Commentary Magazine


Topic: Operation Pillar of Defense

Did Hamas Win the Last War?

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.

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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.

At the time the cease-fire was arranged, both the Israelis and the Americans issued statements that were aimed at making it seem as if the shooting was ended with no concessions made by either side. But the looser naval blockade and the end of the ban on construction material gives the lie to the notion that Israel didn’t pay a ransom in order to get the Islamist terrorist group to stop shooting.

Given the flow of all sorts of material into Gaza via smuggling tunnels linked to Egypt, it’s not clear that the ban on gravel and cement meant much anymore. The rationale for the measure was that Hamas was using these products to rebuild the reinforced tunnels and hardened bunkers that make up the warren of defensive positions that had been destroyed in the fighting during the last big Israeli counter-offensive in 2008. While Israel did great damage to Hamas’s arsenal of missiles imported from Iran during the recent fighting, the maze of terrorist hideouts appears to be still intact.

Seen in that light, these concessions may be dismissed as meaningless in a military context. But they are one more indication that Israel has conceded what became obvious a long time ago: The Hamas regime in Gaza is an independent Palestinian state in all but name that no IDF offensive or defensive measures are going to erase.

If Hamas really did win the last war, or at least didn’t lose it as Israel had claimed, it is understandable that there will be consequences from this that will affect Israeli policy as well as public opinion. It may be that Prime Minister Netanyahu had no choice but to accept the deal that called for these concessions if he was to stop the shooting. But these revelations help explain why so many Israelis have not only given up hope for peace with moderate Palestinians but are also prepared to vote for parties to Netanyahu’s right in this month’s Knesset election.

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Im Tirtzu Ad Calls Out NIF for “Anti-Israel” Funding

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):

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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):

Now, in the weeks after the latest conflict in Gaza, NIF groups are once again making misleading and unfounded accusations against the IDF.

B’tselem, Adalah, Gisha, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel are claiming that the IDF targeted journalists and civilians, violated international law, and is perpetrating “collective punishment,” a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

In the weeks leading up to Israel’s response, as terrorist rockets forced thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters, none of these groups criticized the attacks or stood up for Israel’s right – its human right, and its right under international law – to defend itself.

Despite this troubling record, we hold out hope for your leadership as the new president of the New Israel Fund. We ask that you hold the groups you fund responsible for the veracity of their accusations, and that you demand just as much accountability from them as they do from the IDF. 

And if you do not stand by their latest false accusations, Israelis deserve to know: What will you do to reform the New Israel Fund? 

Sincerely,

Im Tirtzu

The Zionist Student Movement

NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch responded in a statement criticizing Im Tirtzu’s letter as inaccurate, and blasting the group as “extreme Israeli ultra-nationalists.”

“Today, on International Human Rights Day, we honor the organizations and the nations that respect and expand human rights, especially in regions of conflict,” said Sokatch. “It is ironic that Im Tirtzu is again peddling the twisted logic that Israeli attention to human rights somehow hurts Israel’s international reputation. It is the vitality of Israel’s civil society, and of a society that can look at its own conduct to remedy mistakes and injustice, that aligns Israel with the humanistic democracies that share those values.”

Im Tirtzu has battled with NIF in the past, but this is the first time it’s taking the fight to NIF’s home turf. While the umbrella organization finances groups in Israel, much of its funding comes from the American Jewish community. If you’re looking to go after NIF effectively, that’s the way to do it–not by objecting in Israel to the groups it funds, but by jeopardizing its funding sources in the U.S. Many of NIF’s supporters likely still view it as a liberal but Zionist mainstream group. Clearly Im Tirtzu hopes to chip away at that image through these advertisements.

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Oren: Media Bias Helps Terrorists

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.

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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.

To give an analogy, there are no reliable estimates of Taliban and insurgent casualties in Afghanistan, but the numbers are obviously much larger than the number of fallen NATO forces. Add in the number of Afghan civilian casualties (the majority of them killed by the Taliban and its allies) and that would greatly outweigh the number of NATO fatalities. The Taliban also fights with unsophisticated weapons, improvised explosive devices and Soviet-era rifles, and limited training. Often the Taliban blows up its own fighters while setting up IEDs; in some cases they fail to go off or are detected. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the greatest military the world has ever seen. Not only do NATO troops have access to far superior weapons and training, but billions are spent on counter-IED efforts and protective gear.

