NATO Expands South, Hindered by US-created Chaos by Nicola Nasser

Dandelion Salad

by Nicola Nasser
Global Research, November 10, 2007

Discreetly but progressively and confidently, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is expanding south and southeast almost uncontested — after the collapse of the former USSR-led Warsaw Pact — outside the mandate designated by its statute into the Arab Middle East as well as into the Caspian Sea regions.

However, the U.S. obsession with the Iranian threat and with finding an exit strategy from the Iraqi quagmire made Washington less attentive to Turkey ’s legitimate vital national interests, thus insensitively antagonizing the alliance’s southern strong arm and alerting it into the defensive, not against enemies, but against its own allies. Turkey now stands in the eye of a storm created by this same ally, a storm threatening a geopolitical fall out between the two NATO allies since 1952.

NATO has already secured its presence on the middle tier between the two regions, in Turkey (a member), Afghanistan (where it has a 25.000-strong force) and to a lesser extent in Iraq where the western alliance is training the “new Iraqi army.”

The contesting French influence had eased when former President Jacque Chirac near the end of his term shifted to coordinating with the United States in Lebanon; the French contest, particularly on the African theatre and especially on NATO’s northern Arab tier seems to have been completely neutralized with the electoral victory of the new President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chose to engage Washington as a “friend” and decided to rejoin NATO’s military structure.

The absence of any credible indigenous system rules out any worthwhile obstacles to NATO expansion from within the Arab Middle East region. The League of Arab States is practically no more than a fractured, division-burdened high level forum of a regional gathering structure with no teeth at all, threatened by the US-Israeli strategic alliance and the NATO with disintegration into an alternative wider “Greater Middle East” security structure that would embrace Israel as an integral leading partner.

The expansion southward was highlighted on October 9 with the signing of a treaty with Egypt at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, “in a move that opens the door for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to be involved in security matters along Egypt’s border with Gaza (Strip),” according to the Jerusalem Post the next day, to possibly secure in particular the Salahuddin Passage (Philadelphi Route) according to Ynet. Egypt has become the second Middle Eastern country to sign a treaty with NATO after a similar treaty with Israel in 2006.

Both treaties with Egypt and Israel were initiated under the Individual Cooperation Programmes (ICP), which aim at “promoting political and military ties with the Euro-Atlantic and the Mediterranean regions along with security cooperation with NATO and MD partners, in order to enhance Mediterranean regional security and stability,” NATO said in the statement.

The ICP was upgraded from the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), which was adopted by the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June 2004 with an eye on the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to have priority in joining the alliance in partnership arrangements. Both the ICP and ICI were conceived as mechanisms to bypass the NATO statute, which confines its expansion to Europe and the North Atlantic regions.

The Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) was the vehicle the NATO used to approach partnership arrangements in the region. This dialogue was originally initiated by European founders of NATO to promote economic and political cooperation with the southern Arab neighbors; in 2002 the MD was upgraded to security matters of concern and in 2004 NATO elevated its dialogue status to conceived genuine partnerships and an expanded framework of cooperation. The MD branched off the much older European – Arab dialogue, which began in the last quarter of the 20th century as an economic, political and cultural forum that has nothing to do with NATO or military prospects.

The ICP produced the Egyptian and Israeli treaties; the ICI had earlier produced cooperation arrangements with seven MD countries, namely Israel, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan; similar cooperation was arranged with non-MD members of the GCC, namely Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (which became an ICI partner in January). Since July 2005, the NATO has also provided air transport for peacekeeping forces in Sudan’s volatile Darfur region.

Areas of both ICP and ICI cooperation arrangements include joint military war games, military training, defense reform, war on terror, countering Islamist militancy, military and security intelligence sharing, control of borders, demilitarization of the surplus of old and obsolete ammunition stockpiles and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), serving NATO ships at partners’ seaports, hosting NATO-supported regional Security Cooperation Centre/s, providing logistical support to NATO’s peacekeeping operations, helping NATO in patrolling the Mediterranean Sea and regional waters, countering the spread of weapons of mass destruction, “to get these states closer to NATO’s way of thinking” according to a NATO official, opening NATO defense colleges to partners’ military officers, and other mechanisms to enhance practical cooperation on regional stability and security.

