Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

The assassination of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on the 19th January in a Dubai hotel room has sparked an international row with Israel at its centre.  Al-Mabhouh had been linked by Israel to the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, he is also a prominent member of the militant party which continues to hold political control in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has refused to confirm or deny accusations of Mossad’s involvement, stressing his country’s “policy of ambiguity” regarding Special Forces operations.[1] Several of the false passports linked to the assassination squad by Dubai police are registered with individuals currently residing in the Israeli state.  This, together with Israel’s significant motivation, has led the chief of police in Dubai to assert his 99% certainty of Israeli involvement, and to demand an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief, Meir Dagan.[2]

In an interview with the Qatar based media source, Al-Jazeera last year, al-Mabhouh  confessed to the 1989 murders and stated that, “To the Israelis, my hands are stained with blood, but to God? This is what matters.”[3] Analysts argue that although this was a probable cause of the official’s death in playing against Israel’s pride, more important are accusations of his role in the arms smuggling. These centre on links with the state of Iran and the use of tunnels to transport tactical equipment (most importantly rockets) into the Gaza Strip. International speculation on this latter subject has always been intense, with many questioning the strength of relations between the Shi’te state and the militant Sunni party.

Although the row with Arab states has inevitably focused on the operation of Israeli forces on their home soil, many Western governments having also professed anger at the logistical details of the assassination.[4] The use of forged passports from several European countries by the squad has led to demands for explanations from Israel and appears to continue Israel’s notable habit of making life difficult for its friends.

6 British passports, as well as 5 from Ireland and a further few from France and Germany have already been linked to the investigation. The UK passports in particular appear to have been clones, replicating the identity of British citizens currently resident in the Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his European counterparts have already lodged their stern disapproval and demanded answers from Israel.[5]

Despite the international furor, official and civilian responses in Israel have however been fairly relaxed. Although recognizing that Israel was almost certainly responsible, most press sources have expressed their certainty that the scandal will blow over. The columnist Eitan Haber, of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, described al-Mabhouh as a “master terrorist” and that Israel had achieved its objectives in eliminating him; he predicted that the foreign headlines would “be gone in a day or two.”[6]

After revelations by the UK’s “Daily Mail”, Israeli opinion has become particularly impatient with the international reproach it has been receiving.  In a special expose on the incident, the paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as reportedly confirming that Britain had received advance warning of the use of its passports, and that Israel would simply receive a “slap on the wrist.”[7]

Despite the international press headlines there is considerable evidence that media and government are merely completing the necessary overtures, and that Israeli conviction of the incident “blowing over” is indeed correct. Despite expressing their concern and condemnation, diplomatic comments have been significantly vague. The UK’s Gordon Brown has demanded, “a full investigation into this,” but conceded that, “it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.” The characteristic technique of using “proper procedures and channels” will likely yield the desired time for both parties.

The format of international press coverage is perhaps best represented by the “NY Daily News”, which features a poll in which readers can express their opinion out of two available options:

“Take our Poll: Hamas big executed

What do you think of the assassination of Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai?

  • It’s a disgrace: The hit ignored international laws.
  • It’s great: That’s one less terrorist to worry about.”

It is significant that neither option questions the guilt of al-Mabhouh, but rather the procedure of the operation. Indeed the paper pertinently adds that, “Much of the European uproar is because the killers used British, Irish and other European passports,” rather than because they murdered an official in the government of a foreign state.[8]

With the near universal condemnation of Hamas in official circles there has been predictably little comment on this model of the extra-judicial killing of a foreign official. Investigation into the murder has, however, implicated the involvement of two Palestinian individuals who are former officers of the Palestinian security services. Their current employment is with a private security firm owned by Mohammed Dahlan; a senior member of Hamas’ rival, Fatah.[9] Dahlan was a former strongman in the Gaza Strip and was given assistance by both Israel and the U.S. in an attempt to topple the Hamas government following their election victory. After  the 2007 failed coup attempt, Dahlan, along with other Fatah members, was  expelled from the territory and has since established himself in the West Bank. The logistics of this operation would appear to implicate Fatah once again in assisting Israel with its security concerns.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/18/dubai-assassination-forged-british-passports

[3] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[4] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/18/2822956.htm

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[7] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136085

[8] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[9] http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151245.html

Read Full Post »

A recent report leaked from the European Commission appears to legalise covert tactics to justify the increasingly dubious environmental benefits of bio-fuels.[1] The document is directed at the issue of deforestation, which has become so heavily associated with bio-fuel production in the developing world. In countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Malaysia, where attempts to take advantage of the lucrative trade in bio-fuel ‘feedstocks’ have seen dramatic growth, the cheapest land is often the most desirable. This has tended to be rainforest or other virgin tropical vegetation.

