Foreign Policy in Focus – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 09 Apr 2024 03:09:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Dangerous Deceptions and Outright Lies: Language in the War on Gaza Tue, 09 Apr 2024 04:06:49 +0000 By |

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – Israel’s political and military leaders have produced so many outright lies regarding Gaza and Hamas that it might seem there is no point in wasting one’s breath on them. Consider the following statements and the contrary evidence for those not yet convinced:

  • The IDF does not deliberately target civilians, journalists, medical facilities and staff, or restricts aid. In fact, the IDF has deliberately targeted civilians (as widely reported), journalists (as Human Rights Watch has detailed), and medical personnel (according to Amnesty International). It has also put various restrictions on aid.
  • The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is harboring among its employees Hamas militants who took part in the October 7 massacres. Yet, Israel has not shared any information or evidence to back up its assertions while UNRWA has screened its 13,000 staff in Gaza on a biannual basis.
  • Israel’s declared war on Gaza and the ongoing, undeclared war against Palestinians in the West Bank are “against Hamas” and “terrorists.” In fact, multiple Israeli governments, including the current one, have committed to appropriating all Palestinian territory and committing genocide against the Palestinians currently living there.
  • Iran is the main financier and supporter of Hamas. In fact, other entities like Qatar have been the main supporters of Hamas, and Israel too was instrumental in creating Hamas to divide Palestinian sympathies.

Other statements, however, made by Israeli and other world leaders, that may appear to be true, and that continue to be taken at face value, are in reality dangerously deceptive. Their aim is to justify Israeli politics regarding violence towards Palestinians, actions in support of the current war, or inaction in stopping it. Careful examination of a few of these will expose the ways in which such statements operate.

Dictionary of Deception

Probably the most repeated statement proffered by Israeli politicians and their supporters is that Hamas and Palestinians in general deny the Israeli state’s “right to exist.” This statement entirely ignores—and diverts attention away from—the unquestionable reality that Israel has existed as a state since 1948 and continues to exist, whether or not Hamas or anyone else objects to it.

At the same time, the Israeli complaint occludes the reality that it is Palestine whose right to exist as a state has long been denied. Although the majority of world governments have recognized Palestinian statehood, the State of Palestine has only an observer status in the UN. This is so because Israel and the United States, Canada, Australia, and an absolute majority of  European states have refused to recognize Palestinian statehood (though this might change in future). Israel’s current government has explicitly and loudly proclaimed that it has no plan to recognize a Palestinian state. It is, thus, Israel that denies any Palestinian state’s right to exist.

Instead, Israel is expanding the occupation of Palestinian territory, and when faced with resistance, it asserts its own “right to self-defense.” However, in 1983, the UN General Assembly explicitly affirmed Palestinians’ right to self-defense “by all available means, including armed struggle,” a right they share with all nations under “colonial domination, apartheid and foreign occupation,” as asserted in the Geneva Conventions. This right does not include violence against Israeli civilians, which Hamas militants have perpetrated. Such violence may qualify as war crimes. Nevertheless, the Geneva Conventions make clear that the “right to self-defense” belongs to the occupied, not the occupier. Any military or police action taken by an occupier against the occupied—even when the occupied uses violence against occupation—is violence, not self-defense.

The Hill Video: “SUSPENDED: Israeli SPOX Caught in LIE About Gaza Food Aid”

Another instance of Israeli deception can be seen in Israeli politicians’ regular insistence that Palestinian schools teach their children to hate Jews. UNRWA—the main sponsor of education in the West Bank and Gaza—was accused of spreading incitement of violence and hatred of Jews in their textbooks. However, the European Union review of Palestinian schoolbooks has concluded that they include “a strong focus on human rights…express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and…display an antagonism towards Israel.” None of this equates to hatred of Jews. The accusation of Palestinian schoolbooks spreading hatred is also debunked by The European Middle East Project.

The EU report further notes that textbooks produced by Israeli authorities removed “entire chapters on regional and Palestinian history”, which “fundamentally changes the [Palestinian] national narrative.” Israeli state school books often simply ignore the Palestinian presence, and perpetually depict Israel and Jews as victims of Palestinian and Arab enemy.

No wonder, then, that Israeli girls sing about the annihilation of Gaza on an online Israeli TV program, and Israeli soldiers in Gaza make videos broadcasting their mocking, humiliation, and killing of Palestinian civilians as well as their destruction or looting of Palestinian property. These soldiers are not necessarily right-wing Zionists like some of the Jewish citizens blocking aid to Gaza or trying to build houses within Gaza’s borders. Nor are they necessarily the Jewish settlers from the West Bank. Many of them are just ordinary citizens. But in their ordinariness, they provide a frightening and accurate picture of Israeli society’s general views of Palestinians. This is why a majority of Israeli citizens support the genocide in Gaza even if they do not support Israel’s prime minister and his government.

Finally, contrary to their lament of “grave concern” for “suffering in Gaza,” and their often self-serving statements, politicians outside Israel are far from powerless to stop the bloodshed in Gaza. Even within the classical diplomatic arsenal, individual states can expel Israel’s ambassadors and recall their own. They can impose sanctions or boycott Israeli businesses, politicians, cultural and sports representatives (as they have done, with vigor, with regard to Russia and Russians). They can stop their arms exports to Israel, sever economic relations, and multiply their financial support for humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza (rather than cutting that support). Only a handful of states have actually recalled their ambassadors from Israel. No Western state is among them, and except Bahrain, no other rich Arab state.

How can it be that the people who have demonstrated endlessly in support of Palestinians—and have identified and urged many of these measures—know more than powerful heads of state about strategies to stop the genocide?

The answer, of course, is that governments do know. And that reality brings us to some hard truths.

