Archive for August, 2008

The best way to save Gilad Schalit

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Gilad on his first day in the IDFThere is a whole genre of literature in which someone makes a deal with the Devil. Usually the protagonist gets the short end of the stick in one way or another.

According to Channel 10, a Hamas representative warned on Sunday that if Israel did not agree to a deal, [kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad] Schalit was in danger of suffering the same fate as airman Ron Arad, who disappeared in 1988 after he had been held captive in Lebanon for two years.

Hamas is reportedly demanding some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Schalit, who was kidnapped by the group along the Gaza border in June 2006. Initially it had asked for 450 prisoners but upped the ante following Israel’s release last month of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah prisoners and the bodies of 200 terrorists and infiltrators for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.  — Jerusalem Post

Much as it’s tempting to say “see! I told you so”,  Hamas would certainly have found another reason to increase its demands if not for the unfortunate deal with Hezbollah. In case you hadn’t noticed, nothing is ever enough in these situations. The Devil will have your soul.

I don’t believe that after all this time Israeli security forces do not know where Schalit is being held. Since he hasn’t been rescued, therefore, it must be because an operation to free him is judged too costly with too low a probability of freeing him alive. Maybe they have him rigged with explosives.

So, let’s see. We can’t ransom him and we can’t rescue him. But we can’t abandon him. Is there another alternative?

We can change the basic premises under which we are working. We can stop asking how much Israel will have to pay for his release and start asking how much Hamas will have to pay if it continues to keep him.

The first thing to do will be to break off ransom negotiations and explain the new conditions to Hamas.  Then, Israel can start killing Hamas operatives and destroying its assets with the understanding that the temporary truce will  be reinstated when Schalit is released. If he is not released, higher ranking officials and more important assets will be targeted. They should understand that if he is harmed, the price they pay will be immense.

In this way, not only can Shalit be saved, but the dangerous precedent by which terror organizations can obtain great concessions simply by kidnapping Israelis can be reversed.

Naturally the peace-loving nations of the world will insist that this is illegal, barbaric, etc. There is a simple answer: Hamas can release Gilad Schalit, whom they are holding in conditions that violate the Geneva convention, and then there will be peace.

Israel is asked to release thousands of prisoners as ‘gestures’, dismantle settlements, withdraw from half of its capital, and on and on in the interest of ‘peace’. So surely Hamas can be asked to make one small ‘gesture’ for peace.

And if it doesn’t, there will not be peace for Hamas. The opposite.

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The forest and the trees

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine about the most important message to deliver to Americans about Israel.

For what it’s worth, he is a “progressive Zionist”. That means that he is left-wing but pro-Israel. And unlike many who call themselves this, he really is passionately pro-Israel.

Anyway, he said that it’s important to try to counteract the anti-Israel propaganda about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians — the so-called ‘siege’ of Gaza, the false ‘apartheid’ accusations, the exaggeration of incidents involving the Palestinians, the IDF and Israeli residents of the West Bank.

He has a point.  If Americans feel that Israel does not care about human rights, then they won’t support her. And he also agonizes about situations which can’t be explained: for example, the recent case of the Palestinian demonstrator who was shot in the foot by a rubber bullet while handcuffed. It should not have happened, regardless of the provocation (and there was plenty).

What happens, of course, is that actual incidents are exaggerated, new ones are entirely made up — like the Mohammed al Dura ‘shooting’ or the Jenin ‘massacre’ — and the responses of Israel, a nation under continuous pressure from threats of destruction, terrorism and war are presented, ironically, as a systematic program to dehumanize the Palestinians, even to exterminate them.

So it is very important to try to bring some truth and balance into the discussion of human rights, which incidentally cannot leave out Palestinian violation of the rights of Israelis, by, for example, shooting them or blowing them up.

But I don’t agree that this is the most important message.

The problem is this: before 1967, Israel’s enemies didn’t talk about human rights (or even about ‘Palestinians’ very much). They talked about throwing the Jews into the sea. This may have made them feel good, but it didn’t make them very popular in America or Europe. At some point they realized that it would be much more effective to present their project as the quest of the oppressed Palestinian people for self-determination and human rights. And it has been remarkably effective, a tremendous propaganda victory.

Unfortunately, their goals have not changed. Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria are not stockpiling rockets in order to improve the human rights situation in the territories, Syria is not preparing chemical warheads and Iran is not developing nuclear weapons for this purpose. Today the primary cause of the conflict between Israel and her neighbors is that Iran is managing an on-and-off proxy war to destroy Israel.

But the result of the focus on Palestinian rights has been to distract attention from this, and to make it seem like the conflict is between a powerful nation and a powerless minority, when in fact friction with the Palestinians is a small part of a larger, existential struggle.

The present US administration, led by the ‘realist’ school exemplified by James Baker, either doesn’t understand this or pretends not to.  A reasonable policy to promote peace would be to put pressure on Iran and Syria and to strengthen Israel. Instead, the realist ‘solution’ is to force Israel to withdraw from the territories and to create a Palestinian state!

