Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Palestinians Riot Over Jewish Heritage Sites « Daily News

Moshe Dann – 2010-03-03

Last week saw an upsurge in Palestinian riots and attacks against Israeli vehicles in Gaza and the West Bank. What crime did Israel commit to invite the wave of violence? Israel's government simply announced that it intended to honor the country's heritage by including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem in a list of Israeli national "heritage" sites.

The violence-fueled Palestinian reaction may seem entirely disproportionate to Israel's offense. But a look at the historical background shows that it is not without grim precedent.

For several decades, Palestinians have been attacking Jewish worshipers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem, and the Tomb of Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Machpelah, in Hebron. After the Oslo and Hebron Agreements in the 1990's, attacks intensified.

To protect visitors to Rachel's Tomb, a fortified building was built around the tiny, 19th century building that had been built over the tomb. That wasn't enough, since getting to the building from the closest Israeli checkpoint, a few hundred meters away, exposed Jews to sniper fire and bombs from adjacent buildings along the road. A new road was built, therefore, surrounded by high cement walls.

Palestinian riots against the rights of Jews to visit holy and historic sites are nothing new. In Jericho and Gaza, ancient Jewish synagogues from the Talmudic period have been destroyed and are off limits to Jews.

In Shechem, Nablus , the site of Joseph's Tomb, was attacked by Palestinian mobs in 2000, fire-bombed and destroyed. A wounded Israeli soldier inside bled to death while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, negotiated with the Palestinian Authority.

On the Temple Mount , the Palestinians have been systematically destroying Jewish artifacts and antiquities from the Second Temple period.

Why is attacking and destroying Jewish heritage sites so popular among Palestinians?

Arabs claim their own heritage sites. Their claims go back about 1,300 years, when the Al-Aksa mosque and golden Dome of the Rock were built on the Temple Mount. These buildings exist today under Muslim authority (Wakf); Jews are prohibited by Israeli police from praying, carrying holy books, or ritual objects on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in deference to Muslim restrictions.

During the Muslim occupation of Israel, with the exception of about two centuries of Christian Crusader occupation, various public buildings, palaces, mosques and bridges were built. Remains of Crusader fortresses are popular tourist sites, along with Nabatean (pagan) sites in the Negev, many of which are UNESCO-designated.

All are part of the history and heritage of the Land of Israel. Except for their buildings on the Temple Mount, however, Muslims do not consider the Land of Israel, Judea and Samaria, Palestine, sacred in any way. During most of the Muslim occupation, these sites were neglected because they held little significance. The main focus, for Muslims, was Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia. Muslims do not make aliyah to Palestine.

Christians venerate holy sites in the Land of Israel, Palestine, but after visiting, or conquering, they went home. Their heritage was local, tribal, and familial. The Land of Israel was not part of their heritage. It was a heritage for Jews.

This explains why Palestinians are opposed to the designation of Jewish heritage sites. If it is important to Jews, what does that mean for Muslims? Indeed, what is their heritage?

Heritage is a legacy that connects generations; it's not politics, but history. For Palestinians, however, the two are entangled – which chokes off rationality.

It's not the Muslim significance of historical sites that inspires Palestinian riots; it's that Jews claim it at all. Equal access to historical and holy sites is considered an affront by Muslims, as it questions their exclusivity and authenticity.

Under Muslim rule, for example, Jews were denied entrance to Machpelah, since, if Muslims don't have exclusive control of the site, then no one else should, or will. Any attachment of Jews diminishes that of Muslims.

If you agree with muslim supremacy over Jewish heritage sites, there is no need to do anything. If you disagree, however, let your voices be heard. Silence is acquiescence.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11, 2010

Israeli supermarket parodies Dubai assassination in TV advert

Israeli actors mimic scenes in the surveillance footage from the Hamas assassination in Dubai for the supermarket commercial

(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli actors mimic scenes in the surveillance footage from the Hamas assassination in Dubai for the supermarket commercial

"Mossad mania" continued in Israel this week when a supermarket chain filmed a television commercial inspired by the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai.

The commercials for the Mahsaney Kimat Hinam (Almost Free Warehouse) chain shows actors carrying tennis rackets and wearing hats, glasses and wigs — the same disguises worn by the alleged killers in surveillance images released by Dubai police — as they make their way along store aisles.

The actors are seen through the supermarket security cameras surreptitiously slipping products into their shopping trolley. One actor wearing a tennis outfit browses the frozen food section while an actress wearing a wide-brimmed floppy hat mimics Israel's policy of neither confirming nor denying involvement in the assassination, saying she "couldn't admit to anything".

The advertisement even carries the slogans "Eliminate the prices" and "We offer killer prices".

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a founder of the military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza, was found dead in his room in the Al Bustan Rotana hotel near Dubai airport on January 20. Mr al-Mabhouh had been drugged and then suffocated.

Dubai police have released extensive surveillance camera footage which they say shows the team of 27 suspects from the hit squad they have linked to the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

Sefi Shaked, an advertising executive, said that the campaign was inspired by the footage released by Dubai police. He denied that the advertisement was in bad taste, saying that the company hoped to capitalise on the huge amount of media attention generated by the Dubai killing.

