whether Assad’s confidence might not be merited, given the realities of a conflict so brutally complex, so finely balanced and so entangled in global geopolitical rivalries that there is still no clearly identifiable endgame in sight nearly two years after the uprising began.

“From Day One, Bashar al-Assad was underestimated by the opposition and by the international community,” said Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in London who is one of a number of opposition activists growing increasingly gloomy about the prospects that an end to the bloody conflict could be near. “He is playing a high-stakes game, he’s playing it pretty smart and he seems to be winning because of the simple fact that he is still in power.”

When Assad delivered a defiantly uncompromising speech to supporters last week, the State Department condemned him for being “out of touch with reality.” But many Syrians wonder whether it isn’t the United States and its allies who are out of touch for continuing to press for a negotiated settlement to a conflict Assad still has reason to believe he can win, Abdeh said.

Though the Syrian army has been degraded by thousands of rank-and-file defections and heavy casualties, it is still fighting. Key units comprising members of Assad’s own Alawite sect, an obscure and little-understood offshoot of Shiite Islam, remain fiercely loyal.

Defections from his government have been few and far between. The rebels have been systematically overrunning government positions in many locations, but they have not demonstrated the capacity to make headway against the tough defenses ringing Damascus, the capital, and the key prize for whoever claims to control the country.

His allies Russia and Iran have shown no sign that their support is wavering, and they have their own reasons not to cede ground in the struggle for influence over a country whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of multiple regional conflicts. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its view that Assad’s departure should not be part of any negotiated settlement.

Henningsen on RT: ‘Syria is a gangster’s paradise right now’

January 9, 2013

21st Century Wire and UK Column’s analyst Patrick Henningsen discusses with RT about how NATO’s recent deployment of missile defense batteries in neighboring Turkey is nothing more than a chess move to prepare for western/NATO airstrikes at some point further down the timeline, and also how Syria’s so-called ‘opposition’ are using the chaos in the country to steal land, businesses and profit from the new black market that has replaced the previous economy.

Assad: War in Syria between ‘nation and terrorists’

January 6, 2013

Syria’s president has outlined a plan to end the country’s conflict, starting with a halt to international support to “al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.” The solution proposes a new constitution and government, as well as national reconciliation

NATO Deploys Missiles & Troops On Syrian Border

January 6, 2013

NATO has begun deploying surface-to-air missiles and troops on Turkey’s border with Syria. The Alliance approved the reinforcements last month, after Ankara requested support. NATO claims the move is to help defend its member from the conflict in Syria. But Moscow said the deployment will only serve to escalate tension in the region. Germany and the Netherlands are preparing to ship six more Patriot batteries early next week, they’ll be operational by the end of January. However, Jeremy Salt, a Middle Eastern history and politics professor from Bilkent University says NATO is actually now realizing who it’s supporting, and losing its appetite for direct action in Syria.

Is Al – Jazeera Fair And Balanced ?

January 6, 2013

Washington Post
Micheal Peel

ABU DHABI — Qatar’s al-Jazeera television station provided a great ringside seat for the “day of rage” in Cairo almost two years ago that offered the first clear sign of the threat to the rule of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

While many western media organizations were scrambling to ramp up coverage of Egypt’s nascent revolution, al-Jazeera had gripping reports of an extraordinary protest that ended with the ruling party headquarters ablaze and the army on the streets.

Yet, mirroring the progress of the Arab uprising itself, the 16-year-old Doha-based broadcaster’s Cairo triumph has since given way to a more complicated life, as it seeks to extend its international influence by buying into the U.S. television market.

Long recognized in the Middle East for its daring and sometimes groundbreaking reporting in a politically repressive region, al-Jazeera described its purchase this week of former vice president Al Gore’s Current TV network as a “historic development” in a market where it has long coveted expansion. The station, which has a respected English language arm and is already seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries, plans to start a U.S.-based news channel available to 40 million American households.

While al-Jazeera is celebrating its U.S. plans, it faces tough questions about its coverage and whether it is as independent of Qatar’s autocratic ruling monarchy as it claims to be. The broadcaster is partly funded by the government of Qatar, and the country’s increasingly prominent political role in the region’s turmoils has intensified scrutiny of al-Jazeera’s coverage.

“With the Arab Spring, al-Jazeera’s reach and credibility have grown in the West,” said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow in the Middle East division of Chatham House, the London-based think tank. “But certainly, it has become more criticized in the Arab world – or, at least, become seen as more politicized.”

Although the popular revolts that swept the Arab world and brought down regimes from Tunisia to Yemen have presented al-Jazeera with an extraordinary opportunity to expand its audience, they have thrown up growing problems of perception.

And while the English channel is seen as enjoying a high degree of leeway, some analysts say Doha’s foreign policy positions — including support for armed rebels in Libya and Syria — are reflected in the tone of coverage, particularly on the flagship Arabic channel. Critics say Islamist movements with which Qatar has tried to achieve good relations have received over-sympathetic attention, with airtime given to wild allegations that opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, are agents of foreign powers.

