Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

Hamas Reaps Benefits from Terror

The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

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The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

The aberrant act of an isolated group that has been condemned by every sector of Israeli society has reinforced a narrative of moral equivalence. But Hamas’s confidence that it is profiting from the crisis that began with its kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys last month is illustrated by the barrage of missiles it is firing on southern Israel.

The torrent of rockets—with hundreds being fired from Gaza in the last few days—is more than a routine statement about Hamas’s desire to show its belligerence to Palestinians who can always be counted on to applaud terror. The Islamist group was in dire straits when it decided in April to go into partnership with the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. At the time, many commentators believed this would allow PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to tame the terrorist group and forge an alliance that would create room for both Palestinian unity and peace. But the events of the last month demonstrate just how foolish that hope proved to be.

Far from influencing Hamas to support peace, the Islamists have shown that they are the ones calling the tune. When a Hamas cell kidnapped three Israeli teens, Palestinian society didn’t recoil in horror. Nor did Abbas and Fatah drop Hamas from the PA government. While the PA leaders made a belated though welcome condemnation of the crime, Palestinian social media delivered the verdict that Hamas had hoped for as the atrocity was cheered with a popular three-fingered salute. Instead of supporting measures to isolate a movement that was determined to oppose peace, Palestinians took to the streets to obstruct and harass Israeli troops searching for the lost boys with rocks and violence.

Nor was there any outpouring of regret or soul searching about this behavior once the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found. After the Palestinian youth was discovered, the crime was used as an excuse for more Arab rioting, both inside Israel and in the West Bank. With Hamas now raining down hundreds of missiles on southern Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself in a quandary in which any action ordered to silence the terrorist enclave in Gaza will be seen as an escalation of the situation rather than a needed effort to contain it.

The despicable murder of Muhammed Khdeir has reinforced the Western media’s predictable narrative of moral equivalence in which all violence is seen as part of one pointless cycle of violence in which both sides are trapped. But though the two crimes give some superficial justification to that frame of reference, this focus has allowed the Obama administration to evade scrutiny for its coddling of the PA-Hamas alliance.

Netanyahu has good reason to be wary of a large-scale assault on Gaza. Israel has neither the desire to take back control of the strip nor any appetite for the casualties on both sides that would result from a new counter-offensive. The United States, which demanded that Israel show “restraint” in response to Hamas’s murder of the three boys, is now even more adamant about stopping any effort to make the terrorists pay for their crime. The prime minister also knows that Hamas is hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate to Palestinians that they are still the address for anti-Israel terror even as they remain firmly ensconced in the PA government.

How will all this end? At this point, Hamas seems to think that it will be Netanyahu who will blink first since at this point it seems unlikely that the normally cautious prime minister will risk further antagonizing the U.S. when he seems not to think that Israel has much to gain from a new fight in Gaza.

But if the two sides do merely stand down, there should be no illusions about who was the winner in this exchange. Hamas started this fight with a gruesome terror attack but rather than paying any real price—other than the arrest of some of its West Bank operatives—for this atrocity, it has enhanced its standing among Palestinians. By provoking a group of Jewish extremists to behave in the same bestial fashion, it has also obscured the real differences between the two societies and hurt their erstwhile rival/partner Abbas by exposing him to ridicule from Palestinians who saw his condemnation of terror as weakness or toadying to the Israelis. By firing rockets deep into Israel without incurring a response that will threaten its leadership or its weapon stores, Hamas will have re-established itself as an equal to Abbas rather than a junior partner.

American officials who wring their hands about a cycle of violence need to understand that their initial appeasement of Hamas after the signing of its unity pact with Fatah has done real harm to the already dim prospects for peace. If in April there was an opportunity for the U.S. to make a statement about isolating the terror group after the unity deal was signed, the prevarications of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on the issue have created an opening for Hamas to gain ground in a way that few predicted. Unless Netanyahu is willing to take the risks associated with actions that will really make the terror group pay, it is Hamas that will emerge from these events as a stronger and more dangerous force than it was only a few weeks ago. In this case, terrorism has paid handsomely for a group the administration dismissed as having been past its expiration date.

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Two Crimes and the Myths of the Intifadas

Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

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Today’s news of the arrests of six Jewish extremists in the murder of an Arab teenager last week will likely only add to the anger fueling violent Arab protests both inside Israel and in the West Bank. As Seth Mandel and Eugene Kontorovich ably pointed out earlier today, there is no excuse for this heinous crime and no comparing it to the murders of Jews that are widely cheered by Palestinians. But this atrocity could turn out to be the event that sets a third intifada in motion.

As the Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller writes today, the gruesome death of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir brings to mind the alleged justifications for the events that were used to exploit Arab anger and begin both the first and second intifadas. Like the 1987 traffic accident that took the lives of Palestinian laborers and Ariel Sharon’s stroll on the Temple Mount in 2000, the murder of the Palestinian teenager is merely an excuse for Arabs, both in Israel and the West Bank, to vent their spleen at the Jewish state rather than a protest focused on a specific grievance or injustice.

Miller rightly points out that those intifadas didn’t come out of a void. Both had the appearance of a spontaneous uprising but were exploited by the Palestinian leadership. In particular, the second intifada was a calculated response by Yasir Arafat to a peace offer that cynically plunged the country into a war that cost thousands of casualties to both sides and did incalculable damage to the Palestinian economy and Israeli faith in the peace process. While an intifada isn’t in the interests of Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the bloodletting could be exactly what his new partners/rivals of Hamas want to rebuild their tarnished political brand.

As such, the rioting that spread throughout Israel and the territories over the weekend must be understood as being more than a natural reaction to a horrendous crime against an Arab. Like previous rationales for Arab violence—whether taken out of context or pure fabrications such as the claim that Sharon’s walk was a prelude to the destruction of the mosques on the Temple Mount—Abu Khdeir’s death is well on its way to becoming part of the Palestinian martyrology used to justify violence against the Jewish state.

To state this fact is not to minimize the disgusting nature of the murder of the Arab teenager or the revulsion felt by Jews around the world at the thought that some of their co-religionists have sunk to such barbarism. This senseless act may, for once, justify efforts to treat competing Arab and Jewish actions events as morally equivalent. Unlike comparisons such as the one attempted by the New York Times that I wrote about last week, which treated the death of kidnapping victims as no different from that of an Arab who took to the streets to fight Israeli forces attempting to find/rescue the teens, Abu Khdeir appears to have been the innocent casualty of an act of terror. That most Israelis condemn the murder of Abu Khdeir while most Palestinians mocked the plight of the three Jewish teenagers will not prevent the world from treating these two incidents as essentially cancelling each other out.

But the manner in which the Palestinians are exploiting this crime has little to do with these specific circumstances. If indeed this is to be the start of a third intifada, it will have no more to do with one Arab teenager than the incidents that allegedly set them off. Just as the murder of the three Israeli teens did not justify any attacks on individual Arabs, the riots that broke out today are not really about the death of a Palestinian boy or even generalized grievances against Israel. Rather, it a violent expression of resentment against Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state that they would like to see disappear.

