Commentary Magazine


Topic: intelligence services

Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: Not Much of a Competition There

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

Gail Collins of the New York Times has written a column upon Joe Lieberman’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate that, as with so many of her pieces, is written in a spirit of jocularity when its author actually has no observable sense of humor. This one is full of invective without wit. It’s as if Collins, whose tenure as the editor of the Times editorial page made for excellent bird-cage lining, were the bastard child of Don Rickles and David Broder.

Of Lieberman, she says he was, at the outset of his career, “extremely boring.” Of his speech yesterday, she writes: “Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.” She quotes “a friend in Connecticut” who said, “He’s the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won’t have to make conversation.” She then tasks him, through a quote from a Connecticut pol, for “taking it personally” when people called him a baby-killer and a monster and evil for supporting the war in Iraq.

Listen. Hate Joe Lieberman all you want for his ideas — and she freely acknowledges she does hate him for “watering down” the health-care bill and “consolidating the intelligence services” — but it is simply preposterous to describe him as boring or the kind of person you flee from. Until the Iraq war rended the nation and heated up politics in Washington to a dangerous roil, Lieberman was certainly among the best-liked senators among people on both sides of the aisle. His staffers loved him, and so did the staffs of committees on which he served. And he is the opposite of boring: once (or maybe even twice) he won a contest that judged the funniest elected politician in Washington. Granted, that’s not much of a contest, but in the contest for unfunniest columnist in America, Gail Collins would win hands-down.

I know him a little; his daughter Rebecca is a very close friend of mine. At Rebecca’s wedding, Lieberman got up to make the paternal toast. “I am so happy today,” he said, “that I wish I could give you all an earmark.” If she lived a hundred lifetimes, Gail Collins would be unable to crack a joke one-thousandth as clever. Believe me, if you had to pick one or the other to go out and have a drink with, even if you were Noam Chomsky, you’d have a better time with Joe.

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Turkey and the Other MIT

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

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RE: Peaceful, Humanitarian, Civilian Flotilla

As Noah points out, the flotilla was many things — ingenious, sinister, deceptive, etc. — but not peaceful. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times:

Peace activists are people who demonstrate nonviolently for peaceful co-existence and human rights. The mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.

Millions have already seen the Al Jazeera broadcast showing these “activists” chanting “Khaibar! Khaibar!”— a reference to a Muslim massacre of Jews in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. YouTube viewers saw Israeli troops, armed with crowd-dispersing paintball guns and side arms for emergency protection, being beaten and hurled over the railings of the ship by attackers wielding iron bars.

He also shares some additional information: 100 of the activists had large wads of cash; spent bullet cartridges of a type not used by the commandos were found on board; and there was a propaganda film “showing passengers ‘injured’ by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.”

He then dismantles the propaganda — eagerly regurgitated by the Times and others — according to which this was critical humanitarian aid:

Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.

This is why the organizers of the flotilla repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to transfer its cargo to Gaza once it was inspected for military contraband. They also rebuffed an Israeli request to earmark some aid packages for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years.

In the recent past, Israeli forces have diverted nine such flotillas, all without incident, and peacefully boarded five of the ships in this week’s convoy. Their cargoes, after proper inspection, were delivered to non-Hamas institutions in Gaza. Only the Marmara, a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means such as fouling the propeller, violently resisted. It is no coincidence that the ship was dispatched by Insani Yardim Vakfi (also called the I.H.H.), a supposed charity that Israeli and other intelligence services have linked to Islamic extremists. …

Each day, Israel facilitates the passage into Gaza of more than 100 truckloads of food and medicine — there is no shortage of either.

The task of beating back the Palestinian PR machine is enormous. The left and the media (I repeat myself) feverishly lap up the “humanitarian” propaganda. But in the end, it’s not all that hard to figure out what’s going on. As  Sen. Joe Lieberman crisply puts it in a released statement that reads, in part:

We should be very clear about who is responsible for the unfortunate loss of life in the attempt to break the blockade in Gaza. Hamas and its allies are the responsible parties for the recent violence and the continued difficulties for the people of Gaza. Israel exercised her legitimate right of self defense.

The blockade exists because Hamas, which is increasingly acting as a proxy for the Iranian regime, has fired thousands of rockets upon Israel even after Israel withdrew from Gaza. The flotilla was a clear provocation and was not an effort to improve the lives of the people of Gaza but rather an attempt to score political propaganda points. The Palestinian people have legitimate rights to a state that is a peaceful neighbor of Israel, but those who assist Hamas only undermine that goal and a peaceful resolution. Support of Hamas and its aims is not the humanitarian path to peace, but rather enables continued violence and conflict.

He adds that he appreciates it that “the Obama Administration has refused to join the international herd that has rushed to convict Israel before the facts were known and has apparently forgotten that Israel is a democratic nation and Hamas is a terrorist group.”)

