The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.
What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.
Hamas rockets reached Jerusalem today as the terrorist barrage on Israel continued. Rather than being silenced by Israeli counter-attacks, the Islamists have apparently been emboldened by the ardent support they have received from both Egypt and Turkey and have raised the ante in the conflict. That leaves Israel’s government having to choose between a cease-fire that will give Hamas a victory or to launch a costly ground invasion of Gaza that might inflict serious damage on the terrorists and perhaps restore some measure of deterrence. But looming over all of the discussions about the country’s options is the accusation that the fighting this week has been motivated more by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election campaign than Israel’s security.
That’s the theme being sounded by a chorus of leftist critics of the PM on the Haaretz op-ed page and is even being echoed by President Obama’s good friend and Hamas ally Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today according to Ynet. Leaving aside Erdoğan’s fantastic claim that the several hundred rockets that have been fired at Israel are a “fabrication,” the notion that the decision to try and stop the rocket attacks is connected to Israel’s parliamentary election scheduled for January.
Considering how unpopular Netanyahu is outside of his own country as well as with Israel’s media, it’s hardly surprising that this sort of thing would be said. But it should also be understood that it is complete nonsense. The timing of the conflict was determined by Hamas, not Israel, and far from boosting Netanyahu’s chances of winning re-election, the growing violence is much more of a liability than it is an opportunity to win votes.
During closed-door hearings with the House and Senate intelligence committees today, David Petraeus reportedly told lawmakers that the CIA “talking points” issued after the attack — which supported the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative — were altered by other agencies prior to distribution. AP reports:
Lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA’s draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn’t sure which federal agency took out the reference. …
Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but those names were replaced with the word “extremist” in the final draft, according to a congressional staffer. The staffer said Petraeus testified that he allowed other agencies to alter the talking points as they saw fit without asking for final review, to get them out quickly.
Some old stalwarts—Gary Ackerman and Howard Berman, for example—are leaving the U.S. House of Representatives, Ackerman voluntarily and Berman after an election defeat. The 112th Congress will also see the departure of some its most eccentric members: Dennis Kucinich lost a bitter primary battle, and Ron Paul is retiring. On November 14, Paul gave his farewell address, and it was vintage Paul. While I’m sympathetic to his libertarian approach on social issues, value individual liberty, and embrace the concept of a small, lean government, I also believe in the necessity of a strong military. Paul’s rambling conspiracies regarding AIPAC and his fierce isolationism have always turned me off as have, frankly, the even nuttier approaches of some of his followers.
Still, Paul’s address should be a must-read. As Alana Goodman pointed out, his son, Senator Rand Paul, is a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and wants very much to revamp the Republican Party. Paul can count on his father’s supporters, and then some, as he understands how to package himself as a mainstream candidate without any of his father’s “crazy uncle” excesses.
In Alana’s post about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s conference call this morning, she reported his comments about the difficulty of trying to fight a war against an immoral foe while preserving your own morality:
The ambassador said Israel has destroyed many of Hamas’s long-range missiles in its first-stage air strikes, but that they couldn’t be completely successful “because of considerations of collateral damage.” In one case, an Israeli pilot refrained from striking a long-range missile because the pilot noticed children in the vicinity, Oren said. That missile was later launched into Tel Aviv.
The action of that Israeli pilot must be seen as praiseworthy since it showed that even in the midst of a conflict in which his country’s security is at risk, that officer was still concerned about saving the lives of Palestinian children. Even if Hamas hides its forces behind civilians, the rules of engagement for Israel’s soldiers require them not to deliberately place innocents at risk even if it confers a military advantage on the terrorists. That is the sort of decision that is in accord with the values that democratic Israel prizes as well as those of Judaism. But this anecdote raises more questions than it answers. It may, in fact, be an apt metaphor for the problems that Israel faces in its conflict with Hamas. One needn’t be a bloodthirsty militarist or be indifferent to morality or to the dictates of international opinion to understand that the consequences of such a policy may not always advance humanitarian goals.
The moral dilemma here is fairly clear. Choosing not to fire at the Hamas missile site may have saved the lives of Palestinian children who were near the weapon. But what would we think about that decision had the missile that had been spared on account of the presence of the Palestinians kids landed on a school, a school bus or a home in Tel Aviv where Israeli children might be hurt or killed? Unless you believe, as many of Israel’s critics apparently do, that Israelis deserve to be killed but that Palestinians ought to be treated as out-of-bounds for any military action, this is an immoral equation.
In the 112th Congress, more than 150 congressmen have signed up for the “Caucus on US Turkish Relations & Turkish Americans,” more commonly called the Turkey Caucus. Once upon the time, such membership might have been a no-brainer: Turkey was not only a NATO member, but also an ally in the war against terrorism. Turkey empowered women; it did not purge them from public service.