It should be remembered that Palestinians took to the streets in large numbers to protest after the kidnapping but before the news about the death of the Abu Khdeir. In the first round of demonstrations, the Palestinians were seeking to oppose the efforts of Israelis searching for kidnapping victims. In the current riots, they are expressing anger in a way that actually seeks to target individual Israelis within reach who had nothing to do with what happened to the Arab victims. The rocket fire from Hamas terrorists that is raining down on southern Israel the last few days also is motivated by their desire to exact a price for the arrests of their operatives in the wake of the kidnapping, not a protest about one Arab teenager.

The unbalanced nature of this conflict remains. A two-state solution in which both sides would accept each other’s legitimacy remains more popular among Jews than Arabs. The force motivating Palestinian political efforts remains a belief in the struggle to eliminate Israel, not a desire to rectify any particular misbehavior on the part of their antagonists. In Palestinian eyes, every act of terror against the Jews remains justifiable if not heroic. Their objections about Israeli misbehavior, even when their complaints are genuine, are not about redressing grievances but an excuse to exacerbate the conflict so as to make their own attacks more effective. If, as many fear, another round of violence that will be dubbed an intifada will follow these tragic events, no one should confuse it with a genuine protest. Instead, it will be, as was the case with the first two intifadas, a mere pretext for more violence. When seen in that light, even when we acknowledge the horror of the murder of the Arab teenager, the mythology of this intifada will be just as much of a lie as its predecessors.

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Don’t Overestimate the Islamic State

I’m currently in Jordan where I’ve been able to meet some Iraqi tribal representatives, Sunni Iraqi businessmen, and representatives of the “Iraqi resistance,” including those who held senior positions under Saddam Hussein. What they have conveyed to me—which is consistent with what I have heard from many Kurdish interlocutors familiar with the situation in Mosul—is that the West should not see the fighting in largely Sunni populated areas of Iraq as simply a battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Iraqi government. Rather, they suggest, while ISIS—now just the Islamic State—has been the vanguard advancing against the Iraqi military, most of the ground is being held either by Sunni tribes or by veterans of the Saddam-era army, albeit professionals who are nationalists but not necessarily Baathists.

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I’m currently in Jordan where I’ve been able to meet some Iraqi tribal representatives, Sunni Iraqi businessmen, and representatives of the “Iraqi resistance,” including those who held senior positions under Saddam Hussein. What they have conveyed to me—which is consistent with what I have heard from many Kurdish interlocutors familiar with the situation in Mosul—is that the West should not see the fighting in largely Sunni populated areas of Iraq as simply a battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Iraqi government. Rather, they suggest, while ISIS—now just the Islamic State—has been the vanguard advancing against the Iraqi military, most of the ground is being held either by Sunni tribes or by veterans of the Saddam-era army, albeit professionals who are nationalists but not necessarily Baathists.

Indeed, word from Mosul and elsewhere is that once ISIS passes through, the situation calms rapidly. There are still flights to Mosul listed on the departure board at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. And while there have been atrocities—against some Iraqi army members and, alas, Christians—many of the most gruesome claims, they suggest, are false: just re-posting of photos of Syrian atrocities relabeled to suggest that they had occurred more recently in Iraq. Women are staying home because they don’t necessarily understand what the new rules are or how they will be enforced but, beyond that, life is getting back to normal. The real problem right now, residents say, is that the Iraqi government has cut off salaries, water, and electricity to the city and so supplies are beginning to run out.

The former officers and tribal representatives suggest that Abu Baghdadi’s sermon on Friday in Mosul notwithstanding, they are unwilling to settle for ISIS domination but are willing to cooperate loosely with them for the time being with the full understanding that they will soon be fighting them directly. They also seem to suggest that they recognize that there will have to be negotiations with the Iraqi central government—they have no delusions of taking and holding Baghdad—but that they are unwilling to sit with Prime Minister Maliki, and instead say they will talk to his successor.

Fears of the Islamic State and the caliphate make headlines, but the reach and power of the Islamic State should not be exaggerated. The problem of this radical al-Qaeda off-shoot is real, but the current dynamics in Al-Anbar, Ninewa (Mosul), and Salahuddin (Tikrit) governorates are both more complicated but also perhaps more reconcilable.

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Will the Jewish Terrorists Be Released for Peace?

The arrest of Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager in Jerusalem has unleashed a wave of cheap moral equivalency. Some of it is obviously pure demagoguery: those who call for the destruction of the houses of these suspects will not ask that for the house of the Israeli Arab arraigned yesterday for the terrorist murder of a 19-year old Israeli girl, Shelly Dadon, three months ago.

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The arrest of Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager in Jerusalem has unleashed a wave of cheap moral equivalency. Some of it is obviously pure demagoguery: those who call for the destruction of the houses of these suspects will not ask that for the house of the Israeli Arab arraigned yesterday for the terrorist murder of a 19-year old Israeli girl, Shelly Dadon, three months ago.

Several points should be borne in mind in considering Israel’s treatment of the accursed murders. To be clear, the accused deserve, and are receiving, broad and unconditional condemnation–not because they do not help Israel, but because they are evil.

1) Prisoner swaps. We know Israel will never ask for these Jewish killers to be released as part of a peace deal. This is because Israel recoils with revulsion from their act. They are no one’s heroes.

Indeed, one can imagine the outrage from the Palestinian side if the Israeli government insisted on springing these Jewish terrorists as a “sweetener” to open peace talks. Apart from the new trauma of the victim’s family, the Palestinians could say this does not seem like a government serious about peace, if freeing murders is part of the peace process. That outrage is what Israel has been going through over and over as it released scores of savage murderers per Mahmoud Abbas’s request.

A useful initiative for Prime Minister Netanyahu now would be to offer to make a joint statement with Abbas, that neither would ever seek the release of either set of killers.

2) Pensions. Israel will never pay pensions to the killers. The prime minister will not take photos with them, or do anything other than condemn them. The glib questions making the rounds–will Israel knock down the Jewish terrorists’ houses–rather avoids the question that home demolitions are in part a way of offsetting the generous financial benefits Palestinian terrorists receive.

3) Finding the killers. The fact that during a massive three-week hunt for killers of the three Jewish boys, the authorities also managed to hunt down the killers of the Arab boy proves how seriously Israel takes crime against anyone, Jew or Arab. Indeed, the apprehension of the Jewish terrorists coincided with the arrest of an Israeli Arab for murdering a Jewish girl–three months ago. These cases take time, and the one involving the murder of an Arab boy got full priority.

4) Community support. The fact that the killers of three Jewish boys have hid out for three weeks shows they have a base of support, an organization: people to keep their secret, feed them, etc. Jewish killers had nowhere to hide because there is no Jewish community that accepts this.

