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The English Riots According to Russell Brand

Russell Brand

The object of this post is to determine how many readers’ heads will explode in response to an item that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin.

The British actor/writer Russell Brand, who is either — depending on your taste — a comedic genius or an insufferable git (or possibly both), has written an editorial for the Guardian in which he tries to come to grips with the violence convulsing English cities. As you’ll see, it contrasts somewhat with the Peter Hitchens piece I cited yesterday.

Brand is a self-confessed ex-lout, so he brings an insider’s perspective to the spectacle of young people wantonly trashing their own communities. More than that, the piece is striking for the absolute confidence it conveys in the left’s enduring dominion over the ideas of love, compassion, and generosity of spirit.  There’s an analogy to be drawn to American politics — the received stereotypes of the Democrat as inclusive, tolerant beacon of kindness and the Republican as narrow-eyed, business-suited, other-bashing Scrooge — but the Brand and Hitchens pieces are most useful for the joint portrait they present of the two poles of British political culture. Summed up, Brand’s prescription for the unrest is love the lads more. Hitchens would likely prefer that they receive six of the best bending over a chair.

Hit it, Russ:

I should here admit that I have been arrested for criminal damage for my part in anti-capitalist protest earlier in this decade. I often attended protests and then, in my early 20s, and on drugs, I enjoyed it when the protests lost direction and became chaotic, hostile even. I was intrigued by the anarchist “Black bloc”, hooded and masked, as, in retrospect, was their agenda, but was more viscerally affected by the football “casuals” who’d turn up because the veneer of the protest’s idealistic objective gave them the perfect opportunity to wreck stuff and have a row with the Old Bill.

That was never my cup of tea though. For one thing, policemen are generally pretty good fighters and second, it registered that the accent they shouted at me with was closer to my own than that of some of those singing about the red flag making the wall of plastic shields between us seem thinner.

I found those protests exciting, yes, because I was young and a bit of a twerp but also, I suppose, because there was a void in me. A lack of direction, a sense that I was not invested in the dominant culture, that government existed not to look after the interests of the people it was elected to represent but the big businesses that they were in bed with.

I felt that, and I had a mum who loved me, a dad who told me that nothing was beyond my reach, an education, a grant from Essex council (to train as an actor of all things!!!) and several charities that gave me money for maintenance. I shudder to think how disenfranchised I would have felt if I had been deprived of that long list of privileges.

That state of deprivation though is, of course, the condition that many of those rioting endure as their unbending reality. No education, a weakened family unit, no money and no way of getting any. JD Sports is probably easier to desecrate if you can’t afford what’s in there and the few poorly paid jobs there are taken. Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their [expletive deleted] hoods up.

These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.

If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

As you have by now surely noticed, I don’t know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know, the solution is all around us and it isn’t political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posses. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.

Israeli Protest Reality Check

I had the pleasure this weekend of listening to the most recent edition of The Young Guns, one of Ricochet’s podcasts. Interesting as it was, it contained one jarring note: a reference, unchallenged as I recall by any of the participants, to “rioting” in Israel.

posted on the Israeli housing protests last week. One of my objects, aside from explaining in general terms what prompted the protests, was to point out their remarkably peaceful quality, despite the seriousness of the demands being made and the persistence of the tent city spectacle on town squares across the country.

If there is a perception abroad that what’s going on here is not peaceful protest, but rioting (with all the imagery that that term entails, particularly now), we need a reality check. (In passing, I’d like to know which, if any, news outlets are explicitly portraying our protests as riots. To do so would be a misrepresentation that would say a great deal more about the reporter than the reported.)

For the record: Israelis are not rioting. With the sole exception of some anger that erupted at the Jesse Cohen tent city in Holon, the protests have all been peaceful. The Holon protest, which was undertaken by members of a genuine underclass rather than by the middle-class strivers who make up most of the other protesters, may or may not be a harbinger of greater agitation to come. As of this writing, however, it’s a wild distortion to portray the whole protest movement — which has been overwhelmingly peaceful — through the prism of Holon.

