Sabra and Shatilia and the US

A Preventable Massacre -

Seth Anziska on Sabra and Shatila:

While Israel’s role in the massacre has been closely examined, America’s actions have never been fully understood. This summer, at the Israel State Archives, I found recently declassified documents that chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of “terrorists” were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.

How Lebanon works, cont.

From the State Dept. via Wikileaks via FLC:

12. (S) The Saudis had come through with a USD 10 million cash injection to Jumblatt himself three months ago, he told us openly. Jumblatt, who employs a legion of retainers and security personnel and is obligated by his quasi-feudal position in Druze society not only to spread cash around but to outdo the patronage of his Druze rivals, had nearly run out of money in mid-late 2006. The new Saudi money, he said, would last him for "a couple of years only." (Comment: The revelation that Jumblatt had just received a cash lifeline might explain a number of observations about his recent behavior. Not only had he seemed calmer and more confident in the last few months but bolder, assailing Hizballah in public with allegations of involvement in Rafiq Hariri's assassination and the attempt on Marwan Hamadeh's life. Jumblatt told us in earlier meetings that Rafiq Hariri used to give him about $3 million a year to keep Druse loyalty on his side. End Comment.) Jumblatt said that he would visit Saudi Arabia following the Prime Minister's next visit.

The more I know about the sordid details of Middle Eastern politics the more I wonder if, ultimately, politics everywhere is the same. It's just that here we get the raw, unfiltered version.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Lebanon's al-Akhbar's English version

The English language version of the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar is out, promising to deliver English content of one fo the most dynamic new newspapers in the Arab world in the last decade. Al-Akhbar is sometimes described as radical leftist, pro-Hizbullah, pro-gay rights, Qatar-funded and more. It's often criticized as being too kind to March 8 in Lebanese. I read it from time to time, not working on Lebanon much, and was most struck by the variety and quality many of articles. Yes, it's opinionated and partisan, but also often critical of what it supposed to be its own camp. And it's been refreshingly anti-sectarian for a Lebanese newspaper. Worth bookmarking.

I saw this headline on its front page and thought it might perfectly capture it's essence: sympathetic to Hizbullah and the southern "resistance," but with typically Lebanese business acumen. 

"Southern Strawberries ‘Killed’ by Rumors and Weak Marketing"

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Inconsiderate Middle East

Things are really heating up across the region — ongoing protests in Algeria, unstable situation in Tunisia, talk of extremely rare protests in Libya, today's protest in Egypt, weird ongoings in Sudan, the release of the Palestine Papers in Israel/Palestine and consequent war between the PA and Jazeera, disgruntlement in Jordan, and a worrying reprisal of sectarian brinksmanship in Lebanon as the STL is about to, probably, inculpate Hizbullah for the wave of killings of the last few years including that of Rafiq Hariir

All of this is distracting me from my work and my focus on what's happening in Tunis.

The Lebanese stuff in particular is the most difficult to follow, as usual if you haven't been raised on a diet of tabouleh and manaqeesh. On such matters I defer to Qifa Nakbi. A few years ago the French comedy group Les Inconnus did this sketch on Lebanon that still holds up perfectly today. Enjoy.


[Thanks, Adam.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Alastair Crooke on Ahmedinejad in Lebanon


"Firstly, let us put to one side the nonsense: The President of Iran’s visit was not about embedding Lebanon as a part of the Iranian state, nor was it about paving the way for any Hizbullah ‘take-over’ of Lebanon; and nor can the visit be described as a ‘provocation’. It was of course self-evidently intended to express defiance towards Israeli military hegemony and to assert a stand of counter-deterrence to any Israeli military threat, but that it is very different from an ‘act of provocation’ deliberately intended to draw an Israeli response.  All these claims for the purpose of the visit are just a part of the psychological warfare mounted against Iran, and can be ignored.

The visit was, in fact, a State visit. The Iranian President was formally invited by the Maronite Christian President of Lebanon some while ago. Iran is a prominent regional state, just as Turkey is – whose Prime Minister happens to be visiting Beirut today.