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Coming Apart at the Seams: the Anti-Arab Incitement Must End

The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

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The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

And I don’t just mean the killing, to which I’ll return in a moment. The outpouring on social media of anti-Arab incitement has been shocking. The encouraging aspect to this has been the official denunciation of such incitement, both from the government, united in its revulsion of the incitement, and from groups of private citizens speaking out against it. Also encouraging has been the reaction of religious leaders. The Times of Israel reports that former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has spoken out against such lawlessness, and he makes a key point here:

Reaching out to “all our brothers, the people of Israel, the young among us,” Amar said, “I feel their pain. I feel the frustration. But we can’t lose our heads. There are soldiers, and policemen, and security forces, praise God. And we can rest assured that by the grace of God, they will take the correct and necessary steps” in response to the killing of the three Israeli students. …

Speaking to Israel Radio Tuesday, Amar said calls for revenge were liable to “destroy our nation from within.”

Indeed they are. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau echoed the sentiment: “The discourse about revenge is wrong morally, ethically and halakhically,” Lau said, adding: “We have to trust that the security forces will do their job properly and not think at all about taking revenge which can lead the entire region down a dangerous path.”

There need be no strategic consideration in denouncing the murder of an innocent boy. But beyond its own obvious moral repulsiveness is the question of what, if it’s true Israelis were responsible, they thought they were doing. Terrorism eats away at the fabric of civic life. Incitement rots the soul of a nation. We say this about Palestinian murder and incitement, and we say it for a reason.

Again, there are differences of course. The Israeli state does not condone it, and does not encourage it. And the voices of Lau and Amar have been tremendously important here, because they show that the leaders of the Jewish faith do not condone it. Israel’s founders had something to say about this as well. And though it may surprise those who have bought into a false reading of Israeli history, the figure we ought to look to for guidance here is Vladimir Jabotinsky.

When the Peel Commission in 1937 published its proposal to divide the land, it included the possibility of transferring Arabs out of the slice it apportioned to the Jews. It was not the left that recoiled from this but Jabotinsky. As Hillel Halkin writes in his new biography of Jabotinsky:

Nor was Jabotinsky enticed by the idea of Arab resettlement. People might call him an extremist, he said, but at least he had never dreamed of asking Arabs in a Jewish state to emigrate. If there would not be enough room for Arabs in a partition state, this was only because neither would there be enough room for Jews. It would be a “death sentence” for Zionism.

Jabotinsky did not believe the Arabs would be willing to peaceably accept the proposals for partition or coexistence. He was right, and violence followed. But he did not himself reject the idea of coexistence, nor did he think Zionism countenanced it. Jabotinsky also opposed, almost to the end of his life, terrorism against Arab civilians:

On a brief stopover in Alexandria in July 1937 to meet Revisionist leaders from Palestine on his way back from a second South African tour, he reportedly told them, “I see nothing heroic about shooting an Arab peasant in the back for bringing vegetables on his donkey to Tel Aviv.”

From his perch in Europe, Jabotinsky at first thought reports of Jewish terrorism against Arab civilians might be rumors to discredit the Revisionists. He said:

As far as I’m concerned, Palestinian Arabs in Tel Aviv are [as though] in their own home, because otherwise I can’t imagine law and order in Palestine. But even if this guideline isn’t followed, I could still forgive [the Jews involved] if they had gone [to the Arabs] and politely asked them to leave without laying hands on them. If there were blows or shoves, or seven Jews ganging up on one Arab, I only hope that our people [i.e., Revisionists] weren’t part of it. I would consider such a thing beastly, even if it happened during a pogrom [of Arabs against Jews].

Jabotinsky had, from a distance, lost command and control of his followers. But even when he, reluctantly, tried to rationalize Jewish violence, his excuses wouldn’t hold today and he almost certainly wouldn’t offer them because of what Amar said. The Jews fighting for a state in Palestine became desperate, as the British authorities’ response to terror was appeasement, and as the British sought to close immigration to those fleeing genocide, thus handing out death sentences to Jews by the thousands even as they were being eradicated at their points of origin.

Today the Jews of Israel have a state and the right of return and an army to defend themselves. The grief and anger being felt in Israel is understandable. The incitement with which it has recently manifested is, as Amar said, a self-destructive act–a betrayal, and not a defense, of the Jewish people.

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Is There an Antidote to Iran’s Regional Strategy?

Jordan is a sectarian state. Many here do not hesitate to cast aspersions toward Shi‘ites and, of course, it was Jordan’s King Abdullah II who coined the term “the Shi‘ite crescent,” implying that Shi‘ites across the Middle East from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Kuwait and Bahrain harbor dual loyalty and were actually Iranian fifth columnists. Some Shi‘ites may look toward Iran for guidance—the way that many Sunnis perhaps drink in Saudi or Qatari propaganda a bit too uncritically—but the broad majority dislike Iran. Sectarian solidarity is more a mirage than reality, especially when confronted with other bases for identity like ethnicity, nationality, or tribal identity, in the case of more rural Shi‘ite communities.

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Jordan is a sectarian state. Many here do not hesitate to cast aspersions toward Shi‘ites and, of course, it was Jordan’s King Abdullah II who coined the term “the Shi‘ite crescent,” implying that Shi‘ites across the Middle East from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Kuwait and Bahrain harbor dual loyalty and were actually Iranian fifth columnists. Some Shi‘ites may look toward Iran for guidance—the way that many Sunnis perhaps drink in Saudi or Qatari propaganda a bit too uncritically—but the broad majority dislike Iran. Sectarian solidarity is more a mirage than reality, especially when confronted with other bases for identity like ethnicity, nationality, or tribal identity, in the case of more rural Shi‘ite communities.

That said, the threat from Iran is real. The ideal of the export of revolution is written into both the Islamic Republic’s constitution and the founding statutes of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In 2008, Ayatollah Shahroudi, responding to the notion put forward by former President Muhammad Khatami that export of revolution was about soft power, made clear the supreme leader’s understanding that revolutionary export was military in nature. Those who say that Iran hasn’t invaded any other country in more than 200 years and suggest that the Islamic Republic is somehow pacific or simply acting defensively do not understand the notion that not all warfare is direct.

Indeed, a former member of the Iraqi intelligence service who spent years working on the Iran file put it best when he observed that the failure of Iran’s counterattack in the wake of Iraq’s 1980 invasion led it to recognize that it could not defeat regional states through traditional military tactics, and so it developed a concerted strategy to undermine states from within by co-opting politicians, sponsoring militias, and provoking internal conflicts. In Lebanon, Hezbollah creates political stalemate (thanks to its empowerment by the 2008 Doha Agreement) and then uses the paralyzed government to further its influence in society. In Syria, Hezbollah seeks not only to defend the Assad regime, but to actively target any person or group on either side of the conflict that presents a more moderate alternative to the extremists on both sides. For Iran, it is better to have chaos in Syria, see hundreds of thousands of Syrians die, and twenty times that number flee as refugees than it would be to have any stability not in a system not under Iran’s thumb.

