Commentary Magazine


Topic: Secretary General

Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

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Let Us Not Praise Pro-Terrorist Newspapers

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

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Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

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NATO Going Cold Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Israel Shouldn’t Do Foolish Things

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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The Un-Peace Talks

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

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Hezbollah Can’t Pin Hariri Murder on Israel

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

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Bibi May Have Gotten More than He Bargained for with UN Panel

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assented last week to Israeli participation in a United Nations panel investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, he said that his country had “nothing to hide” and that he had been assured that the group would only review the results of previous investigations — including Israel’s — and that it would not conduct its own inquiry. But at the same time that Netanyahu spoke as though he had gotten the better of his country’s foes at the world body, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a mandate to the panel that was vague enough to also convince Turkey — whose goal at this point is to brand Israel as the criminal in the affair — that the UN effort serves its interests as well.

Unsurprisingly, one week later, it appears as though the Turks had better cause to be pleased by the UN than does Israel. At a news conference yesterday in New York, the AP reports that Ban denied that the UN panel would refrain from calling its own witnesses about the incident, including Israeli army soldiers who had taken part in the seizure of the Turkish ships that sought to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Israeli officials had previously said that their participation had been conditional on the promise that their soldiers would not be hauled in front of a UN star chamber. In response to Ban’s backtracking on that promise, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

This was bravely said, but if Netanyahu believes that an Israeli pullout from the panel will not be portrayed as a sign of guilt in the court of international opinion, he’s wrong. Having already promised to play along with the UN, it won’t matter that Ban or the Obama administration (which is widely assumed to have pushed hard for Israel’s participation in the UN inquiry) had made assurances that won’t be upheld.

Granted, sticking to its initial inclination to boycott a UN investigation wouldn’t have won Israel any popularity points either. The distorted coverage of the incident, in which violent activists were killed and whose goal was to assist the Islamist terrorists who run Gaza in gaining free access to arms and material, makes unlikely any impartial query by the UN. No amount of reporting about the fact that there is no shortage of food or medicine appears capable of correcting the false impression that such a humanitarian crisis exists or that those killed were innocent human-rights advocates.

But to pull out of a UN investigation after initially agreeing to participate looks and feels a lot worse than a principled refusal to have anything to do with a body whose record on human rights had consistently proved biased against Israel. Indeed, the most surprising thing about any of this is how a man with as much experience in dealing with the UN as Netanyahu could possibly be surprised by Ban’s reneging on private promises made to Israel. The result is another propaganda win for Turkey, whose own role in fomenting this crisis and then resolutely refusing to defuse it before any shots had to be fired was detailed in Netanyahu’s own testimony before an Israeli panel investigating the incident.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assented last week to Israeli participation in a United Nations panel investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, he said that his country had “nothing to hide” and that he had been assured that the group would only review the results of previous investigations — including Israel’s — and that it would not conduct its own inquiry. But at the same time that Netanyahu spoke as though he had gotten the better of his country’s foes at the world body, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a mandate to the panel that was vague enough to also convince Turkey — whose goal at this point is to brand Israel as the criminal in the affair — that the UN effort serves its interests as well.

Unsurprisingly, one week later, it appears as though the Turks had better cause to be pleased by the UN than does Israel. At a news conference yesterday in New York, the AP reports that Ban denied that the UN panel would refrain from calling its own witnesses about the incident, including Israeli army soldiers who had taken part in the seizure of the Turkish ships that sought to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Israeli officials had previously said that their participation had been conditional on the promise that their soldiers would not be hauled in front of a UN star chamber. In response to Ban’s backtracking on that promise, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

This was bravely said, but if Netanyahu believes that an Israeli pullout from the panel will not be portrayed as a sign of guilt in the court of international opinion, he’s wrong. Having already promised to play along with the UN, it won’t matter that Ban or the Obama administration (which is widely assumed to have pushed hard for Israel’s participation in the UN inquiry) had made assurances that won’t be upheld.

Granted, sticking to its initial inclination to boycott a UN investigation wouldn’t have won Israel any popularity points either. The distorted coverage of the incident, in which violent activists were killed and whose goal was to assist the Islamist terrorists who run Gaza in gaining free access to arms and material, makes unlikely any impartial query by the UN. No amount of reporting about the fact that there is no shortage of food or medicine appears capable of correcting the false impression that such a humanitarian crisis exists or that those killed were innocent human-rights advocates.

