Thursday, April 19, 2018

Iran Faces Strategic Decision – Whether To Respond To Israel's Operations Against Its Military Expansion In Syria - Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon

by Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon

Israel's strategic activity, as declared and executed – i.e., that it will not permit Iran to expand militarily in Syria – presents Tehran with a difficult challenge

In light of Israel's recent military operations against Iran's military expansion in Syria, comprising strikes against strategic Iranian and Syrian targets such as Iran-controlled airfields, missile bases, and drone bases, Iran now faces a strategic question: whether to respond to these attacks, when doing so could lead to all-out conflict with Israel.  

Iran's long-term goal in Syria is to expand militarily and economically there, giving it control across the country – which will in turn enable it, when the time comes, to act effectively and decisively against Israel. It is in Iran's interest that it will face all-out war with Israel only after it has finished doing so, and after U.S. forces have left Syria. Other reasons for Iran to postpone responding to Israel's operations include Iran's shaky economic situation and the devaluation of its rial on the free currency market in recent weeks; U.S. President Donald Trump's upcoming May 12, 2018 decision regarding the future of the JCPOA nuclear deal; the fragility of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad; and Tehran's inability to ensure that Russia will stand alongside it militarily against Israel. 

But Israel's strategic activity, as declared and executed – i.e., that it will not permit Iran to expand militarily in Syria – presents Tehran with a difficult challenge: whether to respond immediately to it, which may lead to all-out war, as expressed by several lower-level Iranian officials, Iran-sponsored Shi'ite militias such as Hizbullah, and media affiliated with the resistance axis, or whether Tehran would be better off continuing to overlook the Israeli attacks for now so as not to risk what it has accomplished so far in Syria and in the region. Support for this latter position is evident in Iranian spokesmen's toning down their statements, postponing the Iranian response to "an appropriate time and place in the future."

It should be noted that Tehran did not respond to the second of Israel's two attacks deep inside Syria on February 10, 2018, which struck numerous Syrian and Iranian targets; nor did it respond to Israel's April 9 strike on the T-4 air base near Homs in central Syria, in which seven Iranian officials of the Iranian drone array there were killed. It also did not respond to two additional attacks early on April 17, attributed to Israel by Syrian and Lebanese (i.e. Hizbullah) spokesmen and by Russian spokesmen, on the Sharyat air base near Homs and the Dumair air base near Damascus, regarding which Syria at first said that it had intercepted all the missiles but one that struck Dumair base, but afterwards changed its story and claimed that a false alarm caused by "a joint electronic attack" by Israel and the U.S. had triggered Syria's air defense system.

As noted, Tehran's response so far to Israel's attacks has been restrained, both militarily and with regard to statements about them. However, in contrast to its behavior following Israel's February 10 attack on the drone base and command and control vehicle, and following Israel's second attack that day against numerous Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria – that is, refraining from revealing its losses in the media – following the April 9 attack on the T-4 air base it did report its losses. This could reflect the Iranian regime's willingness to expose itself to pressure from the Iranian public to respond with counter-operations.

Left to right: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Ali Jafari, and IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, at Ashoura mourning ceremony at Khamenei's home. (Source: Kayhan, October 1, 2017)

Tehran's thunderous silence in light of Israel's repeated attacks on strategic Iranian and Syrian targets strengthens assessment that Tehran prefers, as of now, to overlook the Israeli attacks. But it is possible that Iran thinks that the serial Israeli operations are preventing it from accomplishing its strategic goals – that is, expanding in Syria – and that there is, therefore, no escape from all-out conflict with Israel now, not after Iran has established itself there. It is also possible that this restraint is a cover for secret preparations for an attack on Israel.

Israel has, with its operations, made it clear to Iran and Russia that it is ready for war now. An Iranian response to Israel could lead to an all-out Iran-Israel war. The fact that we are waiting to see how the Iranians will respond to Israel's operations is proof that the next war has already begun, and that it can be stopped only if Iran is deterred from carrying out its threats. 

Past experience shows that Iran has always refrained from direct confrontation with the Gulf states, with Israel, and with the U.S., despite its far-reaching threats to wipe Israel, the U.S. military, and Saudi Arabia off the face of the earth.

Appendix: Reactions In Iran To Israel's Operations In Syria

An example of the dilemma faced by the Iranian regime leadership is an analysis by the conservative Iranian daily Javan, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It stated in its April 9, 2018 editorial, written right after the Israeli strike: "According to [Israeli] Gen. Amiram Levin, it is clear that the Zionists want to create a strategic and fundamental change in Syria. Furthermore, they do not agree with President Trump's decision to withdraw his forces from Syria... The attack on the T-4 [base] shows that the Zionists have started down a very dangerous path that must be seriously fought, before the situation in Syria gets worse than it is today."[1]

In its April 16, 2018 editorial, the Kayhan daily, the regime mouthpiece that is known for its vociferously hawkish anti-Israel, anti-U.S., and anti-Saudi position, was vague about the expectation of an Iranian response, explaining that Iran was not answering the Israeli move – which it called a plot aimed at provoking an Iranian reaction in order to keep the U.S. in Syria. It stated: "In the matter of the Zionist regime's attack on the T-4 base in Homs, that caused the deaths of seven Iranians who were defending the holy places... there is an interpretation according to which the Zionists' short-term aim in attacking Iranian elements... is to force Iran to respond and thus to involve the U.S. in the battle. This plot was neutralized thanks to Iran's wisdom. In any event, and in any situation, there is no doubt that this crime will not remain unanswered..."[2]

Confirmation of this interpretation by the regime mouthpieces is the fact that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, IRGC commander Ali Jafari, and deputy commander Hossein Salami have said nothing about a response to the Israeli attack, even though they usually make militant statements about Israel. Iranian regime officials' statements were aimed primarily against the U.S., U.K., and France, in the context of their attack on the Assad regime's chemical weapons facilities. It should be noted that Supreme Leader Khamenei, who mentioned the tripartite attack on April 14, several hours after it took place, called the leaders of the three countries "criminals" but did not directly mention the Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria.

