Commentary Magazine


Topic: IDF

New Reuters “Faux-tography”

One of the more famous episodes from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war was the discovery that Reuters was doctoring photos to enhance the appearance of destruction in Lebanon.

Now we have what seems to be another example: Reuters has cropped a photo of a wounded IDF commando to eliminate the appearance of a knife in the hand of one of the flotilla “peace activists” standing over him. LGF has the details.

One of the more famous episodes from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war was the discovery that Reuters was doctoring photos to enhance the appearance of destruction in Lebanon.

Now we have what seems to be another example: Reuters has cropped a photo of a wounded IDF commando to eliminate the appearance of a knife in the hand of one of the flotilla “peace activists” standing over him. LGF has the details.

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Turning of the Tide?

It seems that the problem was Turkey, not Israel:

IDF forces piloted the Rachel Corrie to the port of Ashdod early Saturday evening after boarding the ship earlier in the day. None were harmed in the military operation as the international activists on the ship cooperated with the boarding party. The activists went as far as lowering a ladder to the soldiers patrol boat to allow them to board, army sources have revealed.

The boarding of the Rachel Corrie containing activists and aid for Gaza was described by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday as a quiet operation. Netanyahu was quick to distinguish between the boat of Irish and Malaysian activists and the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara which was boarded May 31 in an incident that left nine dead and scores wounded.

“The different outcome we saw today underscores the difference between peace activists who we disagree with but respect their right to express their different opinion and flotilla participants [on the Mavi Marmara] who were violent extremist supporters of terrorists,” said Netanyahu.

The Obama team has spent the week perpetuating the notion that it is Israel that needs to be investigated. But the tide seems to be shifting as the facts come out. The Washington Post editors, whose initial reaction was to scold Israel, have changed their tune. They write: “All of the violence occurred aboard the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, and all of those who were killed were members or volunteers for the Islamic ‘charity’ that owned the ship, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). The relationship between Mr. Erdogan’s government and the IHH ought to be one focus of any international investigation into the incident.”

And the first Senate candidate I am aware of has taken up the issue and is calling for Obama to stop the straddling. Dan Coats of Indiana, via e-mail, tells me: “President Obama should not qualify U.S. support for Israel and any investigation must be thorough and address the question of terrorist connections of any personnel on or related to the flotilla.” I don’t suspect that Evan Bayh is going to challenge Obama on this — but if Coats was in the Senate, it sounds as though it would be a different story.

If Obama can’t lead, perhaps he can follow public opinion and political pressure. He really has enough political problems these days — does he really want to let his anti-Israel animus put him at odds with lawmakers, candidates, and even the mainstream media? Stay tuned.

It seems that the problem was Turkey, not Israel:

IDF forces piloted the Rachel Corrie to the port of Ashdod early Saturday evening after boarding the ship earlier in the day. None were harmed in the military operation as the international activists on the ship cooperated with the boarding party. The activists went as far as lowering a ladder to the soldiers patrol boat to allow them to board, army sources have revealed.

The boarding of the Rachel Corrie containing activists and aid for Gaza was described by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday as a quiet operation. Netanyahu was quick to distinguish between the boat of Irish and Malaysian activists and the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara which was boarded May 31 in an incident that left nine dead and scores wounded.

“The different outcome we saw today underscores the difference between peace activists who we disagree with but respect their right to express their different opinion and flotilla participants [on the Mavi Marmara] who were violent extremist supporters of terrorists,” said Netanyahu.

The Obama team has spent the week perpetuating the notion that it is Israel that needs to be investigated. But the tide seems to be shifting as the facts come out. The Washington Post editors, whose initial reaction was to scold Israel, have changed their tune. They write: “All of the violence occurred aboard the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, and all of those who were killed were members or volunteers for the Islamic ‘charity’ that owned the ship, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). The relationship between Mr. Erdogan’s government and the IHH ought to be one focus of any international investigation into the incident.”

And the first Senate candidate I am aware of has taken up the issue and is calling for Obama to stop the straddling. Dan Coats of Indiana, via e-mail, tells me: “President Obama should not qualify U.S. support for Israel and any investigation must be thorough and address the question of terrorist connections of any personnel on or related to the flotilla.” I don’t suspect that Evan Bayh is going to challenge Obama on this — but if Coats was in the Senate, it sounds as though it would be a different story.

If Obama can’t lead, perhaps he can follow public opinion and political pressure. He really has enough political problems these days — does he really want to let his anti-Israel animus put him at odds with lawmakers, candidates, and even the mainstream media? Stay tuned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Carly Fiorina says there has been more condemnation of Israel than there was of North Korea when it sank a South Korean ship. She says bad things are happening in the world because Obama is displaying weakness.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Bill Kristol tells us, “The dispute over this terror-friendly flotilla is about more than policy toward Gaza. It is about more than Israel. It is about whether the West has the will to defend itself against its enemies. It is about showing (to paraphrase William Gladstone) that the resources of civilization against terror are by no means exhausted.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Michael Oren says, “Turkey has embraced the leaders of Iran and Hamas, all of whom called for Israel’s destruction. …  Our policy has not changed but Turkey’s policy has changed, very much, over the last few years. … Under a different government with an Islamic orientation, Turkey has turned away from the West.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the U.S. State Department urges “caution and restraint” — from Israel in intercepting the next terrorist flotilla.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Helen Thomas tells Jews to leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. (She later apologized, claiming that she really doesn’t believe what she said.)