Sol Stern has an excellent piece in City Journal that should give you a more accurate picture of the reality here. I commend the whole article to you, but here is a snippet:

What makes this protest movement unique is that it was spawned not by economic failure but by Israel’s extraordinary economic success over the past decade. Despite a huge defense burden (7.5 percent of GDP, compared with 4 percent for the United States), Israel came through the worldwide recession that began in late 2008 in better shape than almost any other Western industrialized nation. Last year, Israel enjoyed an amazing 5.6 percent increase in GDP, as well as a 5.4 percent unemployment rate that would be the envy of the Obama administration and almost every country in Europe. In any fair accounting, this economic success story would be at least partly credited to the policies of the Netanyahu government and particularly to the chairman of the Bank of Israel, the brilliant American economist Stanley Fisher.

Yet it is just as fair to note that the country’s spectacular economic growth, built largely on added-value exports and a high-tech boom, has left many Israelis behind. This is glaringly evident in Tel Aviv, bursting at the seams with new luxury buildings, renovated and gentrified neighborhoods, a thriving tourist industry, and a reputation as one of the word’s great “fun cities.” The unprecedented increase in the value and price of housing has occurred at the same time that an ever-increasing number of young Israelis want to live in Tel Aviv and won’t settle for anything less. Since the law of supply and demand is unforgiving, this has led to astronomically higher rents for those young people. This is the ground on which Daphne Leef and her generation met the housing crunch and took to the boulevards. Their pressure on the Netanyahu government to expand the supply of housing and break up the extractive monopolies (such as the dairy producers) is not only legitimate; it could also help Israel become even more of an economic and political miracle…

Contrary to [columnist Gideon] Levy and his faux-revolutionary colleagues at Haaretz, the demonstrations actually proved how deep and stable the roots of Israel’s capitalist democracy are. I spent several evenings on the boulevards with the tent dwellers and among the massive crowds on the Saturday-night marches. I was amazed at their gentle yet serious demeanor. On one Friday night on Nordau Boulevard, the protesters set up tables for the traditional Israeli Sabbath dinner, complete with wine and challah and long debates about the situation.

All this reminded me of a phrase from the 1960s, “Democracy is in the streets,” which was also the title of James Miller’s book about Students for a Democratic Society. I attended many of those sixties demonstrations, and I recall that almost every one of them ended with one form of violence or another. I also remember the hatred that many self-righteous New Left demonstrators felt for ordinary Americans. By contrast, here on the streets of Tel Aviv, with almost no police visible, there was not a single reported violent incident. The middle-class demonstrators really did conduct themselves like participants at an open-air Athenian forum.

Peter Hitchens Has the Solution

 

Peter Hitchens, brother of Christopher, is not mincing words about the mayhem in Britain. Here he is in the Mail Online. I’m curious to know to what extent his program appeals to you. A rant too far, or just what you were thinking?

 

Say to [PM David Cameron] that naughty children should be smacked at home and caned in school, that the police (and responsible adults) should be free to wallop louts and vandals caught in the act, that the police should return to preventive foot patrols, that prisons should be austere places of hard work, plain food and discipline without TV sets or semi-licit drugs, and that wrongdoers should be sent to them when they first take to crime, not when they are already habitual crooks, and he will throw up his well-tailored arms in horror at your barbarity.

Say to him that divorce should be made very difficult and that the state should be energetically in favour of stable, married families with fathers (and cease forthwith to subsidise families without fathers) and he will smirk patronisingly and regard you as a pitiable lunatic.

Say to him that mass immigration should be stopped and reversed, and that those who refuse any of the huge number of jobs which are then available should be denied benefits of any kind, and he will gibber in shock.

Yet he is ready to authorise the use of water cannon and plastic bullets on our streets (quite useless,  as it happens, against this sort of outbreak) as if we were a Third World despotism.