Khamenei then responded to Israel's claims that Iran was expanding militarily in Syria, saying: "When it is said that 'Iran is conquering and wants to occupy this particular place [Syria],' these words are meaningless, counter to reality, and mendacious. No, we have no desire to occupy [Syria], and we also have no occupying view regarding any point in the world. We also have no need [to occupy land]; thank God, the Iranian nation has a large, flourishing country with potential. Iran is present in Syria and in the Middle East in order to fight the evil [forces of repression] that existed and still exist there."[3]

Other Iranian spokesmen were also generally vague with regard to the timing of the operation and who would carry it out. Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor to Khamenei who was at the time visiting Syria, was relatively reticent on the Israeli T-4 air base attack, saying, on April 10: "Certainly this crime by the Zionists will not remain unanswered."[4] 

At an April 16 press conference, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi backed down somewhat on the issue of the timing of an Iranian response, and even assigned the task of a response to the resistance forces. He said: "Sooner or later, the Zionist regime will be on the receiving end of a suitable response in the matter of these attacks, to the point where it will regret what it did. It cannot make such a move and then sit in a corner unpunished... For Israel, the era of hit-and-run [attacks] is over, and the resistance forces are capable of giving a response appropriate for these crimes at the required and suitable time."[5]

While Qassemi said that vengeance would come from "the resistance forces," the leaders of Hizbullah, the main resistance faction that is subjugate to Iran, placed the responsibility for a response to Israel on Iran, stressing repeatedly that it was Iran that would decide on, and launch, the reprisal.

On April 13, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah said: "Of course, it is the Iranian officials who will decide what they will do [in response], and they will say what they will do. I do not want to be the one to talk about them or on their behalf... I want to say to the Israelis that they must know... that they have brought themselves into direct conflict with Iran... This is an incident that cannot be handled with a simple [response] such as happened with many other incidents that took place here. This is an historic turning point..."

Addressing Israel, he said: "Do not make a mistake in your assessments of the new path of conflict that you started and launched, and in the framework of which you are face to face and in direct [conflict] with the Islamic Republic of Iran, period."[6]

In an April 16 interview with the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassem clarified: "It should be assumed that following this deliberate killing [at the T-4 air base], Iran will face [Israel] and make the decision, as it sees fit, in order to prevent Israel from determining rules [of conflict] that will limit Iran's movements in Syria, [which are authorized] based on the agreement between Iran and Syria. Accordingly, we must expect that there will be something [in response] by Iran. But what will the Iranian position be, and what will its scope be? Without a doubt, it is expected that [the response] will be within Syria, but with regard to how it will be carried out, its exact details, its scope, and its timing – this the Iranians will decide."[7]

It should be noted that at the same time, lower-ranking Iranian officials were more explicit in promising Iranian retribution, although their statements were vague about the nature and timing of the response, and about who would carry it out.

Gen. Abedin Khorram, commander of the IRGC's Ashoura base, said at the April 11 funeral of IRGC officer Akbar Jannati who had been killed in the T-4 attack: "The Israeli enemy must note that we will respond to the pure blood of Jannati in a timely manner, mightily, and precisely. Israel's supreme aim in the matter of occupying [the region] from the Nile to the Euphrates is already suffocating them. Additionally, the Zionist aim to swallow up the Islamic world is being suffocated, because [Israel] is surrounded by the Palestinian front, and by the front in Syria, and this is thanks to the blood of the martyrs who defend the holy places."[8]

Ali Shirazi, Supreme Leader Khamenei's representative in the IRGC's Qods Force, said on April 12: "Israel must be careful in its behavior if it wants to extend its criminal life by a few days. It must stop its stupid [actions]. Iran has the might to destroy Israel. If you [Israel] give Iran an excuse, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be destroyed and flattened to dust."[9]

Three days later, on April 15, Shirazi played down his statement calling for reprisal: "We have already said several times that Iran has the capability to destroy America and Israel, but it will never start a war."[10]

Also, on April 9, following the Israeli T-4 air base attack, Tasnim military desk director Hossein Dalirian tweeted that the IRGC reserves the right of vengeance: "Israel knows very well that the IRGC reserves the right of vengeance, because of the martyrdom of several of its military advisors at the T-4 base in Homs. So wait. #IRGC_vengeance."[11]

Hossein Dalirian's April 9 tweet (Source:

Two days later, Dalirian tweeted: "My recommendation to you [Israel] is to equip [your] shelters. Accounts must be settled, and that is final." The "equip [your] shelters" was rendered by Dalirian in Hebrew as "arm shelters," and the tweet included a photo of a long line of Israel soldiers.[12]

Hossein Dalirian's April 11, 2018 tweet (Source:

Following the U.S.-U.K.-France attack in Syria, Dalirian tweeted, on April 14: "Now it is our turn and [the turn of] IRGC vengeance for Israel's missile attack on the T-4 base." The tweet included the same photo.[13]

Hossein Dalirian's April 14 tweet. (Source:

Also regarding Israel's T-4 air base attack, on April 11, Ayatollah Nouri Hamdani called on the Iranian leadership to be "courageous" and act against the Zionist regime, that was so daring that it had caused the death of Iranian commanders: "The Zionist regime is so daring that it has caused the deaths of six Iranians. We cannot remain silent in the face of this. What is important for us is to be steadfast before the Zionists and the Americans, and not remain silent. We must not be silent or indifferent to the crimes of the Zionists and America; we will not be silent. They will gird themselves with more courage. We must be bold, and not silent."[14]  

* Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.