So in my opinion, the message that should be delivered to the world is this one: Israel’s enemies want you to look at the trees and miss the forest. The real cause of war in the Mideast today is the effort by Iran, supported by almost every Arab country and the majority of the Palestinians, to eliminate Israel.

Solve this problem and a Palestinian state would be easy.

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Scholars and gentlemen lose control of Hamas

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The remarkable Khaled Abu Toameh reports,

[A] secret ballot was held about 10 days ago for the Shura (Consultative) Council, which is made up of Hamas’s senior political and religious leadership and is tasked with discussing all important issues.

The names of the Shura Council members are kept secret, although it is believed that some of them are based in a number of Arab countries.

The sources told the Post the vote resulted in a major victory for representatives of the “young guard” in Hamas, most of whom are affiliated with the movement’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.

The sources described the victory as a “coup,” pointing out that the newly-elected members were far more radical than those who were ousted from the council.

“The Shura Council of Hamas is now dominated by warlords, thugs and militiamen,” one source said. “The new members are not as educated as their predecessors.”

Previously, I assume, it was led by scholars and gentlemen?

This is apparently the way of all violent movements: the most brutal and ruthless end up in control. And we can also understand why Fatah doesn’t stand a chance against Hamas.

Indeed, on Monday, Elder of Ziyon wrote:

I have mentioned before the fact that Hamas is much stronger and Fatah much weaker in the West Bank than the world realizes.

Well, many PA [Palestinian Authority] leaders agree.

Firas Press is reporting that a large number of PA leaders are sending their kids to school – in Jordan. They anticipate that sometime during this school year there will be widespread fatal Hamas/Fatah violence of the type that shook Gaza last year and they want to keep their kids safe.

Moreover, they are scrambling to get jobs for the PA diplomatic corps abroad so they don’t get caught in the crossfire when Hamas starts hunting Fatah leaders in the West Bank. They are taking Hamas’ recent threats to conquer the West Bank very seriously.

When (not if) this happens, what will happen to the American position that there is a pressing need to create a Palestinian state? What will happen to the huge amount of aid going to the PA today, and the weapons and equipment being supplied to ‘strengthen Abbas to fight terror’?

I’m sure that the IDF has a military contingency plan. Does the US have a diplomatic one?

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The blowback trap

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Jeffrey GoldbergKick not against the pricks, lest sore pain come — Aeschylus

In a recent article, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about ‘blowback’, the idea that Israeli actions can endanger Diaspora Jews.

The impact of Israeli strategic decision-making on the physical safety of Diaspora Jewry is one of those borderline-taboo topics in American Jewish life. For obvious reasons, Israelis, and their Jewish supporters abroad, don’t want to have undermining thoughts about a theoretically negative consequence of Zionism, a movement that is meant to make Jews safer, not more threatened.

 The problem is simple: Muslim extremists often conflate Israel and the Diaspora. They do this for two reasons: One, they are anti-Semites, and so tend to see all Jews, and not merely “Zionists,” as their enemies; the second is a practical one — it is easy to strike at soft Jewish targets outside of Israel, easier, certainly, than executing mass terror attacks against Israeli targets these days. And so what you have, on occasion, is an attack like the one directed against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994, in which eighty-five people were murdered.

Get it? Zionism is a bad idea because it might piss off the antisemites. And then they would really start killing Jews, and not just the ones in Israel. So better to withdraw support from Israel, and then…what? Maybe they will leave us alone?

I can’t even state the argument without its utter absurdity becoming evident. And to be fair to Goldberg, he doesn’t exactly agree with it. He writes,

I would never argue that Israel hasn’t strengthened, in particular, the American Jewish community, giving it both backbone and meaning. And I wouldn’t argue that Israel should refrain from acting as a rescuer of persecuted Jews worldwide simply because it blurs the line between the interests of the Diaspora and the interests of the Jewish state.

But he does suggest that Israel shouldn’t bomb Iran because it will annoy Hezbollah:

…the existence of groups like Hezbollah means that Israel should weigh, among other factors, the potential impact of a strike on Iran on Diaspora Jewish institutions. Already, I’ve been told, Jewish institutions across South America are on alert for a “revenge” attack because of the assassination of Imad Mugniyeh. Jewish institutions in North America are another story. Outside of New York, in particular, most institutions are fairly oblivious to some very obvious threats, and most Jewish leaders don’t realize that Iran, or Hezbollah, or for that matter, al Qaeda, think about their institutions as legitimate targets for terrorist attack.

In the end, he pulls back from the abyss and suggests that

The only thing that can be done is for Jewish institutions to prepare themselves for attacks that would almost certainly be launched in the wake of an Israeli strike. And, as of right now, the American Jewish community is not prepared at all.

I can’t disagree with that. In particular there is even an attitude of contempt that is displayed, especially by liberal Jews, when the question of security for Jewish institutions comes up, as if to say “how dare you suggest that we aren’t totally safe here in America?” Interestingly, these are the same people who start getting nervous when anyone threatens to anger the antisemites.

