Saturday, June 21, 2008

Domestic Threat: 'Islam is gnawing on the core'.

 

By SAM SER

Sheikh Ra'ed Salah may seem like just another face in the crowd of Israeli Arab provocateurs. But track his rise to prominence, as Professor Raphael Israeli has done, and a different picture emerges - one of a unique force, carefully cultivated, who poses a highly underappreciated threat to the state.

"For most of Israel's history, the Arab community was represented by communists, and when communism collapsed, it left a huge vacuum," Prof. Israeli explains. "That vacuum has been filled by Salah and his like, in the northern branch of the Islamic Movement."

For 20 years, Prof. Israeli has watched - and warned - as the main element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shifted from nationalism to Islamism. It was an inconvenient truth that few of the Hebrew University professor's colleagues were willing to accept.

"They would ask me, 'Why are you starting trouble with the Muslims? Why not just limit our troubles to the Arabs?'" he tells The Jerusalem Post. "But you have to recognize the reality: Little by little, Islam is gnawing on the core of Palestinian nationalism."

One manifestation of this is Salah's penchant for making inflammatory statements regarding the Temple Mount, inciting Muslims to violence with false charges of government plots to undermine the Aksa Mosque. In so doing, Salah changes Jerusalem from a Palestinian political issue that could, conceivably, be solved into a religious issue that demands the attention of even Israeli Muslims.

Salah's latest brush with the law is an incitement to violence charge stemming from his sermon in Jerusalem's Wadi Joz neighborhood in February. Salah urged supporters to start a third intifada in order to "save al-Aksa Mosque, free Jerusalem and end the occupation."

In his speech he also attacked Jews, saying, "They want to build their temple at a time when our blood is on their clothes, on their doorsteps, in their food and in their drinks," and accusing Jews of "[eating] bread dipped in children's blood."

Further complicating things are Salah's repeated efforts, through his public speeches and through the Arabic-language newspaper that has served as his mouthpiece, to frame Jewish-Arab tensions in Israel in the anti-Jewish terms of the Koran.

"While the differences between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel are often bridgeable by common language, economic interest and neighborly relations," says Prof. Israeli, "the Muslim radicals have injected massive doses of Islamic symbolism into the conflict and given it a religiocultural nature, rendering it virtually insoluble." Since "religiously motivated Muslims are likely to act far more boldly and with more self-sacrifice than politically oriented activists," he explains, this is more than mere semantics.

Prof Israeli has observed Salah closely since the young firebrand was elected mayor of Umm el-Fahm in local elections that proved a resounding victory for the hard-liners within the Islamic Movement. He came away impressed with Salah's genuine man-of-the-people persona, but deeply concerned by the way he was steering the movement away from relative moderation and toward increasing confrontation with the state.

"After the Islamists' victory in the elections of 1989, which resulted on the one hand in their growing self-confidence, and on the other in the Israeli government's reluctance to confront them head-on, open declarations of jihad against Israel became routine," Prof. Israeli notes.

In short order, Salah's supporters in the Galilee instigated riots in Nazareth, in a showdown that was overtly about imposing Muslim dominance over Christians. They also became more brazen in their public statements of disgust for the Jewish state and in their vows to ultimately defeat it.

Authorities, fearing a backlash over the impression of religious persecution, have repeatedly caved in before such displays.

This has been a mistake, Prof. Israeli says, because Salah and his followers "do not hide their intentions. They should be taken seriously by their interlocutors, because when their environment becomes irreconcilable with their ideology, violence is inescapable."

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Salah and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement have aligned themselves with Hamas. In 2003, he and several of his followers were charged with financing Hamas's terrorist activities; in 2005, facing overwhelming evidence against them, the men signed plea bargains to avoid lengthy prison terms.

Prof. Israeli, who wrote a book based on his testimony as an expert witness for the prosecution in that trial, still recoils at the thought of that plea bargain.

Rather than face prosecution for aiding one of Israel's bitterest enemies, Salah "returned to his village as a victor, with tremendously enhanced prestige amongst the Arabs. That did tremendous damage to us," Prof. Israeli says.

The government's choice to avoid confronting the burgeoning Islamic movement in Israel, says the Moroccan-born professor, has only served to embolden Salah and his followers.

"Salah is admired for being fearless - and I respect him for that," Israeli says. "What I can't understand is how our authorities have shown themselves to be hapless and helpless in his regard."

Just two weeks ago, three Lod residents who are members of Salah's Islamic Movement confessed to plotting to kidnap and kill an IDF soldier and trade his remains for Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli prisons. Their motive, according to the leader of the three, was to "wage jihad against the infidels."

Despite Salah's acknowledged involvement in terrorism, and despite encouraging Israeli Muslims to see themselves as murabitun - a sort of garrisoned sleeper agents preparing to fight their heretic neighbors - he still remains a mere nuisance in the minds of the authorities, according to Prof. Israeli.

"Unfortunately, he is perceived as a marginal figure much more than the danger he is," says Prof. Israeli. "But this is only among the Jews. He is not marginal among the Arabs. Even the most secular Arabs in Israel are proud of him."

Ironically, Prof. Israeli says, the state is more lenient regarding the domestic Islamist threat than it is regarding foreign-based jihadis. "The measures that Israel has been pressuring Western countries to adopt against Hamas, Hizbullah and other Islamist movements - such as closing them down, banning them, confiscating their properties and pursuing them in the courts - it does not apply itself, in spite of long years of subversive activity."  That's startling, he concludes, because "the danger posed to Israel's existence is far greater than anything the West has been exposed to."

