Commentary Magazine


Topic: IDF

On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Iron Dome into Storage

The case of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system will continue to be instructive. Iron Dome has reportedly performed very well in testing, impressing expert observers and encouraging missile-defense advocates. (See here, here, and here for a taste of the reporting on it.) But the IDF announced this week that it will be putting Iron Dome in storage for the time being, bringing it out for deployment only in the case of dramatic increases in rocket and missile attacks.

Although the IDF complained about Iron Dome’s cost this summer (see link above), the U.S. has added substantial funding for missile-defense systems to our defense package for Israel. The thrust of Obama’s policy response to the threat from Iran is, in fact, expanding missile-defense options for Israel. Putting Iron Dome in storage is therefore unlikely to be a result of simple cost or training concerns. It’s more useful instead to parse this decision in terms of overall national-defense policy.

Other nations seeking to defend their populations with missile shields may well run into the decision factors Israel now faces. So we should pay attention to what they are. There are downsides to keeping Iron Dome constantly deployed: one is simply that terrorist attackers will know where its components are situated and become accustomed to what it looks like. Even if the components were moved around regularly, they would be more susceptible to sabotage and easier to analyze and defeat — particularly if using them from time to time gave attackers a chance to observe them in operation. Israel’s small size only amplifies this drawback.

Two other factors are more political and strategic in nature; they have to do with the environment of expectations in which Israel would operate with a constantly deployed Iron Dome system. The IDF spokesmen quoted in the linked articles above allude to one of these factors: the expectations of the Israeli people about being defended. Iron Dome is unlikely to intercept all incoming rockets or missiles. Its deployment should not create a basis for complacency. But it could easily do so — and thereby produce a new set of mistargeted political pressures on national-security policy.

In the same vein, the defensive promise of Iron Dome could well raise expectations, both inside Israel and abroad, that its deployment obviated the need for Israel to hold key territory and keep it cleared of terrorists and their weaponry. That conclusion would be false, but I imagine most readers see how quickly it would be drawn — and how vigorously it would be advanced as a talking point against Israel’s other irreducible security requirements. This effect on expectations would be felt in the peace-process negotiations but would also be a factor in the international approach to Iran.

A missile shield alone is not all Israel needs for security. And as a general rule, a missile shield should not be used as an excuse to let overall security conditions deteriorate. That outcome would be more than likely if Israel began deploying Iron Dome on a constant basis right now. Missile defense is necessary and useful, but it can’t be a substitute for a multifaceted national defense, one that includes a policy of suppressing threats rather than waiting passively to be attacked. These developing security-policy dynamics are not by any means unique to Israel’s situation. We should watch and learn from them.

The case of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system will continue to be instructive. Iron Dome has reportedly performed very well in testing, impressing expert observers and encouraging missile-defense advocates. (See here, here, and here for a taste of the reporting on it.) But the IDF announced this week that it will be putting Iron Dome in storage for the time being, bringing it out for deployment only in the case of dramatic increases in rocket and missile attacks.

Although the IDF complained about Iron Dome’s cost this summer (see link above), the U.S. has added substantial funding for missile-defense systems to our defense package for Israel. The thrust of Obama’s policy response to the threat from Iran is, in fact, expanding missile-defense options for Israel. Putting Iron Dome in storage is therefore unlikely to be a result of simple cost or training concerns. It’s more useful instead to parse this decision in terms of overall national-defense policy.

Other nations seeking to defend their populations with missile shields may well run into the decision factors Israel now faces. So we should pay attention to what they are. There are downsides to keeping Iron Dome constantly deployed: one is simply that terrorist attackers will know where its components are situated and become accustomed to what it looks like. Even if the components were moved around regularly, they would be more susceptible to sabotage and easier to analyze and defeat — particularly if using them from time to time gave attackers a chance to observe them in operation. Israel’s small size only amplifies this drawback.

