Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mediterranean

Uprising Goes Straight for the Canal

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

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Who Is Najib Miqati?

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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BREAKING: In Gaza, Sometimes People Surf a Lot

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

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Juan Williams vs. Israel

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams had this to say about the upcoming talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel:

Well, the question is about settlements. I mean, you know, what you hear from Abbas is if they go back into the settlements that he cuts off the talk.

Last time the reason the talks got cut off was because Israel launched an offensive in Gaza. So now we have a break. The question is can Netanyahu hold together as — his forces in Israel in terms of Israeli politics to say, “You know what? We are best served by some sort of peace, despite the pressures,” and I think there are tremendous pressures on Israel, that there has to be a sense that we are about peace first and foremost.

And I think for the — for the last few times that negotiations have taken place, the emphasis has been on asserting that Israel has been victimized by terrorist activities, by Hamas, by the failure of the Palestinians to govern themselves.

This perfectly expresses the views of the left on Israel — and is perfectly wrong. If it were all about the settlements, the Palestinians would have their own state several times over — at Camp David, and on silver platter from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, most recently. We have had an extended “break” not because of Gaza but because Obama spent 18 months dangling the prospect of a settlement freeze before Abbas’s eyes and leading him to believe the Palestinians could get everything their hearts desired from the U.S. administration.

Next up in the misinformation and outright distortion parade: Bibi is somehow out of step with Israeli public opinion. Yes, the majority of Israelis want talks and a two-state solution, but the infatuation with “land for peace” has dulled considerably in the wake of land-for-war episodes (Lebanon and then Gaza). And Bibi is quite popular. Does Williams expect that some other government could forge a consensus for a peace deal? (Perhaps the 10 percent of Israelis who like Obama would.)

The last is the doozy, and it unfortunately represents the left’s growing indifference to Israel’s security. You see, Williams lectures, we’ve spent altogether too much time talking about terrorism and the Palestinians’ utter failure at self-government. After all, who wants to talk about the refusal of the PA to condemn terrorism? Why do we need to focus on the Palestinians’ ongoing violence and continual calls for incitement (in Arabic) while they talk peace (in English)? And really, what do viable civil institutions — that can enforce the rule of law and a peace deal and develop a productive relationship with Israel — have to do with peace talks?

It is all perfectly foolish and, unfortunately, one suspects, representative of the Obami’s thinking. You can hear the teeth-grinding inside the White House, the impatience with all this concern about defensible borders and an enforceable peace. This is the mindset of the gang that is “affronted” when Israel builds in its own capital and treats the Israeli prime minister as if he were a fly to be swatted away.

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

The only good news on the horizon is that with Obama’s plummeting popularity and evident nervousness about American Jewish support (otherwise why the charm offensive?), Israel has good reason to wait him out. Go ahead, talk — every two weeks. When the Palestinians are ready to renounce violence and give up the dream of a one-state solution (200 meetings from now? a thousand?), Israel will be waiting.

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams had this to say about the upcoming talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel:

Well, the question is about settlements. I mean, you know, what you hear from Abbas is if they go back into the settlements that he cuts off the talk.

Last time the reason the talks got cut off was because Israel launched an offensive in Gaza. So now we have a break. The question is can Netanyahu hold together as — his forces in Israel in terms of Israeli politics to say, “You know what? We are best served by some sort of peace, despite the pressures,” and I think there are tremendous pressures on Israel, that there has to be a sense that we are about peace first and foremost.

And I think for the — for the last few times that negotiations have taken place, the emphasis has been on asserting that Israel has been victimized by terrorist activities, by Hamas, by the failure of the Palestinians to govern themselves.

This perfectly expresses the views of the left on Israel — and is perfectly wrong. If it were all about the settlements, the Palestinians would have their own state several times over — at Camp David, and on silver platter from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, most recently. We have had an extended “break” not because of Gaza but because Obama spent 18 months dangling the prospect of a settlement freeze before Abbas’s eyes and leading him to believe the Palestinians could get everything their hearts desired from the U.S. administration.

