Archive for January, 2008

US proposes limited invasion of Gaza Strip?

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

One of the big questions about the US plan to create a Palestinian state controlled by Fatah is, of course, “what about Hamas?” Fatah is not strong enough militarily or politically to take on Hamas, and Hamas is not going away by itself.

I’ve argued that the apparent contradiction implies that the plan isn’t serious. But what if I’m wrong, and it is for real? How would such a plan deal with Hamas?

DEBKAfile has an idea, and it isn’t pretty. But it accounts for a lot of things that have been said by PM Olmert, President Bush, and others, and it fits the the way that the US has tried to accomplish similar goals in other places.

The suggestion is that the IDF will be permitted to invade Gaza — but only to a limited extent. Of course, DEBKA presents it as inside knowledge, and maybe it’s just a guess. But I hope they’re wrong:

1. Israeli forces must limit their invasion to two or three strips abutting the Gaza-Israeli border of the 365 sq. km square Hamas-ruled territory on Israel’s southwestern border…

2. The IDF must operate only in sparsely-populated areas and desist from actions that may cause extensive Palestinian civilian casualties.

3. The IDF will not capture the main cities, e.g. Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Younes.

4. After clearing captured areas of Hamas, Jihad Islami and other Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli army must pull out and hand the cleansed territory to the forces of the Palestinian Authority [PA] chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel must enable the passage of those forces from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip and allow them to establish military bases for launching their offensives to recapture the entire Gaza Strip, thereby reversing Hamas’ success in forcing their retreat six months ago…

It was … proposed in Bush’s talks in Ramallah and Jerusalem that the Israeli Air Force and artillery provide support for the Palestinian takeover of the Gaza Strip, a tactic the US army employs for local forces in Iraq.

— DEBKA, ‘Israeli Military up in Arms over Bush-Olmert Plan for Major Operation in Gaza on Behalf of… Palestinian Authority’

DEBKA suggests that PM Olmert has agreed to this plan. But it would be a disaster of the first order if it were to be carried out.

First, from a tactical point of view, it will not work. The IDF will “break its teeth” against the elaborate fortifications built by Hamas in Gaza since the takeover, and will suffer significant casualties until they are overcome. But they will not be able to pursue and destroy the Hamas forces, who will simply escape to the West or lose themselves in the cities! So what will Israel have bought at a high price?

Second, the PA forces are not any more likely to fight effectively against the highly motivated Hamas than they were last year. Many of them are sympathetic to Hamas, most if not all are former (or present) members of terrorist militias such as the al-Aqsa Brigades, and all of them consider Israel a greater enemy than Hamas. Many of their US and Israeli-supplied weapons will end up in Hamas hands.

Third, the plan places the IDF in a role of fighting for one side in a Palestinian civil conflict, instead of defending Israel against her enemies.

Finally, if the PA does not defeat Hamas (which it won’t), then what? DEBKA writes,

If a military campaign succeeds in gaining control of parts of Gaza on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, peace talks will resume with Abbas’ standing much enhanced. But if the results are mixed, like in the 2006 Lebanon War under Olmert’s direction, the Palestinian leader will drop Israel and the United States like hot coals, turn coat and seek an understanding with Hamas for a re-united front against Israel.

We must also keep in mind that an Israeli invasion of Gaza, even a limited one, is likely to provoke Hezbollah to heat up the northern border. It will not be advantageous for the IDF to be tied down to supporting a protracted struggle between the PA and Hamas when this occurs.

All this and more is obvious to the IDF’s officer corps. I cannot imagine but that many officers would resign before they would carry out orders to, in effect, send their men to die for the PA. The result could be a crisis for the Israeli government and the IDF.

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More wire service lies, this time from the AP

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Last week, Barry Rubin wrote about the distortions of news perpetrated by an Arab Reuters stringer (see Do you trust the wire services? You shouldn’t.). This week it’s AP’s turn, with yet another biased Arab reporter.

Empowering Lies

By Barry Rubin

What if a major news story is completely made up? What if it is basically Hamas propaganda without any basis in truth? And what if this story is repeated around the world?

Of course, nowadays it is not hard to imagine such things happening on debatable issues. When one gets to specific statistics, however, it should not be too easy to lie and get away with it.

