It was a costly victory for the Palestinians, with at least fifteen people reported killed and dozens more seriously injured, as Israeli forces opened fire at demonstrators on the Gaza and Lebanon borders and failed to prevent people getting into the occupied Golan Heights area. There were more demonstrations in the West Bank.
It was a victory, because while the State of Israel and its supporters were officially celebrating its independence at the weekend, millions of people around the world were seeing Israeli troops trying to stop people returning to their country, and hearing the word Nakba - catastrophe, by which Palestinians designate the loss of their homeland, and mention of which the Israeli authorities have tried to ban in media and schools.
Yesterday, Israeli forces were conducting house to house searches in the Druze town of Majd el Shams in the Golan amid reports that hundreds of infiltrators had got through the unrecognised "border" there and were still around. (Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan from Syria without international agreement). One man gave himself up to Israeli police after saying he had caught a bus to Tel Aviv, in the company of uniformed soldiers, and gone to visit his father's old house which the family had to leave in 1948.
Israeli officers were facing questions as to how they failed to anticipate the Palestinian mass action, or prevent the successful infiltration. "Israeli leaders believe that the simultaneous appearance of thousands of civilians marching towards three sensitive borders in different parts of the country suggested a co-ordinated campaign", reports Matthew Kalman in The Independent.
This brings to mind the observation attributed to Groucho Marx that "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms".
The upsurge in mass struggle was heralded by the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, itself a response to popular demand particularly from younger Palestinians who are impatient to take their place in the "Arab Spring". The idea of an unarmed march to the borders was discussed and planned in publications and on Facebook. The May 15 anniversary of the Israeli state's declaration was an obvious date for timing the action. As is the prospect of even bigger action in September, when the Palestinians intend to make the long overdue proclamation of their own state and expect international recognition.
Acknowledging that Sunday's events were "not good", Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of Israel's armed forces, praised his troops for not inflicting higher casualties in what rapidly developed into an impossible situation.
Alex Fishman, a commentator at the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, said: "What we witnessed yesterday on the Syrian border was a failure." He warned of "more attempted mass marches into Israeli territory... Marches and flotillas to implement the right of return will gather more and more momentum."
"The state of Israel has a systemic problem," Mr Fishman said. "Except for deterrence, it has no means to prevent tens and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – who succeed in getting organised and in realising the dream of return with their own feet – from breaking across its borders."
What both Palestinians and historically-minded Israelis know is that sixty-five years ago it was British forces that were the bad guys as they tried to prevent shiploads of Jews disembarking on the shores of Palestine in another "co-ordinated campaign". The Brits had law and the force of the British Empire behind them, but within a year they were on their way out of Palestine. The Israeli state is not going to go sailing away. But it will sooner or later be forced to make room for a Palestinian state and recognise the rights of the Palestinians. Prolonging the agony by refusing to recognise this only increases misery and bloodshed on both sides, even if it is the Palestinians who are suffering most of them.
Still Public Enemy
For now, the Israeli government with typical chutzpah intends to answer complaints filed at the UN with its own complaints against both Lebanon and Syria. It feels encouraged to adopt this stance because, unlike the British in the 1940s, it can still count for now on support from Washington." The White House on Monday accused Syria of inciting deadly border clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators, saying Damascus was trying to distract attention from its own violent crackdown on protests. White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed regret for the loss of life in confrontations on Israel's frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday but said Israel "has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders."
"We urge maximum restraint on all sides," Carney told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to Tennessee. Israeli troops opened fire at three separate border locations to prevent crowds of demonstrators from crossing, killing at least 13 people.
Syrian media reports said Israeli gunfire killed two people after dozens of Palestinians infiltrated the Golan Heights from Syria, along a front line that has been largely tranquil for decadeshe White House put the onus on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the violence that broke out on the Israeli-Syrian border. Carney said the administration was "strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights."
"Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country," he said. "It seems apparent to us that this is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protest by the Syrian people, and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people," he added.
But with the upheavals taking place in the Arab world, expressed also in the Palestinian upsurge and pressure on leaders to show unity, America may have to decide before long whether it can really afford to keep indulging Israeli leaders' intransigance.
...With Private Army
MEANWHILE in another part of the Middle East, as Mark Mazzetti and Emily B.Hager have reported in the New York Times,
a notorious American figure has reappeared
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.
The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.
In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.
The United Arab Emirates — an autocracy with the sheen of a progressive, modern state — are closely allied with the United States, and American officials indicated that the battalion program had some support in Washington.
“The Gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” said one Obama administration official who knew of the operation. “They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”
(It is not clear whether the US government wants to be officially associated with Blackwater's mercenaries. There are supposed to be restrictions on US companies training foreign nationals. Blackwater, now R2, has been paying fines for its activities in Jordan. But perhaps it is handy to have a US force for which the Obama administration does not feel obliged to answer to the UN or Congress).
For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, obtained another multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string of planned nuclear power plants and to provide cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more, the former employees said, by assembling additional battalions of Latin American troops for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex where his company can train troops for other governments.
Knowing that his ventures are magnets for controversy, Mr. Prince has masked his involvement with the mercenary battalion. His name is not included on contracts and most other corporate documents, and company insiders have at times tried to hide his identity by referring to him by the code name “Kingfish.” But three former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements, and two people involved in security contracting described Mr. Prince’s central role.
The former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims. Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.
Mr. Prince made the deal with Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The two men had known each other for several years, and it was the prince’s idea to build a foreign commando force for his country.
Savvy and pro-Western, the prince was educated at the Sandhurst military academy in Britain and formed close ties with American military officials. He is also one of the region’s staunchest hawks on Iran and is skeptical that his giant neighbor across the Strait of Hormuz will give up its nuclear program.
“He sees the logic of war dominating the region, and this thinking explains his near-obsessive efforts to build up his armed forces,” said a November 2009 cable from the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi that was obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
For Mr. Prince, a 41-year-old former member of the Navy Seals, the battalion was an opportunity to turn vision into reality. At Blackwater, which had collected billions of dollars in security contracts from the United States government, he had hoped to build an army for hire that could be deployed to crisis zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He even had proposed that the Central Intelligence Agency use his company for special operations missions around the globe, but to no avail. In Abu Dhabi, which he praised in an Emirati newspaper interview last year for its “pro-business” climate, he got another chance.
People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.
(my emphasis - Charlie Pottins)
An Eye on Iran
Although there was no expectation that the mercenary troops would be used for a stealth attack on Iran, Emirati officials talked of using them for a possible maritime and air assault to reclaim a chain of islands, mostly uninhabited, in the Persian Gulf that are the subject of a dispute between Iran and the U.A.E., the former employees said. Iran has sent military forces to at least one of the islands, Abu Musa, and Emirati officials have long been eager to retake the islands and tap their potential oil reserves.
The Emirates have a small military that includes army, air force and naval units as well as a small special operations contingent, which served in Afghanistan, but over all, their forces are considered inexperienced.
In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.
Some security consultants believe that Mr. Prince’s efforts to bolster the Emirates’ defenses against an Iranian threat might yield some benefits for the American government, which shares the U.A.E.’s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region.
“As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in the U.A.E.,” said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2’s work.
Labels: America, Israel, Mercenaries, Middle East, Palestinians, Police and terror