Lieberman also makes a key point about timing: “At difficult moments like this, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to stand steadfastly with our democratic ally, Israel.”  In the midst of the fray, it’s neither helpful nor fair, nor even possible, to begin the inquisition. As Israel has begun to do, it is critical first to  get the complete facts out concerning the flotilla terrorists so the analysis can be accurate and the madcap race to judgment can be slowed. I’m hardly one to complain about the 24/7 news cycle, which has tremendous benefits, but it also provides the opportunity for a great deal of foolishness.

As Noah points out, the flotilla was many things — ingenious, sinister, deceptive, etc. — but not peaceful. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times:

Peace activists are people who demonstrate nonviolently for peaceful co-existence and human rights. The mob that assaulted Israeli special forces on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday was not motivated by peace. On the contrary, the religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis — both by their own hands as well as by aiding Hamas — and to destroy any hope of peace.

Millions have already seen the Al Jazeera broadcast showing these “activists” chanting “Khaibar! Khaibar!”— a reference to a Muslim massacre of Jews in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. YouTube viewers saw Israeli troops, armed with crowd-dispersing paintball guns and side arms for emergency protection, being beaten and hurled over the railings of the ship by attackers wielding iron bars.

He also shares some additional information: 100 of the activists had large wads of cash; spent bullet cartridges of a type not used by the commandos were found on board; and there was a propaganda film “showing passengers ‘injured’ by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.”

He then dismantles the propaganda — eagerly regurgitated by the Times and others — according to which this was critical humanitarian aid:

Just as Hamas gunmen hide behind civilians in Gaza, so, too, do their sponsors cower behind shipments of seemingly innocent aid.

This is why the organizers of the flotilla repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to transfer its cargo to Gaza once it was inspected for military contraband. They also rebuffed an Israeli request to earmark some aid packages for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years.

In the recent past, Israeli forces have diverted nine such flotillas, all without incident, and peacefully boarded five of the ships in this week’s convoy. Their cargoes, after proper inspection, were delivered to non-Hamas institutions in Gaza. Only the Marmara, a vessel too large to be neutralized by technical means such as fouling the propeller, violently resisted. It is no coincidence that the ship was dispatched by Insani Yardim Vakfi (also called the I.H.H.), a supposed charity that Israeli and other intelligence services have linked to Islamic extremists. …

Each day, Israel facilitates the passage into Gaza of more than 100 truckloads of food and medicine — there is no shortage of either.

The task of beating back the Palestinian PR machine is enormous. The left and the media (I repeat myself) feverishly lap up the “humanitarian” propaganda. But in the end, it’s not all that hard to figure out what’s going on. As  Sen. Joe Lieberman crisply puts it in a released statement that reads, in part:

We should be very clear about who is responsible for the unfortunate loss of life in the attempt to break the blockade in Gaza. Hamas and its allies are the responsible parties for the recent violence and the continued difficulties for the people of Gaza. Israel exercised her legitimate right of self defense.

The blockade exists because Hamas, which is increasingly acting as a proxy for the Iranian regime, has fired thousands of rockets upon Israel even after Israel withdrew from Gaza. The flotilla was a clear provocation and was not an effort to improve the lives of the people of Gaza but rather an attempt to score political propaganda points. The Palestinian people have legitimate rights to a state that is a peaceful neighbor of Israel, but those who assist Hamas only undermine that goal and a peaceful resolution. Support of Hamas and its aims is not the humanitarian path to peace, but rather enables continued violence and conflict.

He adds that he appreciates it that “the Obama Administration has refused to join the international herd that has rushed to convict Israel before the facts were known and has apparently forgotten that Israel is a democratic nation and Hamas is a terrorist group.”)

Lieberman also makes a key point about timing: “At difficult moments like this, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to stand steadfastly with our democratic ally, Israel.”  In the midst of the fray, it’s neither helpful nor fair, nor even possible, to begin the inquisition. As Israel has begun to do, it is critical first to  get the complete facts out concerning the flotilla terrorists so the analysis can be accurate and the madcap race to judgment can be slowed. I’m hardly one to complain about the 24/7 news cycle, which has tremendous benefits, but it also provides the opportunity for a great deal of foolishness.