Hard Truths

Palestinians have no friends among Western governments. They have known this hard truth for a long time, and their knowledge has been confirmed in a most dreadful way. Even though a few European countries (like Spain and Ireland) have used very sharp language against Israel, they have taken no steps that would protect the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank. The United States and a few Western governments have bragged that they have imposed (travel and banking) sanctions on a few Jewish settlers and settlements. But this is a ludicrous substitute for effective action. Some Western leaders and governments now face court cases, brought by pro-Palestinian human rights organizations and lawyers, charging that they have violated both domestic and international laws by supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza (by supplying of ammunition to Israel), or by their failures to stop it. But, thus far, judicial interventions have not brought effective protections to the victims of genocide.

Palestinians also do not have friends among Arab governments, nor should they expect any. Their “Arab brothers” have expressed “deep concerns” about the Palestinian plight, but they have other, more important concerns, such as importing Israeli surveillance technology to keep checks on political opponents. Saudi Arabia, who long held to a policy of linking normalization with Israel to Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian state, now speaks only about a “path to Palestinian statehood.”

This means that Palestinians need their own new political force to achieve both formal recognition of statehood and peace with Israel. Are either of these two goals feasible? For now, there is no sign that various Palestinian factions will achieve unity, which is an absolutely necessary precondition to any long-term, sustainable Palestinian state. Hamas and Fatah have held numerous talks to no avail. Clearly, it is not easy to reconcile secular and Islamist worldviews, ideas of governance and ideals of societal relations. Even various Islamist factions do not see eye to eye. But without such unity, prior to the end of genocide and occupation, post-genocide and post-occupation Palestine will descend into internal violence and struggle for power. As for peace with Israel, the state of affairs in twentieth-century post-genocide societies does not offer grounds for much optimism. Genocides do not destroy only people, their cultures, and their histories. They destroy hope and imagination, too, which are necessities for building peace.

Israel, too, needs a new political force to build a totally new national narrative based on language from a dictionary very different from the dictionary of deception. The Israeli public’s overwhelming support of the destruction of Gaza, occupation of the West Bank, and expansion of settlements means that creating such a new political force and language could take generations, if ever. Still, it is possible to imagine that one day an Israeli public that is currently supporting the annihilation of Gaza may begin asking itself: “How has a state created to give hope to survivors of genocide turned into a perpetrator of genocide? What have I given my voice to and what have I been silent about?”

Unless and until this happens, there is no hope for either Israel or Palestine. Nor for the world within which all of us exist.

Dubravka Žarkov retired in 2018 as an Associate Professor of Gender, Conflict and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands where she taught feminist epistemologies, conflict theories and media representations of war and violence. Her books include The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia (2007) and the co-edited collection Narratives of Justice In and Out of the Courtroom, Former Yugoslavia and Beyond (with Marlies Glasius, 2014). She was a co-editor of the European Journal of Women’s Studies. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

The Most Dangerous Wars: When Local Conflicts become Geopolitics Sun, 31 Mar 2024 04:02:00 +0000 By

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – The three major wars or conflicts that are ongoing today demonstrate the volatility of the intersection between the local and the global.

In the Hamas-Israeli conflict, we see how the maintenance of the Israeli settler-colonial state is intertwined with the preservation of the global hegemony of the United States.

In the war in Ukraine, a bloody war of attrition between two countries was provoked by Washington’s push to expand NATO to a country of the former Soviet Union.

In the South China Sea, we are witnessing how disputes over territory and natural resources have been elevated to a global conflict by the U.S. effort to maintain its global hegemony against China, to which it is losing the geoeconomic competition but over which it continues to enjoy absolute military superiority.

In short, the main cause of global instability today lies in the fusion of the local and the global, geopolitics and geoeconomics, empire and capitalism.

Balance of Power, Balance of Terror

What makes current conflicts especially volatile is that they are occurring amidst the absence of any effective multilateral coercive authority to impose a peaceful settlement. In Ukraine, it is the balance of military might that will determine the outcome of the war, and here Russia seems to be prevailing over the Ukraine-NATO-U.S. axis.

In the Middle East, there is no effective coercive power to oppose the Israeli-U.S. military behemoth—which makes it all the more remarkable that despite a genocidal campaign that has been going on for nearly four months now, Israel has not achieved its principal war aim of destroying Hamas.

In the South China Sea, what determines the course of events is the balance of power between China and the United States. There are no “rules of the game,” so that there is always a possibility  that American and Chinese ships playing “chicken”–or heading for each other, then swerving at the last minute–can accidentally collide, and this collision can escalate to a higher form of conflict such as a conventional war.

Without effective coercive constraints imposed by a multilateral organization on the hegemon and its allies, the latter can easily descend into genocide and mass murder. Whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Gaza, the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Genocide, have been shown to be mere pieces of paper.

The Right of Self Defense

Given the absence of a multilateral referee that can impose its will, it is only the development of political, diplomatic, and military counterpower that can restrain the hegemon. This is the lesson that national liberation wars in Algeria and Vietnam taught the world. This is the lesson that the Palestinian resistance today teaches us.

This is why even as we condemn wars of empire waged by the hegemon, we must defend the right of people to resort to armed self-defense.

Al Jazeera English Video: “Overnight attacks hit central Gaza”

This does not mean that efforts at peacemaking by global civil society have no role to play. They do. I still remember how shortly before the invasion of Iraq, The New York Times came out with an article on February 17, 2003, in response to massive mobilizations against the planned invasion of Iraq, that said that there were only two superpowers left in the world, and they were the United States and global public opinion, and that then President George W. Bush ignored this outpouring of global resistance at his peril.