No longer. Turkey may still be a NATO member, but it seldom battles for the same goals, even in Afghanistan. And as for terrorism, the Turkish government has become part of the problem rather than the solution. Each and every member of the Turkey Caucus should watch this video of the Turkish ruling party welcoming the leader of Hamas, and this clip of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking candidly in the years before he took the premiership, and ask whether this is the man and the government they want to be endorsing. Here is Erdoğan telling Charlie Rose that Hamas rocket attacks are a hoax, and Bülent Yildirim, a friend of Erdoğan and the head of the charity behind the Gaza flotilla, praising Hamas.
Via Tablet’s Adam Chandler. At first glance the background footage in this BBC report appears to show injured Palestinians stumbling away from Israeli military strikes. But watch a little closer starting at about 2 minutes into the video, and see if you can spot the inconsistencies. Here’s one to start you off: keep an eye on the supposedly wounded guy on the ground in the tan jacket who’s carried off by a group of men around 2:10 into the clip. Watch him pop back up a few seconds later in the footage, milling around off-set with a bored look on his face:
Several months ago, I asked a retired admiral what sign the United States could give that its patience had truly worn thin with Iran. “Remove the carriers from the Persian Gulf,” he responded. At first, that struck me as dumb: The Iranians would depict the American withdrawal as another sign that the United States was weak and in retreat. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “Any Revolutionary Guardsmen worth his weight would understand.”
The Persian Gulf is shallow and the international shipping lanes relatively narrow. The Iranian navy has long drilled swarming American vessels with small boats. Even if Iran can’t sink an aircraft carrier, if it manages even to disable one, it will receive a huge propaganda boost. If the Pentagon kept its carriers outside the Persian Gulf in the deeper and open waters of the Sea of Oman, however, they would retain the same strike capabilities but could maintain greater maneuverability and remain outside the reach of the Iranian navy.
On Election Day last week, Connecticut elected a replacement senator for the retiring Joe Lieberman, the very last Scoop Jackson Democrat. In terms of Jackson’s legacy, it was one half of the end an era; the other half begins today, as the U.S. House votes to graduate Russia from what’s known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation sanctioning the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. The amendment is still on the books, but mostly as a symbolic measure. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would actually harm American companies looking to benefit from the normalization of trade relations with Russia.
But the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s fight for human rights in Russia will go on. The bill is set to be replaced with a bill targeting the Russian government’s recognizable human rights violators. Referred to as the Magnitsky bill, it is named for a Russian whistle blower arrested and abused by Russian authorities for uncovering corruption. Magnitsky died in custody. As with the sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration had personally opposed the Magnitsky human rights bill, and dispatched John Kerry to try and kill or water down the bill. When the Senate comes back from its Thanksgiving recess to take up its own version of the bill, we’ll find out just how much contempt Kerry has for the advocacy of human rights. Vladimir Putin’s government, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled with being held to account:
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said during a conference call this morning that the long-range missile fired by Hamas into Jerusalem today was an “escalation” of the conflict and that Israel was prepared for a possible ground invasion.
“We are prepared to take any and all measures to defend our citizens, including measures in the air and on the ground,” Oren said. “Israeli ground forces have been moved to the border. There has been no crossing of the border to date, but those forces are deployed and ready to act, be there a need.”
With Israeli aircraft pounding selected targets in the Gaza Strip and Israeli troops preparing for a ground incursion, Operation Pillar of Defense, now three days old, is beginning to look a lot like Operation Cast Lead, the three-week war in the winter of 2008-2009 in which the Israel Defense Forces entered the Gaza Strip, demolished some Hamas infrastructure, and then left. That operation was a success in the limited but real sense that it brought some respite from rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip. But, as Daniel Byman notes at Foreign Affairs, “As the memory of Cast Lead faded, the number of attacks coming from Gaza began to rise once more. Israel claims that over 200 rockets struck the country in 2010. The number climbed to over 600 in 2011. And 2012 has seen even more — over 800 before the current operation began.”
Clearly that is an unsustainable state of affairs. No country could possibly tolerate its soil being attacked with rockets and not act militarily to defend its citizens. Those who criticize the Israeli action–already one hears the tired old accusations of “disproportionate response” (what would a proportionate response look like–lobbing random missiles into Gaza indiscriminately?)–have no better alternative to offer beyond sucking it up and living with terror raining down over the southern part of the country. But however justified and necessary, Operation Pillar of Defense is unlikely to achieve results much more lasting than those of Cast Lead. Hamas has shown it will not cease and desist from its attacks because of an occasional Israeli counteroffensive and it has shown that it can easily replace militant commanders such as Ahmed Jabari, killed in an Israeli air strike Wednesday.