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The Dubai Hit

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas’ downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas’ downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

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Sunday Spin on Christmas Day Bombing

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

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An Opportunity Lost

Michael Gerson, unlike the Obami, concedes that our Iran-engagement policy is in a shambles: the regime has consolidated power, its nuclear program is going full steam ahead, and we have been shown to be very foolish: “Obama’s policy of setting deadlines for cooperation that are violated with impunity, and continually extending the hand of engagement after it is slapped again and again, is both weak and irrelevant.” Gerson suggests that some regime change is in order and that it would be wise to now aid the democracy advocates — after having defunded them. He calls it an “untried option.” Actually, it was a rejected option, at the moment at which it might have done some good. When many were calling on the president to lend a hand to the protesters, Obama went mute and turned up the groveling. Gerson holds out hope that:

Obama could try the strategy the Iranian regime most fears: supporting, overtly and covertly, the democratic resistance against military rule. Not out of idealism, but realism. It would be a source of leverage on the Iranian regime, at a time when American leverage is limited. And it might hasten the return of civilian control in Iran, so that America would actually have a negotiating partner.

Well, he could, but he shows no interest in doing so, and frankly it’s a little late now. Obama has already bestowed legitimacy on a regime that, as Gerson points out, the Revolutionary Guard now dominates. (“But in reaction to mass protests after the fraudulent presidential election in June, the Guard’s control has expanded comprehensively. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reorganized Iran’s intelligence services to give the Guard the lead role — clearly fearful that the regular intelligence agencies were unreliable. The Guard has assumed greater power over Iranian media.”) Gerson is right that regime change is smart policy. Unfortunately, our president didn’t realize that when it might have had the greatest impact.

Michael Gerson, unlike the Obami, concedes that our Iran-engagement policy is in a shambles: the regime has consolidated power, its nuclear program is going full steam ahead, and we have been shown to be very foolish: “Obama’s policy of setting deadlines for cooperation that are violated with impunity, and continually extending the hand of engagement after it is slapped again and again, is both weak and irrelevant.” Gerson suggests that some regime change is in order and that it would be wise to now aid the democracy advocates — after having defunded them. He calls it an “untried option.” Actually, it was a rejected option, at the moment at which it might have done some good. When many were calling on the president to lend a hand to the protesters, Obama went mute and turned up the groveling. Gerson holds out hope that:

Obama could try the strategy the Iranian regime most fears: supporting, overtly and covertly, the democratic resistance against military rule. Not out of idealism, but realism. It would be a source of leverage on the Iranian regime, at a time when American leverage is limited. And it might hasten the return of civilian control in Iran, so that America would actually have a negotiating partner.

Well, he could, but he shows no interest in doing so, and frankly it’s a little late now. Obama has already bestowed legitimacy on a regime that, as Gerson points out, the Revolutionary Guard now dominates. (“But in reaction to mass protests after the fraudulent presidential election in June, the Guard’s control has expanded comprehensively. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reorganized Iran’s intelligence services to give the Guard the lead role — clearly fearful that the regular intelligence agencies were unreliable. The Guard has assumed greater power over Iranian media.”) Gerson is right that regime change is smart policy. Unfortunately, our president didn’t realize that when it might have had the greatest impact.

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Obama Stares Down Hezbollah

Yesterday Barack Obama released a statement about the crisis in Lebanon that surely must be cause for celebration in Tehran, Damascus, and Bint Jbeil. First of all, there is the alternate-reality feel to it:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Does Obama understand that the people who “have influence with Hezbollah” happen to be the same people on whose behalf Hezbollah is rampaging through Lebanon?

Then there is the absurd prescription:

It’s time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.

So that’s the problem in Lebanon? Economics and the electoral system? As Lee Smith points out in a scathing post,

Obama’s language is derived from those corners of the left that claim Hezbollah is only interested in winning the Shia a larger share of the political process. Never mind the guns, it’s essentially a social welfare movement, with schools and clinics! — and its own foreign policy, intelligence services and terror apparatus, used at the regional, international and now domestic level. But the solution, says, Obama, channeling the man he fired for talking to Hamas, is diplomacy.

In the Lebanon crisis, Obama is rhetorically cornered. Since his only prescription for the Middle East is diplomatic engagement, every disease gets re-diagnosed as something curable through talking.

Yesterday Barack Obama released a statement about the crisis in Lebanon that surely must be cause for celebration in Tehran, Damascus, and Bint Jbeil. First of all, there is the alternate-reality feel to it:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Does Obama understand that the people who “have influence with Hezbollah” happen to be the same people on whose behalf Hezbollah is rampaging through Lebanon?

Then there is the absurd prescription:

It’s time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.

So that’s the problem in Lebanon? Economics and the electoral system? As Lee Smith points out in a scathing post,

Obama’s language is derived from those corners of the left that claim Hezbollah is only interested in winning the Shia a larger share of the political process. Never mind the guns, it’s essentially a social welfare movement, with schools and clinics! — and its own foreign policy, intelligence services and terror apparatus, used at the regional, international and now domestic level. But the solution, says, Obama, channeling the man he fired for talking to Hamas, is diplomacy.

