Commentary Magazine


Topic: Interior minister

Israel to Consider Law Allowing Deportation of Foreign Activists

Get ready for more hyperventilating over Israel’s alleged slide toward totalitarianism. Likud members are expected to introduce a bill before the Knesset that will allow the Israeli government to deport foreign activists or groups that are actively working against Israeli interests:

The bill would authorize the interior minister “to forbid entrance to Israel or to expel from Israel people defined as enemy agents who harm Israel’s security or image,” the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel said.

It details specific types of activities defined as harming Israel’s security, including denying the existence of the Holocaust, boycotting Israel or Israeli products, and working to hold international court proceedings against Israeli citizens because of activities carried out while serving in Israel’s security organizations.

This bill comes on the heels of another piece of controversial legislation recently passed by the Knesset that will allow lawmakers to investigate whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization campaign are funded by foreign governments. It’s unclear how much support this new proposal will garner, but the NGO bill passed with overwhelming support.

It sounds like this new legislation would go hand-in-hand with the NGO investigations. If the Knesset finds that some anti-Israel organizations are supported by foreign governments, the new bill could give Israel the power to bar these groups from operating within the country, or even to deport their members.

Israel has been struggling to combat the growing problem of “lawfare” and pro-divestment groups in the past few years, and these attempts to solve the crisis are understandable. But considering the amount of hysteria the recent NGO bill generated, it doesn’t seem like the most opportune time for this proposal. Not to mention, this new piece of legislation goes far beyond the concept of a Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was how Danny Ayalon defended the necessity of the NGO bill.

The idea of deporting foreign agents actively involved in seeking the destruction of Israel isn’t particularly offensive in itself — but the big question is how would these agents be defined? And where is the line between the legitimate defense of national security and a crackdown on speech rights and genuine democratic debate? Unless the Knesset comes up with clear answers to those questions, it’s hard to see this proposal as a step in the right direction.

Get ready for more hyperventilating over Israel’s alleged slide toward totalitarianism. Likud members are expected to introduce a bill before the Knesset that will allow the Israeli government to deport foreign activists or groups that are actively working against Israeli interests:

The bill would authorize the interior minister “to forbid entrance to Israel or to expel from Israel people defined as enemy agents who harm Israel’s security or image,” the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel said.

It details specific types of activities defined as harming Israel’s security, including denying the existence of the Holocaust, boycotting Israel or Israeli products, and working to hold international court proceedings against Israeli citizens because of activities carried out while serving in Israel’s security organizations.

This bill comes on the heels of another piece of controversial legislation recently passed by the Knesset that will allow lawmakers to investigate whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization campaign are funded by foreign governments. It’s unclear how much support this new proposal will garner, but the NGO bill passed with overwhelming support.

It sounds like this new legislation would go hand-in-hand with the NGO investigations. If the Knesset finds that some anti-Israel organizations are supported by foreign governments, the new bill could give Israel the power to bar these groups from operating within the country, or even to deport their members.

Israel has been struggling to combat the growing problem of “lawfare” and pro-divestment groups in the past few years, and these attempts to solve the crisis are understandable. But considering the amount of hysteria the recent NGO bill generated, it doesn’t seem like the most opportune time for this proposal. Not to mention, this new piece of legislation goes far beyond the concept of a Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was how Danny Ayalon defended the necessity of the NGO bill.

The idea of deporting foreign agents actively involved in seeking the destruction of Israel isn’t particularly offensive in itself — but the big question is how would these agents be defined? And where is the line between the legitimate defense of national security and a crackdown on speech rights and genuine democratic debate? Unless the Knesset comes up with clear answers to those questions, it’s hard to see this proposal as a step in the right direction.

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A Case Study in the Goldstone Report’s Fundamental Dishonesty

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

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The Fire, and the Talk

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.

In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.

Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.

What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:

1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.

2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.

3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.

4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.

5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.

6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”

7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.

9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.

10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.

Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.

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Fake Photos and Foreign Media

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

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Hamas Finally Admits Most Gaza Fatalities Were Combatants, Not Civilians

Here’s a news item certain to be ignored by every human rights organization, every UN agency, and every country that backed the Goldstone Report: almost two years after the war in Gaza ended, no less a person than Hamas’s interior minister has finally admitted that Israel was right all along about the casualties — the vast majority were combatants, not civilians.

The first crucial admission in Fathi Hammad’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat is that the 250 policemen Israel killed on the war’s first day by bombing their station were indeed combatants, just as Israel claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly labeled this raid a deliberate slaughter of civilian police tasked solely with preserving law and order, dismissing Israel’s contention that these policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. But here’s what Hamas’s own interior minister says:

On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.

