Thursday, January 29, 2009

Israel's Next War: Today the Gaza Strip, Tomorrow Lebanon?

The March to War: Today the Gaza Strip, Tomorrow Lebanon...

In the Middle East, it is widely believed that the war against Gaza is an extension of the 2006 war against Lebanon. Without question, the war in the Gaza Strip is a part of the same conflict.

Moreover, since the Israeli defeat in 2006, Tel Aviv and Washington have not abandoned their design to turn Lebanon into a client state.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, in so many words, during his visit to Tel Aviv in early January that today Israel was attacking Hamas in the Gaza Strip and that tomorrow it would be fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon.


Ehud Olmert and Nicolas Sarkozy

Lebanon is still in the cross-hairs. Israel is searching for a justification or a pretext to launch another war against Lebanon.
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Washington and Tel Aviv had initially hoped to control Beirut through client political forces in the March 14 Alliance. When it became apparent that these political forces could not dominate Lebanon politically the Israeli military was unleashed on Lebanon with a goal of bringing about the ultimate downfall of Hezbollah and its political allies. Areas where support for Hezbollah and its political allies were strongest saw the harshest Israeli attacks in 2006 as part of an attempt to reduce, if not remove, popular support for them.

After the 2006 war, the second Israeli defeat in Lebanon, Washington and Tel Aviv with the help of Jordan, the U.A.E., Egypt, and Saudi Arabia started arming their clients in Lebanon to wield an internal armed option against Hezbollah and its allies. In the wake of both the short-lived internal violence between the Lebanese National Opposition and the March 14 Alliance and the Doha Accord, which was reached in Qatar on May 21, 2008 as a result of the failure of this internal armed option against Hezbollah and its allies, the Israeli-U.S. objective to subdue Lebanon has been dramatically impaired.

A "national unity government" was formed in which the Lebanese National Opposition — not just Hezbollah — hold veto power through one-third of the cabinet chairs, including that of the post of deputy-prime minister.

The objective in Lebanon is "regime change" and to repress all forms of political opposition. But how to bring it about? The forecast of the 2009 general-elections in Lebanon does not look favourable for the March 14 Alliance. Without an internal political or armed option in Lebanon, which could result in the installation of a U.S.-sponsored "democracy," Washington and its indefictible Israeli ally have chosen the only avenue available: a military solution, another war on Lebanon.

Crossing Arms III: Israel Simulates a Two-Front War against Lebanon and Syria

This war is already in the advanced planning stage. In November 2008, barely a month before Tel Aviv started its massacre in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military held drills for a two-front war against Lebanon and Syria called Shiluv Zro’ot III (Crossing Arms III).

The military exercise included a massive simulated invasion of both Syria and Lebanon. Several months before the Israeli invasion drills, Tel Aviv had also warned Beirut that it would declare war on the whole of Lebanon and not just Hezbollah.

Israel's justification for these war preparations was that Hezbollah has grown stronger and become a partner in the Lebanese government since the Doha Accord. The latter was signed in Qatar between the March 14 Alliance and the Lebanese National Opposition. It is worth noting that Hezbollah was a member of the Lebanese coaltion government prior to the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon.

No doubt, Tel Aviv will also point to Hezbollah's support of Hamas in Gaza as another pretext to wage under the banner of combating Islamic terrorism a pre-emptive war on Lebanon. In this context, Dell Lee Dailey the head of the counter-terrorism section of the U.S. State Department, had told Al-Hayat in an interview that an Israeli attack on Lebanon was "imminent" as part of the fight against terrorism.

Blitzkrieg in the Making

Tel Aviv has been mapping a large-scale blitzkrieg against Lebanon as a whole, which includes an immediate land invasion. Just before the Israeli massacre in the Gaza Strip started, Israeli officials and generals had promised that no Lebanese village would be immune from the wrath of Israeli aerial bombardments, regardless of religion, sect, and/or political orientation.