But to pull out of a UN investigation after initially agreeing to participate looks and feels a lot worse than a principled refusal to have anything to do with a body whose record on human rights had consistently proved biased against Israel. Indeed, the most surprising thing about any of this is how a man with as much experience in dealing with the UN as Netanyahu could possibly be surprised by Ban’s reneging on private promises made to Israel. The result is another propaganda win for Turkey, whose own role in fomenting this crisis and then resolutely refusing to defuse it before any shots had to be fired was detailed in Netanyahu’s own testimony before an Israeli panel investigating the incident.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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UN Still Corrupt

Those infatuated with multilateral institutions — which are lauded as occupying the high moral ground (as opposed to all those grubby democracies) — are continually embarrassed (well, they should be embarrassed) when these bodies prove to be entirely corrupt and dysfunctional. This report explains:

The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, charging him with undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report. …

“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. … Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself,” Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay.”

Well, it seems the UN has improved not at all from the oil-for-food scandal days.

It remains a mystery why Obama has bestowed upon the UN new respect and importance in his foreign policy schemes. What exactly is it about this body — corrupt, filled with haters of Israel and the West, incapable of enforcing its endless resolutions against rogue states — that captures Obama’s fancy? In grasping for consensus and turning a blind eye to the UN’s bad behavior, Obama has diminished his and our moral authority.

It seems that now is precisely the time to diminish the UN’s importance and make clear the limits of our patience with a body that does far more harm than good.

Those infatuated with multilateral institutions — which are lauded as occupying the high moral ground (as opposed to all those grubby democracies) — are continually embarrassed (well, they should be embarrassed) when these bodies prove to be entirely corrupt and dysfunctional. This report explains:

The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, charging him with undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report. …

“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. … Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself,” Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay.”

Well, it seems the UN has improved not at all from the oil-for-food scandal days.

It remains a mystery why Obama has bestowed upon the UN new respect and importance in his foreign policy schemes. What exactly is it about this body — corrupt, filled with haters of Israel and the West, incapable of enforcing its endless resolutions against rogue states — that captures Obama’s fancy? In grasping for consensus and turning a blind eye to the UN’s bad behavior, Obama has diminished his and our moral authority.

It seems that now is precisely the time to diminish the UN’s importance and make clear the limits of our patience with a body that does far more harm than good.

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UN Still Pondering Flotilla Inquiry

The UN secretary-general and the UN Human Rights Council are tussling over whether the General Assembly or the council will conduct the kangaroo court to examine Israel’s conduct in the flotilla probe. This debate should have been short-circuited long ago by the U.S., with a unequivocal statement that it would block any such effort. (The Human Rights Council, of course, has been emboldened ever since Obama decided to rejoin that band of thugocracies.) While the U.S. cannot veto a General Assembly action, the U.S. could refuse to fund it, make its adamant opposition clear, and then leave the HRC.

The Obama administration, in its never-ending quest to ingratiate itself with international bodies in which Israel’s enemies exercise influence disproportionate to their standing in the world and whose own human rights records are atrocious, may be forced to end its straddling. Will it defend Israel or cave in to the wolves seeking a reprise of the Goldstone Report?

After opening the door to an international inquiry, the Obami may now be hard pressed to slam it shut. The president can assure us all he wants that the bond between Israel and the U.S. is “unbreakable,” but all that really matters is what his administration does when the chips are down. At this point, it is not clear that Obama has the will or the skill to put the international witch hunt to rest.

The UN secretary-general and the UN Human Rights Council are tussling over whether the General Assembly or the council will conduct the kangaroo court to examine Israel’s conduct in the flotilla probe. This debate should have been short-circuited long ago by the U.S., with a unequivocal statement that it would block any such effort. (The Human Rights Council, of course, has been emboldened ever since Obama decided to rejoin that band of thugocracies.) While the U.S. cannot veto a General Assembly action, the U.S. could refuse to fund it, make its adamant opposition clear, and then leave the HRC.

The Obama administration, in its never-ending quest to ingratiate itself with international bodies in which Israel’s enemies exercise influence disproportionate to their standing in the world and whose own human rights records are atrocious, may be forced to end its straddling. Will it defend Israel or cave in to the wolves seeking a reprise of the Goldstone Report?