SAM SER

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Friday, June 20, 2008

With blood on their hands.

By Ami Isseroff

Israel is under attack and requires your help. Israel is being bombarded by a pernicious propaganda barrage, which threatens to undermine the IDF, the state and everything we stand for, and to imperil the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser and their comrades, living and dead, fought for a great and just cause, defending Israel against an implacable enemy, Hezbollah, which is sworn to destroy us. Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped, and most likely killed, starting the Second Lebanon War . Over 150 other Israelis died, many perhaps needlessly, but all in support of a cause that we all thought was correct at the time and which must in fact be correct: never to give in to the extortion of terrorists. Surrender to extortion only leads to more extortion. The Second Lebanon War could have been avoided entirely, if Israel had simply agreed to release murderer Samir Kuntar and whatever other terrorists were demanded by Hassan Nassrallah, in return for the kidnapped soldiers or their bodies. But almost all agreed that this course would be perilous, and would lead to more kidnappings.

If my own sons had been kidnapped, I would surely not rest a minute. I would raise hell all over the world to ensure that the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, abides by international law and allows visits by the red cross. I would stage demonstrations at the White House, at the UN, at appearances of American officials in the Middle East, as well as imploring Israeli officials to act for their release. I would not let them or the public forget their duty. I would, if it were practical, hire private detectives, the Mafia, other Lebanese groups to free them or at least to get word that they are alive. I would do anything, except to undermine the cause for which they and their comrades fought, or to undermine the IDF and the state of Israel.

But now Israel is under attack. The cause for which Regev and Goldwasser fought is being trampled in the mud. The source of the attack is not the Hamas or the Hezbollah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud Abbas or British Jewish anti-Zionists. The source of the danger is in Israel. The people guilty of undermining the security of the state are not disloyal Arabs or anti-Zionist Jews. They are well meaning and worried parents, and their unscrupulous lawyers and public relations firms. What would all those soldiers, the dead and the kidnapped, think of this campaign? What does it say about their sacrifice?

The Israeli media are filled with pleas to release convicted murderer Samir Kuntar, and perhaps hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, in return for what is almost certainly the dead bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. They are filled with imprecations and threats against the Israeli government.

It is not a matter of putting "honor" or "justice" or "revenge" above human compassion. The problem is not the release of prisoners with "blood on their hands." Rather, it is the blood of our soldiers and civilians that will be spilled in the next kidnapping. The success of the Goldwasser-Regev kidnapping will certainly engender yet another one, just as the success of the previous kidnapping, in which Hezbollah traded the degenerate Elhanan Tannenbaum and some dead soldiers for many live prisoners, was probably the decisive factor in motivating the kidnapping of Goldwasser and Regev. How many people will die because of the next kidnapping, and how many will be kidnapped? Those who are applying pressure for this deal, those who write op-eds, the parents and families of the kidnapped soldiers and their army of PR people, will all have blood on their hands - the blood of hundreds of Israelis. If we are silent, they will make us all accomplices in murder.

Miki Goldwasser, mother of Ehud Goldwasser, reasons:

"On the claim that if Kuntar is returned, more will be kidnapped in the future, I can only say that had he been returned in the [Elhanan] Tennenbaum deal, you would not be reading my letter today,"

Grief obscures reason. Miki Goldwasser would be right if the Hezbollah had been formed in order to free Samir Kuntar, and if the Hezbollah had no goal other than freeing Samir Kuntar.

But Samir Kuntar is only an issue that is used to further the real goals of the Hezbollah, one among many. If Kuntar is freed, the next round of soldiers would be kidnapped in order to free Palestinian prisoners, or to force Israel to give up Sheba farms, or some villages in the Galilee claimed by the Hezbollah. And when all these issues are exhausted, the Hezbollah will send more terrorists to be caught, so they can kidnap more Israelis, and gain more prestige by striking more deals. Kidnapping was exploited in the 1980s against the Americans as a terrorist device. The Americans don't hold Kuntar. Had the Israeli government never done the Tannenbaum deal, Goldwasser and Regev would have been far more likely to be safe today. Israel and the Regev and Goldwasser families should be using every ounce of leverage they might have to determine if Goldwasser and Regev are alive. If they are alive, which is not likely, then perhaps it would be much harder to refuse a deal. Even then, there are ways to pressure Hezbollah without returning Kuntar.

Goldwasser and Regev were severely, probably fatally wounded in the attack. Miki Goldwasser argues that Hassan Nasrallah said that he captured live soldiers. Of course, Nasrallah is a man of his word and never lies. Assuming he is telling the truth, he is probably telling the exact truth. The soldiers were still living when captured. It is noteworthy that he doesn't warrant that they are still alive now. Nasrallah could surely make easy propaganda by trading a tape of a live Regev and Goldwasser, holding today's newspaper and "confessing" to their "crimes" for a quantity of Palestinian prisoners. He doesn't do it, and that should tell us what we need to know about the case of Regev and Goldwasser. Miki Goldwasser cites the case of a previous detainee, whose fate was unknown and turned out to be alive. But that case is probably not relevant. Hezbollah is no longer a tiny persecuted underground group afraid of publicity. It is part of the Lebanese government, tacitly accepted as "legitimate" by most of the world. i

Today, most Israelis, perhaps because they have been bombarded with op-eds begging for the release of Samir Kuntar without any conditions, with quotes from the Goldwasser family and a well focused PR campaign, Agree with the Goldwasser and Regev families. A Dahaf poll shows the following:

If, forefend, it turns out with certainty that Goldwasser and Regev are dead, should we agree to the deal?
For 61% Against 32% No reply 7%

That is only a small percent less than those who favor the release of Goldwasser and Regev if they are alive. The logical thing for Hezbollah to do, then, is to kill any kidnap victims, current or future.

