Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Utility of Assassination, By George Friedman in Stratfor

Global Intelligence, Stratfor, February 23, 2010

The Utility of Assassination
By George Friedman

The apparent Israeli assassination of a Hamas operative in the United Arab Emirates turned into a bizarre event replete with numerous fraudulent passports, alleged Israeli operatives caught on videotape and international outrage (much of it feigned), more over the use of fraudulent passports than over the operative’s death. If we are to believe the media, it took nearly 20 people and an international incident to kill him.

STRATFOR has written on the details of the killing as we have learned of them, but we see this as an occasion to address a broader question: the role of assassination in international politics.

Defining Assassination

We should begin by defining what we mean by assassination. It is the killing of a particular individual for political purposes. It differs from the killing of a spouse’s lover because it is political. It differs from the killing of a soldier on the battlefield in that the soldier is anonymous and is not killed because of who he is but because of the army he is serving in.

The question of assassination, in the current jargon “targeted killing,” raises the issue of its purpose. Apart from malice and revenge, as in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the purpose of assassination is to achieve a particular political end by weakening an enemy in some way. Thus, the killing of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto by the Americans in World War II was a targeted killing, an assassination. His movements were known, and the Americans had the opportunity to kill him. Killing an incompetent commander would be counterproductive, but Yamamoto was a superb strategist, without peer in the Japanese navy. Killing him would weaken Japan’s war effort, or at least have a reasonable chance of doing so. With all the others dying around him in the midst of war, the moral choice did not seem complex then, nor does it seem complex now.

Such occasions rarely occur on the battlefield. There are few commanders who could not readily be replaced, and perhaps even replaced by someone more able. In any event, it is difficult to locate enemy commanders, meaning the opportunity to kill them rarely arises. And as commanders ask their troops to risk their lives, they have no moral claim to immunity from danger.

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There are three main issues that many HUman Rights assciations and observers are trying to modify:

First one the right of foreigners married to Lebanese women and their children to get Lebanese nationality that so far they can’t get. The second, to print official ballots during elections. And third, which was refused today,  setting  the minimum age for voting from 21 to 18.


Voting Age Bill Failed to Pass Parliament
A draft law to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 did not pass in Parliament on Monday after the House failed to secure a two-thirds majority.
Sixty-six MPs representing major parliamentary blocs such as PM Saad Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement, Walid Jumblat’s Democratic Gathering, Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, The Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel’s Phalange Party abstained from voting.The 34 lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill included members of Jumblat’s Progressive Socialist Party, Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc as well as MPs from the Syrian Social National Party and the Baath Party, in addition to MPs Mohammed Safadi, Tamam Salam, Nicola Fattoush, Omar Karami, Imad Hout and Qassem Abdulaziz.

MP Serge Torsarkisian alone voted against the bill.

Local media had predicted that the bill will be dropped not because of lack of quorum, but due to a large number of MPs who will refrain from voting.

Hariri as well as Christian political parties from both the majority and the opposition call for linking the draft law with other proposals –giving Lebanese expatriates the right to vote and allowing Lebanese citizenship by descent.

Meanwhile, youth activists held a sit-in in Riad Solh Square, demanding lowering the voting age to 18.  AP

Lebanon turns down bill to lower voting age

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s parliament on Monday shot down a bill to lower voting age from 21 to 18, a proposal which has sparked fears of an upheaval of the multi-confessional country’s power-sharing political structure.Only 34 out of Lebanon’s 128-strong parliament voted in favour of the bill, while 66 abstained and one voted against.

Lowering voting age to 18 has been an issue for years, with Muslim Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal pushing for the measure as their young followers are believed to outnumber those of other confessions in Lebanon, which has not had an official census since 1932.

The controversial bill has sparked fears of a shake-up of Lebanon’s political structure, a complex power-sharing system between Christians and Muslims since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Analysts estimate that lowering the voting age would add more than 50,000 Christians to the electorate, mainly Maronites, and about 175,000 Muslims, roughly equally split between Shiites and Sunnis.

