Archive for September, 2011

Robot weapons are the answer to asymmetric warfare

Friday, September 30th, 2011
An unmanned Predator launches a Hellfire missile

An unmanned Predator launches a Hellfire missile

Unmanned weapons are big news today, as it’s reported that a drone-fired missile in Yemen has killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born jihadist who inspired the Ft. Hood killer, the Times Square bomber, the “underwear bomber” and more.

If there has been a single terrorist as threatening to the US as bin Laden, Awlaki was it. Through his website, videos, and online English-language magazine, “Inspire” (Google will not give me the URL, but you can see some of its content here), he — apparently effectively — inspires home-grown terrorism, the most difficult kind to interdict. Inspire‘s editor, Samir Khan, was also reportedly killed in the strike.

Everyone even slightly interested in military technology has known for some time that robotic weapons represent a major paradigm shift, like the phalanx, the  longbow, the machine gun, the military aircraft, etc. War will never be the same.

Unsurprisingly, many see this development as undesirable. Tom Engelhard writes,

The appeal is obvious: the cost (in U.S. lives) is low; in the case of the drones, nonexistent.  There is no need for large counterinsurgency armies of occupation of the sort that have bogged down on the mainland of the Greater Middle East these last years.

In an increasingly cash-strapped and anxious Washington, it must look like a literal godsend.  How could it go wrong?

Of course, that’s a thought you can only hang onto as long as you’re looking down on a planet filled with potential targets scurrying below you.  The minute you look up, the minute you leave your joystick and screen behind and begin to imagine yourself on the ground, it’s obvious how things could go so very, very wrong — how, in fact, in Pakistan, to take but one example, they are going so very, very wrong.

In a country now struggling simply to guarantee help to its own citizens struck by natural disasters, Washington is preparing distinctly unnatural disasters in the imperium.  In this way, both at home and abroad, the American dream is turning into the American scream.

So when we build those bases on that global field of screams, when we send our armadas of drones out to kill, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world doesn’t see us as the good guys or the heroes, but as terminators.  It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, but once your mindset is permanent war, that’s no longer a priority.  It’s a scream, and there’s nothing funny about it.

Pakistan  has vehemently objected to the use of drones in its territory, claiming that innocent civilians are often killed by mistake. Of course, one might ask: would they prefer that we use bombers or artillery? The drones do a much more precise job of killing their targets with minimal collateral damage than almost any other way of doing it. And it isn’t immoral to want to reduce our own casualties. The Pakistanis simply don’t want us fighting there, period — a legitimate position for them to take, but the use of drones doesn’t strengthen their case, it weakens it.

Engelhardt argues that the cheapness of the weapons, the ability to use them without endangering our soldiers, and even the relative freedom from collateral damage, makes us more prone to use them, to fight in more places around the world. The checks and balances that result from the expense and danger of conventional war, he believes, will not work to prevent excesses on behalf of the ‘imperium’.

And now we can see where he’s coming from. According to Engelhardt, we are the evil empire:

As [our leaders] definitionally twitch and turn, we can just begin to glimpse — like an old-fashioned photo developing in a tray of chemicals — the outlines of a new form of American imperial war emerging before our eyes.  It involves guarding the empire on the cheap, as well as on the sly, via the CIA, which has, in recent years, developed into a full-scale, drone-heavy paramilitary outfit, via a growing secret army of special operations forces that has been incubating inside the military these last years, and of course via those missile- and bomb-armed robotic assassins of the sky.

There is, however, another way of looking at it.

Despite what Engelhardt thinks, we are not an invincible imperial power. In fact, the tide of history may have begun to turn in favor of those who hold the idea of democracy in contempt (yes, I know ours isn’t perfect), who believe in religiously-based hierarchical rule and the fundamental inferiority of women, who think that polytheists like Hindus must convert to their religion or die, that Christians and Jews must accept permanently inferior status, and that the US constitution should be replaced by the law of the Quran.

