Gaza Strategy Divides Israeli Military Analysts

March 24th, 2009

Israel has said the goal of the past three days of intense bombing in Gaza is to stop rockets being fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israeli towns.

The rockets have claimed fewer than 20 lives in the past eight years, but have become an increasingly serious problem for the Israeli government.

To reduce the rocket fire, Israeli military analysts argue, is a modest goal. However, even within Israel there remain sharp differences of opinion about how to achieve that.

Most believe the latest conflict will eventually end with a new lull in the fighting, or at best another short-term ceasefire agreement ? the latest in a long line of temporary ceasefires in the conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.

Although Israel has put in place some preparations for a major ground invasion ? preparing a call-up of reserves and deploying tanks near the Gaza border ? that is still seen as by no means an inevitable step.

Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general and a military analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said the point of the conflict was for Israel to exact the best conditions it could in a future ceasefire with Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls Gaza after winning Palestinian elections three years ago.

“The military operation is changing the dynamic, making it clear to Hamas that it is going to pay a very high cost for violations of the ceasefire,” Brom said. “I think Hamas deluded itself by thinking Israel is kind of paralysed because of its political system or the possible reaction of its population to some suffering.”

For nearly six months until mid-December Israel and Hamas held a ceasefire in Gaza, although it broke down in the final weeks with violations on both sides. Now both Hamas and some Israeli leaders have said they are not willing to return to a ceasefire deal.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, told Fox News on Saturday when the bombing began: “For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you [the US] to have a ceasefire with al-Qaida. It’s something we cannot really accept.”

Despite his words, the reality is that a new ceasefire agreement is probably the best Israel could hope to achieve. As Alex Fishman, a columnist in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, put it bluntly today: “The answer to the question of what we want is simple: To stop the fire. In order to stop the fire, we have to reach an arrangement, and in order to persuade Hamas to reach an arrangement, we are now breaking its bones ? among other reasons, so that the price it demands will not be high,” he wrote. “But we have not yet decided, amongst ourselves, what price we are willing to pay.”

Yet there are others who raise broader questions about Israel’s policy towards Gaza, particularly in the past three years since Hamas won the surprise electoral victory.

Yossi Alpher, a former senior official at Mossad and a military commentator, agreed that Israel was seeking a ceasefire on more acceptable terms. But he was critical of the tough economic blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in recent years, limiting imports to humanitarian supplies and preventing all exports, a policy that has all but wiped out private industry and brought Gaza’s economy to collapse.

“The economic siege of Gaza has not produced any of the desired political results,” he said. “It has not manipulated Palestinians into hating Hamas, but has probably been counter-productive. It is just useless collective punishment.”

He said that in future Israel would have to choose either to recognise Hamas was around to stay and to talk to the movement, however unpalatable that might be for most Israelis, or to fully re-occupy the Gaza Strip, topple Hamas and bear all the costs involved.

Some have even spoken out publicly against the current devastating bombing in Gaza. Tom Segev, one of Israel’s most respected historians, has been particularly critical, arguing that the premise of bombing to secure a peace agreement was false. The government was failing to learn the lessons of the past, he said.

“Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over,” Segev wrote in yesterday’s Ha’aretz newspaper. “Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialog with the Palestinians.”

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US Military May Escalate ‘war on terror’ By Striking Deeper Into Pakistan

March 24th, 2009

Washington is considering expanding its controversial policy of missile strikes and commando raids deeper inside Pakistan, according to reports this morning.

In what would be a major escalation of the “war on terror”, the New York Times reported that the US may push its firepower into Pakistan’s vast, economically backward, Baluchistan province.

Washington has so far targeted militants based in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas, which run along Afghanistan’s eastern border. Baluchistan, however, is a “settled” region and considered a regular part of the country. However, the province, and especially its capital, Quetta, has long been considered the home of the Afghan Taliban and an important sanctuary for al-Qaida.

This morning’s reports drew a sharp reaction inside Pakistan.

“The United States would be pouring petrol on the ‘war on terror’ by these methods,” said Munawar Hassan, secretary general of Jamaat-i-Islami, the biggest mainstream religious party. “The United States has no message of peace for the world, they can only talk through arms and armaments.”

Pakistan has opposed the use of US missile strikes in its tribal area, which have killed some leading al-Qaida commanders but also led to the death of innocent civilians. Islamabad complains that the attacks, from unmanned “drone” aircraft operated by the CIA, are a flagrant breach of Pakistani sovereignty.

“As we have been saying all along, we believe such attacks are counterproductive,” said Abdul Basit, the spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, responding to this morning’s reports. “They involve collateral damage and they are not helpful in our efforts to win hearts and minds.”

The exclusive western focus on the tribal area, which is a hotbed for militants, has meant that the Afghan Taliban leadership, and its al-Qaida allies, have been able to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan unmolested from Baluchistan. But expanding operations to Baluchistan risks creating more volunteers for the Taliban and raising the internal pressure on the Pakistani government, which has struggled to contain anger over US attacks in the tribal area.

In September last year, American forces conducted their first known ground raid within Pakistan, in the tribal area, causing uproar. If Taliban and al-Qaida extremists are in Quetta itself or other urban areas, missile strikes may not be feasible, so American boots on Pakistani soil would be required.