Some observers say al-Jazeera is cautious about reporting sensitive stories in Qatar, such as the fire at a Doha nursery last year that killed 13 children and six adults, although the channel denies it was slow to cover the tragedy.

“Al-Jazeera is generally a free network, but it works within the political constraints as understood in Qatar,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute Qatar think tank.

Al-Jazeera dismisses suggestions its coverage shows any bias, including toward fellow Persian Gulf states allied to Qatar. The broadcaster says that, far from following official agendas, it often sets them. “We were covering Syria, for example, long before outside governments took great interest,” it said.

It says that — while it takes a “good portion” of its funding from the Qatari state — it is a private not-for-profit company with other sources of income, such as advertising. And though Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al Thani, al-Jazeera’s director-general, is a member of Qatar’s ruling clan, the broadcaster says he has “no definable relationship” to the country’s ruler and is part of a “professional management who have steered Al Jazeera to success regardless of their nationalities or surnames”.

Perhaps the most unpredictable tension now facing al-Jazeera springs from Qatar’s political scene, which appears increasingly at odds with the broadcaster’s preferred image as a fearless network “dedicated to telling the real stories from the Arab street.” The Qatari authorities sentenced a poet to life imprisonment in November for insulting the emir in a widely-circulated work about the Arab Spring that criticized the “repressive elite”.

But al-Jazeera gives short shrift to the notion that its reputation might be threatened by the Qatar government’s intolerance of opposition at home. “Our journalists have never been told to cover or not cover a story due to pressure from outside this organization,” the broadcaster said.

Abeer Allam of the Financial Times in Cairo contributed to this story.

Settlements Snarl: ‘Israel gambles on US protection from intl law’

December 18, 2012

Israel says it will go ahead with plans to build 1500 new settler homes in East Jerusalem – the part of the city that’s considered Palestinian land.

The project was given an intermediate green light by Israeli officials on Monday. This comes less then a month after the UN granted Palestine non-member observer status. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and are promising to raise the issue at a Security Council meeting. Author and historian Gerald Horne says that with Palestine’s recent upgrade, Israel’s playing a risky game.

‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair

December 17, 2012

Former Prime Minister’s role as representative of Middle East Quartet comes in for fiercest criticism

MATTHEW KALMAN
The Independent 
Dec 17, 2012 

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

Tony Blair

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

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New nuclear talks with Iran may be possible in coming weeks, U.S. says

December 17, 2012

Washington Post
Joby Warrick

The United States and five other world powers are hastily preparing for possible new talks with Iran amid signs that the country’s leaders might be willing to meet as early as next week to discuss scaling back nuclear activities in return for future sanctions relief.

The six powers have agreed on a new package of inducements to be offered to Iran if it agrees to freeze key parts of its nuclear program, said U.S. and European officials briefed on the matter. Iran rejected a similar deal earlier this year, but U.S. officials said they were modestly hopeful that Tehran’s position had softened under the strain of international sanctions.

“Our assessment is that it is possible that they are ready to make a deal,” a senior administration official said Friday. “Certainly, the pressure is on.”

The talks would be the first high-level negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program since June, offering at least the prospect of a thaw in a standoff that has grown increasingly tense in recent months. The apparent movement on the diplomatic front came amid reports that Iran had agreed to concessions in a separate dispute with U.N. nuclear officials over access to an Iranian base allegedly used for nuclear weapons research.

There was no confirmation from Tehran about pending talks with world powers. On Friday, a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team expressed skepticism about a possible deal with the six-nation bloc known as the P5-plus-1. “Personally, I am not optimistic,” Mostafa Dolatyar told reporters during a visit to India. But he added: “Everything could be subject to negotiation.”

Three U.S. and European officials briefed on the preparations said Iranian negotiators were discussing a timetable for new talks, which might be held in Istanbul. Initial meetings could begin as early as next week, though they are more likely to start after the New Year’s holiday, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatically sensitive negotiations.

U.S. officials said the purpose would be to test Iranian willingness to halt certain nuclear activities as an interim step, or a “confidence-building” measure, to ease international fears that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. In exchange, Iran would be offered technical help with its civilian nuclear program and a lifting of a ban on the purchase of aircraft parts, the officials said.

The interim measures, if accepted, could be the starting point for a future “grand bargain” that would set permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for rolling back economic sanctions, the officials said.

The P5-plus-1 group — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — made similar demands during three fruitless rounds of talks with Iran in the spring. Iranian officials complained at the time that the group’s proposal did not contain sufficient sanctions relief and said they would await the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before resuming the effort. Since those talks, international sanctions on Iran have been tightened.

Young Israelis Fight for Social Justice

December 10, 2012

VICE MAG IN PALESTINE…

“In the lead up to the one-year anniversary of the biggest protest in Israel’s history, we get tear-gassed by the IDF in the West Bank, and then we have drinks with a spokesperson for the Israeli protest movement…”