If Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn’t Israel swap an F-16 for some?

It’s a credit to Mark Steel’s comedic talent that he can make you laugh about a subject that’d otherwise make you cry…

Now we’ve all seen through the Israeli government’s excuses

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel’s getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there’s every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to “inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population”.

Replace “Gaza” with “western”, and that could have been written by al-Qa’ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don’t they swap their F-16 fighters and Apachehelicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in “aid”, they’d save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis’ complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that’s the main thing.

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, “Look what they’ve done to my house,” but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, “If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?” And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government’s own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire “Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking.” Still, with all that’s been going on I suppose they haven’t had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government’s excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that “The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage.”

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about a new study that’s located “morality spots”, the part of the brain that deals with our morality. Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice “Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they’ve got no morality spots whatsoever.”

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: “Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time’s up? Come along now, haven’t you got homes to demolish?”

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Brown offers British help in Israel’s war on Gaza

No, that title is not misleading.

He’s really offering naval assistance to Israel:

Mr Brown said he had been involved in talks with Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

“Germany, France and Great Britain have just sent a letter to Israel and Egypt to say they will do everything we can to prevent arms trafficking,” he said.

No mention of arms sold by UK companies to the IDF! Presumably, any British naval assistance would not be to the Palestinians to prevent attacks by the Israel…

Contra Hazel Blears, it’s not that the government has failed to get its message across, the message is very clear – Israeli terror is bad, but not so bad we’re going to do anything about it (like stopping arms sales to Israel).

Saying that Israel’s actions are “disproportionate” isn’t good enough. In fact, it suggests that there exists a number of civilian casualties that would be proportionate.

Saner stances towards the conflict have been forthcoming from backbench parliamentarians.

Here’s Gerald Kaufman:

And George Galloway:

Israeli war crimes, British weapons

Rarely does a leader of the ilLiberal unDemocrats impress me, but by gosh, Cleggeron has done it.

His call for the UK government to cease sales of WMDs to Israel is a practical suggestion that shows up the silence of the Tories, the feeble responses of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and the inability of the UK media to adequately convey how the British government supports Israel’s military:

Brown must also halt Britain’s arms exports to Israel, and persuade our EU counterparts to do the same. The government’s own figures show Britain is selling more and more weapons to Israel, despite the questions about the country’s use of force. In 2007, our government approved £6m of arms exports. In 2008, it licensed sales 12 times as fast: £20m in the first three months alone.

There is a strong case that, given the Gaza conflict, any military exports contravene EU licensing criteria. Reports, though denied, that Israel is using illegal cluster munitions and white phosphorus should heighten our caution. I want an immediate suspension of all arms exports from the EU, but if that cannot be secured, Brown must act unilaterally.

There’s a petition on the Number 10 website, which is worth signing:

This petition recognises that the government has taken positive steps to tighten weapons exportation to Israel since 2005. However, only a complete arms embargo will send a clear message to Israel that this government will not accept the prolonged armed conflict which is aggravating existing tensions in the region. Additionally this will ensure that the government adheres to the UK Export Control Act of 2002 and the EU “consolidated criteria” governing the export of military equipment. Equally such a stance would set a precedent showing that this government is committed to establishing peace in the region. This precedent will have a far reaching impact in terms of marginalising the ideologies of radical extremist groups.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has plenty of details:

Export licences approved in the first half of 2008 include:

  • components for combat aircraft
  • components for electronic warfare equipment
  • components for helmet mounted display equipment
  • components for military aero-engines
  • components for naval radars
  • components for surface-to-air missiles
  • equipment for the use of weapon sights
  • general military aircraft components
  • general naval vessel components
  • military communications equipment
  • technology for the use of weapon sights

Israel has used F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache combat helicopters to bomb Lebanese and Palestinian towns and villages. These contain significant UK components including missile triggering systems for Apaches and Head-Up Displays for F-16s.

