Archive for July, 2008

Incident at Na’alin

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Incident at NaalinBy now, everyone has probably heard about — or seen — this:

( A soldier has been arrested for allegedly firing rubber bullets at a detained Arab rioter during the violent July 7th Naalin demonstrations, following the release of a videotape of the incident.

The tape was released by the left-wing B’Tzelem organization and shows the soldier shooting a rubber bullet at the feet of Ashraf Abu-Rahma while he was being detained by Israeli forces for violence during the riot. The demonstration, protesting the construction of the security fence through the Arab town of Naalin, is one of many in the area that have turned violent over the past months.

The handcuffed detainee was hit in the toe and not seriously injured. An officer nearby either ordered the soldier to shoot, or simply to scare him. The video has been shown over and over on worldwide media.

The Palestinians could not have made up a better issue, although if they had made it up Abu-Rahma would be as dead as Mohammed Dura.

Given what is happening at Na’alin, he probably deserved far worse than a bruised toe (after due process, of course). But what is important here is not whether IDF soldiers should shoot rubber bullets at prisoners (they shouldn’t), not whether the soldier and/or officer should be punished (they should, and the punishment should be increased by ten for sheer stupidity) and not even whether the security fence has cut off Palestinian residents from their lands.

Here’s the protocol, repeated day in and day out:

Palestinian ‘activists’, left-wing Israeli Useful Idiots like b’Tselem, and foreign helpers from such organizations like the ISM (the organization that brought Rachel Corrie to Israel), etc. find a place where the security fence abuts a Palestinian village, and try to tear it down. The media have been alerted and are out in force.

Think about how other countries would handle this! In many of them there would not even be a demonstration, since prospective participants would expect to be beaten to a pulp or met with live fire from the outset (and there wouldn’t be any journalists present). Israel is, as usual, placed in a difficult position because security forces must prevent the fence from being destroyed and protect themselves while using minimal force and permitting access to the press.

When security personnel — sometimes police but often IDF soldiers or reservists with only minimal training and equipment for riot control — arrive, they are attacked with weapons ranging from stones and Molotov cocktails to assault rifles, the demonstrators trying as hard as possible to provoke ‘overreaction’. It’s especially helpful to the cause when a child or foreigner is injured or even killed.

This serves the purpose of focusing the world’s attention on the security fence, on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the territories, and on the human rights aspects of incidents such as Abu-Rahma’s bruised toe.

It buttresses the contention by Palestinians and their supporters that the conflict is primarily about ‘the occupation’ (with a systematic ambiguity about whether they are talking about the occupation of 1967 or that of 1948).

But this is emphatically not what the conflict is about. It is a peripheral effect, not a central cause. Supposing that the world’s ‘peace’ activists really wanted to bring peace  between Jews and Arabs, here are the actual issues that they should start by being concerned about:

  1. Since before the founding of the State of Israel, the Arabs and Persians have been trying to prevent any form of Jewish autonomy in the Middle East. Tactics have included conventional warfare, terrorism, and lately asymmetric proxy war.
  2. Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran have recently engaged in a massive buildup of forces aimed at Israel, including chemical, biological, and soon nuclear weapons, and have made no secret of their intentions.
  3. Palestinians have been led to believe by the Arab/Persian world that they can and will reverse the outcome of the 1948 war by ‘armed struggle’ — and their friends have supported and financed this struggle, prevented solutions to issues such as Palestinian refugees, and encouraged terrorism.

These are the forces that have driven the conflict in the past and drive it today. These are the forces that will continue to bring wars and death. It’s unfortunately a tribute to Arab public relations skill that they have managed to misdirect the world’s moral opprobrium away from their aggressive, genocidal struggle and turn it against Israel’s attempts at self-defense.

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Is Obama as uninformed as he seems?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

With the exception of the nine years that I spent in Israel, I have never missed an American election, not even off-year primaries. I have always taken my responsibility to vote very seriously. So this coming Presidential election — which comes at a point of real historical crisis for the US — has seen me struggling mightily in an effort to find out what the candidates actually know about the critical issues and what they would be likely to do if elected.

