Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

How Iran Prevents a Real Solution to ISIS

There was a rare piece of good news from Iraq yesterday: the Kurds and the central government have agreed on an arrangement to split oil revenues. In brief, the Kurds will get to continue selling oil that is produced in the Kurdish Regional Government and the nearby Kirkuk province, which the Kurds occupied earlier this year, with the revenues split between Erbil and Baghdad. In return the Kurds will get 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenues (approximately equal to their share of national population) and an extra $1 billion a year to fund the pesh merga militia. This is a fair deal all around and the fact that it was reached was a tribute to Prime Minister Abadi who has proven more flexible and reasonable than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

Read More

There was a rare piece of good news from Iraq yesterday: the Kurds and the central government have agreed on an arrangement to split oil revenues. In brief, the Kurds will get to continue selling oil that is produced in the Kurdish Regional Government and the nearby Kirkuk province, which the Kurds occupied earlier this year, with the revenues split between Erbil and Baghdad. In return the Kurds will get 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenues (approximately equal to their share of national population) and an extra $1 billion a year to fund the pesh merga militia. This is a fair deal all around and the fact that it was reached was a tribute to Prime Minister Abadi who has proven more flexible and reasonable than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

But it would be an exaggeration to claim, as does some of the news coverage, that this deal is a big step forward in the battle against ISIS. The reality is that the Kurds and the Iraqi central government would fight ISIS whether they had reached a deal on oil revenues or not because it is in their self-interest to do so.

The real question is, Will Sunnis fight ISIS? To mobilize Sunni opposition against these Sunni jihadists, the central government will have to strike a deal with Sunni tribal leaders that will guarantee they will not be persecuted and abused as they were under Maliki’s sectarian rule. That is a much more important and also a much harder objective to achieve than a Baghdad-Erbil oil deal.

All the more so because of Iran’s growing prominence on the pro-government side. The latest evidence of that is news that Iranian F-4 jets attacked ISIS targets inside Iraq’s Diyala province, which Tehran claims as part of a 25-mile “buffer zone” which extends into Iraq. The strikes were apparently directed by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring Quds Force, who has become increasingly visible in Iraq in recent months.

It is unclear if the Iranian strikes were done with the agreement of the Iraqi government. If not, they were an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty; if they were done with the Abadi government’s permission, that is one more sign of the sway that Tehran continues to hold in Baghdad. Either way this is bad news. Because the more visible that Iran appears in the anti-ISIS coalition, the less likelihood there is that Sunnis will rally to the anti-ISIS cause because many of them are more afraid of Iranian domination than of ISIS domination.

Sadly, the White House is probably happy about the growing Iranian involvement in the anti-ISIS fight. It shouldn’t be. A basic fact that President Obama can’t seem to grasp as he continues his ill-advised outreach to Tehran is that the more that the U.S. draws closer to Iran, the less chance we have of winning the confidence of Sunni tribes that are the real key to defeating ISIS. Instead of quietly acquiescing in Iran’s growing role, the U.S. should be preparing a plan to checkmate and rollback Iran’s growing influence.

Read Less

The Isolationist Declares War

Almost 73 years after the Day of Infamy plunged the United States into the maelstrom of World War Two, and after having fought several major wars since then without benefit of a congressional declaration, is it time for another one? Senator Rand Paul says yes and can deploy powerful arguments on behalf of his proposal for a declaration of war on ISIS instead of a new authorization for the use of force in the Middle East to replace or supersede those passed in 2001 and 2002 to deal with the conflicts with al Qaeda and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the questions we should be asking about this have as much to do with Paul’s efforts to recast his image as an isolationist as they are with the merits of a resolution that may restrict a military effort that is being carried out in a half-hearted way by an Obama administration that is no more interested in carrying the fight to the enemy than Paul may be.

Read More

Almost 73 years after the Day of Infamy plunged the United States into the maelstrom of World War Two, and after having fought several major wars since then without benefit of a congressional declaration, is it time for another one? Senator Rand Paul says yes and can deploy powerful arguments on behalf of his proposal for a declaration of war on ISIS instead of a new authorization for the use of force in the Middle East to replace or supersede those passed in 2001 and 2002 to deal with the conflicts with al Qaeda and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the questions we should be asking about this have as much to do with Paul’s efforts to recast his image as an isolationist as they are with the merits of a resolution that may restrict a military effort that is being carried out in a half-hearted way by an Obama administration that is no more interested in carrying the fight to the enemy than Paul may be.

In one way, Paul’s proposal makes a great deal of sense. For decades presidents have carried out military campaigns without a declaration of war, creating an imperial presidency that gives the executive more power than the Founders would have liked. A declaration would create, at least in theory, more accountability as well as restoring some needed constitutional balance to the way foreign and defense policy is carried out.

But as much as this makes some superficial sense, Paul’s intentions have more to do with both restricting the scope of the war against radical Islamist terrorist and posing as a responsible would-be commander in chief than it does with actually winning the war against ISIS and its allies in Iraq and Syria.

Paul’s proposed declaration, like some of the other potential new authorizations of force circulating in Congress, would preclude the use of ground troops against ISIS except in highly restricted circumstances. That actually dovetails nicely with President Obama’s stance on the war that has been carried out in a half-hearted way that makes it hard to envision the kind of rollback of ISIS gains in both Iraq and Syria that will be required for victory against the group.

Like Obama, Paul’s objective here is not military victory—the object of any real declaration of war—but giving the country the impression that the U.S. is doing something about a problem that has rightly scared the American public without actually fighting a war.

But unlike Obama, Paul’s goal is also to convince the majority of Republicans that he is not an isolationist. Since Paul began his planning for a presidential campaign after the conclusion of the 2012 campaign, the Kentucky senator’s goal has been to rebrand himself as an old-fashioned foreign-policy realist instead of being seen as the son of the leader of a rabid band of extremist libertarians. Rand is a smarter, slicker, and cooler version of his father Ron, a fire-breathing radical who lamented on Twitter the victory of his son’s party in the midterm elections because he envisaged that it would lead to “neocon wars” with “boots on the ground.”

The senator’s approach to foreign and defense policy doesn’t have the same feel as that of his father. Unlike Ron, Rand does not use rhetoric—or at least not anymore—that makes him seem to the left of Barack Obama and liberal Democrats on foreign policy. In that sense, a declaration of war is a twofer for Rand in that it enables him to look like someone serious about fighting terrorists that the public fears while also sounding some of the Constitutional arguments about presidential overreach that endeared him to conservatives last year when his drone filibuster galvanized the nation.

But the declaration is more a matter of posturing than a genuine foreign-policy alternative. In the unlikely event that it passed, it would serve to limit not just presidential abuses of power but take away the leeway that any president needs to defend the nation in an age where threats and enemies are very different from the ones Franklin Roosevelt’s America faced in 1941.

That’s why Senator James Inhofe’s idea of a new resolution authorizing force that would give the president “all necessary and appropriate force” to use against ISIS while requiring the White House to regularly report to Congress on the war makes far more sense than Paul’s declaration in terms of what is needed to actually win the conflict.

Thanks to ISIS and Obama’s disastrous Middle East policies, the libertarian moment that convulsed American politics in 2013 is over. In seeking to position himself as someone willing to fight wars, Paul has made progress toward becoming more of a mainstream political figure, something that is necessary if he is to have a chance at the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. But what this discussion illustrates is that the real problem is not whether Congress passes a declaration of war or a new resolution authorizing the use of force but what kind of a commander in chief the country is saddled with. With an Obama or a Rand Paul, America will have someone who doesn’t want to be seen as weak but who is not interested in a serious effort to defeat threats to the country’s security. That is something Republicans who rightly take a dim view of the president’s policies should think about before they buy into Paul’s proposal or his bid for the nomination.

Read Less

Why UNRWA Perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

Read More

Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

So now it’s unclear precisely how to react to a raft of stories demonstrating the reason it wasn’t surprising to find Hamas weapons in UNRWA schools: because UNRWA teachers and principles share Hamas’s violently anti-Semitic ideology. Yet in fact this is newsworthy, for an important reason beyond the obvious. First, though, it’s instructive to see just what American taxpayers are getting for their UNRWA money.