In July 2002, the government approved the export of components for F-16 fighters being made by the US company Lockheed Martin and sold to Israel. Then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justified the sales saying: “The Government has judged that the UK’s security and defence relationship with the US is fundamental to the UK’s national security … Defence collaboration with the US is also key to maintaining a strong defence industrial capacity.” He went on “Any interruption to the supply of these components would have serious implications for the UK’s defence relations with the United States.” In other words, the commercial relationship between BAE Systems and US companies such as Lockheed Martin was judged more important than the lives of Palestinians.

The UK continues to sell arms to Israel despite the UN stating that Israel “violates humanitarian law” and even though the UK’s own “Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria” are supposed to assess the impact on regional peace, security and stability and the human rights record of the recipient.

More information on UK companies known to have supplied military equipment to Israel

Tony Benn at the Stop Gaza Massacre protest

Here is veteran socialist politician Tony Benn speaking at yesterday’s huge demonstration in London:

Recorded by Ady Cousins

What have the Palestinians got to complain about?

In contrast to Israel’s 2006 aggression against Lebanon, the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are competing to see who can most stridently condemn the Gaza attacks.

Calling for a ceasefire is no problem this time round. After all, Brown used the conflict in Lebanon as a way of ousting Blair.

Now David MiniBliar is trying the same trick. He’s even talking about that article he published. You know, the one that talked about Labour’s woes without mentioning Brown? Not that wee David would have linked the two, of course…

Now, it’s rare that comedy is linked with the plight of the Palestinians, both in beseiged Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but Mark Steel manages to get a few laughs out of the hypocrisy surrounding the insistance upon moral equivalence between the mass produced WMDs of the IDF and the home-made rockets of Hamas.

Mark Steel: So what have the Palestinians got to complain about?

To portray this as a conflict between equals requires some imagination

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

When you read the statements from Israeli and US politicians, and try to match them with the pictures of devastation, there seems to be only one explanation. They must have one of those conditions, called something like “Visual-Carnage-Responsibility-Back-To-Front-Upside-Down-Massacre-Disorder”.

For example, Condoleezza Rice, having observed that more than 300 Gazans were dead, said: “We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible.”

Someone should ask her to comment on teenage knife-crime, to see if she’d say: “I strongly condemn the people who’ve been stabbed, and until they abandon their practice of wandering around clutching their sides and bleeding, there is no hope for peace.”

The Israeli government suffers terribly from this confusion. They probably have adverts on Israeli television in which a man falls off a ladder and screams, “Eeeeugh”, then a voice says, “Have you caused an accident at work in the last 12 months?” and the bloke who pushed him gets £3,000.

The gap between the might of Israel’s F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians’ catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children’s story writer.

The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets “may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic.” So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes.

It’s no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.

The rockets may be unable to to kill on the scale of the Israeli Air Force, said one spokesman, but they are “intended to kill”.

Maybe he went on: “And we have evidence that Hamas supporters have dreams, and that in these dreams bad things happen to Israeli citizens, they burst, or turn into cactus, or run through Woolworths naked, so it’s not important whether it can happen, what matters is that they WANT it to happen, so we blew up their university.”

Or there’s the outrage that Hamas has been supported by Iran. Well that’s just breaking the rules. Because say what you will about the Israelis, they get no arms supplies or funding or political support from a country that’s more powerful than them, they just go their own way and make all their weapons in an arts and crafts workshop in Jerusalem.

But mostly the Israelis justify themselves with a disappointing lack of imagination, such as the line that they had to destroy an ambulance because Hamas cynically put their weapons inside ambulances.

They should be more creative, and say Hamas were planning to aim the flashing blue light at Israeli epileptics in an attempt to make them go into a fit, get dizzy and wander off into Syria where they would be captured.

But they prefer a direct approach, such as the statement from Ofer Schmerling, an Israeli Civil Defence official who said on al-Jazeera, “I shall play music and celebrate what the Israeli Air Force is doing.”

Maybe they could turn it into a huge nationalfestival, with decorations and mince pies and shops playing “I Wish We Could Bomb Gaza Every Day”.

In a similar tone Dov Weisglas, Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, referred to the siege of Gaza that preceded this bombing, a siege in which the Israelis prevented the population from receiving essential supplies of food, medicine, electricity and water, by saying, “We put them on a diet.”