Iraqi Shi‘ites often distrust Iran, but the voice of Iraqi Shi‘ites is ill-served by sectarian parties, some of which voluntarily subordinate themselves to Iranian aims, and others of which were forced into that situation by the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Iranian efforts to co-opt Shi‘ite sectarian parties and, for that matter, Kurdish parties as well serves to promote stalemate and prevent compromise. This undercuts any chance for stability, creating a situation which Iran or its proxy militias can further exploit.

The question for U.S. policymakers is whether, if Iran’s strategy is simply to paralyze and undercut the stability of regional states from within, U.S. policymakers have any strategy to counteract it. If Iran’s way of warfare is duplicitous and if it seeks to undermine states from within rather than confronting them head-on, then it behooves American policymakers not only to recognize it, but learn how to play the reverse game in order to buttress internal stability and maintain relations solid enough to provide balance and prevent the Qods Force from having free rein.

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Time to Eliminate Visa Waivers?

I’ve written here before about some of the far-flung ramifications of the civil war in Syria spinning out of control. For example, Poles last month speculated that terrorists and militants holding European passports returning from Syria could strike soft targets across the Schengen Zone, those countries in Europe who have dismantled their customs and border checks effectively meaning entrance to one is entrance to them all. The result of that, of course, would be the end of the Schengen agreement and the return of passport checks at national borders.

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I’ve written here before about some of the far-flung ramifications of the civil war in Syria spinning out of control. For example, Poles last month speculated that terrorists and militants holding European passports returning from Syria could strike soft targets across the Schengen Zone, those countries in Europe who have dismantled their customs and border checks effectively meaning entrance to one is entrance to them all. The result of that, of course, would be the end of the Schengen agreement and the return of passport checks at national borders.

Alas, the threat of European citizen terrorists will not be limited to Europe. Today, security has been ramped up for international flights heading to the United States because of credible threats of new terrorism using explosives not readily detectable by current screening technologies. The Syrian conflict is exacerbating the problem: Recently, a British citizen who has joined the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has posted a video bragging about the explosives training he has received in Syria and boasted that he would soon bring that know-how home.

Airlines are doing the usual ramping up of screenings and interviewing passengers, and press reports also suggest that American officials will fly to European airports to supervise screening of passengers and baggage.

If the threat is increasingly not only the potential for harder-to-detect explosives, but also the passport holders who might carry them, perhaps it’s time to bite the bullet and eliminate visa waivers. That would result in reciprocal action by mainly European countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

That does not mean that all embassies need to be flooded with applicants, but rather that the United States can begin applying more of an Australian model in which everyone must apply for a visa electronically so that their names and information can be passed through applicable databases. True, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have the Electronic System of Travel Authorization, but that is simply a preliminary system to confirm visa waiver applicability. While it reserves the right to deny anyone entrance at the U.S. border, if anyone has malicious intent when boarding an airplane, waiting until they land is too late to offset a “man-made disaster.”

The visa system isn’t sacrosanct. There is much that is wrong with it and almost everyone, inside or out, sees the need for reform. That may be too much a job to do for a secretary of state who believes effectiveness is measured in frequent flyer miles and, like former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, ignore their executive responsibility to manage and reform the bureaucracies over which they preside. Rather than uphold the blanket right for countries with shifting demographics and a growing radicalism problem to have their citizens have the right to visa waivers, perhaps it’s time for increased preliminary screenings. It’s not too much of a hurdle for non-American travelers to apply directly online for a visa (so long as the interface isn’t designed by the good folks who brought us healthcare.gov) and potentially be informed of the need for a follow-up interview. It’s also not too much of a hurdle for Americans to then deal with applying for visas ahead of time should those countries insist on reciprocity.

Once again, the ramifications and reverberations of President Obama’s indecisiveness three years ago regarding the crisis in Syria grow. But given the impact of the president’s decisions—or lack thereof—countering the growing terror threat by Syrian-trained European passport holders is worth the price.

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Understanding Israeli-Palestinian Stability

Lost in the well-deserved criticism of President Obama’s call on Israel to exercise restraint in the face of terrorist violence emanating from two of its borders is a clear-eyed assessment of the status quo. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” the president said. It echoes claims from the New York Times’s lead Israel reporter that Israeli self-defense had “destabilized” the region’s politics. Of course it’s risible to make that claim against Israel, but more importantly, it assumes the existence of a delicate balance that on all counts merits preserving. It shouldn’t.

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Lost in the well-deserved criticism of President Obama’s call on Israel to exercise restraint in the face of terrorist violence emanating from two of its borders is a clear-eyed assessment of the status quo. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” the president said. It echoes claims from the New York Times’s lead Israel reporter that Israeli self-defense had “destabilized” the region’s politics. Of course it’s risible to make that claim against Israel, but more importantly, it assumes the existence of a delicate balance that on all counts merits preserving. It shouldn’t.

To be sure, several aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s status quo are the status quo for a reason: both sides see them as advantageous or at least better than the alternatives. And the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys engendered cooperation from Mahmoud Abbas, which is another reminder that Abbas’s Fatah, for all its faults, is preferable to groups like Hamas, which would replace Fatah if it fell from power in the West Bank. But the statement about restraint mainly concerned Israel’s battle with Hamas. And it is here that the conflict presents a status quo that deserves to be shaken up.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, the Jewish state’s sense of humanity and defense of the value of each and every life will remain consistent no matter how often Hamas takes advantage of the fundamental decency of the Israeli people. And that’s the way Israelis want it:

Yet while the costs of past exchanges became stark and agonizing, Israelis also know that if push had come to shove, if the teens had turned out to be alive and out of the reach of Israel’s security services, and if Hamas had demanded the release of terrorists in exchange for the boys’ safe return, then Israel’s leaders would have found it nigh unbearable to leave them in enemy hands.

For Hamas, the collapse of this kidnapping has not changed the fundamental strategy. The “success” of the Shalit operation — successful in the sense that Palestinian prisoners were released — along with the sheer scale of the public outpouring of grief over the most recent murders, have assured Hamas that the effectiveness of kidnapping has not abated. Palestinian politics has yet to reach the point where critics of Hamas can safely point out that its belligerency has spelled a decade of ruin for Gaza’s economy and society.

As the leaders of Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other groups have said openly in countless glorying speeches following previous prisoner exchanges, kidnappings lay bare Israel’s weak underbelly, its whimpering, distraught obsession with its missing boys.

This weakness, Israel’s enemies have argued, has strategic significance. The skewed math of Israeli-Arab prisoner exchanges are a sign of Israeli decline, of slackening Israeli morale in the face of Arab persistence and endurance. Israelis may be militarily powerful, but their threshold for pain is low. Even the inflicting of relatively little pain — how many Israelis have died in rocket attacks, Palestinians often ask — can achieve meaningful gains toward the broader goal of Israel’s eventual destruction.