Next up in the misinformation and outright distortion parade: Bibi is somehow out of step with Israeli public opinion. Yes, the majority of Israelis want talks and a two-state solution, but the infatuation with “land for peace” has dulled considerably in the wake of land-for-war episodes (Lebanon and then Gaza). And Bibi is quite popular. Does Williams expect that some other government could forge a consensus for a peace deal? (Perhaps the 10 percent of Israelis who like Obama would.)

The last is the doozy, and it unfortunately represents the left’s growing indifference to Israel’s security. You see, Williams lectures, we’ve spent altogether too much time talking about terrorism and the Palestinians’ utter failure at self-government. After all, who wants to talk about the refusal of the PA to condemn terrorism? Why do we need to focus on the Palestinians’ ongoing violence and continual calls for incitement (in Arabic) while they talk peace (in English)? And really, what do viable civil institutions — that can enforce the rule of law and a peace deal and develop a productive relationship with Israel — have to do with peace talks?

It is all perfectly foolish and, unfortunately, one suspects, representative of the Obami’s thinking. You can hear the teeth-grinding inside the White House, the impatience with all this concern about defensible borders and an enforceable peace. This is the mindset of the gang that is “affronted” when Israel builds in its own capital and treats the Israeli prime minister as if he were a fly to be swatted away.

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

The only good news on the horizon is that with Obama’s plummeting popularity and evident nervousness about American Jewish support (otherwise why the charm offensive?), Israel has good reason to wait him out. Go ahead, talk — every two weeks. When the Palestinians are ready to renounce violence and give up the dream of a one-state solution (200 meetings from now? a thousand?), Israel will be waiting.

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New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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China’s Naval Posture: More Good News

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

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RE: Why the Peace Process Is a Farce

A longtime COMMENTARY reader and keen observer of Mideast politics e-mails in response to my observation that “it would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews.” She writes: “It’s not that they don’t want to give up killing Jews — or not that they JUST don’t want to give up killing Jews — it’s that they refuse to give up their dream of a ‘Palestinian state’ stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Rosh HaNikrah to Eilat, with Jerusalem as the Muslim-only capital.” Exactly true.

So every part of  “the peace process culminating in a two-state solution” mantra is nonsense. As for the “peace,” the Palestinians are not renouncing violence; they are inciting it. The “process” consists of George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between a democratic government and a Palestinian negotiation team that lacks the will or authority to make a binding peace deal. And the two-state solution is no solution at all. From the Palestinian perspective, the conflict will not end with a return to defensible borders for Israel or to the 1967 boundaries or to any other contrived demarcation, but only when the uber-Palestinian state is a reality.

A scholar from a D.C. think tank specializing in Palestinian politics spoke at my shul last week. He summed up the situation: “There is no top-down solution or bottom-up solution in sight.” That’s right. The bottom up — the only viable approach — is going to take a very long time. The sooner we stop the counterproductive top-down approach, the better. The Palestinians have years of work ahead of them.

A longtime COMMENTARY reader and keen observer of Mideast politics e-mails in response to my observation that “it would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews.” She writes: “It’s not that they don’t want to give up killing Jews — or not that they JUST don’t want to give up killing Jews — it’s that they refuse to give up their dream of a ‘Palestinian state’ stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Rosh HaNikrah to Eilat, with Jerusalem as the Muslim-only capital.” Exactly true.

So every part of  “the peace process culminating in a two-state solution” mantra is nonsense. As for the “peace,” the Palestinians are not renouncing violence; they are inciting it. The “process” consists of George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between a democratic government and a Palestinian negotiation team that lacks the will or authority to make a binding peace deal. And the two-state solution is no solution at all. From the Palestinian perspective, the conflict will not end with a return to defensible borders for Israel or to the 1967 boundaries or to any other contrived demarcation, but only when the uber-Palestinian state is a reality.

A scholar from a D.C. think tank specializing in Palestinian politics spoke at my shul last week. He summed up the situation: “There is no top-down solution or bottom-up solution in sight.” That’s right. The bottom up — the only viable approach — is going to take a very long time. The sooner we stop the counterproductive top-down approach, the better. The Palestinians have years of work ahead of them.

