Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 2, 2010

A World Gone Mad

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

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Embrace of Hamas’s Goal of Breaking the Blockade Dooms Peace Efforts

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

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So How About That Blockade?

I don’t know if Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a good idea or a bad idea. After the incident in the Mediterranean earlier this week, though, when blockade runners on the Mavi Marmara ship attacked Israeli forces and were shot and killed in the process, Israel is likely to face more pressure than ever to lift it.

Let’s be honest about what that would mean.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, which shares a land border with Syria and is not under blockade, has a gigantic arsenal of rockets and missiles, more than most governments in the Middle East, and that arsenal includes missiles that can reach every single inch of Israeli territory, including Jerusalem, downtown Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear power plant. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah will likely mean missiles, artillery shells, and payloads from air strikes will explode all over the Eastern Mediterranean, making last year’s small war in Gaza look even smaller.

Hamas has a relatively tiny arsenal of crude rockets, but if the Gaza Strip were not under military blockade, it could acquire whatever weapons Syria and Iran felt like sending by ship. Gaza could bristle with as many destructive projectiles as Hezbollah has. Food and medicines are allowed into the Strip already, so the most significant difference between Gaza now and a Gaza without a blockade will be the importation of weapons and war material.

More Israelis would be likely to die during the ensuing hostilities, and an even larger number of Palestinians would be likely to die when Israel fights back harder against a better armed and more dangerous adversary.

There’s a case to be made for lifting the blockade, even so. The living standards of Gaza residents might rise a little, and the long list of reasons to gripe about Israel will shorten by one. It doesn’t quite seem worth it to me, but I’m not in charge of these things.

I don’t know if Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a good idea or a bad idea. After the incident in the Mediterranean earlier this week, though, when blockade runners on the Mavi Marmara ship attacked Israeli forces and were shot and killed in the process, Israel is likely to face more pressure than ever to lift it.

Let’s be honest about what that would mean.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, which shares a land border with Syria and is not under blockade, has a gigantic arsenal of rockets and missiles, more than most governments in the Middle East, and that arsenal includes missiles that can reach every single inch of Israeli territory, including Jerusalem, downtown Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear power plant. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah will likely mean missiles, artillery shells, and payloads from air strikes will explode all over the Eastern Mediterranean, making last year’s small war in Gaza look even smaller.

Hamas has a relatively tiny arsenal of crude rockets, but if the Gaza Strip were not under military blockade, it could acquire whatever weapons Syria and Iran felt like sending by ship. Gaza could bristle with as many destructive projectiles as Hezbollah has. Food and medicines are allowed into the Strip already, so the most significant difference between Gaza now and a Gaza without a blockade will be the importation of weapons and war material.

More Israelis would be likely to die during the ensuing hostilities, and an even larger number of Palestinians would be likely to die when Israel fights back harder against a better armed and more dangerous adversary.

There’s a case to be made for lifting the blockade, even so. The living standards of Gaza residents might rise a little, and the long list of reasons to gripe about Israel will shorten by one. It doesn’t quite seem worth it to me, but I’m not in charge of these things.

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“Once Again Israel Faces Hypocrisy and a Biased Rush to Judgement”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s just-delivered address to Israel on the flotilla ambush.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s just-delivered address to Israel on the flotilla ambush.

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Israel’s Partner for Peace

Palestinian Media Watch has Mahmoud Abbas’s take on the terrorist flotilla:

The significance is that this decision was made in advance. They [Israel] wanted to create a confrontation. They did not want to allow [the ships into Gaza], but were determined from the outset to create a confrontation. They had the opportunity yesterday to relate to these people peacefully, because those who came to Gaza are civilians, peace-seeking people, who did not come to attack. They did not come with weapons or with an army. They came with humanitarian aid. Therefore, it was a decision made in advance, premeditated and with determination to kill and to create a confrontation with these people, and to take them all to ports in Israel. Israel always ignores all international norms, all international laws, all humanitarian laws. [Israel] doesn’t care about anything.

The cynicism and opportunism, as usual, are staggering. The biggest beneficiaries of the Gaza blockade other than Israeli civilians are Abbas, the Fatah Party, and the Palestinian Authority. With the blockade, Israel is keeping bottled up in Gaza the very people who would hang Abbas and his cronies from telephone poles. Abbas is trashing Israel for the very blockade that is keeping him in power.