Efforts to introduce sustainability guidelines on bio-fuels have sought to reduce the attractiveness of such measures. However, the significance of the E.C. report is that it appears to offer a clause to protect plantations created on previous forest land.  The report states that, “A change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion,” of sustainability. The classification of dense palm oil plantations as “forest” allows companies to conceal an alteration of the vegetation, and in turn to retain their sustainability credentials. [2]

This has been an issue at the heart of the controversy over bio-fuels for some time. Their concept was initially hailed as a reliable green alternative to the use of traditional carbon-fuels. As developed countries have struggled to meet limits on transport emissions through difficulties in implementing new technologies, bio-fuels appeared to offer a means to buy time. With their ‘carbon-neutral’ credentials they were preferable to fossil-fuel based products and could be produced from a variety of sources. This latter point has also been of interest to developed nations seeking to ensure their energy security. On both these grounds however, the concept has recently been shown to be failing.

Although bio-fuels capture carbon-dioxide from their various feedstocks, hence offsetting the CO2 released through their combustion, this ignores the indirect costs of their production. The vegetation often cleared for their production in developing countries tends be prime carbon capture. Peat-bog wetlands and tropical rainforests are considerably more efficient in the process than other vegetation,  and are usually preferred for plantation cultivation due to their cost.[3] Adding to this are the direct impacts of the vegetation destruction, through the clearing and burning, which releases further carbon dioxide. Farming processes often compound these effects through the use of fertilisers, leading to the release of nitrous oxide gases which are 300 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse contributor.[4]

Bio-fuels were initially favoured by developed countries for their prospects of producing secure transport fuels. Dependence on foreign sources of fossil-fuels has characterised the energy policies of most developed countries since decolonisation and has consequently forced them to rely on unstable markets which have been subject to frequent price-spikes. Encouraging bio-fuel production as a domestic industry promised to provide greater stability through the internalisation of energy policy. Through internal subsidies and incentives farmers were encouraged to switch areas of land to bio-fuel feedstocks. The pattern was also hoped to alleviate some of the problems of cereal over-production and dumping associated with the C.A.P. (Common Agricultural Policy).Since these policies, EU domestic production rates alone have accelerated to 10 billion litres annually.[5] Intervention from the WTO however, has acted to limit this growth and encourage a more international trade. Arguing that incentives and subsides harm international trade and provide domestic producers with unfair trade advantages, the WTO has sought to encourage more pluralist production. It argues for the developing world, that this could, “generate significant economic, environmental and social benefits.”[6]

Whilst developing nations may wish to take advantage of this lucrative new energy market, they often lack the resources to finance such initiatives. The WTO has therefore argued that private finance should be encouraged into these areas. The beneficial climate, environmental concerns, and land and labour costs should all make external production an attractive prospect to investors.[7] Private investment has indeed followed these guidelines as countries throughout the world have switched to feedstock production. This policy has not only had environmental consequences, but also threatens to have significant human impacts.

A recent report by ActionAid has attributed growing problems of landlessness, increased food prices and approximately 100 million more people falling below the breadline, to the 10% targets sought by the E.U.[8] As millions of acres of land are taken out of food production in Africa, Latin America and Asia this has had a predictably significant impact on world food markets. Since 2002 global food prices have increased more than 140 percent and many claim this trend will continue as long as the production of bio-fuels is encouraged. ActionAid cites in its report an investigation by the IMF which attributed up to 30% of the recent price increases directly to bio-fuels. [9]A more recent report by the World Bank has challenged this figure, claiming that perhaps as much as 70% of the rises have been due to the shift of farming to energy markets.[10]

These reports pose significant implications for the accepted logic of the West’s green agenda. They implicate the smaller populations of developed nations as having a far greater impact on food prices than over-population in the South.  Production methods, with their significant environmental and human impacts, also appear to contradict the initial expectations of this fuel source as carbon-neutral and beneficial. It is not surprising therefore, that increasingly elaborate means are being found necessary to justify the continued expansion of bio-fuels.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[4] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,563927,00.html

[5] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[6] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[7] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[10] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

Read Full Post »

First foreign journalists to enter South Ossetia since summer conflict find evidence of Georgian war crimes

The first unrestricted visit by a foreign news organisation to South Ossetia since the violent conflict that erupted in the breakaway Georgian province in August has uncovered evidence that the Georgian military indiscriminately targeted civilians during the unsuccessful attempt to re-conquer the territory.

Georgia said at the time that the assault was launched in response to increasing attacks on its own villages by militia groups in South Ossetia, although it later abandoned this explanation, claiming its actions were provoked by an earlier Russian invasion.

Journalists from the BBC were able to ascertain statements from eyewitnesses in the province’s capital Tskhinvali, many of whom described witnessing Georgian tanks firing indiscriminately into populated apartment blocks and seeing civilians being shot in cold blood as they attempted to flee the fighting, the news organisation reported on 28 October 2008. Indiscriminate use of force is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and serious violations are considered war crimes. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the Georgian offensive in South Ossetia as “genocide”.

The mother of 21-year old dental student Georgy Tadtayev, who was killed during the fighting, told the BBC that her son had bled to death in her arms on the morning of 9 August after a fragment from a Georgian tank shell hit him in the throat as they were both sheltering from artillery fire in the basement of her block of flats.