Iran’s popularity on the streets should not surprise anyone.  It is real, and it is heartfelt – and extends beyond the Shi’i of the south of Beirut.  Having been present here in Beirut throughout the war of 2006, I experienced the almost universal shock at how leaders and so-called ‘friends of Lebanon’ such as Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice tried to fend-off and delay a ceasefire – in order to allow Israel more time to ‘finish the job’, i.e. to destroy more bridges, more infrastructure and impose civilian casualties – as our ‘price’ to be paid for Hizbullah’s seizure of Israeli soldiers. Feelings here are still raw on this point, and all sectors of opinion know that the only real support for Lebanon in those dark hours came from Syria and Iran.  Unsurprisingly, there was a direct element of gratitude in expression to Iran in recent days both for the support then, and its subsequent economic assistance to repair the damage."

Glad someone is taking the time to debunk the "who invited him anyway" line coming out in Washington. But I'll have to beg to differ about Crooke's conclusion that Ahmedinejad articulates a global revolt against market capitalism or alienated elites — not only are Iran's elites at times as alienated from ordinary people as those anywhere else, but in that country you see two rival elite clusters (broadly identified around the Rafsanjani crowd and the Republican Guards) use corruption, state control and even violence to gain control.

Ahmedinejad in Lebanon

Note: This is much shorter version of  post written earlier and then lost because of #$@^!* system. Couldn't be bothered to redo it fully.

The above pic from the Lebanese blog Beirut Spring illustrates the division about Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit to Lebanon today. A bunch of Lebanese bloggers have decided to note the visit with humor, like this list of 10 things to expect during the visit.

See the FT, the WSJ, Reuters, and Rami Khouri who makes some interesting points about both the domestic Lebanese reaction and the nervousness in the US and the Arab world. The State Dept's response that Ahmedinejad's visit infringes on Lebanese sovereignty is rather mind-numbing, between 2006 and now they must have grown to care a lot about Lebanese sovereignty. 

My own take to the question of Iran-US relations will come in the form of this picture I took last May, near Times Square in New York. I think it explains everything pretty clearly.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Lebanon and the prospect of war

My new column in Masri al-Youm is out, about Lebanon and the prospects of war there, and outlines the rather twisted road of the past decade to get to the present situation.

But of course this is Lebanon, it's already superseded by the rather dramatic news of the clash between the Lebanese Army and the Israeli one yesterday, which claimed the lives of three Lebanese soldiers, a journalist from al-Akhbar, and a senior Israeli officer. Lebanon appears to have been in the wrong according to the UN, but of course it's all hotly contested.

I recently finished reading David Hirst's Beware of Small States (more about the book and Hirst later this week), one of whose central points is that Lebanon has been where the Arab-Israeli conflict has perdured since the last time an Arab army (rather than guerrilla) fought Israel: 1973. Well yesterday that (almost) 27 year break had ended, with Lebanese uniformed men confronting Israel's.

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Get that gas!

If anything positive is to come from rumored Saudi-Qatari reconciliation, I would love it to be a fast-track project to set up a rig on Lebanon's shore to get this gas out before the Israelis suck it all up. After all the Gulf states have a stake in Lebanon and the money and expertise to pull it off.

Trouble is brewing in the waters off the coast of Lebanon and Israel about the future of one of the largest discoveries of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

A field known as Leviathan might contain 16 trillion cubic feet of gas – enough to serve Israel’s domestic needs and make the country a substantial exporter.

But Lebanon is eyeing some of that income, badly needed to pay off its $50bn national debt. Some Lebanese politicians say the field may extend into their country’s as yet undeclared maritime zone.

Israel and Lebanon are still formally at war and the two neighbours have never agreed a maritime boundary.

Another problem is that Lebanon has not even passed an oil and gas law that would regulate drilling off its coast.

In spite of late night negotiations this week between Saad Hariri, the prime minister, and Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, the passage of any such legislation may still be months away.

In the meantime, Israel has unilaterally placed a line of buoys extending two miles into the sea off the two countries’ land border for what it describes as “security reasons”. Lebanon’s government has raised this with the United Nations, fearing that the floating line of Israeli-placed markers may encroach on its maritime territory.

