Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamic Jihad

Two Great Quotes on Mughniyah

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

The first from David Schenker:

The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

And the second, from Tony Badran, rounding out Schenker:

Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh’s bosses took over Iran.

A shared interest in stability in the region, by giving safe haven to an all-star team of global terrorists? Buffoon might be too weak a word to describe Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser.

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What The Wall Breach Really Means

This morning, masked gunmen blew a hole in the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Since then, according to the UN, some 350,000 Palestinians have crossed the border. Palestinian bulldozers have demolished much of the rest of the fence, as well.

We should have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who have crossed the border are in search of basic human needs such as food, fuel, and resellable merchandise. There is a war going on, and Israel’s blockade of Gaza has not been the prettiest part of it. But over the last two years, Israel and Egypt have worked together, to greater or lesser effect, to prevent the passage of what Hamas, Fatah, and the Islamic Jihad crave most: Weapons. Hundreds of underground tunnels have been exposed, through which small arms, missiles, and rockets have been smuggled for use principally against Israeli civilians. With the collapse of the border, it seems, all that tough digging has been rendered moot. Unless something is done very soon to re-establish the border, we should assume the worst: that a massive infusion of weaponry into the strip is about to begin.

So, what are we to make of the fact that Egypt, with probably the largest military in the entire middle east, has done nothing about the breach? Of all the anti-Western, terror-sponsoring regimes on earth, probably none are anti-Westerner and terror-sponsoringer than the one in Gaza. And now Egypt, in order to distance itself from the Israeli blockade and show its humanitarian feathers, risks making itself a direct accomplice to the arming of terrorists. This follows just a few weeks after it capitulated to Palestinian demands, against its promises to Israel, to let several thousand Palestinians cross back into Gaza through the security-lax, Egypt-bordered Rafah crossing, rather than go through a more rigorous weapons check at the Israel-bordered Kisufim.

In the middle east, friends of the West are often fickle when it comes to seriously fighting terror. Let’s keep an eye on Egypt.

This morning, masked gunmen blew a hole in the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Since then, according to the UN, some 350,000 Palestinians have crossed the border. Palestinian bulldozers have demolished much of the rest of the fence, as well.

We should have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who have crossed the border are in search of basic human needs such as food, fuel, and resellable merchandise. There is a war going on, and Israel’s blockade of Gaza has not been the prettiest part of it. But over the last two years, Israel and Egypt have worked together, to greater or lesser effect, to prevent the passage of what Hamas, Fatah, and the Islamic Jihad crave most: Weapons. Hundreds of underground tunnels have been exposed, through which small arms, missiles, and rockets have been smuggled for use principally against Israeli civilians. With the collapse of the border, it seems, all that tough digging has been rendered moot. Unless something is done very soon to re-establish the border, we should assume the worst: that a massive infusion of weaponry into the strip is about to begin.

So, what are we to make of the fact that Egypt, with probably the largest military in the entire middle east, has done nothing about the breach? Of all the anti-Western, terror-sponsoring regimes on earth, probably none are anti-Westerner and terror-sponsoringer than the one in Gaza. And now Egypt, in order to distance itself from the Israeli blockade and show its humanitarian feathers, risks making itself a direct accomplice to the arming of terrorists. This follows just a few weeks after it capitulated to Palestinian demands, against its promises to Israel, to let several thousand Palestinians cross back into Gaza through the security-lax, Egypt-bordered Rafah crossing, rather than go through a more rigorous weapons check at the Israel-bordered Kisufim.

In the middle east, friends of the West are often fickle when it comes to seriously fighting terror. Let’s keep an eye on Egypt.

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Re: Questioning Max

David and Max, allow me to jump into this discussion and share a couple of thoughts on the Gaza disengagement: Israel’s great mistake, in my view, was not in disengaging from Gaza–a territory of comparatively little historic significance to the Jewish people–but in neglecting to implement what should have been viewed as the second phase of the disengagement, namely the establishment of a new security paradigm regarding attacks emanating from Gaza. It is certainly true that Hamas, not to mention all of the other terror and Islamist groups in the region who were paying attention, took from Israel’s withdrawal a reinforcement of the conviction that western nations are weak, that they quickly tire of war, that their technological supremacy is worthless without the will among their people and leaders to fight until death or victory. This conviction remains a premise of Islamic movements from al-Qaeda to the Iranian Revolution.

