Saturday, November 20, 2010

Americans Need To Be Adults About Iran

By Rami G. Khouri
This comment was published in The Daily Star on 20/11/2010 

From the late 1960s to the early 2000s, the central conflict in the Middle East, one that spilled over to influence many other domestic and regional issues, was the Arab-Israeli conflict. For much of that period, until the early 1990s, it overlapped with the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, during the past decade, the confrontational center of gravity in the region has shifted somewhat to include new dynamics that see Iran and some Arab allies together forming a “deterrence and resistance front” that both confronts and engages with the US, Israel and some conservative Arab parties. As the Iranian-led defiance of Washington has linked with the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, it has become far more difficult for diplomats and conflict-resolvers to achieve a breakthrough on any of the many regional conflicts.

The old “Middle East conflict” has now been transformed into multiple conflicts that combine to form a broader “Middle East confrontation” comprising many parties and sources of disagreement, tension and active political or military battles. In this context, it is not just the fact of a large, dynamic, robust Iran being an active regional player that makes a difference, especially through its close ties with Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas; rather, it is the spirit of defiance and the demand for respect and the equitable application of a single standard of international law that Iran is trying to project and champion that represents an important new factor in the regional and global diplomatic equation.

Broadly speaking, Americans and their elected officials have remained chronically clueless about this reality and how to deal with it. There are many reasons for this, including historical bilateral tensions, a general weak spot in American diplomacy outside the confrontational context of the old Cold War, the incessant and strong goading of pro-Israel fanatics in Washington, the general inability of the US to sort out religion from nationalism, and almost biological hysteria about how to deal with strong, proud, defiant, uppity Muslims or Muslim-majority countries.

The result has been an erratic track record in American-Iranian relations that has seen tensions persist and increase, while core issues raised by both sides remain unresolved. American sanctions and pressures and Iranian resistance and defiance have given both sides emotional satisfaction, but few real political gains or successes. There is an almost juvenile dimension to how the United States and Iran conduct their bilateral relations, or non-relations, so it is refreshing to see a new report just published by a group of specialists in the US that suggests a more effective strategy for dealing with this matter.

The report by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Stimson Center, titled “Engagement, Coercion, and Iran’s Nuclear Challenge,” is the culmination of a year’s work by over 40 scholars and policy analysts. They conclude that the US should “rebalance its approach to Iran, leveraging the gains achieved from sanctions by indicating a willingness to engage Iran diplomatically on a wide range of issues.” (The title of the report could have been more judiciously crafted to transcend the American-Israeli fixation on Iran’s nuclear industry, and instead – as the report itself does – acknowledge the need to address a much wider range of strategic issues that are important to both sides. But then, the transition from an adolescent to a mature adult condition – in ideology and diplomacy as in biology – occurs in stages, rather than at once.)

Among the recommendations for engagement offered by co-authors Barry Blechman of the Stimson Center and Daniel Brumberg of USIP are: Washington needs to make adjustments of comparable importance to the demands it is making of Iran, such as recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under international safeguards; the US and Israel must avoid the threat to use force, which only reinforces those in Tehran who believe Iran requires nuclear weapons for its security and undermines those who argue for compromise with the international community; the US must take advantage of the leverage gained from sanctions to reinvigorate, broaden and engage Iran diplomatically and strategically, which might persuade more pragmatic members of the ruling elites in Tehran that it is in Iran’s own interest to end its estrangement from the international community by reaching a compromise on the nuclear and other security issues.

Such an approach, though still debatable, would be far wiser than either engaging in military clashes or a long-term containment policy after Iran achieves its full nuclear aims, whether those aims are simply a full enrichment cycle or producing nuclear weapons. As the US and its Western allies prepare to sit down and resume negotiations in the coming weeks, it is heartening to see that some thoughtful adults in Washington are pondering how to address the issues at hand with more sophistication, nuance, realism and pragmatism than has been the case to date. If similar signs emerge in Tehran, we may have a deal.

Worse With Time

By Walid M. Sadi
This comment was published in The Jordan Times on 21/11/2010

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has recently said that had the Palestinian conflict been resolved some 20 years ago, as it should have, there would have been no Hizbollah, no Iran and no Al Qaeda.

What the Lebanese premier is therefore saying is that the longer we wait for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict the bigger the chance for new threats to regional and international peace to pop up.

Israel should have been capable of recognising that the longer the antagonists in the area wait to conclude a peace treaty the harder it is going to be.

King Hussein tried to negotiate an honourable peace deal with Israel that could have given Israel security, stability and safety for well over 20 years. The book "The Lion of Jordan" attests to this fact and describes in detail the agonising and frustrating negotiations conducted between Israel and Jordan that ended in a bitter deadlock and the withdrawal of Jordan from the negotiating process over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were part of the Jordanian territory and subject to UN Resolution 242?

Now it is being said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is so frustrated with the protracted negotiations with Israel that he is ready to throw in the towel and even resign from his post. Obviously no future Palestinian leader would be as forthcoming in peace talks with Israel as Abbas.

Therefore once again, and without having learnt a thing from the past five decades of fruitless talks, the reins might be handed over to individuals who could be much harder to deal with.

Needless to add that Hamas would have not been seen had there been progress during the initial peace talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Time is not on the side of peace. Israel is gambling with its own security and survival by pretending that the future will bring better tidings.

Tehran And Kabul Pragmatic Allies Now

By Alberto Priego
This comment was published in The Gulf Times on 20/11/2010

Recently it has been brought to light that the Islamic Republic of Iran frequently contributes significant quantities of money to the government of Hamid Karzai. Although the news has come as a surprise to many people, it has been well-known that relations between Karzai and Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are excellent.

Historically, Afghanistan and Iran have had troubled relations over questions such as the traffic of opium or the limits of the river Helmand. Many incidents have occurred between the two countries such as the sad episodes in the consulates of Herat and Mashad in the 1980s or more recently the murder of various Iranian diplomats or the savage assault on the Iranian consulate of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The relations between Iran and Afghanistan have been bound to be faced with this background. Nevertheless, the Taliban’s  fall had brought a breath of fresh air to the reconstruction of the damaged bilateral relations.

The Iranian refusal to recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan was a fact that helped and although it is certain that Tehran would have been more comfortable with a government run by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the relations are above the political colour of the occupant of the Afghan presidential palace.
It is for this reason that the Iranian state is giving  financial aid to the government of Karzai, since for Tehran the continuance of Karzai in power is fundamental to carrying out its politics. The main asset of Karzai’s leadership for Ahmadinejad is that it keeps the US and the remainder of its international allies involved in a puzzle that drains their resources.

In fact, Karzai and Ahmadinejad have continuous and overlapping criticism of the presence of international troops in Afghanistan. Though Karzai refers to the lack of liberty caused by the occupation of his country, Ahmadinejad refers to the sense of siege that Iran is under.

