Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

Russia’s Provocation Demands Tougher Action

President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

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President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

The potential impact of his statement was further dissipated by the fact that he said repeatedly that “our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.” As if this were the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 which vanished without a trace. Actually we know with a high degree of certainty what happened with flight 17: As even Obama conceded, it was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with the help of the Russian state. As he noted, “we have confidence in saying that that shot was taken within a territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.” Moreover, he said, “a group of separatists can’t shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training. And that is coming from Russia.”

But still he refused to draw the obvious conclusion: that Russia is ultimately responsible for a war crime–the shooting down of flight 17 as well as broader aggression against Ukraine. Instead, he tried to make it appear as if there is blame all around: “Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting.” That’s like blaming both Hamas and Israel equally for the fighting now going on in Gaza–an act of moral myopia that fails to recognize the culpability of an aggressor (Russia, Hamas) and the responsibility of a nation under attack (Ukraine, Israel) to respond with all due force to defend itself.

Failing to pin the responsibility on Russia as squarely as he should have done, Obama naturally failed to lay out a clear response to Russia’s aggression. He ruled out the possibility of providing any military help to Ukraine to defend itself: “We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic States, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations.” In short, no military equipment and no advisers for Ukraine. Let them eat MREs!

He didn’t even call for “sectoral” sanctions (for example, freezing all Russian financial institutions out of the U.S. and imposing secondary sanctions on foreign firms that do business with Russia, as we’ve done with Iran)–steps that could really hurt the Russian economy. Instead he expressed satisfaction with the very limited and ineffectual sanctions announced so far: “We feel confident that at this point the sanctions that we’ve put in place are imposing a cost on Russia … I think Treasury, in consultation with our European partners, have done a good job so far on that issue.”

Really? Obama thinks the sanctions have been good so far? Admittedly a new round of measures was just announced this week so it’s too early to judge their impact, but there is no sign of Russia backing off its illegal and brazen aggression. Indeed just today Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, released a video appearing to show a Russian Grad rocket launcher shelling Ukrainian territory.

It is wishful thinking to imagine that the shooting down of flight 17 will, by itself, cause Russia to end its attacks on Ukrainian territory. To force Russia to back off will require a massive effort on the part of the West. Admittedly Obama’s statement on Friday was only an initial stab at a response; tougher measures may be coming. But his words give little confidence that the type of massive response needed to force Russia into retreating will ever occur.

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Washington’s Mixed Messages and Israeli Realities

The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

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The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

Writing from Jerusalem in the hours before Shabbat descends on the city, I can report that while the country’s collective nerves are frayed by the constant rocket attacks, life is going on pretty much as normal. Crowds are out in the evenings in the cities (an outdoor showing of The Wizard of Oz at the capital’s old train station went on without incident) and there was the normal bustle at the Mahane Yehuda market prior to the Sabbath. There’s also little doubt that in spite of their endemic political divisions, most Israelis are behind their government’s decision to hit Hamas hard in pursuit of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet.” The launch of ground operations against Gaza was rendered inevitable after Hamas’s repeated rejections of cease-fire offers and its raising the ante with an infiltration attack. But this sequence of events validates the widespread recognition that so long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, the violence will resume sooner or later even if the Islamists eventually agree to stop shooting.

It is in that context that the administration’s attempt to both back Israel’s right of self-defense while also maintaining a critical stance about the loss of civilian lives in Gaza must be regarded.

While Israelis deeply regret the loss of lives in Gaza, the notion that their army isn’t doing enough to prevent non-combatants from being killed doesn’t resonate here. No army is perfect, but few here doubt that the Israel Defense Forces’ highly restrictive rules of engagement are both limiting the army’s ability to strike at will against Hamas positions as well as keeping casualties to a minimum. Americans who are inclined to be judgmental about the IDF’s actions should think about the similar dilemmas often faced by U.S. forces in Afghanistan when fighting the Taliban and its allies or when drone attacks are launched at terrorist targets and ask themselves how they would feel about their troops being second-guessed by foreign leaders the way State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki is speaking about Israeli efforts.

But leaving aside the administration’s hypocrisy, the bigger problem is Washington’s attempt to limit Israeli actions to, in Secretary of State Kerry’s words, “precise actions” against tunnel infiltrations that leave in place a terrorist infrastructure that will ensure that more attempts to inflict large-scale atrocities on Israelis–the goal of Thursday’s cross-border raid–will continue.

Back in April when the administration declined to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s decision to strike an agreement with Hamas rather than Israel, it pretended that the Islamist terror movement could be rendered irrelevant by the peace process. But now we see that so long as Hamas retains the power to plunge the country into a new war every time it wants to better its position, stability, let alone peace, is impossible. Nothing short of actions that will force Hamas’s disarmament will enable Kerry to realize his dream of brokering peace. Yet the U.S. continues to act as if limiting Israeli actions to superficial pinpricks against the terrorists’ strongholds and arsenal will enhance the cause of peace. Perhaps Kerry and President Obama believe their clinging to an equivocal stance about Gaza will enable the U.S. to be an “even-handed” broker in the future. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last month, it is that so long as Hamas’s power remains intact, America’s pretensions about peace are exposed as pipe dreams.

It’s not clear if the current operations will realize Netanyahu’s goal of quiet. But the contrast between Washington’s mixed messages about self-defense and the reality of Israel’s security dilemma illustrates how clueless the administration is about the situation. As much as Netanyahu has tried to avoid open fights with the U.S., there are no illusions here about the country’s need to ignore the State Department’s criticism if there’s a chance that the IDF can substantially reduce Hamas’s ability to terrorize Israelis.

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The Missile Threat Goes Beyond Ukraine

The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 continues to dominate headlines, as reporters (and the U.S. government) shift their attention back to Russia and Russia’s proxy militias in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. It would be a mistake to limit concern to overflights of eastern Ukraine, or to focus only upon the question of culpability in this instance. Rather, it’s time to look at the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet as a possible window into the future.

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The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 continues to dominate headlines, as reporters (and the U.S. government) shift their attention back to Russia and Russia’s proxy militias in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. It would be a mistake to limit concern to overflights of eastern Ukraine, or to focus only upon the question of culpability in this instance. Rather, it’s time to look at the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet as a possible window into the future.

Several thousand surface-to-air missiles went missing in Libya in part because the White House chose to lead from behind and so did not work to secure Libya’s substantial arms caches. While airlines scramble to avoid Ukrainian airspace, they still fly over other contested regions. Less than two weeks ago, I flew on an American carrier from Washington to Dubai: we traversed Turkey and avoided Syria, but then appeared to fly over portions of Iraq which were newly seized by the Islamic State.

Terrorists with weaponry that can blow planes out of the sky may increasingly become the new normal. The question for policymakers is what to do about it. Only Israel equips its civilian jets with measures to counter missile threats. In 2002, terrorists attacked an Israeli charter flight leaving Mombasa. The missiles failed to hit their target, in part because of Israeli countermeasures.

The U.S. government is infamous for always defending against the last terrorist attack. TSA agents continue to pat down grandmothers in order to confiscate hidden water bottles. That may be all well and good, but increasingly it provides security theater rather than real security. If the growing threat is from below, the question the White House and airline industry should answer is what steps are they taking to defeat a surface-to-air missile aimed at a civilian jetliner, or whether they will simply wait to act until terrorists down an American-flagged aircraft.

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Israel’s Critics Wage War on Reality

It tells you all you need to know about Hamas that its biggest victory to date against Israel–one that is no doubt being celebrated in the fortified bunkers that house its leadership–was the death of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza City beach on Wednesday. The boys were apparently killed by an Israeli bomb or missile.

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It tells you all you need to know about Hamas that its biggest victory to date against Israel–one that is no doubt being celebrated in the fortified bunkers that house its leadership–was the death of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza City beach on Wednesday. The boys were apparently killed by an Israeli bomb or missile.

Needless to say, the Israel Defense Forces do not deliberately target children–any more than do the armed forces of the United States or other civilized powers. That is both morally abhorrent and strategically stupid: What possible purpose can be served in killing children? But while deeply harmful and counterproductive for Israel, this inadvertent strike was a big win for Hamas. It produced the most coveted of victories in modern warfare: a front-page picture, taken by the storied New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, of one dead boy lying on the Gaza sand and another being carried in a man’s arms.

There is no surer or better way for Hamas to make its propaganda point, which is the only point of this entire exercise from its standpoint. Hamas, like other terrorist groups, knows it cannot win a military victory against a much more powerful enemy, but it can win a public-relations victory by fostering the illusion that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians its victims.

