Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shin Bet

Hamas Coup Should Change Truce Equation

The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

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The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

The details of what Israel’s Shin Bet service discovered during the sweeps of the West Bank in May and June should curl Abbas’ hair. The group that he had embraced as a partner in the PA as a result of the unity pact he signed in April wasn’t planning on going along with Fatah’s leadership as Abbas and Secretary of State John Kerry naively believed. Instead they set up new terror cells in all the major towns and cities of the West Bank whose goal was to ultimately set off a new conflagration with Israel with a series of massive attacks throughout the area including one on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

What did Hamas think it could accomplish by pouring operatives, money, weapons and explosives into the West Bank? The point was to plunge the area into turmoil opening up a second front against Israel to relieve pressure on Hamas in Gaza as well as to make it impossible for Abbas to pretend to govern the West Bank.

This ought to change the conversation about the terms of the truce that the United States has been pushing Israel to accept to formally conclude the recent hostilities in Gaza. If, as reported, the West has pressured Israel to accept a loosening of the blockade on Gaza — the key Hamas demand throughout the fighting — then we can be sure that this summer’s bloodshed will be repeated before long. While it is hoped that easing the isolation of Gaza will ameliorate the suffering of Palestinians and perhaps even help Abbas gain back control of the strip, so long as Hamas is still armed and in power there, these hopes are in vain. Open borders for Gaza means an inevitable resupply of the Hamas arsenal, more building materials for tunnels and the rest of the underground city that enables the Islamist movement to continue fighting while its human hostages above ground continue to die every time they pick another fight with Israel.

But the decision to acquiesce to any of Hamas’s demands will have consequences for more than the future of Gaza. The assumption that Abbas can continue to hang on to the West Bank and maybe even assume some power in Gaza is based on the idea that Hamas is on the ropes and without options. But once the resupply of Hamas in Gaza begins, it will have serious implications for Abbas’s future.

The only reason Abbas has stayed in power in the West Bank is the protection he gets from Israel’s army and security services. But the more chances Hamas gets to topple him the more likely it is that sooner or later, the Islamist will launch the third intifada they are aiming at even if the Shin Bet manages to save Abbas’s hide. Any outcome in Gaza that can be portrayed as victory for Hamas will only hasten the day when that intifada will start with its consequent massive shedding of blood on both sides.

Those who have spoken of Hamas, as having evolved to the point where it is a legitimate political force and not a terror group should have had lost their illusions about the group amid the rocket launches and the discovery of the tunnels. But the revelation about the coup attempt should remove any doubt as to the Islamists’ intentions. The Obama administration, which has been eager to push Israel to do something to allow Hamas a way out of the conflict, should realize that the coup should end its illusions about Palestinian unity and the ability of Abbas to make peace while partnering with the terrorists.

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Evening Commentary

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

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West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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Death Talks

While Bibi and Mahmoud Abbas are chatting (primarily to George Mitchell), largely for the sake of Obama’s ego, Israelis are being killed and more will be, as this report makes clear:

Terrorist activity directed against Israel will likely increase as the peace process advances, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin warned the cabinet . …

During his briefing, the head of the internal security service said terror activity initiated in Gaza by Hamas’ armed wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is premised on people who have been released from Israeli prisons and are taking orders from jailed terrorists. …

The Shin Bet chief told the ministers that as long as the diplomatic process advances, attempts to carry out terror attacks will increase. According to Diskin, the past three years have seen a drop in terror-related incidents. However, he said, “It is estimated that this period (of relative calm) may be coming to an end due to the peace talks.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, when Obama and others chide Israel for not appreciating the need to take “risks for peace,” they show both arrogance and ignorance. Israel pays a very heavy price for the microscopic chance of getting something out of the talks. I would submit that there is no other country on the planet that would make the same calculation as Israel.

Second, Jewish leaders have largely sat by passively as the Obami and the mainstream media have set up the narrative: “Will Israel doom talks by lifting the moratorium?” This is a grave strategic error by Israel’s supporters. Israel didn’t walk out of talks when Abbas proved himself unable to provide security in areas under his control. The murders of Israelis are deemed a “distraction.” But Israel, with no hope in sight of a deal, declines to perpetuate a noxious idea — that there are areas in which Jews should not be living — and faces the world’s wrath. Pro-Israel groups would do well to start re-framing the debate: Why isn’t Abbas living up to his obligations and taking risks for peace?