Palestinian Media Watch has Mahmoud Abbas’s take on the terrorist flotilla:

The significance is that this decision was made in advance. They [Israel] wanted to create a confrontation. They did not want to allow [the ships into Gaza], but were determined from the outset to create a confrontation. They had the opportunity yesterday to relate to these people peacefully, because those who came to Gaza are civilians, peace-seeking people, who did not come to attack. They did not come with weapons or with an army. They came with humanitarian aid. Therefore, it was a decision made in advance, premeditated and with determination to kill and to create a confrontation with these people, and to take them all to ports in Israel. Israel always ignores all international norms, all international laws, all humanitarian laws. [Israel] doesn’t care about anything.

The cynicism and opportunism, as usual, are staggering. The biggest beneficiaries of the Gaza blockade other than Israeli civilians are Abbas, the Fatah Party, and the Palestinian Authority. With the blockade, Israel is keeping bottled up in Gaza the very people who would hang Abbas and his cronies from telephone poles. Abbas is trashing Israel for the very blockade that is keeping him in power.

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RE: Useful Idiot

A devoted reader who wrings no hands over dead non-peace activists who are killed attacking Israeli forces (do we mourn suicide bombers? — the rules are getting murky) and never quarterbacks on Monday morning tells me that the designation should be “useless idiot” and she is right. The next in the dock is Barney Frank, who, as a “Jew”, is ashamed — he confesses — of Israel and says Palestinians are a victimized minority. He’s calling for an independent inquiry, which suggests that the UN might want to put Richard Goldstone on a retainer rather than pay by the libel; it adds up, you know. Plainly, the J Street sewer is overflowing and washing up on the shore. Frank has sized up the situation, rendered a verdict, and is prepared to throw the Jewish state to the wolves. But he will tell you he is pro-Israel. If so, the word has lost all meaning.

A devoted reader who wrings no hands over dead non-peace activists who are killed attacking Israeli forces (do we mourn suicide bombers? — the rules are getting murky) and never quarterbacks on Monday morning tells me that the designation should be “useless idiot” and she is right. The next in the dock is Barney Frank, who, as a “Jew”, is ashamed — he confesses — of Israel and says Palestinians are a victimized minority. He’s calling for an independent inquiry, which suggests that the UN might want to put Richard Goldstone on a retainer rather than pay by the libel; it adds up, you know. Plainly, the J Street sewer is overflowing and washing up on the shore. Frank has sized up the situation, rendered a verdict, and is prepared to throw the Jewish state to the wolves. But he will tell you he is pro-Israel. If so, the word has lost all meaning.

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Wake-Up Call

I have confidence that Israel’s defense leadership will correct the tactical error in the May 31 boarding of M/V Mavi Marmara that allowed the situation to spiral out of control. No revision of tactics is, by itself, a silver bullet, but the change of one premise will enable the IDF to go in properly prepared. The definition of that premise is whether the activists participating in a blockade-busting attempt will resist the IDF with force or not.

The excellent debate unfolding here at CONTENTIONS has already highlighted the reason why Israeli planners weren’t expecting such resistance on Monday. Max Boot points out that Israel has previously stopped and searched aid ships and allowed them to continue to Gaza. It’s precisely because those vessels were boarded without resistance that the Israeli commandos anticipated none.

Should they have considered resistance likely? Yes. There’s no sugar-coating that operational truth. All the information was available beforehand to suggest resistance was probable, from the integral involvement of IHH and Hamas to the numerous prior statements of Islamist activists that the flotilla’s purpose was to break the blockade, incurring martyrdom if necessary. The weapons found on Mavi Marmara, which include homemade projectiles and incendiary devices (video here), are exactly what Hamas guerrillas have used for years in street confrontations with the IDF.

My criticism here is from a military professional perspective – and I can assure you of this: I can’t possibly beat up the IDF planners any more than they are beating up themselves at this moment. Faulty planning and lame execution get no mercy in military circles. The planners of the raid don’t expect any.