And here you have a concise explanation of why Hamas, and any of its peer groups who operate along those lines, must be defeated. It is one thing to counsel restraint when overreaction risks empowering the wrong forces. Israel does not want the PA in the West Bank to fall, and it will take care to ensure it does not bring Abbas down and create the vacuum Hamas has been waiting for–to do Hamas’s work for it, essentially.

But arresting and/or deporting Hamas leaders and operatives in the West Bank does the opposite: it clears space for Fatah and takes some of the heat off of Abbas. Hitting Hamas targets in Gaza provides the necessary contrast, and disrupts the terrorist group’s ability to plan and carry out its anti-Israel strategy, which consists almost entirely of committing war crimes.

The status quo, then, is really two different prevailing sets of circumstances. There is some stability worth keeping with regard to Israel’s relationship with Abbas’s West Bank government. And striking back at Hamas can keep it that way: “It’s clear that the terrorists came from areas under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territories under Palestinian Authority control,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said, as quoted by CNN. Hamas’s presence in the West Bank is destabilizing; Israel is trying to remedy that.

Then there is the stability between Israel and Hamas. In this case, the stability itself is not worth preserving. Hamas will keep trying to kidnap, torture, and murder innocent children. Israel will keep searching for them, trading terrorists for them if need be. Hamas will see the compassion as weakness. Lather, rinse, repeat. Those calling for restraint now to preserve stability are missing the vital point that Israel’s tough response is the only thing that can maintain stability where it is worth saving, and upend the status quo that fosters the murder of innocents.

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A Failure of Imagination

It’s ironic that Amos Yadlin expounded his proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank just one day before the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found there. Yadlin is one of Israel’s most respected former senior defense officials; aside from his record as a senior air force officer and head of Military Intelligence, he has scrupulously eschewed hyperbolic partisan attacks on Israel’s political leadership of the kind that have disenchanted mainstream Israelis with many of his colleagues. Yet he appears to share another of his colleagues’ fatal flaws–a complete inability to imagine that the security status quo could ever change.

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It’s ironic that Amos Yadlin expounded his proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank just one day before the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found there. Yadlin is one of Israel’s most respected former senior defense officials; aside from his record as a senior air force officer and head of Military Intelligence, he has scrupulously eschewed hyperbolic partisan attacks on Israel’s political leadership of the kind that have disenchanted mainstream Israelis with many of his colleagues. Yet he appears to share another of his colleagues’ fatal flaws–a complete inability to imagine that the security status quo could ever change.

Yadlin’s proposal has many problems; David M. Weinberg of the Begin-Sadat Center ably analyzed several of them yesterday’s Israel Hayom. But the one I found most astounding was one Weinberg didn’t address: Yadlin’s assertion that, having defeated terror, Israel could now afford to quit much of the West Bank.

It’s certainly true that Israel defeated the second intifada (2000-05), and some of the tactics it used, like the security barrier, would remain in place under a partial pullout like Yadlin proposes. But Israel’s most important counterterrorism tactic was boots on the ground: In 2002, the Israel Defense Forces effectively reoccupied most of the areas vacated over the previous decade under the Oslo Accords, and they never really left again. This enabled Israel to do the daily grunt work of counterterrorism: arresting suspects, interrogating them for leads, seizing weapons stockpiles, and so forth. As I’ve explained before, this ongoing effort is what ultimately dried up a supply of recruits that once looked limitless: Only when the likelihood of being arrested or killed became too high did terror become an unattractive proposition to most Palestinians.

Thus the minute the IDF departs, so will the crucial factor that has restrained terror over the last decade. And terrorist organizations will respond by escalating their activity. After all, as the Palestinians’ enthusiastic support for the teens’ abduction amply shows, their motivation to commit attacks hasn’t declined; what has declined is only their ability to do so.

But once Israel has withdrawn fully from the territory–not a mere troop redeployment as in the 1990s, but a full-scale evacuation, including the dismantling of settlements–it will be powerless to launch the kind of prolonged counterterrorism operations needed to suppress renewed terror: Anything more than brief incursions will become politically untenable, just as it has in evacuated Gaza.

Yet Yadlin appears incapable of imagining a recurrence of the second intifada’s deadly terror, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians. As far as he’s concerned, we’ve defeated terror; now it’s safe to withdraw.

This echoes former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s assertion in January that since “there is no eastern front” right now, Israel can safely withdraw from the Jordan Valley. The eastern front, as I noted last week, is now back in spades, revived by the Islamic State’s takeover of large swathes of Iraq. Dagan’s mistake was that he couldn’t imagine the possibility of such a change: As far as he was concerned, the eastern front was gone, so it would stay gone.

Both men exemplify a problem common to many defense professionals: They understand military tactics and capabilities, but they’re no better than anyone else–and often worse–at predicting political developments. Dagan was blind to the possibility that Syria’s civil war and the jihadi groups it spawned could affect Iraq’s stability, and perhaps even Jordan’s, while Yadlin seems blind to the possibility that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank could spark a resurgence of terror.

That’s why defense officials’ policy recommendations should always be treated skeptically. Making good policy requires an ability to imagine the likely consequences of both your own actions and those of other players. And defense professionals, at least in Israel, seem to be sadly lacking in that ability.

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Not the Moment for “Restraint” Against Hamas

In a sentiment that was echoed across the Israeli political spectrum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed today that “Hamas will pay” for the murders of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped two weeks ago. What exactly Netanyahu meant by this phrase isn’t yet known. But given the track record of both Israel and the Palestinians and the efforts by President Obama to head off any tough action by Netanyahu, the leaders of the terror group may not exactly be shaking in their boots.

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In a sentiment that was echoed across the Israeli political spectrum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed today that “Hamas will pay” for the murders of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped two weeks ago. What exactly Netanyahu meant by this phrase isn’t yet known. But given the track record of both Israel and the Palestinians and the efforts by President Obama to head off any tough action by Netanyahu, the leaders of the terror group may not exactly be shaking in their boots.

In the wake of the discovery of the victims’ bodies, anger against the Islamist terror group is widely felt and it is likely that Netanyahu’s government will have wide political leeway to hit Hamas hard, both in the West Bank and Gaza. But the question facing Israel is not so much whether to launch air strikes at Hamas headquarters or to round up even more of their supporters. Rather, it is whether if, after an interval of a week or two, Hamas is still functioning and is still part of the ruling coalition of the Palestinian Authority. If, after absorbing a pounding from the Israeli army, the Islamist movement’s leadership can claim that it not only shed more Jewish blood but also survived another Israeli counterattack, then despite all of the fearsome rhetoric coming out of Jerusalem, Hamas will have won.