Water cannon and plastic bullets indeed. What an utter admission of failure, that after 50 years of the most lavish welfare state in the solar system, you cannot govern your country without soaking the citizenry in cold water and bombarding them with missiles from a safe distance. Except, of course, that it is because of the welfare system that this is so.


More Than 300,000 Take to Streets to Protest High Cost of Living in Israel

photo by Ariel Schalit, TimesOnlineOn Saturday night, a tide of popular frustration over the ever-rising cost of living in Israel culminated in an enormous protest, with over 300,000 people taking to the streets. Most of the protesters were in Tel Aviv, where the movement originated, but Israelis also marched in Jerusalem, Modiin, Hod Hasharon, Kiryat Shmona, Eilat, Ashkelon, and Dimona.

“We are not talking about a change of personnel at the top, we don’t care about that,” National Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli told the crowd in Tel Aviv. “We’re not demanding a change to the ruling coalition, we’re demanding human economic policy that doesn’t destroy people, that can see people’s distress and that doesn’t only crunch the numbers. We’re no longer embarrassed to say it’s hard for us. We want a home to live in without being enslaved to it our entire lives. We want to work a decent job for a fair wage.”

This movement, which is three weeks old, is notably peaceful, at least so far. Little tent cities have sprung up in town squares around the country (mine included). Grievances are aired on hand-drawn posters. Children are at every protest, in strollers and on shoulders. Acoustic guitars are abundant.

As serious as the protesters’ grievances are, there’s an unmistakable quality of joyfulness to the movement. The sense of common purpose might hearken back somewhere in people’s minds to the country’s earlier days, when unification over matters of social justice was championed without irony. It might just as easily bespeak a general delight at a collective opportunity to (verbally) trash the government, which is every Israeli’s favorite pastime.

There’s chanting, there’s marching, there’s gathering in large numbers. What there hasn’t been (yet) is firebombs, or looting, or clashes among protesters, or between protesters and police. This has been a strikingly civil example of civil disobedience.

photo by Linda Epstein, the Jerusalem Post

That is not to say that the protesters are not angry. They are. The protests started when a group of young people, fed up with being priced out of Tel Aviv, pitched tents on Rothschild Boulevard, a leafy, elegant street lined by swanky bars, wonderful restaurants (I took Claire out for a spectacular Japanese meal on Rothschild last March) and lovely apartment buildings. That protest happened to coincide with wider popular outrage over the inexplicably jacked-up price of cottage cheese, and the movement quickly gathered steam. Its organizers are now talking about getting a million Israelis out in the streets, across the length and breadth of the country, on September 3.

(It is perhaps fitting that while the American metaphorical edible is tea, the Israeli metaphorical edible is a plumpifying dairy product. Israelis might have morphed the stereotypical image of the Jew from a pale, physically weak, over-educated, hyper-articulate guy with a preternatural gift for math and physics into a tanned, surfing, tattoo-sporting, board-shorts-wearing guy with a preternatural gift for math and physics. But he’s still not going to tolerate any messing with the cottage cheese.)

The Tel Aviv stock market took it in the teeth, plunging 7% yesterday on the double whammy of domestic revolutionary rumblings and the body blow just dealt to Israel’s American ally by Standard and Poors. Bibi’s government, which was slow on the uptake as the popular movement was gaining strength, is now scrambling to construct a committee. Bibi, who is all about free markets and privatization (he is nobody’s idea of a poster boy for a welfare state), said the goals of the new committee would be: “One, a change in priorities, with the goal of easing the economic burdens on Israel’s citizens. Two, a change in the mix of tax payments. Three, expanding access to social services. Four, increasing competition and efficiency in the goods and services markets, with the goal of reducing prices. Five, implementing the housing plan we’ve already launched. The panel’s recommendations will reflect the need to maintain fiscal responsibility in the state budget. Such responsibility is especially necessary at a time of economic uncertainty.”

