Archive for June, 2010

Israel just can’t do enough for UNRWA — and Hamas

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Here’s another illustration that Israeli concessions are never, ever enough.

As a result of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israelis were forced to fight for their lives, Israel has agreed to loosen restrictions on materials being transferred to Gaza (I discussed the illogical aspect of this earlier). Now only weapons and “war-supporting material” are prohibited from passing through the crossings; dual-use items such as cement will be allowed in if they are used for Palestinian Authority approved projects under international supervision.

As Barry Rubin has pointed out, although this does not represent a big modification in behavior for Israel, the significance of the internationally mandated change is that Israel gives up

[t]he entire strategy of trying to reduce Gaza’s economy and the rewards that Hamas can give its supporters. In other words, while Hamas’ military capacity is kept as low as possible it can politically consolidate and stay in power for decades.

What this tells us is that the international establishment (the agreement was negotiated by Tony Blair) admits that Hamas is here to stay, not quite legitimate but still immune from Israeli pressure — even peaceful pressure.

But that’s not enough. Along comes Chris Gunness of UNRWA, the ‘temporary’ agency set up in 1949 to help refugees from the 1948 war (theoretically, Jews who were ethnically cleansed from East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria should be included) and which has worked tirelessly to encourage the growth of the ‘refugee’ population — along comes Gunness and tells us that he’s not satisfied:

Only a complete lift of the Gaza blockade will satisfy UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees said to Reuters on Monday.

“We need to have the blockade fully lifted,” said spokesman Christopher Gunness of UNRWA, “the Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings.”

There is absolutely no question that if there were no restriction on materials transferred to Gaza that Hamas would bring in weapons and explosives, as well as materials to build bunkers and tunnels.

In particular, as a result of a great number of smuggling tunnel operators bringing in huge quantities of cement, the price of cement in Gaza recently dropped precipitously, and the tunnel operators are now concentrating on iron. Unsurprisingly, aerial photographs do not show any significant civilian construction activity, but rather show that Hamas is rebuilding military infrastructure.

But helping Hamas is consistent with the previous actions of UNRWA and Gunness. You can read more about UNRWA here, and a little about how Chris Gunness sticks up for Hamas here.

So when he says “We need…,” what he really means is “Hamas needs…”

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Another Mideast hijacking

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

It’s remarkable what you can do with a little bit of Arab and Iranian money, some naive-to-the-point-of-stupidity liberal Jews, a friendly administration, and the terminally fractious World Zionist Organization (WZO):

(JTA) June 17, 2010 — The World Zionist Congress passed a resolution endorsing a two-state solution and a West Bank settlement freeze.

The vote in Jerusalem came a day after some opponents of the resolution walked out of a meeting of the 36th Congress’ settlement committee. Following the walkout, the remainder of the meeting was chaired by Hadar Susskind, the vice president of policy and strategy at J Street, which favors U.S. pressure on Israel toward a two-state solution.

The resolution endorses a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calls on the Israeli government to extend its freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and calls on Israel to stabilize ties with the United States…

The World Zionist Congress elects the officers and ostensibly sets policy for the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It’s certain that such a resolution would not pass if presented to the general Israeli public, a majority of which understands that there is no honest partner for a two-state solution today and which views the construction freeze, especially in Jerusalem, as an attack on Israeli sovereignty.

Even Yasser Arafat never pulled off such an audacious hijacking. Susskind and J Street turned the ship of Zionism around and sailed it to Gaza.

The WZO has been around since 1897, when it was founded at the First Zionist Congress, organized by Theodor Herzl. Since then it has become somewhat less relevant; today almost nobody takes it seriously. Who does care are the Orthodox factions that want Zionism to be defined in religious terms, the liberal ones who want Israeli government money for Reform and Masorati institutions, and the numerous minor Israeli politicians who suck from the teat of the Jewish Agency and other vestigial organs of the Zionist enterprise. Now those masters of reality inversion, the phony Zionists of J Street, have joined the party.

Whether the WZO is worth anything or not, its name and history carry some weight. This hijacking grants legitimacy to J Street as a Zionist or pro-Israel organization — which it is not. It tarnishes whatever remains of the name of the WZO, and further muddies the definition of ‘Zionism’ as the movement of the Jewish people to realize self-determination in their own land.

J Street serves several masters. One is the Obama Administration, which calls on it whenever it needs to argue that American Jews support some policy — like a construction freeze in Jerusalem — which might appear on the face of it to be contrary to the interests of Israel. J Street never disappoints, slavishly toeing the administration line.

