Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Syria, Israel and the UN

October 2012, Pages 40-41
United Nations Report Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Lakhdar Brahimi's Credentials and Credibility Help Him With Syria Assignment?

By Ian Williams

Lakhdar Brahimi, the new United Nations peace envoy to Syria, speaks to the press following a meeting with French President Fran├žois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug. 20, 2012. (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/GettyImages)
Lakhdar Brahimi has a long record of working on behalf of the United Nations. The good-humored and quietly spoken diplomat has a strong track record of cutting through rhetorical obfuscations and getting to the underlying reality. As a former Algerian freedom fighter, he has an exemplary record—especially compared with most of the sundry hereditary officials around the Arab world—which is second to none. Indeed, as one of the "Elders," the independent group of global leaders brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Brahimi has a global diplomatic reputation based on strong principles.
Of course, he picks up the Syria baton that his fellow Elder, Kofi Annan, did not so much drop as cast it aside in disgust. I had always suspected that Annan's intention was to test to the limit the sincerity of Moscow and Beijing—and he did. But their shamelessness knows fews bounds. Brahimi is a logical successor—an astute choice by Ban Ki-moon.
To affirm Brahimi's diplomatic bona fides one need look no further back than his work in Iraq as U.N. special envoy in the dark days after the U.S. invasion, when he was roundly attacked by Israel's U.N. envoy, Dan Gillerman.
The occasion was Brahimi's "undiplomatic" lapse into the truth, when he told a French radio station that Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and Washington's support for those policies, hindered his search for a transition government in Baghdad. "The problems are linked, there is no doubt about it," he said. "The big poison in the region is the Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians."
Brahimi complained of the difficulty of dealing with Iraqis in the face of "Israel's completely violent and repressive security policy and determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory."
The more things stay the same—the worse they get! Now of course, Israel has occupied even more territory than anyone conceived possible.
In Iraq, and previously in Afghanistan, Brahimi's credibility and reputation for integrity enabled him to pull together disparate elements into coalitions of the grudging, at least. As the endgame in Syria looks far off and bloody, if anyone can pull off a compromise among the various elements, it has to be him—not least since he is securely insulated against allegations of being part of any terrorist or Zionist plot.
It is just possible that his veteran Third World credentials—almost in at the foundation of the Non Aligned Movement—might give him more credibility to dissuade the Russians and Chinese from their support for the Syrian regime, which is every bit as unprincipled as Washington's unconditional support for Israel.

Target Iran or Target Obama?