Hizbollah, the armed Shia movement, and its allies have taken up the cause of what they call the defence of Lebanon’s natural resources – and they charge their western-backed political opponents with weakness in regard to the issue.

Mr Berri, from the Shia Amal movement, an ally of Hizbollah, has urged Mr Hariri’s government of national unity to counter what he sees as Israel’s designs on the country’s gas.

“Lebanon’s army, people, and resistance will be ready to thwart any attempt to steal its natural resources,” he said during a visit to neighbouring Syria.

In the meantime, things looking better in Lebanon — for now. I was there a few weeks ago, it looked positively bustling! Let's hope there not another summer war as some are predicting

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

On Fadlallah

I happened to be in Beirut when the news of Sheikh Fadlallah's death hit the news a few days ago, although since I was there for a wedding, I did not don my reporter hat or stay for the funeral yesterday, as I had a plane to catch back to Cairo and then another for Casablanca. I won't comment on the man — take a look at what Asa'ad AbuKhalil said, or Rami Khouri — but do want to touch on the American perception of him.

In Fadlallah, one had a spiritual leader for millions of Shias who was neither an ultra-conservative nor an apologist for autocracy. He was the only Shia figure with the authority not only to counter the Vilayet al-Faqih doctrine now dominant (and state-endorsed) in Iran, but also the political quietism and all-out conservatism of Iraq's Sistani. Yes, he was a political radical by the standards of of American hegemony in the region — he opposed occupations, backed armed action against occupiers include suicide bombings — but in some respects at least preferable to the alternative religious leaders in the region. He was not simply "Hizbullah's spirtual leader" as so many American journalists, and the American government, apparently continue to consider him as, despite the obvious fact that Hizbullah's leadership looks to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatolah Khameini.

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Syria's scuds

How exciting to see all the hullabaloo about reports that Syria gave scuds to Hizbullah! And to see somber-faced officials in Washington (although few) and Tel Aviv speak of this as some kind of provocation. Funny that this move, if true (US and Israeli officials don't have a great track record on these things — remember Saddam's WMDs?) would apparently justify a bombing raid on Lebanon.

On the one hand, if I were Lebanese, I would certainly to increase my country's defensive capabilities considering that Israel destroyed half the place in 2006. I would be focusing first on air defenses to take down aircrafts coming into my airspace, but longer-range rockets that can do similar damage to what Israel did to me (and it invaded me three times, occupied me for two and half decades, and regularly violates my sovereignty) would seem a good dissuasive measure.

On the other hand, when does anyone complain about Israel's weapons acquisitions or its ability to annihilate the entire neighborhood?

In other words, I am all for any actor in Lebanon making it more costly for Israel to repeat its 2006 exercise in collective punishment.

Syria, of course, is a nasty little regime and has done tremendous damage to Lebanon. At one time, though, it was seen as a stabilizer in Lebanon and actually committed enough to the status-quo that it would not risk any confrontation with Israel. Perhaps these calculations have changed, but considering the low effectiveness of Scuds (remember the Gulf War and the Israeli panic that didn't amount to much) I don't see how this can be construed as a game-changer. Lebanon and Syria both endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and back the peace in exchange for the return of land. We are being told by some experts in America and Israel that it's not reasonable for Syria to expect the Golan Heights back. These are the same people who essentially argue it's not reasonable for the Palestinians to expect a viable state. Is everyone in the region supposed to accept a belligerent Israel, protected from any responsibility under international law, that refuses to make clear what its own borders are and regularly engages in attacks on its neighbors' territory?

Here's some commentary:

iPhone Apps for Lebanon

From Qifanakbi via @theADreview. Can't wait till it's applied to other countries...

