Archive for March, 2011

US Mideast goals — what are they?

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

It’s fun to speculate on what drives our administration’s varied responses to unrest in the Middle East.

For Iran, whose regime is trying to develop nukes, take control of the region, push out US influence and eliminate Israel (supposedly a US ally); where political rallies often include chants of “death to America”: a stolen election and murderous violence against honestly pro-democracy protesters was met with mild verbal rebukes. After attempts to apply effective sanctions failed, the administration seems to have forgotten about the Iranian nuclear program.

For Syria, whose dictator helps insurgents kill our soldiers in Iraq, murders politicians in Lebanon, supplies Hizballah and Hamas, stockpiles chemical weapons and tries to develop nuclear ones, and orders security forces to shoot demonstrators: our government renews relations and tries to help it get possession of the strategic Golan Heights from Israel.

For Egypt, in which a mildly brutal dictator (in comparison to Syria’s Assad, for example) mostly supported American interests and opposed Iran: the US encouraged the dictator’s removal, despite clear warnings (that are beginning to come true) that the alternative was not democracy, but Islamism.

In Libya, we jumped head-first into a civil war and only afterward decided to figure out on whose behalf we are intervening.  The first week or so has already cost us $600 million, and our guys (whoever they may be) seem to be losing.

For Israel, a truly democratic and friendly country which could be hugely helpful to the US in keeping a foothold in a region whose resources are essential to its economy, a country which has been under attack for years by forces that want to kill its people and take its land: the US applies pressure to give in to terrorist blackmail, cede territory and weaken security measures.

What’s happening in the Mideast is that authoritarian regimes are mostly weaker than they look. Their opponents — Islamists, ethnic groups other than the presently dominant one, opportunists and democrats — are trying to replace them. Whichever one can get the support of the most powerful armed groups or is the most ruthless will win. This will very rarely be the democrats! In Israel it’s a bit different since the government is democratic. But the groups that want to overthrow it — a segment of the ‘Israeli Arabs’ and the Palestinian Arab factions — are also made up of of Islamists and Arab nationalists.

The important question for US policy is “which of these groups is most likely to support US interests and oppose Iran?” But it doesn’t look like they are asking this question in Washington.

If I had just stepped out of an alien spaceship, I could be excused for thinking that the US is following the lead of countries like Turkey, and joining the Iranian bloc.

The stuff about trying to protect civilians looks good on TV, but doesn’t explain why we did nothing in the case of Iran and intend to do nothing about Syria. There has also been deadly violence in Yemen and Bahrain, but we’ve not intervened there (and a good thing, too). Of course there’s a lot of oil in Libya, but there is in Iran as well.

In the case of Israel, the establishment of a Hamas-Fatah terror state in Judea and Samaria will produce more terrorism and even war, just as the withdrawal from Gaza did. The best way to protect civilians there would be to prevent this from happening, not encourage it.

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Shorts: demolishing J street, killing racists

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

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Yaakov Lozowick demolishes J Street

There are three kinds of bloggers: those who can’t write, those who can’t think and those who can neither write nor think. And then there are the exceptions, like Yaakov Lozowick, who explains exactly what’s wrong with J Street in a short but devastating post. Read all of it, but I’ll quote a little (OK, more than a little) to give you an idea:

First, Meretz positions sound different and more acceptable from Israelis. The reason the party has lost most of its voters is that we’ve empirically tested its proposals, and lots of people have died as a result – not once, but repeatedly, in 1993-6, in 2000 (twice, once in Lebanon and once with the Palestinians), in 2002, in 2005, and in 2006; arguably also in 2008. Having its basic assumptions serially disproved has discredited Meretz, but if after all that some Israelis still wish to hang on, that’s their right; the rest of us don’t take them seriously, and that’s our right…

The J Street people seem not to have noticed any of this, which is either very peculiar or very disturbing. If they’ve simply not been watching, what gives them the right to have an opinion about life and death matters they can’t make the effort to understand? If they’ve been watching and refuse to accept what is there to be seen, how exactly do they portray themselves as being on our side?

Second, there’s a consistent tone of disdain of Israeli society coming from these people which I find arrogant and very distasteful. Americans left and right have lost their civility in political discourse; Israelis, admittedly, never had it. Yet there are codes in language, deeper than mere words, and the subtext of these J Street spokesmen when discussing Jews from Russia, religious Jews and centrist Jews, is ugly. I find no other word for it. Just as their compassion for Israel’s Arabs (the citizens) is odd. There’s a level of identification with them which is totally lacking when they talk about the majority of the Israeli Jews. I say this as someone who wishes only the best for Israel’s Arabs.