At the same time we find a new kind of movement of non-alignment – involving Russia, China, Pakistan, Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia -- that intends to offer a non-democratic alternative to the Western model. Set against the speeches of Condoleezza Rice in Cairo and the continuous callings of Bush and Obama to the politics of the Spread of Democracy, this new block gives the non- democratic states the option to maintain their principles.

Political, religious, cultural or even historic differences do not matter, as the relations between Iran and Afghanistan show. Above all else is the common objective: to create a New World Order.

Thus, by way of conclusion, we can say that the recent improvement in relations between Tehran and Kabul is nothing more than a public presentation of a friendship that had existed before the Taliban and that was restored after its fall.

The progresses since 2001 have been many and very important to the extent that Iran has become Afghanistan’s fourth largest trading partner and one of the main suppliers of aid to the country’s development which has been crystallised through different infrastructure projects along the border with heavy emphasis on the Herat-Mashad railway.

As President Obama said, the solution to the problem of Afghanistan is the regional involvement of its neighbours even if it entails a smaller role for Europe and the US. — Global Experts

Lebanon: Justice At What cost?

Indicting Hezbollah members for Rafik Hariri's assassination risks creating turmoil- but it would be an important step.

By James Denselov
This comment was published in The Guardian on 20/11/2010

The Lebanese cabinet dodged a bullet on 10 November by postponing a vote about witnesses who allegedly gave investigators false information on the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The issue has been dominating Lebanese politics amid fears that it could spark an internal conflict similar to that of 2008, when Hezbollah and its supporters took over the streets of Beirut.

The special tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up to try those suspected of involvement in Hariri's assassination, is supported by western governments but Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement, has condemned it as "biased". Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has warned against attempts to "discredit" the tribunal, while William Hague, the British foreign secretary, announced a further £1m funding in support for the tribunal and declared that "justice is the only way to ensure stability in Lebanon".

But justice at what cost? The tribunal is testing the limits of Lebanon's government consensus. Prior to the fudged cabinet session, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned: "If having to choose between the STL and the cabinet, then it is better not to have a cabinet."

It has been just over a year since Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated leader – formed a national unity government after five months of wrangling. During that time the pro-western March 14 alliance has steadily moved towards building bridges with the March 8 opposition and its Syrian allies, most spectacularly with Walid Jumblatt performing a classic volte-face and reaching out to Damascus.

But the UN investigation into the Hariri killing has a mandate and momentum of its own and recent reports suggest the court will move to indict members of Hezbollah before the end of the year.

The tribunal was originally created when the UN realised that Lebanon had neither the capacity nor commitment to do the job itself. Established in 2007 under UN security council resolution 1757, the tribunal overrode Lebanese constitutional procedures and, as a Chatham House report explained, provided a potential solution "for an impossible political situation and laid a claim for the rule of law to prevail over violence".

Over the past five years the UN investigation has also become a tool of political pressure against Syria, whose troops were forced to leave Lebanon following the 2005 assassination. Later that year the UN international independent investigation commission, led by Detlev Mehlis, issued a report saying that "given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge".

The predicted indictment of Hezbollah members would suggest that they are suspected of killing Hariri at the behest of their Syrian allies. In response, the Syrians have regularly looked to discredit the investigation as biased, with a senior Syrian diplomat telling me that its enemies were using the tribunal as "a game" against it.

If it is a game then Syria still has cards to play and none more powerful than its alliance with Hezbollah. A senior Hezbollah official warned that "such an indictment is a warning bell equivalent to lighting the fuse, to igniting the wick for an explosion, and is dangerous for Lebanon".

The day after the cabinet decision was delayed, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the group would "cut off the hand" of anyone who attempted to arrest its members, while the Lebanese daily, al-Akhbar, reported that within two hours of any indictment, Hezbollah would react and "hold a security and military grip on large areas of Lebanon".

Over the past two months, Saad Hariri has reached out to Nasrallah with the option of blaming "rogue" elements of Hezbollah – a suggestion that was immediately rejected. Steadily the political positions towards the tribunal are solidifying and the space for compromise is disappearing.

Ultimately, all involved in Lebanon will have to answer the question: will solving the murder of Hariri unite or divide the country? Postponing the cabinet vote is a delaying tactic born of indecision about which decision to make. However, the political elite are running out of time as the schedule for the next confrontational cabinet session is at the end of the month.

There can be little doubt that assassins revel in an absence of accountability – and in Lebanon's history few of them have ever been brought to justice. Any indictment could lead to turmoil, but if the political system does prove capable of handling the consequences, it could signal an end to the culture of impunity regarding political killings and mark a significant moment in the country's development.

An American Bribe That Stinks Of Appeasement

By Robert Fisk
This comment was published in The Independent on 20/11/2010

In any other country, the current American bribe to Israel, and the latter's reluctance to accept it, in return for even a temporary end to the theft of somebody else's property would be regarded as preposterous. Three billion dollars' worth of fighter bombers in return for a temporary freeze in West Bank colonisation for a mere 90 days? Not including East Jerusalem – so goodbye to the last chance of the east of the holy city for a Palestinian capital – and, if Benjamin Netanyahu so wishes, a rip-roaring continuation of settlement on Arab land. In the ordinary sane world in which we think we live, there is only one word for Barack Obama's offer: appeasement. Usually, our lords and masters use that word with disdain and disgust.

Anyone who panders to injustice by one people against another people is called an appeaser. Anyone who prefers peace at any price, let alone a $3bn bribe to the guilty party – is an appeaser. Anyone who will not risk the consequences of standing up for international morality against territorial greed is an appeaser. Those of us who did not want to invade Afghanistan were condemned as appeasers. Those of us who did not want to invade Iraq were vilified as appeasers. Yet that is precisely what Obama has done in his pathetic, unbelievable effort to plead with Netanyahu for just 90 days of submission to international law. Obama is an appeaser.

The fact that the West and its political and journalistic elites – I include the ever more disreputable New York Times – take this tomfoolery at face value, as if it can seriously be regarded as another "step" in the "peace process", to put this mystical nonsense "back on track", is a measure of the degree to which we have taken leave of our senses in the Middle East.

It is a sign of just how far America (and, through our failure to condemn this insanity, Europe) has allowed its fear of Israel – and how far Obama has allowed his fear of Israeli supporters in Congress and the Senate – to go.

Three billion dollars for three months is one billion dollars a month to stop Israel's colonisation. That's half a billion dollars a fortnight. That's $500m a week. That's $71,428,571 a day, or $2,976,190 an hour, or $49,603 a minute. And as well as this pot of gold, Washington will continue to veto any resolutions critical of Israel in the UN and prevent "Palestine" from declaring itself a state. It's worth invading anyone to get that much cash to stage a military withdrawal, let alone the gracious gesture of not building more illegal colonies for only 90 days while furiously continuing illegal construction in Jerusalem at the same time.