On November 20, after the Har Nof massacre in which Palestinian terrorists murdered four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue, the Algemeiner reported:

Popular Jewish blogger Elder of Ziyon has amassed evidence of UNRWA employees lauding the Jerusalem attack, among them Maha al Mosa, an UNRWA teacher in Syria who prayed for the two terrorists to be accepted in “paradise” as “martyrs,” Ibrahim Hajjar, another teacher based in Hebron, who published a poem praising the terrorists, and another Syrian-based teacher who, using a pseudonym, posted a celebratory picture of Adolf Hitler on his Facebook page.

The latest outrage centers on Naief al-Hattab, school director of UNRWA’s Zaitoun Elementary School Boys “B” and former school headmaster of Shijia Elementary School Boys “A” for Refugees. Writing on his Facebook page, al-Hattab congratulated the terrorists on their “wonderful revenge.” Al-Hattab, who shook hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on his visit to Gaza in October, has previously posted inflammatory statements and images, among them one of a young child brandishing a sub-machine gun. It is not clear whether this child is related to al-Hattab, or whether he attends the Zaitoun Elementary School which al-Hattab runs.

Elder of Ziyon followed up with two more posts, the latest one coming today, on an UNRWA teachers group posting various jihadist media and anti-Israel incitement. And that brings us to the reason UNRWA’s exploits are important. We already know what UNRWA does; it exists to perpetuate Palestinian poverty and statelessness while pocketing American taxpayer cash. It’s a scam, but at this point it’s certainly no secret.

But these latest stories are good examples of why UNRWA does what it does. The organization keeps Palestinians mired in desperation because they agree with the Hamas struggle to eliminate Israel. And the UNRWA schools are where they can exert the utmost control over Palestinian minds, shaping them to abhor the Jewish people and to value bigotry and terrorism over education and productive job training.

Promoting hate is not incidental to UNRWA’s mission. It is UNRWA’s mission. This suggests it values neither Jewish life nor Palestinian life, and it certainly doesn’t believe Palestinians are entitled to a dignified existence. Why would Hamas weapons show up at an UNRWA school? Why wouldn’t they show up there? Where else would be more appropriate?

On Friday, Andrew Roberts reflected on the perpetual refugee status of the descendents of the actual Palestinian refugees. Roberts noted that what happened to the Palestinians “happened so often in the mid-1940s to early 1950s that it is surprising that the plural of the word exodus—exodi?—is not used in reference to this period.”

He continued:

Yet all of these refugee groups, except one, chose to try to make the best of their new environments. Most have succeeded, and some, such as the refugees who reached America in that decade, have done so triumphantly. The sole exception has been the Palestinians, who made the choice to embrace fanatical irredentism and launch two intifadas—and perhaps now a third—resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinians should certainly own up to much of the blame for repeatedly rejecting the two-state solution and a sovereign nation-state of their own. To do otherwise would be to rob them of their agency–a bigotry of the left all too often foisted upon the Palestinians.

But we should also wonder how much independence and self-reliance the Palestinians’ supposed friends and allies want them to have. To judge by UNRWA’s example, not much. In such a case, it’s clear that UNRWA’s noxious participation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is itself an impediment to peace. And not a minor one, either.

As long as UNRWA is treated as a legitimate participant this process–and loads of American cash says they indeed are–then the perspective they impart on young Palestinian minds will also be seen as legitimate. And that means terror and anti-Semitism will be subsidized and promoted as an acceptable path to a resolution. Which means they will not only continue, but almost certainly increase.

Read Less

Where’s America’s Anti-ISIS Media Strategy?

Before the 2003 Iraq War, almost everyone across the Bush administration recognized the need for a media strategy and media outlet to carry the message of the United States and free Iraqis into Iraq. And there began an inter-agency food fight with cooks spoiling the broth many times over, enabled by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s somewhat disorganized stewardship, that continued until after the war had begun. Meanwhile, the Iranian government formed their Al-Alam radio and television to shape hearts and minds weeks in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion and before the United States had any mechanism with which to respond.

Read More

Before the 2003 Iraq War, almost everyone across the Bush administration recognized the need for a media strategy and media outlet to carry the message of the United States and free Iraqis into Iraq. And there began an inter-agency food fight with cooks spoiling the broth many times over, enabled by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s somewhat disorganized stewardship, that continued until after the war had begun. Meanwhile, the Iranian government formed their Al-Alam radio and television to shape hearts and minds weeks in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion and before the United States had any mechanism with which to respond.

Iraqi Shi’ites are not naturally anti-American. But with the Islamic Republic fanning the flames of incitement, and the United States incapable of any response, it was the Iranian government and not the United States which wrote the first draft of history with regard to Operation Iraqi Freedom, transforming liberation into occupation.

More than a decade later, it seems the United States remains just as ham-fisted when it comes to the importance of media outreach to conflict zones. While there has been a lot of attention toward ISIS’s use of the Internet and social media, the Open Source Center has some excellent new analysis examining ISIS’s television and media reach. Among its findings:

  • ISIS television and radio could reach nearly half of Syria’s population and 71 percent of Iraq’s population outside of the areas ISIS already controls in those countries. At this point in time, ISIS does not appear to be television broadcasting, but its radio studios are active in both Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
  • AM and FM radio from within ISIS-controlled territory can reach over 100 miles into Turkey, 60 miles into Iran, and over 50 miles into Jordan.

While ISIS has been checked recently in Kobane, Syria, and defeated in Beiji, Iraq, it continues to consolidate control over a huge swath of territory. In recent weeks, it has announced a new currency, and it has enthusiastically taken over the region’s schools. That it would include media among the trappings of the state it seeks is logical.

As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation renews focus on the military strategy against ISIS, and as diplomats discuss Iraqi Kurdish and Turkish oil trading with ISIS, perhaps it is time for Congress to engage on the American media strategy geared specifically to those living under ISIS’s tyranny. Ceding the media field to ISIS will only help it recruit and expand; it’s time to instead take the fight over airwaves to those areas under ISIS control.

Read Less

Don’t Simply Complain About Qasem Soleimani in Iraq

Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force, has been taking his show on the road for years, making public appearances first in Syria and most recently in Iraq. Today, new photos circulated on Twitter of Soleimani sharing lunch in the eastern Iraqi governorate of Diyala.

Read More

Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force, has been taking his show on the road for years, making public appearances first in Syria and most recently in Iraq. Today, new photos circulated on Twitter of Soleimani sharing lunch in the eastern Iraqi governorate of Diyala.

Certainly, Iran wants to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). It’s not simply propaganda to suggest that ISIS also threatens Iran. The Islamic Republic might officially be a Shi’ite state, but about ten percent of Iranians are Sunni. They are often bitter, discriminated against both on ethnic and sectarian grounds. In June, Iranian security announced the arrest of several dozen ISIS members operating inside Iran.

But just because Iran and the United States both have an interest in what happens to ISIS does not make Tehran and Washington natural allies. After all, arsonists and firefighters are both interested in what happens to fires, but they are clearly not on the same side.

The U.S. Treasury Department in 2007 designated the Qods Force as a terrorist group “for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.” While a bill formally labeling the Qods Force as a terrorist entity died in congressional committee (perhaps President Obama can consider executive action), the government of Canada was not so easily distracted, and two years ago labeled Qasem Soleimani’s unit to be terrorists.

Normally, the head of a shadowy organization like the Qods Force would avoid the limelight, but by taking such a public presence in Iraq, Soleimani is convincing Iraqis that it is Iran which has its back while simultaneously depicting the United States as at best hapless, and at worst complicit with ISIS. After all, Soleimani is among the Pentagon’s most wanted, and yet he runs around Iraq thumbing his nose at the United States. And, of course, he and the Iranian regime he serves are, alongside Russia, behind the rumors that the United States created and supported ISIS, never mind that it was the Assad regime supported by Soleimani that refused for years to use the Syrian air force to bomb the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, Syria; Soleimani and Assad preferred instead to target Syrian civilians. When it comes to killing ISIS, the United States does far more than Iran.