Those who oppose the deal are largely silent. If we had all spoken out against the disastrous trade of Elhanan Tannenbaum, perhaps this new catastrophe that led to the Second Lebanon War would have occurred. If we had spoken out against negligence and incompetence and corrected it, perhaps the war would not have occurred either. But if nobody speaks out against this folly, there will be a much worse one. The future war will be the fault of all those who were silent, but primarily it will be the fault of the lawyers, the PR people and the poor grief-stricken and anguished families, who are directing their efforts in the wrong direction, and getting the ear of a weak and unpopular government.

"Never leave anyone behind" and "Bring our boys" home reflect some of the finest aspects of Israeli battle ethics, if "battle ethics" is not an oxymoron. But glorifying a bloodthirsty enemy and rewarding their crimes in order to retrieve dead bodies is criminal folly. The "dignity of the dead" is not enhanced by selling out the cause for which they fought and by creating more "dignified" dead.

Who dares to stand against the grief of mothers bereft of their sons? Of separated young wives, loves, fathers, brothers? Not many, surely!

But who can dare to remain silent in defense of those who cannot speak, because they are dead, and on behalf of those who do not know they will be the victims of future kidnappings or casualties in the next war? It is our duty to prevent this tragedy.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Israeli company develops radar system that sees through walls.



By Guy Grimland
Ha'aretz (Technology section)

It's not easy to locate Camero's offices in the Kfar Neter industrial zone, but it may have just gotten easier. The startup has developed a system that allows users to see through walls.

It sounds just like a comic book fantasy come true - after all, who hasn't dreamt of getting to peek into the boss's office or the spouse's doings in the other room? Not so fast, budding Poirots: Camero's product is designed not for the entertainment of our inner child, but for use primarily in military and search and rescue operations.

And such technology could indeed be beneficial for special unit soldiers, for instance, or for locating people trapped in burning buildings.

"The idea of seeing through walls has been around since the 1960s, but modern technology is now ripe enough to enable it to happen," explains Camero's technology director, Amir Beeri. "When we established the company in 2004, we intended to develop sufficiently high vision resolution to allow an untrained user to see through a wall."

Camero's unique radar utilizes Ultra Wide Band (UWB), a technology that has only come of age in recent years, and with the use of special algorithms can process data picked up by the detector to give a reasonable image of anything behind that wall. Lacking imaging algorithms, the system made by its competitor, Time Domain is able to reveal only whether there is someone on the other side of the wall.

Although the first version developed by Camero, the Xaver 800, which includes a 82cm by 82cm screen on a tripod and weighs about 10 kg, making the system too clumsy for use in battle conditions, the Xaver 400 and Xaver 300 are both lighter weight and smaller sized, meant for use as a quick-to-use tactical tool.

The systems are capable of penetrating various types of walls, but not solid metal ones, like the walls of shipping containers.

Camero CEO Aharon Aharon says that the company has already sold the system to various armies and police forces around the world, and is optimistic about the future of the technology.

"Like the Israeli army's night vision system, which was once an expensive product and eventually came into broad, general use, we hope that our radar too will become standard issue for all military units," Aharon said.

Guy Grimland

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Israel-Hamas truce and politics.

By Ami Isseroff

For better or worse, today marks the start of a new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. A truce has de facto legitimized the Hamas government in Gaza. Israel has, it appears, somehow lost the Gaza Monopoly game, landing in the green "Legitimize Hamas Rule" square. There is no doubt that Israel negotiated a very poor and hasty agreement, which does not prevent arms smuggling through the Rafah crossing, and doesn't even get captured soldier Gilad Shalit back.

Objectively, Israel appeared to be winning the war of attrition against Hamas, since Gaza residents were increasingly dissatisfied. On the other hand, Americans and others were expressing increasing dissatisfaction over the bogus "human rights crisis," and there were signs that the international coalition that has more or less isolated the Hamas would crack, or that the Palestinians would conclude a unity deal, which would render the Hamas government "kosher" in the eyes of the world, and give the Hamas control over the West Bank as well. A military operation in Gaza was risky and might put the Hamas in the catbird seat rather than eliminating the problem. A deal with Hamas was needed at least temporarily in order to satisfy the Egyptians and possibly the Americans.

Still, this deal seems to be very bad. If the Egyptians are not going to be active in suppressing smuggling, then their role in the negotiations was totally unjustified from the Israeli point of view - they won no real advantages for Israel, and simply acted as a legitimate front for the demands of the Hamas. Its one "advantage" is that it does not include the West Bank, where Israel is free to operate. But the bottom line of that reckoning is that the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority will be "rewarded" with strikes against wanted terrorists, while more vicious Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists are protected in the Gaza Strip. Very likely a way will be found for some of these West Bank terrorists to reach Gaza and find shelter there. It is not impossible either that Gilad Shalit will be smuggled out through the porous Rafah border to meet an anonymous end in some Iranian jail.