Such an image is as powerful as it is misleading. All informed observers know the facts.

They know that Israel accepted a cease-fire to end this conflict while Hamas rejected it.

They know that Israel gave up all of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in 2005 in the hope that peace would break out but that the result has only been an unending series of attacks on Israel that no nation could possibly tolerate.

They know that the IDF is careful to keep civilian casualties to a minimum but this is hard to do because Hamas deliberately places its headquarters and rocket-launching sites in the midst of civilian neighborhoods in the knowledge that this will either deter Israeli strikes or, if Israeli strikes occur nevertheless, they will result in collateral damage which Palestinian propagandists can use against Israel.

They know, finally, that it is Hamas, not Israel, that indiscriminately targets civilians by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel seemingly at random.

Israel is, in some ways, a victim of its own success because its Iron Dome anti-rocket system has shot down so many of the Hamas rockets that only one Israeli has been killed in the entire war–and he was a victim of a mortar shell, not a rocket. In the battle of victims, Israel is losing–there are more dead Palestinians than dead Israelis. But that does not make the Hamas cause just, any more than the fact that, in World War II, the U.S. armed forces inflicted a lot more casualties on Germany and Japan than they themselves suffered made the cause of the Nazis and Japanese militarists a just one.

Those are the incontrovertible facts. But what are facts before the power of an image?

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Are Israel’s Enemies Losing Ground in the PR War?

There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

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There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

The backlash against Israel has been almost incomprehensible. Those attending a pro-Israel demonstration in Los Angeles were violently set upon by armed Palestinian supporters leading to a police officer firing his gun in an apparent effort to regain control over the situation. In Boston a pro-Israel activist was attacked by a woman screaming “Jewish go to hell!” In London a mob gathered outside the Israeli embassy, brandishing placards proclaiming a “Palestinian Holocaust” to be underway and accusing Israel’s prime minister of being “Hitler’s clone.” By the following morning a Jewish family home in that city was daubed with swastikas and days later a Jewish lady was randomly assaulted by demonstrators. Similarly, violent protests erupted in several German cities and in Antwerp the crowd openly chanted “slaughter the Jews.” But the most shocking scenes took place in Paris, where one synagogue was firebombed, while another came under siege from an angry mob that trapped Jewish worshipers inside the building for several hours.

What has made these events all the more outrageous is the utter disconnect between the levels of rage and the actual events that anti-Israel campaigners purport to be so enraged by. Not only did Hamas force this conflict with an unprovoked barrage of rockets targeting Israeli civilians, and not only has Hamas ignored all efforts for a ceasefire, but the casualty figures in Gaza are still dramatically lower than in all comparable conflicts and they have also remained far lower than during the first Israel-Gaza war in 2009. It should be clear to any honest observer that despite Hamas’s use of human shields, Israel is going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilians wherever possible. Hamas on the other hand is indiscriminately targeting Israel’s civilians with a large and highly sophisticated arsenal supplied by Iran. Seventy percent of Israel’s population is within reach of Hamas’s long range Fajr-5 missiles and the terror group is equipped with anti-tank mortars and even unmanned drones.

What is all the more galling is that onlookers who never seemed visibly troubled by far more horrendous conflicts in the region, and who would never have turned out to protest the casualty figures of their own governments’ military interventions, have obsessively condemned Israel at every turn. And the rhetoric from those doing the condemning has become wildly visceral, with the most appalling comparisons between the Jewish state and Nazi Germany, coupled with the equally sickening #HitlerWasRight hashtag.

Yet behavior this extreme can’t go unnoticed indefinitely. It has long been suggested, and not without justification, that the media bears a great deal of responsibility for provoking much of these anti-Israel sentiments. The British media has been particularly notorious in the past and indeed during this latest round of hostilities much of the reporting has been just as misleading. However, alongside this dishonest reporting there has been a growing chorus of voices speaking in opposition to the prevailing anti-Israel sentiment.

At the Telegraph, in response to the latest frenzy of Israel bashing, several writers have spoken-up, with a particularly strong piece by Dan Hodges reminding readers that history demonstrates why Israel cannot afford weakness. At the Spectator Rod Liddle authored a post bluntly titled “Will the BBC Accept that Hamas Wants to Kill Lots of Jews?” And Hugo Rifkind, also of the Spectator, went with “If Britain Was Being Shelled, as Israel Now is, How Would We Respond?” Even the left-leaning Independent ran a piece asking why no one cares about Palestinians starved by Assad. But perhaps the most blistering attack on the anti-Israel crowed came from Brendon O’Neil with his outspoken editorial: “There’s Something Very Ugly in This Rage Against Israel: the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism gets thinner every day.”

The point is that–despite how hostile the British media has typically been to Israel–if these writers can come to see the campaign against Israel for what it is, then ultimately any reasonable person, confronted with the reality of this phenomenon, should be capable of seeing the inherent bigotry of this hateful movement. And a similar shift could well emerge at the diplomatic level too. The way in which the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird recently slammed the UN human rights commissioner for her disingenuous words against Israel’s military operation, or the fact that Australia’s Ambassador Dave Sharma took to twitter to highlight the reality of Hamas rockets, is all a far cry from the atmosphere in 2009.

None of this is to suggest that some grand awakening has taken place. The New York Times and Guardian aren’t changing tune. But as the campaign against Israel becomes ever more extreme and violent, there is a chance for the fair-minded to see things anew.

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For Israel, a Little Disengagement Can Go a Very Long Way

It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

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It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

Prior to Israel’s 2005 evacuation from Gaza, when that move was being debated in the Knesset, several of Israel’s parliamentarians scoffed at the idea that retreat from Gaza would bring further rocket fire or greater insecurity. Rather, they insisted that this move was essential for bringing safety to the communities bordering Gaza. At the time Kadima MK Meir Shitrit scoffed “There is an argument according to which there will be a threat … a threat on the Negev communities, I have never before heard such a ridiculous argument.” Similarly, Meretz’s Ran Cohen declared “The disengagement is good for security. The right-wing people stood here and talked about kassams flying from here to there. I’m telling you … if we don’t get out of the Gaza strip in two or three years, maybe after one year, the range will reach Ashkelon!” How grateful most Israelis would be if Hamas rockets had only gotten as far as Ashkelon. As it is, more than seventy percent of the country is now under Hamas’s rocket barrage.

Yet, as much as disengagement from Gaza has been a security disaster for Israel, it is not at all clear what a feasible strategy for success might look like.

The prospect of permanently redeploying the IDF in the strip and sending Israel’s sons to police the backstreets of Gaza’s slums is virtually unthinkable. Equally, an attempt to overthrow Hamas and reinstate the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority there could also quickly unravel. Another alternative might be to permanently station Israel’s military along Gaza’s Philadelphi Corridor on the Egyptian border, so giving Israel greater ability to prevent the smuggling of weaponry into the strip. That, however, would mean that Israel would become solely responsible for Gaza’s borders, whereas at least as things currently stand the military blockade of Gaza is given added legitimacy by the fact that the Egyptians also help maintain it; not that one would know this from the popular discourse on the subject.

This question of legitimacy is no small matter for Israel in its handling of the threat from Gaza. A permanent Israeli presence in Gaza could easily become the source of much international condemnation. But that has to be contrasted with the existing scenario where, in addition to the necessity a constant military blockade of Gaza, there is a pattern of intensive conflicts breaking out every two or three years. These see a high casualty rate—albeit far lower than the figures for other similar conflicts—and that in turn causes a level of hysterical condemnation from parts of the media, the UN, and the streets of Europe, that greatly undermines Israel’s international standing.

It is with all this in mind that Israelis turn their gaze to low lying Samarian hills of the West Bank that overlook Israel’s densely populated central region, where the country’s international airport and the bulk of its energy infrastructure is situated. If a small-scale disengagement from Gaza can bring almost the entire country within range of Hamas rockets, then what might withdrawal from the West Bank bring? As Prime Minister Netanyahu noted on Friday, the West Bank could quickly become 20 Gazas. Even with the Iron Dome missile defense system, at present Israelis find themselves scurrying in and out of bomb shelters every few hours. How long can people realistically live like that? Besides, with every Iron Dome interception of a cheaply made kassam rocket costing tens of thousands of dollars, a war of attrition could quickly become completely unsustainable for the Israelis.