The idea that anyone in the United States would simply complain about Soleimani’s antics, however, is absurd. It’s about as effective as a kid complaining to an elementary school teacher that a bully is making faces at him.

If the United States is serious about the Qods Force and wishes to hold Qasem Soleimani to account for the deaths of Americans, it has two options: First, it can try to grab him in Iraq. There is precedent. The United States has previously snatched Iranian operatives in Iraq, but ultimately released them. There are rumors that the real goal of the raid was to catch Soleimani himself. Earlier efforts to grab Soleimani may have been betrayed when senior officials within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leaked word to him of impending action.

Then again, if Obama doesn’t have the stomach to grab Soleimani, it might simply try to kill him. Airstrikes might target all terrorists and extremists, not simply those from one sect. Soleimani is probably right to suspect that he has a free pass from Obama, so long as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to dangle a legacy-revising agreement in front of American negotiators.

Under such circumstances, then, Soleimani probably has another two years to flaunt himself in front of the cameras in Iraq without fear of consequence. Let us hope, however, that come January 20, 2017, any new president will understand no terrorists deserve a free pass and that it is never wise or sophisticated to allow them to humiliate the United States on the world stage. Credibility matters.

Read Less

Britain Faces ISIS on the Home Front

The British were reminded of just what a serious and determined aggressor Islamist terror in their country has once again become when reports surfaced earlier this month of a terror plot targeting the nation’s Remembrance Day ceremony. That plot also came with the possible intent to assassinate royal family members during the commemorations. Back in August the terror threat level had been raised from “substantial” to “severe” and now Britain’s Home Secretary has said that the terror threat there may be higher than it has ever been. As such a range of new anti-terror proposals are being put forward to help the situation. Yet ultimately, with much of the current threat stemming from the prospect of  jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria, this is a lesson in how ignoring conflicts overseas can have dangerous consequences for Western states at home.

Read More

The British were reminded of just what a serious and determined aggressor Islamist terror in their country has once again become when reports surfaced earlier this month of a terror plot targeting the nation’s Remembrance Day ceremony. That plot also came with the possible intent to assassinate royal family members during the commemorations. Back in August the terror threat level had been raised from “substantial” to “severe” and now Britain’s Home Secretary has said that the terror threat there may be higher than it has ever been. As such a range of new anti-terror proposals are being put forward to help the situation. Yet ultimately, with much of the current threat stemming from the prospect of  jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria, this is a lesson in how ignoring conflicts overseas can have dangerous consequences for Western states at home.

The ongoing terror threat in Britain is certainly not something to be easily brushed aside. Since the 7/7 bombings on London’s subway system in 2005, Britain’s security and intelligence services have foiled some forty major terror plots. With the threat continuing to rise in light of the proliferation of ISIS and the significant number of Islamic extremists in Britain who identify with the cause of the Islamic State, it is understandable that the British are now seeking tougher legislation to combat the domestic terror threat.

Among the newly proposed measures are such provisions as an obligation on schools and universities to prevent radicalization by turning away extremist speakers. There would be new powers to confiscate the passports of those suspected of attempting to leave the country to join jihadist groups as well as the means to temporarily prevent the return of British citizens who have been fighting with terror groups. Furthermore, this legislation would make it illegal for insurance companies to cover the ransoms of those kidnapped by terrorists. There are also plans to increase online surveillance so as to better assist with the tracking of those accessing extremist material on the Internet.

Of course, some of these proposals will meet with considerable opposition from civil liberties groups and some in the Islamic community who have expressed concern that these measures are in some way singling out Muslims specifically. Liberal voices are already arguing for the adoption of a Danish model for deradicalization efforts. Such initiatives may eventually prove to have some long-term benefit, but clearly Britain today faces an immediate threat that has to be addressed.

Battening down the hatches like this should go some way in defending against Islamist attacks. But such measures and the kind of enhanced monitoring proposed can only go so far. As mentioned, the British authorities were able to act in time to arrest those planning attacks like the possible Remembrance Day plot, yet this strategy is by no means certain to succeed every time. Intelligence gathering was not enough in May of last year when two radicals known to the authorities beheaded a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street.

When the authorities raised the terror threat level in August it was with the threat from ISIS in mind–there are estimated to be between 500 and 2,000 British Islamists fighting with ISIS, many likely to attempt to return eventually, some having already done so. Similarly, when Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced this new anti-terror legislation she justified these laws as necessary by claiming that ISIS is now one of the greatest threats to the security of the United Kingdom. That may well be true, but if so why isn’t Britain doing more to combat ISIS in its entirety?

After all, even if Western countries like Britain can find a way to prevent ISIS-trained fighters from returning, it is clear that Islamic extremists who remain in the West are still being encouraged and inspired by the growth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The stronger ISIS becomes, the more territory it captures, the longer its war goes on for, and the more intense the fighting becomes, the more of a draw this group will have over those being radicalized in the West.

Defeating ISIS definitively is then logically a very necessary part of ensuring security at home. Yet Britain’s parliament decisively struck down proposals for military intervention in Syria, and while the UK continues to give some support to the limited U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, reservations about mission creep are likely to prevent any serious action. And so in doing little to seriously combat the proliferation of ISIS in the Middle East, Britain and other Western countries will continue to experience blowback at home and will be forced to implement increased firefighting legislation on the counter terror front.

Large parts of the British public were staunchly opposed to intervention in Iraq and that war is regularly referenced to advocate for a policy of disengagement and isolationism. But given how ISIS has grown out of the horrors of the Syrian civil war, something that the West couldn’t bring itself to intervene in even at the early stages when there was still the chance of a better outcome, it turns out that non-intervention has consequences too. The reality is that when it comes to security, tinkering with domestic terror legislation will only get you so far.

Read Less

How Iran Talks Hamper Fight Against ISIS

So what’s wrong with talking to Iran? That is the refrain heard a day after the administration decided to grant another seven-month extension of the nuclear negotiations, which have already been going on without success for a year. As is true with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” the administration seems convinced that success is always just around the corner, that failure is always a step forward. While it’s true that prolonging talks is better than accepting a bad deal, even prolonged talks carry a hefty price–some of it visible, some not.

Read More

So what’s wrong with talking to Iran? That is the refrain heard a day after the administration decided to grant another seven-month extension of the nuclear negotiations, which have already been going on without success for a year. As is true with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” the administration seems convinced that success is always just around the corner, that failure is always a step forward. While it’s true that prolonging talks is better than accepting a bad deal, even prolonged talks carry a hefty price–some of it visible, some not.

The most visible cost is the $700 million a month in sanctions relief that Iran receives while the negotiations continue. That is a lifeline to the regime of an extra $4.9 billion over seven months on top of the $7 billion it has already received: money that can be used to prop up a dictatorship and extend its influence to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and other nearby states. And those are conservative estimates from the administration; the actual benefits to Iran are probably greater.

But there is also a hidden cost to the ongoing talks that may be even more significant. Because as long as the U.S. is trying to reach a deal with Tehran, there is scant chance that President Obama will do anything to topple Iran’s ally in Damascus, Bashar Assad. Obama won’t even interfere with Assad’s reign of terror that has already claimed some 200,000 lives.

Although U.S. warplanes episodically bomb ISIS, they leave Assad and his forces alone. As a result Assad is free to continue the terror bombing of areas held by the Free Syrian Army even though Obama is counting on that force to fight ISIS. In reality there is scant chance of Sunnis in significant numbers taking up arms against ISIS as long as the alternative appears to be domination by Iranian proxies whether in Iraq or Syria.

Obama seems to be blind to this crippling problem at the heart of his ISIS strategy. Instead of trying to contest Iranian power, he is seeking an accommodation with Iran. He reportedly even sent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a letter proposing cooperation between the U.S. and Iran to fight ISIS. Ironically this not only scares Sunnis–it also scares the ayatollahs because they cannot afford to be seen as compromising with the Grand Satan for fear of losing their revolutionary credibility.

This is a regime, after all, where the chant “Death to America” serves much the same purpose as “Heil Hitler” once did for Nazi Germany. Khamenei obviously has little interest in reaching a modus vivendi with us; indeed, after the latest failure of the nuclear talks, he crowed that “America and the colonial European countries to together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but they could not do so–and they will not be able to do so.”