Global civil society did contribute to the ending of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by eroding the legitimacy of those wars among the U.S. public, making them so unpopular that even Donald Trump denounced them–in retrospect that is–as did many personalities that had voted for war in the U.S. Congress.

The recent decision of the International Court of Justice that has ordered Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza is likely to have a similar impact as global civil society’s resistance to Bush, Jr’s, invasion of Iraq. The ICJ decision may not have an immediate impact on the ongoing war, but it will erode the legitimacy of the project of settler colonialism and apartheid in the long run, deepening the isolation of Israel in the long run.

A Just Peace

We often see peace as an ideal state. But the peace of the graveyard is not peace. A peace bought at the price of fascist repression not only is not desirable but it will not last.

Oppressed peoples like the Palestinians will refuse peace at any price, peace that is obtained at the price of humiliation. As they have shown in the 76 years since the Nakba, their massive expulsion from their lands and homes, the Palestinians will not settle for anything less than peace with justice, one that enables them to recover their lands seized by Israelis, establish a sovereign state “from the river to the sea,” and allow them to hold their heads up in pride.

The rest of the world owes them its wholehearted support to realize such a just peace through all possible means, even as we work to oppose wars of empire waged by hegemons in other parts of the world.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

FPIF commentator Walden Bello is Co-Chair of the Board of Focus on the Global South and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.  He is a prominent voice pushing for the demilitarization and denuclearization of the South China Sea.

Amid War, Palestinian-Israeli Peace Work Continues Thu, 15 Feb 2024 05:02:39 +0000

The war is terrible, but there are also signs of a new social order emerging.

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) The terrible war initiated in October 2023 between Israel and Hamas was the result of the failure of leaders in both camps to construct a mutually acceptable peace. Yet, the horrors of this war can be an impetus to put an end to such violence. People from both sides must take shåared actions to fashion a mutual peace and thus experience shared security.

Fortunately, such efforts are growing. They include the work of organizations and institutions throughout Israel/Palestine.

Founded in 1970, Oasis for Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam has grown from a few tents into a bilingual village of more than 70 families, half-Jewish and half-Palestinian. Villagers govern together, attend school together, work together, and play together. It operates a School of Peace, which provides peace-building courses to hundreds of professionals in many fields.

The Parents Circle-Families Forum, also known as Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation, and Tolerance, was founded in 1995. Presently, it has Jewish Israelis and Palestinian members with relatives who were killed by persons of the other ethnicity. They engage in dialogue sessions and presentations to diverse groups “to prevent further bereavement, to create dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”

Starting with only 50 children in 1998, Hand in Hand now has six school campuses across Israel and over 2,000 students. Their mission is to “build a Hand in Hand school in every mixed Jewish-Arab city throughout the country, leveraging a shift from conflict to cooperation for all of Israeli society.”

Digital, Dream, Illustrated v. 3

The Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture, now in its twenty-ninth year, demonstrates that it is possible to work together with mutual respect and cooperation to conduct dialogue even on conflicting and sensitive matters.

Other organizations focus on mobilizing citizens from both communities. Combatants for Peace, founded in 2006, is an Israeli-Palestinian NGO committed to non-violent action against the Israeli occupation and all forms of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is “the only movement worldwide that was founded by former fighters on both sides of an active conflict.” Standing Together—founded in 2015 and with about 5,000 members—is a progressive grassroots movement mobilizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the occupation and for peace, equality, and social justice.

Then there are organizations that strengthen links between progressives in the United States and in Israel, like Partners for Progressive Israel, which has worked since the early 1990s to strengthen human/civil rights in Israel and achieve a just peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors. The New Israel Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit NGO established in 1979, raises funds to support organizations in Israel to advance social justice and equality for all Israelis. Alliance for Peace in the Middle East, headquartered in Washington, DC, gathers funding to expand trust-building interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. It enhances the impact of its 160 member organizations and connects individuals and groups to create a critical mass that supports peace.

The events of Oct 7, 2023, and the ensuing war have not destroyed these organizations. Indeed, it has energized many of them.

The New Israel Fund, for example, supported its action arm, Shatil, which aids the Bedouins who also suffered from the Hamas attacks on October 7, some of whom aided the Jews who had been attacked. Furthermore, many organizations have raised more funds, helped by sympathetic individuals and non-governmental organizations in other countries.

Such organizations and institutions can help form a broad social movement that leads to a new social order that produces two independent states, Israel and Palestine. As shared understandings grow, other states and international institutions can assist establishing new policies. Shared actions can produce greater hope that a shared peace is possible.

Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies at Syracuse University and the author of Fighting Better (Oxford University Press, 2022), Realizing Peace (Oxford University Press, 2015), Louis Kriesberg: Pioneer in Peace and Constructive Conflict Resolution Studies (Springer, 2016) and co-author with Bruce Dayton of the fifth edition of Constructive Conflicts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) .

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

U.S. Officials Acknowledge Moral Issues at Stake in Gaza Sat, 10 Feb 2024 05:06:47 +0000

Although some officials focus on Israel’s intent, others consider the consequences of Israel’s actions for the people of Gaza.

US Officials Care More about Protecting Oil Tankers than Palestinians Thu, 18 Jan 2024 05:06:20 +0000

The United States is demanding an end to attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, but it won’t support a ceasefire in Gaza.

By Edward Hunt | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – While Israel continues its military offensive in Gaza, the United States is directing a major military operation in the Red Sea, where U.S. warships are maintaining a persistent presence to protect shipping lanes.

With its recently launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, the United States is leading a multinational military coalition to occupy the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab, where oil tankers and commercial vessels have come under attack by Houthi militants in Yemen. The U.S.-led military intervention has brought the United States into direct conflict with the Houthis, who insist that they will continue their attacks until Israel ends its military offensive in Gaza.