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” this blather is written: “But that 2 a.m. boarding of an unarmed ship with an unarmed crew, carrying no munitions or weapons, 65 miles at sea, was an act of piracy. What the Israeli commandos got is what any armed hijacker should expect who tries to steal a car from a driver who keeps a tire iron under the front seat. … But we have a blockade of Gaza, say the Israelis, and this flotilla was a provocation. Indeed, it was. And Selma was a provocation. The marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge were disobeying orders of the governor of Alabama and state police not to march.” Pat Buchanan or Peter Beinart? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the IDF releases a tape showing that the flotilla was warned to back away and the “peace activists” shouted, “Go back to Auschwitz.” Sounds as though their ideal PR flack would be (is?) Helen Thomas.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Jerusalem Post reports: “Hamas’s security forces on Monday and Tuesday raided the offices of several non-governmental organizations in the Gaza Strip and confiscated equipment and furniture, drawing sharp condemnations from human rights groups.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Christian Science Monitor calls on Turkey to tone it down.”The Middle East does not need another country of fist-shakers, and that’s why the tone in Turkey is of such concern. Not just this incident, but others have increased anti-Semitism in this mostly Muslim country of about 80 million people – a democracy anchored in NATO and working on membership in the European Union.The rhetoric, if unchecked, runs the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver, and of the West’s interest in Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim and Christian worlds.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), declares, “Israel will face challenges in the days ahead, and it is vital that her allies in the United States stand beside her. A true ally stands with their partners in both easy and difficult times -no democracy under attack, no American ally, deserves any less.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Zionist Organization of America “renewed its call for an investigation of Turkey for permitting a flotilla of armed and violent extremists to sail in an attempt to breach the lawful Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Obama says nothing.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Carly Fiorina says there has been more condemnation of Israel than there was of North Korea when it sank a South Korean ship. She says bad things are happening in the world because Obama is displaying weakness.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Bill Kristol tells us, “The dispute over this terror-friendly flotilla is about more than policy toward Gaza. It is about more than Israel. It is about whether the West has the will to defend itself against its enemies. It is about showing (to paraphrase William Gladstone) that the resources of civilization against terror are by no means exhausted.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Michael Oren says, “Turkey has embraced the leaders of Iran and Hamas, all of whom called for Israel’s destruction. …  Our policy has not changed but Turkey’s policy has changed, very much, over the last few years. … Under a different government with an Islamic orientation, Turkey has turned away from the West.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the U.S. State Department urges “caution and restraint” — from Israel in intercepting the next terrorist flotilla.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Helen Thomas tells Jews to leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. (She later apologized, claiming that she really doesn’t believe what she said.)

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” this blather is written: “But that 2 a.m. boarding of an unarmed ship with an unarmed crew, carrying no munitions or weapons, 65 miles at sea, was an act of piracy. What the Israeli commandos got is what any armed hijacker should expect who tries to steal a car from a driver who keeps a tire iron under the front seat. … But we have a blockade of Gaza, say the Israelis, and this flotilla was a provocation. Indeed, it was. And Selma was a provocation. The marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge were disobeying orders of the governor of Alabama and state police not to march.” Pat Buchanan or Peter Beinart? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the IDF releases a tape showing that the flotilla was warned to back away and the “peace activists” shouted, “Go back to Auschwitz.” Sounds as though their ideal PR flack would be (is?) Helen Thomas.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Jerusalem Post reports: “Hamas’s security forces on Monday and Tuesday raided the offices of several non-governmental organizations in the Gaza Strip and confiscated equipment and furniture, drawing sharp condemnations from human rights groups.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Christian Science Monitor calls on Turkey to tone it down.”The Middle East does not need another country of fist-shakers, and that’s why the tone in Turkey is of such concern. Not just this incident, but others have increased anti-Semitism in this mostly Muslim country of about 80 million people – a democracy anchored in NATO and working on membership in the European Union.The rhetoric, if unchecked, runs the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver, and of the West’s interest in Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim and Christian worlds.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), declares, “Israel will face challenges in the days ahead, and it is vital that her allies in the United States stand beside her. A true ally stands with their partners in both easy and difficult times -no democracy under attack, no American ally, deserves any less.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Zionist Organization of America “renewed its call for an investigation of Turkey for permitting a flotilla of armed and violent extremists to sail in an attempt to breach the lawful Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Obama says nothing.

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The Crisis of Israeli Crisis-Management

The most important criticism of Israel that has been written about the flotilla debacle is by David Horovitz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post. It is titled “A Scandalous Saga of Withheld Film,” and it strikes at the heart of Israel’s continuing inability to respond competently to PR crises.

