In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.
The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.
Over at The Long War Journal, Lisa Lundquist examines the decision by Pakistani clerics to give religious sanction for suicide attacks. While her analysis focuses on what the Pakistani declaration means for Afghan attempts to outlaw religiously-motivated suicide attacks as part of the ongoing Afghan peace process, there are two larger points which she leaves unaddressed.
The first is pedantic, but necessary in an age when political correctness trumps reality. The Pakistani ulema council’s decision should end the nonsense quips that suicide bombing can’t be theologically-grounded, because Islam forbids suicide. The debate among Muslim theologians is actually more nuanced, and was well-covered in this Middle East Quarterly article. In short, the devil is in the details, because Koranic verse 2:154 declares, “Do not think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware,” which means that a bystander’s assumption that the terrorist committed suicide because his head is lying on the street somewhere is wrong, since he went to paradise while still alive and therefore can’t be said to have killed himself.
Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.
As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.
Yesterday, Jonathan remembered the 20th anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center by pointing out that, while we’ve come a long way since 9/11, we are at risk of putting the dangers of al-Qaeda and radical Islam “in our collective rear-view mirrors.” It was also 20 years ago that Senator Daniel Moynihan warned of the dangers of “defining deviancy down.” Today, our strategy against al-Qaeda is to win by defining victory down, and focusing only on the damage we do to its so-called core. That wrongly elevates drone strikes from a tool into a strategy, ignores the recruiting appeal of the Islamist ideology that is at the heart of the danger posed by al-Qaeda, and neglects the fact that we are not very good at anticipating how al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies will grow, cooperate, and spread. Last year, very few analysts worried about Islamist militants in the Maghreb; today, they control half a country.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, as Jonathan points out, “here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up.” My colleague Jessica Zuckerman has chronicled the 54 terrorist plots against domestic targets that have been thwarted since 9/11. The latest featured a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, Raees Alam Qazi, and his older brother. It “adds to the large number of terrorist attacks that could be considered to be homegrown.” It is hard to believe that a country which has thwarted about a plot every other month for over a decade, watched the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt, and seen an anniversary attack on its consulate in Benghazi could become complacent. It is even harder to ignore the political savvy of the Obama administration and the appeal of its fantasy that the war is over.
In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:
With controversy growing over the Obama administration’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists—even, on a few occasions American citizens—interest appears to be growing in some kind of “drone court” modeled on the court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize national-security wiretaps. Even Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense who is as centrist as they come, appeared to indicate on CNN yesterday that he was in favor of more oversight of the drone strikes, possibly from such a court.
There is no doubt that putting judicial imprimatur on such strikes would help to dissipate growing opposition to the use of drones and could help to rein in capricious decision-making by this administration or a future administration. This proposal is sure to gain traction on both the antiwar left and the anti-government right—as well as among many in the general public who have a certain unease about the idea of presidentially ordered “assassinations” a la fictional characters like Jason Bourne.
Nevertheless creating such a court would be a very bad idea because it would constitute a dangerous infringement on the president’s authority as commander-in-chief.
After last month’s Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seizure of a British Petroleum facility in Algeria culminated in a botched rescue and the deaths of scores of hostages, the international media focused its attention elsewhere.
It will be a fateful mistake, however, to see the size and the scope of the AQIM assault on the In Amenas facility as an exception rather than the beginning of a new rule. According to reports out of Algeria yesterday, a band of 50 heavily-armed men attacked an Algerian army barracks. According to France 24:
Pete Wehner makes a fair point in dinging President Obama for hypocrisy because Obama once expressed outrage over the Bush administration’s use of torture (euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”) while now defending the legality of his own policy of ordering the targeted killing of al-Qaeda members even if they’re U.S. citizens. There is no judicial review in either policy–and the latter results in death rather than discomfort.
But I’d much rather that the president be hypocritical than wrong on the issue of targeted killings. In this case I think he deserves applause for taking the right stance in spite of the criticism from some of his own supporters in the “human rights” lobby. (I use quote marks because groups like Amnesty International seldom if ever recognize that actions taken by Western states to defend themselves against terrorist attacks are a defense of the basic right to live without fear of assault.)
I agree completely with Pete about the rank hypocrisy of President Obama when it comes to using his powers to fight terrorism. Liberals and Democrats accused President Bush, Vice President Cheney and those associated with conducting the war on terror of being immoral lawbreakers–but now hold their tongues when it is Obama and his colleagues who have asserted the power to hold prisoners in indefinite captivity or order the deaths of terror suspects. Everyone on the left, up to and including the president, owes Bush, Cheney and company an abject apology on this score, though I’m afraid it will never be forthcoming.
But it is important to note that those on the right who are inclined to give Obama a taste of his own medicine on the issue of drone strikes against al-Qaeda figures should take a deep breath and think more about what is good for the country as opposed to what the president deserves. It may be, as Pete noted, that the used of “enhanced interrogation” was nothing when compared to the brutality and casualties incurred as a result of Obama’s drone strikes, but that is no excuse for any Congressional action aimed at restricting the executive branch’s ability to wage war against America’s foes. Even in the cases of American citizens who have been marked for death via drones without benefit of a judicial process, conservatives and civil libertarians alike should understand that these are reasonable measures taken to defend against those seeking to murder American citizens.