Sounds good. Only there’s already a snag: yesterday, the cabinet deferred a vote on opening up the dairy markets to foreign competition.

Uh oh.

Israeli Natural Gas: Midsummer Update

explosion at natural gas pipeline in El-Arish. AP photo

1. Egypt-to-Israel gas pipeline attacked again as Sinai descends into chaos. Yesterday, the pipeline in the northern Sinai that brings natural gas from Egypt to Israel was attacked for the third time this month and the fifth time since the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak. Gunmen approached the pipeline in two trucks, used rocket-propelled grenades to punch a hole in it, then drove off as Egyptian troops approached. There were no casualties. The attack further delays the resumption of supply to Israel following the last attack on July 12.

“According to the partial information we have, this explosion only affects the export of Egyptian gas to Israel,” said Amit Mor, CEO and energy specialist at the Eco Energy consulting firm. “It was directed against Israel and will not affect future supplies of gas to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon…I think the major consumers and government all have given up on the supply of Egyptian gas to Israel…. The resumption of the full contractual obligation of gas supply to Israel can be used as a test-case of the Egyptian government to maintain its international obligations vis-a-vis foreign direct investments in Egypt on the one hand, and its future relations with Israel on the other.”

The cut-off of Egyptian natural gas implies higher short-term electricity prices for Israelis and greater urgency with regard to the development of Israel’s natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean. The repeated acts of sabotage also reflect an increasingly chaotic state of affairs in the Sinai Peninsula, which threatens not only the safety of the Sinai’s residents but also suggests the potential for an arms smuggling free-for-all across the Sinai-Gaza border.

The Egyptian army is being more and more brazenly confronted in the area. The day before the pipeline attack, about a hundred masked, armed men on motorcycles and in cars swarmed el-Arish waving Islamist flags and shouting slogans, eventually attacking the police station. In the shootout that resulted, an Egyptian army officer and three civilian bystanders, ages 13, 17 and 70, were killed. Nineteen more people were wounded, including four officers.

photo - Noble Energy

2. More gas found at Tamar. A new, deeper layer of natural gas has been discovered in the Tamar field, according to a report by Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration. (Delek holds 15.6% of Tamar in a consortium led by Houston’s Noble Energy.) The new reserve, Layer D, is underneath Tamar 3 and is believed to be 25 meters wide.  The full proportions of the reserve are not yet known. Without it, Tamar is estimated to contain 9.1 tcf of gas.

Tamar is expected to begin to supply Israel with natural gas in 2013.

3. Another source of natural gas off Israel’s coast? Natural gas seeps have been found in shallow water (40-50 meters deep) about ten kilometers off the coast near Tel Aviv, Acco and Ashdod. (The Leviathan natural gas field, in contrast, is 5,200 meters below the seabed at a water depth of 1,680 meters.) The seeps are said to have the potential to dwarf the huge discovery at Leviathan, but it is not yet clear whether it will be possible to extract the resource.

Haifa University researchers haven’t found the source of the seeps, but suspect that they come from hydrates, which are methane molecules trapped in ice under the seabed. (The Leviathan and Tamar resources are in rock, not ice.) The gas seeps were discovered through seismic tests and have “set off quite a noise in academic circles,” according to Haaretz. Geophysicist Yitzhak Makovsky of Haifa University’s Leon Charney School of Marine Sciences claims that “[t]he reserves of hydrates are several magnitudes greater than the proved gas discoveries.”

The seeps are interesting not only for their potential as a gas resource but also for what they suggest about future construction projects. Noble and Delek will need to build a pipeline on a stable seabed to connect their natural gas platform to shore. As Makovsky points out, the seeps might indicate seabed areas that are too porous to support such a pipeline. Haaretz adds, “The gas seep findings are also intriguing for entrepreneurs who envision the building of artificial islands off Israel’s shore. Again, they need to be sure that any building would be done on stable seabed. Such an artificial island is planned off Herzliya, to house an international airport.”