The lack of credibility given to [the initial, verbal] official Israeli account, bolstered by the flow of footage from the activists aboard the vessels and the incontrovertible evidence of death, created the narrative on which the international community passed its judgment on Israel as the hours went by on Monday.

Demonstrations flared, first in Turkey and in those parts of the Arab and wider world most hostile to Israel, and then into Europe and beyond. …

Approximately 12 hours after the event, however, when all the condemnations had been issued, the demonstrators had weighed in worldwide, the Arab League, Security Council, Human Rights Council and all were convening or preparing to devote their attentions to this latest Israeli outrage, official Israel finally decided to release the grainy but distinct footage it had been sitting on all day showing precisely what had unfolded in the pre-dawn battle at sea.

In a crisis that was being scrutinized with white-hot intensity by virtually every government, NGO, and media outlet in the world, seconds and minutes counted, and hours, much more so. Accused of massacring unarmed peace activists but in possession of video incontrovertibly showing that the charges were false, Israeli officials… sat on the evidence. Horovitz:

It was the result of a decision. The officials, in their various competing, conflicting, inadequate propaganda hierarchies, actively chose, after consultation, not to release it. …

Some of their considerations are not beneath contempt. There was a legitimate concern, for instance, that the footage, showing colleagues in such trouble, might prove demoralizing for Israeli troops. And some of their considerations are utterly contemptible, including the scandalous parochial obsession with local TV – the insistent, misguided desire to hold back dramatic material until late in the Israeli day, so that as many people as possible here will see it fresh on the 8 p.m. Hebrew nightly news.

It would be bad enough if this were the first time this kind of incompetence and parochial blindness had fundamentally contributed to the perception of Israeli wrongdoing and criminality. But this is an old story. It follows a pattern that is agonizingly familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to Israel over the past decade. It can be found in virtually every Israeli PR disaster going back to the opening days of the intifada and the Al-Dura affair, another self-inflicted disaster.

The cycle is always the same: 1) Israel is accused of a monstrous crime; 2) the international media, European and Arab governments, NGOs, and anti-Israel commentators whip themselves into a lather with denunciations and recriminations; 3) Israel quickly finds itself in the eye of a media and diplomatic storm; 4) for a day or two (or longer) Israel looks guilty as sin, and average citizens in democratic countries become convinced that Israel indeed has committed a great crime; 5) then, slowly, doubt is cast on the prevailing narrative; exculpatory evidence comes to light; it becomes apparent that the charges are false or trumped-up; 6) but it doesn’t really matter. The wave of media and political furor has passed. The Israel-haters who rushed to judgment never retract their initial condemnations. Guilt makes the front pages, but exoneration is ignored. In the minds of people everywhere, the charges have stuck.

This cycle repeats itself largely because Israeli institutions simply do not care to treat the media and information battlefield with even a fraction of the competence that the IDF brings to the physical battlefield. If there is one lesson that the Israeli government should learn from the flotilla ambush, it is that it’s time, once and for all, to overhaul the way the national-security institutions of the country respond to crises. Instead of waking up Monday morning to a video of “peace activists” trying to massacre IDF soldiers, the world woke up yet again to claims of an Israeli massacre — all because some bureaucrats sat on the video for 12 hours.

The most important criticism of Israel that has been written about the flotilla debacle is by David Horovitz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post. It is titled “A Scandalous Saga of Withheld Film,” and it strikes at the heart of Israel’s continuing inability to respond competently to PR crises.

The lack of credibility given to [the initial, verbal] official Israeli account, bolstered by the flow of footage from the activists aboard the vessels and the incontrovertible evidence of death, created the narrative on which the international community passed its judgment on Israel as the hours went by on Monday.

Demonstrations flared, first in Turkey and in those parts of the Arab and wider world most hostile to Israel, and then into Europe and beyond. …

Approximately 12 hours after the event, however, when all the condemnations had been issued, the demonstrators had weighed in worldwide, the Arab League, Security Council, Human Rights Council and all were convening or preparing to devote their attentions to this latest Israeli outrage, official Israel finally decided to release the grainy but distinct footage it had been sitting on all day showing precisely what had unfolded in the pre-dawn battle at sea.

In a crisis that was being scrutinized with white-hot intensity by virtually every government, NGO, and media outlet in the world, seconds and minutes counted, and hours, much more so. Accused of massacring unarmed peace activists but in possession of video incontrovertibly showing that the charges were false, Israeli officials… sat on the evidence. Horovitz:

It was the result of a decision. The officials, in their various competing, conflicting, inadequate propaganda hierarchies, actively chose, after consultation, not to release it. …

Some of their considerations are not beneath contempt. There was a legitimate concern, for instance, that the footage, showing colleagues in such trouble, might prove demoralizing for Israeli troops. And some of their considerations are utterly contemptible, including the scandalous parochial obsession with local TV – the insistent, misguided desire to hold back dramatic material until late in the Israeli day, so that as many people as possible here will see it fresh on the 8 p.m. Hebrew nightly news.