Mrs. Sitnik said she subsequently saw the tank positioned a few metres from the building, firing shells into every floor, and BBC journalists reported that extensive damage to the five-storey block was consistent with her version of events.

According to Mrs. Sitnik, “They started firing not from rifles, but from heavy weapons. Shells were exploding. And we sat here on boxes. We thought it would end, but the firing got heavier and heavier. They went on firing all the next day without stopping. At some point there was a pause, and we saw Georgian soldiers going along the street in their NATO uniforms. Then they started firing again, even more heavily.”

She continued, “The Grad rockets were coming over all the time. How can you trust those people now? What possible friendship can there be? Let them all be cursed, cursed for the deaths of our children.”

These revelations are unlikely to surprise observers in Russia, whose government maintained from the outset that the conflict had started following a ruthless Georgian offensive targeted specifically at civilians and Russian peacekeepers stationed in South Ossetia, however many Western politicians outwardly rejected that version of events. Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin described the Russian invasion of Georgia that followed the attack on South Ossetia as “unprovoked” in an interview with ABC News. British Conservative leader David Cameron, who visited Georgia to show solidarity with its government immediately following the start of the conflict, stated on 27 August “We have got to confront that [Russian] aggression and take a series of steps to point out to the Russians the errors of their ways.”

British foreign secretary David Miliband visited the Georgian capital of Tbilisi soon after the start of the conflict, saying that Georgia had been offered a “route map to [NATO] membership”, and went on to state that, “In practical terms, NATO is offering close cooperation with the Georgian government and the Georgian military. That means helping the Georgians build up their [military] capacity.” Some within Miliband’s party questioned endorsing the Georgian government at a time when many international observers were accusing the former Soviet state of recklessness and of provoking the ensuing conflict with Russia. Miliband said he took allegations of war crimes “extremely seriously” and had raised them “at the highest level” with the Georgian government.

The Russian prosecutor’s office is investigating more than 300 possible cases of civilians killed by the Georgian military, some of whom may have been Ossetian paramilitaries, but the charity Human Rights Watch believes the figure of 300-400 civilians is a “useful starting point”, a figure that would represent more than 1% of the population of Tskhinvali.

Allison Gill, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch which has stated that it had researches on the ground in South Ossetia as early as 12 August, said: “We’re very concerned at the use of indiscriminate force by the Georgian military in Tskhinvali. We gained evidence and witness testimony of Grad rocket attacks and tank attacks on apartment buildings, including tank attacks that shot at the basement level. And basements are typically areas where civilians will hide for their own protection. So all of this points to the misuse, the inappropriate use of force by Georgia against civilian targets,” she affirmed.

It is of extreme importance to note that whilst human rights groups and charities condemned the Georgian regime for the brutality of its attack on South Ossetia, equally strong language was used to condemn the “disproportionate” Russian onslaught of Georgia that followed and led to a considerable number of deaths and many thousands of Georgians being displaced. Georgian officials confirmed that 188 Georgian civilians had been killed in the conflict and that a further 912 are missing.

Although HRW only spoke of a “possible” deliberate targeting of civilians by Georgia, eyewitnesses confirmed to the BBC that Georgian forces had targeted unarmed civilians.

Marina Kochieva, a doctor at Tskhinvali’s main hospital, says she herself was targeted by a Georgian tank as she and three relatives were trying to escape by car from the town on the night of 9 August. Ms Kochieva says a nurse from her hospital was killed while fleeing Tskhinvali in similar circumstances. Describing the attack on her car in response to being asked if it was possible that she and her passengers had been mistaken for combatants by Georgian troops, the doctor stated that “Fighters wouldn’t have gone away from town, they would have gone towards town. We were escaping like other refugees. The Georgians knew this was the ‘Road of Life’ for Ossetians. They were sitting here waiting to kill us,” she said.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili told the BBC, “I can firmly say that the Georgian military, on intention, never attacked directly any civilian object. Tkeshelashvili stated that an “in-depth military assessment needs to be done” before it can be ascertained whether any individual Georgian troops deliberately targeted civilians.

The BBC referred to what it called “the cycle of revenge” when describing the destruction of ethnic Georgian homes in South Ossetia by Ossetians in the immediate aftermath of the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali. One young man who said that he had been involved in the burning of ethnic Georgian homes was asked if he had taken part in ethnic cleansing and responded; “No, it wasn’t ethnic cleansing. No-one was killed there. We just let them go from our land. I don’t know whether they will return or not. But I did everything I could for them not to return. Never. You can call it ethnic cleaning, but I think I just did it to prevent a future war,” he said.

Thousands of Georgian opposition activists took part in a demonstration in Tbilisi on 7 November, their first major protest since the conflict, accusing President Mikhail Saakashvili of starting a war with Russia that Georgia could not win. “We are starting a new wave of civil confrontation, and we will not give up until new elections are called,” opposition leader Kakha Kukava said. Such a demonstration shows considerable courage; one year ago opposition rallies were broken up by police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in a crackdown that ended days of protests but opened the Georgian government up to accusations of heavy-handedness.

Tom Kavanagh

Read Full Post »