Far from trying to bring Iran to its knees, Obama is trying to reorient U.S. policy in a pro-Iranian direction. The attempt will fail, but as long as it continues it will also doom to failure the anti-ISIS campaign.

Read Less

Who Will Reintegrate Iraq’s Shi’ite Volunteers?

Within Iraq, the presence of paramilitaries and militias has long had a corrosive impact on security. My major criticism of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for example, was not that he sought to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi for running death squads—Hashemi was most certainly guilty—but rather that the prosecution was selective: Maliki should have gone after some of the same Shi‘ite groups with the same zeal, his willingness to have once done so in Basra notwithstanding.

Read More

Within Iraq, the presence of paramilitaries and militias has long had a corrosive impact on security. My major criticism of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for example, was not that he sought to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi for running death squads—Hashemi was most certainly guilty—but rather that the prosecution was selective: Maliki should have gone after some of the same Shi‘ite groups with the same zeal, his willingness to have once done so in Basra notwithstanding.

With the explosion of the Islamic State (ISIS) onto the scene—and the seeming disintegration of large parts of the Iraqi army—Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a call for volunteers to defend Iraq and the holy Shi’ite shrines. While the reason for the weakness of the Iraqi military deserves serious consideration by Iraqi politicians and American trainers alike, these volunteers buttressed the Iraqi army at a time of great need. Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar, and the shrine city of Karbala are only 70 miles apart. With ISIS assurgent, Karbalais had real fear that the group too radical even for al-Qaeda might seek to attack their city and loot and destroy its holy shrines, as Saddam, the Ottomans, and the Saudis did at various times through history.

Staying in Karbala this past week, I stayed in the same compound as some volunteers training to fight ISIS also resided. I saw several, fresh off the bus, ranging from teens to grey beards. One morning, awaiting my ride to the Shrine of Imam Hussein, I saw several groups of more seasoned volunteers march in formation as they went to eat in the same communal dining hall from which I had just emerged. They did not seem like zealots, but rather as those who felt they needed to answer the call to defend their families and communities. I certainly wish them the best of luck in their fight against ISIS.

What I worry about, however, and what many locals inside Karbala also seem concerned about is what will happen when the fight ends and the volunteers return. Already, Shi’ite militias pose a real challenge to Iraq. Groups like the Shi’ite Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which recently reiterated its fealty to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and not Iraq’s elected government, represent as much a threat to Iraq’s recovery as does the underground Baath Party, if not the ISIS itself.

It is one thing if volunteers quietly return from the towns and villages from where they came, and resume whatever job—if any—they were doing before they answer the call. The likelihood of this, however, is low. Many will expect reward for their sacrifice, and seek to transform their efforts into power.

There are many examples of this through recent history. In Iran, those who joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps refused to return to their barracks upon the end of the Iran-Iraq War. They moved into the civilian economy and increasingly flexed their muscles to pressure the Iranian government and remain autonomous.

Likewise, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the peshmerga who fought against Saddam Hussein expected to be rewarded with jobs and patronage when the Iraqi government withdrew from Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. The characteristics that made a good mountain warrior and those that made a good manager are two very different things. Much of the government dysfunction and corruption that has blighted Iraqi Kurdistan in the more than two decades since the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government has roots in this problem. Indeed, younger, capable officials like Barham Salih have long faced obstacles to their career simply because they did not fight in the mountains.

Back to Karbala and, by extension, southern Iraq: By all accounts, Haider al-Abadi is off to a good start in Baghdad, though the problems he and Iraq face are daunting. The fight against ISIS might be the most immediate challenge Iraqis face, but it is not too late to start planning for the next one: not only the reconstruction of those areas scarred by battle and the reintegration of Sunnis into the Iraqi government, but also the status of the Shi’ite volunteers once the fight is over.

Read Less

Why Chuck Hagel Became Expendable

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s time at the Pentagon is, counterintuitively, a poor guide to why he’s been thrown under the bus by a flailing, blinkered president growing even more suspicious of outsiders as his second term disintegrates. To understand why Hagel is being shoved out the door, you have to go back to why he was hired in the first place. Additionally, the question of why exactly he’s being let go now can only be fully answered once his successor is chosen.

Read More

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s time at the Pentagon is, counterintuitively, a poor guide to why he’s been thrown under the bus by a flailing, blinkered president growing even more suspicious of outsiders as his second term disintegrates. To understand why Hagel is being shoved out the door, you have to go back to why he was hired in the first place. Additionally, the question of why exactly he’s being let go now can only be fully answered once his successor is chosen.

Hagel was brought on because the media was still falling for the “team of rivals” narrative on the Obama administration. To recap: Obama brought into his administration Cabinet officials who had a high enough profile that they could have made trouble for his agenda outside the administration. He wanted to coopt their credibility and silence their dissent. Hillary Clinton, a senator who could have impacted Obama’s ability to get legislation through Congress, and Samantha Power, a loose cannon who likes to publicly accuse others of being terrible people, were prime examples of this.

Obama wanted Republicans too, so he kept Bob Gates on at Defense and eventually brought in Hagel there as well. The media bizarrely saw in this transparent ploy what they wanted to see: Obama the postpartisan hero, the modern Lincoln. It was not the press’s finest moment.

Hagel was a particularly interesting gamble for Obama. On the one hand, he is a decorated war veteran and Republican who had the credibility to carry out Obama’s sullen retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other, his ineptitude and intellectual limitations matched those of the White House he was joining, so it was clear from day one that nothing about the administration’s crumbling foreign policy would improve.

Obama wanted a yes-man in Hagel, and thought he was getting one. He and his increasingly insular inner circle, which at some point soon will be just the president and Valerie Jarrett, make policy, as Max noted earlier. He didn’t want different opinions, and he didn’t want a range of options. He wanted a droid. And unfortunately for him, as the New York Times points out, this was not the droid he was looking for:

He raised the ire of the White House in August as the administration was ramping up its strategy to fight the Islamic State, directly contradicting the president, who months before had likened the Sunni militant group to a junior varsity basketball squad. Mr. Hagel, facing reporters in his now-familiar role next to General Dempsey, called the Islamic State an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” White House officials later said they viewed those comments as unhelpful, although the administration still appears to be struggling to define just how large is the threat posed by the Islamic State.

That last sentence is key. Not only was Hagel–yes, Chuck Hagel–too hawkish for Obama on ISIS, but it was the administration still “struggling to define” the threat. You can say Hagel was a slow learner all you want; he was a faster learner than the president he served.

And some of the picture will be filled in when Hagel’s successor is determined. Here’s the Times on the rumors of Hagel’s replacement:

Even before the announcement of Mr. Hagel’s removal, Obama officials were speculating on his possible replacement. At the top of the list are Michèle Flournoy, the former under secretary of defense; Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former officer with the Army’s 82nd Airborne; and Ashton B. Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense.

Reed is reportedly out. But Flournoy’s inclusion on this list is notable. When the president was last seeking a defense secretary, Flournoy’s name was floated repeatedly. She would be a “historic” choice, satisfying the administration’s obsession with identity politics. And she was highly respected all around. Plus, she was already working in the administration. So why wasn’t she chosen?

That question seemed to have been answered with the publication of the memoirs of Leon Panetta, Hagel’s predecessor at Defense. Panetta’s memoirs made a splash when part of the book was adapted for an early October TIME magazine piece criticizing Obama’s handling of the transition in Iraq. Some, including Panetta, told the president he should leave a residual force behind. Panetta writes:

Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

If Flournoy was willing to be named publicly as someone who not only disagreed with Obama’s handling of Iraq but also essentially accused the president of acting against American interests, it’s easier to understand why she was not given the nod at Defense. If she’s named secretary of defense now, it casts some doubt on the Times’s speculation that Hagel’s disagreement with Obama on ISIS played as much a role in his ouster as is being reported.

The “team of rivals” narrative was debunked long ago. Hagel was there so his credibility on a particular policy could be coopted. After that, he was always expendable. The question now is whose credibility does the president need to coopt next?