Initially adopting a low-key approach, NATO now feels more confident to send its Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and his deputy on unprecedented public visits to Algeria and other ICP and ICI “partners.”

Scheffer may be officially warmly or cordially welcomed, but on the popular level NATO is conceived as a U.S. tool to prolong both American grip on Arab oil and Israeli grab of Arab land. Accordingly its presence in the region is abhorred and is fomenting further deep-seated anti-Americanism because of the U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iraq and the U.S. limitless support to the Israeli occupation in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Specifically, NATO’s treaties with Egypt and Israel, its cooperation with Jordan, with Lebanon falling within its mandate and the around the clock NATO patrols in the Mediterranean is in practice creating an external NATO wall that reinforces the internal military occupation walls Israel is erecting to tighten the siege it imposes on the Palestinian people.

Interrupting, Disrupting Kurdish – Turkish Crisis

However, “Just as the White House claims it has finally turned the corner in what it defines as the ‘central front’ in the ‘war on terror’ – Iraq – it has found itself desperately trying to contain new crises on the war’s periphery stretching east to Pakistan, west to Turkey and south to the Horn of Africa,” Jim Lobe wrote in Asia Times on November 10.

To prove his point, Lobe cited Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s latest “coup,” the continuing threat of a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan, the looming probability of war between U.S.-backed Ethiopia and Eritrea, “amid a lack of concrete progress on the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the ongoing political impasse in Lebanon, and still-mounting tensions between Iran and the U.S.” and amid an anti-Americanism that now pervades the entire region.

This is for sure an unwelcoming environment for NATO, but at the same time an environment that the U.S. leading NATO player will use as the raison d’etre for dragging the North Atlantic Alliance into even more expanded role in the region.

“The situation along the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan most directly threatens the administration’s efforts to stabilize Iraq,” said Lobe, but this is exactly where the NATO’s gradual, confident and successful expansion south could be curtailed, hindered and face problems because the US double-standard policies vis-à-vis what Washington herself list as “terrorist organizations” as well as her regional hegemonic plans pit the alliance against its Turkish founding member or at least create an environment conducive to a collision course between the two allies.

In October, Turkey ‘s parliament overwhelmingly voted 507 to 19 in favor of ordering the army to launch an offensive across Turkey ‘s south-eastern border in search of P.K.K. Turkish-Kurd rebels hiding in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turks made no less than 24 attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan since 1984, but without effect. The P.K.K. guerrillas could easily disappear in the rugged mountain terrain of the Qandil Mountains .

Now the Turks are after their “terrorist-harboring” Iraqi-Kurdish hosts as well, who were securing a safe haven for Kurdish rebels, demanding their extradition, a demand that the U.S.-allied Kurdish Iraqi President, Jalal Talibani, and the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, had categorically rejected and, motivated by seemingly Pan-Kurdish loyalties, announced their readiness to fight back any Turkish military incursion into their territories.

The prospect of a Turkish – Kurdish war that could embroil the Iraqi Kurds, the only trusted Iraqi ally supporting the U.S. occupation, and destabilize the only stable Iraqi region of Kurdistan to open a new front with a potential new flood of Iraqi refugees, this time Kurds, is a nightmare for the U.S. Washington can ill-afford to lose the support of either the Iraqi Kurds or that of the Turkish government across the border; both play a vital role in supporting the U.S. war effort in Iraq.

“With American troops already stretched thin and U.S. military leaders not trusting most Arab-dominated units of the Iraqi armed forces, the United States has relied extensively on Kurdish forces for counter-insurgency operations throughout Iraq,” Stephen Zunes wrote in the “Foreign Policy in Focus” on October 25.

US Double-standards

Meanwhile Washington has turned her eyes away from the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan has become a safe haven for organizations outlawed by the US as “terrorist” groups. The U.S.-backed Iraqi Kurds were honest to their rhetoric of Pan-Kurdish nationalism and turned their U.S.-protected region into a base for Kurdish rebels from and against neighboring countries. The U.S.-outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) took on Turkey; but a U.S.-sponsored Iranian Kurdish group known as PEJAK took on Iran.