The Hillary Clinton version of this grotesquerie would be funny if it was not tragic. According to the sharp pen of the NYT's Roger Cohen, La Clinton has convinced herself that Palestine is "achievable, inevitable and compatible with Israel's security". And what persuaded Madame Hillary of this? Why, on a trip to the pseudo-Palestine "capital" of Ramallah last year, she saw the Jewish settlements – "the brutality of it was so stark" according to one of her officials – but thought her motorcade was being guarded by the Israeli army because "they're so professional". And then, lo and behold, they turned out to be a Palestinian military guard, a "professional outfit" – and all this changed Madame's views!

Quite apart from the fact that the Israeli army is a rabble, and that indeed, the Palestinians are a rabble too, this "road to Ramallah" incident led supporters of Madame, according to Cohen, to realise that there had been a transition "from a self-pitying, self-dramatising Palestinian psyche, with all the cloying accoutrements of victimhood, to a self-affirming culture of pragmatism and institution-building". Palestinian "prime minister" Salam Fayyad, educated in the US so, naturally, a safe pair of hands, has put "growth before grumbling, roads before ranting, and security before everything".

Having been occupied by a brutal army for 43 years, those wretched, dispossessed Palestinians, along with their cousins in the West Bank who have been homeless for 62 years, have at last stopped ranting and grumbling and feeling sorry for themselves and generally play-acting in order to honour the only thing that matters. Not justice. Certainly not democracy, but to the one God which Christians, Jews and Muslims are all now supposed to worship: security.

Yes, they have joined the true brotherhood of mankind. Israel will be safe at last. That this infantile narrative now drives the woman who told us 11 years ago that Jerusalem was "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel" proves that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now reached its apogee, its most treacherous and final moment. And if Netanyahu has any sense – I'm talking abut the Zionist, expansionist kind – he will wait out the 90 days, then thumb his nose at the US. In the three months of "good behaviour", of course, the Palestinians will have to bite the bullet and sit down to "peace" talks which will decide the future borders of Israel and "Palestine". But since Israel controls 62 per cent of the West Bank this leaves Fayyad and his chums about 10.9 per cent of mandate Palestine to argue about.

And at the cost of $827 a second, they'd better do some quick grovelling. They will. We should all hang our heads in shame. But we won't. It's not about people. It's about presentation. It's not about justice. It's about "security". And cash. Lots of it. Goodbye Palestine.

To Each Their Sectarian War And Their Shiites

By Husam Itani
This comment was published by al-Hayat on 19/11/2010

The renewal of sectarian violence in Egypt urges the reconsideration of a saying which has become a quasi-constant principle in the Arab region, and can be summarized by the fact that the Sunni-Shiite conflict is the “characteristic of this era.”

Indeed, we cannot exclude the objective reasons behind some villagers’ burning of the shops and homes of their peers from the Coptic sect, as the climate is heated with the imminence of legislative elections that might increase the stalemate. This makes any side wishing to exploit the tensions affecting the sectarian relations try its luck.

The targeting of the Copts in Egypt - in parallel to the attacks on churches and Christian worshipers in Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s threats to target their counterparts in Egypt - reveals the presence of a phenomenon that extends beyond the frameworks in which some writings are trying to place the Sunni-Shiite conflict. In this context, believing that the crimes committed against the Iraqi Christians stem from the conflict over power is justified, as the Christians are being forced to play the role of the scapegoat to defuse the rising tensions on the eve of Al-Maliki’s victory in the competition over the post of prime minister.

However, in Egypt where there are no Shiites except for a few, the domestic tensions are being turned toward the Coptic “others,” as it would be impossible to turn the popular restlessness and uproar toward Israel or the United States after they were depleted by the popular and nationalistic media (noting that the media war on Algeria at the beginning of the year was short-termed and that football was not enough to contain the different facets of the domestic crisis).

The definition of the areas of Sunni-Shiite friction in the Arab and Islamic worlds and saying that this friction has historical and denominational bases that are oblivious of the current developments affecting Arab and Islamic communities is inaccurate. Moreover, naively saying that a Zionist-imperialistic conspiracy is continuously planting the seeds of strife in our countries to maintain our division and allow Israel and America to eternalize their dominance and pillaging of the region’s wealth lacks objectivity.

Whoever saw the posters which featured the pictures of the dead in the ranks of Fatah after Hamas gained control over Gaza in 2007, could not help but notice that a number of them carried the expression “was killed by the Shiites.” Whoever printed these photos claimed that the alliance between Hamas and Iran meant the “Shiization” of the movement which has emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. What is meant here is that a consciousness that is in crisis invents its own “Shiites” to fight them and explain why it is drowning in various predicaments, while securing a way to elude the urgent need for self-accountability.

Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran and Pakistan all witnessed the eruption of sparks of sectarianism during the last few months, shedding light on the flaws affecting Sunni-Shiite relations and the necessity to handle them. However, the greatest problem is revealed by the situations witnessed in Egypt and Gaza among others, where the Arab communities seem to be deploying great efforts to invent domestic enemies as the only way out from unbearable conditions and bleak horizons.

What the analysts of the Sunni-Shiite conflict are forgetting is that the majorities and minorities around the world are reconsidering the outcomes of their current policies, as it is now seen in Europe. They are also forgetting that the persecution of the minorities - regardless of their names - is a global historical practice, and that the current chapter represented by the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites is nothing but a modern translation of it. As for the books of denominational history, they neither provide answers nor treatment for this plague whose germ was produced by the problems of neglect, backwardness, social discrepancies, political depravation and whatever equals them or can enter through their wide open doors to falsify the facts and mislead us.