In substance, Tel Aviv has promised to totally destroy Lebanon. Israel has also confirmed that in any future war against Lebanon, the entire country rather than Hezbollah will be the target. In practice, this was already the case in 2006’s Israeli aerial attacks on Lebanon.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Brigadier-General Michael Ben-Baruch, one of the individuals who oversaw the invasion drills, as saying, "In the last war, we fired to disrupt Hezbollah activity," and, "The next time we will fire to destroy."

In the wake of Israel's 2006 defeat, the Israeli government admitted that its "big mistake" was it exercised restraint rather than attacking Lebanon with the full strength of its military. Israeli officials have intimated that in the case of a future war against the Lebanese that all civilian and state infrastructure will be targeted.

Beirut’s New Defence Doctrine: A Threat to Israeli Interests and Objectives to Control Lebanon

Why is Lebanon in the cross-hairs again?

The answer is geo-political and strategic. It is also related to the political consensus process and the upcoming 2009 general-elections in Lebanon. Following the formation of a unity government in Beirut under a new president, Michel Suleiman (Sleiman), a new proactive defence doctrine for the country was contemplated. The objective of this defence doctrine is to keep Israel at bay and bring political stability and security to the country.


President Michel Suleiman

At the "National Defence Strategy" dialogue, held by the 14 Lebanese signatories of the Doha Accord, all sides have agreed that Israel is a threat to Lebanon.

In the months prior to the Israeli military campaign against Gaza, important diplomatic and political steps were taken by Beirut. President Michel Suleiman accompanied by several cabinet ministers visited Damascus (his first bilateral state visit; August 13-14, 2008) and Tehran (November 24-25, 2008).


President Suleiman and Syrian President Al Assad

In turn, General Jean Qahwaji (Kahwaji) the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces was also in Damascus (November 29, 2008) for consultations with his Syrian counterpart General Al-Habib. While in Damascus, General Qahwaji also met with General Hassan Tourkmani, the defence minister of Syria, and the Syrian President. His trip followed the visit of Lebanon's interior minister, Ziad Baroud, to Syria and was within the same framework. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s defence minister, Elias Murr, went on an official visit to Moscow (December 16, 2008).

What started to emerge from these talks was that both Moscow and Tehran would provide weaponry to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which previously had been the recipients of lower-end U.S. made ordinance. The U.S. has always forbidden the Lebanese military from purchasing any heavy weapons that could challenge Israel's military strength.

It was also revealed that Russia would donate 10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Beirut in line with Lebanon's new defence strategy. The use of the Russian MiG-29s would also entail the required installation of early warning and radar systems. Russian tanks, anti-tank rockets, armoured vehicles, and military helicopters are also being sought by Lebanon.


Mig29

Iran has offered to supply the Lebanese military with medium-range missiles as part of a five-year Iranian-Lebanese defence agreement. While in Iran, Michel Suleiman held talks with Iranian defence officials and went to an Iranian defence industry exposition.

While the talks with Moscow and Tehran aimed at arming the Lebanese Armed Forces, the talks with the Syrians were geared towards establishing and strengthening a joint security and defence framework directed against Israeli aggression.

Integrating Hezbollah into the Lebanese Armed Forces

Moreover, Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Reform and Change Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament also visited Tehran (October 12-16, 2008; ahead of Michel Suleiman's official visit), and later Damascus (December 3-7, 2008). Michel Aoun who is a central figure in the "political consensus" has endorsed and reaffirmed his political alliance with Hezbollah.


Michel Aoun

While calling for the peaceful disarmament of Hezbollah within a Lebanese defence strategy, he has accepted that Hezbollah fighters will eventally integrate into Lebanon's army. This disarmement process would only occur when the time is right and Israel no longer poses a threat to Lebanon. Hezbollah has broadly agreed to this, if and when there no longer exists an Israeli threat to the country's security. This position on Hezbollah's arms is spelled out in clause 10 (The Protection of Lebanon) of the February 6, 2006 memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Hezbollah that Michel Aoun signed on behalf of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Following his return from Tehran, Aoun also presented his case for the formation of a new Lebanese defence strategy and promised that the outcome of his visit to Iran would materialize in about six months. Aoun has also said that Iran, as the "major regional power between Lebanon and China" is of strategic importance to Lebanese interests.