What drives the decisions that the Israeli government has taken in the past few weeks? I have believed, and want to believe, that they are based on strategic, military and technical concerns. It is still too early to give up on a successful conclusion. The road to a successful military operation that eliminates the Hamas may indeed run through a cease fire, as Ehud Barak claims. But the Hamas would have to be incredibly stupid to give Israel a reason to break a cease fire that offers them overwhelming advantages. Since the rocket fire was earning them the disapproval not only of the Western world, but of Palestinians and Arabs as well, they give up nothing by stopping it, and gain everything by appearing to be reasonable and opening the way for the good life in the Gaza strip. A woefully mistimed editorial by Ziad Assali, head of the American Task Force for Palestine, scores the Hamas for their "miscalculation" in continuing the rocket fire, which has brought misery to Gaza. Now the Hamas can demonstrate that "steadfastness" and "resistance" have led to real gains for them. The inappropriate appearance of the editorial underscores the victory of the Hamas.

The noted analysts Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reach some of the same conclusions regarding the drawbacks of the truce. They claim that nonetheless, the truce was viewed as a lesser evil than a military operation at this point, because Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believed they didn't have the political backing needed to carry out a military operation in Gaza.

On the face of it, this is a very problematic claim. A recent poll found that Israelis are very dissatisfied with the security situation. Even though the poll asked a leading question designed to elicit support for lifting the closure of the Gaza strip, the results indicated that Israelis overwhelmingly oppose lifting the closure:

11. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "The closure creates hardships for the residents and drives them to desperation, which is likely to cause increased violence against Israel. Therefore, Israel should ease the closure of Gaza."

Strongly agree: 16%
Somewhat agree: 18%
Somewhat disagree: 22%
Strongly disagree: 41%
---------------------------------
Total agree: 34%
Total disagree: 63%

A poll published June 12 by the "Hakol Diburim" radio program found that the Israeli public favored a military operation over a truce with Hamas. But examination of the June 12 poll may provide the light of understanding. The crucial question and the responses:

Do you today support signing a ceasefire agreement with Hamas or a large military operation in Gaza?
Total: Ceasefire 33% Operation 44% Other 23%
Kadima voters: Ceasefire 33% Operation 38% Other 29%
Likud voters: Ceasefire 17% Operation 81% Other 2%
Labor voters: Ceasefire 64% Operation 21% Other 15%

Support for a military operation among Kadima voters was lukewarm, while Labor voters overwhelmingly favored a ceasefire. Of course, they didn't necessarily favor a ceasefire like the one that was actually achieved. However, one is led to the unpleasant suspicion that Olmert and Barak based their decision on political pressures within their own parties. Olmert's leadership is challenged by the more dovish Tzippi Livni and Barak's leadership is contested by dovish Ami Ayalon and Amir Peretz. If the decision was based on considerations of political survival, it is not an exemplary case of statesmanship to say the least.

A poll conducted one day before the "calm" went into effect yielded these results:

Do you support or oppose the calm agreement with Hamas?
Total: Support 40.6% Oppose 32.9% No position 26.5%
Kadima voters: Support 38.1% Oppose 31.8% No position 30.1%
Likud voters: Support 22.3% Oppose 60.4% No position 17.3%
Labor voters: Support 69.2% Oppose 10.1% No position 20.7%

You think that the calm will continue for a short time (days) or a long time (months)?
Total: Short 74.8% Long 17.1% Don't know 8.1%
Kadima voters: Short 81.5% Long 5.3% DK 13.2%
Likud voters:: Short 91.4% Long 2.2% DK 6.4%
Labor voters: Short 59.6% Long 12.8% DK 27.6%

A plurality of Israelis support the truce, but solid majorities of the entire political spectrum thing it won't last very long. In other words, many people buy into the argument that "we have to give peace a chance." It is also apparent that Ehud Barak was representing the sentiment of his party in supporting the truce over a military operation.

This deal should not have divided right and left in Israel. The legitimation of Hamas comes at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, as we have seen above. Those who believe that the Palestinian Authority is a viable peace partner must understand that the truce with Hamas has scuttled any real chance of making a peace deal with the Palestinians, because Hamas will never acquiesce in a real peace deal. They can't.

We cannot ignore the question of the release of Gilad Shalit. The ethic of "leaving noone behind" is in itself admirable. It is enforced, in kidnapping cases, by the lobbying efforts organized by families of kidnapped soldiers and their attorneys. The desire to "bring our boys home" is a strong motivation for the prospective disastrous swap of murderer Samir Kuntar for captured Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and the captivity of Gilad Shalit figured heavily in the Hamas truce negotiations. It was not an illegitimate concern, especially since a large scale military operation would probably mean death for Gilad Shalit. Ehud Olmert promised that the Shalit swap was part of the deal, while the Hamas insisted that it is not. For the moment, Hamas seems to be telling the truth. To redeem his "honor," Olmert is now committed to getting back Shalit at any price. The Shalit family is threatening to bring their case to the Israel Supreme Court in order to force the government not to open the Gaza crossings until their son is freed.

