Archive for December, 2008

Hamas must be eliminated

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

“There is no one in the world that understands why Hamas is continuing to fire rockets at Israel…the firing defies reason and logic, and it doesn’t stand a chance.” — Shimon Peres, quoted in the Jerusalem Post

Peres is incorrect. Anyone who understands Palestinian psychology understands exactly why Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel. Barry Rubin has explained it in numerous articles (for example, here and here), but possibly Peres doesn’t read Prof. Rubin. Here is a quick summary:

  1. Economic improvements or even getting a Palestinian state are not important. What is important is progress toward regaining Palestinian honor by driving the Jews out of the Middle East.
  2. As a corollary to the above, Palestinians that advocate compromise with Israel are considered traitors to the cause. The more radical you are, the more admired.
  3. ‘Moderation’  in Western terms is the same as ‘giving up’ for Palestinians. And one must never give up: after all, it took a hundred years to kick the Crusaders out of Palestine.
  4. For Hamas, all of the above is demanded not only by honor, but by Islam as well.

Yes, Hamas could stop firing rockets and then Israel would have to stop bombing it. Indeed, if Hamas would restrain itself and its associated factions from terrorism, Israel would open the crossings and life would be much better for everyone in Gaza (not to mention Israelis within rocket range).

To go even further, if Hamas would simply pronounce the formula of recognition for Israel, acceptance of prior agreements and renunciation of terrorism it could obtain a controlling role in the Palestinian Authority and receive huge amounts of money from the West. But to do so, or even pretend to do so, would be unthinkable, and Hamas would lose the support that it has gained by being pure and uncompromising.

This is actually something that I like about Hamas. Their honesty works to their disadvantage. Yasser Arafat made great gains for his movement — he weakened Israel, obtained money and arms, developed several private armies and terrorist gangs, and took control of territory that had been in the hands of Israel simply by lying.

Arafat took advantage of — I have to say this — ignorant people like Shimon Peres who believed that Arafat wanted a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel, who could not imagine that he would be irrational enough to prefer privation and war to prosperity and peace. Despite the fact that there were plenty of Arabic speakers around to translate and plenty of physical evidence that he was financing terrorism, they insisted on believing his soothing remarks made in English. But his people understood his calls for jihad quite well. Hamas is apparently incapable of this kind of dissimulation.

The lesson of this, which may be lost on Peres but I hope is clear to Israel’s decision-makers, is that Hamas must be eliminated. It is not possible to ‘moderate’ Hamas because it will not compromise its goal, which is the destruction of Israel. Any truces or deals made with Hamas will be tactical, temporary pauses in the struggle which they will not give up.

Simply put, it’s us or them. Now is the time to make sure that it will be us who survives.

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The Gaza war

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!” — Edwin Starr, 1970

Some wars are absolutely necessary, though, and this is one of them.

The struggle to kick the Jews out of the Middle East has been led by various entities with the help and connivance of others since the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1930’s it was the Mufti and his followers. Later Egypt and Syria (primarily) picked up the standard, both by making war directly on the Jewish state and by supporting various Palestinian terrorist factions, notably the PLO.  Today it’s Iran.

Iran, which until very recently was flush with oil money, may be more dangerous than Nasser’s Egypt was. It will certainly become so the day it becomes a nuclear power. Today’s Iranian strategy is to weaken Israel through asymmetric low-level conflicts with non-state proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and ultimately to destroy Israel in a regional war in which the primary weapon will be short and long-range missiles fired from Syria, lebanon, and even Gaza.

But Israel is far too strong to be defeated in such a war today. Her enemies understand that quite well despite the bombastic propaganda they broadcast. They prefer to continue applying military and diplomatic pressure to weaken Israel and strengthen its antagonists Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as to press the campaign to delegitimize Israel throughout the world and reduce her support — especially in the US.

The plan includes psychological warfare against Israel, to cause Jews to emigrate, to weaken their commitment to military service and to make them lose confidence in the very proposition that Israel can maintain herself in the Mideast. The Hamas rocket attacks, although they have killed ‘only’ about 16 Israelis since 2001, have had a great deal of effect. The fundamental purpose of a state is to protect its citizens, and it appeared that Israel was incapable of doing that.