Two other factors are more political and strategic in nature; they have to do with the environment of expectations in which Israel would operate with a constantly deployed Iron Dome system. The IDF spokesmen quoted in the linked articles above allude to one of these factors: the expectations of the Israeli people about being defended. Iron Dome is unlikely to intercept all incoming rockets or missiles. Its deployment should not create a basis for complacency. But it could easily do so — and thereby produce a new set of mistargeted political pressures on national-security policy.

In the same vein, the defensive promise of Iron Dome could well raise expectations, both inside Israel and abroad, that its deployment obviated the need for Israel to hold key territory and keep it cleared of terrorists and their weaponry. That conclusion would be false, but I imagine most readers see how quickly it would be drawn — and how vigorously it would be advanced as a talking point against Israel’s other irreducible security requirements. This effect on expectations would be felt in the peace-process negotiations but would also be a factor in the international approach to Iran.

A missile shield alone is not all Israel needs for security. And as a general rule, a missile shield should not be used as an excuse to let overall security conditions deteriorate. That outcome would be more than likely if Israel began deploying Iron Dome on a constant basis right now. Missile defense is necessary and useful, but it can’t be a substitute for a multifaceted national defense, one that includes a policy of suppressing threats rather than waiting passively to be attacked. These developing security-policy dynamics are not by any means unique to Israel’s situation. We should watch and learn from them.

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A Letter to Gary Ackerman

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

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Bill Clinton: Giving Carter a Run for His Money

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

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Can a Sacred Text Be Secular as Well?

The debate over the Ten Commandments is firing up again. Writing for the New York Times’s website earlier this week, veteran legal commentator Linda Greenhouse warns of “the continuing effort by state and local governments to post the Ten Commandments in public places,” as well as an upcoming attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling of 2005 that barred the posting of the Ten Commandments before two Kentucky courthouses.

At the heart of these new legal efforts is a caviat written into Justice Souter’s 2005 decision that seems to open the door for such displays if they are intended for a secular purpose — a sentence that many people, Ms. Greenhouse writes, wrongfully took “as a green light for gaming the system.” The Court, Souter wrote, did not “have occasion here to hold that a sacred text can never be integrated constitutionally into a governmental display on the subject of law, or American history.” The problem is not in the Ten Commandments themselves, we learn, but in the real intentions behind putting them on display — whether they be “secular” or “sectarian.”

Like many Americans, Ms. Greenhouse bristles at such a loophole, mainly because of how hard it is for her to imagine the Bible representing anything other than religion. “The prospect of watching lawyers and justices engage in still more contorted efforts to attach supposedly secular meaning to obviously sectarian objects and texts,” she writes, “is not a pleasant one.”

But is this fair? Can’t the Ten Commandments — indeed, the Bible as a whole, with its thousand pages of ancient stories, speeches, poems, proverbs, laws, and histories — have secular meaning? Read More

The debate over the Ten Commandments is firing up again. Writing for the New York Times’s website earlier this week, veteran legal commentator Linda Greenhouse warns of “the continuing effort by state and local governments to post the Ten Commandments in public places,” as well as an upcoming attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling of 2005 that barred the posting of the Ten Commandments before two Kentucky courthouses.

At the heart of these new legal efforts is a caviat written into Justice Souter’s 2005 decision that seems to open the door for such displays if they are intended for a secular purpose — a sentence that many people, Ms. Greenhouse writes, wrongfully took “as a green light for gaming the system.” The Court, Souter wrote, did not “have occasion here to hold that a sacred text can never be integrated constitutionally into a governmental display on the subject of law, or American history.” The problem is not in the Ten Commandments themselves, we learn, but in the real intentions behind putting them on display — whether they be “secular” or “sectarian.”

Like many Americans, Ms. Greenhouse bristles at such a loophole, mainly because of how hard it is for her to imagine the Bible representing anything other than religion. “The prospect of watching lawyers and justices engage in still more contorted efforts to attach supposedly secular meaning to obviously sectarian objects and texts,” she writes, “is not a pleasant one.”

But is this fair? Can’t the Ten Commandments — indeed, the Bible as a whole, with its thousand pages of ancient stories, speeches, poems, proverbs, laws, and histories — have secular meaning?