“This is about the protection of one of the major commerce routes of the world in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab,” a senior official in the Biden administration said.

Strategic Waterways

For years, the U.S. military has played a central role in the Red Sea, a large waterway between northeastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula that facilitates regional commerce. In April 2022, the U.S. military oversaw the creation of Combined Task Force 153, a multinational naval partnership to patrol the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab, and Gulf of Aden.

“As everyone can appreciate, those waters are critical to the free flow of commerce throughout the region,” Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the regional U.S. naval commander, explained at the time.

The Red Sea is a vital shipping route, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all seaborne trade. It facilitates commerce between Europe and Asia, enabling commercial ships to save time by passing through the Middle East rather than taking a longer route around Africa.

The Red Sea is also a major transit route for the world’s oil and natural gas. Significant amounts of oil from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the Persian Gulf are routed through the Red Sea to markets in Asia, Europe, and North America. Overall, the Red Sea accounts for 8 percent of global trade in liquefied natural gas and 12 percent of seaborne trade in oil.

“The Red Sea is a vital waterway,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said at a January 3 press briefing. “A significant amount of global trade flows through that Red Sea.”

Attacks in the Red Sea: After US-UK strikes, what next for Yemen? • FRANCE 24 English Video

Of particular concern to U.S. officials is the Bab al-Mandab, a strait at the southern end of the Red Sea. Only 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, the strait forms a chokepoint that forces commercial vessels into tight shipping lanes. As of early 2023, an estimated 8.8 million barrels of oil passed through the Bab al-Mandab every day, making it one of the world’s most significant chokepoints.

“The Bab al-Mandab Strait is a strategic route for oil and natural gas shipments,” the U.S. Energy Information Agency notes.

Operation Prosperity Guardian

Now that the Houthis are attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea, the United States is establishing a larger military presence in the region with Operation Prosperity Guardian. Under this new initiative, the United States is working with its coalition partners to establish what U.S. officials call a “persistent presence” in the southern Red Sea, meaning that coalition warships and other military assets will remain actively spread out across the area in a kind of military occupation.

“Together, we now have the largest surface and air presence in the southern Red Sea in years,” Cooper said at a January 4 press briefing.

As part of the operation, warships from France, Great Britain, and the United States are positioned throughout the southern Red Sea. They have been reinforced by the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, which is located in the Gulf of Aden.

Already, the U.S.-led military coalition has engaged in hostilities with the Houthis, including one incident on December 31 in which U.S. forces sank three Houthi small boats, killing 10 fighters.

“It’s up to the Houthis to halt the attacks,” Cooper insisted. “They’re the instigator and initiator.”

The United States and the Houthis

This is not the first time that the United States has come into conflict with the Houthis. For years, the United States supported Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen against the Houthis. Both the Obama and Trump administrations provided a Saudi-led military coalition with advanced weaponry and military advice, even as it repeatedly committed war crimes by striking civilian targets.

The Saudi-led military intervention sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, leading to the deaths of more than 377,000 people. A temporary truce that began in April 2022 led to a reduction in hostilities, but the war has never ended, creating fears that it could reignite at any moment.

“Nobody should believe that the current state of affairs with relatively low levels of fighting is going to last,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) noted late last year.

Throughout Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen and Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, the United States has been the main power behind the scenes, arming its allies while their military operations have caused tremendous harm to civilians. Officials in Washington have insisted that they have sought to minimize civilian casualties, but their priority has been to prevent the wars from disrupting commerce in nearby waterways, especially in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab.

“There’s no question in my mind that this is very important, not only to the countries in the region but globally,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said last month, referring to the need to ensure freedom of navigation. “What the Houthis are doing affects commerce around the globe.”

U.S. Considerations

As several powerful companies have begun halting their operations in the Red Sea, some current and former U.S. officials have been calling for stronger military action, such as military strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. The United States previously took direct action against the Houthis in October 2016, when a U.S. warship fired cruise missiles against radar sites in Yemen.

Still, high-level officials have been careful about taking the war directly to the Houthis. So far, President Biden has decided against striking Houthi targets, even after being presented with military options.

A major concern in Washington is that any kind of escalation against the Houthis could reignite the war in Yemen, which has already left the Houthis with the upper hand. When former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel considered the prospect of a U.S. war in Yemen late last year, he questioned whether the people of the United States would support such a war.

“I would venture that if you ask 100 Americans, ‘who are the Houthis?’” Riedel said, “99 percent of them would say, ‘the whats, the whats?’”

Another major concern is that a U.S. war against the Houthis would create further complications for the United States and its allies. If the United States attacked the Houthis, then the Houthis might respond by bringing the war to areas beyond the Red Sea, such as Israel. Already, the Houthis have launched drones and missiles toward Israel.

Officials in the Biden administration have been so concerned about the implications of going to war against the Houthis that they have not accused the Houthis of attacking the United States, even as the Houthis have repeatedly fired drones and missiles in the direction of U.S. warships. Administration officials have claimed that they cannot conclude with certainty that the Houthis have deliberately targeted U.S. military forces.

Additional members of the current U.S.-led military coalition share similar concerns, with some even going so far as to refuse to disclose their participation in the U.S.-led military coalition. Whereas some are concerned about retaliation, others fear what people might think about their participation in a military operation that is indifferent to the suffering of the people of Gaza.

“Not all want to become public,” Kirby acknowledged.

Implications for Gaza

While officials in Washington weigh their options, they are doing little to address the core issue, which is Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza. The Biden administration opposes a ceasefire, even as it repeatedly demands that the Houthis end their attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Essentially, the Biden administration is engaging in a form of imperial management, as its works to help Israel continue its military campaign in Gaza while limiting its effects on regional dynamics and global markets. Rather than backing a ceasefire, the Biden administration is hoping to minimize the repercussions of Israel’s offensive for the global economy and contain any movement toward a wider war.