President Obama’s condemnation of the deaths of the three Israeli teens was appropriate but it was accompanied by the standard call for “all sides to exercise restraint.” Which is to say that the U.S. is making it clear to the Israelis that anything beyond a minimal retaliation that will not make a difference will be condemned as worsening the situation. But, like all past efforts to enforce restraint on Israel, such counsel merely ensures that this tragedy will be played out again and again.

It must be understood that while the gruesome crime committed against three teenagers may damage Hamas’s already shaky reputation in the West, the willingness of the group to commit this atrocity may increase its popularity among Palestinians. In the last year, Hamas’s political stock has fallen as the cash shortfall caused by its rift with Iran and the closing of smuggling tunnels to Egypt undermined its ability to maintain local support. Where once it was seen as a viable alternative to the Fatah kleptocracy that rules over the West Bank, it is now seen as merely an Islamist version of the same corrupt model. Its willingness to maintain a rough cease-fire with Israel along the border with Gaza also robbed it of its mantle as the standard-bearer of the struggle against the Jewish state. It was for these reasons that it was forced to sign a unity agreement with Abbas’s Fatah.

Should a determined Israeli offensive take out some of its leadership and undermine its capacity to function, perhaps that decline will continue. But Hamas and its backers also know that violence has always been the main factor legitimizing Palestinian political parties. Should the kidnapping lead to another round of violence in which Hamas could portray itself as the true defender of Palestinian honor, then the incident could give it a new lease on life even as its members duck for cover.

That may incline some to counsel Israelis to avoid what in the past has been considered a “disproportionate” response to Palestinian provocations. Since Israeli attacks may actually undermine Abbas and boost Hamas, some (especially in the United States) may advise Netanyahu to make some noise but then get back to business as usual as quickly as possible lest a new counter-terror campaign serve to create a new generation of terrorists.

While that line of reasoning may sound logical, it would be a mistake. Israel needs to do more than launch some symbolic strikes that will do nothing to assuage Israeli anger while doing nothing to deter Palestinians from emulating this horrific deed. Nothing short of a stroke that will decapitate the leadership of this group will convince the Palestinians that Hamas has made a mistake.

As a poll I discussed last week showed, the vast majority of Palestinians want the struggle against Israel to continue but they don’t want to personally pay the price of that conflict. Making the vast majority of Palestinians pay for Hamas’s outrages would deepen their bitterness against Israel and lead to charges of collective punishment. But if, instead, Israel makes Hamas’s leaders pay in such a measure as to make it difficult if not impossible to carry on then perhaps Netanyahu can thread the needle in between an escalation and a weak non-response.

It may be that Israel’s options are limited by political realities and Hamas’s ability to withstand attacks. But no matter what choices Netanyahu makes, “restraint” will be merely an invitation for Hamas to repeat this crime again in the future.

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Moral Equivalence No Answer to Terror

Now that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers have been found, we can expect the usual chorus of pro forma condemnations of terrorism and sympathy for the victims to be voiced by many world leaders. But the willingness of so many of the same people to treat deliberate attempts to target civilians by the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the fate of those Arabs killed while conducting violence against Israelis gives the lie to their pose of objectivity.

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Now that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers have been found, we can expect the usual chorus of pro forma condemnations of terrorism and sympathy for the victims to be voiced by many world leaders. But the willingness of so many of the same people to treat deliberate attempts to target civilians by the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the fate of those Arabs killed while conducting violence against Israelis gives the lie to their pose of objectivity.

The discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel brings an unhappy ending to the effort that transfixed Israelis and Jews around the world but aroused relatively little interest outside of the Jewish community. The Hamas terror group that is believed to be behind the crime will feel the consequences of what appears to be the cold-blooded murders of these three boys shortly after their abduction. Hamas’s partners in the Palestinian Authority will also be put to the test as the Israelis will now see whether PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s helpful rhetoric condemning the kidnapping will be matched by actions that disassociate his government from terrorists.

But once condolences have been given and the boys buried, the atrocity will probably be shoved down the global memory hole as Palestinians and their cheerleaders contend that the terror attack on the teens must be seen as either an understandable reaction to the “occupation” or morally equivalent to the fate of those Palestinians who die while attacking Israeli forces. The New York Times provided a prime example of such thinking this morning in an article published only hours before the bodies were found.

In this piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, the paper contrasted the grief felt by Naftali Fraenkel’s mother Rachel and that of another mother, Aida Dudeen, whose son Muhammad was killed while confronting Israeli soldiers searching for the boys.

The loss of any life is a tragedy and the sadness of both mothers is genuine. But other than those bare facts, there is no real basis of comparison between these two families. In one case, you have a boy who was targeted by terrorists because he was a Jew and vulnerable and then murdered. In the other, another boy actively chooses to join the ranks of those attempting to obstruct the forces attempting to find the kidnapping victims and attacks them with rocks, seeking to provoke the Israelis into firing to protect their own lives.

The words of the two mothers also belie any moral equivalence. While Fraenkel expressed sympathy for any Palestinians who have been hurt, Aida Dudeen proclaimed her boy to be a “martyr” who “died for his homeland.” Dudeen, who said she tried to prevent her son from joining in the violence, also regards the Jewish presence in the land to be a matter of “colonialism.” Like the Palestinian social media campaign mocking the kidnapped boys, there is a clear sense on the part of the Arabs that any Jew who suffers in the conflict had it coming.

Reduced to the personal human element of mothers and sons, one can argue that one is no different from the other. But so long as the Palestinians cling to the notion that the country can be “liberated,” as Dudeen suggests, from the Jews, nothing will change. Despite the clichés about a cycle of violence in which both sides are stuck, the events that led to the deaths of Fraenkel and Dudeen were not involuntary. They involved the decision on the part of Hamas terrorists to kill Israeli kids and the subsequent decisions of other Palestinians to pour into the streets in an effort to either impede Israeli searchers or to seek out confrontations in which the ranks of Palestinian “martyrs” will be replenished.

The problem here is not merely a misunderstanding between the two sides that can be resolved by a superficial juxtaposition of the two families. The deaths of these two boys stem from a belief on the part of the Palestinians that they have the right to “resist” the Jewish presence with terror as well as the duty to attack those Israelis who sought out the terrorists and their victims.

Israel will be justified in taking drastic actions against Hamas in the coming days, especially in light of the news that, for the first time in years, the Islamist group is firing missiles into southern Israel from Gaza rather than farming out that duty to other Palestinian groups. But the point here isn’t so much the necessity to mete out retaliation for the kidnapping/murders as it is the necessity of the Palestinians to reassess their actions and belief system that set this chain of events in motion.

The tragic ending to the search should also cause those—like the New York Times—who routinely treat the victims of terror as somehow morally equivalent to those who aid and support terror to think again about what it truly means to be evenhanded in one’s thinking about the conflict. By treating these events as an excuse for superficial moralizing rather than an honest evaluation of a toxic Palestinian political culture that glorifies terror, the Western media plays a not insignificant role in perpetuating a conflict that they deplore.