Time magazine proffered the obnoxious suggestion that Israel isn’t interested in peace. The real question is: If Palestinians are, why are they still killing Jews? And if the answer is “the other Palestinians” — Hamas — are doing the killing, then we should acknowledge that Abbas is unable or unwilling to make and enforce a peace deal. And speaking of Time, I eagerly await the cover story showing the economic miracle of the West Bank,  with all the new shops and modern buildings, questioning why Palestinians care more about money than about peace.

While Bibi and Mahmoud Abbas are chatting (primarily to George Mitchell), largely for the sake of Obama’s ego, Israelis are being killed and more will be, as this report makes clear:

Terrorist activity directed against Israel will likely increase as the peace process advances, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin warned the cabinet . …

During his briefing, the head of the internal security service said terror activity initiated in Gaza by Hamas’ armed wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is premised on people who have been released from Israeli prisons and are taking orders from jailed terrorists. …

The Shin Bet chief told the ministers that as long as the diplomatic process advances, attempts to carry out terror attacks will increase. According to Diskin, the past three years have seen a drop in terror-related incidents. However, he said, “It is estimated that this period (of relative calm) may be coming to an end due to the peace talks.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, when Obama and others chide Israel for not appreciating the need to take “risks for peace,” they show both arrogance and ignorance. Israel pays a very heavy price for the microscopic chance of getting something out of the talks. I would submit that there is no other country on the planet that would make the same calculation as Israel.

Second, Jewish leaders have largely sat by passively as the Obami and the mainstream media have set up the narrative: “Will Israel doom talks by lifting the moratorium?” This is a grave strategic error by Israel’s supporters. Israel didn’t walk out of talks when Abbas proved himself unable to provide security in areas under his control. The murders of Israelis are deemed a “distraction.” But Israel, with no hope in sight of a deal, declines to perpetuate a noxious idea — that there are areas in which Jews should not be living — and faces the world’s wrath. Pro-Israel groups would do well to start re-framing the debate: Why isn’t Abbas living up to his obligations and taking risks for peace?

Time magazine proffered the obnoxious suggestion that Israel isn’t interested in peace. The real question is: If Palestinians are, why are they still killing Jews? And if the answer is “the other Palestinians” — Hamas — are doing the killing, then we should acknowledge that Abbas is unable or unwilling to make and enforce a peace deal. And speaking of Time, I eagerly await the cover story showing the economic miracle of the West Bank,  with all the new shops and modern buildings, questioning why Palestinians care more about money than about peace.

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Homeland Security’s Solution to Terror: Deport Those Who Fought It

Anyone looking for an explanation of the Homeland Security Department’s multiple failures to prevent terrorist attacks on the American homeland might want to consider this one: because the department is too busy targeting a leading Israeli counter-terrorism agent.

On June 30, a California court will consider the department’s request for a deportation order against Mosab Yousef, on the grounds that he “provided material support” to a terrorist organization — namely, Hamas. Yousef was indeed a Hamas member — unsurprisingly, given that his father is the movement’s leader in the West Bank — and was even arrested by Israel for it. But while in jail, he was persuaded to become an Israeli agent.

For the following 10 years, from 1997-2007, he was Israel’s top agent inside Hamas. His former handler in Israel’s Shin Bet security service credits him with foiling dozens of suicide bombings and supplying intelligence that led to the arrest of many of those on Israel’s most-wanted list.

In 2007, he decided he’d had enough and moved to the U.S., where he sought asylum. He also went public with his conversion to Christianity some years earlier and began writing his memoir, Son of Hamas, which was published earlier this year.

Incredibly, it was on this book — in which he details his work in Israel’s behalf at great length — that the Homeland Security Department based its request for Yousef’s deportation. The request notes, for instance, that Yousef himself described numerous occasions on which chauffeured Hamas terrorists around.

Well, of course he did. It was precisely his proximity to Hamas’s centers of power — by serving as a chauffeur for his father and other leading Hamas members — that enabled him to obtain such valuable intelligence. Had he refused to have anything to do with Hamas, he would have kept his hands clean, but he also would have been useless as an agent.

This deportation request prompts many questions. One is why official Israel has not been raising a storm in its former agent’s behalf — though a fair answer would be that official Israel has zero pull with the current administration. Another is what kind of message this sends to American agents — many of whom must also dirty their hands to produce vital intelligence. Will they, too, face deportation on account of their former involvement in terrorist organizations, should they someday seek asylum in the U.S.?