"It's a funny take of this event," Mr Shaked said. "We were fascinated by the technique of using surveillance cameras instead of high-production commercial cameras, and the latest events in Dubai gave us a great opportunity.

"All the Israeli television comedy shows have done it, so why shouldn't we?"

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in Mr al-Mabhouh's death. despite increasingly confident announcements by Dubai police that they have linked Mossad to the killing.

Last month The Times reported that Mossad has become popular again in Israel, with stores selling out of the agency's memorabilia and a growing number of people visiting its official website to get information on how to become agents.

Opticians also reported a rise in sales of the horn-rimmed glasses in the style worn by some of the suspects, while T-shirts with Mossad logos were also selling out in shops.

Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy director of the agency, declared that "Mossad has been restored to its glory days" .

On Monday the international police agency Interpol issued arrest notices for a further 16 suspects wanted by Dubai in connection with the killing, in addition to the 11 already issued.

Interpol said that the suspects had all travelled using other people's identities, including 12 British citizens, six Irish, four French, four Australian and one German who all had their passport details stolen and used in the assassination.

The supermarket commercials are expected to air in time for the Passover holiday season, which starts at the end of March.

A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing

Published: December 30, 2009

JERUSALEM — He can be impulsive. She has a touch of bossiness. Next-door neighbors for nearly a year, they talk, watch television and explore the world together, wandering into each other's homes without a second thought. She likes his mother's eggplant dish. He likes her father's rice and lamb.

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Angela Elizarov taught her son, Orel, the alphabet this month. Orel, 8, lost half his brain in a Hamas missile strike in Beersheba.

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Marya, a Palestinian, and Orel, an Israeli, are 8-year-old neighbors at Jerusalem's Alyn Hospital.

Friendship often starts with proximity, but Orel and Marya, both 8, have been thrust together in a way few elsewhere have. Their playground is a hospital corridor. He is an Israeli Jew severely wounded by a Hamas rocket. She is a Palestinian Muslim from Gaza paralyzed by an Israeli missile. Someone forgot to tell them that they are enemies.

"He's a naughty boy," Marya likes to say of Orel with an appreciative smile when he gets a little wild.

When Orel arrived here a year ago, he could not hear, see, talk or walk. Now he does them all haltingly. Half his brain is gone. Doctors were deeply pessimistic about his survival. Today they are amazed at his progress although unclear how much more can be made.

Marya's spinal cord was broken at the neck and she can move only her head. Smart, sunny and strong-willed, she moves her wheelchair by pushing a button with her chin. Nothing escapes her gaze. She knows that Orel is starting to prefer boys as playmates and she makes room. But their bond remains strong.

In a way, a friendship between two wounded children from opposing backgrounds is not that surprising. Neither understands the prolonged fight over land and identity that so divides people here. They are kids. They play.

But for those who have spent time in their presence at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, it is almost more powerful to observe their parents, who do understand. They have developed a kinship that defies national struggle.

"The wounds of our children, their pain, our pain, have connected us," noted Angela Elizarov, Orel's mother, one recent day as she sat on a bed in the room she shares with her son. Next door is Marya, her 6-year-old brother, Momen, and their father, Hamdi Aman. "Does it matter that he is from Gaza and I am from Beersheba, that he is an Arab and I am a Jew? It has no meaning to me. He sees my child and I see his child."

It was two weeks into Israel's Gaza war last January when Orel was hit. After days in a shelter his mother took him out in the car. As they drove around Beersheba, a siren blared, warning of an incoming rocket. She pushed Orel to the ground, lying protectively on him. When she heard the explosion in the distance, she rose in relief. A second rocket exploded and she saw her son's head bleeding profusely.

A surgical nurse, she flagged down a passing motorist who drove them to the hospital where she works.

"I saw his brain coming out, everything around me was burning, and I was not even scratched," she recalled. "When I got to the emergency room, I said to the doctor: 'You can't kid me. I know he has no chance of survival.' The doctor looked away. But after six operations, he is actually making some progress. God took my son from me, but he has given me another one. A year ago, he was the best in his class in sports, the best in math. Now he is learning to walk and talk."

Her husband, Avrel, who works with children, spends much of the week at home with their 18-month-old daughter but comes often. The couple, originally from Azerbaijan, had been childless for years, and Orel's birth, coaxed along by infertility treatments in Israel, seemed a miracle.

Their hospital neighbor, Mr. Aman, is a 32-year-old construction worker from Gaza who not only cares for his own two children but helps with Orel. He is regarded as a luminescent presence, an inspiration to staff, volunteers and fellow parents.

This is partly because the pain in his own story is hard to fathom.

More than three years ago, Mr. Aman and his uncle had split the cost of a car and, having paid for it two hours earlier, took it on the road. With them were Mr. Aman's wife, their three children and his mother.

Prowling above, an Israeli jet fighter on an assassination mission was seeking its target, a terrorist leader named Ahmad Dahduh. Two missiles were fired at Mr. Dahduh's car just as it passed Mr. Aman's, killing Mr. Aman's oldest son, wife and mother. Marya was thrown from the car.

