NASA-funded researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are tapping information found in the cells of all life on Earth, and using it to trace life’s evolution. They have learned that life is a master stenographer — writing, rewriting and recording its history in elaborate biological structures.
Some of the keys to unlocking the origin of life lie encrypted in the ribosome, life’s oldest and most universal assembly of molecules. Today’s ribosome converts genetic information (RNA) into proteins that carry out various functions in an organism. But the ribosome itself has changed over time. Its history shows how simple molecules joined forces to invent biology, and its current structure records ancient biological processes that occurred at the root of the Tree of Life, some 3.8 billion years ago.
By examining variations in the ribosomal RNA contained in modern cells, scientists can visualize the timeline of life far back in history, elucidating molecular structures, reactions and events near the biochemical origins of life.
“Biology is a great keeper of records,” said Loren Williams, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and principal investigator for the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Georgia Tech Center for Ribosome Adaptation and Evolution from 2009-2014. “We are figuring out how to read some of the oldest records in biology to understand pre-biological processes, the origin of life, and the evolution of life on Earth.”
The study is scheduled to be reported November 30 in the Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Like rings in the trunk of a tree, the ribosome contains components that functioned early on in its history. The center of the trunk records the tree’s youth, and successive rings represent each year of the tree’s life, with the outermost layer recording the present. Just as the core of a tree’s trunk remains unchanged over time, all modern ribosomes contain a common core dating back 3.8 billion years. This common core is the same in all living organisms, including humans.
“The ribosome recorded its history,” said Williams. “It accreted and got bigger and bigger over time. But the older parts were continually frozen after they accreted, just like the rings of a tree. As long as that tree lives, the inner rings will not change. The very core of the ribosome is older than biology, produced by evolutionary processes that we still don’t understand very well.”
While exploiting this record-keeping ability of the ribosome reveals how biology has changed over time, it can also point to the environmental conditions on Earth in which that biology evolved, and help inform our search for life elsewhere in the Universe.
“This work enables us to look back in time past the root of the tree of life — the ancestor of all modern cells — to a time when proteins and nucleic acids had not yet become the basis for all biochemistry,” said Carl Pilcher, interim director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. “It helps us understand some of the earliest stages in the development of life on Earth, and can guide our search for extraterrestrial environments where life may have developed.”
By rewinding, reverse engineering, and replaying this ancient ribosomal tape, researchers are uncovering the secrets of creation and are answering foundational, existential questions about our place in the Universe.
By studying more additions to the ribosome, the research team — with key contributions by Georgia Tech Research Scientist Anton Petrov — found “molecular fingerprints” that show where insertions were made, allowing them to discern the rules by which it grew. Using a technique they call the Structural Comparative Method, the researchers were able to model the ribosome’s development in great detail.
“By taking ribosomes from a number of species — humans, yeast, various bacteria and archaea — and looking at the outer portions that are variable, we saw that there were very specific rules governing how they change,” said Williams. “We took those rules and applied them to the common core, which allowed us to see all the way back to the first pieces of RNA.”
Some clues along the way helped. For instance, though RNA is now responsible for creating proteins, the very earliest life had no proteins. By looking for regions of the ribosome that contain no proteins, the researchers could determine that those elements existed before the advent of proteins. “Once the ribosome gained a certain capability, that changed its nature,” Williams said.
While the ribosomal core is the same across species, what’s added on top differs. Humans have the largest ribosome, encompassing some 7,000 nucleotides representing dramatic growth from the hundred or so base pairs at the beginning.
“What we’re talking about is going from short oligomers, short pieces of RNA, to the biology we see today,” said Williams. “The increase in size and complexity is mind-boggling.”
The researchers obtained their ribosomes from structure and sequence databases that have been produced to help scientists identify new species. Ribosomes can be crystallized, which reveals their three dimensional structures.
Beyond understanding how evolution played out over time, this knowledge of the ribosome’s development could have more practical modern-day health applications.
“The ribosome is one of the primary target for antibiotics, so understanding its architecture and consistently throughout biology could be of great benefit,” said Williams. “By studying the ribosome, we can start thinking about biology in a different way. We can see the symbiotic relationship between RNA and proteins.”
As a next step, Williams and colleagues are now using experiments to verify what their model shows.
“We have a coherent and consistent model that accounts for all the data we have going all the way back to a form of biology that is very primitive compared to what we have now,” Williams explained. “We plan to continue testing the predictions of the model.”
In addition to those already named, the research included Burak Gulen, Ashlyn Norris, Chad Bernier, Nicholas Kovacs, Kathryn Lanier, Stephen Harvey, Roger Wartell and Nicholas Hud from Georgia Tech, and George Fox from the University of Houston.
This research was funded in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute under grant NNA09DA78A. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NASA.
Anton S. Petrov, Burak Gulen, Ashlyn M. Norris, Nicholas A. Kovacs, Chad R. Bernier, Kathryn A. Lanier, George E. Fox, Stephen C. Harvey, Roger M. Wartell, Nicholas V. Hud, and Loren Dean Williams. History of the ribosome and the origin of translation. PNAS, November 30, 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509761112
Ribosome grew by accretion Click image to enlarge Ribosome grew by accretion The ribosome grew by accretion of new RNA onto old RNA in a process reminiscent of nested Russian dolls. The most ancient part of the ribosome contains small RNA fragments and is represented by the smallest doll. Ever more recent additions to the ribosome increased its functionality, and are represented on dolls of increasing size. The largest doll represents the ribosomal RNA that is shared by all current forms of life.
The ribosome, in analogy with a tree, contains a record of its history, spanning 4 billion years of life on Earth. The information contained within ribosomes connects us to the prehistory of biology. Details of ribosomal RNA variation, observed by comparing three-dimensional structures of ribosomes across the tree of life, forms the basis of our molecular-level model of the origins and evolution of the translational system. We infer many steps in the evolution of translation, mapping out acquisition of structure and function, revealing much about how modern biology originated from ancestral chemical systems.
“Effectively, we have been financially discriminated against for a long time. By early 2014, when we did not receive the budget, we decided we need to start thinking about independent oil sales” — Ashti Hawrami, Kurdistan’s minister for natural resources
In June of 2014, the SCF Altai (an oil tanker) arrived at Ashkelon port. Hours later, the first shipment of Kurdish pipeline oil was being unloaded in Israel. “Securing the first sale of oil from its independent pipeline is crucial for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as it seeks greater financial independence from war-torn Iraq,” Reuters noted at the time, adding that “the new export route to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, designed to bypass Baghdad’s federal pipeline system, has created a bitter dispute over oil sale rights between the central government and the Kurds.”
A week earlier, the SCF Altai received the Kurdish oil in a ship-to-ship transfer from the The United Emblem off the coast of Malta. The United Emblem loaded the crude at Ceyhan where a pipeline connects the Turkish port to Kurdistan.
The Kurds’ move to sell crude independent of Baghdad stems from a long-running budget dispute. Without delving too far into the details, Erbil is entitled to 17% of Iraqi oil revenue and in return, the KRG is supposed to transfer some 550,000 bpd to SOMO (Iraq’s state-run oil company). Almost immediately after the deal was struck late last year, Baghdad claimed the Kurds weren’t keeping up their end of the bargain and so, only a fraction of the allocated budget was sent to Erbil during the first five months of the year.
This was simply a continuation of a protracted disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad over how much of the state’s crude revenue should flow to the KRG. For its part, Iraq has threatened to sue anyone that buys independently produced Kurdish oil. For instance, when The United Kalavrvta – which left Ceyhan last June – prepared to dock in Galveston, Texas a month later, a SOMO official told Reuters that Iraq’s foreign legal team was “watching closely the movement of the vessel and [was] ready to target any potential buyer regardless of their nationality.”
You get the idea. Erbil wants a bigger piece of the pie, Baghdad doesn’t want to give it to them, and so some time ago, the KRG decided to simply cut the Iraqi government out and export crude on its own. The dispute is ongoing.
(at an Erbil oil refinery, the Kurds stand guard)
Ok, so why are we telling you this? Recall that over the past several weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time documenting Islamic State’s lucrative black market oil trade. Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin detailed the scope of the operation in meetings with his G20 colleagues. “I’ve shown photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Antalya. The very same day, the US destroyed some 116 ISIS oil trucks, an effort that was widely publicized in the Western media. In the two weeks since, Moscow and Washington have vaporized a combined 1,300 ISIS oil transport vehicles.
No one knows why it took the US 14 months to strike the convoys. The official line is that The Pentagon was concerned about “collateral damage”, but we doubt that’s the reason (for a detailed discussion of this, see here). Well now that the mainstream media have been forced to take a closer look at Islamic State’s main source of revenue (the group makes nearly a half billion a year in the illicit oil trade), we decided to take a closer look at exactly who is facilitating the transport of the stolen crude and where it ultimately ends up because you can be sure that the story you get from the major wires will be colored by a slavish tendency to avoid any and all “inconvenient” revelations. This is the fourth in a series of articles on the subject and we encourage you to review the first three:
On Friday we highlighted an academic study by George Kiourktsoglou and Dr Alec D Coutroubis who took a look at tanker rates at Ceyhan around siginifant oil-related events involving ISIS. Here’s what the researchers found:
In their words, “it seems that whenever the Islamic State is fighting in the vicinity of an area hosting oil assets, the 13 exports from Ceyhan promptly spike. This may be attributed to an extra boost given to crude oil smuggling with the aim of immediately generating additional funds, badly needed for the supply of ammunition and military equipment.”
Now you can begin to see the connection. Ceyhan is the port from which Kurdish oil (technically “illegal” to let Baghdad tell it) is transported, and as Kiourktsoglou and Coutroubis note, “the quantities of crude oil that are being exported to the terminal in Ceyhan exceed the mark of one million barrels per day and given that ISIS has never been able to trade daily more than 45,000 barrels of oil, it becomes evident that the detection of similar quantities of smuggled crude cannot take place through stock-accounting methods.” In other words, if ISIS oil was being shipped from Ceyhan, it would essentially be invisible.