Barack Obama is particularly impenetrable. Because of the multiple constituencies that he is trying to appeal to, he is unlikely to  be too specific. He’s an excellent speaker and has plenty of backup and preparation — his foreign policy staff numbers 300, according to the NY Times. And of course pre-election promises have historically had little relationship to presidential actions.

But candidates, even smooth ones like Obama, sometimes reveal their degree of competence on an issue despite careful programming.  Obama’s AIPAC statement that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” and its immediate retraction in the face of howls from Arabs and the Left was instructive and very disquieting. Obviously this was one issue that Obama had not understood.

Now Obama has made another statement on the Middle East, and unfortunately it is a doozy. Thanks to Martin Kramer for catching this:

I think King, King Abdullah [of Jordan] is as savvy an analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.Obama on Meet the Press, July 27, 2008. My emphasis.

Keep in mind that he uttered this pernicious nonsense after his visit to the Middle East, after his intensive discussions on Mideast issues! Kramer calls it “The Myth of Linkage“, and it appears in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, as well as in statements by Jimmy Carter and Obama supporter Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Obama’s statement indicates either 1) he spoke without thinking, 2) he has no understanding of the intentions and strategies of the players in the region, or 3) he — like Carter, Brzezinski and Baker, wishes to provide a justification for a blatantly pro-Arab and anti-Israel policy.

I suppose alternative 1) is the best we can hope for.

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Lame ducks can be dangerous

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

As the Bush Administration draws to a close, lots of things are possible.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni came out on Sunday against American efforts to have Israel reach an interim agreement with the Palestinians before the end of US President George W. Bush’s term based on the diplomatic talks that she has led.

Speaking at a Kadima rally in Jerusalem that was closed to the press, Livni expressed concern that the Bush administration would pressure Israel, as president Bill Clinton did at Camp David before he left office in 2001.

“I purposely am not setting deadlines [for the negotiations with the Palestinians], because I think that’s very bad,” Livni said. “I very much don’t want to be in the same situation that Ehud Barak was in at at Camp David of the end of an American administration finishing its term and trying to put pressure on everyone to bridge gaps that cannot be bridged.”  — Jerusalem Post

Indeed.  Gaps about Jerusalem and refugees, just for starters. And security: the West Bank cannot be allowed to become another Gaza, which is certainly what would happen if the IDF were to withdraw from it today.

Those to the right of Livni claim that she is just trying to position herself for the coming elections. She has been involved with ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and  has been accused of offering dangerous concessions. So she is trying to disassociate herself from them before a disadvantageous agreement is signed.

I think the truth is that the government of Israel has been pressured by the US to take part in the process and — including Livni — has been doing its best not to make too much ‘progress’. The Palestinians have done their part in obstructing an agreement, by insisting on outrageous conditions, assuming that US pressure will force Israel to give in, basically to commit suicide.

But isn’t the Bush Administration pro-Israel? Didn’t it permit Israel to wage war against Hezbollah for several weeks?

Actually, the Bush Administration is several things, depending on whose influence is ascendant at any time. The so-called ‘neo-cons’ were relatively pro-Israel, but they lost much of their power after the early failures in Iraq, to be replaced by the same oil interests and pro-Arab State Department circles that have been determining US Middle East policy for generations. Their point of view is expressed clearly in the Iraq Study Group report.

This group is close to Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab oil powers, and is quite worried about the expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence in the region; so it wouldn’t make them unhappy to see Hezbollah — which Caroline Glick called “the Foreign Legion of the Iranian Republican Guard” — weakened or destroyed.

The drive to force an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is often attributed to a desire on the part of the US President for a Nobel Prize. That may have been Bill Clinton’s idea, but in this case I think a desire to go down in history is a minimal part of the motivation.

