Is Egypt’s Sinai going the Way of Syria? 30 Troops Killed by Militants

By Juan Cole

The Arabic newspaper Ilaf reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared a state of emergency for 3 months in parts of the province of North Sinai after two attacks by Muslim radical groups in that province left 30 Egyptian soldiers dead. Ilaf says that al-Sisi is blaming Egypt’s intelligence services for not forestalling these attacks.

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Egypt’s government also closed the border checkpoint with Gaza at Rafah from Saturday on, until further notice. Egypt’s government blames Hamas in Palestinian Gaza for radicalizing the clans of the Sinai.

These steps came after a car bomb attack on an army checkpoint near El Arish in North Sinai that killed at least 30 troops, in which a large quantity of high-powered explosives completely destroyed the small garrison. The checkpoint lay between El Arish and Rafah on the border with Gaza.

A few hours later, in a separate attack, militants shot at another checkpoint south of El Arish, killing an officer and wounding a soldier.

The Egyptian military is using Apache helicopters to monitor North Sinai.

Muslim radicals in Sinai blame the military for overthrowing the Muslim fundamentalist president, Muhammad Morsi, on July 3, 2013. Though, to be fair, the militants were active against the Egyptian army during Morsi’s tenure as president, as well. The last big attack of this sort, in December 2013, left 14 police dead, in the wake of the coup against Morsi.

Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

By Juan Cole

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. Poland’s coal addiction watered down the summit’s achievement (Poland would actually make money going into wind and solar instead of coal over the next 15 years, but coal mining owners and workers are vetoing economic common sense). And small businesses are afraid of higher energy costs (in fact, renewables are at grid parity in most of Europe). Also, Europe is afraid that China, India and other nations with already-lower labor costs will drag their feet on moving to renewables, leaving Europe less competitive in industrial production and exports.

And some of the impetus to reform comes from geopolitical considerations. Europe is not happy at being so beholden to Russia for natural gas, especially given Vladimir Putin’s thuggish behavior over it and the Ukraine/ Crimea crises. Russia supplies about 1/3 of European natural gas. Qatar is also a big player in that market and some European states are viewing it with increased unease because of its alleged backing for Muslim radicals in Syria and Libya.

But for all these powerful considerations, the EU was able to set significant carbon reduction goals, and many European countries have demonstrable avoided the production of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade– CO2 that would have warmed the earth even faster and produced even more climate disruption– disruption that will cost far more than the $100 bn the German consumers have paid since 2000 for the push for renewables. (At 82 million Germans over 14 years, it isn’t really even that much money– $82 a year per capita or so, less than most Americans spend on lattes).

In the meantime, US emissions are the biggest per capita of any major industrialized country and after a fall because of increased wind energy and a turn to natural gas, went back up last year.

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Related video:

Euronews: “EU leaders mull climate targets for 2030″

The end of National Sovereignty in the Middle East? Iraqi Kurdistan sends troops into Syria

By Juan Cole:

Al-Manar reports that the legislature of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (a super-province of Iraq) has voted to send Kurdistan forces to the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane to help it fight off a concerted attack by ISIL. The vote opens the way for Iraqi Kurdistan to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Turkey is alleged to have agreed to let the Peshmerga cross Turkish territory which is quite remarkable.

I am linking to the al-Manar article on all this because it is the organ in Lebanon of Hizbullah, the Shiite party-militia that has also intervened in the Syrian civil war, on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad.

One of the peculiarities of Syria is that it is seeing paramilitaries of sub-state governments getting involved in its war.

Does this development tell us something about the contemporary Middle East? In global law since the Peace of Westphalia, states are supposed to rule specific territories and to be inviolable in those territories. Max Weber, writing in the early 20th century, saw the state as having a monopoly on the use of force.

But in Lebanon the government and its military are dominant only at the national level, whereas Hizbullah is recognized as the national guard of the south of the country (to forestall further Israeli occupations.) Hizbullah intervened in Syria at Qusayr, without any consent from the Lebanese government.

Likewise, the Iraqi constitution recognizes Kurdistan as nearly autonomous (but not quite). It has its own armed forces, the Peshmerga, and it forbids central Iraqi government troops from setting foot on the soil of Kurdistan. Now the Kurdistan paramilitary plans to fight in a hot war in a neighboring country, with no authorization from the Iraqi government.

Moreover, there are multiple layers of governance in Syria itself, such that these sub-state interventions are even possible.

So the states of the Middle East have substates, and these substates are semi-autonomous in their international decision-making, and are virtually autonomous in their military interventions.

It would be like Montana sending National Guard units over into Canada to stop a feud there.

National sovereignty is severely challenged in the region today, with semi-autonomous regions and even political entities fighting in other countries’ civil conflicts.