Preventing infiltration by militants attempting to breach Gaza’s border with Israel has proven a difficult and resource consuming task. The winding West Bank border is far longer and much closer to large population centers than the Gazan border is. And given that Iranian supplied anti-tank missiles have been fired at civilian traffic from Gaza, it is quite conceivable that similar attacks could emanate from a Palestinian controlled West Bank. After all, with the sheer volume of weaponry that has made its way beneath Gaza’s border with Egypt, it is highly likely that far more could cross undetected over the far lengthier Jordanian border with the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s words on Friday about not relinquishing control of territory west of the Jordan River will likely make sense to a growing number of Israelis. A little disengagement from Gaza has put almost the entire country within reach of Hamas rockets; what might a dramatically larger disengagement from the West Bank lead to?

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No Easy Answer in Gaza

Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel retaliating with air strikes and sometimes ground attacks into the Gaza Strip. The “international community” bemoaning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate” response and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

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Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel retaliating with air strikes and sometimes ground attacks into the Gaza Strip. The “international community” bemoaning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate” response and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have. It’s been running on endless repeat like a cheesy late-night horror show ever since Israel pulled all of its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Hamas took advantage of the Israeli evacuation to seize power from the corrupt and unpopular Fatah apparatchiks with whom Israel and the West prefer to deal. Hamas then began stockpiling missiles, smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, which it unloads on Israel at periodic intervals. Israel naturally hits back and, because Hamas military installations are hidden in civilian areas, the predictable result is civilian casualties which can then be paraded before the television cameras to turn international opinion against the big bad Zionists.

After a while, both Hamas and Israel decide they have had enough–the former because it does not want to suffer any more damage, the latter because it does not want to reoccupy Gaza. Then the two sides agree to a ceasefire which lasts perhaps 18 months if we’re lucky (before today the last such round of fighting occurred in November 2012). Eventually, however, some fresh incident occurs (such as the recent murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian extremists and the equally odious revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists) to trigger a fresh outbreak of conflict.

Is there no way out of what is known, with some justification, as a “cycle of violence”? Not that I can see.

The preferred solution of the U.S. and the European Union is an Israeli pullout from the West Bank. This is intended to hasten a “final settlement” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Israel will do no such thing because it has seen in Gaza the wages of withdrawal–not peace but rather more conflict.

But if the doves have no real answer to the threat from Gaza, neither do the hawks who urge that Israel annihilate Hamas. The only way this can happen is if Israel reoccupies the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, as has happened so often in the past, Hamas will simply regenerate itself after suffering some casualties.

The problem is that the Israeli public has no desire to assume the role of occupier in Gaza once again–which would undoubtedly reduce rocket attacks on Israel but increase casualties among the conscripts of the Israel Defense Forces. The fact that the Iron Dome system provides a fair degree of protection against Hamas rockets makes it all the more unlikely that Prime Minister Netanyahu will take the drastic step of reoccupying Gaza.

It would be nice if Fatah were able to topple Hamas from power and install a regime in Gaza committed to peaceful co-existence with Israel. But this is unlikely on multiple levels, not least because even Fatah has not truly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Perhaps things will change now that Egypt is unwilling and Syria unable to provide aid to Hamas. Perhaps Hamas will be weakened enough to be toppled by other Palestinian factions. But unfortunately Hamas’s successors may be al-Qaeda-style Salafists who would be no improvement.

So for the immediate future there appears to be no way out of the strategic impasse in which Hamas and Israel are trapped. Hamas would love to destroy Israel but is too weak to do so. Israel has the power to destroy Hamas but not the will. Both sides thus keep conflict within manageable bounds and preserve their resources for future battles.

There is, for the foreseeable future, no exit from this grim deadlock–and attempts to achieve one (by, for example, forcing Israeli territorial concessions) are only likely to make the situation worse.

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Islamic State vs. Syrian Kurds

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit Rojava, the autonomous region which Syrian Kurds have carved out by pushing out or containing Bashar al-Assad’s forces while simultaneously defeating wave after wave of Nusra Front and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks. What the Syrian Kurds have achieved would be amazing under any circumstance; that they did so while blockaded by Turkey, the Syrian government, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose leader Masud Barzani opposes them for both tribal reasons and because they refuse to subordinate themselves to his leadership) is even more impressive. That Rojava has become a refuge for tens of thousands of Arab Muslims and Syrian Christians is testament to its tolerance and moderation.

Largely out of deference to Turkey, the State Department has steered clear of Syrian Kurdistan, refusing to welcome its representatives to the ill-considered and ill-fated conferences in Geneva earlier this year, while choosing instead to bring in Syrian Kurdish politicians lacking any real constituency on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. position is both strategic and moral malpractice. The Assad regime has implemented, in the words of State Department official Stephen Rapp, “the kind of machinery of cruel death that we haven’t seen frankly since the Nazis.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, of course, has broken away from al-Qaeda because it considers that extremist group too moderate. Since renaming itself the Islamic State and taking over broad swaths of Iraq, its atrocities have been well covered by the media. That given the option between Assad or a radical Islamist group on one hand, and a secular, democratic-leaning entity on the other, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry place the United States against the secular, democratic-leaning entity says a lot about the current moral bankruptcy infusing U.S. policy.

For months, that lack of support made life difficult for Syrian Kurds, Christians, and other citizens within Rojava. What has not been covered, however, is the all-out battle now occurring between ISIS and Syrian Kurds. Tweets from residents of the region now under ISIS attacks have also reported that the Syrian opposition has been using chemical weapons against the Kurdish population. See, for example, this account from July 9 and 10. Now, of course, just because someone tweets something does not make it true. But there is no indication the reports are false, and every indication they are true At the very least, this is a charge American and UN officials should investigate. How ironic that just over a quarter century after Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds—and the Reagan administration remained silent because speaking up would be too diplomatically inconvenient—history seems to be repeating against Kurds once more. It’s a good thing there are now public intellectuals like Samantha Power who put their moral compass above ambition. Or not.

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Why Gaza Doesn’t Have Bomb Shelters

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

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One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

There’s no question that Hamas is outgunned by Israel. The Islamist terror group that still rules over Gaza has thousands of rockets, but Palestinians eager to cheer news of Israeli casualties have been disappointed as the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has knocked down most of the rockets shot over the border from Gaza at Israeli cities in the hope that carnage will result. But even though Israel has gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid killing Palestinian civilians as it attacks the missile launch sites and Hamas command centers and ammunition storage areas that are embedded in packed neighborhood and especially in or around schools, mosques, and clinics, some civilians have died. Given that the Israelis have pounded the Islamists with nearly a thousand strikes this week, the approximately 150 Palestinian fatalities is actually pretty low. But still, fewer Palestinians would have died had there been places for them to seek refuge during the fighting.

The assumption is that the Hamas-run strip is too poor to afford building shelters and safe rooms for its civilians, a point that adds to the impression that the Palestinians are helpless victims who deserve the sympathy if not the help of the world in fending off Israel’s assault on Hamas’s arsenal.

But the assumption is utterly false. Gaza’s tyrants have plenty of money and material to build shelters. And they have built plenty of them. They’re just not for the people of Gaza.

As is well known, Gaza is honeycombed with underground structures from one end of the strip to the other. This doesn’t only refer to the more than 1,400 tunnels that have connected Gaza to Egypt through which all sorts of things—including rockets, ammunition, building materials as well as consumer goods–came into the strip until the military government in Cairo stopped the traffic. The chief problem facing the Israel Defense Forces in this campaign is the same one they faced in 2008 and 2012 when they previously tried to temporarily silence the rocket fire. Hamas’s leaders and fighters are kept safe in a warren of shelters build deep underneath Gaza. There is also plenty of room there for its supply of thousands of rockets and other armaments. Moreover, they are also connected by tunnels that crisscross the length of that independent Palestinian state in all but name ruled by Hamas. Indeed, when you consider the vast square footage devoted to these structures, there may well be far more shelter space per square mile in Gaza than anyplace in Israel.

If these structures were opened up to the civilians of Gaza, there is little doubt that would lower the casualty figures. Indeed, if the leaders of Gaza and their armed cadres emerged from their safe havens under the ground and let the civilians take cover there they could then show some real courage. But lowering casualties isn’t part of Hamas’s action plan that is predicated on sacrificing as many of their own people as possible in order to generate foreign sympathy. Instead, they cower behind the civilians, shooting missiles next to schools, storing ammunition in mosques (as today’s explosion in Gaza illustrated) and, as I previously noted, are actually urging civilians to act as human shields against Israeli fire on Hamas strongholds. Indeed, they have enlisted the people of Gaza as part of their misinformation campaign in which they attempt to conceal the presence of missile launching or masked, armed Hamas fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

But I have a question for the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders. What if, instead of devoting all of their resources and cash to an effort to turn Gaza into an armed fortress, bristling with thousands of rockets and honeycombed with tunnels and shelters where only Hamas members and their dangerous toys are allowed, the people of Gaza had leaders who had devoted their efforts to improving the lot of the Palestinian people since they took over the strip after Israel’s complete withdrawal in 2005? What if instead of importing missiles and other arms from Iran, Hamas had decided to try to turn their tiny principality into a haven of free enterprise instead of an Islamist tyranny built on hate and which survives on the charity of Israel (yes, Israel, which every day—including when there is fighting going on—sends trucks laden with food and medicine into Gaza to prevent the humanitarian crisis that the Palestinians claim has been happening there from occurring) and the West?