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10

“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara. ✪ What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory. ✪ The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education | ✪ U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran. ✪ Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran. ✪ Executive | Magazine has new books section. ✪ Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq. ✪ the arabophile | New blog. ✪ Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza." ✪ High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later. ✪ Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world. ✪ The architecture of apartheid | | On the bantustanization of Palestine. ✪ The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia. ✪ The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor. ✪ 'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."
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Links for Dec.26.09 to Dec.28.09

Get Elected; or, al-Baradei Tryin’ (Part 1 of ???) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | TBE translates that ElBaradei interview from al-Shorouq. ✪ Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? - The Daily Beast | Interesting ruminations on whether Iran is near a revolution and the importance of Ashura as a symbol of the fight for justice. ✪ Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Zero - | Economically, the decade produced nothing. ✪ The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Wahhabi Physiognomy: this man should be teaching at KAUST | Funny. ✪ Rasheed el-Enany on modern Arabic lit: not quite a Renaissance | Al-Masry Al-Youm | "I think the status of translated Arabic literature is better than it's ever been." ✪ Two Hamas members killed in Beirut explosion | Unusual... this attack was in a safe, Hizbullah-controlled area. ✪ Activists appeal to Mubarak over entry into Gaza - Yahoo! News |
Egypt said it would prevent their passage because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza and warned Monday of legal repercussions for anyone defying the ban. Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.
Exclusive excerpt from Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking new book: Footnotes in Gaza | I'm awaiting my copy of this book from this great cartoonist. ✪ Sic Semper Tyrannis : Men on Horseback | Pat Lang on the Afghan policy war inside the Obama administration. ✪ Ardebili's laptop - Laura Rozen - | Iran holding hikers and others because US holding Iranians? ✪ Anis Sayigh: and Israeli history of letter bombs | Angry Arab has an interesting post on the Israeli use of letter bombs against civilians. ✪ Officials Point to Suspect’s Claim of Qaeda Ties in Yemen - | Rather suspicious, this Yemen angle at a time when people are trying to confuse the Huthis and al-Qaeda... ✪ The Lives They Lived - Ben Ali - The Chili That Shaped a Family - | Sausages and chilli, served to Obama by an Indian Muslim Trinidadian. ✪ Mainstreaming the Mad Iran Bombers | Marc Lynch | Lynch on NYT op-ed's call for war. ✪ The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons | The Guardian | "Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America."
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Links for Dec.24.09

LRB · Adam Shatz · Wanting to Be Something Else | Adam Shatz on Orhan Pamuk. ✪ UN gives mud brick huts to Gaza war homeless | I'm not sure Hassan Fathi-style mud brick homes will work in Gaza - doesn't it rain a lot there? This story also does not say whether they are building with mud bricks because the blockade makes other materials unavailable. ✪ Renewed Lebanese drug trade hikes Mideast tensions - Yahoo! News | Return of cannabis and poppy cultivation in the Bekaa (but had it really ever gone away?) ✪ الآراء من الغرب Views from the Occident: 'Ashura Artwork: Part I | Graphic posters from Shia martyrology. ✪ BBC News - Lockheed secures $842m Morocco contract | For a bunch of F-16s. ✪ / UK - Moussavi sacked as pressure mounts for a trial | Challenger to Ahmedinejad targeted. ✪ Cameron under pressure to explain £100,000 funding linked to Lebanese former arms dealer | Politics | | Those European politicians sure love Arab money.
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Links for 11.30.09 to 12.02.09

Why they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years? | Stephen M. Walt | 288,000, Walt estimates. ✪ Libya convicts Swiss pair in apparent revenge for arrest of Gaddafi's son | World news | | Good timing. ✪ Israel strips more Palestinians of Jerusalem status (Reuters) | "Reuters - Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics." ✪ Dubai model was the vision of one man | Reuters | Andrew Hammond's writes: "The "Dubai vision," which has suffered a crushing blow from the freewheeling Gulf emirate's sudden debt crisis, is the creation of one man who failed to apply the rules of open governance." ✪ Arab disappointment with Obama | Marc Lynch | Arabs disappointed with mideast policy, not democracy. Americans disappointed with everything. ✪ Spreading Shiism to the Moon Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | This is about Iranian ambitions over the Comoros Islands, but I link because the intro is funny. ✪ Jewish Nationalists and Palestinians Clash in East Jerusalem - | This headline makes it sounds like the Jews are the natives. Plus it's in East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian under international law. ✪ Obama's Middle East Policies: the Persistence of the Bush Doctrine on Vimeo | A lecture by the Angry Arab, Asa'ad Abu Khalil. ✪ Israel attacks Sweden on Jerusalem plan | I think this Swedish position on Jerusalem, if the EU takes it up, is important. ✪ What to listen for in Obama's speech | What Walt says on Afghanistan. ✪ The New Inquisition | Laila Lalami in The Nation. ✪ Arab journalist throws shoe at Iraqi shoe thrower - Yahoo! News | He missed, too. ✪ Views from the Occident: Hizbullah Announces New Party Platform | Hizbullah peddles its national vision. ✪ ei: "We will have to kill them all": Effie Eitam, thug messiah | Buffalo, NY Jews welcome Elie Eitam, murderer and Eretz Israeler. ✪ Super Emo Friends | Diskursdisko | Comic book humor - should appeal to those emos in Egypt.
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Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09

Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir. ✪ Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward. ✪ UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming. ✪ Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying. ✪ Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then! ✪ Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question. ✪ Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday." ✪ Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste. ✪ Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making. ✪ Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria. ✪ 6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men." ✪ Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. ✪ الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library. ✪ In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - | On Islamist creationists in Turkey. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
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Links for 11.07.09 to 11.09.09

Israeli Asks Abbas Not to Step Down - | What a weird headline: the Israeli in question is the president of Israel, Shimon Peres (aka Skeletor, Evil Lord of Destruction). Not that knowing this makes the whole thing any less weird, although it is telling to see how much the Israelis like Abbas.

Fatah al-Islam Connected to Israeli Elements- Lebanese Security Source Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Really: Fatah al-Islam, connected to the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Americans, the Saudis and now the Israelis. I am beginning to wonder whether it even exists.

The Dark Side of the Bright Side -- In These Times | I love Barbara Ehrenreich's books.

The Associated Press: Islamic critics blast Beyonce on eve of Egypt show | Muslim Brothers attack "nudity concert".

23 CIA Officers Convicted in Italy, in Abstentia | For extraordinary rendition of Egyptian man.

Middle East Bloggers: The Street Leads Online - Reports - Committee to Protect Journalists | CPJ report on bloggers in MENA, especially the rising use of emprisonment against them: "Individual bloggers face enormous threats; the medium as a whole faces significant challenges. Increasingly, governments are creating new laws to regulate the Internet and amending old ones to encompass online expression. Already authorities are exploiting the isolated nature of bloggers and the lack of institutional protections for online journalists. As the Iranian regime exhibited this year, governments are willing to take severe measures when they perceive a threat to their power."

Holiday sales could launch e-book readers as mass-market must-haves | If you're interested in ebooks, this is a pretty good piece on the state of the industry. Has anyone tried Kindle downloading in Egypt? Is it restricted?

Japanese contractors owed billions by Dubai firms - The National Newspaper | Dubai is a bad debtor.

Waq al-Waq: The Big Question for Saudi Arabia | Who runs Saudi Arabia's Yemen policy?

Obama's Failure in the Middle East | Stephen M. Walt | KA-POW: "I never thought I'd write the following words, but is it possible that Obama's handling of the I-P peace process might actually end up being worse than George Bush's?"

Berman’s Response to Goldstone on House Gaza War-Crimes Resolution « The Washington Independent | The assholes who run Congress reply to Goldstone.

Report: Mossad hacked Syrian computer to uncover nuke site - Haaretz - Israel News | Basic snooping software found super-classified info? Either this is not true or the Syrians are mega-stupid. But since the allegation is that Syria had a secret nuclear research facility, I'll lean towards the former - this was all bullshit from the beginning.

ATTACKERMAN » Somewhere, Khaled Meshal Is Laughing | Obama messed up doubly with Goldstone as well as backing down on settlements. What's a Palestinian leader (any of them outside Hamas) to do?

Lebanese opposition agrees to govt line-up: Hezbollah

(AFP) | Cabinet crisis over?