It would be bad enough if this were the first time this kind of incompetence and parochial blindness had fundamentally contributed to the perception of Israeli wrongdoing and criminality. But this is an old story. It follows a pattern that is agonizingly familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to Israel over the past decade. It can be found in virtually every Israeli PR disaster going back to the opening days of the intifada and the Al-Dura affair, another self-inflicted disaster.

The cycle is always the same: 1) Israel is accused of a monstrous crime; 2) the international media, European and Arab governments, NGOs, and anti-Israel commentators whip themselves into a lather with denunciations and recriminations; 3) Israel quickly finds itself in the eye of a media and diplomatic storm; 4) for a day or two (or longer) Israel looks guilty as sin, and average citizens in democratic countries become convinced that Israel indeed has committed a great crime; 5) then, slowly, doubt is cast on the prevailing narrative; exculpatory evidence comes to light; it becomes apparent that the charges are false or trumped-up; 6) but it doesn’t really matter. The wave of media and political furor has passed. The Israel-haters who rushed to judgment never retract their initial condemnations. Guilt makes the front pages, but exoneration is ignored. In the minds of people everywhere, the charges have stuck.

This cycle repeats itself largely because Israeli institutions simply do not care to treat the media and information battlefield with even a fraction of the competence that the IDF brings to the physical battlefield. If there is one lesson that the Israeli government should learn from the flotilla ambush, it is that it’s time, once and for all, to overhaul the way the national-security institutions of the country respond to crises. Instead of waking up Monday morning to a video of “peace activists” trying to massacre IDF soldiers, the world woke up yet again to claims of an Israeli massacre — all because some bureaucrats sat on the video for 12 hours.

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Peaceful, Humanitarian, Civilian Flotilla Had an Arsenal

New footage shows the weapons captured from the “aid” boat Mavi Marmara, which was the scene of an attempted lynching of IDF commandos. Lots of knives, gas masks, body armor, night-vision equipment, homemade slingshots with “Hezbollah” and “Hamas” written on them (arts and crafts are a good cure for boredom on the high seas), and my personal favorite, electric chop saws, which were used to cut off sections of the ship’s railings so they could be used as clubs. Clever! Let’s go to the video.

New footage shows the weapons captured from the “aid” boat Mavi Marmara, which was the scene of an attempted lynching of IDF commandos. Lots of knives, gas masks, body armor, night-vision equipment, homemade slingshots with “Hezbollah” and “Hamas” written on them (arts and crafts are a good cure for boredom on the high seas), and my personal favorite, electric chop saws, which were used to cut off sections of the ship’s railings so they could be used as clubs. Clever! Let’s go to the video.

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Wake-Up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Problem with Playing Defense

Given past performances, I’d say that Israel and its supporters are doing a better-than-average job of quickly beating back the international lynch mob that loves nothing more than propagating lies about Israel. The key weapon in this fight for truth has been this particular video of the IDF commandos descending onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and into a hornet’s nest of murderous “peace activists.”

To read more, click here.

Given past performances, I’d say that Israel and its supporters are doing a better-than-average job of quickly beating back the international lynch mob that loves nothing more than propagating lies about Israel. The key weapon in this fight for truth has been this particular video of the IDF commandos descending onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and into a hornet’s nest of murderous “peace activists.”

To read more, click here.

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Israel Can Win Every Battle but Still Lose the War

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

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J Street Weighs In

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Jeremy Ben-Ami:

With details still emerging and propaganda spinning furiously on all sides — one simple truth stands clear to us: today’s events are the natural outgrowth of the larger, ongoing failure to resolve this conflict peacefully through a two-state solution. …

J Street is deeply shocked and saddened by reports that at least 10 civilians have been killed and dozens more wounded (including Israeli soldiers) this morning as Israel intercepted a naval convoy bringing humanitarian supplies and construction materials to the Gaza Strip.

We express our condolences to the families of those killed and we wish the injured a full and speedy recovery. …

This shocking outcome of an effort to bring humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza is in part a consequence of the ongoing, counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza. [Emphasis added]

I am puzzled — what exactly is Ben-Ami referring to as “propaganda”? There are claims that the Islamist lynch mob aboard one of the ships is actually a group of “peace activists.” Mahmoud Abbas says that the IDF “slaughtered” the “peace activists.” J Street should explain precisely which claims made by the Israeli government are “propaganda.” When the Gaza war started in 2008, J Street said that there was no difference between terrorists trying to murder Israeli civilians and the Israeli military trying to stop those attacks. Here we have another easy slide into moral equivalence.

It is a classically demented J Street product: there is moral equivalence; the refusal to place blame on the guilty party; the eager repetition of Islamist propaganda by classifying terrorists as civilians; outright sympathy with the lynch mob, which J Street incorrectly says was composed of civilians, and the expression of condolences for those who tragically lost their lives as they tried to beat and stab Jews to death; and, ultimately, the laying of blame on Israel, which created this whole situation in the first place with its cruel and pointless Gaza blockade.