Israel and the Palestinians have entered on a new era with this truce, a brave new world in which the game is apparently being played according to rules written in Tehran. In a few months, it should be apparent whether the Israeli government made a wise decision based on considerations of state or a foolish one based on political considerations and emotional sentiment, which can lead to disaster.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008.

Hezbollah's dangerous gamble.


by Dr Tony Badran*

Introduction
This past May saw Hezbollah's second coup attempt in as many years. The first was after the 2006 war, when Hezbollah took to the streets with the goal of bringing down the Siniora government. Although this second attempt was an outright military operation, neither attempts has been successful.

Contrary to the prevailing view, this episode was not a complete military rout by Hezbollah nor was the ensuing accord in Doha a political capitulation by the March 14 parliamentary majority in the face of military defeat. In reality, the limitations of both parties were highlighted, arguably at greater cost for Hezbollah than the government. The Doha Agreement allowed both camps to cut their losses and establish a truce until the next parliamentary elections in 2009 and until the core issue of Hezbollah's weapons and its state-beyond-the-state is tackled again. It's another, perhaps final, chance for the concept of a Lebanese state.

Background
The pretext for Hezbollah's armed assault against Beirut neighborhoods and the Shouf mountains were the decisions taken by the government targeting the party's autonomous armed status. One decision called for the removal of the head of airport security, Brig. Gen. Wafiq Shouqeir, who is close to Hezbollah. The reason was Shouqeir's handling of the installation of a surveillance camera by Hezbollah overlooking runway 17 -- used by leaders and dignitaries. The second issue was the decision to dismantle Hezbollah's independent landline network. Hezbollah had been expanding this network through non-Shiite areas, especially in Mount Lebanon, in order to link Hezbollah-dominated, though non-contiguous, predominantly Shiite areas in the northeast, in Beirut's southern suburbs, and in the south.

Both these elements meant a direct threat to the security of the already-hunted parliamentary majority's leaders. A telling leak came from the Egyptians who told the press that information uncovered a plot to assassinate Druze leader Walid Jumblatt during an upcoming planned visit to Cairo. This may well have been a central issue in the episode that unfolded.

The timing of these decisions, and the debate over the government's ability to implement them, as well as the subsequent Hezbollah response, have been cause for some speculation.

One view held that the government decision was meant as a trap for Hezbollah that would fully expose it and discredit its claim to being a "resistance" movement. This would also be done preemptively at a timing of the government's choosing, forcing back to the table the contentious issue of Hezbollah's arsenal. Since the government realistically wasn't able to implement its decisions, it had potentially far less to lose than Hezbollah.

One thing of note in Hezbollah's action, was that the earlier assumed Iranian reservation against Sunni-Shiite clashes had been dropped. This may have been a result of the losses Iran was incurring in Iraq, especially with the move against Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army.

If indeed this was a trap, then why did Hezbollah walk into it so enthusiastically? It may have been that Nasrallah believed he would use it and turn it to his advantage by humiliating the Sunni and Druze leaderships, force Siniora to resign, and impose a transitional government on his terms. In other words, it was the same rationale used in July 2006 and its aftermath: when Hezbollah's armed autonomy is politically challenged, try and turn the table through military action.

If this was Hezbollah's thinking, then it was a miscalculation. While Hezbollah did quickly take over West Beirut, the picture was very different elsewhere in the country.

The Military Assault
Hezbollah's assault against Beirut's neighborhoods was completed rather swiftly, especially since there was no organized resistance to it – contrary to earlier claims by some commentators that Saad Hariri's Future Movement (FM) was arming and training its own militia with Saudi and US support. Any resistance to Hezbollah's encroachment came from non-militia inhabitants of the (predominantly Sunni) neighborhoods under attack.

Hezbollah militiamen were joined by fighters from the Shiite Amal militia and the pro-Syrian militia, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP). According to one report in the pro-Hezbollah paper, al-Akhbar, the plan of attack had been drawn in advance by the recently assassinated Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh.

Hezbollah mirrored the Syrian regime's priority of targeting the free media, as its militiamen and their allies proceeded to storm, ransack and torch pro-March 14 media outlets in Beirut.

The militias proceeded to surround and attack Hariri's headquarters in Qoreitem, as well as the Beirut residence of Druze leader Walid Jumblat and the offices of his Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). They also surrounded the government Serail, amidst calls by pro-Syrian tools to run it down and forcefully remove Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Both Hariri and Jumblatt issued direct orders to their guards not to fire back at the attackers.

At this stage, Hezbollah made the fateful decision to expand its operation to the Druze Shouf mountains. This proved a decisive mistake, as Hezbollah was unable to take a single village, even though it attacked on multiple fronts from the west, east and south. It was repelled on all fronts. Hezbollah then had to introduce mechanized units (trucks mounted with recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns) as well as mortars and rockets – all indicators that the infantry units were not capable of penetrating the villages. PSP reports cited at least three-dozen dead Hezbollah fighters.

Meanwhile, in northern Lebanon, Sunnis attacked SSNP positions in Akkar and inflicted casualties in their ranks. Rumors are that Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement in the north (where it is penetrated by SSNP and Suleiman Frangieh elements) tried to create pretexts for the expansion of operations – in the hope of dragging in the Lebanese Forces – but were quickly shut down by local notables.

The Doha Agreement and its Aftermath
It was against this background that the parties went to Doha. March 14 had two options: giving a chance – perhaps a final one – to the concept of the state or acceding to the breakdown of the state and its descent into war, something it calculated was Syria's desire.