The Palestinian President's Gifts

By Abdul Rahman al-Rashed
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 20/11/2010
In return for a 90-day settlement freeze, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has gifted Israel with 20 fighter jets and 20 billion dollars, in addition to increasing the appetite of Jewish contributors around the world in supporting the construction of more houses and flats in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.
President Abbas's achievements also includes contributing to Obama's defeat at the recent midterm elections after the Democrat Party lost the support of the American Jewish community; which lent its voice and money to the Republican Party due to what they perceived as Obama's hard-line position against Israel. I also do not forget that the pressure exerted by Abbas left the US President feeling guilty towards Israel.
What was the point of all of this?
This has not recovered the West Bank or freed occupied Jerusalem, nor has this even resulted in the return of a few thousand Palestinians to their homes. The only battle that Abbas has confronted Netanyahu on is his insistence on a settlement freeze!
Without the requirement of a settlement freeze, perhaps the Israelis would not have obtained any of this. The Palestinian side has been the victim of a grand illusion which is that a settlement freeze represents a gain when in reality this would have been nothing but an early loss. This is because the settlements, like the occupation itself, is essentially invalid and does not have international legitimacy.
If you wanted a lesson in cunning then look at what Netanyahu did, for he turned the problem into a profitable business. All that has happened since the Palestinian President insisted upon the condition of a settlement freeze is that he has gifted Netanyahu with four important gains. Firstly he has excused Netanyahu from the negotiations that he originally shunned due to the nature of his hard-line government; this is because Netanyahu is the leader of a coalition government of hard-liners that will collapse if he negotiates. If you recall, the objective of putting pressure on Netanyahu in the first place was to force him to the negotiation table.
The second gain: Abbas preoccupied the Americans during the most important two-years of the presidency. He wasted this [period of time] with a sub-clause, and now Obama has entered the presidential hibernation period due to the Democrat's defeat at the midterm elections.
Thirdly, he has encouraged Jewish hard-liners to strongly support Israel's settlement project, and this is now being supported with money and settlers [wanting to move to settlements]. As a result of this settlement construction has intensified and expanded.
Lastly, Obama has reversed his position from punishing Netanyahu to rewarding him. In the past, Obama sought to satisfy Abbas by confronting Netanyahu, sending envoys to visit Israel instead of visiting in person, whilst on another occasion he snubbed the Israeli Prime Minister refusing to meet him. Even when Obama did meet with Netanyahu, this was conducted behind closed doors, and he refused to allow the press to take pictures of this meeting. However after his party's defeat at the election, Obama has opened the door of the White House, and the US treasury, to Netanyahu, offering Israel fighter jets, generous financial aid, and an accommodating political position.
This is all a result of the battle over a partial settlement freeze. Can the Palestinian delegation tell us on what basis it has built a strategy where the condition of a settlement freeze is more important than seeking to liberate the occupied territories?
I know that Abbas's comrades in the negotiation delegation will assure him that "the truth is that we are not the ones who put the condition for a settlement freeze in place; Obama is the one who proposed this." However we all know that this was a moral position more than it was a political one, and that Abbas could have bargained to drop this in return for gains, but instead he did the complete opposite.
As for the greater tragedy, in my opinion, this is not Israel being provided with 20 fighter jets or given 20 billion dollars in US aid, but rather that this battle has turned Netanyahu into a hero in the eyes of the Israeli public and many Jews around the world. He is the man who said "no" to Obama, the man who defeated the Palestinians without bullets or even negotiations.
Netanyahu returned to power at the head of a weak government, we thought that it would only last for a few short months, however today Netanyahu is a pivotal political leader.
Can the Palestinian team in Ramallah explain exactly what their plan was?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Israel Once Again Wins The PR War

This editorial was published in the Daily Star on 20/11/2010

Although not difficult to achieve, Israel has managed to outmaneuver Lebanon again, using the miniscule village of Ghajar to present itself as internationally responsible and Lebanon as hopelessly inert.

A few decades ago Ghajar was a village of maybe 1,000 inhabitants in Syrian territory which Israel occupied in the 1967 war. After Israel occupied south Lebanon, the villagers began expanding their community onto nearby Lebanese territory. Some 1,500 residents of Ghajar today live in the historically Syrian area, with about 500 more living on Lebanese land.

All the inhabitants have Israeli and Syrian passports; in other words, they have nothing to do with Lebanon. By withdrawing from the area of Ghajar which sits on Lebanese territory, the Israelis are putting the ball in Lebanon’s court, when the Lebanese side is incapable of agreeing even on which racket to use for the match.

The Israelis, meanwhile, can now strut and claim – wrongly – that they are fulfilling their international commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which mandated that Israeli troops withdraw from all Lebanese territory. Foreign powers are applauding the move; with Israel’s reputation at its lowest point in recent memory, withdrawing from Ghajar without pressure must appear a magnanimous, stately gesture. Unfortunately, Israel has violated Resolution 1701 nearly every day since it was adopted in August 2006, thanks to unceasing military overflights of Lebanon.

Israeli observers tittered at the demonstration by Ghajar residents, claiming – falsely – that it goes to show how no one wants to stop being a citizen of Israel. In reality it shows that the villagers have legitimate questions about their future access to public services, such as how they will be to get electricity and use the town’s education and health care facilities.

A responsible withdrawal by Israel would have meant resolving these questions in the interests of the residents; instead, Israel decided to let the people suffer to score some PR points. To be sure, soon Israel will declaim how the nefarious Lebanese are not fulfilling Resolution 1701 as Tel Aviv takes such significant steps.

In this situation, Lebanon needs a firm stand by its state to confront Israeli propaganda and address the village’s situation. What we get is complete paralysis. Officials do not even hint of meeting; the state does not have the slightest contingency plan for how to administer Ghajar. Syria, it should be noted, has been deafeningly silent as well.

Lebanese politicians scream constantly to get back land occupied by Israel. Israel has called their bluff. Whereas this country’s leaders should convene and demonstrate that they are serious and can handle the return of their land, instead they have shown only a total absence of planning, strategy or consensus – and shown that Lebanon is merely a bystander as its fate unfolds.

The Long Road To South Sudan's Secession Vote

If the people decide to form a new nation, the West must step up and help form institutions that will bring stability to the isolated region.

By Mwangi S. Kimenyi
This analysis was published in the Los Angeles Times on 19/11/2010

In about two months, Africa may have a new country, the first since the end of the colonial era. On Jan. 9, the people of southern Sudan are expected to vote in a referendum to determine whether their region will become an independent nation. Indications are that the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of seceding, but the practicalities of achieving a free, fair and peaceful vote are daunting.

This referendum is the culmination of a long and bloody path. The civil war between north and south Sudan, the longest in African history, claimed the lives of 2 million people and finally ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Since then, the two sides have been slowly working their way toward the referendum.

Yet southern Sudan is far from ready. The registration of voters began just this week. Polling stations need to be erected, not an easy task in an area bigger than California with only 40 miles of paved roads. They need electoral observers, ballot counters, trucks, computers — the list goes on.

Another challenge is the border. Under the 2005 peace agreement, the border between the north and south was supposed to be demarcated within six months, but it still has not happened. The border runs through the main oil-producing area, making it a highly volatile region. The division of revenue from the oil, most of which lies in the south, has still not been agreed on.

The United States is not the only country that has an interest in seeing this resolved. China gets 7% of its foreign oil supplies from Sudan and has a 40% stake in south Sudan's state oil company, GNPOC. Any fighting over the oil fields would threaten its supplies.

Africa is often accused of not doing enough to help itself, but it has been Sudan's neighbors that have worked hard for five years to ensure that both sides maintain the fragile peace and prepare for the referendum.

Kenya led the negotiations that ended the fighting and created the peace agreement in 2005. It has carried out five years of shuttle diplomacy between Juba and Khartoum, the capitals of south and north Sudan, respectively, to keep both sides on track. It has provided 35,000 primary school teachers to the south, which has suffered decades of neglect and fighting. In addition, Kenya has lent some of its best and brightest civil servants to help Juba create a professional civil service.