For nearly two decades I’ve lived in Israel, where the Bible is seen very differently. A country founded on an ultra-secular socialism refused to cut itself off from the Jewish people’s ancient textual heritage. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, himself fully secular, held Bible-study groups in his home and encouraged Israelis to read the Bible at every opportunity, without promoting any form of religious worship or observance. Today every Jewish IDF soldier gets a copy of the Bible upon completing basic training; and every Jewish high-schooler is required to study the Bible as a central part of the curriculum. Biblical idioms and allusions are found throughout secular culture, from music to literature to film. And when a nonobservant student took third place in this year’s national Bible quiz, his mother — Sarah Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister — proclaimed it as a lesson for all secular Israelis: that the Bible belonged to them no less than to the religious.

Could such an attitude gain traction in America? Many will be quick to point out that Israel doesn’t have a separation of church and state — the result of which is that an inflexible ultra-Orthodox minority continues to foster deep resentment, much of it justified, among the secular majority because of the rabbinic monopolization of marriage and divorce, burial, and conversions.

But this argument fails when looking at the role of the Bible in Israeli life, for the simple reason that, unlike Ms. Greenhouse, most Israelis don’t see the Bible as an “obviously sectarian” text all. They see it, rather, as a national treasure, a basis of identity, a rich collection of ancient writings that is of interest not so much because of its authority as much as for its wisdom and testament to a unique cultural heritage. In other words, they see it as a secular text — much as Americans view the Federalist Papers or the Declaration of Independence.

Ms. Greenhouse, of course, is far from alone among Americans in seeing the Bible as having “obviously sectarian” symbolism and nothing else — an attitude that effectively grants exclusive ownership of the Bible to the religious establishment. But there is another secular America, one that longs for fresh readings of our ancient texts without either the axiomatic assumption or the explicit repudiation of faith. Bestselling authors like Bruce Feiler, Karen Armstrong, and Jack Miles have succeeded precisely because they meet a growing demand for sympathetic yet non-faith-based readings of the Bible. Far from being a legal loophole, Justice Souter’s words suggest an acute longing that many Americans share for an approach to sacred texts that on the one hand protects our modern sensibilities — especially our right to a self-defined spirituality — while giving us access to something we suspect may possess far more cultural wisdom than we have been led to believe, something that lies at the core of Western identity, something that continues to resonate regardless of our faith.

The Bible is not just a sacred text. It’s also a major pillar of our civilization — no less so than the works of ancient Greece, Enlightenment Europe, or the American Founders. Biblical stories and figures were invoked in every successful progressive movement in American history, from the Revolution to Emancipation to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement. To presumptively dismiss public presentation of the Bible’s most famous encapsulation, the Ten Commandments, as “sectarian” is to cut ourselves off from this great fountainhead of wisdom, history, and self-understanding that we desperately need in our constant search to understand what the experiment of modern democratic life is really all about.

My new book, The Ten Commandments, takes this ball and runs with it. It hits bookstores next week.

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Hezbollah’s “Soviet” Southern Lebanon

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

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Talking Peace, Injuring Infants

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

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Pulling Back the Curtain on the NGO Scam

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state’”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state’”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

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Here Comes Bushehr

This story will probably rule the news cycle this weekend. The light-water reactor at Bushehr in southwestern Iran is to be fueled starting on August 21 and powered up in September. I’ve written about Bushehr’s significance several times (here and, earlier this week, here). The Bushehr reactor doesn’t have the meaning to Iran’s nuclear weapons program that the Iraqi and Syrian reactors had. Although the reactor could figure in Iran’s weapons program in the future, it’s not central to the production of weapons-grade material. I very much doubt Israel regards it as necessary to strike the Bushehr installation.

But fueling the reactor and powering it up send the clearest possible political signal: that Russia and Iran feel free to do it. The uranium fuel — provided by Moscow — has been stored in Iran since 2008, but Russia has held off on preparing the reactor for operation, largely because of calculations about U.S. objections. Timing the reactor start-up to squeeze more concessions from Iran was probably a factor too.