Israel could have disengaged from Gaza in such a manner that would have gone a long way toward disabusing Hamas and its supporters from Gaza to Tehran of the idea that Israel was leaving under duress, or that its departure from Gaza indicated a flagging level of resolve. And the way to do that would have been to to lay out, in clear public statements, that Israel would treat any act of terrorism arising out of Gaza as an act of war by Hamas, the price for which would be paid first by the Hamas political and terror leadership (which itself is largely a distinction without a difference). There was an opportunity at hand, in other words, to stop treating Hamas like a terror group and to start treating it like a government — a turning of the asymmetrical warfare tables.

But Israel did not set any such boundaries: During and after the disengagement, rocket fire from Gaza continued, and even worsened, and still Israel did nothing. Gilad Shalit was abducted, and Israel barely responded. The message was thus conveyed to Israel’s enemies that, indeed, the Jews were tired of fighting and were hoping that if they ignored Gaza, Gaza would ignore them.

It is astonishing to think about the fact that it has taken Israel over two years to finally mount any kind of sustained military counterattack against Hamas and Islamic Jihad–and even today, only a few weeks into that campaign, high-level members of the Hamas political leadership have not been targeted. The problem with the Gaza disengagement, in my view, is not so much that it happened, but that Israel refused to leverage its departure by establishing new boundaries for the new Gaza. Fortunately, it is not entirely too late to set those boundaries. Israel could start by including members of the Hamas political leadership on its targeted killings list, and go about eliminating them until the rocket fire ceases.

David and Max, allow me to jump into this discussion and share a couple of thoughts on the Gaza disengagement: Israel’s great mistake, in my view, was not in disengaging from Gaza–a territory of comparatively little historic significance to the Jewish people–but in neglecting to implement what should have been viewed as the second phase of the disengagement, namely the establishment of a new security paradigm regarding attacks emanating from Gaza. It is certainly true that Hamas, not to mention all of the other terror and Islamist groups in the region who were paying attention, took from Israel’s withdrawal a reinforcement of the conviction that western nations are weak, that they quickly tire of war, that their technological supremacy is worthless without the will among their people and leaders to fight until death or victory. This conviction remains a premise of Islamic movements from al-Qaeda to the Iranian Revolution.

Israel could have disengaged from Gaza in such a manner that would have gone a long way toward disabusing Hamas and its supporters from Gaza to Tehran of the idea that Israel was leaving under duress, or that its departure from Gaza indicated a flagging level of resolve. And the way to do that would have been to to lay out, in clear public statements, that Israel would treat any act of terrorism arising out of Gaza as an act of war by Hamas, the price for which would be paid first by the Hamas political and terror leadership (which itself is largely a distinction without a difference). There was an opportunity at hand, in other words, to stop treating Hamas like a terror group and to start treating it like a government — a turning of the asymmetrical warfare tables.

But Israel did not set any such boundaries: During and after the disengagement, rocket fire from Gaza continued, and even worsened, and still Israel did nothing. Gilad Shalit was abducted, and Israel barely responded. The message was thus conveyed to Israel’s enemies that, indeed, the Jews were tired of fighting and were hoping that if they ignored Gaza, Gaza would ignore them.

It is astonishing to think about the fact that it has taken Israel over two years to finally mount any kind of sustained military counterattack against Hamas and Islamic Jihad–and even today, only a few weeks into that campaign, high-level members of the Hamas political leadership have not been targeted. The problem with the Gaza disengagement, in my view, is not so much that it happened, but that Israel refused to leverage its departure by establishing new boundaries for the new Gaza. Fortunately, it is not entirely too late to set those boundaries. Israel could start by including members of the Hamas political leadership on its targeted killings list, and go about eliminating them until the rocket fire ceases.

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The Peace Process Unravels

We are seeing today the likely beginning of the dissolution of the Annapolis-based peace process. This breakdown has been rapid, and as so many of us predicted—we deserve no special credit, as this was about as obvious a call as it gets—its origins are in Gaza, a place the discussion of which was rigorously avoided for the duration of the Annapolis conference (not that talking about it would have mattered).

Today, nine people in Gaza were killed in Israeli reprisals for a Palestinian rocket attack that employed a Katyusha instead of the regular Kassam. The Katyusha rocket landed some eleven miles away, in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people and one of Israel’s most important ports. This represented a serious escalation in the Gaza rocket campaign, and was met with a corresponding Israeli escalation.

Such Israeli escalations, of course, quickly do two things: kill Palestinian civilians—Israel’s recent record of being able to pick off terrorists without harming civilians will not last forever—and galvanize West Bank Palestinians against the Israeli counteroffensive, thus breaking up the superficial political conviviality that Annapolis has helped nurture between Fatah and Israel. Both of these things have now happened. Regarding civilian deaths, the second paragraph of the AP story that is currently posted on the New York Times website reads: “Three civilians were among those killed, Palestinian medical officials said. More than 30 people were wounded, including five children. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.”

