Saturday, November 2, 2019

Al-Baghdadi and Trump’s Syrian Chessboard - Caroline Glick

by Caroline Glick

Hat tip: Dr. Jean-Charles Bensoussan

Trump has a very good idea of what he is doing in Syria, not only regarding ISIS, but regarding the diverse competing actors on the ground.

US President Donald Trump’s many critics insist he has no idea what he is doing in Syria. The assassination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend by US Special Forces showed this criticism is misplaced. Trump has a very good idea of what he is doing in Syria, not only regarding ISIS, but regarding the diverse competing actors on the ground.

Regarding ISIS, the obvious lesson of the Baghdadi raid is that Trump’s critics’ claim that his withdrawal of US forces from Syria’s border with Turkey meant that he was going to allow ISIS to regenerate was utterly baseless.

The raid did more than that. Baghdadi’s assassination, and Trump’s discussion of the mass murderer’s death showed that Trump has not merely maintained faith with the fight against ISIS and its allied jihadist groups. He has fundamentally changed the US’s counter-terror fighting doctrine, particularly as it relates to psychological warfare against jihadists.

Following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration initiated a public diplomacy campaign in the Arab-Islamic world. Rather than attack and undermine the jihadist doctrine that insists that it is the religious duty of Muslims to fight with the aim of conquering the non-Muslim world and to establish a global Islamic empire or caliphate, the Bush strategy was to ignore the jihad in the hopes of appeasing its adherents. The basic line of the Bush administration’s public diplomacy campaign was to embrace the mantra that Islam is peace, and assert that the US loves Islam because the US seeks peace.

Along these lines, in 2005, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice prohibited the State Department, FBI and US intelligence agencies from using “controversial” terms like “radical Islam,” “jihad” and “radical Islam” in official documents.

The Obama administration took the Bush administration’s obsequious approach to strategic communications several steps further. President Barack Obama and his advisors went out of their way to express sympathy for the “Islamic world.”

The Obama administration supported the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt’s long-serving president and US ally Hosni Mubarak and backed Mubarak’s overthrow with the full knowledge that the only force powerful enough to replace him was the Muslim Brotherhood.

As for the Shiite jihadists, Obama’s refusal to support the pro-democracy protesters in Iran’s attempted Green Revolution in 2009 placed the US firmly on the side of the jihadist, imperialist regime of the ayatollahs and against the Iranian people.

In short, Obama took Bush’s rhetoric of appeasement and turned it into America’s actual policy.

The Bush-Obama sycophancy won the US no good will. Al Qaeda, which led the insurgency against US forces in Iraq with Iranian and Syrian support was not moved to diminish its aggression and hatred of the US due to the administration’s efforts.

It was during the Obama years that ISIS built its caliphate on a third of the Iraqi-Syrian landmass and opened slave markets and launched a mass campaign of filmed beheadings in the name of Islam.

In his announcement of Baghdadi’s death on Sunday, Trump unceremoniously abandoned his predecessors’ strategy of sucking up to jihadists. Unlike Obama, who went to great lengths to talk about the respect US forces who killed Osama bin Laden accorded the terrorist mass-murderer’s body, “in accordance with Islamic practice,” Trump mocked Baghdadi, the murdering, raping, slaving “caliph.”

Baghdadi, Trump said, died “like a dog, like a coward.”

Baghdadi died, Trump said, “whimpering and crying.”

Trump posted a picture on his Twitter page of the Delta Force combat dog who brought about Baghdadi’s death by chasing him into a tunnel under his compound and provoking him to set off the explosive belt he was wearing, and kill himself and the two children who were with him.

Trump later described the animal who killed Allah’s self-appointed representative on earth as “Our ‘K-9,’ as they call it. I call it a dog. A beautiful dog – a talented dog.”

Obama administration officials angrily condemned Trump’s remarks. For instance, former CIA deputy director Mike Morell said he was “bothered” by Trump’s “locker room talk,” which he said, “inspire[s] other people” to conduct revenge attacks.

His colleague, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired admiral James Winnefeld said that Trump’s “piling on” describing Baghdadi as a “dog” sent a signal to his followers “that could cause them to lash out possibly more harshly in the wake.”

These criticisms are ridiculous. ISIS terrorists have richly proven they require no provocation to commit mass murder. They only need the opportunity.

Moreover, Trump’s constant use of the term “dog” and employment of canine imagery is highly significant. Dogs are considered “unclean” in Islam. In Islamic societies, “dog” is the worst name you can call a person.

It is hard to imagine that Baghdadi’s death at the paws of a dog is likely to rally many Muslims to his side. To the contrary, it is likely instead to demoralize his followers. What’s the point of joining a group of losers who believe in a fake prophet who died like a coward while chased by a “a beautiful dog – a talented dog?”

Then there is Russia.

Trump’s critics insist that his decision to abandon the US position along the Syrian border with Turkey effectively surrendered total control over Syria to Russia. But that is far from the case. The American presence along the border didn’t harm Russia. It helped Russia. It freed Russian President Vladimir Putin from having to deal with Turkey. Now that the Americans have left the border zone, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is Putin’s problem.

And he is not the main problem that Trump has made for Putin in Syria.

Putin’s biggest problem in Syria is financial. The Russian economy is sunk in a deep recession due to the drop in global oil prices. Putin had planned to finance his Syrian operation with Syrian oil revenues. To this end, in January 2018, he signed an agreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad that effectively transferred the rights to the Syrian oil to Russia.

But Putin hadn’t taken Trump into consideration.

US forces did not withdraw from all of their positions in Syria last month. They maintained their control over al-Tanf airbase which controls the Syrian border with Jordan and Iraq.

More importantly, from Russia’s perspective, the US has not relinquished its military presence adjacent to Syria’s oil facilities in the Deir Azzour province on the eastern side of the Euphrates River. Indeed, according to media reports, the US is reinforcing its troop strength in Deir Azzour to ensure continued US-Kurdish control over Syria’s oil fields.

To understand how high a priority control over Syria’s oil installations is for Putin it is worth recalling what happened in February 2018.

On February 7, 2018, a month after Putin and Assad signed their oil agreement, a massive joint force comprised of Russian mercenaries, Syrian commandos and Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces crossed the Euphrates River with the aim of seizing the town of Khusham adjacent to the Conoco oil fields. Facing them were forty US Special Forces deployed with Kurdish and Arab SDF forces. The US forces directed a massive air assault against the attacking forces which killed some 500 soldiers and ended the assault. Accounts regarding the number of Russian mercenaries killed start at 80 and rise to several hundred.

The American counter-attack caused grievous harm to the Russian force in Syria. Putin has kept the number of Russian military forces in Syria low by outsourcing much of the fighting to Russian military contractors. The aim of the failed operation was to enable those mercenary forces to seize the means to finance their own operations, and get them off the Kremlin payroll.

Since then, Putin has tried to dislodge the US forces from Khusham at least one more time, only to be met with a massive demonstration of force.

The continued US-Kurdish control over Syria’s oil fields and installations requires Putin to continue directly funding his war in Syria. So long as this remains the case, given Russia’s financial constraints, Putin is likely to go to great lengths to restrain his Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah partners and their aggressive designs against Israel in order to prevent a costly war.

In other words, by preventing Russia from seizing Syria’s oil fields, Trump is forcing Russia to behave in a manner that protects American interests in Syria.