March 14 estimated that it was best to absorb Hezbollah's military assault – especially after the Druze managed to send an unambiguous message by bloodying Hezbollah's nose in the Shouf – and opted to confront Hezbollah on a much more favorable terrain: state institutions which Hezbollah had been gutting out for almost two years. By so doing, they would also deprive Syria of the ability to use a prolonged vacuum to impose more favorable conditions, and would set the Lebanese constitutional wheels in motion.

The parliamentary majority had to concede veto power in the cabinet, something it had resisted thus far. However, as its leaders made clear, they had held long enough to get the International Tribunal for the Hariri assassination up and running, making a veto for Hezbollah and its allies at this stage practically meaningless on that most important front. Furthermore, with less than a year before the 2009 elections, it's likely that this cabinet would be focused primarily on that. Indeed, focus on the upcoming elections is one reason why Saad Hariri opted not to assume the premiership of the new cabinet.

The Syrians tried to interfere in order to deprive March 14 of its majority status in the cabinet – thereby preventing it from passing basic decisions – but they were rebuffed, notably, by Qatar.

Aside from its total dependency on Hezbollah for any semblance of political influence, Syria's limitation was also evident in Fouad Siniora's return as Prime Minister, to the clear and explicit ire of the opposition. In the end, the Doha Agreement enforced a sequential constitutional process contrary to Syria's long-held position, with the election of the president (and the evacuation of the siege in downtown Beirut) coming before the cabinet formation, depriving Syria of the ability to force a Premier of its choosing. The Iranian Fars news agency even published a direct threat against Siniora's life on May 29th.

Yet the biggest issue that will determine the viability of any long-term agreement is how Hezbollah's weapons will be tackled. The Doha Agreement included two noteworthy elements: 1- it did not reference the so-called "resistance" – which could be used by both parties to advance their interpretations. 2- it did however state that weapons could not be used domestically under any circumstance no matter what the reason. Furthermore, it called for the exclusive security and military authority of the state over Lebanon.

Similarly, President Michel Suleiman used very similar language to the Doha Agreement, referring to the "resistance" in the past tense talking instead about a "defensive strategy" and initiating a dialogue over Hezbollah's arms, all while affirming commitment to UN Security Council resolutions.

This did not please Hezbollah, whose secretary general was very clearly trying to alter the very text of the Doha Agreement in his speech on the day after the presidential election.

However, the parliamentary majority has signaled that it will push to adopt Suleiman's speech and the text of the Doha Agreement as the basis of the new cabinet statement. If so, it would remove all explicit legal cover for an independent "resistance" which now finds itself, with Nasrallah's admission in his May 26 speech, without any real support outside Hezbollah's core supporters. This would add another political constraint on Hezbollah, whose military adventure has also undermined its cover allies in the other communities.

Conclusion
Hezbollah's weapons and its military misadventure have created a deep schism in the Lebanese social fabric, taking the country into the first round of a civil war.

For there to be any possibility to move forward and safeguard the unitary state and the social contract, a resolution to the outstanding issue of Hezbollah's weapons has to be found. If immediate disarmament is not realistic, then the restoration of the decision of war and peace to the government, and its exclusive authority over all Lebanese territory (as per UNSCR 1701 and the Doha Agreement), is a must. Along with that central issue, the dialogue over a "defensive strategy" should entail a plan for the future integration of Hezbollah's arsenal into the army as well as the reinstating of the Armistice Agreement with Israel, as dictated by the Taef Accord.

As the historical precedent of the 1969 Cairo Agreement and the Palestinian Resistance Movement shows, the duality of a state and an autonomous armed trans-state actor is unsustainable and will lead to war. If that lesson is not heeded with the Doha Agreement, war is likely to break out again. Judging from Hezbollah's post-Doha statements and continuous military provocations, the prospects are not encouraging. If so, then the interim period would be best spent preparing contingency plans.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, focusing on Lebanon and Syria. This paper is based on a briefing he recently gave on the Lebanese crisis.

Copyright
- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gaza truce - what could be worse?

By Ami Isseroff

By every indication, Israel will assent to an Egyptian arranged truce with the Palestinians in Gaza shortly. This truce is very likely to be a disaster for Israel. It will allow the Hamas to rule Gaza in peace and harmony, enjoying the benefits of absolute dictatorship. It will probably allow them to import more or less unlimited quantities of arms and money from Iran, while sending their "personnel" for courses in basic terrorism 101 and advanced Jihadism 303, given free of charge by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps. Egyptian control over arms smuggling is still apparently a tiny "detail" that needs to be worked out before the truce goes ahead. In reality, it is not a detail, it is the whole point of the truce, and the fact that it is pushed out to the last moment shows that the negotiators are not responsible.

It is unlikely that this truce will bring about a real end to the rain of rockets and mortar fire from Gaza, though it might reduce it to a dull roar for a while. Hamas truces don't last always, 'cause Palestinians invent new groups every three days. The "new" groups announce that they don't respect the truce, and the terrorists have deniability.

Perhaps Israeli captured soldier Gilad Shalit will be exchanged now or at a later date for an absurd number of Palestinian war criminals and minor offenders. No matter to Hamas, they can always kidnap another soldier, right?

