Battlefield Yemen – Democracies In Action

March 29, 2015

“If there the offensive develops to be a ground invasion, the Yemenis will prove that their country is the invaders’ graveyard,” (Sayyed Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi)

On Wednesday (25 Mar. 2015), Saudi Arabia announced a launch of a military operation against the Houthis, who currently control large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Saudi attack is targeting Shiite Houthi rebels who are embroiled in a vicious civil war with the majority-Sunni-run Yemeni Government. Houthi militants have reportedly captured large stocks of weaponry from Yemen military sites. Saudi Arabia has reportedly deployed 100 fighter aircraft and 150,000 troops for the operation, Saudi allies have promised at least 100 fighter aircrafts more and U.S. logistical and intelligence support.

Yemen3

The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh. Yemen is the last example about the hypocrisy of Western powers especially if the case is compared to reactions related to Ukraine.

Background

Yemen has a population some 25 million and, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula , bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, Red Sea to the west and Gulf of Aden to the south. The Republic of Yemen was created in 1990 when North and South Yemen united. 53% of the Muslim population is Sunni and 47% is Shi’a. Among Yemen’s natural and cultural attractions are four World Heritage sites.

_81933609_yemen_houthi_controll_624_v7Instability and large-scale displacement, as well as weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, have hindered development in the poorest country in the Middle East. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East.

During last years in Yemen has been fighting between the state and the Houthis in the north; separatist unrest in the south; frequent attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and power struggles between tribal and military factions. By 2009, Saudi Arabia had joined the Yemeni army in attacking Saada – the Houthis’ stronghold – just across its southern border. In 2010 a joint Saudi-Yemeni military campaign was going on in the country’s war-weary north where Sana’a and Riyadh forces were engaged in a fierce fighting against the Houthi fighters.

The Houthis, who accused the Sunni-dominated Sana’a government of discrimination and repression against Yemen’s Shia minority, were the target of the army’s off and on attacks before the central government launched an all-out fighting against them in early August 2010. Same time Yemen’s southern provinces came the scene of U.S. air strikes which Washington claims to be aimed at uprooting an al-Qaeda cell operative in the Persian Gulf state. The political crisis in Yemen started in 2011 when Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country since 1978, finally signed away his presidency in favor of his Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, a fairly weak figure who lacked a significant support base, either in politics or the military.

In August 2014, Houthi rebels swept down from their stronghold in the mountains, demanding economic and political reforms. In September, they seized key state installations in Sanaa. The militants forced the country’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government to resign and dissolved the parliament in the first weeks of 2015. Hadi was under house arrest in Sanaa before he fled to Aden in February, quickly disavowing his resignation. Now Yemen’s fugitive President Hadi has arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
yemen_control-1
On 20th March 2015 suicide bombers attacked two mosques in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 126 people and wounding many others. Worshippers were attending noon prayers at the Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques when at least four attackers struck. The mosques are used mainly by supporters of the Zaidi Shia-led Houthi rebel movement, which controls Sanaa. Islamic State (IS), which set up a branch in Yemen in November, said it was behind the attacks. Yemen is the base of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a powerful offshoot of the jihadist militant group that has carried out similar suicide attacks on Houthi supporters. However, now it seems that IS is also gaining ground in the country. Houthi militia members seized the military airport in Taiz on March 22 without any resistance from Yemeni military forces. Taiz is the third largest city located in the heart of Yemen and the gateway to south Yemen and Aden. (Source: Al-Monitor )

The local players

Yemen is home to what Western intelligence analysts consider to be the most dangerous franchise of al-Qaeda. AQAP stands for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance formed in 2009 between violent Yemeni and Saudi Islamists. In 2000 al-Qaeda suicide bombers rammed a boat full of explosives into a billion-dollar destroyer, the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. Today the danger of AQAP is based to its international reach. For example it is claimed AQAP to be behind the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Earlier AQAP has successfully smuggled viable bombs onboard aircraft on international flights (e.g. cases of sc. “underpants bomber” and smuggled bombs hidden in printer ink toner cartridges on US-bound cargo planes).

a-metastasizing-al-qaeda-implications-to-us-counterterrorism-policy-19-638

The Houthis are members of a rebel group, also known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism. Houthis are a large religious group comprising about one-third the population of Yemen and they ruled North Yemen under a system known as the imamate for almost 1,000 years until 1962. The Houthis are also benefiting from increasingly overt support from forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still has influence in the Yemeni military.

Islamic State (IS), which set up a branch in Yemen in November and is also gaining ground in the country.

U.S. involvement

For U.S. Yemen is important for two energy related issues: one is Yemen’s geopolitical location as one of the world’s most important oil transport routes and the other is undeveloped – some say one of the world’s largest – petroleum reserves in the territory. The U.S. Government Energy Information Agency states that “closure of the Bab el-Mandab could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa. The Strait of Bab el-Mandab is a chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.” In addition to its geopolitical position as a major global oil transit chokepoint, Yemen is reported to hold some of the world’s greatest untapped oil reserves.

The United States quietly opened already in 2008 largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen. Citing an unnamed former top CIA official, the New York Times wrote that then Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country. At the same time, some of the most secretive special operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counter-terrorism tactics, the report said. The Pentagon will be spending more than 70 million dollars over the next 18 months, and using teams of special forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels, the paper noted. Without doubt, the military-industrial complex has a stake in expanding areas to be exploited for oil as well as protecting U.S. oil sources. This is good news to the weapons industry.

There is similar U.S. involvement now in Yemen as it was earlier in Ukraine where various U.S. agencies had their role in Kiev’s coup d’etat. In Yemen e.g. USAID has funded a $3.58 million project to create a secession movement. Project was implemented mainly in Aden as south Yemen is strategically important for Western powers.

The US embassy last month closed its operations in Sanaa after the Houthis took command of the capital, leading to a situation where two rival governments in the north and south are competing for power.

Today U.S is officially backing Saudi attack to Yemen as one can note from White House statement :

In response to the deteriorating security situation, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government… The United States coordinates closely with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on issues related to their security and our shared interests. In support of GCC actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.

Sayyed Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, the leader of Yemen’s Ansarullah movement, said that the criminality and evil forces target all the Yemenis and their public facilities. In a televised speech, Sayyed Houthi asserted that the Saudi-US aggression on Yemen is unjustifiable, noting that the Saudi regime has always funded the plots which destabilze the regional countries. Sayyed Houthi considered that the offensive serves the Israeli and American interests. Saudi Arabia aimed at causing divisions in the various states in the region, yet the Yemeni people frustrated its plots and defeated its terrorist agents, according to Sayyed Houthi. Sayyed Houthi asserted that the Yemeni people relies on Holy God to face the Saudi-Led aggression, noting that Riyadh bets on the US role in the region. (Source: SyrianFreePress )

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Regional battleground

Yemen is a battleground between Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia. Houthi sources also reported they have been promised a year’s supply of crude oil from Iran and a new power plant. Direct air service between Tehran and Sanaa began in February. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) experts are advising the Houthi forces. Against this background, the success of the Houthis is seen as a blow to Saudi interests (and for that matter, American interests) and a boost for Iran. The Saudis also fear the Iranians with Iraqi help may try to stoke tensions and violence in Bahrain next.