But the best question of all is the one Yousef himself asked on his blog: “If Homeland Security cannot understand a simple situation like mine, how can they be trusted with bigger issues?”

Anyone looking for an explanation of the Homeland Security Department’s multiple failures to prevent terrorist attacks on the American homeland might want to consider this one: because the department is too busy targeting a leading Israeli counter-terrorism agent.

On June 30, a California court will consider the department’s request for a deportation order against Mosab Yousef, on the grounds that he “provided material support” to a terrorist organization — namely, Hamas. Yousef was indeed a Hamas member — unsurprisingly, given that his father is the movement’s leader in the West Bank — and was even arrested by Israel for it. But while in jail, he was persuaded to become an Israeli agent.

For the following 10 years, from 1997-2007, he was Israel’s top agent inside Hamas. His former handler in Israel’s Shin Bet security service credits him with foiling dozens of suicide bombings and supplying intelligence that led to the arrest of many of those on Israel’s most-wanted list.

In 2007, he decided he’d had enough and moved to the U.S., where he sought asylum. He also went public with his conversion to Christianity some years earlier and began writing his memoir, Son of Hamas, which was published earlier this year.

Incredibly, it was on this book — in which he details his work in Israel’s behalf at great length — that the Homeland Security Department based its request for Yousef’s deportation. The request notes, for instance, that Yousef himself described numerous occasions on which chauffeured Hamas terrorists around.

Well, of course he did. It was precisely his proximity to Hamas’s centers of power — by serving as a chauffeur for his father and other leading Hamas members — that enabled him to obtain such valuable intelligence. Had he refused to have anything to do with Hamas, he would have kept his hands clean, but he also would have been useless as an agent.

This deportation request prompts many questions. One is why official Israel has not been raising a storm in its former agent’s behalf — though a fair answer would be that official Israel has zero pull with the current administration. Another is what kind of message this sends to American agents — many of whom must also dirty their hands to produce vital intelligence. Will they, too, face deportation on account of their former involvement in terrorist organizations, should they someday seek asylum in the U.S.?

But the best question of all is the one Yousef himself asked on his blog: “If Homeland Security cannot understand a simple situation like mine, how can they be trusted with bigger issues?”

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Double-Standards Watch

For a few months, a “human rights activist” named Mohammad Othman was held by Israel in something called administrative detention, which allows suspects to be held for a short period of time without a trial, but with judicial oversight. Othman’s detention earned this rebuke from Human Rights Watch, titled with a stern demand: “End Arbitrary Detention.” Of course, many nations, both democratic and undemocratic, practice administrative detention. And why the presumption that it was “arbitrary”? Never mind. The statement reads:

Israeli authorities have detained Othman without charge for more than two months on what appear to be politically motivated grounds. … Othman has no criminal record and, to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, has never advocated or participated in violence. …

“The only reasonable conclusion is that Othman is being punished for his peaceful advocacy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. [Emphasis added to weasel-phrasing]

Is that really the only reasonable conclusion? I would actually characterize this as a fantasy conclusion, or at least one of many possible conclusions. If the Shin Bet or IDF were interested in punishing people for “peaceful advocacy” in Israel and the West Bank, there would be tens of thousands of activists in detention. But there aren’t. The fact of the matter is that Whitson has no idea why he was detained, and neither does anyone else outside the Israeli security establishment and courts — but her ignorance of the facts doesn’t stop her from accusing Israel of grave abuses. I would say that the only “reasonable conclusion” here is that Whitson is a shrill and fanatical political activist who has no business working for a human-rights organization.

As it happens, there was another person detained in the area around the same time — a British journalist named Paul Martin, who traveled to Gaza to testify on behalf of a Palestinian accused by Hamas of “collaborating.” Martin was promptly arrested and thrown in jail as a “security threat.” Whitson’s response? She waited until Martin was released and then issued a short statement that is exquisitely deferential to Hamas, containing none of the allegations and passion of her Othman statement. “Journalist’s Detention Violated Due Process,” the title reads.

“We are relieved at Martin’s release, but we are also concerned that Hamas has produced no evidence to justify his detention,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

For Israel, there are accusations, demands, and denunciations. For Hamas, there is polite “concern” that “due process” rules weren’t followed, as if Hamas has any pretensions to due process in the first place. This is Human Rights Watch.