In the Lebanon crisis, Obama is rhetorically cornered. Since his only prescription for the Middle East is diplomatic engagement, every disease gets re-diagnosed as something curable through talking.

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Spy vs. Spy

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

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Ignatius in Israel

David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

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David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

This is absurd. For starters, the last time Israel gave the Palestinians a free hand in developing their security forces, Yasir Arafat flagrantly violated every restriction the Oslo rules had put on the Palestinian security services, and then used the services to launch a terror war against Israel. Even Ignatius must admit that the Israelis have a right to be a bit skeptical of going down that road again. Here is how my friend Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center, described that state of affairs:

Arafat guaranteed the loyalty of his troops, and especially the highest-ranking officers, by establishing the kind of command and control structure that had characterized his previous 25 years of rule, and which for good reason is preferred by military dictators anxious to prevent the rise of competitors. Though the Gaza-Jericho agreement limited the Palestinian police to four branches, coordinated in each district by a single command, Arafat set up multiple forces that competed with one another: By the summer of 1995, there were nine intelligence services operating in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as additional units with various responsibilities. There was no authority coordinating these forces on a regional basis, nor was there a clear hierarchy within each branch: The only thing that was unambiguous was that all top officers reported directly to Arafat, who was commander in chief of the PA police—and who continued wearing his trademark uniform to symbolize his authority as a military ruler. The multiplicity of units created endless turf wars, leading the various organizations to keep tabs on one another and to pass this information on to Arafat. Moreover, this Byzantine system made it possible for Arafat to order attacks against political opponents while publicly denying any involvement.

Today, if there is one thing in which the PA is still awash, it is manpower (a massive percentage of Palestinian men are employed in various PA security sinecures), security expertise, and weaponry. Not to mention money, as more foreign aid is lavished per capita on the Palestinians than on any group of people anywhere in the world—and by a huge margin. But none of the problems that Ignatius cites have much relation to the real Palestinian internal security problem.

Arafat’s goons did not work toward establishing a Palestinian state. They didn’t serve the Palestinian people or attempt to impose law and order. These men worked for Yasir Arafat, and only for Arafat, in order that he could more thoroughly solidify his corrupt autocracy. The things Ignatius mentions—Israeli security concessions, or the latest package of aid money, or American support—have all been tweaked and modified and adjusted countless times. A competent security service, be it police or military, must be possessed of a unity of purpose and must show dedication to a mission. It is precisely these cultural components that have been so elusive when it has come to the role that Palestinian security services have played in the many abortive attempts at creating a Palestinian state. The only Arab security forces in recent history that have displayed any such qualities are those of Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah.

On this matter David Frum should have the last word:

Hey, here’s a wild suggestion: What if we tried the other way around? What if we said to the Palestinians—OK, you want the benefits of peace? A state, a well-paid civil service supported by lavish foreign aid, jobs at the United Nations for the nephews of your president for life? Great. Make peace. Your soldiers want to be trusted? Great. First let them show themselves trustworthy.

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The News You Don’t Read

It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

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It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

Take this Wednesday’s thwarted bombing. An Islamic Jihad operative from the West Bank city of Jenin was arrested in a Palestinian “safe house” in a southern suburb of Tel Aviv after planting a bomb, which he may have intended to retrieve and blow himself up with, in a trash can in the center of the nearby city of Rishon Letzion. He told his interrogators where the bomb was, a team of sappers was sent to defuse it, and no damage was done. This kind of thing happens all the time in Israel. The main reason it was treated as such a big story this time was that, warned by intelligence sources that the bomber was on his way, the police threw up roadblocks, causing major traffic jams in the Tel Aviv area.

You read such a story in the newspaper and turn the page and go on. Only in the act of turning it, perhaps, do you suddenly stop to wonder: Just a minute—how did Israel’s intelligence services know that someone from Jenin was on his way with a bomb? And how did they know where he was hiding so that they were able to get to him in time?

You won’t find the answers in the newspaper. For obvious reasons, their details are a secret. And yet in a general sort of way, there’s no great mystery. Israeli intelligence must have known about the bomb because it had a Palestinian agent who tipped it off. It may have known about the safe house from another agent. And where did it recruit these agents from? Most probably from the hundreds of Islamic Jihad operatives who have been arrested in recent years at roadblocks, in raids on houses, in dragnets, and in sweeps—in short, in all those operations that have given Israel a reputation for being an unconscionable oppressor. And how did it persuade them to work for it? Possibly with money, possibly with other incentives, possibly with threats against them and their families—that is, by doing the kinds of nasty things that nice people don’t do to one another.

The world hears mostly about the nasty things. “Dozens of Israeli lives saved yesterday” doesn’t play well with the editors of the New York Times or the Guardian in London. We in Israel, who know those lives could have been our own, our friends’, or our family’s, have a different take on it.

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