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We are seeing today the likely beginning of the dissolution of the Annapolis-based peace process. This breakdown has been rapid, and as so many of us predicted—we deserve no special credit, as this was about as obvious a call as it gets—its origins are in Gaza, a place the discussion of which was rigorously avoided for the duration of the Annapolis conference (not that talking about it would have mattered).

Today, nine people in Gaza were killed in Israeli reprisals for a Palestinian rocket attack that employed a Katyusha instead of the regular Kassam. The Katyusha rocket landed some eleven miles away, in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people and one of Israel’s most important ports. This represented a serious escalation in the Gaza rocket campaign, and was met with a corresponding Israeli escalation.

Such Israeli escalations, of course, quickly do two things: kill Palestinian civilians—Israel’s recent record of being able to pick off terrorists without harming civilians will not last forever—and galvanize West Bank Palestinians against the Israeli counteroffensive, thus breaking up the superficial political conviviality that Annapolis has helped nurture between Fatah and Israel. Both of these things have now happened. Regarding civilian deaths, the second paragraph of the AP story that is currently posted on the New York Times website reads: “Three civilians were among those killed, Palestinian medical officials said. More than 30 people were wounded, including five children. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.”

Regarding the irresistibility of condemning Israel, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas spokesman, quickly found the old rhythm: “We consider what’s going on in Gaza . . . as a bloody Israeli message in which Israel shirks itself of any commitment before the arrival of President Bush to the region.” He of course had nothing to say about the Palestinian escalation of the rocket war against Israel.

This confrontation will worsen. As I wrote last week, the IDF and Shin Bet in recent weeks have been stunningly successful at taking out Gaza terrorists in targeted killings. In response, the terror groups must show that they are not deterred and that their “resistance” can continue. If possible, they must escalate their offensive in order to create the appearance, however implausible, that Israel’s targeted killings are not harming their ability to wage jihad. Hence, today, the long-range Katyusha, about which the IHT reports:

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the Katyusha attack. “We are going to launch more strikes in the depth of the entity (Israel),” they said in a joint statement. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a tiny group backed by Hamas, also claimed responsibility.

The predictability of this grim state of affairs is of course one of the many reasons why Annapolis was an implausible and foolish expenditure of American diplomatic energy. President Bush is due to arrive in Israel in five days. What perfect timing.

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Changing the Ground Rules in Gaza

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

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Power Games in Gaza

I’m with you, David, in thinking that what is going on in Gaza is mysterious. Here’s another way to look at it: Israeli action is constrained by two major factors. On one side, the government must do something in response to the recently increased tempo in rocket fire. On the other, a full-scale ground invasion, at least right now—unless there is a major attack—is off the table. Israel’s maneuvering must take place inside of those parameters. And inside diplomatic parameters, as well, as the NYT’s Steven Erlanger explained in an unusually good piece yesterday:

So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel.

So if you’re an Israeli strategist, the bottom line is that you need to keep the rocket fire, at least for now, to an acceptable level, and your only means of doing so is through air strikes. I am a little skeptical of the Israel-Hamas collusion theory, though, but for all I know it could be exactly what’s going on. Here’s what makes me leery: Islamic Jihad functions for Hamas like a proxy militia—in the Middle East, proxies have proxies, and perhaps soon we’ll be hearing that Islamic Jihad has hired out a network of scrap metal scavengers on rented mules to do its dirty work—allowing Hamas to maintain a fig leaf of deniability when it comes to rocket attacks, but also allowing it to take credit among its admirers for the obduracy of its “resistance.” (This is an important bona fide if you’re an Islamist.) Hamas’s complicity in IJ’s destruction would remove one of the primary means by which it keeps itself in the headlines, on Iran’s payroll, politically salient, and in the jihadist dreams of a large number of Palestinians.

But perhaps right now the Hamas leadership believes itself cornered, has decided to bargain away a little bit of its militancy, and is putting Islamic Jihad’s heads on the Israeli chopping block as part of the deal (this could also sow terrible internal division among Gaza’s jihadists, who like to think of themselves as unified in their struggle). But even if true it’ll be a short-lived, and aggressively repudiated, quiescence. Hamas has to keep up appearances.

I’m with you, David, in thinking that what is going on in Gaza is mysterious. Here’s another way to look at it: Israeli action is constrained by two major factors. On one side, the government must do something in response to the recently increased tempo in rocket fire. On the other, a full-scale ground invasion, at least right now—unless there is a major attack—is off the table. Israel’s maneuvering must take place inside of those parameters. And inside diplomatic parameters, as well, as the NYT’s Steven Erlanger explained in an unusually good piece yesterday:

So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel.

