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

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