Hezbollah Paramilitary Forces

Washington's political cohorts in Lebanon are alarmed at the direction Lebanon is taking under its new defence strategy. They have criticized weapons purchases from Iran and defensive cooperation with Syria. This includes attacks on General Jean Qahwaji's visit to Syria, which was mandated by the entire Lebanese cabinet. Additionally, within these pro-U.S. forces in Lebanon there has been a push for a "Swiss-like" "neutral defence policy" for Lebanon within the Middle East. Such a "neutral" position would benefit the U.S. and Israel geo-politically and strategically. Needless to say, with the threat of Israeli military aggression looming, this position is proving to be rather unpopular within Lebanon.

Ending Israeli-American pressure on Beirut to Naturalize Palestinian Refugees

The formation of a new proactive defence doctrine implies that Hezbollah fighters would be incorporated in the Lebanese Armed Forces and that the existing paramilitary forces of Hezbollah would be disbanded once certain conditions are met.

Therefore, one of Lebanon’s key political questions would be resolved. With the integration of Hezbollah fighters into the country's army together with military aid from Russia and Iran, Lebanon would acquire defensive capabilities, which would enable it to confront the threat of Israeli military aggression. These developments, which go against the prevailing pattern of U.S. client regimes in the Middle East modelled on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have sounded an alarm bell in Tel Aviv, Washington, and London.

In response to Lebanon's rapprochement with Russia and Iran, two senior US State Department officials were rushed to Beirut in December. During this mission, Dell Lee Dailey and David Hale, respectively Coordinator of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism and Deputy-assistant Secretary responsible for Middle Eastern affairs, renewed the veiled threats of an Israeli attack against Lebanon, while casually placing the blame on Hezbollah. These threats are aimed at Lebanon as a whole. They are intended to disrupt the creation of Lebanon's new defence doctrine.

The clock is ticking for Israel, the U.S., and NATO to obstruct the implementation of Beirut's new national defence doctrine.

Israel would no longer have any justifications for carrying out military incursions into Lebanon if Hezbollah were to become a full political party under a new Lebanese defence strategy. Moreover, if Beirut were able, under a new defence arrangement, to protect its borders against Israeli military threats it would not only end Tel Aviv’s ambitions to politically and economically dominate Lebanon, but it would also end Israeli pressure on Lebanon to naturalize the Palestinian war refugees waiting to return to their ancestoral lands that are occupied by Israel.

Clearly the issue of Palestinian naturalization in Lebanon is also tied to Lebanon's political consensus process and new defence strategy and was discussed by Michel Suleiman with Iranian officials in Tehran.

The Middle Eastern Powder Keg: A World War III Scenario?

In 2006, when Israel attacked Lebanon, the war was presented to international public opinion as a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In essence the 2006 war was an Israeli attack on all of Lebanon. The Beirut government failed to take a stance, declared its "neutrality" and Lebanon's military forces were instructed not to intervene against the Israeli invaders. The reason for this was that the political parties of the Hariri-led March 14 Alliance that dominated the Lebanese government were expecting the war to end quickly and for Hezbollah (their political rival) to be defeated, and eventually excluded from playing a meaningful role on the Lebanese domestic political scene. Exactly the opposite has occurred since 2006.

Moreover, had the Lebanese government declared war on Israel, in response to Israeli aggression, Syria would have been obligated through a Lebanese-Syrian bilateral treaty, signed in 1991, to intervene in support of Lebanon.

In the case of a future Israeli war against Lebanon, the structure of military alliances is crucial. Syria could indeed intervene on the side of Lebanon. If Syria enters into the conflict, Damascus could seek the support of Tehran in the context of a bilateral military cooperation agreement with Iran.