Clinton has 'productive meeting' with Egypt on Mideast peace process - | Hosni Mubarak loves nothing more than being made to feel important. Clinton's entire trip to Cairo is about this: "Clinton attributed the apparent softening in Egypt's position as a response to her personal diplomacy, conducted over visits to four capitals in the region over the past five days. "I thought it was a very productive meeting," she told reporters traveling with her after the news conference, adding that it "shows the value of consultation and listening and sharing ideas and hearing the other side and putting forward your views and explaining.""

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Links for 10.29.09 to 10.31.09

Daily News Egypt - In Focus: The Brotherhood Crisis | Khalil al-Anani's take on the Brothers' troubles. ✪ Frontlines: Who will be the next leader of Egypt? | Front Lines - the week that was | Jerusalem Post | Funny how much traction Amr Moussa's comments have made in Israel, where they remember vividly his criticism of Israel. ✪ Is this the man to follow Mubarak as Egypt's next president? | World news | | On Amr Moussa. ✪ Powerful Islamic movement sees leadership struggle | On MB's woes. ✪ War and Peace | New blog from Rob of Arabic Media Shack, focusing on war, history and strategy. ✪ Lesson Unlearned | Foreign Policy | Nir Rosen says the 1983 attacks on Us Marines in Beirut was the fault of senior Reagan officials who intervened in Lebanon's civil war on the side of Christian militias. ✪ A Witness In Palestine | Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American pro-peace activist. ✪ A search engine with a mind on settlements | Antony Loewenstein | I'm switching to Bing, and I hate Microsoft: "Jewish Billionaire, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, donated $1 million to the so-called Hebrew national Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which heavily encourages Jews around the world to immigrate to Israel and the United States. The organization is one of the biggest supporters of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories." ✪ In Afghan Village, French Outreach Yields an Ambush - | On French Foreign legion in Afghanistan: "Some Legionnaires, like a pensive Italian art history graduate, had enlisted for adventure. Others, like a thin Estonian, signed up to escape potentially lethal problems at home. The Legion wipes out minor criminal records and provides new identities and a French passport in exchange for a five-year contract. "Believe me, I feel safer here in Afghanistan," the Estonian said." ✪ Alaa Al-Aswany: When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists - Commentators, Opinion - The Independent | On Somalia and extremism, among other things. ✪ BBC NEWS | Technology | Egypt seeks ethical mobile users | Code says "don't annoy people by having loud conversations", "choose non-annoying ringtone", etc. Akhiran! Wonder if it says, "Don't sit at qahwa trying different ringtones for an hour" or "Answer phone quickly or put it on silent rather than stare at it for 10 rings". ✪ Squaring the circle and erasing the margins | Good commentary on the recent J Street conference. ✪ YouTube - ‫لقاء اليوم - ريتشارد غولدستون‬‎ | Khaled Daoud interviews Richard Goldstone on al-Jazeera. ✪ Lebanon: Israel arranged Katyusha fire to keep tensions high - Haaretz - Israel News | Suleiman was praised by West before, will he be listened to now: "Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Thursday suggested that Israel had arranged for collaborators in his country to fire Katyusha rockets at the Galilee earlier this week, in a bid to keep tensions high in the area." ✪ 'Israel's Self-Described Greatest Concern' - Jeffrey Goldberg | More poisonous Jeffrey Goldberg: anti-Zionist Jews are not real jews, they're anti-Zionists with Jewish parents; the Leveretts are apologists for Tehran. No sense of irony here about Golberg's sycophancy towards Bibi Netanyahu here. ✪ West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge | These people are insane: ""But over the past quarter of a century, the Israeli army lawyer and then military judge at the forefront of arguably the most significant battle in the occupied West Bank – the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of Jewish settlements – has come to see himself as in service of a higher duty. In an unusually frank interview, which offers insights into the melding of religion, politics and law that underpins land seizures in the occupied territories, Agassi has laid out his belief that Israel has a biblical claim to territory beyond its borders and that he, even as an immigrant, has a right to live on it when those born there do not. `When we [Israelis] say that this is a political conflict, then we lose the battle,` he told the Guardian, adding that it should be remembered that the ancient land of Israel is `given to us by the Bible, not by some United Nations`. ✪ Tens of Thousands of Palestinian Children at Risk of Forced Displacement in OPT | "Whilst most attention has focused on home demolitions and community evictions, new research by the children`s charity Save The Children has revealed intolerable living conditions are driving families to abandon their land and homes, even though most will be worse off once they do so."
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Links for 10.08.09 to 10.09.09