For a few months, a “human rights activist” named Mohammad Othman was held by Israel in something called administrative detention, which allows suspects to be held for a short period of time without a trial, but with judicial oversight. Othman’s detention earned this rebuke from Human Rights Watch, titled with a stern demand: “End Arbitrary Detention.” Of course, many nations, both democratic and undemocratic, practice administrative detention. And why the presumption that it was “arbitrary”? Never mind. The statement reads:

Israeli authorities have detained Othman without charge for more than two months on what appear to be politically motivated grounds. … Othman has no criminal record and, to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, has never advocated or participated in violence. …

“The only reasonable conclusion is that Othman is being punished for his peaceful advocacy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. [Emphasis added to weasel-phrasing]

Is that really the only reasonable conclusion? I would actually characterize this as a fantasy conclusion, or at least one of many possible conclusions. If the Shin Bet or IDF were interested in punishing people for “peaceful advocacy” in Israel and the West Bank, there would be tens of thousands of activists in detention. But there aren’t. The fact of the matter is that Whitson has no idea why he was detained, and neither does anyone else outside the Israeli security establishment and courts — but her ignorance of the facts doesn’t stop her from accusing Israel of grave abuses. I would say that the only “reasonable conclusion” here is that Whitson is a shrill and fanatical political activist who has no business working for a human-rights organization.

As it happens, there was another person detained in the area around the same time — a British journalist named Paul Martin, who traveled to Gaza to testify on behalf of a Palestinian accused by Hamas of “collaborating.” Martin was promptly arrested and thrown in jail as a “security threat.” Whitson’s response? She waited until Martin was released and then issued a short statement that is exquisitely deferential to Hamas, containing none of the allegations and passion of her Othman statement. “Journalist’s Detention Violated Due Process,” the title reads.

“We are relieved at Martin’s release, but we are also concerned that Hamas has produced no evidence to justify his detention,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

For Israel, there are accusations, demands, and denunciations. For Hamas, there is polite “concern” that “due process” rules weren’t followed, as if Hamas has any pretensions to due process in the first place. This is Human Rights Watch.

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The Son of Hamas Speaks

Haaretz has an amazing story about how 
Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of one of Hamas’s founders, was for years a top intelligence source for Israel’s Shin Bet security service. A convert to Christianity who now lives in California, Yousef tells his story in the upcoming book Son of Hamas. According to Haaretz, “During the second intifada, intelligence Yousef supplied led to the arrests of a number of high-ranking Palestinian figures responsible for planning deadly suicide bombings.” And according to his former handler, “none of his actions were done for money. He did things he believed in. He wanted to save lives.”

What most impressed me about the Haaretz article was Yousef’s opinion on the possibility of rapprochement between Hamas and Israel — a favorite fantasy of the “peace process” crowd in the West:

Hamas cannot make peace with the Israelis. That is against what their God tells them. It is impossible to make peace with infidels, only a cease-fire, and no one knows that better than I. The Hamas leadership is responsible for the killing of Palestinians, not Israelis,” he said. “Palestinians! They do not hesitate to massacre people in a mosque or to throw people from the 15th or 17th floor of a building, as they did during the coup in Gaza. The Israelis would never do such things. I tell you with certainty that the Israelis care about the Palestinians far more than the Hamas or Fatah leadership does.

It’s easy to dismiss such sentiments when they come from conservative Israelis. Perhaps Yousef’s view — informed by his intimate knowledge of Hamas — will carry greater weight with some naïve proponents of endless “engagement.”

Haaretz has an amazing story about how 
Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of one of Hamas’s founders, was for years a top intelligence source for Israel’s Shin Bet security service. A convert to Christianity who now lives in California, Yousef tells his story in the upcoming book Son of Hamas. According to Haaretz, “During the second intifada, intelligence Yousef supplied led to the arrests of a number of high-ranking Palestinian figures responsible for planning deadly suicide bombings.” And according to his former handler, “none of his actions were done for money. He did things he believed in. He wanted to save lives.”

What most impressed me about the Haaretz article was Yousef’s opinion on the possibility of rapprochement between Hamas and Israel — a favorite fantasy of the “peace process” crowd in the West:

Hamas cannot make peace with the Israelis. That is against what their God tells them. It is impossible to make peace with infidels, only a cease-fire, and no one knows that better than I. The Hamas leadership is responsible for the killing of Palestinians, not Israelis,” he said. “Palestinians! They do not hesitate to massacre people in a mosque or to throw people from the 15th or 17th floor of a building, as they did during the coup in Gaza. The Israelis would never do such things. I tell you with certainty that the Israelis care about the Palestinians far more than the Hamas or Fatah leadership does.

