All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre
By Najam Abbas

Pakistan's recent floods have left eight million people dependent on aid for their survival, and washed away huge swathes of the rich farmland on which the country's struggling economy depends. The Pakistani government has confirmed 1,600 people dead and 2,366 injured, but its officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages. The country's disaster agency fears that there will be a "significant rise" in the death toll as waters recede and the number of missing persons is tallied.

Wikileaks, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

By Mohammed Abdullah Gul

 On 25 July 2010, the New York Timescarried an explosive story by Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Andrew W. Lehren about some 92,000 classified Pentagon documents which had passed into the hands of Wikileaks, a Sweden-based whistle-blower website headed by Julian Assange. Ostensibly, the leak sent shock waves through the US Administration - not just for the sheer volume of the leaked material but also because the revelations could significantly affect the course of the war in Afghanistan. The documents comprised a host of field intelligence reports initiated by covert sources, combat units and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Much of theplethora of documents is a compilation of assorted reports known as "collation" in the intelligence craft. Such stuff is not deemed to be intelligence until it is sifted, corroborated and analysed for its value, the authenticity of the source and the plausibility of the information. The documents cover the period from 2004 to 2009. The fact that that such a large array of reports remained unprocessed for this long is a poor reflection on the Pentagon's efficiency.

 


 

Dubious veracity

Wikileaks has, thus far, released 77,000 of the documents, of which 180 reports - mostly originating from Afghan intelligence - pertain to the dubious role of Pakistan, its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and, especially, of retired General Hamid Gul who headed the ISI in the crucial years of the Afghan jihad during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Gul earned a reputation as the architect of the Soviet defeat and the ignominious withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Once a darling of US strategists and intelligence big-wigs, Gul later became a bitter critic of the post-Reagan policies of the US. He routinely charges America of betraying the Afghan nation and causing an airplane crash in which then-president of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, and dozens of Pakistan's top military brass died. Gul also claimed that the 9/11 events were an inside job and openly supported the Afghan resistance against what he described as the US-led occupation of Afghanistan which was not dissimilar to that of the Soviet Union.

He has repeatedly refuted the charges against him on various international media channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC (for example, on the 25, 26, 27 and 28 July 2010), and labelled the reports as "preposterous", "fictional" and deliberate "disinformation" to demonise him and the ISI in an attempt to find a scapegoat for the US military's failures in Afghanistan. In these interviews, Gul also offered to travel to the US to face charges in court or be heard by the US Senate or Congress. In 2008, the US proposed a motion at the United Nations 1267 Committee to have him placed on the UN's international terrorist list. He was saved by China, which blocked the move by applying a technical hold for lack of evidence.

The Pakistani government also strongly rebutted the Wikileaks reports regarding the alleged double role of the ISI in the Afghan war. Interestingly, a Pakistani official revealed that days before the New York Times story, US defence officials had advised their Pakistani counterparts to disregard the Wikileaks documents release.

 Human rights and military discipline

Apart from documents relating to Pakistan, the rest of the 77,000 documents cover a vast spectrum of excesses and human rights abuses committed by US and NATO forces, and narrate a harrowing tale of atrocities against innocent civilians. No less than 20,000 fatalities have been documented, painting a heart-rending picture of a callous disregard of Geneva Conventions and US laws. Task Force 373, a secret force, stands out as the most trigger-happy, ruthless bunch of soldiers who seem to have exceeded every limit. It is not clear whether this force was ever authorised by the US Congress. If not, it would cast a negative light on the Pentagon, raising questions as to whether the Pentagon (or a certain element within it) had turned into a "rogue" institution.

 Questions

Wikileaks is still holding back some 15,000 documents. There are tremendous efforts by the US administration to block the release of these documents or, at least, to expunge the identities of sources and other named figures lest their security be jeopardised.