Here’s where things get interesting. A few weeks ago, Reuters released an exclusive report detailing how Erbil hides its crude shipments from Baghdad. Here are some of the details:
Most customers were scared of touching it with Baghdad threatening to sue any buyer. Large oil companies – including Exxon Mobil and BP – have billions of dollars worth of joint projects with Baghdad.
Some buyers took tankers to Ashkelon, Israel, where it was loaded into storage facilities to be resold later to buyers in Europe. Kurdish oil was also sold offshore Malta via ship-to-ship transfers helping disguise the final buyers and thus protect them from threats from Iraqi state firm SOMO.
It was a high stakes game. A ship would dock off Malta waiting for another to arrive to take a cargo to a final destination. Sometimes two ships would be sent – one sailing off empty and another full – to complicate cargo tracking.
“Everyone suddenly became a ship tracking expert. So we had to raise our game too … But one thing was proven correct – when oil is out, it flows,” said Hawrami.
Ok, so a scheme involving ship-to-ship transfers off the coast of Malta was used to get Kurdish crude to places like Israel. “Israeli refineries and oil companies imported more than 19m barrels of Kurdish oil between the beginning of May and August 11, according to shipping data, trading sources and satellite tanker tracking,” FT reported last week. “That is the equivalent of about 77 per cent of average Israeli demand, which runs at roughly 240,000 barrels per day. More than a third of all of the northern Iraqi exports, which are shipped from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, went to Israel over the period.”
At this juncture, we begin to get an idea of what’s going on here. Kurdish oil is already technically illegal and Turkey is happy to facilitate its trip to foreign buyers via Ceyhan. What better way for ISIS to get its own oil to market than by moving it through a port that already deals in suspect crude? Al-Araby al-Jadeed (a London-based media outlet owned by the Qatari Fadaat Media) claims to have obtained a wealth of information about the route to Ceyhan from an unnamed colonel in the Iraqi Intelligence Services. Here’s their account:
The information was verified by Kurdish security officials, employees at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and an official at one of three oil companies that deal in IS-smuggled oil.
The Iraqi colonel, who along with US investigators is working on a way to stop terrorist finance streams, told al-Araby about the stages that the smuggled oil goes through from the points of extraction in Iraqi oil fields to its destination – notably including the port of Ashdod, Israel.
“After the oil is extracted and loaded, the oil tankers leave Nineveh province and head north to the city of Zakho, 88km north of Mosul,” the colonel said. Zakho is a Kurdish city in Iraqi Kurdistan, right on the border with Turkey.
“After IS oil lorries arrive in Zakho – normally 70 to 100 of them at a time – they are met by oil smuggling mafias, a mix of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, in addition to some Turks and Iranians,” the colonel continued.
“The person in charge of the oil shipment sells the oil to the highest bidder,” the colonel added. Competition between organised gangs has reached fever pitch, and the assassination of mafia leaders has become commonplace.
The highest bidder pays between 10 and 25 percent of the oil’s value in cash – US dollars – and the remainder is paid later, according to the colonel.
The drivers hand over their vehicles to other drivers who carry permits and papers to cross the border into Turkey with the shipment, the Iraqi intelligence officer said. The original drivers are given empty lorries to drive back to IS-controlled areas.
Once in Turkey, the lorries continue to the town of Silopi, where the oil is delivered to a person who goes by the aliases of Dr Farid, Hajji Farid and Uncle Farid.
Uncle Farid is an Israeli-Greek dual national in his fifties. He is usually accompanied by two strong-built men in a black Jeep Cherokee.
Once inside Turkey, IS oil is indistinguishable from oil sold by the Kurdistan Regional Government, as both are sold as “illegal”, “source unknown” or “unlicensed” oil.
The companies that buy the KRG oil also buy IS-smuggled oil, according to the colonel.
Now obviously that’s a remarkable degree of detail, but regardless of whether you believe in “Uncle Farid” and his black Jeep Cherokee, the main point is that there are smuggling routes into Turkey and once the oil is across the border, it might as well be Kurdish crude because after all, it’s all “illegal”, “unlicensed” product anyway, just as we said above.
Next, Al-Araby al-Jadeed says a handful of oil companies (which they decline to identify) ship the oil from the Turkish ports of Mersin, Dortyol and Ceyhan to Israel.
Here’s the alleged route:
While the graphic shows the crude going directly from Ceyhan to Ashdod, it’s worth asking whether ISIS crude is also “laundered” (as it were) through the same Malta connection utilized by those smuggling “illegal” Kurdish crude (which also ends up in Israel). We ask that because as it turns out, Bilal Erdogan owns a Maltese shipping company. “The BMZ Group, a company owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son Bilal alongside other family members, has purchased two tankers in the last two months at a total cost of $36 million,” Today’s Zaman reported in September. “The tankers, which will be registered to the Oil Transportation & Shipping company in October — an affiliate of the BMZ Group set up in Malta — were previously rented to the Palmali Denizcilik company for 10 years.”
Here’s a look at recent port data from Ceyhan and Ashdod via Fleetmon.com (Malta-flagged oil vessels are highlighted).
To be sure, all of this is circumstantial and there’s all kinds of ambiguity here, but it seems entirely possible that Erdogan is knowingly trafficking in ISIS crude given what we know about Ankara’s dealings with illegal Kurdish oil. Consider this from al-Monitor:
Details of the energy deals struck between Turkey and the KRG remain sketchy amid claims that Erdogan and his close circle are financially benefiting from them. According to Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the mass circulation daily Hurriyet who investigated the claims, Powertrans, the company that was granted an exclusive license to carry and trade Kurdish oil by Erdogan’s Cabinet in 2011, is run by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak. It didn’t take long for the notoriously litigious Erdogan to file defamation charges against Tanis.
Several Iraqi Kurdish officials who refused to be identified by name confirmed that Ahmet Calik, a businessman with close ties to Erdogan, had been granted the tender to carry Kurdish oil via overland by trucks to Turkey.
In other words, Erdogan is already moving illicit crude from the KRG (with whom Ankara is friendly by the way, despite the fact that they are Kurds) via a son-in-law and in large quantities. What’s to say he isn’t moving ISIS crude via the same networks through his son Bilal? Or perhaps through his other son Burak who Today’s Zaman reminds us “also owns a fleet of ships [and] was featured in a report by the Sözcü daily in 2014 [when his] vessel Safran 1 was anchored in Israel’s port of Ashdod.” Here’s a picture circulated on social media that purports to show Bilal Erdogan with ISIS commanders (because we do try at all times to be unbiased, we should also note that the men shown below could just be three regular guys with beards with no connection to any black flag-waving desert bandits):
Russian media claims the men are “ISIS leaders who it is [thought] participated in massacres in Syria’s Homs and Rojava, the Kurdish name for Syrian Kurdistan or Western Kurdistan.”
One person who definitely thinks the Erdogans are trafficking in ISIS oil is Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi who said the following on Friday:
“All of the oil was delivered to a company that belongs to the son of Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan. This is why Turkey became anxious when Russia began delivering airstrikes against the IS infrastructure and destroyed more than 500 trucks with oil already. This really got on Erdogan and his company’s nerves. They’re importing not only oil, but wheat and historic artefacts as well.”
And then there’s Iraq’s former National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie who posted the following to his Facebook page on Saturday:
“First and foremost, the Turks help the militants sell stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil for $20 a barrel, which is half the market price.”
Meanwhile, the US is preparing for an all-out ISIS oil propaganda war. As WSJ reported on Wednesday, “the Treasury [has] accused a Syrian-born businessman, George Haswani, who his a dual Syrian-Russian citizen, of using his firm, HESCO Engineering and Construction Co., for facilitating oil trades between the Assad regime and Islamic State.” Why Assad would buy oil from a group that uses the cash at its disposal to wage war against Damascus is an open question especially when one considers that Assad’s closest allies (Russia and Iran) are major oil producers. Of course between all the shady middlemen and double dealing, there’s really no telling.
Ultimately we’ll probably never know the whole story, but what we do know (and again, most of the evidence is either circumstantial, anecdotal, of largely qualitative) seems to suggest that in addition to providing guns and money to the FSA and al-Nusra, Turkey may well be responsible for facilitating Islamic State’s $400+ million per year oil enterprise. And as for end customers, consider the following bit from Al-Araby al-Jadeed:
According to a European official at an international oil company who met with al-Araby in a Gulf capital, Israel refines the oil only “once or twice” because it does not have advanced refineries. It exports the oil to Mediterranean countries – where the oil “gains a semi-legitimate status” – for $30 to $35 a barrel.
“The oil is sold within a day or two to a number of private companies, while the majority goes to an Italian refinery owned by one of the largest shareholders in an Italian football club [name removed] where the oil is refined and used locally,” added the European oil official.
“Israel has in one way or another become the main marketer of IS oil. Without them, most IS-produced oil would have remained going between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even the three companies would not receive the oil if they did not have a buyer in Israel,” said the industry official.
Finally, you’ll note that this is all an effort to answer what we called “the most important question about ISIS that no one is asking” – namely, “who are the middlemen?” As we noted more than a week ago, “we do know who they may be: the same names that were quite prominent in the market in September when Glencore had its first, and certainly not last, near death experience: the Glencores, the Vitols, the Trafiguras, the Nobels, the Mercurias of the world.” Consider that, and consider what Reuters says about the trade in illicit KRG oil: “Market sources have said several trading houses including Trafigura and Vitol have dealt with Kurdish oil. Both Trafigura and Vitol declined to comment on their role in oil sales.”
Similarly, FT notes that “both Vitol and Trafigura had paid the KRG in advance for the oil, under so-called ‘pre-pay’ deals, helping Erbil to bridge its budget gaps.”