Read Less

Conspiracy Theories and Palestinian Terror

Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

Read More

Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

As the Times of Israel reports, the genesis of the synagogue attack and its violent aftermath may have been fueled in no small part by false reports about the murder of a Palestinian bus driver. The man was found hanged in his bus and both Israeli and Palestinian coroners ruled that the death was obviously a suicide. But in the hothouse Palestinian rumor mill in which conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish atrocities are the coin of the realm, this, along with wild claims about Israeli “violation of women at al-Aksa” was enough to send two men into a synagogue to murder and untold thousands of their compatriots into the streets to support their crime.

This is a significant fact because Western journalists, such as the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, have been seeking to explain the atrocity and the support for it by linking it to critiques of Israeli policies about allowing Jews to move to parts of Jerusalem or municipal funding policies that may short change Arabs. I have already critiqued Rudoren’s reporting in terms of its misperceptions about what is negotiable in the conflict as well as her false claims of moral equivalence about attacks on houses of worship. Our Seth Mandel also touched on these issues as well as Rudoren’s claims that her critics are biased.

But the big picture here is not so much the poor performance of the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief as it is the failure by her paper and most other mainstream publishing outlets to delve deeper into the real roots of Palestinian anger. By choosing to obsess over policy questions that dovetail with Obama administration complaints about Israel’s government, Rudoren ignored the mania of hate that seems to bubble up from the Palestinian street. That not only fails to explain what sends Palestinians out to slaughter Jews or to cheer such actions, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the conflict as a whole is so impervious to solutions.

If Palestinian leaders have consistently and repeatedly rejected Israeli peace offers throughout the last 15 years and, indeed, all chances at territorial compromise dating back to the 1930s, it is because their political culture is still driven by the same factors that led to the Har Nof massacre this week as well as the pogroms of 1929 and 1936 that were similarly motivated by false rumors about Jewish activity on the Temple Mount. It’s not just that Palestinians have had hatred for Jews driven into them by their leaders and media for a century, it’s that their view of the conflict is one that is rooted in belief that Jews are an enemy that must be driven from the land.

Israelis and their government are not perfect but the willingness of Palestinians to believe any tall tale about Jewish crimes has little to do with the Netanyahu government’s policies and everything to do with a variant of Jew hatred that has found a home in the Middle East in the last 100 years. While it is possible to talk about what Israel might do to appease their antagonists’ ambitions in order to promote peace, it is this virus of anti-Semitism that must be addressed if any Palestinian leader will ever have the courage to sign a peace deal with the Israelis that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The lunacy that leads to blood-soaked bodies lying on a synagogue floor begins with this hate and paranoia that has driven itself deep into the psyche of the Palestinian imagination. It is the same psychosis that allows Palestinian Authority media and officials to promote conspiracy theories and praise terrorists. So long as even a supposed moderate such as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas can call a terrorist murderer a “martyr” who went straight to heaven, why should we be surprised that Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs think the Jews are raping Muslims on the Temple Mount or murdering bus drivers, even though these are imaginary crimes?

So long as mainstream media outlets ignore the truth about Palestinian politics and terror, it is also no surprise that their coverage of the conflict tells us more about their biases than anything happening on the ground.

Read Less

Jodi Rudoren and the Key Fallacy That Explains Media Ignorance

When I began my career as a young reporter straight out of college, it became immediately clear to me how much I didn’t know. That realization almost certainly saved my career because it taught me a lesson I later heard best expressed by Brit Hume: “Fairness is not an attitude. Fairness is a skill.” My editors took journalistic ethics seriously, and the reporters at our company took notice. When reporters in our newsroom got criticism over accusations of bias, they gave them appropriate consideration. They never would have worn them as a badge of honor. They never would have acted as unethically and unprofessionally, in other words, as Jodi Rudoren.

Read More

When I began my career as a young reporter straight out of college, it became immediately clear to me how much I didn’t know. That realization almost certainly saved my career because it taught me a lesson I later heard best expressed by Brit Hume: “Fairness is not an attitude. Fairness is a skill.” My editors took journalistic ethics seriously, and the reporters at our company took notice. When reporters in our newsroom got criticism over accusations of bias, they gave them appropriate consideration. They never would have worn them as a badge of honor. They never would have acted as unethically and unprofessionally, in other words, as Jodi Rudoren.

The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief has established a record of not just inaccurate reporting but the kind of mistakes that should never get through layers of editors and fact checkers. This week on Twitter I criticized Rudoren’s latest batch of advocacy journalism for its many mistakes and also for how easily those mistakes could be prevented by going through the normal reporting process. Rudoren has responded to the Washington Examiner, and her reaction is quite telling. It boils down to: nothing will change, because she refuses to know what she doesn’t know.

The Examiner tried to reach out to me for comment, the request never came through, and so the article went up without it. It’s worth responding now, especially since Rudoren’s comments are so revealing and are themselves a thorough indictment of mainstream journalistic ethics. Here is the crux of her response to the Examiner:

“Broadly speaking, most of the criticism of our coverage, and it is immense, is not rooted in the values of mainstream journalism, but is done from the prism of advocacy. Frequently, these critics ignore the stories or parts of stories that don’t fit with their pre-determined conclusion of our bias (and we have pretty much equal accusations of biases on both sides),” New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren told the Washington Examiner.

“They often try to subject stories or sentences to some kind of scoring system — good for Israel, bad for Israel — which is problematic because the stories, and the subjects, are much more complex and nuanced than that,” Rudoren added.

It’s impossible not to notice that Rudoren’s comments prove the criticism of her to be completely correct. And she is making it clear she refuses to learn more, because she regards that learning process itself as a concession to her critics. Out of sheer pride, Rudoren will remain uninformed.

There are several critiques to unpack in her response, but the most important one is this: “we have pretty much equal accusations of biases on both sides.” Rudoren is a firm believer in the single most toxic fallacy that bad reporters believe in. Namely, the idea that if both sides of an issue hate your writing, you must be doing something right. In fact, it often means you are doing a great deal wrong.

That’s because both sides can be right in their criticism. Imagine another industry in which someone’s behavior receives howls of disapproval from all sides, and the person involved takes that to mean they must be doing their job well. It’s delusional, and we would say so. And so we should say so here. If there is a consensus that you’re terrible at your job, that consensus is not to be worn as a badge of honor. Rudoren, embarrassingly enough, believes it should be.

But there’s more to Rudoren’s statement, and it explains why she sees criticism of her as illegitimate. Pro-Israel readers who object to Rudoren’s reporting are considered by her to be uninterested in the truth and acting out of loyalty to Israel. It’s not surprising that a resident of the leftist bubble that is the Times would think this, but it’s rather amazing that she thinks it’s appropriate to say.

Later on in the article, she tells the Examiner that “People who are passionate about the issue and have a personal stake in it often struggle to see the full picture.” What she is saying is that people devoted to an issue–experts, for example–are to be dismissed. Rarely has a mainstream reporter embraced this kind of strident anti-intellectualism publicly, and even suggested that it forms the bedrock of their professional outlook.

And in addition to the anti-intellectualism, Rudoren says that her detractors are not “rooted in the values of mainstream journalism.” This is provably false. In fact, much of the criticism of her that prompted this exchange was based precisely in her own failure to adhere to basic journalistic ethics. I noted, for example, that she made statements about vandalism against mosques in Israel without providing numbers or even a citation. It turned out not to be true; she is just making up inflammatory “facts.” But in order to know that, you have to do the journalism that Rudoren refuses to do. You have to be her fact checker, in other words.

The ignorance of reporters about the subjects they cover is an ongoing problem, and it’s especially egregious when the subject turns to religion. Yet often when reporters take their base of knowledge of a subject and arrogantly assume it’s all they’ll ever need to know, they at least know something–anything, even basic information–about the issue. That’s not the case with Rudoren. Her mistakes include those that are disproved by merely looking at a map, for instance.

Somewhere along the line, liberal reporters and editors decided that the greater the depth and breadth of criticism of their work, the better they assumed it to be. This attitude has produced the work of Jodi Rudoren as its inevitable consequence. And it’s how, seemingly against all odds, coverage of Israel is still getting worse. The hope is that Rudoren represents the media hitting bottom, but I fear we’re not there yet.