Yet serious journalists don’t contrast the number of NATO fatalities with the number of insurgency fatalities (or lump in Afghan civilian deaths with Taliban deaths) without putting it in proper context. They don’t compare the Taliban’s IEDs and small-arms attacks — which have caused horrific NATO casualties — to “bee stings on a bear’s behind.” They don’t describe U.S. defense against insurgency attacks as “disproportionate,” or set it up as a David v. Goliath scenario. 

Hamas is as much a terrorist group as the Taliban, but they are not treated that way by a large portion of the media. As Oren argues, this type of coverage will only encourage more violence from Hamas, not less.

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Hamas’s All-of-the-Above Approach to Regional Alliances

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:

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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:

But uprising, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by a Sunni Muslim alliance of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. That triumvirate played a leading role in helping end the eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza, in large part by embracing Hamas and luring it further away from the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah fold, offering diplomatic clout and promises of hefty aid.

Let’s start with the obvious objection to this theory, which the Times itself offers in the next paragraph, noting that “while these Sunni leaders are willing to work with Washington, unlike the mullahs in Tehran, they also promote a radical religious-based ideology that has fueled anti-Western sentiment around the region.” They certainly do promote this ideology, and this ideology stands at odds with freedom, peace, and human rights–three things needed in the neighborhood much more than guns, missiles and no-strings-attached cash. This ideology prioritizes “resistance”–code for terrorism against Israel–and as such actually spreads support for resorting to violence rather than act as a break on the inclination.

The second problem with this theory is that Hamas never actually “broke with” Iran, which the article claims. Hamas, in fact, gets weapons from Iran. Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s political chief, went on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense to announce his continuing relationship with Iran. Last night, Palestinians in Gaza put up billboards in four languages thanking Iran for helping them attempt to wage permanent war against Israel.

Is it possible to accept long-range missiles from Iran and $400 million checks from Qatar? Indeed it is, and that certainly appears to be what Hamas is doing.

And of course there is reason to believe that the support for Hamas coming from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership and Turkey’s increasingly Islamist (and, at times, approaching fanatical) government may have the opposite of the intended effect. (Or, rather, the opposite of the effect the Times wishes were intended; Turkey and Egypt probably know exactly what they are doing.)

As Jonathan has written, Egypt’s support for Hamas has emboldened the terrorist group. This is only logical, as Hamas now has a major Arab state that shares a border both with Israel and the Strip that is its ideological ally. I shed no tears for the demise of the Mubarak regime, whose fault much of this is, but from Hamas’s perspective the country went from actively suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood to being dominated by it. The belief that this will cause Hamas to moderate seems like wishful thinking–there certainly is no evidence of it.

Turkey, meanwhile, as the Times has recently reported, has marginalized itself with its support of Hamas. Far from being a regional power broker, its extremist drift has been a major factor in its geopolitical divorce with Israel, robbing the country of its previous claim to fame as the only trusted mediator in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states.

The Times is certainly correct, however, that the fall of the House of Assad would strike a serious blow to Iran’s influence in the region. Unfortunately, reports of Assad’s fall have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, even a weakened Assad–which is surely what he is now–is good for the region in the long run, though is mostly a source of death, destruction, and instability in the near-term. And it’s hard to argue that Qatar isn’t preferable to Syria as a regional actor. But again, many of these developments have yet to actually happen.

The new Middle East is, for now, strikingly similar to the old Middle East.

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WaPo Ombud: Hamas Rockets Are “Like Bee Stings”

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.

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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.

Perhaps the Washington Post didn’t have photos of recent Israeli civilian casualties on Nov. 14, but that’s not because these casualties didn’t exist. On Nov. 11, southern Israel was pounded with over 100 Hamas rockets, injuring at least three. Perhaps WaPo didn’t think these casualties were worth documenting, or maybe it didn’t have a photographer nearby at the time. But they certainly existed, and it’s puzzling that Paxton doesn’t even mention them in his column.

Beyond that, three Israelis died in Hamas rocket attacks the night the WaPo front page in question was printed, yet the paper didn’t follow up with a front page photo of these casualties. In fact, it hasn’t printed any pictures of any Israeli casualties whatsoever on its front page since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense. So the argument that “balanced” photos would have been published prominently had they existed doesn’t hold up.

Pexton continues:

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.

