Focal Points Blog

The Sunset of the “Celtic Tiger” Led to the Dawn of the “Horsewich”

HorsemeatAs the Great Horsemeat Crisis continues to spread—“gallops” is the verb favored by the European press—across the continent, and countries pile on to blame Romania (France, Holland, Cyprus, etc.), what is becoming increasingly clear is that old-fashioned corporate greed, aided and abetted by politicians eager to gut “costly” regulations and industrial inspection regimes, is behind the scandal.

In a sense it is fitting that the whole imbroglio began in Ireland, where inspectors in Ulster first indentified that hamburgers should have more properly been labeled “horsewiches.” The Emerald Isle has more horses than any country in Europe, and, according to the Financial Times, in 2007 Ireland produced 12,633 thoroughbred foals and has some 110,000 “sport” horses.

The year 2007 was just before the Irish real estate bubble imploded, bankrupting the nation and impoverishing millions. And the year the “Celtic Tiger” died was very bad news for horses. Thousands of the creatures were simply turned loose by their financially strapped owners, and the number of horses sent to slaughterhouses jumped from 2,000 in 2008 to 25,000 in 2012.

The Irish-horse connection goes back to when Celtic-speaking people first burst out of Central Europe during the second century B.C. Celtic cavalry and chariots—the Celts introduced the latter to Europe—were pretty formidable, as the Romans discovered on a number of occasions.

Horses have always been a high-status item in Ireland, and during the colonial period the English figured out a devilishly clever way to take advantage of that. According to the Irish Penal Laws of 1692, no Catholic—the vast majority of native Irish were Roman Catholics—could own a horse worth more than five pounds. So the English would go into the countryside, select a thoroughbred, and force the breeder to sell them his horse for a pittance. Sometimes the “buyers” would then turn right around and re-sell the animal to its former owner for hundreds of pounds.

When the Irish first discovered horsemeat in the food chain, they claimed innocence and blamed the Poles. It turns out, however, that a small slaughterhouse in Tipperary was shipping horsemeat labeled as beef to the Czech Republic. The British blamed the Romanians, and Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Sun, took the opportunity to indulge in his favorite sport: ethnic bashing. A “grim Romanian slaughterhouse built with EU (European Union) cash” was the culprit, blared the largest (and sleaziest) tabloid in England.

The Romanians did indeed use EU cash to build a plant, but the slaughterhouse produced records showing that they had correctly identified the meat as horse. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta complained that Romania was routinely made the EU’s scapegoat.

Then the Swedes got into the act and blamed France, and it does appear it was the French company Spanghero that slipped “old Dobbin” into the food chain. Spanghero denied the charge and, in its defense, trotted out yet another animal: a weeping crocodile. “My first thought is for the employees,” said a choked up Laurent Spanghero at a press conference. “My second thought goes to our kids and grandkids that carry our name. We have always taught them the values of courage and loyalty and today we have been plunged into dishonor.”

Except, according to French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon, Spanghero could hardly have failed to notice that the meat it was importing from Romania was much cheaper than what the company normally paid for beef. A kilo of horsemeat costs .66 cents, a kilo of beef, $3.95. According to Hamon, Spanghero made $733,800 substituting horsemeat for beef.

Then things got really murky.

The Netherlands said the Cyprus-based meat vendor Draap that sold the meat to Spanghold was responsible, and the company’s track record would suggest the Dutch had a point. In 2012 Draap was convicted of selling South American horsemeat labeled as German and Dutch beef.

But it turns out Draap—based in Cyprus but run by a trust in the British Virgin Islands—is owned by the company Guardstand, that in turn owns part of the arms dealing company, Ilex Ventures. According to prosecutors in New York, convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout owns Ilex Ventures. Guardstand’s sole shareholder, reports Jamie Doward of The Observer, is Trident Trust, which sets up companies in tax-free nations. Guardstand helped set up Ilex.

Sorting this out will be nigh on impossible, because tax havens like Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands are not about to give up their secrets, and the powerful corporations that shelter their ill-gotten gains there know how to keep inspectors at bay.

Hypocrisy has been in abundance during the Great Horsemeat Crisis.

Owen Paterson, the British environmental secretary who oversees food safety and is a member of the Conservative Party, thundered in Parliament about an “international conspiracy.” However, the current Conservative-Liberal government has instituted cutbacks on inspections by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and turned enforcement over to some 330 local authorities.

“It is a shame that testing by the FSA has been reduced,” Dr. Chris Smart told the Guardian. “I am sure there will be other crises that come along in the next few years.” And given that UK food prices have risen nearly 26 percent that will surely be the case. Inspectors have already uncovered adulterated olive oil and paprika made from roof tiles.