So if you’re an Israeli strategist, the bottom line is that you need to keep the rocket fire, at least for now, to an acceptable level, and your only means of doing so is through air strikes. I am a little skeptical of the Israel-Hamas collusion theory, though, but for all I know it could be exactly what’s going on. Here’s what makes me leery: Islamic Jihad functions for Hamas like a proxy militia—in the Middle East, proxies have proxies, and perhaps soon we’ll be hearing that Islamic Jihad has hired out a network of scrap metal scavengers on rented mules to do its dirty work—allowing Hamas to maintain a fig leaf of deniability when it comes to rocket attacks, but also allowing it to take credit among its admirers for the obduracy of its “resistance.” (This is an important bona fide if you’re an Islamist.) Hamas’s complicity in IJ’s destruction would remove one of the primary means by which it keeps itself in the headlines, on Iran’s payroll, politically salient, and in the jihadist dreams of a large number of Palestinians.

But perhaps right now the Hamas leadership believes itself cornered, has decided to bargain away a little bit of its militancy, and is putting Islamic Jihad’s heads on the Israeli chopping block as part of the deal (this could also sow terrible internal division among Gaza’s jihadists, who like to think of themselves as unified in their struggle). But even if true it’ll be a short-lived, and aggressively repudiated, quiescence. Hamas has to keep up appearances.

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Dealing with Hamas?

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

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Gaza Heats Up

It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

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It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

On the diplomatic front, Israel is doing something shrewd in response to the ongoing Gaza terror offensive—it is bringing hard evidence of Egyptian complicity in weapons smuggling to the U.S. Congress:

The video footage—which allegedly shows Egyptian security forces assisting Hamas terrorists cross illegally into Gaza—is being transferred to Congress through diplomatic channels and is intended for senior congressmen and senators who can have an effect on the House foreign aid appropriations process. Israel believes this can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas smuggling activities.

The House and Senate agreed late Sunday on a 2008 foreign aid bill that would hold back $100 million in military aid for Egypt, out of a $1.3 billion allocation, unless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that concerns about smuggling weapons into Gaza and human rights abuses have been addressed. It is the first time that Egyptian military aid, supplied since the Camp David Accords, would potentially be restricted.

Israel is trying desperately to delay having to undertake a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza, given the current diplomatic circumstances. President Bush is expected to arrive in the region on January 8 to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders further down the Annapolis rabbit hole, and an Operation Defensive Shield-type incursion into Gaza would be most unwelcome and disruptive to such efforts.

I suspect that Israeli strategists are pursuing a rather clever policy of eliminating Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders in order simultaneously to suppress rocket and mortar fire, and to pressure the terrorists to engage in face-saving, but ineffective, retaliations. The Israelis do not want to deal such a devastating blow that Hamas seeks a cease-fire, which Israel would be pressured to grant, and which would only be used as a hudna, or quiet period, for re-arming and re-organizing. Hamas and IJ will want to mount serious attacks in the weeks preceding Bush’s visit so as to discredit the peace process and steal media and diplomatic attention from the Bush-Olmert-Abbas love-in. We’ll know soon enough if the terrorists’ strategy will work, or whether the IDF will be able to keep Gaza, working externally, at bay.

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Annapolis Syndrome

There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

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There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

I feel safe predicting that the Annapolis conference, putatively only five weeks away, will not happen, or will take place in a highly attenuated form. Every event and indicator is working against it. The Arab states whose attendance the Bush administration has said will be required for the conference to be effective are either on the fence or are actively working to undermine American diplomacy. Saudi Arabia is following the exact same bait-and-switch formula it always has: express interest, wait and see what is in the offing, and then back out at the last minute.

The Saudi behavior is to be expected. But Egypt’s behavior is new and uniquely egregious, and is apparently not being met with any American resistance. While America and Israel have been pursuing an explicit policy of strengthening Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas while isolating Hamas, Egypt continues to counsel a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Worse, Egypt is strengthening Hamas by allowing the free flow of terrorists and weaponry across their border with Gaza, through a network of tunnels that has dramatically expanded in recent months. The weaponry includes Katyusha rockets that have twice the range of the Kassams that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been firing at Israel. (These missiles represent nothing less than the means by which Hamas will be able to scuttle negotiations at a time of its choosing.) The Israelis have made much of the problem of the Egypt-Gaza border tunnels, but the Egyptians have done absolutely nothing to stop the smuggling. And Rice, swept up in shuttling between Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, can’t be bothered to pay attention to this strategy of sabotage by an ostensible American ally that receives billions of dollars per year in U.S. aid.

