Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dusk in Iraq

 

by Caroline B. Glick

 

The trajectory of strategic blindness will come at a huge cost

 

A troubling milestone arrived on Thursday when the US withdrew its final combat brigade from Iraq. The remaining 50,000 US forces are charged with advising and training the Iraqi military. US President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw them as well by the end of next year.

When US- led allied forces invaded Iraq seven years ago, their action raised the hopes and incited the dreams of millions throughout the region and throughout the world. Operation Iraqi Freedom promised to bring the light of liberty to a corner of the world that had known none. By doing so, it would inspire and enable men and women throughout the region to believe that they too could be free.

But as the last US combat brigade departed on Thursday, the Iraq they left behind was not an Arab shining city on an Iraqi hill. The Iraq they withdrew from has no government. The post-March 7 elections coalition talks are hopelessly deadlocked. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to serve as the head of a caretaker government for now and take no major decisions about Iraq's future. In a word, Iraq suffers from governmental paralysis.

Then there is the US-trained and armed Iraqi military. Recently, Iraq's most senior general, Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari acknowledged that Iraqi forces will be unable to defend the country from domestic and foreign aggression until 2020. Zebari asserted that the reason the withdrawal of US combat forces was proceeding well was "because they [the US forces] are still here."

This week's suicide bombing at the military recruitment office in Baghdad in which some 61 people were murdered is part of a growing trend in Iraq. As the US withdraws, the forces the US fought throughout the past seven years are on the rise. Al Qaida is reportedly behind much of the recent violence as it seeks to convince Iraq's uneasy Sunnis to rejoin its ranks in a continuing war against the Shiites. And as to the Shiites, their leaders remain alternatively and often simultaneously dependent on and threatened by Iran. As outgoing US commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno acknowledged last month, Iran remains the largest sponsor of sectarian violence in the country.

And so, despite the US investment of more than a trillion dollars in Iraq, and despite the more than 4,400 US servicemen and women who lost their lives in the country, the future of Iraq remains uncertain at best. Certainly a coherent, moderate, US-allied, and democratic Iraq remains an elusive goal.

The US blames Iran for Iraq's political deadlock. It is right to do so. The election results gave a narrow two-seat lead to former prime minister Ayad Alawi's's Sunni-backed Iraqiya party over Maliki's State of Law Shiite coalition. And yet, rather than accept the results, Iranian-allied Shiite politicians led by Ahmed Chalabi sued to have six members of Alawi's party denied the right to assume office due to their past ties to Saddam's Baathist party. Although their lawsuit was defeated in May, the sides continue to be unable to come to an agreement that would enable the Iraqi Parliament to come into office or a government to be formed.

Iran's hand is everywhere in this chaos. As George Friedman wrote in a recent Straffor Intelligence Bulletin, it is true that today, with fifty thousand US forces still deployed in Iraq, "the Iranians do not have the ability to impose a government on Iraq. However, they do have the ability to prevent the formation of a government or to destabilize one that is formed. Iranian intelligence has sufficient allies and resources in Iraq to guarantee the failure of any stabilization attempt that doesn't please Tehran."

As Friedman notes, for Iran, keeping Iraq in an ongoing state of instability with sporadic periods of outright chaos is a low-cost, high-return investment. It denies Iraq the ability to reconstitute itself to its traditional role as a regional counterweight balancing Iranian power in the Persian Gulf. It also denies the US victory, erodes its will to fight and saps it of its determination to defend the Persian Gulf from Iranian ascendance.

As Friedman sees it, "The Iranian strategy seems to be to make the United States sufficiently uncomfortable to see withdrawal as attractive but not to be so threatening as to deter the withdrawal. As clever as that strategy is, however, it does not hide the fact that Iran would dominate the Persian Gulf region after the withdrawal. Thus, the United States has nothing but unpleasant choices in Iraq. It can stay in perpetuity and remain vulnerable to violence. It can withdraw and hand the region over to Iran. It can go to war with yet another Islamic country. Or it can negotiate with a government that it despises - and which despises it right back."

There are two frustrating aspects to Friedman's analysis and what it tells us about the prospects for the region going forward.

The first frustrating aspect of Friedman's diagnosis of the situation in Iraq today is just how similar it is to the situation in Lebanon. As in Iraq, anti-Iranian political forces won the Lebanese elections last year. But as is the case today in Iraq, Iran's proxies in Lebanon gridlocked coalition negotiations and so coerced the anti-Iranian March 14 movement candidates led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri to agree to forge a unity government with Hizbullah. Moreover, they forced Hariri to accept effective Hizbullah — that is, Iranian — control over his government. This they did by demanding that Hizbullah receive enough votes in the cabinet to give it veto power over all governmental decisions.

Hizbullah's dominant position in Lebanon was depressingly and tragically demonstrated last week when Hariri called on the UN to investigate Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's allegations that Israel was behind his father's assassination in 2005. Former prime minister Rafiq Hariri's murder in February 2005 was carried out by Hizbullah and Syria and his son knows this.