After opening the door to an international inquiry, the Obami may now be hard pressed to slam it shut. The president can assure us all he wants that the bond between Israel and the U.S. is “unbreakable,” but all that really matters is what his administration does when the chips are down. At this point, it is not clear that Obama has the will or the skill to put the international witch hunt to rest.

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Shut Up, Ban Ki-Moon Explained

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

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International Outrage, Please

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

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Obama Can’t Decide Whether to Stand with Israel

Josh Rogin reports: “The Obama administration is still not saying what it will do if and when the U.N. calls for another international investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident.” You see, Obama is supportive of the Israeli investigation; he just won’t say whether he’ll defend Israel’s right to conduct its own investigation and rebuff UN attempts to set up an international kangaroo court. Rogin tells us:

The uncertainty is whether the Obama administration is willing to actively oppose a new investigation. This uncertainty is compounded by the mixed messages coming from senior officials like Jones, as well as the Obama team’s apparent unwillingness to brush Secretary-General Ban off the plate.

This lack of resolve and maddening squishiness should no longer shock us. While other American presidents would leave no “uncertainty” and would make clear that the U.S. would not countenance such an action from the UN, this president is different (to use Michal Oren’s description). His attitude toward the U.S.-Israel relationship is unlike his predecessor’s. For Obama, the highest foreign-policy priorities are getting along with the “international community,” accommodating our foes (i.e., “engagement”), and reorienting the U.S. toward the “Muslim World.” If those aims come in conflict with Israel’s security needs (which they inevitably do) and its efforts to hold back the assaults on the Jewish state’s legitimacy, Israel may well have to fend for itself.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty in and of itself is harmful both to Israel’s security and America’s international standing. Most immediately, the hemming and hawing demonstrates less than “rock-solid” (Hillary’s description) support for the Jewish state, serving as another sign of  daylight between this administration and the Israeli government. This will only encourage more attacks on Israel (diplomatic or otherwise). As for our own standing, once again, we display what a fickle and unreliable ally we are. Uncertainty is not what allies expect – or what keeps foes at bay.

Perhaps if American Jewry demonstrated the same “uncertainty” about its support for Obama, the administration might feel compelled to straddle less and defend our ally more. Jewish leaders of mainstream groups should be concerned. If Obama has this much difficulty deciding whether to fend off an UN investigation, what will he do when there is another terrorist propaganda stunt? Or when Israel is compelled to attack Iran? It’s not enough for Obama to drop his outward hostity toward Israel. What is required is what Jewish groups expect of every American president — that he stand with Israel unambiguously against efforts to weaken and defame the Jewish state.

Commending him for straddling sends precisely the wrong message to this president. And while we’re talking about straddlers, it’s time for Jewish groups, whose membership is overwhelmingly Democratic, to decide whether at this point in history it is more important to run interference for Obama or to challenge him to live up to his pro-Israel campaign rhetoric.

Josh Rogin reports: “The Obama administration is still not saying what it will do if and when the U.N. calls for another international investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident.” You see, Obama is supportive of the Israeli investigation; he just won’t say whether he’ll defend Israel’s right to conduct its own investigation and rebuff UN attempts to set up an international kangaroo court. Rogin tells us:

The uncertainty is whether the Obama administration is willing to actively oppose a new investigation. This uncertainty is compounded by the mixed messages coming from senior officials like Jones, as well as the Obama team’s apparent unwillingness to brush Secretary-General Ban off the plate.

This lack of resolve and maddening squishiness should no longer shock us. While other American presidents would leave no “uncertainty” and would make clear that the U.S. would not countenance such an action from the UN, this president is different (to use Michal Oren’s description). His attitude toward the U.S.-Israel relationship is unlike his predecessor’s. For Obama, the highest foreign-policy priorities are getting along with the “international community,” accommodating our foes (i.e., “engagement”), and reorienting the U.S. toward the “Muslim World.” If those aims come in conflict with Israel’s security needs (which they inevitably do) and its efforts to hold back the assaults on the Jewish state’s legitimacy, Israel may well have to fend for itself.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty in and of itself is harmful both to Israel’s security and America’s international standing. Most immediately, the hemming and hawing demonstrates less than “rock-solid” (Hillary’s description) support for the Jewish state, serving as another sign of  daylight between this administration and the Israeli government. This will only encourage more attacks on Israel (diplomatic or otherwise). As for our own standing, once again, we display what a fickle and unreliable ally we are. Uncertainty is not what allies expect – or what keeps foes at bay.