In short, just as Israel claimed, many of these policemen belonged to Hamas, while the remainder belonged to other “factions” — the standard Palestinian euphemism for their various armed militias.

In addition, Hammad said, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel.” The Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s main fighting force.

Combining the higher of Hammad’s estimates for the Qassam Brigades, 300, with the 150 “security personnel” and the 250 policemen brings the total number of combatants killed by Israel to 700. Add in the fact that Israel also killed combatants from other organizations, like Islamic Jihad, and you’re already above the 709 people the Israel Defense Forces said it had definitely identified as combatants — that is, some of the 162 whose status the IDF couldn’t determine were (as it suspected) also combatants. Based on the IDF’s total casualty figure of 1,166, that means at least 61 percent of the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and quite possibly more.

Nor does taking the lower estimate, 200, alter the results significantly: that gives a total of 600 combatants, which, assuming some from other organizations as well, brings you quite close to the IDF’s figure of 709.

And of course, even the lower estimate gives you almost double the 349 combatants cited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

So why did Hamas lie about its casualties for almost two years? Because in Hammad’s world, that’s simply standard practice. That’s why he also insisted in the interview that Israel really suffered 50 wartime fatalities, though it “acknowledged only 12”: he can’t conceive of a party to a conflict actually reporting its losses accurately.

But however belatedly, Hamas has now confirmed that most of the war’s casualties were indeed combatants rather than civilians, just as Israel always claimed. So now all that’s needed is a humble apology from all the individuals and organizations that have spent the past two years slanderously accusing Israel of the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Here’s a news item certain to be ignored by every human rights organization, every UN agency, and every country that backed the Goldstone Report: almost two years after the war in Gaza ended, no less a person than Hamas’s interior minister has finally admitted that Israel was right all along about the casualties — the vast majority were combatants, not civilians.

The first crucial admission in Fathi Hammad’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat is that the 250 policemen Israel killed on the war’s first day by bombing their station were indeed combatants, just as Israel claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly labeled this raid a deliberate slaughter of civilian police tasked solely with preserving law and order, dismissing Israel’s contention that these policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. But here’s what Hamas’s own interior minister says:

On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.

In short, just as Israel claimed, many of these policemen belonged to Hamas, while the remainder belonged to other “factions” — the standard Palestinian euphemism for their various armed militias.

In addition, Hammad said, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel.” The Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s main fighting force.

Combining the higher of Hammad’s estimates for the Qassam Brigades, 300, with the 150 “security personnel” and the 250 policemen brings the total number of combatants killed by Israel to 700. Add in the fact that Israel also killed combatants from other organizations, like Islamic Jihad, and you’re already above the 709 people the Israel Defense Forces said it had definitely identified as combatants — that is, some of the 162 whose status the IDF couldn’t determine were (as it suspected) also combatants. Based on the IDF’s total casualty figure of 1,166, that means at least 61 percent of the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and quite possibly more.

Nor does taking the lower estimate, 200, alter the results significantly: that gives a total of 600 combatants, which, assuming some from other organizations as well, brings you quite close to the IDF’s figure of 709.

And of course, even the lower estimate gives you almost double the 349 combatants cited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

So why did Hamas lie about its casualties for almost two years? Because in Hammad’s world, that’s simply standard practice. That’s why he also insisted in the interview that Israel really suffered 50 wartime fatalities, though it “acknowledged only 12”: he can’t conceive of a party to a conflict actually reporting its losses accurately.

But however belatedly, Hamas has now confirmed that most of the war’s casualties were indeed combatants rather than civilians, just as Israel always claimed. So now all that’s needed is a humble apology from all the individuals and organizations that have spent the past two years slanderously accusing Israel of the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Obama’s Mishandling of Karzai Is Bearing Bitter Fruit

What accounts for President Hamid Karzai’s bizarre decision to fire two of the most effective members of his government — Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and intelligence director Amrullah Saleh? The supposed cause was their failure to prevent a Taliban attack on a recent peace jirga, even though the incident was a relatively minor one and did not result in many casualties. It is said that there are deeper disputes beneath the surface, including Saleh’s opposition to large-scale releases of Taliban detainees — something that Karzai favors even though the Taliban has not offered any comparable concessions. But Ali Jalali, an esteemed former Afghan interior minister who now teaches at National Defense University in Washington, thinks there is something else going on as well. The New York Times quotes him as follows:

“The root of this is the perception that President Karzai got last year from the kind of cold reception that he got from the American administration, and that made him feel insecure,” said Ahmed Ali Jalali, who was Afghanistan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005. He now teaches at the National Defense University in Washington.

