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Analysis: Same conflict, different views

Renewed violence as Gaza truce nears end
Militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel on Tuesday, prompting a retaliatory air strike, just days before the end of a truce the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers say they are unlikely to renew. Two Islamic Jihad fighters were injured in the air raid, which targeted a rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics said. Earlier, three rockets struck open areas in southern Israel where they caused no casualties or damage. Islamic Jihad said its armed wing had fired the rockets in response to the overnight killing of one of the its members by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank. The movement, which is far smaller than Hamas but regularly carries out attacks against Israel, urged all Palestinian factions to reject any extension of the June 19 truce. "The truce with the enemy has not enabled the realisation of our goals and represents a threat against the interests of our people," a statement said.

The truce in and around the Gaza Strip was initially negotiated through Egyptian mediation for an initial period of six months which ends on Thursday. Hamas's Syria-based political chief Khaled Meshaal has said his Islamist movement will not renew the agreement, but Hamas leaders in Gaza were less categorical. Israel has said it wants the truce to continue as long as militants in Gaza halt their attacks, but also stressed it will not hesitate to use military force if needed. "We do not fear an operation in Gaza but we are in no rush,"

Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying on Tuesday. "Calm will be answered by calm, but if the conditions force us to respond, we will respond at the time and place we deem right." Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expressed hope the truce will be extended. "We urged all parties to maintain it as its end would worsen the suffering of our people," said Abbas, whose authority has been restricted to the West Bank since Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. An opinion poll published on Tuesday by Jerusalem's Hebrew University found that 51 percent of Israeli respondents support a continuation of the truce while 44 percent oppose it. Among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, 74 percent favour an extension of the ceasefire and 23 percent are opposed, according to the study carried out by Israeli and Palestinian pollsters. Several Israeli ministers have called for a tougher line against Gaza militants, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become premier after February 10 elections, has said Israel "cannot allow Gaza to remain in the hands of Hamas." Since the truce went into effect, Palestinian militants have fired more than 311 mortar rounds and rockets at southern Israel, according to the military. More than 200 such attacks have been carried out in a flare-up of violence since November 4. Israel has killed 17 Gaza militants over the same period.

Israel responded to the violence by tightening the crippling blockade it has enforced since the Hamas takeover in Gaza. As it has repeatedly in recent weeks, Israel responded to the latest attacks by completely sealing off the impoverished territory and halting the delivery of humanitarian supplies sent by aid agencies. On Monday, the Middle East diplomatic quartet condemned "indiscriminate attacks on Israel" and expressed its "acute concern" over the humanitarian impact of the restrictions.

The international mediation group made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States also called for the truce to be extended and respected. In a statement issued after a meeting in New York, the quartet urged Israel to allow continuous delivery of humanitarian supplies into the coastal strip that is home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

by Claude Salhani
Manama, Bahrain (UPI) Dec 16, 2008
U.S. policy regarding the Middle East has always been controversial to say the least, and when the U.S. secretary of defense delivers a major policy speech in the Middle East, it is certain to raise controversy.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this past weekend addressed a conference organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies on security in the Gulf region, where he discussed three issues of immediate concern to U.S. allies in the region.

Gates touched on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. He also touched on optimism, pessimism, honesty and reality. His presentation coincided with a new international poll released by in which 21,740 respondents were questioned regarding Washington's approach to the Middle East and the Muslim world. The poll found the United States to be "largely disrespectful" of Muslims and gave U.S. foreign policy poor grades. The general perception is that Washington's support for democracy is seen as selective and "limited to cases where the government is cooperative with the U.S."

On Iraq, Gates was highly upbeat regarding its future. At the same time he was rather pessimistic when it came to relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. And he was honestly down to earth regarding Afghanistan.

As to the question of loyalty, the comprehensive poll of 21 countries puts into question just who are really Washington's friends -- and who are its fair-weather friends -- in the Middle East. While uncovering widespread opposition to the United States maintaining naval bases in the Gulf, the poll gives the United States poor grades in its dealings with the Muslim world.