Washington also turned a blind eye to the fact that P.K.K. since two years has become the mother organization of four splinter groups each of them working separately but in coordination in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

On Oct. 28, the turkishweekly.net quoted the author of the forthcoming book “The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis,” Reese Erlich, as saying that, “Kurdish and American sources say the United States has been supporting guerilla raids against Iran, channeling the money through organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan.” Writing in the latest issue of Mother Jones, Erlich reported that the P.K.K., which is listed on the United States State Department List of Terrorist Organizations, “about two years ago split into four parties in each of the countries where the Kurds live” in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. “So the P.J.A.K. is the Iranian affiliate. Basically they’re still part of the same organization.” He added that the United States accommodates the presence of the P.K.K. in Iraq, but opposes its actions in Turkey, while on the other hand it supports attacks by P.K.K.’s splinter group on Iran.

Osman Ocalan, brother of the imprisoned P.K.K. leader Abdullah Ocalan, told AP last week that some fighters had moved toward Iran, and that there were now more P.K.K. fighters there than in northern Iraq. “P.K.K. forces are split into three parts situated in Turkey, Iraq and Iran,” Ocalan said. “If there is Turkish pressure on our forces in Iraq, the fighters will head toward Iran.” How could this free movement on Iraqi soil be possible without accommodation by the US occupying power and their Iraqi Kurdish arms?

Iraqi Kurds’ Pan-Kurdish “solidarity” with their Turkish, Iranian and Syrian compatriots is undercutting U.S. efforts to contain further deterioration in its ties with Turkey. Two weeks ago, Iraq ’s Kurdish President, Jalal Talabani, said that Iraq could not solve Turkey ’s problems. “The handing over of P.K.K. leaders to Turkey is a dream that will never be realized,” he said.

Washington seems caught between Iraq and a hard Turkish place, with whom relations are already thinly stretched by the recent U.S. Congress resolution declaring the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks 90 years ago a Turkish “genocide.” A recent German Marshall Fund poll found that only 11 percent of Turks have positive views of the United States . One of the main factors in the extraordinary growth of anti-U.S. sentiment among the Turks was the U.S. unwillingness to pressure its ally Barzani to stop the P.K.K. from crossing into Turkey.

President George W. Bush spelled out U.S. opposition to a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq . Turkey ’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan was infuriated to declare that the future of bilateral ties with the U.S. will be determined by Washington ’s active involvement against the P.K.K., without “double-standards,” in accordance with U.S. law that labels it as a terrorist organization. Erdogan returned disappointed from his November 5 summit with Bush in Washington; the crisis lingers on as Bush could not assure the Turkish leader enough for Ankara to rule out the military option.

“This crisis was predictable and predicted. U.S. officials have long known that a Turkish incursion was just one terrorist event away. As tensions mounted, the administration had numerous opportunities to engage in preventive diplomacy. A combination of lack of imagination, incompetence and sheer lack of knowledge at the State Department has caused this impasse,” Henri J. Barkey wrote in the Washington Post on October 27.

The New York Times on Oct. 22 reported that “American officials acknowledged that neither the United States nor Iraq had done much recently to constrain” the P.K.K. Current and former Bush administration officials said a special envoy appointed by the Bush administration in 2006, Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, “had recently stepped down in frustration over Iraqi and American inaction.”

Ahead of their summit Bush sent his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Ankara and to the meeting of Iraq neighbors in Istanbul with a “diplomatic” proposal to diffuse the crisis based on hitting at the heart of the Pan-Kurdish declared loyalties of the Iraqi Kurds’ leaders, Talbani and Barzani, by splitting the Kurds into a terrorist camp, which Rice declared in Ankara as the “common enemy” of her country, Turkey and Iraq and a non-terrorist camp which both men represent.

During their summit on Nov. 5, Bush promised Erdogan that Turkey would be furnished with U.S. intelligence on the camps and movements of the P.K.K. The Turkish press reported this as a “green light for military strikes.” For the U.S., the main issue now is that “Turkish military action is limited and strictly controlled,” commented Spiegel on-line. “Where possible,” the publication added, “military action should be coordinated with the (Iraqi) Kurdish regional government so as to avoid clashes between the Turkish army and the northern Iraqi Kurdish militias.”