That he would bow to his father's murderer is a hair raising example of how the ruthless Iranian power game works. Lebanon's hapless prime minister rightly fears Hizbullah, Syria and Iran more than he trusts the US. And so he remains Prime Minster in name only and serves at their pleasure — the effective slave of his father's killers.

On a military level, the US's inconclusive campaign in Iraq bears striking similarities to Israel's departure from southern Lebanon ten years ago. In Lebanon as in Iraq, Iran and its proxies made it impossible for Israel and its allies in the South Lebanese Army to bring stability to the south. Hizbullah's constant, but low key assaults on Israel and IDF forces, punctuated by sporadic escalations eroded the Israeli ruling class's will to fight. So too, the elusive character of the asymmetric enemy made it easy for the same elites to ignore the nature of the adversarial forces arrayed against Israel and so paved the way for Israel's retreat. This in turn fomented Hizbullah's triumphant takeover of the south, and in due course, its takeover of the whole of Lebanon.

The second frustrating aspect of the state of Iraq today is what it says about the US's ability to acknowledge the realities of the region and fashion successful strategies for contending with its challenges. For the past seven years, advocates of the Iraq war and opponents of the war, Republicans and Democrats alike has consistently refused to understand the nature of the battlefield and what that meant about their prospects in Iraq and the region.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations wrongly characterized Iraq as a stand-alone war. But the fact is Iraq has always been a battleground of a regional war. And the main enemy in Iraq, the main obstacle to stability and victory is Iran. Just as Israel was unable to beat Iran in Lebanon, and so lost to its proxy Hizbullah, so the US has been and will remain unable to defeat Iran in Iraq. And if it maintains its current strategy, it will be defeated by Iran's proxies.

The only way to safeguard Iraq is to overthrow the regime in Iran. The only way to get the likes of Hariri out from under the jackboots of Hizbullah and the Iranian-proxy regime in Damascus is to overthrow the regime in Iran.

If it were just a question of Iraq's wellbeing as a country, it would arguably make sense for the US to avoid escalation of the war and refuse to challenge the regime in Teheran. But Iran is not only fighting for Iraq and it is not only fighting in Iraq. Through its proxies, Iran is also fighting in Lebanon and is using its proxies to increase its influence throughout the Persian Gulf, the Levant and beyond. And with the regime just a short step or two away from nuclear capabilities it is clear that the US strategy in Iraq was wrong all along. It was wrong and dangerous.

The US strategy was to bring democracy to Iraq and by doing so, inspire democratic revolutions throughout the Arab world. Although inspiring, it was wrong first and foremost because it was predicated on ignoring one of the basic dictates of strategy. It failed to recognize that there were other forces in the region.

It failed to anticipate that every US move would be countered by an Iranian move. And in failing to recognize this basic strategic truth — even though it has been staring them in the face — the Americans aggressively pursued a strategy that became more and more irrelevant as time went by.

As the actions of the Hariris of Lebanon and their counterparts in Iraq show clearly, Iran's countermoves have always been more forthright and compelling than the US's moves have been.

In the September issue of Commentary, Arthur Herman depressingly sets out the Obama administration's declared plans and early moves to gut the US military. It is obvious that regardless of Obama's political position after the mid-term elections in November, he will not revisit the US's current Middle East strategy which is predicated on ignoring the Iranian nuclear elephant in the middle of the room. He will not work to overthrow the regime or support any forces that would overthrow the regime.

It is true that in the short term, the prospects for the region hinge on whether or not Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has the courage to order the IDF to attack Iran's nuclear installations. And it is also true that if an Israeli strike is sufficiently successful, it would empower many positive forces throughout the region — from Teheran Kurdistan to Ankara, Damascus and Beirut.

But in the medium and long-term, nothing can replace America. And as long as the US continues on its trajectory of strategic blindness, the Iraqis will be far from alone in their suffering.

 

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

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

 

Inconvenient Facts About Israel

 

by  Jennifer Rubin

 

George Will has been on a roll when it comes to Israel and debunking the Israel-haters. He’s not Jewish, and he’s no neocon, so this may be hard to explain for the “Israel Lobby” hysterics. Actually, he’s just looked at the facts:

In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America’s eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take “risks for peace.”

Yes, that’s a phrase thrown around by those living thousands of miles away, whose biggest problem is how to convince the public that their uninterrupted criticism of the Jewish state is just “tough love.”

There are some inescapable, stubborn facts, which Will highlights. (”Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.”) You can understand why Obama left such details out of his Cairo speech.

Will is right when he argues:

Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a ‘prison camp.’ In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza’s actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla’s pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza — where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.

But these are more inconvenient facts, which neither the administration nor the anti-Israel left (and certainly not the “international community”) cares much about. That, in a sense, is the real tragedy of Obama’s Muslim outreach. At a time when he did command the international and national stage, when Americans and the world had not figured out that there was less to him than meets the eye, when he could have injected some realism into the Middle East, when he could have elucidated the Wahhabists tentacles seeking to strangle Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and when he could have begun to wean the Palestinians from their victimology and rejectionism, he instead misrepresented history, ignored the evidence, turned a blind eye toward Islamic human-rights abusers, and encouraged anti-Israel animosity. (Who can resist the urge to attack a Jewish state “condemned” by the U.S.?)