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Syria Must Be Contained, Not Engaged

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

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Syria and Turkey Sink Another Obama Initiative

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey — with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

One of the keys to President Obama’s ill-fated attempt to engage the Islamic world has been the effort to convince Syria to abandon its alliance with Iran and to join the West. But like his vaunted outreach to Iran, this too fell flat — though some in the administration continued to try getting Israel to pay for this initiative with concessions on the Golan Heights and the standoff with Hezbollah, an ally of both Iran and Syria, along the border with Lebanon. But the final nail in the coffin of the Syria gambit appears to have come not from Israeli intransigence but rather from the intervention of a country that once feared the Syrians: Turkey.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, Stephen Starr reports that Turkey has become “Syria’s new best friend.” Though not so long ago the Turks looked to cultivate an alliance with Israel as a counter-balance to the threat they perceived from the Assad regime, they have now embarked on their own outreach campaign to Damascus. Trade between the two countries has grown from a trickle to a flood. More importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to become an apologist and diplomatic partner for Iran and to attempt to become the leader of the Islamic world’s anti-Israel diplomatic front has the potential to change the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. By sponsoring the Gaza flotilla provocation and then engaging in what even Starr concedes was a “disproportionate response” to Israel’s efforts to maintain the blockade on the Hamas regime, Turkey has “improved Syria’s political clout significantly.”

Obama’s attempt to woo the Syrians away from Iran was always doomed. While willing to pocket lucrative bribes from the West in the form of aid and development projects, the Assad family regime has no real interest in the welfare of the Syrian people or in better relations with the West. As any narrowly based dictatorships, the Assads know that a more open and prosperous society and peace with Israel do not serve their purposes of perpetuating their vise-like grip on their country. Iran and Hezbollah were always going to be the natural allies of Damascus. The United States might have been able to tell the Syrians that they could get them the Golan Heights back if they just made peace with Israel and deigned to accept Western largess in return. Contrary to how Starr interprets Syria’s past flirting — sponsored by Turkey — with negotiations with Israel, Bashar al-Assad was not interested in peace even if it brought him the Golan.

But edging away from its military alliance with Israel and bidding to revive the Ottoman Empire’s pose as the leader of the Islamic world, NATO member Turkey is a far better fit for being a partner with Syria than with the United States. Indeed, as Starr writes, with Turkey behind it, Assad can now afford to ignore Obama’s entreaties altogether. The result not only deepens Israel’s isolation but also exposes the utter failure of one of the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president imagined that, by distancing the United States from Israel and trying to “engage” the Arab “street” and Iran’s dictators, he could inaugurate a new era of American influence in the Middle East. But it appears as though all he has done is to set the stage for a dangerous turn for the worse in the region.

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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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Iran Threatens War in the Mediterranean

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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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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Want to Stop Iran? Hold Firm on Gaza Blockade

For many concerned about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has served as a disturbing and decidedly unhelpful distraction from the need to maintain pressure on the Obama administration to act to avert that awful possibility. The same theme was sounded in the past few months as the administration said that Israel must stop building housing in Jerusalem to free up Obama and the rest of the West to better resist Iran.

The swelling chorus of editorial pages, Western political leaders, and unnamed administration officials who want Israel to back down on Gaza claim that doing so will not only help the suffering inhabitants of the region but also remove an irritant that hampers Western diplomatic goals. The need for a “new approach” to Gaza was sounded by one such anonymous Obama aide in the New York Times yesterday, who said that this is “a broadly held view in the upper reaches of the administration.”

Despite the fact that the claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza are unfounded, the administration is following the lead of our Western European allies on this issue. “Gaza has become the symbol in the Arab world of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and we have to change that,” the senior American official said. Indeed, such a switch would reflect the same sensibility that guided Obama’s speech to the Muslim world a year ago in Cairo, in which the president showed that he cared about appeasing the violent prejudices of the Arab “street” more than he cared about articulating American values like support for democracy or the West’s strategic goals in fighting Islamist terror.