In Israel (at least until recently) it was generally thought that it doesn’t pay to worry about irritating antisemites, because they either are already enraged or will find a pretext to become so. It was generally thought that preparedness and sometimes preemption is the best response to threats against security.

Israel gives more than abstract “backbone” or “meaning” to Diaspora Jewish communities. I’m convinced that the original Zionist conception of Israel as a source of physical security for world Jewry is still valid. During WWII, even when the end of the Nazi regime was only weeks away, the British and Americans could not allocate the resources to bomb the gas chambers. Before the war, Jewish refugees were turned away all around the world. What would a well-armed Jewish state have done then? What would Israel do today in similar circumstances? Antisemitism is not dead and indeed is becoming more prevalent.

One of the driving forces of the original Zionists was the realization that nobody, not the ‘enlightened’ nations of Europe and certainly not the ‘tolerant’ authorities of the Ottoman Empire, was going to lift a finger to protect Jews. And this was before the 1903 Kishniev Pogrom and long before the Holocaust. This hasn’t changed.

Antisemites, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad, insist that Israel is bad for the Jews, that in fact it will make it easier to kill them if they are all in one place. A poor argument: which is better, to be in one place and possess nuclear weapons or to be scattered among many nations and be powerless as in 1940?

I’m afraid that Goldberg and others (like the remarkably craven M. J. Rosenberg) have fallen precisely into the trap set for them by Ahmadinejad et. al. Here’s Rosenberg:

The whole question of whether Israel’s actions can jeopardize us here is fraught with troubling questions. But they have to be raised.

An Israeli attack on Iran — absent an imminent threat of attack from Iran — is a terrible idea for many reasons. It would not succeed in eliminating Iran’s nuclear program but would almost surely prompt Iran to both opt out of the international inspection regime and redouble its efforts to produce a bomb. It would unite Arabs and Muslims against the US (they know that Israel could not attack Iran without implicit or explicit US approval). It would have a disastrous effect on the American effort next door in Iraq, eliminating recently made gains and endangering 130,000 American troops (this is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates so vehemently opposes an Israeli attack). And it would end the Arab-Israeli peace process, even putting the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan at risk. And, no small thing, an attack would lead to a deadly Hizbullah missile onslaught against Israel, joined no doubt by Hamas in the south.

Nonetheless, an attack is not out of the question because there are forces in Israel and here that believe that anything, no matter how dangerous, is better than either negotiating with Iran or relying on sanctions.

No, if it happens it will be because Israel believes that anything, no matter how dangerous, is better than a nuclear weapon in the hands of Ahmadinejad. Any Israeli leadership will be quite aware of the danger from Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Syria, and there will not be an attack unless there was no alternative.

Regarding the Arab response to such an attack: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would absolutely love it if Israel eliminated the Iranian nuclear capability. They would denounce Israel to the skies, but they would even help Israel if they thought it could be done in absolute secrecy.

As far as the US is concerned, we need to understand that we will not get Israel to sit still while Iran builds bombs, because Israel views this as an existential issue. Indeed US policies that attempt to stop Israel by witholding equipment, etc., can not prevent an attack, they can only make it less effective — which is exactly what we do not want.

Indeed, with the apparent impossibility of applying sanctions strong enough to deter Iran, and the apparent decision here that the US will not take military action, then the only deterrent left is Iran’s fear of an Israeli attack.

Therefore, if we see an Iranian bomb as opposed to our interests — and we must — the US should do all in its power to strengthen Israel, rather than trying to keep her on a leash.

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US policymakers: Read this!

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

This makes so much sense. It is so obvious. And yet, our policymakers continue to do everything wrong. The neocons started out by trying to create Middle-Eastern democracy ex nihilo; now the realists are moving in the direction of appeasing Iran.  I would like to believe that the new administration will be different, but I’m pessimistic.

A Middle East Strategy For The West
By Barry Rubin

The great battle of our younger years was between Communism and democratic liberalism. Its contemporary equivalent is Arab nationalism versus Islamism.

That implies some extremely important, often misunderstood, conclusions:

First, regrettably but true, democracy isn’t in the running. The problem is not just that cynical rulers mislead the masses through demagoguery — though that’s true; it’s that the masses embrace extremist world views.

Even in Iraq or Lebanon what exists is not democracy but merely elections regulating the precise balance among ethno-religious blocs. Instead of lobbying, they have violence as a means of persuasion and leverage, periodically breaking into civil war.

Other countries are dictatorships, though repression varies. Kuwait, a sort of monarchical semi-democracy, is the exception proving the rule. There, pro-democratic liberal forces do poorly against dynasty-controlled, Islamist and tribal foes.

The Palestinian political scene provides another example. Remember, Fatah accepted Hamas’s victory at the polls. Only after an agreement formed a coalition government did Hamas stage a coup.

There is nothing theoretical about this. Is democracy possible in the Arabic-speaking world? Why not, once one discounts all the actually existing political, ideological, social and organizational forces.