It’s easy to dismiss such sentiments when they come from conservative Israelis. Perhaps Yousef’s view — informed by his intimate knowledge of Hamas — will carry greater weight with some naïve proponents of endless “engagement.”

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Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

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The Peace Process Unravels

We are seeing today the likely beginning of the dissolution of the Annapolis-based peace process. This breakdown has been rapid, and as so many of us predicted—we deserve no special credit, as this was about as obvious a call as it gets—its origins are in Gaza, a place the discussion of which was rigorously avoided for the duration of the Annapolis conference (not that talking about it would have mattered).

Today, nine people in Gaza were killed in Israeli reprisals for a Palestinian rocket attack that employed a Katyusha instead of the regular Kassam. The Katyusha rocket landed some eleven miles away, in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people and one of Israel’s most important ports. This represented a serious escalation in the Gaza rocket campaign, and was met with a corresponding Israeli escalation.

Such Israeli escalations, of course, quickly do two things: kill Palestinian civilians—Israel’s recent record of being able to pick off terrorists without harming civilians will not last forever—and galvanize West Bank Palestinians against the Israeli counteroffensive, thus breaking up the superficial political conviviality that Annapolis has helped nurture between Fatah and Israel. Both of these things have now happened. Regarding civilian deaths, the second paragraph of the AP story that is currently posted on the New York Times website reads: “Three civilians were among those killed, Palestinian medical officials said. More than 30 people were wounded, including five children. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.”

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We are seeing today the likely beginning of the dissolution of the Annapolis-based peace process. This breakdown has been rapid, and as so many of us predicted—we deserve no special credit, as this was about as obvious a call as it gets—its origins are in Gaza, a place the discussion of which was rigorously avoided for the duration of the Annapolis conference (not that talking about it would have mattered).

Today, nine people in Gaza were killed in Israeli reprisals for a Palestinian rocket attack that employed a Katyusha instead of the regular Kassam. The Katyusha rocket landed some eleven miles away, in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people and one of Israel’s most important ports. This represented a serious escalation in the Gaza rocket campaign, and was met with a corresponding Israeli escalation.

Such Israeli escalations, of course, quickly do two things: kill Palestinian civilians—Israel’s recent record of being able to pick off terrorists without harming civilians will not last forever—and galvanize West Bank Palestinians against the Israeli counteroffensive, thus breaking up the superficial political conviviality that Annapolis has helped nurture between Fatah and Israel. Both of these things have now happened. Regarding civilian deaths, the second paragraph of the AP story that is currently posted on the New York Times website reads: “Three civilians were among those killed, Palestinian medical officials said. More than 30 people were wounded, including five children. A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition.”

Regarding the irresistibility of condemning Israel, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas spokesman, quickly found the old rhythm: “We consider what’s going on in Gaza . . . as a bloody Israeli message in which Israel shirks itself of any commitment before the arrival of President Bush to the region.” He of course had nothing to say about the Palestinian escalation of the rocket war against Israel.

This confrontation will worsen. As I wrote last week, the IDF and Shin Bet in recent weeks have been stunningly successful at taking out Gaza terrorists in targeted killings. In response, the terror groups must show that they are not deterred and that their “resistance” can continue. If possible, they must escalate their offensive in order to create the appearance, however implausible, that Israel’s targeted killings are not harming their ability to wage jihad. Hence, today, the long-range Katyusha, about which the IHT reports:

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the Katyusha attack. “We are going to launch more strikes in the depth of the entity (Israel),” they said in a joint statement. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a tiny group backed by Hamas, also claimed responsibility.

The predictability of this grim state of affairs is of course one of the many reasons why Annapolis was an implausible and foolish expenditure of American diplomatic energy. President Bush is due to arrive in Israel in five days. What perfect timing.

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Changing the Ground Rules in Gaza

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

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An Imaginary Peace Process

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

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Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

The opinion polling data on the second question is dispiritingly clear. To take one example, a 2006 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center—JMCC is a Palestinian, not Israeli, outfit—asked: “How do you feel towards suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians? Do you support them, or oppose them?” 56.2 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support suicide bombings. As long as numbers like these describe the current Palestinian reality, there will be no meaningful peace process. Which also means there will be no real Palestinian state.