4. Hezbollah grows more bellicose over maritime border with Israel. See my post of July 21 for more on this.

Hamas Bigwig: Palestinian Statehood Bid a “Scam”

Mahmoud al-Zahar

You’ll recall that Hamas joined forces with its political enemy the Palestinian Authority in May, although they have yet to form a government. Word was that the stumbling block was the PA’s insistence on retaining Salam Fayyad as prime minister, a choice Hamas flatly rejects. But that’s the least of it.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a prominent Hamas figure in Gaza, has publicly denounced the PA’s plan to declare statehood at the UN, together with its implied acceptance of the right of Israel to continue to exist beside it:

Just nonsense….a political scam…We are not going to recognize Israel. That is very simple. And we are not going to accept Israel as the owner of one square centimeter because it is a fabricated state.

As I’ve said many times before, I never feel more secure than when our enemies speak the absolute truth about their beliefs. Keep talking, Mahmoud. Not enough people are listening.

Amateur Hour: Herman Cain Apologizes to Muslim Brotherhood Imam

Ryan Mauro reports at Pajamas Media that Herman Cain, still smarting from the backlash over his declaration that Americans should have the right to oppose the construction of mosques, has since visited a mosque and had so heartwarming an experience there that he has apologized. Trouble is, the leader of the mosque — and Cain’s guide on the tour — is Muslim Brotherhood.

Cain visited the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) of Sterling, Virginia, which is led by Imam Mohamed Magid. Magid is president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which is a Brotherhood branch. The Brotherhood is, of course, all about the imposition of sharia law. This doesn’t seem to square with Cain’s stance as an opponent of sharia, but not to worry. Cain’s okay with that.

Here is the text of Cain’s statement following the visit:

I would like to thank Imam Mohamed Magid and the ADAMS Center for extending their hospitality to me this afternoon. We enjoyed heartfelt fellowship and thoughtful dialogue about how patriotic Americans of all faiths can work together to restore the American Dream.

While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists.

I am encouraged by the bonds of friendship forged today at our meeting, and I look forward to continuing this very healthy dialogue. The relationship we established was so positive that the Imam has invited me back to speak to not only some of their youth, but also at one of their worship services.

Does this guy have a staff? Did anybody do any vetting at all? Did he have a clue who he was dealing with?

As Mauro points out, ISNA, the organization run by Cain’s new friend Magid, is “listed as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the Holy Land Foundation trial. The HLF had been found guilty of being a front for Hamas set up by the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Brotherhood itself includes ISNA on a list of its front organizations.

Magid’s predecessor at ISNA, Muzammil Siddiqi, is a vocal advocate of the imposition of sharia “in all areas.” He’s still on ISNA’s governing board. (Needless to say, Siddiqi is not a friend of the state of Israel. As he put it, “we shall be celebrating insh’allah the coming of Jersualem and the whole land of Palestine insh’allah and the establishment of the Islamic State throughout the area.”)

But that’s ISNA, you may be thinking. Perhaps ADAMS is as committed to the American concepts of pluralism, equal rights, and liberal democracy as you are. Maybe the mosque represents not Magid’s stealth pulpit but his shift toward the values that American culture actually represents.

Except that in 2008, ADAMS hosted speaker Luqman Abdullah at a fundraiser. Abdullah — an African-American formerly known as Christopher Thomas — led a group called “Ummah,” an organization identified by the US Attorney’s office as “a brotherhood that seeks to establish a separate state within the U.S. that would be ruled by strict Islamic or Sharia law.” According to the federal affidavit, Abdullah encouraged his followers to embark on “an offensive jihad, rather than a defense jihad. He regularly preaches anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric.” He was also considered a “person of interest” by the FBI “for espousing the use of violence against law enforcement.” (Abdullah is no longer with us: he opened fire on FBI agents who came to arrest him on October 28, 2009 and was killed in the ensuing firefight. Mauro notes that CAIR, like ISNA a Brotherhood affiliate, was quick to denounce the FBI for the killing.)