Will it come eventually? Probably, if eventually is long enough.

In terms of practical politics and strategy, however, these two questions are irrelevant. Democracy isn’t on the agenda.

Just to give guidelines, and remembering every country differs, I’d suggest roughly 60-70 percent of the Arabic-speaking world is still Arab nationalist, 20-30 percent Islamist, and 10 percent pro-moderate democracy. Numbers and definitions are subject to challenge but the basic proportions seem right.

There are two hybrid regimes. Libya follows dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s bizarre mentality. More importantly, in Syria, the regime is Arab nationalist but its international policy and domestic propaganda is largely Islamist. It backs Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian Islamist terrorists and the regime is deeply committed to the Iran alliance.

Second, not all Islamists are the same or allied but all are extremely dangerous. Iran and Syria, which can subvert whole countries and sponsor large political organizations, is far more dangerous than al-Qaida.

The notion of helping groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to become more powerful or seize control of countries is insane, more likely to ensure decades of bloodshed, the deaths of many thousands of people in internal strife and foreign warfare, and the destruction of Western interests.

Third, the two contending forces are both local. The West is an outside factor whose intervention-either through force or concessions-won’t decide this contest generally and certainly isn’t going to transform either of the two sides. The West can, however, do some critical things if it knows how to distinguish between friends, enemies, and interests:

  • Help one side against the other where appropriate. The side to help is the Arab nationalists. They are as a group, at least with Saddam Hussein gone from Iraq, less internationally aggressive and less internally repressive than the revolutionary enthusiastic and ideologically idealistic Islamists. They have also absorbed some lessons from the last half-century about their own limits and Western power. Their people suffer because they’re incapable of transforming these societies for the better; their subjects benefit because they don’t seek to transform these societies and govern every detail of their lives.
  • Don’t romanticize Arab nationalist regimes. They’re incompetent, corrupt, anti-democratic, and unreliable allies. We know their failings are one significant reason the Islamists have grown but, frankly, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no third alternative. The Bush administration tried and failed miserably. Ironically, a real moderate government, the Lebanese “March 14″ coalition, didn’t receive serious Western support and inevitably fell to Hizballah pressure and Iranian-Syrian subversion. Arab nationalist regimes will do as little as possible to combat the Islamists internationally, appease the other side quickly if they think it‘s winning, and play anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israel cards.
  • Show Arab nationalist regimes that the West won’t let them get away with anything nasty and show the Islamists it won’t let them get away with anything at all. Any concession made to the Islamist side-including Syria-sends a signal to regimes, radical Islamist groups, and the people that the Islamists are winning and everyone better join or appease them.
  • Obtaining Israel-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli peace is a useless strategy, distracting from real issues. It isn’t going to happen; Islamists would use any such peace to portray those signing it as traitors; and even many Arab nationalists would denounce it to raise their credibility as tough, unyielding fighters. Violence and unrest would increase, not lessen, as a result.

Similarly, the main reason to oppose Iranian nuclear weapons is not because they would threaten Israel — though that’s important — but because they endanger Western interests by swinging the balance wildly in favor of the Islamists.

If you want a good analogy, think of how the United States and Britain had to ally with Joseph Stalin’s USSR during World War Two (though they were too trusting of him) and with a variety of dictators during the Cold War (without countenancing their systems or practices, which didn’t happen often enough but more so than many think today).

In short, the priority is not to be nice to Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Muslim Brotherhoods, or Syria, but rather to work with — critically and sometimes pressuring — the governments of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, the smaller Arab Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, along with democratic forces in Lebanon. This group also includes Fatah’s Palestinian Authority, but that group already receives far more money and diplomatic support than it needs or deserves. It should be made to work for these benefits rather than contribute so much to the problems.

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 http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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Barak’s generous offer was not a myth

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Sometimes you have to repeat the same facts over and over, because the other side never stops lying about them.

A case in point is the Clinton-Barak offer to Yasser Arafat in December 2000. Supporters of Israel have held that the offer was more than fair, an indication that Israel was prepared to make real sacrifices for peace, and that Arafat’s rejection of it and the ensuing intifada were proof of Palestinian unwillingness to accept any reasonable compromise.

Arafat — and since then Jimmy Carter and other supporters of the Palestinian cause — have claimed that the offer was not reasonable at all. For example, Lawrence Davidson — who, incidentally will be presenting several papers at a forthcoming conference sponsored by the California State University Fresno Middle East Studies Program — wrote the following:

The “generous offer” has been disproved by both American and Israeli experts. For instance, among others, Robert Malley, President Clinton’s advisor on Israeli-Arab affairs who was at Camp David II; Ron Pundak, Director of the Peres Center for Peace; Professor Jeff Halper (Ben Gurion University); Uri Avnery, head of Gush Shalom, Israel’s foremost peace organization; and finally Ehud Barak himself has twice (in the New York Times of May 24, 2001 and in the Israeli hebrew newspaper Yedi’ot Ahronoth of August 29, 2003) denied that his offer was anywhere near “generous.”