[1] Javan (Iran), April 10, 2018.
[2] Kayhan (Iran), April 16, 2018.
[3], April 14, 2018.
[4] IRNA (Iran), February 10, 2018.
[5] ISNA (Iran), April 16, 2018.
[6], April 15, 2018.
[7] Al-Mayadeen TV (Lebanon), April 16, 2018.
[8] Fars (Iran), April 11, 2018.
[9] Fars (Iran), April 12, 2018.
[10] Tasnim (Iran), April 15, 2018.
[11], April 9, 2018.
[12], April 11, 2018.
[13], April 14, 2018.
[14] Tasnim (Iran), April 11, 2018.

Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.


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British MPs fume at Corbyn in fiery antisemitism parliament debate - Eytan Halon

by Eytan Halon

Hat tip: Dr. Jean-Charles Bensoussan

"A deeply worrying lack of leadership or moral clarity on this issue."

British MPs fume at Corbyn in fiery antisemitism parliament debate
Britain's opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)

Members of Parliament from both sides of the British political divide directed their anger at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday in a highly-charged parliamentary debate on antisemitism, blaming him for failing to adequately tackle antisemitism within his party.

In the debate's opening stages, British Communities Minister Sajid Javid warned Corbyn that "it will perhaps not be the most comfortable three hours of debate that he has sat in on."

Accusing Corbyn of a "deeply worrying lack of leadership or moral clarity on this issue," Javid called on Corbyn to "clarify his position." Although present for much of the debate, the leader of the British opposition opted not to make a statement.

Much of the criticism regarding Corbyn's leadership came from his own party's benches.

Perhaps the most impassioned speech came from Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger, subject to much antisemitic vitriol as a result of her activism against antisemitism, who described her recent experiences of antisemitism in the party.

"I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail — it described me as a dirty Zionist pig — and so started my 18-year experience of contending with antisemitism," said Berger, who is also chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement.

"In total, four people have been convicted since 2013 for the antisemitic abuse and harassment they have directed towards me," she added.

"My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently," Berger said. "We have a duty to the next generation. Denial is not an option. Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough."

Fellow Labour MP Ian Austin called on Corbyn to permanently expel former London mayor and Labour member Ken Livingstone over comments made regarding Adolf Hitler and Zionism.

"Let me be clear about this. Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. That is antisemitism, pure and simple. It happened more than two years ago, and there has been ample time to deal with it, so it is a disgrace that it has not been dealt with," said Austin. "Livingstone must be booted out. Boot him out!"

Jewish Conservative MP Robert Halfon lamented the rise in antisemitic acts in the UK, describing them as "increasingly commonplace."

"I genuinely believe that the current Labour leadership is, at best, turning a blind eye to the problem and, at worst, condoning antisemitism. I say that with ​a heavy heart," said Halfon.

Labour MP John Mann told the chamber that his family had received death and rape threats due to his role as head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism.

"It does not end with me and my family. It does not end with Jewish Members of Parliament here," said Mann.

"Where this stuff ends is with what happened in Copenhagen, in Brussels and in France repeatedly, including four weeks ago: people murdered because they are Jewish. That is where this ends, and we know where history takes that. That is the reality now."

Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, responded to the charges leveled at the Labour party.

"Let me be clear today that if anyone is denying the reality of antisemitism on the left, they are not doing so with the endorsement of the Labour party or its leader. Prejudice against and hatred of Jewish people have no place whatsoever in society, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that they are never allowed to fester again," said Gwynne.

"It is our job — the job of all of us in this place — to ensure that questions are asked, that anti-Semitism is called out, and that antisemitism is rooted out wherever it exists. There is no place in British society, and in British politics, left or right, for antisemitic views — end of."

Amid rising concerns among British Jewry on the issue, Corbyn is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council on April 24.

The groups will not, however, attend a "round table" meeting between Corbyn and other Jewish community groups scheduled the following day, saying that it has "no agenda for action." The Community Security Trust also announced its refusal to attend.

"After we have had our meeting with Mr Corbyn on April 24, we will see whether he and the Labour Party have committed to the action we need against antisemitism," said the groups in a joint statement issued Tuesday.

Eytan Halon


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Hamas "Press Office": Truth Finishes Last - Bassam Tawil

by Bassam Tawil

Hamas is trying to intimidate journalists into covering the events in a way that distorts the truth and reality.

  • Finally, the Hamas "Press Office" instructed Palestinian journalists to focus on the "humanization" of the stories of the Palestinians who are killed or injured during the mass demonstrations. Translation: If the "victim" is a Hamas terrorist, the journalists are to avoid mentioning that and instead report about his having been a beloved husband, father and community member.
  • Aren't Fatah and Abbas receiving financial aid from the US and EU because of their presumed support for a peace process with Israel? Why should the Americans and Europeans be supporting a Palestinian faction whose journalists openly incite against their Israeli colleagues?
Three weeks after the beginning of the mass demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are being held as part of the so-called "March of Return," Hamas is trying to intimidate journalists into covering the events in a way that distorts the truth and reality.

Hamas, one of several Palestinian groups responsible for the anti-Israel demonstrations, does not want the world to see pictures of Palestinians throwing stones, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers.

Hamas does not want journalists to use the words "clashes" and "confrontations" when reporting about the demonstrations.

Hamas does not want journalists to report the fact that some of the demonstrators killed during the "March of Return" were actually members of its armed group, Izaddin Al-Qassam.

In other words, Hamas wants journalists to report as if they were working for its propaganda machine. Any journalist who dares to challenge the Hamas narrative is denounced as a "traitor" and punished.