The insecurity has left Mr. Karzai alternately lashing out in anger and searching for new allies, turning to Iran and elements within the Taliban. Both are antagonistic to American interests.

“He is trying to create new networks, new allies and contacts both inside the country and outside the country in case there’s a premature withdrawal, so a lot of this is more of a survival gesture,” Mr. Jalali said.

That certainly accords with my own analysis of Karzai: like most politicians, he is primarily interested in personal survival, and if the U.S. does not commit itself to helping him, he will look for allies in all the wrong places — among warlords and drug traffickers, for a start, but also among the Taliban and even in Iran. In other words, the Obama administration’s get-tough approach with Karzai has backfired, precisely as I and many other analysts warned it would.

The administration has since tried to reverse course; it hosted Karzai for a gala state visit in Washington, for instance. But such gestures, while welcome, cannot instantly dispel more than a year of distrust. Moreover, Obama’s deadline for starting to withdraw from Afghanistan (July 2011) causes Karzai to doubt that the U.S. will be around long term and only reinforces his desire to ingratiate himself with other powerful actors — to the detriment of the goals we seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.

I don’t want to let Karzai off the hook. He is erratic, moody, and deeply flawed. He is certainly no great leader. But his flaws have only been exacerbated by the Obama administration’s mishandling.

What accounts for President Hamid Karzai’s bizarre decision to fire two of the most effective members of his government — Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and intelligence director Amrullah Saleh? The supposed cause was their failure to prevent a Taliban attack on a recent peace jirga, even though the incident was a relatively minor one and did not result in many casualties. It is said that there are deeper disputes beneath the surface, including Saleh’s opposition to large-scale releases of Taliban detainees — something that Karzai favors even though the Taliban has not offered any comparable concessions. But Ali Jalali, an esteemed former Afghan interior minister who now teaches at National Defense University in Washington, thinks there is something else going on as well. The New York Times quotes him as follows:

“The root of this is the perception that President Karzai got last year from the kind of cold reception that he got from the American administration, and that made him feel insecure,” said Ahmed Ali Jalali, who was Afghanistan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005. He now teaches at the National Defense University in Washington.

The insecurity has left Mr. Karzai alternately lashing out in anger and searching for new allies, turning to Iran and elements within the Taliban. Both are antagonistic to American interests.

“He is trying to create new networks, new allies and contacts both inside the country and outside the country in case there’s a premature withdrawal, so a lot of this is more of a survival gesture,” Mr. Jalali said.

That certainly accords with my own analysis of Karzai: like most politicians, he is primarily interested in personal survival, and if the U.S. does not commit itself to helping him, he will look for allies in all the wrong places — among warlords and drug traffickers, for a start, but also among the Taliban and even in Iran. In other words, the Obama administration’s get-tough approach with Karzai has backfired, precisely as I and many other analysts warned it would.

The administration has since tried to reverse course; it hosted Karzai for a gala state visit in Washington, for instance. But such gestures, while welcome, cannot instantly dispel more than a year of distrust. Moreover, Obama’s deadline for starting to withdraw from Afghanistan (July 2011) causes Karzai to doubt that the U.S. will be around long term and only reinforces his desire to ingratiate himself with other powerful actors — to the detriment of the goals we seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.

I don’t want to let Karzai off the hook. He is erratic, moody, and deeply flawed. He is certainly no great leader. But his flaws have only been exacerbated by the Obama administration’s mishandling.

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Soothing Karzai

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

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Iraqi Elections Encouraging

Terrible violence continues to upset Iraq — at least 35 dead from suicide bombings in Baghdad, 25 Sunni family members slain south of Baghdad. But this Rod Nordland article buried deep in the New York Times presents a glowing account of the last election — and appropriately so. He notes that voters made discerning decisions. The outcome reveals some notable trends:

Sectarianism is still a force in Iraq, but no longer the only significant force, as it was five years ago in the first election after Saddam Hussein fell. While some religious parties did well, it wasn’t well enough to dictate who will form a government….

Nor was tribalism a guarantee of victory. One tribal leader, Hamid Shafi al-Issawi, had counted on the 50,000 votes of his huge Issawi tribe in Anbar Province; he couldn’t even muster the few thousand votes needed to take a seat….

And (Boston, take note), the patronage vote was nearly nonexistent. Interior Minister Jawadal-Bolani, whose 500,000-strong ministry includes the local and national police, got only 3,000 votes and lost his seat, even though he headed his own list.

As a sign of how well the situation is going, Nordland quotes the Times‘ local correspondent in Fallujah, Saeed al-Jumaily, who has worked for the newspaper for seven years but for the first time feels “confident enough in the future to see his name published in it.”