When it was revealed that some of the contributors to the J Street PAC — a related group which distributes money to political candidates and hence is subject to strict disclosure requirements — had connections to Saudi Arabia and Iran or were associated with pro-Arab groups, and that some of J Street’s Advisory Council members (e.g., Rob Malley and Henry Seigman) are outspoken anti-Zionists, I thought that J Street’s pro-Israel mask had finally been torn off. Unfortunately I underestimated the degree to which ideology — the naive liberal ideology I referred to before — overrides inconvenient facts.

J Street also serves Israel’s declared enemies by working to prevent Israel from exercising its right to defend itself against attack. So it called for the imposition of an immediate cease-fire on the first day of the Gaza war (despite paying lip service to the right of self-defense). It is presently campaigning for Israel to reduce restrictions on Gaza by recycling false complaints of privation in Gaza. Quite simply, this position helps Hamas.

There will be repercussions for the WZO, which gets funding from diverse segments of world Jewry.

One can say that this was no big deal because the WZO has little power or importance. But symbolically, what has happened is that the interests struggling to control the heart of official Zionism have managed to tear it to pieces.

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Intransigence is the best policy

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Caroline Glick (in a piece that is scary, even for her) wrote,

The Mavi Marmara demonstrated that on the one hand the IDF cannot enforce its blockade of Gaza without the use of force. On the other hands [sic] it taught Israel’s enemies that by forcing Israel to use force, Iran, Turkey and their allies incited a UN-EU-US lynch mob against Israel.

One thing that is clear about the lynch mob is that its members don’t believe the story that Israel acted ‘disproportionally’ or worse. It is certainly 100% clear to the intelligence services of the US and the European nations that the incident was a trap set at the highest levels of the Turkish government.

Therefore, we have to conclude that the incident is being used in the West to advance predetermined strategic goals: to prevent Israel from defending herself, to force more concessions to the Palestinian Authority, and — in the case of the European players (and we hope not the US) to legitimize Hamas.

Israel has already agreed to loosen restrictions on goods being transferred to Gaza and the US, in return, has made a statement that it really would be nice of Hamas to return Gilad Shalit to his family. Of course the US has zero leverage on Hamas. The loosening of restrictions will probably have little direct effect on security, but does reduce Israel’s bargaining power with regard to Shalit. So on balance, Hamas wins and Israel loses.

The UN’s investigation of the incident will certainly be a Goldstoning, and will be used in the same way as the Goldstone report. The announcement of Israel’s own investigation — even including foreign participation — predictably had no effect on UN plans.

The lesson for Israel is that it should not have tried to placate its critics for the Mavi Marmara episode. They already know Israel was attacked. Their complaints are disingenuous.

The appropriate response would have been to go on the offensive, to call for an international investigation of Turkey, and to offer to reduce restrictions on Gaza only in response to the release of Gilad Shalit.

Now that the flotilla has been shown to be effective,  there will be more flotillas — from Turkey, Iran, etc. — and there may be more attempts to provoke Israel. As Glick points out, this could be enormously dangerous, even providing pretexts for war. The thought of war involving Iran and Turkey in addition to the usual suspects of Hamas, Hizballah and Syria is more than just ‘scary’.

Such an eventuality would be very bad for everyone in the Middle East, and indeed for the whole world. And I think that all of the major players know this.

Which bring us to what I think is the real threat facing Israel today. Despite the bellicose rhetoric coming from Turkey, Iran and Syria, all would prefer to avoid a shooting war. Along with the Europeans, Russia and the US, they want to ensure that oil and natural gas keep flowing, although Iran would not be averse to the oil costing a bit more. And despite its size and relatively competent military, even Turkey would be badly mauled in a war with Israel.

In my opinion, Iran, Syria and Turkey want to bring the region to the brink, but not push it over. The real damage will be done by the more ‘responsible’ powers, in response to the crisis that the radical states will provoke.

I expect that they will spring into action to promote ‘peace in our time’: a mostly-Western diktat that will all but dismember Israel.

The sponsors of a latter-day Munich compact will not want to take Israel’s interests into account any more than Czechoslovakia’s were in 1938, but in the US it will be sold as an effort to ‘save Israel’ and world peace. I expect that the Turks, Iranians, etc. will make maximal, even crazy, demands and the US, Russia and Europeans will offer to split the difference, with the result being doubleplus ungood for Israel.

My suggestion is that Israel should respond to all of this — the flotillas and the diplomatic attacks — with strength, not weakness. Policymakers should keep in mind that acquiescence to demands will only bring further demands. Compromises will never be enough; there will always be another compromise required.