What has happened this week is that Hamas — or whoever is calling the shots — miscalculated. Perhaps they believed their own propaganda that Israel was politically incapable of fighting, that the army was not better prepared than in 2006, that Israel was not psychologically capable of accepting the casualties that an all-out war with Hamas would entail, that Gaza was no different than Lebanon, that world opinion could be mobilized to end any conflict to their advantage, that they had built up their military strength and fortifications enough to resist anything the IDF was likely to throw at them.

As a result they expected that nothing would happen, or that Israel’s response would be ineffective. They chose a convenient pretext to resume rocket attacks, which had slowed during the ‘calm’ that had been in effect, firing over 100 rockets into Israel last week. But Israel already had contingency plans in place and they have been activated.

The official goals of the operation are to end the rocket fire, destroy the stockpiles and stop the weapons smuggling that has enabled Hamas to build up its capabilities. Unofficial goals may include crippling Hamas by killing its leadership. Even more important, I think, is to restore the ability to deter aggression from the proxies, the gradual escalation of which has been chipping away at the self-respect of the Jewish people, the very heart of Zionism.

What’s next?

This morning there was a news item that the IAF had destroyed 40 smuggling tunnels in 4 minutes. Like the punchline of the unpleasant lawyer joke (“What do you call 500 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”)  this is only a good start. There are literally hundreds of such tunnels, and the only way to eliminate them will be on the ground. I expect that also there will be special forces operations — they may already be underway — to capture or kill Hamas leaders or even to free Gilad Schalit. And of course many of the rocket launchers and their operators will have to be taken out on the ground.

Israel has said that civilian casualties are light, but we can expect that Hamas and friends will be screaming ‘massacre’ as they did in 2003 when they invented the ‘Jenin Massacre’.  There are already demonstrations all around the world and among Arab citizens of Israel in opposition to the attack. I am waiting for Peace Fresno to mobilize in opposition to the ‘holocaust’.

It seems that this time Israel has done its diplomatic homework. Non-hostile governments so far have of course called for an end to the fighting, but also indicate understanding of Israel’s position. Hamas is also not everyone’s favorite social club; for example, the Mubarak regime’s most dangerous internal enemy is the Muslim Brotherhood which gave birth to Hamas. Many developed countries have had enough of Islamic terrorism.

I’m convinced that the team of Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi can achieve their military objectives given the appropriate amount of time. As always, it will come down to a race between the progress of the IDF and media-fueled diplomatic pressure to back off before a conclusive victory is obtained.

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Antisemitism has irrational — and political — roots

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Recently I wrote that evildoers like Bernard Madoff and the Rubashkins reflect badly on the Jewish people. Well, they do, but I think they have very little effect on the prevalence of anti-Semitisim, despite the horror stories being circulated.

What they have done is cause an increase in antisemitic expression by giving antisemites something to talk about. David Duke is never one to miss an opportunity. What else is new?

Anti-Semitism, and indeed, all group hatreds, are irrational. A rational antisemite would have to prove that Jews are in general more dishonest than non-Jews, and there is no such proof. Certainly one Bernie Madoff out of  13 million Jews is statistically insignificant, no matter how expensive or well-publicized his crimes are.

Not that it isn’t annoying. I imagine that many African-Americans slapped their foreheads when Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)  was found with $90,000 of cold cash in his freezer. But it didn’t prove anything about anyone other than Jefferson (and any co-conspirators he may have had).

But nobody suddenly became a racist because of Jefferson and nobody became an antisemite because of Madoff. And unfortunately, very rarely does someone stop being one as a result of rational argument.

The very irrationality of group hatreds — which are possibly vestiges of the group behavior of primates — give them power to stir the emotions. This is why anti-Semitism is so popular with dictatorial regimes, who depend on emotions like fear and hatred to control and motivate their populations.

And this — the deliberate stirring of atavistic emotions for political purposes — is probably the major source of antisemitism today. In particular, Iranian and Arab regimes — including the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah — deliberately promulgate the most disgusting, emotionally powerful antisemitic myths of the Middle Ages and Nazi era in order to create new antisemites, antisemites who will be prepare to fight and die for their irrational feelings.

Sometimes one can see their intentions in the myths they choose. It is very important for Ahmadinejad to talk about Jewish ‘control’ of the US, for example, because he needs to arouse hatred of his greatest enemy — the US — as well as of Jews and Israel.

