Focal Points Blog

Saudi Arabia Adds Insult to Injury in Yemen

Yemen is a battleground, the site of what aid organizations say is a human catastrophe. Pictured: Old Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Yemen is a battleground, the site of what aid organizations say is a human catastrophe. Pictured: Old Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

No American (okay, Canadian) journalist is doing more important — not to mention intrepid — reporting from the Middle East than Matthieu Adkins. For his latest piece for Rolling Stone, Yemen’s Hidden War, he ventured into Yemen and observed the effects of the U.S.-abetted Saudi offensive against the Houthis — and thus everybody else — in Yemen. The Houthis seized power from Abdu Hadi, the successor to long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out by mass demonstrations. Apparently their main sin to the Saudis is that they’re a denomination of Shi’ite and may be supported by Iran, about whom the Saudis are touchy these days to the point of paranoia.
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Afghanistan: the Forever War

The infusion of U.S. “baksheesh” has damaged the fabric of Afghan society. Pictured: Naray, Afghanistan. (Photo: Ricymar Photography / Flickr Commons)

The infusion of U.S. “baksheesh” has damaged the fabric of Afghan society. Pictured: Naray, Afghanistan. (Photo: Ricymar Photography / Flickr Commons)

The July 30 ruling by a federal judge that the U.S. may continue holding as a prisoner of war an inmate of Guantanamo who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, was a reminder that America is still  at war in that country. The prisoner claimed that since the U.S. formally ended its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014, he had a right to be released. But according to Judge Royce C. Lambeth, the war in Afghanistan is not yet over. He wrote in his decision, “The government may not always say what it means or means what it says.” One of the defendant’s lawyers said the judge’s ruling endorsed “the idea of a limitless forever war under which the government can continue fighting.” But fighting for what? The murderous attack on the World Trade Towers in September 2001 was masterminded, financed, and carried out by a group of Saudis. Yet without attempting to understand the motivation behind the suicidal attack, or to identify the policies that provoked it, George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” and ordered the invasion of Afghanistan.
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Regional Powers Seek to Use War Against Islamic State to Defeat Their Traditional Enemies

The inability of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel to take the Islamic State seriously as a threat may come back to haunt them. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

The inability of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel to take the Islamic State seriously as a threat may come back to haunt them. Pictured: De facto Islamic State capital Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Despite how the Islamic State continues to seek to extend its territory and commit atrocities, the three main regional powers still can’t seem to keep their eyes on the ball. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel continue to prioritize other perceived threats instead. At the Atlantic, in a satirical article titled Defeating ISIS: The Board Game, Karl Sharro writes:

Saudi Arabia … believes ISIS cannot be defeated unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. Turkey has just convinced NATO nations that the war against ISIS can only be won if Turkey’s traditional Kurdish opponents are neutralized first. Israel sees only one way to defeat ISIS: destroy Iran’s nuclear program and clip its wings regionally.

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Anti-semitism in Poland Preceded and Succeeded World War II

Pictured: Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. (Photo: Sebastian Deptula / Flickr Commons)

Pictured: Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. (Photo: Sebastian Deptula / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the Middle Ages, when Jews in Europe experienced a wave of persecutions connected to their imagined complicity in the Black Death, King Kazimierz welcomed the persecuted to Poland. It was a golden age of tolerance in the country. Rumor has it that the king even had a Jewish mistress.

I learned all this when I visited the town of Kazimierz Dolny in 1989 with Rachel Zacharia, a Jewish psychologist I’d met in Warsaw. She wanted to show me the traces of Jewish life in the area of Poland known as Galicia: what had existed before the Holocaust destroyed the once-vibrant community. There was the old synagogue, which had been turned into a movie theater. There were the buildings on the narrow streets that had once sported the signs of Jewish shops. The ruins of Kazimierz’s castle stood on a hill overlooking the town.
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Is It Time for South Sudan and Sudan to Re-unite?

South Sudan is a textbook case of a failed state. Pictured: the village of Yei. (Photo: Creedence67 / Flickr Commons)

South Sudan is a textbook case of a failed state. Pictured: the village of Yei. (Photo: Creedence67 / Flickr Commons)

Four years have passed since South Sudan seceded from Sudan, and the only thing it has earned so far is violence and internal crisis that seems to have no end in sight. The international community has stood by South Sudan’s side, but the new country has repeatedly let everyone down.