This is your pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Jeremy Ben-Ami:

With details still emerging and propaganda spinning furiously on all sides — one simple truth stands clear to us: today’s events are the natural outgrowth of the larger, ongoing failure to resolve this conflict peacefully through a two-state solution. …

J Street is deeply shocked and saddened by reports that at least 10 civilians have been killed and dozens more wounded (including Israeli soldiers) this morning as Israel intercepted a naval convoy bringing humanitarian supplies and construction materials to the Gaza Strip.

We express our condolences to the families of those killed and we wish the injured a full and speedy recovery. …

This shocking outcome of an effort to bring humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza is in part a consequence of the ongoing, counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza. [Emphasis added]

I am puzzled — what exactly is Ben-Ami referring to as “propaganda”? There are claims that the Islamist lynch mob aboard one of the ships is actually a group of “peace activists.” Mahmoud Abbas says that the IDF “slaughtered” the “peace activists.” J Street should explain precisely which claims made by the Israeli government are “propaganda.” When the Gaza war started in 2008, J Street said that there was no difference between terrorists trying to murder Israeli civilians and the Israeli military trying to stop those attacks. Here we have another easy slide into moral equivalence.

It is a classically demented J Street product: there is moral equivalence; the refusal to place blame on the guilty party; the eager repetition of Islamist propaganda by classifying terrorists as civilians; outright sympathy with the lynch mob, which J Street incorrectly says was composed of civilians, and the expression of condolences for those who tragically lost their lives as they tried to beat and stab Jews to death; and, ultimately, the laying of blame on Israel, which created this whole situation in the first place with its cruel and pointless Gaza blockade.

This is your pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby.

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Flotilla Fiasco (UPDATED)

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

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Nice Guys Finish Last

To my mind, the most astonishing thing about the flotilla disaster is that the IDF sent its elite naval commandos into a highly charged potential combat situation that was being closely scrutinized by the world media — armed with paintball guns.

The intent, of course, was to show that Israel wished to avert escalating the confrontation and merely sought to bring the ships to port, transfer their cargo to Gaza, send the “peace activists” home, and bring this mini-drama to a close. But the results were catastrophic.

Instead of proving Israel’s good intentions, the commandos found themselves unable to take control of the terrorist blockade runners, who knew, of course, that any bloodshed and violence that followed the Israeli boarding party would be laid at the feet of the Israelis. Armed with the proper equipment, the naval commandos could have done precisely what they are trained to do — take command of a ship decisively and with great speed. This can only be done when the men boarding the ship are able to immediately neutralize their opponents and establish complete control.

But the Israeli commandos obviously could not establish complete control. They fast-roped into an ambush and were beaten and stabbed. Would this have happened if they had real guns in their hands? Probably not.

Those who sent an elite unit into a hostile confrontation armed with toy weapons made an incredibly stupid decision. And a uniquely Israeli one. In recent memory, Israeli military action has been violent but not decisive, bloody enough to provoke the outrage and condemnation of the world (at this point, a stubbed toe will do), but not enough to actually change facts on the ground (the Hamas and Hezbollah wars being prime examples). These halfhearted wars and battles have earned Israel demerits in world opinion without enough to show in improved strategic position. Exit question: How many new flotillas to Gaza are being planned right now in Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East?

To my mind, the most astonishing thing about the flotilla disaster is that the IDF sent its elite naval commandos into a highly charged potential combat situation that was being closely scrutinized by the world media — armed with paintball guns.

The intent, of course, was to show that Israel wished to avert escalating the confrontation and merely sought to bring the ships to port, transfer their cargo to Gaza, send the “peace activists” home, and bring this mini-drama to a close. But the results were catastrophic.

Instead of proving Israel’s good intentions, the commandos found themselves unable to take control of the terrorist blockade runners, who knew, of course, that any bloodshed and violence that followed the Israeli boarding party would be laid at the feet of the Israelis. Armed with the proper equipment, the naval commandos could have done precisely what they are trained to do — take command of a ship decisively and with great speed. This can only be done when the men boarding the ship are able to immediately neutralize their opponents and establish complete control.

But the Israeli commandos obviously could not establish complete control. They fast-roped into an ambush and were beaten and stabbed. Would this have happened if they had real guns in their hands? Probably not.

Those who sent an elite unit into a hostile confrontation armed with toy weapons made an incredibly stupid decision. And a uniquely Israeli one. In recent memory, Israeli military action has been violent but not decisive, bloody enough to provoke the outrage and condemnation of the world (at this point, a stubbed toe will do), but not enough to actually change facts on the ground (the Hamas and Hezbollah wars being prime examples). These halfhearted wars and battles have earned Israel demerits in world opinion without enough to show in improved strategic position. Exit question: How many new flotillas to Gaza are being planned right now in Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East?