To ensure that Palestinian journalists comply with its wishes, Hamas's "Press Office" earlier this week issued directives to reporters as to how they should cover the "March of Return."

The first order that Hamas requires the journalists to obey is to refrain from focusing on the actions of individuals participating in the demonstrations.

This means that a photographer who sees a Palestinian protester engaged in violence, such as hurling a stone, firebomb or explosive device at Israeli troops, should look the other way. Why? Because, according to Hamas, such pictures refute its claim that the "March of Return" is a "peaceful and nonviolent uprising by unarmed civilians."

Hamas, according to its "Press Office," also instructed Palestinian journalists to stop using the words "clashes" and "confrontations" in their stories about the demonstrations. These words, Hamas argues, create the impression that the Palestinian demonstrators are engaged in violence. The pictures and videos from the scenes of the demonstrations, of course, depict just that.

Several videos even show masked Palestinian demonstrators trying to destroy the security fence and barbed wires along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. This is part of the plan of the organizers of the "March of Return" to infiltrate the border and flood Israel with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Palestinian journalists, in the words of Hamas's "Press Office," are to portray the events at the border with Israel as "an assault by the occupation army and its snipers on a peaceful and nonviolent civilian uprising." Hamas wants journalists to show only one side of the story by solely focusing on Israel's response to the violent demonstrations. The violence that triggered the response is, for Hamas, inadmissible evidence.

Pictured: Palestinians in Gaza attempt to break through a section of the border fence with Israel, under cover of a smokescreen, March 30, 2018. (Image source: Ateya Bahar video screenshot).

In line with Hamas's own fictitious narrative about its bloody behavior, it wants the coverage of the "March of Return" to be along the lines of "it all started when Israel fired back." Nothing new here: this is exactly the tactic Hamas has used during its previous wars with Israel. Hamas has never allowed journalists to show its members in the process of firing rockets at Israel. The only stories journalists were allowed to report where those of Palestinian casualties resulting from Israeli military strikes against people launching the rocket attacks from schools and populated areas of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas's "Press Office" additionally warned Palestinian journalists against quoting or relying on Israeli media in their reporting about the events in the Gaza Strip. This means that the journalists are not allowed to inform the Palestinian public of what Israel is saying about the "March of Return," especially concerning violent attacks on Israeli soldiers.

In this regard, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by Hamas's rivals in Fatah, seems fully to agree with Hamas. In a statement published in Ramallah, the PJS accused Israeli journalists of being "complicit in crimes and killings." It also claimed that Israeli journalists were part of the Israeli army's propaganda machine.

Such incitement against Israeli journalists should be taken with utmost seriousness. It endangers the lives of reporters who cover Palestinian issues and often travel to Palestinian cities and villages.

Hamas's incitement against Israeli journalists is predictable. But when the incitement originates from a Fatah-affiliated institution in the West Bank, and controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas's loyalists, it gives pause. Isn't Fatah supposed to be the "moderate" Palestinian faction that ostensibly believes in the two-state solution and peace with Israel? Isn't Mahmoud Abbas supposed to be the "moderate" and "pragmatic" Palestinian leader with whom Israel is supposed to make peace? Aren't Fatah and Abbas receiving financial aid from the US and EU because of their presumed support for a peace process with Israel? Why should the Americans and Europeans be supporting a Palestinian faction whose journalists openly incite against their Israeli colleagues?

The incitement by Fatah and Hamas is an attempt to intimidate and silence not only Palestinian journalists, but their Israeli colleagues as well. It is an attempt to force Israeli journalists to toe the line and endorse the Hamas and Fatah narrative not only regarding the "March of Return," but also the entire Palestinian cause. Apparently in agreement with Hamas and Fatah, international human rights organizations and advocates of free media around the world do not seem bothered at all by the life-threatening attacks on Israeli journalists.

Finally, the Hamas "Press Office" instructed Palestinian journalists to focus on the "humanization" of the stories of the Palestinians who are killed or injured during the mass demonstrations. The journalists are required to highlight the "various personal and social aspects" of the Palestinian victims. Translation: If the "victim" is a Hamas terrorist, the journalists are to avoid mentioning that and instead report about his having been a beloved husband, father, and community member.

Again, this is part of Hamas's effort to lie to the world and present the Palestinians killed and injured during the riots as unarmed innocent civilians. The truth, however, is that Hamas has sent hundreds of its militiamen to take part in the demonstrations disguised as civilians.

Since the Palestinian journalists covering the "March of Return" are unlikely to ignore Hamas's new instructions, this will affect the reporting of the international media. Most international media outlets and correspondents employ Palestinian producers and translators and "fixers" to assist in covering Palestinian issues.

A Palestinian journalist who is afraid to defy the Hamas instructions will not tell his employers everything he sees and hears. Some of the Palestinian journalists will also be doing that of their own volition and not necessarily out of fear of Hamas or any other Palestinian group. These journalists see themselves as foot soldiers of the "revolution" and are convinced that their loyalty should be, first and foremost, to their people and cause. And the truth? Well, the truth finishes last.

The 'March of Return" is scheduled to continue until May 15, the Gregorian date for Israel Independence Day. More protests are planned along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the coming weeks. The Palestinians say that the real goal of the protests is to achieve the "right of return," by which they would return to "all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River."

The planned demonstrations will parallel those which took place the past three weeks. Those demonstrations, too, will involve Palestinians throwing rocks, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers. Those demonstrations, too, will see Palestinians chanting slogans calling for the annihilation of Israel and see Hamas terrorists dressed in civilian clothes participating in the "peaceful" demonstrations.