The whole sordid affair begs many a thorny question, and points to yawning cavities in the US systems of defence and intelligence. The more glaring of these questions, each of which warrants a separate query, are:

a. Is the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) overly dependent on security contractors and largely amateurish Afghan intelligence operatives?

b. Is there an attitudinal conflict among American policy makers on Afghanistan? That is, is there a conflict between those advocating winning the hearts and minds of Afghan people and those operators on the ground who are bent on the systematic and wilful alienation of the Afghan people?

c. Does a dichotomy really exist between the stated US position of Pakistan as a front-line ally without whose support victory cannot be perceived, and the real perception of its role as a double crosser playing both sides? Or is this dichotomy inspired by extraneous influences which wish to drive a wedge into US-Pakistan relations?

d. How will the leaks impact on US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Karzai government relations?

e. How will they affect the war in Afghanistan and determine its outcome?

f. Were the leaks deliberate and purposeful a la My Lai in Vietnam, which set in motion the public demand for withdrawal?

 

US intelligence methodology

Over the years, the mammoth US intelligence establishment has shown deficiencies, fissures and failures. If glaring ones such as 9/11, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to capture the world's most wanted terrorists are not enough evidence of its inherent flaws, Wikileaks has exposed it to the core. The human intelligence (humint) aspect of the US is well-known to have suffered from protracted neglect, poor funding, and the absence of a cogent cause to inspire enthusiasm.

As a consequence, the US substituted security contractors for regular and disciplined operatives. Most of these security contractors were former employees of the CIA, FBI and other agencies which thrived on old-buddy cronyism. Their only motivation was money. They are a tired and lacklustre group of people who rely mostly on "paper milling" - intelligence parlance for the production of make-believe reports. The bulk of the reports on Pakistan is the handiwork of Afghan intelligence agencies which are infested by communist die-hards looking to avenge their humiliation at the hands of Pakistan and the ISI. To top it off, the Indian external intelligence agency - the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - has established a strong field intelligence network in Afghanistan. Its insidious influence on Afghan intelligence agencies in an effort to malign Pakistan is an open secret.

Task Force 373 uses tactics and methods which run counter to the explicit purpose of the military high command. About 100,000 US security contractors have proven to be loose cannons. They disregard operational instructions, and are only in pursuit of quick results to earn more dollars. It was a disaster ab initio to mix mercenaries and burnt-out intelligence veterans with regular troops. The architects of this harebrained idea will realise the consequences of their folly.

 

Between policy and posture

The US and NATO official position on Pakistan as a front-line state in the war against terrorism is a euphemism. In reality, Pakistan has always been suspected either of doing less than it could, or, worse, of complicity with some Taliban factions fighting US and NATO troops. No wonder, then, that each category and tier of the US leadership - from the Bush to the Obama administrations - continued to press Pakistan to do more.

While analysing the nature and extent of Pakistan's cooperation, one must bear in mind the circumstances under which Pakistan was recruited into this war. It was literally forced on board the American warship. The Pakistan leadership wrongly assumed that the war would be a short, swift retribution which would end in a few months. They failed to fathom the latent and long-term intentions of the Bush administration's war hawks. It was only after the Karzai government was foisted on Afghanistan, as a result of the Bonn dispensation and the induction of India, Pakistan's arch-rival, into the Afghan game that Pakistani authorities realised their mistake in unconditionally giving in to US demands. They felt cheated but could do little to redress the situation. Then-President Pervez Musharraf's quick surrender to US diktat had left the Pakistani nation and its institutions dazed and bewildered. They were torn between the demands of the US agenda and their national interests. The military and the ISI were hard put to maintain equilibrium. Drone attacks by the CIA in Pakistan's tribal regions, and clandestine deployment of US Special Forces and security contractors inside Pakistan further exacerbated frayed sentiments. To the Pakistani masses, from where most of the soldiers are drawn, it was somebody else's dirty war which Pakistan had to fight under duress. It reflects positively on the army and the ISI that there was no serious breach of discipline. But to expect an enthusiastic and wholesome participation under these conditions would be asking for too much.