Indeed, when Kurdistan went looking for an advisor to assist in the effort to circumvent Baghdad, the KRG chose “Murtaza Lakhani, who worked for Glencore in Iraq in the 2000s, to assist finding ships.”
“He knew exactly who would and who wouldn’t deal with us. He opened the doors to us and identified willing shipping companies to work with us,” Ashti Hawrami (quoted above) said.
Indeed. And given everything said above about the commingling of illegal KRG crude and illicit ISIS oil shipments, it’s probably a foregone conclusion that these same firms are assisting in transport arrangements for Islamic State.
We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are and to have somebody (Jonathan Pollard) screw it up… and then have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me…
— Admiral Sumner Shapiro, US Navy Rear Admiral who served as Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence (1978-82), Washington Post, 6/16/2008
We … feel obligated to go on record with the facts regarding Pollard in order to dispel the myths that have arisen from the clever public relations campaign… aiming at transforming Pollard from greedy, arrogant betrayer of the American national trust into Pollard committed Israeli patriot.
— Sumner Shapiro, William Studeman, John Butts and Thomas Brooks, former Directors of Naval Intelligence cited in Ronald Olive, Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How one of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice, Annapolis Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 248.
Over two decades ago, Harvard political science professor, Samuel Huntington, argued that global politics would be defined by a ‘clash of civilizations’. His theories have found some of the most aggressive advocates among militant Zionists, inside Israel and abroad.
During the past month, the Israeli regime has been slaughtering and wounding thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. The Israeli state terrorists, who commit mass murder in Palestine, are part of a movement that sees an inevitable mortal final battle between Zionism and the Islamic and Western world.
Many Western democratic leaders have questioned Huntington’s prognosis and discreetly refuted the Zionist belief that different faiths and cultures cannot live and work together.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, leading Western Zionist ideologues have argued that, while liberal values should be reaffirmed, the US and EU leaders must recognize ‘malign global Islamic trends’. Influential Western Zionist journalists and ideologues, who dominate the mass media, argue that ‘hardline Islamism’ is on the rise, even in previously moderate Muslim countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Bangladesh… These ideologues (for example Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times) systematically avoid commenting on the rise of hardline Zionism in its most racist form in Israel and the conversion of formerly moderate Zionist organizations into willing accomplices of Israeli state terror against a captive people.
Together, these developments in Israel and among the major Zionist organizations in the US and the European Union have limited the space for critics of the ‘clash of civilizations’ dogma.
State terror assaults, such as those taking place daily in Palestine, incite tensions between Zionists and non-Zionists – and that is their intent. Larger structural and systemic forces are at work and are driving Zionist radicalization. One of the most pernicious is the way in which wealthy US and EU Zionist individuals and organizations, in particular the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish Organizations, have used their economic power to spread the most intolerant forms of Judaism into the rest of the Western World.
The effects are now visible in the major political institutions and media of the US, England and the Continent. Previously, France was held up as an example of a successful multi-cultural nation – a dubious assumption as any historian of colonial France can testify. But that image is rapidly changing. Influential Zionists have fomented widespread Islamophobia and authored legislation restricting free speech which has outlawed criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitism’.
French civil libertarians have noted that political and social space has increasingly narrowed for ‘non-Zionists’, especially for anyone critical of Israel’s state terrorism. In other words, there is immense pressure in France to ‘keep quiet’ or self-censor in the face of Zionist racist brutality – so much forLes Droits de L’Homme et Du Citoyen.
For over a decade, Zionist influence, especially from Israel’s far-right Netanyahu regime, has eroded the French version of ‘moderate Zionism’, replacing it with a more doctrinaire, exclusivist and authoritarian version. World-wide condemnation of Israel’s massacre of over 4,000 entrapped Palestinians in Gaza, the world largest prison camp, led the Netanyahu regime to resort to a virulent Zionist version of ‘identity politics’ to rally support for the slaughter – or enforce silence among the horrified. Israeli Cabinet ministers recently denounced US President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as ‘anti-Semites’ for their administration’s negotiations over Iran. Numerous prestigious rabbis have blessed the killing of unarmed Palestinians. A prominent Israeli jurist, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged the killing of Arab women so they would not give birth to ‘little snakes’. Israeli-Jewish judges have exonerated IDF soldiers, police, and settlers for killing Palestinian children – even unarmed teenaged Arab girls hysterical over their brutal humiliation. And world public opinion is ordered to ‘move along, look away, nothing for you to see here…’
All the major overseas Jewish organizations have marched in step. In the United States, a country with a democratic constitution and centuries-old Bill of Rights, self-styled ‘mainstream Zionists’ have defended Israeli spies and criminals, as well as un-extraditable swindlers, and organized nation-wide networks of university, professional and business organizations to demand the firing of colleagues and to suppress free speech and free assembly of Israel’s critics.
First and foremost, major Zionist organizations and leaders have stoked the fire of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist rhetoric, which has become commonplace in the mass media and among Republican candidates engaged in the current Presidential nomination campaign.
The convergence of these developments in Israel and among the Zionist power configuration in North America, Europe and the Middle East is fueling the idea of a ‘clash of civilizations’.
The ideological marriage of Herzl and Huntington is fast eroding the former reality of Jewish and non-Jewish integration and intermingling across the globe. The alternative to a plural civilization is more primitive and brutal injustice, violence and death.
Contemporary Manifestations of Zionist Power: The Release of the Most Damaging Spy-Traitor in US History
On November 20, 2015, former Naval Intelligence Analyst, Jonathan Pollard, the American-Jewish spy for Israel, was freed by the Obama regime under Zionist pressure after repeated refusals by three Republican and one Democratic President and over the objections of the heads of all 27 major US intelligence agencies. The significance of this release has to be viewed against the history of Pollard’s crimes.
Fabricating Lies to Justify Obama’s Release of Pollard
The mass media and the 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations (AIPAC, ADL, etc…), claim that 1) Pollard committed espionage against US security for ‘altruistic reasons’ — a deep concern for Israel’s security and because US intelligence agencies had refused to share crucial information with Israel’s intelligence counterparts (out of anti-Semitism), 2) the information Pollard handed over had no lasting harm and did not endanger US security, and 3) Pollard’s punishment was ‘excessive’, his ‘repentance’ was sincere and his example precluded any future Israeli espionage activity against the US. These assertions are completely false.
Pollard was a mercenary, spying against the US out of greed. He lived a decadent, expensive lifestyle and had demanded the Israelis pay him a total package of over $250,000 for his work. The Israeli Embassy was known to have paid Pollard, a US Naval Analyst, to spy against the United States government. Court records reveal that he collected over $50,000 for ‘expenses’ during his espionage career, including expensive jewelry, and a monthly stipend of $2500. Court records furthermore reveal that he offered to sell additional secret documents to Pakistan, Apartheid South Africa, Australia, Russia and some Middle East countries. He collected dozens of box-loads of confidential documents, many of which had nothing to do with the ‘security of Israel’, but were deemed essential to US global security, including a top secret ten volume set of National Security Agency high level codes exposing the most advanced means and methods of espionage and the main targets of intelligence collection. Some of his ‘vacuumed-up’ treasure trove included the identity of US intelligence operatives and assets in Warsaw pact countries and the Soviet Union. The 27 US intelligence agencies have consistently opposed Pollard’s release because his sale of this information to the Israelis led to the capture and execution of US operatives after Israel handed over this top-secret information to the Soviet Union in exchange for allowing Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel in massive numbers. Needless to say, this treason crippled US intelligence operations and led to deaths. US military and intelligence officials view Pollard as having ‘blood on his hands’. So much for the ‘altruistic American Zionist keen on helping insecure, little Israel.’ Years of Zionist propaganda and lobbying have obscured this aspect of Pollard’s crimes.
Excessive Punishment or Excessive Leniency?
Far right Israeli Cabinet Ministers and liberal American Jews, supporters and opponents of Pollard, pundits and editorialists argue that the life imprisonment given to Pollard was out of proportion to the crime of treason. They claim that, after 30 years, he was ‘overdue’ for release.
The severity of the punishment is determined by the crime and the damage caused. In case of treason and espionage committed by US officials, (especially for money), the sentence is always severe. The leaders of the John Anthony Walker Naval spy ring were given multiple life sentences in 1985 and there are many other similar cases.
Among the documents Pollard handed over to his Israeli handlers (operating out of the Israeli Embassy), was US intelligence on strategic installations in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. No doubt, this provided Israel with strategic coordinates to bomb major security facilities in those countries as well as facilitated their brutal invasion and occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s. Pollard’s treachery led to the death of thousands of civilian lives in Lebanon and facilitated the wars in Iraq and Syria. The damage to those countries and to innocent people would not have been considered by the judge in Pollard’s life sentence – but it must be considered here, in understanding the enormity of his crimes. Pollard has boasted that he was operating out of a ‘racial imperative’ to protect Israel.
Pollard did not serve a life sentence. In fact, while in prison he became an Israeli citizen, a salaried officer in the Israeli armed forces and, after divorcing his American wife (who had also engaged in espionage for pay and served several years in prison), he re-married a Canadian-Israeli woman. This sheds a different light on the ‘severity’ of a life sentence for treason.
Pollard did not serve this ‘life sentence’. He was paroled in November 2015 (to the cheers of his adoring Jewish-American fans) demonstrating the wealth and power of American Zionists and their ability to buy the support of US politicians, domestic and foreign notables and the entire Israeli-Jewish political spectrum-and push aside the objections of the heads of the three major US armed services and intelligence agencies.
Israeli public opinion overwhelmingly supports Pollard and regards him as a ‘role model’ for other US Zionists in official positions. Contrary to Israeli lies, several other major Israeli spy operations occurred in the US after Pollard, including the case involving AIPAC officials, Rosen and Weissman, and Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin during George W. Bush’s administration.
