Israeli Murders, NATO and Afghanistan 242


I was in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office for over 20 years and a member of its senior management structure for six years, I served in five countries and took part in 13 formal international negotiations, including the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and a whole series of maritime boundary treaties. I headed the FCO section of a multidepartmental organisation monitoring the arms embargo on Iraq.

I am an instinctively friendly, open but unassuming person who always found it easy to get on with people, I think because I make fun of myself a lot. I have in consequence a great many friends among ex-colleagues in both British and foregin diplomatic services, security services and militaries.

I lost very few friends when I left the FCO over torture and rendition. In fact I seemed to gain several degrees of warmth with a great many acquantances still on the inside. And I have become known as a reliable outlet for grumbles, who as an ex-insider knows how to handle a discreet and unintercepted conversation.

What I was being told last night was very interesting indeed. NATO HQ in Brussels is today a very unhappy place. There is a strong understanding among the various national militaries that an attack by Israel on a NATO member flagged ship in international waters is an event to which NATO is obliged – legally obliged, as a matter of treaty – to react.

I must be plain – nobody wants or expects military action against Israel. But there is an uneasy recognition that in theory that ought to be on the table, and that NATO is obliged to do something robust to defend Turkey.

Mutual military support of each other is the entire raison d’etre of NATO. You must also remember that to the NATO military the freedom of the high seas guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is a vital alliance interest which officers have been conditioned to uphold their whole career.

That is why Turkey was extremely shrewd in reacting immediately to the Israeli attack by calling an emergency NATO meeting. It is why, after the appalling US reaction to the attack with its refusal to name Israel, President Obama has now made a point of phoning President Erdogan to condole.

But the unhappiness in NATO HQ runs much deeper than that, I spoke separately to two friends there, from two different nations. One of them said NATO HQ was “a very unhappy place”. The other described the situation as “Tense – much more strained than at the invasion of Iraq”.

Why? There is a tendency of outsiders to regard the senior workings of governments and international organisations as monolithic. In fact there are plenty of highly intelligent – and competitive – people and diverse interests involved.

There are already deep misgivings, especially amongst the military, over the Afghan mission. There is no sign of a diminution in Afghan resistance attacks and no evidence of a clear gameplan. The military are not stupid and they can see that the Karzai government is deeply corrupt and the Afghan “national” army comprised almost exclusively of tribal enemies of the Pashtuns.

You might be surprised by just how high in Nato scepticism runs at the line that in some way occupying Afghanistan helps protect the west, as opposed to stoking dangerous Islamic anger worldwide.

So this is what is causing frost and stress inside NATO. The organisation is tied up in a massive, expensive and ill-defined mission in Afghanistan that many whisper is counter-productive in terms of the alliance aim of mutual defence. Every European military is facing financial problems as a public deficit financing crisis sweeps the continent. The only glue holding the Afghan mission together is loyalty to and support for the United States.

But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the Unted States, but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?

Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”.

Therefore what is troubling the hearts and souls of non-Americans in NATO HQ is this fundamental question. Is NATO genuinely a mutual defence organisation, or is it just an instrument to carry out US foreign policy? With its unthinking defence of Israel and military occupation of Afghanistan, is US foreign policy really defending Europe, or is it making the World less safe by causing Islamic militancy?

I leave the last word to one of the senior NATO officers – who incidentally is not British:

“Nobody but the Americans doubts the US position on the Gaza attack is wrong and insensitve. But everyone already quietly thought the same about wider American policy. This incident has allowed people to start saying that now privately to each other.”

Craig Murray is a former British Ambassador. He is also a former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He negotiated the UK’s current maritime boundaries with Ireland, Denmark (Faeroes), Belgium and France, and boundaries of the Channel Islands, Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands. He was alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the Law of the Sea. He was Head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, enforcing sanctions on Iraq, and directly responsible for clearance of Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf.

Reviews of Craig Murray’s War on Terror Memoir, “Murder in Samarkand” – published in the US as “Dirty Diplomacy”:

“It really is a magnificent achievement” – Noam Chomsky

“A fearless book by a fearless man. Craig Murray tells the truth whether the “authorities” like it or not. I salute a man of integrity” – Harold Pinter

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242 thoughts on “Israeli Murders, NATO and Afghanistan

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  • Larry from St. Louis

    If you believe that “massive anti-Israeli protests” are occurring in the States, then clearly you’ve been manipulated by Iranian state-run media.