‘Abuse’ of Islamic rule lands lawyer in court - The National Newspaper | About time someone stopped Nabih el Wahsh and his ridiculous hesba claims, but this needs to go further: a judicial ruling or new law should declare hesba unacceptable in courts.

Israel FM to tell U.S. envoy no peace deal possible | Lieberman always says what's on his mind.

Mideast sliding into 'darkness': Jordan king | Jordan's king does his Cassandra routine.

Sudan: SLM Warns US Envoy Not to Visit Darfur Areas Under Its Control Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "The Sudan Liberation Army Movement [SLM] led by Abdul-Wahid Nur who resides in France has warned US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration not to visit the areas in Darfur that are under its control and where he is expected to hold a conference in the "Darbat" area in Murrah Mountain on 20 October."

Unjustifiable To Lose ‘Goldstone’ Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "It is not the time for point-scoring. Goldstone’s report marked the beginning of the international justice the Palestinian people need. The issue goes beyond political wrangling between Hamas and the PA, and also goes beyond the assumed price for slip ups. It is about responsibility for people’s lives."

‘The Times’ lets everyone off the hook on Goldstone | The NYT's continued hasbara on the Goldstone report.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | UN body to debate Gaza 'crimes' | Slated for 14 October.

Fatah seeks joint action with Hamas over Gaza report - Yahoo! News | About time.

ei: Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza | Ali Abunimah: "Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people."

“The Challenge of Moderation in Islam: Egypt’s Religious Institution Versus Extremism.” | POMED notes on speech by Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa.

Palestine on the brink: only a quick de-escalation can prevent an explosion | Israel Policy Forum | Hussein Ibish.

Abbas Cancels Israel War-Crimes Report, Boosting Hamas - Yahoo! News | It's over for Abbas, morally now and politically eventually.

Saudi, Syria agree to 'remove obstacles' to closer ties - Yahoo! News | They also called for a NUG to be formed in Lebanon.

Security Council to raise UN Gaza report next week - Yahoo! News | Libya move to push for discussion of Goldstone report moves ahead, despite Mahmoud Abbas's failure to push for it (and his subsequent reversal.)

All these Abdelazizes | New head of Western Sahara mission MINURSO is Egyptian.

Oren likens Goldstone to… Nazi threat | Israel Ambassador to US Michael Oren: Goldstone = Nazis = Nuclear Annihilation.

Agents arrest dozens for theft scheme in US, Egypt | Egyptian hackers engage in $2m phishing scam.

Pew Forum: Mapping the Global Muslim Population | Pew report says there are 1.57bn Muslims, analysis and breakdown through maps and more.