These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

“Bee stings on a bear’s behind”? Maybe Pexton can explain that to the children of Sderot, many of whom suffer traumatic stress disorders after being dragged out of bed night after night by the sound of air raid sirens. Or to the families of the Israelis killed by what Pexton refers to as “unguided and erratic” Hamas rocket attacks last week. Or to over a million Israelis forced to put their lives on hold to hide in bomb shelters, because, as effective as Iron Dome is, it can’t block every missile — and it just takes one.

The truth is, Hamas’s rockets don’t cause as many casualties as they otherwise would because Israel goes to great lengths to protect its people. It spends fortunes on bomb shelters and missile defense systems. In contrast, Israel’s military responses cause more Palestinian casualties than they otherwise would because Hamas goes to great lengths to endanger its people. It shoots missiles out of hospitals and schools, uses children as human shields, and tells Gaza civilians to ignore Israeli warning pamphlets that advise them to leave targeted neighborhoods.

Washington Post stories that give prominent coverage to Palestinian casualties and downplay Israeli ones — and columns like Pexton’s that compare Hamas missiles to bee stings and Israel to a bear — play into Hamas’s strategy of endangering its own people, and ensure that it will continue in the future.

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Israel-Hamas Cease-fire a Work in Progress

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:

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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:

“Everything is upside down,” Livni said, and went on to allude to the government’s ceasefire negotiations with Hamas versus the lack of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority: “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.”

Livni, who is not quite a dove but by no means among the more hawkish elements of Israel’s political spectrum today, thinks she can run to Netanyahu’s right on the Hamas cease-fire. Meanwhile, a report in today’s New York Times demonstrates why the cease-fire may continue to be a drag on Netanyahu: the two sides still can’t agree on the terms of a cease-fire that was supposed to have already taken effect. The Times notes that Palestinians in Gaza have already violated the truce, and Hamas is looking for concessions to keep playing ball:

Israeli officials refused even to confirm that a delegation had arrived in Cairo. It was not immediately clear whether this stemmed from an agreement between the sides to maintain discretion, or if it was part of an Israeli effort to play down the idea it was making any concessions to Hamas.

Netanyahu is probably not in danger of losing votes to Livni over this, since anyone already to Netanyahu’s right will probably stay there rather than cross over and run to Netanyahu’s left by voting for politicians even less likely to take positions they agree with. But if the Palestinians keep violating the truce, and these negotiations continue to drag on, the lack of “closure” on the mission may be a headache for Netanyahu going forward.

Ironically, Livni’s great hope was once that Obama preferred her to Netanyahu. Her current political position will only alienate her American admirers without gaining many Israeli supporters instead, while Netanyahu’s broadened rightist party and cooperation with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enables him to cast a wide net in search votes. In an attempt to grab the center, Livni may end up on the margins.

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NYT’s Carr Defends Article Accusing Israel of Targeting Journalists

New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

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 Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

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New York Times reporter David Carr has responded to criticism from Contentions and elsewhere that he failed to identify several so-called “journalists” killed in Israeli strikes as terrorists in a recent article. BuzzFeed has the interview:

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 Times ethics policy requires). Instead, readers are given the impression that Carr verified the information himself.

Carr claims he used the Committee to Protect Journalists as a “primary source,” even though he didn’t cite the organization. The problem is, if you check the CPJ website, it never independently confirmed that the terrorists killed in the Israeli strike were journalists. It clearly noted that it was citing outside news organizations, which means it wasn’t a primary source in this case. Here’s the CPJ story

Two Israeli airstrikes killed three journalists in the Gaza Strip today, according to news reports. The fatal attacks followed a series of Israeli strikes earlier in the week that injured at least nine journalists and damaged news outlets.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, were covering events in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza when a missile hit their vehicle at around 6 p.m., according to a statement by Al-Aqsa TV. The statement said the journalists’ car was marked “TV” with neon-colored letters. The journalists suffered severe burns and died in a nearby hospital, the statement said. Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, confirmed the journalists’ deaths to Agence France-Presse.

A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death.