The blockade of Gaza restricts the importation of arms and construction materials that could allow the Hamas regime there to rebuild its defense. It does not restrict food and medicine. It was implemented in the wake of Hamas’s seizure of power in the strip, a bloody coup that took the lives of many Palestinians. Indeed, even the diplomatic Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations vowed not to deal with Hamas until it recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced violence. But having refused to do either, or to free an Israeli soldier who has been held captive since 2006, Hamas is hoping that Western sympathy ginned up by the flotilla incident will result in an end to the blockade and ultimately recognition for the Islamist regime they have established in Gaza and which they hope to eventually extend to the West Bank. Granting Hamas such a victory would do more than any Israeli settlement could ever do to undermine the rival Palestinian Authority led by Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas or the administration’s unlikely hopes for peace.

But just as important is the fact that Hamas — like Hezbollah, its terrorist counterpart in Lebanon — is a key ally of Iran. The West backed the blockade in the first place partially to prevent Gaza from becoming an armed Iranian enclave on the Mediterranean. Despite the claim that the blockade can be lifted without Iran or Hamas benefiting, it is hard to see how any alternative to the current restrictions will do anything but allow Hamas to freely import both arms and ammunition from its patron in Tehran and permanently establish its hold on power. Aside from the devastating impact this would have on hopes for more Palestinian moderation, it would give Iran even more leverage to resist international pressure on the nuclear issue.

Far from being a distraction from the faltering efforts of the Obama administration to assemble an international coalition to stop Iran’s nuclear program, handing such a triumph to Hamas will make it even more difficult to restrain the ambitions of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran. If the West hasn’t the stomach to hold firm on the sanctions that have been imposed on Hamas-run Gaza, how will it do so in Iran? The Iranian regime is surely drawing dangerous conclusions about Western resolve from the way the administration is succumbing to the propaganda campaign orchestrated by its Hamas ally. Far from being obstacles to action on Iran, Israel’s attempts to preserve the blockade of Hamas is a fundamental element of any coherent strategy that aims at restraining Tehran’s influence.

For many concerned about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has served as a disturbing and decidedly unhelpful distraction from the need to maintain pressure on the Obama administration to act to avert that awful possibility. The same theme was sounded in the past few months as the administration said that Israel must stop building housing in Jerusalem to free up Obama and the rest of the West to better resist Iran.

The swelling chorus of editorial pages, Western political leaders, and unnamed administration officials who want Israel to back down on Gaza claim that doing so will not only help the suffering inhabitants of the region but also remove an irritant that hampers Western diplomatic goals. The need for a “new approach” to Gaza was sounded by one such anonymous Obama aide in the New York Times yesterday, who said that this is “a broadly held view in the upper reaches of the administration.”

Despite the fact that the claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza are unfounded, the administration is following the lead of our Western European allies on this issue. “Gaza has become the symbol in the Arab world of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and we have to change that,” the senior American official said. Indeed, such a switch would reflect the same sensibility that guided Obama’s speech to the Muslim world a year ago in Cairo, in which the president showed that he cared about appeasing the violent prejudices of the Arab “street” more than he cared about articulating American values like support for democracy or the West’s strategic goals in fighting Islamist terror.

The blockade of Gaza restricts the importation of arms and construction materials that could allow the Hamas regime there to rebuild its defense. It does not restrict food and medicine. It was implemented in the wake of Hamas’s seizure of power in the strip, a bloody coup that took the lives of many Palestinians. Indeed, even the diplomatic Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations vowed not to deal with Hamas until it recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced violence. But having refused to do either, or to free an Israeli soldier who has been held captive since 2006, Hamas is hoping that Western sympathy ginned up by the flotilla incident will result in an end to the blockade and ultimately recognition for the Islamist regime they have established in Gaza and which they hope to eventually extend to the West Bank. Granting Hamas such a victory would do more than any Israeli settlement could ever do to undermine the rival Palestinian Authority led by Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas or the administration’s unlikely hopes for peace.

But just as important is the fact that Hamas — like Hezbollah, its terrorist counterpart in Lebanon — is a key ally of Iran. The West backed the blockade in the first place partially to prevent Gaza from becoming an armed Iranian enclave on the Mediterranean. Despite the claim that the blockade can be lifted without Iran or Hamas benefiting, it is hard to see how any alternative to the current restrictions will do anything but allow Hamas to freely import both arms and ammunition from its patron in Tehran and permanently establish its hold on power. Aside from the devastating impact this would have on hopes for more Palestinian moderation, it would give Iran even more leverage to resist international pressure on the nuclear issue.