I’ve mentioned that in the mid-1970’s, Henry Kissenger made a promise to the Arabs that while the US would always support Israel’s existence, she would work to undo the outcome of the 1967 war. Remember that this was after the huge shock to the US economy brought about by the Arab oil boycott, instituted to punish the US for supporting Israel in 1973.

The official explanation of the effort to obtain a US-Palestinian ‘peace’ agreement is that the dispute is somehow central to all Mideast issues and that solving it is the key to solving them. But this is obvious nonsense. The real reason is that, in an era of skyrocketing oil prices, the Saudis and Gulf Arabs are demanding that Kissinger’s committment — and undoubtedly others that have not been publicized — be met.

As I’ve written before, Israel is prepared to give up land, but only if it will lead to real peace. And prior experiments in this direction have been less than successful.

The US, on the other hand, is simply interested in Israel giving up land.

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Positional play

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

News item:

A mysterious explosion in a suburb of Teheran that killed 15 people last Saturday was likely an attack on a Iranian military convoy carrying arms to Hizbullah, the Telegraph reported Friday…

Last Saturday’s incident was the latest in a series of mysterious explosions in the Islamic republic.

In May, Iran blamed British and US agents for an explosion at a mosque in Shiraz that had just been the site of a military exhibition. In 2007, more than a dozen Iranian engineers lost their lives while trying to fit a chemical warhead to a missile in Syria. A few months earlier, a train apparently carrying military supplies to Syria was derailed by an explosion in northern Turkey.

If indeed Israel or the US is behind these events, there is something to keep in mind.

These operations are enormously dangerous for the operatives on the ground.  Especially in Iran, the CIA or Mossad would not be likely to risk them unless the payoff was relatively large.

That means anything that might significantly delay the Iranian nuclear program, or change the balance of power between Israel and Syria or Hezbollah. Chemical/biological weapons for Hezbollah would probably count, or perhaps anti-aircraft systems.

The analogy between war and chess is not accidental.  In the early stages of a game of chess, a player tries to position his forces so that when the violence escalates the enemy’s assets will be bottled up or neutralized. Sometimes a piece is sacrificed in a trade for one of conventionally lower value in order to obtain a positional advantage.

Of course real war is infinitely more complicated than chess, with more than two players and many more pieces, pieces whose capabilities, unlike those of chess pieces, are often unknown until they are actually used. But the concept of position is fundamentally the same.

Today the US and Iran are engaged in the early stages of a game in their protracted match.  This game will involve another Israel-Hezbollah clash — after all, Hezbollah exists only for one reason, to oppose Israel — and the positional sparring has begun.

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Arab Thinking 101

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Westerners were shocked at Samir Kuntar’s reception in Lebanon. Arab presidents and prime ministers greeted him, al-Jazeera even threw a birthday party for him. But actually there is nothing surprising about it given the Arab world-view.

What I do find surprising, on the other hand, is the way our leaders keep flunking “Arab Thinking 101”.   

Being a Terrorist Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
By Barry Rubin

The number-one mistake people make trying to understand the Middle East is refusing to believe folks here think differently from themselves.

Virtually every development in the Middle East should remind us of this reality.

Yet as Captain Ahab hunted the white whale, as prospectors hunt for gold, as…well, you get the idea, so is the hunt for the great Arab moderate. There are Arab moderates, some very smart and brave people. The problem is none are in positions of power and all must shut up or face repression and being defined by fellows as enemies of the people.

The view of the Middle East held in much or most of the Western media, academia, intellectual circles, and large sections of governments is a fantasy having nothing to do with the region.

One should work against dangerous extremists with the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan, Kuwaiti, UAE, and Iraqi governments as well as the Lebanese pro-independence forces, though these all have multiple faults. But you must know the limits. And you can’t work with the Iranian, Syrian governments, Hamas and Hizballah or Muslim Brotherhood, even against al-Qaida which is ultimately–despite September 11 — a far smaller threat.

Still, one must face the fact that the last half-century’s most basic lessons have evaporated, partly due to Western policy mistakes — of excessive softness, not toughness — but mostly to the incredible power of the region’s political and intellectual system.