The ongoing violence and civil war in South Sudan has killed and displaced millions of innocent civilians. This young country, carved forcibly out of Africa’s largest nation (erstwhile undivided Sudan), is a living example of a failed state.
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Islamic Manuscript Radiocarbon Dated to Time of Muhammad

An illuminated manuscript of the Koran. (Photo: Walters Art Museum / Flickr Commons)

An illuminated manuscript of the Koran. (Photo: Walters Art Museum / Flickr Commons)

Irregularities were recently discovered in a manuscript found in Iraq in the 1920s and currently residing in the University of Birmingham (UK) library. Subsequent radiocarbon dating has revealed that the manuscript may be 1,370 years old. The implications are startling. In the New York Times, Dan Bilefsky explains.

… the fragments appeared to be part of what could be the world’s oldest copy of the Quran, and researchers say it may have been transcribed by a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Fine-Tuning Nuclear Weapons to Make Them More Palatable

The yield (explosive power) of the B-61-12 nuclear weapon can be adjusted. (Photo: Visokio.com)

The yield (explosive power) of the B-61-12 nuclear weapon can be adjusted. (Photo: Visokio.com)

The comparatively low yield of the modernized (for all intents and purposes, new) B-61-12 nuclear weapon, combined with its precision guidance system make it tempting to take off the shelf as a deterrent and actually use it like a conventional weapon. At National Interest, Zachary Keck writes:

… the bomb has a maximum yield of 50 kilotons. However, this yield can be lowered as needed for any particular mission. In fact, the bomb’s explosive force can be reduced electronically through a dial-a-yield system.

This combination of accuracy and low-yield make the B61-12 the most usable nuclear bomb in America’s arsenal. That’s because accuracy is the most important determinate of a nuclear weapon’s lethality … the more accurate the bomb, the lower the yield that is needed to destroy any specific target. A lower-yield and more accurate bomb can therefore be used without having to fear the mass, indiscriminate killing of civilians through explosive force or radioactive fallout.

… a U.S. counterforce strike against China’s ICBM silos using high-yield weapons [would] kill anywhere between 3-4 million people. Using low-yield weapons and airbursts, this figure drops to as little as 700 fatalities!

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How the Islamic State Makes Terror Palatable to Those It Rules

Apparently, the Islamic State is almost completely devoid of corruption. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Apparently, the Islamic State is almost completely devoid of corruption. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Is there an upside to being a subject of the Islamic State? In the New York Times, Tim Arango explains:

The Islamic State uses terror to force obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery and turned children into killers.

But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes, and in that way, at least, it has outdone the corrupt Syrian and Iraqi governments it routed, residents and experts say.

“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said [a man] who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and insisted out of fear on [sic] being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

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Will the Nuclear Deal Induce Iran to Help Stop the Islamic State?

Iran may only wish to contain the Islamic State, not defeat it. Pictured: Government building in Islamic State de facto capital Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Iran may only wish to contain the Islamic State, not defeat it. Pictured: Government building in Islamic State de facto capital Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

In a National Interest piece titled Sorry, America: Iran Won’t Defeat ISIS for You, Andrew J. Bowen and J. Matthew McInnis write that, especially with the Iran nuclear deal negotiated, “Iran has been touted in Washington in some policy circles as the best partner in fighting ISIS.”

Potential common interests between Washington and Tehran—as well as Iran’s military capabilities—could make Tehran an effective ally in rolling back ISIS at a time when the United States is wary to commit to another ground war in the Middle East.

But, caution Bowen and McInnis, don’t get your hopes up. Iran may not be as committed to rolling back the Islamic State as the United States (professes to be, anyway). They write:

… Tehran’s strategy in Syria and Iraq has been focused more on containing and managing ISIS than defeating it. … In Syria, ISIS is seen as an effective tool in both weakening the U.S.- and [Gulf Cooperation Council]-backed opposition militias and buttressing the argument that President Assad is a most amenable alternative in Syria. Iraq, on the other hand, presents a difficult balancing act.

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Argentine Prosecutor Dies Before Pinning 1992 Argentine Jewish Center Bombing on Iran

Did Argentine President Cristina Kirchner attempt to derail the investigation of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina bombing? (Photo: Pro.Cre.Ar / Flickr Commons)

Did Argentine President Cristina Kirchner attempt to derail the investigation of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina bombing? (Photo: Pro.Cre.Ar / Flickr Commons)

In the New Yorker, Dexter Filkins piece on the suspicious death of Argentine prosecutor Albert Nisman, whose mission in life was to investigate and prosecute Iran. He believed its operatives plotted and carried out the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish organization, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which killed 85 and wounded than 300. Filkins writes:

In 2006, [Nisman] indicted seven officials from the government of Iran, including its former President and Foreign Minister, whom he accused of planning and directing the attack, along with a senior leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Months later, Nisman secured international arrest warrants for five officials, effectively preventing them from leaving Iran.

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