At the heart of this are the continent-wide austerity programs that have driven up the ranks of the poor, requiring low-income families to rely on cheap meat or go without. “Why was horsemeat present in beef burgers?” asks Elizabeth Dowler, a professor of food and social policy at Warwick University. “Because the price has to be kept as low as possible.” Horsemeat is one-fifth the price of beef, so the temptation is to either adulterate beef with horse, or sell it as cheap beef. “This has the most impact on those with low income and large numbers of children,” says Dowler. “People in this situation have no money to buy better quality burgers, or to go to a butcher and make their own mincemeat. Instead they depend on special 3-for-2 offers. The problem is linked to poverty.”

Horsemeat for some, beer and skittles for the likes of Spanghero.

But the real culprits in this crisis are the banks in Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain that ignited the economic crisis by artificially pumping up real estate bubbles. Up there in the docket with the bankers should be the politicians who shoved through development schemes, waived environmental regulations, and turned a blind eye to speculation. And when everything crashed, the taxpayers—the vast majority of whom never got in on the boom years—got stuck with the bill.

Poor Ireland. The EU-enforced austerity scheme has raised the unemployment level to above 15 percent—30 percent for young people—and saddled homeowners with onerous tax and fee hikes. Wages have been cut, health care fees raised more, and welfare butchered. In spite of these “reforms,” the economy grew an anemic 0.9 percent in 2012, and is scheduled to rise to 1.5 percent in 2013, down from the 2.2 the government originally predicted.

And the Irish economy is actually much worse than the figures indicate, because much of the wealth Ireland currently creates goes into the coffers of huge multinationals attracted to the island’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, the lowest in Europe. As the Economist points out, “The Irish people have fared much worse than the Irish economy.”

And the pain for the average Irish working person is due to get worse. The 2013 budget will cut spending $4.6 billion, increase taxes, and add yet more austerity in 2014 and 2015. All of this woe has drawn widespread praise from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which suggests that if a bank praises you, it is time to reach for a barricade.

This is not just a European problem, because the trend toward cutting back on regulations and inspections is worldwide. For instance, under pressure from the agricultural lobby, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has backed off trying to reduce the amount of antibiotics used on livestock. According to a recent report by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, 80 percent of all the antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. are used on animals. The result is that antibiotic-resistant salmonella is spreading rapidly in chicken and turkey populations, and turning up in hospitals, clinics and gymnasiums.

Horsemeat is going to be the least of our problems.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

Egyptian Government Deals With Sexual Attacks on Female Protesters by Blaming the Victims

The prevalence of sexual terrorism in Cairo—emerging prominently in international media late last month—continues to cast a shadow over protestors and activists marching on Tahrir Square and other popular protest sites. It has become a polarizing issue of its own amid continuing protests against the government.

Russ Wellen earlier this month implicated Egypt’s large percentage of jobless, frustrated youth as contributing significantly to the problem, observing that “these crimes can be classified as fallout from not only the Egyptian government’s repressive policies, but its failure to improve the economy.” And indeed, groups of these oppressed, resentful men often linger in the square. One such nameless youth bluntly told Aleem Maqbool of the BBC when asked about the increase of sexual assaults in the square, “We are depressed, we can’t find jobs and money, what do you expect?”

The answer varies widely depending on whom you ask.

Take Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, a radical Salafist sheikh known as “Abu Islam,” who was arrested for “defamation of religion” for his controversial remarks regarding the presence of women in Tahrir Square. According to him, it is halal (permissible) to rape female protestors and that these women “have no shame, no fear and not even feminism [sic].”

If only the culture of victim blaming these female protestors ended with one delusional man—but it seems it is only considered “defamation of religion” to victim blame if you are not a part of the government.

The Shura Council Human Rights Committee—part of Egypt’s upper house of Parliament—in a press conference went so far as to claim that these rampant sexual assaults are, essentially, not the Interior Ministry’s problem. Rana Muhammad Taha of The Daily News Egypt provides a disturbing round-up of these statements from the committee:

“Women should not mingle with men during protests,” said Reda Al-Hefnawy, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member. “How can the Ministry of Interior be tasked with protecting a lady who stands among a group of men?”

“A woman who joins protests among thugs and street inhabitants should protect herself before asking the Ministry of Interior to offer her protection,” said Adel Afifi, a prominent board member of the Salafi Party Al-Asala.

“The woman bears the offence when she chooses to protest in places filled with thugs,” said Salafi Al-Nour Party member Salah Abdel Salam.

At the same session, a female Muslim Brotherhood MP suggested that these women “think twice” before demonstrating “so as not to become prey to sexual offenders and armed thugs who commit rape.”