One of the reasons that they have the ability to challenge us is that they have adopted and improved techniques of asymmetric warfare, particularly terrorism, which leverage against us the complicated economic and technological structures on which our survival depends. Terrorism is used as part of an integrated military, psychological, economic and diplomatic attack which has been quite successful in pushing Western influence out of the Middle East, and in damaging us socially and economically.

Weapons like the Predator neutralize to some extent the advantage of asymmetric warfare by enabling precise targeting of terrorists in the midst of civilian populations. You simply can’t do this any other way, regardless of cost.

Traditional warfare is mostly fought by lowly soldiers, from the bottom up. But terrorist entities don’t fight with armies. We often don’t know who their ‘soldiers’ are. But they do have key men, and the way to fight them is to target the key men. Awlaki is a perfect example. Robotic weapons may be the answer to terrorism that we’ve sought for years.

Engelhardt tries to suggest that the technology is actually driving its own use, that the Predators (etc.) in effect have minds of their own, and imagines scary science-fiction scenarios in which they actually do have minds of their own. But this is nonsense. They are controlled by human beings, targets are selected by human beings, and human beings must authorize their use. They possibly give rise to a higher degree of accountability than an assault rifle in the hands of an ordinary soldier, who has to make split-second decisions based on very imperfect knowledge.

Although Englehardt would say that we have made our enemies what they are by our oppression and that they would leave us alone if we left them alone, I don’t buy it. There is an ideological imperative driving radical Islamic terrorism, and it is not one of live and let live. They have been empowered by the West’s money and technology and they are going to exploit it to their best advantage until they have conquered or destroyed us.

I would probably agree with Englehardt and his friends that we could become a far more just and humane society. I would agree that we have sometimes fought wars for the wrong reasons in the wrong places. I would even agree that there is a moral rot in some of our most important institutions, including government, that we will need to expunge if we are to survive.

But compared to our enemies, there is simply no comparison.

We have an acrimonious debate in our country about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry — in Iran, they hang them. We worry about the pervasiveness of poverty in ethnic communities — in Sudan and Mauritania slavery is legal, and in Saudi Arabia it is still prevalent after officially being abolished in 1962. Last week, there was a great outcry here against the execution of  a possibly innocent man — in Syria, the regime is murdering hundreds of political opponents every week.

We have two choices. We can defend our society against the asymmetric assault mounted against it by radical Islamists, while we do our best to improve it where it falls short of our ideals, or we can accept the verdict of the Islamists that it is hopelessly corrupt and evil, and not fight back.

In my opinion the real motivation of those who attack the use of drones and similar weapons is that they are just too effective. I believe that on some level, people like Engelhardt want to see Western society humbled, even destroyed.

History gives numerous examples of more advanced civilizations being destroyed by barbarians. In our case, I don’t think it’s inevitable.

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Zionism — a short note

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
May 1948: the Jewish state is declared

May 1948: the Jewish state is declared

Someone recently quoted an official of the New Israel Fund (NIF) as saying “NIF is not a Zionist organization.” One might respond “so what else is new?” Although the NIF’s statement of principles begins

The New Israel Fund is dedicated to the vision of the State of Israel as the sovereign expression of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people…

clearly it does not support the idea of Jewish sovereignty — rather, as we can see by examining the causes it supports, it views sovereignty as residing in the will of all of Israel’s citizens.  This is a time-honored position, if not appropriate for a Zionist group. I think the official quoted was being honest and I don’t think there would be much disagreement among them, if NIF leadership would speak openly.

I’m not attacking the NIF today, which I’ve done numerous times in the past. I just want to use this to illustrate a fundamental divide among Jews centering on Israel and Zionism.

Zionism asserts that there is a Jewish people — a nation — and that it ought to have a ‘sovereign expression’, that is, its own country, in its historical homeland.

Nationalism of any kind isn’t popular among those who identify as liberal or progressive. It’s a fundamental part of their official worldview that differences between national groups are inessential, ‘mere’ matters of culture, language, religion, ancestry, etc. As a result, they believe that it is immoral to base political structures on them. So much for any form of nationalism — including Zionism.