 

Impact on US-Pakistan relations

That the invaders would fail in Afghanistan was axiomatic for even elementary students of Afghan affairs; and no one is better educated on this subject than the ISI. Should the ISI not have maintained liaison with the real soul of the Afghan people, which is manifested in the national resistance symbolised by the Taliban? Let no one be duped into believing otherwise! But material support to the resistance is quite another matter. With US spies all over Pakistan, having logged deep into its systems, such an audacity cannot even be imagined, save by Pentagon stalwarts.

The US policy towards Pakistan was described aptly - though insultingly - by Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton as a "carrot and stick" doctrine that would keep Pakistan on the leash and aligned to US objectives. This policy seems to have worked reasonably well for America. Pakistan has been held to the course by the US promoting a dictator, and then imposing a truncated democracy through an externally-brokered deal called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). America's whip hand, however, began to test the limits of national tolerance after the Mumbai attacks, when the US started openly to promote India's brow-beating tactics against Pakistan on unsubstantiated charges. Following Obama's 1 December 2009 policy speech, the US attitude began to change. It is now less belligerent, and often placatory, towards Pakistan. There is also a perceptible shift in the policy from dealing with government to addressing the people of Pakistan. This is a healthy change indicative of a possible focus on an exit strategy.

The recent floods in Pakistan have enhanced the need for a fresh approach. Currently, there seem to be two overriding American concerns. Firstly, to create an environment for the graceful exit of the US from Afghanistan, while safeguarding its core interests and making room for India in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Secondly, to thwart a populist - inevitably anti-American ground-swell - in the wake of the catastrophic deluge in Pakistan. How these can objectives be achieved with the help of a tottering and largely dysfunctional democracy in Pakistan will be a daunting challenge for American policy makers.

Pakistan and the US need each other for their own good reasons, but India is the obstacle, and it will remain so until the Kashmir issue is dealt with.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai began to lean towards Pakistan after Obama's 1 December 2009 speech. To show his altered preferences, he fired his Pakistan-hating intelligence czar, Amrullah Saleh. After the Wikileaks affair, however, Karzai revealed his true intentions when he demanded that the US bomb Pakistan. But that simmered down rather quickly. Perhaps the Americans whispered the same gospel in his ears as they did for Pakistan: "Don't take it too seriously."

 Outcomes and purposes

It is too early to pass judgement, but there are unerring similarities between My Lai and the Wikileaks affair. Lieutenant William Calley and Captain Ernest L. Medina's misconduct then, and the TF-373's misdemeanour now reflect the same propensity for frustration spawned by failures. How close are the parallels of General Westmoreland's demand for more troops and General Stanley McChrystal's urge for the surge, intelligence failures, and search for scapegoats - Cambodia then and Pakistan now? It's an uncanny match of the scenarios, a rebirth of the tragedy that was Vietnam. Afghanistan is a wrong war at a wrong place against a wrong enemy. Not a single Afghan has been found involved in terrorism outside the war zone. "Reversing Taliban's momentum" was not the original aim of the NATO war. At this stage, it would be like defeating the Afghan nation; it would be mission impossible. The initial goal was to disperse Al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. All western intelligence sources believe Osama Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, or, at least, not in the southern part of Afghanistan where much of the US and NATO forces are committed. Leon E. Panetta said there were no more than 60 to 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in that part of the world. That many may be present in any European country. The reality is that Al-Qaeda has long since migrated to the Red Sea area to be in closer proximity to its strategic "centre of gravity" - the Middle East.

The hard truth is that the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause for America. The problem is how to convince the Pentagon and the self-indulgent, bigoted neo-cons who would not let reason get the better of their unrealistic ambitions. Obama's heart is in the right place. He knows he came into the Oval Office on the promise of change, and he was aware of the stumbling blocks on his way to change. As a master chess player, he let the Pentagon have its say (two surges since his inauguration) but asked for results. The Pentagon merely reinforced failure and could not deliver.