NATO had earlier expressed its solidarity with Turkey. On October 24, NATO defense ministers meeting in The Netherlands said the 26 allies expressed solidarity with Turkey in the face of the attacks. P.K.K. rebels have killed more than 40 Turks in hit-and-run attacks over the past month. “I think the Turkish government is showing restraint, remarkable restraint under current conditions,” NATO chief Hoop Scheffer told a news conference.

But for how long could Turkey practice restrain before her NATO allies translate their so far verbal solidarity into deeds?

Scot Sullivan, writing in The Conservative Voice on Nov. 9, had a different interpretation of the results of the Bush-Erdogan summit: “The U.S. is appeasing Iran and Iran ’s P.K.K. allies while preparing to confront Turkey . Such is the inescapable conclusion following Erdogan-Bush Summit. A careful assessment of the Erdogan-Bush summit indicates that Bush remains hostile to Turkey and sympathetic to the P.K.K.-Iran Axis that seeks to partition Iraq . Bush made only two modest assistance offers to Turkey. Each offer raised more questions than answers.”

First, Bush’s offer to share intelligence with Turkey implies that the U.S. has been withholding such intelligence from Turkey until now despite U.S. obligations within NATO and despite bilateral counterterrorism agreements. Second, the establishment of coordinating mechanism between the U.S. and Turkey for conducting joint operations against the P.K.K. is in reality “no more than a hotline, or more accurately a US phone number.”

To add insult to injury, the “ U.S. brush-off of Turkey became evident, according to Sullivan, when “General Petraeus was named as the U.S. point of contact. For the Turkish military, GEN Petraeus is pro-Kurdish. He approved without question the P.K.K. military buildup in northern Iraq. He also approved granting the Kurdish peshmerga the status of an independent military force that is answerable only to Kurdish president Barzani.”

Wider Strategic Envelopment of Turkey

Turkey is a close NATO ally; she contributes troops to NATO’s operation in Afghanistan and provides access to Incirlik air base for heavy U.S. military logistical support and supply to its forces in Iraq, where NATO is training the new Iraqi army. However, more importantly Turkey sits astride the cross roads of the huge oil reserves in the Caspian and Gulf regions.

The Caspian Sea region is gradually emerging as one of the most explosive parts of the world and the US and NATO involvement is linking it inextricably to the already war-torn Middle East region. This NATO-US involvement is alerting the five Caspian states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan – to be on guard; in the past decade, the number of warships on the Caspian has almost doubled, while coastal infrastructure is also being rapidly reinforced, Vasilina Vasilyeva reported in Moscow News on Nov. 8.

On a wider scale the NATO-U.S. heavy and aggressive involvement in both regions is strategically invoking defensive responses by Chine and Russia, which geopolitically consider both regions, but the Caspian in particular, their backyards; hence their evolving bilateral strategic coordination as well as their growing closer ties with Iran, the regional major player targeted by the NATO-U.S. involvement.

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is considering the possibility of providing security for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline,” Vasilyeva quoted Robert Simmons, the NATO secretary general’s special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, as saying. “The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs to Turkey, a NATO country, and passes through the territory of Azerbaijan, a NATO partner. The protection of energy infrastructure includes the security of this oil pipeline in addition to other energy infrastructure facilities.” NATO has also finalized a long term program to provide military support for all pipelines along the Caspian-Turkey-Balkans route. Vasilyeva added that terrorism is the biggest threat to the pipeline.

On October 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Iranian media in Tehran that “international terrorism cannot be dealt with by expanding a military-political organization that was originally set up to counteract the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. There is no Soviet Union and no Warsaw Pact today, while NATO not only exists but is expanding.”

Counterproductive US policies is antagonizing Turkey, which is indigenously deeply involved in both regions with vast strategic, economic and political interests, and consequently threatening to disrupt a successful NATO expansion south, invoking cracks within the NATO membership, and creating a pragmatic possibility for potential Turkish strategic shifts.