That is not to say that they don’t take note of cultural differences. These are the people who like to ‘celebrate diversity’. And they advocate corrective political action when they believe a group has been discriminated against, like affirmative action. But they would justify this only in order to redress an existing imbalance.

The logical extension of this is to post-colonialism, which asserts that existing worldwide political structures are massively unbalanced against ‘people of color’ (which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with race), and that massive corrective political action, sometimes in the form of violent ‘resistance’ is justified.

This leads to absurd positions, such as the toleration of nationalism and even vicious racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. on the part of ‘oppressed’ peoples. These behaviors are considered a result of their oppression — post-colonialists blame the ‘oppressor’, never the ‘oppressed’ — and are presumably expected to go away when the oppression is eliminated. Nationalistic aspirations by non-favored groups, like the Jewish people, are rejected. In the event that they conflict with the aspirations of an ‘oppressed’ group — well, I don’t have to draw you the picture.

This explains why the far Left is prepared to tolerate racism, terrorism and the rest when it is directed at Jews by Palestinian Arabs: a supposedly immoral nationalism is being challenged by an ‘oppressed’ group, with all of the special dispensations from normal moral rules that such groups are given.

In an imaginary ‘ideal’ world — one that is impossible given the basic drives of territoriality, tribalism, greed, etc. that characterize the human animal — it would perhaps be possible to give up nations, borders, conscription, security barriers, and many other things that apparently so irk the NIF leadership. But in the real world, the assumption of these ‘ideal’ values — even if they were not accompanied by the pernicious, deliberate tolerance of evil that is post-colonialism — is a form of unilateral disarmament.

Zionism, therefore, is not only an expression of the idea that Jewish culture is best preserved in a Jewish state and an effective response to antisemitism, it is also a response to the incoherent, fundamentally self-contradictory philosophy of post-colonialism.

Happy new year — לשנה טובה תכתבו — to all.

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Stop indulging Arab fantasies

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Everyone is disappointed with Israel again:

[EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine] Ashton urged Israel to “reverse” its decision to build 1,100 new housing units in Gilo, saying that “settlement activity” threatens the viability of a two-state solution.

Both Ashton and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague slammed Israel for seemingly ignoring the Quartet of Middle East mediators, which called last week for a resumption of peace talks and for both Israelis and Palestinians to resist “provocative actions” …

This new housing plan, Hague said, was just the kind of “provocative” move to be avoided. “Settlement expansion is illegal under international law [false — ed.], corrodes trust and undermines the basic principle of land for peace,” Hague said, calling on Israel to “revoke this decision.”

Earlier, the United States said that Gilo plan was “counterproductive” and urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to take steps which could complicate resumption of direct peace talks.   “We are deeply disappointed by this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

And Mahmoud Abbas said this in his UN speech last week:

The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants and to impose a fait accompli on the ground that changes the realities and that is undermining the realistic potential for the existence of the State of Palestine.

So where is Gilo? Let’s see exactly how it is “provocative” and “redraws the borders”?

Map showing Gilo neighborhood, 100 yards from 1949 armistice line. (h/t: Lenny Ben-David)

Map showing Gilo neighborhood, 100 yards from 1949 armistice line. Click for larger version (h/t: Lenny Ben-David)

Yes folks, this is what all the fuss is about: a few more apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood where 40,000 Jews already live, located 100 yards from the Green Line, adjoining other Jewish neighborhoods and empty space.

Is it not 100% certain that if Israel and the Palestinians were to reach an agreement to create a Palestinian state that Gilo would end up on the Israeli side of the border? Let me put it another way: what imaginable Israeli government would agree to a treaty that would not place Gilo in Israel?

Palestinian Arab fantasies that the UN or the US is going to declare that everything outside the 1949 armistice line belongs to them so that they can move forward with their plan to expel the Jews are just that — fantasies.

So why do the US and Europe indulge them?