This flotilla incident is a wake-up call: a demonstration of operational intent on the part of Israel’s guerrilla enemies. Until this week, Israel thought of handling the Gaza maritime problem in terms of enforcing a blockade against activists who were unarmed and, at worst, rather silly. By the criteria of both naval operations and international custom, the Israelis have approached it straightforwardly. The maritime blockade of Gaza was declared in proper channels, via a “Notice to Mariners,” and the enforcement has always involved the minimum force necessary to achieve the objective. Intercepting ships when they are close to the blockaded area – not interfering with security and order in foreign ports – is a sound practice for keeping a blockade’s profile low and its consequences manageable.

The IHH-organized flotilla, with its eruption of armed resistance, changes the calculus of Israeli strategy for the whole maritime security problem. We can expect Israel’s leaders and IDF planners to adapt. They will do better than adapt, I predict: they will get ahead of the problem, planning for even more contingencies than Hamas has yet concocted.

But armchair naval commandos need to understand that this is a very tough problem. Going in with sufficient force to avert resistance from the outset works almost every time when a boarding involves criminals with mercenary motives: small-time pirates, drug-runners, or sanctions-breakers. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have long experience with that kind of maritime enforcement. If the standoff at sea involves activists seeking martyrdom, however, controlling them without killing them will often be even harder in a maritime situation than it is on land.

At some point, the Israelis may indeed have to choose interdicting arms shipments through kinetic action in foreign ports. But the real issue with the flotillas is the integrity of the blockade. As long as Hamas is getting foreign assistance, its operatives won’t stop trying to break the blockade with dramatic instances of confrontation and self-immolation at sea. Other nations in the region need to wake up and prevent their ships – and, if possible, their citizens – from being impressed into such service.

It’s not clear how far Turkey will go down this path; perhaps the 2011 elections can change the nation’s course. The Europeans, however, have no excuse for not correcting course now. The U.S. and the EU should endorse a policy that all NGO aid sent to Gaza by sea be offloaded in Israeli- or Egyptian-controlled ports, inspected, and convoyed over land. The West’s irresponsible cooperation with the Hamas narrative has gone far enough.

I have confidence that Israel’s defense leadership will correct the tactical error in the May 31 boarding of M/V Mavi Marmara that allowed the situation to spiral out of control. No revision of tactics is, by itself, a silver bullet, but the change of one premise will enable the IDF to go in properly prepared. The definition of that premise is whether the activists participating in a blockade-busting attempt will resist the IDF with force or not.

The excellent debate unfolding here at CONTENTIONS has already highlighted the reason why Israeli planners weren’t expecting such resistance on Monday. Max Boot points out that Israel has previously stopped and searched aid ships and allowed them to continue to Gaza. It’s precisely because those vessels were boarded without resistance that the Israeli commandos anticipated none.

Should they have considered resistance likely? Yes. There’s no sugar-coating that operational truth. All the information was available beforehand to suggest resistance was probable, from the integral involvement of IHH and Hamas to the numerous prior statements of Islamist activists that the flotilla’s purpose was to break the blockade, incurring martyrdom if necessary. The weapons found on Mavi Marmara, which include homemade projectiles and incendiary devices (video here), are exactly what Hamas guerrillas have used for years in street confrontations with the IDF.

My criticism here is from a military professional perspective – and I can assure you of this: I can’t possibly beat up the IDF planners any more than they are beating up themselves at this moment. Faulty planning and lame execution get no mercy in military circles. The planners of the raid don’t expect any.

This flotilla incident is a wake-up call: a demonstration of operational intent on the part of Israel’s guerrilla enemies. Until this week, Israel thought of handling the Gaza maritime problem in terms of enforcing a blockade against activists who were unarmed and, at worst, rather silly. By the criteria of both naval operations and international custom, the Israelis have approached it straightforwardly. The maritime blockade of Gaza was declared in proper channels, via a “Notice to Mariners,” and the enforcement has always involved the minimum force necessary to achieve the objective. Intercepting ships when they are close to the blockaded area – not interfering with security and order in foreign ports – is a sound practice for keeping a blockade’s profile low and its consequences manageable.

The IHH-organized flotilla, with its eruption of armed resistance, changes the calculus of Israeli strategy for the whole maritime security problem. We can expect Israel’s leaders and IDF planners to adapt. They will do better than adapt, I predict: they will get ahead of the problem, planning for even more contingencies than Hamas has yet concocted.

