Israel and its supporters have spent most of the weeks since the conclusion of the latest round of fighting with Hamas pointing to the great success of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The improved ability of Israel’s Defense Forces to render harmless the bulk of the rockets launched from the terrorist enclave in Gaza has enhanced the country’s security, even if the spectacle of a sizable portion of the population cowering in shelters cheered Palestinians. But the notion that the prolonged exchange of fire in November that saw hundreds of missiles fired into Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense was an unalloyed success is being undermined by the concessions that Israel has made since the cease-fire.
In the days following the dustup, it was clear that Gaza fishing craft were being allowed to sail further into the Mediterranean by the Israeli Navy, but this might have been dismissed as unimportant since the blockade of the region was still intact. However, the news that Israel is now allowing in construction materials that it had heretofore prevented from entering Gaza must be regarded as yet another indication that Hamas’s own claims of victory were not empty boasts. Though it may be argued that neither of these measures seriously degrades Israel’s security, they both make it clear that Israel paid a not insignificant price for the cease-fire brokered by the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt.
Right-leaning Israeli campus group Im Tirtzu released an ad today set to run in Jewish newspapers that accuses the left-leaning New Israel Fund of financing groups that slandered the Israel Defense Forces in its recent Gaza intervention. The ad takes the form of an open letter to NIF President Brian Lurie, and will run in “20 of the largest-circulation Jewish newspapers across the United States,” according to Im Tirtzu.
Here’s the crux of the argument in the letter (which can be read in full here):
In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied:
Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.
This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.
Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …
Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.
As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.
The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.
Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:
Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense.
The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:
Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.
The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that Israel would finally respond to Hamas’s rocket barrage from Gaza, his knee-jerk critics issued two very silly judgments almost immediately. They said Netanyahu was ordering this counteroffensive to boost his reelection chances in January, and that his decision was an open challenge to newly reelected President Barack Obama.
Though neither of these theories made much sense from the outset, Operation Pillar of Defense conclusively debunked them once and for all. Netanyahu’s cautious, limited approach to the conflict was panned in opinion polls; Israelis wanted to see Hamas more thoroughly beaten, perhaps through a ground invasion by troops already called up for service just in case. And though more hawkish elements in his cabinet wanted either more favorable cease-fire terms for Israel or no cease-fire at all, Netanyahu sided with the Obama administration in its desire to see the end of hostilities as soon as possible. And Tzipi Livni removed all doubt about public opinion toward Pillar of Defense when announcing her new political party today in Tel Aviv:
New York Times media reporter David Carr defended his Monday column accusing Israel of killing journalists in Gaza on Monday, after Israeli officials and their allies accused him of conflating Hamas operatives and reporters.
“The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 were identified by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Washington Post and many other news outlets as journalists,” Carr told BuzzFeed in an email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable, primary source in these matters, identified them as journalists. (as did Reporters without Borders.)”
“I ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop familiar with current events in the region before I printed it,” Carr said. “And I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what the others said. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.”
So because another news organization reported it, that automatically makes it accurate? Carr never even informs readers that he was relying on the reporting of other news outlets, and doesn’t attribute his information to the AP, AFP or the Washington Post (as the New York Timesethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.
The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.
With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.
In the New York Times today, David Carr claims that Israel is “using war as cover to target journalists” in Gaza. Of course Carr fails to mention that the “journalists” in question were terrorists:
On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.”
So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as “relevance to terror activity.” …
Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.
As Carr notes, Al-Aqsa is a Hamas-owned TV station. What he leaves out is that Al-Aqsa TV has also been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department. So we already know these “cameramen” were working for a terrorist group.
Last month, I wrote about the danger Hamas poses to peace in the Middle East on a second, and relatively new, front: its newfound diplomatic clout in the region. Saudi Arabia first began dumping cash into Gaza, and was soon followed by Qatar doing the same—between them the countries just pledged nearly $1 billion in investment in the Strip. And Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has figured out that he wields more influence with the West as a mediator between Hamas and the Western world.
Always clearly, though quietly, opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Arab world is no longer hiding it, choosing instead to garishly empower and enrich the entity that will make peace impossible. And so, as Egypt mediated an Israel-Hamas cease-fire this week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also received a prime interview slot on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense. Did he use this time to feign moderation? On the contrary, Meshaal reads the support he’s getting from around the world as a signal that he need not moderate, nor claim to. Here is Christiane Amanpour asking Meshaal about a two-state solution and renouncing terrorism:
If the cease-fire holds, the second Gaza war produced two clear winners: Mohamed Morsi and Barack Obama. Together, they brought peace after just eight days of fighting, thus showing their diplomatic clout. Morsi behaved not like a Muslim Brotherhood hothead but like a statesman–in fact playing much the same role as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, did in (somewhat) reining in Hamas and serving as a bridge between the Palestinians and Israel.