What did Barak really offer? According to the above reports his offer gave the Palestinians a little over 80% of the West Bank carved into nearly discontinuous cantons. The Israeli government would have controlled all the Palestinian borders (none of which would touch on another Arab state), it would have controlled the air space above the Palestinian territory, most of the major aquifers, retained sovereignty over East Jerusalem, maintained almost all Israeli settlements and access roads, controlled immigration into the Palestinian “state,” and retained the Jordan Valley through an indefinite “long term lease.” This is an offer that no Israeli would ever accept. However, most Israelis and Americans do not know these details and believe instead in the myth of generosity. — Davidson, “Orwell and Kafka in Israel/Palestine

Before discussing the substance of Davidson’s allegation, let’s look at his sources.

Ron Pundak was one of the Oslo agreement negotiators, but he was not present at Camp David. His 2001 article “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?” appears to be Davidson’s source for the above. Pundak unsurprisingly argues that Oslo was a great idea, but it failed due to “miscalculations and mismanagement” on both sides, especially by former PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak. He does not specifically cite a source for the 80% figure, but a map included is an “approximation based on Israeli and Palestinian sources”.

Robert Malley was at Camp David as a special assistant to President Clinton. He is highly controversial today because he favors recognizing Hamas and calls for Israel to negotiate directly with Hamas. His 2001 article “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors” (with Hussein Agha) appears to be Davidson’s source. In it, Malley explains that Barak’s positions were always presented verbally in terms of what he would agree to if there were a final agreement, because of his [justified] fear that the Palestinians would ‘pocket’ any concrete written proposal and then use it as a starting point for further demands. What Barak was in fact prepared to accept then appeared as American ‘ideas’ from the mouth of President Clinton. Malley argues that therefore there was actually no ‘real’ offer other than some ‘bases for negotiation’ which were in the 90% range. He sees this as justification for the Palestinian claim that this was Barak’s best offer. But this is not the case by Malley’s own account of Barak’s negotiation technique!

Jeff Halper and Uri Avnery, with all due respect (not much) were not in a position to know what was offered at Camp David and are partisans of the Palestinian cause. Halper is presently in Gaza as part of the “Free Gaza” mission.

Now, what about the most interesting source, Ehud Barak himself? Try as I might, I could not find a mention of Barak in the New York Times archive on May 24, 2001 (nor could I find the Yediot reference). However, the following appears in an August 6, 2001 interview with Clyde Haberman of the Times:

When those negotiations collapsed, Israelis and American officials, including President Bill Clinton, put the blame squarely on Mr. Arafat. But newly published accounts [Malley, Agha and Pundak?] offer a different perspective. They say that all the parties at Camp David share responsibility, among them Mr. Barak for supposedly overbearing negotiating tactics.

Stung by the criticism, the former prime minister asked for time to make his case against what he called the ”gossipizing of history.” He has never been one to admit mistakes freely, and he was no different today when he said, ”I can answer almost every gossip item.”

He had offered the Palestinians more than any Israeli leader ever, he said, but his ”peace partner” chose to turn his back.

But there is a highly specific and authoritative source for the details of the offers. Dennis Ross was the chief Middle East negotiator for both Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He was intimately involved in the negotiations from start to finish. Here is what he said about the final Clinton-Barak offer:

In actuality, Clinton offered two different proposals at two different times. In July, he offered a partial proposal on territory and control of Jerusalem. Five months later, at the request of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, and Arafat, Clinton presented a comprehensive proposal on borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and security. The December proposals became known as the Clinton ideas or parameters.

The Clinton parameters would have produced an independent Palestinian state with 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and an elevated train or highway to connect them. Jerusalem’s status would have been guided by the principle that what is currently Jewish will be Israeli and what is currently Arab will be Palestinian, meaning that Jewish Jerusalem — East and West — would be united, while Arab East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state…

Since the talks fell apart, there has emerged a mythology that seeks to defend Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton ideas by suggesting they weren’t real or that Palestinians would have received far less than what had been advertised.

Arafat himself later claimed he was not offered even 90 percent of the West Bank or any of East Jerusalem. But that was myth, not reality.

Indeed.

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Ships of fools arrive!

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

The ships of fools have arrived in Gaza, giving rise to a massive lack of interest in most places. The Jerusalem Post reports

Speaking from Gaza on Sunday, Ben-Gurion University professor Jeff Halper told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped to cross back into Israel via Erez Crossing on Tuesday, while his colleagues, a group of activists who arrived in Gaza’s port on Saturday, would began a “revolving ferry from Cyprus to Gaza.”

Halper, an articulate former American, has been fighting for the Palestinian cause for decades, aggressively pushing the envelope between dissent and treason. It’s really remarkable that a country which, in Halper’s words is “one of the world’s strongest and most ruthless military powers” hasn’t yet put a bullet in the back of his neck, thrown him into the sea from an aircraft or simply locked him up and thrown away the key. He probably thinks this is because his martyrdom would be embarrassing, but actually it is because Israel is not really all that ruthless.