What the Biden administration has shown, in short, is that it cares far more about protecting fossil fuels and the world’s most powerful businesses than it does about protecting the people of Gaza.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

In the Caucasus, the US Priority is Fossil Fuels, not Armenians Fri, 15 Dec 2023 05:02:45 +0000 By Edward Hunt | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – Officials in Washington are doubling down on their efforts to create a new energy corridor that runs through the Caucasus, a major transit route for trade and energy that connects Europe and Asia.

Focusing on Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries at odds over land and history, officials in Washington hope to link the two countries with energy pipelines, despite Azerbaijan’s recent incursion into Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the territory in September.

“A transit corridor built with the involvement and consent of Armenia can be a tremendous boon to states across the region and to global markets,” State Department official James O’Brien told Congress in November.

U.S. Objectives

For decades, U.S. officials have pursued geopolitical objectives in the Caucasus. Viewing the region as a strategically important area that connects Europe and Asia, they have sought to integrate the region with Europe while pulling it away from Iran and Russia, both of which maintain close ties to the region.

“The Caucasus is tremendously important as a crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East,” Senator James Risch (R-ID) said in a statement last year. “Trade agreements, energy deals, infrastructure, and investment all have the potential to better integrate the region within the transatlantic community.”

At the heart of U.S. planning is Azerbaijan. Given the country’s extensive energy resources, especially its oil and natural gas, U.S. officials have seen Azerbaijan as the key to creating a U.S.-led Caucasus that will help Europe transition away from its dependence on Russian energy.

“We have been hard at work, along with our European colleagues, over the course of the last decade, trying to help Europe slowly wean itself off of dependence on Russian gas and oil,” Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) explained at a hearing in September. “Part of that strategy has been to deliver more Azerbaijani gas and oil to Europe.”

Another reason for the U.S. focus on Azerbaijan is its location. With Russia to the north, the Caspian Sea to the east, and Iran to the south, U.S. officials have seen the country as “the epicenter of Eurasia energy policy,” as U.S. diplomats once described it. The United States has worked to position Azerbaijan as the starting point for an east-west energy corridor that benefits the West and deters a north-south corridor that would work to the advantage of Iran and Russia.

For the United States and its European allies, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline demonstrates the possibilities. Since 2006, the BTC pipeline has carried oil from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean Sea, where it has been shipped to global energy markets. The pipeline is controlled by a consortium of energy companies headed by BP, the British oil giant.

“We need that to keep functioning,” State Department official Yuri Kim told Congress in September.

From the U.S. perspective, another major geopolitical achievement has been the Southern Gas Corridor. The corridor, which combines three separate pipelines, runs from Azerbaijan all the way to Europe. Since its initial deliveries of natural gas to Europe in 2020, the corridor has been critically important to keeping Europe supplied with energy during the war in Ukraine.

“That Southern Gas Corridor is extremely important for ensuring that there is energy diversity for Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, potentially Albania, and definitely Italy, and possibly into the Western Balkans,” Kim said. “We cannot underestimate how important that is.”

A New Route?

As pipelines carry oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan to the West, U.S. officials have sought to reinforce the east-west corridor by creating additional pipelines that run through Armenia. Not only would a pipeline through Armenia add another route to the corridor, but it would pull Armenia away from Russia, which maintains a military presence in the country and provides Armenia with most of its energy.

For decades, one of the major challenges to U.S. plans has been the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. As long as Armenia and Azerbaijan have remained at odds over the region, U.S. officials have seen few options for integrating Armenia into a broader east-west energy corridor.

“If not for the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” U.S. diplomats reported in 2009, “the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline could have been routed through Armenia, reducing the distance and construction cost, and providing Armenia both an alternative source of gas as well as much-needed transit fees.”

In recent years, regional dynamics have rapidly shifted, however. As Azerbaijan grew flush with cash from its operations as an energy hub for the West, it began spending more money on weapons. With Israel and Turkey selling Azerbaijan increasingly sophisticated weapons, Azerbaijan built a large arsenal and acquired the upper hand over Armenia.

“Where other Western nations are reluctant to sell ground combat systems to the Azerbaijanis for fear of encouraging Azerbaijan to resort to war to regain [Nagorno-Karabakh] and the occupied territories, Israel is free to make substantial arms sales and benefits greatly from deals with its well-heeled client,” U.S. diplomats reported in 2009.

Photo by Sarin Aventisian on Unsplash

Emboldened by its growing power and influence, Azerbaijan made its move. As fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in late September 2020, Azerbaijan’s military forces took advantage of their advanced weaponry from Israel and Turkey to capture the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Before Azerbaijan’s military forces could seize control of Nagorno-Karabakh, however, Russia intervened, brokering a ceasefire and deploying about 2,000 peacekeepers to the region. Although various observers portrayed the outcome as a victory for Russia, the deal did not last long.

This past September, Azerbaijan moved to take the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh, armed by additional supplies of Israeli weapons. Following Azerbaijan’s incursion, more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the territory for Armenia, where they remain today.

Now that Azerbaijan has taken control of Nagorno-Karabakh, U.S. officials are renewing their efforts to persuade Armenia and Azerbaijan to forge a peace deal that could be the basis for a new energy corridor.

“There is business to be done in this region,” State Department official James O’Brien told Congress in November.

At the Start Department, officials have been reviewing U.S.-funded plans for building the new energy corridor. As O’Brien noted, “the feasibility studies on this transit corridor [have] actually been done, funded by [the Agency for International Development (AID)], so we’re in the middle of seeing what kind of economic future there may be.”