(Page 2 of 2)

He and his children have been at Alyn Hospital, which specializes in young people with serious physical disabilities, for nearly the entire time since. The Israeli government, which brought him here for emergency help, wanted him and his children either to return to Gaza or to move to the West Bank. But attention in the Israeli news media produced a bevy of volunteers to fight on his behalf. Marya would not survive in either Gaza or the West Bank. The government has backed off, supporting Mr. Aman on minimum wage and paying for Marya to go to a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school nearby.

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Hamdi Aman, right, watched his daughter, Marya, 8, and his son, Momen, 6, at Alyn Hospital.

But Mr. Aman has no official status and is also raising a healthy and bright son in a hospital room. He wants residency or a ticket to a Western country where his children will be safe and Marya will get the care she needs.

Volunteers who help are often religious Jews performing national service. Some ask Mr. Aman how he can live among the people whose army destroyed his family.

"I have never felt there was a difference among people — Jews, Muslims, Christians — we are all human beings," he says. "I worked in Israel for years and so did my father. We know that it is not about what you are but who you are. And that is what I have taught my children."

Mr. Aman's hospital door is rarely closed. Asher Franco, an Israeli Jew from Beit Shemesh who has been coming to the hospital for six months for his daughter's treatments, was a recent visitor. They greeted each other warmly. A manual worker and former combat soldier, he was asked about their friendship.

"I was raised as a complete Zionist rightist," he said. "The Arabs, we were told, were out to kill us. But I was living in some fantasy. Here in the hospital, all my friends are Arabs." Ms. Elizarov, Orel's mother, noted that in places like Alyn Hospital, political tensions do not exist. Then she said, "Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?"

A lie can travel halfway around the world
while the truth is putting its shoes on
                                        Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Does Nazi antisemitism still impact Mideast?

The short answer is yes, but hopefully not as much as some people think.

At YIVO in New York, on March 4, I attended a lecture by Prof. Jeffrey Herf, a historian at the University of Maryland, on his new book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale University Press). It shows how Nazi Germany planted its own brand of antisemitism in the Muslim Middle East. First of all, Nazi officials went to great lengths to explain to the Arab world that its antisemitism was not against all "Semites," that it only targeted Jews.

A US diplomat, Alexander Kirk, documented how consistently and cleverly the Nazis propagandized in the Arab world to create a "meeting of minds" and a "cultural fusion." This involved an identification with Arab anti-Zionism and the notion that Islam and Nazism held common values: i.e., that both Nazism and Islam were in opposition to liberal individualism, prizing unity and family instead. Bringing this up to contemporary times, Prof. Herf noted that the notoriously antisemitic charter of Hamas goes back to the French Revolution, which it blames on the Jews--and not by accident, according to Herf. He indicates that the Nazis also blamed the French Revolution on the Jews, and were dedicated to its reversal, because Nazism associated the ills of modernity with the ideals of liberty, equality and human rights that were born with the French Revolution. Hamas would not have any such conception without having inherited it from Nazi Germany.

I am reminded of a forum I attended a few months ago at Columbia University. On that occasion, I asked the prominent historian and Palestinian-American activist, Prof. Rashid Khalidi, about the role of the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini; he downplayed his importance---opposite to Herf's view and I think somewhat contrary to the truth. Herf indicated that the Mufti had escaped Allied imprisonment in France to influence Palestinian politics (from Cairo) by heading the Higher Arab Committee and other leadership bodies in 1946-'48. Herf feels it's a pity that Husseini and others were not prosecuted for war crimes---specifically for incitement to genocide in broadcasting from Nazi Germany in July 1942 that the Egyptian public take up arms and murder the Jews in their midst.

But Herf's notion (voiced briefly by him) that if the conflict between Israel and the Arabs were only about land, it would have been settled already, seems rife for exploitation by voices on the right who will discount all efforts at peacemaking. Unfortunately, the writing of history remains, all too often, a weapon of political conflict.

Saying "no" to the UN Human Rights Circus

Patrick Goodenough
March 10, 2010
An Iranian whose fiancée's death by gunfire became a symbol of opposition to the regime during post-election protests last year made an impassioned appeal Tuesday for Tehran to be denied a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in elections this spring.