The Muslim Brotherhood—the ruling Islamist party in Parliament—has also been implicated in orchestrating these sexual assaults particularly against Tahrir Square, a “symbol” of the revolution—and indeed, their response thus far has not laid such accusations to rest. During the human rights committee session, Brotherhood MPs were using the sexual attacks as justification to push anti-protest legislation. As Vivian Salama of The Daily Beast reports, the absurdity of the government’s response is not lost on women’s organizations in Egypt:

“What does our government do? Instead of implementing laws that make sexual assault a crime, they are making the publicity of these attacks a crime,” said Nancy Omar … spokeswoman of Egyptian Women; Red Line, a group of volunteers from various political factions united to defend the rights of women. “And then they question our motives for going to these protests—how silly!”

In the void left by the government’s utter lack of action, such non-profit organizations and volunteer groups have instead stepped up to the plate to protect, assist, and defend victims of these attacks. Some police common protest areas, moving quickly to save women who could get caught in “circles of hell,” groups of men who violently swarm victims in horrifically organized tiers. Others help shepherd women to hospitals and help pay the costs, or offer free self-defense courses as a preventative measure.

It is tragic that the impetus to enforce basic human rights has fallen on the shoulders of civilians. One can only hope that these volunteers and activists can mitigate this ongoing trend of violence against women during Egypt’s upheaval—especially since in the face of government apathy and a culture of rampant victim blaming, they are the only buffer left to safeguard women’s political voices.

Leslie Garvey is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Samer Issawi’s Hunger Strike Shines a Spotlight on Israel’s Inhumanity

Administrative detention: the practice of arresting and holding persons without trial and without informing them of what crimes they are suspected of. Since the end of the British mandate of Palestine, Israel has exercised this policy on thousands of Palestinians. Israel’s refusal to relinquish it could prove deadly to hunger striker, Samer Issawi.

In October 2011 Issawi was released from Israeli prison as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel, but just nine months later was rearrested. Receiving no information on the basis for his re-incarceration, including the crimes he was supposedly being detained for, Issawi launched a hunger strike shortly thereafter.

The world is finally taking notice now that Issawi’s strike that has persisted over 200 days. A hearing last Thursday in an Israeli court to appeal Issawi’s sentence had similar results to past appeals. He was once again denied his right to trial leading to clashes in which IDF soldiers fired tear gas canisters at protestors outside Ofer prison in the West Bank.

These events come as President Obama plans to visit the region within in the coming month, with stops planned in both Ramallah and Tel Aviv. Senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, has appealed to the courts, “I urge Israel to release these people. The last thing we want is for things to get out of hand before President Obama visits.”

Another unnamed PLO official said that U.S. ambassador Dan Shapiro had assured him of the release of 550 Palestinian prisoners prior to Obama’s visit. But the release of Palestinian prisoners should not be contingent upon a visit from the sitting US president, and hunger strikers like Samer Issawi should not be dependent on international pressure to receive a fair trial.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Sequestration: Our Military is Due for Downsizing

Sequestration wouldn't gut military

This strange animal called sequestration is certainly wreaking havoc with our customary ideological boundaries.

If you’re an advocate, Iike I am, for revamped federal priorities that shift resources from a bloated Pentagon budget toward neglected domestic priorities, your take on this animal can’t be simple. You say cutting everything indiscriminately is a bad way to run a government (this view is nearly universal). You oppose the cuts in the domestic budget that will leave us with fewer food safety inspectors, medical researchers, Head Start teachers, and airport baggage screeners on the job. But you can reel off long lists of ways to cut waste in the Pentagon budget to the levels prescribed by sequestration, and show that these cuts will leave us completely safe.

But you also know that the whole conversation is focused on the wrong topic. It’s past time to shift this conversation away from austerity and toward investment to create jobs, as clear majorities of voters said in November was what they wanted.

Now let’s look at the Washington Post’s blogger who says he writes “from a liberal perspective,” Greg Sargent. On Wednesday he went at the Republican position on sequestration, wielding a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The report found that the single most important cause of increased income inequality in recent years is the favored tax treatment given to capital gains and stock dividends — i.e. what the rich have used to get richer.

The Democrats, as Sargent points out, want to change this, taxing the rich and using the proceeds to replace the sequester cuts. The Republicans want to stick with sequestration and keep this favored treatment for the rich.

But all of this puts the Republicans, says Sargent, in the position of “openly conceding that the sequester will gut the military.” It’s a concession that Sargent appears to be taking at face value. Or at least not calling into question.

Gut the military? That’s what the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been saying any chance they get. Sequestration would “invite aggression,” says lingering Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It will “put the nation at greater risk of coercion,” says the Joint Chiefs Chair, Martin Dempsey. When asked at a recent congressional hearing which nation might coerce us, though, he couldn’t say.

In fact, sequestration will not “gut” our military. Our military budget has nearly doubled since 2001. Sequestration would take it back to the level it was in 2007 — when we were still fighting two wars. Adjusted for inflation, it would leave that budget higher than its Cold War average — when we had an adversary that was spending roughly what we were on its military. Now, as Michael Cohen notes in The Guardian, the closest thing to a peer adversary we have is China, and we are spending more on research and development of new weapons than the Chinese are spending on their entire military. We spend more on our military, in fact, than the next 14 countries put together.