Several obstacles stand in the way of U.S. plans. One possibility is that an increasingly emboldened Azerbaijan will invade Armenia and take the territory it wants for new pipelines. If Azerbaijan continues to acquire weapons from Turkey and Israel, it could take Armenian land by force, something that U.S. officials believe could happen.

“I think, from what I hear, the Armenians are concerned and feel threatened by that corridor and what it might imply for another grabbing of land by Azerbaijan,” Representative James Costa (D-CA) said at the hearing in November.

A related possibility is that Azerbaijan could work more closely with Russia. As Russia maintains military forces in Azerbaijan, it could facilitate a move by Azerbaijan to take Armenian land for a north-south energy corridor that benefits Russia.

Although Russia maintains a security pact with Armenia, relations have soured over Azerbaijan’s seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh, making it possible that Russia will side with Azerbaijan.

Another challenge is the Azerbaijani government. For years, critics have charged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev with leading a corrupt and repressive regime that has hoarded the country’s wealth while leaving the population to suffer.

In internal reports, U.S. diplomats have been highly critical of Aliyev. Not only have they compared him to mobsters, but they have suggested that the country “is run in a manner similar to the feudalism found in Europe during the Middle Ages.”

As critics have called on Washington to reconsider the U.S. relationship with Azerbaijan, some members of Congress have begun questioning U.S. strategy, particularly as it concerns the U.S. partnership with Aliyev.

The United States may have made “the wrong bet by moving more Azerbaijani resources into Europe,” Senator Murphy said in September. “This strategy of being dependent on a system and series of dictatorships… may not necessarily bear the strategic game that we think it does.”

Other members of Congress have questioned the State Department’s claims that a new energy corridor can bring peace to the region.

“I don’t see the peace process as going nearly as well as some of the description I’ve just heard,” Representative Costa said at the hearing in November. “It was ethnic cleansing that happened with the removal of these Armenians from their historic homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Regardless, officials at the State Department remain confident in their plans. Pushing forward with efforts to forge a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, they remain hopeful that they can create a new energy corridor that runs through Armenia, even if means that the ethnic Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh will never be able to return to their homes.

“As we go from the medium to the longer term, there’s going to have to be some effort made to help integrate these folks into Armenian life,” AID official Alexander Sokolowski told Congress in November. “Many of them dream of going back to Nagorno-Karabakh, but for right now, they’re oriented towards making a life in Armenia.”

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

Foreign Policy in Focus

The Humanitarian Pause in Gaza Proves Diplomacy Works: Now we need a Real Ceasefire Thu, 23 Nov 2023 05:06:35 +0000 A quick FAQ on the agreement between Israel and Hamas to release hostages and pause the fighting.

By Khury Petersen-Smith and Phyllis Bennis | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The pause in the fighting in Gaza — with some humanitarian aid allowed in and exchange of some Israeli and Palestinian captives — is important, but not nearly enough. We need to fight for a permanent ceasefire.

What’s in the new agreement?

In the current deal between Israel and Hamas — brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States — all parties agree to stop fighting for four days. Hamas will release 50 women and children it took captive on October 7, and Israel will release 150 women and children who are among the 10,000 or so Palestinians it holds in Israeli military prisons.

There is the possibility of extending the pause — and exchanging more captives — for up to five more days after the initial agreement is implemented, potentially leading to a pause of as many as nine days.

Why is it important?

The most obvious significance of this deal is humanitarian. Captives will be freed from Gaza and from Israel, and Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza will pause, as will Palestinian fighters’ firing of rockets into Israel. Desperately needed humanitarian aid convoys and fuel will be allowed into Gaza.

This is also important because it proves that diplomacy can work.

Ending the continuing deaths under Israeli bombs, and securing the release of captives is happening not because of fighting, but because of negotiations. And that means more diplomacy can work too — perhaps leading to a full ceasefire, an exchange of all captives, full humanitarian access into Gaza, and ultimately an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip.

Al-Jazeera English: “More than 100 Palestinians buried in mass grave in Gaza’s Khan Younis”

Does this arrangement end the fighting?

No, this is not the permanent ceasefire that UN agencies, activists, and many others have been  — and still are — calling for. It is an agreement to pause the fighting for a few days, release some of the captives, and allow some aid into Gaza. It is different from Israel’s previous pauses in fighting, which were unilateral — without any conversation with or agreement from Palestinian forces — and limited to small individual parts of Gaza and short, finite time periods. This agreement is the product of a negotiation between the parties involved, and it extends across the whole Gaza Strip.

But it is explicitly temporary. Israel has said that it will only pause fighting for a maximum of nine days. In the past few days, Israeli forces have surrounded the city and refugee camp of Jabaliya and begun new attacks there. They are preparing to resume the kind of very intensive assault there that we have seen throughout the siege as soon as the temporary truce is over.

What is a permanent ceasefire and why is it necessary?

A permanent ceasefire calls for an end of all military operations on all sides. It will inevitably require the release of more captives being held in Gaza and Israel. It will have to involve urgently needed humanitarian relief on a massive scale getting into Gaza. And, as Palestinians are demanding, it must affirm the right of Palestinians who live in Gaza to stay there, as Israel has discussed permanently displacing Palestinians from Gaza in this moment.

The human toll of this fighting has been catastrophic. More than 14,000 people in Gaza and 1,200 in Israel have been killed, with untold numbers wounded. A much wider disaster is unfolding in Gaza after weeks of Israel depriving the Strip of clean water, electricity, fuel, and food, with waterborne disease spreading. Over one and a half million people have been displaced from their homes. With hospitals having run out of fuel for their generators, and Israel carrying out military assaults in and around hospitals, the health system in Gaza has largely collapsed.