Will concludes:

In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called “the Arab world,” Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.

That’s actually an apt description for the administration’s Middle East policy.

 

Jennifer Rubin

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

 

The Difference Between Politics and Analysis


by Barry Rubin

One of the points I’m constantly trying to get across is the separation between political view and analysis. Let me use a simple, albeit important, case to try to explain this idea.

Let us assume two basic positions on Israel’s policy toward dealing with negotiations with the Palestinians.

The first position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should do everything possible to hang on to all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The second position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should be willing, in exchange for things it wants, to trade all or almost all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

These are political positions expressing the political views of the person in question. These can be characterized as hawkish or dovish, left or right wing in the political spectrum.

Now, let us turn to analytical positions.

The first position is an assessment that the Palestinians—for whatever reasons--want to make a deal. Perhaps they would keep the deal, perhaps they would break the deal but let’s leave that open.

The second position is the assessment that the Palestinians either do not or cannot make a deal, again this could be attributed to a variety o reasons.

These latter two positions are analytical positions, not political stances. The view taken does not characterize the personal political views of the person holding them.

From what we’ve said so far we can construct a simple series of four alternative combinations of political stances and analyses:

1. Pessimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will be made.

2. Optimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will not be made.

3. Pessimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will not be made.

4. Optimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will be made.

The political position makes one feel good or bad about the situation. But an analysis is not a preference but an assessment of the facts.

This model can be applied to any issue at all: abortion, health care, elections, policy toward China, anything. Many people, of course, make their assessment on the basis of their preference and perhaps personality. But that is not the right way to do it. It is not acceptable for academics, journalists, intelligence analysts, or people working in research centers—in short, professionals.

The next level is to evaluate the situation in more detail: What factors might or might not change the situation? What concessions or compromises should or should not be traded in exchange for other benefits? How does one define an acceptable deal? This is what politicians and policymakers are supposed to do—and policy analysts are supposed to help them do.

But there is something profoundly wrong, though it is what so often happens, to line up analyses with preferences. To be “left” or “right,” liberal or conservative should have nothing to do with one’s view of a situation. Equally, one should be prepared to change one’s view as circumstances make appropriate.

Obviously, especially on passionate issues, this is not how things work for many people. They want an endorsement of their preferences, to assume that what their political framework tells them corresponds to the situation. But that temptation, like so many in life, should be resisted.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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

 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anti-Semitism soars in Holland

 

by Isi Leibler

 

Like many Jews, as a youngster I associated Holland with windmills and tulips and a heroic people which bravely defended Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Alas, I subsequently learned that the record of the Dutch towards the Jews was nothing of the sort. There were tens of thousands of Dutch righteous gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews but there were far more collaborators, over 25,000 of whom even volunteered for the Waffen SS. Overall, the Dutch authorities willingly assisted in the deportation of the Jews. Anne Frank and her family were amongst those denounced to the Nazis. Of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands before the war, over 100,000 were murdered.

 

Today, there is a popular misconception that the Dutch are an easygoing, tolerant, multi-cultured people.

In truth, Dutch society has become polarized as a consequence of the massive influx of non-Western immigrants, predominantly Muslim, who have shattered social stability. Muslims currently comprise one million out of a 16 million population, a disproportionate number of whom have police records.

Together with indigenous anti- Semites, some radical Muslims have effectively exploited the culture of permissiveness to violently promote their objectives.

Verbal and physical violence has escalated, climaxing in November 2004 with the brutal public street murder in Amsterdam of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh who was shot and stabbed to death by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim radical.

Although this had a major impact on Dutch society, it did not become the watershed one may have expected. However the status of the 30,000 members of the Jewish community, already subjected to increasing anti- Semitic incitement and violence primarily emanating from the Moroccan Muslim community, continued to deteriorate.

The leading daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad published an article in June stating that anti- Semitism in areas of Amsterdam has become the norm rather than the exception. It identified areas in Amsterdam in which Jews with skullcaps or distinctive garb cannot walk in the streets without being affronted, spat at or even attacked.

In May, an outdoor commemoration ceremony for the last transport of 3,000 Jewish children deported during the Holocaust was disrupted by bikers shrieking "Heil Hitler" during the recitation of Kaddish.

Anti-Semitism also manifests itself in anti-Israel demonstrations where cries of "Hamas Hamas - Jews to the gas"; "Jew cancer"; and "Hitler let one get away!" are frequently heard. Football stadiums have become notorious arenas for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic chants. About half of the registered criminal utterances reported on the internet throughout Holland in 2009 were against Jews. It is believed that if full records were accessible, the proportion would be much higher.

LAST MONTH, the 280-year-old synagogue in Weesp became the first Jewish house of worship in Europe since the war obliged to cancel Sabbath services after the police had warned congregants of threats of violence.

In a recent letter to members of Parliament, the Jewish community stated that anti-Semitism was rampant, noting that the Jewish community is obliged to provide its own security at schools and all public functions, the costs for which have become unbearable.