Another widespread sentiment they’ve got about Israelis is moral superiority. We American Jews, we understand human rights, democracy, dignity and so on, not like our benighted Israeli cousins who need to learn from us because they’ve turned into an embarrassment. I’m not going to respond in detail to this, but it needs to be rejected vehemently. It’s the opposite which is true. Israeli Jews, unlike American ones, live in a hard reality which beats down on those admirable human values and could easily smother them. Yet it doesn’t. Israelis know more about raising children to be moral human beings at time of adversity, more about respecting one’s enemy’s dignity, more about respect for law under extreme duress, than most American Jews can even begin to imagine. How could they? When are they ever faced with true moral quandaries, or required to pay a price for preserving their values? Do Israelis sometimes fail? Of course. Are American Jews ever put in situations where they’re ever even tried? Perhaps, but they don’t spring to mind.

Then there’s the matter of having enemies. Nothing I heard in all those speeches gave any cause to believe the speakers understand what an enemy is; they certainly can’t imagine the Palestinians are such…There’s a war on, it’s not over, and it’s not something that can be talked away with nice sentiments. War mean enemies: a concept – I repeat myself but it’s a crucial distinction – the J-Street people seem quite oblivious of. So far as I can tell, they can’t imagine an enemy, astonishing as that may sound.

Are you listening, Rabbi Richard Jacobs?

Is it permitted to kill a ‘racist’?

You may remember that the assassin of Meir Kahane, El Sayyid Nosair, was acquitted of murder in 1991 while being found guilty of assault and a firearms violation:

State Supreme Court Justice Alvin Schlesinger said the jury’s decision to acquit the immigrant, El Sayyid A. Nosair, of murder last month “was against the overwhelming weight of evidence and was devoid of common sense and logic.”

Saying he wished he could have given a longer sentence, Justice Schlesinger said, “This was not a simple case of gun possession,” but was instead “a case of extreme violence visited on this city.”

“I believe the defendant conducted a rape of this country, of our Constitution and of our laws, and of people seeking to exist peacefully together,” the judge said as he peered sternly at the 36-year-old defendant clad in Arab attire at the defense table. — NY Tmes (1/30/92)

Nosair was tried again in 1994 for criminal conspiracy in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and convicted. The murder of Kahane was included as part of the conspiracy, and he received a life sentence. But what happened in 1991?

At first, William M. Kunstler thought the evidence against El Sayyid A. Nosair for the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane appeared so overwhelming that he advised his client to plead insanity. When the case went to the jury on Wednesday, he was pessimistic.

Yesterday, as he jubilantly reviewed the trial’s ending — a Manhattan jury’s verdict on Saturday acquitting Mr. Nosair of murder and attempted murder charges but convicting him of lesser charges , Mr. Kunstler called the split verdict “strange, irrational, inconsistent and repugnant” and said the convictions would be appealed.

Mr. Kunstler, in a telephone interview yesterday from Puerto Rico, where he is on vacation, said the selection of jurors was the defense’s critical move.

He said that he and the co-counsels, M. Shanara Gilbert and Michael W. Warren, strove for a jury of “third-world people” and “people who were not yuppies or establishment types.”

“These jurors understand life as it is lived,” Mr. Kunstler said of the jury of nine women and three men.

Except for a woman who had worked for an Israeli bank, Mr. Kunstler noted that the defense, through challenges, eliminated potential jurors who supported Israel and might have been biased against Mr. Nosair because he is an Arab. — NY Times (12/23/91)

A classic case of jurors ‘nullifying’ the application of a law that they don’t agree with. Apparently in their minds, killing a ‘racist’, especially a Jewish one, is not a crime.

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What to expect this summer

Monday, March 28th, 2011

News item:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is considering annexing major West Bank settlement blocs if the Palestinians unilaterally seek world recognition of a state, an Israeli official said Tuesday — moves that would deal a grave blow to prospects for negotiating a peace deal between the two sides.

Israel has refrained from taking such a diplomatically explosive step for four decades. The fact that it is considering doing so reflects how seriously it is concerned by the Palestinian campaign to win international recognition of a state in the absence of peacemaking…

Israel annexed east Jerusalem, home to shrines sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, immediately after seizing it. But it carefully avoided annexing the West Bank, where 300,000 settlers now live among 2.5 million Palestinians.