Meanwhile, the larger question of what to do about Hamas and Gaza looms unmentioned over the proceedings. Rice has offered a platitudinous and contradictory position that a Palestinian state must include Gaza, but that Hamas, which controls Gaza largely by consent of the governed, has no place in a Palestinian state. Various senescent diplomatic elites have attempted to convince the Bush administration to bring Hamas into the negotiations, but it seems that even if invited, Hamas would refuse—the terror group recently announced its total rejection of the current negotiations, and its charter explicitly rejects diplomacy and conferencing in favor of jihad. The challenge posed by Hamas is so new and so significant that neither Rice nor Abbas has the wherewithal to address it.

What Rice has in fact gone a long way toward accomplishing is a demonstration of the fact that none of the U.S.’s previous diplomatic commitments will be considered of the slightest relevance when it comes to the latest round of peacemaking. Most farcical of all is that the current round of “engagement,” intended in part to restore American credibility in the Middle East by showing the world that the U.S. is willing to heavily invest itself in the conflict, is swiftly establishing the opposite—the same thing that was established in all the previous peacemaking efforts. But at least the Bush administration can come away from all of this knowing that this particular failure was not a unique one.

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No Good Options

How should Israel respond to the relentless missile fire emanating from Gaza? At first glance, there appears to be an array of good options, from targeted killings to air strikes to a cutoff in fuel, water, and electricity to a ground incursion. (And certainly there is no question that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deserve any and all of these punishments, and then some.)

But a problem arises when one considers the current political and diplomatic environment, specifically, the American and Israeli project to prevent the West Bank, a more populous and less containable territory than Gaza, from being turned into Hamas’s next battleground. Setting aside the question of whether this project is a good idea, the pursuit of it remains a powerful delimiting force for Israeli action, and it is thus that the array of options for Gaza suddenly shrinks.

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How should Israel respond to the relentless missile fire emanating from Gaza? At first glance, there appears to be an array of good options, from targeted killings to air strikes to a cutoff in fuel, water, and electricity to a ground incursion. (And certainly there is no question that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deserve any and all of these punishments, and then some.)

But a problem arises when one considers the current political and diplomatic environment, specifically, the American and Israeli project to prevent the West Bank, a more populous and less containable territory than Gaza, from being turned into Hamas’s next battleground. Setting aside the question of whether this project is a good idea, the pursuit of it remains a powerful delimiting force for Israeli action, and it is thus that the array of options for Gaza suddenly shrinks.

In this context, it is not the least bit unrealistic to imagine the fallout from a strong Israeli military campaign or aid cutoff in Gaza: Mahmoud Abbas, who is involved in delicate negotiations with Israeli and American officials, would almost certainly be compelled to denounce Israel; the schizophrenic Palestinian “street” in the West Bank would be galvanized in support of Hamas; and Fatah’s security forces (which have been penetrated thoroughly by Hamas supporters) would have their incompetence exposed, and might become complicit in terrorist attacks against Israel—attacks ordered by the Hamas leadership in Damascus. In other words, the entire project of bolstering Fatah in the West Bank as both a counterexample to Gaza and a competent vehicle for curtailing Islamist influence seriously would be debilitated and possibly even scuttled.

In setting themselves this course, America and Israel preemptively have denied themselves the ability to strike at Hamas in Gaza in any meaningful way. The only option left is the one Israel appears to be following: limited strikes on Qassam missiles, launchers, and factories; a few targeted killings; and idle threats of water and electricity cutoffs. This, though, is too much of a bad deal for Israel, and an intolerable one for the residents of the border town of Sderot. A renewed Fatah kleptocracy in the West Bank is not a sufficient benefit given the cost entailed—namely, that of a Gaza Strip that can terrorize Israel with impunity.

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Against the Boycott

The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

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The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

It is heartening to see such unanimity among academic leaders who normally shun group protests or statements; still, it is less heartening when one considers that these leaders may have found it easier to denounce an outrage overseas than to tackle prejudice in their own institutions. President Bollinger and his colleagues know that anti-Israel venom is widespread on American campuses. The real test of their resolve to preserve academic integrity will occur here, at home.