The CPJ posted this on November 20. That same day, the IDF publicly identified one of the “journalists” as Hamas military commander Muhammed Shamalah. Carr published his story six days later, yet does not cite the IDF’s identification of Shamalah at all. Carr is correct when he says the Israeli government’s ID of Shamalah shouldn’t necessarily “obviate” other information — it’s reasonable for journalists to be skeptical of information released by governments. The problem is, Carr’s “other information” came solely from other news organizations (and the CPJ citing other news organizations). The Israeli government is actually a primary source when it comes to identifying terrorists, while these other media outlets were not. It’s mind-boggling that Carr wouldn’t at the very least include the IDF’s statement.

Elder of Ziyon sums it up:

Real journalists are supposed to be skeptical. They are supposed to be spending their time uncovering the truth. They are supposed to be honest enough to admit when they are wrong, to revisit the story when facts indicate they are mistaken, because the real story should be more important than their egos. 

This is not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.

New York Times readers deserve a better explanation than the one Carr has given.

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Iron Dome Creator Joins the Ranks of Military Innovators

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.

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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.

His experience echoes that of other great military innovators such as Britain’s Admiral Jackie Fisher (a key supporter of dreadnoughts and submarines), U.S. Admiral William Moffett (father of naval aviation), U.S. General Curtis LeMay (the driving force behind long-range bombing), and U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear navy). All were mavericks who risked disdain and ruin to promote their vision–and won spectacular vindication.

We need more such men and women who are as good as Gold or else we risk having vital innovations stifled in miles of red tape–but such mold-breakers are hard to develop by definition. Therein lies a challenge that will be of great importance to the future of our armed forces.

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Using Journalism as a Cover to Target Israel

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.

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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.

In addition, the Free Beacon reports that “Hussam Salama,” one of the alleged cameramen mentioned in Carr’s article, is actually Muhammed Shamalah, a Hamas commander and head of its military training programs. In a November 20 blog post, the Israel Defense Forces recounted its successful attack against Shamalah, who had spray-painted “TV” on his car hood:

The “human shield” method, as it is commonly known, has forced the IDF to target seemingly non-military targets, resulting in some of the civilian casualties. It has also endangered all residents of the Gaza Strip who, without their consent, were unwittingly dragged into the conflict.

One such example came in today, when a senior Hamas operative was targeted while driving a press vehicle. Muhammed Shamalah, commander of Hamas forces in the southern Strip and head of the Hamas militant training programs, was targeted by an Israeli air strike while driving a car clearly labelled “TV”, indicating it to be a press vehicle, abusing the protection afforded to journalists. 

Elder of Ziyon has more details on another “journalist” mentioned in the story, Mohamed Abu Aisha, who also appears to be an officer in Islamic Jihad. 

Should Israel be expected to let any militant who paints “TV” on his car drive by under the radar? Samir Khan was the editor of al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine until he was killed in a CIA drone strike, but the New York Times has yet to accuse the Obama administration of “using war as cover to target journalists.” Apparently, Israel is the only country that’s expected to treat terrorists-posing-as-reporters the same way it treats actual reporters.

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Has the West Given Up on Isolating Hamas?

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:

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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:

AMANPOUR: You say you would prefer the route that did not cause so much violence, so much death.

And yet, you say that you would accept a two-state solution, but that you will not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Is that still the case?

MESHAAL (through translator): First of all, the offer must come from the attacker, from Israel, which has the arsenal, not from the victim. Second, I say to you from 20 years ago and more, the Palestinians and Arabs are offering peace. But peace is destroying peace through aggression and war and killing.

This idea (ph), this touch failed experiences, we have two options. No other. Either there’s an international will, led by the U.S. and Europe and the international community and force Israel to go through the way of peace and a Palestinian state, according to the border of 1967 with the right to return. And this is something we have agreed upon as Palestinians, as a common program.

But if Israel can continue to refuse this, either the — either we force them or resist to — resort to resistance. I accept a state of the 1967. How can I accept Israel? They have occupied my land. I need recognition, not the Israelis. This is a reversed question.

The Palestinian right of return Meshaal talks about is obviously the end of the state of Israel. And if Israel won’t agree to let the Palestinians control the land from the river to the sea, “we force them or… resort to resistance.”

Later, Amanpour asks Meshaal if the conflict in Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s support from Iran has caused Hamas to distance itself from Iran. Meshaal answers frankly: “No. You see, the relationship with Iran is present.” And not just Iran, and not just the Arab world, either. Meshaal adds: “Everyone giving us support, whether it’s from Iran or Europe.”

