Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamist

The Great Islamist Comeback

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with the new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo and declared, “It’s clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting into place a democratic government.” If so, neither “democratic” nor “clear” mean what they once did.  Since taking power Morsi has ignored the violation of women’s and Christians’ rights, and his Muslim Brotherhood comrades have been drafting a constitution meant to elevate Islamists above all other Egyptians.

Critics of the Iraq War liked to say that ballots don’t equal democracy. Today a Muslim Brotherhood leader speaks the word “democracy” and its existence is taken as self-evident. The incredulity of the Bush years and the hypno-suggestibility of the moment are manifestations of the same popular wish: to extricate America from ideological battles in foreign lands.

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On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with the new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo and declared, “It’s clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting into place a democratic government.” If so, neither “democratic” nor “clear” mean what they once did.  Since taking power Morsi has ignored the violation of women’s and Christians’ rights, and his Muslim Brotherhood comrades have been drafting a constitution meant to elevate Islamists above all other Egyptians.

Critics of the Iraq War liked to say that ballots don’t equal democracy. Today a Muslim Brotherhood leader speaks the word “democracy” and its existence is taken as self-evident. The incredulity of the Bush years and the hypno-suggestibility of the moment are manifestations of the same popular wish: to extricate America from ideological battles in foreign lands.

This is an understandable sentiment that long predates our confrontation with political Islam. John Quincy Adams said that the United States should be the “well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all . . . , the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That formulation prefigured the human-rights approach of Barack Obama, who Lawrence Haas describes aptly in his new book, Sound the Trumpet, as “a rhetorical idealist but an operational realist.”

The paradox has served him poorly.  Obama the rhetorical idealist wished Iranians well (just barely) in the summer of 2009, while Obama the operational realist pursued a diplomatic relationship with Tehran. Basij forces soon crushed protestors in the streets. Tunisia was wished well and today the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has filed a bill to criminalize blasphemy. Obama saluted Egyptians before the Muslim Brotherhood took control of their country. And the rhetorical idealist praised Syrian rebels for a year and a half while the operational realist tried to outsource matters to the UN and Moscow. The result? A recent New York Times Headline declares, “As Syrian War Drags On, Jihadists Take Bigger Role.”

Only in Libya, where our European allies dragged us into action, is there (for now) no Islamist party in charge. The extent to which that’s a function of the prevailing chaos remains to be seen.

Most problematic is the bon voyage wished Iraq last December. In 2009, the rhetorical idealist praised Iraq’s democracy and described the American effort there as an “extraordinary achievement.” He was right. Troops in Iraq not only gave their lives fighting for the creation of the sole functioning Arab democracy; they fought al-Qaeda into irrelevance and near total defeat. But the operational realist left no American presence behind to secure our accomplishments. Today, the Henry Jackson Society’s Robin Simcox accurately calls the land of al-Qaeda’s undoing a “new front” in the War on Terror. Since the U.S. left, the al-Qaeda connected group Islamic State of Iraq has launched a bombing campaign so intense that officials are preemptively surrendering by stepping down.

In Afghanistan, a more managed reversal is underway. The rhetorical idealist bragged, “we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum.” But the operational realist sends envoys to treat with them in hopes of a peace deal before the United States leaves the country. When the U.S. exits Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban will be free to do as they please. This is fortuitous timing for their old friends the Arab jihadists. As Islamist parties take political power in the Middle East, their terrorist branches can resume residence on the staging grounds of 9/11.

Let us acknowledge the enormity now unfolding and also pay heed to historical context. This is not merely a regional rise in Islamist power. It is the dawn of a great Islamist comeback. The ten years since 9/11 were spent problematically but successfully dousing the flames of jihad.  The past four have seen an inrush of oxygen.

It’s hard to overestimate how emboldened Islamists must feel. In propitious events they see divine endorsement. What are increased drone strikes and the death of Osama bin laden compared to a new historical epoch? A recent State Department report touts a “12% decline in [terrorist] attacks from 2010 [to 2011]” and claims the killing of bin Laden and other terrorists “puts the [Al Qaeda] network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.” The State Department has faith in statistics; Islamists think in terms of history. It’s why we’re shortsighted and they’re patient. The oxygen has been granted. The fire will grow.

Our options for countering the Islamist comeback were limited, yes, but not nonexistent. The U.S. could have robustly supported the Iranian democrats who asked for American help; allied with Arab liberals instead of courting Arab dictators; funneled weapons and money to parties that we’d have come to know; and tied foreign aid and trade to regimes’ human rights policies. If you think such things would have made no difference consider that even with the Muslim Brotherhood’s monopoly on organization Morsi won less than 52% of the runoff vote.