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Iran’s Hezbollah Allies Getting Ready for War

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

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Goldstone’s Past: Apartheid Hangman

This report should shed some light on the hero of the Jewish left — Richard Goldstone. The man is to be feted by Tikkun and has been defended by J Street, but he had quite a track record as a judge in South Africa:

It turns out, the man who authored the Goldstone Report criticizing the IDF’s actions during Operation Cast Lead took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century. During his tenure as sitting as judge in the appellant court during the 1980s and 1990s sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their death. Yedioth Ahronoth’s findings show that Goldstone sentenced at least 28 black defendants to death. Most of them were found guilty of murder and sought to appeal the verdict. In those days, he actually made sure he showed his support for the execution policy, writing in one verdict that it reflects society’s demands that a price be paid for crimes it rightfully views as frightening. …. In another verdict, in which he upheld the execution of a young black man convicted of murdering a white restaurant owner after he fired him, Goldstone wrote that the death penalty is the only punishment likely to deter such acts.

Alan Dershowitz, who has thoroughly debunked Goldstone’s fraudulent report, doesn’t buy Goldstone’s defense that he was merely applying South African law. (“You know, a lot of people say we just followed the law, German judges… That’s what [German SS officer and physician Josef] Mengele said too. That was Mengele’s defense and that was what everybody said in Nazi Germany. ‘We just followed the law.’ When you are in an apartheid country like South Africa, you don’t follow the law.”)

There are a few issues that this raises. First, as Jeffrey Goldberg points out, it certainly provides the motive for Goldstone’s vilification of Israel:

The most serious charge leveled against Goldstone — one of the most serious, anyway — is that he is a man without a moral compass, who did what he did at the UN because he wants to be remembered as an avatar of human rights, and he knew that one way to become a favorite of the human rights community would be to lead the charge against that community’s most favored target. This new report suggests not only that Goldstone is at best intermittently principled, but that he knew his old hanging-judge record would one day catch up with him.

This, of course, is the endemic problem of the UN — they always get their man — i.e., Israel — because the “investigators” are selected for the express purpose of dummying up evidence to defame and delegitimize the Jewish state. It’s no accident Goldstone reached the conclusions he did, and it’s no accident that the UN selected him.

Second, will the left repudiate its heroic figure? Tikkun is set to give Goldstone an award next year for ethics. Perhaps it should reconsider. J Street helped mount Goldstone’s defense. Will it repudiate its association with him? I think both are unlikely, and we shouldn’t expect too much daylight between members of the anti-Israel Jewish left and Goldstone. For the enemy of Israel is their friend, be it NIAC or Stephen Walt. They aren’t too picky when it comes to those willing to go after Israel. (It is no coincidence that the anti-Israel left and the Gaza souvenir-buyers share a hero worship for Goldstone.) So no doubt, all will be forgiven. By defaming Israel, Goldstone has earned the eternal gratitude of the anti-Israel left.

This report should shed some light on the hero of the Jewish left — Richard Goldstone. The man is to be feted by Tikkun and has been defended by J Street, but he had quite a track record as a judge in South Africa:

It turns out, the man who authored the Goldstone Report criticizing the IDF’s actions during Operation Cast Lead took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century. During his tenure as sitting as judge in the appellant court during the 1980s and 1990s sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their death. Yedioth Ahronoth’s findings show that Goldstone sentenced at least 28 black defendants to death. Most of them were found guilty of murder and sought to appeal the verdict. In those days, he actually made sure he showed his support for the execution policy, writing in one verdict that it reflects society’s demands that a price be paid for crimes it rightfully views as frightening. …. In another verdict, in which he upheld the execution of a young black man convicted of murdering a white restaurant owner after he fired him, Goldstone wrote that the death penalty is the only punishment likely to deter such acts.

Alan Dershowitz, who has thoroughly debunked Goldstone’s fraudulent report, doesn’t buy Goldstone’s defense that he was merely applying South African law. (“You know, a lot of people say we just followed the law, German judges… That’s what [German SS officer and physician Josef] Mengele said too. That was Mengele’s defense and that was what everybody said in Nazi Germany. ‘We just followed the law.’ When you are in an apartheid country like South Africa, you don’t follow the law.”)

There are a few issues that this raises. First, as Jeffrey Goldberg points out, it certainly provides the motive for Goldstone’s vilification of Israel:

The most serious charge leveled against Goldstone — one of the most serious, anyway — is that he is a man without a moral compass, who did what he did at the UN because he wants to be remembered as an avatar of human rights, and he knew that one way to become a favorite of the human rights community would be to lead the charge against that community’s most favored target. This new report suggests not only that Goldstone is at best intermittently principled, but that he knew his old hanging-judge record would one day catch up with him.

This, of course, is the endemic problem of the UN — they always get their man — i.e., Israel — because the “investigators” are selected for the express purpose of dummying up evidence to defame and delegitimize the Jewish state. It’s no accident Goldstone reached the conclusions he did, and it’s no accident that the UN selected him.