Unfortunately, during this same time the international community has been largely absent. The referendum is hardly a surprise — the date was set at the signing of the peace agreement — but only now are the United States and other Western nations beginning to pay serious attention. President Obama attended a crisis meeting on the issue at the
United Nations in September, and the U.S. envoy to south Sudan is talking about a "Juba surge," significantly increasing the number of U.S. diplomats in the region.

South Sudan urgently needs the sustained attention of the international community if it is to carry out a successful and credible referendum. This will require more than diplomatic words; it will require resources, funding and expertise to tackle the logistical challenges involved in voter registration, setting up polls, getting people to them and counting the votes.

The importance of an orderly and efficient voting system cannot be emphasized enough. For the referendum to be seen as legitimate, turnout has to reach 60%, a tall order in one of the most inaccessible regions of Africa. But if south Sudan does opt for independence, it will also need the support of the United States and other nations to build effective institutions that will bring stability and pave the way for the new nation.

Kenyans know all too well what the cost of failure will be. During the civil war in Sudan, Kenya had to take in 2 million Sudanese refugees, creating ethnic tensions there and a sizable drag on the economy. At all costs, Kenyans want to avoid a return to fighting and a descent into chaos. Kenya already has one Somalia on its border; it cannot afford another.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important that the world respect the will of the Sudanese people. If there is to be a new country in Africa, let it be blessed with legitimacy from the outset. South Sudan must not become the first nation to be born a failed state. We can still prevent it, but only if the international community gives the region its full attention over the coming months.

Palestine Aid Models Must Change

Far from offering sustainable development, the UNRWA's Peace Starts Here aid campaign is simply life-support for Palestine

By Kieron Monks
This comment was published in The Guardian on 19/11/2010

"Peace Starts Here" is the slogan adopted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to promote its work in the Palestinian territories. But why does peace "start here"? Why not 60 years ago when UNRWA began its work with Palestinian refugees? Or 60 years in the future, when we will still be debating the same problems if the aid models do not change.

The timing of Chris Gunness's recent article about the UN agency's work was unfortunate, coinciding with strikes by UNRWA employees, which have paralysed essential services in the West Bank's 18 refugee camps. The laudable initiatives Gunness mentioned – health centres, schools, food for hardship cases – ground to a halt without his agency's patronage.

That's not sustainable development; it's a permanent life-support system. Neither is it sustainable for UNRWA, which had been forced to slash its services because of budget deficits even before the strikes began.

Palestine is one of the world's largest beneficiaries of foreign aid, receiving over $3bn (£1.9bn) annually (not including the budget of UNRWA itself). Yet a quarter of the West Bank population remains food-insecure and half of all Palestinians live below the poverty line.

If relief work is failing, economic development is even more worrying. Prime minister Salam Fayyad told the Annual Capital Forum that Palestine's GDP grew 9% in the past year, but as a former IMF representative he should know that the gains are hollow. In 2009, over 60% of Palestine's gross national income, and almost 100% of government expenditure, came from aid.

The Palestinian Authority, which receives over $2bn annually, is answerable not to Palestinians, but to its donors. The aid-management structure in Palestine is innately political. At the top level, the ad hoc liaison committee, members include the United States and Israel. The impact of foreign interests can be clearly seen in PA budgets that allocate 10 times more money to security – suppressing resistance to the occupation – than to agriculture, which could be the backbone of the Palestinian economy.

Industries with export potential, agriculture and construction have shrunk to half their 1999 output. Building for future independence has been subordinated to short-term crisis management.

The 2006 elections showed how vulnerable Palestine's economy and development efforts are to foreign interests. Following Hamas's election victory, emergency and development aid were drastically reduced – making a clear statement that foreign aid is contingent on foreign control.

Joseph DeVoir, author of Tracking External Donor Funding, has compiled an extensive study linking aid figures with political changes in the territories. In his words, "when realpolitik shifts, development takes a back seat".

Attempts to make aid work for the population have had little success. Ninety-one countries, including the US, signed up to the 2005 Paris Principles on aid effectiveness, which stipulated: "Developing countries must lead their own development policies." Although the declaration showed widespread acknowledgement of aid's failure to empower Palestinians, it has not been the catalyst for change that was hoped for.

Individual NGOs have attempted to assert their independence from donors. Many reject USAID funding due to its political demands, which preclude assistance for projects that could benefit people with affiliations to undesirable political groups. The Dalia Association has introduced a "Village Decides" scheme, focused on institution building, which empowers local communities to invest funding as they see fit, without conditions.

This commitment to reform is not generally reflective of Palestine's NGO sector, which has become a byword for corruption, incompetence and meaningless job creation. Thousands of NGOs have sprung up, promoting everything from family planning to liberal arts education, bloating the aid industry without delivering long-term benefits.

Naseef Mu'allem, director-general of the Palestinian Centre for Peace and Democracy, revealed that "JICA – the Japanese government aid mission – invested $5m last year, but practically what they spent is $600,000. The rest is given as salaries, accommodation, hotels, retreatment and transportation for the foreign employees here but not for the Palestinians". Without donors thoroughly checking on their investments, this kind of private profiteering has become normal.

Palestinian perceptions of foreign NGOs are revealing. Bir Zeit University's 2008 survey found just 35% of the West Bank population feel they contribute to the development of Palestinian society; 78% said they played some role in reducing human suffering and 55% felt they contribute to reinforcing the Israeli occupation.

According to DeVoir, the combination of these results seems to reveal a perception that NGOs "do not achieve political goals; they facilitate occupation by making it bearable". Certainly NGOs and international agencies have financial motives for sustaining the occupation, without which they could not obtain the funding to combat its effects.

The foreign money flooding into NGOs has entrenched class divisions in Palestinian society. Employment opportunities within them are typically limited to the educated elite class, narrowed further by routine nepotism. In Ramallah, the difference is most apparent with glitzy nightclubs on the doorsteps of refugee camps – the preserve of foreigners and rich Palestinians who live too comfortably to identify with the struggle for independence. Their money has already immunised them against the worst effects of occupation, working in jobs that allow them to cross borders and checkpoints, lessening their incentive to fight the status quo.

So why are the major donors happy to keep pouring money into a black hole? What have the US and Europe bought for their tens of billions since 1994? Stability, which could just as easily be called stagnation. Their money is compensation for half a century of political failure.

Last week Hillary Clinton had her picture taken donating an additional $150m to the Palestinian Authority, her first photo opportunity in the region since chairing the failed peace talks. The current systems of aid will never deliver peace, or development, while they serve interests that run counter to Palestinian independence.