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Israel's Lebanese Spy Ring

To my knowledge there's been little coverage of the recent Lebanese spy scandal in the English-language press (although the Arabic press has talked about it plenty), but Le Figaro has a long piece on the arrests, labeling them as one of the most important reverses in the (long) history of Israeli espionage:
Dans cette guerre de l'ombre, les services de renseignements israéliens ont subi, cette année au Liban, l'un des plus importants revers de leur histoire. Comme il se doit, ils n'ont pas commenté le démantèlement de leur plus grand réseau d'espionnage dans un pays arabe. Les chiffres sont pourtant sans précédents. Plus de soixante-dix Libanais ont été inculpés d'espionnage au profit d'Israël ces derniers mois. Une quarantaine de suspects ont été placés en détention. Une trentaine d'autres agents supposés sont toujours recherchés par les autorités libanaises. Certains ont réussi à fuir, prenant l'avion vers une destination inconnue, ou ont franchi la frontière entre les deux pays, toujours techniquement en guerre depuis 1949. D'autres ont cessé leurs activités. À la différence des maîtres espions des romans, les membres de ces réseaux appartiennent à l'univers moins glamour du renseignement de terrain. Celui des petites mains, des cellules anonymes chargées de glaner des informations fragmentaires, de préparer des dossiers d'objectif ou de suivre les mouvements quotidiens de l'adversaire. Parmi ces agents, certains dormants depuis des années, toutes les communautés libanaises sont représentées : chrétiens, sunnites, chiites, originaires du Sud-Liban, de la Bekaa ou de Beyrouth. «Certains travaillaient pour Israël depuis des années, parfois depuis les années 1980», explique le général Achraf Rifi, directeur général des Forces de sécurité intérieures libanaises, qui ont effectué une bonne partie des arrestations. «Ils ont été recrutés, ajoute-t-il, pour des motifs variés : financiers, idéologiques ou psychologiques. On a même des cas de chantage, sexuels ou autres. Mais le principal facteur de ce recrutement a été la longue occupation israélienne du Sud-Liban, qui a mis en contact des Libanais avec les Israéliens, et qui a, d'une certaine façon, rendu acceptable les relations avec eux». «Une chose est sûre, c'est un beau coup de filet, commente une source diplomatique occidentale à Beyrouth. Il est possible que, depuis leur semi-échec pendant la guerre de 2006, où ils s'étaient appuyés sur leurs renseignements aériens et technologiques, les Israéliens aient un peu trop demandé à leurs réseaux, leur faisant prendre plus de risques pour reconstituer leurs listes de cibles. Mais ces arrestations sont surtout le fruit d'un travail sans précédent des forces de sécurité libanaises.»
My translation:
In this shadow war, the Israeli intelligence services have gone through, this year in Lebanon, one of the most important setbacks in their history. As expected, they have not commented on the dismantling of their largest espionage network in an Arab country. The numbers are however unprecedented. Over 70 Lebanese have been accused of espionage for Israel in recent months. About 40 suspects are currently held. Another 30 are currently being sought by Lebanese authorities. Some have managed to flee, or crossed the border between the two countries, which have been technically at war since 1949. Others have ceased their activities. As opposed to spymasters in novels, the members of these networks belong to the less glamorous universe of ground-level intelligence gathering. That of small hands, of anonymous cells tasked with gathering fragments of intelligence, of preparing objective dossiers or follow the movements of the enemy. Among these agents, some of which have been asleep for years, all Lebanese communities are represented: Christians, Sunnis, Shias, South Lebanese, from the Bekaa or Beirut. "Some have worked for Israel for years, sometimes since the 1980s," explains General Ashraf Rifi, director of the Internal Security Forces, which carried out most of the arrests. "They've been recruited through various motives: financial, ideological, or psychological. Or even a few cases of blackmail, sexual or otherwise. But the most important factor for recruitment was the long Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, which put Lebanese in touch with Israelis, and which, in a way, made relationships with them acceptable." "One thing is certain, it's a major catch," commented a Western diplomat in Beirut. "It is possible that, since its semi-failure during the 2006 war, when they heavily relied on technological and aerial intelligence, the Israelis asked for too much of their networks, making them take risks to draft their target lists. But these arrests have also been the result of unprecedented work by the Lebanese security forces."
I'm not sure what this means in terms of internal politics -- the ISF are supposed to be pro-March 14, but it certainly gives some more national security kudos to the government, an area where Hizbullah and its allies have had the upper hand since the liberation of the South. The article has a lot more detail on the arrests, for instance on the arrest of Lebanese Army Colonel Mansour Diab, who had been a leading figure in the 2007 Nahr al-Bared attacks. He was allegedly recruited in the US during a training seminar (which begs all sorts of questions.) Le Figaro also highlights the use of phone-listening equipment and software capable of processing thousands of calls as being instrumental in catching the spies. Ironically, the equipment had been provided to the ISF by Western intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, and that was originally probably targeted at monitoring Hizbullah. The officer running this program, Captain Wissam Eid, died in a car bombing in early 2008. Hizbullah is said to have been behind the attack, but the listening system has since been turned to other uses, leading to the dismantling of the Israeli networks.
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