Morsi did not use this new round of fighting to break relations with Israel, as many had feared, but rather cooperated constructively with President Obama to bring peace. Obama, for his part, avoided his first-term mistake of publicly criticizing Israel; he seems to have learned that his ability to press Israel for concessions (in this case, to avoid a ground incursion into Gaza that Israeli hard-liners thought was needed to enhance their country’s long-term security) increases when he shows no daylight between himself and Israel’s leader.
At the beginning of this year, as speculation over whether Israel was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program reached something of a crescendo, one of Israel’s most respected journalists sat down with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked Barak about the former political and military figures who had begun to publicly argue against a strike. Barak responded with a reminder about the burden of responsibility he carries along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions,” Barak said. “But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.” Barak wasn’t trying to be dramatic; rather, he was making make a point about the historical weight that rests on nearly every major decision made by the Israeli leadership. Many in the press took this as a declaration by Barak that he would always err on the side of the hawks—why take any chances? But in reality, as we saw this week with Operation Pillar of Defense, it can often mean just the opposite. Barak Ravid reports:
Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:
Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.
“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Timesreports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:
After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.
“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.
But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.
The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.
The terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv bus wounded 23 this morning. The last time there was an attack like this in Tel Aviv was 2006, and it raises the obvious questions about the danger of this conflict taking repeated aim at the bustling population center. This wasn’t a suicide bombing, and the two suspects are reportedly on the run.
Also, in case there was any doubt this would hinder a potential cease-fire deal, the Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas has already started celebrating in Gaza:
Standing beside the UN secretary general yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted again that every rocket from Gaza is a double war crime, since each reflects: (1) an intentional indiscriminate attack on civilians, while (2) hiding behind a civilian population for protection.
It is actually a triple war crime, because the use of civilians as shields is intended not simply for protection of the terrorists, but to ensure that Palestinian civilians are killed — to produce the response from the UN, the New York Times, and others in the “international community” necessary to win the media war that is conducted alongside the military one. In a phone call late last night in Israel, a noted Israeli commentator described the situation that Israel faces as Kafkaesque:
“The most bizarre part is that Israel is in the position of protecting the Gaza public from its own leadership that is trying to get them killed in order to win points with the New York Times.”
IsraellyCool reports on a video of pro-Palestinian activists protesting Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense at Hebrew University in Jerusalem today. The denunciations of the Zionist war machine seemed to be going smoothly–until Jerusalem’s air raid sirens were triggered by an incoming Hamas rocket. You can probably guess what happened next:
Aussie Dave writes at the link above: “I guess they won’t be boycotting Israeli bomb shelters any time soon.”
The U.S. blocked a one-sided UN Security Council statement today that called for an Israeli cease-fire but ignored rocket attacks from Hamas. In response, Russia will reportedly propose a similar resolution to the entire council body — which needs nine votes to pass, but can be vetoed by the U.S. — later today:
Russia said on Monday that if the 15-member council could not agree on a statement then it would put a resolution – a stronger move by the council than a statement – to a vote later on Tuesday to call for an end to the violence and show support for regional and international efforts to broker peace.
A resolution is passed when it receives nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent council members – Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France. Some diplomats said a vote on the Russian resolution would likely be tight and could force a veto by the United States.
The Security Council is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which U.N. diplomats say is due to U.S. determination to protect its close ally Israel. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes on Gaza but took no action.
In the last couple of days, Max has ably fended off criticism of missile defense–a commonsense and effective tool in homeland security. He closes his second post on the subject with a question: “Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?”
Yes, it is, and it makes opposition to missile defense from the left quite strange for another reason. Those who want Israel to continue making territorial concessions to the Palestinians–after every single previous such concession brought terrorism and rockets–have much riding on the success of Israel’s missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome. It is absurd to believe that after what keeps happening in Gaza, Israel will allow the same to happen in the West Bank–where missiles can be launched a couple of miles from Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem and would also have a better shot at hitting Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The former would be a physical assault on Israel’s capital as well as a conceptual assault on Judaism and Jewish history only the world’s basest anti-Semites could stomach, and the latter would bring Israel’s economy to a standstill.
I don’t believe Hamas began its recent escalation with Israel on orders from Tehran (as I explain here). But I can see why many people do: Intentionally or not, Hamas has undeniably given its former Iranian paymasters and their Syrian client a great boon.
As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Hamas-Israel war has diverted attention from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. Even more shocking, however, is the way it has diverted attention from the ongoing–and far more massive–bloodletting in Syria.