When George Mitchell stepped down as White House envoy to the Middle East in 2011, Walter Russell Mead wrote an essay about the failure to make any headway during Mitchell’s tenure. Mitchell famously tried to apply his experience as a negotiator in Northern Ireland to the Middle East, and Mead gave several reasons this was doomed from the start. But there were, as Mead noted, lessons to be learned from the situation in Northern Ireland. Among them:

The Irish weren’t secretly funding radical and rejectionist nationalist terror groups.  Iceland and Denmark weren’t funding Irish terrorists to advance their own agendas.  France wasn’t encouraging the IRA to fight on as a way of containing Britain.  Catholics around the world weren’t demonstrating and raising money for Irish annexation of Ulster; the Pope wasn’t issuing encyclicals affirming the religious duty of Catholics to fight to kick the heretics out.  (A few grizzled US-based Irish emigrants raised money for the IRA, but this is nothing compared to what groups like Hamas get from abroad.)  The European Union wasn’t condemning British war crimes in Ulster and passing resolutions in favor of Irish grievances.

The EU, the US, Ireland, the Vatican and Britain all wanted the troubles to stop.  None of them were willing to help troublemakers.  All of them were willing to crack down on terrorist groups.

The international community wanted peace and the end of terrorism. But watching Meshaal preen on CNN, promising an unending war of terror against Israeli civilians while at the same time and in practically the same breath boasting of the support Hamas receives from around the world, it’s clear there is no such dedication this time around. Hamas’s isolation was always a key to bringing some measure of peace to the region. There is no isolation, and Hamas is promising that there will be no peace.

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A Respite, Not a Resolution, on Gaza Border

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.

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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.

And how did the actual combatants–Israel and Hamas–fare? Normally war is seen as a zero-sum game: one side loses, the other side wins. This is a relatively rare case where both sides may be said to have won. Assuming that the truce holds, Israel won at least a temporary cessation of rocket attacks on its soil. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces the voters having been seen to adroitly walk the tightrope between too little a response and too much of a response to Hamas’s terror–too little would have been avoiding military action altogether, too much would have been (at least in the eyes of many Israelis) ordering a ground attack into Gaza.

Significantly, Israel avoided criticism from Europe or the U.S. and Netanyahu worked well with Obama despite their earlier tensions. But Hamas won too, because it was able to keep firing rockets until the ceasefire. It will be seen by the Palestinians to have stood up to Israeli “aggression” and walked away unbowed, ready to fight another round.

In sum, the second Gaza war–just like the first one in 2008-2009–resolved nothing. Both sides will rearm and, even in the best case, are likely to resume hostilities at some point in the future. The only question is whether we will see a few days of peace or a few years. But it is hard to imagine any other outcome, unless Israel were willing to reoccupy the Gaza Strip–which it is not. A temporary ground incursion by Israel would not have altered the fundamental balance of power and would have left the Jewish State open to international disapprobation.

The bottom line is that the cease-fire did bring a respite, however temporary, for long-suffering Palestinians and Israelis from the ravages of war. Israelis will not go to bed tonight worried about rockets thudding into their house; Palestinians will not go to bed fearing Israeli bombs and missiles. That is something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.

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The Complicated Politics of the Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

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:

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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:

At Tuesday’s meeting, just before U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived, it became clear to Israel that the principles for a cease-fire being proposed by Egypt were much closer to Hamas’ positions than to its own. The assumption voiced by intelligence officials at the triumvirate meeting was that, contrary to the situation during Mubarak’s era, the Egyptians are aligning with Hamas and trying to provide it with achievements.

This triggered an acerbic dispute between Barak and Lieberman. The defense minister, opposed to an expansion of the operation, thought Israel should respond positively to Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire and end the operation. Barak said at the meeting that the precise wording of the Egyptian draft is not important since the end of fighting and Israel’s power of deterrence would be tested by the reality on the ground.

Despite a clear lack of trust in their Egyptian counterparts, Barak argued for, and Netanyahu accepted, the merits of ending the conflict without a ground incursion into Gaza. Netanyahu, as we’ve written here before, bears almost no relation to the caricature painted of him in the Western press. The journalists who have spent the last year or two republishing rumors of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran that never materialized too often believed their own spin. Netanyahu, they said, was a warmonger who would order risky comprehensive military operations over the objections of the Israeli public. But in fact, as we learned this week, the Israeli public opposed the cease-fire that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense—by a wide margin.