Perhaps if American Jewry demonstrated the same “uncertainty” about its support for Obama, the administration might feel compelled to straddle less and defend our ally more. Jewish leaders of mainstream groups should be concerned. If Obama has this much difficulty deciding whether to fend off an UN investigation, what will he do when there is another terrorist propaganda stunt? Or when Israel is compelled to attack Iran? It’s not enough for Obama to drop his outward hostity toward Israel. What is required is what Jewish groups expect of every American president — that he stand with Israel unambiguously against efforts to weaken and defame the Jewish state.

Commending him for straddling sends precisely the wrong message to this president. And while we’re talking about straddlers, it’s time for Jewish groups, whose membership is overwhelmingly Democratic, to decide whether at this point in history it is more important to run interference for Obama or to challenge him to live up to his pro-Israel campaign rhetoric.

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Obama’s Pressure, Not Support for Israel, Harms U.S. Interests

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

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What Comes from Equivocation

The Obama administration has pointedly refused to rule out a UN inquest into the flotilla incident. Jewish groups have been giving him a pass in public as they hand wring in private. Now we learn:

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that the secretary-general remains “hopeful” that the body will approve a new international inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident — on top of Israel’s own domestic investigation — after it found overwhelming support in a closed Security Council meeting Tuesday.

“We are continuing to talk with all parties about an international inquiry, and we remain hopeful that Israel will accept that,” a spokesman for the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, said.

A diplomat with one Security Council member said that 14 of 15 nations had expressed support today for some form of panel established by the Secretary-General — rather than by a Security Council vote, which the U.S. could block — to investigate the deaths on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza. The U.S. was the sole nation not to support the measure in the closed session, the source said.

This is what flows from playing footsie with the Israel-haters and not making clear that the U.S. will block all measures to unleash the UN on Israel. The administration insults our intelligence by declaring, “As we always do, we will work hard to make sure that Israel is not treated unfairly at the U.N.” As we always do? Like when we sat idly by as the UN Human Rights Council bashed Israel? Like when Obama signed on to a statement setting up Israel, but not Turkey, for international scrutiny?

Now imagine if at the time of the UN statement, every pro-Israel member of Congress of both parties and the major Jewish groups had strongly and publicly rebuked the administration. Do we think we’d be sitting on the verge of “Goldstone: The Sequel”? Instead, once again, we have signaled to Israel’s enemies that the U.S. values agreement with the “international community” more than our relationship with the Jewish state. The price for silence by weak-kneed supporters of Israel will be borne by Israelis and those who are likewise left to the mercy of the world’s bullies, who know Obama is not about to stop them.

The Obama administration has pointedly refused to rule out a UN inquest into the flotilla incident. Jewish groups have been giving him a pass in public as they hand wring in private. Now we learn:

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that the secretary-general remains “hopeful” that the body will approve a new international inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident — on top of Israel’s own domestic investigation — after it found overwhelming support in a closed Security Council meeting Tuesday.

“We are continuing to talk with all parties about an international inquiry, and we remain hopeful that Israel will accept that,” a spokesman for the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, said.

A diplomat with one Security Council member said that 14 of 15 nations had expressed support today for some form of panel established by the Secretary-General — rather than by a Security Council vote, which the U.S. could block — to investigate the deaths on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza. The U.S. was the sole nation not to support the measure in the closed session, the source said.

This is what flows from playing footsie with the Israel-haters and not making clear that the U.S. will block all measures to unleash the UN on Israel. The administration insults our intelligence by declaring, “As we always do, we will work hard to make sure that Israel is not treated unfairly at the U.N.” As we always do? Like when we sat idly by as the UN Human Rights Council bashed Israel? Like when Obama signed on to a statement setting up Israel, but not Turkey, for international scrutiny?

Now imagine if at the time of the UN statement, every pro-Israel member of Congress of both parties and the major Jewish groups had strongly and publicly rebuked the administration. Do we think we’d be sitting on the verge of “Goldstone: The Sequel”? Instead, once again, we have signaled to Israel’s enemies that the U.S. values agreement with the “international community” more than our relationship with the Jewish state. The price for silence by weak-kneed supporters of Israel will be borne by Israelis and those who are likewise left to the mercy of the world’s bullies, who know Obama is not about to stop them.

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