A scenario of escalation is, therefore, possible, which could potentially spin out of control.

If Iran were to enter on the side of Lebanon and Syria in a defensive war against Israel, the U.S. and NATO would also intervene leading us into a broader war.

Both Iran and Syria have military cooperation agreements with Russia. Iran also has bilateral military cooperation agreements with China. Iran is also an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran’s allies including Russia, China, the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could all be drawn into the broader conflict.

"You Can't Talk About The Reality Of Israel"

In an interview with IPS, Baer discussed the regional implications of the Gaza conflict and his take on Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Hamas and Hezbollah, three major groups in the Middle East which have been called terrorist organisations.

Excerpts from the interview follow.
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IPS: Some analysts believe that attacking Hamas in Gaza, two years after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, is a part of a bigger plan which will end with attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Is Israel walking this path?

Robert Baer: No. I think that there is a military veto in attacking Iran. It's just not possible.

IPS: Why is that impossible?

RB: Well, for one thing, we know there will be an Iranian reaction in the Gulf. Iran will not be attacked like Hamas and just respond locally. It will respond internationally. It has no choice. This is their deterrence power. In Iran, it is very important to understand a lot of lessons.

If you look on the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] website, you see the lessons they learned from the Iran-Iraq War. These wars are wars of attrition; they go on forever. You just can't win them, especially against the United States. So they have developed secondary asymmetrical warfare ability, guerilla warfare, which is very effective.

You know some of the best minds in Iran went into the Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guards], and they weren't necessarily fanatics. In a sense, they were much more nationalists. And in my experience, these people in the Pasdaran, in the operational level, are probably the most capable, intelligent/guerilla force/political thinkers in the Middle East, including Israel and Jordan. And they knew exactly what they were doing. And they do not clearly fit in to any political definitions in Iran.

IPS: Is the possibility of a limited attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel also out of question? Especially given what we learned in a recent New York Times article that last year, Israeli leaders asked President Bush to carry out such an attack, though the president did not accept.

RB: Totally out of the question. Even Bush understood this. The New York Times is right when it says that Bush vetoed an Israeli attack, simply because there is a balance of power in the Middle East between the U.S. and Iran, and it's a fairly even balance of power. I mean not in terms of aircraft tanks or submarines, but in a monopoly of violence, there is equality.

There is no question there is equality. We could bomb Tehran, but what does that get you? Nothing. It's sort of like bombing the U.N. compound in Gaza by Israel. What does that give the Israelis? Nothing. Yeah they could destroy it, but what does that give them? Hamas still is going to exist.

You can bomb all military bases in Iran over a period of two weeks, but Iran is still there - it still has the ability to project power, project its will and maybe even come out of that type of conflict even stronger. And Iran's power is so economical, the price of oil is not going to make any difference, simply because the idea of arming Hezbollah or supporting Hamas in Damascus is nothing in terms of money. I mean the price of oil could go down to 10 dollars, and it's still an affordable defence for Iran.

IPS: Obama has repeatedly mentioned talking to Iranian leaders and bringing change to U.S. foreign policy. How could the designation of Dennis Ross as a key advisor on Iran policy contribute to his promises?

RB: Dennis Ross - the important thing is the Israelis are comfortable with him. If a dialogue with Iran occurs, they know he won't betray them. I mean they have had years and years of testing this guy. He's Jewish, he's been honest with the Israelis; he's gone along with their projects, even the crazy ones. If a dialogue is open, the Israelis know they won't be surprised. If Obama had brought someone new in, some professor from Harvard that the Israelis didn't know, they would immediately freeze him out and there would be huge political blowbacks.

IPS: Regarding Ross's positions on certain issues in the Middle East and particularly Iran over the past decade, how will Obama be able to adopt a new foreign policy path in the region?