Obama could have used our leverage in Iraq to keep the country on course with a relatively small number of American troops stationed there after the war. And he could have made good on his campaign promise to win in Afghanistan. A comeback is accomplished by one side but always facilitated by the other. In the gap between American rhetoric and American action Islamists staged a revival.

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What Do University Clashes in Tunisia Portend for Arab Spring?

Most analysts agree the Arab Spring has been a mixed bag. In Egypt, the trajectory is poor: Islamists will shape the new constitution and the unholy alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian military seems intent on blackmailing the West. If Libyans can get militias under control, they may use their petrodollars to achieve true empowerment for their people. Yemen teeters on the verge of state failure, and Syria is in full-fledged civil war. Even as diplomats and the Arab Spring’s cheerleaders muzzle their enthusiasm, though, they all cite Tunisia as the country with the best chance for success. Islamists may have won in Tunisia—but they say the right things (at least to European and American audiences), and they appear to want to govern with a big tent, rather than drive secularists into the ground.

Alas, appearances may be deceiving. A clash between liberal administrators and Islamist students at the University of Manouba portends a cold front moving through Tunisia:

Clashes erupted today between Salafists and students affiliated with the the student union at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Manouba, following an altercation that ensued yesterday between two female students wearing the niqab – a veil revealing only the eyes – and the dean. Demonstrators, mainly Salafists, gathered in front of the administration building in protest of yesterday’s incident, and demanded the right for female students to wear the niqab during classes and exams. As the situation on the campus escalated, one of the Salafist students replaced the Tunisian flag with a black flag bearing the shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith. The act provoked an eruption of violence between members of the student union and other students.

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Most analysts agree the Arab Spring has been a mixed bag. In Egypt, the trajectory is poor: Islamists will shape the new constitution and the unholy alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian military seems intent on blackmailing the West. If Libyans can get militias under control, they may use their petrodollars to achieve true empowerment for their people. Yemen teeters on the verge of state failure, and Syria is in full-fledged civil war. Even as diplomats and the Arab Spring’s cheerleaders muzzle their enthusiasm, though, they all cite Tunisia as the country with the best chance for success. Islamists may have won in Tunisia—but they say the right things (at least to European and American audiences), and they appear to want to govern with a big tent, rather than drive secularists into the ground.

Alas, appearances may be deceiving. A clash between liberal administrators and Islamist students at the University of Manouba portends a cold front moving through Tunisia:

Clashes erupted today between Salafists and students affiliated with the the student union at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Manouba, following an altercation that ensued yesterday between two female students wearing the niqab – a veil revealing only the eyes – and the dean. Demonstrators, mainly Salafists, gathered in front of the administration building in protest of yesterday’s incident, and demanded the right for female students to wear the niqab during classes and exams. As the situation on the campus escalated, one of the Salafist students replaced the Tunisian flag with a black flag bearing the shahada – the Islamic declaration of faith. The act provoked an eruption of violence between members of the student union and other students.

According to one Islamist student, the violence was justified. “Members of the student union were provoking us, mentioning God’s name in vain,” she said. “That was the main reason for the violence this morning.” The whole article is worth reading.

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Some Unfashionable Thoughts About Egypt

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem. Read More

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem.

Leadership abhors a vacuum, and in the past 24 hours, we’ve seen that vacuum filled by Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize–winning former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who’s taken to the streets insisting that Mubarak pack up before he’s ridden through Cairo on a rail. He’s recently allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist militant organization closely allied with Hamas and up till now the leading opposition party to Mubarak. ElBaradei has repeatedly referred to Israel as the “number one threat to the Middle East” and has supported Hamas violence against Israel, saying that “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.” As head of the IAEA, he’s been accused of doing more than anyone else to facilitate Iran’s nuclear efforts. And as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, in the grand battle between American and Iranian influence in the region, a coalition of ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood looks grim indeed.

It’s impossible to predict the future, not just what will happen a year from now, when Egypt could well go through a second revolution (as did Iran, indeed as did Russia way back when), but even whether Mubarak’s regime is in fact over. For now, the army is holding tight. Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman as the country’s first-ever vice president, and heir-apparent, was tailored to maintain support of the military for the regime. Nobody should be counting Mubarak out just yet.