In February 2015, a delegation of the Ansarullah movement visited the Russian capital, allegedly offering lucrative oil contracts and trade agreements, predominantly in agriculture. The delegation also included several political parties sympathetic to Ansarullah, including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress. They promised to let Russian energy companies explore the oil-rich Marib province, which the parties said “they would likely control soon.” In reality, however, Russians view the current crisis in Yemen as systemic and long-standing. In this respect, Moscow is not disillusioned about the real prospects of its own presence in the country, economic or otherwise. (Source: Al-Monitor )

Summary: In the fact the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war is going on in Yemen.

My view

The irony now is that Yemen has went into a civil war pitting the Shia Houthis – suspected of being backed by Iran – against Sunni tribes backed by al-Qaeda and U.S. has in fact now forced to fight for al-Qaeda. If that doesn’t seem absurd enough so in Iraq, U.S. is helping Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitaries fight the Islamic State but in Yemen, U.S. is helping the Saudis fight Iranian-backed paramilitaries. Same time U.S. is at final stage to make deal with Iran about their nuclear program much to chagrin Saudi Arabia, the main U.S. ally in Arab world.

The foreign military intervention in Yemen is a clear-cut violation of international law, in particular of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which bans the use of force in relations between states. The unilateral action of Saudi Arabia and its allies is not in any way justified as act of “collective self-defence”. Instead it is interference in a civil war on the side of one party to the conflict, and it will make the domestic conflict even worse.

From my perspective Yemen is last example about hypocrisy displayed By Western powers.  When U.S. backed coup ousted President Yanukovych it was praised as victory of democracy over corrupt society. When corrupt President Hadi was ousted in Yemen so West still suooorts him and even Saudi-led bombing against the people.  One can only imagine what kind of outcry had followed if Russia had started bombing campaign  against Kiev.  So in the world of double standards only politics, money and power matters as usual.

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Balkans and Geography of Turkish Stream

March 22, 2015

 

ONLINE JOURNAL 21.03.2015 | 00:00
Pyotr ISKENDEROV
Strategic-Culture.org

Balkans and Geography of Turkish Stream

Russia’s Stroytransgaz has announced that it will build a gas pipeline across (FYR) Macedonia, which could eventually be used as part of a route to supply Europe with Russian gas via Turkey. Macedonia will have its own source of energy. Today the country has energy dependence indicator of 47, 9 percent – the second largest after Croatia (52%). The importance of the pipeline going across Macedonia is immense. It will become the key component of all-Balkans energy system linked to the Russia-Turkey joint Turkish Stream project on the construction of gas route leading to Central and South Europe.

According to Stroytransgaz, the 96.6 km (60 miles) Negotino-Klecovce gas pipeline will cross Macedonia from near the Greek border in the south up to the vicinity of the Serbian border in the north. Stroytransgaz will build 61 km of the link by June 2016.

gasovod

At the moment, Macedonia receives gas from Russia via Bulgaria and Romania as part of the transit through Ukraine (pipe string N8). The existing pipeline has a capacity of 800 million cubic meters a year – not enough to satisfy the needs of the Balkans. The pipeline may be out of operation as early as 2019 when Russia plans to stop using this route, or, even earlier, in case of Ukraine’s further disintegration.

Gasprom and its Turkish partners want to finish the construction as early as they can. Gazprom’s CEO Aleksey Miller said, «Our priorities – to study the route’s options in Turkey, to define the location of the landfall facilities, gas delivery points for Turkish consumers and border crossings between Turkey and Greece».

There is an intriguing collision here. Nature and geography are the factors to facilitate Macedonia’s becoming the key transit country in the Balkans. There is an alternative route going through Bulgaria and Serbia. But Moscow does not see Bulgaria as a partner to trust. Serbia imports all the gas it consumes. Russia accounts for 95% of its supplies. Belgrade faces political problems. It has to prove itself as a reliable partner to become part of the emerging energy system in the Balkans.

caucase-turquie-en

Turkish Stream has the same capacity as South Stream. It can carry up to 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually to Europe with 16 billion remaining in Turkey and 47 billion going farther to the Balkans. It’s enough to satisfy all the requirements. The main obstacle is the gap between the Serbia’s ruling elite on the one hand, and the interests of Serbian people on the other.

No matter Western and many Serbian media outlets have launched an anti-Russian and anti-Gasprom campaign, there is a growing understanding in Serbian society of the reasons South Stream was cancelled. According to a poll conducted in late 2014-early 2015, 39, 8% of Serbs believe the United States is behind the cancellation of South Stream while 20,2% put the blame of the European Union. Only 6, 5% believe that it was Russia’s fault. 2, 4% of respondents think that Bulgaria was responsible because it’s not fully independent while taking decisions on energy and other issues.

Bulgaria mainly, and to lesser extent Serbia, failed to act on their own being too much subject to foreign influence. Today Turkey imports around 70% of oil and gas it needs, its consumer demand is to increase 40% by 2020. Turkey wants to become a key energy hub. It takes part in talks on all the projects under consideration related to new routes going to Europe, no matter some of them are subject to competition. The availability of resources defines energy geopolitics. It makes the Russia’s position be on solid footing.

Of course, Macedonia presents some risks due to internal political instability and the emergence of Albanian factor. The West’s intention to frustrate the Russia’s plans is obvious. There are grounds to believe that the recent round of political confrontation in Skopie was incited by the West. The events have all the making of «color revolution» inspired from outside. But one way or another, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia have to think about their energy needs. Common reason makes them realize that close cooperation with Russia meets their interests. All planned and existing energy routes go to the region from the East, not from the West. Liquefied gas tankers from Qatar or Algeria don’t drop anchors Belgrade, Sophia or Skopie.

 

 


Knesset 2015: Post-Election Notes

March 20, 2015

1425070416233Israeli voters gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a resounding victory in Tuesday’s [17th Mar. 2015] election, despite pre-election polls showing him trailing the Zionist Union. The Zionist Union won close to the total it had been predicted by pollsters, and its  24 seats is more that Labour and Livni’s Hatnua won separately in 2013 (21). However PM Netanyahu’s Likud secured a decisive victory with 30 Knesset seats. Polls before election as well even exit polls differed vastly from the final figures.

Sure the Israeli left did better than it has done in almost a generation but it was not enough. One part of leftist campaign was sc V15 – Victory in 2015 – project of the One Voice group. The project was accused of being operated and funded by anti-right groups abroad, which gave the group money to set up an organization that would cause Netanyahu to lose. The group denied that it was representing foreign agents, and the Likud sought to have the group shut down, unsuccessfully.

Netanyahu picked a fight with a sitting U.S. president and declared there will never be a Palestinian State. The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and his boast that he will continue building in east Jerusalem were signs of his new hard-line approach. Netanyahu was able to surge in the last few days, following even a racist campaign that warned right-wing voters of a “left-wing government backed by the Arabs.” The warnings worked and moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days which pushed him from 19 percent in the polls before the election to 23 percent on election night and cemented his position as the leader of Israel’s right wing. Other right-wing parties were losers – Bennett and the settlers dropped to eight seats in the exit polls from 12, Liberman dropped five, and the far-right Yahad party didn’t even make it in.