Given the threats made by Hamas and Fatah, the question is: Will we see all these things, or will the cover-up continue? And, will the international media allow itself to be used as a platform for disseminating Hamas's lies? The Hamas "Press Office," for its part, is working overtime to cover the ravenous wolf in sheep's clothing.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.


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Sharp Power": Hamas's Dirty War Against Israel - Prof. Eytan Gilboa

by Prof. Eytan Gilboa

"Sharp power" is the  use of subversion, manipulation, distraction, and lies authoritarian to undermine an enemy.

Screen shot of YouTube video of drone footage of March of Return, 
near Khan Younis, April 6, 2018
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 800, April 17, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In the so-called “March of Return,” Hamas is utilizing a new kind of power in international relations called “sharp power.” This term originally referred to the subversion, manipulation, distraction, and lies authoritarian governments employ to undermine liberal democracies. The concept can now be applied to terrorist organizations like Hamas. 

Democracies don’t know yet how to effectively cope with the challenges of “sharp power”. They do not understand how vulnerable they are, and are largely unable to prevent abuses of fundamental freedoms and human rights. Unfortunately, the Western media, including the major social media networks, as well as international organizations like the UN and its affiliated agencies along with human rights organizations (which are major tools of sharp power), collaborate with the Islamic dictatorship of Hamas in Gaza.

Types of Power

Power is the ability to influence others to get what you want. In the past, there was only “hard power”: getting what you want by using or threatening to use force or sanctions, or inducing compliance with rewards. When the Cold War ended, Harvard professor of Government Joseph Nye, Jr. coined the term “soft power”, defined as getting what you want by attracting and persuading peoples through values, policies, institutions, and culture.

The next step in the power theory evolution was “smart power”: a combination of hard and soft power where each reinforces the other. Social media inspired the creation of a new term, “collaborative power”: a bottom-up process of getting what you want by mobilizing and connecting global communities around a cause.

The Russian intervention in the US 2016 presidential elections and attempts to cultivate favorable public opinion in Europe via sophisticated information technologies and social media yielded the “sharp power” concept, the most recent innovation in definitions of power. In an article published in Foreign Affairs in November 2017, Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig distinguished between soft and sharp power. They described the latter as the influence wielded by authoritarian governments, primarily Russia and China, through initiatives in the spheres of media, academia, culture, and think tanks. They rejected the claim that what these governments do is a legitimate effort to “share alternative ideas” or “broaden the debate.” Sharp power “is not principally about attraction or even persuasion; instead, it centers on distraction and manipulation.”

The principal goal of sharp power isn’t a bona fide dialogue between rivals on international issues. It rather exploits and abuses freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and sensitivities to human rights abuses in order to undermine, subvert, and destabilize Western liberal democracies. People and organizations in authoritarian regimes, in official and non-official capacities, assume fake identities and disseminate lies to achieve their political goals. They especially target the media, international organizations, and human rights organizations. These despicable practices are frequently undertaken by authoritarian non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations.

Hamas’s Utilization of Sharp Power

Hamas has been using sharp power against Israel since it violently took over Gaza in 2007 and established a ruthless and violent Islamic theocracy. The US, the EU, Canada, Australia, and other countries designated Hamas as a radical Islamic terrorist organization. Hamas employed sharp power against Israel throughout all the military confrontations it initiated against Israel in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as in the recent “March of Return.”

Hamas systematically disseminated outright fabrications and distortions and manipulated innocent citizens and the Western and social media. They did this in order to increase tensions and disagreements in Israel, cultivate support in Western democracies, and obtain one-sided, extreme condemnation of Israel in international bodies such as the ridiculous and fraudulent UN Council on Human Rights.

Hamas presented the “March of Return” as an innocent and peaceful demonstration initiated by suffering citizens to protest their awful economic and social conditions. Hamas also accused Israel of committing war crimes by intentionally shooting and killing demonstrators. The truth is exactly the opposite, and Hamas’s claims are false and misleading.

The march was initiated and organized by Hamas, not by oppressed citizens. Hamas invested millions of dollars in building an infrastructure for the demonstrators, and called for the breaking of the border fence and infiltration into Israeli territory. If Hamas had been permitted to accomplish this goal, the life and property of Israeli citizens living a few meters from the fence would have been in danger. These were not peaceful demonstrations.

Hamas deployed operatives among the demonstrators and ordered them to throw firebombs, shoot at Israeli soldiers, put explosives on the fence, cross into Israel’s territory, and, if possible, kill or kidnap soldiers and citizens. They sent women and children close to the fence to provoke Israeli soldiers. They knew these violent actions might trigger Israeli fire, but that was the point. They wanted as many Palestinians as possible to be killed, including women and children, in order to obtain favorable media coverage, sympathy in world public opinion, denunciation from world leaders, and condemnatory resolutions from UN bodies. These are all clear manifestations of sharp power.

Hamas is lying and cheating about the reasons for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars on operatives, rockets, attack tunnels, and violence. If Hamas had spent that money on economic and social development, Gazans would now live in a better economic environment. The more recent deterioration in the Gazan economy resulted from a bitter feud between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, not from any Israeli action. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was fed up with Hamas’s undermining of his authority, and cut funding for the power station and salaries of officials. These measures caused, respectively, electrical blackouts and severe reductions in income.

Hamas says it needs weapons because of the Israeli blockade and attacks on Gaza. Not true. In 2005, Israel completely withdrew from Gaza and expected a period of peace building. Israel imposed a partial siege on Gaza only because Hamas explicitly and repeatedly said it wished to destroy the Jewish state and constantly used terrorism and violence. The siege was the result of Hamas’s aggression and violence, not the other way around. Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, also imposed a siege on Gaza because of Hamas’s collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and radical Islamic terrorist groups in Sinai.