Hamas has sown the wind with its cynical decision to start a war against Israel and the people of Gaza are reaping the whirlwind. Gaza doesn’t have bomb shelters. What it does have is a ruling terrorist movement that uses civilians as human shields. By tolerating such a government and by cheering when their Islamist rulers provoke Israeli counter-attacks by shooting rockets at Israeli civilians, the people of Gaza cannot entirely blame the Jewish state or the world for their fate. But whatever we may think about their decision to accept this situation, the lack of bomb shelters in Gaza should not argue against Israel defending its people.

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Israel and Its Arabs: Rockets, Riots, and the Dream of Coexistence

One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

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One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

Of course, neither argument is a legitimate defense of violence. The importance of personal responsibility in the Middle East cannot be reiterated enough. Whatever the pretext, whatever the grievance, the conflict would spiral completely out of control if the affected population decided contempt and vengefulness were sufficient cause for vigilantism. And Israelis should (and generally do) know better than to say, “well, the other side does it.” But those who would blame Israeli policies for the “radicalization” of Palestinian youth should take a look at the other side of that equation, and be consistent. The New York Times delves into the topic today.

In an article about Israeli soul searching after the murder of an Arab teen last week, the Times makes yet another foray into the world of moral equivalence but ends up undermining its own point. After all, the Times did not also write an accompanying article about Palestinian or Israeli-Arab soul searching. Nonetheless, even if such soul searching is one-sided, it is welcome. No society should desensitize itself to the murder of children.

The Times then tries to pin Israeli radicalization on the religious right, but accidentally stumbles upon a different point. The reporter discovers that religious leaders are condemning such violence in no uncertain terms and discouraging their followers from even contemplating it. The Times goes looking for another factor, and finds one:

Tamir Lion, an anthropologist who studies youth, said he was troubled by the changing attitudes among Israel’s young people. For many years, Mr. Lion interviewed soldiers about why they chose to enter combat units. “The answers,” he said on Israel Radio, “were always about the challenge, to show I could make it, the prestige involved.”

That began to change in 2000, he said. “I started to get answers — not a lot, but some — like: ‘To kill Arabs.’ The first time I heard it, it was at the time of the large terror attacks, and since then it has not stopped.”

A generation has grown up in a period of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with suicide bombs and military incursions, rocket fire and airstrikes. Young people on both sides may think about the other more as an enemy than as a neighbor.

Those who blamed Israel for radicalizing Palestinian youth could do so freely because they never thought Israeli youth could be radicalized in sufficient numbers to expose their hypocrisy. They might now be wondering if they were wrong.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think they were: Israeli youth may be resentful of the Palestinians who have tried to kill them since the day they were born, but the rare vigilantism will likely remain rare. In part, that’s because of such soul searching. When Israelis go missing, the entire nation holds its breath. When a gruesome hate crime is carried out, Israelis wonder what went wrong.

And that’s what makes this current conflict so worrying for Israelis. It was epitomized by the scene of Arab rioters in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat destroying a light-rail train station built to connect them with the rest of the city. The symbolism was impossible to ignore. As Jonathan Schanzer told the Free Beacon:

The total destruction of the modern light rail—which was seen as a symbol of coexistence between Israeli and Arab areas of Jerusalem—is evidence of mounting frustration among Israeli Arabs, who have increasingly clashed with Israeli police as tensions reach a boiling point following the murders.

“These are Arab-Israelis in Jerusalem, and they destroyed a multi-million dollar project that connected them to the rest of the city,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “This is apartheid, self imposed.”

Israelis know Hamas and its supporters want an unending genocidal war against the Jews. But they believe that Israel’s Arabs want what they want: peace, safety, coexistence. When Israel’s Arabs destroy symbols of such coexistence, when they explicitly reject Jewish Israelis’ overtures, they raise the concern that the coexistence they prize is illusory, a time bomb with an exposed fuse.

Another intifada, or something like it, would reinforce this concern. And Israelis who see–and deplore–the rise in anger and mistrust after the last intifada know how precarious that coexistence will be if each generation grows up with its own intifada. And they’re all too aware of the limits of soul searching if they’re the only ones engaging in it.

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Is Qatar Becoming a Rogue Regime?

Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

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Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

The skeptics were right. Qatar has used its tremendous financial resources to become a major regional and international player. Its money speaks louder than words, and what it says suggests that tiny Qatar supports radical sectarian causes if not outright terrorism. Qatar, for example, has become, alongside Turkey, the chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups like Hamas. Increasingly, it also seems willing to seek to undermine the stability of those states surrounding it.

The Washington Post (via the Associated Press) now reports that Qatar is seeking the return of two of its citizens which authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested on charges of espionage. The charges seem to suggest that the alleged Qatari agents were seeking to bolster Islah, the Emirati branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a group covered here in COMMENTARY and which has maintained ties with both al-Qaeda and which has sought to overthrow the Emirati government.

The Washington Post references Al-Khaleej, a paper published in Sharjah which, in Arabic, reported:

Al-Khaleej has learned that the news carried by a Qatari newspaper on Qatari nationals detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in fact about the arrest of Qatari intelligence elements operating in the UAE and currently under investigation…This behavior confirms the general impression, consolidated day after day, that Qatar is not sincere in its reiterated pledge to banish the Muslim Brotherhood group from the country… Some observers monitoring Gulf affairs wondered once again about the real goals pursued by the Qatari foreign policy, which threatens to further isolate Doha… The observers, furthermore, highlighted the modus operandi that Qatar resorted to in the past, which manifested itself through the ambiguous relations of Abd-al-Rahman al-Nuaimi with Al-Karama Organization.

And the UAE’s Gulf News, in English, explores the accusations against the Qataris more fully:

“A group of Qatari men, directly overseen and controlled by the Qatari intelligence was arrested in the UAE,” a senior official told Gulf News. The official added the cell had been attempting to re-establish Al Islah group, linked to Egypt’s terrorist designated Muslim Brotherhood. Al Islah was disbanded after more than 65 people accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the UAE were handed prison terms — some up to 15 years — last year. Twenty six of the defendants were acquitted. The official said the Qatari cell had also been planning to recruit members and raise money for Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaida-linked rebel group in Syria fighting troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.

While some people absolutely love Dubai, a city through which I often transit, I have to admit that I find it boring. There are only so many malls I can take; I much prefer Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, which many people would find even more boring. That said, in the Middle East nowadays, boring is good. Boring is what the U.S. government should strive for. That Qatar, after funding chaos in Egypt and radicalism in Syria, is working for ideological reasons to undermine one of the few stable governments in the region is not something which anyone should take lightly. The new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has been in his position for only slightly more than a year, but either his promises of reform are hollow or his retired father Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani and his henchmen remain in effective control. It does not matter, however, which of those two scenarios explains current Qatari policy and the emirate’s willingness to fund instability and radicalism. The reality is that while Qatar is transforming itself into some sort of perverse Disneyland, it is using its excess money to bring terror to other states.

As Qatar transforms, the United States should not double down on rotten, but should proceed very, very carefully, lest its presence in Qatar become less a strategic asset and more a hostage to or shield for Qatari bad behavior.

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Can We Talk About Muslim Intolerance?

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

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In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Despite its shortcomings, Kristof deserves some credit for raising an issue that has heretofore been treated as a taboo in the pages of the liberal flagship of the mainstream print media establishment. The Times has been one of the loudest voices touting the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. It has campaigned against efforts to monitor homegrown Islamists and treated any concern about extremist Muslims as an expression of bigotry. It has also soft-pedaled Islamist extremism around the globe and rarely sought to explain the deep religious roots of this violent movement.

But confronted with the widespread evidence of religious persecution of non-Muslims throughout the Arab and Islamic world, Kristof does not avert his gaze. The opening of his column speaks for itself:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human-rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

These examples are, as Kristof makes clear, not isolated examples or the product of outlier forces. The trend he writes about is mainstream opinion in much of the Muslim world, even in countries that are often somewhat misleadingly labeled as “moderate” because they are supporting terrorist attacks on the West. As he rightly notes, Saudi Arabia is just as repressive toward minority faiths as Iran or Sudan. Though there are places, such as in China, where Muslim minorities are themselves the victims of religious persecution, the pattern of Islamic intolerance is almost uniform across the globe where they are in power.