After the longest period of war in our history, we are due for a defense downsizing. Sequestration would create a shallower downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods since World War II. We can do this, and we should. We need the money for other things.

As sequestration threatens to confuse us all, let’s be sure to stay clear on that, at least.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Fragments

Emphasis, as always, added.

A “fundamental problem with COIN.”

Where foreign forces go, violence follows.

. . . a wave of “insider-attacks,” perpetrated by members of the Afghan security forces, has killed 60 coalition troops this year (compared with 35 last year). Leon Panetta has described these killings as “kind of a last-gasp effort” of the Taliban to resist their inevitable demise. He also remarked, “It’s near the end of their effort to really fully fight back.” It’s hard to say which is worse: our president and defense secretary deliberately misrepresenting the situation in Afghanistan to such a degree, or our president and defense secretary genuinely misunderstanding it to such a degree.

The Last Men, Luke Mogelson, The New Republic

“Milicrats”

The promotion system reinforces professional ignorance. Above the company grades, military ability does not count in determining who gets promoted. At the rank of major, officers are supposed to accept that the “real world” is the internal world of budget and promotion politics, not war. Those who “don’t get it” have ever smaller chances of making general. … Its result is generals and admirals who are in effect Soviet industrial managers in ever worse-looking suits. They know little and care less about their intended product, military victory. Their expertise is in acquiring resources and playing the military courtier.

Rank Incompetence, William S. Lind, The American Conservative

The UK’s National Health Service: “a benevolent deity”

By now I am convinced that the NHS – and I hyperbolise, but only slightly – is the greatest achievement of humankind, the nearest we get to a benevolent deity, a goddamn superhero. It is an imperfect manifestation of a beautiful ideal – free care based on need, free care for all, without judgement, without reservation.

However long this [the author's father dying] goes on for, they’ll continue throwing resources at this individual and never show a single sheet of figures to any of his relatives.

This Is How You Healthcare: American Death in London, Sarah C. R. Bee, NSFWCorp

To Netanyahu, Syria Just Another “reason to blow Iran to smithereens”

Netanyahu can’t unring the bell in Syria either, but there’s little doubt that he’d like to. The Israeli prime minister remained suspiciously silent during the Syrian uprising’s first 90 days but then, as if testing the wind, began to cautiously support the rebels. By July of last year he was all in, but only after his silence bordered on the embarrassing. Even then, he characterised the May 2011 Houla Massacre (in which a reported 108 Syrians were slaughtered by Assad’s henchmen), as being carried out primarily with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. It was almost as if the Syrian military was a bystander.

This was all part of the same sad drumbeat, as if Netanyahu feared that (in the midst of the Arab Spring), we’d lose sight of the real agenda — which was finding a reason to blow Iran to smithereens. It wasn’t so important that the Houla Massacre was evidence of the Syrian government’s hate of its own people, (you see), it was important that it was carried out by people who hate Israel.

Israel’s democracy myth, Mark Perry, Al Jazeera

Protecting Papua New Guinea’s “Witches”

Even assuming the political will emerges to invest in stronger policing and community protection, it will be years before the terrorism fades in communities like Simbu, an epicentre for violence.…

Bishop Anton Bal, the Catholic bishop of Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu … argues that the catch-22 with sorcery is that the more it’s talked about, the greater its power and allure. So his programs include training up networks of local parish volunteers as a kind of resistance movement. Operatives deflect and douse conversations about blame as soon as a death in the community occurs. They go to the funeral and when someone brings up the question of sanguma they shift the topic — talk about the weather, shut it down. Or raise the alarm.

It’s 2013, And They’re Burning ‘Witches’, Jo Chandler, The Global Mail

U.S. Could Take a Lesson From France on LGBT Rights

France’s National Assembly approved a bill last week that legalizes gay marriage in the country and allows same-sex couples to adopt children. Final approval rests with the Senate, which like the Assembly is controlled by the left. This is a major victory for advocates of gay rights, and those French members of parliament who voted to change the course of the nation.

Opponents of the bill introduced some 5,000 amendments to the gay marriage proposal—an attempt to effectively block the bill. But despite the efforts of the opposition, the bill passed with a vote of 329 in favor and 229 against.

Public opposition to gay marriage and adoption has come in the form of high-profile rallies against the legislation, with the adoption issue proving particularly controversial. Yet unlike in the United States—where opposition to same-sex marriage is strongest among certain religious communities—the issue appears to be more secular in France, where the influence of the church has long been on the decline. According to a survey in France’s Catholic Daily, La Croix, 58 percent of French Catholics never go to mass, and 83 percent said the church should keep out of politics.