But it is.

The story in question here is by Ibrahim Barzak, “Israel cuts fuel, electricity to Gaza,” January 7, 2008. Like all individual articles it might be of limited importance by itself but it is an example of a phenomenon which has grown to be almost daily.

In the version run by the Philadelphia Inquirer it carries the following subheadline: “People have only a third of winter needs, said an official. The intent is to halt rocket attacks.”

It is important to emphasize–do a computer search if you like–that this article has been published and broadcast around the world by huge media outlets, not to mention websites.

And the main point–and impact–of the story is a fabrication.

Here is the lead:

With winter deepening, Gazans will be forced to live without lights and electric heaters for eight hours a day because Israel has cut fuel supplies to the territory’s only electric plant in half, Gaza’s top energy official warned yesterday….

Yesterday, Kanan Obeid, chairman of Gaza’s Hamas-run energy authority, said Gaza now has only 35 percent of the power its 1.5 million residents need. [my emphasis – ed.]

Well, perhaps Gaza’s top energy official said that but it is a lie. AP and the media that depend on AP–fell for this lie. Or perhaps the author and institution are not so innocent because there is no Israeli source provided for the main issues at stake. When I investigated the story it took me five minutes to get an official who totally denied the claims made by it.

Here is the true story, so obscured by the AP article that one can only believe the distortion was deliberate.

  1. About 70 percent of Gaza’s electricity comes  from Israel (the article says 60 percent though this changes nothing about the analysis that follows), 5 percent from Egypt, and 20 percent from Gaza itself.
  2. There has been very little cutback in the electricity provided directly by Israel.
  3. The only reduction is in supplying diesel fuel, some of which is used in the Gaza generating plant, though more is used by trucks.
  4. Thus if the diesel fuel supply was cut back by half, the Gaza generator would lose less than half of its supply, even less if the Hamas government made it a priority. At most, the electricity supply would be cut no more than 10 percent–not 65 percent.
  5. Note also that while it sounds rather horrible not to have electricity eight hours a day, this merely would mean that you don’t use electricity when you are sleeping. It should also be added that winter in Gaza is not exactly like Maine.
  6. In addition, Barzak tries, and no doubt succeeds, in fooling readers by stating in passing: “The power outages, which will rotate across Gaza….” In other words, at worst each sector would only have temporary power reductions, taking turns, rather than–as the article states earlier–everyone having eight hours without electricity.

After trying to convince readers that people in Gaza are suffering greatly from existing cuts, the article slips into making its case by talking about things that have not happened yet. The Israeli government wants small cutbacks in the electricity directly applied to the Gaza Strip. Even if these cuts were made–and this may not happen–the result would still fall very far short of the claims made about huge reductions and tremendous suffering.

The article continues:

Israel said the purpose of the cutback was to nudge Palestinians to call on extremists to stop their daily rocket attacks on southern Israel. But Gazans contended they have become targets of unfair punishment, and 10 human-rights groups took that argument to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Note that while, technically, Israel’s motive is presented–so the AP can claim to be balanced–we are quickly told that this claim is untrue. Israel’s statements are questioned; Hamas’s statements are accepted as fact.

The point here is to avoid telling readers three other things as well:

  1. Israel is a remarkable democracy where even wartime actions against an enemy openly declaring an intention to kill all its people and daily attempting terror attacks are fairly adjudicated in court.
  2. Israel is still supplying directly and indirectly the vast majority of Gaza’s power despite the war being waged against it by a regime there which sponsors cross-border attacks, holds an Israeli soldier as hostage, and proclaims that it will never accept Israel’s existence.
  3. If the Hamas regime were to change its policy there would be no sanctions at all.

The article’s goal, therefore, is to muster support for Hamas within the Gaza Strip and to mobilize forces throughout the world against sanctions. That may be the job of Hamas but is it the task for the world news media and Associated Press? Instead, this article is not reporting news but attempting to indoctrinate readers in the belief that Palestinians are suffering, Israel is responsible, and Israel’s explanations of its actions are false.

But it is this article that is false by claiming that Israeli activities have reduced Gaza’s electricity by two-thirds.

Oh, by the way, on January 11, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that even the restrictions on diesel fuel oil would be lifted. So residents of the Gaza Strip will get everything necessary for 100 percent of their usual electricity production.