Read Less

No Moral Equivalence for Synagogue Terror

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

Read More

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

While much is made in both the Israeli and international media about “price tag” attacks from Israelis, especially West Bank settlers, against Arabs, an Internet listing of all such attacks in the last seven years yields approximately 20 such vandalism incidents against mosques. While each one deserves condemnation and punishment for the perpetrators, an average of two or three a year hardly counts as an epidemic. That is especially true when the same vilified West Bank settlers suffer daily attacks on their persons and property including deadly instances of terrorism as well as mere graffiti or arson. These attacks are so common that they rarely merit news coverage even in Israel, let alone the foreign press.

Among the attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank was the burning of a historic Jewish synagogue in Jericho and the sack of the synagogue at the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000 at the start of the second intifada. During that assault a Muslim mob assisted by Palestinian Authority policemen desecrated sacred Jewish objects and then burned the building to the ground. Rudoren felt no need to mention these incidents in her attempt to provide historical context for this week’s terror attack.

Yet she did cite the 1994 murder of 29 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Jews have also committed terror. But that example actually tells us more about the lack of moral equivalence than anything else.

It should be remembered that Goldstein’s insane murder spree was condemned not only by the Israeli government but was widely condemned by a consensus of Israeli society. Goldstein’s act was considered a blot on the honor of the Jewish people by all but a few mad extremists on the far right. Just as important, it resulted in the banning by the Israeli government of Kach, the group of radical followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

By contrast, Palestinian society embraced the two synagogue murderers as heroes this week. Their act of barbarism was celebrated in the streets of Palestinian cities and endorsed by members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party (though, forced by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas issued a condemnation) as well as their Hamas rivals. This is hardly surprising since Abbas had praised recent terror attacks on Jews by Palestinians and even said one who attempted to murder a Jewish activist was a “martyr” who went straight to heaven. Moreover, Goldstein’s murders still stand as one of the few examples of anti-Arab terrorism while attacks on Jews in the 20 years since his crime are almost too numerous to count.

The point here is not to excuse or rationalize any violence against Muslims, acts that are committed by only tiny minority and which almost all Israelis rightly condemn. It is to note that violence against Jews is considered praiseworthy by mainstream Palestinian culture. Seeking to treat such acts as if they are merely the other side of the coin from Jewish crimes isn’t merely a distortion of the facts, it is a willful attempt to obfuscate the truth about a conflict in which only one side is committed to the destruction of the other.

As I wrote yesterday, the cycle of violence in the Middle East is fed by a political culture that treats the war on Jews and Zionism as inextricably linked to Palestinian national identity. No amount of false moral equivalence by Rudoren or any other Western reporter can alter the fact that until that changes, we will continue to see more such attacks on Jews. Until the West and its media stops treating the Palestinian commitment to violence as somehow the fault of Israeli misbehavior or no different than isolated acts committed by Israelis, the Palestinians won’t get the message that this has to end if peace is to ever be achieved.

Read Less

The Dubious Embrace of Palestinian Unilateralism

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Read More

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Just this week the Spanish parliament voted in favor of such a move advocating recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 319 parliamentarians supporting the motion and just two opposing, and one abstention. Similar votes have already passed the British and Irish parliaments and the French are to have an equivalent vote at the end of the month. In these countries the parliamentary motions in question have been non-binding on the governments, although the French president already appeared to express support for backing unilateral Palestinian moves at the Security Council. The Swedish government, meanwhile, officially recognized Palestinian statehood back in October.

For anyone genuinely committed to a peaceful two-state outcome it should be plain enough to see that such votes can only hinder attempts to achieve a meaningful resolution of this conflict. Quite apart from the fact that these purely symbolic resolutions do nothing material to make Palestinian statehood a reality, they actually make reaching a two-state agreement still less likely. After all, the reasoning behind the two-state process was that the Palestinians would receive sovereignty in return for committing to safeguard Israel’s security. But if Palestinians are led to believe that ultimately the world will intervene to force their state into being, then all incentive to reach an agreement with Israel is nullified.

By supporting Palestinian unilateralism European countries threaten to wreck the possibility of the very land for peace agreement that they themselves have repeatedly insisted they wish to be the guarantors of. Because when it comes to land for peace they are telling the Palestinians that they can now get the former without having to give the latter in return. What Europe’s parliamentary assemblies are conspiring to create is a two-state non-solution in which conceivably a Palestinian state might be made a reality, but the conflict would only continue, and in all likelihood intensify.

The problem is that Israel and many of her supporters have in fact unwittingly laid the groundwork for such an outcome. Since the advent of Oslo, Israel has been embarking on a peace process that hasn’t brought it any closer to peace, but has gradually eroded its claim to much of the territory it holds and with that its international standing. The eagerness to end the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has led Israel to surrender its claim to these territories, so inadvertently accepting the role as an illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land. As such, for the rest of the world creating a Palestinian state is becoming less and less about achieving peace and more and more about winning “justice” for the Palestinians.

After all, European lawmakers can hardly have failed to notice the way things have been going. Quite the opposite. Not only are they well aware that twenty years of negotiations have gone nowhere, but they must also have noticed that far from Israel’s territorial concessions advancing peace, these moves have only assisted Palestinian militants in waging war and in the process getting as many of their own people killed as possible. And yet Europe’s politicians don’t seem to care.

Another thing that they can’t have missed, and don’t seem to care about, is what Palestinians have actually done with sovereignty when they’ve achieved it. The brutal theocratic despotism of Hamas in Gaza cuts a pretty chilling impression of what life might be like in a Palestinian state of the future. Yet equally Mahmoud Abbas’s semi-autonomous polity in the West Bank is not only deeply undemocratic, it is also viciously oppressive of its own Palestinian population. And what’s more, rather than use this opportunity for nation building, Abbas and his gang have instead channeled their energies into endless incitement against Israel, the consequences of which we are only now beginning to see borne out with incidents such as this week’s horrific synagogue attack in Jerusalem. As Ruthie Blum pointed out in her recent Israel Hayom column, the way is being paved for Islamic State in Israel.

If European parliamentarians really cared about making peace through two states a reality then they would be doing everything to make it clear to Palestinians that intransigence, incitement, and violence will get them nowhere. Yet having lost interest in such tiresome matters as security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, Europe’s politicians prefer to champion an abstract notion of “justice,” no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

Read Less

Bahraini Moral Clarity and the ‘Al-Aqsa in Danger’ Myth

The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

Read More

The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

For a senior Arab official to publicly condemn the killing of Jews by Muslims at all–much less with such moral clarity, devoid of any attempt to create a false equivalence to Israeli “crimes–is so unusual that it cries out for explanation. And the most likely explanation lies in the violence that has swept the Middle East in recent years. In a world where Muslim innocents are being killed in houses of prayer on a regular basis by fellow Muslims, mosques in Israel and the West Bank–including Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque–remain among the safest places in the Mideast for Muslims to pray. And the Arab world’s pragmatic axis, of which Bahrain is part, has no interest in seeing that change.

In August, for instance, Shi’ite gunmen opened fire in a Sunni mosque in Iraq, killing at least 73 people. In October, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a Shi’ite mosque in Iraq. Those are just two of the dozens of deadly mosque attacks in recent years that have killed thousands of Muslims in numerous countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Almost all the perpetrators were fellow Muslims–usually Shi’ites or Sunnis attacking each other’s institutions.

By contrast, Israel and the West Bank are safe havens. True, there have been some vandalistic attacks on mosques–though far fewer than in, say, Holland. But there hasn’t been a lethal attack on a mosque in two decades. Indeed, for all the Palestinians’ efforts to libel Jewish visits to the Temple Mount as “attacks” on Al-Aqsa, anyone who’s been paying attention realizes that mosques elsewhere in the Muslim world have been suffering far worse fates than innocuous Jewish visitors.

Granted, both the Palestinians themselves and many Westerners are too fixated on the Palestinian cause to care; recent Jewish visits to the Mount have generated far more uproar in the West than lethal mosque attacks elsewhere ever have. But the pragmatic Arab states, as I’ve written before, are quite aware that Israel is the least of their problems, and they’d rather it stay that way.