Maronites, who are currently estimated at less than 30 percent of the four-million population, divide their loyalty between an alliance led by Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a Shiite Hezbollah-led coalition.

The winning alliance headed by Saad Hariri won 71 seats in the 128-member parliament in the election against 57 for the opposition led by Hezbollah.

The Hezbollah opposition had actually secured the majority (52%) of the votes in Lebanon, but could not secure a majority of Parliamentary seats (it won 45%) because of the nature of the sectarian government system in the country.

Seats in government and parliament were evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Experts say the Maronites today fear the voting age “reform” could be the first step towards demands for direct popular representation in Lebanon, which does not follow a “one person, one vote” formula. -AFP

Beirut, 22 Feb 10, 07:51

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“US Economic Sanctions on Syria Have Failed,” by Joshua Landis

US Economic Sanctions on Syria Have Failed,” by Joshua Landis : see link

Contrary to what Andrew Tabler of WINEP, a right-wing think tank argues, US sanctions on Syria have failed. Tabler, in a Newsweek article copied below, recommends keeping sanctions on Syria.  He claims they are working. He is joined in his desire to keep sanctions on Syria by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She worries that Obama is going soft on Syria because it has returned its ambassador and is engaging. She said, “The administration is aiding an unrepentant regime and is sending a signal that the U.S. will make concessions and seek dialogue regardless of what the facts dictate.” She said this in a Feb. 12 statement after the U.S. let Chicago-based Boeing Co. sell aircraft parts for the repair of two 747 jets owned by Syrian Arab Airlines.

Tabler argues that US sanctions have worked and are forcing Syria into a corner where it must finally make important foreign policy concessions. I don’t know what cool-aid Tabler has been drinking, but it may well be from the same dispenser as Ros-Lehtinen’s. US sanction efforts have failed badly. Don’t take my word for it.  Here is what Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman said about Washington’s backfiring sanctions effort just the other day:

So you ended up at a point when we isolate – we were the ones isolated. It was no longer Syria being isolated. It was the United States that was being isolated. So I think this administration decided that engagement is not – engagement is something we need to try.

This contorted jumble of passive constructions by Feltman can be summed up to mean only one thing: sanctions failed. Over a year ago, France broke the isolation regime that Washington had established. Quickly other European countries followed suit. They invited Syria to join the Mediterranean Process, a free trade agreement linking Europe with Mediterranean countries. Western bankers and businessmen are streaming into Syria to sniff out the possibilities for investment. Abdullah Dardari, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy, has been besieged with delegations of businessmen from American banks as well as European countries over the last few months. Big Western concerns may make only small investments in Syria for the time being because Syria’s financial infrastructure is primitive and new legal protections for foreign capital are untested. All the same, it is in Syria’s power to attract foreign money if it makes the desired reforms. US sanctions are no longer a major factor inhibiting investors.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillion is arriving in Damascus this Saturday flanked by over 30 French businessmen eager to have his support to clinch deals in Syria. If Americans don’t get into the act soon, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in an emerging market that has promise and where most assets are undervalued.  As Feltman explained, the US is only sanctioning its own businessmen in Syria. For someone who is in better touch with Syria read Chris Phillips of the BBC: Syria’s Assad: pariah to power-broker.

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Merino, a controversial Spanish artist for Israel’s taste

Spain: Israel upset at ‘co-existence sculpture’

Eugenio Merino says he can’t understand the fuss as he’d already sold the piece to a Belgian Jew.

A display by a Spanish artist, including a candelabrum growing out of the barrel of an Uzi sub-machinegun and a sculpture of a haredi figure standing on a priest, who kneels on a prostrate Muslim, has drawn fire from the Foreign Ministry. The Israeli Embassy in Madrid issued a statement Wednesday protesting the display at the International Art Fair in the Spanish capital.