The focus of most of the criticism against Trump’s Syria policies has been his alleged abandonment of the Syrian Kurds to the mercies of their Turkish enemies. But over the past week we learned that this is not the case. As Trump explained, continued US-Kurdish control over Syria’s oil fields provides the Kurdish-controlled Syrian Democratic Forces with the financial and military wherewithal to support and defend its people and their operations.

Moreover, details of Baghdadi’s assassination point to continued close cooperation between US and Kurdish forces. According to accounts of the raid, the Kurds provided the Americans with key intelligence that enabled US forces to pinpoint Baghdadi’s location.

As to Turkey, both Baghdadi and ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Mujahir, who was killed by US forces on Tuesday, were located in areas of eastern Syria controlled by Turkey. The Americans didn’t try to hide this fact.

The Turkish operation in eastern Syria is reportedly raising Erdogan’s popularity at home. But it far from clear that the benefit he receives from his actions will be long-lasting. Turkey’s Syrian operation is exposing the NATO member’s close ties to ISIS and its allied terror groups. This exposure in and of itself is making the case for downgrading US strategic ties with its erstwhile ally.

Even worse for Turkey, due to Trump’s public embrace of Erdogan, the Democrats are targeting the Turkish autocrat as Enemy Number 1. On Tuesday, with the support of Republican lawmakers who have long recognized Erdogan’s animosity to US interests and allies, the Democratic-led House overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive sanctions resolution against Turkey.

The al-Baghdadi assassination and related events demonstrate that Trump is not flying blind in Syria. He is implementing a multifaceted set of policies that are based on the strengths, weaknesses and priorities of the various actors on a ground in ways that advance US interests at the expense of its foes and to the benefit of its allies.

Originally published in Israel Hayom. 

Caroline Glick


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2020 Dems Stand With J Street, Hamas and ISIS Against Israel - Daniel Greenfield

by Daniel Greenfield

The majority of the 2020 Democrat field have aligned with an anti-Israel organization.

Not a single 2020 Democrat candidate from the massive field spoke at AIPAC’s pro-Israel summit in the spring. But 5 of the 2020 Dems, Sanders, Buttigieg, Castro, Klobuchar, and Bennett, were featured at the J Street conference alongside anti-Israel activists, BDS supporters, and terrorists.

Those 2020 Dems who couldn’t attend the anti-Israel hatefest in person sent video messages.

Elizabeth Warren sent in a video message threatening to cut off aid to Israel unless it surrenders to Islamic terrorists. Then she promised to divide Jerusalem, turning half the ancient holy city into a killing ground for the murderous terrorists already occupying Gaza and portions of the West Bank.

Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Marianne Williamson, and even Andrew Yang joined her in sending messages of support and friendship to the anti-Israel group which has featured BDS supporters and terrorists.

The majority of the 2020 Democrat field have aligned with an anti-Israel organization.

J Street’s conference speakers included Osama Qawasma, a Fatah spokesman, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, and an advisor to PA terrorist leader Mahmoud Abbas. Osama had claimed that Israel “rules” over America, that it’s worse than Hitler, and is plotting against all the Arab countries.

Osama had defended Palestinian Authority laws that would sentence any Muslim who rents a home to Jews to a lifetime of hard labor, and ranted, “Those traitors are destined to die a humiliating death.”

The J Street speaker had also stood in solidarity with Hamas. “We firmly oppose the American-Israeli attempts to denounce Hamas as terrorist,” he had declared.

None of the 2020 Dems had spoken at AIPAC. But they were happy to stand with J Street and Hamas.

Another terrorist at the J Street conference was Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, who has defended Hamas and insisted that his terror group will go on funding terrorists.

Also speaking at the anti-Israel hatefest was Ayman Odeh who heads the Joint List: a coalition of four anti-Israel Arab Islamic parties including Hadash, formerly the Israeli Communist Party, which supports Assad, and the United Arab List, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Movement.

Hamed Abu Daabas, the head of the "moderate" Southern branch of the Islamic Movement, had said that, "ISIS raises reasonable demands like the establishment of an Islamic state, but their methods for reaching their objective raise concern in many nations across the world."

He had argued that, "If it were not for the shocking ways in which they kill, it would be possible to see ISIS like any other Jihadi organization."

Odeh had tweeted that he had called Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, to congratulate him.

This is what Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennett, Andrew Yang, aligned themselves with at J Street.

Israel is out. J Street, Hamas, and ISIS are in.

There were loud cheers when the 2020 Democrats were urged to cut off aid to Israel, but there was only tepid applause when the death of the ISIS leader was mentioned. It was clear whose death the J Street audience really wanted. They didn’t want the destruction of the Islamic State, but of the Jewish State.

Warren’s video message blasted Israel, but did not offer a single word of criticism of the Palestinian Authority and its terrorists. She threatened to pressure Israel, while promising to welcome back the Palestinian Authority’s delegation back to D.C. Warren’s frantic pandering to the terror lobby was only outdone by her even more radical rival, Bernie Sanders, who vowed all out war on the Jewish State.

Bernie Sanders, to thunderous applause from anti-Israel activists at J Street, vowed to redirect foreign aid from Israel to Hamas-run Gaza. He then spent several minutes ranting about the Jewish State.

"If you want military aid, you're going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza," Sanders said, referring to the Islamic terror state that is constantly trying to murder Jews.

He also claimed that Israel was “laying the groundwork for future violence” by blocking Gaza’s terrorists.

Bernie’s previous conference appearance, before J Street, had been at the Islamic Society of North America at a presidential forum moderated by Salam Al-Marayati, who has defended Hamas.

His campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, had been the co-chair of Islamic Awareness Week, an event that had included a fundraiser for a Hamas front group.

And Bernie made it clear what he has to offer to the Hamas supporters of America.

“Being Jewish may be helpful in that regard,” he suggested. “It’s going to be very hard for anybody to call me, whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler, who spent time in Israel, an anti-Semite.”

The term Bernie is looking for is “collaborator”. He can ask George Soros for some helpful tips.

From Jesse Jackson to Rep. Ilhan Omar, and from the Sandinistas to the Soviet Union to Hamas, Bernie Sanders has always stood with anti-Semites and against Jews. At J Street, the radical leftist clarified his formerly unspoken despicable trick of using his accent and last name to shield the anti-Semites plotting to aid terrorists and kill millions of Jews from accusations of anti-Semitism.

Marianne Williamson condemned Israel’s “occupation” of the Golan Heights, and announced that she would not recognize its annexation, despite the fact that the United States has already recognized it. The creepy leftist cult leader also insisted that blockading Hamas terrorists in Gaza was “morally wrong.”

Amy Klobuchar condemned Israel for keeping out Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. And she did not rule out an aid cutoff.

Julian Castro said that he wouldn't take a cutoff of aid to Israel "off the table." Like, Elizabeth Warren, he called for dividing Jerusalem between Israel and an Islamic terrorist state. He also vowed to restore U.S. foreign aid to the terrorists which they have been using to reward the killers of Israelis and Americans.

Cutting aid to Israel and giving money to the terrorists was the major theme of 2020 Democrats.

Not just Castro, but nearly every 2020 Democrat called for restoring aid to the terrorists. And that means that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will have more funds at their disposal for killing Israelis.

J Street events are always festivals of anti-Israel hatred. But this time, all the Dems were on board.

Aside from the 2020 contenders, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke at the hatefest featuring BDS and terror supporters. The Democrat leadership, of the Senate, the House, and, aspirationally, the White House, were all in on J Street and against Israel.