While the international media has been focusing on the latest in the conflict between Iranian-backed groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel, events have started to boil over on the East Bank, in Jordan. Short synopsis: For well over a decade, King Abdullah II of Jordan has been promising reform. The reform has seldom moved beyond the promise, however. Abdullah II and his wife, the beautiful Queen Rania, may be popular in the West, but they are viewed through decidedly cynical eyes at home. Abdullah’s English is better than his Arabic, and Rania’s profligate lifestyle chafes ordinary Jordanians.
Jordanians see both as corrupt. The king has a scheme in which he sells crown land to the government, and pockets the money. No one points out that crown land and government land are pretty much the same thing. Another anecdote: Back in 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was rushed to Jordan for emergency medical care. As he recovered, he handed out wads of cash to the doctors, nurses, and attendants. The hospital administrator ordered the tips collected, and then redistributed the “bonus” equally to those working, including those whom Talabani may not have seen. The comment among the doctors was it was a good thing Abdullah and Rania were nowhere around, because they would have simply taken the money, and not given any back.
At any rate, to the spark: After massive fuel price hikes, protests erupted and Jordanian security forces killed a protestor. After Friday prayers, protestors poured into the street and now openly call for King Abdullah II’s downfall. For a sampling of what some more radical Jordanian clerics were saying, Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi is a good place to start. Here’s how he explained it:
Israel’s Defense Forces have, by all accounts, performed well during Operation Pillar of Defense. In the wake of the massive bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas, the IDF carried out a deft targeted assassination of the head of the group’s military wing and carried out a wave of pinpoint bombings of terrorist missile caches and arms factories inside Gaza. The leadership of the terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist is cowering in the bunkers. Though there have been some unfortunate civilian casualties, they have been kept to a minimum despite the fact that Hamas has tried to hide its armaments and its personnel among noncombatants.
But these achievements should not obscure the fact that although Israel’s military is doing everything it can to suppress the missile fire, the terrorists have still managed to launch hundreds in the last two days, with a few even penetrating as far as the greater Tel Aviv area. Just as troubling is the heavy-duty diplomatic support the group has received from its regional allies Egypt and Turkey in addition to Russia’s refusal to join the West in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.
Though the group has taken a pounding from the IDF, it may well have achieved the objectives it had in mind when it decided to use the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election to escalate the conflict with Israel. Whatever else has happened in the last week, Hamas has demonstrated the irrelevance of the Palestinian Authority and made clear that it, and not PA head Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, is the face of Palestinian nationalism. By slamming hundreds of missiles in the last week into Israel it may have squandered part of the arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets it has amassed in the last four years and suffered a blow to its leadership. But it has also illustrated that the independent Palestinian state it has erected in Gaza is supported by the Arab and Muslim world and is, for all intents and purposes, invulnerable to international pressure or Israeli attacks. If that isn’t a victory for terrorism, I don’t know what else you could call it.
CNN reports that David Petraeus will testify today in a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that he knew the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism carried out by Ansar al Sharia “almost immediately.” What’s more, he will reportedly distance himself from Susan Rice’s “spontaneous demonstration” talking points, which were ostensibly given to her by the CIA. Video and partial transcript below (h/t The Weekly Standard’s Dan Halper):
The Camp David Accords aren’t even 35 years old, but the latest violence between Hamas and Israel shows the fallacy underlying the principle of land for peace. Bluntly speaking, “land for peace” is dead; any diplomatic effort to revive it is likely doomed to fail. That does not mean that there cannot one day be peace, but Hamas’s actions—long planned for with equipment acquired even under the embargo—show how territory ceded brings not peace, but greater violence and vulnerability.
I had meant to write this a couple days ago, but as I was doing so, the motherboard on my 3-month-old laptop died. It’s fixed now, and so I’ve gotten my work back, and I think some of these points remain relevant, even as the story moves on. Jonathan Tobin has argued that Petraeus was right to resign, and I largely agree with his excellent points, but want to add one: I’m not so concerned about how unfair it is that more senior leaders like Bill Clinton not only cheated on their wives, but survived politically with even greater popularity. A military officer like Petraeus should be held to a higher standard than even the commander-in-chief.
Every officer and his or her spouse are a team. At every level of David Petraeus’s career, Holly Petraeus was his often unacknowledged partner not only in terms of personal support, but also in career. Officers’ wives are active not only in the military community, but also in the entertaining and diplomacy, which form an important part of any flag officers’ duties. Had Holly Petraeus not been so capable, her husband may not have achieved such a rapid rise. For an officer to betray his wife reflects not only a personal failing, which is more the business of the Petraeus family and few others, but also the betrayal of a long-standing, professional teammate.