There are so many simply fraudulent issues here. One is the significance of the armistice line. It was not accepted by anyone — not the Jews and definitely not the Arabs –  as a border in 1949, and UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 clearly implied that it was not to become one. Jews lived on both sides of it, in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem until the Jordanian army ethnically cleansed the area in 1948. The UNSC resolutions and the Oslo agreement clearly indicated that the border would be determined by negotiations between the parties.

The idea that the land east of the line is ‘Palestinian’ has no basis in international law or treaty and has simply been repeated enough times by the Arabs and their supporters that many — apparently even those who should know better, like Ashton and Hague — have come to believe it or pretend to.

Another false issue is expressed by the comment I  heard recently that Israel is “gobbling up” the territories in order, as Abbas says, to “redraw the map.”  But no new settlements have been established since Oslo (unless you count tiny unauthorized ‘outposts’ that are torn down by Israeli police, sometimes rather aggressively). The construction that is so vehemently opposed is all within the boundaries  of existing settlements.

In fact, most of the population growth in Judea and Samaria is due to people having children. Only a net of 4000 people moved to the territories in 2010. So much for “gobbling up!”

Finally, the requirement that Israel refrain from construction across the Green Line is a new one, adopted by the Palestinians in 2010, with the help of Barack Obama. Settlements did not prevent Israel from returning the Sinai to Egypt or (unfortunately) from evacuating Gaza.

The Palestinian strategy is simple: promise  serious negotiations if Israel will just [fill in the blank]. Then let the ‘international community’ pressure Israel. If Israel concedes, then there is suddenly another ‘roadblock to peace’. Israel is weakened, new starting points are set, and the process begins again. Of course there can never be truly serious negotiations, because the Palestinians will never agree to end the conflict while a Jewish state exists.

Now that the Security Council vote is hanging over Israel’s head (as Caroline Glick explained recently), there is yet another club to beat Israel with.

But there are real subjects that could be discussed, if there were interest in ending the conflict on both sides. They are, for example,

  1. Israel’s security needs
  2. Recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people
  3. Agreement on a solution to the refugee problem outside of Israel

Unfortunately, there will be no agreement on these because they negate the heart of today’s Palestinian position and the Palestinian cause itself.  Until there is a Palestinian leadership that can accept the idea that there will be a Jewish state, there’s no point in talking.

Israel should make this clear to the US President, EU officials, and everyone else. It should not participate in a phony ‘peace process’ based on fraudulent issues like construction outside of the Green Line, which will only gnaw away at Israel’s security without bringing peace any closer.

If this means taking unilateral steps like annexing parts of the territories and letting the chips in the UN fall where they may, so be it.

The Israeli Left is fond of saying “the status quo is not viable,” referring to the status quo in the territories. I would prefer to say “continuing the so-called ‘peace process’ is unsupportable.”

If there can’t be an honest conversation, let there be no conversation at all.

Update [1806 PDT]: Read more about Gilo and its history here.

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A tale of two Abbases

Monday, September 26th, 2011

I’ve called Abbas Zaki (عباس زكي), former PLO Ambassador to Lebanon and Fatah Central Committee member “my favorite Palestinian Arab” because he always honestly presents their point of view. Here he is explaining that the ultimate goal of the PLO is to destroy Israel, and not to create a state outside of the 1949 lines:

He also use a word that MEMRI (which employs qualified translators) renders as ‘scumbags’ to refer to Israeli PM Netanyahu, FM Lieberman and US President Obama (perhaps a reader who understands Arabic can pick out the word for me — it might come in handy the next time there is a local anti-Israel demonstration).

As Caroline Glick explains here, the unilateral action of the PLO marks the Palestinians’ official exit from the ‘peace process’ that began with the Oslo agreement in 1993.  Nevertheless, the ‘international community’ is likely to use this event as a reason to pressure Israel for more and more concessions in the name of the dead ‘peace process’, lest they allow the Security Council to pass a resolution that will admit ‘Palestine’ to the UN.