But armchair naval commandos need to understand that this is a very tough problem. Going in with sufficient force to avert resistance from the outset works almost every time when a boarding involves criminals with mercenary motives: small-time pirates, drug-runners, or sanctions-breakers. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have long experience with that kind of maritime enforcement. If the standoff at sea involves activists seeking martyrdom, however, controlling them without killing them will often be even harder in a maritime situation than it is on land.

At some point, the Israelis may indeed have to choose interdicting arms shipments through kinetic action in foreign ports. But the real issue with the flotillas is the integrity of the blockade. As long as Hamas is getting foreign assistance, its operatives won’t stop trying to break the blockade with dramatic instances of confrontation and self-immolation at sea. Other nations in the region need to wake up and prevent their ships – and, if possible, their citizens – from being impressed into such service.

It’s not clear how far Turkey will go down this path; perhaps the 2011 elections can change the nation’s course. The Europeans, however, have no excuse for not correcting course now. The U.S. and the EU should endorse a policy that all NGO aid sent to Gaza by sea be offloaded in Israeli- or Egyptian-controlled ports, inspected, and convoyed over land. The West’s irresponsible cooperation with the Hamas narrative has gone far enough.

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RE: Constructive Criticism

Max, there is no question that the Israeli operation was a problematic one because it was (a) detected, (b) went badly for the commandos who were given the task of interdicting it, and (c) was clearly designed to create an international incident. Let’s take these in order.

Detected: You, like Ronen Bergman in the Wall Street Journal today, suggest Israel should have done something to the Mavi Marmara and the flotilla before the commandos had to board it. But the very fact that Israel didn’t do that suggests that it couldn’t. I don’t know this for a fact, but you and Bergman don’t know otherwise.

Went badly: The operation went badly because people were killed and Israeli soldiers were beaten. Clearly, this was not what a pristine operation would have been like. The Israelis certainly need to figure out what went wrong here and why the staging proved incompetent. But military operations involving commandos do go wrong. That doesn’t make them fiascoes, catastrophes, or justify the use of terms that suggest this event is on a par with the French defeat at Agincourt. This one is only a worldwide “fiasco” because of the media response, which is what this is really all about, anyway.

Create an international incident: The Gaza blockade is a signal part of Israel’s military strategy against Hamas. This whole business was ginned up to provoke an Israeli response. Either way. Way One: Israel lets the ships go through, and Hamas exults in the shattering of the blockade. Way Two: Israel interdicts the flotilla, hauls “humanitarian activists” into jail, and Hamas scores a propaganda victory. Way Two is what happened, with the addition of bloodshed and Israeli casualties. That was horrible, but it was in the cards once the ships sailed — if, as I presume is true, the Israeli claim that the Mavi Marmara could not be stopped at sea because it was a cruise ship and was simply too big. Bergman uses as his example of what Israel did better a 2006 blockade run that Israel allowed to go through — but that’s not an apposite example, because in that case, Israel was able to interdict the ship and bring it into port and search its cargo. And thus the blockade wasn’t breached. In this case, it would have been.

The Hamas-staged event was a brilliant gambit. But it is not analogous to the disaster in Lebanon in 2006, because that was a full-scale war that failed to achieve its objectives. This is more akin to a classic intifada event in which the Palestinians succeed with media collusion in portraying a completely moral Israeli military action as a war crime.

Finally, you write:

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

I think the problem here is that this presumes a greater degree of knowledge than Israel may have possessed. Perhaps Israel should have known that the Mavi Marmara did not possess missiles and other weapons, but evidently it didn’t. And it also presumes something even more problematic: that the blockade of Gaza is less important militarily or existentially than Israel getting a lot of heat for what happened on the ship. Because once the ship docks, the blockade is over.

The defense of Israel these past few days on CONTENTIONS isn’t intended to quell discussion of what might have gone wrong; rather, it is, as it always is, to refute the constant insistence that any time Israel acts in its own defense it is engaged in immoral action rather than in the vital task of preserving the security of its people.

Max, there is no question that the Israeli operation was a problematic one because it was (a) detected, (b) went badly for the commandos who were given the task of interdicting it, and (c) was clearly designed to create an international incident. Let’s take these in order.