Anyway. This business reminds me of Cain’s stumbling over the issue of the Palestinian right of return. (As Greg Gutfeld pointed out at the time, if you’re thinking the right of return has anything to do with Nordstrom’s, you’re probably not ready for prime time.) This guy appears to be a random politician with delusions of grandeur who has waded blithely into the spotlight without a clue about even the most basic details of matters concerning both foreign policy and national security. I understand he’s a long shot, but it hardly burnishes the Republican escutcheon to have a blundering naif repeatedly drawing the national eye.

The Republican field is focused primarily on the domestic economic agenda, which is of course understandable. But anyone purporting to contend for the highest office in the land needs to have at least a few toes in the reality of the wider world — to have some degree of awareness of the issues, at the very least. Particularly in areas where foreign and domestic policy intersect, like the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its goals regarding the global imposition of sharia.

This performance by Cain is real bush league stuff. It also confirms the suspicions — and the hopes — of many of the enemies of the US about the kinds of people who appeal to the American electorate, particularly at a historical moment when the bloom is off the rose of the alleged statesman in the White House.

I know, I know. Cain is just chaff. Where’s the wheat?

Why Hezbollah Is Bombing UN Peacekeepers

Yesterday afternoon, near the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, a roadside bomb was detonated beside a four-vehicle UN troop convoy. Six French UN peacekeepers were injured, echoing a similar attack in May at almost exactly the same spot that injured six Italian peacekeepers.

UNIFIL was expanded in 2006 as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which marked the conclusion of the Israel-Hezbollah war. Approximately 12,000 peacekeepers work with 15,000 Lebanese soldiers in south Lebanon to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah. Hezbollah has had little difficulty circumventing UNIFIL and the LAF over the five-year interim since the war and has resupplied itself well beyond its original armaments level.

Israeli defense officials say that the violence now being directed toward UNIFIL personnel reflects Hezbollah’s anxiety over the possible revision of the terms of UNIFIL’s mandate, which is due for renewal in August. As the Jerusalem Post notes, Israel has been trying for some time to convince UNIFIL participant countries to get the UN to broaden the force’s rules of engagement. What Israel has in mind is for UNIFIL to have the ability to search Lebanese villages without prior coordination with the Lebanese army.

This is not as threatening to Hezbollah as it sounds, since any such UN directive would not come into effect until it was approved by the Lebanese government — a government now controlled, for the most part, by Hezbollah. Still, the prospect is alarming enough to have prompted Hezbollah to up the ante with direct intimidation. Italy has begun to “look into” reducing its UNIFIL contingent; no word yet on the French response to yesterday’s attack.

The defense department interpretation makes perfect sense, but there’s a wider context to consider as well. First, Hezbollah — which very much wants the UN indictments of four Hezbollah members for Rafik Hariri’s assassination to go away — is reminding the UN how ugly they can get when they choose. Second, Hezbollah wants to cow the UN into accepting its version of the maritime border with Israel, which will have huge consequences as far as the natural gas deposits are concerned and over which the rhetoric has been getting more and more heated. And third, Hezbollah is doing some biceps flexing on behalf of its Iranian sponsor, which has been busy of late threatening both the US and Turkey over their positions on Syria. Hezbollah is one of the long arms of Teheran, which is capable not only of helping Assad slaughter Syrian citizens but of exploding UNIFIL convoys in Sidon, should it deem such a tactic expedient.

DEA Nabs Hezbollah and Taliban Operatives for Drug and Arms Trafficking

 

Taliban fighter guards poppy field - AP photo

Sting operations by the US Drug Enforcement Administration have netted individuals connected with Hezbollah and the Taliban on charges of drug trafficking and terrorism, according to information unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. The operations were designed to locate and break the link between international terrorism and the drug trade — a “growing nexus” that represents “a clear and present danger to our national security,” according to US Attorney Preet Bharara. The sale of drugs, usually heroin, is alleged to provide the financing required to buy military-grade weaponry for the terrorist organizations.