Since it would announce to the world that Israel is, in effect, dealing with Hamas, it would land Israel pretty near the square of "Legitimizing Hamas Rule" in the game of Gaza Monopoly.

So why would Israel agree to this "lull?"

There are, in fact many reasons to agree to the "lull." One possible reason is to demonstrate to the world, to the Egyptian government and to skeptics in the Israeli public, that the lull won't work, allowing Israel to carry out a military operation. In the real world, this is not a very good reason, since "the world" will in large part forget that Israel agreed to a truce or will blame Israel for violating it. On the other hand, it would probably make the United States State Department happy. They don't live in the real world, but they still call the shots.

A much better reason to agree to the lull is that it was decided that the alternative is much worse. The only thing worse than legitimizing Hamas government in Gaza, is legitimizing Hamas government in Gaza and the West Bank. The real alternative to the truce or lull is a Palestinian unity government. That alternative came closer to reality in the past few weeks as Fatah and Hamas leaders met and talked of "reconciliation." The inevitable result of such a government would be to legitimize Hamas control of Palestinian society and of the peace negotiations, which was essentially the case before the Gaza coup of June 2007. Isolation of Gaza would crumble. Mr. Haniyeh in Gaza, and Mr. Meshal in Damascus, and through them Mr. Ahmedinejad in Tehran and Mr. Assad in Damascus, would control the Palestinian Authority. The world would applaud this shameful bargain in the same way as it applauded the Doha "compromise" that put Hezbollah in charge of Lebanon. Donor aid would flow even more freely than it does now to pay the salaries of the Hamas terrorists and the Executive Force. A euphoric US government would cajole Israel to conclude a "peace" agreement with the Hamas ruled Palestinian entity, leading to a Hamas ruled Palestinian state.

This same scenario could very well devolve from a failed military operation in Gaza, or one in which Israel failed to show due concern for civilian casualties. The world has unfortunately "bought" the fictional tale of the Gaza Siege. US elections are drawing near as well. It is unlikely that the United States or the EU will acquiesce indefinitely in the closure of Gaza.

The enemy of the bad is the much worse. However, we would do well to ask if we could not and should not have done things differently, so that we would not have to chose between bad alternatives. There is something more urgent than Monday morning quarterbacking. Opponents of a military strike on Gaza point out that it requires preparation of an exit strategy in advance - for the day after. The truce will have a "day after" too. Hamas rule is already insufferable for Palestinians, but human rights groups aren't really concerned with helping Palestinians, and Israel can't do much about random beatings and murders of Christians and free spirits in Gaza. Sooner or later, however, Hamas is bound to make its rule insufferable for Israel. We hope that those who are engineering the truce policy understand that there must be an "exit strategy" for the truce as well.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008.

American-Trained Terrorist Trains Hamas 'Martyrs'.

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Fares Al-Ashi, who was trained by Americans in South Carolina when Fatah controlled Gaza security forces, is using his education to teach Hamas loyalists to be martyrs, according to the Chinese new agency Xinhua. He said he gives his trainees information about explosives as part of a new Hamas police training. Every program should carry the name of a martyr.

 The "martyr Aziz Massoud" course is named after a terrorist, one of the police trainers, who was killed in an IDF strike in February. "Every program should carry the name of a martyr," Al-Ashi said.

The United States has trained hundreds of Arab Fatah militia members who were part of the elite Presidential Guard, a private army that was envisioned as protecting Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas from a Hamas coup. However, the Americans suffered an embarrassing defeat when Hamas overran Fatah forces in Gaza last year.

A training manual distributed by American Secret Service officers, with the logo of the Counterterrorism Training Group and the U.S. government seal, was a teaching manual for Al-Ashi and other former Fatah terrorists who switched to Hamas.

The American strategy was based on bolstering Fatah forces and preventing them from becoming faithful to Hamas, which American officer Keith Dayton said at the time "is receiving money and arms from Iran and possibly Syria."
 
The new Hamas training program in Gaza includes members of other factions besides Hamas and lasts four months, plus one month of examinations.
 
Hamas took over control of Gaza from Fatah a year ago, resulting in a break in relations between the two rival parties that previously were part of a unity government. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to break off talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) if he tries to bring Hamas back into the government. Abbas this week sent senior aides to Gaza for the first time in a year to discuss improving relations.

Xinhua noted that the training by the American-trained Al-Ashi helps tighten Hamas's grip on PA institutions in Gaza.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Monday, June 16, 2008

Israel Blamed for Palestinian Terrorism.

By Carlos

             

June 15, 2008 - "Seven people, including a baby, were killed in a blast that destroyed the home of a Palestinian militant."

 

This statement comes from a report by the BBC. While the report did not say so explicitly, the context made it appear that it was Israel who attacked and killed a Palestinian baby.

 

And Hamas made exactly that accusation and used it as an excuse to launch more than 50 mortar shells and rockets into Israel, inflicting several casualties.

 

But eventually the truth came out: the blast was caused by Hamas terrorists' faulty handling of explosives as they prepared for yet another attack on Israeli civilians. Even the BBC admitted as much in a later report: "The armed wing of Hamas has admitted that a massive explosion in the Gaza Strip on Thursday was caused by militants preparing an armed operation.... Hamas had initially blamed the explosion on an Israeli air strike and responded with rocket fire, but Israel denied any involvement."