J Street had been set up by George Soros and other anti-Israel figures to destroy support for Israel among Democrats. The J Street conference makes it abundantly clear that they have succeeded.

And that pro-Israel Democrats, who have tried to stop their party from going dark, have lost.
What was once a fringe view has become the default position of the Democrat Party. Despite the usual rants about AIPAC’s influence, the talking points for the Democrats are coming from J Street.

That was abundantly clear at the J Street conference as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Iran smear artist, and Tommy Vietor, pressured 2020 Democrats to say that they would cut off aid to the Jewish State. J Street aggressively promoted its call for embedding opposition to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, which they falsely described as the “occupation”, into the party platform of the Democrats.

J Street didn’t make this happen. The radicalization of the Democrats did. The conference was just a symptom of how extreme and extremely anti-Semitic the radicalized party has become.

The J Street conference with its terrorists, activists, and apparatchiks is the new face of the Democrats.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.


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The Unholy Alliance of the Hate-America Left - Sara Dogan

by Sara Dogan

Omar and Sanders unite at the site of SJP’s National Conference.

By an odd coincidence—or maybe not—the University of Minnesota is playing host to two disturbing events this weekend. The Hamas-funded anti-Israel campus hate group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will hold its national conference on November 1-3 on Minnesota’s campus. Then, just as SJP’s hate fest is winding down, notorious Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose district includes the University of Minnesota, will hold a campaign rally on campus with democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose candidacy for president she recently endorsed.

A lifelong supporter of communist dictatorships and causes, Bernie is known for his radical proposals to drastically increase taxes on the wealthy and to impose strict—and economically devastating—limits to carbon emissions. Less well known are Bernie’s views on Israel and his record of supporting aid for Israel’s terrorist adversaries. 

A Jew by birth, Sanders has long claimed to support Israel and even lived on a kibbutz near Haifa for several months as a young man in the 1960’s. In a 2017 speech at the organization J Street, Sanders lauded the idea of a Jewish homeland while still echoing Hamas genocidal talking points regarding Israel’s alleged “fifty-year long occupation” of Palestinian land and “displacement” of the Palestinian people.  And he has blasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “racist.” 

Sanders recently supported using U.S. aid to Israel as “leverage” to demand changes in Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.  “My solution is, [to say] to Israel, if you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza. I would say that some of that $3.8 billion should go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza,” Sanders declared.

Gaza, of course, has been governed since 2007 by Hamas terrorists who have promised to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” and who call for the genocide of the Jews in their founding charter. In giving funds designated for Israel to Gaza, Sanders would be funding the destruction of the Jewish state. As Israel National News pointedly noted, “Hamas has taken most of the aid monies it receives to strengthen its fighting capability.” 

Rep. Ilhan Omar has made no secret of her hatred for the Jewish state. In a 2012 tweet, which she has repeatedly defended, Omar declared “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” More recently in February 2019, Omar ignited a firestorm by tweeting “It’s all about the Benjamins [$100 bills], baby,” accusing the pro-Israel organization AIPAC of paying politicians to take favorable policy positions on Israel. Omar is a supporter of the Hamas-funded Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and her congressional campaign was strongly supported by the Hamas-created Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which held several fundraising events on her behalf.

So what brings together the incendiary socialist presidential candidate and the radical Islamic Jew-hating congresswoman? Is it mere coincidence that their rally is planned for the conclusion of SJP’s infamous national conference? 

In his 2004 book Unholy Alliance, Freedom Center founder David Horowitz traced the origins of the left’s Faustian bargain with Islamic radicals to a shared hatred of America and its founding principles and a fervent belief in the possibility of a utopia that can transcend national borders and even human nature.

In the decade-and-a-half since its publication, this prescient work has been borne out again and again as the progressive left and the forces of Islamic jihad, enter into ever greater collaboration to achieve an unholy synergy of America-hating, Israel-hating, capitalism-hating radicalism. By allying themselves with Islamic jihadists, the left has abandoned all pretense of caring about the individual rights it claims to hold sacred such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the equality of men and women in subservience to the larger goals of revolution and destroying the existing order. The ends justify the means.

So it hardly seems coincidental that Congresswoman Omar and Senator Sanders have timed their campus visit to coincide with the concluding ceremonies of SJP’s festival of Jew-hatred. Sanders’s brand of socialism and Omar’s allegiance to Islamic extremism both have at their core a deep and abiding hatred of America—of its freedoms, of its possibilities, of its commitment to individual liberty over collectivist tyranny. Their hatred may be irrational, but their alliance is logical and calculated.

Sara Dogan


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The Pelosi-Schiff Masquerade - Joseph Klein

by Joseph Klein

House Democrats adopt surreal and kafkaesque one-sided impeachment process.

It is fitting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose Halloween to treat the Trump-hating Democrat base to a resolution formalizing the impeachment process against President Trump while tricking the American people into thinking that the process will be fair. The resolution was passed by the extremely partisan vote of 232-196, with all Republicans who voted opposing it and all but two Democrats voting yes along with one independent. Pretending that this exercise was anything but a crass effort to reverse the results of the 2016 presidential election with bogus accusations, Pelosi put on her mask of virtue during the debate preceding the vote and read from the preamble of the Constitution. She solemnly proclaimed, “What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy.” What Pelosi and her henchman Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, are doing is to drive a stake into the fundamental constitutional principles of due process and the rule of law.

The resolution formalizes a set of rules that essentially ratify the closed-door star chamber proceedings that Schiff has been conducting for several weeks. He will continue to conduct such proceedings with selective leaks to manipulate public opinion against the president. The public will only be able to see whatever redacted transcripts of the closed-door depositions that Schiff in his sole discretion decides eventually to release. Schiff will still be able to stifle any questioning he does not like of witnesses by Republican members, as he reportedly has done in the past. The Republican ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, will have to ask Schiff for permission to request or subpoena testimony from witnesses and for the production of materials Republicans would like to examine. The Republican minority’s only recourse if Schiff refuses to concur is the right of appeal to the whole Democrat-run Intelligence Committee. This Kafkaesque procedure would even extend to a Republican request to hear from the original whistleblower, who the Democrats evidently no longer feel is a necessary witness. How strange that is since it was the whistleblower’s complaint about alleged presidential abuse of power to pressure Ukraine into investigating a political rival that started us down the path that we are on today in the first place.

Since Schiff himself is a fact witness as to prior dealings between members of his staff and the whistleblower before the whistleblower filed his complaint, Schiff should at minimum recuse himself from having any say as to whether the whistleblower can be called as a witness. According to a report by Paul Sperry in RealClearInvestigations, the person most likely to be the whistleblower is “a registered Democrat held over from the Obama White House” who “previously worked with former Vice President Joe Biden and former CIA Director John Brennan.” This individual, Mr. Sperry wrote, “huddled for ‘guidance’ with the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, including former colleagues also held over from the Obama era whom Schiff’s office had recently recruited from the NSC [National Security Council].” He was also reportedly involved in anti-Trump related activities both before and after President Trump took office. As a matter of fundamental fairness, Republicans should have the unfettered right to subpoena this individual in order to get to the bottom of whatever political motives to bring down the president sparked the Ukrainegate imbroglio.