According to the ABC report on the stings, they are “part of an aggressive expansion of [the DEA’s] drug enforcement mission that has enabled federal prosecutors to successful [sic] make arms cases that otherwise may not have been brought into the U.S.” They are the next in a series following the arrest in March of international arms dealer Viktor Bout in Thailand. Bout is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, conspiracy to kill U.S. officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile, and conspiracy to provide material support to FARC, a designated terrorist group.

In June 2010, a series of meetings began between undercover DEA operatives posing as “high grade weapons dealers” and Iranian drug trafficker Siavosh Henareh, 53, otherwise known as “The Doctor.” The meetings took place in Turkey, Romania and Greece. As the relationship deepened, Henareh agreed to ship hundreds of kilos of heroin into the United States.

The Henareh connection led the agents to 29-year-old Lebanese national Bachar Wehbe and Cetin Aksu, a Turkish Kurd. Over the course of meetings in Romania, Cyprus, Malaysia and elsewhere, Wehbe and Aksu agreed to buy military-grade arms from the agents on behalf of Hezbollah. The orders included Stinger and Igla surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s, M4 assault rifles, and ammunition. “In this conspiracy, you have heroin and you have guns and he [Wehbe] was doing a deal to get the money back to Hezbollah,” Derek Maltz, DEA Special Agent in Charge of Special Operations Division, said. “He signed a contract to bring these massive amounts of weapons to Hezbollah.”

In a separate operation, an undercover DEA officer posing as a member of the Taliban in Kandahar established a relationship with Taza Gul Alizai, a 48-year-old Afghan drug and arms dealer. Over the course of two years, Gul sold heroin to the officer and attempted to sell him assault rifles. According to Bharara’s statement, Gul and the agent discussed the fact that the heroin was destined for the U.S. market and that proceeds from its sale would go to the Taliban, together with the weapons.

Henareh and Aksu were arrested in Bucharest two days ago, in coordination with Romanian authorities. On the same day, Wehbe and Gul were detained in the Maldives “pursuant to a notice issued by Interpol” and sent to the States. Henareh, Aksu and Wehbe have been charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Aksu and Wehbe are also charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti- aircraft missiles, which carries a minimum penalty of 25 years in prison.

Gul, meanwhile, has been charged with conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism, engaging in narco-terrorism, conspiracy to distribute heroin, and distribution of heroin. Each charge carries a maximum life sentence.

Henareh and Aksu are still in Romania awaiting extradition. Wehbe and Gul pleaded not guilty yesterday in New York and are being held without bail.


Natural Gas Dispute: Hezbollah, Feeling UN Pinch, Comes Out Swinging On Maritime Border With Israel

Lebanese MP Muhammad Raad, of the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc (i.e., the Hezbollah party), said yesterday that “rockets of the resistance will cover all of Israel. Even the city of Eilat won’t be spared” if Israel dares attack Lebanon over the natural gas border dispute. In the next breath, he demanded that all funding and cooperation stop with the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which has handed down four indictments and arrest warrants against Hezbollah members for their role in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. (According to Matthew Levitt, counterterrorism and intelligence director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the indictments include Mustafa Badreddine, cousin and brother-in-law to Imad Mughniyah, who was chief of the Hezbollah external operations branch known as the Islamic Jihad Organization. This is far too close for Hezbollah’s comfort.)

The Tribunal and the row over natural gas exploration rights are closely linked. The more cornered Hezbollah feels by the Tribunal, the more bellicose it will become over Lebanon’s trumped-up maritime dispute with Israel — particularly at a time when Hezbollah’s Syrian patron and supplier is hanging on by his fingernails. The clash over the maritime border offers Hezbollah exactly the cover it needs to consolidate its increasingly shaky position: by “defending” Lebanon’s natural gas claims (which are themselves a hostile and aggressive act against Israel), the group can continue to purport that it acts in Lebanon’s interests and as “resistance” against the Zionist state — which, lest any Lebanese forget, remains the ultimate enemy.

