Tag Archives: Iran

Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.

Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.

But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?

Hamas militants in training. Click to enlarge

Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.

Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.

In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.

This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).

“Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest, 1917.” Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.

Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.

But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.

Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.

So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.

General Sir Evelyn “Bubbles” Barker led the occupying British forces in Palestine between 1946 and 1947. Click to enlarge

Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.

So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.

Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.

The change of territory following UN Resolution 181 and the resultant war. Click to enlarge

In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.

It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.

Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.

Arab leaders in front of the Nile Hilton Hotel in Cairo during the Arab League Summit in 1964

Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.

In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.

In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.

So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.

To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin

In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel  in 1979.

Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.

Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.

Men celebrating the military coup in the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in 1953. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.

So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.

He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.

But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.

Mahmoud Zahar was one of the Hamas leaders who met with Israeli officials in the early days of the organization’s existence (Photo: AFP)

It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.

In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.

During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.

Isreali Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The U.S. played a major role in brokering the deal. Click to enlarge (Photo: AP)

Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.

2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.

In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.

In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).

Results from the 2006 elections. Click to enlarge

The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.

Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,

“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”

Feb. 23, 2012: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) at a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo. Click to enlarge (Photo: UPI/ Mohame Hams)

But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.

Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.

One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.

Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.

Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:

“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal is rumored to be in control of more than $2.6 billion dollars of Hamas assets, according to a source in Jordan

The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.

In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.

However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).

The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.

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Muslim Countries Are Becoming Increasingly Concerned About Muslim Extremism and Terrorism (Graphs)

On a number of occasions, I’ve heard people talking about how the Muslim world is sympathetic to the cause of extremest militant groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Well, the Pew Research Center recently carried out a study on the global attitudes towards Islamic extremism.

The study (which was carried out between April and May, before the rise of the new terrorist group ISIS) polled 14,000 respondents from 14 different predominantly-Muslim countries. The researchers found that,

“Concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations.”

Click to enlarge

Pew also found that people living in the Middle East have become increasingly concerned about Islamic extremism in their countries since last year:

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Unfavorable views of Hezbollah have risen everywhere except in Lebanon, where the group is based. Click to enlarge

Despite Hezbollah’s popularity in Lebanon, people don’t typically have a favorable opinion of the extremist groups based in their country. The study found that nearly 60% of Pakistanis have an unfavorable opinion of the Taliban and almost 80% of Nigerians have an unfavorable opinion of Boko-Haram.

The study also showed that sentiment about Al-Qaeda is consistently negative. Lebanon had the most unfavorable opinion of the group, a view shared by Christians and Muslims alike in the country:

Click to enlarge

Pew also did a breakdown of Muslims’ view on suicide bombing (in Lebanon they broke the numbers down by the respondent’s sect of Islam):

Click to enlarge

While some of these numbers are disconcertingly high, Pew also showed that support for suicide bombing appears to be decreasing over time:

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Read the full report and check out the rest of the data from the Pew Research Center here.

The Latest from the Middle East: Terrorists, Rebels and the Geopolitical Clusterf***

I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.

Yesterday, we reported on how the new emergent terrorist group ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city on Tuesday and stole nearly half a billion dollars from the central bank there. All this week the group has been advancing towards Baghdad, taking a number of towns along the way.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Then early this morning, reports came out that the Syrian government, which the United States is trying to overthrow by backing largely Jihadist rebels (the Syrian government calls them terrorists), is coordinating with the Iraqi government (which was put in by, and is still heavily backed by the U.S. government) to fight against Jihadist rebels/terrorists in Iraq.

Are you still following? Feel free to read that last part again- I had to read it at least five times myself. Ok, ready? Let’s continue.

Amidst all of this ridiculousness, Iran (one of the U.S.’s biggest political foes) has offered to help it’s former sworn enemy, Iraq, and its biggest political foe (the U.S.), to fight against the Jihadist rebels/terrorists of ISIS as well.

It’s interesting how quickly all of these countries were able to put their political differences aside as soon as there was a common enemy.

On top of this already massive mound of geopolitical shit, the Daily Beast just reported that ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia: three of the U.S.’s closest allies in the middle east.