But Israel has a few more cards that it can play than Czechoslovakia did. For one thing, it is still the most capable military power in the Middle East.

Israel is always falsely being accused of intransigence, when in fact it is overly accommodating. I am suggesting that the best policy is real intransigence.

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Why the blockade must be maintained

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

As a result of the attack on Israeli naval commandos by Turkish mercenaries, there is increased pressure on Israel from the US and other international actors to loosen restrictions on movement of people and materials into and out of Gaza.

  • Israelis are viciously attacked by Hamas supporters while enforcing a legal blockade of the hostile Hamas regime
  • Therefore, the blockade should be ended in accordance with Hamas’ demands

Yes, I know it’s illogical. But never mind. That’s logic in the age of delegitimization: Israel is forbidden to defend herself, no matter what.

Israel has a good reason to keep access to Gaza tightly controlled. Here’s what Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s Internal Security Service told the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee this week:

“Lifting the naval blockade on Gaza would constitute a very dangerous development for Israel…”

Diskin said terror organizations in the Gaza Strip “continue to arm themselves, both through production and smuggling.”

He noted that Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Strip have some 5,000 rockets with a range of up to 40 km. Most of the rockets were produced in the Strip, but dozens of projectiles were smuggled into Gaza as well, said Diskin, adding that the terror groups also have a few rockets which are “capable of reaching Gush Dan [the Tel Aviv area].”

“Even if vessels headed for Gaza will be inspected by foreign security personnel, this (lifting blockade) will be a major security breach,” said the Shin Bet chief…

“Lifting the naval blockade would constitute a very dangerous development. A port in Gaza would be a major security breach, despite the option of inspecting vessels prior to their arrival.”

“Sinai attracts al-Qaeda (terrorists) who come from Iraq through Jordan. Terror abettors from Gaza also make their way (to Sinai), as do people who are aiding Hezbollah. The Sinai Peninsula is a vast area, and it is very difficult to control who enters it…” —  YNet

His words have already been borne out. During the recent crisis, Egypt opened its Rafah crossing to Gaza (the subject of a recent NPR news report that I wrote about recently). And here is the result:

IDF Spokesperson:

On Wednesday morning (June 16), IDF forces identified a group of armed men infiltrating Israel from the Egyptian border, approximately 40 km north of Eilat. Israel Army Radio reports that one of the men was shot and killed by the IDF forces.

The other suspects left an explosive device on Israel territory and returned to Egypt. The explosive device is currently being identified and neutralized by IDF forces. The entire process is being carried out in cooperation and coordination with Egyptian forces.

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Why I have a problem with NPR

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The following is on its way to the program director of KVPR, my local Public Radio station.

Dear Jim,

As you might remember, I stopped supporting your station in 2006, after becoming outraged at NPR’s biased coverage of the war in Lebanon. But a couple of years ago I “rejoined” because, after all, I listen to it.

So here’s my latest complaint (you can read a few of my previous ones here, here, here, here, and especially here).

NPR provides arguably the best, most complete radio news coverage widely available in the US. But it consistently portrays events in the Mideast with a steep anti-Israel tilt. And since one of the most important sources of funding for NPR is the fees paid by local stations, those of us who have a problem with NPR also have a problem with the local stations.

For example, this morning’s newscasts carried a piece by Peter Kenyon, reporting from the Egyptian side of the border between Egypt and the Gaza strip.  Kenyon slanted his story in several ways:

  1. He used the Emotive Bias Technique to ensure that the Arab side of the story would stick with the listener while the Israeli side would be forgotten
  2. He used the Selective Omission Technique to mislead without explicitly lying
  3. He quoted false statements without comment or challenge

Let’s look at some of it.

DEBORAH AMOS (host): The Gaza Strip doesn’t get many high profile visitors since the Islamism group Hamas took over three years ago and Israel imposed a blockade. But the territory is now back in the spotlight. International pressure has been building on Israel to end, or at least ease, the blockade. The head of the Arab League Amr Moussa was in Gaza yesterday to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. NPR’s Peter Kenyon traveled to the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and sent this report.

PETER KENYON: Gazans were heartened by Amr Moussa’s visit and were glad to hear him repeat the Arab Leagues call for lifting the blockade.

Mr. AMR MOUSSA (Leader of Arab League): (Through translator) The position of the Arab League is clear: the siege must be ended. The Palestinian people deserve to be supported, not only by the Arab states, but by the whole world now.

KENYON: But on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border yesterday, international support wasn’t translating into much more than a trickle of Gazans making their way into Egypt. Those who did make it through, like Mohammed Awul Anane(ph), said the rest of the one-and-a-half-million Palestinians in Gaza were watching their economy and their society suffocate under the Israeli sanctions.