RB: Well, he [Obama] needs the backing of the Democratic Party to get these things through politically, and that's why he has brought in people like Dennis Ross and Denny Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, simply because he needs that political backing. He cannot bring in untried people and run them against the Democratic Party, because if there is an opening with Iran, there will be a connivance of Israel, maybe a silent one, simply because the Israelis have to go along.

In American politics, you can't do anything in the Middle East without the approval of Tel Aviv, at least on some level. It's impossible. I mean, I cannot think of a country that is so beholden to a small country like this, even a superpower, in all of history. I can't even think of it.

IPS: And why is that?

RB: Look at New York City. Look at the major newspapers. They have a Zionist agenda. They do. I'm not Jewish. I'm not anything. I don't care about the Israelis. And I'm not anti-Semitic. It's just a fact. I suggested to my publisher writing a book on Israel, and he said forget it. You can't talk about the reality of Israel. The only place you can talk about the reality of Israel is in Israel. They tell you things you will never hear in the United States.

IPS: Like what?

RB: For instance, why are people on Gaza so unhappy? Well, if you had to live in a prison, wouldn't you be unhappy? You would never get that in the New York Times. Look at the New York Times; it's almost an extension of Israel.

IPS: What is the impact of the Gaza conflict on the future of Iran-Israel and United States relations? Have the recent attacks destroyed Hamas entirely?

RB: No, it's impossible. Hamas is an idea. Hamas is not an organisation. Hamas is an idea, and unless the Israelis go in and force 1.5 million people into Egypt, they will never subdue Gaza. They can go in and they can slaughter the leadership and put 10,000 people in jail, and Hamas will come out stronger. The losers in this will be Fatah.

IPS: What are the main characteristics of Hamas and Hezbollah's military and political behaviour?

RB: They redefined the idea of warfare in geography. The fact that Hezbollah dug into caves or the fact that they use fiber optics to communicate shows enormous sophistication and primitive warfare in combination. I mean, what army in the world uses fiber optics except Hezbollah? You can't intercept fiber optics. There is nothing you can do.

You look at [Hebollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, and he has redefined Islamic politics because he's gone into an alliance with a Christians. Bin Laden wants to kill Christians; I'm going to reduce it to that. Nasrallah is looking at them as allies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Real Lincoln

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he will place his left hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible.

Much has been made of the Lincoln connection, with the first black man assuming the presidency in the 200th anniversary of Honest Abe's birthday. The historic alignment has occasioned renewed spasms of idolatrous odes to "The Great Emancipator."

But before we're all swept away in a paroxysm of national ecstasy, a few inconvenient truths must be noted about "Honest Abe."
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First, Lincoln's Bible wasn't some well-worn family tome. It was purchased for his first inauguration by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court.

Lincoln himself wasn't exactly a traditional Christian, or even religious. In his 20s, he wrote a "little Book on Infidelity," which questioned the inspiration of the Bible. Most research suggests that Lincoln believed in some form of providence, but wrestled with the idea of a personal God, despite frequently invoking deity in public utterances.

Such heterodoxy might have placed Lincoln ahead of his time in terms of secular philosophy, but his thinking on racial matters was truly mainstream for the period. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, for example, he declared:

"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.

"I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Four years later, in an Aug. 22, 1862, letter to New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote:

"If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the union."

When Lincoln panned those words, a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation lay in his desk drawer.

So who was "The Real Lincoln"? Loyola (Md.) College professor Thomas DiLorenzo, who titled a 2003 book with that question, says it's important that the public get the unvarnished picture.

"The average American -- who has not spent much time reading Lincoln's speeches, but has learned about him through the filter of 'Lincoln scholars' -- will be surprised or even shocked by some of his words and actions. He stated over and over again that he was opposed to political or social equality of the races; he was not an abolitionist, but denigrated them, and distanced himself from them; and his primary means of dealing with racial problems was to attempt to colonize all American blacks in Africa, Haiti, Central America -- anywhere but in the United States."