What keeps the region crisis-ridden, extremist, undemocratic, and unstable is not merely a system imposed by evil regimes on an innocent public. Yes, regimes continue their self-serving Arab nationalist, semi-Islamist, anti-Western, anti-Israel, demagogic messages urging the masses to support their local dictator. But this is what the public wants to hear. Rulers would be in far more trouble if they told the truth.

The glorification of the terrorist Sami Qantar is widely seen in the West as showing something is deeply wrong in the Arabic-speaking world. Yet there’s also much denial. The New York Times explained Qantar’s attack had gone terribly wrong when he murdered Israeli civilians. In fact, this was the raid’s purpose.

In another article, the Times intoned: “The United States, Israel and some of their European allies have begun to recognize that their policy of trying to defeat their enemies by isolating and vilifying them has failed.” Yet it was Iran, Syria, Hizballah, and Hamas that dispatches the Qantars on missions against not only Israeli but also Iraqi and Lebanese civilians.

If the extremists should not be vilified should they be praised? If they should not be isolated should they be embraced? Is the correct policy the feting of murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad in Paris or parleying with the genocidal-oriented Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran? Why did the U.S. government welcome the Syria-Iran-Hizballah victory in knocking down Lebanon’s moderate government? Who’s the villain in Iraq, the United States or the terrorists?

Well, for the Arabic-speaking world, the true heroes are still the terrorists. What horrified me most is not radicals cheering Qantar but that most relative moderates feeling compelled to do so. At the airport to greet him were leaders of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian, anti-Iranian Druze and Christian groups as well as the ambassadors from Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Morocco.

To avoid being discredited, relative moderates must affirm that anyone who murders Israeli children is a hero. That’s the measure of how far — despite daily headlines to the contrary — the region is from Arab-Israeli peace.

Yet it’s untrue the prisoner exchange has strengthened or encouraged the radicals. The truth is even worse: No matter what happens they’ll do exactly the same things. If every operation and casualty is a victory, a profit-loss calculus doesn’t apply. They’ll kidnap if there’s a prisoner exchange; they’ll kidnap if there’s no exchange. Triumph is continuing the struggle. Violence, death, and instability is cause for celebration.

Charles Harb, a Lebanese professor, claimed in the Guardian, “The Secret of Hizballah’s Success” is that its ability to get back some prisoners and bodies or force Israel out of south Lebanon “is in stark contrast to what ‘Arab moderates’ could show for in the same decade they spent negotiating with the Israeli state.”

The Saudi-backed, London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat, however, reminded readers that Hizballah’s success cost “$5.2 billion in losses and 1,200 dead” in the 2006 war. In addition, the south Lebanon war took almost 20 years, and Israel would have withdrawn far sooner if it had not been trying to block attacks against its territory.

The claim that Arab moderates have gained little through negotiation is also quite wrong. By negotiating with Israel, Egypt got back the Sinai, reopened the Suez Canal and western Sinai oilfields, and received about $60 billion to date in U.S. aid. The PLO got the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank, putting more than two million Palestinians under its rule. Thousands of its prisoners were freed (more, of course, were taken because of its continuing violence), many billions of dollars in aid were obtained, and it could have had a Palestinian state if it so desired.

So who came out better, Egypt and the PLO (especially if it had really stuck to negotiating) or Hizballah?

Psychologically, the Arabic-speaking world says Hizballah because the “honor” gained through fighting and not yielding the dream of total victory trumps material benefits. Better martyrdom than compromise, better resistance than prosperity.

As long as this is true, there’s no hope for peace; even those who know better are dragged into shouting militant slogans. This doesn’t fit Western concepts of pragmatism, expectations that militants are just aching to be transformed into moderates, or that settling grievances through concessions defuses hatred.

That’s why policy prescriptions based on those premises are disastrous. While the West concludes that trying to defeat enemies by isolating and vilifying them has failed, the other side concludes its policy of trying to defeat its enemies by violence, vilification, and intransigence is working. That means more of the same: many decades more of the same.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

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