In stark contrast to the freeing of an Israeli spy responsible for endangering the security of thousands of US operatives abroad and millions of innocent civilians, two authentic American political prisoners, who have fought for the rights of minorities, rot in jail with no prospect of freedom. Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader has spent 38 years in the highest security prison and Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American leader from Philadelphia, whose 33 years in prison have been on death row or brutal solitary confinement. Both were framed by perjured evidence in a parody of justice, which has revolted millions around the world. Neither threatened US security. Over the years, numerous witnesses, legal authorities and academics have testified regarding the miscarriage of justice that characterized their ‘show trials’ and have pleaded for their humanitarian release.
Unlike Pollard, and despite decades of worldwide campaigns for their release, Peltier and Abu-Jamal will probably die entombed in prison. Unlike Pollard, their cases were never about treason, selling information and greed. They have worked hard for justice within their communities, hence earning the hatred of the police state. They fought to serve their oppressed American communities, rather than an oppressive and racist Israeli elite – determined to oppress and erase the native Palestinian population.
The decisive factor has been the political power of Pollard’s supporters, the US Zionist Power Configuration, which leads President Obama and 430 US members of Congress by the nose. Through their media connections, they can lie about Pollard’s case and his motives. They can minimize the consequences of his treason and twist the arms of obedient politicians to support a traitor. Despite the fact that scores of high-ranking US intelligence and military officials have repeatedly attested to the damage inflicted by Pollard on the US, campaign finance hungry politicians recite the Zionist line that Pollard’s treason did not warrant a harsh sentence!
Beyond the immediate shame of a US president caving in to Israeli pressure with regard to this spy, there is the issue of the flagrant double standard:
Why do Israeli spies (or American Zionist traitors) evoke the unconditional support of the entire US Zionist apparatus? Why do thousands of rabbis, hundreds of movie executives and media moguls and scores of billionaires (talk about the 0.01%!) campaign on behalf of this arrogant, greedy thief? Why does Pollard merit a totally different standard of justice, in stark contrast to the vast majority of American minorities – who can rot in dungeons even when clearly innocent? Why does a self-described Israeli (who renounced his US citizenship in jail), who sold vital national secrets to fund a decadent life-style and for what he described as a ‘race imperative’ merit such favors while hundreds of thousands of poor US citizens are routinely denied leniency – let alone mercy? Clearly, the interests of Israel, a foreign regime, carry much greater weight within the US judicial system than millions of American minorities…
Cyber Crimes of Our Times: Billionaire Israeli Swindlers and the Chinese Military
For over three years, the Obama administration, the NSA and the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter have fed their media mouthpieces breathless denunciations against China for cyber-theft. Ever week, there are lurid stories about the theft of confidential US industrial, military and political intelligence committed by the Chinese. The Obama regime has followed up his charges of ‘cybertheft” by threatening to confront China in the South China Sea, apply sanctions and raise the military ante in the Pacific against the world’s most dynamic economic superpower.
Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland (Nudelman-Kaplan) has claimed that Chinese cyber theft is a top national security threat requiring an immediate military-security response. US officials have provided no evidence that Chinese officials, at any level, are involved in espionage. Moreover, they have presented no proof that cyber theft is a policy of the Chinese government! There has been no evidence that these alleged thefts have damaged US companies or security interests. Nevertheless, US hostility toward China has been justified by unproven accusations and are used to increase the possibility of a major confrontation.
Contrasted with the ‘allegations’ against the Chinese, three ‘Israeli businessmen’ have been officially charged by US prosecutors with running a multi-billion dollar cyber-hacking scam within the US over the past five years. Dubbed the biggest financial hack in US history, the story hardly made headlines in the US media and was conveniently buried by subsequent ‘terror attacks’ in Europe.
The case is instructive. Three Israelis (one a US-Israeli dual citizen) hacked-attacked ten of the largest US financial institutions, including JP Morgan Chase and Fidelity Investments, as well as the Wall Street Journal … downloading protected information on over 100 million Americans – the biggest hack-attack in US history. Gery Shalon, Ziv Orenstein and Joshua Samuel Aaron employed hundreds of employees in Israel and elsewhere running a mega-cybercriminal enterprise.
According to the Financial Times (11/11/2015, p1), “the hacks took place from 2012 to mid-2015 and were aimed at aiding stock market manipulation that generated tens of millions of dollars.” In addition to selling ‘pumped-up’ stocks to millions of customers of the companies they had hacked, Shalom et al. launched cyber attacks to launder millions (more likely billions) for illegal drug and counterfeit software dealers, malicious malware distributors, illegal online casinos and an illegal ‘bitcoin exchange’ known as ‘Coin.mx.’ Someone within the financial security apparatus of the US government (white collar crime unit) must have tipped them off. They are safe in Israel; the Netanyahu regime has yet to act on a US extradition order, although they are reportedly under ‘house arrest’ in their villas.
In contrast to the on-going bellicose rhetoric, which Washington has directed against China’s alleged hackers, Washington has been ‘very reluctant’ to press the issue of extraditing the cyber-thieves with its ‘special partner’ in Tel Aviv.
Israeli super-hackers launched virulent attacks against major US financial institutions and American investors with apparent impunity, following the practice of Israeli info-tech operatives who have raided US military, technology and industrial sites for years.
While the US sends air squadrons and an armada of warships to Chinese waters over a few sand-bars, and brays about arresting Chinese researchers (who it later released with no charges) for alleged cyber-theft, it cannot persuade its ‘closest strategic ally’, Israel, to hand over a trio of formally charged swindlers. Instead, the US increased its annual $3 billion in military aid and provides an open market for Israeli ‘security’ products based on stolen US technology!
The reason for the differential response is not the nature of the ‘crimes’ – it is who commits the crimes! Israeli dominance of US politics via the unconditional support of its US Zionist power configuration ensures impunity for Israeli citizens, including the ability to delay or postpone the extradition of notorious multi-billion cyber thieves! Washington feels free to accuse China, without proof of official Chinese complicity, despite overwhelming evidence, while it cannot persuade its close ‘friend’ Israel to extradite criminals. Netanyahu, backed by his Israeli-Jewish public will decide if, when and where to extradite. When it comes to shielding Israeli or American-Israeli criminals from American justice, Israel treats its ally in Washington like an enemy.
Zionist political clout is evident in Washington’s judicial leniency toward other mega-swindlers with ties to Israel. Michael Milken contributed millions of (swindled) dollars to Israeli and US Zionist programs and won a ‘get out of jail’ card despite his conviction for major financial scams. He served 2 years out of a 10-year sentence and was granted a ‘humanitarian release’ because he was ‘dying’ of extensive terminal metastatic prostate cancer. So far, Michael’s quarter century of miraculous remission from ‘terminal metastatic prostate cancer’ constitutes a first in the annals of urologic cancer! He has gone on to re-constitute his fortune and prominence, while welfare mothers who took a few extra dollars rot in jail.
Ivan Boesky, another uber-Zionist and mega-donor to Israel was a swindler of gargantuan proportions. He raked in hundreds of millions a year. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to a mere 42 months in prison. He was out in less than 24 months, thanks to the support of ….
Marc Rich, a mega- billionaire rogue trader who broke US sanctions against trading with enemies, was also a self-described agent for the Israeli Mossad. Despite having been convicted in absentia in US courts for fraud, (he had skipped bail for Switzerland), President ‘Bill’ Clinton pardoned the ‘absentee felon’ in abstentia– a historical first for a criminal who had never spent a day in the jail. Mrs. Rich’s $100,000 donation to the Hilary Clinton New York senatorial campaign probably did little to influence the President’s sense of mercy…..
However, ‘Bernie’ Madoff, a $50 billion dollar swindler’ who gave huge amounts of illicit earnings to Zionist charities and projects in Israel was convicted and sentenced to over 100 years in prison. Unlike the above mentioned ‘untouchables’, Madoff will never breathe free again because he made the unforgivable mistake of mostly swindling other Jews, ardent Zionists and even ripping off a number of pro-Israel foundations. His differential treatment stems from his poor choice of victims rather than the crimes… Otherwise he might now be enjoying a comfortable villa in Israel than a cold cell in Pennsylvania.
Israeli capacity to manipulate and influence the American judicial process is based on 52 powerful front organizations – organized in the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations. This situation has made a mockery of the American court system and feeds the cynicism and bitterness of the average American. Zionist officials and allies occupy strategic position within the White House and judiciary.
Through their influence in the mass media, they converted a grotesque mercenary spy, like Jonathan Pollard, into an altruistic, Israeli-Jewish patriot, celebrated throughout Israel and within US Zionist circles. Veteran American intelligence and military official who opposed his release have been painted with the broad brush of ‘anti-Semite’. The formidable Zionist power configuration, nurtured and financed by mega-swindlers, successfully secured his release. Zionist dominance essentially guarantees that the US will treat an indicted Israeli cyber-thief with extreme tact, supplicating the Israeli government for their extradition, while going ballistic over an alleged Chinese hacker.
Few progressive web sites or even the micro-Marxist journals confront these issues, more out of moral cowardice (self-censorship) than ignorance. Instead they bleat general clichés and ‘radical rhetoric’ about ‘US imperialism’ and the ‘rise of the right’ without identifying the precise social and political identity of the forces who move national policy. In a word, the Zionist Power Configuration gets more than a ‘free ride’. Across the political spectrum it continues to campaign on behalf of Israeli spies and Zionist financial swindlers. This corruption of the American judicial system and the betrayal of American trust have far-reaching consequences and undermine efforts to effectively address major national problems.
Britain is being sucked into another illegal, open-ended conflict which will achieve nothing beyond giving the cycle of violence another spin.
The UK parliament decides on Wednesday 2 December whether to support prime minister David Cameron’s motion for war on Syria. Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is opposed.
The decision to give Labour MPs a “free vote” on the issue of bombing Syria has cleared the way for a Commons vote on Wednesday to send the country to war. It was all the encouragement David Cameron needed.