Second, will the left repudiate its heroic figure? Tikkun is set to give Goldstone an award next year for ethics. Perhaps it should reconsider. J Street helped mount Goldstone’s defense. Will it repudiate its association with him? I think both are unlikely, and we shouldn’t expect too much daylight between members of the anti-Israel Jewish left and Goldstone. For the enemy of Israel is their friend, be it NIAC or Stephen Walt. They aren’t too picky when it comes to those willing to go after Israel. (It is no coincidence that the anti-Israel left and the Gaza souvenir-buyers share a hero worship for Goldstone.) So no doubt, all will be forgiven. By defaming Israel, Goldstone has earned the eternal gratitude of the anti-Israel left.

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Times Square Bomb: An Israeli Perspective

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

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RE: RE: J Street Comes Clean

Noah, your apt comments are not limited to the J Street crowd. It seems that now is the time when many on the faux pro-Israel left dare to show their core beliefs. High on that list is that Israel is guilty of “war crimes” and that international bodies like the august Human Rights Council should intervene to prevent such “crimes” — i.e., prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorists who hide behind baby cribs and old women’s skirts. So we learn that Tikkun magazine will give its 25th annual ethics award next year to … ready? … none other than Richard Goldstone. “The politics of meaning” (New Age babble for the far-left agenda) guru and Tikkun founder Michael Lerner is pleased to honor such a man as Goldstone, whose shoddy libel against the IDF has long since been ably and completely demolished:

Tikkun’s founder and editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, told JTA that the decision to recognize Goldstone was made prior to the bar mitzvah brouhaha and that the timing of the announcement was the result of his “outrageous” treatment by his fellow South African Jews.

Goldstone is doing a service “for the Jewish people in reinforcing the notion that our ethical judgments are not tied to blind support for any government,” Lerner said.

He said the award stems from Goldstone’s record on human rights and is a “reflection on his contribution to the Jewish people in affirming the independence of loyalty to the policies of the State of Israel.”

Translation: there is no higher achievement than betraying — with half-truths and outright lies — the Jewish state. I’m sure the J Street crowd will hoot and holler as Goldstone accepts the honor. After all, they had quite a hand in penning his defense. This then is the face of the not-at-all-pro-Israel left. It’s about time they showed what they are all about — delegitimizing and emasculating the Jewish state.

Noah, your apt comments are not limited to the J Street crowd. It seems that now is the time when many on the faux pro-Israel left dare to show their core beliefs. High on that list is that Israel is guilty of “war crimes” and that international bodies like the august Human Rights Council should intervene to prevent such “crimes” — i.e., prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorists who hide behind baby cribs and old women’s skirts. So we learn that Tikkun magazine will give its 25th annual ethics award next year to … ready? … none other than Richard Goldstone. “The politics of meaning” (New Age babble for the far-left agenda) guru and Tikkun founder Michael Lerner is pleased to honor such a man as Goldstone, whose shoddy libel against the IDF has long since been ably and completely demolished:

Tikkun’s founder and editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, told JTA that the decision to recognize Goldstone was made prior to the bar mitzvah brouhaha and that the timing of the announcement was the result of his “outrageous” treatment by his fellow South African Jews.

Goldstone is doing a service “for the Jewish people in reinforcing the notion that our ethical judgments are not tied to blind support for any government,” Lerner said.

He said the award stems from Goldstone’s record on human rights and is a “reflection on his contribution to the Jewish people in affirming the independence of loyalty to the policies of the State of Israel.”

Translation: there is no higher achievement than betraying — with half-truths and outright lies — the Jewish state. I’m sure the J Street crowd will hoot and holler as Goldstone accepts the honor. After all, they had quite a hand in penning his defense. This then is the face of the not-at-all-pro-Israel left. It’s about time they showed what they are all about — delegitimizing and emasculating the Jewish state.

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Tensions with U.S. Don’t Preclude Israeli Strike on Iran

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

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Playing with Fire in the Levant

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

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RE: Imposed Arrogance

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

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Slow-Roll to Diego Garcia?

It’s going to be impossible to keep up with these reports and rumors, but one new item merits discussion. Emanuele Ottolenghi has pretty thoroughly discredited the originators of the rumor that bombs shipped to Diego Garcia are for an imminent attack on Iran. Now, however, there’s a report from a less-dismissible source that the original intention may have been to ship the bombs to Israel. Much of the blogosphere is running with the story that Obama “diverted” the shipment, with the timing of these revelations apparently related to Washington’s ongoing tiff with Jerusalem.

My assessment up front: the blogosphere’s got that story wrong. The U.S. may well have decided to change the destination of bombs being prepositioned overseas, but the decision was clearly made at least two months ago, before the January 2010 contract to ship the munitions to Diego Garcia was posted. Nevertheless, if the World Tribune report is valid, that change in our prepositioning plan could be part of a disquieting trend in the Obama administration’s arms policy toward Israel.