As result Israel’s Prime Minister should be able to put together a ruling coalition of center-right parties that is more manageable than his last majority. PM Netanyahu’s nasty campaign alienated major parts of the public in Israel and abroad he put himself in a diplomatic corner e.g with U.S. and EU. The fact that Netanyahu openly campaigned on his opposition to Palestinian statehood means that now he is backed by a majority of Jewish/Israeli voters. Related to U.S PM Netanyahu will need to decide what to do if and when a deal about Iran does go through.

Results

 

Party
Votes
%
Seats
+/–
 
984,966
23.40
30
+12
 
786,075
18.67
24
+3
 
443,837
10.54
13
+2
 
370,850
8.81
11
–8
 
315,202
7.49
10
New
 
283,559
6.74
8
–4
 
241,200
5.73
7
–4
 
215,083
5.11
6
–7
 
211,826
5.03
6
–1
 
165,292
3.93
5
–1
 
125,106
2.97
0
New
 
47,156
1.12
0
0
 
Arab List
4,537
0.11
0
New
 
3,429
0.08
0
0
 
We are all
friends
Na Nach
2,502
0.06
0
0
 
1,977
0.05
0
New
 
Hope for Change
1,519
0.04
0
0
 
Economy Party
1,050
0.02
0
0
 
Flower Party
943
0.02
0
New
 
941
0.02
0
0
 
886
0.02
0
0
 
Living with Dignity
562
0.01
0
0
 
503
0.01
0
0
 
Democratura
243
0.01
0
New
 
223
0.01
0
0
Invalid/blank votes
43,869
1.04
Total
4,253,336
100
120
Registered voters/turnout
5,881,696
72.36
Source: CEC

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Israel’s Central Election Committee, out of a total of 5,878,362 eligible voters 4,253,336 participated in Tuesday’s election or 72.3 percent of the electorate. The final election turnout was 4.6% higher than in the previous election and the highest since the 1999 elections, which saw a 78.7% turnout. Furthermore, the electoral threshold for any party to participate in the next Knesset was 136,808 votes with 33,482 votes to equal one mandate. The election resulted in a record number of women (28) being elected to the Knesset.

The new government

President Reuven Rivlin tried before elections to facilitate a Likud/Zionist Union coalition government, however both parties have ruled this option out. There is in theory also a possibility to centre-left government with ZU, Arab list, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s centrist party. The winner isn’t the party with the most votes, but the one that can unite several smaller parties together into a governing coalition. In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister even though the Likud came in second on Election Day. However I think that now these alternatives are unrealistic.

President Rivlin intends to begin meeting the heads of elected Knesset parties on Sunday [22nd Mar. 2015], to receive their recommendations over who should form the next government. This is the first stage in the coalition building process and will almost certainly result in Rivlin inviting Netanyahu to build a coalition. Netanyahu will then have an initial four-week period to complete the process. Netanyahu has already contacted Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni and Ya’akov Litzman, plus Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. A coalition including all of these parties would guarantee a 67 seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Widespread media speculation suggests that Kahlon will become Finance Minister and incumbent Moshe Ya’alon will remain Defence Minister. Naftali Bennett will be appointed either Foreign Minister or Justice Minister. Avigdor Lieberman wants a senior role, but his negotiation position is weak with his Yisrael Beitenu party having secured just 5 seats. Senior Likud MKs including Gilad Erdan and Yuval Steinitz will also expect to be rewarded with prestigious ministerial positions. Meanwhile, Shas leader Aryeh Deri looks likely to become Interior Minister, a job he has previously held, while United Torah Judaism may be rewarded with the health portfolio.

 Israel-Poll_wednesday

Peace process?

Without any commitment to a two-state solution and Netanyahu’s boast that he will continue building in occupied east Jerusalem may increase pressure – not least from Europe – for moves towards sanctions against Israel.

However in his first post-election interview (with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News), Prime Minister Netanyahu backed off his opposition to a Palestinian state. Binyamin Netanyahu has retracted his pre-election statements, according to which he would not allow a Palestinian state to be established. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Netanyahu said Thursday [19th Mar.2015, AR] in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I haven’t changed my policy.” Netanyahu said his earlier comments were a reflection of changing conditions on the Palestinian side, pointing to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s pact to form a unity government with Hamas, which Israel, the U.S. and most European countries consider a terrorist organization. “I’m talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,” Netanyahu said Thursday, insisting that he would support a demilitarized Palestinian state under a plan that would ensure Israel’s security. (Source: Virtual Jerusalem )

After earlier reports said that the Palestinian Authority was considering suspending all security cooperation with Israel in the wake of Binyamin Netanyahu’s reelection, the PA officially announced Wednesday night that it was hoping to renew talks with Israel, regardless of who was Prime Minister. Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, the PA’s official spokesperson, said that the PA has “no interest in the disposition of Israel’s Prime Minister. The only thing we are interested in from any Israeli government is the recognition and acceptance of the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.” At a press conference in Ramallah, Abu-Rudeineh said that acceptance of the two state solution was the only basis of negotiation with Israel. (Source: Arutz Sheva )

images8OFOQO83In my opinion a two-state solution is possible. The final status agreement has been very close at least since Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings/agreement/plan (1995) where nearly all issues were agreed. The Olmert proposal (2008) was probably the last serious try. (both plans can be found from my document library )

My conclusions

My forecast is that if centre-right wing government continues after elections so nothing will change in peace process, the same is if there will be Likud/Zionist Union coalition government. If centre-left government will be established there might be a slight chance to go forward. In this case there is no need to start everything from the beginning as Mrs. Livni was participating to long negotiations during Olmert’s time. If peace negotiations don’t start or they fail again so there always is another option : unilateral actions; e.g. Israel could annex main settlements from West-bank inside the security fence and return to negotiations about other than so solved border issue when both parties feel need to make a long term deal. Not so bad option anyway from my perspective.

One key aspect with peace process is that historically Likud remains the only party to have withdrawn from Israeli territories – first from Sinai in 1982 under then-prime minister Menachem Begin as part of the peace agreement with Egypt and in 2005, under then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, it unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

The optimist side of me would like to compare situation now with situation ten years ago. Ariel Sharon was war hero know about his hawkish attitude and his position was strong. After this election PM Netanyahu has now a strong mandate and he could make similar brave decisions and broke deal with Palestinian Authority based two-state solution and -67 armistice line – with land swaps to annex main settlements behind security fence to Israel. Remains to be seen if this optimism will be Utopian – I hope not.

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Knesset 2015: Forecast

March 15, 2015

1425070416233On 17th March will Israel have voting for new Knesset and it seems to be creating very interesting scenarios for future.  Last polls show that now there is a real possibility to replace PM Netanyahu with centre-left option.  Centre-right Likud is losing elections to Zionist Union which is a new combination of Isaac Herzog’s Labor party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah.  When PM Netanyahu made decision about early elections he or most analysts hardly were supposing so big change.  It remains to see if possible win of Zionist Union is enough for centre-left led government which could boost Israeli-Palestinian peace process to new track. 