As Syria disintegrates and Hillary Clinton wrings her hands, the secretary of state must console herself that the mass killings there take attention away from Iran—which Israel is threatening to attack. These are times when it appears that we are observing a parallel universe in which the laws of logic and reason have been spun around, in which the Red Queen often believes three impossible things before breakfast.
The psychopathic wing of the Israeli government wants to attack Iran, no matter what arguments against that reckless and illegal action are produced. Frankly, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu one cannot be sure whether this is a pathological hatred of any rival military power in the region—in which case, with Syria and Iraq gone, if Iran were removed from the equation then one could suspect that Turkey would suddenly move up the pariah ladder.
But it is equally probable that the Israeli prime minister wants to ensure that President Barack Obama is not re-elected. Netanyahu has what we can only hope are substantial fears that a second-term Obama would remember all the insults and campaigns waged against him by the right-wing Israeli leader, as well as the U.S. president's own tarnished international reputation because he allowed Netanyahu to thwart his earlier outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.
We have come a long way since the Zimmerman telegram—it is now the hasbara leak. The current bright ideas emanating from the Israel lobby—sorry, I mean senior Middle East advisers in Washington—really tax belief. In an Aug. 17 New York Times op-ed, Dennis Ross, the former Clinton administration Middle East peace coordinator who currently is a "counselor" at the AIPAC spin-off Washington Institute for Near East Policy, advised that the way to stop Israel from attacking Iran was to give it the bunker busters, tanker planes and other weaponry necessary for it to attack Iran effectively.
So, the way to stop Jack the Ripper was to leave large bags of surgical instruments about for him? Along similar lines, the Israeli leak factory Debkafile declared that Obama was going to pledge that the U.S. will attack Iran later, in order to abort Netanyahu attacking earlier.
So Israel, which does not have the capability to attack Iran on its own, will refrain from doing so only if the U.S. provides it with the weaponry to do so, or attacks in its place. And the reward would be that Netanyahu would have succeeded in his main aim, which is to make Obama a one-term president.
What is missing here is any sense that the Iraq debacle taught America's various pro-Likud factions anything at all about international law, let alone international relations. There is no legal mandate whatsoever for Israel, or indeed the U.S., to attack Iran. On the contrary, the constant threats from Israel would possibly constitute a defense for a pre-emptive attack by Iran on Israeli, and maybe even U.S., military positions. Certainly under the version of international law espoused by both of them on various occasions, Iran could justify, say, mining Israeli harbors!
Of course, in reality Iran is not in a superpower position that could support such novel legal interpretations. But consider Obama. He has spent his first term embroiled in two wars, one of which he opposed not least because Bush began it against international law and without U.N. authority, allegedly on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. intelligence, and many Israeli intelligence authorities, aver firmly that Iran does not (yet, at least) have a nuclear military program or capability. Indeed its leading political and religious figure issued a fatwa against such immoral weapons.
The U.N. is not going to threaten to issue an ultimatum to Iran to stop a program it does not have—so if Obama were to go ahead, his position would be even weaker than that of George W. Bush.
That is, of course, quite apart from the human casualties and financial consequences for a fragile U.S.—and, indeed, global—economy of a war that would threaten much of the world's oil supplies.

Washington Echoes Tel Aviv's "Advice"

In that context, it is reassuring that Ban Ki-moon scorned Netanyahu's "advice" to stay away from September's Non Aligned Summit in Tehran. Indeed, he boldly also repudiated similar U.S. advice as well. With a straight face, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Iran "is a country that is in violation of all kinds of U.N. obligations and has been a destabilizing force."
Most of the Non Aligned, indeed most of the world, might think that a country building illegal settlements in defiance of U.N. resolutions and constantly threatening to make war on another country fitted that description better than Iran, no matter what reservations they had about Tehran's human rights policy or support for Syria.
Hillel Neuer, who founded "U.N. Watch" to scrutinize the world organization—albeit only in relation to Israel—condemned Ban's attendance but urged him to "at the very least, bring with him the latest U.N. General Assembly resolution detailing Iran's massive human rights violations, the report by the Human Rights Council's Iran monitor documenting the country's 'striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law,' and the six Security Council resolutions on Iran's illegal nuclear program."
In its way, all that is fair enough. But we wonder when U.N. Watch ever called upon the secretary-general to take the much longer list of resolutions addressing Israeli crimes to Mr. Netanyahu.
Tapping the same rich vein of chutzpah, Israel's Soviet-born Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a letter to the foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet, calling on them to press for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace President Mahmoud Abbas. In a whole new dimension of chutzpah, Lieberman described Abbas, seen by many Palestinians as a little too pacific, as "an obstacle to peace."
"The Palestinian Authority is a despotic government riddled with corruption," Lieberman wrote. "This pattern of behavior has led to criticism even within his own constituency. Due to Abbas' weak standing and his policy of not renewing the negotiations, which is an obstacle to peace, the time has come to consider a creative solution, to think 'outside the box,' in order to strengthen the Palestinian leadership."
As his comrade in buffoonery, Humpty Dumpty, said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." Lieberman's concern with "strengthening" the Palestinian leadership is an example of outstandingly Orwellian doublethink, worthy of Goebbels. His government has locked up any strong Palestinian leadership whenever it gets the chance—and, to underscore its contempt, defied U.N. and EU censure to announce the building of yet more settlements in East Jerusalem for Jews only.
U.N. Watch of course, maintains total silence on that inconvenient issue.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations who blogs at <>.

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