Caspian Makan addresses the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy on Tuesday, March 9, 2010.
Addressing a gathering of dissidents and human rights advocates in Geneva, Caspian Makan, a photojournalist who fled Iran late last year after being detained for more than 60 days, said Iranian membership in the U.N.'s top human rights body would be a "slap in the face" of other members.
It would encourage other countries that have a tendency to flout human rights and undermine the credibility of the U.N. and the council, he said, according to a translation provided by event organizers.
"I feel furthermore that if the Iranian regime became a member, that would legitimize the inhuman and cruel acts the regime has perpetuated against its population," Makan added. "Giving it legitimacy would encourage them to go further still."
The U.N. has confirmed that Iran has submitted in writing its candidacy to become a member of the HRC.
On May 13, the General Assembly will vote by secret ballot to fill 14 of the Geneva-based council's 47 seats. Iran and four other countries – Thailand, Qatar, Malaysia and the Maldives – will compete to fill four available seats set aside for the Asian regional group.
Makan was speaking Tuesday at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, a two-day event that brought together some 500 people from more than 60 countries, to discuss issues organizers say are mostly neglected by the HRC.
He told the gathering about Neda Agha Soltan, the 26-year old "deep thinker" and "artist at heart" with whom he had fallen in love after meeting her on a trip.
Makan, 38, said they had tended in the past not to vote in elections because they were seen as a charade, and taking part would be seen as "participating in the regime to some extent."
But the 2009 election had seemed to offer in the shape of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi a "lesser evil" for young Iranians who "above all else wanted to get rid of Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad."
Once it became clear that the election was rigged in favor of the incumbent, he said, Soltan had joined the protests.
Makan said that while trying to do his job he was an eyewitness to the violent clampdown by "the mercenaries of the regime" and "saw firsthand that the army of the revolution was shooting and killing the demonstrators from a helicopter."
Four days before she died, he had urged Soltan to keep away from the demonstrations. "She said, 'You know Caspian, I love you, I love being with you, but what is most important to me is the freedom of our people."
On June 20, Soltan was shot in the chest on a Tehran street, apparently by a Basij militia sniper. Amateur video footage capturing the moments after the shooting was posted online and seen around the world.
"We have seen many people who have been wounded and killed, but this struck the world particularly hard," Makan said of his fiancee's death.
"We were able to see in the footage how good and kind she was and admire her attitude when faced with death, to admire her courage as a symbol of liberty, as she died hoping for a better life for the millions of Iranians who remained behind."
Human rights researchers say at least 40 Iranians died during June and that the number more than doubled in the months that followed. The official figure stands at 44.
Last month, Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, director-general of Iran's Interior Ministry – whose functions including policing and overseeing elections – told the HRC that the June 2009 presidential election had been "an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom."
Copyright 2010, CNS News
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The Iran Threat in a Nutshell

by Yoram Ettinger

The former ambassador says it all in this short and succinct article: Take heed, world, Israel's destruction is not Iran's only goal.

1.  Iran's super-goal: Domination of the Persian Gulf and its natural resources.

2.  Iran's super-enemies: Those who undermine Iran's super-goal.

3.  Iran's super-capabilities:  Nuclear capabilities are developed in order to advance Iran's super-goal and defeat Iran's super-enemies.

4.  Iran's nuclear would be leveraged, mostly, to force US and NATO out of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.  It would be leveraged against Iraq – its arch rival since the seventh century – and against Saudi Arabia, which Iran considers an apostate regime. All Gulf States are perceived by Iran as a key prize, required to control the flow and the price of oil and to bankroll Teheran's megalomaniac regional and global aspirations.

5.  US national security and US standard of living would be severely undermined by Iran's domination of the Persian Gulf.  The prevention of a nuclear Iran constitutes a top US national security priority. 

6.  The Sanction Delusion plays into Teheran's hands: Russia and China consider the US their major long-term rival.  Their assessment of Iran is dramatically different than the US assessment. Therefore, they (as well as some European countries) will not implement effective sanctions against Iran.

7.  Preemption/prevention – and not deterrence or retaliation – is the only effective means to prevent the nuclearization of Iran and to spare the US and the globe devastating cost.

(Video) Ayalon: Nuclear Iran Means a Stronger Hamas Terror Group

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Letter to Rachel Corrie's Parents in Haifa

Terrorist attacks and Katyushas and now Haifa is about to become the victim of yet another indignity. It is to be the scene for a legal assault by the parents of Rachel Corrie. The Corries are now suing the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces in Israeli court. They and their Arab lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, a radical activist (involved in the movement for a world boycott of Israel), filed a civil suit in Haifa court and the first hearing is scheduled for March 10.

Ironically, the Corries were themselves briefly kidnapped in Gaza by Hamas terrorists in January 2006, when they were in town to show the local jihadis their support.

Palestinian gunmen burst into a Rafah house early Wednesday and tried to kidnap the parents of Rachel Corrie, who was killed in 2003 as she protested the impending demolition of a house in the southern Gaza town, according to a witness.

The five gunmen appeared to be affiliated with the Fatah movement, according to Samir Nasrallah, the Corries' host. The gunmen eventually relented after being told who their targets were, he said.

According to the Telegraph, "The gunmen wanted to kidnap the couple as bargaining chips to secure the release of a militia leader, Alaa al-Hams, arrested on suspicion of ordering the kidnap of the British human rights activist Kate Burton and her parents ."

The Corries later issued a statement in which they denied they had been kidnapped at all. They had just been hosted at gunpoint. But the simple truth is that the Corries were released once the terrorists realized they were a far more valuable asset for Hamas if they were running around free.

The following letter has been published by Steven Plaut from Haifa University to "welcome" the Corries to Haifa.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Corrie,

You are coming to our lovely town to sue Israel, claiming that your daughter was "killed by an Israeli bulldozer." But you neglect to mention the circumstances under which she was so killed (nor the fact that she died from her injuries while under Palestinian medical care).