I suggested a few days ago (see the link above) that the coordinated rocket attacks on Israel and the attack by Lebanese troops on an IDF contingent in the north, which occurred on August 1 and 2, were related to the plan for Bushehr. Iran has been skittish all summer, fearing an imminent attack; powering up the Bushehr reactor is an event the mullahs probably expected to want some insurance for, in the form of a preoccupied Israel.

But whatever qualms the Iranians or Russians may have had about taking this action — one that directly contradicts the intent of UN sanctions and U.S.-EU policy — they appear to feel them no longer. The real significance of starting up the reactor next week is that Iran and Russia don’t fear doing it.

I predict we will hear from the Obama administration that this action is unhelpful, but that in a technical sense, it’s not all that important. And in a technical sense, it’s not. But in a political sense, as a signal of how seriously Iran and Russia take U.S. policy, it means everything that matters.

This story will probably rule the news cycle this weekend. The light-water reactor at Bushehr in southwestern Iran is to be fueled starting on August 21 and powered up in September. I’ve written about Bushehr’s significance several times (here and, earlier this week, here). The Bushehr reactor doesn’t have the meaning to Iran’s nuclear weapons program that the Iraqi and Syrian reactors had. Although the reactor could figure in Iran’s weapons program in the future, it’s not central to the production of weapons-grade material. I very much doubt Israel regards it as necessary to strike the Bushehr installation.

But fueling the reactor and powering it up send the clearest possible political signal: that Russia and Iran feel free to do it. The uranium fuel — provided by Moscow — has been stored in Iran since 2008, but Russia has held off on preparing the reactor for operation, largely because of calculations about U.S. objections. Timing the reactor start-up to squeeze more concessions from Iran was probably a factor too.

I suggested a few days ago (see the link above) that the coordinated rocket attacks on Israel and the attack by Lebanese troops on an IDF contingent in the north, which occurred on August 1 and 2, were related to the plan for Bushehr. Iran has been skittish all summer, fearing an imminent attack; powering up the Bushehr reactor is an event the mullahs probably expected to want some insurance for, in the form of a preoccupied Israel.

But whatever qualms the Iranians or Russians may have had about taking this action — one that directly contradicts the intent of UN sanctions and U.S.-EU policy — they appear to feel them no longer. The real significance of starting up the reactor next week is that Iran and Russia don’t fear doing it.

I predict we will hear from the Obama administration that this action is unhelpful, but that in a technical sense, it’s not all that important. And in a technical sense, it’s not. But in a political sense, as a signal of how seriously Iran and Russia take U.S. policy, it means everything that matters.

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Speculation About Israel Attacking Iran Misses the Point

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

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RE: JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

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Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Think Tanks Speak Out

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama's deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama's deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Read Less

Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).

With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.

With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”

With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”

With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”

With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”

With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”

With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”

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Bravo, Finland

If you despair that the world has gone mad and that Israel is friendless, take a look at this report and the wonderful accompanying photos:

While Israeli flags are being burned in many European capitals in the aftermath of the dead flotilla raid, thousands of people took part a pro-Israel rally in Helsinki on Thursday. The Finnish capital’s streets were filled with Israeli and Finnish flags as participants marched towards the port while chanting slogans in support of the IDF and waving banners protesting what they claimed was the biased media coverage of the flotilla raid. The protestors also sang “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem (We Brought Peace Upon You).”

Keep in mind that there are only about 1,500 Jews in Finland. You may recall Finland’s conduct during World War II. Although occupied by the Nazis, Finland continued to afford full citizenship to its Jews and did not turn over any of them to the Nazis. Finland did deport eight Austrian Jews, an act for which the Finnish government formally apologized in 2000.

It’s shameful that Finland’s European neighbors evidence no such affection for Jews these days. With the example Obama is setting, that’s not likely to improve anytime soon.