Only after Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee submits its report and materials that it has collected to the House Judiciary Committee, led by the Trump-hating impeachment zealot Rep. Jerrold Nadler, will there supposedly be procedures in place “to allow for the participation of the President and his counsel.” The Democrat majority will be free to limit the scope of such participation as much as they like. Moreover, just as is the case with the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins, will have to obtain Nadler’s concurrence for witnesses and production of materials. Again, the Republican minority’s only recourse if Nadler refuses to concur is the right of appeal to the whole Democrat-run Judiciary Committee – the same Kafkaesque procedure that the Democrats can continue to use to block testimony from the whistleblower or any individual who may contradict their narrative.

When the Judiciary Committee concludes it proceedings, the resolution says, it “shall report to the House of Representatives such resolutions, articles of impeachment, or other recommendations as it deems proper.”

If the near unanimous Democrat vote for the House Halloween impeachment process resolution is any indication, the Democrat majority is poised to impeach President Trump without the need for any more time-consuming hearings. Pelosi and Schiff, to be followed in due course by Nadler, are just putting on a show. They are trying to use the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks from Schiff’s committee to turn the tide of public opinion further in favor of impeaching President Trump, hoping to peel some Republican votes in the House away from supporting the president and putting pressure on the Republican-controlled Senate that will be conducting the trial. Once the public phase of the impeachment hearings begins, the Democrats will trot out the witnesses they think will make the most impression on television. They certainly do not want a repeat of the Mueller fiasco. The closed-door depositions are serving as useful auditions.

While various witnesses have provided their own interpretations of the July 25, 2019 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and whether there was a quid prop quo based largely on hearsay and their own subjective opinions, the one witness with first-hand knowledge that appears to have caused the most stir is Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman. He is a decorated officer in the U.S. Army with years of diplomatic and national security experience, who came to the United States with his family from his native Ukraine when he was 3 years old.

Colonel Vindman testified earlier this week in private to House impeachment investigators, recounting what he heard from listening in to the July 25th call. Colonel Vindman claimed that key portions of that conversation were omitted from the detailed memo of the call released by the White House, which he tried to have added with mixed success. The colonel reportedly told investigators of concerns he shared with his superiors regarding what he perceived as demands being made on the Ukraine government at the highest levels to open investigations that would benefit President Trump politically. These investigations were intended specifically to center on alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as on the employment relationship Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with a Ukrainian energy firm and Joe Biden’s alleged role in getting the prosecutor fired who was investigating the firm. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” Colonel Vindman said in his opening statement to the investigators, “and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.” He added, “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

Colonel Vindman reportedly said that one of the omissions from the July 25th call memo was President Trump’s mention of a recording of Joe Biden discussing Ukraine corruption and that another omission was President Zelensky’s specific mention of Burisma Holdings, the name of the Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden. Colonel Vindman said he was unable to have these omissions rectified. However, assuming that both these statements were made during the call but omitted from the memo, so what? The recording, presumably the one in which Joe Biden boasted how he managed to get Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, hurts Biden more than it hurts President Trump. In any case, the call memo alludes to President Trump’s mention of the subject of this recording when the president was quoted as saying, “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it.”

As for Colonel Vindman’s claim that the call memo omitted President Zelensky’s specific reference to Burisma, the memo quoted President Zelensky, shortly after President Trump’s mention of Biden, as referring to “the company that you mentioned in this issue.” Perhaps it would have been more meticulous to include the specific name Burisma in the call memo, but this amounts to no more than form over substance.

The problem with Colonel Vindman’s testimony, as reported, for the Democrats is that it does not provide proof to advance their ‘inappropriate pressure on Ukraine’ narrative against the president. When asked to substantiate his claim of a “demand” for Ukraine to “investigate a U.S. citizen,” Colonel Vindman was reportedly unable to do so. He was simply interpreting a request by the president of the United States as inherently equivalent to a demand that the president of Ukraine could not refuse. The Ukrainian president is in a better position than Colonel Vindman to say whether he felt pressured. He said he did not, which makes sense since the Ukrainians did not know that hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid had been withheld at the time of the July 25th call. The subject of Ukraine defense came up during the call only in the context of President Zelensky’s statement that “we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes” after he had thanked President Trump for his “great support in the area of defense.” In any case, if there were a demand as Colonel Vindman claimed, why was the military aid that had been withheld released in September without such “demand” being met? The Ukrainian government had not issued the public statement committing to the investigations that were allegedly being sought by Rudy Giuliani and others in President Trump’s inner circle as the purported condition for resumption of the aid and a White House meeting between President Zelensky and President Trump.  

The Democrats are using foreign policy and national security establishment witnesses unhappy with President Trump’s skepticism towards Ukraine to pile on the president with repetitious assertions. It is a cynical masquerade that, like the debunked Russian collusion conspiracy theory pushed so relentlessly by Schiff until it ran out of steam, is all about delegitimizing President Trump’s victory in the 2016 election and putting an albatross around the president’s neck as he runs for re-election.

Joseph Klein


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Revolt in Lebanon - Joseph Puder

by Joseph Puder

For the first time, young Lebanese realize that the enemy is within.

An unprecedented phenomenon is occurring in Lebanon at this time. Young Lebanese are crossing confessional lines protesting the corruption of the elected elites. For the first time, Lebanese have realized that their enemy is not an outside force, rather it is within. It is their own government and political leaders. Young and older Lebanese are demonstrating against the widespread corruption and lack of economic reform. Similar protests are occurring in Shiite-controlled Iraq as well.

The inequality between the top 1% of the population and the rest of the Lebanese is confounding. This 1% have more wealth than 58% of the rest of the population. Lebanon’s billionaires have personal wealth estimated to be about $13.3 billion. In the meantime, Lebanon’s public debt exceeds $85 billion, which is more than 150% of its GDP.

One reason for the protests in Lebanon has been the government’s decision to tax the “What’s Up” app., which enabled ordinary Lebanese to make calls free of charge. The irony in this situation is that ‘What’s Up’ is an Israeli creation. The protesters used it to rally people across Lebanon. Lebanese MTV reported that two million people demonstrated in the streets of Lebanon, which is about half the population of the country.

Time Magazine reported on October 23, 2019, that “High, cement blast walls surrounding the United Nations offices in central Beirut are covered with anti-government graffiti. ‘Down with the rule of the mafia,’ is spray-painted next to the word ‘revolution.’ The names of every member of the Lebanese parliament are on the blast wall. The word ‘thief’ is written below each name. Nearby, a crowd chants the same, ‘thieves, thieves.” Lebanese protesters say their politicians have stolen tens, or even hundreds, of billions of dollars from them, aided by laws that allow bank secrecy. Hundreds of thousands of them have taken to the streets over the last six days, in the biggest protests to sweep the country in over a decade.”

Ordinary Lebanese feel that they have no voice in what is happening in the country. As if corruption and nepotism by the political elites were not enough, there is a looming cash crisis as banks in Lebanon remain closed to the public since the mass protests swept the country.

There is a long list of problems bedeviling Lebanon. One such problem is political sectarianism, and the split between pro and anti-Syrian factions. Another is, the proxy conflict between Lebanese-Sunnis supported by Saudi Arabia, and Shiites being supported by Iran. In addition, the government is unable to resolve issues of power and the distribution of resources. To all that, one has to add an environmental problem such as garbage. The uncollected garbage has become a health hazard as it has seeped into the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the many problems, particularly for the Hezbollah terrorists organization cum party, is the war in Syria. Hezbollah’s “soldiers” are doing Tehran’s bidding and propping up the Assad regime at a high cost. The U.S. crippling sanctions on Iran has reduced Tehran’s outlays to Hezbollah. As a result, Hezbollah was forced to cut salaries and services to its Shiite operatives, and community. These “soldiers” have been drafted from mostly poor Shiite neighborhoods, while the leadership is personally benefiting from the war. That has caused a great deal of resentment among the rank and file and prompted unprecedented protests.  