20150314_fbc471

According to the last polls Zionist Union is getting 24-26 Member of Knesset while the ruling Likud only 21 or less and its right-wing ally Habayit Hayehud 11-12 MKs. A new center-right party – Kulany – with its popular leader, ex-Likud minister Moshe Kahlon might get nine MKs and the secular populist party Yesh Atid 12-13 seats..   

Yisrael Beiteinu is now in the danger zone as FM Avigdor Lieberman’s party barely crosses the electoral threshold and will get only four-five seats if any.  By contrast, both Meretz and Yahad have improved their positions, exceeding the electoral threshold and getting five-six seats.   The religious parties tend to be keeping their positions.  Following the raising of the electoral threshold the main Arab parties – Balad, Hadash, the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ta’al and the United Arab List – agreed to run on the same list in the election, this Joint List, could increase turnout amongst Arab voters to 56%, 10% higher than in the 2013 elections. However, the more hardline northern branch of the Islamic Movement opted to boycott the elections, along the Abnaa el-Balad (Sons of the Village) movement. One interesting detail is that Kadima party is not running in this election at all.

 

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One should make note that the margin of error in Israeli polls is quite high – some four per cent up or down. However if the winner is ZU so there is a huge challenge to form new government – actually putting together a coalition will be very difficult. Herzog would have to persuade parties like Meretz and Yisrael Beiteinu to sit together, and convince one or more Haredi parties to cooperate with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. Arab parties probably prefer centre-left government more than other alternatives. 

As sources I have used e.g following election pages:  JStreet, Haaretz,  Bicom.

Peace process

Solving Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on top of the agenda in this elections .  However the new government will have its impact to peace process to one way or other.  In infograph below there is positions of parties related to main issues of Israeli-Palestianian conflict.  Credits for the figure belong to  MEMO –Middle East Monitorille.

Infograph can be downloaded from here!

infographic-israeli_elections_2015

My forecast is that if Zionist Union can form the new government there will be improvement with Israeli-Palestinian peace process based on two-state solution.  If Herzog and Netanyahu create unlikely joint government so probably nothing new with this issue will be invented.  If the new government is right-wing dominated so then there is possibility that Israel will carry out some unilateral actions such as officially annex main settlements to Israel.

israel-flag-bandeira

 


From History: “Beilin – Abu Mazen Plan”

March 8, 2015

 

Image result for beilin abu mazen documentIn 1993,  under the direction of Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) held secret negotiations with Israel’s then–Deputy Foreign Minister, Yossi Beilin.  The negotiations gave birth to the “Beilin–Abu Mazen Understandings,” (or Beilin-Abu Mazen plan or Beilin-Abu Mazen document) the first-ever draft of a final status agreement.

Beilin had worked as a journalist and as a lecturer in political science before going into politics in the mid-80’s. He quickly established himself in the Labor Party’s Young Guard as a militant moderate and as an advocate of equal rights for Israel’s Arab minority and reconciliation with the Palestinians.Right at the beginning, Beilin went straight to Arafat (while he was still in Tunisia) to ask him to join in an effort to work out principles for a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat agreed and delegated the job to his closest advisor, Mahmoud Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen.

From the democratic point of view Yossi Beilin’s action was questinable.  Behind the backs of an elected prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin) and foreign minister (Shimon Peres), a deputy cabinet minister over a period of two years held fateful talks with the national enemy. The agreement was negotiated in secret in Oslo and Stockholm by a team of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, under the supervision of Beilin for Israel, and of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) for the Palestinian side and was finalized in October 1995. 

Yossi Beilin returned to get the approval of Prime Minister Rabin.    However, by the time Beilin had returned to Israel, Yitshak Rabin had been assassinated by Yigal Amir. Shimon Peres was unwilling to go forward with the agreement, and likewise, apparently, Abu-Mazen was not able to find support for it on the Palestinian side. However, many of the ideas contained in this agreement were carried forward to other negotiations, and are reflected in draft agreements regarding refugee status and Jerusalem, as well as status of the settlements and the principle of territorial exchange.

But when the document was leaked to the press, Abbas tried to distance himself from it and to minimize its importance. The document was never formally published and never adopted by the Israelis or the Palestinians. PLO officials disavowed its existence, but the proposal found its way into circulation. Although the proposal was never completely accepted, some of the ideas presented in it were thought to be good compromises in resolving certain issues in final status negotiations later on.

  • Borders: Israel will withdraw to the 1967 armistige line/borders, except for certain territorial exchanges (land swaps).  Israel would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Settlements: Israelis remaining within the borders of the Palestinian State would be subject to Palestinian sovereignty and Palestinian rule of law. They would be offered Palestinian citizenship or could choose to remain as alien residents
  • Jerusalem: Related to Jerusalem one Municipality would be maintained in the form of a Joint Higher Municipal Council, with two (Israeli and Palestinian) sub-municipalities. The Palestinian boroughs would be under Palestinian sovereignty; the Israeli boroughs under Israeli sovereignty.  The Western part of the city, would be the capital of Israel, called “Yerushalayim”; the Arab Eastern part would be the capital of Palestine, called “al-Quds”.
  • Refugees: Whereas the Israeli side acknowledges the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the war of 1947-1949. It further acknowledges the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the Palestinian state and their right to compensation and rehabilitation for moral and material losses. In turn, the Palestinians would give up their right of return to Israel proper and instead encourage Palestinian refugees to settle in the new Palestinian state.

 

Follow-up

In January 1997, Beilin and Michael Eitan, a Likud Member of Knesset, announced that they had arrived at a set of guiding principles for Israel’s negotiating position in the final status talks, quite similar to the reported details of the Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan. The Beilin-Eitan Agreement was released as the Likud-Labor consensus on a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. Neither the Likud nor Labor leadership has endorsed the Beilin-Eitan plan.

At Camp David in 2000  Israel practically proposed the Beilin-Abu Mazen formula to the Palestinians. It was a little less on the settlements, a little more on Jerusalem. Afterward, in the months following Camp David, Israel went much further and proposed n enhanced version of the Beilin-Abu Mazen formula to the Palestinians.

At Taba, Israel offered the Palestinians a super-enhanced version of Beilin-Abu Mazen, but even the super-enhanced version could not bring home the Palestinians.

 

Conclusion

Beilin and Abu Mazen managed to produce what seemed to be the first solid evidence that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is soluble. They  had drawn up Documents solemnly declaring that no serious problem stood in the way of a peace treaty with the Palestinians – not Jerusalem, nor Jewish settlements in the territories, nor the Palestinian demand for a right of return for their refugees. The document shows what the real back channel work can achieve.

The text below – as well in my document library – is unofficial, but is believed to be substantially correct. It is believed that in addition, there may have been informal letters exchanged concerning the status of Jerusalem and other matters that were not made public.

“Beilin – Abu Mazen document” – Framework for the conclusion of a final status agreement between Israel the PLO – Non-UN document (31 October 1995).