Anti-Israel sentiment penetrates American campuses at both the student and professorial levels. Every year the average campus welcomes Arab and Muslim students for whom Israel’s illegitimacy is a matter of faith, conjoined in most instances with plain anti-Semitism. The Pew Research Center finds that Muslims hold unfavorable views of Jews at astonishing levels: Jordan, 100 percent; Lebanon, 99 percent; Morocco, 88 percent. Arab and Muslim students inculcated with these prejudices from birth see no harm in promoting them. To the contrary, since they regard Israel as the root of evil, agitation against it is for them often a matter of cultural self-expression. Dissenters from this norm are often afraid of being ostracized—or, worse, of not being able to return to their native communities should they stray from an ideology that unites the Arab world.

The campus ethos of all-embracing multiculturalism aggravates the problem by refraining from distinguishing between a culture of aggression and a culture of accommodation—two opposites trapped in a philosophy of equivalence. Ignored are the radically divergent histories of Arabs and Jews that produced today’s preposterous global imbalance between 1 billion-plus Muslims on the one hand, and 13 million Jews (4 million fewer than in 1939) on the other. Historically, Jews have been the no-fail target of innumerable aggressors; since the 1870’s they have been the ideological butt of anti-liberal movements everywhere.

Indeed, Middle East-style anti-Semitism plays a larger role in the international arena today than its European-style equivalent did a century ago. But our universities provide almost no academic or extra-curricular opportunities to discuss the issue. If anything, as the scholar Martin Kramer has shown, the hate-ridden attitudes within the Arab world find a natural reflection in the highly prejudicial bias of the academic discipline known as Middle East Studies. The current director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard, as well as a number of others who teach in the field, were among the signatories of a Harvard-MIT petition urging divestment from Israel—a petition meant to echo and give a highbrow patina to the currently fashionable calumny of the Jewish state as an “apartheid” regime. Sami al-Arian may be the only U.S. professor convicted of conspiracy to help Islamic Jihad, but others support Arab antagonism in their own ways.

The protest against the British academic boycott published in the New York Times was framed strictly as a defense of academic freedom and solidarity with Israeli colleagues. It avoided any mention of the ideology of hate that fuels this boycott. One might as well condemn cancer without investigating its cause or doing what one can to prevent its spread. Having once joined in symbolic action, these presidents of American colleges and universities would do well to appoint a committee from within their midst to investigate the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudices on their own campuses and within their own curricula, where it does the most damage. As in medicine, prevention is the best cure.

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Silence on Nahr al-Bared

For the past three months, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East has been under attack, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of nearly half of the camp’s 40,000 residents. Yet the United Nations Security Council has not held an emergency session to condemn the attack. Nor have the governments of France and Britain issued statements condemning the “atrocities” against the Palestinian refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. For those who may wonder why there is no public outcry, the answer is simple. The army that is attacking the camp with heavy artillery and helicopter warships is not the IDF. It’s an Arab army—the Lebanese Army.
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For the past three months, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East has been under attack, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of nearly half of the camp’s 40,000 residents. Yet the United Nations Security Council has not held an emergency session to condemn the attack. Nor have the governments of France and Britain issued statements condemning the “atrocities” against the Palestinian refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. For those who may wonder why there is no public outcry, the answer is simple. The army that is attacking the camp with heavy artillery and helicopter warships is not the IDF. It’s an Arab army—the Lebanese Army.

Palestinian refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon have long served as bases for various terror groups. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the IDF has been forced over the past few years to launch pinpoint operations against Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad terrorists who find shelter among civilians. Most of the Israeli military operations have drawn sharp criticism from the international community and the Arab world, even when the raids resulted only in the killing or capture of the terrorists.

I was one of the journalists covering the battle in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp in 2002. Then, the Israelis lost 23 soldiers because they were reluctant to use artillery and tanks out of fear that civilians would be hurt. I still remember how IDF officers briefed their soldiers before the operation, asking them to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Although more than 80 percent of the victims of the ensuing battle were members of armed groups that had operated freely in the camp, many human rights organizations (and some governments) continue to refer to the events there as the “Jenin massacre.”

In the case of Nahr al-Bared, the story is completely different. No one seems to care about the fact that dozens of civilians have been killed in the fighting between Lebanese troops and terrorists belonging to the al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam group. A Palestinian who fled the camp two weeks ago told me that over 200 houses have been completely destroyed in the fighting, and that bodies have been lying in the streets for weeks.

“We brought this tragedy upon ourselves,” he admitted. “We allowed this group of terrorists to establish their bases inside the camp and now we are paying the price. The world doesn’t care about us anymore because they say we had harbored the terrorists and provided them with food and medicine.” Have Palestinian refugees in other camps in the Middle East drawn the same conclusion? The answer is a big no. Militiamen and armed gangs continue to operate in most of these camps, especially in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. The Lebanese army and the IDF still have a lot of difficult work ahead of them. Sadly, many civilians will continue to pay the price—unless they wake up one morning and decide to expel the terrorists from their streets.