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Reuters: “Homesick and horrified – Syrian Kurds watch Kobani burn”

Iran Proposes Axis against ISIL to Iraqi PM Abadi as alternative to US Coalition

By Juan Cole

al-Zaman [The Times of Baghdad] reports that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has proposed to visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi an anti-ISIL axis including Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq that would be led by Iran, as an alternative to the US-led coalition proposed by President Barack Obama. In essence, this is the same kind of support Iran offers Bashar al-Assad in Syria against ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliates there (as well as against the Free Syrian Army).

Al-Zaman’s sources maintain that al-Abadi was extremely annoyed by the openly anti-Western public pronouncements of Iranian officials and Revolutionary Guards commanders. The whole point of his repeated rejection of foreign ground troops in Iraq the previous day (after a visit to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf) was to avoid such criticism from Iran.

Iran provides Iraq with electricity, given that Iraq’s energy infrastructure is still being rebuilt, and officials in Tehran said that that agreement would be renewed, but that Iraq had agreed to pay more per kilowatt. Iraq also agreed to buy $30 billion in Iranian goods next year, including weaponry and logistical equipment. Iran is under US and UN sanctions and needs to expand its trade, and Iraq is one country the US won’t pressure over trade with Iran because it is understood that Baghdad needs good economic relations with its neighbor to the east if the al-Abadi government is to survive.

Al-Abadi, a fervent Shiite and member of the fundamentalist Da’wa (Islamic Call or Islamic Mission Party), also met with Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei and is said to much appreciate Iran’s help against ISIL.

At the same time, US and coalition fighter jets continued to fly missions against ISIL on behalf of Baghdad.

Another source of friction between Baghdad and Tehran, al-Zaman says, is that some of the Shiite Iraqi army officers who abandoned their posts in Mosul in the face of the ISIL advance are known to be close to Iran, and al-Abadi’s new Sunni minister of defense is already making noises about punishing and purging them.

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Related video:

Press TV: “Rouhani: Iran will continue supporting Iraq against ISIL ”

Top 5 Good News Solar Energy Stories Today

1. Morocco has announced that the first of a planned five solar mega-plants will go operational in 2015. The North African country, which is poor in hydrocarbons, has awarded the bid to a Saudi-based company. Morocco intends to generate 2 gigawatts of energy from solar, in an ambitious program that will cost $9 bn. It hopes to export some of that electricity to Europe. Morocco is ideal for solar energy, having enormous reserves of sunlight. Morocco plans to get 42 percent of its own energy from renewables like wind and solar by 2020.

2. India has announced plans to add 15 gigawatts of solar-generated power by 2019. Andhra Pradesh alone plans to set up a solar power plant that will generate 1 gigawatt of electricity annually.

3. Solar will likely be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, when some 26% of world energy will come from solar panels.

4. 86% of people in Tanzania, east Africa, lack electricity and many are forced to resort to expensive diesel generators. Increasingly, rural Tanzanians are putting in solar panels to generate electricity. Solar panel installations in Africa have doubled every year starting in 2009.

5. Mexico aims at generating 35% of its energy form solar by 2024 and so has solar-friendly policies. A plant that will generate 250 megawatts of solar electriciy is expected to see 45.


MSNBC: Cost of Solar Panels Falling”

Defying Turkey, US airdrops arms to Kobane Kurds

By Juan Cole

In a step that over-ruled America’s Turkish NATO ally, US jets dropped food, first aid and weaponry into the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane on Monday morning. Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan, in remarks made on Sunday, rejected the idea of arming the Syrian Kurdish fighters, equating them with terrorists.

Al-Khaleej [The Gulf, UAE] reports that there was fierce house to house fighting in Kobane [`Ayn al-`Arab] in Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday into Monday between local Kurdish militaries and the invading fighters of ISIL.

At the same time, Turkey renewed its refusal to join any anti-ISIL coalition until its demands for a buffer zone next to the Turkish border with Syria were met. Turkey expressed strong disapproval of any plan to transfer American weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria, since they are allies of the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], a group Turkey and the US consider to be terrorists.

US and coalition air strikes on ISIL positions near Kobane on Sunday killed 15, adding to a high death toll for the insurgent group this past week. The bodies of some 70 fighters, likely those of ISIL, have been delivered to the national hospital in Tel Abyad in al-Raqqah during the past four days. The coalition air strikes also took out four armored vehicles that ISIL had captured.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed that his country would not join the anti-ISIL coalition until four demands had been met. These include the announcement of a no-fly zone, the establishment of a buffer zone, a program to train and arm Syrian revolutionaries, and the launching of an operation against the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. (The point of these demands is that Turkey is afraid that the current coalition air campaign against ISIL will inadvertently strengthen both the Damascus regime and Kurdish separatist guerrillas, and Ankara wants to be assured that these two outcomes will be forestalled. Erdogan also rejected calls to arm the Syrian-Kurdish fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the paramilitary of which is called People’s Protection Units (YPG). Erdogan alleged that the PYD is indistinguishable from the leftist, separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey and the US consider a terrorist organization.