But the consequences of this trend are not limited to the unfortunate fate of Christians who are being driven out of their homes in places where they have lived for millennia. Muslim aggression against non-believers is integral to the conflict with Islamist forces waging terrorist wars throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa.

American leaders have been at pains to try and differentiate our war against terror from a war against Islam and Muslims. They are right to do so because the West has no interest in a general war against any religion or its adherents. But you can’t understand what is driving the efforts of al-Qaeda and its many affiliates and allies, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq, without examining the way these groups exploit religious fervor and intolerance for non-Muslims. Islamist terror in the West cannot be separated from the intolerance against non-Muslims that Kristof laments. It is a sickness within Muslim culture and must be confronted (hopefully by Muslims) and openly discussed if it is ever to be contained.

But even as he finds his voice to speak out for the victims of this trend, Kristof pulls his punches, lest he be labeled as an Islamophobe, as so many others who have raised the alarm about this problem have been:

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it. …

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Muslims do have a lot on their plate these days. But as much as Kristof deserves applauses for having broken ranks with his Times brethren, he fails to connect the dots between the troubles Muslims are enduring in Gaza, Syria, and other hot spots and the virus in their political and religious culture that promotes not only religious intolerance but jihad against the West and Muslims who hesitate to join the dark forces spreading conflict.

More importantly, it’s really not possible to sound the alarm about widespread global Muslim religious persecution while at the same time still trying to stay within the boundaries of liberal political correct dogma about Islamophobia. While anti-Muslim bigots do exist and must be denounced, the use of the term Islamophobia is a buzzword for attempts to silence those seeking to highlight the very trend that Kristof seeks to bring to the attention of the readers of the Times.

Thinking seriously about Muslim intolerance and violence isn’t a function of chauvinism or hate. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging a fact about the world that can’t be ignored. A tentative step, such as the one Kristof took today, is better than none at all. But even this groundbreaking column illustrates the difficulty liberals have in talking about this subject.

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What’s the Real Story of the U.S. and Maliki?

Earlier this week, Max Boot flagged an important column by Ali Khedery, the American who had perhaps the greatest institutional knowledge of what went on inside Iraq, because as an advisor to a succession of American diplomats, he was often at the thick of things. I do not know Khedery well and have only met him a few times in a cursory fashion, but he is smart, personable, and able. In short, Khedery is everything he claims to be in his Washington Post essay, when he writes that he was the reason why the United States initially pushed Nouri al-Maliki to Iraq’s premiership but that he recognized Maliki’s drawbacks and sought a withdrawal of U.S. support in 2010.

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Earlier this week, Max Boot flagged an important column by Ali Khedery, the American who had perhaps the greatest institutional knowledge of what went on inside Iraq, because as an advisor to a succession of American diplomats, he was often at the thick of things. I do not know Khedery well and have only met him a few times in a cursory fashion, but he is smart, personable, and able. In short, Khedery is everything he claims to be in his Washington Post essay, when he writes that he was the reason why the United States initially pushed Nouri al-Maliki to Iraq’s premiership but that he recognized Maliki’s drawbacks and sought a withdrawal of U.S. support in 2010.

Khedery’s column comes just a few months after Dexter Filkins wrote a lengthy profile of Maliki in the New Yorker based on numerous interviews with American officials.

Enter Reidar Visser, an astute Norwegian Iraq analyst, who has compared the two narratives and pointed out some inconsistencies. First, Khedery writes that it was he and Jeffrey Beals who promoted Maliki’s candidacy within the embassy and U.S. government. Filkins, however, credits a CIA officer whom he doesn’t name. As Visser notes wryly, “Unless one of them was indeed CIA there is some discordance between the two narratives.” In this case, the answer might simply be both are right. U.S. policymaking is marked by huge bureaucracies. Independent strains coalescing to a common purpose shape outcomes, but it is the nature of the beast that each independent strain believes that they were the ones who mattered: it’s like the old parable of the blind men describing the elephant, but in this case, two of the blind men were describing its legs, albeit separate ones.

Visser then identifies two problems in which the open sources seem to contradict Khedery’s narrative. The first was with regard to Maliki’s use of the de-Baathification committee against opponents in the lead-up to the 2010 elections. Visser quotes Khedery as writing, “He [Maliki] coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections,” and then Visser himself notes, “This description of what happened comes across as disingenuous. For starters, the resuscitation of the de-Baathification issue in early 2010 was clearly driven by Maliki’s Shiite enemies [like Adel Abdel Mehdi] who, with considerable Iranian assistance, had tried in vain to enlist him for their sectarian alliance during the previous summer.” Indeed, Visser notes, Maliki had to fight off de-Baathification committee attempts to disqualify some of his own political allies. It was only after the elections that Maliki sought to use de-Baathification to disqualify some election winners.

Visser also takes Khedery to task for his treatment of the Iraqi supreme court which ruled in May 2010 that blocs could shift and merge after the election, in effect building coalitions to change the election outcome. “Many Americans have tried to portray this ruling as some kind of Maliki coup,” Visser notes, “but closer inspection of the relevant constitutional background materials suggests that the ruling was quite objective in addressing the limited constitutional ambiguity that existed.”

Both Khedery and Visser skim past the arrest warrant which the Maliki government issued for former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Visser does note that Khedery “conveniently flashes forward to the threatened arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi right after the US withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and then jumps further to the targeting of Rafi al-Eisawi [sic], the finance minister, in late 2012. Between those events, however, there were junctures where things could have gone very differently in Iraqi politics if the US government had had the acumen to act in a more balanced way.” The problem with this statement is that it seems to imply that the arrest warrants were somehow wrong. Even many Sunni Arab Iraqis acknowledge substance behind the accusations against Hashemi. And, as the Iraqi government points out, why would Issawi pay blood money to the family of his victims if there were no victims? The criticism that should be made of the Maliki government is not that it sought to bring Sunni officials complicit in terrorism to justice, but rather that it was selective and did not pursue many Shi‘ite officials (Muqtada al-Sadr, for example) with the same energy or enthusiasm.

There are other issues of context which should be acknowledged and understood when reading Khedery’s narrative. Khedery is forthcoming in acknowledging his post-government role with Exxon, where he helped that oil company begin operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. What is important to note, however, is that the Iraqi government considered this a shot across its bow, corrosive to Iraqi integrity, and deeply illegal. Indeed, Maliki subsequently exerted great pressure on Exxon and lobbied the White House furiously to accept Baghdad’s position in the conflict and, indeed, this is what the Obama administration did. The Kurds have lobbied tirelessly against Maliki, and it bears observation that Khedery’s change of mind coincided with his joining of Exxon and its attempts to do business with the Iraqi Kurds.

Iraq is a complicated story. After leaving the Pentagon, I was approached by many Ph.D. students who wanted to interview me as they wrote about the decisions to go to war. Because of my own bias as a historian–the old Yale adage that was drilled into us that to try to write a history of recent events for which there hasn’t been adequate declassification of documents from all sides isn’t history but rather journalism–I turned them down. I had my own opinions and observations, but absent declassified documentation, no Ph.D. student would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in his sourcing and would likely simply go with his or her bias. To re-read today some of those journalists—George Packer and Tom Ricks, for example—who sought to write a first draft of the Iraqi war’s history is to recognize how superficial, self-serving, and inaccurate some of their sources were. Khedery, Filkins, and Visser are more the real deal. And each of their writings is worth reading in order to better illustrate key decisions and their reasoning.

That said, one of the problems—and this is especially true in Filkins’s piece—is that American officials tend to re-write their legacies and exaggerate their importance. It is unbecoming, and it reinforces the notion that American officials cannot and should not be trusted. Too often, writers also assume that the United States shapes the playing field, and that Iraqis don’t simply nod their heads, make the American feel important, and then pursue their own politics. It is also unbecoming—and very damaging to American interests—to bash a democratically-elected leader like Maliki simply because he has pursued policies which do not always conform to what the United States would like to see. After all, Maliki’s constituency is Iraq, and not the American embassy. Some American analysts and, indeed, Iraqis can be frustrated with what they perceive as Maliki’s sectarianism, but they might also recognize that Maliki was put in a precarious position when American generals made promises to some Sunni tribal leaders that they had no ability to keep. In effect, these generals traded long-term stability for short-term calm. Of course, the problem isn’t just with these generals: Many Sunni tribal leaders heard only what they wanted to hear from their interlocutors and when what they wished to be the case did not become their reality, they grew bitter and disenfranchised.