Operation Moshtarak, in February 2010, was an unmitigated disaster, and the Kandahar operation is a non-starter. One obstacle in Obama's march towards his objective has been removed. If allowed to operate with freedom, Wikileaks will remove the other. Its publication of the remaining 15,000 documents is bound to whip up a public debate reminiscent of the Nixon years. Already, the antiwar opinion has climbed to 62 percent. A "moratorium" - as in the case of Vietnam - may well be in the offing, thanks to Wikileaks. Is Obama playing Nixon? If yes, Wikileaks is a gift to him. Or, did he manage the gift? Whatever the case, the draw-down from Afghanistan is likely to begin as per schedule, if not earlier. Conventional wisdom commands that losses be cut.

 * Mohammad Abdullah Gul is a researcher whose work focuses on the Indo-Pak subcontinent

** This article is published in terms of a partnership agreement between the Afro-Middle East Centre and the AlJazeera Centre for Studies.

By Lamis Andoni 

The 2005 assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was followed by the launching of an international investigation into the assassination, and the subsequent setting up of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in 2007. Both were problematic from the outset. First, it was unprecedented for a special foreign tribunal - albeit nominally under United Nations sponsorship - to be established to investigate the assassination of a state official. This unprecedented step raised suspicions as to the real political motivations of the west. Second, the process instantly became a further catalyst for the polarisation that had been instigated by the assassination itself.

By Chas Freeman

Below is a presentation by Chas Freeman to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, separately, to the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. The presentation was made on the 1 September 2010, the day before US-sponsored talks between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority began in Washington.

Al-Sabeel Newspaper and AMEC (Trans)

Since 1996, Khaled Mesh'al has been the Chairman of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) Political Bureau. After the assassination of Hamas leader Abdul 'Aziz Rantisi in 2004 by Israeli forces, Mesh'al became the movement's overall leader. He lives in exile in Damascus, from where he oversees the movement's activities both within Palestine and outside.

The most recent interview with Mesh'al was conducted by the Jordanian Arabic-language Al-Sabeel newspaper in July 2010. In it, Mesh'al laid out the policy direction of Hamas on a number of critical issues: negotiations with Israel, recognition of Israel, resistance, Jews, Christians, women, among other issues.

In the Arab world, the lengthy interview is being viewed as highly significant, and is regarded as a clear indication of positions that Hamas wants to pursue, especially with regard to its future attitude towards Israel. The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) translated the interview into English and publishes it here to make it accessible to a wider audience, and to allow for greater understanding of the political and other perspectives of a movement which has become one of the most important role-players in the Middle East today. It is an important piece articulating, in its own words, the perspectives of Hamas' leadership, and is critical reading for observers of the Middle East, and policy-makers for whom the Middle East is important.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On the 22 July 2010, an African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda, resolved to increase the number of troops that make up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in an effort militarily to defeat the Islamist Al-Shabab movement. The AU decision followed a twin bombing in Uganda's capital city on the 11 July 2010, during the final match of the Football World Cup, resulting in the deaths of scores of people. A day after the bombings, Al-Shabab had claimed responsibility. Just a few days earlier, the movement's leaders had threatened attacks in Uganda and Burundi, the two countries whose troops make up the AMISOM force.

The AU decision and the bomb blasts which precipitated it once again cast the Somali crisis forcefully into the global spotlight. It is clear that both events combine to create a Somali conjuncture that poses serious policy challenges to South Africa, the African Union and the African continent as a whole.

This paper will outline some of these challenges, propose a plan that effectively can deal with the Somali situation and begin the process towards building a new Somali state and Somali democracy.

By Sourav Roy

"Our production lines are running very smoothly and we are capable of producing an endless number of ballistic missiles," announced Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in a recent interview with the Iranian national news agency Fars. "We have made phenomenal progress in air defence capabilities and the current slew of sanctions means nothing more than a soft encouragement for us to acquire 'self-sufficiency'," he added.