 


TTIP Documents Leaked

February 27, 2015

The EU’s draft position on TTIP and specifically the part that refers to EU and member states commitments and reservations on specific issues regarding goods and services was leaked to the BBC. The 103 page document, entitled “TRADE IN SERVICES AND INVESTMENT SCHEDULE OF SPECIFIC COMMITMENTS AND RESERVATIONS” is available


here


for download. 


Analysis: 2014 Gaza Conflict

February 23, 2015

 

11b2b-idf2bflyersDuring last Gaza conflict – on summer 2014 – I wrote about some peculiarities in then ongoing operation “Protective Edge” (Peculiarities of Operation Protective Edge ) on comparison to the earlier Gaza conflicts/wars. One of the main issues then and earlier has been discussion/debate/media-war related to civilian deaths during Israeli operations (e.g. Minimizing Collateral Damage In Gaza Conflict ).

After the conflict the discussion about civilian deaths and “war crimes” has continued. From its side Israel has made research about this (look e.g. Additional findings in the examination of the names of Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge – Part Eight ). Recently Associated Press published its investigation claiming that during Operation Protective Edge, at least 844 Palestinians were killed as a result of airstrikes on homes (more in YNet news ).  

Now Col. Richard Kemp, the former top UK commander in Afghanistan, submitted to UN investigators his views on Operation Protective Edge. Richard Kemp has spent most his life fighting terrorism and insurgency, commanding British troops on the front line of some of the world’s toughest hotspots, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland. He provides strategic consultancy services on leadership, security, intelligence, counter-terrorism and defence.

Following an excellent in-depth analysis on the last Gaza conflict:

SUBMISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON THE 2014 GAZA CONFLICT by Colonel Richard KEMP CBE

GENEVA, 20 FEBRUARY 2015

I was a Colonel in the British Infantry. Much of my 29 years’ military service was spent countering terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Macedonia. I was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. I fought in the 1990-91 Gulf War and commanded British troops in Bosnia with the UN Protection Force and in Cyprus with the UN Force.

From 2002 – 2005 I was seconded to the UK Cabinet Office working on intelligence relating to international and domestic terrorism. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were among the extremist groups that I monitored and assessed in this role, and I had access to all secret intelligence available to the UK on these and other Palestinian extremist groups.

I was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 1994 for counter terrorist intelligence services and Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2006 also for counter terrorist intelligence services.

I was in Israel for much of the summer 2014 Gaza conflict, specifically from 14 July – 8 August and from 27 August – 5 September. During these periods I met, was briefed by and questioned Israeli political leaders, senior officials and Israel Defence Force (IDF) soldiers from general officer down to private soldier. I spent a considerable amount of this time close to the Gaza border where I also met, was briefed by, questioned and observed many IDF officers and soldiers immediately before and after they had been in combat.

I was in Israel also for much of the Gaza conflict in 2012. I visited IDF units and held meetings with many IDF officers, government officials and political leaders before and since then. I have been acquainted with the IDF and the Israeli intelligence services for many years, both during and after my military service.

This submission to the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict is based on observations on the ground during the conflict, 29 years’ military experience of conflicts of this type, intelligence work relating to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, knowledge of the IDF and Israeli intelligence services, study of the Israel-Palestine conflict and observations on the ground during the 2012 Gaza conflict. I should add that I have no formal, paid or unpaid, connection with the IDF or with any other organ of the Israeli government.

In my opinion the actions taken by the IDF were necessary to defend the people of Israel from the ongoing, intensive and lethal attacks by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. It is the inalienable duty of every government to use its armed forces to protect its citizens and its terrain from external attack.

In this case there was a sustained assault on the Israeli population from rockets and mortar bombs; attacks on Israeli military posts using tunnels; apparent plans to launch further attacks on Israeli military posts and on civilian settlements also using tunnels; and attempted attacks from the sea.

As the Gaza Strip is effectively a separate state, outside of Israeli control, these actions amounted to an attack by a foreign country against Israeli territory. In these circumstances I know of no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor’s missile fire than the methods used by the IDF, namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command and control structures, the fighters and the munitions of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of defence against such aggression.

The only other options, which I do not consider realistic in these circumstances, would have been:

  • A strategy of carpet-bombing to force Hamas and the other groups to desist from their attacks.
  • A large-scale ground invasion to find and destroy the offensive capabilities of Hamas and the other groups.

Either of these means would have resulted in far greater civilian casualties, and a ground invasion would also have incurred significant numbers of Israeli military casualties. The destruction of Hamas would also have left Gaza under full Israeli control, which would have needed an investment in military resources that Israel could ill afford given the wide range of threats and potential threats that the country faces, including from Iran, from Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria, from the Islamic State in Syria and from Islamist extremists in Sinai.

In reality, the offensive missile capabilities of Hamas and the other groups could never have been totally destroyed using air operations alone. Recognising this, the IDF commanders and their political leadership calculated that to have eradicated the threat completely would have required a ground offensive that would have caused large numbers of casualties among Gaza civilians – far more than were sustained during the operation in the summer. They also took account of predicted Israeli military casualties which would have been substantial.

The consequence was an acceptance that while it would be possible to halt Hamas’s aggression on a temporary basis, there would in the future be a resurgence of such activity, forcing yet another defensive operation along the lines of 2008-09, 2012 and 2014, and causing further Israeli and Palestinian casualties. Though unsatisfactory in the longer term, this was a proportional and pragmatic response – indeed in my opinion the minimum possible response – to the rocket fire from Gaza.

While Israel can act to reduce the prospects for such future action, including by trying to prevent munitions or materiel with the potential for offensive military use entering Gaza, it cannot fully achieve this. In the interests of a lasting peace I would strongly urge the Commission to recommend effective international cooperation against the continued re-militarization of the Gaza Strip.

It is grossly irresponsible of international actors to rely on accusations against Israel of a so-called illegal blockade and occupation of Gaza, and demand that Israeli control of Gaza’s borders be lifted, when it is clear that Israeli action is necessary to prevent the re-armament that will lead to further attacks by Hamas and other groups. It should be noted that Egypt takes similar preventive action against Gaza extremists for the same reason as Israel.

In the absence of effective international pressure and cooperation there is certain to be another Gaza conflict in the coming months and years. This Commission could play a constructive role in advocating an international approach in order to avert further conflict.

Equally, in my opinion the IDF had no alternative than to conduct a limited ground incursion into the Gaza Strip to locate and destroy the attack tunnels that directly threatened Israeli people and territory. This could not have been achieved from Israeli territory alone, especially given the fact that close reconnaissance on the ground inside Gaza was necessary to identify the locations of the tunnels. Nor could the tunnels have been identified or neutralized from the air without ground forces.

If, as I am asserting, it was necessary for Israel to conduct military action to defend its people against attack from Gaza; and if, as I am also asserting, the IDF conducted, in general terms, the most appropriate form of operations, namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command and control infrastructure and the missile launching infrastructure, and a limited ground incursion to locate and destroy the tunnels; the question then arises as to how these operations were conducted in relation to the Laws of Armed Conflict.