Hezbollah, having prided itself for decades of protecting their impoverished co-religionists and fighting injustice, had its leader Hassan Nasrallah side with the corrupt authorities against the people in the streets. That’s a major setback for Hezbollah as it deals with the current protests, its most difficult domestic challenge so far. It has also resulted in Hassan Nasrallah losing ground with his own supporters.

The Hezbollah’s constituency was forced to accept as an ally, the corrupt Nabih Berri (Speaker of the Parliament). Then, when Lebanon’s economy started to deteriorate around the same time that Hezbollah’s finances were reduced, many Shiites could no longer pay their bills. Berri and his family’s corruption, and outrageous wealth could no longer be tolerated.

Hezbollah has hailed its alleged victories against Israel in forcing the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and of winning the 2006 war with Israel. It has also claimed victory against Sunni radicals in Syria. This however, has done nothing to benefit the well-being of their Shiite constituents in Lebanon. Iran might have been benefiting from Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, but certainly not the Lebanese people or the Shiite community. In joining with other protesters, Shiites are seeking to claim their Lebanese identity rather than their religious (Shiite) identity, that has done very little for them. Hezbollah may be the most powerful force in Lebanon, controlling its government and military, but the Shiite community at large is still the poorest in the country.

Joseph Hakim is a native Lebanese with multiple connections to his Beirut hometown. He is also the President of the International Christian Union (ICU), an amalgam of Middle East Christian groups. Hakim had this to say about what he termed the ‘uprising and revolution.’ “Lebanon’s wealth has been depleted since the 1990’s by politicians the likes of Berri, Hariri, Suleiman, Frangieh, Mitaki, and others.” The protesters, Hakim pointed out “Are families who cannot afford to pay their kids tuition, nor their hospital bills. There are homeless in the streets, and desperate young people who want to leave Lebanon for a better future abroad. I cannot ignore the claims of these people, and can only sympathize with them.”   

Hakim went on to say that “the problem with this revolution is that it lacks an organization, the protesters are, however, unanimous in their demand that the entire country’s officialdom resign.” The problem Hakim suggested is that “If the government is dissolved, it will be a catastrophe for Lebanon because the winner of all this will be Hezbollah and its 80,000 fighters.” Hakim continued, “Hezbollah has organized and funded three busloads full of gangs and dispatched them to disrupt the protesters gathering in Beirut. They came with knives, sticks, and loudspeakers, forcing the protesters to listen to Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah’s speech.”

Hakim stated that according to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he presented 5 anti-corruption bills since 2013, while still serving as a member of parliament. The gist of these bills was aimed at censoring the Shiite Amal party leader, Nabih Berry’s corruption. Hakim clarified that after the Taif Agreement was signed (October 22, 1989), the presidency (a post occupied, according to the Lebanese constitution, by a Maronite-Christian) lost much of its power. Aoun and his son-in-law ultimately sold-out to Iran and Hezbollah, joining in partnership with Hezbollah in the March 8, political grouping.

Hakim concluded, “I agree with the protesters call for early parliamentary election, and the implementation of an election law that provides for equal participation of all the citizenry.” He added, “I am sad to see the deep split in the Christian community. It is reminiscent of 1988-1990 elimination struggles between the two largest Christian parties: The Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces. This will ultimately cause further weakening of the Christian community in Lebanon.”

In the final analysis, Lebanon needs a true democracy, one in which the government is accountable to the people, not run by a confessional oligarchy and controlled by a terrorist organization (Hezbollah) doing the bidding for the leading state-sponsor of worldwide terror, Iran. 

Joseph Puder


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US withholding aid for Lebanon - Elad Benari

by Elad Benari

Officials say Trump administration withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon amid protests in the country.

US President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon, two US officials told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.

The State Department told Congress on Thursday that the White House budget office and National Security Council had decided to withhold the foreign military assistance, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The officials did not say why the aid was blocked. One of the sources said the State Department did not give Congress a reason for the decision.

The State Department declined to comment.

The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important US partner in the volatile Middle East, to be able to protect its borders. The aid included night vision goggles and weapons used in border security, according to Reuters.

Washington, however, has also repeatedly expressed concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Hezbollah, which has a strong political presence in Lebanon, is a major part of the cabinet, after the group and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in the election last May.

Thursday’s report comes two days after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation amid huge protests against the ruling elite.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

Following Hariri’s resignation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Lebanon’s political leaders to help form a new government which will be responsive to the needs of its people and called for an end to endemic corruption.

One US official told Reuters he believed the security assistance was necessary for Lebanon, as it struggles with instability not just within its own government but in a turbulent region and houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.

The official said it was especially important to strengthen Lebanon’s military, which he deemed one of the most capable institutions in the country now, largely because of support from Washington.

The official said drawing aid away from Lebanon could pave the way for Russia to move in. Russia has expanded its influence in Syria since Trump announced he was withdrawing US forces from the northeastern part of the country.

Elad Benari


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Anti-Semitism at Soccer Games - Michael Curtis

by Michael Curtis

It is bewildering that the scream, “Jews to the Gas,” is often heard today in soccer games in Rotterdam, Arnhem, Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, and London.

A report published in June 2015 at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam on anti-Semitism in professional football (soccer) stated that this disease crosses national boundaries, though its historical origins and manifestations differs from one country to the next. Educational tools developed to fight anti-Semitic and other discriminatory manifestations in soccer are not used often enough. Indeed, it is bewildering that the scream, “Jews to the Gas,” is often heard today in soccer games in Rotterdam, Arnhem, Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, and London. 

Soccer has never been regarded as the sport of kings, nor has it been considered simply as a courteous encounter between friendly rivals. Often games have degenerated into clashes between passionate fan groups who express abuse and commit acts of violence or undesirable behavior against opponents. Rivalries may relate to ethnic, religious, political, national, and class differences. In his 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit,” George Orwell held that sport is an unfailing cause of ill will. International sports mimic warfare, with emotions of hatred and jealousy. They are linked to political and historical rivalries. Nevertheless, it is surprising that soccer games in a number of countries in post-World War II Europe and elsewhere have been the occasion for anti-Semitism as well as racist abuse and violence.

Racism has been manifested verbally against most black soccer players. However, the problem of anti-Semitism is more complicated than that of racism as there are few obvious reasons or physical attributes to attract discrimination and prejudice. In general, casting a rival team as Jewish is a device to ridicule or minimize it. In Poland, anti-Semitic fans display banners with Jewish stereotypes, such as long noses. Fans of Wisla Kratow (white star), a traditional Polish Catholic club, use anti-Semitic slogans to insult rival Kracovian Kratowm, a supposedly Jewish club, though actually predominantly Catholic. In a game between the two teams in 2006, eight people died even before the game began. 

In Germany, anti-Semitic chants and symbols at games are used as insults reminiscent of Germany’s past history. Some far-right groups have used anti-Semitism at soccer games as a useful opportunity to spread their propaganda, and hope to recruit fans to their political cause. One of the most disconcerting devices used by anti-Semites in Germany and Italy is mockery of Anne Frank, who died in Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15. Fans of the Roman team Lazio displayed images of Anne Frank searing the jersey of rival team Roma to ridicule the team. 