While rocket attacks, attempted terrorist operations, and incitement continue, Israel will provide power for Hamas’s offices, broadcasts calling for the killing of all Israelis, and arms’ workshops. This, we are told by too much of the media, is the way things are supposed to be according to morality and international law.

. . .

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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More than a magazine — a (biased) movement

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Israel is certainly one of the few nations of which it can be said that there is no “glass ceiling” for women. In addition to having had a woman Prime Minister, Israel has women in some of the top positions in government today.

So the American Jewish Congress produced a simple ad, showing three of them, and submitted it to feminist flagship Ms. Magazine (slogan: “More than a magazine — a movement”) .

AJCongress ad rejected by Ms. Magazine

American Jewish Congress ad rejected by Ms. Magazine

From an AJ Congress press release, here is what happened:

When Director of AJCongress’ Commission for Women’s Empowerment Harriet Kurlander tried to place the ad, she was told that publishing the ad “will set off a firestorm” and that “there are very strong opinions” on the subject − the subject presumably being whether or not one can say anything positive about Israel. Ms. Magazine publisher Eleanor Smeal failed to respond to a signed-for certified letter with a copy of the ad as well as numerous calls by [AJ Congress President Richard] Gordon over a period of weeks.

A Ms. Magazine representative, Susie Gilligan, whom the Ms. Magazine masthead lists under the publisher’s office, told Ms. Kurlander that the magazine “would love to have an ad from you on women’s empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this.” Ms. Gilligan failed to elaborate what “this” is. [my emphasis]

She doesn’t need to elaborate. We already know that there are some segments of the political spectrum where Israel is anathema. But Ms. Magazine does write about Israeli women from time to time. A search of feminist news briefs comes up with

  • Women arrested for praying improperly at the Western Wall
  • Israeli women who meet with Palestinian women in peace groups
  • Will Israeli women get combat roles in the army?
  • A rabbinical court issuing a decree that married women may not stay out past midnight

Palestinian women are covered too. In addition to the articles about peace groups (which usually blame Israel for the violence), there is one about a female Palestinian filmmaker. There is an interview with Queen Noor of Jordan, who disapproves of honor killings (and blames Israel for the violence), but nothing about beatings and murders of ‘scandalously’ dressed women by Islamist fanatics in Gaza, or women forced to become suicide bombers. One would think that there is plenty for “the movement” to become outraged about.

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Bush’s goal: a Palestinian state, ready or not

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

After separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today, President Bush said the following:

…both sides need to fulfill their commitments under the road map…

I reiterate my appreciation for the Arab League peace initiative. And I call upon the Arab countries to reach out to Israel, a step that is long overdue.

He appreciates it. That is different from approving of it or calling for its implementation. But it is something more than ignoring it and a lot more than rejecting it. Mr. Bush also mentioned the initiative positively in his speech of July 2007.

As you may remember, the Arab League (or Saudi) peace initiative calls for 1) Israel to withdraw from all territories captured in 1967, 2) a ‘just’ settlement of the refugee problem in accordance with UN Resolution 194 and which is agreeable to the refugees’ host countries, and 3) the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories with its capital in East Jerusalem.

In return, Israel will get a peace agreement, the Arabs will “provide for the security of all states in the region”, and Israel will get “normal relations”, whatever they are (they are not ‘recognition’).

The Saudi and Egyptian understanding of the proposal is that Israel will get nothing until all three conditions have been met, and that there is no room to negotiate anything except how it will be implemented.

I’ve analyzed this proposal in detail in my post “The Arab initiative, as it stands, is a document of surrender“, so I won’t go into detail here.

It appears hard to reconcile Mr. Bush’s stated desire for both sides to meet their “roadmap obligations”, which seem to include the Palestinians taking action against terrorism, with a plan that requires the Arab side to do absolutely nothing until Israel has given up everything they want.

Unfortunately the roadmap calls for Israel to do concrete things (dismantle outposts, remove roadblocks, and withdraw from certain areas) and for Palestinians to “undertake” and “commence” to do things. They are not required to actually achieve anything. The requirements will be fulfilled as soon as the State Department, the Quartet, or whomever, decides that they are. So this doesn’t really contradict the Arab League initiative.