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Fighting Terrorism: A Third Way

It is not just in Iraq that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are on the march. This is a general trend across the Islamic world. As Seth Jones of Rand notes in a recent report, “from 2010 to 2013 the number of jihadist groups world-wide has grown by 58%, to 49 from 31; the number of jihadist fighters has doubled to a high estimate of 100,000; and the number of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates has increased to roughly 1,000 from 392.”

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It is not just in Iraq that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are on the march. This is a general trend across the Islamic world. As Seth Jones of Rand notes in a recent report, “from 2010 to 2013 the number of jihadist groups world-wide has grown by 58%, to 49 from 31; the number of jihadist fighters has doubled to a high estimate of 100,000; and the number of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates has increased to roughly 1,000 from 392.”

How should the U.S. combat this distressing trend? Simply pulling back from the Middle East, as President Obama envisioned, is not working–American retreat is increasing conflict, not decreasing it. But that doesn’t mean that the only other alternative is, as the president suggested in his West Point address, to launch a major ground war with American troops.

There is a third way and it can be found in the Philippines where, after 9/11, the U.S. set up a Joint Special Operations Task Force to combat Abu Sayyaf and other Islamist terrorist groups. That task force, whose operations I described in this 2009 Weekly Standard article, never had more than 600 personnel and it never went directly into combat. Rather its mission was to assist the Philippine armed forces with intelligence, planning, civil affairs, psychological operations, training, and other important tasks. Now, having accomplished a lot, the task force, based in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, is being disbanded.

The New York Times quotes one analyst as saying “that the unit ‘undoubtedly helped the Philippine military to curb the activities of violent extremist groups operating in the region’ so that militants ‘now only pose a small, localized threat.’ ” That doesn’t mean Abu Sayyaf has ceased to exist but its numbers have been drastically cut–from an estimated 1,200 fighters to 400–and it has become more of a criminal than a terrorist menace.

That’s not a bad result, all things considered; it would certainly look like victory if we were to achieve anything approaching that outcome with such groups as Boko Haram, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and of course the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

That’s not to say that 600 Special Operations troops by themselves can get the job done everywhere; circumstances were propitious in the Philippines where the insurgency was localized among a minority Muslim population and where the state had a long history of functioning, albeit with substantial problems of corruption and ineffectiveness.

The crisis is more acute in countries like Yemen, Sudan, Syria, and Iraq where large sections of the countryside have fallen entirely out of the government’s control. In some places–Iraq and Afghanistan among them–it will take a lot more than a few hundred special operators to keep the enemy at bay. But in other countries the Philippine model could prove to be sufficient. We should certainly try to apply it where we can, because the alternatives–retreat or massive military intervention–are so unpalatable.

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Sacrificing the Kurds to Save a Narrative

Should the Kurds of Iraq forgo their aspirations for independence so the Obama administration can save face through the end of the president’s term? Though he didn’t word it quite that way, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kurdish leaders in Erbil yesterday to pitch that scenario.

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Should the Kurds of Iraq forgo their aspirations for independence so the Obama administration can save face through the end of the president’s term? Though he didn’t word it quite that way, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kurdish leaders in Erbil yesterday to pitch that scenario.

As Iraq continues to come apart, the Kurds are presented with an opportunity to realize genuine self-rule. That would mean Iraq would truly dissolve on Obama’s watch. The administration doesn’t want to deal with those optics, hence Kerry’s attempt to talk the Kurds into self-sacrifice:

In advance of Kerry’s arrival from Amman, Jordan, Barzani signaled yesterday that the “time is here” for the Kurds, a minority of 6.5 million, to decide on independence instead of what’s now a semi-autonomous state within Iraq. As fighting rages between extremists and Iraqi forces, the Kurds are in a position to be deal makers in political talks for a new government. …

A decision to go forward with independence would affect not only the future of about 17 percent of Iraq’s population of 33 million, but also whether the nation of Iraq dissolves into a loose federation or disappears. Either outcome would be a tectonic shift in regional politics with implications for neighbors Turkey, Iran and Syria, which also have Kurdish minorities.

The U.S. has said it wants Iraq to maintain its territorial integrity and seek a peaceful outcome through a new government that respects the interests of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The Obama administration would strongly oppose Kurdish independence now as “another nail in the coffin of the Baghdad government,” said Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow in Washington at the Century Foundation and a former U.S. diplomat.

This is typical of the Obama administration. It pulls American influence back from an area of interest, which leaves a vacuum the administration then expects allies in the region–those left behind by Obama–to step into in order to mitigate the damage. Obama also takes allies for granted, acting as though they’ll never really be needed and then when they are, the president expects them to fall in line. And most of all, it trades away the freedom of others so Obama can uphold the illusion of stability.

It’s also characteristic of Obama in one more way: having almost no grasp of history–especially of the Middle East–he can’t learn from it, and instead gets policies flat wrong. He would do well to read Matti Friedman’s incisive piece in Mosaic this week. Friedman kicked off the discussion earlier in the month with an essay on Israel’s Mizrachim, a category broadly comprising Jews from Arab lands. Mosaic then, as per its custom, published a couple of learned responses. Friedman has followed up with a response of his own.

He begins by discussing how the advance of ISIS and similar fanatical groups throughout the Middle East is having a brutal effect on ethnic and religious minorities. They are virtually unprotected, and as such have no real influence on the events around them. “One of the biggest stories in the region in the past century—the disappearance of the old cosmopolitan mosaic that always found a way to exist under Islam but no longer can—has now picked up speed to an extent that would have been hard to imagine even two or three years ago,” Friedman writes. “Soon these communities will all be gone, and one of the great cultural losses of our times will be complete.”

He then explains that the story of the Jews–and specifically Middle Eastern Jews–holds a lesson for the region’s other minorities:

When one looks at the recently exiled Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, Christians, and others, the Jews displaced by Muslims from their ancestral homes beginning in the mid-20th century begin to look more and more like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. This is a role that Jews have often played in different parts of the world.

Are you an ethnic or religious minority that wishes to survive in the Middle East? You had better have a piece of land in which you are the majority, and the power to defend it. This is the lesson of the Kurds, as has been vividly brought home this past month, and it is the lesson of Israel.

And of course if you want that piece of land to call your own and the power to defend it, you’ll need some powerful allies. When the British Mandate expired and Israel declared its independence, the realist fans of stability around Harry Truman wanted idealism, fairness, and moral courage sidelined to avoid disrupting the status quo. Truman would have none of it, and recognized Israel immediately. Now the Kurds face a similar–though certainly not identical–situation.