You have stated, "She had been working in Rafah with a nonviolent resistance organization, the International Solidarity Movement, trying to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and wells." Homes and wells, huh?

Well, she was not. Rachel was trying to prevent the demolition of tunnels used to smuggle weapons for Palestinian terrorists seeking to murder Jewish civilians. ISM openly endorses Palestinian "armed struggle" against Jewish children and civilians and openly collaborates with terrorists. It has hidden wanted terrorists and their weapons in its offices. It is an accomplice in murder. Lying is not the best way to drum up sympathy for your daughter.

You say your daughter died trying to protect an "innocent house." Again, this is not the truth. That "innocent house" was camouflage for a not-so-innocent terrorist smuggling tunnel, and the residents of that innocent house knew all about the tunnel.

Your daughter was in a war zone as a belligerent, on behalf of a movement of Arab fascists seeking to destroy Israel and murder as many Jews as possible. Your daughter died while interfering with an anti-terror operation carried out by soldiers in a land in which she had no business being at all.

You demand that we feel your pain at the loss of your daughter, yet your daughter conscripted herself as an accomplice for those seeking to murder my children. You feel no pain for the scores of martyrs in my own city of Haifa murdered by those same terrorists.

Your daughter put herself in harm's way by challenging a large bulldozer and positioning herself where the operator could not see her. You know quite well that the bulldozer operator was not seeking to harm her.

You have written, "We had not understood the devastating nature of the Palestinians' situation." Of course, youhave never expressed any interest in the devastating nature of the Jews' situation. The Jews have been battling Arab fascism and genocidal terrorism for a hundred years, before, during, and after the Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews. Your daughter was helping those who perpetrate Nazi-like atrocities against randomly selected Jews.

You smugly praise the propaganda play about your daughter, which ignored all the other Rachels - the Jewish victims of terror in Israel who were murdered by genocidal terrorists.

Your daughter, and apparently you as well, never had any understanding of the Middle East conflict. The Middle East conflict is not about the right to self-determination of Palestinian Arabs, but rather about the right to self-determination of Israeli Jews.

For a century the Arabs have attempted to block any expression of Jewish self-determination, using violence, armed aggression, and terrorism. The Arabs today control 22 countries and territory nearly twice the size of the United States. They refuse to share even a fraction of one percent of the Middle East with Jews, even in a territory smaller than New Jersey.

The Arab countries invented the Palestinian people and their "plight" as a propaganda ploy in imitation of the German campaign on behalf of Sudeten self-determination in the 1930s. Just as the struggle for "Sudeten liberation" was nothing more than a fig leaf for the German aggression aimed at annihilating Czechoslovakia, so the struggle for "Palestinian liberation" is nothing more than cover for a jihad to destroy Israel and its population.

Your write, "Clearly, our daughter has become a positive symbol for people."

I am afraid you are mistaken. Your daughter has become a symbol for dangerous foolhardiness. She essentially committed suicide as an empty gesture to assist murderers and terrorists.

You want the world to mourn for your daughter, who died while working with monsters out to murder our children. On the pages of anti-Semitic propaganda web magazines you denounce Israel, but you do not have a single word of sympathy for the families of the thousands of innocent Israeli victims of the terrorists with whom your daughter chose to ally herself.

On behalf of the citizens of Haifa, all of whom your daughter's Hamas friends are trying to murder, I remain,

Steven Plaut

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Your tax dollars at work: U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran

Aren't you glad you are helping to enrich the Mullocracy in Iran?
Ami Isseroff

The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington's efforts to discourage investment there, records show.
That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.
For years, the United States has been pressing other nations to join its efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy, in hopes of reining in Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Now, with the nuclear standoff hardening and Iran rebuffing American diplomatic outreach, the Obama administration is trying to win a tough new round of United Nations sanctions.
But a New York Times analysis of federal records, company reports and other documents shows that both the Obama and Bush administrations have sent mixed messages to the corporate world when it comes to doing business in Iran, rewarding companies whose commercial interests conflict with American security goals.
Many of those companies are enmeshed in the most vital elements of Iran's economy. More than two-thirds of the government money went to companies doing business in Iran's energy industry — a huge source of revenue for the Iranian government and a stronghold of the increasingly powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a primary focus of the Obama administration's proposed sanctions because it oversees Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
Other companies are involved in auto manufacturing and distribution, another important sector of the Iranian economy with links to the Revolutionary Guards. One supplied container ship motors to IRISL, a government-owned shipping line that was subsequently blacklisted by the United States for concealing military cargo.
Beyond $102 billion in United States government contract payments since 2000 — to do everything from building military housing to providing platinum to the United States Mint — the companies and their subsidiaries have reaped a variety of benefits. They include nearly $4.5 billion in loans and loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that underwrites the export of American goods and services, and more than $500 million in grants for work that includes cancer research and the turning of agricultural byproducts into fuel.
In addition, oil and gas companies that have done business in Iran have over the years won lucrative drilling leases for close to 14 million acres of offshore and onshore federal land.
In recent months, a number of companies have decided to pull out of Iran, because of a combination of pressure by the United States and other Western governments, "terrorism free" divestment campaigns by shareholders and the difficulty of doing business with Iran's government. And several oil and gas companies are holding off on new investment, waiting to see what shape new sanctions may assume.
The Obama administration points to that record, saying that it has successfully pressed allied governments and even reached out directly to corporate officials to dissuade investment in Iran, particularly in the energy industry. In addition, an American effort over many years to persuade banks to leave the country has isolated Iran from much of the international financial system, making it more difficult to do deals there.
"We are very aggressive, using a range of tools," said Denis McDonough, chief of staff to the National Security Council.
The government can, and does, bar American companies from most types of trade with Iran, under a broad embargo that has been in place since the 1990s. But as The Times's analysis illustrates, multiple administrations have struggled diplomatically, politically and practically to exert American authority over companies outside the embargo's reach — foreign companies and the foreign subsidiaries of American ones.
Indeed, of the 74 companies The Times identified as doing business with both the United States government and Iran, 49 continue to do business there with no announced plans to leave.
One of the government's most powerful tools, at least on paper, to influence the behavior of companies beyond the jurisdiction of the embargo is the Iran Sanctions Act, devised to punish foreign companies that invest more than $20 million in a given year to develop Iran's oil and gas fields. But in the 14 years since the law was passed, the government has never enforced it, in part for fear of angering America's allies.
That has given rise to situations like the one involving the South Korean engineering giant Daelim Industrial, which in 2007 won a $700 million contract to upgrade an Iranian oil refinery.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the deal appeared to violate the Iran Sanctions Act, meaning Daelim could have faced a range of punishments, including denial of federal contracts. That is because the law covers not only direct investments, such as the purchase of shares and deals that yield royalties, but also contracts similar to Daelim's to manage oil and gas development projects.
But in 2009 the United States Army awarded the company a $111 million contract to build housing in a military base in South Korea. Just months later, Daelim, which disputes that its contracts violated the letter of the law, announced a new $600 million deal to help develop the South Pars gas field in Iran.
Now, though, frustration over Iran's intransigence has spawned a growing, if still piecemeal, movement to more effectively use the power of the government purse to turn companies away from investing there.
Nineteen states — including New York, California and Florida — have rules that bar or discourage their pension funds from investing in companies that do certain types of business in Iran. Congress is considering legislation that would have the federal government follow suit, by mandating that companies that invest in Iran's energy industry be denied federal contracts. The provision is modeled on an existing law dealing with war-torn Sudan.
Obama administration officials, while indicating that they were open to the idea, called it only one variable in a complex equation. Right now, the president's priority is on breaking down Chinese resistance to the new United Nations sanctions, which apply across borders and are aimed squarely at entities that support Iran's nuclear program.
But Representative Ron Klein, a Florida Democrat who wrote the contracting provision moving through Congress with the help of a lobbying group called United Against Nuclear Iran, said it offered a way forward with or without international agreement.
"We need to send a strong message to corporations that we're not going to continue to allow them to economically enable the Iranian government to continue to do what they have been doing," Mr. Klein said.
An Unused Tool
Sending a strong message was Congress's intention when it passed the Iran Sanctions Act in 1996.
The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.
Congress is now considering expanding its purview to a broader array of energy-related activities, including selling gasoline to Iran, which despite its vast oil and gas reserves has antiquated refineries that leave it heavily dependent on imports.
From the beginning, though, the law proved difficult to enforce.
European allies howled that it constituted an improper attempt to apply American law in other countries. Exercising an option to waive the law in the name of national security, the Clinton administration in 1998 declined to penalize the first violator — a consortium led by the French oil company TotalFina, now known as Total.
The administration also indicated that it would waive future penalties against European companies, winning in return tougher European export controls on technology that Iran could convert to military use.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, who as the deputy Treasury secretary handled those negotiations, said the law let Iran "exploit divisions between the U.S. and our European allies."
Waiving it, though, was followed by additional investments in Iran — and more government largesse for the companies making them.