The media in the US and Europe, including the elite press of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, CNN, and the BBC to name just a few, largely accepted the manipulations, lies, and fabrications of Hamas without much questioning or reservation. The headlines tell how the media almost unanimously framed the story. The New York Times published the following headline: “Israeli military kills 15 Palestinians in confrontations at Gaza Border.” Reuters wrote, “Israeli forces kill 16 Palestinians in Gaza border protests.” CNN announced, “Gaza protests: 17 Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israeli forces.” At best, these were misleading headlines.
The Western media also published and broadcast partial and biased reports, incorrect data and information, exaggerations, and extreme commentary. They also omitted significant contexts, which in itself caused distortion. For example, on several occasions, The New York Times published false statements like these: “The protests are aimed at Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which began after Hamas seized control in 2007.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and other leaders have called for an independent investigation of Israel’s conduct. At the Vatican, Pope Francis lamented the killing of “defenseless Palestinians.” In Israel, the radical left party Meretz and the controversial “human rights” organization B’etzelem, as well as similar bodies abroad, accepted the false Hamas narrative and demanded investigation only of Israel’s defensive actions.

The media, leaders, and organizations of the Western world, along with certain parties and organizations in Israel, conveniently removed any reference to Hamas’s motivation, aggression, war crimes, and manipulations. For them, it was only the Israeli Army versus innocent civilian demonstrators. These attitudes played right into the hands of Hamas, and strengthened its use of sharp power.

Hamas’s maximal and effective utilization of sharp power presents Israel with difficult dilemmas. If you use force against the terrorists implanted among the demonstrators, you might accidently hit innocent civilians. If you don’t, you endanger your soldiers and civilians who live close to the border, and you encourage further violence and attacks from Hamas.


In order to defeat Hamas’s sharp power Israel must use smart power, which can be defined as the minimal and careful use of force coupled with an intensive public diplomacy campaign. The campaign should present the true facts about Hamas, which are often ignored by the media, international organizations, and human rights organizations. Israel must effectively utilize all communication channels to disseminate the facts.

Critics of Israel’s handling of the demonstrators in Gaza missed, or willfully ignored, the march’s slogan: “the March of Return.” “Return” might seem an innocent, idealistic, and justified goal – the return of refugees to homes they left in Israel seventy years ago. In practice, “the right of return” means the destruction of Israel as an independent Jewish state. Hamas has never supported either a peace process with Israel or a “two states for two peoples” solution. “Return” means the death of Israel.

Gaza was a test case of Palestinian intention and ability to live in peace with Israel. In 2005, Israel dismantled all its settlements in Gaza and evacuated all the Jews who lived there and its entire military. The Israeli leaders who initiated and implemented the withdrawal promised that the disengagement, the newly acquired semi-independent status of Gaza, and the economic cooperation with Israel would pave the way towards a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace and turn Gaza into Singapore of the Middle East. Many foreign leaders echoed these beliefs.

The result was exactly the opposite. Hamas turned Gaza into a terrorism base and frequently used force against Israeli civilians. Hamas has also become a proxy of Iran (after Hezbollah in Lebanon), a country that threatens to eliminate Israel.

Israel did in Gaza exactly what leaders, UN bodies, international organizations, and human rights organizations are telling it to do today in the West Bank. These demands ignore the real obstacles to peace. The Palestinians had an opportunity in Gaza to show how they can live in peace with Israel. They failed. Hamas preferred violence and sharp power to peace and reconciliation. This failure suggests that territory and settlements have never been the main obstacles to peace. There are much deeper reasons that the “March of Return” clearly exposes.

The Palestinians are not prepared to accept Israel as a Jewish state within any territory or borders. Ever since the recommendations of the 1937 British Royal Peel Commission, they have consistently rejected all territory-based partition solutions. They rejected the 1947 UN partition resolution and failed to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza when, between 1948 and 1967, those territories were respectively under Jordanian and Egyptian control. In 1999-2000, Arafat rejected two partition proposals offered to him first by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and subsequently by President Bill Clinton. In 2008, Abbas ignored a similar proposal offered to him by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The insistence on the “right of return” and the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are demands to change the character and identity of Israel. No country can accept such demands. These have been the insurmountable obstacles to peace.

Given the natural sympathy for the underdog and the too easy acceptance of Hamas’s false narrative, defeating Hamas’s sharp power will be difficult. It necessitates an effective and wide-ranging public diplomacy campaign. This requires reorganization of the governmental ministries and agencies responsible for public diplomacy. The current government separated functions and resources among several ministries. Effective coordination and supervision among them is lacking. The smart power remedy requires a synergy among all the military, diplomatic, and communication systems as well as between the government and supportive non-profits and NGOs.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

Prof. Eytan Gilboa is director of the Center for International Communication and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.


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Vlad Unveils the Death Star - J. R. Dunn

by J. R. Dunn

History shows us that Putin's claimed super-weapons are merely a shield for the frightened ruler of a collapsing state.

It's always interesting when two apparently unrelated elements of the political world collide to shed light on a third, also seemingly unrelated element. That's what happened last weekend during the missile strikes against Assad's nerve-gas network.

For the past several months, speculation has been rampant in political and military circles concerning new superweapons developed by the Russian Federation, presumably for use against its Main Enemy, the U.S.

Information on these systems did not emerge by accident or by means of intelligence efforts. It was intentionally released by the Russians themselves, for purposes that would not be immediately evident to anyone unfamiliar with recent Russian (which is to say "Soviet") history.