Much like Soviet-era schoolchildren who were indoctrinated to worship Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, a corpus of 16,000 books on Lincoln conditions Americans to believe that the simple country lawyer from Illinois honorably defended his country and freed a race. His ethereal presence at Obama's inaugural ceremonies, and Obama's copious references to him, reinforce this national mythology.

Indeed, Lincoln was positively clairvoyant about the Leviathan State, and fought to usher it in.

"Lincoln thought of himself as the heir to the Hamiltonian political tradition, which sought a much more centralized governmental system, one that would plan economic development with corporate subsidies and the printing of money by the central government," DiLorenzo writes.

While waging the Civil War, Lincoln turned constitutional rights on their head, imprisoning thousands of Northern citizens without trial (including dozens of newspaper publishers and members of the Maryland legislature), confiscating citizens' firearms and even deporting a member of Congress, Clement Vallandigham, for opposing Lincoln's income tax proposal.

Obama and Lincoln certainly wouldn't see eye to eye on race today, but they could yet become soul mates on wielding power for the "greater good."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza's Offshore Gas Fields

by Michel Chossudovsky

The military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.

This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline.

British Gas (BG Group) and its partner, the Athens based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) owned by Lebanon's Sabbagh and Koury families, were granted oil and gas exploration rights in a 25 year agreement signed in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority.

The rights to the offshore gas field are respectively British Gas (60 percent); Consolidated Contractors (CCC) (30 percent); and the Investment Fund of the Palestinian Authority (10 percent). (Haaretz, October 21, 2007).

The PA-BG-CCC agreement includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline.(Middle East Economic Digest, Jan 5, 2001).

The BG licence covers the entire Gazan offshore marine area, which is contiguous to several Israeli offshore gas facilities. (See Map below). It should be noted that 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to Palestine.

The BG Group drilled two wells in 2000: Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2. Reserves are estimated by British Gas to be of the order of 1.4 trillion cubic feet, valued at approximately 4 billion dollars. These are the figures made public by British Gas. The size of Palestine's gas reserves could be much larger.





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Who Owns the Gas Fields

The issue of sovereignty over Gaza's gas fields is crucial. From a legal standpoint, the gas reserves belong to Palestine.

The death of Yasser Arafat, the election of the Hamas government and the ruin of the Palestinian Authority have enabled Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza's offshore gas reserves.

British Gas (BG Group) has been dealing with the Tel Aviv government. In turn, the Hamas government has been bypassed in regards to exploration and development rights over the gas fields.

The election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 was a major turning point. Palestine's sovereignty over the offshore gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Sharon stated unequivocally that "Israel would never buy gas from Palestine" intimating that Gaza's offshore gas reserves belong to Israel.

In 2003, Ariel Sharon, vetoed an initial deal, which would allow British Gas to supply Israel with natural gas from Gaza's offshore wells. (The Independent, August 19, 2003)

The election victory of Hamas in 2006 was conducive to the demise of the Palestinian Authority, which became confined to the West Bank, under the proxy regime of Mahmoud Abbas.

In 2006, British Gas "was close to signing a deal to pump the gas to Egypt." (Times, May, 23, 2007). According to reports, British Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened on behalf of Israel with a view to shunting the agreement with Egypt.

The following year, in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority." The proposed contract was for $4 billion, with profits of the order of $2 billion of which one billion was to go the Palestinians.

Tel Aviv, however, had no intention on sharing the revenues with Palestine. An Israeli team of negotiators was set up by the Israeli Cabinet to thrash out a deal with the BG Group, bypassing both the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority:

"Israeli defence authorities want the Palestinians to be paid in goods and services and insist that no money go to the Hamas-controlled Government." (Ibid, emphasis added)

The objective was essentially to nullify the contract signed in 1999 between the BG Group and the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.

Under the proposed 2007 agreement with BG, Palestinian gas from Gaza's offshore wells was to be channeled by an undersea pipeline to the Israeli seaport of Ashkelon, thereby transferring control over the sale of the natural gas to Israel.