A lot of guff has been talked about the vote being “a matter of conscience.” There is of course no logic at all that makes the question of, say, railway electrification, a matter of Party discipline but the question of illegally attacking another country a free-for-all.
In reality, it is not conscience at all that animates pro-war Labour MPs. It is either inveterate support for all British war-mongering, or a desire to destroy the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, or both. Their conduct explains the contempt in which most politicians are now held.
Nevertheless, the shadow cabinet decision should not mask the fact that the case for war is disintegrating. More and more people, experts and ordinary folk alike, are turning against David Cameron’s plan.
That is why all possible pressure should be continue to be applied, right down to the last-minute, on all MPs, but particularly the Labour minority wobbling on the matter, or presently signed up to support the Tories.
Let’s remind them that the arguments for war are threadbare.
Everyone would be delighted to see the end of Islamic State. But bombing by the most powerful air force in the world over the last two years has achieved little or nothing.
David Cameron’s 70,000-strong ground army ready to take and hold IS-controlled territory is largely a figment of his imagination – his own “45-minute warning”. Some of the fighters he is counting on are in fact al-Qaeda supporters.
And the government is still not seriously committed to a political process to end the Syrian civil war – the pre-condition for actually eliminating IS. Britain is therefore being sucked into another illegal, open-ended conflict which will achieve nothing beyond giving the whole cycle of violence another spin.
Cameron has learned nothing from his own disastrous intervention in Libya, never mind Tony Blair’s Iraq aggression.
His real reason for pushing for joining the bombing (alongside the USA, France, Russia and Turkey) is to give Britain a “seat at a table” in any post-war carve-up of the Middle East. The arguments of neo-imperialism in fact.
The determination of the majority of the Shadow Cabinet to go along with this has already been repudiated by the vast majority of Labour Party members and supporters. A growing wave of lobbying by the anti-war movement has also had an impact.
As a result even Labour MPs usually regarded as on the right of the Party are saying they will vote against further war when the matter comes before the Commons.
So the decision to allow a “free vote” – deplorable as it is – must be a spur to greater mobilisation, setting disappointment to one side. We must use every moment of the next 48 hours to maximise their number
Here is the situation in Syria as I see it: Russia is taking a long-range view and wants stability in post-ISIS Syria. France and the United States are taking the short-range view and really have no achievable plans for Syria’s future stability. Turkey appears to have given little thought to Syria’s future. Ankara may be willing to see indefinite chaos in Syria if it hurts the Assad regime on the one hand and the Kurds on the other.
The Russians may be the only party interested in the long-term political stability of Syria. There is certainly no doubt that President Putin is more determined than Western leaders to act on the fact that the various so-called moderate parties standing against the Assad regime cannot work together, and that this fault cannot be corrected by enticements from the United States. For the Russians, this fact makes the Damascus government the only source of future stability.
This understanding, and not Soviet-era nostalgia, has led Russia to support the Assad regime, which possesses a working government, a standing army, and the loyalty of every religious minority group in the country.
Some might object that both Assad and Putin are dictators and thugs (by the way, thugs in suits in the U.S. government are all too common). However, this cannot serve as a serious objection. The only alternative to Damascus’s victory is perennial civil war fragmenting the country into warlord zones. With the possible exception of Israel, this scenario is in no one’s interest, although it seems that the leaders of in Washington and Paris are too politically circumscribed to act on this fact.
U.S. and France
Thus, it would appear that neither the U.S. nor France really cares about Syria as a stable nation. Once the present military capacity of ISIS is eliminated, Washington and Paris may well clandestinely continue to support a low-level civil war against the Assad regime. In this effort they will have the help of Turkey, the Kurds and Israel. The result will be ongoing decimation of the Syrian population and fragmentation of its territory.
As if to justify U.S. strategy, President Obama, with French President Hollande by his side, recently boasted that the United States stood at the head of a “65-country coalition” fighting terrorism in Syria. However, this is a hollow claim. Most of these countries are coalition members in name only, and some of them, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state governments, play a double game. And then Obama dismissed Russia and Iran as “outliers” and “a coalition of two.” Yet those two countries are the Syrian nation’s best hope for future stability.
The fact is that U.S. policy in Syria has been a losing proposition from the beginning just because of its hostility to the Assad government. Despite its air campaign against ISIS, Washington has no ground component nor any answer to the political vacuum in Syria. Both missing parts are to be found in an alliance with Damascus.
Refusal to make that alliance has also opened Washington to building neoconservative political pressure to increase U.S. military presence in the area. However, American “boots on the ground” in Syria is both a dangerous option as well as an unnecessary one. Syrian government boots can do the job if they are properly supported. The support has come from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. It is the United States and its coalition who are the “outliers.”
It is not easy to explain Turkey’s animosity toward Damascus. Prior to the civil war in Syria, the two countries had good relations. Then something changed. It may have been something as foolish as President Erdogan’s taking personal offense against President Assad because the latter chose to heed the advice of Iran rather than Turkey at the beginning of the war. Whatever happened, it sent Ankara off on an anti-Assad crusade.
That anti-Assad mindset is probably the backstory to the recent reckless Turkish decision to shoot down a Russian warplane operating in support of Syrian government troops close to the Turkish border.
The Turks say that the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace. The Russians deny this. The Turks claim that they tried to communicate with the Russian plane to warn it away. When it did not respond, they destroyed it. Of late the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said that Ankara “didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down … until Moscow announced it was Russian.” This statement is frankly unbelievable given that Davutoglu followed it up with an admission that Turkey had complained to Russian about military flights in this exact border area. He also asserted that both Russian and Syrian operations in this region of northern Syria should stop because ISIS has no presence there. This assertion makes no sense, since Damascus’s aim is to reassert government authority by the defeat of armed rebels regardless of their organizational affiliation.
It is hard to say whether the Turks are telling the truth about an incursion into their airspace. Most of their evidence, such as recorded Turkish warnings to the Russian plane, is easily fabricated. However, in the end it does not really matter if the plane crossed the border. There was no need to shoot it down.
If the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace, there would have been a range of options. The Turks could be very sure that the Russian plane had no hostile intention toward their country, and they should have assumed, for the sake of minimizing any consequences, that no provocation was meant on the part of the Russia. In other words, they should have acted as if the alleged overflight was a mistake. The Turks could have then shadowed the Russian plane in a way that coaxed it back into Syrian airspace and followed the incident up with a formal protest to Moscow. Instead they made the worst possible choice and shot the plane down. Now both Ankara and Washington are shouting about Turkey’s right to defend its territory despite the fact that the Russian plane never posed any threat.
In all of the bloodshed, population displacement and terror that has accompanied the Syrian civil war, the least-considered party has been the Syrian people and their future. ISIS, or at least its present infrastructure, will ultimately be destroyed. However, while that destruction is necessary, it is an insufficient outcome because it fails to provide long-term stability. Right now that vital ingredient can only be supplied by the reimposition of order by Damascus. The folks in Washington, Paris and Ankara might not like that, but they are not the ones facing a future of anarchy. And indeed, the more they stand in the way of Damascus, the more chaos they will help create.
Prof. Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.
There is not a judgment up yet, that would allow me to give you an account of what has happened from someone who has heard both sides of the case, rather than just one side. I will keep an eye out.
The column does have the usual Booker hallmarks – the account provided by a single source, the cosying up to the President of the Family Division as being the only person who is trying to put things right, his habit as a ‘journalist’ of confusing making an argument with simply putting words in quotation marks to show his contempt for them, his misunderstanding of many basic legal principles, and his unappealing habit of throwing the Judge’s first name around like confetti – I imagine this is done to belittle them and diminish respect for them. It is a cheap shot.
Erdogan is an international outlaw, He’s supporting ISIS, US proxy foot soldiers in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, directly involved in their oil smuggling, refining and sales worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the black market.
America and other Western nations are well aware of what’s going on, doing nothing to stop it, aiding it by inaction and/or direct support – Russia alone intervening by bombing ISIS’ truck pipeline, transporting oil along with its facilities in Syria,
Mowaffak al Rubaie is a former Iraqi Governing Council member/national security advisor. Interviewed by RT International, he explained “(i)n the last eight months (alone), ISIS (sold) $800 million dollars worth of (stolen) oil on the black market of Turkey.”
“This is Iraqi oil and Syrian oil, carried by trucks from Iraq, from Syria through the borders to Turkey and sold (at) less than 50 percent of the international oil price.”
“Now this either gets consumed inside, the crude refined on Turkish territory by the Turkish refineries, and sold in the Turkish market or it goes to Jihan and then in the pipelines from Jihan to the Mediterranean and sold to the international market.”
“Money and dollars generated by selling Iraqi and Syrian oil on the Turkish black market is like the oxygen supply to ISIS and it’s operation. Once you cut the oxygen then ISIS will suffocate.”
Al Rubaie stressed “no shadow of a doubt” about Turkey’s full knowledge and involvement in what’s ongoing. Responsibility goes right to the top. Reports suggest that Erdogan’s son, Bilal, is actively engaged in illegal smuggling, selling and profiting from stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil, facilitated by Turkey’s security apparatus and intelligence.
Erdogan’s regime treats wounded ISIS terrorists in Turkish hospitals in border areas and Istanbul. Daesh recruits are trained in Turkey by CIA operatives and US special forces. They move freely cross-border to and from Syria and Iraq.
Al Rubaie said “no terrorist organization…can stand alone without a neighboring country helping it.” Complicit with Washington, Turkey is directly involved along with other NATO countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Israel.
Without this type backing, ISIS and other terrorist groups couldn’t exist. America bears full responsibility for creating them – complicit nations aiding its imperial enterprise.
Putin prioritizes crippling ISIS’ oil smuggling operations, destroying its ability to generate enormous revenues from black market sales. None of this could go on without direct Erdogan regime involvement.
Russian pilots and drones observed and photographed a “living oil pipeline” – transporting vehicles moving as far as the eye can see and beyond the horizon, round-the-clock, heading for Turkey, returning empty to reload and head out again.