Surveys among teachers in the major cities indicate that one out of five teachers have difficulties in relating to the Holocaust because of the hostile response from Muslim students. The Chairman of the Orthodox Rabbinate, Binyomin Jacobs, protested that "today there are many schools which simply stop providing lessons relating to WWII and the Holocaust due to fear of negative reactions from pupils from Muslim backgrounds".

Jewish schoolchildren feel intimidated and the school authorities are either indifferent or unable to assist them. To avoid harassment, some children are obliged to change schools and even hide their Jewish identity.

A few weeks ago a local Jewish TV station (Joodse Omroep) broadcast scenes of anti-Semitic harassment in the streets recorded by a hidden camera which followed a rabbi accompanied by two students. This provided chilling testimony of the intimidation to which Jews are subjected.

In response, the Dutch police announced that they might use "decoy" Jews - police dressed in traditional Jewish garb - to entrap anti-Semitic hooligans. Rabbi Jacobs responded by stating that such initiatives would be futile unless accompanied by greater emphasis on education, stressing that not only Muslims were engaged in anti-Semitic agitation.

"I witness Dutch non-Muslim youngsters also shouting at me in the street" he stated.

Ironically, the major escalation of anti-Semitism in Amsterdam took place between 2001-2010, when Marius Job Cohen, a Jew, was mayor. Cohen's grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust but he frequently expresses indifference to his Jewish origins. Now as leader of the Dutch Labor party he participates in attacks demonizing Israel as exemplified in the party's platform in the recent elections.

Such behavior towards Israel is particularly shameful coming from the country whose UN peacekeeping force in 1995 in Srebrenica stood by while 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred by the Serbs (there are reports that some even took part in seperating the women from the men). The Dutch peacekeepers then fled to Zagreb, where they held a beer and music fest in the presence of the crown Prince and the prime minister.

HOWEVER, THERE is now a potential for positive change on the political horizon. At the recent polls, contrary to expectations, the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) headed by Geert Wilders surged from its pre election nine seats to winning 24 out of the 150 seat Dutch parliament.

Nicknamed Mozart because of his blond hair and voted politician of the year in 2007, Wilders displays contempt for the hypocritical political correctness displayed toward Islam that has enveloped Europe. He resolutely calls for tough action against intimidation and threats from Islamic fundamentalists.

He describes Muslim migrants as a "Trojan Horse" and warns of the danger of Europe being transformed into Eurabia and European civilization coming to an end.

Wilders is an outspoken friend of the Jewish people and considers Israel to be "the West's first line of defense". He lived in Israel for two years and has visited the Jewish state more than 40 times.

Contrary to defamatory allegations directed against him, Wilders abhors fascism and publicly condemned politicians like France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, the late Haider and other racists with whom he swears he would never associate.

His controversial call for the banning of the Koran (which he compares to Mein Kampf and claims incites to violence) and the production of a film depicting the brutality and denial of human rights prevailing in Muslim countries led to his being charged with incitement and hatred. The court proceedings became transformed into a political arena when the judge refused to hear the majority of witnesses Wilders presented.

Should Wilders be convicted of promoting hate speech it will have problematic implications in a country like Holland where calls for "death to the Jews" are regular occurrences and rarely prosecuted.

The trial outcome will also be a curtain raiser on what to expect from other European countries in the years ahead.

 

 

Isi Leibler

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

 

The ‘disengagement’ disaster, five years on

 

by Jeff Jacoby

 

Five years ago this week, the Gaza Strip was forcibly purged of its Jews. In the largest non-combat operation in the history of the Israeli Defense Forces, 50,000 troops were deployed to expel some 9,000 residents and destroy the 21 pioneering communities in which some of them had lived for nearly four decades. (Four communities in northern Samaria on the West Bank were also evacuated.)

The name given to this expulsion by Israel's government, then headed by Ariel Sharon, was "disengagement." The name implied, and a majority of Israelis appeared to believe, that by totally withdrawing from Gaza they would no longer be trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with Gaza's hostile and sometimes violent Arabs.

"What will we have gained by destroying thriving communities, dividing Israeli society, and embittering some of our most idealistic citizens?" one thoughtful Israeli commentator, Yossi Klein Halevi, wrote at the time in The Jerusalem Post. "The most obvious . . . gain is what we will lose: We will be freeing ourselves from more than a million Palestinians."

Many Israelis -- and many supporters of Israel internationally -- bought this argument, persuaded, perhaps, by the Sharon government's sweeping vision of the blessings that would flow from so radical an act of ethnic self-cleansing. "It will be good for us and will be good for the Palestinians," forecast then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was to succeed Sharon a few months later. "It will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity, and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East." Olmert prayed that with disengagement, "a new morning of great hope will emerge in our part of the world," and that Israelis and Palestinians together would make the Middle East "what it was destined to be from the outset, a paradise for all the world."