They tended to agree with Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel’s deterrence had not yet been restored. And this wasn’t coming from the peanut gallery sitting on the sidelines. As the Times of Israel reports, there was noticeable and vocal dissent within the military—soldiers who were called up just in case and expressed vehement disappointment that they were never ordered into Gaza.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of the cease-fire is certainly popular outside Israel, especially among his fellow diplomats and heads of state. But there is some risk here too; Netanyahu’s counterparts abroad don’t care what the terms of the deal are, and they don’t much care for Israel’s deterrent capability. They want, more than anything, for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to look like a pragmatic dealmaker, to assuage Western fears that a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt will side with Hamas, which has its roots in the Brotherhood as well, rather than with Western interests.

And any goodwill Netanyahu earns will dissipate almost immediately; “Bibi the Peacemaker” runs counter to the narrative the media constructed and from which they seem constitutionally incapable of deviating. They told us Netanyahu was launching this conflict to shore up his reelection prospects. That it seems to have done the reverse—he is still favored, but looks to be somewhat weakened by the cease-fire—is an example of the difficult position in which Israel finds itself. Israelis prove time and again that their state can uphold both democracy and national security—two things increasingly unimportant to the Jewish state’s critics abroad.

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Cease-Fire Agreement Reached

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.

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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.

We’ll see what both sides get out of this, if anything but a return to the status quo. Hamas was demanding the lifting of Israel’s blockade. If that’s in the actual agreement — Reuters says it is not — Israel would have traded temporary peace for even bigger problems later on.

There’s also the question of how long this lasts. Israel has successfully destroyed almost all of the missile stockpiles and launching sites it was aware of, so the length of the cease-fire may just depend on how long it takes Hamas to replenish its supplies.

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Why Turkey’s Influence Is Fading Fast

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 Times reports 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.

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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 Times reports 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.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps trying to close this credibility gap by aiming such venom at the Jewish state that even the Times calls him “anti-Israel.” Part of the problem for Erdogan is that he seems to believe the tales he tells himself. The Times notes that “Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel.”

Erdogan is most certainly not a defender of Palestinian rights; he is a defender of Hamas, terrorist entity that executes Palestinians in the streets and pursues a brutish totalitarianism that continues to strangle the life–literally and figuratively–out of the Palestinians it governs.

Erdogan’s marginalization is a positive development, but it also highlights the need to marginalize and disempower the extremists like Hamas with whom Erdogan chooses to ally his country. The “forces of moderation” may be a relative term in the Middle East, but it doesn’t include Hamas, nor, any longer, Turkey.

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Gaza Celebrates Bus Bombing in Tel Aviv

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:

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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:

Hamas praised the terrorist bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv Wednesday afternoon, but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

“Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres…in Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters. “Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression.”

On Twitter, Hamas’s armed wing posted: “We told you #IDF that our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are, ‘You opened the Gates of Hell on Yourselves.’”

Sweet cakes were handed out in celebration in Gaza’s main hospital, which has been inundated with wounded from IAF strikes as part of Operation Pillar of Defense. Celebratory gunfire reportedly rang out as news of the attack spread throughout the Strip.

The White House and Hillary Clinton, who had just arrived in Cairo to help broker a cease-fire, released the following statements:

The White House denounced the attack, saying “these attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous.”

“The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. 

“The United States strongly condemns this terrorist attack and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the people of Israel.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

“As I arrive in Cairo, I am closely monitoring reports from Tel Aviv, and we will stay in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s team. The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that Israel requires,” she added.

Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for the attack, but JPost says police haven’t confirmed.

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Hamas’s Triple War Crimes

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.” 

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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.” 

In another call yesterday, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said that Israel has so far used more than 10,000 phone calls, text messages, pamphlets, and other public announcements to warn Palestinian civilians of areas to avoid, and inform them of areas where they can safely take shelter. Pamphlets have been dropped from the sky providing directions — complete with roads to use. 

As Netanyahu told the UN head yesterday: “I’m not sure that there is another military on earth that goes to such great lengths to keep innocents out of harm’s way.” It is an extraordinary accomplishment, given the fact that Israel is facing an enemy that uses triple war crimes as the heart of its military/media strategy.

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Jerusalem Bomb Sirens Scatter Pro-Palestinian Rally

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.”

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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.”