Maliki won the largest share of votes in Iraq’s most recent elections, but he also faces unease within his own party, especially in the wake of the joint tribal and Baathist uprising, and ISIS terror campaign that erupted in its wake. It is the vanguard of this uprising that is truly sectarian. To suggest that Maliki is somehow responsible for the sectarian radicalism of the Islamic State is to blame a battered spouse for the aggression of her partner. It is still a testament to Iraq’s system, as convoluted and dysfunctional as it can be, that Maliki may not get the third term he desires for the simple reason that his opponents have coalesced around him.

As to who is responsible for Maliki, let’s stop treating the man as a puppet: Maliki has a far greater role in his rise than outside forces did and even if he got a boost at some strategic points, it is well-past time to stop pretending that Iraqi politicians are puppets that can be controlled by Foggy Bottom or Langley. The more we engage in that self-deception, the more detached from reality we will become, and the worse the outcome will be for U.S. interests in the country.

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Even the Media’s Corrections Are Deceptive

Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

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Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

Here is the Times’s correction of just one of the falsehoods the editors pushed:

An editorial on Tuesday about the death of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem referred incorrectly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. On the day of the killing, Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had told his minister for internal security to quickly investigate the crime; it is not the case that “days of near silence” passed before he spoke about it.

But in reality the way the editorial now reads is not all that much better. Here is the initial, false sentence, as pointed out immediately by CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Sternthal had made it clear that even the Times’s own reporting showed this to be wrong; Netanyahu had spoken up days earlier. Yet here is how the corrected sentence now reads:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Notice the problem? The editorial still uses Netanyahu’s condemnation days after the murder instead of his earlier statements on the crime, leaving the reader to come away with the same mistaken impression. The Times’s new version of the editorial is closer to the truth, but still not all that close. The Times editors’ allergy to the truth is inexcusable: they should pop a Claritin, endure the hives, and be honest about Israel.

But that’s not the end of the objectionable content in the Times’s faux correction. The correction makes no mention of the other, arguably greater mistake on the Israeli poem, and the editorial still includes that line. It’s one thing to get the date of Netanyahu’s condemnation of the attack wrong; that’s bad, especially because it shows the Times editors don’t read their own (or any other) newspaper. But there is a dangerous aspect to the editors’ pernicious misreading of the poem.

To put this in simple terms: Netanyahu read a poem that denounced earthly vengeance and vigilantism. The Times editorial claims the poem encourages earthly vengeance and vigilantism. This is a serious slander of Netanyahu, the poet, and the Israeli people. It includes Netanyahu in a group of Israelis the Times accuses of displaying vicious anti-Arab bigotry and violent tendencies, when in fact the prime minister was criticizing them in a bid to lower the temperature and promote restraint.

Only the New York Times can so blithely add a “correction” to its own false claims that muddy the waters even more and further concretize a dishonest narrative that tosses a match into a tinderbox. And the really dispiriting aspect to this is that we can expect more of the same. The desire of the leftist media to perpetuate a lie that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are morally equivalent will only produce more hateful anti-Israel propaganda now that Hamas and Fatah have joined in their unity government.

That’s because Hamas is guilty of even more terrorism and anti-Semitism than Fatah is, so if the media want to equate the Israeli leadership with the Palestinian leadership they’ll have to drop Israel to Hamas’s level. And they’ll be taking their cues from Washington, apparently. While the State Department recently offered the laughable nonsense that America’s leaders “have no evidence that Hamas plays any role in the interim technocratic government,” other countries are taking a more serious approach to foreign affairs and recognizing reality.

In a Times of Israel story about how several Western countries have been more supportive of Israel during this crisis and possessed a greater degree of moral clarity than the Obama administration, we read the following tweet from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird:

The new Palestinian government must exercise its authority in #Gaza and bring an immediate end to Hamas’s rocket attacks on #Israel

I don’t know whether the New York Times editors are getting their information from the Obama administration or the White House is getting its information on the conflict from the Times, but there’s a quite delusional feedback loop here. And it helps explain why even the Times’s corrections warrant their own corrections.

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Obama’s Indefensible Palestinian Policy

It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

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It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

Yet from the State Department any cursory remarks about Israel defending itself were immediately invalidated by the usual moral equivalence that spoke of “both sides” and called for restraint, which in reality is just diplomacy speak for opposing any meaningful efforts taken by Israel to stop these unprovoked attacks on its people. However, the recent events raise pressing questions about the administration’s wider policy on the Palestinians, not least because just weeks ago President Mahmoud Abbas entered into a unity government with Hamas, a move that the Obama administration acquiesced in despite the many cautionary warnings they received against doing so.

The most recent flare-up makes the ongoing U.S. relationship with Abbas’s Hamas-Fatah unity government all the more awkward, but the administration has been seeking to get around the inconvenient facts of the matter with the most preposterous double-think, insisting that Abbas’s unity government with Hamas doesn’t actually have Hamas playing “any role” within it. The subtlety of this distinction will no doubt be lost on almost everyone but the State Department’s Jen Psaki, who has the unfortunate task of having to peddle this line to the press.

Nevertheless, even if we suspend our overriding sense of disbelief and buy into the State Department line for a moment, the truth is that Abbas and his supposedly moderate Fatah movement are far from innocent with regard to these latest attacks on Israel. Indeed, as Khaled Abu Toameh has pointed out, Fatah militiamen who serve in the Palestinian Authority security force—which is funded by the U.S. among others—have openly participated in rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas during this latest assault.

Yet far from hearing any condemnation from Abbas on account of these barbaric acts of terrorism, President Abbas—lauded by Obama and Kerry as Israel’s fabled and long awaited partner for peace—has been engaging in the most inflammatory incitement against Israel. At yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership Abbas accused Israel of perpetrating “genocide” in Gaza and even invoked a reference to Auschwitz, another apparent case of double-think given that Abbas holds a Ph.D. in Holocaust denial from the University of  Moscow.

To add to this unhinged rhetoric Abbas instructed the Palestinian Authority to ready for an application for membership of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Now this could just be a bluff, but as Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted, in the event that the Palestinians launched a successful prosecution campaign against Israel at the ICC, Israel would have “no Iron Dome for this,” and the threat of sanctions could suddenly become very real. Of course, this move could also backfire terribly for Abbas; given that the unity government theoretically puts Gaza under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, genuine and fully warranted charges of war crimes could well be leveled against the Palestinians. But when one considers that in 2004 the so-called International Court of Justice disgracefully ruled that Israel’s security barrier—its last line of defense against suicide bombings—is illegal under international law, it is hard to hold out much hope for decent rulings where Israel is concerned.

And when it comes to acting decently, if Abbas continues down the path that he has already progressed quite someway along, then it will become increasingly difficult for the Obama administration to defend its ongoing closeness with the Palestinian Authority, or to justify the significant amount of U.S. financial support that keeps Abbas in power. Yet after the administration has invested so much in so publicly championing Abbas as a kind of Palestinian Mandela, it would be rather awkward for them to have to admit that they were wrong all along.

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Morality and Self-Defense in Gaza

Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

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Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

The Israeli practice of calling up people whose homes have been used as Hamas bases or centers of missile production to tell them that a rocket or shell is about to hit them was used in the 2008-09 counter-offensive against Gazan terrorists. Its use is now being stepped up as Israel continues to try to silence the Hamas rockets. But the idea of a country defending its borders and population against terrorist assault by politely asking the people living in and around a legitimate military target to evacuate the place before it is demolished is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare.

The Israelis are doing it for a number of reasons. One is that the IDF’s code of conduct has always promoted the concept of avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible. The other is that the Palestinians have deliberately sought to provoke Israeli counterattacks that would cause civilian deaths that could then be used to discredit the Jewish state.

But the problem with the practice is twofold.

One is that often the Palestinians don’t heed the warnings. In the case of one building in Khan Younis that Hamas had been using to fire rockets from or otherwise conduct operations, the warnings—a cell phone call and then a flare fired at the roof—came in time for everyone inside the place to flee. Those inside understood what was going on but rather than evacuate the target, local Palestinians decided to gather around the house to form a human shield for the Hamas operations with some even going to the roof of the doomed building. Seven people were killed despite the attempt by the Israelis to demolish the enemy hideout without taking any lives.