Since Russian air operations began targeting ISIS’ financial lifeline, over 1,000 oil transporting trucks were destroyed along with with depots and other facilities in Syria.
Assad’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said “Turkey continues to maintain export and transportation of oil stolen in Iraq and Syria by ISIL militants. Then, the oil is transported to ports abroad.”
Sergey Lavrov explained high-level Turkish officials “carefully protect any information about their oil smuggling deals. (It’s) transported (in) the area where the Russian plane was shot down, and (where) the terrorist infrastructure, arms and munitions depots and control centers” are located.
Retired French General Dominique Trinquand accused Turkey of “either not fighting ISIL at all or very little, and does not interfere with different types of smuggling that takes place on its border, be it oil, phosphate, cotton or people.”
On Saturday, Turkish police arrested Ankara Gendarmerie Regional Commander Major General Ibrahim Aydin, former Adana Gendarmerie Regional Commander Brigadier General Hamza Celepoglu and former Gendarmerie Criminal Laboratory Head Colonel Burhanettin Cihangiroglu on charges of treason and espionage – for revealing information about regime authorities transporting weapons cross-border to ISIS terrorists in Syria.
Charges relate to a January 2014 incident when they were involved in intercepting weapons-filled trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
In May 2015, Turkish Cumhuriyet media published information about it, posting photos of MIT trucks being inspected by security officers.
Large amounts of heavy and other weapons were heading cross-border to Syria. The publication’s editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief now face treason and espionage charges for exposing regime criminality.
Several sources have confirmed rumours that Israel have purchased most of its oil supplies from ISIS militants who stole it from Syria via tanker truck convoys.
As reported by an earlier Financial Times report, Israel has bought as much as three-quarters of its oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, which accounts for 19 million barrels of oil over the course of three months.
In a carefully detailed article, Al-Araby lays out the entire process from start to finish, showing how ISIS™ supposedly steals the oil from Conoco oil fields in Syria and then transports them down to Iraqi Kurdistan where the oil is purchased illegally and refined to some small degree so they can get around import regulations in Turkey. The oil is put in tanker trucks labeled as legitimate oil from the Iraqi Kurdistan region and sold to black market buyers in Turkey. The article explains how one of the biggest buyers of that stolen oil just happens to be an Israeli-Greek duel citizen named Uncle Farid.
IS sells Iraqi and Syrian oil for a very low price to Kurdish and Turkish smuggling networks and mafias, who label it and sell it on as barrels from the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Global military spending was down in 2012 for the first time since 1998. And for the second year in a row, arms sales from private industry to governments were down as well last year.
Despite the decline in military spending, the business of war remains a good one. The 100 largest arms producers and military services contractors recorded $395 billion in arms sales in 2012. Lockheed Martin, the largest arms seller, alone accounted for $36 billion in such sales during 2012. Based on figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 companies profiting most from war.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is among the biggest reasons for the drop in military spending, according to SIPRI. Spending on these campaigns fell from $159 billion to $115 billion between 2011 and 2012.
Austerity also contributed to cuts in military spending. Budget control measures were responsible for a $15 billion reduction in U.S. military expenditures in 2012. Belt-tightening in Europe also had an impact on arms sales. In 20 of the 37 countries in Western and Central Europe, military spending declined by more than 10% between 2008 and 2012.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dr. Samuel Perlo-Freeman, director of the SIPRI Programme on Military Expenditure and Arms Production, said that while government military spending is waning in the United States and Western Europe, many developing countries are increasing their expenditures. Arms sellers in several countries, most notably Russia, are benefiting from their nation’s military budget expansion, Perlo-Freeman noted. While U.S. military expenses declined in 2012, Russia’s increased by an estimated 16% that year.
Companies reacted differently to the sales downturn. L-3 Communications spun off part of its business in 2012 to limit exposure to declining government military spending. Other government contractors wrote off significant losses in response to decreased military spending, including General Dynamics, which took a $2 billion goodwill charge related to declining opportunities in the defense sector.
Faced with possible tough times, some companies have engaged in corrupt practices. Last year, the CEO of Italian aerospace and defense firm Finmeccanica was charged by Italian prosecutors with fraud and corruption related to the company’s sale of helicopters to the Indian government. However, according to Perlo-Freeman, this is nothing new. “The arms industry has always been associated with corruption both in international arms transfers and sometimes in domestic procurement.”
Arms sales have remained concentrated among the same small number of companies for more than a decade. The top 10 companies have largely remained in place because industry consolidation in the 1990s made them dominant players, even through fluctuations in government military spending. “These companies tend to have their core competencies in getting money out of governments,” Perlo-Freeman said.
To identify the 10 companies profiting most from war, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 companies with the most arms sales based on SIPRI’s list of the top 100 arms sellers in 2012. Arms sales, including advisory, planes, vehicles and weapons, were defined by sales to military customers, as well as contracts to government militaries. We also considered the company’s 2012 total sales and profits, and the total number of employees at the company, as well as nation-level military spending, all provided by SIPRI.
These are the companies profiting the most from war:
5. General Dynamics > Arm sales 2012: $20.9 billion > Total sales 2012: $31.5 billion > 2012 profit: -$332 million > 2012 employment: 92,200
Like many of its defense-sector competitors, Virginia-based General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD) felt the sting of the decreased U.S. military spending. The company, which specializes in aircraft, land and expeditionary combat vehicles, and shipbuilding, lost $332 million in 2012, and its arms sales totaled $20.9 billion, down from $23.3 billion the year before. The loss was due, in large part, to a $2 billion goodwill charge related to declining business opportunities in the defense sector. In its most recent year, the company reported a 16.4% drop in sales in its combat systems group, for which the U.S. Army is major customer.
While Raytheon’s 2012 arm sales of $22.5 billion were slightly lower compared to 2011, they remained high enough for the company to rank fourth among arms companies. The company, which traces its history back to 1922, assisted the United States in multiple wars, as well as the Apollo 11 moon landing. Raytheon Co. (NYSE: RTN) provides services in a variety of fields, from air and missile defense to radar and cybersecurity. In all, 92% of the company’s sales came from arms sales in 2012. But while the U.S. has cut defense spending in recent years, Raytheon has benefited from a surge in exports to foreign countries, which has helped to offset federal government belt-tightening.
3. BAE Systems > Arm sales 2012: $26.9 billion > Total sales 2012: $28.3 billion > 2012 profit: $2.6 billion > 2012 employment: 88,200
BAE Systems is the largest non-U.S. military contractor. It had $26.9 billion in arms sales in 2012, which represented some 95% of the company’s total sales. However, the British company’s year-over-year arms sales declined that year from $29.2 billion in 2011. Cuts by England’s Ministry of Defence have taken a toll on the company. As the U.K.’s largest military contractor, it received 13.7% of procurement funds spent in 2012 to 2013. In May 2012, the company announced it would close its Armstrong plant — which made tanks for the nation in World War I and had been in operation since 1847 — and cut 330 jobs as a result. BAE’s failed $45 billion merger with fellow defense contractor EADS in 2012 also hurt prospective sales of England’s main fighter jet, the British Tornado, for which BAE makes the parts.
2. Boeing > Arm sales 2012: $27.6 billion > Total sales 2012: $81.7 billion > 2012 profit: $3.9 billion > 2012 employment: 174,400
Although arms sales accounted for just 34% of Boeing’s revenue in 2012, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) was still the world’s second largest military contractor that year. In all, the company’s total revenue was nearly $82 billion in 2012. The company’s commercial airplane segment accounted for a large portion of its sales, with $49.1 billion in revenue that year. Boeing ended 2012 with $3.9 billion in profit and with more than 174,400 employees. Last year, Boeing and union workers in Washington state engaged in heated negotiations, with Boeing threatening to move jobs away from the state unless union workers agreed to concessions related to theirpension plan.
1. Lockheed Martin > Arm sales 2012: $36 billion > Total sales 2012: $47.2 billion > 2012 profit: 2.7 billion > 2012 employment: 120,000
In 2012, Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) led the world in arms sales, even as its arms sales declined slightly from $36.2 billion in 2011 to $36 billion in 2012. Such sales accounted for 95% of the Maryland company’s total revenue. The company, which employed 120,000 workers as of 2012, specializes in aerospace, global security and information technology systems for the military. It is also known for the C-5 Galaxy Class airplane — the largest air military transport plane in the world. Lockheed Martin has been the largest recipient of government procurement contracts and the top-ranked company on the Washington Technology Top 100 for 19 consecutive years. However, this has also left the company exposed to changes in the federal budget. In October 2012, at the request of President Obama, the company held off on firing thousands of workers that it previously warned it would have to lay off due to military spending cuts.
Terrorism can never be defeated by military means alone. But how do you go about negotiating with people who have blood on their hands? Britain’s chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal explains how it can – and must – be done (for a start, always shake hands)
In 1919, the British government had its first major encounter with terrorism, when the Irish Republican Army was established to drive the British out of Ireland. The government responded to the IRA’s acts of terror – which included the assassination of civilians as well as soldiers – with indiscriminate reprisals; these were met in turn by further escalation from the IRA. The prime minister, David Lloyd George, declared that the British government would never talk to the “murder gang”, as he described the IRA. But by 1920, it became clear to both sides that a military victory was impossible. Lloyd George secretly began to initiate contact with Michael Collins and other IRA leaders, using a relatively junior former customs official, Alfred Cope – who managed to open up a channel to the rebels and negotiate a ceasefire. This led to full-blown talks in Downing Street in 1921, and eventually to an agreement, albeit a flawed one that later unravelled.
