Inside the Middle East
March 10, 2010
Posted: 1816 GMT

Editor's note: Inside the Middle East's Raja Razek shares her experiences of going to Oman to film the above story.

I arrived in Muscat on a cool, sunny afternoon. As a first time visitor, I opted to stay on the sea-front Corniche to be close to the Gulf of Oman.

As we took the winding road from the airport, I noticed the mountains were dotted with traditional houses, mostly painted white. The contrast of the blue skies, brown mountains, and white buildings made for what looked like a beautiful painting.

An Omani friend of mine says he thinks of Oman in colors.

Salalah down south is, surprisingly, green like the vegetation on its lush mountains. Sur in the East is blue in honour of the long tradition of fishing and ship building in that part of the country. Musandam to the north is brown like the color of the bare mountains that you might more typically expect to find in the Gulf country. Muscat, the country's vibrant, multi-ethnic capital is violet,  a combination of all the colors.

The minute I arrived, I rushed to see the "Jewel of Muscat" - the replica 9th century Omani sailing ship I had come to shoot a story about - at the port.

Captain Saleh Al Jabri and his crew were preparing for the big day. "Jewel" was to set sail in the morning and they were tired, excited, and nervous.

Their planned journey will retrace the trading route between Oman and Singapore that their ancestors would have traveled along. It may be nostalgic, but it is also dangerous:  They will be traveling using 9th century navigation techniques, have limited water, and will have live animals on board for food!

Jabri gave me a tour of the ship and we go below deck to were the crew will sleep and supplies are stored. The limited space is obvious. They put their supplies on their beds and rearrange it all every night when they go to sleep. I ask the captain, how they plan to stay dry and have room aboard for all 17 members. He says, it is tough, but “this is the life at sea. This is the life at sea.”

In the evening, I went to the souk on the Corniche. It sells souvenirs, traditional silver jewelry, clothes, and anything else you can think of that a tourist would like. I opted for the jewelry shops. It was interesting as they sell hand-crafted Omani jewelry and other items from the Far East. A few precious stones are imported from Singapore and made into necklaces. Of course I bought a necklace: What better way to remember my visit to Muscat to cover the launch of the "Jewel of Muscat's" journey to Singapore!

Early next morning I headed to the port to see the ship set sail.

There was a big crowd there: press, dignitaries, and families with their children holding flags and waving goodbye. Many of us followed on boats to see the ship off and the "Jewel" looked absolutely beautiful in the middle of the sea.

With the sun beaming down, it was very easy to understand how limited water can become a problem. I was dehydrated in no time but, luckily, not too far from shore. While sitting in the sun looking at the ship with the sailors onboard, I thought how this must be such an adventure for the sailors, as well as a tribute to their sea-faring ancestors.

As we waved goodbye to the captain and his sailors, I couldn't help but wish I was going with them to sail the great sea to Singapore.

Filed under: CNN Coverage •Culture •Inside The Middle East •Oman •Video

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Sharon   March 12th, 2010 9:53 am ET

Joe Biden went to Israel not for the sake of peace or even to admonish the country for its plan to build 1,600 illegal settlement homes in East Jerusalem. Biden went there to talk about bombing Iran back to the Stone Age.

Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, told the Associated Press earlier in the week that Biden’s visit to Israel and Israeli officials meeting in Washington are about agreeing on what to do about Iran. “Shalev said high-ranking Israeli and U.S. government and military leaders both in Washington and Jerusalem are currently discussing whether a military strike could stop Iran’s nuclear program.”

Ms. Shalev said she “was encouraged that Biden said Iran poses a threat to the United States.”

Sort of like the same way Iraq posed a threat to the United States before the U.S. invaded, wrecked the country’s already enfeebled civilian infrastructure, and killed over a million Iraqis.

Iraq posed absolutely zero threat to the United States — it could hardly threaten its nearest neighbors — but that didn’t stop the Arab-hating neocons from inventing preposterous lies they fed to the New York Times and the rest of the corporate media in order to set the stage for invasion and mass murder.