In any event, even if consorting with the hostile terrorist entity Hamas does not constitute treason — it ought to — Halper has certainly violated multiple laws and should be arrested and prosecuted if he attempts to re-enter Israel (hmm — there’s an idea: don’t let him back).

Asked about criticism from Gaza Palestinians who said that his group brought far less humanitarian supplies with them than was initially expected, Halper dismissed the idea that the group’s only goal was a humanitarian one.

“This trip wasn’t humanitarian,” he said. “It was political. The point was to break the siege and change Israeli policy in Gaza. It wasn’t a one-time thing. We are going to continue bringing boats into Gaza, and those will have humanitarian assistance on board.” Halper said that the first two boats brought small quantities of humanitarian supplies, including hearing aids to be distributed at a Gaza hospital, as to not arrive empty-handed. But the boats, he said, would have to keep coming in.

Quite ironic that the Palestinians complained that the boat was loaded with ‘activists’ rather than supplies! Of course, they really have a surfeit of ‘activists’, and especially don’t need ones who, while they are prepared to applaud murderous violence when committed by Palestinians, aren’t much good for firing rockets or sniping themselves.

In any event, Halper is correct that the trip was entirely political. From an economic point of view, the boats would be a highly expensive way to transport supplies and people into or out of Gaza, compared to the massive subterranean infrastructure underneath the Egyptian border.

Reading the self-important prose of the activists, especially the fulsome Lauren Booth  has been illuminating. Here’s a photo of one of them expressing her love for her Palestinian brothers and sisters. As the saying goes, it’s worth a thousand words.

Activist expressing love

Update [26 Aug 1439 PDT]: Halper has been arrested trying to cross into Israel.

A spokeswoman for protesters who defied a blockade of Gaza by entering by sea said one was arrested after returning to Israel by land. Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said that Jeff Halper, an Israeli citizen, was detained by police after he passed through the Erez crossing. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Halper was taken to a police station in southern Israel Tuesday. — Jerusalem Post

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The end of the line for Nasrallah?

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Nasrallah: worried for good reason?Hezbollah is ignoring a fundamental principle, which is that if you plan to hurt an enemy you should not warn him in advance:

“Hizbullah will soon avenge the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh,” said Sheikh Ahmad Morad, a member of the Hizbullah leadership in southern Lebanon. “The revenge will be shocking and huge surprises are in store,” he added. “We will not allow Israel and its generals to enjoy stability…”

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a renewed warning to Israelis abroad regarding Hizbullah’s intent to attack and possibly abduct Israeli citizens around the world. — Jerusalem Post

One thing to keep in mind is that Hezbollah is now a major component of the Lebanese government, and holds a veto power in the cabinet. In fact, the government has issued ‘guidelines’ which include this:

Lebanon, its army, its people and its resistance [Hezbollah] have the right to take action to liberate lands that have remained occupied at the Shaba Farms, the hills of Shuba village and the northern portion of the village of Ghajar, with all legitimate means possible, and to resist Israeli aggression.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that these ‘occupied’ areas — which are not considered part of Lebanon even by the UN — are simply pretexts to justify continued terrorism against Israel and Israelis. The assassination of Mughniyeh (for which Israel has denied responsibility) is just another pretext.

The various non-Hezbollah factions in Lebanon understand quite well that if Israel responds to Hezbollah actions, it won’t be just Hezbollah that suffers, just as anti-Nazi Germans didn’t escape the disaster of WWII. The parallel is quite close, too, considering that Hitler was appointed Chancellor after receiving about 1/3 of the popular vote, which is about the degree of support Hezbollah and its allies enjoy in Lebanon. But they have little leverage over Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.

Historically the Arabs have been overconfident in their ability to confront Israel militarily.  They have interpreted the 2006 Lebanon war as a historic change in the balance of power, and have convinced themselves that Hezbollah’s forces are now the equal of the IDF. This is not the case. Lessons were learned, weaknesses corrected and plans made. If there is a next round — and a massive terror operation by Hezbollah could trigger one — then there is no doubt that the outcome would be much more favorable to Israel.

The real unknown (at least to me) in the equation is whether international forces (mainly, but not only, the US) will allow Israel to fight long enough to inflict permanent damage on Hezbollah. In 2006 Hezbollah was quite unpopular among US policymakers. I am not sure to what extent this still holds, since it seems that US policy toward Hezbollah’s patron Iran has undergone a shift since then.

Other issues include the presence of semi-hostile UN forces in Lebanon, the likelihood of a simultaneous outbreak of hostilities with Hamas, and the need to deter Syria from intervention. But I’m sure that all of this has been taken into account.

As I’ve written, Hezbollah and Hamas are probably more dangerous to Israel in the next few years than a nuclear attack from Iran. Israel’s leaders know this and know that they cannot permanently live under the threat of thousands of Hezbollah missiles.