Welcome to the geopolitical clusterf***. My brain hurts.

What Does the World Eat For Breakfast? (Video)

Have you ever woke up and thought, ‘I really feel like some bread with cold cuts and cucumber and a side of hard-boiled eggs and sliced tomato!’? Ya, me neither. It’s probably because we’re not from Sweden, where this is a typical breakfast meal.

Check out this BuzzFeed video that shows you what a typical breakfast looks like in a number of different countries:

March 2014 was the First Month in 11 Years Without a U.S. Fatality in Iraq or Afghanistan

According to an article published by Time:

“There were no American troop casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq in March (2014), for the first time since February 2003, ending 133 straight months when at least one U.S. service member was killed. “

Fortunately, the death count has been significantly lowering steadily in both these areas seemingly leading to near peace. If the areas are  near peace it did come at a price, also according to Time…

“The deadliest year in Iraq for U.S. troops was 2007, when 904 perished. In Afghanistan, 2010 was the grimmest, with 496 dead. A total of 4,486 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, including in accidents and other non-hostile events. The toll in Afghanistan stands at 2,315.”

Comparatively, the number of civilian deaths on the Iraqi side was estimated at 115,000 by the UK-based group Iraq Body Count. However, a group of university researchers from the United States, Canada and Baghdad teamed up with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to obtain an estimate that,

“covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown,”

according to this Huffington Post article. The number they came up with was closer to half a million.

Hopefully we have more months in the future of zero U.S. Service Member deaths, and maybe even some months with no deaths at all.

War is the result of fear, fear of the unknown. But at the end of the day, the average person in every country is trying to do the same things: provide for their family, advance themselves and enjoy life. Once we see this we will realize how mutually destructive war is to our pursuit of these basic, common motivations.

Check Out the full article to see detailed data on the fatality counts here: March Was First Month Without U.S. Fatalities in Iraq or Afghanistan In 11 Years

 

Saudis Offer Secret Oil Deal to Russia in Exchange for Dropping Syria

Recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin had a closed-door meeting with Prince Bandar, the head of Saudi intelligence. Leaked transcript’s reveal that Bandar offered Putin a Russia-OPEC alliance if Putin drops his backing of Syria.

OPEC (Organization of the Oil Exporting Countries) is an economic alliance between a number of the biggest oil producing countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest player in OPEC, producing 8.8 million barrels per day, more than any other country in the world.

OPEC Members (from wikipedia). Click to enlarge.
OPEC Members (from wikipedia). Click to enlarge.

If the oil deal between Russia and OPEC were to succeed, the two entities would control 45% of global oil production. Prince Bandar also told Putin that Saudi Arabia would ensure the safety of Russia’s Syrian ports after the fall of Assad.

But maybe the most interesting part of this story is that Bandar claimed the Chechen terrorist groups responsible for two recent suicide attacks in Volgograd are under Saudi control:

I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin turned the offer down, however, saying,

Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters,”

referring to a video showing a Jihadist rebel eating the heart and liver of a fallen Syrian soldier. In response, Prince Bandar warned Putin that there would be, “no escape from the military option” if the alliance was refused.

Read the full story here.

Global Gallup Poll: US Voted Greatest Threat to World Peace

The polling agency Gallup recently asked about 1,000 people in each of 68 different countries which country they believed was the biggest threat to world peace.

The United States was by far the #1 answer, with 24% believing it to be the biggest threat. Pakistan, which came in second, only polled 8%, and China rounded out the top 3 at 6%.

It’s not too surprising that the US polled higher in countries like Russia (54%) and China (49%), but it also topped the list in the Latin American countries of Mexico (37%), Brazil (26%) and Peru (24%).

Perhaps more surprising is that in both Turkey and Greece, two of the United States’ NATO partners, 45% of people polled chose the US as the biggest threat to world peace.

In Britain and Germany, two of America’s closest allies, the US again tops the list, tying with Iran for the top spot in Britain at 16% and just edging out Iran in Germany with 17%.

Even here in the United States, 13% of people picked the US as the biggest threat, putting it in 4th place behind Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.