Friday, December 26, 2008

Russia bids for control over the Middle East

Russian FM Lavrov announced the upcoming financial support for Palestinians during Abbas’ visit to Moscow. As his presidential term expires on January 9, this seems Abbas’ last official visit - significantly, to Chechnya.

Russian support to Palestinians will come largely in military sphere. In Lavrov’s diplomatic speak, Russia supports Abbas’ “security measures.” The only Fatah’s security measures we see in Israel are related to terrorist attacks: scores of Fatah policemen are vacationing in Israeli jails for terror activity. Not a single Palestinian terrorist was intercepted by Fatah policemen. The few terrorists comfortably jailed in Palestine were arrested by IDF and released to Fatah.

Russian pledge to Palestine has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. Russians never delivered food or other humanitarian supplies to Palestinian refugee camps, but look for “security cooperation” with Palestinians. In plain English, Russians seek a military foothold at Israeli borders. To that end, they pledged ten MIG-29 jets to Lebanon’s Hezbollah government free, and build a mammoth navy base in Syrian port of Tartus. The navy base will host S-300 and later S-400 anti-aircraft defense which would protect most of Syria against Israeli reprisals. Under the Russian ABM umbrella, Syria can develop its nuclear weapons without fearing Israeli preemption.

Russia’s Middle East policy also includes TOR-1M and S-300 deliveries to Iran and joint nuclear program with Egypt.

Russian expansion comes despite that country’s economic troubles. Russian economy relies on oil, gas, and other natural resources almost as much as Saudi Arabia. Oil and gas revenues account for about 60% of Russian budget (both directly and through taxes on businesses which thrive on high oil prices). During the years of windfall oil profits, Russian government built currency reserves, but they dwindle quickly as oil prices fell.

Instead of minding its own business and building a modern economy, Putin-Medvedev’s government grew increasingly hostile. Domestically, the regime amended the high treason law: the new formulation easily includes all dissidents. The tax administration hunts down crisis-stricken businesses: the reduced tax revenues are blamed on evasion rather than economic downturn. In the “near abroad”, Russia continues military incursions in Georgia and introduced gas blockade of Ukraine. Russian Gazprom monopoly refused transporting Asian gas to Ukraine, and slapped it with gas prices substantially higher than those offered to West European customers.

Russia cannot gain rich or advanced countries on its side. They are either not interested in Russian overtures, or prefer relations with the West, if only for economic reasons. Russians have nothing to offer Saudi Arabia or Emirates, but court the world’s outlaws such as Iran or Venezuela.

The Old Europe also falls victim to Russian bullying: France and Germany, the EU cheerleaders, depend on Russia for gas supplies, as are most other European countries. Staunchly anti-American EU embraces Russia if not for any other reason than to slap the United States. In its latest meeting at FM level, NATO discussed Georgia: not the way of defending it from Russia, but how to get over it and re-establish ties with Russia.

US-Russian nuclear cooperation, arms reduction, and anti-missile treaties are practically abandoned. Russia threatened to stop dismantling its nuclear warheads and selling the uranium to America, though the deal went on smoothly for fifteen years. Putin resumed militarily useless but highly provocative flights of Russian nuclear-armed strategic bombers around Europe.

Russia’s increasingly strong relations with Hezbollah, Hamas, and PLO are best viewed on the background of its worldwide strategy. Lacking funds to buy clients with aid, having too little economic clout to obtain friends with trade advantages, Russia resorted to the old Soviet tactics of stirring trouble. That policy amounts to racketeering: if Russian role is not acknowledged, regional troubles ensue. Propping the miscreants like Iran or PLO is way cheaper than staging conflicts and immensely cheaper than any civilized way of spreading one’s influence.

Unless Russia breaks again into the post-democratic anarchy, it is out to create major troubles for the world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clashes erupt in Israeli-run prison

Clashes erupt in Israeli-run prison

Israeli police entered Ofer prison outside Ramallah to quell the riot which erupted on Saturday [Reuters]

At least seven Palestinian detainees and three Israeli guards have been injured in a prison riot, according to Yaron Zamir, a prison service spokesman.

The clashes in the Ofer detention centre near the West Bank town of Ramallah erupted on Saturday when dozens of Palestinian inmates started throwing objects at guards who had entered to search a prison ward, Zamir said.

"Following the violence a larger force was sent into the ward and order was restored shortly afterwards," he told the AFP news agency.

Seven prisoners injured after inhaling tear gas were treated at the jail. Three guards were lightly injured by objects thrown at them, Zamir said.

More than 11,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, many of them detained for long periods without trial.

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspodent reporting from Ramallah, said: "Palestinian detainees inside the miltary camp tried to prevent Israeli prison authorities from raiding their sections and undertaking a search of the wards.

"We have heard repeatedly from these detainees about the humiliation they undergo on a daily basis during these searches.

"And it was at this point they [inmates] wanted to protest against the measures undertaken by the Israeli prison authorities."

She said that calm appears to have been restored and situation brought under control. But it is unclear whether the Israeli authorities will respond to the Palestinian prisoners' frustrations and grievances after the latest incident.

Gaza fatality

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, a Palestinian man has been killed in an Israeli missile attack - the first death since the end of a six-month-old ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory.

Ali Hijazi, 22, and two other men who were wounded in Saturday's incident were members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, witnesses said.


Palestinian fighters ready to fight
Israeli forces on high alert at border
Truce no protection for Sderot
Gaza residents suffer under truce

The air raid targeted a group of fighters firing rockets towards Israel, an Israeli military official said.

The attack in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip came a day after the end of the ceasefire.

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said: "The [Israeli] military told us that six projectiles have been launched from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel.

"This is coming as very sad news for the people here who once again find themselves in the position they were in before the ceasefire, in terms of this almost daily aggression by Israel and very uncertain times in terms of what will happen next.

"From the Israeli side they have said that ... as long as there is peace from the Palestinian side they will respond with peace. But if there is aggression by Palestinian factions, they will fight back with force."

A ceasefire agreed in June officially ended at daybreak on Friday, after Hamas said it would not renew it.

Hamas blamed Israelis for the failure of the ceasefire, saying that they had not lived up to their obligations under the deal by continuing a blockade of the Gaza Strip.