The pragmatic Arab states don’t want another Palestinian-Israeli war distracting global attention from problems they consider far more pressing, like ISIS and Iran. And they know heinous attacks like the synagogue murder–especially when compounded by the fact, as Khalifa noted, that many Palestinians are “welcoming the crime”–could easily spark one: Israel can’t continue doing nothing in the face of such attacks. There’s also the risk that such crimes could spur a lone Jewish terrorist to commit a revenge attack, like Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron 20 years ago; that, too, would distract global–and Arab–attention from the problems pragmatic Arab states consider most pressing.

Consequently, these states have an interest in discouraging attacks like yesterday’s, and Khalifa took a two-pronged approach to doing so. First, he declared, an attack like this is morally unacceptable, even to many fellow Arab Muslims. And second, it’s counterproductive, because sparking a new conflict would ultimately hurt the Palestinians more than Israel. Or as Khalifa put it, “Those who will pay the price” for this attack “are the Palestinian people.”

Thus while figures as diverse as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former British minister Sayeeda Warsi have implicitly justified the synagogue killing, and thereby encouraged more such crimes, by trying to paint it as morally equivalent to Jews visiting the Temple Mount the Bahraini foreign minister is trying to quench the flames by stating unequivocally that there’s never any excuse for killing worshippers at a house of prayer. For nobody understands the dangerous consequences of doing so better than Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, who, unlike their Israeli-protected Palestinian brethren, have all too frequently been the victims of such killings.

Read Less

It Isn’t Just Jerusalem That’s Not Negotiable

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

Read More

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

The infusion of religion into what all too many observers believe is a dispute over land and borders scares many of those who comment on the Middle East. Having spent the last few decades attempting to argue that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians if only the Jewish state were to give away more or all of the land it took possession of during the 1967 Six-Day War, those committed to this myth seek to divest the discussion about the path to peace of the absolutes of faith that make compromise impossible. Seen from that perspective, the dispute about the Temple Mount is one in which both sides can, as Rudoren does in her piece, be portrayed as being driven by religious zealots intent on blowing up an already combustible situation.

But while it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where four Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.

In order to understand the current spate of murders of Jews by Palestinians and why so many took to the streets of Gaza and West Bank cities to celebrate the bloody attack on Jews at prayer yesterday, we have to leave aside the clichés about cycles of violence and even-handed blame assessment and come face to face with the reality of Palestinian nationalism. From its inception early in the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in the country. Zionist leaders initially hoped the conflict could be solved through economic cooperation and then embraced territorial compromise as the panacea. But no solution has worked because the real focus of the dispute isn’t about land or a division of economic benefits but something far more fundamental that isn’t, as the Times said, “negotiable.”

Palestinians celebrated this latest horror, as they have been lauding every other recent terror attack and all those that preceded it throughout the last few decades. They did so not because Israel has failed to restrain Jewish extremists (it has done so) but because the basic elements of the conflict are not about details such as where Jews may or may not live in Jerusalem or where they may pray. Removing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in those parts of the city that Jordan illegally occupied between 1949 and 1967—“East Jerusalem”—won’t end the conflict any more than previous Israeli retreats or the several Israeli offers of statehood and independence for the Palestinians (that would have given them not only almost all the West Bank but a large share of Jerusalem) satisfied Palestinian opinion or its leadership.

Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that the obstacle to peace isn’t specific Israeli policies but the Jewish refusal to be evicted from their ancient homeland or to defend their hold on it. Indeed, rather than trying to interpret Palestinian extremism through the contemporary prism of the spread of ISIS-like fundamentalism, the current violence is better understood as just the latest iteration of the same virus of intolerance that has fueled the war on Israel for many decades.

Rudoren and some of her sources are wrong. The scheduling of prayer services ore entry to the Temple Mount is a negotiable issue if both sides were willing to view it as not being a zero-sum game. So, too, is the question about where the border of a Palestinian state that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door would be if parts of Jerusalem were included inside its borders. Nor is the red herring of municipal services to east Jerusalem Arabs, which Rudoren also speciously raised as a potential cause for terrorism, beyond discussion. That is especially true since most residents of Arab neighborhoods are, despite their complaints about Israelis, wary of being lumped in with the other victims of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank kleptocracy.

But what isn’t negotiable is the demand heard on the Palestinian streets and in the official media of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s independent state in all but name in Gaza for Israel’s destruction. The praise being heard for this latest instance of “resistance to the occupation” isn’t about Jerusalem’s municipal boundary but the “occupation” of any part of the country—including all the territory that was under Israeli control prior to June 1967. That is what isn’t negotiable and won’t be until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that will make the shocking pro-terror demonstrations impossible. Until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction, more than Jerusalem will remain non-negotiable. And that is a reality that an American administration and its media cheering section at the Times that has falsely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve peace must also learn to take into account if they are to understand what is really happening in the region.

Read Less

Domestic Radicalization and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

Read More

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.

On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.

On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.

And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.

This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.

But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.

The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.

For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.

Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.

Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.

Read Less

Kerry Calls Out Palestinian Incitement; Will Anything Change?

Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Read More

Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry has been, up to this point, playing an undeniably dangerous and counterproductive role in the peace process. He has used the negotiations as a vanity project, not a serious attempt to solve an intractable problem. But the worst part of Kerry’s destructive bumbling has been the State Department’s refusal to hold PA head Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his steady incitement of terror.

There is no question that Abbas’s incitement is partially responsible for the recent spate of terror attacks in Israel’s capital. And yet the State Department took Abbas’s side each time it had the chance, defending him as a man of peace. As I wrote in late October, spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about Abbas’s incitement and here is what she said:

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.

When you excuse the murder of innocents, you get more murder of innocents. And that’s exactly what happened, and what continued to happen, as Kerry’s State Department and the Obama White House sought to pick childish fights with Benjamin Netanyahu instead of acting like adults or playing a constructive role in the conflict.

There was never any doubt that Obama and Kerry’s behavior would encourage more bloodshed. Yet something has apparently changed:

Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences following the gruesome killing spree by Palestinian assailants at a Jerusalem synagogue, while other world leaders also expressed horror at the attack.

Kerry, in London for talks on Iran and the Middle East, called the assault an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality” and called on the Palestinian leadership to condemn it “in the most powerful terms.”

Police said two attackers from East Jerusalem entered the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood shortly after 7 a.m. and began attacking worshipers at morning prayers with a gun, a meat cleaver, and an ax. Both terrorists were killed by police.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement.

So who’s right–old Kerry or new Kerry? Clearly, new Kerry is a vast upgrade. But there are two disquieting characteristics of this transformation that will temper enthusiasm for the secretary of state’s newfound moral compass.

The first is that Jews can be forgiven for thinking that the world sees them as sacrificial pawns. Today’s victims are of course not the first deaths in the Palestinians’ latest not-quite-intifada. And they were not the first Americans killed either. And they were not the first victims of Abbas’s incitement or his directive to take action against Jews in Jerusalem. The sad fact is that the world regards a certain amount of Jewish blood as the cost of doing business–not worth getting all worked up about.

The word for that is “expendable.” And that’s what the families of victims and those who survived previous attacks understand all too well: their loved ones were expendable to the international community and, most painfully, to the government of the United States of America. A line has now been crossed, apparently, and the Jews under attack are no longer considered expendable. But it’s unfortunate that the line was there to begin with.

The second disquieting facet of this is the age-old question: What now? That is, now that Kerry has admitted the role Palestinian incitement plays in Palestinian terror, what will he do about it? The answer is almost certainly: Nothing. The U.S. government is not going to defund the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu has in the past fought for continued funding of the PA on the premise that Abbas must be propped up. Israel is doing its part by keeping the IDF in the West Bank; the U.S. does its part by keeping up the flow of cash.

Abbas condemned today’s attack, so perhaps Kerry’s new posture is at least keeping up the appearance of peace all around. And appearances can help. But incitement is not just about public statements from Abbas promoting violence–though he has been making such statements throughout the recent terror campaign. It’s about a system of education and Palestinian media that incites and demonizes Jews. Until the U.S. and the broader international community finds a way to crack down on this government-run culture of demonization, peace will remain farther than Kerry or his European counterparts like to pretend.