On March 1st, Vladimir Putin, in a fiery address leading up to the March 18th presidential election, unveiled what he claimed to be a "nuclear-powered cruise missile" capable of staying in the air indefinitely and eluding any form of interception. The announcement was accompanied by footage purporting to show a test of the missile, along with animation of how it could dodge anti-missile defenses. (It's difficult to grasp what these "defenses" are supposed to consist of – in the video, they appear to be balloons popping up out of nowhere in the middle of the Atlantic.)

At the same time, Putin also "announced" (it had "accidently" been revealed earlier in a Russian military documentary) an independently-guided nuclear-armed torpedo drone that could spend months underwater before setting off a 100-megaton warhead in the waters off a port city. The city would then be inundated by a radioactive tsunami that would destroy everything to the suburbs and beyond.

Obviously, a pair of weapons to make Dr. Strangelove get up and dance around the war room. (Putin also announced several other more conventional weapons.) The torpedo is known as either "Status 6" or "Kanyon," depending on the source. The cruise missile as yet has no name – Putin jovially proposed that viewers send in their suggestions.

Students of nuclear weaponry immediately recognized this pair as reboots of American concepts from the 1950s. A USAF nuclear-powered cruise missile program, variously known as Project Pluto or SLAM (Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile) was carried out from 1957 to 1964. Pluto was a design for a ramjet cruise missile powered by a 500-megawatt nuclear reactor with a range of up to 113,000 miles and a cruising speed of Mach 3 to 4.5 (2300 mph to 3450 mph). Pluto was to be a gigantic weapon, carrying up to several dozen H-bombs. After these were expended, it would roar across Russia at low altitude, its supersonic shock wave knocking down anything that remained, at the same time spewing out a highly radioactive exhaust.

After several successful reactor tests, Pluto was canceled in July 1964 because it was a stupid idea. Any such weapon would show up in the area of operations hours after matters had already been decided, its only role to make the rubble bounce. Not even the contemporary Lord of the Nukes Gen. Curtis E. LeMay was interested in any such system.

Status 6, on the other hand, is a cut-rate version of the "gigaton mine," which was dreamed up by J. Robert Oppenheimer in the early 1950s while he was trying to scare people out of making H-bombs. Gigaton mines were thousand-megaton nuclear devices (one billion in the U.S. system) which would be triggered either on coastlines, where they would cause the aforementioned tsunamis, or alternately in low earth orbit, where they could sterilize a continent from coast to coast.

Any temptation to build these things was curtailed by the fiascos of the Castle Bravo (3/1/54) and Tsar Bomba (10/30/61) nuclear tests, in which design errors led to far greater yields than anticipated. The terrifying results discouraged efforts toward designing larger bombs and led eventually to the Atmospheric Test-Ban Treaty of 1963. Today nuclear weapons tend to be precision-guided low-yield devices that can be tuned to match a target.

Regardless of their secondhand status, Putin's revelations led to the traditional weapons panic – shrieking in the media, nervous press conferences from the military, and arm-waving from the nuclear "experts"–all this despite the fact that it's unlikely that they actually exist.

The cruise missile video? There are a number of problems with that little number:

  • Putin's nuclear cruise missile is externally indistinguishable from the KH-55 family of conventionally-powered missiles, also known by the NATO designation AS-15 Kent. The Kent is a small missile, ranging in size from 19 to 24 feet in length, with a weight of 3,600 to 5,300 lbs. – little more than a medium-sized truck. The missile shown in Putin's video is clearly about that size.
The smallest nuclear reactor weighs about 1200 pounds and generates under 500 kilowatts of power – not enough to power such a missile to the speeds claimed for it (compare this to Pluto's 500 MW). A reactor suitable for this task would be considerably larger and heavier, resulting in a missile quite a bit larger than the Kent. There was a reason why the Pluto was intended to be a monster.
  • One of the things that killed Pluto was that it was impossible to test. Two methods exist for operating nuclear-powered jet engines – direct and indirect fuel flow. In direct flow, the fuel runs straight into the reactor, where it is heated and blasted out the rear. Indirect flow features separate heat elements which heat up the fuel.
In both cases, you end up with radioactive engine exhaust–the direct method is much higher, but both are dangerous. So Putin allowed such a missile to be tested over Russia?
  • The rest of the world carefully monitors the atmosphere for unexplained radiation. Yet nobody detected anything associated with this missile.
  • There's also the fact that it can't be safely landed. A crash would result in a reactor explosion similar to what happened at Chernobyl, if on a smaller scale. (This falsifies the CIA claim that the first test resulted in a crash. No nuclear accident, no crash.) The Pluto designers planned to drop the missile deep into the Pacific, where it would sit on the bottom emitting radioactivity for the next 20,000 years. Are the Russians admitting to a world-class environmental crime?
  • Putin's nice movie shows the chase plane flying a few hundred yards behind the missile, where at any moment, a quick turn or sudden blast of wind could bathe the plane in radioactive exhaust.
  • Finally, only a few establishing shots (like the one above) actually show the missile in flight. The rest is animation. Did the Russian cameras run out of film or what?
So Russia has a nuclear-powered cruise missile, does it? Do tell, Vlad.

Much the same could be said for the Kanyon drone. Observers have stated that it looks exactly like a scaled-up version of a standard Russian submarine torpedo – not at all what you'd expect for the mission. There's also that "independently-guided" claim. From a country that has shown no capability in AI, cybernetics, or related disciplines? A country that was forced to steal all its computer technology during the Cold War, including U.S.-built PCs that were then put in locally made casings? This country has developed an AI-controlled, nuclear-armed underwater drone, you say? Really?