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By Hook or by Crooke

The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

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The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

In 2004, together with Mark Perry, Crooke set up Conflicts Forum, a lobbying group with branches in London, Beirut, and Washington. Though it claims to “connect the West and the Muslim world,” by the latter it means radical Islamists. Conflicts Forum’s stated aim is “to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.” It brings together the Arabists who have always dominated the Foreign Office and security services, and serves as a vehicle to put pressure on Western governments to appease Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hizballah. The Conflicts Forum website boasts of a recent 500,000 euro grant from the E.U. under its Partnership for Peace program “for a project to help develop more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict.” (This sounds like a euphemism for pressure to legalize Hamas.)

Crooke makes “the case for Hamas” in the lead article of the current issue of the London Review of Books. Throughout the piece, Crooke speaks of Hamas as “moderate” and praises its “effective and corruption-free” record in government. He warns that Islamists everywhere are becoming impatient with the democratic route to power. He describes a conference in Beirut last April that debated “whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalization.” Meanwhile, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran are “actively preparing for conflict” with Israel and the West. All the blame for this conflict, and the radicalization that feeds it, needless to say, lies with America, Europe, and Israel.

Finally, Crooke has a chilling warning to Israel: unless it gives Hamas-led Palestine what it wants, not only will more Israeli Arabs be drawn into terrorism, but Israel will confront Islamist governments in Egypt and Jordan, too. “Conflict with Iran, were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.” (Is this an implied threat of a second Holocaust?)

However one reads Crooke’s remarks, he and they are deeply sinister. On the BBC, he claimed that Hamas had already met the three “benchmarks” stipulated by the U.S. and EU as necessary for recognition. Unusually, the BBC then gave the right of reply to an Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev. The Australian-born Regev made short work of Crooke’s mendacious claims, pointing out that for Hamas to state that it accepts Israel’s existence “as a fact” means no more than accepting AIDS, say, as a fact. Regev also reminded listeners that while Israelis were pleased by Alan Johnston’s release, their own hostage, Gilad Shalit, has been held in Gaza for much longer.

On the back of the Alan Johnston affair, we should expect a new attempt to persuade the EU to resume financing Hamas, and we should anticipate finding Alastair Crooke, a T.E. Lawrence wannabe, in the forefront of it.

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What is MTHEL?

What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?
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What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?

That is a vital question, requiring an urgent answer. Writing in the New York Sun, Halkin suggested three: none of them at all appealing.

The first is using air power to destroy rocket launchers as they are discovered and killing the organizers of such attacks with targeted assassinations. But Halkin is not convinced this will be successful: “the anarchy in Palestinian society has reached the point that not even the heads of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, were they to seek to stop the Qassam attacks because they feared for their own lives, would necessarily be able to do so.”

A second approach would be to reoccupy Gaza. But this has significant drawbacks: “the price Israel would pay for this in terms of military casualties would be high” and the last thing Israel needs “is once again to have to police this tiny, overpopulated strip of human misery that is an ideal place for urban guerrilla warfare.”

Another idea is for Israel to answer rocket attacks with artillery fire, leveling those portions of the Gaza strip from which the rocket-fire emanates. Halkin finds this solution to be “ugly,” but also the “best” of the three. It might, he suggests, “put an end to violence very quickly, once Palestinians in Gaza became as panicky as Israelis in Sderot and screamed at their leaders to put an end to it.”

Halkin might well be right in his ranking, but there is a fourth approach that should be considered—not just considered but made an urgent priority. It has implications not just for facing down the terrorists of Hamastan but also for pacifying the rocket-rich territory of Hizbollahland to the north and for contending with other dangers yet to emerge.

It is called MTHEL. Both the Pentagon and Israel were investing heavily in it up until 2005, when spending was abruptly cut. Although not much discussed, that decision seems to have been a far worse Israeli blunder than any committed in the course of last summer’s war. But what is MTHEL? It stands for Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser. To watch it in action, click on the video below.

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The “Pragmatists” in Tehran

Staking out a distinctive position in today’s debate over Iran is no easy matter. Every foreign-policy maven has a formula to suggest or a wider strategy in which to embed our dealings with the Islamic republic. Regime change or containment, carrier groups or sanctions, rhetorical confrontation or bilateral talks, Sunni balancing or Shiite cooptation—what’s the right mix? But most analysts agree on one thing: Iran is a problem, a growing threat, an ambitious and aggressively ideological power with designs on regional domination. Here, then, is where there’s room to make a mark with a bold counterintuitive claim: maybe Iran isn’t so bad.