Both the strength and weakness of political ideals is that they push heavily toward optimism. They allow us to see possibilities when everything looks grim. But they can also lead us to delusions about what can happen in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The fact is that Egypt doesn’t have much of a democratic tradition. Less so even than Lebanon, postwar Iraq, or the Palestinian Authority. If I had to make a guess about what will happen if Mubarak falls, I think it’s foolish to assume that a real democratic regime will emerge there, as opposed to a new dictatorship that is far less amenable to American interests. And if he doesn’t fall, the U.S. will have egg on its face for not backing him. That, too, will strengthen Iran.

None of the options looks terribly pleasing to Western eyes. But then again, Egypt isn’t a Western country, is it?

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Australian Blindsides Israel on Nukes

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

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Saudi Glasnost Cities Illustrate Tyranny’s Dilemma

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

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Hamas Returns to Executing Opponents, UN Returns to Boosting Hamas Aid

Fresh from praising Allah for the scores of Israelis who died trying to save Palestinian prisoners from the fires ravaging Israel, Hamas is indulging in some old-fashioned “collaborator” killing:

A Gaza military court has convicted three men of collaborating with Israel, sentencing one to death and two more to prison terms, the Hamas interior ministry said on Monday. … In April, Gaza’s Hamas rulers executed two alleged “collaborators” in the first executions to be carried out since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007… Human Rights Watch says Hamas killed at least 32 alleged informers and political opponents during and after the 2008-2009 Gaza war with Israel and maimed dozens of others.

It’s been known since October that Hamas was going to step up collaborator executions, if only because it’s been a while since there has been a really satisfying political purge. The 32 executions immediately after Cast Lead were also political, with the organization using the post-war calm to charge and execute Fatah supporters. During the war, they settled for more perfunctory methods like blowing out opponents’ kneecaps and throwing them off buildings, but if you’ve got the time to stage a really good show trial, then why not?

Other Hamas activities from the last few months: co-sponsoring an Islamic Jihad rally, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, raiding the Gaza journalistic union, destroying a mixed-gender pool park, and importing anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. The Sunni group has also taken to distributing theo-political tracts justifying its status as an Iranian proxy and Shiite partner, which is weird because we were told by Arab and Muslim foreign policy experts that Shiite and Sunni jihadists never, ever cooperate.

Naturally the UN is currently seeking another $575 million for Gaza, on top of the White House’s billion-dollar stimulus from last year and the piles of cash that the EU and UN tirelessly dump into the area. Because, as Barry Rubin recently pointed out, more aid will only moderate and secularize the Hamas regime insofar as it will do the exact opposite.

Hamas’s response to all that largess, by the by? “The West has no right to tell Hamas how to govern Gaza,” in part because Europe “promotes promiscuity and political hypocrisy.” Which might be true, but it doesn’t really address the “why are we giving these monsters money?” thing.

Fresh from praising Allah for the scores of Israelis who died trying to save Palestinian prisoners from the fires ravaging Israel, Hamas is indulging in some old-fashioned “collaborator” killing:

A Gaza military court has convicted three men of collaborating with Israel, sentencing one to death and two more to prison terms, the Hamas interior ministry said on Monday. … In April, Gaza’s Hamas rulers executed two alleged “collaborators” in the first executions to be carried out since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007… Human Rights Watch says Hamas killed at least 32 alleged informers and political opponents during and after the 2008-2009 Gaza war with Israel and maimed dozens of others.

It’s been known since October that Hamas was going to step up collaborator executions, if only because it’s been a while since there has been a really satisfying political purge. The 32 executions immediately after Cast Lead were also political, with the organization using the post-war calm to charge and execute Fatah supporters. During the war, they settled for more perfunctory methods like blowing out opponents’ kneecaps and throwing them off buildings, but if you’ve got the time to stage a really good show trial, then why not?

Other Hamas activities from the last few months: co-sponsoring an Islamic Jihad rally, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians, raiding the Gaza journalistic union, destroying a mixed-gender pool park, and importing anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza. The Sunni group has also taken to distributing theo-political tracts justifying its status as an Iranian proxy and Shiite partner, which is weird because we were told by Arab and Muslim foreign policy experts that Shiite and Sunni jihadists never, ever cooperate.

Naturally the UN is currently seeking another $575 million for Gaza, on top of the White House’s billion-dollar stimulus from last year and the piles of cash that the EU and UN tirelessly dump into the area. Because, as Barry Rubin recently pointed out, more aid will only moderate and secularize the Hamas regime insofar as it will do the exact opposite.

Hamas’s response to all that largess, by the by? “The West has no right to tell Hamas how to govern Gaza,” in part because Europe “promotes promiscuity and political hypocrisy.” Which might be true, but it doesn’t really address the “why are we giving these monsters money?” thing.