Salami's comments clearly resonate with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claims in February that Iran's enemies remained unsuccessful in their attempts to devise an interception system capable of breaching Iran's "impenetrable" missile shield. Iranian political and military top brass have repeatedly claimed flamboyant military accomplishments and technological advancements, only to maintain silence later on.

By Olivier Da Lage

We have to admit that there was a pre-AlJazeera era and a post-AlJazeera era. There is no doubt that the start of broadcasting in November 1996 by the Qatar-based Arab satellite channel has profoundly changed the media and political equation in the entire Middle East. Countless articles, many books, and research papers in many languages have been devoted to "the AlJazeera phenomenon".i

State broadcasting authorities and newspaper managers in the Middle East, international broadcasters elsewhere, and governments in the region and beyond had to rethink their policies, change the way they addressed their people and the people of their neighbouring countries. Competitors were forced to set themselves up with the aim of luring away AlJazeera viewers. Where this succeeded (e.g. with Al Arabiya), it was because these other broadcasters emulated AlJazeera's formula of field reporting, and tough questioning of political figures on live interviews. Those viewers who were attracted to other channels usually continued watching AlJazeera for the sake of comparison.

By Lamis Andoni

Four years after the end of the Lebanon war, the role of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which had been entrusted with keeping the peace between Israel and Lebanon, has been thrown into doubt amid intensifying threats of another war.

Both Israel and Hizbullah, the latter having been the main target of Israel's 2006 war, have stepped up their accusations against UNIFIL. Israel is again accusing the peacekeeping forces of failure in preventing, if not of collaborating with, Hizbullah in its replenishment of its military power in South Lebanon. Hizbullah, meanwhile, believes that "certain contingents" of UNIFIL are spying for, if not assisting, Israel.

By Abd al-Khaliq Faruq

For many years, Egypt has suffered from a complex political and social crisis, which has manifested itself in multiple forms: there have been continuous demonstrations, sits-in, more than 4,000 protests in the last two years alone, an economic crisis with spiralling effects, plus a crisis in political leadership and a lack of clarity regarding the future. Egypt has been subjected to a political process for the past 30 years or more which has often been characterised as either being paralytic or barren.

In the past ten years the crisis has deepened, thanks to a set of characteristics of the regime that has become clear to identify. First, there has been an open push for the son of President Hosni Mubarak, Gamal, to inherit the office of presidency in what can be dubbed a "Caesarian succession". This move has required amending the constitution in an attempt to obliterate any real chance that any other presidential hopeful would be able to engage in a fair competition with the president's son. This situation has also led to the annulment of the essence of Clause 88 of the Constitution, which requires complete and total judicial supervision of the electoral process.

By Abd al-Jalil al-Marhoun

 Seen through the prism of geopolitics, interactions related to security in the Arabian Gulf are - in principle - closely connected to the reality of more general regional security. This perspective can also be expanded to include the impact on the wider scope of regional and international policies.

There are eight countries that reside on the shores of the Arabian Gulf: the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman - and Iraq and Iran. Traditionally, the Gulf was divided into three zones: Iraq in the north, Iran in the west, and the six GCC countries (also known as the inland Gulf countries) in the east.

By Ramananda Sengupta

'We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret. On the other hand, what is a secret is what is the defence relationship. And with all due respect, the secret part of it will remain secret.' - Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India, in a recent interview given to OutlookIndia.com.

India and Israel were born within months of each other. While the former became an independent state on the 15 August 1947, the latter was born on the 14 May 1948, following the decision of the United Nations to partition British Mandate Palestine.

India, which had opposed this partition, remained officially cold to the Jewish state. In May 1949, it voted (in vain) against the admission of Israel into the UN. In early 1950, after recognising the State of Israel, a visibly reluctant New Delhi allowed it to set up an "immigration office" in the port city of Mumbai. This eventually morphed into a "trade office" and then into a consulate. But New Delhi dithered over according full diplomatic recognition to Israel until early 1992, when the two nations formally opened their respective embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi.

