Foreign Policy presents a special report on the Soviet collapse two decades later -- and why it matters now, in today’s revolutionary times. As the protesters of the Arab Spring invoke the ghosts of Moscow 1991 in seeking to topple their own autocratic regimes, we’ve assembled an all-star cast of some of the world’s leading Russia watchers, from two Pulitzer Prize winners to one of Boris Yeltsin’s top lieutenants, to help us ponder the enduring, and never more relevant, mysteries of how the Communist regime crumbled – and the state of the former Soviet Union today. Be warned: Everything you think you know about the Soviet collapse is wrong.
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aftermath of Israel's 2008-2009 intervention into the Gaza Strip, Susan E.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led a vigorous campaign to
stymie an independent U.N. investigation into possible war crimes, while using
the prospect of such a probe as leverage to pressure Israel to participate in a
U.S.-backed Middle East peace process, according to previously undisclosed
diplomatic cables provided by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
provide a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the U.N. as American diplomats
sought to shield Israel's military from outside scrutiny of its conduct during
Operation Cast Lead. Their release comes as the issue is back on the front
pages of Israel's newspapers, following the surprise recent announcement by Richard
Goldstone -- an eminent South African jurist who led an investigation
commissioned by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council -- in a Washington Postop-ed
that his team had unfairly accused Israel of deliberately targeting Palestinian
documents, though consistent with public U.S. statements at the time opposing a
U.N. investigation into Israeli military operations, reveal in extraordinary
detail how America wields its power behind closed doors at the United Nations.
They also demonstrate how the United States and Israel were granted privileged
access to highly sensitive internal U.N. deliberations on an "independent"
U.N. board of inquiry into the Gaza war, raising questions about the
independence of the process.
In one pointed cable,
Rice repeatedly prodded U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to block a
recommendation of the board of inquiry to carry out a sweeping inquiry into
alleged war crimes by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. In another cable,
Rice issued a veiled warning to the president of the International Criminal
Court, Sang-Hyun Song, that an investigation into alleged Israeli crimes
could damage its standing with the United States at a time when the new
administration was moving closer to the tribunal. "How the ICC handles
issues concerning the Goldstone Report will be perceived by many in the US as a
test for the ICC, as this is a very sensitive matter," she told him,
according to a Nov. 3, 2009, cable from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during an Oct. 21, 2009,
meeting in Tel Aviv that the United States had done its utmost to "blunt
the effects of the Goldstone report" and that she was confident she could "build
a blocking coalition" to prevent any push for a probe by the Security
Council, according to an Oct. 27, 2009 cable.
a three-week-long offensive into Gaza in late 2008 in an effort to prevent
Hamas and other Palestinian militants from firing rockets at Israeli towns. The
Israel Defense Forces killed as many as 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israel
soldiers were also killed during Operation Cast Lead, and a number of U.N.
facilities faced repeated attacks. The military campaign raised calls at the
U.N. for an investigation into reports of war crimes.
Ban commissioned a top U.N. troubleshooter, Ian Martin, to set up an
independent U.N. board of inquiry into nine incidents in which the Israeli
Defense Forces had allegedly fired on U.N. personnel or facilities. The U.N.
probe -- which established Israeli wrongdoing in seven of the nine cases -- was
the first outside investigation into the war, with a mandate to probe deaths,
injuries, and damage caused at U.N. locations.
184-page report has never been made public, but a 28-page summary
released on May 5 concluded that Israel had shown "reckless disregard for
the lives and safety" of civilians in the operation, citing one particularly
troubling incident in which it struck a U.N.-run elementary school, killing
three young men seeking shelter from the fighting. Israel denounced
the findings as "tendentious, patently biased," saying that an
Israeli military inquiry had proved beyond a doubt that Israel had not
intentionally attacked civilians.
But the most
controversial part of the probe involved recommendations by Martin that the
U.N. conduct a far-reaching investigation into violations of international
humanitarian law by Israeli forces, Hamas, and other Palestinian militants. On
May 4, 2009, the day before Martin's findings were presented to the media, Rice
caught wind of the recommendations and phoned Ban to complain that the inquiry
had gone beyond the scope of its mandate by recommending a sweeping
that those recommendations were outside the scope of the Board's terms of
reference, she asked that those two recommendations not be included in the
summary of the report that would be transmitted to the membership,"
according to an account contained
in the May 4 cable. Ban initially resisted. "The Secretary-General said he
was constrained in what he could do since the Board of Inquiry is independent;
it was their report and recommendations and he could not alter them, he said,"
according to the cable.
persisted, insisting in a subsequent call that Ban should at least "make
clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council
that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no
further action is needed." Ban offered no initial promise. She
subsequently drove the point home again, underlining the "importance of
having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed
and would close out this issue."
Ban began to
relent, assuring Rice that "his staff was working with an Israeli
delegation on the text of the cover letter."
completing the cover letter, Ban phoned back Rice to report that he believed "they
had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter. Rice thanked the Secretary-General for
his exceptional efforts on such a sensitive issue."
following day's news conference, Ban flat-out rejected
Martin's recommendation for an investigation. While underscoring the board's independent
nature, he made it clear that "it is not my intention to establish any
further inquiry." Although he acknowledged publicly that he had consulted
with Israel on the findings, he did not say it had been involved in the
preparation of the cover letter killing off the call for an investigation.
Instead, he only made a request to the Israelis to pay the U.N. more than $11
million in financial compensation for the damage done to U.N. facilities.
about the cable by Turtle Bay, a U.N.
spokesman, Farhan Haq, declined to
comment on its contents, noting only that the original investigation was designed
only to resolve a dispute with Israel over the damage done to its facilities
and seek restitution.
But the issue
was far from over. The U.N. Human Rights Council, which the United States has
long criticized for singling out Israel for censure, had already established
its own commission headed by Goldstone.
Goldstone agreed to take on the assignment after he revised the terms of
reference to allow for investigation into both Israel and Hamas. The Goldstone
investigation coincided with U.S. efforts to reinvigorate the Middle East peace
process. Israel was livid over the development, warning that it could undermine
In a Sept. 16 meeting
with Rice, Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, called the Goldstone
Report, which had been released the day before, "outrageous,"
according to a diplomatic cable, adding that it would give Hamas a "free
pass" to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Rice agreed, calling the report deeply
flawed and biased. But she also saw its release as an opportunity to convince
Israel to pursue a U.S.-backed peace process. She asked Ayalon to "help me
help you" by embracing the peace process and highlighting Israel's
capacity to hold its own troops accountable for possible misconduct. She
underscored that the Goldstone Report could be more easily managed if there was
positive progress on the peace process, according to the cable. She also
advised Israel that it "would be helpful" if it would emphasize its
own judicial process and investigations" into the matter.
that position a month later in a meeting with Lieberman, but the foreign
minister was skeptical about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. "Israel
and the United States had a responsibility not to foster illusions. A
comprehensive peace was impossible," said Lieberman, who "cited
Cyprus as an example that Israel might emulate, claiming that no comprehensive
solution was possible, but security, stability and prosperity were."
The release of
the cables comes as Rice is very publicly sticking with her position taking on
the Goldstone Report. "The United States was very, very plain at
the time and every day since that the Goldstone report was deeply flawed, and
we objected to its findings and conclusions," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs
Committee last week. "We didn't see any evidence at the time that the
Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or intentionally
committed war crimes."