The Obama administration appears to have disagreed dramatically with Erdogan, since it airlifted weaponry to the Kurdish fighters of Kobane on Monday morning.

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related video:

Euronews: “Turkey refuses to arm Kurds fighting ISIL in Kobani”

Kobane Kurds fight off ISIL Assault, as Shells land in Turkey

By Juan Cole

Kurdish forces at Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) on Saturday fought off an assault by ISIL that sought to cut the city off from Turkey and completely surround it, according to an Aljazeera reporter on the scene (At the moment, there is a corridor between Kobane and the Turkish border). ISIL also subjected Kobane to a fierce artillery barrage, as well as shelling the Mursid Pinar border crossing checkpoint, with some explosives landing on the Turkish side of the border.

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Aljazeera says that ISIL’s strategy is to take the Syrian side of Mursid Pinar so as to close off the checkpoint and stop aid from Turkish Kurds and other sympathizers from flowing to Kobane’s defenders from Turkey.

Kobane Kurdish sources told Aljazeera that the Kurdish fighters dominate the city’s main square and that ISIL controls only 15% to 20% of the city in its eastern suburbs. The Kurds maintain that ISIL is being pushed east out of the town and that they are clearing ISIL pockets from the rest of the city.

In the east of Kobane, ISIL positions were hit 15 times on Saturday by the fighter jets of America and its allies. They also hit other targets in the region. US military spokesmen insist that the air strikes have helped stop ISIL’s advance into Kobane, but warn that it could still fall.

ISIL attacks on Kobane and its surrounding villages have forced an estimated 200,000 refugees into neighboring Turkey.

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RuptlyTV: “Turkey: Explosions and black smoke dominate Kobane skyline”

Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear

By Juan Cole

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, expressed confidence that the few remaining issues between the UN Security Council and Iran will be settled.

Earlier this week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also surprised the world by expressing the conviction that a deal would be reached between the US and Iran over the nuclear enrichment program.

It is hard not to conclude that this outbreak of optimism has to do at least in part with the rise of ISIL in Mosul and the consequent US need for an Iranian partner. It seems implausible that the US can stiffen the spine of the Baghdad government and military, and can provide close air support to forces on the ground successfully without Iranian help.

Rouhani said that his optimism derives from the breakthroughs already achieved, especially the UNSC and American recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium to produce fuel for reactors.

He is implying that had the UNSC and the West been irresponsible and had they refused to compromise even a little on Iranian enrichment, then the deal would never have borne fruit.

What is left, Rouhani said, is merely working out the details of how to practically to reassure the UNSC and the US that Iran does not have a secret nucler weapons program.

Iran has already cast most of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.25% for its medical reactor in a form that makes it impossible to use it for bomb-making. That stockpile was a central worry among the nuclear hawks.

Among other steps it must take to reassure the UNSC and the US is to make sure its proposed heavy water reactor cannot be used to produce fissile material. Likewise, it may have to accept frequent and some surprise inspections by UN inspectors. The UNSC wants it to lower the number of centrifuges it can run.

All of these steps are aimed at allowing Iran to retain the capacity for enrichment while mollifying the suspicious among Western analysts.

Rouhani’s point is that they are all possible to achieve, and very likely will be achieved, if not by November 24, then by a later deadline.

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Related video:

Reuters: “U.S., Iran and EU begin nuclear talks in Vienna”

Will Ireland Recognize Palestine?

By Juan Cole

After Sweden recognized Palestine, the Irish government began considering doing so. On Thursday, the Irish parliament asked Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, questions regarding this plan.

Gilmore affirmed that the Irish government is planning at some point in the near future to move ahead with recognition.

A few European Union member states had recognized Palestine before joining the EU, such as Poland. Only Sweden has done so after joining the EU, with Iceland also recognizing Israel and being part of the Schwengen agreement. The action of Sweden’s leftwing government in this regard may set off an avalanche of similar recognition. The British parliament recently passed a non-binding resolution urging recognition of Palestine. Only 12 MPs voted against it, because even staunch supporters of Israel are exasperated by the boldness of the Likud Party in stealing land, blighting Palestinian lives, and flouting international law.

Ireland is a bellwether for European sentiment. The central narrative of Irish nationalism has been British colonialism and its atrocities in Ireland. After the Holocaust, many Irish intellectuals sympathized with Zionism, seeing it as similar to Irish nationalism.