During the early years of the post-9/11 war on terror, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made one of the most famous statements about Hezbollah in the terrorist group’s bloody history when he said: “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team.” Al-Qaeda’s operatives learned much from Hezbollah; as Thomas Joscelyn pointed out in Iran’s Proxy War Against America:
It was during bin Laden’s time in Sudan that he first met Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s master terrorist. Since the early 1980s, Mugniyah has been implicated in most, if not all, of Iran’s major anti-American terrorist operations. His “accomplishments” include the infamous 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut and a series of devastating follow-on attacks, which drove the U.S. out of Lebanon. During the early 1990s, bin Laden sought and received Mugniyah’s assistance in transforming al-Qaeda’s capabilities. With Mugniyah’s help, al-Qaeda acquired Hezbollah’s most lethal tactics, including the use of suicide bombers.
The attacks raised the profile and name recognition of Hezbollah once again because of the increased focus on international terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the group was overshadowed by the 9/11 culprits, most of all bin Laden. Since terrorist groups hate to be ignored (they rely on notoriety and information wars), Hezbollah reasserts itself from time to time. It appeared that that was exactly what happened when on July 18 a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria exploded, killing six plus the bomber. Now, after the investigation, we appear to have confirmation:
Evelyn Gordon wrote yesterday about the strange silence of the Western media on the threats made by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to attack Israel. It was no misspeak; later that the day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—whom President Barack Obama has called one of his top foreign friends—essentially repeated the warning.
Turkey’s hypocrisy is growing. Over the past decade, Israel struck Syria unilaterally on three occasions:
The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.
But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.
As the Times noted:
Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”
Jonathan Tobin has ably covered Chuck Hagel’s underwhelming performance here and here. Many of his supporters apparently were shocked at how poorly Hagel did under questioning; they should not have been. Senate Democrats may still band together to confirm Hagel, but the whole episode should be a wake-up call for the press not only regarding the former senator’s competence, but also about the motivations of many of his most vocal supporters.
During the Cold War, there were communists, anti-communists, and anti-anti-communists who were much less concerned about the reality of the Soviet Union than about stymying those who were opposed to Moscow. Likewise, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were terrorists, anti-terrorists and, within progressive circles, anti-anti-terrorists who were more consumed with Bush Derangement Syndrome than with Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Their rhetoric was marked by sky-is-falling hyperbole regarding Gitmo, the Patriot Act, and Dick Cheney.
Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.
Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the use of drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories, and whether drones violate international law. The inquiry comes at the request of Russia, China, and Pakistan, a triad of countries not known for their concern about human rights. That Syria is not also a co-sponsor is probably an oversight on the part of the UN.
Human rights lawyers are notoriously myopic, but this might take the prize. States have made drones a key tool in the fight against terror for one major reason: Drones can access areas inaccessible by ground troops and attack targets with precision. Absent the use of drones, the other option available to states challenged with terrorists operating from hostile or ungoverned territories is to mount an expedition. It is the difference between conducting surgery with a scalpel versus an axe.
After criticizing French plans to counter Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Mali, the Obama administration is slowly increasing its support to the French, as the French military conducts a mission vital to U.S. interests as well as their own.
Mali is a beautiful country, one which I visited as a tourist a decade ago. (My thoughts from the time are encapsulated in this New Republic article). It was also the Muslim majority country which Freedom House had, for years, rated as most free. Despite being one of the poorest countries on earth and democratic, Mali was for years ignored by the United States.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and an expert on the confluence of money laundering and terrorism, drew my attention to an important story getting lost in the shuffle of confirmation hearing and more violent stories from the Middle East:
The Turkish parliament is scrambling to avert action by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body meant to combat money laundering and terror financing, which would place Turkey on its blacklist if it does not adopt legislation preventing terror finance within a month.
Bill Kristol considers the most dangerous sentence in President Obama’s second inaugural address to be the one endorsing the “lesson” that we are heirs to “those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends …” (emphasis added):
Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose—”and not just the war”—suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.
News is still filtering out of Algeria as we wait to see just how many people were killed when government forces stormed a gas facility where Islamist terrorists were holding dozens of workers, including some Americans, hostage. While initial reports speak of many hostages being killed, we can only hope that the casualties turn out to be fewer than feared and that none of the terrorists involved have escaped. But the attack, like the 9/11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, highlights the fact that contrary to the tone of much of President Obama’s re-election campaign, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliated terrorist groups is very much alive, especially in North Africa.
At the Washington Post, Max Fisher writes to emphasize what he says are the “sketchy” links between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of which appears to be behind the Algerian operation, and the al-Qaeda that is fighting the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is true. The fact is, as he points out, Islamists have been fighting in Algeria since the 1990s. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda was a centralized group with a unitary command was always something of a myth. However, these different national branches always cooperated and were part of the jihadi pipeline across North Africa and the Middle East. All of which is to say that the claim that the terrorists in Algeria are unrelated to the Islamist terror war on the West is not true. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the administration’s attempt to portray the conflict with Islamists as having essentially been ended by the death of Osama bin Laden is also a myth.
The evolution of the political power structure across the Mideast has a recent track record of disappointment and unmet expectations. As Turkey sought to take a leadership role in the Middle East, hopes were high for a technically secular, NATO-allied power. But of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Putinesque turn and support for terrorist organizations as part of his pan-Islamist ambitions poured cold water on those hopes.
And Egypt’s close relationship with the U.S. and formal peace with Israel didn’t stop a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist from taking power in Cairo and moving closer to his Hamas allies. But perhaps no country’s influence in the region has taken as significant a step up as that of Qatar. Colum Lynch reports that the UN has found a new way to recognize the country’s new standing: