The Kingdom Bahrain is safe, so says the man in charge. His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced a three month reign of safety called “a State of National Safety” to protect citizens’ lives. This March 15 announcement was made in response to popular demonstrations in that country.
European and US support for justice and human rights are armed and supposedly on the march, after all — Bahraini officials would have been sanctioned, and no-fly zones issued by these countries, and the military alliance of NATO. Surely ‘precision’ freedom rockets would have rained from the sky and made impact on government compounds if innocent people were truly at risk. There would have been talk of weapons provided to the opposition movement that is asking for a constitutional monarchy or democracy.
The State of National Safety is decreed to end on June 1. Perhaps this means national safety is being amply protected by targeting and eliminating threats.
Since mass demonstrations took place in Bahrain, threats being handled so far include special military courts being given 405 political detainees to prosecute, including 23 doctors and 24 nurses.
Here is an Al Jazeera report of raids on schools and beatings of school girls.
A lot of work went into getting things to this stage. There was “systematic and coordinated attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors.” The abuse ranged from threats to beatings. Hospitalised patients and detainees received a generous share of the national safety efforts as well, “including torture, beating, verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics which has resulted in the obstruction of medical care; and rampant fear that prevents patients from seeking urgent medical treatment.” These are documented by and quoted from Physicians for Human Rights.
Some hospitalised patients are said to have been abused by masked security officers. On the subject of masked men, they have made a couple of other notable appearances of late.
At least two groups of masked men went into action the night of May 1-2. They grabbed Matar Ebrahim Matar and Jawad Fairuz.
Before the abduction, Matar was accused of directing the killing of two security officers during the period of popular uprisings. The accusation was very dramatic. It took place on television. A man detained and charged for the death of two security officers was broadcast admitting the direction of Matar in targeting officers.
Prior to his own detention, Matar identified the bearer of the television accusation as Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer. This man is dead now, since early April. He seems to haven been tortured to death. Fairuz, also a member of al-Wefaq who had earlier resigned from the lower house of parliament, was victim of a home invasion by men with weapons in hand, and he was taken. You can read more about this from Human Rights Watch.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has had help. Its partners include the thousand strong Saudi-led military men who entered the country to help the royal Al Khalifa family maintain control.
Mercenaries were also requested to boost the power and security of the royal family during this time of increased opposition. And it should have by now become increasingly clear that the national safety announced by the king is primarily about the maintenance of power in the hands of the royal family.
The Kingdom of Bahrain benefited from an advert to “urgently” hire military and security personnel from Pakistan. This is what the advert looked like.
The News, from Pakistan, in April expanded on the subject:
The Fauji Security Services (Pvt) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting on war footing basis thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force who will be getting jobs in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But sources in the Fauji Foundation say over 90 per cent of the fresh recruitments, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG), and that too at exorbitant salaries. Thousands of ex-servicemen of the Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting up the strength of the BNG to deal with the country’s majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia.
[…]According to available figures, over 1,000 Pakistanis have so far been recruited in March 2011 alone.
[…]Bahrain has long been a happy hunting ground for ex-Pakistani army personnel — an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis are already serving in various security services of Bahrain.
The work of repression includes such things as demolitions. Shia mosques and shrines have been demolished. Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, has claimed, “These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings.”
The Justice Ministry’s website had this response: “The ministry will provide legal alternatives for buildings with a licence for those cabins and facilities being removed.” (from Reuters)
Pepe Escobar writes in the Asia Times that detainees put on trial include “Shi’ite dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition group Haq who has called for the overthrow of the monarchy; and Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group that called for a constitutional monarchy.”
Human Rights Watch has reported that on May 3 it “received credible reports that a human rights and opposition activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was arrested on April 9 and whose whereabouts and well-being were unknown, had been admitted to Bahrain Defense Force hospital for six days for treatment of injuries, including to his jaw and head. One person who saw him said he was unrecognizable as a result of apparent beatings in detention.”
Local media has also been targeted. For example, three editors from an opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, are being taken to court. Their charges include unethical coverage of demonstrations.
The Al Khalija family is wielding terror, violence, and detentions in its campaign to retain a monopoly on power. This is the same family that has been ruling Bahrain since 1783.
In the 1830s the Al Khalifa family signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate.
[…]The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935 shortly after the start of large-scale oil production.
[…]Bahrain… declare[d] itself fully independent on August 15, 1971.