But with the clearly colonial actions of Israel in the Palestinian West Bank and the brutality of Israeli Occupation of Gaza, Israel looks more and more to the Irish like the British colonialists who sold off Irish-grown food abroad in the midst of the potato famine.

This week the Irish Times urged the government to take the step of recognizing Palestine

Diplomatic recognition matters because it affects public opinion, including that of judges. Israeli firms on the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly in legal jeopardy in European courts.

Related video

Senator David Norris

The New McCarthyism on Israel: Naming and Shaming . . . Hillel

By Alice Rothchild

Jewish communal and religious organizations have become increasingly donor driven and sclerotic when it comes to discourse on Israel/Palestine. This is clearly in evidence when it comes to the dogmatic guidelines espoused by Hillel International, the umbrella organization for local Hillel chapters on American campuses. Despite spouting pluralism and tolerance, the organization lists the following redlines for discourse or co-sponsorship: any person or group that

• Denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;

• Delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel;

• Supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

• Exhibits a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or fosters an atmosphere of incivility

The guidelines grew out of work by the Anti-defamation League which in 1974 defined the “new anti-Semitism” as criticism of Israel and reinforced that concept with a publication in 1982. Ironically the conflation of all Jews with Israel is in itself a dangerous anti-Semitic trope. Israeli thinkers joined the fray in 2011 when the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv think tank, issued a position paper that laid out a strategy of “naming and shaming” those on the left who support the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement against Israel, a one state solution, or the right of return for Palestinians. The document developed a detailed strategy to engage Jewish institutions and individuals in identifying and marginalizing leftist groups, separating them from liberals less critical to Israeli policy, creating a positive “Israeli brand”, and honing the definition of those who “delegitimize” Israel.

There are so many problems with this kind of thinking: Do countries have a “right to exist” or do they exist due to a complex coalescence of military might, aspirations, mythology, and historical movements. What does it mean to be a Jewish state? Can a Jewish state ever be democratic if by definition Jewish exceptionalism is the foundation of the country? How does a country derive legitimacy? Does the Israeli occupation or the five hundred dead children in Gaza threaten Israel’s “legitimacy”? If one is critical of Israel which receives a massive amount of US military aid and political cover, does one have to list all the other countries that commit human rights violations to be credible? If Palestinians are condemned when they commit violent resistance and condemned when they call for nonviolent resistance, how are they supposed to resist the occupation and daily violations to basic human rights and dignity?

These policies have led to the political and cultural world in which we find ourselves where the mood on US campuses has become increasingly McCarthyesque. Academics are monitored and attacked, student groups sympathetic to Palestinians are confronted with specious lies (see the youtube Hamas on Campus) or actively thrown out, critics are emotionally blackmailed with the epithet of “anti-Semite”, and liberal Jewish social justice organizations are afraid to support a boycott of fossil fuels lest it lend credibility to the boycott of Israel. Articles on the death of liberal Zionism are proliferating in the fourth estate. The latest assault on Gaza where large synagogues embraced by local politicians organized nationalistic and often racist Stand with Israel rallies, refused to acknowledge the Palestinian dead, and 90-97% of Israelis stood behind Netanyahu’s war mongering, was for some the final straw. As Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace relates, she received an email from a rabbi, “Enough. Sign me up.”

This weekend’s If Not Now, When? An Open Hillel Conference was another crack in the armor of the Jewish establishment. The good news for the anxious Jewish Federations of the world, is that there are many thousands of young Jews and allies who are deeply committed to Judaism as a religion and as a community and they take their “Jewish values” very seriously. One of those values is Judith Butler’s Talmudic “intelligent bickering” and the other is a deep commitment to social justice and equality for all. Students heard from religious Jews debating Torah midrash on the metaphor of opening the eyes of the Jewish people, to Palestinian activists like Sa’ed Atshan, explaining, “My human rights shouldn’t be trumped by your feelings…Rights are non-negotiable so they are not open to dialogue.”

What became clear to me is that the students and their allies are actively reframing the discourse:

separating Judaism the religion from Zionism the national political movement; delineating the racist ideology of anti-Semitism from thoughtful moral criticism of the country, Israel. The treatment of and solidarity with Palestinians has now become the civil rights issue of the day for modern Jews, especially younger Jews who will be here long after the older post-Holocaust generation has moved on and no longer shapes the boundaries of intelligent discourse and definitions of normalcy. After centuries of powerless, how we as a community handle our new position of power and privilege is critical to the survival of an ethical Jewish tradition as well as a just resolution to a more than century old struggle in historic Palestine that is being fought in our name. Challenges to the mainstream political Zionist narrative and the equivalence of Jew and starry eyed lover-of-Israel are also challenges to our identity and our personal and communal values. That conversation is the genie that cannot be put back into the box.

Alice Rothchild is author of: On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, Just World Books, Sept 2014

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