There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:
LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.
NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…
LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.
NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that.
LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?
NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?
In the last couple of days, Max has ably fended off criticism of missile defense–a commonsense and effective tool in homeland security. He closes his second post on the subject with a question: “Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?”
Yes, it is, and it makes opposition to missile defense from the left quite strange for another reason. Those who want Israel to continue making territorial concessions to the Palestinians–after every single previous such concession brought terrorism and rockets–have much riding on the success of Israel’s missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome. It is absurd to believe that after what keeps happening in Gaza, Israel will allow the same to happen in the West Bank–where missiles can be launched a couple of miles from Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem and would also have a better shot at hitting Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The former would be a physical assault on Israel’s capital as well as a conceptual assault on Judaism and Jewish history only the world’s basest anti-Semites could stomach, and the latter would bring Israel’s economy to a standstill.
I don’t believe Hamas began its recent escalation with Israel on orders from Tehran (as I explain here). But I can see why many people do: Intentionally or not, Hamas has undeniably given its former Iranian paymasters and their Syrian client a great boon.
As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Hamas-Israel war has diverted attention from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. Even more shocking, however, is the way it has diverted attention from the ongoing–and far more massive–bloodletting in Syria.
Israel will decide within the next 24 to 48 hours whether to accept a cease-fire deal brokered by pro-Palestinian governments in Egypt and Turkey or launch a ground incursion into Gaza, former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel said on a conference call today.
“Basically we are moving with the Palestinians straight into a [juncture],” said Harel, who served as deputy chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, and also led Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. “There are two basic alternatives. One is an agreement, which is cooked in Cairo, apparently. And the other one is escalating the situation and move forward into the Gaza strip with a land effort, which is going to be bad for both sides.”
Experts and defense analysts agree that Iran would respond to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities by proxy, specifically by Hamas and Hezbollah rocketry launched at Israeli towns and cities. Indeed, this is one of the reasons beyond sheer ideological spite that the Iranian leadership has gone to such great lengths to arm both Hamas and Hezbollah.
The Iranian leadership may be coming very close to forcing Israel’s hand. If Hezbollah seeks to open a second front against Israel, then Israel could find itself in a two-front war with terrorist entities. Make no mistake, Israel would achieve its objective of destroying the majority of the longest-range and most lethal missiles supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran, Syria, and perhaps even North Korea.
Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.
It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.
Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to warn against rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel by granting it any sort of diplomatic concession. After all, engrained in Hamas is an absolute refusal to abide by previous diplomacy, such as the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel as a precondition to the Authority’s 1994 formation in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israeli officials, alas, can always be counted on for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Enter on cue Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli Defense Forces General Staff and a former head of its Southern Command, who quips that Israel is running out of targets.
Today’s CNN/ORC International poll shows solid American support for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. Fifty-seven percent say Israel’s strikes in Gaza are justified, compared with 25 percent who disagree. That support is even higher among independents and Republicans, but substantially lower among Democrats:
A majority of Americans say that Israel’s current military strikes against Gaza are justified, according to a new national survey.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday indicates that 57% of the public says Israel is justified in taking military action in Gaza against Hamas, with one in four saying the attacks are unjustified.
“Although most Americans think the Israeli actions are justified, there are key segments of the public who don’t necessarily feel that way,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Only four in ten Democrats think the Israeli actions in Gaza are justified, compared to 74% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Support for Israel’s military action is 13 points higher among men than among women, and 15 points higher among older Americans than among younger Americans.”
I think it’s fair to say that most friends of Israel were deeply unhappy with President Obama’s relations with the Jewish state during his first term and deeply fearful of what the second term would bring, now that he was freed of any need to court pro-Israel votes in the future. His reaction to the new Gaza war has, therefore, been as welcome as it is unexpected. He has been whole-hearted in his support of Israel’s right to defend itself against missile attacks. During a press conference today in Thailand he said: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”
That’s an excellent start and will help to reassure Israelis (as Obama no doubt hopes) that he is a reliable ally—which in turn would give him more credibility to forestall an Israeli air strike on the Iranian nuclear program. The question is whether his support will hold if Israel feels compelled to order a ground offensive to clear out the Hamas infrastructure responsible for terrorizing much of southern Israel—something that is notoriously difficult to accomplish from the air.