Much of the Hamas military infrastructure was located amongst the civilian population in Gaza. In these circumstances, neutralizing the threat from Hamas made civilian casualties unavoidable. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict this fact does not render such operations illegal assuming they were necessary. However the IDF had a duty to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians and to ensure that operations were conducted in accordance with the principle of proportionality as well as necessity.

It is worth emphasizing that proportionality is not, as often believed by critics of Israel, a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict, but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack.

From my own research as well as briefings from and discussions with Israeli legal, military and political leaders, I understand and know well the ethos and operating principles of the IDF and I know that their commanders place great emphasis on adherence to the laws of armed conflict. This includes the principle of proportionality, which is set out in Israel’s manual of military law and is recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The IDF is accountable to the democratically elected government of Israel and also to the Israeli legal system. The laws of Israel require adherence to the laws of armed conflict as well as domestic military and civilian criminal law. The Israeli military and civilian legal systems – both widely respected by international legal authorities – are empowered to take appropriate action against IDF personnel who transgress domestic or international law. There are numerous examples of such action in relation to previous conflicts. I am aware that such processes are currently underway in relation to the 2014 conflict.

As with all Western armed forces the IDF codify the relevant laws into rules of engagement that determine when Israeli military personnel may or may not use lethal and less than lethal force and into regulations that govern military conduct in relation to treatment of civilians, enemy combatants and property in an operational area. As with British and US rules of engagement, in normal circumstances IDF rules of engagement keep the IDF soldier within the laws of armed conflict by a significant margin. All Israeli soldiers are trained on these rules and regulations and the IDF emphasizes continuous updating of this training for their troops.

I have frequently questioned senior and junior IDF personnel on these issues and I have found that communication of these directions is effective. In my experience the most junior soldiers in the IDF understand them and the imperative of adhering to them in conflict.

I questioned Israeli commanders and soldiers on the ground on their actions in combat on the Gaza border immediately before and immediately after they were fighting in Gaza and during ceasefire periods. I spoke to soldiers from infantry, tank, artillery and engineer forces.

Many of them expressed frustration at the restrictions imposed upon them by the rules of engagement, in the same way as British, US and other Western soldiers express such frustration. This was generally explained to me as frustration due to the additional risks imposed on their own lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers and also on the reduction in effectiveness against an enemy brought about by adherence to the highly restrictive IDF rules of engagement. The latter relates to restrictions that I was told frequently allowed enemy fighters to escape rather than take the risk that innocent civilians might be killed.

Nevertheless all of the soldiers that I questioned – including those who claimed they were frustrated by these restrictions – accepted and understood the need to adhere to the rules and told me that they and their comrades did adhere to the rules during combat in Gaza. I found this level of acceptance to be higher than would generally be found among soldiers from other Western armies that I have commanded or served alongside. The expressions of frustration also, in my view, tend to confirm adherence to the rules of engagement – even though they didn’t necessarily like the rules they still apparently complied with them.

Many soldiers that I questioned told me about encounters with Palestinian fighters among the civilian population and the steps they had taken to avoid civilian casualties. Soldiers told me that not only were they not permitted to kill, wound or mistreat innocent civilians but also that their own morality would not allow it. For example, one engineer soldier who had recently emerged from a Hamas attack tunnel told me that even while advancing along the tunnel, faced by a wide range of potential threats to his life, uppermost in his mind was the need to avoid killing innocent civilians. He explained that he knew Hamas sometimes used innocent civilians as human shields in the tunnels.

I spoke to a group of IDF pilots who had that morning been flying attack missions against fighters in the Gaza Strip. Again all of them knew, understood and accepted the rules of engagement that applied to them. The level of frustration was reduced, partly because they were in less personal danger than troops on the ground. One of them told me that he had attempted to attack a Hamas target that morning but had aborted the attack because civilians had been identified in the target area. He told me that he had made 10 further attempts to attack the same target and each time the attack was aborted due to the presence of civilians. Eventually he abandoned the mission altogether.

I asked him whether he found this frustrating. He said he did not. He told me that “the best thing about the IAF (Israeli Air Force)” was that they were not allowed to strike a target if they knew civilians were present in the target area. He said that whatever the rules and the laws, in any case he could not live with himself for the rest of his life if he had knowingly killed innocent civilians.

Although I did not witness these events personally I know and understand soldiers, having been a soldier myself and commanded soldiers for 29 years. I know how they think, act and speak. I would know if I was being deceived or misled in such discussions. I do not believe that this was the case and I therefore consider that the comments made to me by IDF soldiers immediately before and after combat were truthful. This was by no means a scientific survey, but my questioning covered a large number of soldiers from a very wide range of IDF units, at different times and in different circumstances and I believe it to be indicative of the true overall ethos of the IDF.

Of course this does not mean that no soldier breached the rules of engagement at any time, whether deliberately or by error. And it does not mean that mistakes were not made that resulted in civilian casualties. I will refer to this later.

I have been briefed in detail on the procedures used by the IDF to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza during the 2014 conflict. I previously commented in relation to the 2008-09 Gaza conflict that no army in the history of warfare had taken greater steps than the IDF to minimise harm to civilians in a combat zone. My observations during the 2014 conflict confirmed this. No other army that I have served in or alongside or that I have studied and researched has yet taken such extensive precautions. This includes British and US forces. It is in part due to the specific circumstances of the Gaza conflict, which allow the IDF to go to such lengths whereas other armed forces in other situations may not be able to do so.

However, during some operations in Afghanistan, British and US forces adopted some methods developed by the IDF in Gaza. And in November 2014, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the IDF ‘went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties’ during the 2014 conflict in Gaza. He revealed that he had sent a delegation of US military officers to Israel to learn about the measures that the IDF took to prevent civilian casualties.

Israel’s emphasis on preventing civilian casualties during this conflict started at the top. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff of the IDF made clear their directions that civilian casualties were to be minimised. I was told that the first item on the agenda of every meeting of the Israeli security cabinet during the conflict was Palestinian civilian casualties. This illustrates the priority placed by all elements of the Israeli government engaged in the conflict on minimising civilian casualties in Gaza.

This flowed down from top to bottom. On questioning military personnel at all levels I found that even the most junior private soldiers on the ground understood and said they complied with this priority.

I was briefed on the following procedures that were routinely implemented prior to launching an attack in Gaza.