Russia And Lebanon: Expanding The Network Of Protection

By Walid Choucair
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 19/11/2010

With the announcement of the Russian military donation to Lebanon, the relations between Beirut and Moscow have likely entered a new phase, one that paves the way for strategic interests between the two countries, and for Russian interests in this small country. One might recall the notion that Lebanon is not as important to the Russian Federation as it is thought by those who are highlighting the military donation, which the Russians announced during the visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Moscow. And some might believe that Moscow has decided to grant Lebanon T-72 tanks because it is replacing its armored vehicle arsenal to rely increasingly on newer-generation models, namely the T-90. Nevertheless, the Russian donation deserves some attention.

Russia has never made a donation of this size to a state outside its political and geographical orbit, although the history of international relations shows that it has engaged in debt forgiveness with certain countries. This is sufficient for us to ask about the political meaning behind the move toward Lebanon; it seems to suggest that this superpower wants to enhance its political relations with Lebanon, and that the small country is part of Russia’s concern with developing the current system of regional relations at this stage. The search for Moscow’s objectives in its relationship with Lebanon is taking on added importance, if the economic aspect of bilateral relations can be developed. Those sitting in the Kremlin believe that the economy is the basis of relations between states, and this is especially true if Moscow is concerned with seeing Lebanon avoid becoming an arena of influence for states in the region, both near and far, and does not want to see this influence become an additional reason for undermining stability in the region, along with other well-known reasons. In this regard, Moscow’s eyes are on Iranian influence, which it fears will grow on in the Mediterranean, because it is uncomfortable with Iran’s behavior with regard to the nuclear issue, and with what it sees as the Iranian role in causing the failure of Moscow’s efforts to complete a Palestinian reconciliation. Russia has sought this goal forcefully throughout this year, through efforts to facilitate peace between Palestinians and Israelis. As for Syrian influence, Russia is wagering that its good historical relations with Damascus will let it help push the latter to use this influence for preserving stability in Lebanon.

Moscow is trying to place Lebanon on the map of oil and gas pipelines that pass to and from Russia, to Europe and the Middle East, especially Turkey. It is a map of arteries that form the basis for major political interests and strategic regional projects. During the Lebanese-Russian talks a few days ago, the sides discussed including the possibility of big Russian firms gaining guarantees from the Russian government to build a number of gas-powered electricity plants in Lebanon, with Russian funding, provided that Lebanon purchase this energy from Russian companies for a period of time (30 years, for example), and see Russian gas flow through a Turkish pipeline and then connect it to the Arab pipeline, which has reached the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Russians are headed toward executing a similar project with Turkey; however, it aims at building three nuclear plants to generate electricity on its territory. This electricity will then be sold by Russian firms (which are carrying out the construction process with a guarantee from the Turkish state and the facilities it offers) to Ankara for three decades, with ownership then reverting to Turkey.

Russia’s desire for economic, military and political partnership with Lebanon might help the latter expand the network of external umbrellas that protect its domestic situation from meddling by regional or international powers, and its territory from Israeli adventurism against it. Moreover, it will make Lebanon’s obtaining of additional Russian weapons in the coming stage (negotiations are underway for Lebanon to purchase 46 T-72 tanks at special prices that are very low) possible, if it develops and includes means of protecting its skies from constant Israeli violations.

Russia’s participation in providing elements of force to the Lebanese Army, under no illusions about the balance of power with Israel, constitutes a political-military deterrent to Israeli recklessness, which can be added to Russian economic interests, if bilateral negotiations on agreements covering the electricity sector and oil drilling succeed. All of this opens new horizons that give Lebanon the ability to depend on a wider range of weapons sources, so that the United States alone does not dominate things, and so that protecting Lebanon from Israeli bullying and from regional meddling in domestic conditions becomes a meeting-point for a wider range of states with international influence.

Stop The Christian Exodus From Muslim Countries

By Dr Hamad al-Majid
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 18/11/2010
The attack on the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq not only caused murder and destruction, but it has led to wider religious, humanitarian, and legal turmoil. Among those primarily affected by this reckless Al Qaeda attack have been the advocates of a moderate, tolerant Islam, as was the case in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities. After 9/11, calls for moderate Islam declined significantly, and hundreds of Islamic institutions were closed. Furthermore, a large number of preachers lost their funding, and thousands of orphans and widows, who were being supported by such institutions, were displaced.
Al Qaeda’s horrific attack against the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq represents a self-inflicted blow for the organization. The noose around its neck has subsequently tightened in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia. Even when Al Qaeda focussed its rhetoric on ‘resisting America’ and ‘targeting Americans’, this failed to resonate with a segment of their religiously indoctrinated youth. Nevertheless there was little opposition to this rhetoric from within, with members following the principle of "I do not support this, but it does not affect me."
Yet Al Qaeda was soon exposed as merely a brutal force, with a skewed ideology, when it began to target Saudi Arabian economic institutions. The terrorist group launched an attack on the entire Saudi security network, firstly by targeting its head office, and then later attempting to assassinate one of its key figures, Saudi Assistant Interior Minister for Security Affairs, Prince Muhammad bin Naif. Whilst people became aware of Al Qaeda, they soon became disillusioned with its methods, and were not convinced by its ideology, except for fools with questionable intellect.
The Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda attempted to justify its attack on the Iraqi Church, by suggesting it was a response to an earlier incident, whereby two [Christian] women, who had reportedly converted to Islam, had subsequently been abducted by a Church [in Egypt]. If we accept such a justification, then hypothetically we must also accept a British right-wing group attacking a mosque in London, causing a massacre, in support of two Muslim women converting to Christianity, and then being detained in an Islamic institution in France. What a nonsensical pretext! What is this twisted logic? This is the shame that Al Qaeda has brought to our religion, and into the minds of its followers.
One of the most important duties for our scholars, preachers, and intellectuals, who are interested in Islamic affairs, is to raise their voices to denounce such unprovoked crimes committed by Al Qaeda against Christian churches and Shiites. This should be equivalent to our condemnation of aggressive attacks against mosques and Sunni centres, committed by some Shiite extremists, or radical Christian groups. The language of condemnation should also be strong, clear and unequivocal, because when Al Qaeda commits such crimes, it distorts the image of Islam and Muslims everywhere. We should suffocate them intellectually, and free ourselves from their heinous acts. Silence, or even the mild language that confronted Al Qaeda’s crimes in some Muslim countries in the 1990s, has helped, along with other factors, to prolong the influence of this poisonous ideology. No scholars or preachers have so far been able to stop Al Qaeda intellectually, and systematically isolate them, whether in the official public arena, or in the private domain.
In order to confront this radical trend, we can also consider a number of quotes from historical religious figures, whom Al Qaeda has tried to transform into champions of its ideology. One such figure was Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, who once famously said "the people under our protection come before the people of our own religion". This was in response to the [invading] Tartars, who had captured both Muslims and Christians [in the Mongol invasion of Damascus].
Sultan Qalawun brought both sets of prisoners, in order to negotiate with the Sheikh, and offered to release the Muslims, whilst retaining the Christians. However Ibn Taymiyyah responded with his famous retort and this represents an air of wisdom that Al Qaeda's criminals certainly lack.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Janus-Like Nature Of Arab Elections

By Rami G. Khouri
This comment was published in The Daily Star on 19/11/2010

Three Arab countries that should have very lively political cultures – Jordan, Bahrain and Egypt have either just held parliamentary elections or will do so later this month. Having just witnessed the aftermath of the Jordanian vote in Amman, this strikes me as a timely moment to pause and assess the positive and negative in these exercises.