If you despair that the world has gone mad and that Israel is friendless, take a look at this report and the wonderful accompanying photos:

While Israeli flags are being burned in many European capitals in the aftermath of the dead flotilla raid, thousands of people took part a pro-Israel rally in Helsinki on Thursday. The Finnish capital’s streets were filled with Israeli and Finnish flags as participants marched towards the port while chanting slogans in support of the IDF and waving banners protesting what they claimed was the biased media coverage of the flotilla raid. The protestors also sang “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem (We Brought Peace Upon You).”

Keep in mind that there are only about 1,500 Jews in Finland. You may recall Finland’s conduct during World War II. Although occupied by the Nazis, Finland continued to afford full citizenship to its Jews and did not turn over any of them to the Nazis. Finland did deport eight Austrian Jews, an act for which the Finnish government formally apologized in 2000.

It’s shameful that Finland’s European neighbors evidence no such affection for Jews these days. With the example Obama is setting, that’s not likely to improve anytime soon.

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Turkish Flags

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

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Does Sestak Agree with His J Street Backers?

Joe Sestak should be nervous. His record on Israel is spotty at best (he has signed on for a Iran sanctions bill and a pro-Israel resolution here and there but refused to sign on to numerous letters supporting Israel and backing sanctions, which the majority of his colleagues did) – and horrid at worst (signing on to the infamous Gaza blockade letter along with 53 of the most anti-Israel leftists in the House). This report notes that like many of Israel’s harshest critics, he swears he’s a friend of the Jewish state and proclaims “Their security is important to our security.” But his voting record is going to be hard to explain:

[Pat] Toomey last week said he wouldn’t join the “blame Israel first crowd.” Sestak has come under some criticism for signing onto a letter that called for easing restrictions on humanitarian aide into the Gaza Strip during the most recent war, but has also been critical of tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. Toomey’s campaign is hoping to make significant inroads into the suburban Jewish community this year.

Sestak’s supposed concern about the “tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration” might have been hard to spot. He has had to play defense on his Gaza position:

The letter I signed concerning Gaza reflects another primary interest we have — humanitarian interests. Currently, Hamas is using the suffering of the Palestinian people as a recruiting tool for terrorists and a bargaining chip with foreign powers, and they should be held to account. I believe humanitarian aid — with the appropriate oversight and safeguards — will over time lessen, not increase, the capacity of Hamas to threaten Israel.

If that sounds a lot like the J Street line, you shouldn’t be surprised. J Street backed Sestak for the House and is vigorously doing the same in his Senate run.

His other associations are quite odd for such a fan of Israel. He fancied CAIR — appearing as the group’s keynote speaker in 2007. (“One of the featured speakers at the event is Muslim activist Rafael Narbaez, who has made a number of controversial comments about Israel. During a July 2006 speech at a Detroit mosque, Narbaez said Zionists have ‘the same racist ideology that the Nazis of Germany had.’”)

On Gaza this time around, Sestak has changed his tune quite a bit:

Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In this case, it appears that the ship carrying humanitarian and construction supplies attempted to break a naval blockade of Gaza despite clear warnings that that they would be denied entry. While the Palestinians have a right to humanitarian assistance, we must not forget that there remain radicals, fueled by organizations like Hamas, who wish Israel’s destruction and have no intention of recognizing its right to exist. Israel must maintain its right to protect itself from them and thwart their attacks, including by preventing dangerous materials from getting into the wrong hands.

So why did he sign the Gaza 54 letter?

Sestak also tries to fudge his position and that of the administration. His statement declares:

In the short-term, I support the recommendation of the United States for the Israeli government to quickly appoint an independent commission to review the circumstances that surrounded the event so that the latest round of peace talks toward a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can proceed without interruption, and not let this unfortunate incident delay such talks.

Not quite. The Obama team has never said that only Israel should run the review. On the contrary, it went along with the UN Security Council’s statement. (“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”) That sounds like Goldstone, not an IDF inquiry.