In 1999, for instance, Royal Dutch Shell signed an $800 million deal to develop two Iranian oil fields. Since then, Shell has won federal contract payments and grants totaling more than $11 billion, mostly for providing fuel to the American military, as well as $200 million in Export-Import loan guarantee and drilling rights to federal lands, records show.
Shell has a second Iranian development deal pending, but officials say they are awaiting the results of a feasibility study. In the meantime, the company continues to receive payments from Iran for its 1999 investment and sells gasoline and lubricants there.
Records show Shell is one of seven companies that challenged the Iran Sanctions Act and received federal benefits.
John R. Bolton, who dealt with Iran as an under secretary of state and United Nations ambassador in the Bush administration, said failing to enforce the law by punishing such companies both sent "a signal to the Iranians that we're not serious" and undercut Washington's credibility when it did threaten action.
Mr. Bolton recalled what happened in 2004 when he suggested to the Japanese ambassador that Japan's state-controlled oil exploration company, Inpex, might be penalized for a $2 billion investment in the Azadegan field in Iran. "The Japanese ambassador said, 'Well, that's interesting. How come you've never sanctioned a European Union company?' " Mr. Bolton recounted.
Inpex was never penalized, though several years later it decided to reduce its stake in the Iranian project. And to Mr. Bolton's chagrin, the Bush administration did not act on reports about other such investments, neither waiving the law nor penalizing violators.
Recently, after 50 lawmakers from both parties complained to President Obama about the lack of enforcement and sent him a list of companies that apparently violated the law, the State Department announced a preliminary investigation. Officials said that they were looking at 27 deals, and that while some appeared to have been "carefully constructed" to get around the letter of the law, they had identified a number of problematic cases and were focusing on companies still active in Iran.
Competing Interests
Among the companies on the list Congress sent to the State Department is the Brazilian state-controlled energy conglomerate Petrobras, which last year received a $2 billion Export-Import Bank loan to develop an oil reserve off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. The loan offers a case study in the competing interests officials must confront when it comes to the Iran Sanctions Act.
Despite repeated American entreaties, Petrobras had previously invested $100 million to explore Iran's offshore oil prospects in the Persian Gulf.
But the Export-Import Bank loan could help create American jobs, since Petrobras would use the money to buy goods and services from American companies. Perhaps more important, it could help develop a source of oil outside the Middle East.
After The Times inquired about the loan, bank officials said that they asked for and received a letter of assurance from Petrobras that it had finished its work in Iran. A senior White House official, in a Nov. 13 e-mail message, said that while it was the administration's policy to warn companies against such investments, "Brazil is an important U.S. trading partner and our discussions with them are ongoing."
But if the administration hoped that the loan would bring Brazil in line with its objectives in Iran, it would soon prove mistaken.
On Nov. 23, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Brazil, and the two countries agreed to share technical expertise on energy projects. Iranian officials said they might offer Petrobras additional incentives for further investment.
The visit infuriated American officials, who felt it undercut efforts to press Iran on its nuclear program while lending international legitimacy to the Iranian president. Brazil's relationship with Iran has also complicated American maneuvering at the United Nations, where Brazil holds a rotating seat on the Security Council. Just last week, Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, restated his opposition to the administration's sanctions proposal, warning, "It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall."
Carter Lawson, the Export-Import Bank's deputy general counsel, acknowledged that Mr. Ahmadinejad's visit was "problematic for us, and it raised our antenna." He said that since December the bank had been operating under a new budget rule requiring borrowers to certify that they had no continuing operations in Iran's energy industry, and was carefully monitoring Petrobras's activities.
In the meantime, Petrobras's Tehran office remains open. And Diogo Almeida, the acting economic attaché at the Brazilian Embassy in Iran, said that while Petrobras was currently assessing how much it could invest in Iran, given the huge discovery off Rio de Janeiro, company officials were in active discussions with the Iranian government and were interested in pursuing new business.
Opportunities for Profit
For all the American rules and focus, there is still plenty of room for companies to profit in crucial areas of Iran's economy without fear of reprisal or loss of United States government business.
Auto companies doing business in Iran, for instance, received $7.3 billion in federal contracts over the past 10 years. Among them was Mazda, whose cars in Iran are assembled by a company called the Bahman Group. A 45 percent share in Bahman is held by the Sepah Cooperative Foundation, a large investment fund linked to the Revolutionary Guards, according to Iranian news accounts and a 2009 RAND Corporation report prepared for the Defense Department.
A Mazda spokesman declined to comment, saying the company was unaware of the links.
Even companies based in the United States, including some of the biggest federal contractors, can invest in Iran through foreign subsidiaries run independently by non-Americans.
Honeywell, the aviation and aerospace company, has received nearly $13 billion in federal contracts since 2005. That year it acquired Universal Oil Products, whose British subsidiary is working on a project to expand gasoline production at the Arak refinery in Iran. Universal recently received a $25 million federal grant for a clean-energy project in Hawaii.
In a statement, Honeywell said it had told the State Department in January that while it was fulfilling its Arak contract, it would not undertake new projects in Iran.
Ingersoll Rand, another American company with foreign subsidiaries, says it is evaluating its "minor" business in Iran in light of the political climate. But for now, according to a spokesman, Paul Dickard, it continues to sell air-compression systems with a "wide variety of applications," including in the oil and gas industries and in nuclear power plants.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, tried to close the foreign subsidiary loophole after a furor erupted in 2004 over Halliburton, former Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, which had used a Cayman Islands subsidiary to sell oil-field services to Iran. But he said he was unable to overcome business opposition.
William A. Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, lobbied against Mr. Dorgan's bill and has opposed other unilateral sanctions. He argues that their futility can be seen in the intransigence of the Iranian government and the way American oil companies have simply been replaced by foreign competitors. Moreover, many foreign companies with business interests in Iran are also large American employers; deny them federal contracts and other benefits, Mr. Reinsch said, "and it's those workers who will pay the price."
But Hans Sandberg, senior vice president of Atlas Copco, which is based in Sweden, offered a different perspective. Atlas Copco's sales of mining and construction equipment to Iran are dwarfed by its American business, including military contracts. If forced to choose, he said: "It would be no problem. We wouldn't trade with Iran."
Eric Owles contributed reporting.