One interesting, if somewhat confusing, development in recent years in Europe is the declaration by some non-Jewish fans that they are Jews, probably responding in defensive fashion against anti-Semitic manifestations. Their actions have not only been controversial but puzzling since the clubs do not usually have any Jewish players, coaches, owners, or directors. Two well-known examples of this self-identification as a “Jewish club” are fans of Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) in north London, and Ajax in Amsterdam, some of whose fans in response to opponents portray themselves as “Joden” or “Superjoden.”

The Spurs have had a long rivalry with Arsenal, another north London club, which they consider their main rivalry, though Arsenal by contrast considers Manchester United as its chief enemy. From about the late 1950s, Spurs has been referred to as a Jewish team and its members and supporters are called “Yids” by opponents. With the increase of anti-Semitic incidents in the 1970s and 1980s, some Spurs fans, giving themselves an honorary title, defined themselves as a “Yid Army.”

In London, anti-Semitism has been manifested in the stadiums of Chelsea and West Ham, a team in east London, where fans have sung songs praising Adolf Hitler and have given the Nazi salute. 

In 2017 a West Ham supporter was convicted for telling a Jewish fan to “stick you head in the oven like the Jew you are.” He escaped with light punishment -- an 18-month suspended sentence and small fine. 

On December 13, 2018, Chelsea supporters chanted anti-Semitic songs at a Europa League game in Belgrade against Brighton and Hove, though its owner was the former Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich who became an Israeli citizen. Again, in February 2019 Chelsea chanted similar songs at a match in Malmo. Abramovich has tried to overcome this hostility by various proposals, including a substantial contribution to an educational exhibition on the Holocaust at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The second team identified as Jewish is Ajax in Amsterdam, a city which once had a well-established Jewish community, the Jerusalem of the West. Though the club has no particular relationship with the Jewish community nor is the club owned by Jews, some supporters wave Israeli flags and sing “Hava Nagila.” Opponents of Ajax have used slogans against them such as “Jews to the gas.” Fans of other Dutch clubs such as Leeuwarden, called for Jews to be burned. 

Similar remarks have been made by other teams, such as Ado Den Haag of The Hague, the Belgian club Brugge, Vitesse, and All Boys in Buenos Aires, waving Palestinian flags. Den Haag fans were responsible for the damaging with yellow and green paint ( the colors of Ajax) in February 2019 of the statue of De Dokwerker (the Dockworker), the Amsterdam memorial to the Holocaust, and for green swastikas painted in the streets. 

Germany has witnessed several incidents. Almog Cohen, an Israeli, captain of the club Ingolstadt, based in Koepenick, Berlin, was subjected in March 2019 to messages that he be “sent to the chamber.” Particularly notorious has been the club Borussia Dortmund in a town that has been a center for neo-Nazism. Fans of the NWDO (National Resistance Dortmund), on March 9, 2019 observed a moment’s silence at the game for a deceased fan, Thomas Haller, a dedicated Nazi and cofounder of the group called HooNaRa (Hooligans, Nazis, Racists), a group to revive Nazism. 

Another troublesome German city is Chemnitz, a center of right wing AfD activity. Ultraright fans have a slogan, “Germany for the Germans,” and use the initials NS which is supposed to stand for “New Society,” by ruin reality implies “National Socialism” -- Nazism. 

Given this sad state of affairs in soccer, it is important that those involved with the game -- individuals, clubs, football associations local and national authorities -- take action, both legal and educational. Sanctions should be imposed on clubs that tolerate racist and anti-Semitic behavior by their fans. Clubs can use cameras and sound sensors in stadiums to identify individuals responsible for misbehavior. The policy of strict liability, introduced in 2005 by the Union of European Football Associations, can be enforced, making clubs accountable for the behavior if their fans. A simple starting point can be the imposition of penalties on soccer clubs and fans similar to those given by referees to players who break the rules of the game. It might be useful for soccer fans to hear, as some in Italy did, to a passage by Anne Frank, “I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” 

Michael Curtis


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Finding terrorist needles in the Internet haystack - Nadav Shragai

by Nadav Shragai

Former head of the Shin Bet security agency's cyber department Arik Barbing discusses how the organization had to re-invent itself to get ahead of lone, unaffiliated terrorists and shares insights on metal detectors on the Temple Mount and the "security vacuum" that exists north of the security barrier in Jerusalem.

Finding terrorist needles in the Internet haystack
Arik Barbing in the Old City of Jerusalem: "If there were metal detectors on the Temple Mount, there would be fewer terrorist attacks" | Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon

Arik Barbing is still hurting from the murderous terrorist attack that an Islamic Jihad cell carried out on the Worshippers Way in November 2002. Twelve Israelis were murdered in the narrow alleyway that leads from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs: Nahal soldiers, Border Police, members of the Kiryat Arba security team, and even Barbing's good friend, then-commander of the regional battalion, Col. Dror Feinberg. The fact that the three perpetrators of the attack, all members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were eventually killed, is small comfort.

Barbing, who at the time was in charge of field coordinators for the Shin Bet security agency for the southern part of the West Bank, says, "Not to mince words: in the Shin Bet we call it a 'sh*tty terrorist attack.' It was a cell we missed."

At the same time, Barbing recalls the hundreds of operations and thwarted attacks he was involved in, especially the eradication and arrest of leaders of Hamas in Hebron who were behind a long series of bombings in Jerusalem, Netanya, and Haifa that killed dozens of Israelis. The jewel in the crown of the operation was the killing of a senior Hamas figure in Hebron at the time: Abdullah Kawasme, who was responsible for the deaths of 30 Israelis and hundreds more wounded in shootings and suicide bombings.

"Taking out the Hebron leadership prevented a lot more casualties," he says. "Just like the arrest of Hamas official Ibrahim Hamad in Ramallah, who was responsible for the deaths of about 80 Israelis [including those killed in the bombings at the Moment and Hillel cafes in Jerusalem]. Hamad is still in prison in Israel," he says.

Finding the ugly duckling 

Barbing served in the Shin Bet for 27 years and made it to the top ranks of the organization. Prior to resigning last January, he served as head of the cyber division and later as head of the Jerusalem and Judea Samaria district. He was there from the end of the First Intifada, followed "the development of Hamas' murderous armed wing in Judea and Samaria"; the period of the Oslo Accords and the IDF's departure from the West Bank; and led many operations in those years throughout Judea, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron. He also remembers Israel returning to the area in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

Now, in his first interview, Barbing lays out his insights, discoveries, information, and memories of terrorism and the war against it. He focuses on the latest iteration of terrorism, which might not be over – the attacks carried out by unaffiliated individuals. He says that handling that form of terrorism "requires the Shin Bet to reinvent itself in an area that was 'unknown territory' – the Internet and social media; to create warnings, deterrence, and defeat this kind of terrorism, too."

"Young and underage terrorists, who are not affiliated with any [terrorist] organizations, have forced us to change our traditional methods, which were fitted to fighting organized terrorism, as well as adopt new working methods and collect intelligence about individuals," he says.
"There is political despair, a lack of faith in the PA, which is seen as corrupt, infected with fanaticism and as an entity that does not benefit the Palestinian public"
Barbing says there are many and varied inspirations for lone wolf terrorism. "Often, the attackers take action because of personal and financial distress, while social media has increased the strength of inspiration [for attacks] and become a platform where the spark kindles and spreads quickly."