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Protesta israelí por las obras de Eugenio Merino

Dos obras del irónico hiperrealista Eugenio Merino (1975), practicante de la vieja disciplina artística de epatar, provocaron ayer la protesta oficial de Israel por medio de su Embajada en Madrid. Una de ellas, una escultura de poliuretano de triple tamaño natural, representa a un musulmán, un cristiano y un judío en plena oración. Y no es el arranque de un chiste. En la otra, una metralleta Uzi, de fabricación israelí, sirve de base a un candelabro hebreo de siete brazos.

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Khaled’s column, Al-Akhbar about Nasrallah’s speech and its symbology

خالد صاغية
لقد دخلنا، أمس، بعد خطاب السيّد حسن نصر اللّه مرحلة جديدة في الصراع العربي ـــــ الإسرائيلي. مرحلة بدأت ملامحها تتكوّن منذ حرب تمّوز، وظهرت صورتها شبه مكتملة أمس. لا يتعلّق الأمر باستبدال الخوف والضعف بالشجاعة والقوّة وحسب، بل بالقدرة على جعل الحرب خطراً على إسرائيل نفسها. لقد تبدّلت معادلة الإزعاج مقابل الألم. معادلة الألم مقابل الموت. معادلة أن يقبع الإسرائيليّون في الملاجئ مقابل أن يخسر اللبنانيّون بيوتهم. أو، كما قال نصر اللّه، معادلة خدش جدار في تل أبيب مقابل تدمير مبنى في الضاحية.
يمكن الاستطراد والقول إنّه منذ عمليّة إطلاق سراح سمير القنطار، تغيّرت أيضاً معادلة ألف أسير عربيّ مقابل أسير إسرائيليّ. الأمر نفسه ينطبق على عمليّة الثأر لعماد مغنيّة، وتأكيد الأمين العام لحزب اللّه عدم القبول بالثأر عبر إصابة أهداف «متواضعة». المعادلة الجديدة تقضي بالآتي: القائد مقابل ما يوازنه.
وبالمعنى نفسه، وربّما عن قصد أو من دون قصد، ضرب نصر اللّه على وتر شديد الحساسيّة حين سمّى مطاريْ بيروت وتل أبيب باسميهما، وهما اللذان يحملان اسمَيْ رفيق الحريري ودايفيد بن غوريون. كأنّه لا يضع مطاراً مقابل مطار وحسب، بل يضع أيضاً رمزاً لبنانياً في مواجهة رمز إسرائيلي، وإن اختلفت درجات الإجماع على الرمزين.
قد يستنتج المرء من ذلك ابتعاد شبح الحرب الإسرائيليّة على لبنان، أو تحوّل هذه الحرب إلى حرب إقليميّة بعد كلام وزير الخارجيّة السوري وليد المعلّم، وبعد تأكيد نصر اللّه الحصول على أسلحة دقيقة. وقد يستنتج آخرون خيبة كلّ من كان لا يزال يراهن على فصل سوريا عن إيران، ثمّ استخدام دمشق للضغط على حزب اللّه.
لكنّ الكلام الاستراتيجيّ لم يكن هو المفصليّ أمس. كان ثمّة ما هو أبعد من ذلك.
معادلة نصر اللّه الجديدة ليست كسر التفوّق العسكري الإسرائيلي وحسب، ولا كسر العنجهيّة الإسرائيليّة وحسب، بل أيضاً، قبل كلّ شيء، كسر الانكسار اللبناني والانكسار العربي. هل تذكرون خطاب النصر في أيلول 2006؟ «لبنان دولة إقليمية عظمى»، هكذا تكلّم حسن نصر اللّه.

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New Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Spiritual leader

Here a couple of ideas from Husam about the change. Still stays the question: How much of an implication will this have in the movement between different branches, and in its relations to others:  parties and/or government?