Under the headline, “Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East,” the July/August edition of the magazine Foreign Affairs wrote, “a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy has gone largely unnoticed: after of decades of passivity, Turkey is now emerging as an important diplomatic actor in the Middle East.” Within this context Turkey’s pragmatic evolving ties with Iran and Syria, both condemned by Bush as two pillars of a world’s “axis of evil,” is an indication.

Similar pragmatic evolution of ties and coordination with the two major obstacles to NATO’s expansion south and southeast, namely Russia and China, could not be ruled out should the United States, the backbone of the alliance, persist with its political and military insensitivity to the strategic interests of her allies.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, UAE, Jordan and Palestine; he is based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied territories.

Nicola Nasser is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Nicola Nasser

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Converging Interests in Iraq Allow Bush an ‘Iranian Option’ – Arabs Threatened by Nicola Nasser

Dandelion Salad

by Nicola Nasser
Atlantic Free Press
Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Converging U.S. – Iran interests in Iraq are creating a common ground for an “Iranian option” for President George W. Bush that could be developed into an historical foreign policy breakthrough of the kind he has been yearning for in the Arab – Israeli conflict or India; however several factors are ruling out this window of opportunity, including his militarization of the U.S. foreign policy, obsession with the “regime changes” overseas, his insistence on exploiting to the maximum his country’s emergence as the only world power in the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union (USSR), an Iranian independent regional agenda that so far cold not be reconciled with his own, and a detrimental Arab feeling of insecurity of such a potentiality.

A potential “Iran option” for Bush, whether it emerges out of a diplomatic engagement or a military confrontation, be it on Iraq or on Iran per se, would embroil Arabs adversely and directly because both protagonists are waging their political as well as military battles on Arab land and skilfully using Arab wealth, oil, space, diplomacy and even Arab proxies to settle their scores towards either political engagement or military showdown.

True it is still premature to conclude that the prerogatives for a U.S. – Iranian regional understanding is about to emerge, or that the Arab feeling of insecurity would seriously jeopardize the friendships or alliances Washington has forged with the majority of the Arab regimes over decades of a love and hate relations, but the burgeoning U.S. – Iranian dialogue over Iraq and the convergence of bilateral interests as well as their complementary roles there during the last four years are flashing red lights, especially in neighbouring Arab capitals.

The first and second rounds of US – Iran dialogue in Baghdad in May and July this year should not perceive “dialogue” as the goal per se, but should be viewed as a diplomatic tactic within the context of a US strategy that either aims at playing Iran, in the same way Washington has been playing Israel, as a menacing threat against the Arabs to blackmail them into falling in line with the US Middle East strategy or, if a regime change in Tehran proves unaffordable, to revitalize the US-Iranian joint policing of the Gulf, but in this case on a partnership basis instead of the Iranian subordinate role during the Shah era, which boils down to serving the same US strategy vis-à-vis the Arabs in general and the oil rich Arab countries in the Gulf in particular.

On July 29, Robin Wright reported inThe Washington Post that Bush was sending this week his secretaries of state and defence, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, to the Middle East with a “simple” message to Arab regimes: “Support Iraq as a buffer against Iran or face living under Tehran’s growing shadow … The United States has now taken on the role traditionally played by Iraq as the regional counterweight to Iran.” Both secretaries were scheduled to meet with the Saudi Arabian monarch King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in Jeddah on Tuesday.

Wright was aware however that, “On Iraq, Rice and Gates will have a hard sell,” particularly with Saudi Arabia, whose leader King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz raised a short – lived media tit-for-tat with the Bush Administration when he called in March this year the U.S. presence in Iraq an “illegal foreign occupation.” Wright quoted Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service as saying: “Iranophobia will not be enough to get the Saudis to back Iraq ,” as they think that the U.S. – backed Iraqi government of Nouri Kamal al-Maliki is helping Iran – backed groups.

Arab and Saudi “taking aback” has less to do with backing the U.S. in Iraq or against Iran, as this backing was never a in doubt or question since the invasion in 2003, and much to do with the realistic prospects of an imminent U.S. military redeployment in Iraq that could leave the country dominantly in the hands of pro – Iran sectarian militias and parties, thus inevitably setting the stage there for either an escalating civil sectarian strife or worse for disintegration of the Iraq territorial integrity into sectarian and ethnic political entities fighting over oil and “borders,” with menacing regional repercussions.
Al-Maliki’s government is not helping to dispel this “Iranophobia.” On July 24, U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn, quoted the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, in British The Independent, as saying that like it or not, “Iran is a player in Iraq” and should be engaged in dialogue. No similar statement bestowed on Arab neighbours a parallel role; may be these neighbours should qualify more, Iran – style, to be “players” there.