    Do you also believe that there are no homosexuals in Iran?

  • writerman

    In general, people, under situations of ‘stress’ seem to resort to a form of psychological ‘defence’ mechanism, where they seek solace and escape in the arms of fantasy or mythology. In short one creates a reality one can control and understand, rather than face the real world. It’s an attempt to make sense of the world. ‘Sense’ which is often false.

    Obviously I’m simplifying a lot here for the sake of clarity and space.

    Anyway, this individual mechanism can also apply to large groups of people, and when this happens the effect seems to be multiplide, with often truly disasterous consequences to follow.

    Here on can mention the case of Germany in the 30’s when there was a veritable flight away from rationality into the comforting and simplistic mythology, the ecstacy of escape, of NAZI religion or ‘ideology.’ That was a very extreme example.

    The extreme right in Israel, and not just there, remind me, or have many of the same traits, that characterised the fascist movements of mainland Europe.

    There’s a terrible, obscene, historical irony at work here. But if one looks at the history of Zionism, where it originated and the ideas it contained it’s more understandable. Essentially Zionism is a product, a branch, of eastern european romantic nationalism and ethno-racialism, combined. Though not as extreme, in the beginning, the roots of Zionism in eastern europe are the same mix of half-baked and misunderstood ideas that ‘produced’ fascism, in extremis.

    This is why so many of the attitudes, language and mythology, and not least actions, of the extreme, nationalist, right, in Israel have echoes of fascism about them.

    It’s arguable whether Israel was ever truly a ‘democracy’. Certainly the policy of ethnic cleansing effectively denied millions of Palestinians the right to take an active part in the future of their country, as they were not allowed to vote or take part in the democratic process which was ‘rigged’ to favour one particular ethnic group and give them an ‘artificial’ majority inside the disputed boundaries of the new Israeli state.

    But that’s the past, and we live in the eternal now. Clearly, Israel is now moving away from even a semblance of democracy and is becoming, however ironic, integrated into the normal type of totalitarian, dictatorship, states form that characterises the Middle East.

  • Ed

    “Last night Kirsty Wark tore strips out of him or some other clone.”

    Ouch. I can’t watch Newsnight when Wark hosts, she is such an abysmal interviewer, but that’s got to hurt if even she could go to work on the spokesgoon.

  • Tom

    What I believe Larry is that Israel is getting a well-deserved and not before time kicking in media and diplomatic circles.

    Everyone is well and truly fed up with this nasty racist state, which pushed its luck just once too far.

    Even friends of Israel in media are finding it difficult to sell the “poor wee victim Israel just defending itself” myth, and their careers are much more important to them than defending loopy religious fruitcakes with nukes who want to take on the whole world.

    You see, there was time when career advancement in media and politics was enhanced by support for Israel. That’s now changing and support for Israel will in future be seen as a hindrance to advancement.

    You can thank Bibi for that. He never was very bright.

  • Ron


    She annoys me too. Nolan annoys me even more.

    I have to say though that last night and this morning they did their jobs well.

    Just shows ya. They’ve been let off the BBC leash.

    Don’t forget that Wark only became prominent nationally after a very forceful local Scottish interview with Thatcher in the 1980s. She can do it when she wants to.

    My complaint was only that she didn’t do enough of it. She hasn’t lost it though.

  • Redders

    Am I missing something here or is it really only because of the Holocaust that the Israelis believe the rest of the world owes them something.

    Perhaps there is something inherently superior about them which has them believe they are the master race and not the Nazi’s.

  • Jon

    Craig, a splendid post, and one that really gets under the skin of the issue.

    Forgive the James Bond question, but I am curious how you avoid having your conversations intercepted. It would be a reasonable assumption that your telephones are keenly tuned into – and your various sources would surely be aware of that!

  • brian

    I would say the successful commercial organisations I’ve worked for have tended to be led by superficially charming people who have turned out to be liars with no conscience or empathy with their staff and an overriding self regard.