Q: Personal distress? 

"Indeed. About 60% of the unaffiliated individuals who carried out attacks in 2014-2017 were primarily motivated by personal problems, and with women, it was close to 90%."

Q: What motivates an 18-year-old to commit a terrorist attack? 

"Sometimes they're the ugly duckling or the black sheep of their family. Sometimes it's disappointed love, sometimes it's young people who are sick of their lives for various reasons. With women, the reason is often the parents' refusal to allow their daughter to marry, or a woman or girl who dishonored her family. For them, the terrorist attack becomes a way to improve their status in Palestinian society and secure social, and especially national, recognition. A young man or woman with troubles like these says, 'Well, my life isn't worth much, anyway.' Then rather than slitting their wrists, they prefer to die by sacrificing their lives to Islam and their people, bringing honor to their families and the surrounding that currently reject them."

According to Barbing, this also explains the recent sharp decline in the number of regular suicides in the Palestinian Authority. "Committing suicide the standard way is less respectable, so they commit suicide in a national-religious context. Often, we make a point of publicizing these motives to gnaw away at the aspect of heroism."

Q: But an ethno-religious attack can't be motivated by only personal reasons - there has to be a catalyst. 

"The way Palestinians see it, the catalysts are many and varied. Both the attackers with personal problems and those without draw a lot of inspiration from events on the Temple Mount, among others. Al-Aqsa is a Muslim symbol, and everything that happens there has a major role in shaping the Palestinian identity. The residents of east Jerusalem see themselves as the defenders of Al-Aqsa, which only strengthens the potential for things to light up. We can also add the total lack of faith in the Israeli government's intentions in generation and its activity on the Temple Mount, in particular."

'All of a sudden, he shaved his beard' 

Barbing observes that another trigger for terrorist attacks are Israel's operations in the Gaza Strip, which he says "evoke Palestinian identification [with the Gazans] and high emotional involvement."

"Of course, in the background there is the Palestinians' perception of themselves as a people under occupation, a sense of desperation, and a lack of hope, as well as economic difficulty. There are quotas on work in Israel and a high level of unemployment – over 50% among youth – and low salaries, under 4,000 shekels ($1,100) a month, on average. There is also the political despair, a lack of faith in the PA, which is seen as corrupt, infected with fanaticism and as an entity that does not benefit the public."

Q: How does the Internet help you locate potential lone attackers? 

"The young generation of Palestinians are hooked up to all the digital platforms. It's almost the only way they communicate, and it strengthens bonds of friendship, romance, study, and also unfortunately the planning of terrorist attacks and sometimes even declarations to carry one out. A few even publish 'wills' before setting out for the attack. In other words, the potential attackers leave 'digital signatures' online that characterize them: Likes on sites that support or glorify terrorism; repeated visits to sites of shahids [martyrs] or sites that are heavy on incitement; changes to or intensification in how they express themselves. Even online information about someone who was pious and suddenly shaves his beard is a signal of something that must be checked out in a hurry.

"At one end of this computerized system, there is always an analyst whose job it is to assess how dangerous that same youth is and recommend whether or not he be arrested, called in for questioning, or whether his parents should be called. Everything is examined in accordance with consultations and legal authorization."

Q: What is more complicated? Cracking organized terrorist infrastructure, or terrorism by individuals? 

"Sometimes it's relatively easy to crack terrorist infrastructure and bust it. We have spent many years studying and getting to know Gaza and Judea and Samaria. We have almost intimate knowledge of the clans, the customs, the organizational structure, etc. On the other hand, terrorism by individuals doesn't bring us to a single address, and usually there is not a database on the individual. Back in 2014 we realized that we wouldn't find an answer to the problem in our traditional databases, and we would need to develop new models that would provide alerts based on intelligence from new axes of information. Rather than looking for a model of the enemy's activity, we transitioned to identifying signs that indicate a change in behavior."

Q: What does that require you to do? 

"We need to gather posts, likes, responses, emojis, voice recordings, and technical symbols of places and times, rises and falls in the extent of [online] activity, new contacts, people joining suspect online communities. We comb the Internet and identify aberrant activity. That's how we identify alarms in a sea of information that traditional intelligence does not supply on individual attackers. Today, we already have Internet files and well-ordered databases."

Q: How many attacks do you think have been prevented as a result of your investment in online intelligence? 

"In the past three years – hundreds. With most of them, 50% of the initial intelligence came from the Internet and the rest from other intelligence sources the Shin Bet still has. It means handling an immense quantity of information. We've acquired the technological and professional skills to separate the wheat from the chaff and find needles in haystacks. From October to December 2015 we saw about 100 terrorist attacks committed by individuals, about one a day. Today, the phenomenon has been largely eradicated."
"The young generation of Palestinians are hooked up to all the digital platforms"
'My son has disappeared' 

Barbing recently published, with Capt. Or Glick, an in-depth article in the IDF magazine Between the Poles in which the two discuss the issue of deterring lone, unaffiliated terrorists. Barbing also assesses the benefits or harm in a number of "deterrent measures" that have been raised in the impassioned public discourse about terrorism by individuals these past few years.

He thinks that demolishing terrorists' homes is a method that has proven to be effective.

"There are dozens of cases that I know of personally in which fathers brought their sons to the Palestinian Authority or called the PA and said, 'My son is missing, I realized he's going to commit an attack, and I don't want them to demolish my home.' We've proved that in court."

Often, Barbing says, families voluntarily report potential attackers.

"The most obvious and painful tools are financial punishment, withholding funds for families of terrorists, refusal to grant permits to work [in Israel], and limitations to movement," he says.

Delaying the return of terrorists' bodies, however, does more harm than good, Barbing thinks. "At first, I supported it, but the more we delayed the return of terrorists' bodies, we learned that it created escalation and tension, and led to the opposite results and to greater danger rather than creating the deterrence we thought it did."

Barbing also touches on how continual use of one method or another loses its effectiveness, and offers the surprising insight that the glory assigned to martyrs has an increasingly short shelf life.

"Because of the increase in terrorist attacks in recent years and because the Palestinian public has become so used to shahids, their glory doesn't last very long now. Sometimes, only a few days or hours."

Q: Does the PA help prevent terrorism?

"Yes, although we need to emphasize that even without help from the PA, Israel knows how to handle terrorism in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. But often, especially because of operational considerations and Israel's national interests, we've preferred to coordinate with the PA and allow them freedom of action – deep inside village and refugee camps in Nablus, Jenin, and Qabatiya, for example."

Q: What percentage of terrorist attacks have been prevented thanks to the PA? Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said it was about one-quarter? 

"I would put it at about 20%."

Q: In your opinion, would toppling the PA be the right thing to do, as some have suggested? It helps us thwart terrorism, but also glorifies it and allows major incitement. 

"Israel 'invented' the PA, and the decision to topple it would be a political, not only a security and defense, issue. When I look at the last decade, in which the PA helped us prevent terrorism – unlike the period that preceded it – I'm not convinced that going back to a reality of military rule [there] would serve our interests. We could also wind up paying for it in blood. Going back in, especially when it comes to civil matters and the Palestinians' daily lives, would cause a much higher level of friction. The current situation is reasonable for Israel, but it might not last much longer. In the end, we will have to reach some kind of solution."

Barbing also discusses the Palestinian terrorists released in the deal to free captive soldier Gilad Schalit.