Had any of this actually come to pass, the trauma and destruction of the Gaza expulsion might have been justifiable. In fact, disengagement was a staggering failure, a disaster in every respect. It was seen by most Palestinians not as a courageous act of goodwill and an invitation to peace, but as a retreat under fire, much like the Israeli flight from southern Lebanon five years earlier. It led therefore not to less terrorism but to more, as Palestinian militants vastly expanded their arsenal of rockets, guns, and explosives, and launched thousands of attacks over the border into Israel.

Far from encouraging Palestinian moderation, disengagement energized Gaza's most extreme and hateful irredentists. Five months after the Jewish residents left, Hamas swept to victory in the Palestinian Authority elections; a year later, it seized total control in Gaza, routing Fatah in a savage civil war.

The fruit of disengagement was not the "new morning of great hope" that Sharon and Olmert -- and their countless enablers in the West -- envisioned. Instead, it was an erosion of respect for Israeli strength and deterrence. It was the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and the three-week Israel-Hamas war that began at the end of 2008. It was the entrenchment of Iran, via Hamas and Hezbollah, on Israel's northern and southern borders. It was the burning of Gaza's synagogues and the trashing of its famous greenhouses. It was the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, who has been a hostage in Gaza for more than four of the five years since Israel abandoned the territory to its enemies. It was the further blackening of Israel's international reputation. It was the immiseration of Gaza's Palestinians under a fundamentalist Hamas dictatorship.

Most Israelis who supported disengagement now express regret. But too many of them remain in the grip of the "peace process" delusion -- the Oslo chimera that peace with the Palestinians is achievable through diplomacy, concessions, and transfers of land. It isn't, and Israel and its friends must start saying so. Rather than endlessly professing its willingness to negotiate and its appetite for a "two-state solution," Israel should tell the truth: Peace will never be possible with "partners" that refuse to accept the permanent legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.

Disengagement was an abomination for a lot of reasons, but for one above all: It began from the premise that any future Palestinian state must be wiped clean of Jews. Did Israel really need to learn the hard way that peace will never lie down that road?

 

 

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist.

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

 

Skip the lectures on Israel's ‘risks for peace’

 

by George Will

 

JERUSALEM ---In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America's eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take "risks for peace."

During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's July visit to Washington, Barack Obama praised him as "willing to take risks for peace." There was a time when that meant swapping "land for peace" -- Israel sacrificing something tangible and irrecoverable, strategic depth, in exchange for something intangible and perishable, promises of diplomatic normality.

Strategic depth matters in a nation where almost everyone is or has been a soldier, so society cannot function for long with the nation fully mobilized. Also, before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel within the borders established by the 1949 armistice was in one place just nine miles wide, a fact that moved George W. Bush to say: In Texas we have driveways that long. Israel exchanged a lot of land to achieve a chilly peace with Egypt, yielding the Sinai, which is almost three times larger than Israel and was 89 percent of the land captured in the process of repelling the 1967 aggression.

The intifada was launched by the late Yasser Arafat -- terrorist and Nobel Peace Prize winner -- after the July 2000 Camp David meeting, during which then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to cede control of all of Gaza and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with small swaps of land to accommodate the growth of Jerusalem suburbs just across the 1949 armistice line.

 

Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.

In 1936, when the British administered Palestine, the Peel Commission concluded that there was "an irrepressible conflict" -- a phrase coined by an American historian to describe the U.S. Civil War -- "between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country." And: "Neither of the two national ideals permits" a combination "in the service of a single state." The commission recommended "a surgical operation" -- partition. What followed was the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations recommended a partition plan. Israel accepted the recommendation. On Nov. 30, Israel was attacked.

Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a "prison camp." In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza's actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla's pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza -- where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.

Israelis younger than 50 have no memory of their nation within the 1967 borders set by the 1949 armistice that ended the War of Independence. The rest of the world seems to have no memory at all concerning the intersecting histories of Palestine and the Jewish people.

The creation of Israel did not involve the destruction of a Palestinian state, there having been no such state since the Romans arrived. And if the Jewish percentage of the world's population were today what it was when the Romans ruled Palestine, there would be 200 million Jews. After a uniquely hazardous passage through two millennia without a homeland, there are 13 million Jews.

In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called "the Arab world," Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.

 

George Will

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

 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Israeli "War Crimes" Exposed

 

by Gabriel Schoenfeld

 

Actually, it's the exposers who've been exposed.

 

After the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued reports documenting Israeli “war crimes.” Amnesty’s was titled “22 Days of Death and Destruction.” Human Rights Watch issued three under the titles: “Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” “Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone Launched Missiles,” and “White Flag Deaths: Killing of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead. 

 

A fascinating new study by Asher Fredman, “Precision-Guided or Indiscriminate?,” issued by NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, takes a close look at the claims of these studies, which along with the Goldstone Report, have done so much to tarnish Israel’s image around the world. Fredman finds severe problems with their use of evidence and the application of the laws of armed conflict to the evidence they have amassed. He recommends that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch “should carefully evaluate their areas of competency” and “take steps to ensure that ideological predispositions do not color their analyses.” 