Detected: You, like Ronen Bergman in the Wall Street Journal today, suggest Israel should have done something to the Mavi Marmara and the flotilla before the commandos had to board it. But the very fact that Israel didn’t do that suggests that it couldn’t. I don’t know this for a fact, but you and Bergman don’t know otherwise.

Went badly: The operation went badly because people were killed and Israeli soldiers were beaten. Clearly, this was not what a pristine operation would have been like. The Israelis certainly need to figure out what went wrong here and why the staging proved incompetent. But military operations involving commandos do go wrong. That doesn’t make them fiascoes, catastrophes, or justify the use of terms that suggest this event is on a par with the French defeat at Agincourt. This one is only a worldwide “fiasco” because of the media response, which is what this is really all about, anyway.

Create an international incident: The Gaza blockade is a signal part of Israel’s military strategy against Hamas. This whole business was ginned up to provoke an Israeli response. Either way. Way One: Israel lets the ships go through, and Hamas exults in the shattering of the blockade. Way Two: Israel interdicts the flotilla, hauls “humanitarian activists” into jail, and Hamas scores a propaganda victory. Way Two is what happened, with the addition of bloodshed and Israeli casualties. That was horrible, but it was in the cards once the ships sailed — if, as I presume is true, the Israeli claim that the Mavi Marmara could not be stopped at sea because it was a cruise ship and was simply too big. Bergman uses as his example of what Israel did better a 2006 blockade run that Israel allowed to go through — but that’s not an apposite example, because in that case, Israel was able to interdict the ship and bring it into port and search its cargo. And thus the blockade wasn’t breached. In this case, it would have been.

The Hamas-staged event was a brilliant gambit. But it is not analogous to the disaster in Lebanon in 2006, because that was a full-scale war that failed to achieve its objectives. This is more akin to a classic intifada event in which the Palestinians succeed with media collusion in portraying a completely moral Israeli military action as a war crime.

Finally, you write:

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

I think the problem here is that this presumes a greater degree of knowledge than Israel may have possessed. Perhaps Israel should have known that the Mavi Marmara did not possess missiles and other weapons, but evidently it didn’t. And it also presumes something even more problematic: that the blockade of Gaza is less important militarily or existentially than Israel getting a lot of heat for what happened on the ship. Because once the ship docks, the blockade is over.

The defense of Israel these past few days on CONTENTIONS isn’t intended to quell discussion of what might have gone wrong; rather, it is, as it always is, to refute the constant insistence that any time Israel acts in its own defense it is engaged in immoral action rather than in the vital task of preserving the security of its people.

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

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Useful Idiot

Many House and Senate members are stepping forward with statements in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reads like a parody of a J Street news release:

I regret the loss of life and look forward to learning the facts from a credible and transparent investigation. This event underscores the urgent need for negotiations designed to achieve an enduring and comprehensive regional peace.

No mention of the injuries to Israeli forces or of Israel’s right of self-defense. Is she now angling for a UN witch hunt? And how, pray tell, will the peace process with Fatah, which has failed for 60 years because of Palestinian rejectionism, help matters? Has Hamas renounced terrorism? It is a statement remarkable — even for Nancy Pelosi — in its dimness. She is plainly shilling for the White House, but the ventriloquists at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. need a more effective dummy.

Many House and Senate members are stepping forward with statements in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reads like a parody of a J Street news release:

I regret the loss of life and look forward to learning the facts from a credible and transparent investigation. This event underscores the urgent need for negotiations designed to achieve an enduring and comprehensive regional peace.

No mention of the injuries to Israeli forces or of Israel’s right of self-defense. Is she now angling for a UN witch hunt? And how, pray tell, will the peace process with Fatah, which has failed for 60 years because of Palestinian rejectionism, help matters? Has Hamas renounced terrorism? It is a statement remarkable — even for Nancy Pelosi — in its dimness. She is plainly shilling for the White House, but the ventriloquists at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. need a more effective dummy.

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Who Are Israel’s True Friends?

Christians United for Israel, unlike the befuddled Nancy Pelosi, puts out a statement that is a model of moral clarity:

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) deeply regrets any loss of life associated with the events that took place on Monday morning during Israel’s justified seizure of ships attempting to violate Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Yet CUFI notes that Israel’s soldiers were responding in self-defense to a clear provocation by ship passengers who viciously attacked Israeli commandos as they boarded one of the ships in the flotilla. These unfortunate incidents cannot be properly understood outside of this context.