My guess (as a very amateur psychologist) is that the characteristic Arab need to overcompensate for feelings of inferiority will cause Hezbollah to strike. An Israeli response may well mark the end of the line for Nasrallah.

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Will the US help Israel bomb Iran?

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Boeing KC-767 Tanker

Boeing KC-767 Tanker

Possibly this is the “unspecified military equipment” that the US did not wish to provide to Israel:

During his most recent visit to the US earlier this month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak requested that America sell the IAF several Boeing 767 refueling planes. However, the White House refused, as it was not prepared to seem as though it was aiding a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the report said.

The IAF has a great need of the planes, as the ones currently used by the air force are extremely old.

Last week, Barak told Army Radio that the US had made it clear it was opposed at the present time to military action against Teheran…

[A US State Department spokesman said] that “the US is committed to Israel’s security” and that “the US would defend Israel from any attack from Iran.”– Jerusalem Post

The US cannot ‘defend’ Israel from a nuclear attack by Iran. Antimissile systems are not 100% reliable, even for long-range missiles, and there are other ways to deliver a bomb. The US can threaten Iran that if they attack Israel they will pay a price. But given the ‘realist’ policy that seems to be determining US policy and is likely to continue to do so in the next administration (see Caroline Glick: “Iran’s American Protector“), can Israel count on this as a real deterrent? Would you?

The US has several reasons to oppose an Israeli attack on Iran:

  1. Iran would retaliate against the US as well as Israel, possibly interfering with passage of oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz as well as by ordering up terrorist attacks against American interests from its terror subsidiary, Hezbollah.
  2. Iran would make things more difficult for the US in Iraq, from which it hopes to withdraw, by encouraging allied Shiite groups to attack Americans and Sunnis.
  3. Some American policymakers believe that it is more important for America to have good relations with Iran than with Israel. In particular, they are concerned that Iran will ally herself with Russia to oppose American influence in the region.

Both Israel and the US are endangered by an Iranian nuclear bomb, but simply by virtue of geography Israel’s red line will be reached sooner. Therefore there will come a time when Israel feels that she has no alternative but to attack Iran while at the same time the US will oppose it.  The US will suggest that the danger is not as great as it seems, that possibly diplomacy can defuse the crisis, that it will threaten Iran, etc. There is a strong parallel here to the events immediately preceding the 1967 war, including possibly the mischievous activity of the Russians.

An Israeli attack without help from the US in the form of landing rights at US bases, the 767’s mentioned, etc. will be more difficult. But if (when) the point is reached that there is no alternative, then it — like the bombing of Egypt’s airfields in 1967 — will be undertaken regardless of difficulty. This may turn out to be more uncomfortable for the US in the long run.

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The rest of the story

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

One wonders how much of this — and similar arrangements today — is simply a product of cowardice and expediency, and how much comes about from a degree of approval for the goals, if not the means, of the terrorists.

Francesco Cossiga, former president of Italy, confirmed that his country for years provided Palestinian terror groups with sanctuary and allowed them to set up domestic bases in a secret deal according which the terrorists promised not to target Italian interests…

“The terms of the agreement were that the Palestinian organizations could even maintain armed bases of operation in the country, and they had freedom of entry and exit without being subject to normal police controls, because they were ‘handled’ by the secret services,” the former President wrote…

The pact with the Palestinians didn’t turn out too well for Italy. Palestinian factions are blamed for attacks against Italy in the 1970s and 80s, including an attack at Rome’s airport, its main synagogue, and the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in which the Palestinian terror pushed overboard a wheelchair bound American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer. Cossinga also said that Palestinian groups were to blame for a devastating 1980 explosion at an Italian train station that killed 85 people and wounded some 200. He said that was likely a “work accident” by Palestinians transporting explosives into Italy. — Israel Insider

Terrorist Abu AbbasYou may recall that the Achille Lauro hijackers sailed to Port Said, Egypt, and after negotiations were allowed to board an Egyptian airliner bound for Tunisia. US President Reagan sent naval aircraft after them, and the plane was forced to land at a NATO base in  Sicily. After a standoff between Italian police and greatly outnumbered US Navy SEALS, the Italians took custody of the prisoners — except for their leader “Abu Abbas” who was allowed to go to Tunisia.  A few of the hijackers were tried, but most ‘escaped’.

Abu Abbas ultimately was captured by the US in Iraq, where he died in captivity.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know… the rest of the story.”