 

For anyone familiar with the track record of these organizations in analyzing Israeli conduct, Fredman’s language is supremely understated, if not whistling in the dark. But it makes the power of Fredman’s own analysis all the more devastating. One comes away from his pages seeing that these high prestige organizations are sloppy and tendentious in their use of evidence, ignorant and tendentious in their interpretations of the laws of armed conflict, and driven by a clear agenda of painting Israel in the worst possible light. None of this comes as a surprise. But it is satisfying to see the goods on such vivid display. 

 

Gabriel Schoenfeld

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

 

Recalling The 1981 Bombing

 

 

The boundaries of responsibility

by Eitan Ben Eliyahu

On May 10, 1981, the Israel Air Force was busy with last-minute preparations for an attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. But then Menachem Begin, who was both prime minister and defense minister, decided to cancel the mission. Begin had received a letter from the head of the opposition, Shimon Peres, objecting to the operation. And if the news had leaked to Peres, Begin thought, it might also have reached the enemy.

Another possible strike date was May 31, but since Begin was due to meet with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in Sharm al-Sheikh on June 4, the operation was postponed until June 7 to avoid undermining the summit. Thus Begin used his authority to decide whether or not a military operation that was about to be launched would actually be implemented.

In his recent testimony before the Turkel Committee investigating Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, Defense Minister Ehud Barak distinguished between the "what," which is decided by the government, and the "how," which is the province of the army. But in truth, to this day, no formula has yet been found to properly define the relationship between these two bodies. Barak's definitions of "what" and "how" attempted to draw a clear line between the parties' respective authorities, but the most important question lurks in the area where they overlap.

Military action is supposed to complement diplomatic action, pave the way for it or, sometimes, substitute for it. Therefore, the first question that needs to be answered is "why" - in other words, is there any reason for the military action?

The next question is "what" to carry out: A reprisal operation? Taking control of territory? Then comes the "how" - the best way for the military to carry out this operation.

Finally, once the type of action (the "what" ) and the method of implementation (the "how" ) have been determined, a decision must be made on "whether" to actually go through with it. That process involves an ongoing dialogue in which political and military decision-makers feed off each other, with the center of gravity and the degree of influence moving between the two sides.

At the "why" stage, the center of gravity rests with the government; the only question is whether or not to take the process a step further. The "what" stage amounts to a balanced dialogue between the parties: Even if it is based on prepared operational plans, there is always room for changes and adjustments.

While the joint forum continues to debate the "what," the military is already working on the "how." This is when it gathers information, delves into details and discusses alternatives. The more the army's preparations for the "how" advance, the larger the data pool on which they are based grows - which is why it can then go back and influence the discussion on the "what."

The "whether" is not decided until the last minute. At that stage, both the government and the military have responsibility and authority over the question of whether to go ahead. The military's stance is determined by the operational conditions on the ground at that moment, while the government is influenced by diplomatic and other considerations.

At such a decisive moment, however, the center of gravity shifts to the government. It always has the last word.

In the American system, there is no doubt about where the boundaries of the respective bodies' authority lies. Nevertheless, they are aware of the overlap that exists between the government and the military.

The authority of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, for instance, consists mainly of doing staff work and offering advice to the government, with which it works closely. This means it is more involved in the "what." The regional commanders, in contrast, are the ones who prepare and seek approval for the "how." But above them all, according to the U.S. constitution, is the president, who is the army's commander in chief.

There are many areas where the government's responsibility and that of the military overlap; to a great extent, the responsibility is collective. Still, there are cases in which one member of this collective bears responsibility for a failure and should not be allowed to continue in his post.

It would be better if the division of responsibility, definitions of authority and working procedures between Israel's government and army were not made clear only when the shadow of an investigative committee leads both parties to search for someone to blame.

Maj. Gen. (res. ) Eitan Ben Eliyahu is a former commander of the air force.

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

 

The West Thinks Palestinian Leaders Do It a Favor By Putting Conditions on Getting a State?

 

by Barry Rubin

Reportedly, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has just made two itty-bitty requests (or should I say, demands?) in order to return to direct negotiations.

First, Israel must agree in advance that the Palestinian state must get roughly all the land that before 1967 was part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Second, that no matter what happens in the talks, and whether or not Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement, there will be a Palestinian state within 24 months.

Let's take a moment and consider what this means. Most remarkable is the way the whole back-and-forth over direct negotiations disproves the central tenet of the mainstream narrative accepted in the West on this issue.

We are to believe that the Palestinians passionately yearn for a state, are suffering from violence and occupation and misery etc. etc. Yet if this is true, wouldn't the PA be pushing for successful negotiations as hard as possible?.Wouldn't they have been insisting on direct negotiations in 2009?

In short, why if the Palestinians are so motivated to get a state aren't they in a hurry to get one?

The answer turns the usual narrative on its head: because the leadership is weak in moderation, because most of Fatah wants total victory, because they'd rather wait for decades in order to get everything, or at least insist on getting a state without giving up anything in terms of concessions, and because they are afraid of Hamas and are not so unhappy with the status quo. Because by denying a solution they can make Israel look bad which hopefully will bring more Western support for their side.