The other problem with this method is that if the goal of the tactic is to avoid international criticism, it doesn’t work. Hamas is deliberately firing missiles into heavily populated cities in the hope that some will get through Israel’s missile defenses and injure as many civilians as possible. In response, Israel tries to target Hamas fighters who hide among civilians. But no matter how hard the Israelis try to fight a “clean” war, they still wind up getting attacked by human-rights groups who hold them to a standard that would prohibit virtually any form of self-defense against the terrorists.

While morality and warfare are incompatible almost by definition, Israel has always tried to reconcile the two with mixed success. The only way to win wars is to kill the enemy and make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue fighting. That means removing the means of supply and production of weapons for the opponent. But in the asymmetrical warfare into which the Palestinians have forced Israel, an international community that has little sympathy for the Jewish state’s dilemma has branded the normal means of fighting a war as atrocities.

The standing rebuke to Israel is that its counter-attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza produce more casualties than the Palestinian barrage exacts from Israel. That is as true in the current fight as it was in the past as more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in the recent exchanges while there have been no Israeli fatalities despite the hundreds of missiles whose purpose was to kill as many Jews as possible. Israeli counter-attacks are always called disproportionate though the last thing the Palestinians would want is for the IDF to respond in kind with attacks that, like those of Hamas, aim to kill civilians.

The notion that Israel needs to apologize for the inaccuracy of Hamas rockets or the success of the Iron dome anti-missile defense system is absurd. But not as absurd as the notion that Israel need apologize for the fact that its strikes on Hamas targets have sometimes exacted a lethal price on the terrorists and those, whether young or old, who were, as in the case with the Khan Younis building, foolish enough to stay in a place that was an obvious military target.

But the discussion about morality in the conflict with Hamas is ultimately pointless. For those who wrongly characterize the fighting going on in the Middle East as merely part of a blood feud between two crazed antagonists, it’s easy to dismiss Israeli efforts to spare the lives of its foes as either inadequate or insignificant in the context of the conduct of an immoral war on the Palestinian people. But to adopt such facile moral relativism is to misunderstand the conflict.

The difference between Hamas and the IDF isn’t merely a matter of technology. It’s that Hamas’s goal is the destruction of the Jewish state and the annihilation of its people. Israel’s goal is to survive and to eventually force the Palestinians to make peace. For those who share the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence in the country is the real cause of the war, IDF tactics, no matter how fastidious, are irrelevant. By the same token, they consider any form of Palestinian “resistance” to be legitimate even if that means tacit approval for terror such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month or the indiscriminate firing of missiles on cities.

One can only applaud the tactics employed by the Israelis to avoid needless deaths. Yet even those involved with this noble effort must understand that the most moral thing they can do is to end the terrorist threat to Israeli civilians. Destroying Hamas’s ability to wage another campaign of terrorist warfare is also the most moral thing to do from the perspective of saving Palestinian lives. The people of Gaza will only be safe once the Hamas tyrants who have ruthlessly exploited their suffering are removed from power and stripped of their ability to plunge the region into conflict. Until that is accomplished, any further effort devoted to the discussion about morality and the Gaza conflict is a waste of time.

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John Kerry’s War

Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

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Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

First, as repeated efforts over the last 14 years have shown, Palestinians and Israelis aren’t ready to make a deal. Serious efforts were made at the Camp David talks in 2000, the Taba talks in 2001, the Livni-Qureia talks in 2007-08, the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, and, most recently, Kerry’s talks, but all failed because the gaps between the parties couldn’t be bridged. As Shmuel Rosner noted in a perceptive New York Times op-ed in May, that’s because many issues Westerners don’t much care about, and therefore imagine are easy to compromise on, are actually very important to the parties involved and thus impossible to compromise on. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and until it does, negotiations will never bring peace.

But failed peace talks inevitably make violence more likely, for two main reasons. First, they force both sides to focus on their most passionate disagreements–the so-called “core issues” that go to the heart of both Israeli and Palestinian identity–rather than on less emotional issues. On more mundane issues, Israel and the Palestinian Authority can sometimes agree–as they did on a series of economic cooperation projects last June, before Kerry’s peace talks gummed up the works. But even if they don’t, it’s hard for people on either side to get too upset when their governments squabble over, say, sewage treatment. In contrast, people on both sides do get upset when their governments argue over, say, the “right of return,” because that’s an issue where both sides view the other’s narrative as negating their own existence.

Second, failed peace talks always result in both sides feeling that they’ve lost or conceded something important without receiving a suitable quid pro quo. Palestinians, for instance, were outraged when Kerry reportedly backed Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, while Israelis were outraged by Kerry’s subsequent U-turn on the issue. Thus both sides ended up feeling as if their positions on this issue were undermined during the talks. The same goes for the Jordan Valley, where both Israelis and Palestinians felt Kerry’s proposals didn’t meet their respective needs, but now fear these proposals will serve as the starting point for additional concessions next time.

Added to this were the “gestures” Kerry demanded of both sides: that Israel free dozens of vicious killers and the PA temporarily refrain from joining international organizations. Though the price Kerry demanded of Israel was incomparably greater, neither side wanted to pay its assigned share. So when the talks collapsed, both felt they had made a sacrifice for nothing.

In short, failed peace talks exacerbate Israeli-Palestinian tensions rather than calming them. And when tensions rise, so does the likelihood of violence. That’s true in any situation, but doubly so for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because terrorist groups like Hamas are always happy to throw a match into a barrel of explosives. The unsurprising result is that spasms of violence, like the second intifada and the current war, have frequently followed failed peace talks.

So if Washington truly wants to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence, the best thing it could do is stop trying to force both sides into talks that are doomed to fail. For contrary to the accepted wisdom, which holds that “political negotiations” are the best way to forestall violence, they’re actually the best way to make violence more likely.

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As Rockets Fly, Administration Blasts Israel

Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

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Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and a special assistant to President Barack Obama, gave the keynote address at the Haaretz Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv yesterday. Yet rather than use the opportunity to focus on American support for Israel’s right to self-defense at a time when the very city he was speaking in was being targeted by Hamas rockets, Gordon centered his remarks on harsh criticism of the Israeli government and lavished praise on the Palestinian leader who had embraced unity with the people currently shooting at Tel Aviv and scores of other Israeli cities, towns, and villages.

Gordon’s thesis was familiar. The Obama administration believes that Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority because it cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while continuing to rule over millions of Arabs in the West Bank. And he blames Israel for the failure to conclude such an agreement with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s the position Secretary of State John Kerry adopted after the predictable collapse of his peace initiative in April and echoed by various administration officials since then. The U.S. preferred to blame Israel for this failure rather than recognize that Abbas was never truly interested in signing any agreement. Faith in Abbas’s commitment to negotiations was lost when he fled the talks to return to efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence. Any remaining trust in his bona fides should have evaporated when he concluded a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than agreeing to continue to talk to Israel. The administration compounded that error when it decided to continue to keep sending aid to the PA despite the presence of Hamas in its ranks, which U.S. law forbade.

But as egregious as those misjudgments were before this latest outbreak of violence, they were rendered even more absurd by the spectacle of an American official sticking to this line even as a Hamas rocket offensive rained down on the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president believes that timing is irrelevant when it comes to pressuring the Netanyahu government but if the U.S. goal is to persuade the Israeli people to make more concessions to the Palestinians, then yesterday’s speech was a disaster.

It bears repeating that Israel made three offers of statehood and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, first under Yasir Arafat and then Abbas, turned them down each time. Abbas’s recent decision to flee the latest talks and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn constitute a fourth “no” to peace. This is a fact that has caused most Israelis to give up on the process even though the overwhelming majority—including the supposedly intransigent Netanyahu—favor a two-state solution in theory and would be willing to make serious territorial concessions in exchange for an end to the conflict, as opposed to a truce.

But the rocket fire from Gaza provided more than an inconvenient background noise for Gordon’s speech. It was a reminder of what happens when Israel gives up territory to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon heeded the international calls for Israel to make concessions and to separate from the Palestinians and in 2005 he withdrew every Israeli settlement, soldier, and civilian from Gaza. But rather than use this as a steppingstone to comprehensive peace, the Palestinians used the retreat to turn Gaza into a giant missile-launching pad and terrorist base. Since Hamas’s 2007 coup when they seized control of the strip, Gaza has been an independent Palestinian state in all but name. As such, it is a standing argument against further such withdrawals in the West Bank that abuts Israel’s main population centers. No Israeli government will ever contemplate ceding security control of more territory unless it can be sure that it will not be used to replicate the Gaza experiment.