A lot of bad things can — and probably will — still happen in Iraq but the election outcome, at least so far, hardly validates overblown fears that Iraq is “falling apart.” If anything it shows that, in one place at least, Arabs are taking to the democratic process with heartening enthusiasm.

Terrible violence continues to upset Iraq — at least 35 dead from suicide bombings in Baghdad, 25 Sunni family members slain south of Baghdad. But this Rod Nordland article buried deep in the New York Times presents a glowing account of the last election — and appropriately so. He notes that voters made discerning decisions. The outcome reveals some notable trends:

Sectarianism is still a force in Iraq, but no longer the only significant force, as it was five years ago in the first election after Saddam Hussein fell. While some religious parties did well, it wasn’t well enough to dictate who will form a government….

Nor was tribalism a guarantee of victory. One tribal leader, Hamid Shafi al-Issawi, had counted on the 50,000 votes of his huge Issawi tribe in Anbar Province; he couldn’t even muster the few thousand votes needed to take a seat….

And (Boston, take note), the patronage vote was nearly nonexistent. Interior Minister Jawadal-Bolani, whose 500,000-strong ministry includes the local and national police, got only 3,000 votes and lost his seat, even though he headed his own list.

As a sign of how well the situation is going, Nordland quotes the Times‘ local correspondent in Fallujah, Saeed al-Jumaily, who has worked for the newspaper for seven years but for the first time feels “confident enough in the future to see his name published in it.”

A lot of bad things can — and probably will — still happen in Iraq but the election outcome, at least so far, hardly validates overblown fears that Iraq is “falling apart.” If anything it shows that, in one place at least, Arabs are taking to the democratic process with heartening enthusiasm.

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What Did You Do?

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

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Un-Smart Diplomacy

Friday’s State Department news conference lasted only 10 minutes and was devoted primarily to another harsh public condemnation of Israel:

Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.

Netanyahu and his Interior minister had apologized after both said they had been unaware of the announcement beforehand, pledged there would be no actual building during the “proximity talks” or the anticipated period of any direct talks thereafter, and promised such an incident would not happen again. Only three days after, Clinton issued a statement as harsh as any from the Obama administration — on any issue, foreign or domestic. In it, she voiced “strong objections” to the “substance,” an accusation of a “deeply negative signal” about the “bilateral relationship,” an assertion that it undermined “trust and confidence” in “America’s interests,” an implicit rejection of Netanyahu’s explanation, and a demand for “specific actions” to show Israel is “committed” to its relationship with the U.S.

The harshness is an indication that the administration believes its only Middle East accomplishment in the last 14 months – an agreement to begin “proximity talks” – is in jeopardy. The U.S. demand for “specific actions” arises in the context of the Palestinians demanding, yet again, a Jerusalem building freeze as the price of their participation in discussions about giving them a state.

Since Secretary Clinton raised the “substance” of the issue, not simply the timing, it is worth noting several points. First, even actual building by Israel (much less the mere announcement of building in the future) would not have violated Israel’s commitment to a 10-month moratorium, which excluded Jerusalem. Second, the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one. Third, the area has military significance, for reasons explained (and illustrated with pictures) by Israel Matzav:

What … is obvious … is how important the ridge on which Ramat Shlomo sits would be in the case of any military conflict. That’s because it overlooks – and has a clean shot – at every major highway in the city. To give one example, there’s a road … known as “Road 9.” Road 9 … has three exits: Ramat Shlomo, the ‘Cedar Tunnel’ road that connects with the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv highway, and the road that is Menachem Begin Boulevard criss-crossing the city to the south and Route 443 to the north. Those roads are critical for city traffic. … an army unit stationed atop Ramat Shlomo would have a clear shot at every one of those roads (and more).

The Palestinians can be expected to seek advantage from any Israeli diplomatic blunder, asserting that their confidence needs to be built, their trust fortified, and their preconditions met before they will continue with a process they know the U.S. is more enthusiastic about than they. But it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the U.S. to lend itself to that tactic, both in general and specifically.

Friday’s State Department news conference lasted only 10 minutes and was devoted primarily to another harsh public condemnation of Israel:

Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.

Netanyahu and his Interior minister had apologized after both said they had been unaware of the announcement beforehand, pledged there would be no actual building during the “proximity talks” or the anticipated period of any direct talks thereafter, and promised such an incident would not happen again. Only three days after, Clinton issued a statement as harsh as any from the Obama administration — on any issue, foreign or domestic. In it, she voiced “strong objections” to the “substance,” an accusation of a “deeply negative signal” about the “bilateral relationship,” an assertion that it undermined “trust and confidence” in “America’s interests,” an implicit rejection of Netanyahu’s explanation, and a demand for “specific actions” to show Israel is “committed” to its relationship with the U.S.