By Juan Cole

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week in Toronto that, in the wake of the G20 conference, Turkey will no longer routinely give Israeli military aircraft permission to fly in Turkish airspace. The announcement came as Turkey forbade an Israeli military air-plane (taking officers on a visit to the sites of Nazi death camps for Jews in Poland) to fly over its territory. The Turkish press denies that the destination of the plane influenced the decision. Future Israeli military overflight permission will be granted on an ad hoc basis.

From the Guardian: 'Israel's Ynet news website reported that other military flights had also been quietly cancelled. "Turkey is continuing to downgrade its relations with Israel," an unnamed official told Ynet. "This is a long-term process and not something that began just after the flotilla incident. We are very concerned." '

By Lamis Andoni

On the eve of the 26 June 2010, an important meeting between US President Barack Obama and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was held in Toronto where the two sides exchanged soft - but poignant - warnings. Philip Gordon, the US Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, challenged Turkey to prove that it remains "committed to NATO, Europe and the United States", while Erdogan questioned whether the US was "supporting Turkey adequately in its battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)". The statements were the strongest public indication of emerging mutual distrust between the two allies since the crisis over an Israeli attack on a Turkish ship, which was part of the recent Gaza-bound aid flotilla, and Turkey's vote against imposing further sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council.

By Lamin Andoni

Barack Obama, the US president, is pushing for direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. A resumption of direct talks would be his first "peace-making achievement" in the Middle East since he took office more than a-year-and-half ago. But, barring a surprise halt to Israeli settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem, the Palestinians will not hold direct talks with Israel. And even if the US were to succeed in bringing the two sides together, there will be no breakthrough as long as Israel remains unwilling to end its 43-year occupation.

The current stalemate in the "peace process" cannot be solved by a freeze - partial or total - on Jewish settlement building, and reflects the flaw at the core of the process, which focuses on Israeli security and demographic requirements rather than on ending the 43-year old Israeli occupation.

 

By Fawaz A. Gerges

In an important and alarming report to the United Nations Security Council early July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that an increase in tensions between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new war with potentially devastating consequences for the entire region.

The UN chief cited dozens of instances when the two antagonists - Israel and Hizbullah - almost broke out into war, and accused them of violating the 2006 ceasefire resolution that ended the 34-day July war in 2006. While Hizbullah continued to maintain "a substantial military capacity", Ban said, Israel continued to violate the ceasefire by conducting daily flights over Lebanon, and refused to withdraw from the disputed border village of Ghajar.

By Fawaz A. Gerges 

Exactly a year ago, in June 2009, the then-recently installed American president, Barack Obama, made a landmark speech in Cairo symbolically to "reset" US relations with the Muslim world. He eloquently addressed critical challenges facing the US in the Muslim world and rhetorically offered a new paradigm, a new beginning, for managing relations between "America and Islam". The speech sent a clear message:

"I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On Tuesday, 1 June 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a ferocious speech in Turkey's parliament, condemning Israel for its attack on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza, early on Monday 31 May 2010. Between 9 and 16 activists and aid workers - mostly Turkish - were killed in the raid in an act that has seen widespread international criticism for Israel's excessive use of force. South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) added its voice to a chorus of international condemnation for the acts leading to the deaths of civilians, issuing a demarche to the Israeli ambassador in South Africa.

Erdogan called Israel's raid on the ships carrying civilians and humanitarian aid "a bloody massacre which deserved every kind of curse". Speaking at a parliamentary group meeting of his Justice & Development (AK) Party, Erdogan said the "predawn attack in the Mediterranean Sea was one of the heaviest blows on the conscience of the humanity." The ship that bore the brunt of the Israeli attack, and on which the killings took place, was flying a Turkish flag and belonged to a Turkish relief organisation.