Polls show that nearly two thirds of French voters support the gay marriage bill, aligning with the makeup of the French parliament. The Socialist Party and its allies control both the National Assembly and the Senate, likely securing the bill’s final passage in the coming months. Corinne Narassiguin, representative for the Socialist Party of France has called the bill “a first necessary step [in] a social evolution that benefits society overall.”

France has taken a step toward the future of equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation; the United States could look to its European counterpart for a lesson in advancing LGBT rights.

France’s National Assembly approved a bill last week that legalizes gay marriage in the country and allows same-sex couples to adopt children. Final approval rests with the Senate, which like the Assembly is controlled by the left. This is a major victory for advocates of gay rights, and those French members of parliament who voted to change the course of the nation.

Opponents of the bill introduced some 5,000 amendments to the gay marriage proposal—an attempt to effectively block the bill. But despite the efforts of the opposition, the bill passed with a vote of 329 in favor and 229 against.

Public opposition to gay marriage and adoption has come in the form of high-profile rallies against the legislation, with the adoption issue proving particularly controversial. Yet unlike in the United States—where opposition to same-sex marriage is strongest among certain religious communities—the issue appears to be more secular in France, where the influence of the church has long been on the decline. According to a survey in France’s Catholic Daily, La Croix, 58 percent of French Catholics never go to mass, and 83 percent said the church should keep out of politics.

Polls show that nearly two thirds of French voters support the gay marriage bill, aligning with the makeup of the French parliament. The Socialist Party and its allies control both the National Assembly and the Senate, likely securing the bill’s final passage in the coming months. Corinne Narassiguin, representative for the Socialist Party of France has called the bill “a first necessary step [in] a social evolution that benefits society overall.”

France has taken a step toward the future of equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation; the United States could look to its European counterpart for a lesson in advancing LGBT rights.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Iran’s Weak Emergency Infrastructure Would Only Compound Effects of an Attack

In October, 2012 I wrote a post titled Attacking Iran Is Like Setting Off Nuclear Bombs on the Ground about a report released the previous month. Titled The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, it’s the product of an organization called Omid for Iran, along with the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the University of Utah. Omid for Iran was founded by Khosrow B. Semnani, the Iranian immigrant who became a radioactive waste disposal magnate. A controversial figure often embroiled in lawsuits, he served as president of his company Envirocare until the Department of Energy requested he step down in the wake of a bribery scandal.

Like many immigrants who make good in the United States, he draws on a reserve of rancor toward the forces in his country of origin (usually, in these cases, communist) that keep an entrepreneur like him from fulfilling his dream. You can tell by this excerpt from the executive summary of “The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble” that, should they attack Iran, he’s less interested in blaming Israel and the United States than he is Tehran for inciting them.

The best long-term strategy would be a democratic, transparent, and accountable government in Iran. In such a scenario, political leaders would quickly understand that their people want jobs, dignity, opportunity, and political freedoms, not the false promise of nuclear weapons bought at a heavy, even existential, cost. A military strike would not only kill thousands of civilians and expose tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to highly toxic chemicals, it would also have a devastating effect on those who dream of democracy in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei has proven that he cares little for the Iranian people. It is up to us in the international community, including the Iranian-American diaspora to demonstrate that we do.

As for the attack…

Based on the best information available as well as discussions with Iranian and Western nuclear experts, we have estimated the total number of people—scientists, workers, soldiers and support staff—at Iran’s four nuclear facilities to be between 7,000 and 11,000. … However, unlike traditional targets, the risks to civilians extend well beyond those killed from exposure to thermal and blast injuries at the nuclear sites. Tens, and quite possibly, hundreds of thousands of civilians could be exposed to highly toxic chemical plumes and, in the case of operational reactors, radioactive fallout. … Additionally, the environmental deg­radation due to the spread of airborne uranium compounds, and their entry into water, soil and the food chain would introduce long-term, chronic health risks such as a spike in cancer rates and birth defects.

Nor have Iran’s leaders shown any inclination to present such an assessment.

[They] have had no interest in making the risks of their reckless nuclear policies obvious to its citizens even though the resulting economic toll—inflation, unem­ployment, and the loss of international credit—has devastated the Iranian people. The Iranian military has not provided the Iranian people with any description of potential casualties resulting from attacks on these nuclear facilities. Nor has the parliament encouraged an open assessment of the grave implications of the government’s policies for Iranian scientists, soldiers and civilians working at or living within the vicinity of Iran’s nuclear facilities. This study seeks to address this deficit.

Or, in my words …

… the attack and radiation will work its synergistic black magic in conjunction with Iran’s meager disaster management and emergency preparation capabilities. … bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is like setting off nuclear weapons on the ground.