Kenyon and Amos have suggested that the “trickle” of traffic is due to the Israeli blockade. But this is the border with Egypt. What is omitted here is that Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza, because Hamas is aligned with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to subvert the Mubarak regime and install a radical Islamist one. These are the same folks that murdered Anwar Sadat for trying to make peace. This counts as selective omission.

The listener is also left with the assumption that Gazan society is ‘suffocating’, because  a Palestinian says so. But actually there is a huge amount of international aid reaching Gaza, plus a vibrant smuggling economy. Nobody is suffocating, but Kenyon doesn’t comment on this false implication.

Mr. MOHAMMED AWUL ANANE: (Through translator) How can I describe it? There’s no other word for it but tragedy, a tragedy. People are living as if they’re already in their graves.

KENYON: Israel defends the blockade, saying it has no intention of letting Gaza’s Hamas rulers acquire new weapons and military-style fortifications so they can resume firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Israeli officials have also defended their decision to send an elite naval commando unit to raid a Turkish-registered aid ship two weeks ago. The raid left eight Turks and a Turkish-American dead and sparked an outcry that has evolved into mounting international pressure to at least ease the blockade and perhaps allow in items such as cement and steel to help rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure.

This is wonderful! First, notice how the Palestinian complaint is put in the mouth of a real person, who speaks with emotional intensity, while the Israeli position is presented in one dry sentence. It’s a paradigm case of the Emotive Bias Technique.

Now look at the statement about the interception of a Turkish ship attempting to break the legal blockade of Gaza. Kenyon omits the most important facts about the incident, which are that the Israeli boarding party was viciously attacked by a group of thugs who boarded the ship separately from the other passengers, who did not undergo security checks, who were well-organized and armed with pipes, knives, axes, slingshots and other weapons, wore gas masks and ceramic vests,  who took over the upper deck of the ship and attempted to tear the Israelis to pieces as they landed (you can read more about it here and here or watch the video here).

Saying that the raid “left eight … dead” obscures the fact that the Israelis acted in self-defense — the dead were killed while trying to commit murder. That’s one hell of a selective omission!

The piece continues:

KENYON: Twenty-five-year-old Mohammed Howaja(ph) has a slightly dazed look as he steps onto the Egyptian side of Rafah. It’s the first time in his life that he’s set foot out of Gaza, he says, and he’s off to Alexandria to study law. When asked how he got approval to leave, he said as with many of his fellow travelers, he paid someone off.

Mr. MOHAMMED HOWAJA: (Through translator) Five times this month I tried to get a permit, and each time I was turned down. Finally, I brought money. I paid in order to come out.

KENYON: When asked how many Gazans would leave if they had the chance, he immediately said all of them. And it was hard to tell if he was joking.

Keep in mind that this is the Egyptian border. He paid Egyptians, Hamas people, or both; not Israelis. And we are not sure that he wants to leave because of the blockade: maybe he’s secular, Christian, a Fatah supporter, gay, or any number of things that would make life under Hamas quite literally impossible.

It concludes:

At the moment, support for the Palestinians of Gaza seems to be on a rare upward trend, while analysts say Israel is looking increasingly isolated. Israel’s defense minister canceled a trip to Paris – in part, officials said, because of difficult questions he might face. But as far as 35-year-old Palestinian Essam Ellion(ph) is concerned, Gazans have a long and forlorn history of trying to live on kind words of solidarity, and it’s not working.

Mr. ESSAM ELLION: (Through translator) As far as I can tell, it’s just empty talk, just words piled on words. I’m without hope right now. There’s nothing real, nothing we can touch or see on the ground when it comes to ending the siege.

KENYON: These Palestinians who have just walked out of a tiny, overcrowded coastal strip where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, say that kind of pessimism may be one of the few things growing in Gaza these days.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, canceled his trip to Paris not because of  the possibility of “difficult questions,” but rather because anti-Israel activists were planning to embarrass him by filing trumped-up “war crimes” charges against him in French courts.

Regarding the long-suffering Gazans, keep in mind that all Hamas would have to do to end the blockade (it is not a ‘siege’, there is plenty of food, medicine, etc. getting in) is to stop the continuous attempts to infiltrate and tunnel into Israel in order to kill Israelis and take hostages, to stop firing rockets into Israel — yes, they are still doing that — and last but not least, release Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado in an underground bunker by Hamas for four long years.

Jim, I think this makes it clear why I have a problem with NPR. I am suggesting that you and the station take it up with the network, because they certainly don’t care what I think.

But I hope that you do.

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