"Aid ships were intercepted by force and brutality. The ships loaded with mercy and affection were prevented from reaching their destination. Israeli armed forces illegally attacked the flotilla carrying 600 people from 32 countries and humanitarian aid to Gazan people, and killed innocent people," he said. Erdogan harshly condemned the "inhuman attack on ships carrying civilians including women, children and religious officials from different faiths" emphasising that the raid amounted to an "attack is on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace".

"The ships declared their cargo and their intention to the whole world before setting sail to Gaza. 60 journalists from Turkey and the other countries were also on board the ships to witness the campaign. It is evident that this attack on 600 people and 6 ships carrying aid to poor Palestinian people who were left destitute, is on the basic philosophy of the United Nations. The ships were loaded with humanitarian aid and they were strictly controlled under the international traffic rules. They were carrying volunteers. But they were subject to such an armed attack," he said.

"We refused Israel's offer to send the injured passengers. We have the will and power to take our own injured people. Two military ambulances left to bring back the injured passengers. Civilians planes of the Ministry of Health are about to arrive there," he said.

Erdogan emphasised the severity of the raid, within the context of global discontent towards Israel, saying, "Israel must inform the world public opinion correctly. It should not refrain from international cooperation. Israel should acknowledge the importance of the situation and correct its mistake."

"No one should test Turkey's patience," he added. "Turkey's hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable." Turkey has, for decades, been an ally of Israel, cooperating with the latter even on military matters.

Erdogan urged Israelis to question the actions of their government.

"It is damaging your country's image by conducting banditry and piracy," Erdogan said. "It is damaging the interests of Israel and your peace and safety. It is the Israeli people who must stop the Israeli government."

He said that "staging an armed attack on aid ships, killing innocent people and treating civilians as if they were terrorists are nothing but degradation of humanity and vile recklessness. This insolent, irresponsible, reckless and unfair attack by the Israeli government which trampled on every kind of human value must be punished by all means."

The prime minister also called on Israel immediately to end its blockade of Gaza.

Erdogan will meet Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug and ministers who are the members of the National Security Council (MGK) from Tuesday to Wednesday this week, to discuss the Israeli attack on the aid convoy, Anadolu news agency said.

Earlier on Tuesday Erdogan said, "I wish our final decisions will be good for everyone." Turkish media now questions what "final decisions" may be. Will Turkey and Israel sever ties over the flotilla raid?

The flotilla incident is undoubtedly the most serious rift in Turkish-Israeli relations since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, mostly because all states covet the safety of their nationals. For example, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, in which US diplomatic staff were kidnapped in Tehran, led to the severing of US-Iran ties. The flotilla incident is no less serious because unarmed civilians have been killed by foreign military personnel in international waters. And Israel and Turkey already have strained relations. Earlier this year, a Turkish diplomat was humiliated in a meeting with his Israeli counterpart - the so-called 'sofagate' incident - leading to a diplomatic row between the two countries. Turkey is also likely to get much international support for its condemnation of Israel, as many countries are growing tired of the latter's continued provocative behaviour in the international arena. Israel is assumed to be behind the January assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh - an activity which involved the illegal use of multiple foreign passports. That incident led to the expulsion of Israeli diplomats from Australia and the UK. Additionally, US Vice-President Joe Biden's attempts to re-launch the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were snubbed by Israel earlier this year.

Ironically, then, it is the US that has come to Israel's aid, in the midst of the flotilla row. The US has refused to call for an independent (UN) investigation into the flotilla raid, saying that an internal Israeli investigation would suffice. Turkey will be unhappy if it cannot convince the US, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to appoint a UN investigation into the flotilla raid. Israel, on the other hand, will be relieved if it can avoid international legal scrutiny over the raid. Further undermining Turkey's ability to put pressure on Israel is a $185 million deal for the delivery of 10 Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) from Israel to Turkey, which the Turkish military says will still go ahead.