While reading “The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble” I couldn’t help but wonder how Iran was allowed to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and to become a member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) without instituting an effective emergency preparedness program. (Or one that at least upheld the pretense that it’s possible to deal with a meltdown or attack on a nuclear-energy facility effectively.) It seems wildly irresponsible, kind of like starting a war without medical staff and hospitals.

A passage from the IAEA’s website sheds some light on this.

Many Member States are currently not adequately prepared to respond to such emergency situations. Moreover, without standard procedures or common approaches, protective actions can differ between countries resulting in confusion and mistrust among the public, interfering with recovery operations and possibly leading to severe socioeconomic and political consequences.…

The Agency has a statutory function to develop standards for the protection of health and the environment and to provide on request for their application, through encouraging research and development; fostering information exchange; promoting education and training; and rendering services. Moreover, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (Early Notification Convention) and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (Assistance Convention) place specific functions on the Agency with regard to developing appropriate radiation monitoring standards and to assisting States in developing their own preparedness arrangements for nuclear and radiological emergencies.

The IAEA’s programs, as was pointed out to us by Institute for Policy Studies author Robert Alvarez, can be found on its Emergency response & preparedness page. For example: “Preparedness and Response for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency Safety Requirements” (2002), “Preparedness and Response for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency Safety Requirements” (2007), “Criteria for Use in Preparedness and Response for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency General Safety Guide” (20110).

In the second paragraph from the IAEA website quoted above, note that conventions (as in agreements) “place specific functions on the Agency with regard to developing appropriate radiation monitoring standards and to assisting States in developing their own preparedness arrangements for nuclear and radiological emergencies.” (Emphasis added.) Developing and assisting — but not requiring. From the 2007 report referred to above…

The IAEA’s safety standards are not legally binding on Member States but may be adopted by them, at their own discretion, for use in national regulations in respect of their own activities. The standards are binding on the IAEA in relation to its own operations and on States in relation to operations assisted by the IAEA.

By all appearances, allowing member states to develop nuclear-energy programs without requiring them to meet certain standards of emergency preparedness looks as if it’s a loophole designed to either allow states to develop nuclear-energy programs without delay or to aid the nuclear-energy industry (or both). It’s incumbent on the United States and Israel to refrain from attacking Iran and turning that loophole into a gaping abyss of human torment.

Israel Sees Syrian Civil War as Blow to “Iran-Hezbollah Axis”

Russia's SA-17 anti-aircraft system

Russia’s SA-17 anti-aircraft system

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.

First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

The SA-17 is a capable, mid-range, anti-aircraft weapon. Designated “Grizzly” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it consists of four missiles mounted on a mobile launcher. It has a range of 30 miles, a ceiling of close to 50,000 feet, and can down anything from aircraft to cruise missiles. Introduced in 1998 as a replacement for the SA-11 “Gadfly,” the SA-17 has been sold to Egypt, Syria, Finland, China, Venezuela, India, Cyprus, Belarus, and the Ukraine.

It has a bite. During the 2008 Russia-Georgian War, the SA-17 apparently downed three Russian SU-25s close-support attack planes, and an ancient long-range Tupolev-22 bomber. It appears Georgia acquired the anti-aircraft system from the Ukraine without the Russians knowing about it.

The SA-17’s manufacturers claim the system is immune to electronic countermeasures, but every arms maker claims their weapons are irresistible or invincible. The SU-25s and the bomber were downed in the first day of the fighting, before the Russians figured out that the Georgians had a trick up their sleeves and instituted countermeasures. Those apparently worked because the four planes were the only ones the Russians lost. Clearly, however, if one gets careless or sloppy around a “Grizzly,” it can make you pretty uncomfortable.

But “game-changer”? The SA-17 is big and vulnerable, a sitting duck for aircraft armed with long-range bombs and missiles and backed up by electronic warfare capabilities. Israeli counter-warfare electronics are very sophisticated, as good—if not better—than the American’s. In 2007 Israeli warplanes slipped through the Syrian radar net without being detected and bombed a suspected nuclear reactor. Damascus acquired the SA-17 following that 2007 attack.

Given that there is open talk by NATO of establishing a “no-fly zone” over Syria, why would Damascus hand over one of its most modern anti-aircraft systems to Hezbollah? And what would Hezbollah do with it? It is too big to hide and is generally used as one piece of a larger anti-aircraft system, which Hezbollah does not have. In any case, it would have been a provocation, and neither Hezbollah nor Syria wants to give the Israelis an excuse to beat up on them. Both have plenty on their plates without adding war with a vastly superior military foe.

In brief, there is no evidence that the attack had anything to do with the SA-17, which, in any case, both Tel Aviv and Washington know would not pose any real danger to Israel. According to UPI, the attack was cleared with the U.S.

So what are some other possible reasons for the attack?