Far from being a distraction from the faltering efforts of the Obama administration to assemble an international coalition to stop Iran’s nuclear program, handing such a triumph to Hamas will make it even more difficult to restrain the ambitions of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran. If the West hasn’t the stomach to hold firm on the sanctions that have been imposed on Hamas-run Gaza, how will it do so in Iran? The Iranian regime is surely drawing dangerous conclusions about Western resolve from the way the administration is succumbing to the propaganda campaign orchestrated by its Hamas ally. Far from being obstacles to action on Iran, Israel’s attempts to preserve the blockade of Hamas is a fundamental element of any coherent strategy that aims at restraining Tehran’s influence.

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When Israel Won’t Give in, the World’s Enraged

In the shrieks from the international community — revealing once again what a bad idea it is to pursue popularity as a foreign policy – Charles Krauthammer decodes the real message:

The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense. Why, just last week, the Obama administration joined the jackals and reversed four decades of U.S. practice, by signing onto a consensus document that singles out Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons — thus de-legitimizing Israel’s very last line of defense: deterrence. The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

On one side are, as Krauthammer describes, “the blockade-busting flotilla of useful idiots and terror sympathizers, by the Turkish front organization that funded it, by the automatic anti-Israel Third World chorus at the United Nations, and by the supine Europeans who’ve had quite enough of the Jewish problem.” On the other is Israel and an iffy U.S. ally with a more energetic Jewish community than we’ve seen in recent years. There is very little cause for optimism.

This is the natural result of the administration’s choices and grievous errors. Obama telegraphed that America would stand apart from Israel, and Israel’s enemies have exploited that. Obama telegraphed that he was not out to confront or upend the Iranian regime, and now the regime runs rampant, bolstered by new allies and with old ones more eager to line up with the Iranian axis than with the U.S. The “international community” has waged a relentless war to delegitimize the Jewish state, hoping that this incident will be the nail in Israel’s coffin. Obama linked the non–peace process to progress on Iran, handing Iran the perfect gambit: disrupt the non–peace process, inflame the world, and the West will lose focus on Iran’s nuclear policy. And finally, we have abdicated our role as human rights defender and democracy promoter, allowing thugocracies and their pawns (e.g., Hamas-run Gaza) to claim equal footing with the democratic and free Israel.

So should it surprise us that Turkey now sounds like Iran? Or that Syria tests our resolve with Scud missiles? Or that the UN prepares for “The Goldstone Report: The Sequel”? The reality is setting in that this will all be infinitely worse after Iran gets the bomb. But at the root of this is the uncomfortable truth: without a stalwart American ally and vigorous American Jewish support, Israel is in peril. As Bibi often says, after one Holocaust, Israel reserves the right to defend itself against threats from the small to the existential. Now it may be the Jewish state’s only option.

In the shrieks from the international community — revealing once again what a bad idea it is to pursue popularity as a foreign policy – Charles Krauthammer decodes the real message:

The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense. Why, just last week, the Obama administration joined the jackals and reversed four decades of U.S. practice, by signing onto a consensus document that singles out Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons — thus de-legitimizing Israel’s very last line of defense: deterrence. The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

On one side are, as Krauthammer describes, “the blockade-busting flotilla of useful idiots and terror sympathizers, by the Turkish front organization that funded it, by the automatic anti-Israel Third World chorus at the United Nations, and by the supine Europeans who’ve had quite enough of the Jewish problem.” On the other is Israel and an iffy U.S. ally with a more energetic Jewish community than we’ve seen in recent years. There is very little cause for optimism.

This is the natural result of the administration’s choices and grievous errors. Obama telegraphed that America would stand apart from Israel, and Israel’s enemies have exploited that. Obama telegraphed that he was not out to confront or upend the Iranian regime, and now the regime runs rampant, bolstered by new allies and with old ones more eager to line up with the Iranian axis than with the U.S. The “international community” has waged a relentless war to delegitimize the Jewish state, hoping that this incident will be the nail in Israel’s coffin. Obama linked the non–peace process to progress on Iran, handing Iran the perfect gambit: disrupt the non–peace process, inflame the world, and the West will lose focus on Iran’s nuclear policy. And finally, we have abdicated our role as human rights defender and democracy promoter, allowing thugocracies and their pawns (e.g., Hamas-run Gaza) to claim equal footing with the democratic and free Israel.

