Libyan Rebel Commander: I Was on the Mavi Marmara

December 30, 2011

(John Rosenthal h/t According to the Spanish daily ABC, a Libyan rebel commander who played a key role in overthrowing the rule of Muammar Qaddafi previously participated in the May 2010 attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza aboard the Turkish-owned vessel the Mavi Marmara. The operation famously culminated in a deadly clash between Israel Defense Force commandos and “activists” armed with iron rods and knives aboard the ship.

The paper’s source for the story is the rebel leader himself: Mahdi al-Harati, the commander of the so-called Tripoli Brigades, which are widely credited with having played a decisive role in the rebel conquest of the Libyan capital in August. After the seizure of Tripoli, al-Harati was named second-in-command to Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the newly formed Tripoli Military Council. Belhadj is the historical leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the Libyan affiliate of al-Qaeda.
According to his December 17 article, ABC correspondent Daniel Iriarte unexpectedly ran into al-Harati and two other Libyan associates of Belhadj in Syria, where the Spanish journalist was working on a story on the “Free Syrian Army,” the recently formed rebel force that aims to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The Libyans made no attempt to hide their identities, Iriarte reports, explaining to him that that they were in Syria “in order to evaluate the needs of our Syrian revolutionary brothers.” Altogether “a few dozen” Libyans were in Syria to support the anti-Assad insurgents, they said.
Prior to the Libyan rebellion against Qaddafi, al-Harati was living in exile in Ireland. He is reported to have returned to Libya in February, at the very outset of the uprising. On his own account, barely eight months earlier he participated in the “Free Gaza” flotilla aboard the Mavi Marmara. “I was wounded on the Mavi Marmara and spent nine days in an Israeli prison,” he told Iriarte.
Abdul-Hakim Belhadj’s al-Qaeda links were widely reported in the Western press following his emergence as the military governor of Tripoli in August. But the Spanish press has shown particular interest in Belhadj and the other members of his jihadist network. This is because Belhadj is known to have had contact to Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, the leader of the terror cell that carried out the March 2004 Madrid train bombings, which took the lives of 191 people. Spanish police investigators discovered telephone records that document contacts between Belhadj and Fakhet just weeks before the attacks.
Contrary to what some have claimed, Belhadj’s connection to the Madrid train bombers was not first “revealed” by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar in a recent contribution in English for the business channel CNBC. The connection has long been a topic of discussion in the Spanish media.
In September, ABC conducted interviews in Tripoli with several associates of Belhadj from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The LIFG members confirmed that Belhadj had run a jihadist training camp in Afghanistan. One Tareq Muftah Durman noted that at the time Belhadj had “a direct line to Osama bin Laden.” Durman insisted, however, that the Libyan jihadists “never shared Osama’s strategy.”
— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at or on Facebook.

Former Spanish PM fights delegitimization of Israel

September 16, 2010

finally some people in Europe are speaking out & supporting Israel.

Foreign Policy and the Jerusalem Post both carry interviews with former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Both interviews were given on the occasion of the launch of Aznar’s Friends of Israel initiative in Washington on Wednesday.
Here are some highlights from the Foreign Policy interview.

JR: How is your initiative different from all other pro-Israel initiatives?
JMA: At one point the question for us was, should we organize a new Jewish lobby, a new Jewish organization? The answer was no. The most important aspect of this idea is that to become a member of the board of this institution it is necessary to be a non-Jew, because what’s important is the strategic alliance between Jews and non-Jews. Furthermore, it is not an organization linked to the Israeli government, it’s not an organization dependent on the circumstances of the moment. We cannot act in reaction to the crisis in the Middle East because we can say everyday there is crisis in the Middle East. It is necessary to defend the strategic idea. I began in Europe: in Paris, in London, now here in D.C. In the next month I will be in Italy, in Rome, in Spain, in Czech Republic, South America.
JR: What is your view on the relationship between Europe and Israel?
JMA: We are perfectly aware of the situation in Europe regarding the state of Israel. If we defend the values of the West, we can find that the Judeo-Christian tradition is one of the most important values for us. Judeo-Christian values are the same for Jewish people and European Christian people.
What is relevant in this moment is not whether we are Jewish or not Jewish, the problem is to have or know the same strategic concept. And you can explain to the different parts of Europe the situation and why the existence of the state of Israel is so important for our interests. For example, if Israel at one moment disappeared or was attacked as a consequence of threats, the next territory to be confronted directly would be Europe. We share these interests with Israel. It is necessary to explain this to the people, because for the mass media today it is very easy to present things as simply right and wrong, and every day Israel is presented as the wrong option and guilty in all situations.

JR: Why do you say that the Obama administration is different from other American administrations on this issue?
JMA: I believe that Mr. Obama thinks that he can move the Muslim world and solve the problems of the Muslim world by making speeches. It is not true. Second, the position of the American administration is more or less that they prefer reaching an agreement with [the Muslim world] that defends Israel… but [their] priority is reaching an agreement with [the Muslim world], not to support Israel’s government. So, if [their] priority is that, it is necessary to change the Israeli government and provoke a very strong policy against them. This policy is a serious failure.

Former Spanish PM fights delegitimization of Israelvia

José María Aznar warns of a ‘very non-kosher’ relationship between Iran and Venezuela.

WASHINGTON – José María Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister who came to the US capital this week to push his Friends of Israel initiative, blasted the Obama administration for its Middle East policies in discussing the need for his new group.
“To have good relations with the Muslim world is very important, but not at the cost of losing the trust and confidence of the Israeli people,” he said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post, ahead of a dinner launching his initiative here on Tuesday night.

At an appearance before the Council of Foreign Relations on Wednesday he elaborated on his criticism, describing the current US posture as breaking with that of previous governments.
“All of them were unconditional supporters of Israel. This administration, in my view, is a conditional supporter of Israel,” he said.
Aznar stressed that his three-month-old organization dedicated to combating the delegitimization of the Jewish state was not affiliated with any political party in Israel or elsewhere and that members were free to disagree with the policies of the Israeli government and one another.
Other members include former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble of Northern Ireland and former Czech president Vaclav Havel, the newest member of the group. The organization is also seeking participation from prominent US Democrats, and is in conversations with Madeleine Albright and Bill Richardson, both of whom served as cabinet secretaries in the Clinton administration. In addition, a bipartisan group of members of the US House and Senate have proposed resolutions supporting the new initiative.
Joining Aznar at the Council on Foreign Relations was Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru who noted that he might seem to be an unlikely ally as a non-Jewish Peruvian Indian from a center- left political party.
But Toledo said that he was committed to Israel’s right to exist because of “shared democratic values,” and because Israel had a right to exist just as his people in Peru had a right to exist.
He also pointed to the growing threat that Iran poses to both Israel and Latin America, noting his concern about “a very non-kosher relationship between Iran and Venezuela.”
Indeed, Aznar said that a shared strategic view about Israel was the common denominator uniting those in Friends of Israel.
“Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be,” he declared at Tuesday’s dinner. “Letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.”

The message is one Aznar and other founding members have already begun
to repeat during press conferences, opeds and meetings with political
and academic leaders in Europe. They took their outreach to Washington
with Wednesday’s Council on Foreign Relations event.

Scott Lasensky, a Middle East expert with the US Institute of Peace, was
in the audience.

“Their message of support – especially the moral imperative – will
resonate strongly here in the US, as long as the group steers clear of
partisan politics and delegitimizing the current administration,” he