It seems that Sestak — like Obama — is trying to have it both ways. In the glare of an election race, he embraces Israel. When under less intense scrutiny, he runs with J Street and CAIR. Peter King’s resolution should prove a clarifying moment: will Sestak agree that the U.S. needs to get out of the UN Human Rights Council, block a UN witch hunt of Israel, and give Israel unqualified support? And if he does so with a wink and a nod to his J Street backers, will Pennsylvania voters fall for it?

After all, Obama made some very pretty speeches to AIPAC as a candidate. Maybe voters should look at Sestak’s record and associations. Had they done that with Obama before the 2008 election, many pro-Israel voters might not have been conned.

Joe Sestak should be nervous. His record on Israel is spotty at best (he has signed on for a Iran sanctions bill and a pro-Israel resolution here and there but refused to sign on to numerous letters supporting Israel and backing sanctions, which the majority of his colleagues did) – and horrid at worst (signing on to the infamous Gaza blockade letter along with 53 of the most anti-Israel leftists in the House). This report notes that like many of Israel’s harshest critics, he swears he’s a friend of the Jewish state and proclaims “Their security is important to our security.” But his voting record is going to be hard to explain:

[Pat] Toomey last week said he wouldn’t join the “blame Israel first crowd.” Sestak has come under some criticism for signing onto a letter that called for easing restrictions on humanitarian aide into the Gaza Strip during the most recent war, but has also been critical of tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. Toomey’s campaign is hoping to make significant inroads into the suburban Jewish community this year.

Sestak’s supposed concern about the “tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration” might have been hard to spot. He has had to play defense on his Gaza position:

The letter I signed concerning Gaza reflects another primary interest we have — humanitarian interests. Currently, Hamas is using the suffering of the Palestinian people as a recruiting tool for terrorists and a bargaining chip with foreign powers, and they should be held to account. I believe humanitarian aid — with the appropriate oversight and safeguards — will over time lessen, not increase, the capacity of Hamas to threaten Israel.

If that sounds a lot like the J Street line, you shouldn’t be surprised. J Street backed Sestak for the House and is vigorously doing the same in his Senate run.

His other associations are quite odd for such a fan of Israel. He fancied CAIR — appearing as the group’s keynote speaker in 2007. (“One of the featured speakers at the event is Muslim activist Rafael Narbaez, who has made a number of controversial comments about Israel. During a July 2006 speech at a Detroit mosque, Narbaez said Zionists have ‘the same racist ideology that the Nazis of Germany had.’”)

On Gaza this time around, Sestak has changed his tune quite a bit:

Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In this case, it appears that the ship carrying humanitarian and construction supplies attempted to break a naval blockade of Gaza despite clear warnings that that they would be denied entry. While the Palestinians have a right to humanitarian assistance, we must not forget that there remain radicals, fueled by organizations like Hamas, who wish Israel’s destruction and have no intention of recognizing its right to exist. Israel must maintain its right to protect itself from them and thwart their attacks, including by preventing dangerous materials from getting into the wrong hands.

So why did he sign the Gaza 54 letter?

Sestak also tries to fudge his position and that of the administration. His statement declares:

In the short-term, I support the recommendation of the United States for the Israeli government to quickly appoint an independent commission to review the circumstances that surrounded the event so that the latest round of peace talks toward a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can proceed without interruption, and not let this unfortunate incident delay such talks.

Not quite. The Obama team has never said that only Israel should run the review. On the contrary, it went along with the UN Security Council’s statement. (“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”) That sounds like Goldstone, not an IDF inquiry.

It seems that Sestak — like Obama — is trying to have it both ways. In the glare of an election race, he embraces Israel. When under less intense scrutiny, he runs with J Street and CAIR. Peter King’s resolution should prove a clarifying moment: will Sestak agree that the U.S. needs to get out of the UN Human Rights Council, block a UN witch hunt of Israel, and give Israel unqualified support? And if he does so with a wink and a nod to his J Street backers, will Pennsylvania voters fall for it?

After all, Obama made some very pretty speeches to AIPAC as a candidate. Maybe voters should look at Sestak’s record and associations. Had they done that with Obama before the 2008 election, many pro-Israel voters might not have been conned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

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