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NATO Going Cold Turkey

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

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Blair on Islamic Separatists

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s ability to debunk conventional wisdom and show disdain for political correctness has only grown since his departure from 10 Downing Street. His subject today is the rise of a separatist Islamist population in Europe:

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.

However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

Now there’s some honesty, a stark contrast to our own president, who can’t figure out that a mosque at Ground Zero should be moved or how to define “jihad.” What Blair brings to the discussion is moral clarity and an unwillingness to ignore the obvious. We are involved in an ideological struggle. Our enemies are motivated by Islamic radicalism, which seeks not accommodation but subjugation of those who dissent from their extremist views. And what should be the response? Blair recommends:

[T]here has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

And just as essential is the insistence that criticism and debate not be squelched as Islamophobic. Blair is encouraging the kind of debate that defines the duty of citizens in a pluralistic society and how best to respond to those who seek to destroy pluralism. After two years of pandering and obfuscation by the Obama administration, it is refreshing to hear a reasoned and mature voice on the international stage.

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s ability to debunk conventional wisdom and show disdain for political correctness has only grown since his departure from 10 Downing Street. His subject today is the rise of a separatist Islamist population in Europe:

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim. And I stress part of it. Most Muslims are as much at ease with their citizenship in the U.K. as I am. I dare say that is true in other European nations too.

However, some don’t integrate. But when we talk about this in general terms, without precision, for fear of “stigmatizing” Muslims, we alienate public opinion and isolate the majority of Muslims who are integrating and want to be as much part of our society as any other group. Then, because we won’t identify the problem as it is, a subterranean debate takes the place of an open one, and that debate lumps all Muslims together. So in the interest of “defending” the Muslim community, we actually segregate it by refusing to have an honest debate about what is happening.

Now there’s some honesty, a stark contrast to our own president, who can’t figure out that a mosque at Ground Zero should be moved or how to define “jihad.” What Blair brings to the discussion is moral clarity and an unwillingness to ignore the obvious. We are involved in an ideological struggle. Our enemies are motivated by Islamic radicalism, which seeks not accommodation but subjugation of those who dissent from their extremist views. And what should be the response? Blair recommends:

[T]here has to be a shared acceptance that some things we believe in and we do together: obedience to certain values like democracy, rule of law, equality between men and women; respect for national institutions; and speaking the national language. This common space cannot be left to chance or individual decision. It has to be accepted as mandatory. Doing so establishes a clear barrier between those citizens of the host community who are concerned for understandable reasons and those who are bigoted.

And just as essential is the insistence that criticism and debate not be squelched as Islamophobic. Blair is encouraging the kind of debate that defines the duty of citizens in a pluralistic society and how best to respond to those who seek to destroy pluralism. After two years of pandering and obfuscation by the Obama administration, it is refreshing to hear a reasoned and mature voice on the international stage.

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Starstruck Clooney Misses the Point About Disastrous Sudan Policy

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

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Turkish Flags

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

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

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

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

The Haaretz summary continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Haaretz summary continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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Barack Obama, Voting Present in the Middle East

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

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Hey Peter, There’s a Reason Why “Free Gaza” Doesn’t Help Shalit

Peter Beinart weighed in today with another column at the Daily Beast designed to bolster his standing as a “liberal Zionist” rather than as merely another member of the pack of jackals attacking Israel for trying to enforce the blockade against the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Of course, Beinart has not changed his mind about the attempts to isolate the Islamist terrorists who seized power in a bloody coup and who pose the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution to the conflict, which he says he wants. He still buys into the Palestinian myths about the situation in Gaza. And he is equally resolute in his determination to ignore everything that has happened in the Middle East since 1993, when Israel began a series of attempts to buy peace with the Palestinians by trading land for the hope of peace. Because it is only by pretending that 17 years of Israeli concessions never happened that can he hold on to the falsehood that the lack of peace is due to Israeli intransigence aided and abetted by American supporters.

But, at least to his partial credit, Beinart hasn’t forgotten the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas for four years. Beinart thinks the “Free Gaza” movement of foreign cheerleaders for Hamas ought to embrace Shalit’s cause and draw a moral equivalence between his plight and that of Palestinians trapped inside Gaza. He urges “Free Gaza” activists and others who are trying to aid Hamas by breaking the blockade to think of Shalit “as a Gazan — a caged, brutalized, Gazan Jew.” In doing so, he theorizes that they could gain the sympathy of Israelis who support the blockade in part because of Hamas’s refusal to free Shalit or even to allow the Red Cross to visit the prisoner. Beinart endorses Israeli journalist Eitan Haber’s proposal that the next ship that heads for Gaza be allowed through by the Israelis on the condition that it bring food to Shalit. That would, Beinart agrees, put the pro-Palestinian crowd to a test that would prove whether they are genuine humanitarians or merely Israel-haters.