We further note that Israel took important steps to avoid confrontation and violence in this matter. This included an offer to offload the ships’ supplies in Israel and transport those materials overland to the Gaza Strip, as well as a clear warning to the flotilla’s leaders that the Israeli military would not allow them to land in Gaza.

By the admission of its own leaders, this flotilla was aimed not at delivering humanitarian aid, but at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza — a blockade that is justified given the behavior of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

CUFI believes that the requirement that all materials imported to the Gaza Strip be subject to inspection by Israeli security personnel is in line with Israel’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from further violence originating from that territory. CUFI further notes that Israel has a clear record of permitting truly humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, as evidenced by the over one million tons of humanitarian supplies that have been transferred in the past eighteen months.

So who are the pro-Israeli Americans? Who are more than friends in name only? Pelosi, J Street, the hand-wringers, and moral-equivalence mongers — or these righteous Gentiles?

Christians United for Israel, unlike the befuddled Nancy Pelosi, puts out a statement that is a model of moral clarity:

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) deeply regrets any loss of life associated with the events that took place on Monday morning during Israel’s justified seizure of ships attempting to violate Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Yet CUFI notes that Israel’s soldiers were responding in self-defense to a clear provocation by ship passengers who viciously attacked Israeli commandos as they boarded one of the ships in the flotilla. These unfortunate incidents cannot be properly understood outside of this context.

We further note that Israel took important steps to avoid confrontation and violence in this matter. This included an offer to offload the ships’ supplies in Israel and transport those materials overland to the Gaza Strip, as well as a clear warning to the flotilla’s leaders that the Israeli military would not allow them to land in Gaza.

By the admission of its own leaders, this flotilla was aimed not at delivering humanitarian aid, but at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza — a blockade that is justified given the behavior of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

CUFI believes that the requirement that all materials imported to the Gaza Strip be subject to inspection by Israeli security personnel is in line with Israel’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from further violence originating from that territory. CUFI further notes that Israel has a clear record of permitting truly humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, as evidenced by the over one million tons of humanitarian supplies that have been transferred in the past eighteen months.

So who are the pro-Israeli Americans? Who are more than friends in name only? Pelosi, J Street, the hand-wringers, and moral-equivalence mongers — or these righteous Gentiles?

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The Buried Sestak Scandal

Because of the Gaza terrorist flotilla and the BP oil spill, the Joe Sestak job scandal has taken a back seat in news coverage — precisely what the White House intended when it released its counsel memo on the Friday before Memorial Day.

But in the words of Janet Napolitano, this is not a “one-off” thing. The Denver Post is on the Colorado version of SestakGate — involving Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff. The Post rightly suggests that the administration come clean on that one. But the media shows little interest in hassling Obama over allegations that, at worst, the White House violated federal law; and, at best, Obama has brought sleazy Chicago politics into the Oval Office.

Because of the Gaza terrorist flotilla and the BP oil spill, the Joe Sestak job scandal has taken a back seat in news coverage — precisely what the White House intended when it released its counsel memo on the Friday before Memorial Day.

But in the words of Janet Napolitano, this is not a “one-off” thing. The Denver Post is on the Colorado version of SestakGate — involving Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff. The Post rightly suggests that the administration come clean on that one. But the media shows little interest in hassling Obama over allegations that, at worst, the White House violated federal law; and, at best, Obama has brought sleazy Chicago politics into the Oval Office.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Israel, Trapped in Plato’s Cave

Like a rock emerging in a sea of lies, we know important facts about the confrontation that took place on Monday between Israel and a flotilla of ships making its way to the Gaza strip.

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt, by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Like a rock emerging in a sea of lies, we know important facts about the confrontation that took place on Monday between Israel and a flotilla of ships making its way to the Gaza strip.