The most obvious target is the Assad regime in Syria, which at first glance would seem to be a contradiction. Wouldn’t Israel bombing Syria unite the Arab countries behind Damascus? Indeed, there were condemnations from the Arab League, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and even some of Assad’s Syrian opponents—although the Gulf Cooperation Council, the league of oil-rich monarchies bankrolling the Syrian civil war, was notably quiet.

But the “protests” were mostly pro-forma, and in the case of Turkey, rather bizarre. Ankara has played a major role in supplying the anti-Assad insurgents, deploying Patriot missiles on its border with Syria, and demanding that the president of Syria step down. Yet Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denounced Assad for not “upholding the dignity of his country” and retaliating against Israel.

According to press reports, Israel is strengthening its forces on the occupied Golan Heights that border Syria and preparing to establish a buffer zone on the Syrian side. Israel established a similar “buffer” in Lebanon following its 1982 invasion of that country, a “buffer” that eventually led to the formation of Hezbollah and a humiliating Israeli retreat in 2000.

Israel claims it has no dog in the Syrian fight and is supposedly worried about Islamic extremists coming out on top in the civil war. But for all the hype about Islamists leading a jihad against Israel, Tel Aviv knows that al-Qaeda and its allies pose no serious threat to Israel. It is good politics (and good theater)—in Washington, as well as Tel Aviv—to cry, “the turbans are coming” (quick, give us lots of money and your constitution), but religious extremism and Sharia law hardly pose an existential danger to nuclear-armed countries with large militaries. Fighters from the salafist Jabhat al-Nusrah will not get far marching on Jerusalem.

The bombing attack was certainly a slap in the face to Assad, but not the first, and seems less directed at the Damascus regime than adding yet another ingredient to the witch’s brew of chaos that is rapidly engulfing Syria and the surrounding countries. And chaos and division in the region have always been Israel’s allies. Divide and conquer is an old colonial tactic dating back to the Roman Empire. After World War I, the English used Jews and Arabs as pawns in a game to control the British Mandate in Palestine. In short, the Israelis have learned from the best.

The growing sectarian war between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds stirred up by the Syrian civil war lets Israel stand on the sidelines. Who is going to notice the steady encroachment of settlements on Palestinian lands when the Syria war has killed some 60,000 people, created almost 800,000 refugees, and is destabilizing Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan?

Lastly, there is Iran. Getting rid of Assad would remove one of Iran’s major allies in the region, and also weaken Shiite Hezbollah, the organization that fought Israel to a standstill in 2006. Assad, says former Israeli Gen. Michael Herzog, “is a linchpin of the radical Iran-Hezbollah axis…his fall would therefore deal a major blow to Tehran, significantly weaken Hezbollah and dismantle the trilateral axis.”

Sectarian chaos in Syria is already washing over into Iraq, where a brutal bombing campaign by Sunni extremists is fueling talk about re-establishing Shiite militias to defend their communities. Islamists are also increasingly active in Lebanon and Jordan.

For several years the U.S. and the Sunni-dominated Middle East monarchies have warned about the dangers of a “Shiite crescent” of Iran, Iraq, and Hezbollah. But the idea of a “crescent” was always more hype than reality—Shiites make up about 15 percent of the region, and are majorities only in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain. Lebanese Shiites constitute a plurality. In general, Shiites are the poorest section of the Muslim community and with the exception of Iran and Syria, have long been marginalized politically. Shiite “domination” has always been a bug-a-boo, not very real but useful for stoking the fires of sectarianism.

And sectarianism is on the march today in the Middle East, financed by the cash-rich Gulf monarchies and the hostility of the U.S. and its allies to authoritarian secular governments. While NATO overthrew the Libyan government and aids the Syrian insurgency in the name of democracy, it has no qualms about supporting the absolute monarchs that rule from Morocco in the west to Saudi Arabia in the east.

Was the ease with which the Israelis penetrated Syrian air space a message to Tehran as well? Certainly although the odds on Israel attacking Iran sometime this spring are rather low (though hardly non-existent). Israel could do a lot of damage to Iran, but it doesn’t have the weapons or the air power to take out Tehran’s nuclear program. Plus the Iranians, while angry about the onerous sanctions—and cranky as ever about negotiations—are carefully diverting their nuclear stockpiles into civilian use.

Israel would need the U.S. to really beat up on Iran, and that does not seem to be the direction that the Obama administration is moving. An attack on Iran would isolate Israel and the U.S. diplomatically, and deeply fracture NATO at a time when Washington is desperately trying to keep the alliance together.

In any case, Tel Aviv and Washington are well aware that Iran does not pose an “existential” threat to Israel. Even if Iran were to build several nuclear weapons—and there is no evidence that they have any intention of doing so—it would face an Israel armed with between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy Iran as a society. Even Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak admits Iran does not pose a threat to Israel’s existence.