Yet unfortunately for Beinart — and Shalit — the “Free Gaza” crowd has already been put to such a test. As I wrote last week, before the flotilla that Israel intercepted was launched in Turkey, the family of Gilad Shalit begged the organizers to take a package of letters and food to the Israeli being held in Gaza. In return, they promised to lend their voices to a call for lifting the blockade. Accepting this offer would have cost “Free Gaza” nothing and would only have given them good publicity and probably would have caused the Israeli government to seriously consider letting them through the blockade. But, in a decision that Beinart and other critics of Israel seemed to ignore, they refused the Shalit family.

Why? It’s not that hard to figure out even if your grasp of the Middle East is as dim as that of Peter Beinart.

First, they don’t care about Gilad Shalit. Like his Hamas kidnappers, the “Free Gaza” group is composed of anti-Zionists — people who don’t think there ought to be a Jewish state and that Jewish soldiers who defend it are, by definition, criminals who deserve what they get from Hamas. Most think the same about Israeli civilians who live under the threat of rocket fire and terrorist attack from Hamas.

Second, they are not humanitarians. They are Israel-haters. The goal of their Mediterranean cruise was not to help Gazans but to embarrass Israel. After all, if foreign sympathizers of the Palestinians really wanted to help the people of Gaza, they might oppose the rule of a tyrannical Islamist terror group, advocate for peace, not the destruction of Israel, and support efforts to resettle and absorb the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees elsewhere rather than keep them in place in Gaza, where they can serve to continue to fuel the conflict.

Beinart needs to understand that the “Free Gaza” movement won’t lift a finger for Shalit for the same reason that the Palestinian leadership has refused to make peace for the last 17 years: they aren’t interested in compromise or peace; they want to destroy Israel. Like the “Free Gaza” organizers, the Palestinian leadership has already been put to the test and failed. But I guess ignoring inconvenient facts is one of the membership requirements if you want to join Peter Beinart’s elite club of “liberal Zionist” writers who bash Israel.

Peter Beinart weighed in today with another column at the Daily Beast designed to bolster his standing as a “liberal Zionist” rather than as merely another member of the pack of jackals attacking Israel for trying to enforce the blockade against the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Of course, Beinart has not changed his mind about the attempts to isolate the Islamist terrorists who seized power in a bloody coup and who pose the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution to the conflict, which he says he wants. He still buys into the Palestinian myths about the situation in Gaza. And he is equally resolute in his determination to ignore everything that has happened in the Middle East since 1993, when Israel began a series of attempts to buy peace with the Palestinians by trading land for the hope of peace. Because it is only by pretending that 17 years of Israeli concessions never happened that can he hold on to the falsehood that the lack of peace is due to Israeli intransigence aided and abetted by American supporters.

But, at least to his partial credit, Beinart hasn’t forgotten the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas for four years. Beinart thinks the “Free Gaza” movement of foreign cheerleaders for Hamas ought to embrace Shalit’s cause and draw a moral equivalence between his plight and that of Palestinians trapped inside Gaza. He urges “Free Gaza” activists and others who are trying to aid Hamas by breaking the blockade to think of Shalit “as a Gazan — a caged, brutalized, Gazan Jew.” In doing so, he theorizes that they could gain the sympathy of Israelis who support the blockade in part because of Hamas’s refusal to free Shalit or even to allow the Red Cross to visit the prisoner. Beinart endorses Israeli journalist Eitan Haber’s proposal that the next ship that heads for Gaza be allowed through by the Israelis on the condition that it bring food to Shalit. That would, Beinart agrees, put the pro-Palestinian crowd to a test that would prove whether they are genuine humanitarians or merely Israel-haters.

Yet unfortunately for Beinart — and Shalit — the “Free Gaza” crowd has already been put to such a test. As I wrote last week, before the flotilla that Israel intercepted was launched in Turkey, the family of Gilad Shalit begged the organizers to take a package of letters and food to the Israeli being held in Gaza. In return, they promised to lend their voices to a call for lifting the blockade. Accepting this offer would have cost “Free Gaza” nothing and would only have given them good publicity and probably would have caused the Israeli government to seriously consider letting them through the blockade. But, in a decision that Beinart and other critics of Israel seemed to ignore, they refused the Shalit family.