The deal fell through. The negotiations were suspended:

"Mossad Chief Meir Dagan opposed the transaction on security grounds, that the proceeds would fund terror". (Member of Knesset Gilad Erdan, Address to the Knesset on "The Intention of Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Purchase Gas from the Palestinians When Payment Will Serve Hamas," March 1, 2006, quoted in Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, Does the Prospective Purchase of British Gas from Gaza's Coastal Waters Threaten Israel's National Security? Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 2007)

Israel's intent was to foreclose the possibility that royalties be paid to the Palestinians. In December 2007, The BG Group withdrew from the negotiations with Israel and in January 2008 they closed their office in Israel.(BG website).

Invasion Plan on The Drawing Board

The invasion plan of the Gaza Strip under "Operation Cast Lead" was set in motion in June 2008, according to Israeli military sources:

"Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago [June or before June] , even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas."(Barak Ravid, Operation "Cast Lead": Israeli Air Force strike followed months of planning, Haaretz, December 27, 2008)

That very same month, the Israeli authorities contacted British Gas, with a view to resuming crucial negotiations pertaining to the purchase of Gaza's natural gas:

"Both Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler agreed to inform BG of Israel's wish to renew the talks.

The sources added that BG has not yet officially responded to Israel's request, but that company executives would probably come to Israel in a few weeks to hold talks with government officials." (Globes online- Israel's Business Arena, June 23, 2008)

The decision to speed up negotiations with British Gas (BG Group) coincided, chronologically, with the planning of the invasion of Gaza initiated in June. It would appear that Israel was anxious to reach an agreement with the BG Group prior to the invasion, which was already in an advanced planning stage.

Moreover, these negotiations with British Gas were conducted by the Ehud Olmert government with the knowledge that a military invasion was on the drawing board. In all likelihood, a new "post war" political-territorial arrangement for the Gaza strip was also being contemplated by the Israeli government.

In fact, negotiations between British Gas and Israeli officials were ongoing in October 2008, 2-3 months prior to the commencement of the bombings on December 27th.

In November 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of National Infrastructures instructed Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to enter into negotiations with British Gas, on the purchase of natural gas from the BG's offshore concession in Gaza. (Globes, November 13, 2008)

"Ministry of Finance director general Yarom Ariav and Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Hezi Kugler wrote to IEC CEO Amos Lasker recently, informing him of the government's decision to allow negotiations to go forward, in line with the framework proposal it approved earlier this year.

The IEC board, headed by chairman Moti Friedman, approved the principles of the framework proposal a few weeks ago. The talks with BG Group will begin once the board approves the exemption from a tender." (Globes Nov. 13, 2008)

Gaza and Energy Geopolitics

The military occupation of Gaza is intent upon transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel in violation of international law.

What can we expect in the wake of the invasion?

What is the intent of Israel with regard to Palestine's Natural Gas reserves?

A new territorial arrangement, with the stationing of Israeli and/or "peacekeeping" troops?

The militarization of the entire Gaza coastline, which is strategic for Israel?

The outright confiscation of Palestinian gas fields and the unilateral declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Gaza's maritime areas?

If this were to occur, the Gaza gas fields would be integrated into Israel's offshore installations, which are contiguous to those of the Gaza Strip. (See Map 1 above).

These various offshore installations are also linked up to Israel's energy transport corridor, extending from the port of Eilat, which is an oil pipeline terminal, on the Red Sea to the seaport - pipeline terminal at Ashkelon, and northwards to Haifa, and eventually linking up through a proposed Israeli-Turkish pipeline with the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Ceyhan is the terminal of the Baku, Tblisi Ceyhan Trans Caspian pipeline. "What is envisaged is to link the BTC pipeline to the Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, also known as Israel's Tipline." (See Michel Chossudovsky, The War on Lebanon and the Battle for Oil, Global Research, July 23, 2006)