  • Before a target could be attacked at least two separate and independent intelligence sources had to verify that it was a legitimate military target. Intelligence includes human sources, aerial surveillance, ground surveillance and communications intercept.
  • Each separate aerial attack mission had to be personally authorised by the Commander of the Israeli Air Force or one of his deputies, at least one of whom had to be present in the operations centre throughout the conflict. Authorisation was also subject to legal advice.
  • To confirm whether or not civilians were in the target area surveillance had to be conducted by both manned combat aircraft and unmanned air vehicle (drone), the latter enabling greater visual recognition.
  • If surveillance or other intelligence sources confirmed the presence of civilians, or the presence of civilians was suspected, one or more of a series of measures was taken to warn the civilians before the attack could go ahead. These measures were:
  • Leaflet drop.
  • Broadcast radio message.
  • Phone call.
  • Text message.
  • Warning via UN.
  • An additional measure was the use of a specially designed harmless air-dropped munition known as ‘knock on the roof’ which was dropped on buildings to make a loud percussion and to warn those inside of an impending attack.
  • Further surveillance was then conducted to confirm the civilians had left the target area. If they had not the attack would not be carried out until they had.
  • Once a pilot was authorised to attack he had authority – and it was his duty – to abort the attack if he had reason to believe civilians were present when he made his attack run.
  • Pilots utilising lazer-guided munitions were required to identify a safe open area in advance so that if civilians were identified in the target zone even after the missile was launched, it could be diverted in flight to the safe area.

I make the assumption that in some circumstances all of these procedures could not be followed, for example in an air operation in support of ground forces in danger. This might require more rapid action than these procedures would allow.

All of the procedures described above were not of course applicable to ground operations although the principles that brought them about did apply, namely the need to avoid or minimise civilian casualties. A further consideration for ground operations was the safety of the IDF’s own forces. This factor was less significant in relation to pilots, to whom the danger from enemy fire was greatly reduced.

As any military commander must minimise the risk of civilian casualties in a combat zone so he must also minimise the risk of casualties to his own forces for moral reasons, because of his duty of care and for reasons of fighting morale and combat effectiveness against the enemy. This is often overlooked when investigating human rights issues in a conflict. But every military commander must take this factor into account when calculating necessity and proportionality in his decision-making.

This consideration is an important factor that affects the extent of civilian casualties in ground combat, including in Gaza, and will sometimes lead to increased civilian casualties. A further factor is the inaccuracy of some ground combat systems compared to air systems, for example the infantry assault rifle compared to precision-guided munitions.

Additionally even the best trained ground forces are inevitably affected by fear, exhaustion, pain, smoke, noise, enemy fire, disorientation, sensory distortion, confusion and death and destruction around them. In a combat situation there can be so many moving parts and so much chaos that inevitably errors occur and some of these lead to unintentional civilian casualties.

A further likely cause of civilian casualties – both from the air and the ground – was equipment malfunction. Weapon guidance systems fail, computers fail, surveillance systems fail, communications fail or are distorted, explosives act aberrantly.

There is also non-combat related human error. This applies in all human activities and in all walks of life and it also applies in military operations. It is possible that this was the cause of some of the casualties in Gaza.

Nor is intelligence a perfect science – far from it. Undoubtedly there will have been cases where IDF commanders believed that an area was free of civilians. There will also have been cases where commanders believed civilians to be fighters. This circumstance is difficult to avoid when an enemy is uniformed; far more difficult when fighters such as Hamas do not wear a uniform and indeed deliberately endeavour to appear to be civilians.

None of these things are inherently wilful and therefore their consequences are unlikely to be criminal in nature. Anybody who doubts the relevance of these factors need only consider friendly fire incidents that occur on virtually all battlefields even with 21st Century technology. A number of IDF deaths were caused by friendly fire during this conflict. It is hardly likely that these would have been deliberate. They were also likely the result of battlefield conditions, human error, weapon inaccuracy and technical failure.

However, as with all armies the IDF have bad soldiers. Wilfully or through carelessness or negligence, such individual soldiers may have been responsible for some civilian casualties and for other wrongdoing such as ill treatment of civilians or fighters or damage to property, looting and theft. Such actions may be criminal and may have led to war crimes or offences against military discipline during this conflict.

I have been briefed in detail on the IDF system of fact-finding, learning lessons for the future, investigation and criminal and military legal action against offenders. This system is not exclusively an internal military process; the Supreme Court of Israel oversees it. It is a system that enjoys wide respect among international legal authorities.

All of the reported cases in which civilians became casualties, protected locations were attacked, civilians or enemy combatants were ill treated or where theft, looting and damage was caused are being investigated by the Israeli authorities. The Military Advocate General of the IDF has ordered a number of criminal investigations into the actions of the IDF. More may follow. I will not go into detail either on the process or the cases under investigation but I would urge you to study the relevant documents which have been published on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website which provides details in relation to investigation of incidents in this conflict. They can be found at: http://mfa.gov.il/ProtectiveEdge/Documents/IsraelInvestigations.pdf

In addition to the IDF’s policy of minimising civilian casualties during this conflict, other Israeli actions significantly contributed to saving the lives of Gaza civilians. The considerable Israeli financial and technological investment in the Iron Dome counter missile system prevented the majority of missiles fired out of Gaza that would have hit population centres from killing and wounding civilians and destroying property. The sophisticated monitoring, warning and shelter system put in place by Israel saved the lives of many Israeli civilians. Both also provided some reassurance to the Israeli civilian population under intensive fire from Gaza.

Without these systems being in place, in my opinion the many salvoes of rockets fired from Gaza during the summer of 2014 would have killed and wounded perhaps hundreds of Israeli civilians and caused widespread panic among the population. In such circumstances it is likely that the Israeli government would have had no option other than to launch a large-scale ground offensive, in concert with the air operation against Hamas and other groups in Gaza. This would have led to many more casualties among Gaza civilians and it can therefore reasonably be asserted that Israeli investment in these systems not only saved the lives of Israelis but also of Gaza civilians.

Despite Israeli efforts to save civilian lives it is estimated that a significant number of those killed in Gaza were civilians. Total estimates of deaths in Gaza during the conflict range from around 2,100 to around 2,200. The estimated proportion of those who were non-involved civilians varies considerably. The Gaza ministry of health, controlled by Hamas, asserts that a significant majority, at least 70%, were civilians. The UN OCHA puts the figure at over 67%. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an independent research group based in Israel, currently estimates that approximately 48% were civilians. Whereas the other estimates are based on information supplied by Hamas, this estimate is based on systematic analysis of information gleaned from social media and other sources but is as yet incomplete.

Of all the civilians who died during the conflict, some died of natural causes, some in accidents not related to the fighting, others were reportedly executed or murdered by Hamas and other groups and still others were killed accidentally by Hamas missiles that were intended to kill Israeli civilians but fell short and landed in Gaza. Undoubtedly many of those who were killed as a result of Israeli military action died due to Hamas’s way of fighting, including the use of human shields (see below).

Taking these factors into account I would urge the Commission to exercise caution over attribution of Gaza civilian casualties at this stage as the picture is far from clear. I would also recommend that the Commission examines the ratio of civilian to combatant casualties in other comparable conflicts. Accurate and reliable information is understandably hard to obtain, though the UN Secretary General has estimated that on average the ratio in this form of conflict since the Second World War has been 3 civilians for every combatant killed. In Afghanistan the estimate is 3:1. During the Iraq conflict that began in 2003 the UN estimate was 4:1. Other studies estimate far higher civilian casualty rates in these and other conflicts.

Turning now to Hamas’s conduct in the 2014 conflict. During my time in Israel during this conflict I witnessed what I believe to be a series of war crimes and planned war crimes by Hamas and other Gaza groups, both by missile attack against civilians and by construction of attack tunnels from which to kill and abduct civilians. I am also aware of, but did not witness, Hamas and other groups’ use of their own civilian population as human shields.