So says Ray Takeyh in an article entitled “Time for Détente with Iran” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Islamic republic has been misunderstood. In the American imagination, “a perception of Iran as a destabilizing force” has been allowed to “congeal,” based on little more than “visceral suspicion.” Whatever Iran may have been in the early days of its Islamic revolution, it is no longer, in Takeyh’s estimation, a “revisionist” or “revolutionary” state. Indeed, its foreign policy has long been “quite pragmatic.” To take advantage of this fact—and to deal with the “manageable challenges” posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its “penchant for terrorism”—the U.S. must accept a “paradigm shift,” offering immediate normalization as the “starting point of talks” and ending the regime’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

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Staking out a distinctive position in today’s debate over Iran is no easy matter. Every foreign-policy maven has a formula to suggest or a wider strategy in which to embed our dealings with the Islamic republic. Regime change or containment, carrier groups or sanctions, rhetorical confrontation or bilateral talks, Sunni balancing or Shiite cooptation—what’s the right mix? But most analysts agree on one thing: Iran is a problem, a growing threat, an ambitious and aggressively ideological power with designs on regional domination. Here, then, is where there’s room to make a mark with a bold counterintuitive claim: maybe Iran isn’t so bad.

So says Ray Takeyh in an article entitled “Time for Détente with Iran” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Islamic republic has been misunderstood. In the American imagination, “a perception of Iran as a destabilizing force” has been allowed to “congeal,” based on little more than “visceral suspicion.” Whatever Iran may have been in the early days of its Islamic revolution, it is no longer, in Takeyh’s estimation, a “revisionist” or “revolutionary” state. Indeed, its foreign policy has long been “quite pragmatic.” To take advantage of this fact—and to deal with the “manageable challenges” posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its “penchant for terrorism”—the U.S. must accept a “paradigm shift,” offering immediate normalization as the “starting point of talks” and ending the regime’s economic and diplomatic isolation.

Takeyh’s benign assessment of Iran’s intentions will come as news, of course, to its increasingly alarmed neighbors. It’s hard to name a major conflict or tension in the region that hasn’t been inflamed by the Islamic republic. Iraq has been thoroughly penetrated by Iran’s political and military agents. Syria has become its pliant ally. Hezbollah—a creation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—has established itself as an Islamist state-within-a-state in Lebanon, while at the same time importing weapons of unprecedented sophistication with which to threaten Israel. Iran has become the leading patron of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has talked openly of using its emerging nuclear capacities to rid the world of the Jewish state. For their part, the region’s Sunni powers—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states—have embarked on an arms build-up to counter the Iranian threat, and are even declaring an interest in nuclear programs of their own. Can the regime responsible for this turmoil and escalation really be described as a pragmatic, status-quo power?

In fairness to Takeyh, even he cannot consistently defend the proposition that Iran is just an ordinary mid-sized state looking to solidify its regional influence. While paying tribute to the supposed pragmatism of Iranian foreign policy in recent years, he also (and with no awareness of the self-contradiction) argues that “the prospect of a new relationship with the United States” would tip the “balance of power” in Tehran to the “pragmatists” and put them in a position “to sideline the radicals.” But why would the U.S. want or need such a shift? If current worries about Iran are just a bogeyman invented by the American Right, why not embrace Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei?

Like other practitioners of foreign-policy “realism,” Takeyh cannot resist the wiles of the occasional “pragmatist” who pops up in an expansionist, ideologically aggressive regime. During the cold war, some Kremlin figure or another was always being touted as a clear-eyed moderate, ready to do business with the U.S. in the name of shared “national interests.” Today, Takeyh tells us, there is a promising “new generation of leaders” rising in Tehran. Reformers? Liberals? No, let’s not get carried away. They are “young conservatives” who, while still deferring to “the elders of the revolution,” stress “Iranian nationalism over Islamic identity and pragmatism over ideology.” But of course.

Takeyh doesn’t say how long we should wait for these peace-minded theocratic mavericks to produce an Iranian Gorbachev, but he seems to think that such figures can prosper only if the U.S. rains down sweet carrots on the Islamic republic instead of brandishing long, pointed sticks. His logic here is hard to follow, though. Won’t the “pragmatists” (such as they are) look all the wiser for their counsels of restraint if Iran suffers for the excesses of its “radicals”? Are conciliatory gestures really the only way for the U.S. to try to change the balance of power in Tehran? Judging by Takeyh’s delusions, these are questions that need further study in the more sober precincts of the realists.

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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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