Mr. Bush concludes as follows:

No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror…

The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it. And it will enhance the stability of the region, and it will contribute to the security of the people of Israel.

I should issue a Reality Inversion Alert over this comment! The actions of the leaders and people of Palestine have made it abundantly clear that they do not deserve a state. They have created no functional governing institutions besides clans and gangs, they have taken billions in aid without building any economic infrastructure, they have been consistently dishonest about their goals, and their preferred means of achieving them has been terrorism.

The establishment of the Palestinian state and concomitant withdrawal of the IDF from the territories will be disastrous for the security of Israel and for the stability of the region, because the process is being approached backwards: they are being given arms, money and ultimately sovereignty before they have developed the basic institutions of civil society, and while a powerful and highly disruptive faction — Hamas — is totally ignored.

If Mr. Bush’s actual goal were peace and stability, then he would approach it by taking steps to discourage the Palestinian belief that they can and will reverse the outcome of the 1948 war — rather than embracing the Arab League initiative, which promotes it.

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Bush in Israel

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a joint news conference in Israel yesterday. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Bush’s statements and my comments. You can read the full text, including PM Olmert’s remarks, here.

PM Olmert, Pres. Bush, and Pres. Peres

PM Olmert with Presidents Bush and Peres

PRESIDENT BUSH: It’s essential that people understand America cannot dictate the terms of what a [Palestinian] state will look like. The only way to have lasting peace, the only way for an agreement to mean anything, is for the two parties to come together and make the difficult choices. But we’ll help, and we want to help. If it looks like there needs to be a little pressure, Mr. Prime Minister, you know me well enough to know I’ll be more than willing to provide it. I will say the same thing to President Abbas tomorrow, as well.

As if the application of pressure can be symmetrical! Pressure Mahmoud Abbas all he will, Mr. Bush cannot cause him to control Hamas or give up his demand for right of return. Can he even stop the terrorism his own al-Aqsa brigades and disarm all the gangs associated with Fatah? Maybe that should be a first requirement, before anything else.

In the rest of my trip I will be talking about the opportunity for Middle Eastern peace, and remind people in the neighborhood that if they truly want to see two states living side by side in peace, they have an obligation, Arab leaders have an obligation to recognize Israel’s important contribution to peace and stability in the Middle East, and to encourage and support the Palestinians as they make tough choices.

Why did he use the strange phrase “recognize Israel’s important contribution to peace and stability in the Middle East”? Why not just say recognize Israel as a legitimate state in the Middle East?

We also talked about Iran. Iran is a threat to world peace. There was a recent intelligence report that came out that I think sent the signal to some that said perhaps the United States does not view an Iran with a nuclear weapon as serious — as a serious problem. And I want to remind people, Mr. Prime Minister, what I said at the press conference when I discussed that National Intelligence Estimate. I said then that Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat, and Iran will be a threat if the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from the development of the know-how to build a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Bush no longer says that he will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Now it’s the job of the “international community”.

A country which once had a secret program can easily restart a secret program. A country which can enrich for civilian purposes can easily transfer that knowledge to a military program. A country which has made statements that it’s made about the security of our friend, Israel, is a country that needs to be taken seriously. And the international community must understand with clarity the threat that Iran provides to world peace.

Quite right, as I wrote in my post, “The NIE: Read past the first line“. So why did the Bush Administration approve of the clear signal sent by the release of the NIE with its deliberately misleading implication that Iran was not a nuclear threat?

And we will continue to work with European countries, Russia and China, as well as nations in this neighborhood, to make it abundantly clear that — the threat that Iran poses for world peace.

But in effect, you already told them the opposite.

Let me remind you what the NIE actually said…So no matter how you might have interpreted the NIE, I interpreted it to mean you better take the Iranians’ threat seriously.

Then why was it released in the form that it was?

…I have always told the American people that I believe it’s incumbent upon the American President to solve problems diplomatically. And that’s exactly what we’re in the process of doing. I believe that pressure — economic pressure, financial sanctions — will cause the people inside of Iran to have to make a considered judgment about whether or not it makes sense for them to continue to enrich or face world isolation.

The US will not attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons by non-diplomatic means.