With Palestinians, UN officials, humanitarian experts and internationally known genocide scholars naming Israel’s bombardment and blockade as genocide, the violence simply must stop. That is only possible through a mutual, binding agreement to ceasefire.

What can we do?

Keep reaching out to members of Congress and other elected officials and demand that they work to stop the killing — and call for a permanent ceasefire. Urge support for continuing diplomacy, instead of sending more weapons and warplanes and cash for the military.

There is no military solution — we need to convince Washington that we need negotiation, not war!


Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the IPS New Internationalism Project. She’s the author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and an international adviser to Jewish Voice for Peace.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

The Real U.S. Intelligence Failure in Gaza: For years, U.S. officials have known that dire Conditions in Gaza could lead to violence Sun, 15 Oct 2023 04:02:35 +0000 By

( FPIF ) – As officials in Washington scramble to address the rapid outbreak of war in Israel and Palestine, they are sidestepping the fact that they believed that such a dramatic outburst of violence was likely.

Since May 2021, when Hamas and Israel clashed in a brief war that left more than 200 Palestinians dead and much of Gaza’s infrastructure destroyed, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that living conditions in Gaza have become so intolerable that a cycle of violence would likely continue until the people of Gaza saw real improvements in their lives.

“If there isn’t positive change, and particularly if we can’t find a way to help Palestinians live with more dignity and with more hope, the cycle’s likely to repeat itself,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged at the end of the May 2021 war.

Across Israel and the United States, officials have expressed shock and outrage at Hamas’s recent incursion into Israel. Hamas has attacked and killed hundreds of civilians, leading many officials to condemn Hamas for launching a terrorist attack against Israel. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by several countries including Israel and the United States, is a militant Islamist organization that controls Gaza.

Israel has responded with airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and has declared a siege on Gaza. In support of Israel, the United States is sending weapons and warships into the area.

Hamas’s initial attack has been widely portrayed by the U.S. mass media as an intelligence failure. U.S. officials have said that Hamas achieved a “complete tactical surprise.”

“This is an enormous intelligence failure by the Israelis and the Americans,” Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst, told NBC News.

Just weeks before the attack, Elliott Abrams, a longtime U.S. operative who is now a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, exemplified this kind of intelligence failure when he advised a congressional committee that Hamas was focusing its operations in the West Bank, not Gaza.

Hamas “wants to restrain attacks from Gaza,” Abrams told Congress. This is because “it wants to avoid Israeli strikes on Gaza, where it is governing. It wants a level of calm there. It wants the border crossings open.”

Despite these analytical errors, U.S. officials have maintained accurate intelligence on Gaza. Since the May 2021 war, the highest-level U.S. officials have understood that the cycle of violence would likely recur unless conditions in Gaza improved.

In May 2021, President Joe Biden acted on this knowledge when he pledged to organize “a major package” of assistance for the purpose of rebuilding Gaza. The people of Gaza “need the help,” the president said, “and I’m committed to get that done.”

Secretary of State Blinken announced that the reconstruction of Gaza would serve two major purposes. First, he said, it would provide the people of Gaza with much-needed relief. Second, he continued, it would undermine Hamas, especially its ability to thrive on the despair and desperation of the people of Gaza.

“The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people everywhere,” Blinken explained. They want “to live in freedom; to have their basic rights respected, including the right to choose their own leaders; to live in security; to have equal access to opportunity for themselves, for their children; to be treated with dignity.”

U.S. officials made modest efforts to organize a program of aid and reconstruction for Gaza. As part of these efforts, Qatar and the United Nations forged a deal to provide millions in aid to impoverished families in Gaza. In a separate deal, Qatar and Egypt created a program that helped fund the salaries of civil servants in Gaza.

Photo by Tabrez Syed on Unsplash

Where U.S. officials failed, however, was in their efforts to establish a reconstruction program. With the United States providing a limited amount of economic assistance and Israel maintaining a blockade of Gaza, the people of Gaza were forced to endure a permanent humanitarian crisis.

Trapped inside the territory, the people of Gaza lacked access to food, water, and essential services. Without reliable electricity, they struggled to keep institutions such as schools and hospitals open.

“Palestinians are grappling with severe poverty, crippling unemployment, and chronic underdevelopment—particularly in Gaza,” the State Department acknowledged in a Congressional Budget Justification.

As violence between Israelis and Palestinians intensified over the past year, officials in Washington recognized the growing dangers, which they associated with ongoing efforts by the Israeli government to seize Palestinian lands and doom the prospects for a Palestinian state.

“What we’re seeing now from Palestinians is a shrinking horizon of hope, not an expanding one,” Secretary of State Blinken acknowledged in January.

Despite this knowledge, officials in Washington did little to address it, even as they observed “a sharp and really shocking degree of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, as State Department official Barbara Leaf described the situation in June.

Instead, the Biden administration prioritized Israel’s relations with Arab states, largely at the expense of the Palestinians. As a result of the Abraham Accords, which established a formal process for normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab states, the Palestinians have been increasingly sidelined in regional diplomacy.

With officials in Washington now charging Hamas with launching an unprovoked campaign of terror against Israel, critics are insisting that U.S. officials are leaving out the broader context, one that has always been well understood.

“An entire people is living under this kind of incredible oppression, in a pressure cooker,” Rashid Khalidi told DemocracyNow!. “It had to explode.”

Indeed, the real U.S. intelligence failure was not the failure to anticipate an imminent attack by Hamas but an inability to accept what U.S. officials have always understood: a failure to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza would lead to another cycle of violence, just as Secretary of State Blinken anticipated in 2021.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

FPIF ]]> Drilling our way to Climate Doom: The US leads the World in Oil and Gas Production Sun, 20 Aug 2023 04:04:40 +0000 By Edward Hunt |

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – The United States is producing record amounts of oil and natural gas, despite the fact that the ongoing use of these fossil fuels poses an existential threat to the planet.