Friday was the first time a rocket fired from Gaza managed to reach the outskirts of Jerusalem. The rocket that set off the sirens today was aimed at Jerusalem, and hit the West Bank. Needless to say, it is easier to object to Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas’s weapons stockpile when you aren’t living under siege from hundreds of these missiles on a daily basis, as Israelis closer to the Gaza border are. If these protesters have any capacity for self-reflection, maybe they can take a lesson from that.

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Report: Russia Pushes UN Gaza Resolution

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.

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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.

The U.S. will veto, but if it gets enough votes it will still be a diplomatic blow to Israel. Russia, China, Pakistan, Morocco and Azerbaijan are pretty much givens, and even if they can’t get to nine, the vote would be close. Of course, if the rumored cease-fire takes hold, the resolution threat will disappear. That’s probably yet another reason why the U.S. is hoping for an early agreement today from Israel. 

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Why Everyone Should Root for Iron Dome

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.

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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.

Under such circumstances, Israel can only be expected cede territory if its citizens feel secure in doing so. A similar discussion has taken place around the chain-link fence Israel has been constructing to keep terrorists out–a step made necessary by the Arafatization of the Palestinian polity and the Palestinian strategy of instigating suicide bombing campaigns.

Yes, some dispute the “path” of the fence, arguing its placement. But isn’t the chain-link fence, which is meant to keep terrorists out, an incredibly peaceful and humane solution to the problem? Of course it is. But even if many on the left are unconcerned with Israel’s security, shouldn’t they support such nonviolent security measures as a tactical matter to encourage Israel to withdraw from territory the Palestinians want for a possible future state? After all, arguments that Israel cannot take even purely defensive measures to safeguard its people should not be taken seriously.

None of this is to say that missile defense will solve the conflict. It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel. The end of terrorism would bring peace. Until then, Israeli security is paramount. The lesson from Gaza is that complete withdrawal did not bring security for Israel. If the Palestinians really want a two-state solution, they should prove the same wouldn’t be true in the West Bank.

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Anyone Still Remember Syria?

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.

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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.

On Monday, for instance, the lead headline in the New York Times’s overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, screamed “Heavy civilian toll from Israeli strikes.” This “heavy toll” consisted of one airstrike on Sunday that killed 11 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and brought the total death toll since the fighting began to “more than 50 people, many of them civilians.”

That same day, the paper relegated Syria to the bottom of page 4. The headline read “Syria criticizes 3 countries for recognizing opposition”; civilian casualties weren’t mentioned at all. Yet according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that weekend (the IHT doesn’t publish on Sunday) saw at least 129 Syrians killed, 47 on Saturday and 82 on Sunday, including 69 civilians. In other words, more civilians were killed in Syria that weekend alone than the total number of fatalities, both combatant and noncombatant, since the latest Hamas-Israel war began. But in the overseas edition of America’s self-proclaimed paper of record, they didn’t even rate a mention. Nor is the coverage less warped in other media outlets.

The total death toll in the Syrian conflict is nearing 40,000, the majority of them civilians. An eye-popping 400,000 refugees have fled into other countries. Anywhere from 1.2 million to 2.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, most living in appalling conditions that will only worsen as winter progresses. By any standard, it’s a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Yet 11 Palestinians slain by Israel are enough to completely erase it from the media map. Syrian lives, it seems, are cheap in the eyes of the international media: Each Palestinian killed by Israel is worth more ink than 4,000 slain Syrians.

Syria’s erasure from the diplomatic map has been equally complete. A flood of high-level visitors, including the UN secretary general, the French foreign minister and the Turkish prime minister, has descended on Jerusalem and/or Cairo in recent days to demand that Israel on no account launch a ground operation. Has anyone noticed any senior diplomat trying to do anything about the Syrian slaughter lately?

Syrians, of course, aren’t the only ones victimized by the international obsession over Palestinian casualties. As Alan Dershowitz eloquently explained, the foremost victims may be Palestinians themselves: As long as Hamas knows that every dead Palestinian will result in international opprobrium for Israel and diplomatic gains for itself, it has every incentive both to continue lobbing rockets at Israel, thereby sparking the retaliation that causes these civilian casualties, and to maximize such casualties by using its own civilian population as human shields.

But the Palestinians made their own bed: They elected Hamas. Syrians just had the bad luck to be caught in the fallout.

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