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Christmas and Halloween presents to the anti-Semites

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Sholom Rubashkin, CEO of kosher meat provider Agriprocessors was arrested on October 30 and charged with violations of immigration and child labor laws. In 2004, Agriprocessors was also the subject of a shocking undercover video made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in which animals were slaughtered in cruel (and according to many authorities, non-kosher) methods.

And Bernie Madoff needs no introduction.

Rabbi Shmueley Boteach said,

…in sharp contrast to what is developing in the kosher meat industry, there has been no move afoot to establish something akin to “Hechsher Tzedek,” a rabbinic certificate of ethical excellence, for financial institutions. After all, how is it that when so many of the people going to jail on Wall Street turn out to be Jewish, the Modern Orthodox and Conservative movements have not immediately launched a campaign, as they are doing with kosher meat, to evaluate firms that invest Jewish money to ensure that they conform to the highest ethical norms in terms of treatment of employees and overcompensation of dead-beat executives?

Boteach’s intent was to contrast the attitudes of liberal Jews (for Boteach, Modern Orthodox is liberal) toward a corrupt kosher butcher with those toward a corrupt financier, but I’m more interested in the similarities than the differences.

There are anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews. We all know what they are. One is that there are a disproportionate number of unethical Jews in  business and finance. Is it true? Probably not, but it’s impossible to tell. There are plenty of non-Jewish corporate criminals to go around. Let’s not forget Enron’s Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (although their Jewish CFO, Andy Fastow, went to jail too), WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers, Tyco’s L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz, or Adelphia’s John and Timothy Rigas.

Unfortunately, Jews are noticeable (and if people don’t notice, the anti-Semites help them notice). One Madoff or Rubashkin cancels a thousand honest and decent people.

I often hear that nothing that Jews do can possibly affect what antisemites say about them, and this is true.  But what Jews do can affect what normal people think. Madoff and Rubashkin each violated numerous commandments — the Torah explicitly commands that employees must be treated justly, cruelty to animals is forbidden, and of course the injunction לא תגנב [You shall not steal] is found in the Ten Commandments. Madoff’s crime is especially heinous because so many charities suffered at his hands, but both of them blackened the name of the Jewish People.

There is no central authority in Judaism, so it’s not possible to cut someone off from his people or put him to death by stoning, two biblical punishments that might be applied to [alleged, but I believe them to be guilty] criminals like these. To be fair, Rubashkin seems to have some supporters, although like Boteach they mostly talk about his treatment — especially a particularly stupid statement by prosecutors — and not his actions.

It is disappointing that so few Orthodox authorities have disputed the technical kashrut of Agriprocessors’ meat (no, I’m not a rabbi, but I challenge anyone to watch the video and explain how what appears there is kosher slaughter). Although Rubashkin was arrested for other crimes, like Madoff, Agriprocessors defrauded Jews — those who thought they were buying kosher meat.

Madoff doesn’t seem to have any supporters, possibly because he stole from everyone. His own sons contacted the FBI after Madoff admitted the fraud to them.

Bradley Burston said that Madoff was a Christmas present to anti-Semites. I suppose the timing of Rubashkin’s arrest would make him a Halloween present.

Sholom Rubashkin does the 'perp walk'

Sholom Rubashkin does the ‘perp walk’

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The pragmatic fanaticism of Hamas

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The so-called ‘truce’ or ‘calm’ between Israel and Hamas seems to be over, with tens of rockets daily flying into Israel from Gaza. Israel’s government has apparently decided to take some kind military action; allowing Hamas to bombard Israelis is not an option any longer.

To answer the question “what should Israel do?” we first need to ask what Hamas is doing and what it wants. Bradley Burston presents the view of Gen. (ret.) Shmuel Zakai:

Israel must … understand that Hamas is a pragmatic organization, Zakai continues. “The moment that the organization understands that Qassam fire is contrary to its interests, it will stop the fire…

“An integrated approach, on the one hand, includes demonstration of military might, a demonstration of the heavy price Hamas would have to pay if the firing continues, and on the other hand, also using a carrot, to cause Hamas to understand that refraining from firing exactly serves their interests.

He believes that Hamas would have – and still would – accept a bargain in which Hamas, the only power who holds sway over the multiplicity racketeers and gunmen of Gaza’s many armed groups, would halt the fire in exchange for easing of the many ways in which Israeli policies have kept a choke hold on the economy of the Strip.