“Egypt’s New Brotherhood Leadership: Implications and Limits of Change” by HUSAM TAMMAM in Arab Reform Bulletin

FEBRUARY 17, 2010

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been buffeted by a seemingly endless series of changes and blows over the past few years.  No sooner had the organization begun to recover from a controversial leadership election that ended January 20 than the regime detained some of the new senior leaders—including Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat and Guidance Bureau members Essam Erian, Mohie Hamid, and Abdul Rahman al-Barr—in uncharacteristic midnight arrests on February 8.  The regime directed a new and surprising accusation at the three:  attempting to form an organization based on the teachings of Brotherhood radical Sayyid Qutb (executed in 1966), including armed units intended to carry out militant operations inside Egypt.  This was an apparent attempt to capitalize on the new leadership’s association with Qutb, whose ideas are generally deemed extremist, and to remind Egyptians of the Brotherhood’s past use of violence.

The combined effect of the elections and the arrests, coming on the heels of continuous regime attacks on the Brotherhood’s leadership and finances during the past four years, is to push the organization in an increasingly conservative and defensive direction.  The Brotherhood’s internal divisions and problems are now exposed for all to see and real changes in the way the group functions may be underway.  Relations between the Brotherhood and the regime, already poor over the last several years, might also be taking a turn for the worse.

Turning Inward

The January elections empowered conservative members who are deeply influenced by the Salafi-style political thought of Qutb. New Supreme Guide Dr. Muhammad Badi`, who was imprisoned with Qutb, is a prime example. This conservative faction is more interested in working from within to cultivate a strong, disciplined movement than in engaging with other political forces and intellectual currents in Egyptian society. They place a higher premium on the spiritual education and social upbringing of the movement’s base than on developing a comprehensive reform program that would appeal to a broader audience.

The Brotherhood begins its new chapter having lost almost an entire faction that was committed to a dialogue with other social and political forces and capable of building alliances with them. Although reformists never had a strong organizational presence and were unable to penetrate all of the movement’s organizational levels, they had a few senior representatives in the Guidance Bureau—for example Abdul Monem Aboul Fotouh and Muhammad Habib—who lost their seats in the latest elections. New Guidance Bureau member Essam Erian has been known as a leading reformist, but his recent election reportedly was due to a deal with the conservatives in which he disassociated himself from his reformist colleagues. During the recent elections, disagreements between conservatives and reformists escalated to the point where some candidates filed official complaints challenging the integrity of the electoral process; some have refused to endorse the new guide.

Indeed, the elections precipitated an internal debate that threatens to produce a significant internal rift akin to the one that took place in 1996, when a group of young Brotherhood leaders left the movement to form the (still unlicensed) Wasat Party. The elections are also likely to set off a campaign to purge the Brotherhood of reformists. The movement will need time to overcome deep rifts and restore internal harmony, an unusual development for a group that had long succeeded in keeping such differences a private matter.

Changing Role for the Guide

Another notable internal change in the Brotherhood is the end of the era of charismatic supreme guides; the post has changed from that of a revered spiritual and symbolic figure to one that is strictly administrative.  Retired Guide Mahdi Akif’s tenure raised some concerns. Akif—a simple person with a tendency to overreact—made several political mistakes and media blunders. Akif’s age (82) and status as a member of the founding generation have nonetheless guaranteed his standing as an icon for younger generations, especially outside of Egypt. There were no more contestants from the founding generation of the Brotherhood to replace him, which contributed to the intense competition over the post of supreme guide and controversy over the results.

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Sobre el asesinato de Mahmoud al-Mahbouh, Javier Espinosa in El Mundo

Hace poco días vi una película titulada ‘El ojo del Aguila’ que relata la historia de una sociedad, la norteamericana, controlada hasta el último rincón por cámaras y sistemas de vigilancia dirigidos en última instancia por un ordenador.

El lunes al ver las fotos distribuidas por la policía de Dubai no pude por menos que recordar el argumento y captar la terrible ironía que esconde el caso del líder de Hamas, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Emulando lo que podría ser el discurso oficial israelí, los agentes del Mossad habrían contribuido a eliminar –la prensa de ese país difícilmente usa el término adecuado, “asesinar”- a un significado elemento de Hamas, uno de los grupos armados que mejor personifica para Tel Aviv la necesidad de continuar la llamada “guerra contra el terror”.

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