The letter that accompanies the application for admission to the UN (all the relevant documents are here) submitted by Palestinian ‘President’ Mahmoud Abbas reaffirms the Palestinian commitment to Oslo and the ‘peace process’, as well as UN resolutions 242 and 338, while at the same time contradicting them. The letter refers to multiple UN resolutions, including the partition resolution of 1947 that was never implemented — the Arabs rejected it and chose war — as well as the ‘rights’ of Arab ‘refugees’, etc. It is a mish-mash which makes little sense.

The formal application itself simply refers to the partition resolution (181-II) and the Palestinian “declaration of independence” of 1988, which did not specify the borders of Palestine. So whatever will be voted on in the Security Council will have to be more specific than this. It is impossible to admit a state of mind to the UN.

In truth, we know that the Palestinians do not expect a physical state to come out of this. What they do hope for is a legal platform to continue their diplomatic pressure on Israel — and I guarantee that they full well intend to continue their terrorism as well, although, as always, the Palestinian government will officially deny any connection to it and even, from time to time, condemn it.

If the Palestinians did want a physical state, they could have had one on numerous occasions. They could have one tomorrow, in the words of Melanie Phillips,

…all that is needed is for [Mahmoud] Abbas to say, in Arabic as well as English, that he accepts the right of Israel to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, and that his own people will no longer wage war against it. If he were to say that, and to match those words by deeds to show he meant them – for example, by ending the incitement in the educational materials and media under his command to hatred and murder of Jews and Israelis – there would be peace and a state of Palestine.

This will not happen, because Mahmoud Abbas does not speak the truth about Palestinian aspirations. Abbas Zaki does.

Phillips refers to a “theater of the absurd” in which the media, Western governments, UN diplomats, etc. all pretend to believe  that both sides want peace, and it is only a question of finding the correct formula that will bring about a peaceful Palestinian state:

…the dominant assumption in the west, the assumption that underpins virtually every political utterance on the subject and every interview on the BBC and the reporting even in notionally pro-Israel papers such as the Times or Telegraph that a state of Palestine would end the Middle East conflict, is not only wholly mistaken but is to mis-state that conflict.

For peace to be achieved, the belligerent has to stop making war. The Arabs have made war on the Jews in their ancient homeland since Israel became a state and indeed for three decades before that. For a solution to be arrived at, it’s necessary correctly to state the problem. The problem is not the absence of a state of Palestine. The problem is that the Arabs want to get rid of Israel.

Just ask Abbas Zaki.

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Let’s give these people a state, part II

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
Asher Palmer and son Yonatan -- murdered by Arab terrorists

Asher Palmer and son Yonatan -- murdered by Arab terrorists

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine.  I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.Barack Obama, UN General Assembly, 21 September 2011

News item:

Israel Police Chief Yochanan Danino has confirmed that the victims of a tragic car crash Friday were murdered by terrorists, Channel 2 television reported Sunday afternoon. Previously, police stated that the crash was caused by driver error and was definitely not the result of an attack.

The dramatic change in approach followed a meeting Saturday night on autopsy findings in the deaths of the two victims, 25-year-old Asher Palmer and his infant son Yehonatan.

Arutz Sheva has obtained a document detailing findings from the scene of the crash. Among the evidence that at first failed, for unknown reasons, to convince police that terrorists may have been involved: a hole in the front windshield of the car, a massive rock found in the front seat with human blood on it, a tear in fabric of the steeling wheel cover and dust indicating a blow from the rock, and damage to Asher Palmer’s face suggesting an impact unrelated to the crash.

The autopsy and a CT scan of Asher Palmer’s face showed evidence of facial fractures caused by a rock.


Every single day, hundreds of rocks, blocks, stones, etc. are thrown at Jewish vehicles in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Arab towns or neighborhoods inside the Green Line. Sometime photographers are informed in advance that there will be exciting opportunities to view the heroic resistance to occupation. Throwing ‘stones’ (sometimes as big as a person’s head) is what Palestinian Arab adolescents do for entertainment. Even the great Columbia University ‘scholar’ Edward Said symbolically threw a stone across the Lebanese border at Israeli soldiers.

Let’s give them a state!

Update [9 Oct 0804 PDT]: The murderers have been arrested.

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