The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.
The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.
As Bronner writes:
What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.
But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.
The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.
For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.
I was doing a post-doc and living in Jerusalem during the 2001-2002 terror campaign that preceded Operation Defensive Shield, a military campaign best remembered for the media’s false accusations of a “Jenin Massacre.” As the campaign ramped up, many journalist friends came to Israel to report for CNN, BBC, and other major networks. Sometimes we’d meet up for drinks afterwards and talk about work. I was surprised to learn that most paid “fixers” to work in Gaza.
Producers explained—privately—that the implication for not hiring a fixer was that not only would Fatah (at the time still in control of Gaza) and more extreme factions not grant interviews, but they would also not grant “protection.” The flip side of this, of course, was that networks were effectively paying for stories and were also self-censoring based on their fixers’ affiliation.
Despite attempts by Israel’s critics to deflect responsibility for the violence of the last week, there’s no question that the conflict along the border between Israel and Gaza is exclusively the fault of Hamas. The Islamist terrorist group chose to escalate the clash from a steady but small number of rockets fired regularly from Gaza to the massive barrage that engulfed southern Israel last weekend. Since then, emboldened by its diplomatic support from Egypt and Turkey, Hamas has chosen to up the ante at every point when it could have backed down in the last seven days. It has gone from pounding the region next to Gaza to launching missiles at Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. In doing so, Hamas has not only terrorized millions of Israelis, but it has endangered the lives of Palestinian civilians, whom they use as human shields. Hamas has sacrificed the lives and property of the people of both Israel and Gaza by firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians and hiding their weapons among their own people. But Hamas’s cowardly leaders aren’t the only ones at fault. President Obama bears some responsibility too.
It is true that the administration’s behavior during the present crisis has been exemplary. The White House and State Department have condemned Hamas and endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense against its attacks. Rather than pressure Israel to accept a premature cease-fire or to halt its efforts to take out Hamas missile caches and terrorist cadres, Washington has seemed to give Jerusalem a blank check to do what needs to be done with regard to Gaza. Yet even as these positions deserve praise, it must also be understood that an administration policy of engagement with Hamas’s diplomatic backers has directly led to the current crisis. By leading from behind in the Middle East, the United States has largely abdicated its leadership role. Washington’s passivity in the Syrian crisis, and its embrace of the Islamist regime in Turkey and the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, has materially contributed to a situation where Hamas feels it can act with relative impunity.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took to the stage at Cairo University to condemn Israel for its attacks on Hamas military leaders, weapons depots, and missile launching pads in the Gaza Strip. “Everyone must know that sooner or later there will be a holding to account for the massacre of these innocent children killed inhumanely in Gaza,” he declared. Let us put aside the massacresof unarmed Kurdishchildrenunder Erdoğan’s watch. These have no parallel in the Gaza situation, where Israel puts its own soldiers at risk to avoid This is the same man who has railed against “the Jew;” has worked tirelessly to break Israel’s lawful (according to the United Nations) blockade of Gaza, an action meant to keep weaponry out of the hands of Hamas; and has called Hamas rocket strikes on Israel a hoax. This is also the same man whom President Barack Obama identified as one of the five foreign leaders closest to him personally.
Any Israeli official who thinks that Turkey can be bought around has either replaced analysis with hope, or is delusional. After a decade in power during which he has seized the reins not only of state broadcasters but many private newspapers as well, Erdoğan has succeeded in indoctrinating a generation of Turks in anti-Israel incitement. Erdoğan isn’t going anywhere. But even if he does, the Abdullah Gül’s, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s, and Egemen Bağış’ that mark Turkey’s future are as fiercely anti-Israel.
Colin Rubenstein, the director of AIJAC based in Melbourne, Australia, appeared Friday on the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s (ABC) News 24. Australia’s ABC takes a political slant much like that of the BBC, but Rubenstein’s description of the reason for and logic of the Israeli military campaign is about as articulate as it comes. It is worth the watch.
It’s also well-worth noting that not only Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition and the head of the center-right Liberal Party, but also Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is decidedly left-of-center, have endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense and roundly condemned Hamas without any moral equivalence. It is good to see that, at least outside the United States, many liberals and progressives recognize just what is at stake.
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.
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.
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:
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.