The good news is that most Arab citizens can organize themselves politically and regularly contest parliamentary seats, nominate themselves as candidates, engage in open public debates about the issues they deem important, and express their grievances and satisfactions with their political systems or leaders. The elected parliaments to a very limited extent can also try to hold the executive branch of government accountable through actions such as voting on national budgets and giving (or denying) cabinet ministers a vote of confidence.

These are useful and desirable actions that are the right of any citizen, in any form of governance system. Limited as these powers may be, and constricted as their impact on state policies are in reality, nevertheless these are important foundational elements of accountable and pluralistic governance. The single most important power is the right to freedom of expression. Citizens who can express their concerns, grievances or complaints, and make known what they expect from their government officials, provide the essential starting point and needed checks for good governance. Only by making their views known can citizens hope to hold accountable those who actually make the decisions of state – whether tax and subsidies rules, budgetary allocations, or foreign policy alignments.

The recent elections in Jordan and Bahrain and the upcoming vote in Egypt later this month ultimately affirm the cardinal rule of contemporary Arab political culture: Arab democratic practices and institutions – parliaments, elections, political parties – are alive and kicking, but there continues to be a deep and chronic gap between the phenomenon of citizens who vote, and the policies of governments that seem never to change. The positive aspects of holding elections are offset by the negative fact that election results tend to have no impact on the conduct of government policies, in the domestic or foreign realms. Voting thus becomes a useful exercise in freedom of association and expression, but not an element in the peaceful rotation of power among diverse political groups with different ideological policies they wish to implement.

Many reasons explain why Arab parliaments have so little power, including appointed upper houses that check their influence, gerrymandered electoral districts that guarantee a pro-government conservative majority, government-controlled electoral laws and media systems that limit the eligibility and impact of opposition candidates, and, it is commonly alleged, ballot box stuffing and other vote rigging methods employed by incumbent elites.

Despite these structural biases in favor of pro-government majorities, Islamist, progressive, independent and nationalist opposition groups nevertheless regularly take part in elections. All those who participate in such elections – candidates and voters alike – know that they are players in a drama that operates within fixed boundaries, and they do not exaggerate the real significance and impact of what they are doing.

An interesting issue is always whether the main national opposition group will take part or not. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood fields its candidates as independents or under the guise of other legal parties because it is banned as a political group. In the 2005 voting the Brotherhood still managed to win 20 percent of the seats in Parliament that way. Thousands of its members have been imprisoned, tried, or harassed, and many others are prohibited from standing as candidates, yet it is still contesting the elections again later this month. The main opposition Islamist groups in Jordan and Bahrain, on the other hand, boycotted the elections. In the end, however, it makes little difference if opposition forces play the game or boycott the entire process. The result is always predictable, with opposition groups holding 10-20 percent of seats at the most and having zero impact on the actual formulation of state policies.

So what should we make of Arab parliamentary elections? They seem important for three reasons: they reveal that ruling power elites and their foreign supporters remain hesitant to allow the full force of Arab public opinion to assert itself; they provide useful means of gauging public sentiments on important issues of the day; and, they provide a limited arena in which people learn to contest power peacefully, make deals with other groups, and appeal for the votes of their fellow citizens – techniques that will be useful one day when some Arab country decides to relax, trust its people, and move more credibly into the realm of genuinely accountable and representative governance.

Until then, we will have this intriguing and recurring spectacle of Arab parliamentary elections that generate much commotion and some reshuffling of faces and seats, but that also never really bring on any actual changes in political life or national policies.

Here's why Israel must not attack Iran now

In any attack plan of any country there is a risk that the pilots, and particularly the leaders above them, will become enthralled by the plan, without considering all the implications.

By Amos Harel
This comment was published in Haaretz on 18/11/2010

Dr. Olli Heinonen, former deputy secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, presented a relatively optimistic forecast regarding the Iranian nuclear danger when speaking with Haaretz last month. Iran's centrifuges, he told Yossi Melman, are not working well; some of them are defective. Only about 3,000 are working properly, and Iran will need many more to enrich uranium to a level that will allow it to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Bushehr - AP - Aug. 21, 2010 The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is seen, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010
Photo by: AP

Intentionally or not, Heinonen provided a significant argument against an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites in the near future. Heinonen is talking about a critical period of more than a year, during which diplomatic efforts can still see the program halted. A host of international media reports about computer worms and mysterious explosions of Iranian nuclear sites and missiles, responsibility for which has been attributed to various intelligence agencies in the West, could attest to even more time available before a violent clash becomes inevitable.
The scenario presented by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, depicting in detail a possible Israeli attack, naturally made waves worldwide and in Israel. But along with the limited progress of the Iranian nuclear program, other considerations must be taken into account. The main one involves the implications of an Israeli military move. The immediate outcome of such a move would be a missile war with Iran and its proxies in the region, Hezbollah and Hamas, into which Syria might be swept.

A plan that might seem impressive on a screen before the seven senior cabinet members who meet might deliver much less than promised in practice. The danger is that Israel will obtain only a short-term delay of the Iranian bomb, but will get involved in a prolonged war.

Another important consideration involves the response of the United States. Relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are terrible. Just awful. Obama is angry at Netanyahu because the latter did not accede in time to his pressure and agree to another construction freeze (a gesture he might agree to now ), and because of the actions of Netanyahu's supporters in Washington that helped Obama's opponents in Congress.

After the mid-term elections, the time will come to settle the score. It seems that Netanyahu's hard-line supporters forget Israel's great dependence on the United States.

What is true in ordinary times is even more true in wartime. Israel needs the Americans: for an "air corridor" for an attack, for surveillance and missile defense, for diplomatic support and an airlift of weapons and spare parts.

It is not surprising that the administration last week rejected Netanyahu's demand that the Americans highlight the military option against Iran. Obama's predecessor George W. Bush wrote in his memoir that he turned down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request that the United States and not Israel attack the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. At this time it is hard to imagine that a hypothetical Israeli notice of a planned attack on Iran would get even a yellow light from Obama.
The security establishment has probably invested a fortune and a huge number of man-hours over the Iranian threat. The army must plan for the worst-case scenario, lest it come about. The extensive coverage worldwide of the preparations for a possible attack help deter Iran. In any attack plan of any country there is a risk that the pilots, and particularly the leaders above them, will become enthralled by the plan, without considering all the implications. A wise man once described the overemphasis on the Iranian issue as "idolatry."