Shalev broadened Iran’s supposed threat. “I say even more — Iran is a threat to the whole world.” Translation: Iran is a threat to Israel’s hegemonic dominance of the Middle East.

Israel has invaded and occupied Lebanon, bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, stolen land from Syria, and engaged in numerous border provocations, all of it either tacitly or directly supported by the United States.

“Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overtly a hegemony over the entire Middle East,” Israeli Israel Shahak wrote in 1997, “without hesitating to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones.”

Israel has around 400 nuclear weapons while Iran has zero. Israel has used its “Samson option” to threaten and intimidate its Arab and Muslim neighbors. Israeli leaders created the term in the mid-1960s, inspired by the Biblical figure Samson, who destroyed a Philistine temple, killing himself and thousands of Philistine enemies. Israel admits it has used the threat of nuclear annihilation for “compellent purposes,” that is to say to force others to accept its political demands.

Unlike Israel, Iran has accepted supervision of its nuclear program under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “Israel opposes any challenge to its nuclear hegemony since not only would it be less able to use its nuclear threat to keep confiscated lands, but fear of Iran actually might cause citizens to leave Israel and investment to dry up,” writes Carol Moore.

According to Shalev, Israel no longer has patience for the diplomatic game and believes sanctions are useless. Israel would like the Security Council to approve “crippling” sanctions — making the people of Iran hurt like the people of Iraq were seriously hurt under sanctions (ultimately to the tune of more than 500,000 dead children) — but Shalev conceded “the chances now seem grim.”

So confident is Israel on the futility of sanctions, it plans to distribute gas masks to the public in preparation for an Iranian retaliatory attack.

Meanwhile, Bush era retread, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, has engaged in war council talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and plans to talk with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan about “U.S. efforts to push for U.N. sanctions against Iran,” according to Reuters.

“Speaking earlier in the day at a U.S. military base in southwest Asia, Gates said Iran was seeking to undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and ‘make our lives harder’ by supporting the Taliban,” the austere religious fanatics installed by the United States. In his memoirs, From the Shadows, Gates stated that the CIA began to aid the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. A large number of the Mujahedeen would eventually form the Taliban with ample support and funding from the U.S., Britain, and the Saudis.

It certainly appears the U.S. is preparing to work with Israel and will eventually attack Iran or actively support an Israeli attack on the country. However, if a war game conducted at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, part of the Washington-based Brookings Institution in Washington, is any indication the affair will go bad in a big way.

“With diplomacy failing and precious intelligence just received about two new secret Iranian nuclear facilities, Israel launches a pre-emptive strike against Teheran’s nuclear complex. The strike is successful, wiping out six of Iran’s key sites and setting back its suspected quest for a bomb by years,” McClatchy reported in February. “But what happens next isn’t pretty… Iran attacks Israel, both directly and through its proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. It misinterprets U.S. actions as weakness and mines the Straits of Hormuz, the world’s chief oil artery. That sparks a clash and a massive U.S. military reinforcement in the Persian Gulf.”

American political analyst George Friedman told Press TV in 2008 “that a war against Iran would likely result in Tehran retaliating with attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic passage for oil transfer from the Persian Gulf states…. Crude oil prices may subsequently rise to ‘more than $300 a barrel’, which will be ‘cataclysmic to the global economy and stock markets’ even over a short period.”

In other words, if you think the economy is bad now it will be far worse after the United States helps its “friend” Israel attack Iran.

Iran is not taking the latest round of pre-war talks in Israel, the United States, and the Gulf states lightly. From the Middle East Newsline on March 9: “Iran was said to have been deploying a range of naval assets for a massive strike on its Gulf neighbors. A report asserted that Iran has been acquiring and deploying a range of missiles and naval platforms to strike at shipping and energy facilities of its Gulf Arab neighbors. The report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said Iran wants to intimidate the United States from operating in the Gulf.”

More like they are preparing to defend themselves.

Any chance at averting a major war is looking more bleak with every passing day.

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