Seventy-six years later, in December 1997, Tony Blair and I sat down in the same cabinet room in Downing Street with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness; the negotiating teams, from Sinn Féin and the British government, even sat on the same sides of the table as they had in 1921. On both occasions, the meeting was a big event. There were more TV cameras outside Downing Street than there had been on election day seven months earlier, and we were all nervous. Alastair Campbell had ordered the Christmas tree be removed from in front of the door of Number 10, so that there could be no pictures of terrorists in front of festive decorations.
In 1921, Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George’s secretary and mistress, said she had never seen the prime minister “so excited as he was before De Valera arrived. He kept walking in and out of my room and I could see he was working out the best way of dealing with Dev … He had a big map of the British empire hung on the wall in the cabinet room, with great blotches of red all over it. This was to impress on Dev the greatness of the British empire and the King.” In 1997, before we sat down Martin McGuinness tried to break the ice, and said: “So, this is where all the damage was done, then.” We thought this was a reference to the IRA attack on Downing Street in 1991, and I responded by saying “Yes, the IRA mortars landed in the garden behind you, and blew the windows in. My brother dragged John Major under the table and four overweight policemen came running in waving their revolvers.” McGuinness was horrified. “No, I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I meant this was where Irish Republicans gave everything away all those years ago.” As is so often the case, the terrorists had a better memory for what had gone before than the government. (I use the word “terrorist” here for the sake of simplicity, but it isn’t a particularly useful term to define a group – terror is a tactic employed by governments, groups, and individuals. I mean it to refer to non-state armed groups that use terror and enjoy significant political support.)
When it comes to terrorism, governments seem to suffer from a collective amnesia. All of our historical experience tells us that there can be no purely military solution to a political problem, and yet every time we confront a new terrorist group, we begin by insisting we will never talk to them. As Dick Cheney put it, “we don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it”. In fact, history suggests we don’t usually defeat them and we nearly always end up talking to them. Hugh Gaitskell, the former Labour leader, captured it best when he said: “All terrorists, at the invitation of the government, end up with drinks in the Dorchester.”
Certainly that was true throughout the history of the British empire. Menachem Begin’s Irgun was responsible for blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 and injuring 46. The British authorities called him a terrorist and tried to hunt him down. But when he became prime minister of Israel and made peace with Egypt, we lauded him as a statesman. We accused Jomo Kenyatta of being a terrorist and locked him up, but later negotiated Kenyan independence with him. We exiled Archbishop Makarios to the Seychelles for supporting terrorism but made peace with him and he became the first leader of an independent Cyprus.
It is hard not to respond emotionally to a terrorist act in the heat of the moment. When we see videos of western journalists being beheaded or TV footage of small children being blown up by IRA bombs it seems obvious that the only answer is force. It is easy to regard any suggestion that we should ever talk to people capable of such savagery as immoral. George W Bush, in a speech to the Knesset in 2008, even suggested that talking to terrorists in this way amounted to appeasement. That is, however, to misunderstand appeasement. Chamberlain’s mistake in 1938 was not talking to Hitler – it was entirely sensible to take every possible step to avert another catastrophic world war – but to think Hitler could be bought off with a slice of Czechoslovakia. Talking to terrorists and agreeing with them are not the same thing. The British government negotiated with Sinn Féin, but we did not concede to their demand of a united Ireland at the barrel of a gun.
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I have not always been convinced of the need to talk to terrorists. The first time I met a terrorist, I did so reluctantly. My father had been hit by an IRA bullet in an ambush in 1940, and my eldest brother was on an IRA death list for eight years while he worked for Margaret Thatcher. When I first met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, in Belfast in October 1997, I declined to shake their hands – a petty gesture I now regret, but one that recurs again and again at encounters between governments and terrorists.
A few days after that meeting, I got a call from McGuinness, who asked me to come to meet him alone in Derry, without involving what he called “the securocrats” in the British government. I flew to Aldergrove, took a taxi to Derry, and stood on a street corner feeling mildly foolish. After 10 minutes or so, two men with shaved heads approached me, said “Martin sent us,” and pushed me into the back of a taxi. They drove me round in circles for an hour until I was completely lost and then ejected me when we arrived in front of a neat modern house on a small estate. I knocked on the door and McGuinness opened it on crutches, making a not very funny joke about kneecapping, the IRA’s favoured method of punishment. I spent three hours with him in front of an open fire with tea and sandwiches left by the considerate owner of the house. We didn’t make any breakthroughs, but it set a pattern and I spent a good part of the next 10 years flying back and forth across the Irish Sea to meet Adams and McGuinness in safe houses in west Belfast, Derry and Dublin, going on to their turf rather than demanding they come to grand government buildings. The shared risks we took helped establish a relationship of trust, in which ideas could be explored informally and progress made. That encounter, and my 17 years of experience since in talking to terrorists in different parts of the world have convinced me of the wisdom of this approach if we want to resolve armed conflict in a lasting way.
Terrorists are nearly always keen to talk. Gerry Adams could not persuade David Trimble or his Ulster Unionist party to talk to him even when they entered negotiations; they insisted on directing all of their comments to the chair, US Senator George Mitchell, rather than to Sinn Féin. Adams resorted to desperate tactics: he would loiter in the corridor until one of the unionists entered the gents, and then follow them in, stand at the next urinal, and try to engage them in conversation. They still refused to talk.
I am an unlikely peacenik. I grew up in a military family, and I was involved in the decisions on all of Tony Blair’s wars. I do not think that war is always wrong: sometimes it is necessary to stop a dictator, prevent massive human-rights abuses, or expel an invader. But I have also seen that in the modern world, civil wars are the greatest threat to humanitarian security. If you want to fight starvation, the spread of disease, and mass rape – or to help suffering children, whether child soldiers or the victims of war – then the most important thing you can do is to help end armed conflicts, which is why I have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to that goal.
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We usually delay talking to armed groups too long, and as a result, a large number of people die unnecessarily. General David Petraeus admitted that, in Iraq, the US left it far too late to talk to those “with American blood on their hands”. We delay because it is argued that talking is too risky – but experience suggests the real risk lies in not talking.
When governments have been wrestling for years with a terrorist group, and it becomes clear that the military option is not working, the tendency is to try it again – what we might call the “one last heave” approach. In Afghanistan, this was the argument for another “surge” of troops, under Petraeus, to put the Taliban on the back foot. Unfortunately, this tactic rarely works. Terrorist groups may not accept that they are being outfought, and generally believe they can wait out the conventional forces arrayed against them.
It has been argued, by some revisionist historians, that talks delayed, rather than hastened, the end of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Basque country. Had politicians allowed the army and police to go after the terrorists without “their hands tied behind their backs” by worries about human rights, the argument goes, they would have finished off the terrorists without any need for talking. As someone intimately involved in both negotiations, I can categorically declare this to be false. Although the IRA had been penetrated – and was suffering from the advances made by security forces, which frustrated an increasing number of their attacks – they were not about to be defeated.
As Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, put it in her Reith lectures in 2011, “The divisions in Northern Ireland society, manifested in terrorism, could not be solved militarily. Nor could intelligence and police work, however successful in preventing attacks and informing government, resolve those divisions, although that work could buy time for a political process.” The same was true of the Basque conflict. Both were brought to an end by talking. The idea that “one last heave” can deliver a military victory invariably proves to have been a delusion.
When every other option has been eliminated, and governments are prepared to contemplate talking to terrorists, they face a series of bad arguments against doing so.
First, that talking will give the terrorists legitimacy. It is true that armed groups crave legitimacy, and will go to great lengths to secure it. But it is equally true that such legitimacy is usually temporary, and disappears if they end the talks and return to violence. The Farc in Colombia attained some respectability in the Caguan negotiations in 1998-2002 but lost it as soon as they went back to war, being dismissed as narco-terrorists who had rejected a reasonable offer from the government.
Second, it is argued that agreeing to a ceasefire so that talks can begin allows insurgents to rest, regroup, and re-arm. In fact, experience suggests that it is the armed groups that suffer most from ceasefires, and find it harder to motivate their forces to return to killing if the ceasefire ends.
Third, critics suggest that talking can undermine moderate politicians by favouring the extremists. The Blair government was accused of having sidelined the moderate SDLP to talk to Sinn Féin, but this was another false charge: in fact, we tried at the beginning to build an agreement from the centre outward, but the SDLP made it clear they would not move forward without Sinn Féin.
These specious arguments only cause governments to leave opening up conversations with the terrorists far too late. We forget how such discussions were conducted on previous occasions, and try to reinvent the wheel each time. Opening a channel with a covert group is difficult and dangerous; building trust and turning the channel into a negotiation takes much more time than people think.
Terrorists are much better at learning the lessons of history, partly because leaders of armed groups tend to stay in place much longer than democratically elected prime ministers and presidents. Gerry Adams has seen eight British prime ministers come and go while he has been the leader of Irish Republicans. The terrorists deliberately study what has happened in the past. The Fenians looked at the Russian nihilists, and the original IRA were fascinated by the Boers. Menachem Begin studied both the campaigns of the IRA in 1919-21 and the Russian anarchists. His own memoir was in turn found in an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.
To say that we need to learn the lessons from the past is not simply to suggest that we can adopt a model from Northern Ireland – or anywhere else – that can be plugged into any conflict and used as a template to solve it. Every conflict is different; its causes are different and its solution will be different. But I have now studied most of the negotiations between armed groups and governments in the last 30 years – including those that have succeeded in Mozambique, South Africa, El Salvador, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as those that have failed in Sri Lanka, Colombia and the Middle East – and there is clearly a pattern to what works and what does not.
Above all, what these experiences demonstrate is that there isn’t really an alternative to talking to the terrorists if you want the conflict to end. Hugh Orde, the former chief constable in Northern Ireland, rightly says, “There is no example that I know of, of terrorism being policed out” – or fully defeated by physical force – anywhere in the world. Petraeus said that it was clear in Iraq that “we would not be able to kill or capture our way out of the industrial-strength insurgency that was tearing apart the very fabric of Iraqi society”. If you can’t kill them all, then sooner or later you come back to the same point, and it is a question of when, not whether, you talk. If there is a political cause then there has to be a political solution.