Why? It’s not that hard to figure out even if your grasp of the Middle East is as dim as that of Peter Beinart.

First, they don’t care about Gilad Shalit. Like his Hamas kidnappers, the “Free Gaza” group is composed of anti-Zionists — people who don’t think there ought to be a Jewish state and that Jewish soldiers who defend it are, by definition, criminals who deserve what they get from Hamas. Most think the same about Israeli civilians who live under the threat of rocket fire and terrorist attack from Hamas.

Second, they are not humanitarians. They are Israel-haters. The goal of their Mediterranean cruise was not to help Gazans but to embarrass Israel. After all, if foreign sympathizers of the Palestinians really wanted to help the people of Gaza, they might oppose the rule of a tyrannical Islamist terror group, advocate for peace, not the destruction of Israel, and support efforts to resettle and absorb the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees elsewhere rather than keep them in place in Gaza, where they can serve to continue to fuel the conflict.

Beinart needs to understand that the “Free Gaza” movement won’t lift a finger for Shalit for the same reason that the Palestinian leadership has refused to make peace for the last 17 years: they aren’t interested in compromise or peace; they want to destroy Israel. Like the “Free Gaza” organizers, the Palestinian leadership has already been put to the test and failed. But I guess ignoring inconvenient facts is one of the membership requirements if you want to join Peter Beinart’s elite club of “liberal Zionist” writers who bash Israel.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jamie Fly asks, “No Daylight?” about the U.S. stance on the terrorist flotilla: “So, over the course of two days, ‘no daylight’ has essentially become ‘we told you so,’ ‘perhaps you shouldn’t have done that,’ and ‘we plan to use this to our advantage to further our agenda.’ It’s no wonder that ally after ally feels slighted by the Obama administration, because even when this White House says they are standing with you, they are simultaneously undermining you.”

No Big Labor guarantees for the Democrats in 2010: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday that he sees unions as ‘unpredictable partners’ to Democratic candidates in the coming 2010 midterm elections.”

No Democrat in a competitive seat wants to get too closely tied to Obama these days: “Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, has called on President Barack Obama to do more to contain the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. Nelson on Thursday called for the White House to send more military assets to the Gulf before the giant oil slick hits Florida’s beaches. ‘This is the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history,’ Nelson said in a statement. ‘If this doesn’t call for more organization, control and assets — like sub-sea mapping by the Navy, for instance — then nothing does.’”

No idea what he’s talking about — Turkey has been hostile to Israel for some time: “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israel for its reaction to the Mavi Marmara raid Thursday saying that ‘Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality.’”

No doubt about the Carly Fiorina surge: “Former eBay executive Meg Whitman holds a commanding lead over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the June 8 Republican gubernatorial primary. In the GOP Senate primary, former HP President Carly Fiorina has pulled away from rival Tom Campbell, according to the latest Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research tracking poll. … The Senate side reflects a dramatic shift toward Fiorina over the past six weeks. An April 24 Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll showed Campbell with 31-17 point lead over Fiorina, and DeVore at 14 percent.”

No humanitarian goods into Gaza? Outrageous — where is the UN? Oh, wait — it’s Hamas: “Hamas will not allow goods from an aid flotilla raided by Israel to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamist organization said Thursday.”

No way! Really? John Judis assures us that the Tea party movement isn’t racist: “What I am suggesting is that it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless.” Whew — takes a load off the left, doesn’t it? All the fictional racial incidents were getting to be a chore.

No clear winner in the Peter Beinart–Leon Wieseltier competition for the most vile comments directed against Israel. From the latter: “Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.” To be precise, Israel has enough weaselly critics who flaunt their Judaism to establish their bona fides in order to gain legitimacy for their savage and a-factual attacks on the Jewish state.

Jamie Fly asks, “No Daylight?” about the U.S. stance on the terrorist flotilla: “So, over the course of two days, ‘no daylight’ has essentially become ‘we told you so,’ ‘perhaps you shouldn’t have done that,’ and ‘we plan to use this to our advantage to further our agenda.’ It’s no wonder that ally after ally feels slighted by the Obama administration, because even when this White House says they are standing with you, they are simultaneously undermining you.”

No Big Labor guarantees for the Democrats in 2010: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday that he sees unions as ‘unpredictable partners’ to Democratic candidates in the coming 2010 midterm elections.”