Ahead of both secretaries’ visit Washington unveiled what they perceive as an encouraging “banana,” a major $20 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia and other GCC oil – rich states with an eye to countering an “Iranian threat,” in the latest manifestation of an old U.S. blackmailing ploy to scare them into keeping the U.S. defence industries busy and recycling whatever surplus of petrodollars these states have amassed from the soaring of crude oil prices following the invasion of Iraq.

Arabs could not but compare this paid for “banana” with the U.S. tax payers’ $30 billion the Bush Administration has pledged as “aid” for her Israeli strategic regional ally, a pledge confirmed days ago by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who added that Bush also pledged to him to sustain Israel’s dominant “quality” edge militarily over Arabs combined or individual states.

Both the late Ayatullah Khumeini – led Iran and the late Saddam Hussein – led Baath regime in Iraq were skilfully exploited by Washington as the scarecrows to blackmail GCC countries into buying more weapons and spending their surplus petrodollars. However the Iranian – Iraqi war (1980 – 1988) had turned Iraq into the regional counterweight to Iran , a role Washington insists now on assuming with Iraqi blood and oil, but denying the Iraqis even a contribution thereto. Iraq’s ambassador to the United States on July 25 launched a withering attack on the US administration’s reluctance to provide basic weaponry to his country’s U.S. – led and trained ill-equipped armed forces; Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged “it is clear that there is still much to be done with respect to equipping the security forces” of Iraq, in another indication the U.S. is planning not to extricate herself militarily from her Iraqi debacle yet.

Continued…

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Indian – Israeli Ties Could Neutralize Delhi’s Palestinian Policy by Nicola Nasser

Dandelion Salad

A seminar on “Palestine: 1967 and After” organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the mission of the League of Arab States (LAS) in New Delhi on June 22 highlighted India’s still unwavering historical support for the Palestinian people, but failed to address the potential political effects of the growing Indian – Israeli ties on New Delhi’s more than ten – decade old policy on the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine.

Only the criticism of those ties by the participating Indian intellectuals, university professors and journalists made up for ignoring the factor of the Indian – Israeli ties by the major speakers like the Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, the Director General of the ICWA and the newly – appointed ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Talmiz Ahmad, and M.P. Sitaram Yechury as well as the Secretary General of the LAS, Amr Moussa, whose contribution was read by ambassador Ahmed Salem Saleh Al-Wahishi.

Similarly all attending Arab and non–Arab ambassadors and diplomats, except for the Palestinian ambassador Osama Mousa Al-Ali, also diplomatically avoided raising up the issue, which could not but affect positively or negatively India’s role in any Arab – Israeli peace process, which was the main concern of all speakers.

Diplomats of the Palestinian embassy in the Indian capital proudly showed this writer a four – dumum plot of land in the diplomatic corps neighborhood of New Delhi donated by the Indian government as a “present from the Indian people to the Palestinian people” to build a complex for the embassy of the “state of Palestine.”

It was part of a package of a $15 million grant donated to the Palestinian Authority during the visit of President Mahmoud Abbas to New Delhi in May 2005. $ 2.25 million of the grant was allocated for building the complex and the rest went to infrastructural projects in the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian ambassador Al-Ali said.

In addition to political and diplomatic support, $20 million volume of bilateral trade and several shipments of medical supplies for Palestinian hospitals, India was careful to cement her Palestinian ties culturally and had completed two – Indian aided projects in the Gaza Strip, namely the Jawaharlal Nehru library at Al-Azhar University and the Mahatma Gandhi library at the Palestine Technical College in Deir Al-Albalah; a third project, a center of Indian studies, is also being planned at Al-Quds University.