If there is one thing that the bombing has accomplished, it is to thicken the walls between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Tel Aviv is deploying anti-missile systems on its northern border and handing out gas masks in the Galilee. It is beefing up its presence in the Golan Heights, and reinforcing its border with Egypt. In the meantime, the Netanyahu administration just announced yet another round of settlement building.

Whether division and chaos, along with those walls and missiles and gas masks, will keep the surrounding anarchy at bay is altogether another matter. Bricks and bombs never produce real security.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

The U.S. Would Face a Harsh Choice — and Economic Loss — in War Between China and Japan

Cross-posted from One Minute MBA.

Global economists are keeping their eyes glued to the Asia-Pacific region, where a bitter feud is brewing between two of the world’s most powerful nations over a small collectivity of islands in the East China Sea. The Chinese government argues that a treaty signed during the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) conferred ownership of the islands to China. Japan has long disputed these claims, and today argues that the islands are integral to its national identity.

The argument came to a head last September, when a boycott of Japanese products led Chinese demonstrators to target fellow citizens who owned Japanese cars. Three months later, the situation escalated when when Japanese jets confronted a Chinese plane flying over the islands; no shots were fired, but the act of antagonism has set a troubling precedent between the military forces of both nations.

The conflict between China and Japan has put the United States in a precarious position: if a full-scale war were to erupt, the U.S. would be forced to choose between a long-time ally (Japan) and its largest economic lender (China). Last year, China’s holdings in U.S. securities reached $1.73 trillion and goods exported from the U.S. to China exceeded $100 billion. The two countries also share strong economic ties due to the large number of American companies that outsource jobs to China.

However, the U.S. government may be legally obligated to defend Japan. In November, the U.S. Senate added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that officially recognizes Japan’s claims to the disputed islands; the U.S. and Japan are also committed to a mutual defense treaty that requires either country to step in and defend the other when international disputes occur. Not honoring this treaty could very easily tarnish America’s diplomatic image.

The countries of the Asia-Pacific region are collectively responsible for 55 percent of the global GDP and 44 percent of the world’s trade. A major conflict between the region’s two largest economies would not only impose a harsh dilemma on U.S. diplomats, but also have a significant impact on the entire global economy. It is in every nation’s best interest that the Chinese and Japanese settle their territorial dispute peacefully.

The video:

Did John Brennan’s End Run Lead to the Death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi?

BenghaziBenghazi: The Definitive Report is the title of an e-book published on February 12 by William Morrow. It’s written by two editors at SOFREP.com, the unofficial special operations site: Brandon Webb — a former Navy SEAL — and Jack Murphy — a former Army Ranger and Green Beret. What’s unique about the report is its bipartisan appeal. Its fodder for those who would attack the State Department, the administration, and the CIA from both the right and the left. Sure enough, it’s caused ripples in Washington and garnered significant attention from the mainstream media.

To sum up, Webb and Murphy allege that the Benghazi terrorist attack, during which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was mounted by Islamist militants in retaliation for attacks on them by JSOC forces. Worse, the authors claim, neither Stevens nor CIA director David Petraeus knew about the raids, which were ordered by President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, who was acting outside the command structure.

Webb and Murphy also declare that Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell was leaked by the members of his personal protection detail in conjunction with members of the CIA who were unhappy with his emphasis on paramilitary activities over traditional espionage.

About Brennan, Murphy told Human Events:

The Senate should not confirm him as the new director of the CIA and Brennan should not continue in public life. … “I think we need to let this guy go.”

Meanwhile, Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, writes:

… while the book is filled with juicy revelations that promise to shock even the most casual followers of counterintelligence gossip, government officials, including spokesmen for the National Security Council and Special Operations Command, dispute some of the key claims. … Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, declined to discuss specific missions, but said “all U.S. Special Operations Forces work inside the established military chain of command,” and wouldn’t “work in a foreign country without the knowledge and permission of the U.S. ambassador or chief of mission.”

The book also claims elements of the U.S. government either allowed or ran an operation to funnel weapons collected in Libya to Syria. The authors write, “[Ambassador] Stevens likely helped consolidate as many weapons as possible after the war to safeguard them, at which point Brennan exported them overseas to start another conflict.” … but Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, says there was no program to send weapons from Libya to Syria. “This has no basis in reality and is completely made up,” he says. Hillary Clinton also denied any knowledge of this when she was asked about it by Sen. Rand Paul during last month’s hearings on the Benghazi attack.

Hmm, two spokespersons, plus Hilary Clinton during a hearing: that’s all you’ve got, Eli? From the Human Events piece:

Because of the sensitivities involved, the authors double-source the claims in the book, he said. Many more stories were left out because there was no independent confirmation.

It all comes down to who you want to believe: the U.S. government or JSOC operatives past and present? In my case, it’s more personal — who do I want to believe: the U.S. government or my nephew? (By way of “full disclosure,” as they say, Jack Murphy is my wife’s sister’s son.)

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