No Democrat in a competitive seat wants to get too closely tied to Obama these days: “Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, has called on President Barack Obama to do more to contain the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. Nelson on Thursday called for the White House to send more military assets to the Gulf before the giant oil slick hits Florida’s beaches. ‘This is the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history,’ Nelson said in a statement. ‘If this doesn’t call for more organization, control and assets — like sub-sea mapping by the Navy, for instance — then nothing does.’”

No idea what he’s talking about — Turkey has been hostile to Israel for some time: “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israel for its reaction to the Mavi Marmara raid Thursday saying that ‘Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality.’”

No doubt about the Carly Fiorina surge: “Former eBay executive Meg Whitman holds a commanding lead over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the June 8 Republican gubernatorial primary. In the GOP Senate primary, former HP President Carly Fiorina has pulled away from rival Tom Campbell, according to the latest Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research tracking poll. … The Senate side reflects a dramatic shift toward Fiorina over the past six weeks. An April 24 Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll showed Campbell with 31-17 point lead over Fiorina, and DeVore at 14 percent.”

No humanitarian goods into Gaza? Outrageous — where is the UN? Oh, wait — it’s Hamas: “Hamas will not allow goods from an aid flotilla raided by Israel to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamist organization said Thursday.”

No way! Really? John Judis assures us that the Tea party movement isn’t racist: “What I am suggesting is that it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless.” Whew — takes a load off the left, doesn’t it? All the fictional racial incidents were getting to be a chore.

No clear winner in the Peter Beinart–Leon Wieseltier competition for the most vile comments directed against Israel. From the latter: “Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.” To be precise, Israel has enough weaselly critics who flaunt their Judaism to establish their bona fides in order to gain legitimacy for their savage and a-factual attacks on the Jewish state.

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A World Gone Mad

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

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Wake-Up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here We Go Again

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

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A Suggestion for Zawahri

Poor Al-Qaeda. For months, the Islamist organization has had to give over the limelight to Iran, Hezbullah, and Hamas, all of which have more guns and the advantage of constant terror activity to get them attention. Today, Ayman al-Zawahri, Bin-Laden’s right hand, issued a two-hour taped speech in which he grumbled about how (a) Iran is secretly in league with the U.S.; (b) Iran and Hezbollah are trying to deprive al-Qaeda of credit for 9/11 by suggesting that Israel did it; and (c) Hamas is violating Islamic law by contemplating a cease-fire with Israel.

Although he did not ask for my opinion, I would offer Al-Zawahri the following suggestion: If you’re really that mad at Iran, why don’t you put your organization’s efforts into taking out their nuclear program? That would really show them.

Poor Al-Qaeda. For months, the Islamist organization has had to give over the limelight to Iran, Hezbullah, and Hamas, all of which have more guns and the advantage of constant terror activity to get them attention. Today, Ayman al-Zawahri, Bin-Laden’s right hand, issued a two-hour taped speech in which he grumbled about how (a) Iran is secretly in league with the U.S.; (b) Iran and Hezbollah are trying to deprive al-Qaeda of credit for 9/11 by suggesting that Israel did it; and (c) Hamas is violating Islamic law by contemplating a cease-fire with Israel.

Although he did not ask for my opinion, I would offer Al-Zawahri the following suggestion: If you’re really that mad at Iran, why don’t you put your organization’s efforts into taking out their nuclear program? That would really show them.

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In Praise of “Disrespect”

At Al Arabiya today, John Esposito–co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?, a book based on a study of 50,000 people in 35 Muslim countries–says

When we asked Muslims around the world what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the most frequent responses were for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not as inferior.

Respect, huh? Well, it’s good to keep an open mind about these things, and genuinely consider the nature of the complaint. This survey is being touted as a landmark event in Muslim opinion. So, here’s what Al Arabiya adduces as a sign of Western disrespect:

A recent example was the 2006 election in the Palestinian territories, which the Islamist movement Hamas won in a free and fair poll. The United States and Israel have since done much to ignore the result and try to push Hamas out of office.

If rejecting an organization sworn to destroy you is a sign of disrespect, it’s probably best the West remain impudent and graceless for the time-being. We can’t all be so cordial to “the other” as they manage to be in so many Muslim nations.

At Al Arabiya today, John Esposito–co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?, a book based on a study of 50,000 people in 35 Muslim countries–says

When we asked Muslims around the world what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the most frequent responses were for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not as inferior.

Respect, huh? Well, it’s good to keep an open mind about these things, and genuinely consider the nature of the complaint. This survey is being touted as a landmark event in Muslim opinion. So, here’s what Al Arabiya adduces as a sign of Western disrespect:

A recent example was the 2006 election in the Palestinian territories, which the Islamist movement Hamas won in a free and fair poll. The United States and Israel have since done much to ignore the result and try to push Hamas out of office.