Historically India’s Palestinian policy has been drawing on the ideological guidance set by the world’s spiritual leader of non-violence and the father of Indian independence, the Mahatma Gandhi, who consistently rejected Zionism over a period of nearly twenty years despite unrelenting Zionist lobbying, because according to Paul Power: “First, he was sensitive about the ideas of Muslim Indians who were anti-Zionists because of their sympathy for Middle Eastern Arabs opposed to the Jewish National Home; second, he objected to any Zionist methods inconsistent with his way of non-violence; third, he found Zionism contrary to his pluralistic nationalism, which excludes the establishment of any State based solely or mainly on one religion; and fourth, he apparently believed it imprudent to complicate his relations with the British, who held the mandate in Palestine.” (1)

Although his sympathies were all with the Jews, who as a people were subjected to inhuman treatment and persecution for a long time, Gandhi wrote, “My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me… Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?”

“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home,” he wrote in a widely circulated editorial in the Harijan of 11 November 1938, which was a major statement that has decided the Indian foreign policy on Palestine and the Jewish question to this day.

Accordingly, India was among 13 nations who voted against the UN General Assembly resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine in 1947. In the same year, as a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), India proposed a minority plan which called for the establishment of a federal Palestine with internal autonomy for the Jewish illegal immigrants. She was also among the first non-Arab nations to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974 and the first non-Arab country to recognize Palestine as an independent state in 1988; in 1996 India opened a diplomatic representative office with the autonomous Palestinian Authority.

Talmiz Ahmad’s reference in his opening remarks of the New Delhi seminar to the “resurgence of imperialism” in West Asia would undoubtedly assure Arabs that India would continue Mahatma Gandhi’s heritage of dealing with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict within the context of the international national liberation movements against colonialism, but the pragmatism which marked the Indian foreign policy in dealing with Israel, particularly since 1992, would potentially compromise this approach sooner or later. Arab and Palestinian strategists should not underestimate this possible strategist shift in the foreign policy of the world’s largest democracy, which a CIA study in 2005 envisaged as the second rising world power after China during the next two decades.

New Delhi is very well aware of her rising international status and that’s why she has been vying with Japan and Germany for a permanent seat at the Security Council of the United Nations. “The most important development of the 21st century will be the rise of Asia. India’s independence from colonial rule and the gradual evolution of a strong, stable, dynamic and democratic India has also contributed to Asia’s resurgence… Our Government has re-activated the Indian Council of World Affairs and has offered support to other think tanks to invest in the study of Asia, Africa and our neighbourhood… We have imparted new energy to our “Look East Policy”, launched in the early 1990s. This has contributed to a comprehensive re-engagement with Asia to our East,” said the incumbent Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, when his book, “The New Asian Power Dynamic,” was released recently.

An indicator of the new Indian strategic shift is the Indian focus on the Palestinian – Israeli peace process more than on the struggle of the Palestinian people for liberation, a development that was highlighted by the appointment of the veteran diplomat and former assistant to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, C. R. Gharekhan, as India’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process.

Accelerated Pace of Ties with Israel

Since Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao decided in January 1992 to establish full and normal diplomatic relations with Israel, Indian diplomats felt it necessary to “brief” Arab ambassadors in the Indian capital at regular intervals of India’s ties with Israel, but India is now Israel’s second largest trading partner in Asia after Hong Kong and Israel is now India’s second largest supplier of military equipment after Russia.

Official Israeli figures show that Israeli exports to India valued $1.270 billion in 2006 and imports $1.433 billion, to double the bilateral trade to more than tenfold since 1992. India’s Ambassador to Israel, Arun Kumar Singh, said recently that Israeli investments in India top $1b. Agricultural, water and IT technologies in addition to fertilizers and diamonds are major mutual trade concerns. The State Bank of India (SBI) became in June the first foreign bank to open a branch in Israel’s diamond exchange.

However both countries are careful to remain discreet about the defense component of their relations and trade. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Limited is looking for Indian partners to build two types of aircraft and jets in India and set up software and aeronautical engineering companies in Bangalore, according to The Hindu on July 2. The Times of India on June 14 reported that a top-level Israeli Army delegation, led by Israeli deputy chief of general staff Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky, was to visit Jammu & Kashmir after wide-ranging discussions with the top Indian military brass.