[…]Bahrain promulgated a constitution and elected its first parliament in 1973, but just 2 years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly after it attempted to legislate the end of Al-Khalifa rule and the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Bahrain.
[…]Military exercises are conducted on a regular basis to increase the BDF’s [Bahrain Defence Force] readiness and improve coordination with the U.S. and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] forces. The BDF also sends personnel to the United States for military training.
[…]Bahrain’s strategic partnership with the U.S. has intensified since 1991. Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Bahrain also provided logistical and basing support to international Maritime Interdiction efforts to enforce UN sanctions and prevent illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq in the 1990s. Bahrain also provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for a multitude of U.S. aircraft operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Bahrain also deployed forces in support of coalition operations during both OEF and OIF.
[…]Bahrain and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in October 2001. Bahrain and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004.
“Newspapers, tea, A4 paper and chocolate are among the items that have at one point been barred,” from entry into the Gaza strip, writes the Economist. Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization has a recent partial list of barred and permitted goods into Gaza.
Gisha’s site provides helpful answers to frequently questions regarding the blockade.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was interviewed by Charlie Rose on May 27, and the video of the full interview is available online. You can also read the full transcipt at Joshua Landis’ excellent website, Syria Comment. Syria comment also has the full transcript of a May 8 La Repubblica interview with Bashar al-Assad. The La Repubblica transcript is cleaner and easier to read.
Here are some highlights from the more recent Charlie Rose interview (video here):
Charlie Rose: How do you see Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the northern tier in –
Bashar al-Assad: The northern tier of Iran and Iraq. Normally you should have good relations with your neighbors, something we’ve learned from our experience in the last decades. We’ve been in conflict, Syria and Turkey, Iraq and Turkey, and other countries. What did we get? Nothing. We’ve been losing for decades. We have learned here in the last decade that we have to turn the tide, so everybody is going for good relations with the other, even if it doesn’t have the same vision or they — even if they disagree about most of the things, not some things. So, this relation, Syria/Iraq, we are neighbors. Syria/Turkey, we are neighbors. We’ll affect each other directly. Iran is not my neighbor, but at the end, Iran is one of the big countries in the Middle East, and it’s an important country, and it plays a role and affects different issues in the region. So, if you want to play a role and help yourself and save your interests, you should have good relations with all these influential countries. That’s why this relation, I think, is very normal.
Charlie Rose: What is it we don’t understand, those in Washington, about the region, about the culture, about Syria’s role, about Iran?
Bashar al-Assad: They don’t understand that we want peace. But if you want peace, doesn’t mean to — if you want to sign a peace treaty doesn’t mean that we accept to sign capitulation agreement. That’s what they don’t understand, the difference between capitulation agreement. That’s how I’m talking about the perception in our region, how we see it, and peace treaty. Peace treaty means having all your rights. This is the second about Iran very clear issue, nuclear issue. It’s about Iran having the right to have peaceful nuclear reactor. You cannot deal with Iran through the Security Council through threats and the evidence that they didn’t understand is the recent agreement between Turkey, Brazil and Iran. And I told the official that I met recently from Europe after that agreement that this is going to be the proof that they didn’t understand this region because Turkey and Brazil succeeded in getting what the world has been asking for during the last year in a few weeks because they understand this region and they adopted different approach which is direct, not strict, not imposing.
Charlie Rose: Their interpretation of what happened between Iran and Turkey and Iran and Brazil is that it’s just another effort by Iran to delay sanctions –
Bashar al-Assad: We disagree.
Charlie Rose: Some find it interesting that your allies are Islamist, in one case of theocracy, and yet Syria is a secular state.
Bashar al-Assad: That’s true. And that’s what they don’t understand. This is one of the things that they don’t understand in the West, especially in the United States, because if I support you, it doesn’t mean I’m like you or I agree with you. That means I believe in your cause. There’s a difference. Maybe if we don’t have this cause, we have different debate with them or different relations. While now they have a cause and support the cause, we don’t support organization. We support the Palestinian cause, and Hamas is working for that cause, and the same for Hezbollah. Hezbollah is working for the Lebanese cause, so we support that cause, not Hezbollah, but Hezbollah is one of the means. So, that’s what they have to understand in the West.
Charlie Rose: The relationship with Turkey is very good. Turkey was serving as an intermediary between negotiations between you and the Israelis.
Bashar al-Assad: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: It came that close in which you would get back the Golan Heights, yes?
Bashar al-Assad: This is very important. What we have now as reference is mainly the United Nations or Security Council resolution. It’s very important reference but it’s not defined. It talks about the land occupied in ’67 but how can you define this land? Israel talking about a different line, how can you define this line, I mean? We wanted in that inquisition to define the line through one point and Israel wanted to define its security requirements. So if we define these two things and we move to the direct negotiation, whenever you have arbiter this arbiter can play its role only through this paper, not like what happened in the ‘90’s when some politicians, some of them with a good will spoiled the process with good will but with enthusiasm but less with a lack of knowledge. And others, self-serving politicians, spoiled it for their own interests. Now we had this paper, anyone who wants to play a role, any mediator, any official, any arbiter, should play it through this paper and this is where we can succeed, not to have 19 wasteful years.
Charlie Rose: You don’t think Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to make a deal.
Bashar al-Assad: Again, it’s not about him. It’s about the whole government. Can he lead the government toward peace? Is he strong enough to lead this government toward peace? Because you know, it’s a coalition now. It’s coalition. You do not have — he doesn’t have the majority to say I’m going in that direction. So in reality, nothing is happening yet. So why do we waste the time expecting. He’s been for now in his position for a year and nearly a year and a half, something like this. And he couldn’t do anything in peace. So I don’t know if you have the will or he has the power. We don’t know.
Charlie Rose: On the other side of the Palestinians, and they are not unified.
Bashar al-Assad: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: There’s Fatah, Hamas. Can they be unified?
Bashar al-Assad: Of course they can. If you help them, they can be unified. And they have to be unified. Without unification in the Palestinian really you cannot have peace. You need this unification. It’s not about who is going to sign the treaty. At the end if you want to implement the treaty, you need unification. You need unified policy.
Charlie Rose: Let me focus again on the dynamic of this region. There is Egypt, which has traditionally had the largest army and the most powerful force. There’s Iran, which has emerged as a regional power after 1979. There is now Syria and Turkey having a very interesting relationship. Some say Syria’s moving more to the East. How do you see the new forces shaping the region?
Bashar al-Assad: The criteria has changed in the positive. They used to say Egypt is a big country, Syria is a small country, but it’s playing a role which is bigger than your size. Of course –
Charlie Rose: — beyond its weight.
Bashar al-Assad: Yeah, exactly. Qatar is a very small country. Nobody put it on the political map for inclusion. Actually the criteria has changed. Now we have the will, the vision, and the geopolitical position. We have these three. Qatar has will and has vision. Turkey has the three criteria, the geopolitical position, big country, strong economy, will and vision. It was a strong and it was big 10 years ago, but they didn’t have the will and same vision, so it didn’t play that role, Turkey. So, the criteria have changed. Today you have Iran, you have Turkey, you have Syria, and you have Qatar. If you want to talk about cooperation, for example, regarding the peace, we had a meeting in Istanbul, me and Erdogan and the prince of Qatar, and it was about the peace, because Turkey and Qatar are partners with Syria in the peace issue. So you have a different map regarding different issues. We had a meeting with Iran regarding defending our rights regarding the Israeli aggression, regarding the issue in Iraq. Regarding Iraq, there’s cooperation between Syria, Turkey, and Iran. So you have different [unintelligible]. But all of them in the same region, so this is the new dynamic that we have that depends on every subject.
Charlie Rose: There is no dialogue between Syria –
Bashar al-Assad: Between Syria and the United States regarding Iraq. They only talk about borders, and they only talk about terrorists, because they deal with the terrorists like playing a game on the computer where you have terrorists, and they have to shoot him. That’s how they deal with the terrorist issue. They don’t understand that terrorism fighting means having the atmosphere, the normal situation, fighting the chaos. You cannot fight the chaos while you have political anarchy. You should have normal government with the police, with the army, with the normal situation, normal political situation. This is where you don’t have chaos, this is where terrorists fail. They cannot do anything.
Charlie Rose: So what is your big challenge today?
Bashar al-Assad: The biggest challenge is how can we keep our society as secular as it is today.
Charlie Rose: As secular.
Bashar al-Assad: Secular — the society, not the government. It is secular. You have diversity, very rich diversity in Syria we are proud of. But at the end, you are part of this region. You cannot stay unrelated to the conflicts from the conflicts surrounding you. If you have sectarian Lebanon on our west and sectarian Iraq on our east, and you don’t have the peace process solved on our southern border, and you have the terrorists dominating the region, and let’s say growing with leaps and bounds, you will be affected some day. You will be — you will pay the price. So it’s not about being passive and saying I’m going to protect myself. How can you be active and expand what you have to the other? So the challenge is the extremism in this region.
Charlie Rose: But the extremism some people believe — those people who are never secular, who in fact find in religion a cause.
Bashar al-Assad: They always use religions to assume — to assume the mantle of religions or Islam, whatever, in order to have followers. They only assume it. I don’t think they are convinced about what they are doing. Some of them, they are ignorant. They believe it. They think they are helping the religion this way. But at the end, it’s not about those, about — it’s about the others. How can they influence because, I mean, you always have extremists in everything. In politics, in religions, in Christianity, in Islam, in Judaism, in every religion, you have extremism. But it’s about how much can they influence the society. As long as we have open-minded people, you don’t worry about them, they are going to be isolated. So I’m not worried about what meant to be the few to convince the other, only about how much the other can protect himself from them.
Charlie Rose: But as I listen to you say that, it seems an incongruity between saying that and looking at who you have great relations with and who you support in the region.
Bashar al-Assad: That’s why I say it’s not about who is like you and who is not. It’s about the cause. They have cause they have to support. And this is the second — there’s not extremist if you –
Charlie Rose: Hezbollah is not extremist?
Bashar al-Assad: No, it’s not. They support peace. If you want peace, they support peace. They believe in Islam as — to be the government in their country. This is their freedom of — this is — I mean, they are free to think whatever they want. But they never try to implement it by force. This is where you cannot blame a rebel as an extremist. The extremist wants to force you to go in certain way. And sometimes they attack you, and sometime they kill you. This is extremism, not to have your idea, your idea, of course we’re going to have different ideas, different currents, political currents and treaty currents. That’s normal. And this is the diversity that we have. But they are not extremists because they never try to implement by force their doctrine.
A U.S. nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier move toward Iran while Israel conducts its largest war exercises to-date
A US nuclear submarine has moved into the Persian Gulf, in advance of an aircraft carrier and its accompanying naval strike force. There will soon be two US aircraft carrier groups in the region facing off against Iran, also while tensions are on the rise between Israel on one side and Syria and Lebanon on the other. Currently, one carrier strike group is stationed in the Arabian Sea. The additional carrier group currently on its way will include 6,000 personnel and combatants.
Tehran reports that an Iranian naval patrol Thursday, May 27, detected a US nuclear submarine sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which most of the oil produced by Persian Gulf states passes on its way to world markets.
[…] Western intelligence and naval sources confirm that a nuclear-armed American submarine has in fact entered the Persian Gulf.
Some 20% of the world’s oil leaves the Persian Gulf via the Straight of Hormuz.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, May 23, Israel began five day long war games. Numerous media reports present an Israeli war with Labanon and perhaps Syria as inevitable, if not this summer then within the next few years. I’m not sure about what inevitable means, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that drills and war preparations are used as threats against neighbours, or that Israel desires war at some point and that war is being planned for. Here is an example of statements from Israel’s daily, Ha’aretz: “The home front’s readiness for the next war was the focus of this past week’s national exercise.” And, paraphrasing Israeli Brig. General Uzi Moskovitch “Moskovitch, who speaks cautiously, does not think there is a big risk of a war in the north this summer. He does, though, believe such a confrontation will occur in the coming years.”
In response to the Israeli exercises, Lebanon has conducted its own drill on May 26.
A security source in Beirut said that Lebanese soldiers were dispatched across the border with Israel “in order to thwart any possible offensive from the enemy, and close any loopholes that it might use during an attack scenario.”
During its drill, Lebanon fired its anti-aircraft batteries on Israeli airplanes it said violated the national airspace.
Lebanon accuses Israel of violating its airspace on a daily basis, also a breach of UN Resolution 1701 which ended the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah in 2006.
[…] Lebanese army also opened fires to Israeli warplanes in March and February, but none of Israeli planes were hit.
The Israeli war exercises included airplane flight distances that were similar to the length they would need to fly to reach Iran.
Iran’s army is not able to credibly threaten its neighbours with a land invasion, it simply does not have that capacity. It can, however, function to defend itself against invasion and has as focus internal security. Iran has not started a war in the past couple of centuries.
The Race for Iran has responded to talk of a US-Iran war scenario, stating that they “believe that Iran has an enormous capacity for ‘asymmetric’ resistance to armed violations of its sovereignty.”
The war drills in Israel are part of a yearly exercise of emergency preparedness, and includes not just war games but also emergency services, and also air raid sirens are set off requiring citizens to enter air raid shelters. This year’s exercise has been the largest in Israel’s history.
Israel’s IBA News television broadcast interviews a man discussing his and his children’s experience of the shelters drill (you can view this online, at Mosaic World News, 4 minutes and 40 seconds into the video). His children were told of the drill in kindergarten and are prepared for it through school. When asked how he talks to his children about these events the interviewee explains that “It doesn’t scare them but they have an understanding about enemies, Arabs, and people who hate the state of Israel. They have these vague concepts.”
Brazil and Turkey are at odds with the US over their negotiations with Iran to swap low enriched uranium amounting to nearly half of Iran’s current total. The US has said the deal is not good enough and has pressed for further sanctions against Iran while mobilizing its navy. Brazil and Turkey have said that US president Obama earlier gave them personal assurances that he was in support of their pursuing a nuclear fuel swap deal along the lines promoted by the US and Europe in October of 2009. Brazil has published the letter from the US to Brazil giving support for the deal while the US administration claims that the letter is taken out of context.
The US military has signed off on a document authorizing the expansion of a military spy system in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa. The story was first reported by Mark Mazetti in the New York Times.
The directive was signed on September 2009, by General David Petraeus. The directive “authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.”
This deepens a process of military covert activity begun under US president Bush, now broadened and further systematized under president Obama.
Mazetti’s writes in his New York Times article:
Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said.
[…] In broadening its secret activities, the United States military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.
[…]Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.
[…]The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.
[…]Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.
These clandestine activities, undertaken by the US military, are free from the same government oversight as CIA operations. Furthermore, the directive encourages a broad membership in intelligence gathering, “by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others — to identify militants and provide ‘persistent situational awareness,’ while forging ties to local indigenous groups.”
China’s influence in key Middle Eastern countries has increased thanks to its economic clout. It is becoming a primary export market for countries of the region (and much of the world in general), while also making significant and strategic investments in numerous regions.
In the past five years, China has emerged as the major investor in Iran, with an estimated US$120 billion worth of energy investments. Despite the sanctions already in place, trade between the countries grew by 35% in 2008, to $27 billion. In 2009, China signed over $8 billion in new energy investments. Seemingly, there is an emerging China-Iran tandem.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are among China’s biggest suppliers of crude oil.
China is Saudi Arabia’s top export market. Trade between the two countries had increased to US$41.8 billion in 2008. 16,000 Chinese workers were employed in Saudi Arabia in 2009, representing 70 companies.
It is estimated that in 2010 China will be Egypt’s largest trade partner.
The US intends to spend US$14 billion dollars on foreign assistance in the broader Middle East and North Africa. This FY2011 budget request is a 27% over the previous year’s aid budget.
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) has a report that provides analysis on the proposed FY2011 budget.
There is a planned rise in aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries where the US is fighting a war. From the POMED report: “After increasing aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan a year ago from $1.87 billion to $4.36 billion, President Obama has now requested an even larger increase, up to a total of $6.95 billion. This increase extends to funding for democracy and governance programs in the two countries, for which $1.58 billion is requested, up from a FY10 request of $991 million.”
Financial support to projects in Yemen is to increase. The US is an active ally of Yemen’s government in the political and armed conflict within that country. From the POMED report: “In last year’s FY10 budget, President Obama requested a 38% increase in foreign aid to Yemen, including a more than threefold increase in funding for democracy and governance programming. Now for FY11, he has requested an additional 58% increase in assistance to Yemen, while also restructuring USAID’s approach to the country.”
POMED highlights some changes in the structure of aid to Egypt, an important US ally in the region. Egypt’s government has been facing long-term pressure from national political and civic groups who wish for deep transformation of the political process as well as to improve very serious economic troubles. From the POMED report: “Funding for democracy in Egypt remains at levels sharply reduced in March 2009, which included disproportionate cuts in funding for civil society. The decision to provide USAID funding only to organizations registered and approved as NGOs by the Egyptian government remains in place. Finally, the administration is now exploring the establishment of an “endowment” proposed by the Egyptian government, which ultimately could remove a significant portion of U.S. economic assistance to Egypt from normal channels of congressional oversight.”
You can read a summary or the full report at the POMED site.