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Baruch Marzel has a point

Monday, August 18th, 2008

The poster reads: “Murderous terrorists are freed. So why won’t they free Yigal and Hagai Amir?” (Hagai is Yigal’s brother, who was convicted of being an accessory to murder and is serving a 16-year sentence).
Yigal Amir poster

Right-wing activists on Monday unveiled a second campaign calling for the release of Yigal Amir, the assassin of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The decision came Sunday in a meeting of the ‘Committee for Democracy,’ after the cabinet voted to release some 200 security prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas…

A film called “Free Yigal Amir 2,” will be part of the campaign. The film will include footage of Hizbullah celebrations following killer Samir Kuntar’s release last month as part of the prisoner exchange for the bodies of captured IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Kuntar killed three Israelis in a terror attack in Nahariya in 1979…

“I don’t see a problem with a film like this that has the goal of preserving democracy and balance. If Samir Kuntar goes home, there is no reason why Yigal Amir should rot in jail,” [Baruch] Marzel said during Sunday’s meeting. “The leftists need to understand that democracy means real and full equality. I personally think that Kuntar’s crime is many times more severe than Amir’s. For the sake of justice and fairness there is no reason that Amir and other national prisoners should stay in prison when Israel gives goodwill gestures to killers.” — Jerusalem Post

It should be obvious that Yigal Amir must stay in prison. The real problem is that Arab terrorists like Kuntar should not have been released. But letting Amir out wouldn’t fix that.

Having said that, Marzel does have a point, which is that the planned “goodwill gesture” is also  beyond belief:

The Prison Service published Monday afternoon the full list of 199 prisoners to be released as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The list includes some murderers and collaborators, as well as Palestinians who attempted to carry out terror attacks and murders.

Many of the prisoners slated to be released were convicted of attempted murder, including some convicted of firing at people, possessing weapons and explosives, selling arms, and placing bombs…

[two of them] are Muhammad Abu Ali, who murdered a reserve soldier in Hebron and a Palestinian detainee suspected of collaborating with Israel, and Said el-Atba, who planted three explosive devices in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv markets and in Israeli buses. Israeli citizen Tzila Galili was killed in one of these attacks. — YNet

Note that this is not even a prisoner exchange, only a “gesture”! It is a slap in the face to the families of the murder victims, and to those who are still alive but maimed by the actions of these despicable criminals.

A source at the Prime Minister’s Office said that according to estimates presented by the defense establishment, the risk that the prisoners with blood on their hand will return to terror “is very very small.”

Even if true, this is irrelevant.  The ‘gesture’ is psychologically hurtful to Israelis, it damages Israel’s ability to deter terrorism in the future, and it sends a signal of weakness which actually encourages terrorism. So why are they doing it?

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying, “This is a gesture and a trust-building move aimed at bolstering the moderates in the Palestinian Authority and the peace process.”

Translation: The US administration really wants an agreement before it goes home.

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Short-sighted thinking

Friday, August 15th, 2008

News item:

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip have announced that they are in possession of “Nasser-4″ rockets that have a range of 25 kilometers and pose a threat to Ashdod…

The unveiling of the new rockets is a “clear violation” of the truce with Israel, Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev told CNN.

“The cease-fire that was negotiated through Egypt was very specific that the Hamas movement and the other terrorist groups can’t use it as a period to import more weapons, more explosives, more rockets into the Gaza Strip,” Regev added.

Was there the slightest doubt that the terrorists would take this opportunity to improve their position?

Weren’t Israeli authorities aware of the hundreds of tunnels and the massive smuggling enterprise that has made absolutely everything available to Hamas and associates?

Since the ceasefire has been in effect, Hamas has imported cement for building bunkers and fortifications, and has mined strategic areas in the Strip. It has even sent operatives to Iran for training. Many observers predicted this, and certainly the Israeli government must have expected it.

Sometimes a ceasefire is advantageous to both sides, if it allows for a cooling off period during which negotiations can proceed for a compromise solution of a dispute. If there is a diplomatic opening, then it should be taken. That is one way to end a war.

But there is no imaginable compromise between Israel and Hamas, whose reason for being is to destroy Israel. Peace is preferable to war, but self-defense often requires violence. As I’ve written innumerable times, the war between Israel and Hamas can only end with one side or the other victorious. Israeli decision-makers know this too.

But nevertheless they agreed to a ceasefire which benefits Hamas. They got a certain amount of time free of massive rocket fire — although not entirely — which ‘solved’ the problem that Israelis living in rocket range were becoming more and more militant in demanding a solution. For now.

However, it created a greater problem, which will be reflected in casualty figures when the IDF finally confronts Hamas. This will be the case both for soldiers and for Isareli civilians in Sderot, Ashdod, etc.

Why did they do this? One reason is simply weakness: take the short-term gain and worry about the long term damage, er, in the long term. Another is probably international pressure on Israel not to do anything that might involve Palestinian civilian casualties.

There is an irony here: the official policy of the Israeli government today is to try to reach an agreement with ‘moderate’ Palestinians and to implement a two-state solution. This is being pushed hard by the US and the EU, to the point of forcing Israel to make concessions that are dangerous to her security. But the biggest obstacle to the success of this plan (if indeed it has any chance) — is Hamas!

No Palestinian state controlled or significantly influenced by Hamas could live at peace alongside Israel. But the growing power of Hamas has made it highly unlikely that a state could be established today that would not shortly become a Hamas terror state.

Therefore, if the US, EU, and others want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and allow a Palestinian state to be established, they would do well to permit Israel to do what it must do anyway from the standpoint of self-defense, and put an end to Hamas in Gaza as well as the West Bank.

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