In other words, Israel wants peace; the Palestinians don't.

This conclusion fits the facts, the opposite conclusion doesn't. Perhaps people should draw this conclusion.

The second point is that basically borders and the creation of a state are the only two bits of leverage Israel has. The PA wants to change the old dovish Israeli slogan of territory for peace into territory for something to be determined later maybe. If the borders are preset and independence is inevitable, regardless of Israel's wishes, the Palestinians hold all the cards.

Israel obviously would never accept such an outcome. Ah, but that's the point since Israel could then be blamed for the failure of negotiations, or the failure even to arrive at direct talks. The PA gets all it wants: No talks and Israel blamed.

The other demand, an automatic timetable for a Palestinian state, is even worse. Such a stipulation would give the PA every incentive to sabotage talks since it would still get the prize of independence even if it didn't make a single compromise. Any negotiator would be crazy to agree that one side gains total victory by making sure the two sides fail to reach agreement.

Even if one favors a negotiated settlement based on the 1967 borders with relatively minor changes or territorial swaps or both, this proposal is still disastrous. For in order to agree to 1967 boundaries, Israel wants to see some of its demands met on: end of conflict, recognition of Jewish state, the precise boundaries, the status of eastern Jerusalem, security guarantees, limits on Palestinian state militarization, and settlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state.

Once again, Abbas’s strategy shows he isn’t interested in making peace. Why should the West and world act as if the Palestinian leadership is doing them a favor by agreeing to accept a state on its own terms? Such a solution even if achieved, which is unlikely, is a formula for more violence and instability.

Incidentally, in writing this piece I'm reminded of an appropriate story told to me by a reader (and paralleled in both my shopping and political experience many times):

During a tour of Istanbul, a group stopped at a carpet shop. The owner sat down the tourists, served them tea, then ordered his employee to bring out some rugs to show them. He explained that each was of the highest quality and merited an expensive price. But one of the tourists happened to know a lot about carpets. He started asking questions, pointing out the rugs were poorly made and over-priced. Without missing a beat, the owner studied one prayer rug closely, like a bad actor put on a shocked expression, and slapped his employee across the face with the rug, yelling: "You dog, bring out the good pieces!"


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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

 

Gulf States Nudging for Attack on Iran

by Hillel Fendel

First it was the United Arab Emirates ambassador in Washington, now it’s a Saudi Arabian editorial, and John Bolton says the entire Persian Gulf feels the same: an attack on Iran is the only option - if it's not too late.

An editorial in an official Saudi Arabian newspaper indicates that a military attack against Iran might be the only way of stopping it from obtaining nuclear weapons. “Tehran is moving its conflict with the international community into high gear,” the Al Madina daily wrote this week, “and [in this case] some may consider the military option to be the best solution.”

Delaying recourse to this option, the paper continues, “may lead to a point where it is impossible to implement it - if Tehran manages to produce a nuclear bomb of its own.”

Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton goes a bit further, saying it is the only way of stopping it – but adds that it might already be too late.

Just last month, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington said at a conference, "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster, but Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster."

Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba was unusually candid in his remarks, saying, "I think it's a cost-benefit analysis. I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion… there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what… Am I willing to live with that, versus living with a nuclear Iran? My answer is still the same: 'We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.' I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E."

Former Ambassador Bolton feels that many states in the Persian Gulf region feel the same. He told Army Radio today (Thursday), however, that it might very well be too late to attack Iran because of the radioactivity that will emanate from the bombed reactor, harming the civilian population.

"Diplomacy and sanctions against Iran have failed," Bolton told Army Radio's Nitzan Fisher on the Ma Bo'er program, "and don't think the West took seriously enough Iran's efforts over the course of decades to get nuclear power. Frankly, I think the most likely outcome now is that indeed Iran does get nuclear weapons. I think the only possibility of stopping this is the use of military force - an extremely unattractive option, but it's even more unattractive to consider a world in which Iran has nuclear weapons."

He explained, though, that it might be too late: "With Russia beginning to supply fuel in Bushehr [two days from now], it makes the reactor essentially immune to attack, except in the most dire circumstances - because to attack it would mean, almost inevitably, the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere and possibly into the waters of the Persian Gulf."

"I don't think there's a ghost of a chance that the Obama Administration will use force against Iran's nuclear weapons program," Bolton said. "If anyone will do it, it's going to have to be Israel - and I don't know what Israel is going to do... I am very worried that Obama's fallback position is to accept an Iran with nuclear weapons. I think that can have potentially catastrophic consequences in the Middle East and beyond - but I think that's where the Obama Administration is."

Iran's Defense Minister Ahmed Wahidi said this week that Israel's existence will be endangered if it attacks the Bushehr reactor. He said such an attack would be an "international crime."

Hillel Fendel, Israel National News

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

Inside Israel's commando unit which raided Gaza flotilla

by Jane Corbin
BBC Panorama

Naval Commando 13 are training to tackle more flotillas heading to Gaza

Israel's elite commando unit which raided a Turkish aid flotilla sailing to Gaza in May has given Panorama exclusive access to its top secret operatives.