Read Less

Israel’s Waiting Game

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Read More

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that ultra-Orthodox political leaders claimed to have been approached to join an alternative coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Labor, which would replace the current coalition. In other words, rearrange the government to exclude Likud. Lapid denies that such a move is afoot, and it’s likely the leaking of the story was meant more as a warning than an imminent threat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to simmer. More clashes in the city took place over the weekend, and an Arab driver of an Egged bus appeared to have committed suicide. There is no evidence to the contrary, but Palestinians nonetheless have circulated rumors that the Jews were somehow involved, raising the prospect of “retaliation” of some sort and now apparently an Arab Egged strike.

And then today Haaretz’s Barak Ravid got his hands on an internal European Union document that outlines sanctions against Israel that EU countries could take if Israel continues to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and makes land designations that confuse ignorant Eurocrats. It doesn’t matter that Israel isn’t doing quite what the EU accuses it of, nor that the EU is wrong about what will bring peace and what will prevent it.

The real news of the EU document is that the EU has foreclosed the possibility that facts and rationality will determine Israel-Europe relations. Brussels is getting quite serious about being completely unserious. Today’s EU “red lines” are just that–today’s. Once conceded, they’ll find some more demands to chip away at Israeli sovereignty and further restrict Jewish rights.

After Haaretz published the leak, the EU explained to Ravid that they were not ready to deploy that threat just yet, in an utterly unconvincing (perhaps intentionally so?) response:

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, adding that she had read the report in Haaretz. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again, how to start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch a peace process.”

Nonetheless, the foreign ministers’ meeting ended with a formal condemnation of Israeli building of settlements over the Green Line and a hint regarding punitive measures against Israel.

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products,” read the announcement. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.”

When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, the UN is usually there to toss a bucket of water as well. Today Assistant Secretary-General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen got in on the act, warning that more violence in and around Jerusalem “is never too far below the surface.” He was happy to place the blame on Israel for settlements etc. (the standard way to excuse Palestinian terrorism), doing his part to contribute to the conflict’s self-fulfilling prophecy: if you excuse Palestinian terrorism, there will be more of it. But on the bright side, the esteemed assistant secretary-general had some good news–sort of:

On a positive note, Toyberg-Frandzen said a UN-brokered agreement to get building materials into Gaza to rebuild the territory following this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas allowed 1,086 Gazans to purchase construction materials by Nov. 13. He said it is also encouraging that Israel plans to increase the number of trucks with construction materials entering Gaza from the current 300 to 800 daily.

Of course construction materials help Hamas in two ways: they either resell them at a premium to those who actually need them, or they take them for themselves to build terror tunnels and other threats to Israel. Again, that’s the supposed “positive note”: the UN is helping Hamas get back on its feet.

So what is Netanyahu to do? Not much, in fact. The numbers still favor his Likud party even if early elections are called. And there won’t be a national consensus over specific action because it’s unclear what action can or should be taken to put Jerusalem at ease. Mahmoud Abbas either can’t or won’t get Palestinians in Jerusalem to stop the violence, so there’s no partner on the Palestinian side. And there does not appear to be a way to dislodge the political right from its perch, so Israelis know that they are unlikely to find an alternative to Netanyahu who brings more upside without substantial downside as well.

Israeli governments aren’t known for their stability. That was thought to only get worse as the two major parties lost their respective virtual monopolies on the right and left. But surprisingly enough, Israeli democracy is proving resilient. It turns out that Israelis are much harder to intimidate and bully than the Palestinians, the UN, and the EU thought.

Read Less

What to Do About ISIS

It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

Read More

It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

In this just-released Council on Foreign Relations policy innovation memorandum, I outline my view of what a real strategy designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS would look like. As you will see, I call for not only increasing the military effort but also doing more to train and mobilize Sunni tribes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, while extending our fight to the Assad regime in order to convince Sunnis to join the anti-ISIS campaign.

I also argue for preparing now to build a postwar order in both Syria and Iraq, unpalatable as the thought of “nation building” might be for some. It is hard to over-stress the importance of the latter point, because only by sketching out a hopeful future will the U.S. convince Syrians and Iraqis to risk their lives to fight ISIS. Declaring a no-fly zone over all or part of Syria would be an important first step in this regard because it would allow the Free Syrian Army to train and a free Syrian government to organize.

Sadly there is little sign so far that President Obama is willing to mount such a serious effort. But it is just possible that continuing outrage over ISIS beheading Americans could force his hand.

And for those who think that ISIS is deliberately trying to lure U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria: At the moment the desultory U.S. campaign is playing into their hands by allowing them to tell their followers that they have stood up to the Great Satan. A more effective U.S.-led campaign would not be so welcome to ISIS if it resulted in its dismemberment and defeat as previously happened to its forerunner, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Read Less

Training Free Syrians in Turkey Is a Bad Idea

In 1997, against the backdrop of U.S. diplomatic outreach toward the Taliban, John Holzman, at the time the number two diplomatic official at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, suggested that the United States encourage engagement between the Taliban and “moderate Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and perhaps Indonesia.” Egypt and Indonesia were certainly moderate, but to suggest that pre-9/11 Saudi Arabia would be a great venue to encourage Taliban moderation illustrates perfectly both how too many diplomats turn a blind eye to Islamist ideology promoted by allies and also treat engagement and multilateralism as panaceas.

Read More

In 1997, against the backdrop of U.S. diplomatic outreach toward the Taliban, John Holzman, at the time the number two diplomatic official at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, suggested that the United States encourage engagement between the Taliban and “moderate Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and perhaps Indonesia.” Egypt and Indonesia were certainly moderate, but to suggest that pre-9/11 Saudi Arabia would be a great venue to encourage Taliban moderation illustrates perfectly both how too many diplomats turn a blind eye to Islamist ideology promoted by allies and also treat engagement and multilateralism as panaceas.

Fast forward 17 years. What Pakistan once represented vis-à-vis the Taliban, today Turkey represents vis-à-vis many of the most extreme factions among the Syrian rebels. President Obama has made the training of “moderate” Syrian rebels a central pillar of his strategy to take on ISIS inside Syria and a way to diminish the need for ground combat forces which he is loath to deploy back to Iraq and Syria.

Let’s put aside the fact that training such forces would take more than a year and that they would be inserted against an ISIS foe which is now battle-hardened and brutal. And let’s also put aside the fact that there haven’t been any serious lessons learned as to why the military training program implemented in Iraq by such military luminaries as David Petraeus and current chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey has proven such an abject failure.

In order to implement their free Syrian training program, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Secretary of State John Kerry have apparently decided to work primarily through Turkey:

Military officials from the United States and Turkey have met at the Turkish General Staff’s headquarters in Ankara for a third time to discuss equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels, and agreed on using the Hirfanlı military training center in Kırşehir for the training ground. Officials from both the United States European Command (EUCOM) and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and high-ranking Turkish military officials agreed on a number of points about the training of Syrian opposition fighters in Turkey. Free Syrian Army (FSA) members, including Syrian Turkmens will be trained at the Hirfanlı gendarmerie training center in Kırşehir, sources told to the Hürriyet Daily News. U.S. officials will also take part in the training. The U.S. will primarily provide weapons and ammunition for the Syrian opposition, with the costs of the training also expected to be provided by Washington.

In other words, the United States will provide the money and the weapons, but defer to their Turkish counterparts the training. So, as Hagel seeks to implement Obama’s plan, he chooses to rely on a country that targets the secular, and promotes the radical. Rather than smother extremism inside Syria, such a plan will fan its flames.

When a similar plan was worked up before the Iraq war, Hungary stepped up to the plate. Whether or not that plan was effective—it was rushed by the time diplomats and lawyers hashed out its modalities—at least the Pentagon recognized that venues with a vested interest in Iraq and those which had a radically different vision from the United States should not be part of such sensitive missions. Training the Free Syrian Army at this point might be more symbolic than effective. But if that’s the path the Obama administration seeks to go down, let us hope that the end result would be better than Holzman’s plan to use Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda’s original underwriters, to “moderate” the Taliban.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.