In August 1994, Israeli Defense Ministry’s Director-General David Ivry visited New Delhi and Indian Defense Secretary T. K. Banerji visited Tel Aviv. In March the following year the Israeli Air Force chief visited India and his Indian counterpart was in Israel in July 1996, one month after a strategic visit by the leading defense scientist, Abdul Kalam. In April 1996 the first Indian defense attaché, an air force officer, arrived in Israel. Prolonged cooperation between India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, is also reported; the RAW reportedly arranged in the late 1970s a visit by former Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan to India.

Defense also figured high on the agenda of visits by President Ezer Weizman in December 1996 and the then Foreign Minister (now President) Shimon Peres in May 1993. Comatose Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit New Delhi in 2003. However, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used for decades to visit New Delhi on a two-hour notice.

Several factors contributed to the Indian pragmatic shift in foreign policy. Internally India in the early 1990s started her “look Asia policy” towards West and East Asia. Internationally the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which led to the emergence of the United States as the unipolar world power and globalization were the most prominent factors. Regionally the nuclear and technological race with China and Pakistan made New Delhi more responsive to more opening to the US, Israel and Japan. The Indian – Pakistani conflict was another regional factor. Except for the Baath-led Iraq and Syria, most conservative Arab governments were leaning towards Pakistan; the historical visit to New Delhi of the Saudi monarch King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in 2005 had however balanced their imbalanced policy.

Diplomats of the ruling Congress party like to blame the Israeli shift policy on the former ruling conservative Janata (“people’s” in Hindi) party and the war with Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir in 1999, when Israel reportedly promptly supplied the Indian army with much needed military equipment, including night vision devices, thus kicking off a growing defense cooperation ever since.

But in September 1950 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), a founding father of the Congress, granted Israel de jure recognition. A few months later, Israel opened a trade office in Bombay which gradually became a consular mission, and the first Israeli consul took over in June 1953; in early 1952, Nehru expressed his willingness to establish diplomatic relations. Another Congress leader, Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89), initiated a few direct and indirect contacts with Israel. (2)

Arab ‘Green Light’

Arab and Palestinian diplomacy’s ambivalent refrain from publicly warning against the growing Indian – Israeli ties could be interpreted as a refrain from demanding from friendly countries what Palestinians and Arabs have “green-lighted” for themselves when they collectively chose the Arab Peace Initiative as their “strategic option” with Israel in an Arab summit meeting held in Beirut, Lebanon in 2002; non-Arab countries could not be more Arab and Palestinian than Arabs and Palestinians themselves. It is noteworthy that the Indian – Israeli relations accelerated pace in 1992, a year after the Arab – Israeli peace conference in Madrid, Spain.

However the presence of more than five million strong expatriate Indian labor force in Arab countries, three million of whom are to be found in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the more than $25 billion value of Arab – Indian trade, including 60 percent of Indian oil and gas imports worth $20 billion, are enough pragmatic reasons not to be politically compromised by the newly-found pragmatic approach of Indian foreign policy.

“When we recognized Israel and normalized relations with her we did that after taking the approval of the Palestinian leadership; we said, after you agree we’ll recognize (Israel) … the Palestinian leadership told us: There are signed accords between us (and Israel) and we are now talking to the Israelis; your establishing relations with Israel helps us,” the Indian representative to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Zikrur Rahman told the London-based Al-Haqeq newspaper on May 12, 2007.

Zikrur Rahman is a grandson of the Indian Muslim Mujahed Muhammed Ali Al-Hindi who died in battle in defense of the Palestinian people against the British mandate-protected Zionist paratroops early in the twentieth century, before Israel was created. His burial place alongside the graves of other Arab and Palestinian prominent freedom fighters is still standing as a symbol of Indian solidarity and friendship in the backyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site in Jerusalem.

Notes

(1) Quoted by Professor A.K. Ramakrishnan, “Mahatma Gandhi Rejected Zionism”, Released August 15, 2001, The Wisdom Fund, Website: http://www.twf.org.

(2) P.R. Kumaraswamy, “India and Israel Evolving Strategic Partnership,” Begin – Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, September 1998.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Nicola Nasser is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Nicola Nasser


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