The harshness is an indication that the administration believes its only Middle East accomplishment in the last 14 months – an agreement to begin “proximity talks” – is in jeopardy. The U.S. demand for “specific actions” arises in the context of the Palestinians demanding, yet again, a Jerusalem building freeze as the price of their participation in discussions about giving them a state.

Since Secretary Clinton raised the “substance” of the issue, not simply the timing, it is worth noting several points. First, even actual building by Israel (much less the mere announcement of building in the future) would not have violated Israel’s commitment to a 10-month moratorium, which excluded Jerusalem. Second, the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one. Third, the area has military significance, for reasons explained (and illustrated with pictures) by Israel Matzav:

What … is obvious … is how important the ridge on which Ramat Shlomo sits would be in the case of any military conflict. That’s because it overlooks – and has a clean shot – at every major highway in the city. To give one example, there’s a road … known as “Road 9.” Road 9 … has three exits: Ramat Shlomo, the ‘Cedar Tunnel’ road that connects with the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv highway, and the road that is Menachem Begin Boulevard criss-crossing the city to the south and Route 443 to the north. Those roads are critical for city traffic. … an army unit stationed atop Ramat Shlomo would have a clear shot at every one of those roads (and more).

The Palestinians can be expected to seek advantage from any Israeli diplomatic blunder, asserting that their confidence needs to be built, their trust fortified, and their preconditions met before they will continue with a process they know the U.S. is more enthusiastic about than they. But it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the U.S. to lend itself to that tactic, both in general and specifically.

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What’s Missing Here?

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

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Learning To Love the Islamic Bomb

As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

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As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

Building one from scratch is out of the question; major states spend years and billions of dollars acquiring the expertise and the materials, especially the fissionable elements for its explosive core. Conducting such an enterprise on a shoestring budget while on the run from cave to cave is not a likely prospect.

Far more worrisome is that al Qaeda will seek out a bomb from Pakistan, which now has perhaps as many as 25 to 100 such devices in its arsenal. There would be two ways to lay one’s hands on such a heavily guarded apparatus.

The first would be to foment a revolution in unstable Pakistan that brings Islamists into power. Toward that end, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been waging a campaign of terror inside Pakistan designed to topple the government of General Pervez Musharraf. In the most recent attack this past Saturday, a suicide bomber killed 28 people in a failed attempt on the life of Pakistan’s interior minister.

A second approach would be to find a sympathizer inside Pakistan’s military or nuclear establishment. Given recent history, this might well be the easier route. After all, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb-making project, Abdul Q. Khan, now under house arrest in Islamabad, found it convenient and profitable to trade nuclear secrets and materials to a host of aggressive anti-American, terror-supporting states, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

How many others are there like Khan inside the Pakistani establishment, and can they be stopped? That is a question that every presidential candidate should be compelled to ponder, especially because a swelling chorus of voices in the liberal-Left foreign-policy establishment is now all of a sudden telling us that nuclear proliferation is not the fearful thing we have long believed.

The latest entry is a new book called the The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, by William Langewiesche, a correspondent for Vanity Fair, whose considered opinion is that the “spread of nuclear weapons, even to such countries as North Korea and Iran, may not be as catastrophic as is generally believed,” and certainly not bad enough to justify “the pursuit of preemptive wars” of the kind we are now fighting in Iraq and contemplating against Iran.

On the contrary, suggests Langewiesche, we should recognize that we live in a “new reality in which limited nuclear wars are possible, and the use of a few devices, though locally devastating, will not necessarily blossom into a global exchange.” Overall, he concludes, since the end of the cold war, “the risk of an apocalypse may have been reduced.”

Perhaps Langewiesche is right. Or perhaps he is wrong. On the basis of his experience writing for Vanity Fair, should we just take his word for it? I prefer to side with the tainted Tenet in the view that we should do our utmost to stop such a thing from happening. And I find it fascinating, and profoundly disquieting, that a growing chorus of voices is telling us that we should not worry about something so worrisome, a case of defining deviancy down if there ever was one. 

A nuclear device supplied by a rogue element in Pakistan and detonated by al Qaeda at Four Times Square, where the offices of Vanity Fair are located, would almost certainly destroy the offices of COMMENTARY as well, even though we are located a few blocks north and across town. A global apocalypse during the cold war would no doubt have been awful. “Locally devastating” in the post-cold war would be bad enough.
 

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