We can also add that more recent work concerning nuclear explosion-generated waves reveal them as being a lot less destructive than has long been thought. Forget about tsunamis hundreds of feet high – a nuke wave would be no worse than that of a bad storm.
Russia has a long history of fakery where weapons are concerned. Consider the Myasishchev bombers. In the early 1950s, the Myasishchev design bureau (usually condensed to "Mya," even by Russian sources) was organized by the Soviets to challenge American dominance of strategic bomber design by Boeing and Convair. At a Soviet air show in July 1955, what appeared to be 28 of its first product, the Mya-4, appeared overhead, concentrating wonderfully the minds of Western observers. (It wasn't revealed until years later that the Russians flew the same formation over the field repeatedly.) A full panic ensued, which entered history as the infamous "bomber gap." The CIA, always on top of things, estimated that the USSR had something on the order of 800 Mya-4s. The U-2 program, just getting off the ground, was tasked to find and count all those bombers. After several sweeps of the USSR, U-2s found… fifty Mya-4s, tucked away at a remote air base, with the snow depth on the runways suggesting that they hadn't flown in some time.

Far from being a superweapon, the Mya-4 was underpowered, lacked the range to reach the U.S. and return, and was loathed by its pilots and crews. It never went into full production, and only a handful of the first fifty ever saw actual service.

Three years later, in 1958, it was revealed that Myasishchev had brainstormed a new design, the Mya -50, which was both supersonic and–wait for it–atomic powered. Again, panic ensued in the West. In the event, the conventionally powered Mya-50 never went into production following the prototype, and the Soviets had to wait years for their first supersonic bomber.

The Marxist superweapon role was filled by the MiG-25 Foxbat late in the 1960s. Designed to take on the cancelled B-70 Valkyrie supersonic bomber, the MiG-25 was a fast interceptor – though nowhere near as fast as people thought. Western intelligence mixed the plane up with the radar track of a high-altitude drone and announced that the Russians had a plane that could operate at nearly 3000 mph. When Russian pilot Viktor Belenko defected to Japan with his MiG-25 in September 1976, it was discovered that the plane could do one thing – travel in a straight line very fast (though not at Mach 4). Its engineering was primitive, using no new alloys or manufacturing techniques, and its finicky engines tended to explode during flight.
Much more could be said on this topic. In the late 50s, Chairman Nikita Khrushchev constantly asserted that the USSR was "turning out missiles like sausages," resulting in a – you guessed it – missile gap. And yet during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Soviets had a grand total of 13 ICBMs on the pads.

All these hoaxes were met with the same response in the West: open panic featuring hysteria, confusion, and defeatism. No matter how many times the trick was repeated, the same cries of doom were heard from people in positions to know better – often the same people, over and over again.

So how does Syria fit in? The attack on April 13th went up against a 21st-century Russian superweapon–the S-400 Triumf air-defense system, a mobile state-of-the-art anti-aircraft and missile network featuring four distinct missile types targeting aircraft in any performance envelope from treetop level to high altitude – including stealth aircraft (at a range of 150 miles, yet). For a decade we have been assured by military analysts that the S-400 is a game-changer – a system that could rend the heavens in twain and call into question the very concept of air power under battlefield conditions.

And yet, last Friday, the epoch-making Triumf failed to let out so much as a peep as 105 cruise missiles trashed Bashar Assad's chemical warfare plants. Not a single SAM left the rack while the attack was proceeding. (The Syrians did fire over 40 missiles at nothing, but only after the attack was completed. This is standard behavior among Arab armed forces Рthe Libyans and Iraqis did the same thing.) The Russians claim to have shot down over 70 of the attacking cruise missiles. How do we know this isn't true? First, because the targets were utterly destroyed, and second, because the French were involved. If the Russians had shot down any U.S. missiles at all we would be hearing from Paris that American "missiles de croisi̬re" are useless, and that's why we had to turn to the French, who invented the cruise missile in 1689. (This is scarcely an exaggeration РEmmanuel Macron has gone on record to state that it was he, le pr̩sident de la France, who persuaded Donald Trump to carry out the strike.)

Some might argue that the new AGM-158 JASSM stealth missile foxed the S-400, but half the missiles launched were actually thirty-year-old BGM-109 Tomahawks, the equivalent of Colt Peacemakers as far as the world of missile development is concerned. If the mighty S-400 can't shoot down a thirty-year-old missile, what can it do?

The question is rhetorical, since it's clear at this point that the S-400, along with the Myas, the nuclear drone, and the Kanyon, is simply another boogieman cooked up by the Russians to buffalo a gullible world, with the aid and assistance of various Western experts.

As to why–during the 50s, Khrushchev was facing intractable difficulties in ruling Russia, overseeing a national recovery from Stalinist terror while juggling the party, the military, and the KGB and attempting to reform the economy through his "Thaw" policies. Fairy tales concerning Myas and missiles, along with feigned belligerence, kept the world at arm's length while mollifying various hard liners. So why not go with it, particularly when the West was so easy to fool? Khrushchev managed to walk that tightrope for a decade before it snapped beneath him.

His successors, Brezhnev and Kosygin, followed the same route, because they had no alternative. Neither does Vladimir Putin today. He has learned – as they all learned, from czar to vozhd to chairman – that you cannot rule a modern state as a medieval tyranny. All that you can do is remain one step ahead of chaos while faking out both your own people and the world as a whole.

That explains Vlad and his Darth Vader weapons. Russia today is what it always was – a Potemkin village hiding a nation in a state of suspended collapse. The sole thing keeping it up is brutality toward the ordinary Russian and threats against the rest of the world. This works only because the West allows to work – doing favors for the vozhd of the moment for the sake of peace and quiet, throwing our hands up and wailing whenever he shakes a rubber doomsday machine in our direction, and consistently selling the Russian people short. That's the way it was during the communist epoch, and that's the way it is today. It's time we pulled up the curtain on it, the same way we pulled up the curtain on the S-400 last weekend.

J. R. Dunn


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