Iraq election terror delivered right on schedule

Who said nobody can meet a deadline in the Middle East? The election day terror attacks forecast by many for Iraq were delivered right on schedule, and probably under budget. The Iranian IRGC and Syrian military intelligence have much cause for self-congratulation. Mission accomplished! 
Ami Isseroff
Insurgents kill 24 in Iraq election day attacks

By Suadad al-Salhy and Missy Ryan
Sunday, March 7, 2010; 3:57 AM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Explosions killed 24 people as Iraqis voted on Sunday in an election that Sunni Islamist militants have vowed to disrupt, in one of many challenges to efforts to stabilize Iraq before U.S. troops leave.
Scores of mortar rounds, rockets and roadside bombs exploded near polling stations in Baghdad, and some elsewhere, in a coordinated campaign to wreck the voting for Iraq's second full-term parliament since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Iraq's political course will be decisive for President Barack Obama's plans to halve U.S. troop levels over the next five months and withdraw entirely by end-2011. It will also be watched by oil companies planning to invest billions in Iraq.
In the deadliest attacks, 12 people died when a bomb blew up a Baghdad apartment block and four were killed in a similar explosion at another residential building. A Katyusha rocket killed four people elsewhere in the capital of seven million.
At least 65 people were wounded around the country.
The Baghdad security spokesman, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, said most of the rockets and mortar bombs had been fired from mainly Sunni districts in and around the city.
"We are in a state of combat. We are operating in a battlefield and our warriors are expecting the worst," he said.
Despite the hail of attacks, Moussawi said a car ban aimed at foiling vehicle bombs had been lifted after less than four hours of voting. Curbs on buses and trucks stayed in force.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda affiliate, had warned Iraqis not to vote and vowed to attack those who defy them.
The 96,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq stayed in the background, underscoring the waning American role in Iraq.
Voters in the ethnically and religiously divided country can pick between mainly Shi'ite Islamist parties that have dominated Iraq since Saddam Hussein's fall and their secular rivals.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, urged all parties to accept the election results. "He who wins today may lose tomorrow, and he who loses today may win tomorrow," he said after casting his ballot in the fortified Green Zone enclave.
One of Maliki's opponents, ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, has already complained of irregularities in early voting.
Allawi's secular list is tapping into exasperation with years of conflict, poor public services and corruption, and hopes to gain support from the once dominant Sunni minority.
About 6,200 candidates from 86 factions are vying for 325 parliamentary seats. No bloc is expected to win a majority, and it may take months to form a government, risking a vacuum that armed groups such as Iraq's al Qaeda offshoot might exploit.
Few elections in the Middle East have been as competitive as this one. Its conduct could determine how democracy in Iraq affects a region used to kings and presidents-for-life.
"Today is the day when Iraqis speak while others keep silent," declared Ammar al-Hakim, Shi'ite leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), after voting.
Maliki, whose State of Law coalition is claiming credit for improved security since sectarian warfare peaked in 2006-07, faces a challenge from ISCI and his other former Shi'ite allies, derided by Sunni militants as pawns of neighboring Iran.
Anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, speaking at a rare news conference in Tehran, said holding an election under the "shadow of occupation" was illegitimate, but urged Iraqis to vote anyway to pave the way for "liberation" from U.S. forces.
Sadr galvanized anti-U.S. sentiment after the 2003 invasion but faded from the political scene after vanishing, ostensibly to embrace religious studies in Iran, more than two years ago. Sadr's Mehdi Army, once a feared militia, has stepped away from combat, but his political movement is seeking a comeback, running in harness with ISCI, its former Shi'ite rival.
In contrast to the previous election in 2005, Iraqis can vote for individual candidates this time, not just party lists.
"Democracy in Iraq is chaotic. Everyone lies," said Abdul Rasheed al-Tamimi, a laborer in the Shi'ite city of Najaf. "I'm only voting because it's an open list and I know the candidate personally. I can hold him to account if he breaks his pledges."
In Kirkuk, a city disputed by Kurds and Arabs, Bushra Qassim said she was voting to secure a better future for Iraq.
"This election is the last chance for Iraqis to change the reality in which they live so as not to repeat the terrorism that I and many other Iraqis suffered from," the 40-year-old said, her face deeply scarred from a 2008 car bombing that killed one of her sons and wounded her and three other sons.
Some of Maliki's rivals allege intimidation and arrests, adding to tensions created by a ban on 400 candidates accused of links to Saddam's outlawed Baath party -- a furor which exposed the lingering divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
In Anbar province, a Sunni bastion, tribal sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha said Sunnis were hoping the poll would make them feel they had a real stake in their now Shi'ite-dominated country.
"Change is our goal. We want to put fresh blood in the political process," said Abu Risha, leader of the so-called Awakening Councils which helped the U.S. military push back a raging al Qaeda-inspired Sunni insurgency.
(Additional reporting by Said Tawfeeq, Aseel Kami, Khalid al-Ansary and Rania El Gamal in Baghdad, Waleed Ibrahim in Ramadi, Mohammed Abbas and Khaled Farhan in Najaf, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, and Sabah al-Bazee in Tikrit; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul)