Archive for September, 2009

A conversation

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

I’ve been having a running discussion in the comments section of another blog with David Sokal, someone who is passionately devoted to peace between Israelis and Palestinians (but he and I differ significantly about how best to achieve this). He posted a longish comment on an old post in this blog, and rather than responding where nobody will see it, I decided to present his comment here (indented) together with my responses:

Two things:

1) Yes, obviously dialog is preferred to endless violence or the crushing of one side by the other without mercy. I think that should be clear to anyone who has seen the results of war and bloodshed first hand or even second hand.

I can’t disagree. But the implication is that dialog which would lead to peace is possible. What if dialog — combined with attrition by terrorism and pressure from external powers — is employed by one side as a tool to weaken the other, in order to make a violent ‘solution’ possible? In that case dialog leads to war, not peace.

2) It is up to the Palestinians to create a state of their own, but they might need a little help from Israel. At a minimum Israel must remove its soldiers from the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel will need to cooperate with Palestine on establishing a transportation route between the two segments of Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank). And finally, it would also be helpful if Israel removed all settlements from occupied territories, all of which are illegal under international law and many of which were stolen from the rightful Palestinian owners.

We already have a clear demonstration of what happens when Israel removes its soldiers from Palestinian-occupied territory: Gaza. So it would be helpful, too, if the various terrorist militias operated by Hamas and the PA were disarmed first. Maybe you are putting the cart before the horse?

The statement that “settlements are illegal under international law” is commonly made, often by those who have no understanding of what ‘international law’ actually is. Here is an argument that the settlements are legal. If you want to dispute it, go ahead.

Here are some questions for you and your readers:

1) Should the Palestinian State be built while it is under occupation?

The Israeli state was. All of the institutions necessary for a state — an educational system, health care, commerce and labor institutions, banks, etc. were in place long before the British occupiers were finally kicked out. Sure, Israel had the help of international Jewry, but no people in history has received more aid per capita than the Palestinians, and so far they’ve built very little (Hamas has built a lot of bunkers and tunnels).

2) Under what conditions should the IDF leave the West Bank?

When Israelis could be secure if the IDF were not in the West Bank.

3) Since there hasn’t been an attack for quite some time from the West Bank, why shouldn’t Israel reciprocate by, at a minimum, freezing the settlements?

Can’t you see the injustice involved in freezing the settlements? You are telling Jews that they can’t build a house on land within the boundaries of a settlement, land that they most likely have clear title to. Arab settlements inside Israel aren’t frozen, so why should Jewish ones in the West Bank be?

Also I must point out the main reason that the West Bank has been relatively quiet: the presence of the IDF.

4) What steps do you imagine still need to be taken before Israel and the PA can sit down and talk about creating a secure, viable and economically vital Palestinian state next to a secure, viable and economically vital Jewish state?

The PA has to stop the continuous flow of antisemitic incitement in their schools, mosques, television, radio, newspapers, summer camps, etc. Terrorist organizations must be disarmed. Palestinians must agree that Israel is a legitimate state of the Jewish people, and that the nakba will not be reversed. The Palestinians need to get a leadership that won’t spend the huge amounts of aid they get on weapons, explosives and distributions to members of their clans and rather invest in economic infrastructure.

5) What will the Palestinian state look like in your view? Will it be totally independent, semi-autonomous or merely a province of Israel with it’s own local authorities under the authority of the Israeli government?

It is entirely up to the Palestinians. If they continue to insist on “not one centimeter less” than pre-67 borders including all of East Jerusalem and ‘return’ of ‘refugees’ then there will never be a sovereign state. If they would honestly say “OK, the conflict is over, no more terrorism, we accept the idea of a Jewish state somewhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, we’ll compromise on East Jerusalem, etc.” then there could be a state.

6) If Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and continues to blockade Gaza, what does this mean for democracy in Israel? Can it rule over 4 million people, building walls and fences around and on their property, controlling their movement with armed soldiers at checkpoints dispersed throughout their land, dictating who they can and cannot elect as their leaders, building settlements the inhabitants of which claim citizenship and loyalty to another nation, arresting and imprisoning Palestinians without cause, destroying Palestinian homes as punishment or simply to replace them with settlers … can it do all this and still call itself a democracy?

There is more than some question as to whether your description of what Israel is doing is accurate! But leaving that aside, do you think that Israelis enjoy being yanked away from their lives for reserve duty at said checkpoints?  Why do you think they built the security barrier, just to piss off the Palestinians? And speaking of “claim[ing] citizenship and loyalty to another nation”, many Israeli Arabs are now calling themselves “Palestinians” and demanding that Israel grant them equal political power with the Jewish majority, change its flag and national anthem, etc. If the Jewish settlers don’t belong in the West Bank, should these Arabs live in Israel?

7) Finally, since you do not feel that all conflicts can be resolved through non-violent means, and apparently you include the conflict between Israel and Palestine in that category, what is the end game for Israel?

Israel needs to stay strong enough to repel terrorist attacks from Hamas and the various gangs associated with Fatah, and external threats, such as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Israel must make the cost of these Arab and Iranian military adventures so high that they will stop trying to destroy Israel by force.

Ultimately either the Palestinians will get a leadership that understands that it’s more important to help Arabs than to kill Jews, and peace can be pursued, or… not.

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Making peace between enemies

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Another false alarm, or the real thing?

“Fatah has welcomed and accepted the latest proposal,” said Jibril Rajoub, the newly-elected member of Fatah’s Central Committee, who said that the proposal would bring the two rival parties closer to signing a “national unity agreement.” …

Earlier this week, sources close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post that the two parties were scheduled to sign a reconciliation accord under the auspices of the Egyptians before the end of this year.

The sources said that the breakthrough in the Hamas-Fatah talks came after the Islamic movement’s leader, Khaled Mashaal, held talks in Cairo last weekend with senior Egyptian government officials…

The proposal, which has been accepted by both Fatah and Hamas, calls for holding presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories in the first half of 2010 and not in January of the same year as originally planned…

On the issue of security, the initiative envisages the establishment of a security committee that would consist of “professional” officers and which would be placed under the supervision of the Egyptians. The committee’s main task would be to oversee the revamping of the Palestinian Authority security forces. — Jerusalem Post

Of course, there is nothing more important than the Palestinian ‘security forces’, whose job is to ‘fight terrorism’. Both Hamas and Fatah have multiple armed forces, far more than any similarly sized non-nation. Almost half of the salaries paid by the Fatah-ruled PA go to members of the various official militias and police forces. For example, there is the PA National Security Service, the Civil Police, the Preventive Security Service, the General Intelligence Service, the Military Intelligence Service, The Presidential Guard (now supposedly incorporating the notorious Force 17). Then of course there are the frankly terrorist al-Quds Martyrs’ Brigades and the Fatah Tanzim, which while officially not part of the PA, are paid by Fatah.

And those are just the ones I can think of, and just on the Fatah side. But I digress.

Earlier reports have said that the unity agreement will include language about ‘respecting’ prior PA-Israel agreements — in particular, the Oslo accords, which call for the PA to recognize the State of Israel — but not ‘accepting’ them. I have a hard time understanding this, but you can bet that it means that they do not agree that Israel is a legitimate nation (not to mention a Jewish one).

It will be interesting to see if a PA unity government incorporating Hamas, ‘respecting’ but not ‘accepting’, will be considered to meet the Quartet requirements for legitimacy. My guess is yes, a way will be found.

But making peace between Fatah and Hamas will have been easy, compared to imposing a settlement on Israel and the new, improved PA.

What this ‘unity’ means for Israel, if it actually happens, is that the dishonest terrorists of Fatah will be joined by the honest ones of Hamas. Together they will be the recipient of billions in international aid funds and Israel’s partner for negotiations. It’s hard to imagine that its demands will be less than those presently being made by the PA: “not one centimeter less” than the pre-67 borders including all of East Jerusalem, no settlements, a right of return, etc. And let’s not forget the demand — echoed by President Obama — that the state of Palestine must be ‘contiguous’.

Consider also that PA forces are receiving arms and training from the US and Jordan to ‘fight terrorism’. Will this continue once Hamas has joined the PA?

‘Peace process’ optimists like to quote Rabin’s statement that “you make peace with enemies, not with friends.”  But compare these two agreements signed in the name of peace between (more or less) the same parties, enemies:

The first one brought war, the second a true and lasting peace. What can we learn from this?

A peace agreement that worked: Reims, May 7, 1945

A peace agreement that worked: Reims, May 7, 1945

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The fresh, young, ignorant faces of J Street

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The New York Times Magazine this weekend will publish an article about J Street, an organization which has made its mark by redefining  being ‘pro-Israel’ as knowing what is good for Israel better than the Israeli government and the great majority of Israelis.

The author, James Traub, is at pains to show how J Street is an entirely new kind of Jewish group:

Important Jewish organizations are normally reached through a series of locked doors presided over by glassed-in functionaries. The peril may be real. But it can also feel like a marketing device…

J Street, by contrast, is wide open to the public. Visitors must thread their way through a graphic-design studio with which the organization shares office space. There appears to be nothing worth guarding.

The peril certainly is real, as they found out in 2006 at the Seattle Jewish Federation — not exactly a radical settler organization — when one woman was killed and several wounded by a Muslim terrorist who said he was “angry at Israel”.

What terrorist would try to shoot up the office of J Street, an organization which called for an immediate cease-fire on the first day of the Gaza war, believes that negotiations with Iran should be carried out without threat of sanctions, opposed — lobbied against — a congressional initiative asking the President to encourage Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel, called for a complete freeze on construction inside settlements, approved of President Obama’s granting the Medal of Freedom to  Mary Robinson (who as UN Commissioner for Human Rights presided over the 2001 Durban conference), favored an American performance of the antisemitic play Seven Jewish Children, calls for negotiations with Hamas, and is funded not only by the dollars of liberal Jews, but those of known supporters of Arab and Iranian causes?

In any event, Traub is impressed by the fresh young faces that aren’t burdened by Holocaust consciousness:

The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. [J Street director Jeremy] Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried,” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”

There you have it. At the risk of being revealed as being old enough to remember if not the Holocaust, the aftermath of it, I need to repeat the cliché that nobody learns from history, especially when they are ignorant of it. They are baffled by the idea that despite their Buddhist seders and non-Jewish spouses, it might be dangerous to be a Jew, and even more dangerous to be one when there is no Jewish homeland.

Why should they think otherwise, having grown up in possibly the only place and time in Jewish history — late 20th/early 21st century America — where Jews could live among non-Jews in complete security and equality?

These young people are Jewish only in the most accidental, genetic sense. They are not religiously observant, but — unlike a previous generation of left-wing secular Jews — neither do they have a consciousness of themselves as members of a people. For them, like some other notable young Jews, Israel is just another country.

Traub himself shows how much he doesn’t understand about the Mideast when he recycles this bit of nonsense by way of explaining J Street’s lobbying to back up the administration’s settlement freeze demand:

Like Israel, mainstream Arab states are worried about Iran and want American support for a hard line toward Tehran and its nuclear ambitions. The Palestinian problem is an obstacle to uniting against Iran. Indeed, Netanyahu himself has tried very hard to change the subject from Palestine to Iran. But that won’t fly either in Riyadh or in Washington; as the Cairo speech demonstrated, White House officials recognize that they must make real progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to regain credibility in the Middle East. Such progress, they believe, will be possible only if Netanyahu curbs the settlements, which Palestinians and the larger Arab world see as part of an ongoing effort to alter “facts on the ground” to preclude a two-state solution.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Obama somehow forces Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. 300,000 ‘settlers’ are relocated to the Negev. A Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza with a unity government composed of Fatah and Hamas, under the leadership of, say, Marwan Barghouti. God knows where the Palestinian refugees go. Now what?

Does Iran suddenly agree to scrap its nuclear weapons (which it will have by then)? Does Syria suddenly agree to stop taking weapons from Iran, give up its interest in Lebanon and embrace an end of conflict with Israel? Does Hezbollah decide that they no longer have a quarrel with Israel? Does the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt stop trying to overthrow the Mubarak regime? Does al-Qaeda stop trying to subvert Saudi Arabia and attack the US? Does Pakistan renounce its nuclear weapons? Indeed, do the Palestinians even stop trying to reverse the nakba?

I think Barry Rubin wrote something like the above, although I’m sure he did it better. The point is that the policy rehashed by Traub, which also may be the position of the Obama Administration, and which is being lobbied for by J Street, is irrelevant to the real problems of the Mideast. The only certain outcome is that Israel will be smaller and much weaker. But maybe that’s its goal after all.

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Great moments in appeasement: arms for hostages

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched the Israeli film Beaufort, which portrayed the experiences of a handful of Israeli soldiers occupying Beaufort Castle during the last days of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. I found it quite interesting, because my son served in the IDF in Lebanon at the same time, and later described to me his feeling — shared by many of his comrades — that abandoning the ground to Hezbollah was a mistake.

Which it turned out to be.

Anyway, a horrific moment in the film was when a missile — an American-made TOW missile [Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided]  — struck an observation post at Beaufort, killing its occupant.

TOW missile in flight (courtesy US Dept. of Defense)

TOW missile in flight (courtesy US Dept. of Defense)

The missile slammed into the outpost at about 620 mph, instantly turning it into an inferno. I wondered: where did Hezbollah get US-made weapons? I asked my son.

“Don’t you remember,” he asked? “You gave them to Iran during the ’80’s.”

Actually yes, I do: the so-called ‘Iran-contra affair’, in which the US transferred weapons to Iran by way of Israel in return for the freedom of various hostages that Iranian-controlled Hezbollah terrorists had taken in Lebanon during the decade. Iran also paid in money, which was used to fund anti-Sandinista guerrillas (“contras”) in Nicaragua.

About 2000 TOW missiles were sent to Iran (among other items) as part of the deal.

Basically, what happened was this:

  • Hezbollah killed hundreds of Americans (241 in the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing) and took numerous hostages, many of whom were Americans.
  • The US sold a large quantity of weapons to Iran in violation of an arms embargo — the Iran-Iraq war was in progress — so that Iran would use its influence with Hezbollah to get hostages returned. Israel cooperated.
  • Iran transferred the weapons to Hezbollah, which used them to kill Israelis.
  • Hezbollah continued killing Americans (as well as Argentine Jews, Israelis, etc.) and taking hostages.

A few hostages were released, others died in captivity, some by torture (also here). It’s not clear if the arms transfer materially aided the release of  hostages (indeed, it can be argued that hostages taken after the program was under way were kidnapped in order to keep it going).

In 1985 a group associated with Hezbollah claimed credit for the crash of a plane carrying about 250 US service personnel in Gander, Newfoundland. Although five members of a nine-member commission of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board ruled the crash an accident, the minority report persuasively argued that the cause was a detonation in the cargo area.

Appeasement: when will we learn?

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The myth of Israeli power

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Recently I was talking with someone who favors direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas. He said that Israel could afford to do this because Israel was so much stronger than Hamas. On another occasion, it was suggested that Israel could afford to withdraw from all the territories and meet all the demands (even accept Arab refugees) of the PA in the name of peace, because “Israel is as powerful as NATO”.

In both cases my discussion partners were ignoring two salient points: the very real external and internal constraints on the use of Israel’s formidable military power, and the physical  and societal vulnerability of Israel.

It’s been said (OK, I just said it) that in recent history Israel has often had all of its enemies’ ducks in a row but then was not allowed to pull the trigger.

For example, in 1956 an angry Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw after successfully capturing the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza strip. In 1973, Israel was forced by threats from the Soviets and US pressure to allow the surrounded Egyptian Third Army to escape destruction. In 1982, Yasser Arafat and his PLO men were allowed to flee to exile in Tunis under the protection of a multilateral force. Supposedly an Israeli sniper had Arafat in his sights but was not permitted to fire; one wonders if an Oslo process could have brought peace had he done so. And of course in 1991, Israel absorbed scud missile attacks from Saddam’s Iraq because the first President Bush did not allow Israel to use her power in self-defense.

In January of this year, then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to Washington while the IDF was awaiting orders to begin the third phase of Operation Cast Lead, the entry into Gaza city which would bring about the capture or death of the Hamas leadership and its destruction as a fighting force. She returned with a near-meaningless memorandum of understanding, and shortly thereafter Israel began to withdraw from Gaza without executing Phase III. The IDF was out of Gaza before Barack Obama’s inauguration, and although it was not publicly admitted by Israel or the US, many observers think that Livni received an ultimatum to this effect.

Internal constraints also affect the exercise of Israeli military power. Israel could have completely wiped out Hamas in Gaza with a combination of aerial attacks and artillery fire, in a matter of days and before international pressure could be marshaled to prevent it. This could have been done with almost no risk to IDF personnel, just as the Russians did in Grozny, Chechnya. But no Israeli government — or the Israeli populace — would have been able to accept the thousands or tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths that would result from it.

I can also mention Israel’s nuclear deterrent here. Unlike some other nuclear powers, Israel has never used its capability to threaten other nations, but has always held it in reserve to deter attacks with weapons of mass destruction or as a last-ditch option if the country is in danger of being overrun (as was feared in 1973).

This naturally leads to a discussion of vulnerability. It’s often said that one can’t appreciate how small Israel is without seeing it. At its narrowest point, a person could walk across it in a few hours. In 2006 we saw how easy it was for Hezbollah to do large amounts of damage with short-range missiles that are almost impossible (so far) to intercept and which can be launched from mobile or easily hidden portable launchers.

Israel’s relatively small population (6 million Jews, 1.5 million Arabs) is concentrated in its coastal plain where even a single strike by a chemical or nuclear warhead could do a huge amount of damage. Its standing army consists of  less than 180,000 soldiers (in comparison Egypt has 450,000, plus an almost equal number in paramilitary forces). Even a few casualties have a great of effect in the small population. Finally, because of its small size and lack of resources, Israel can’t fight a war for more than a few weeks without receiving supplies from abroad.

Israel’s enemies have perfected  asymmetric warfare techniques, including the use of proxies and the manipulation of more powerful external forces to leverage their own capabilities. As a result, we have absurd situations such as Hamas and Hezbollah siting their weapons depots in heavily populated civilian areas so that Israel will either avoid attacking them or attack them and be blamed for civilian death and injury. Needless to say, such reports will be exaggerated, and then will be given the widest currency by the allies of Hamas and Hezbollah in the ‘human rights’ community.

The special situation of Israel in the world media, where it is presented as the paradigm case of evil and oppression, makes this even more effective since no actual evidence is required in order to work up worldwide expressions of fury and hatred (for example, consider Human Rights Watch or the Aftonbladet libel).

This negative climate in world opinion then makes it possible for other nations to reduce support for Israel or constrain her actions (in the case of the US), stand by without opposing terrorist aggression, or even support it — on the grounds that whatever happens to Israel is her own fault. Thus much of Israel’s military power is neutralized.

The Obama administration’s campaign to impose a ‘solution’ to the Israeli-Arab conflict — which may seriously weaken Israel’s ability to defend herself by replacing the IDF with less-than-worthless international troops in the West Bank and perhaps even force Israel to transfer the Golan Heights to Syria — is a good example of the force multiplication technique by which external powers are used by Israel’s qualitatively weaker enemies to neutralize her military advantage and increase her vulnerability. Recent American hints about Israel being asked to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty are another example.

So, yes, Israel has a world-class air force, deliverable nuclear weapons and competent ground and naval forces. But the employment of this power, especially against opponents employing asymmetric warfare techniques, is severely constrained by external and internal pressures. In addition, Israel is vulnerable to attack with little strategic depth or ability to absorb casualties. And present trends, particularly in the US, seem to be to increase the constraints and the vulnerability.

The myth that Israel is a superpower is nurtured by those who would like see her even more vulnerable and less able to use her power.

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