The Netanyahu government is at a diplomatic dead end; partly by its own fault and partly by the fault of its neighbors. Syria did not meet Israel's expectation that a diplomatic agreement would include a break between it and Iran and that Damascus would cease stirring the pot in Lebanon.

The Palestinian Authority leadership now has more sympathy and understanding than does the Israeli government in the capitals of Europe and the United States. That is trouble that Israel must find a way to get out of, but not by pressing the accelerator toward Iran.

Research Shows Stuxnet Worm Aimed At Iran

By Josh Halliday
This article was published in The Gulf Times on 19/11/2010

Two new independent examinations of the Stuxnet computer worm, thought to be the work of a national government agency, show that it was definitely built to target technology used at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Described as one of the “most refined pieces of malware ever discovered,” Stuxnet took direct aim at industrial systems based in Iran, whose first nuclear power station recently began operations. Speaking to the Guardian in September, security experts said the attack was likely a state-sponsored case of “modern espionage”.

Now new research by cyber security firm Symantec shows definitively that Stuxnet was built to target uranium enrichment equipment used to fuel Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Eric Chien, a researcher at Symantec, said the company had “connected a critical piece of the puzzle” with the finding.

Stuxnet works by sabotaging frequency converter drives used to alter the speed of motors in factory machinery, the study shows. The worm only attacks drives that run at a higher speed - between 807 Hertz (Hz) and 1210 Hz.

When Stuxnet finds drives running at those speeds, it begins changing their revolution speed dramatically - “to 1410Hz and then to 2Hz and then to 1064Hz,” Symantec says. That could make a system tear itself apart due to inertial effects, and would certainly prevent it functioning properly.

“Modification of the output frequency essentially sabotages the automation system [preventing it] from operating properly,” Chien said.
That Iran is the target emerges from the second part of the discovery, Symantec’s team explains: “we can now confirm that Stuxnet requires the industrial control system to have frequency converter drives from at least one of two specific vendors, one headquartered in Finland and the other in Tehran, Iran. This is in addition to the previous requirements we discussed of a S7-300 CPU and a CP-342-5 Profibus communications module.” They note that “while frequency converter drives are used in many industrial control applications, these speeds are used only in a limited number of applications.”

Specifically, “efficient low-harmonic frequency converter drives that output over 600Hz are regulated for export in the United States by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as they can be used for uranium enrichment. We would be interested in hearing what other applications use frequency converter drives at these frequencies.”

The worm was identified by a Belarusian security firm working for an Iranian client earlier this year, after finding that some technology in the Tehran plant wasn’t working properly. Experts said the worm must have been well-funded and that the team which wrote it probably comprised between five and 10 people, and would have taken around six months to ready for deployment.

Ivanka Barzashka, a research associate at the Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters: “If Symantec’s analysis is true, then Stuxnet likely aimed to destroy Iran’s gas centrifuges, which could produce enriched uranium for both nuclear fuel and nuclear bombs.”

Another computer security firm, Langner Communications of Germany, also independently found that the worm was designed to target systems used in power plants, such as those at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Alan Bentley, senior international vice president at security firm Lumension, said Stuxnet is “the most refined piece of malware ever discovered,” and that the worm was significant because “mischief or financial reward wasn’t its purpose, it was aimed right at the heart of a critical infrastructure.”

Graham Cluley, a senior consultant with the online security firm Sophos, told the Guardian that the attack heralded the “third age” of cyber crime, where “there are political, economic and military ways in which the internet can be exploited - and malware can be used - to gain advantage by foreign states.”

“I think we will see more and more attacks which will be blamed on state-sponsored cyber attacks. There have been numerous attacks in the past which could be said to have possible military, political or economic motives, but it is very difficult to prove that a hack was ordered by Mossad or instead dreamt up by a Macclesfield student.”

Sudan: The No-Win Situation

A vote for independence could lead Sudan back to war. But if there's no result it might be even worse.

By Ros Wynne-Jones
This comment was published in the Guardian on 18/11/2010 

As millions of Sudanese people begin registering to vote this week, their hopes will be tinged with deep anxiety. The laminated voter cards represent the final steps towards self-determination, bringing independence for the south of the country within touching distance.

There have long been fears that a majority vote for secession from Sudan could reignite the civil war that has so far claimed over two million lives. But a new possibility is emerging that could set back the fight for independence by decades.

Charities working in the region are beginning to predict that the most dangerous outcome may be no result at all. The voting process is already behind schedule and may well not meet the legal criteria laid out in advance, meaning there will be no credible outcome.

In this scenario, southern leaders will be tempted to make a unilateral declaration of independence. But to do so would risk everything, and cut the new state off from IMF and World Bank loans. Not only would this be a gift to south Sudan's enemies, it could also plunge the region back into war.

Sudan has lived with a fragile peace now for nearly six years – just tantalisingly long enough to understand what the absence of war means. War in Sudan has been particularly brutal, a conflict of child soldiers and rape, slavery and man-made famine. The country's president, Omar al-Bashir, has faced arrest warrants for war crimes and genocide.

Sudan also continues to suffer deeply due to the conflicts of its neighbours. Even as the Sudanese nation grapples with its own destiny, the advance of the sectarian Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda also threatens lives and stability.

In 1999, I interviewed the survivors of a human bonfire where almost 100 men, women and children had been covered in petrol by LRA soldiers and set on fire. A decade later and that army is still a murderous wildcard within Sudan's borders.

Britain's coalition government has shown it is taking the referendum seriously by prioritising Sudan during the UK's presidency of the UN security council this month; but it should now show it has a plan for the "no result" scenario.

Britain – once the colonial power in Sudan and one of the key architects of the 2005 peace deal – must reassure southern leaders that a second referendum can deliver a result. Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in Sudan must be prepared to defend civilian lives to ensure a genocide does not take place on its watch.

Humanitarian planning should begin immediately to take in the possibility of a refugee exodus, as well as millions of potential internally displaced Sudanese. In the past, NGO and emergency relief access inside Sudan has been restricted, with catastrophic results; now both sides must make clear, public statements that they will honour human rights. This should go not just for official armies, but also proxy forces such as the Janjaweed who have caused so much bloodshed in Darfur.

War in Sudan is not inevitable, and optimism is wired into Sudanese DNA. Deep in the southern rainforest, I was once shown the ruins of a former palace where the British Major-General Charles Gordon – Gordon of Khartoum – was said to have been laid up with malaria for many months when he took on the south Sudanese in the late 19th-century. One of our guides took pleasure in showing us the remains of Gordon's toilet. "Our enemies come and our enemies go," he said, urinating into the hole overgrown with weeds. "But still we remain."