    The couple of places I’ve worked that have gone bust were run by really nice people.

  • Monty

    The 499GT MV Rachel Corrie still seems to be Cambodian flagged although her home port is Dundalk and she is owned by the Irish arm of the Free Gaza Movement.

    As from December 2004, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires all vessels over 299GT to carry an AIS transponder on board, which transmits their position, speed and course, among some other static information, such as vessel’s name, dimensions and voyage details.

    This AIS info is plotted on a Google map mostly in real time on a website developed and run by the University of the Aegean,

    However, for some unidentified reason, no AIS data has been received from the MV Rachel Corrie since 01:15 am on Monday 31st May reporting she was sailing south from Malta (where you can see that Rainbow Warrior is currently moored).

    Most likely she is out of’s coverage. Although there are around 500 ships showing up in the Mediterranean east of Athens, all of them seem to be north of Saida in south Lebanon. This seems odd considering there probably should be a stream of ships heading to and from the Suez canal. And, of course, the other flotilla ships are not currently showing up.

    It’s interesting to see that the BBC used an AP graphic from the University of the Aegean here to plot the other flotilla ships.

  • mrjohn

    This NATO issue needs to be ramped up in the blogosphere, the main stream media are not acknowledging it, it has to be forced into the public domain and debated openly.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Tom, great posts, all. Thanks for making these superb points.

    If I may venture to suggest, from experience on, and observation of, this blog, that one be wary of engaging with the very few bloggers who themselves refuse to engage with others and whose sole purpose on all threads seems to be disruption and the conveyance of provocative insult, rather than reasoned debate. Responding to them merely allows them to continue to come back and to divert and undermine reasoned analysis. There may be an irruption of precisely the sort to which I am alluding, sometime following this post. But it will be ignored by me. It is of no consequence. What is of consequence is the matter at hand.

    Thaks very much again for your astute comments. And thanks also to Mike Cobley and Jon for their support and engagement, it’s really appreciated.

  • Abe Rene

    If the Americans really don’t care what others think, they shouldn’t worry much if fellow members of NATO pull out of Afghanistan. But maybe actually it does matter to them, in which case it can be used to persuade them to listen to their fellow members more.

  • Jon

    Redders, all of us do need to be careful not to dip into the boundaries of anti-Jewish sentiment. Many Jewish people, and a good minority of Israelis, are horrified at the ongoing siege of Gaza. For them – just as with their Jewish ideological opponents – the Holocaust is a terrible memory within their cultural identity and we should respect that – it was one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. Do some people exploit the Holocaust for the benefit of expansionist Israeli foreign policy? Sure, yes, but not every Israeli, or every Jew – a fact that is critical here.

    But I agree there is a danger amongst the hard right in Israel, and amongst religious ideologues, to promote the ‘chosen people’ myth, which is then recycled in legitimised racism. And whilst I condemn anti-semitism, the Israeli govt could not be more blinkered on how it is being judged internationally despite their propaganda efforts. They should be thinking not “what can be get away with” but “how does this affect how people see Israel, Israelis and Jewish people”. The hard-right government, and the militarist culture is creating, in effect, some of the anti-semitism that encourages the hardline, aggressive atmosphere in the first place.

  • Redders

    Can’t the US be kicked out of NATO? They seem to do nothing to benefit any country but their own and influence other countries to follow in their wake. I know it’s pretty well impossible to do but just though I’d chip in my tuppence worth.

    I’m also interested to hear what the American public think about this. The US government seems to be disproportionally influenced by those sympathetic to Israel but there are plenty of American, right wing ‘WASP’s’ who would happily leave the country to its fate, where are they all?

  • Larry from St. Louis

    Yes, Tom, brilliant contribution by linking to Iranian state-run media.

  • Jon

    Suhayl – no problem. I spend only a little time on disruptive input – just enough to calm them down, and to dissuade others from engaging with them at length.

  • Clark


    thats an interesting map, thanks. Cargo vessels Lady Malakeh and Chesapeake Belle were headed into that strangely empty area; they are no longer shown. Let;’s see what happens to Druzhba Narodov.