The Arabs are playing a serious game, and we need to see several moves ahead if we are going to beat them.  Unfortunately they played the opening and most of the mid-game much more competently than we did, and our present position is poor. We gave up a lot when we in effect ceded the Temple Mount in 1967, and more at Oslo. But no use crying over spilt milk.

We have to deal with some facts that are unchangeable as premises:

  • There can be no accommodation with any Palestinian Arab faction. All of them are committed to the elimination of the Jewish state.
  • The West almost universally believes (or pretends to believe) that Israel could survive within 1949 lines and that areas outside them ‘belong’ to the ‘Palestinians’. These propositions are both false, but it’s a waste of time trying to change their minds.

A unilateral declaration of ‘Palestine’, even if approved by the UN, will not immediately establish the 1949 lines as borders. The West is much more likely to agree to a new Mandate, in which some power — perhaps the Quartet — will implement a gradual phase-in and adjustment of borders. Some settlements may be permitted to remain, with land swaps. Basically it will be the ‘Obama plan’, except that it will be imposed, not agreed upon.

It goes without saying that this will be highly disadvantageous to Israel, because there will only be lip service paid to Israel’s security concerns, and none at all to the importance of some sites to Judaism (only Islam gets to have religious sensibilities taken into account. Muhammad’s hitching post is more relevant than Abraham and Sarah’s tomb).

I’m not sure if it will be possible to forestall this by annexing settlement blocs — or by any other practical action — today. After all, the ‘international community’ still insists that Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem in 1980 is null and void.

However there are issues that make annexation of territory important. There is the  strategic imperative that Israel must control the Jordan Valley as well as high ground near Israeli population centers. It will not be acceptable to withdraw to what have been called ‘Auschwitz borders’. There is the need for an IDF presence and infrastructure to protect what are likely to become the new borders of the state — and they will not be quiet ones.

From a psychological and morale point of view it is absolutely necessary to minimize any expulsion of Jews from the territories, particularly from areas of religious importance like Hevron. Remember that Palestinian Arab leader Mahmoud Abbas has said that “no Israeli presence” will remain in ‘Palestine’.

There are those who say “just take over all of Judea and Samaria and kick out the Arabs.” But an attempt to do so would probably bring about direct intervention on the Libyan model. Annexation of critical areas should be done with minimal, if any, displacement of Arab populations.

Israel must prepare itself for the establishment of a new Gaza — a confrontation state — to the East. I can’t see a way to prevent it, so the best approach will be to reduce the strategic dangers it will pose as much as possible.

There is a more immediate Arab move to prepare the ground for the declaration of ‘Palestine’. This is a (probably already planned) outbreak of violent riots and terrorist attacks both among ‘Israeli Arabs’ and Arabs in the territories. This will be presented along the lines of the ‘Arab spring’ in which oppressed people are fighting for their freedom against oppressors.

Inside Israel the cries will be against ‘discrimination’ and for the conversion of the ‘apartheid’ state into one in which Arabs will have their ‘full rights’. This will be a ‘de-Zionized’ state, following the principles already laid out in the ‘Haifa declaration’ (see here and here). In the territories, it will be a demand for the declaration of ‘Palestine’ according to 1949 lines.

Israel’s attempts to control demonstrations and to prevent and respond to terrorism will be presented as oppressive actions by a dictatorial regime intent on preserving its control over a subject population. There will be cries of pain, atrocity stories and calls for immediate intervention. We can expect support for the Palestinians from the entire Muslim world.

So once again the Arab war to get the Jews out of the Middle East will be recast as a narrow conflict between a powerful Israel and oppressed Palestinian Arabs.

It isn’t possible to forestall this either. But preparations should be made for containing it, for deterring Hamas and Hizballah from opening additional fronts, and for getting the true story out to what’s left of Israel’s friends in the West.

It is going to be a very difficult summer and fall.

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Quote of the year (special edition): Hillary Clinton

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Madame Secretary spoke of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad thus:

Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.

One wonders: is she talking about our Bashar al-Assad, the one that lives on Earth? The one who recently got caught building an illegal nuclear reactor with North Korean help? The one who had the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, as well as numerous members of the Lebanese Parliament, murdered? The one that supplied Iranian arms to Hizballah, making the Second Lebanon War possible, and who resupplied them (and way more) after the war, making the next one possible? The one that allows free passage into Iraq for Sunni ‘insurgents’ so they can place IEDs in the path of American soldiers?