If rejecting an organization sworn to destroy you is a sign of disrespect, it’s probably best the West remain impudent and graceless for the time-being. We can’t all be so cordial to “the other” as they manage to be in so many Muslim nations.

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Desperate for Leaders

Larbi Charef killed dozens of people in Algiers on Tuesday when he detonated his explosives-packed car. His suicide bombing was the culmination of a year that Charef had spent training with terrorists in the mountains in Eastern Algeria.

Some of those Charef murdered this week were receiving another form of training; they were university students. Although Charef received a high school diploma while spending two years in prison, he decided to become a terrorist when he was unable to find work upon his release.

Charef’s release from prison was the result of a government program “that gives amnesty to people convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” In comforting the bomber’s mother, a family friend said, referring to the national program, “when you put young men for two years into prison, you need to follow up. They need guidance.” By suggesting the government should take responsibility for this young man, the family friend was exculpating the very people who should have had the strongest role in shaping his character: his parents.

And yet, today Charef’s parents are shaking their heads as to what could have motivated their son. Meanwhile, other parents are quite clear about what they teach their children. To wit: Charef’s accomplice in a second Tuesday bombing was a 64-year-old father. What had he imparted to his offspring? The value of joining the Islamist militant movement. A lesson well-learned: when their father, Rabah Bechla, took his life and those of many innocents this week, he was just following in the footsteps of his sons, who had died already “for the cause.”

It is painful to witness this cycle of nihilism and destruction. But it is not poverty alone that forms a terrorist. The photo in today’s New York Times that accompanies the story of the Algerian bombers shows the miserable shanty town in which one of them lived. Yet, the story’s text depicts a poverty of thinking, in which parents reject responsibility for their children. Where terrorists are bred, it seems the real vacuum is one of leadership.

Larbi Charef killed dozens of people in Algiers on Tuesday when he detonated his explosives-packed car. His suicide bombing was the culmination of a year that Charef had spent training with terrorists in the mountains in Eastern Algeria.

Some of those Charef murdered this week were receiving another form of training; they were university students. Although Charef received a high school diploma while spending two years in prison, he decided to become a terrorist when he was unable to find work upon his release.

Charef’s release from prison was the result of a government program “that gives amnesty to people convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” In comforting the bomber’s mother, a family friend said, referring to the national program, “when you put young men for two years into prison, you need to follow up. They need guidance.” By suggesting the government should take responsibility for this young man, the family friend was exculpating the very people who should have had the strongest role in shaping his character: his parents.

And yet, today Charef’s parents are shaking their heads as to what could have motivated their son. Meanwhile, other parents are quite clear about what they teach their children. To wit: Charef’s accomplice in a second Tuesday bombing was a 64-year-old father. What had he imparted to his offspring? The value of joining the Islamist militant movement. A lesson well-learned: when their father, Rabah Bechla, took his life and those of many innocents this week, he was just following in the footsteps of his sons, who had died already “for the cause.”

It is painful to witness this cycle of nihilism and destruction. But it is not poverty alone that forms a terrorist. The photo in today’s New York Times that accompanies the story of the Algerian bombers shows the miserable shanty town in which one of them lived. Yet, the story’s text depicts a poverty of thinking, in which parents reject responsibility for their children. Where terrorists are bred, it seems the real vacuum is one of leadership.

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Prodi’s “Evolution”

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

To be fair, Italian politicians are not the only ones contemplating dialogue with Hamas: more than 100 British parliamentarians called for dialogue because “peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.” Britain’s former shadow Foreign Secretary and one-time chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Michael Ancram, went even further, in a Sunday Telegraph editorial in early July, by recommending that newly-appointed Middle East Envoy Tony Blair should “dance with wolves.”

As for Prodi himself, at least he is consistent. After all, in his first interview after winning last year’s parliamentary elections, in April 2006, he said to al-Jazeera: “I shall commit myself at the European level to shape a new position with respect to the new Palestinian government. I am looking with great attention at the signs of an opening being made by Hamas.” Soon after, Prodi spoke to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the phone, becoming the first European head of government to do so.

We shouldn’t wonder, then, what Prodi meant when he linked dialogue with Hamas to its possible “evolution.” Clearly, the Italian Prime Minister is being optimistic. Yet, can he point to any evolution at all since April 2006? How long will Europeans resist the temptation to engage in dialogue with Hamas?

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