It’s the arrogance of the East End gangster, so it wouldn’t be out of character if the Israeli Prime Minister’s press conference began: “Oh dear or dear. It looks like those Palestinians have had a little, er, accident. All their buildings have been knocked down – they want to be more careful, hee hee.”

And almost certainly one of the reasons this is happening now is because the government wants to appear hard as it wants to win an election. Maybe with typical Israeli frankness they’ll show a party political broadcast in which Ehud Olmert says, “This is why I think you should vote for me”, then shows film of Gaza and yells: “Wa-hey, that bloke in the corner is on FIRE.”

And Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues, and the specially appointed Middle East Peace Envoy, could then all shake their heads and say: “Disgraceful. The way he’s flapping around like that could cause someone to have a nasty accident.”

Gordon’s new year resolution should be to bring all the troops home

The war in Afghanistan isn’t going well. Not for the forces battling there and certainly not for the civilian population. The people of Afghanistan need bread, not bombs. If the plans of the US government to increase the numbers of troops fighting go ahead, casualties on both sides will increase – meanwhile reconstruction work will be further sidelined and aid agencies will be unable to operate inside the country.

This must be the last Christmas that our armed forces spend in the Middle East. They are owed an apology by those who sent them, and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan deserve to see a war crimes trial take place as soon as possible.

From the Morning Star:

Medics reveal massive cost of Afghan war
(Tuesday 23 December 2008)
by PAUL HASTE

ANTI-WAR campaigners urged the Prime Minister on Tuesday to make a new year’s resolution to bring home in 2009 all British troops involved in the “colonial” Afghanistan war.

The call came as British army medics revealed the mounting cost of the war, now in its eighth year, on young soldiers sent to prop up an occupation that is increasingly beset with problems.

Never-ending massacres of civilians by Western warplanes, rising casualties among the US-led military forces and insurgent attacks that reach deep into neighbouring Pakistan to destroy vital weapons supply lines confirm the increasingly intractable nature of the war.

Working at a British military base in eastern Afghanistan, Royal Army Nursing Core medic Lee Collins admitted that “we’ve got a constant flow of casualties on a daily basis here.”

Mr Collins explained that he works 12-hour shifts, while his “day off” has to be spent on call in case of emergencies.

Navy Commando squadron medical assistant Kate Parkman added that she expected Christmas Day to be “a normal working day,” describing her work as a Quick Response Force medic loading wounded soldiers into helicopters.

“A soldier had stepped on a mine. He lost his left leg and some of his fingers and he suffered severe facial wounds, but, by the time he had left us, we had controlled his pain,” Ms Parkman related.

“You get all this training on dolls with make-up, but it’s different here.”

Some 135 British troops have been killed so far during the occupation of Afghanistan. Almost 1,000 other Western soldiers have also died, but the number of Afghan civilians that have lost their lives is literally uncountable.

US military commanders refuse to count the casualties that their air strikes and “counterinsurgency” tactics cause among the Afghan people, but independent researchers estimate that the occupation has caused almost 28,000 deaths.

This toll, plus the British medics’ experience in dealing with their comrades’ injuries, prompted Stop the War Coalition spokesman David Wilson to call for an end to “this bloody colonial war.

“We have finally admitted its time to leave Iraq, but Gordon Brown should go one step further and make it his new year’s resolution to leave Afghanistan,” he declared.

“There will be no end in sight for this intractable and dangerously unstable occupation unless all the troops are brought home in 2009.

Middle East wars cost UK taxpayers 3.7 billion a year

So let’s bring the troops home and spend the difference on improving forces’ housing.

The Times reports:

The sharply rising costs of the war in Afghanistan were laid bare yesterday when the Ministry of Defence said that it would need more than £2.3 billion from Treasury reserves to pay for the campaign in Helmand province this year.

The estimated cost for Iraq in the same period will be nearly £1.4 billion, despite the planned reduction of British troops in the south from the present 4,100 to a few hundred from May.

The latest combined estimated bill of £3.7 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year means that the two operations will have cost the taxpayer £13.2 billion over the past six years.