Gen. Zakai is right and wrong. He is right that Hamas is pragmatic — in a sense. But he is wrong in thinking that Hamas would consider improving Gaza’s economy to be in its interest. Here is how Barry Rubin sees Hamas:

From a Western moderate pragmatist standpoint, Hamas’s decision [to end the cease-fire] makes no sense for several reasons:

  • Hamas cannot defeat Israel militarily. Thus, fighting won’t improve Hamas’s strategic situation or bring victory.
  • Israeli counterattacks will cause both injuries and material damage in the Gaza Strip, inflicting big costs on Hamas’s domain and subjects.
  • Returning to warfare will ensure Hamas remains politically isolated and blocks international recognition or aid that would help its cause or end economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip.
  • Going back to fighting makes certain that the Gaza Strip faces continued, even heightened, reductions in the material let in, thus ensuring more Palestinian suffering there.

And Hamas is seemingly making three additional mistakes regarding timing.

The first is that it is ending the cease-fire while George W. Bush is president. Certainly Israel feels freer to hit back at Hamas now than after Barack Obama is inaugurated simply because the new administration would want to avoid a crisis before it consolidates its plans and team. Also, the US is likely to prefer quiet as it begins withdrawing from Iraq.

Second, the cease-fire is being suspended on the eve of a major Palestinian crisis as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announces a self-extension of his term in office. One might think Hamas would prefer to keep the Israel front quiet for a while to focus on battling Fatah and the PA.

Finally, there’s the Israeli election campaign. While this doesn’t make large-scale retaliation inevitable, such a move would make the current government more popular with the electorate.

Therefore, Hamas’s behavior, an outside observer can easily conclude, seems stupid. But having built a mass movement, sizable army, seized the Gaza Strip and built broad support throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, Hamas may be composed of genocide-oriented fanatics but not fools. What then explains this apparently silly behavior?

Here’s a case study of how Middle East politics really work:

  • Hamas really believes its own propaganda, expecting victory despite the odds. Costs and casualties are irrelevant. The battle will go on until total victory even if that takes decades. This indicates Hamas will not moderate – the same applies to Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.
  • At the same time, Hamas is not only indifferent to its own people’s welfare, it [is] actually seeking to inflict suffering on them as a political strategy. The worse off Palestinians are, Hamas believes, the more likely they will fight and die. This “the worse things are, the better they are” is the exact opposite of Western perspectives.

But Hamas goes even further. It knows suffering can be blamed on Israel. Western pragmatists reason that obviously the Palestinians must prefer peace, prosperity and statehood. Rejectionism must then be due to desperation and the lack of a good offer or faith in the West. In fact, though, the situation is not due to our mistakes but to their deliberate choices.

Thus, Hamas can well conclude that the best way to put pressure on Israel and – in its own mind at least – gain Western help is to be more radical, not more moderate.

Then, too, setting off a crisis, Hamas expects, will draw peacekeepers like hardworking ants, giving press conferences in which they will insist that “something must be done to defuse the crisis.” That “something” usually seems to be unilateral Israeli concessions. In short, the international community may rush in to save Hamas or the Palestinians in spite of themselves.

At the same time, though, Hamas believes that its intransigence and aggressiveness will increase support in the Arab and Muslim worlds. As with Hizbullah, waging a war and portraying it as victory – even though the facts are otherwise – makes one a hero and attracts financing. This is also a judgment regarding Palestinian responses. More popular support can be garnered by producing martyrs than by producing higher living standards. Thus, Hamas will do better in its rivalry with the PA by fighting Israel than by fighting poverty.

Hamas’ pragmatism is not the pragmatism of someone like Gen. Zakai, who naturally sees the welfare of one’s civilian population as a high-priority goal. But it is actually a pretty clear-headed understanding of what is required to defeat a liberal democracy like Israel and a corrupt secular nationalism like Fatah.

The best strategy for Israel is not a large-scale ground invasion, and especially not one which ends in a reoccupation of Gaza. This would give the maximum advantage to Hamas, which cares little about military casualties and actually welcomes civilian ones.

I vote for decapitation: kill the Hamas leaders and destroy as much military infrastructure as possible without causing mass civilian casualties.

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