In Bahrain Gates offered an optimistic vision of Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011. His critics, however, said his description was overly simplistic, overly optimistic, and painted an unrealistically rosy picture of an uncertain future.

Gates, who gave the opening remarks on the situation in the Middle East at the fifth Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain, said Iraq was at the "dawn of a new era."

Just hours before he spoke, a massive car bomb had killed 55 people.

Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a former Iraqi defense minister, told me the previous day that he believed mayhem and chaos would engulf Iraq "15 minutes after American troops pull out of the country."

The irony here is that Dulaimi is a moderate and a secular. He runs the Baghdad-based Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which he founded in 2003 upon his return from exile in London. His center conducted the majority of the opinion polls in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of the country -- polls that have demonstrated mounting dissatisfaction with the continued occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces. Yet despite his criticism of the Coalition Provisional Authority, he fears the departure of American forces will precipitate greater violence in the country.

Speaking of polls, this is just in:

The result of this poll should have Washington reassess the question of who its friends really are: Of the 21 nations polled, 14 oppose the notion of the United States maintaining bases in the Gulf, and three are divided. Interestingly, Egypt, a supposed U.S. ally and recipient of generous U.S. financial aid, came in first in opposing U.S. naval bases in the Gulf with 91 percent, just slightly ahead of the Palestinian Territories, at 90 percent. Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally, scored 77 percent, while Jordan, another friend of the United States and recipient of U.S. aid, came in at 76 percent.

The United States scored good points in Nigeria, where 60 percent -- including 54 percent of Nigerian Muslims -- support having U.S. bases in the Gulf, and Kenya at 53 percent. The notion also received low points among European allies, with Germany (52 percent) and a plurality in Italy (43 percent to 31 percent). Publics remain divided in Britain (43 percent positive, 39 percent negative) and France (41 percent positive, 43 percent negative).

"What is striking is that a major purpose of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf is to ensure the flow of oil to U.S. allies, but in no case do the publics in these countries express majority support for the U.S. having forces there," said Steven Kull, director of

What is more striking is that the United States itself receives only about 10 percent of its oil supply from the Persian Gulf.

The view that "the U.S. purposely tries to humiliate the Islamic world" is endorsed by majorities in three Islamic countries -- Iran (64 percent), Egypt (56 percent) and Pakistan (52 percent).

After listening to Gates accuse Iran of "meddling in the affairs of other countries," a Swiss diplomat turned to me and said that part of the United States' problem was its failure to understand that Iran also has major security concerns. "Is U.S. involvement in the region not also meddling in other people's affairs?" asked the Swiss.

The poll found that in both Muslim and Western countries there is a widespread perception that the United States does not unequivocally support democracy in Muslim countries. This question was asked to seven Muslim publics and five Western publics. In no nation does a majority think the United States favors democracy unconditionally; on average only 15 percent hold this view. Fifty percent think instead that "the U.S. favors democracy in Muslim countries, but only if the government is cooperative with the U.S."

And finally we mentioned honesty. Talking about Afghanistan, Gates said: "There is no doubt that it is a tough fight in Afghanistan," where he said the U.S.-led coalition was fighting "a ruthless and resilient enemy."

"Everyone's ticket out of Afghanistan," said Gates, "is a strong Afghan army." But he added, closing on a note of reality, "We have to recognize that we are going to be in Afghanistan for a very long time."

(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

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The Next War Part Three: The Small Wars Debate
Washington (UPI) Dec 12, 2008
The debate raging about the lessons the U.S. military should learn from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now has a poster child. The forthcoming edition of the quarterly specialist counterinsurgency publication Small Wars Journal features a debate between two men who have come to personalize the divide between the "conservatives" -- who say it is the military's job to fight wars above and beyond all else -- and the "crusaders" -- who see the military as an adaptive tool for the application of U.S. realpolitik: Gian Gentile and John Nagl.

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