But instead of sending a strong message to the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and make peace, Gordon’s speech made clear that the U.S. has no intention of holding Abbas accountable for his embrace of Hamas. Gordon’s pointed dismissal of Netanyahu’s recent comments about the need for Israel to secure the Jordan River security line in light of the growing Islamist threat from the East in Iraq as well as Syria will also inspire no Israeli confidence in the judgment or the reliability of American promises.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration bears a not inconsiderable degree of responsibility for the current mess. Kerry’s initiative was undertaken with complete disregard of the consequences of its likely failure. The secretary’s prediction of a third intifada in the wake of its collapse was a self-fulfilling prophecy that Israelis are now witnessing as they mourn the three teenagers who were murdered by Hamas terrorists and see their skies filled with rockets. The decision to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as not being a threat to peace was similarly misguided. The idea that a weakling like Abbas could force Hamas to embrace peace wasn’t so much a mistake as a demonstration of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of the situation.

When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians happens that will allow their leaders to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict, they will find their neighbors willing to talk and to once again offer them sovereignty over part of the land they share with the Jews. But if Obama, Kerry, or Gordon think Israelis are likely to embrace Abbas or to start more withdrawals on the West Bank at a time when the Palestinians are using the only territory they control to wage war on them, they’re as arrogant as they are clueless.

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The Media’s Make-Believe Bibi

One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

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One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

But someone has to read the Times, and that someone turns out to be CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal. In the Times of Israel today, Sternthal calls attention to a dramatic–and demonstrably false–series of claims made by the Times’s editors:

Subtitled “Can Israeli and Palestinian Leaders End the Revenge Attacks?”, the editorial ought to have been particularly precise in reporting the leaders’ respective words and deeds. And, yet, the author/s grossly erred: “On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would ‘face the full weight of the law.’”

Netanyahu did not remain silent for days concerning the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli prime minister spoke out against the killing of Abu Kheir (sic) from July 2, the very same day of the murder.  As The Times’ own Isabel Kershner reported: “On Wednesday, after the body of the Palestinian teenager was found in the woods, the prime minister called on Israelis to obey the law, and asked investigators to quickly look into what he called ‘the abominable murder.’”

Netanyahu again denounced the murder Thursday, July 3 at the home of American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro during the July 4th celebration.

In criticizing the anti-Arab incitement that followed the deaths of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, the Times writes that “some Israelis gave in to their worst prejudices.” The editorial includes Netanyahu in this: “Even Mr. Netanyahu referenced an Israeli poem that reads: ‘Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.’”

Sternthal points out that the Times editorialists are slandering Israel here; the poem means the exact opposite of what the Times says:

Thus, The Times’ cites Netanyahu’s recitation of a line from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem “The Slaughter” as an indication that, he, like the crowds chanting “Death to Arabs” also gave in to his “worst prejudices.” In fact, Bialik’s lines, and Netanyahu’s quotation of them, are widely understood as a call for heavenly justice and a rejection of human vengeance for the killing of a small child.

Why would the Times fabricate such an explosive accusation, especially knowing the role that anti-Israel propaganda plays in violence against the Jewish state? Is it ignorance or malice? With regard to the poem, because of its historical and religious connections, the answer is probably ignorance. But if the editors want to plead ignorance on the slander that Netanyahu didn’t speak out against the murders in a timely fashion, it would require them to admit they don’t read their own paper. That’s certainly possible: as editors at the paper, they must know that the Times’s Israel reporting usually leaves readers misinformed, and they want to avoid that fate.

But another explanation is that this is merely the inevitable result–albeit a dangerous one–of the moral equivalence to which the press devotes itself when the subject is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Times editors understand that an accurate recitation of events paints the Palestinian leadership in more morally ambiguous territory than Netanyahu’s response. So they pretend Netanyahu had the same response.

In fact, the current crisis is further demolishing the leftist media’s caricature of Netanyahu, and they don’t appear quite sure how to react. The truth would be nice, of course. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So they project the Bibi of their fevered imagination onto the page. Not only has Netanyahu denounced the gruesome, evil murder of Khdeir, but he’s also been the voice of moderation with regard to the fact that the Palestinians of Gaza have stepped up their rocket war against Israel.

As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday on a contentious Israeli Cabinet meeting:

Following days of rockets on the South and riots in Jerusalem and among segments of the Israeli-Arab population, Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting saying on camera what was needed now was to act “with composure and responsibly, and not with “militancy or rashness.”

“We are working on several fronts at the same time” he said. “Last night we acted against numerous Hamas targets in Gaza, and the objective of all those actions is to return the quiet and security to the citizens of the South. Experience proves that at such times we must act responsibly and with equanimity, not hastily. We will do whatever is necessary to restore quiet and security to the South.”

This is perfectly in keeping with the restraint Netanyahu has shown throughout his premiership. But it conflicts with the make-believe Netanyahu who appears in fictional accounts passed off as news reporting in the Western press. The Times editors had some harsh words for this make-believe Bibi. But he’s still the only Bibi they’re willing to acknowledge.

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Where Apologies Are Needed

Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

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Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

Apologies for these crimes are in order. As our Seth Mandel wrote yesterday, the instances of anti-Arab incitement might not be as numerous as those of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Nor do they come from the organs of the Jewish state, as does the endless stream of hate that originates from official Palestinian Authority and Hamas sources. But they are nonetheless deplorable.

It doesn’t matter that what is rare among Jews is commonplace in the political culture of the Palestinians. If we have ignored or downplayed this virus, then it is appropriate at such moments to think seriously about where we have failed to sufficiently combat these awful tendencies. Even as we seek to place these views and the isolated actions of a few in the context of a conflict whose focus remains the determination of most of the Arab and Muslim world to destroy the Jewish state, there should be no downplaying the insidious nature of hatred expressed by Jews or, as our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, the profound betrayal of the Zionist enterprise that the actions of the killers of Muhammed Khdeir represent. If, while focusing so much on the behavior of Israel’s foes, we have, even unwittingly, given encouragement to those Jews who mimic the font of vicious anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic language that flows from the Muslim and Arab worlds, then we must hold ourselves accountable. As was the case when such things have happened in the past, this is the moment to say that we must be more vigilant in denouncing such expressions rather than ignoring or minimizing them.

But if our apologies are to be offered, is it too much to ask that both sides attempt to make amends? Is it offensive, as Bradley Burston says in a Haaretz piece, for Jews to have the temerity or the bad taste to mention the behavior of Palestinians during the two-week search for the three missing Israeli teenagers?

If Jews today feel ashamed about the murderers of an Arab teenager—and we are right to feel that way—is it really out of bounds to note the mainstreaming of hate and applause for terrorism that is integral to Palestinian nationalism?

Apologists for the Palestinians seem to think so. Palestinian identity has become inseparable not only from anti-Zionism but also from a sense of victimhood. It is true that the experience of the last two millennia culminating in the Holocaust has created a Jewish sense of victimhood that also tends to mire Jewish identity in purely negative history at the expense of more positive attributes. Yet the narrative of Jewish achievements and the triumph of the Zionist dream are able to mitigate the overpowering and lugubrious tale of woe. But for Palestinians, nothing is allowed to distract from their sacred “narrative” in which their martyrdom at the hands of wicked Jews is established.

It is not just that the Palestinian Authority has inculcated the youth of their country with hatred of Jews and Israel since they were given autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The problem isn’t just hate speech and the glorification of terror by official media and textbooks. It’s that there is no place in Palestinian culture for competing views in which their leaders’ historic rejection of compromise is discussed.

Palestinians cheered the ordeal of the three Jewish teens in much the same way that they have always honored those who committed acts of the most brutal terror against Jews. They feel no obligation to apologize for these horrible acts because they believe their victim status entitles them to inflict any possible cruelty on their enemies.

What we must come to terms with in this discussion is that the contrast between Israeli and Palestinian society is not that one side obsesses with the wrongs committed against them and a desire for revenge and the other does not. These sentiments are natural to all human beings and are just as present among Jews as they are among Arabs. The difference rests in that the Israelis have, thank Heaven, never allowed their self-absorption to overwhelm their cultural norms that act as a check against such behavior. The Palestinians have enshrined their sense of grievance to a point where they no longer have any perspective on it or their collective relationship with other peoples.

That is why Jews, from Israel’s prime minister and chief rabbis to pundits on both ends of the spectrum, are falling over themselves to apologize for Khdeir and Palestinians are, with rare exceptions, treating the suffering of Jews as a non-issue and cheering the terrorist missiles now raining down on Israeli towns and cities. To state this does not relieve Jews of the obligation to account for senseless hatred against Arabs. But those who think Palestinians need not apologize for terror and a culture that glorifies such crimes are not only wrong but also helping to make peace impossible.

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