Some academics suggest there are ways of ending a terrorist campaign other than negotiation, but a careful look at their examples shows the argument doesn’t stand up. It is said that decapitating a movement’s leaders can bring about its end. But the assassination of Sheikh Yassin did not lead to the end of Hamas, nor did the capture of Abdullah Ocalan lead to the demise of the PKK. It is also argued that the fact that the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Symbionese Liberation Army both eventually petered out shows that police work can succeed. But it is ludicrous to compare tiny groups of troubled middle-class children with movements that enjoy real political support like the PLO or the FMLN. And lastly, it is claimed that Sri Lanka shows a military solution can work. But Sri Lanka doesn’t demonstrate anything of the sort. President Rajapaksa managed to defeat the Tamil Tigers only because its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran – who had been considered a military genius for most of his life – turned out to be a military fool, in the words of one of the Norwegian negotiators who worked on the peace process. If he had stuck to a guerrilla campaign rather than trying to beat the Sri Lankan army in a conventional war, he would probably still be in the jungle fighting now. And the measures used by the Sri Lankan army to wipe out the Tigers are not methods that could be used by any western government that respects human rights and the rule of law. Finally, although the war is over and there is, thank goodness, no sign of the resurgence of a terrorist campaign, the political problem of Tamil rights still remains unresolved, and trouble will continue until it is.
It is true that an autocratic regime can, by using unrestrained force and blacking out all publicity, finish off a terrorist movement in Chechnya or anywhere else. But as we found out after the Soviet Union collapsed, all this does is to put the problems in the deep freeze; sooner or later they will reappear. Hafez al-Assad thought he had resolved the problem of Sunni rebellion in 1982, when his forces killed tens of thousands of civilians in the city of Hama. But as his son Bashar found out 30 years later, he had not really resolved the problem at all.
Our past experience therefore suggests there is little alternative to talking to an armed group if we want them to stop fighting.
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In February 2008, after I had left government, I argued in the Guardian that we should also talk to Hamas, to the Taliban and even to al-Qaida. My former colleagues in the British government predictably rubbished me. They insisted that while it was acceptable to talk to the IRA and the PLO it was out of the question with these new terrorists.
But are the so-called “fourth wave” terrorists (following on from the anarchists, the nationalists and the Marxists) really so different that there is nothing to be learned from the way we dealt with their predecessors? Or are the issues in the end political – however gruesome the methods they use – and therefore resolvable only by political means? It is true that the ambition of their violence is on a greater scale. Rather than the handful of people the IRA or ETA would kill in a car bombing or an assassination, they want to kill thousands of people. But the 19th-century anarchists had the same ambitions – and in any case, the number of people killed doesn’t make any difference to the moral nature of terrorism. It is just as wrong to kill one innocent person as it is to kill a thousand, and it can often be more shocking. It is true that the new terrorists use suicide bombers to maximise the terror they inflict, but so did the Russian nihilists – and the art of suicide bombing, including the use of female suicide bombers, was perfected by the Tamil Tigers in the 1980s.
It is argued that their violence is based on religion, and so it is impossible to negotiate with them – in the words of one former Israeli cabinet member: “When you get God into discussions, God never compromises.” But there is no evidence that religious armed groups are harder to engage than secular ones: peace has been made with Islamic armed groups, including the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines. It is also said that because the aims of these groups are apocalyptic and their demands unnegotiable, it is impossible to treat with them.
While it is true that it is unlikely that any government is going to agree to the creation of a global caliphate, the terrorist groups we encountered in the past also put forward demands that would never be acceptable. No British government was ever going to concede a united Ireland against the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland. Once discussions were begun with the Irish Republicans, we discovered that they were prepared to settle for something else.
Government officials may have criticised me six years ago, but in the intervening period they seem to have overcome the sense that it is absolutely impossible to talk to these groups. The Israeli and US governments have now both negotiated with Hamas on the release of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli Defence Force corporal, and over the recent ceasefire in Gaza, albeit indirectly. In Afghanistan, after a long mating ritual, the US government finally negotiated with the Taliban for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl a few months ago in return for freeing five prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay.
Even al-Qaida no longer seem to be completely beyond the pale. Eliza Manningham-Buller believes that “to say that you’re never going to speak to them or never going to try to, I think that’s foolish … we’re obviously a great deal away from anything that you could call a negotiation, even if that were possible, but to think about these questions and to make efforts to try and have those conversations must be a starter.” So it turns out that we are ready to talk to these fourth generation groups despite the assertion only a few years ago that we could never deal with them.
Now we face the group that calls itself the Islamic State(Isis), the latest terrorists to confront us. And yet again we have met them with an emotional response based on the horror deliberately generated by their acts. We agree to bomb them and insist we will never speak to them because they are quite unlike any terrorist group we have ever met before.
Of course there are differences. Their violence is more grisly than al-Qaida, and unlike many previous terrorist groups they, and Boko Haram in Nigeria, are taking and holding territory. This time, however, we should stop and consider what we have done in similar circumstances before. We need to work out a longer term strategy for dealing with whatever threat they pose, rather than opting once again for a kneejerk response to satisfy opinion polls. That strategy will certainly include security measures – if the terrorists feel they have the prospect of winning, they will just carry on fighting.
But we will also need to address the grievances of the Sunni community in Iraq and to separate out the ex-Baathists and former members of Saddam’s army, who give the movement its real power, from the jihadis. And while Isis may not want to talk to us at the moment, we need to start building a channel to them, as we did with the IRA in 1972, so we can communicate. At some stage, we will need to negotiate with violent Islamic extremism, whether in this form or another one, if their ideas continue to have political support and we want to find a lasting solution to conflict in the region. They are unlikely to simply fade away. We need to bear in mind that such negotiations do not usually succeed at first; they have to go through many iterations, and an agreement is usually reached only when a mutually hurting stalemate exists, in which both sides realise that they cannot prevail militarily.
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Nor should we expect that we are going to defeat terrorism for good even if we succeed in dealing with al-Qaida and Isis; there will be new groups and terrorism will always be with us. It is the ugly twin of democracy and has grown up with it. If minorities cannot get their way by the ballot box they will sometimes resort to extreme violence to attract attention and find satisfaction for their demands.
Yet we continue to approach terrorism as if it is something that can be solved or cured. Some experts look for a solution in technology. Drones, jungle-penetrating radar and electronic counter-measures can help combat terrorists for a while but the terrorists soon work out a way round the counter-measures and technology helps them develop more deadly means of attack. The use of mobile phones and social media can make it easier to track terrorists but it also makes it easier for them to organise without being detected. There is not going to be a miracle cure for terrorism and we should stop hoping one will turn up. The solution lies in the tools we already have in our hands – fighting and talking. Success depends on combining military force with offering a political way out.
The one thing I have learned, above all else, from the last 17 years is that there is no such thing as an insoluble conflict with an armed group – however bloody, difficult or ancient. Even the Middle East peace process, which has stuttered on for decades, will in the end result in a lasting agreement. The fact that it has failed so many times before does not mean that it will always fail, and an eventual settlement will be built on the past failures and the lessons learned from these failures, as was the peace in Northern Ireland.
It is remarkable how quickly a conflict can shift from being regarded as “insoluble” to one whose solution was “inevitable” as soon as an agreement is signed. Beforehand, and even up to a very late stage in the process, conventional wisdom states that the conflict can never be resolved; but before the ink is dry on the agreement, people are ready to conclude that it was inevitable. They put it down to outside events like the end of the cold war, to the effect of 9/11 or to changing economic circumstances. But this conventional wisdom is wrong.
Just as no conflict is insoluble, nor is it inevitable that it will be resolved at any particular moment in history. Believing that a solution is inevitable is nearly as dangerous as believing a conflict cannot be solved. If people sit around waiting for a conflict to be “ripe” for talks to start, or for the forces of history to solve it for them, then it will never be resolved. If the negotiations are handled badly, they will fail, which is why it is worth trying to learn from the experience of others. Dealing effectively with a terrorist threat requires political leadership, patience and a refusal to take no for an answer. What we need are more political leaders who are capable of remembering what happened last time – and prepared to take the necessary risks.
• Jonathan Powell is CEO of the charity Inter-Mediate which works on armed conflicts; his new book Talking to Terrorists, How to End Armed Conflicts is published by Bodley Head
“As is often the case with information around the government’s extremism agenda, there has been much resilience in releasing information around ERG 22+. CAGE notes:
“Of most concern, is that when Freedom of Information requests have been made by academics and journalists for this documentation, they have been rejected on the basis of national security. The document is purposefully being withheld from public dissemination and scrutiny.”
This damning state of affairs typifies PREVENT. Families are being negatively affected, children are being subjected to child abuse, and the Muslim minority is being discriminatorily targeted using untested theories like lab rats. It evokes the extreme end of the spectrum of counter-terror responses where shambolic, dark revelations earlier this year revealed that psychologists and medical professionals colluded in Guantanamo torture. It seems like such collusions are occurring lower down the counter-terror spectrum too.”
The stigma around the discriminatory, authoritarian and deceptive nature of PREVENT is such that the Muslim community largely rebuffs PREVENT as far as possible. Freedom of Information requests to determine which community organisations are funded by PREVENT are routinely refused on spurious “security” grounds. Rob Burton, head of the Centre for Youth and Community Development (CYCD) in Bury Park, said in the Guardian:
“The difficulty with the current policies and processes is that there’s a lot of mistrust – which, bluntly, is about the government spying on Muslims, wanting people to ‘shop’ their neighbours.”
To avoid the stigma, his organisation refuses financial support that might entail “grassing” on the local community. Interestingly, the report also highlights that the police is following the neocon spin strategy of selling PREVENT as “safeguarding” instead of a counter-radicalisation concept. The hate-funded neoconservative Henry Jackson Society in its proposals to suppress criticism of…