I personally observed 19 separate missile attacks, some involving multiple missiles, fired at Israeli population centres. Hamas do not possess the capability to carry out precision attack using missiles and therefore these attacks were all indiscriminate, and therefore unlawful under the Laws of Armed Conflict, carrying the risk of killing or wounding innocent civilians and causing damage to civilian property. My own life, as a visitor to Israel, was also in danger during many of these attacks.

Of these 19 attacks, 18 were, to my knowledge, intercepted and destroyed by the IDF’s Iron Dome system or exploded in unpopulated areas. One was a direct hit on a house causing severe damage to property. These incidents are detailed below.

  • 14 July, 1700 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket over Tel Aviv.
  • 15 July, 1900 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept two rockets over Tel Aviv.
  • 16 July, 0920 hours – I heard what was apparently Iron Dome interceptions of rockets over Tel Aviv.
  • 16 July, 1325 hours – I observed rockets in the area of Sderot.
  • 16 July, 1445 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket over Be’eri.
  • 16 July, 1515 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket over Be’eri.
  • 16 July, 1518 hours – I observed rockets in the vicinity of Ashkelon.
  • 17 July, 2207 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept two rockets overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 18 July, 1558 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept rockets overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 18 July, around 2000 hours – In vicinity of Reim I observed numerous outgoing rockets launched from Gaza.
  • 22 July, 1003 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept two rockets overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 22 July, 1105 hours – I observed two rockets apparently explode in the sea off Tel Aviv beach.
  • 24 July, 1118 hours – I observed four rockets overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 25 July, 1048 hours – I observed rockets overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 26 July, 1952 hours – I observed Iron Dome intercept rockets overhead Ashkelon, breaking cease-fire.
  • 29 July, 2213 – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 2 August, 0600 – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 3 August, 1502 – I observed Iron Dome intercept a rocket, possibly two, overhead Tel Aviv.
  • 8 August, 0715 – I was on board a plane at Ben Gurion International Airport when flying was suspended as a result of rocket fire, in violation of a ceasefire. I did not hear or observe any rockets.

During the majority of these incidents I witnessed the trauma and fear for their lives that was deliberately imposed by Hamas and other groups on innocent Israeli civilians, men, women, children and old people, as well as visitors from outside the country. I also observed the disruption to daily life caused by these attacks. In the area of Israel around Gaza, this disruption was most severe, compounded by the high frequency of attacks.

On 16 July I visited the home and consulting rooms in Ashkelon of an Israeli doctor shortly after it had sustained a direct hit from a missile fired from Gaza. I was told that often the doctor’s waiting room would be filled with young children. The missile caused severe damage to the house including this waiting area. Fortunately no children were present at this time.

The only occupant was the 17-year-old daughter of the doctor. I questioned her and she told me that when she heard the attack siren she only just made it to the reinforced shelter area before the missile exploded in the house, throwing blast and debris into the room where she had been sitting and causing partial structural collapse. I have seen the effects of many explosions and in my opinion had she not reached the shelter in time she would very likely have been killed or severely wounded by shrapnel, blast, debris and flying splinters of glass.

I know of the deliberate policy of using human shields, including women and children, which is also a war crime, by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. I am aware of this as a result of my previous British government work involving secret intelligence on these groups, from public statements made by the Hamas leadership on a number of occasions since the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, from media reports including film footage showing such action and statements by individuals forced to remain in declared target areas, from publication of training manuals found in Gaza by the IDF and from debriefing of IDF personnel and journalists. From the same sources I am also aware of Hamas’s use of buildings and vehicles protected under the Laws of Armed Conflict including schools, hospitals, UN buildings, mosques and ambulances. Use of such facilities for military purposes constitutes a war crime.

During the conflict I visited and entered an attack tunnel which ran from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. This tunnel had been expertly constructed with concrete walls, ceiling and floor. It had rail lines running along the floor, ducted power cabling along the walls (imprinted, incidentally, with Hebrew lettering), lighting and electric motors built into the walls. The tunnel emerged within a few hundred metres of an Israeli civilian community. This tunnel, along with many of the others located by the IDF, could only have been designed with one purpose in mind: to infiltrate Israeli territory to attack, kill and abduct Israeli civilians and soldiers.

In conclusion, in my opinion the IDF took exceptional measures to adhere to the Laws of Armed Conflict and to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza. During the conflict many politicians, UN leaders, human rights groups and NGOs called on the Israelis to take greater action to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza. Yet none of them suggested any additional ways of doing this. I conclude that this was because Israel was taking all feasible steps. I believe Israel to be world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties; and this is borne out by the efforts made by the US Army, the most sophisticated and powerful in the world, to learn from the IDF on this issue.

In my opinion Israel is also making strenuous efforts to investigate incidents where civilians were apparently unlawfully killed, wounded or ill-treated, and where civilian property was unlawfully damaged or stolen. I am not aware of any nation that has conducted more comprehensive or resolute investigations into its own military activities than Israel during and following the 2014 Gaza conflict.

On the other hand, Hamas and other groups in Gaza took the opposite approach to that of the IDF. Their entire strategy was based on flouting the Laws of Armed Conflict, deliberately targeting the Israeli civilian population, using their own civilian population as human shields and seeking to entice the IDF to take military action that would kill large numbers of Gaza civilians for their own propaganda purposes. There was and is of course no accountability or investigation of any allegations against Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza.

I strongly urge the Commissioners to condemn Hamas and the other groups for their actions during this conflict. Failure to do so would be tantamount to encouraging a repeat of such actions in the future, by Hamas and other Gaza groups and by extremist groups around the world who would wish to emulate the actions in Gaza. This would undoubtedly result in further loss of life in Gaza, in Israel and elsewhere.

Similar encouragement is given to extremist groups by the lamentable tendency of some international actors to afford moral equivalence to Hamas, an internationally proscribed terrorist organization, and Israel, a liberal democratic state.

I also urge the Commissioners to give fair consideration to Israel’s actions during this conflict and not simply to jump on the over-burdened bandwagon of automatic condemnation. Where the actions of the IDF were genuinely wrong then of course the Commission should criticise them, call upon them to bring the perpetrators to justice where appropriate and to adjust future procedures as necessary. But false accusations of war crimes, as were made by the Commissioners that investigated the 2008-09 Gaza conflict (the ‘Goldstone Report’), will do nothing to advance the cause of peace and human rights. Instead, such accusations will encourage similar action by Hamas and other groups in the future, leading to further violence and loss of life.

Many people believe that your findings are a foregone conclusion, as the findings of the 2008-09 Commission regrettably proved to be. They believe that you will roundly and without foundation condemn Israel for war crimes while at best making only token criticism of Hamas and other Gaza extremist groups. If you genuinely want to contribute to peace and to improve human rights for the people of Gaza and of Israel then you must have the courage to reject the UN Human Rights Council’s persistent and discriminatory anti-Israel programme and produce a balanced and fair report into these tragic events.

 


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