So should it surprise us that Turkey now sounds like Iran? Or that Syria tests our resolve with Scud missiles? Or that the UN prepares for “The Goldstone Report: The Sequel”? The reality is setting in that this will all be infinitely worse after Iran gets the bomb. But at the root of this is the uncomfortable truth: without a stalwart American ally and vigorous American Jewish support, Israel is in peril. As Bibi often says, after one Holocaust, Israel reserves the right to defend itself against threats from the small to the existential. Now it may be the Jewish state’s only option.

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Biden Is the Sane One?

It has come to this: Joe Biden is one of the few administration figures making sense on Israel. On Charlie Rose’s PBS show, he sounded fed up with the second-guessing and attacks on Israel:

“I think Israel has an absolute right to deal with its security interest. I put all this back on two things: one, Hamas, and, two, Israel’s need to be more generous relative to the Palestinian people who are in trouble in Gaza,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the interview, in which he went on to discuss Hamas’s control of Gaza.

“[The Israelis have] said, ‘Here you go. You’re in the Mediterranean. This ship — if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we’ll get the stuff into Gaza.’ So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it’s legitimate for Israel to say, ‘I don’t know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight — 3,000 rockets on my people,'” Biden said.

He also asked for an Israeli investigation, not one by the UN, and said the flotilla wasn’t the way to bring in humanitarian relief.

It’s hard to know if he is again off the reservation or if he is previewing an administration walk-back on the hang-Israel-out-to-dry approach to this incident. Some perceived in the Jerusalem-housing flap that Biden tried to turn the heat down before the White House’s political flacks turned it back up. That maybe speaks well of Biden’s instincts but poorly of his influence.

If we’ve learned anything in this administration, it is that Obama is the only one who matters, and unless and until we hear him publicly expressing similar statements and debunking the notion that this was a humanitarian effort, we should remain skeptical.

It has come to this: Joe Biden is one of the few administration figures making sense on Israel. On Charlie Rose’s PBS show, he sounded fed up with the second-guessing and attacks on Israel:

“I think Israel has an absolute right to deal with its security interest. I put all this back on two things: one, Hamas, and, two, Israel’s need to be more generous relative to the Palestinian people who are in trouble in Gaza,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the interview, in which he went on to discuss Hamas’s control of Gaza.

“[The Israelis have] said, ‘Here you go. You’re in the Mediterranean. This ship — if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we’ll get the stuff into Gaza.’ So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it’s legitimate for Israel to say, ‘I don’t know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight — 3,000 rockets on my people,'” Biden said.

He also asked for an Israeli investigation, not one by the UN, and said the flotilla wasn’t the way to bring in humanitarian relief.

It’s hard to know if he is again off the reservation or if he is previewing an administration walk-back on the hang-Israel-out-to-dry approach to this incident. Some perceived in the Jerusalem-housing flap that Biden tried to turn the heat down before the White House’s political flacks turned it back up. That maybe speaks well of Biden’s instincts but poorly of his influence.

If we’ve learned anything in this administration, it is that Obama is the only one who matters, and unless and until we hear him publicly expressing similar statements and debunking the notion that this was a humanitarian effort, we should remain skeptical.

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Bibi’s Speech

Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)

He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:

Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry — smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva — these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.

He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:

This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons.  In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.

I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.  And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass — people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.

Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers — offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers.  And these offers were rejected time and again.”

Then the details of the battle:

Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship — you can see this in the videos — the first soldier — they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.

It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.

This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.

As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:

Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it — under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers — you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.

Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.

He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”

Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.

I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.

Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)

He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:

Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry — smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva — these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.

He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:

This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons.  In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.

I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.  And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass — people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.

Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers — offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers.  And these offers were rejected time and again.”

Then the details of the battle:

Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship — you can see this in the videos — the first soldier — they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.

It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.

This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.

As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:

Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it — under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers — you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.

Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.

He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”

Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.

I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.

Read Less




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