That one?

Well, I bet you think that makes Mrs. Clinton really dumb. But she has competition. The article linked above continues:

A key supporter of Mr. Assad in Washington has been Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The former presidential candidate has held nearly a half-dozen meetings with Mr. Assad in recent years, according to this staff. The two men have sought to map out the terms of a renewed Syrian-Israel peace track.

Even this month, as protests starting gripping Syria, Mr. Kerry said he thought Syria’s president was an agent for change.

“President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had,” Mr. Kerry said during a March speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think it’s incumbent on us to try to move that relationship forward in the same way.”

I should mention that after all of these meetings, after President Obama sent an ambassador to Syria (the previous one was recalled after the Hariri murder), Assad has not stopped supplying Hizballah, has not stopped helping terrorists kill Americans and Iraqis, has not actually done anything that we’d like. Instead, he’s moved closer to Iran.

Syria is in every way a police state. Dissenters go to jail or just disappear. The ruling family enriches itself at the expense of an impoverished nation, including masses of bitterly poor people, former farmers who moved to the cities when stupid and venal policies combined with a drought dispossessed them. Assad’s security forces have shot down dozens of protesters. This is a “reformer?”

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Don’t activate Iron Dome

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Israel has deployed the ‘Iron Dome’ system, which is intended to intercept and destroy short-range rockets like Qassams and Grads, near Be’er Sheva. President Obama has promised to ask the US Congress for $205 million in aid to pay for additional systems.

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It’s an incredible feat of engineering: to detect a rocket within a few seconds of launch, determine if it is headed for a populated area, and intercept it if so. It’s possible that it could save Israeli lives.

Nevertheless, there are technical and political reasons to not turn it on today:

  • At present it can’t intercept missiles with flight time of less than 15 seconds. Rockets can be launched from Gaza against nearby towns which can arrive in less time than this.
  • Each interceptor that is fired costs $100,000. Hamas and friends could launch large numbers of cheap Qassams as an effective form of economic warfare.
  • Such a system would be most useful in wartime, when large rocket attacks are expected. But if it is activated now, the enemy will gain information about how to defeat it.
  • The presence of such a system makes it possible for Israel to tolerate what is actually an intolerable situation. Hamas and Hizballah will continue to build and stockpile rockets, build fortifications, etc.
  • From the US and international point of view, especially if the US funds additional systems, any actions that Israel takes against terrorists and their infrastructure, will be assumed to be unjustified and ‘disproportionate’.

One plan that was discussed was to use Iron Dome or similar systems only to defend airfields and other military installations. This would be a rational policy, on the assumption that the IDF will retaliate against rockets fired at civilian targets. The area of these bases is smaller, they are easier and cheaper to protect, and in the case of war their defense could make the difference between victory and defeat. But of course it’s impossible to tell people (at least in an open society) that you have the means to save their lives but won’t do it for reasons of cost!

Given the cheapness of the short range missiles, the response of the enemy to the deployment of this kind of system will be to fire ever more of them. Because of the political consequences mentioned above, Israel will be loathe to strike back aggressively. The lack of retaliation will, in turn, lead to  — no surprise — still more rockets.

I would prefer to see the first systems deployed to protect military assets. As more are built, they may be deployed around civilian areas. But the latter should not be turned on yet — they should be kept in reserve in case of war.

Meanwhile, Israel should become even more aggressive in its responses to missile attacks on civilian targets, using disproportionate force against Hamas infrastructure and personnel.

Israel’s traditional philosophy has been that of active self-defense — to preempt enemy attacks and to carry war into the enemy’s own territory. This doctrine is necessitated by Israel’s small size and lack of strategic depth and resources. There would not be an Israel today were it not for this approach.

Her enemies understand this quite well and have carried out a systematic campaign in the political and information arenas to undermine this. The Goldstone report and the way the majority of world media spun the Mavi Marmara affair are examples of how they have succeeded in recasting self-defense as aggression, completely inverting reality in both cases.

It’s not surprising that the Obama administration — at best, thinking wishfully and at worst hostile — is pleased to help Israel pay for more Iron Dome systems. It would be happy to see Israel hunkered down inside passive defense systems, which in the event of war might or might not work. At least there would be no embarrassing targeted killings or accidental civilian Arab casualties.

But if they don’t work, there is no place to fall back to.

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