Even today, as the planet faces catastrophic warming, leaders in both the Democratic and Republican Parties keep pushing for more oil and natural gas production, believing that most of the world will continue to rely on these fossil fuels for decades to come.

“You can write this down, you can go to every NGO, and they’ll tell me I’m nuts, but I predict this,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the Aspen Security Forum last month. “There will be more crude oil consumed 30 years from now than there is today.”

A Fossil Fuel Powerhouse

For the past decade, the United States has been a fossil fuel powerhouse. Since 2011, the United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas, and since 2018, the United States has been the world’s top producer of oil.

The United States became a fossil fuel powerhouse by embracing hydraulic fracturing. The technique, also known as “fracking,” uses a high-powered spray of water and chemicals to break apart underground rock formations. It has enabled U.S. energy companies to gain access to previously inaccessible deposits of oil and natural gas.

Environmental groups have criticized fracking for contaminating groundwater and triggering earthquakes, leading some states to ban it.

In Washington, top officials have embraced the fracking boom. During the Obama administration, officials boasted that the United States was becoming an “energy superpower” and the “energy center of the world.” Officials in the Trump administration were even more enthusiastic, saying that they were leading the world into a new era of “energy dominance.”

Exuberance over energy dominance remains widespread in the Biden administration. Officials boast that the United States is continuing to break new records in oil and natural gas production.

“There is actually record [oil] production from the United States,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained late last year. “We’re producing more and selling more around the world than we ever have.”

The Threat to the Planet

The U.S. move to become a fossil fuel powerhouse has come with major costs to the environment. By continuing to produce oil and natural gas at record levels, the United States is leading the world into the climate crisis.

There is a direct connection between the use of fossil fuels and the warming of the planet. The burning of fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are emitted into the atmosphere, where they have the effect of warming the planet. Climate scientists calculate that the Earth has warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.1 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late nineteenth century.

Unchecked global warming poses an existential threat to the planet. Already, people in many parts of the world are grappling with extreme weather events, including record-breaking heat, rain, droughts, floods, storms, and wildfires. This past July was the planet’s hottest month on record.

“Climate change is here,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a July 27 press conference. “It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning.”

For decades, world leaders have been familiar with the problem of human-caused climate change. Repeatedly, they have created arrangements for reducing carbon emissions, including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), the Kyoto Protocol (1997), the Green Climate Fund (2010), and the Paris Agreement (2015).

Under the Paris Agreement (2015), nearly every country in the world created voluntary emissions targets with the goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and keeping it well below 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Participants agreed to meet every five years to review their progress.

Despite these steps, the world is no closer today than it was in the early 1990s to preventing catastrophic global warming. In many ways, things are much worse, despite some progress in countries such as the United States that have shifted away from coal, a fossil fuel that generates more carbon emissions than oil or natural gas.

Not only is the world producing and consuming fossil fuels at or near record levels, but the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue rising at a record pace. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body of climate experts, global average temperature rise is on track to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in the early 2030s, about a decade away.

Moving Toward Climate Doom

The issue of whether the world will be able to avert climate doom will largely depend on the actions of some of the world’s most powerful countries, including China and the United States. Together, China and the United States account for nearly half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Although China is the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, largely due to its burning of coal, the United States is responsible for the largest amount of historical emissions and remains the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Image by John R Perry from Pixabay

“We have a responsibility, a major responsibility, around this climate issue, for two reasons,” Blinken explained last year. “First of all, today we are unfortunately the number two emitter in the world after China.” And second, “what we did for our own development, we did things that we are asking other countries not to do today,” such as use coal.

Officials in Washington have been slow to take responsibility, however. Leaders in both political parties continue to prioritize U.S. dominance in oil and natural gas over a global just transition to clean energy. The Biden administration has set a goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to half of the country’s 2005 levels by 2030, but the country is not on track to meet the administration’s target.

Republican leaders have largely dismissed the climate threat, falsely claiming that climate science is unclear and inconclusive. Republicans are organizing around Project 2025, a plan to increase drilling and eliminate environmental protections.

Natural gas is going to be “the most important energy resource for the next 40 years,” Pompeo said at last month’s event. Both oil and natural gas, he insisted, “are going to continue to be very important.”

Many U.S. officials see oil and natural gas as strategic assets. They believe that U.S. energy dominance will enable the United States to maintain influence over countries that have fewer resources, such as China.

“China has almost none of them, so we have an enormous amount of leverage with respect to that,” Pompeo said, referring to oil and natural gas.

In contrast to their Republican counterparts, Democratic leaders have been more willing to acknowledge the climate threat, sometimes describing the climate crisis as the greatest challenge of our time, but they share many of the same priorities. Not only do they view oil and natural gas as strategic assets against China, but they remain committed to increasing the production and consumption of these two fossil fuels.

For years, the Biden administration has been pushing for more oil production. Even as the administration has supported a transition to clean and sustainable energy, backing unprecedented investments in batteries and renewable energies in the Inflation Reduction Act, the administration has empowered U.S. energy companies to keep setting records in oil and gas production, leading to record profits.

“There is nothing standing in the way of domestic oil and gas production,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm commented earlier this year.

What U.S. leaders and oil companies are doing, in short, is leading the world toward a climate catastrophe. By prioritizing fossil fuel production and great power politics over the findings of climate scientists, they are creating a future in which “we’re doomed,” as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry once put it.

“The world is not living sustainably, and if you look at history, civilizations have disappeared due to that reality,” Kerry said earlier this year.


Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus