March 20th, 2009

Chris Keeley

President Obama's New Year's Message to Iranians

Subject: On President Obama's New Year's Message to Iranians

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

On the occasion of the Persian New Year, President Obama has videotaped a personal statement to the Iranian people which is being portrayed in the Western media as a significant change, in both tone and substance, in American policy and an effort to "reach out" to Iran. However, reading the principal substantive portion cited below, one must have serious doubts that it will be viewed in this light by many Iranians.


"My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties…This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect. You, too, have a choice.  The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations.  You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.  And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create."


One may well agree that improving relations between the two countries "will not be advanced by threats", but who has has been threatening whom? Has Iran been threatening a "preventive" (i.e., unprovoked and aggressive) attack on the United States? Has Iran been insisting that "military action" remains "on the table" if the United States does not bow to Iranian demands?


One may also agree that no country's "rightful place in the community of nations" should be reached "through terror and arms". Yet it is the United States which brought "shock and awe" (the American marketing term for "terror" when unleashed by the United States) to the region six years ago this month, and it is the United States which spends more on arms than the rest of the world combined.


One may also agree that the "true greatness" of a country is demonstrated through "peaceful actions". Iran has not invaded another country in over two centuries. The same can scarcely be said of the United States.


One may, finally, agree that "greatness is not the capacity to destroy". America has, most recently, destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq and applauded the destruction of Gaza, and, for decades, it has possessed enough nuclear weapons to destroy life on Earth many times over. Its capacity and proclivity for destruction shape its unique "place in the community of nations".


This peculiar effort to "reach out" to Iranians, which any rational Iranian who actually heard or read the words could be expected to view as condescending and insulting, is logically consistent with the line in President Obama's inaugural address in which he offered an outstetched hand to unspecified Muslims (subsequently identified as Iranians) if they would unclench their fist. Who has been brandishing a clenched fist at whom?


It is entirely possible that President Obama has, in his own eyes, been trying to "reach out" to Muslims in general and Iranians in particular (except, of course, in respect of any matter relating to Israel-Palestine). However, the words and concepts used in his efforts continue to reflect the blind self-righteousness and myopic obliviousness to reality and the way others might perceive America, the world and their own place in it so characteristic of his intentionally rude and crude predecessor.


This is troubling, since the window of opportunity to build a better relationship between the West and the Muslim world and to prevent yet another unnecessary and potentially even more catastrophic war in the Middle East may not be open for long.


However, particularly since President Obama is a man of intelligence, a more cynical and sinister interpetation of this public show of "reaching out" must also be considered. After the Iraq debacle, further wars of aggression are a "hard sell". If "military action" (Israeli, American or combined) against Iran really does remain "on the table" (and President Obama, who could have taken it off the table, has not chosen to do so), it will be essential to convince American and other Western public opinion that the United States has "gone the extra mile" toward "reaching out" for a peaceful resolution of its dispute with Iran -- and been irrationally repulsed, thereby conclusively demonstrating Iran's evil intentions and justifying "military action" against it.


In this scenario, the pot-calling-the-kettle-black content of this videotaped statement might be explained by its actually be addressed to American and other Western public opinion (which would be unlikely to find anything jarring in it) rather than to Iranian public opinion. Dennis Ross, recently named as Hillary Clinton's special advisor for Iran, is publicly on the record as favoring a brief but visibly intensified "diplomatic" effort to convince Iran to bow to Israeli/American demands -- which would, inevitably and necessarily, be unsuccessful -- before proceeding on to the attack on Iran which he deems essential to protect Israel's security interests.


If Dennis Ross recommended that President Obama celebrate the Persian New Year in this peculiar manner (or even wrote the statement read by the president), the cynical and sinister view may, unfortunately, be the more realistic one.



Chris Keeley

Israeli Soldiers Admit to Deliberate Killing of Gaza Civilians

Published on Friday, March 20, 2009 by the Times Online (UK)
Israeli Soldiers Admit to Deliberate Killing of Gaza Civilians

by James Hider

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army has been forced to open an investigation into the conduct of its troops in Gaza after damning testimony from its own front line soldiers revealed the killing of civilians and rules of engagement so lax that one combatant said that they amounted on occasion to "cold-blooded murder".

The revelations, compiled by the head of an Israel military academy who declared that he was "shocked" at the findings, come as international rights groups are calling for independent inquiries into the conduct of both sides in the three-week Israeli offensive against Palestinian Islamists.

The soldiers' testimonies include accounts of an unarmed old woman being shot at a distance of 100 yards, a woman and her two children being killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house into the line of fire of a sniper and soldiers clearing houses by shooting anyone they encountered on sight.

"That's the beauty of Gaza. You see a man walking, he doesn't have to have a weapon, and you can shoot him," one soldier told Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy, who asked him why a company commander ordered an elderly woman to be shot.

"I gathered the graduate students of the course who fought in Gaza, to hear their impressions from the fighting. I wasn't prepared for any of the stuff I heard there. I was shocked," Mr Zamir said. "I think that the writing was on the wall, but we just didn't want to see it, we didn't want to face it."

One non-commissioned officer told Mr Zamir, himself a deputy battalion commander in the reserves, that the army "fired a lot of rounds and killed a lot of people in order for us not to be injured or shot at.

"When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey... I call that murder. Each storey, if we identify a person, we shoot them. I asked myself - how is this reasonable?"

The same unnamed NCO said that his commanding officer ordered soldiers on to a rooftop to shoot an old woman crossing a main street during the fighting, which a Palestinian rights groups said left 1,434 people dead, 960 of them civilians.

"I don't know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don't know her story," the NCO said. "I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out... It was cold-blooded murder."

Another NCO recounted a military blunder that led to a mother and her two children being shot dead by an Israeli sniper. "We had taken over the house... and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left... The sniper on the roof wasn't told that this was okay and that he shouldn't shoot... you can say he just did what he was told... he was told not to let anyone approach the left flank and he shot at them.

"I don't know whether he first shot at their feet or not, but he killed them," the soldier said.

The soldiers' accounts were submitted anonymously at a meeting at the academy around a month ago. The Israel army said that it had started an investigation, but that this was the first time it had heard such testimony, despite having debriefed troops itself.

Breaking The Silence, an organisation of former soldiers who gather witness accounts from troops in the Palestinian territories, said that its own investigation into Operation Cast Lead, as the war was known in Israel, had revealed a similar picture of the fighting.

"It's definitely in line with what we are hearing," said one of the researchers.

Another disturbing element reported by the soldiers was the role of military rabbis in distributing booklets that framed the fighting as a religious war. "All these articles had a clear message: we are the Jewish people, we have come to the land by miraculous means, and now we have to fight to remove the Gentiles who are getting in our way and preventing us from occupying the Holy Land... a great many soldiers had a feeling throughout this operation of a religious war," said one soldier.

There were also accounts of soldiers being ordered to throw all the furniture out of Palestinians' homes as they were taken over.

"We simply threw everything out the windows to make room and order. The entire contents of the house flew out the windows: refrigerator, plates, furniture. The order was to remove the entire contents of the house."

Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.