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt, by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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The Lessons of Hanin Zuabi’s Big Lie

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

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Obama to Israel: You’re on Your Own

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

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Democrats’ Sinking Ship

As Pete mentioned yesterday, Gallup tells us that the Republicans have jumped out to an historic lead in generic congressional polling — 49 to 43 percent over the Democrats. There are any number of factors at play, but the situation is not improving as Democrats had hoped, but are in fact worsening. Maybe it is a temporary phenomenon associated with the president’s own decline in poll numbers (related, most likely, to the BP oil spill, the economy, the Sestak job scandal, etc.). But at some point, the donors get nervous, the base refuses to get excited, volunteers don’t sign up, and the polls become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

ObamaCare was not the magic bullet Democrats had hoped it would be. Rather it has become a poison pill, which accelerated the downward slide for Obama’s party. There is still time to avert an electoral meltdown, but it’s hard to see what the Democrats could do at this point to save themselves and their majority control of Congress.

As Pete mentioned yesterday, Gallup tells us that the Republicans have jumped out to an historic lead in generic congressional polling — 49 to 43 percent over the Democrats. There are any number of factors at play, but the situation is not improving as Democrats had hoped, but are in fact worsening. Maybe it is a temporary phenomenon associated with the president’s own decline in poll numbers (related, most likely, to the BP oil spill, the economy, the Sestak job scandal, etc.). But at some point, the donors get nervous, the base refuses to get excited, volunteers don’t sign up, and the polls become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

ObamaCare was not the magic bullet Democrats had hoped it would be. Rather it has become a poison pill, which accelerated the downward slide for Obama’s party. There is still time to avert an electoral meltdown, but it’s hard to see what the Democrats could do at this point to save themselves and their majority control of Congress.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When Israel is under assault, at least the White House isn’t condemning the Jewish state.

When Israel is under assault, Turkey demands that the U.S. condemn Israel. There is an appropriate response. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe had it right.

When Israel is under assault, the UN Human Rights Council is leading the charge. When will Obama recognize that our participation is another counterproductive engagement gambit?

When Israel is under assault, Rep. Tom Price declares, “Israel has every right to defend itself.” (Others, including Reps. Gary Ackerman, Ron Klein, and Gary Peters, did as well.)

When Israel is under assault, Minority Whip Eric Cantor goes to bat for Israel and urges Obama to do the same: “House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pushed for Obama to exercise the veto power the United States enjoys as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to nix a resolution that chastises Israel’s military incident Monday involving a flotilla, or group of small boats, trying to access Gaza in spite of a blockade.”

When Israel is under assault, Steve Emerson has the goods on the not-at-all-for-peace activists’ terrorist ties.

When Israel is under assault, Peter Beinart cheerily piles on, calling the blockade “indefensible.” He apparently has decided that being the new hero of the left as well as an object of derision by pro-Israel commentators is the way to go.

When Israel is under assault, Abe Foxman questions U.S. policy on the NPT: “I worry about the US decision to support a resolution at the UN Nonproliferation conference which specifically calls on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities and join the NPT treaty. What does this decision say about the Obama administration’s assumptions and directions regarding Israel?”

When Israel is under assault, at least the White House isn’t condemning the Jewish state.

When Israel is under assault, Turkey demands that the U.S. condemn Israel. There is an appropriate response. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe had it right.

When Israel is under assault, the UN Human Rights Council is leading the charge. When will Obama recognize that our participation is another counterproductive engagement gambit?

When Israel is under assault, Rep. Tom Price declares, “Israel has every right to defend itself.” (Others, including Reps. Gary Ackerman, Ron Klein, and Gary Peters, did as well.)

When Israel is under assault, Minority Whip Eric Cantor goes to bat for Israel and urges Obama to do the same: “House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pushed for Obama to exercise the veto power the United States enjoys as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to nix a resolution that chastises Israel’s military incident Monday involving a flotilla, or group of small boats, trying to access Gaza in spite of a blockade.”

When Israel is under assault, Steve Emerson has the goods on the not-at-all-for-peace activists’ terrorist ties.

When Israel is under assault, Peter Beinart cheerily piles on, calling the blockade “indefensible.” He apparently has decided that being the new hero of the left as well as an object of derision by pro-Israel commentators is the way to go.

When Israel is under assault, Abe Foxman questions U.S. policy on the NPT: “I worry about the US decision to support a resolution at the UN Nonproliferation conference which specifically calls on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities and join the NPT treaty. What does this decision say about the Obama administration’s assumptions and directions regarding Israel?”

Read Less




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