 

This is not the first time such things have happened, even in the town of Beit Lahiya, where this explosion occurred. There was another infamous explosion in Beit Lahiya two years ago that became known as the "Gaza Beach Incident." Israel is blamed to this day for having killed seven Palestinian civilians, even though Israel denied responsibility and the preponderance of evidence indicates that once again the cause was Palestinian terrorists' mishandling explosives.

 

This appears to be a pattern. A year before Gaza Beach the same thing happened at Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. Terrorists mishandled explosives, innocent people died, Hamas blamed Israel and used the incident to justify firing 40 Qassam rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot, injuring more innocent people.

 

It is especially disheartening when an organization that claims to promote "conflict resolution" uses such incidents as excuses for hostile behavior towards Israel. The Palestine Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation put a statement on its web site entitled "Israeli Universities Boycott," advocating a boycott of all Israeli organizations that do not take explicit positions agreeing with them. Part of their statement reads: "We cannot talk to academics who do not condemn the killing of a whole family on the Gaza beach."

 

Well, for the record, I do condemn the killing of a whole family on the Gaza beach - even when the killing is done by Palestinian terrorists.

 

The Palestine Center statement opens with the following:

The Palestinian people have used and still are using armed resistance as one way of resisting the occupation. Despite the fact that the United Nations has acknowledged the right of all people to resist occupation, there is much international criticism of this method of resistance.

If only there were more international criticism of this violent "resistance." What is now called "resistance" is a war against Israel's existence. By "occupation" Hamas means the existence of Israel itself. They have said so many times. Why should we not believe them? The war Hamas is waging against Israel's southern cities certainly makes it seem that way.

 

I would love to see an end to the occupation of the territories where Palestinians now live. In fact, I supported the end of the Gaza part of that occupation. I was wrong. More land under the control of Palestinian extremists has made them more aggressive and Israel less secure. When the Palestinian leadership sends a different signal, I will support an end to the occupation. I will not support using incidents of Palestinians killed by their own terrorists to delegitimize the existence of Israel.

 

Carlos

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

Sources:

 

BBC. "Israeli Air Strike Targets Hamas." BBC News, June 13, 2008.

 

BBC. "Hamas Set Off Massive Gaza Blast." BBC News, June 13, 2008.

 

Katz, Yaakov and Jerusalem Post Staff. "'Blast Result of Jihad Op Preparation'." Jerusalem Post, June 13, 2008.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

People vs dinosaurs

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

New York Times, June 8, 2008


Tefen Industrial Park, Israel

Question: What do America's premier investor, Warren Buffett, and Iran's toxic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have in common? Answer: They've both made a bet about Israel's future.

Ahmadinejad declared on Monday that Israel "has reached its final phase and will soon be wiped out from the geographic scene."

By coincidence, I heard the Iranian leader's statement on Israel Radio just as I was leaving the headquarters of Iscar, Israel's famous precision tool company, headquartered in the Western Galilee, near the Lebanon border. Iscar is known for many things, most of all for being the first enterprise that Buffett bought overseas for his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett paid $4 billion for 80 percent of Iscar and the deal just happened to close a few days before Hezbollah, a key part of Iran's holding company, attacked Israel in July 2006, triggering a monthlong war. I asked Iscar's chairman, Eitan Wertheimer, what was Buffett's reaction when he found out that he had just paid $4 billion for an Israeli company and a few days later Hezbollah rockets were landing outside its parking lot.

Buffett just brushed it off with a wave, recalled Wertheimer: "He said, 'I'm not interested in the next quarter. I'm interested in the next 20 years.'" Wertheimer repaid that confidence by telling half his employees to stay home during the war and using the other half to keep the factory from not missing a day of work and setting a production record for the month. It helps when many of your "employees" are robots that move around the buildings, beeping humans out of the way.

So who would you put your money on? Buffett or Ahmadinejad? I'd short Ahmadinejad and go long Warren Buffett.

Why? From outside, Israel looks as if it's in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel's currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java.

The day I visited the Iscar campus, one of its theaters was filled with industrialists from the Czech Republic, who were getting a lecture — in Czech — from Iscar experts. The Czechs came all the way to the Israel-Lebanon border region to learn about the latest innovations in precision tool-making. Wertheimer is famous for staying close to his customers and the latest technologies. "If you sleep on the floor," he likes to say, "you never have to worry about falling out of bed."

That kind of hunger explains why, in the first quarter of 2008, the top four economies after America in attracting venture capital for start-ups were: Europe $1.53 billion, China $719 million, Israel $572 million and India $99 million, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Israel, with 7 million people, attracted almost as much as China, with 1.3 billion.

Boaz Golany, who heads engineering at the Technion, Israel's M.I.T., told me: "In the last eight months, we have had delegations from I.B.M., General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart visiting our campus. They are all looking to develop R & D centers in Israel."

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

Of course, oil wealth can buy all the software and nuclear technology you want, or can't develop yourself. This is not an argument that we shouldn't worry about Iran. Ahmadinejad should, though.

Iran's economic and military clout today is largely dependent on extracting oil from the ground. Israel's economic and military power today is entirely dependent on extracting intelligence from its people. Israel's economic power is endlessly renewable. Iran's is a dwindling resource based on fossil fuels made from dead dinosaurs.

So who will be here in 20 years? I'm with Buffett: I'll bet on the people who bet on their people — not the people who bet on dead dinosaurs.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Copyright
- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



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