  • Jon

    I’ve not read Press TV, I really should give it a go. We would do well to be cynical, but whether it deserves markedly more cynicism than the British free media is an open question. The BBC output tend towards Israel partly because it is more time-consuming to defend criticism of Israel than of Palestine. Power and money is, of course, centred around people who hold pro-Israel views, and rarely around their ideological opposites.

    And I would be interested in the ratio of anti-war observers invited onto Radio 4’s Today programme versus the number of pro-“Afghan mission” talking heads. I would guess it is in the order of 1:500 – the “balance” really is not even an attempt at balance, as is usual.

  • Redders

    Jon, elegant response. But in many ways the Jews are like the Brits and the Yanks, individually wonderful people to know but collectively, jingoistic, international pains in the ass. Britain’s collective opinion of itself is still of Britannia ruling the waves, of Douglas Bader knocking the Hun out the sky and having the best football team in the world because we won the world cup, once.

    The problem is we export all of this in our political approach to the international community, albeit perhaps unintentionally, but we are still perceived as an aggressive, battle ready nation with disillusion of grander times when the empire was the next best thing since the Roman Empire.

    If we believe US foreign policy sucks perhaps we should examine our own record before condemning the Americans or the Israelis for that matter. We continue to have more recent blood on our boots than Israel, notably Afghanistan and Iraq but also our approach to the Northern Ireland conflict must be questioned.

    As an international community we stand as responsible for this act of murder on the high seas as Israel, we condoned the occupation of Palestine and were politically naive enough to believe there would be no Palestinian backlash. It has been us and the US selling modern weaponry to Israel citing commercial freedom as a good enough excuse but for some bizarre reason the Palestinians aren’t able to buy the same kit. We stand by and watch whilst entire communities are cut off by a wall akin to the Berlin wall; do we remember the cheers and news coverage that went up when the oppressed East Berlin was freed? and yet we allow Israel to commit the same crime. We don’t stop their import of cement in the same way they deny the Palestinians the same thing, they strike back at an entire community with ultra modern weaponry when home made missiles are occasionally launched against them.

    I could go on and as brilliant as Craig’s post is, he misses the desperately important point that British citizens stand on the sidelines and moan and groan when Israel visits its own racial persecution against a poorer, weaker and divided community but we are complicit in it.

    Lets show the Palestinians some humanity by using the Royal Navy to protect humanitarian aid sailing to Gaza on the high seas. Lets use our aggression against a country that can fight back instead of against ill equipped Afghan’s and possibly the worst equipped army ever to take on the collective might of the US and Great Britain, the Iraqi’s.

    Not so bad at oppression ourselves are we?

  • JohnM

    I hoped that with Obama presidency, we would not see these kinds of double standards in international diplomacy. The US reaction over the Gaza Flotilla was a shocking disgrace.

    Turkey is such an important country straddling as it does Europe and the Middle East, Secular and Muslim. We are in danger of treating Turkey like a subordinate nation, almost as a chip in a poker game like at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, rather than as an equal.

    Yes, the US’s UN ambassador might have succeeded in getting a form of words that satisfy them but do they really think that will not lead to seething anger and resentment in the Turkish parliament and on the streets.

    Israel needs saving from itself. Only the strongest of words and the threat of sanctions will curb it’s propensity to racism, isolationism and rogue status. The same pressure that had to be brought upon South Africa, for the same reasons.

  • doug scorgie

    Craig, In a letter in today’s Guardian a man writes: “…it is also very important to stress that a state, in a time of conflict, can impose an embargo, and carry out embargo activities in international waters. Within this framework it is legal to detain a civilian vessel trying to break an embargo, and if force is used against those carrying out the detention then they have every right to act in self-defence. The unfortunate loss of life was a direct result of the violence used by the extremists on the ship.”

    I don’t believe this but can you clarify?

  • Ron

    “The Brussels-based European campaign against the siege on Gaza announced Wednesday that they had secured funds to support three new aid ships to be sailed to Gaza”.

    “The officials aid the ships would sail in a few weeks’ time, from ports in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed his country’s support, including aid contributions, for the flotilla.

    During a televised speech on Tuesday, Edrogan said future flotillas bound for Gaza territorial waters under Israeli threat would be accompanied by a military escort to ensure its safety”.

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