Some of the Israeli special forces took off their balaclavas to talk to me and show me the wounds they received the night nine people were killed and 50 were wounded on board the Turkish ship the MV Mavi Marmara.

"I saw a knife in my abdomen and pulled it out," Captain R said.

"The beating was continuous - and the cries of Allah Akbar."

Israeli footage shows Captain R, a member of Naval Commando 13 being beaten with bars by activists, stabbed and then thrown to the deck below.

Who started the violence that ended in death on the boat, has been fiercely contested.

The Mavi Marmara was one of six ships crewed by activists from a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups in international waters about 80 miles (130km) from the Israeli coast on 31 May.

I was given exclusive access to Naval Commando 13 as they trained on a boat similar in size and layout to the Mavi Marmara.

I went to sea with them in one of their small inflatable boats, known as "morenos", as they trained in preparation for future aid flotillas.

The Gaza flotilla was organised by The Free Gaza Movement, and a Turkish group called the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH).

There has been widespread international condemnation of the violence. Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel and cancelled joint military exercises. It wants an apology and an international investigation.

There were two opposing forces, one that wanted to kill us and the other more moderate trying to pull away those trying to escalate the situation and finish us off

Israel recently announced it would co-operate with a UN investigation in to the deaths, but is currently holding its own inquiry in which it has defended its commandos' actions.

The commandos insist their lives were in danger and they were under attack when they opened fire.

Turkish officials said autopsies carried out on the nine dead activists showed a total of 30 bullets had been found in their bodies, with one shot four times in the head.

Lieutenant A was one of the commandos in the boats that pulled up alongside the Mavi Marmara at 0430 after the flotilla ignored five Israeli navy warnings to turn back.

They said they were driven off by men with hoses and bars they had cut from the ship's railing earlier that night.

"They held metal rods and they were banging on the railings," Lieutenant A said, "they threw stones at us, metal and junk they had on the ship and several soldiers got hurt from that."

Sergeant Y was one of the commandos who abseiled from a helicopter on to the deck of the ship.

He said: "The activists tied the rope to the ship's antenna.

"It's very, very dangerous, we need to put our legs on the ground or else we just drop 15 or 20 metres." The commandos cut the first rope and abseiled out the other side of the helicopter.

I also spoke to Turkish activists in Istanbul.

After he was injured, Captain R and two other wounded commandos were taken below by Murat Akinan, a volunteer for the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH), to where the wounded and dead were.

"Understandably, some people were saying - we should do to them what they did to us," Murat Akinan told me.

"But I calmed them down saying according to our religious beliefs we should treat them and take them back."

Feared for life

Captain R said he feared for his life: "I realised there were two opposing forces, one that wanted to kill us and the other more moderate trying to pull away those trying to escalate the situation and finish us off."

The captain was then taken upstairs - afraid he had been taken hostage.

"My guard was hit by an Israeli stun gun and ran inside," said Captain R. "I saw I was alone and jumped off the ship and our boat picked me up."

Killed activist 'wanted to be a martyr'

Israeli commandos have boarded several ships looking for arms destined for Gaza, which is governed by the Palestinian group Hamas.

Hamas denies Israel's right to exist and militants have fired thousands of rockets against civilian targets in Israel in recent years.

Israel has implemented strict controls over what goes in and out of Gaza by sea and land.

It says the naval blockade is needed to stop weapons entering Gaza. But the Palestinians say it causes suffering and has cut off economic life, and the blockade has been widely criticised as a form of collective punishment.

But the IHH is not just known for its humanitarian work. Western authorities and Israel have accused it of links to terrorists, a charge the IHH strongly denies.

The IHH has defended its use of bars, chains and knives against the commandos.

"It went beyond passive resistance because the Israelis had been firing from the start," Bulent Yildirim, the head of the IHH said.

"Our people were defending themselves while being fired at."

The Israelis said it was not possible to abseil from a helicopter while shooting and that they only switched from non-lethal weapons to live fire when they were shot at by the activists.

Giora Eiland said the activists "came to kill or be killed"

"We have very clear evidence that in at least four cases the other side did use live fire," said retired major general Giora Eiland, who carried out the investigation into events on board the ship.

"In some they used Israeli weapons stolen from our soldiers - in at least one case they used their weapon because we found bullets and shells not used by Israeli forces."

He said that the Israeli commandos' use of live ammunition was justified but admitted they "made mistakes" in intelligence and planning.

"These people came to kill and be killed," he said.

"And under the circumstances in a very complex area like a ship, the results - the deaths - are surprisingly low."

Giora Eiland said the IHH succeeded in its mission to draw the world's attention to the Gaza blockade.

"Unfortunately they managed to achieve exactly what they wanted, a provocation, to be able to show the Israelis caused the nine deaths," said Giora Eiland, "so Israel is seen as using excessive force and is guilty for everything."

Naval Commando 13 is continuing its training for more flotillas - expected this autumn.

The battle of the Mediterranean is not over yet.

Jane Corbin

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

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