The Pakistani authorities, already under pressure from a domestic insurgency, have been reluctant to stir up further trouble by tackling extremists in Baluchistan, which runs along Afghanistan’s eastern border. According to Kabul, the Taliban founder, Mullah Omar, lives in Quetta. Northern Baluchistan is populated by Pashtuns, the same ethnicity that is the biggest group in Afghanistan and makes up most of the Taliban.

Critics have suggested that Pakistan is using Baluchistan to secretly back the Taliban in Afghanistan, as it sees the regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul as dangerously close to arch-foe India – a claim denied by Islamabad. Pakistan’s army nurtured the rise of the Taliban, who swept to power in Afghanistan in the mid-90s. However, after 9/11, Islamabad allied itself with the west, which resulted in the creation of a Pakistani Taliban, opposed to their own government.

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Military Unveil Latest Weapon Against the Taliban

March 24th, 2009

It’s shoe box sized, adorned with a union flag and contains the British military’s latest weapon against the Taliban.

Dip carefully inside the cardboard box and you will find plastic pouches full of something which is certainly recognizable as food: cold curries or other spicy substances, and garish packets of Oreo cookies.

This is the first update of the military’s ration packs since the cold war era – out go traditional brown biscuits and corned beef hash and in come chicken tikka massala, chili con carne, yellow chicken curry, chicken arrabiata and beef and cassava.

Yesterday the Guardian was led into a small terrapin hut at a secret location in Kent, where the army unveiled the new MCR – multi-climate ration – 24-hour pack and was met by a not unpleasant smell of sample rations being cooked.

And, while the army is never going to win a Michelin star for its mess halls, the warmed food certainly did not taste bad.

The packs have been designed to provide the 4,000 calories a fighting fit squaddie is recommended to consume to operate in tough war zones.

Adaptability is of key importance: sometimes troops will be able to warm the food through but other times they will have to take their curries cold. So how do they taste cold? Amazingly, it worked. Somehow the food scientists have found a way of making cold beef and cassava in a plastic pouch taste good. It’s different from the hot stuff, but delicious and there’s none of that weird, claggy-palate feeling you get from a petrol-station pasty, more the voluptuous richness of a really premium pie filling.

All laid out, the packs look a little like a British version of astronaut food. The old packs contained chocolate bars – not the best idea in 50 degree heat – a nonspecific tinned “paté” and canned treacle pudding.

Captain Paul Cunningham, the Navy officer responsible for the new packs, admits that many of these items are not the kind of thing modern soldiers would ever encounter in civilian life. A lot of the more institutional sounding items were simply being discarded as inedible, which compromised the nutritional balance of the pack.

In the new packs – which are being forwarded to frontline troops for testing from today with feedback forms – there are also halal, vegetarian and Sikh and Hindu ranges, and if that sounds like the menu at your local gastropub then Captain Cunningham is pleased. “The modern soldier’s taste is different, far more international. My customers are 18- to 21 year old boys in Afghanistan and they particularly like these spicy tastes.”

In the large, multinational bases in Afghanistan, troops eat well-balanced meals created by chefs from raw ingredients but when they move up to the forward operating bases or out into more remote areas they may have to survive on ration packs like these for up to 50 days.

Paul Carpenter, brigade catering warrant officer, 16th Air Assault Brigade, has just returned from Helmand where he was responsible for getting food to troops on the ground. “Recognition is important, he says. One day they can be eating in Colchester, the next in Afghanistan and we want them to feel they’re getting the same quality.” Other items soldiers will recognise will be energy bars, the Oreo cookies and dental chewing gum.

The history of military cuisine is long and sometimes brutal. While Napoleon observed “an army marches on its stomach”, it took another half century and the disasters of the Crimean war, when supply lines collapsed and more soldiers died of disease and want than enemy fire, for the lesson to hit home. The 19th-century celebrity chef Alexis Soyer not only produced model recipes for simple nourishing food for soldiers, he set up field kitchens at his own expense and designed a camp stove that remained in British army use well into the 20th century.

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Iraq and China Team up on New Oil Field

March 24th, 2009

In a move that has created the first foreign oil development deal in Iraq since the 2003 fall of former leader Saddam Hussein, Chinese engineers inaugurated an Iraqi oil field yesterday following a $3 Billion contract that was signed late in 2008. The move is actually late in coming, as it follows a 1997 deal that had granted the Chinese exploration rights to the central Iraq Al-Ahdab oil field. Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani noted that, “This project will provide a number of jobs and opportunities for investment. It will provide the province with electricity and power to operate the power station in Zurbadiyah and to help contribute to development and prosperity.”

Word is that the oil production in the oil field is slated to reach 25,000 barrels per day for a period of three years and then to expand to as much as 115,000 barrels each day at the end of six years. Abd al-Latif Hamad Tarfah, the provincial governor in the area where the oil field is located, noted “We look at this opportunity as the start of rebuilding the prosperity of Wasit.”

The deal, initially inked in 1997 and valued at nearly $700 Million over 23 years, was suspended almost immediately due to UN sanctions and then was forced to remain on hold after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 due to security concerns. That the oil field is going online is a strong indication that those concerns have been quelled to an extent that make the field safe to operate, and is a further indication of success in a country that has long been torn by violence after U.S. troops seemingly secured the country but were then faced with guerilla warfare tactics that, ironically, challenged their own modern warfare tactics.

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