Whether or not ties are severed between Israel and Turkey, in the coming weeks the latter will try to lobby members of the UN Security Council to pressurise Israel, probably calling for an end to its blockade of Gaza, compliance with UN resolutions over its occupation of the West Bank and an independent investigation into the flotilla deaths. What is certain is that Israel will do its own lobbying to try and clear its name. Already Israel has delayed the release of many of the flotilla activists (thereby preventing many of them media access) in an attempt to manage its public relations campaign. Israel will present its case, show footage to prove that activists attacked its commandos, but all that will have little effect on the end result. The world will judge the flotilla incident as an excessive use of naval force with no clear justification.

By Bashir M. Nafi'

On Sunday, 19 May 2010, the Turkish city, Istanbul, hosted a Tripartite Summit which brought together Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before convening the summit, Mr. Erdogan held separate meetings with both Arab leaders. The holding of the summit came after a short period of planning and preparations of only a few weeks. According to some media sources, several regional issues - including Iran's nuclear ambitions and the situation in Iraq - were addressed at the summit. The brief final statement was articulated in what has come to be known as the "Istanbul Agreement", which expressed support for the Iraqi people's right to decide their political choices in their national election. The statement also expressed the support of both al-Asad and al-Thani for the Turkish stance regarding Iran's nuclear program.

By Mark Lynch

The Obama administration's new National Security Strategy has been released today. It goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign policy and national security. The document explains what the administration has been doing and offers a roadmap to where it wants to go. The most interesting -- and strongest -- part of the NSS deals with the administration's new approach to al-Qaeda. The most problematic is the gap between its strong commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law and its practice thus far with regard to things like drone strikes.

By Ahmet Davutoglu

In May 2010, Turkey agreed to a groundbreaking 'uranium trade deal' with Iran. A closer examination of Turkey's foreign policy reveals how it is elevating its position among the society of states. In this article, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, outlines the main methodological and opreational principles driving his government's foreign policy.

Davetoglu writes that there are three methodological and five operational principles driving Turkey's foreign policy.

Somalia's Divided Islamists

  • 25 May, 2010
  • Published in Somalia

By International Crisis Group

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) must engage dissidents among the country's insurgent groups in order to strengthen its authority and combat al-Qaeda inspired extremists.

'Somalia's Divided Islamists', the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, reviews the religious, ideological and clan rifts that have developed between the country's main Islamist factions since the election of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as leader of the TFG. It concludes that the government must reach out to elements of Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (the Mujahideen Youth Movement) that are disenchanted with the influence of foreign jihadis in the group and the al-Qaeda sympathies among its leadership. It also suggests that many in the Somali nationalist Hizb al-Islam (Islamic Party) could be more receptive to TFG overtures.

By Ebrahim I. Ebrahim 

Remarks by South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim I Ebrahim, at the opening of the international conference organised by AMEC on 'Locating Ethnic States in a Cosmopolitan World: The Case of Israel', Colosseum Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa, 12 April 2010.

By International Crisis Group

After almost two decades of unsuccessful U.S.-sponsored negotiations, Palestinians are re-evaluating their approach to peace.

Tipping Point? Palestinians and the Search for a New Strategy, the latest International Crisis Group background report, discusses why Palestinians, who are most in need of a resolution, balk at resuming negotiations; why, although President Obama appears willing to be engaged and confront Israel, Palestinians have denied him the chance to advance talks; and why, seventeen years after Oslo, the best that can be done is get the parties to talk indirectly. The answer is not that the PLO or its leadership have given up on talks and the two-state solution. They have invested too much for too long to shift course swiftly and radically. Rather, they seek to redress the power imbalance with Israel by pressing their case internationally, reinvigorating statebuilding, and encouraging a measure of popular resistance.

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Established in 1998, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) aims to foster, produce and disseminate the highest quality of research on the Middle East, to maintain public discussion and to help shape the public discourse on issues related to the Middle East. Amec's research includes relations between Africa and the Middle East.

AMEC engages in funded research on the contemporary Middle East, and accepts research commissions from government, business, academia, non-governmental organisations, and community-based organisations.

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