A key fact in this tangled tale is that Israel has been one of the U.S. military’s principal foreign prepositioning sites for the last 20 years. (Others are South Korea and Thailand.) Munitions we store with these hosts, while intended for our own forces’ use in contingencies, can be used by the host nations in the case of national emergency. We only store such stockpiles in nations with which we have defense agreements. A previous ammunition shipment to the storage sites in Israel became quite famous a year ago when the cargo ship bearing it was originally scheduled to arrive during the IDF operations in Gaza. In light of a December 2009 agreement on doubling the size of our munitions stockpile in Israel, it’s quite probable that we intended to ship additional bombs to the storage sites there this year.

The World Tribune piece appears to be discussing a U.S. policy-related shipment of this kind, rather than the diversion of arms that were actually sold to Israel. I don’t believe that a weapons sale is being reneged on. But a decision to suspend further prepositioning of U.S. munitions at the Israeli sites would be in character with the Obama administration’s emerging policy of delaying and blocking military sales to Israel. The most notable instance involves the Apache Longbow helicopter: a pending sale of Apaches to Israel was blocked by the administration in June 2009, due to the concern that they would be used to threaten Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The U.S. has delayed arms sales to Israel before, but as the JINSA article above notes, Obama’s policy of slow-rolling Israel while concluding major arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan is a new one. His administration’s bumpy history with Israel lends weight to the possibility that our military prepositioning strategy is being modified to prevent further growth in the munitions stockpile Israel might be able to drawn on. Implementing policy by this arcane method has the advantage of being a quiet and attritional approach.

We should note that Israel already has the types of bombs listed in the manifest for the Diego Garcia shipment.  We sold the IDF several thousand of them in the last decade. There is no need to hyperventilate over the erroneous implication that a type of weapon Israel desperately needs is being withheld. But the possibility that the Obama administration hopes to control the limits on Israel’s options is not so easily dismissed.

Deciding what we do with our own weapons is, of course, America’s sovereign right. The discretion and logistic convenience we retain by storing bombs at Diego Garcia are things any administration might seek. But while this bomb shipment may be a politically unremarkable logistic decision, reports that it may have implications about our relations with Israel are credible after months of one-sided policy from the Obama administration.

It’s going to be impossible to keep up with these reports and rumors, but one new item merits discussion. Emanuele Ottolenghi has pretty thoroughly discredited the originators of the rumor that bombs shipped to Diego Garcia are for an imminent attack on Iran. Now, however, there’s a report from a less-dismissible source that the original intention may have been to ship the bombs to Israel. Much of the blogosphere is running with the story that Obama “diverted” the shipment, with the timing of these revelations apparently related to Washington’s ongoing tiff with Jerusalem.

My assessment up front: the blogosphere’s got that story wrong. The U.S. may well have decided to change the destination of bombs being prepositioned overseas, but the decision was clearly made at least two months ago, before the January 2010 contract to ship the munitions to Diego Garcia was posted. Nevertheless, if the World Tribune report is valid, that change in our prepositioning plan could be part of a disquieting trend in the Obama administration’s arms policy toward Israel.

A key fact in this tangled tale is that Israel has been one of the U.S. military’s principal foreign prepositioning sites for the last 20 years. (Others are South Korea and Thailand.) Munitions we store with these hosts, while intended for our own forces’ use in contingencies, can be used by the host nations in the case of national emergency. We only store such stockpiles in nations with which we have defense agreements. A previous ammunition shipment to the storage sites in Israel became quite famous a year ago when the cargo ship bearing it was originally scheduled to arrive during the IDF operations in Gaza. In light of a December 2009 agreement on doubling the size of our munitions stockpile in Israel, it’s quite probable that we intended to ship additional bombs to the storage sites there this year.

The World Tribune piece appears to be discussing a U.S. policy-related shipment of this kind, rather than the diversion of arms that were actually sold to Israel. I don’t believe that a weapons sale is being reneged on. But a decision to suspend further prepositioning of U.S. munitions at the Israeli sites would be in character with the Obama administration’s emerging policy of delaying and blocking military sales to Israel. The most notable instance involves the Apache Longbow helicopter: a pending sale of Apaches to Israel was blocked by the administration in June 2009, due to the concern that they would be used to threaten Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The U.S. has delayed arms sales to Israel before, but as the JINSA article above notes, Obama’s policy of slow-rolling Israel while concluding major arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan is a new one. His administration’s bumpy history with Israel lends weight to the possibility that our military prepositioning strategy is being modified to prevent further growth in the munitions stockpile Israel might be able to drawn on. Implementing policy by this arcane method has the advantage of being a quiet and attritional approach.

We should note that Israel already has the types of bombs listed in the manifest for the Diego Garcia shipment.  We sold the IDF several thousand of them in the last decade. There is no need to hyperventilate over the erroneous implication that a type of weapon Israel desperately needs is being withheld. But the possibility that the Obama administration hopes to control the limits on Israel’s options is not so easily dismissed.

Deciding what we do with our own weapons is, of course, America’s sovereign right. The discretion and logistic convenience we retain by storing bombs at Diego Garcia are things any administration might seek. But while this bomb shipment may be a politically unremarkable logistic decision, reports that it may have implications about our relations with Israel are credible after months of one-sided policy from the Obama administration.

Read Less




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