This remains the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, and the reason for the terminal fragility of the peace effort. The negotiations now being conducted between Olmert and Abbas are taking place in an alternate reality, in the realm of diplomatic resolutions whose purview aspires to be sweeping, but which is actually limited to the paper on which such agreements are written and the press conferences at which they are affirmed. Where the peace process does not exist is on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza, and Damascus—in the realm of facts.

When Hamas does manage to carry out a major suicide bombing, all of the hopeful diplomatic print-on-paper will be obliterated (along with Israeli lives), and Israel will be forced to respond. The IDF presence in the West Bank will be strengthened, violence will escalate, and hopes for a real peace (which requires as its first step, rather than its last, a sea change in Palestinian public opinion regarding terrorism and its use against the Jewish state) will once again be lost.

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Three Interrogators

The Washington Post has a fascinating article by Laura Blumenfeld featuring interviews with three interrogators—one American, one British, one Israeli. Much of the focus is on the American, Tony Lagouranis, a 37-year-old military intelligence specialist who served in Iraq in 2004 and who has a new memoir out. He says he is anguished by his service, wracked by guilt over having to “torture” suspects.

Well, everyone is against torture in principle—at least everyone who is not a sadist. But what constitutes torture? That’s the nub of the problem. Blumenfeld’s article sheds interesting light on this vexatious issue by juxtaposing Lagouranis’s comments with those of his far more experienced Israeli and British counterparts.

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The Washington Post has a fascinating article by Laura Blumenfeld featuring interviews with three interrogators—one American, one British, one Israeli. Much of the focus is on the American, Tony Lagouranis, a 37-year-old military intelligence specialist who served in Iraq in 2004 and who has a new memoir out. He says he is anguished by his service, wracked by guilt over having to “torture” suspects.

Well, everyone is against torture in principle—at least everyone who is not a sadist. But what constitutes torture? That’s the nub of the problem. Blumenfeld’s article sheds interesting light on this vexatious issue by juxtaposing Lagouranis’s comments with those of his far more experienced Israeli and British counterparts.

First up is a man identified only by his first name, now living on an unidentified Mediterranean island because of death threats from the IRA. James, 65, was one of Britain’s most experienced interrogators in Northern Ireland. Starting in 1971, James said, he worked for the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), interrogating Irish nationalists Gerry Adams, Bobby Sands, and others whom the British government suspected of being terrorists. Blumenfeld’s article offers these vignettes of how James operated:

Once, IRA leader Brendan Hughes claimed that James had cocked a gun to his head. James does not deny it. “You fight fire with fire,” he said, the memory igniting his blue eyes. Another anecdote: “My friend once saw a guy planting a bomb,” he said. He laughed. “My friend tied a rope around the guy’s ankle, and made him defuse it. Now that’s how to deal with a ticking bomb.” Yet James denies being guilty of torture: “Yes, a bloke would get a cuff in the ear or he might brace against the wall. Yes, they had sleep deprivation,” he said. “But we did not torture.”

Then there is “Sheriff,” the code name of the recently retired chief of interrogations for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. The article describes his technique as follows:

For Sheriff, interrogation was more psychological than physical. He used flattery on Palestinians who put bombs under playground benches: “You say, ‘Hey! Wow! How did you connect these wires? Did you manufacture this explosive? This is good!” He played good cop, and bad: “One day I was good. Next day I was bad. The prisoner said, ‘Yesterday you were good. What happened today?’ I told him we were short on manpower.”

Presumably those kinds of psychological ploys are exactly what opponents of “torture,” broadly defined, think we should use to extract information. Yet even for someone as skilled as Sheriff, they weren’t always enough:

But when the pressure mounted for intelligence, Sheriff said, the best method was “a very little violence.” Enough to scare people but not so much that they’d collapse. Agents tried it on themselves. “Not torture.”

James’s and Sheriff’s justifications won’t convince those who consider everything from the good cop/bad cop routine to “a little violence” as torture. That’s a comforting, consistent position to take. In fact, it is basically the policy laid out in the new Army Field Manual on Interrogations, a policy that prohibits many of the more coercive techniques employed in the days after 9/11.

But is this new policy sufficient to keep us safe? Sheriff doesn’t think so:

“You have to play by different rules,” the Israeli interrogator told an American visitor. “The terrorists want to use your own system to destroy you. What your President is doing is right.”

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