"From a professional point of view, releasing [them] to the West Bank was best. There, we can keep an eye on them and grab them whenever there is the slightest suspicion that they're planning something. In the West Bank there is also deterrence for the prisoners released in the deal. The terms of the deal said that anyone who resumes terrorist activity will serve the dozens of years in prison he would have faced  with 'interest.'"

Q: How many of the prisoners released to the West Bank have resumed terrorist activity thus far? 

"A few dozen have gone back to terrorism or illegal Hamas activity that does not include lethal terrorism."

Q: If you think it was best to release them to the West Bank, wasn't it a mistake to let some of them go to the Gaza Strip or Turkey? The entire leadership of Hamas in Gaza is now comprised of prisoners freed in the Schalit deal. 

"We didn't want them all in the West Bank, because then we'd have seen a resurgence of Hamas here. It would have done serious harm to the Palestinian Authority. So I'm not sure we made a mistake. I'd remind you that we were successful in deporting the terrorists who barricaded themselves inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Operation Defensive Shield to Europe, even though they were terrorists from Fatah. They are completely inactive today."

The opposite is also true. Salah Arouri, who was deported from Israel, has made a career in terrorism and become a leading Hamas official. For years, he has been influential in terrorism while enjoying haven in various other countries. 

"Today, looking back at the results of his deportation, I would rethink sending him away. Even then, he was a leader, and I prefer to keep leaders like him closer to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem than the Blue Mosque in Istanbul."

'There are knives on the Temple Mount'

Last week, the Haifa District Court sentenced Amjad Muhammad Ahmad Jabarin of Umm al-Fahm to 16 years in prison for helping the perpetrators of the shooting attack on the Temple Mount in July 2017, in which two Israeli police officers were killed. Barbing remembers the "unusual, unprecedented, and difficult" event very well, as well as everything that followed. Even now, he thinks that the decision to place metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount – which was made hours after the attack – was not wrong.

"It wasn't a new idea. It was floated a few times in the past, and the political echelon decided that setting them up at the gates, or at least fairly close, would require a certain level of coordination with Jordan because of the sensitivity of the Temple Mount."

The moment the Shin Bet learned that the metal detectors were creating "seismic" unrest, "the understanding sunk in that it was better to be wise than to be right. The murder of the family in Halamish on the eve of Shabbat after the attack on the Temple Mount, and the terrorist's statements in his interrogation, made it clear that he had set out to murder Jews 'to defend Al-Aqsa.'"

Q: Is there an alternative to the metal detectors, which were removed? 

"There is better preparation in the field, with an emphasis on the gates, including body searches and pulling suspicious individuals aside. Intelligence has become more focused and there is early identification. But given the lack of thorough checks, in my opinion it's possible to bring knives into the Temple Mount. If there were metal detectors, I think there would be fewer plans and attempts to carry out a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount."

Q: At the time, the Shin Bet objected to outlawing the Northern Branch of the Islamic 

"It was the organization's original stance, but after we reconsidered everything, we agreed that it be outlawed. Today, the Northern Branch is weakened and has less influence, in part because we cut off its financial breathing tube.

"The Islamic Movement, which the Northern Branch is an offshoot of, has been confronted with the Islamic State for the past few years, which threatened its dominance in the struggle of the Israeli Arabs. We saw a transition from the Islamic Movement to the ideas of ISIS. Now its activity has been curtailed. The main problem is Europe. There, among the [Muslim] immigrants, there are plenty of ISIS cells who preach hatred of Christians and Jews."

Barbing also followed the process of the Israeli leadership's decision to increase the number of Jewish visitors allowed onto the Temple Mount in line with the status quo there. The Hebrew month of Tishrei saw nearly 6,000 Jews visit the Mount, the same number who arrived throughout the entire course of 2009. By the end of 2019, over 36,000 Jews will have visited the Mount.
"If there were metal detectors, I think there would be fewer plans and attempts to carry out a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount"
Q: How did the change come about? 

"First of all, there is the political leadership. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wanted it to happen, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed it. The status quo and the arrangements on the Temple Mount allow [Jews] to visit, although not pray there. Erdan wanted to make the most of it. Second, a wider sector of Jews have become interested in visiting the Temple Mount in the past few years. Third, we took care to remove the Murabitun and Murabitat groups, which made it their goal to interfere with Jewish visits to the Temple Mount and created constant provocations. In the overly long time those groups were active there, fewer Jews visited, but in the end we woke up and took action against them."

Barbing describes himself as a "die-hard secularlist," but says, "I think it's unreasonable that a Jew who follows the rules on the Mount can't visit there freely. The moment the Murabitun was removed, the door was opened to more Jews. We took care to put the Waqf in its place and keep its people away from the groups of Jewish visitors. Top police officials, under former Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, pushed to allow many more Jews to visit the Mount."

Q: Do you think Jews will soon be allowed to pray on the Mount? 

"Moshe Dayan made the rules in 1967 and all the governments have upheld them. Right now, I can't picture a reality in which the policy changes. No Arab official will ever agree to that, and Israel would be accused of striking a major blow to the status quo, and it could send things up in flames."

'Not great at foresight' 

In his article in Between the Poles, Barbing describes a disturbing reality of a "security vacuum in the neighborhoods of east Jerusalem where Israeli security forces and PA security forces have no foothold."

Q: What neighborhoods are you referring to? 

"Mainly the ones to the north, beyond the security barrier – the Shuefat refugee camp and the Al-Ram, Samir Amis, and Kafr Aqab area. They don't allow the PA to operate there because most of the residents have Israeli ID cards. The police, who are supposed to be active there, have difficulty carrying out operations. Because of the high level of violence in those areas, almost every police action requires back up from the IDF. The army took responsibility for those areas because it had no other choice. All attempts to organize there demand that we change our viewpoint and operational tactics so we can improve our security and civil governability there."

Q: A lot of people there have guns. 

"In the parts of Jerusalem that are outside the security barrier there are a lot of weapons. In all east Jerusalem, on both sides of the security barrier, we're talking about hundreds, even thousands, of guns. Mostly homemade versions like the Carlo. We confiscate hundreds of guns there each year. In my time, we put an emphasis on locating weapons workshops that were active in making guns and spent less time chasing individual weapons.

When asked what Israel can expect in Judea and Samaria in the near future, Barbing doesn't rush to answer.

"We've never been great at foresight," he admits. "We never predicted an intifada. We didn't predict terrorism by individuals. So I think that the freeze in our relations with the PA, which is a kind of crisis management, with a minimum of casualties and a minimum of attacks, can't continue for very long without any political solution. It won't last. If [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas is removed under certain conditions or at a bad time, it could potentially lead to a flare-up of violence. In that context, we should keep tabs not only on Hamas but also on the various Fatah factions. They aren't all the same."

Q: In your opinion, what is the future of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria? 

"Factually speaking, all the Israeli governments have had a hand in establishing settlements, but everyone has his own political opinions. In this interview, I’m not going to get into politics. Professionally speaking, I can say there isn't a vacuum. There is no substitute for our security presence there and our freedom of action there, which has existed since Operation Defensive Shield, 365 days a year, including Yom Kippur. That freedom of action led to a dramatic drop in the scope and capabilities of terrorism. Currently, there are no political limitations to any ongoing activity anywhere in Judea and Samaria. From that perspective, the results of Defensive Shield were and remain no less important than the operation itself."

Nadav Shragai


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