A year ago, before the gigantic Leviathan discovery had been made by Houston’s Noble Energy and Netanya’s Delek under the seabed off the Haifa coast, Lebanon proclaimed to the UN that it had decided its maritime border with Israel. Lebanon and Israel have been in a state of war since Israel’s founding, and Israel — continuing a policy of studied disregard concerning the maritime border — elected not to respond to Lebanon’s unilateral declaration.

Then came the Leviathan discovery at the end of last year and Israel’s subsequent explorations of the area. On July 9, as noted by Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Lebanese paper published two front-page stories: one accusing Israel of stealing its natural resources, and the other asserting that Lebanon will fight to defend them.

The day after those pieces appeared, Israel — now concerned that silence in the face of Lebanon’s earlier border declaration might ultimately be viewed as acquiescence — announced that it would be submitting its own claim to the UN detailing what it believes the maritime border with Lebanon to be. Israel claims that the line unilaterally declared by Lebanon encroaches on Israeli territory. The Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructuresmap, which shows Israel’s recent government petroleum leases and licenses, implies a border that extends to the northwest, an approach consistent with the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Lebanese claim that the border should extend in a straight line due west from the spot at the coast where the countries meet, an assertion that contradicts the terms of that treaty.

The Washington Institute’s Henderson explains the Law of the Sea as it pertains to this region thus:

The main Law of the Sea principle by which maritime borders are drawn between two adjacent coastal states is the notion of “baselines,” or straight lines that run along the coast. Once this principle is applied, the border is drawn equidistantly from points along the coasts. In the case of Israel and Lebanon, this approach produces a border extending from the coast at approximately 300 degrees, or slightly below northwest. Although Lebanon has not revealed its official view, an Israeli newspaper has produced a map claiming the Lebanese line runs at 292 degrees. Arab media reports seem to suggest the line’s bearing should be 270 degrees — that is, directly west, continuing the rough line of the assumed land border between the two countries…

In Israel’s potential favor, a line of small reefs and rocky islands (viewable on Google Earth) lies several hundred yards offshore between the northern Israeli city of Nahariya and Ras Naqoura/Rosh Hanikra. According to Law of the Sea conventions, such islands could be considered the baseline for calculating the maritime border. If so, this would shift Israel’s EEZ [exclusive economic zone] even further northwest into what Lebanon currently regards as its own waters.

Henderson also notes that neither Israel nor Lebanon has signed the Law of the Sea treaty, so how this will end up is anyone’s guess.

Now, the Lebanese claim is highly suspect right out of the gate, since it contradicts Lebanon’s own (agreed-upon but not ratified) maritime border with Cyprus. It is thus unlikely to withstand close scrutiny should it be submitted to the UN for arbitration.   Still, nothing is certain, particularly as UN arbitration in disputes between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not guaranteed to be a shining example of unalloyed impartiality.

Hezbollah is talking tough, but hasn’t dusted off its long-range rockets just yet. Right now, it is enjoying an unusual congruence between its rhetorical line and that of its enemy, the party of Sa’ad Hariri (no doubt particularly welcome at a time when Hariri’s outrage over the Tribunal indictments is bubbling over). Yesterday, Lebanese MP Mohammad Qabbani — member of Hariri’s Future bloc and head of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee – threatened to complain to the UN Security Council over Israel’s “aggression” regarding the border dispute. According to Qabbani, Israel’s natural gas explorations “threaten international peace and security” and thus warrant full-on extortion until such time as she will yield to Lebanon’s territorial demands. “Following this move [the complaint at the Security Council],” he said, “and even if Israel does not abide by the UN resolution, large international [excavating and offshore drilling] companies will no more be able to operate in an area dubbed as disputed by the UN.”