It’s also possible the Kurdish elite aren’t as enthusiastic about independence as they appear–that such talk is intended to boost the concessions they can wring from the U.S. for staying in Iraq. But they have probably learned the historical lesson Friedman writes about and the fact that they might never have a better chance to strike out on their own. If that’s the case, Kerry is asking quite a lot of them in seeking to save a narrative at the expense of Kurdish national aspirations.

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Obama’s Cognitive Inflexibility

Writing in the American Interest, the scholar Walter Russell Mead–who voted for Barack Obama in 2008–offered a withering assessment of the Obama foreign policy, saying

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Writing in the American Interest, the scholar Walter Russell Mead–who voted for Barack Obama in 2008–offered a withering assessment of the Obama foreign policy, saying

few in the mainstream press seem interested in tracing the full and ugly course of the six years of continual failure that dog the footsteps of the hapless Obama team in a region the White House claimed to understand. Nothing important has gone right for the small and tightly knit team that runs American Middle East policy. … Rarely has an administration so trumpeted its superior wisdom and strategic smarts; rarely has any American administration experienced so much ignominious failure, or had its ignorance and miscalculation so brutally exposed.

Professor Mead adds this:

Now, from the ruins of the Obama Administration’s Middle East strategy, the most powerful and dangerous group of religious fanatics in modern history has emerged in the heart of the Middle East. The rise of ISIS is a strategic defeat of the first magnitude for the United States and its allies (as well as countries like Russia and even China). It is a perfect storm of bad policy intersecting with troubled times to create the gravest threat to U.S. and world stability since the end of the Cold War.

And this:

So here, alas, is where we now stand six years into the Age of Obama: The President isn’t making America safer at home, he doesn’t have the jihadis on the run, he has no idea how to bring prosperity, democracy, or religious moderation to the Middle East, he can’t pivot away from the region, and he doesn’t know what to do next… he must certainly ask himself some tough questions about why so many of his most cherished ideas keep leading him and his country into such ugly places.

You would think so, except that this president appears incapable of serious self-reflection and holding up his most cherished ideas to scrutiny. Mr. Obama’s mind is too inflexible, his ideology too gripping, and his vanity too overwhelming to rethink his assumptions and approach.

This comes despite the president’s self-conceit. “I’m not a particularly ideological person,” Obama is quoted as saying in a recent profile in the New Yorker. Elsewhere he assures us he’s “not a purist” and “I’m pretty pragmatic.” He added, “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity.”

That’s actually not true. What Mr. Obama is missing is what neuroscientists call cognitive flexibility. What the president suffers from, on the other hand, is rigidity, difficulty in adapting to changing environments and circumstances. He can do it now and then, but it’s usually late, slow, and insufficient. And when everyone else sees his policies in collapse, Mr. Obama seems unable to fully process things, to see reality for what it is. He reverts to his mental habits, which include blaming the outside world for his failures. That may be soothing to him, but it is tiresome to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the world burns.

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Violent Anti-Semitism Is Back in Germany

Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

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Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

One of the organizers of the vigil—who I will avoid naming here as he has previously had to receive police protection—recounted how the demonstrators knocked the 83-year-old man to the ground before then beginning to kick his daughter who was attempting to protect her father. A press release from the Hamburg for Israel network tells how the victim of the assault had to receive surgery and is still recovering in Hospital. Reportedly the attackers came from the somewhat appropriately named anti-globalization group ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens), but what does any of that have to do with three Jewish boys kidnapped by Hamas?

Perhaps some of those on the demonstration would say that they oppose the IDF’s “heavy handed” efforts to rescue the boys, for some days now such agenda-driven complaints have been coming from the international NGO scene (the German ones among them included). Yet when Syria and Iraq are engulfed in one of the most brutal civil wars imaginable, when Egypt is locking away journalists and executing opponents of the military government en masse, it is simply grotesque that Europeans would point an accusatory finger at Israel, the one place where a stable liberal democracy is being held together, no thanks to the NGOs that seek to undermine it relentlessly.

In the case of Germany it seems memories must fade fast—or perhaps not. Given the prevalence of anti-Israel feeling in Germany one can’t help but wonder if this is part of some perverse attempt to turn the tables back on the Jews. After all in a survey from 2011 47 percent of Germans said that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. Can they actually believe this, or is it just convenient for some Germans to believe such things?

In recent years there have been a no shortage of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents in Germany. It was only back in April that an Israeli man was set upon by a group of youths in Berlin, and in January the German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung published an editorial claiming that Israel’s definition as a specifically Jewish state rendered it akin to “apartheid” and a “theocracy.” Then in February the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, chose to not only address the Knesset in German but to harangue MKs on the preposterous charge that Israel restricts how much water it allows Palestinians; this at the same time that Assad was starving out Palestinians rebelling in Syria’s refugee camps. And it hardly seems worth dwelling on the ravings of Gunter Grass, formerly the left-wing conscience of Germany, now widely discredited by the revelations of his own Nazi past.

But what can hardly be ignored is that when traveling through the West Bank, so many projects have German sponsorship, and many of these have an activist or political agenda. Nor can one miss the German NGOs and staff members who are all too ready to pass judgment on Israel. With so few Jews left in Germany, it can almost seem as if some Germans have felt the need to follow the Jews all the way to the Middle East.

Reading about incidents like the violent attack in Hamburg it is difficult not to wonder whether many Germans still have an unhealthy relationship with Jewish matters. Europeans in general, and Germans in particular, have been all too quick to rush to condemn the Jewish state. Perhaps there really is no better way for distracting from past guilt than framing your victims for a similar crime.

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Intifada with a Twist

During the earlier, more hopeful days of the Arab Spring it was common for people to wonder aloud if the revolutionary momentum would reach the Palestinians. One major difference between the Palestinians and Egyptians or Syrians was that the Palestinians have a degree of self-rule. Any uprising in the Palestinian territories might therefore target the Palestinian Authority or Hamas before Israel, and would likely result in less, not more Palestinian freedom because of it: Hamas would crackdown brutally in Gaza, and if the PA fell in the West Bank it would be replaced by a more authoritarian ruler (probably Hamas).

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During the earlier, more hopeful days of the Arab Spring it was common for people to wonder aloud if the revolutionary momentum would reach the Palestinians. One major difference between the Palestinians and Egyptians or Syrians was that the Palestinians have a degree of self-rule. Any uprising in the Palestinian territories might therefore target the Palestinian Authority or Hamas before Israel, and would likely result in less, not more Palestinian freedom because of it: Hamas would crackdown brutally in Gaza, and if the PA fell in the West Bank it would be replaced by a more authoritarian ruler (probably Hamas).

In part that was the folly of having elections in the territories that included Hamas back in 2006: if you gave the Palestinians a chance to punish the ruling party when Hamas was the only alternative, you would get Hamas in government. In the end, that’s exactly what happened. And it’s why many were warning against the United States giving its blessing to a Hamas-Fatah unity government that would soon call for elections. Mahmoud Abbas has been in office twice as long as his legal term; given the corruption of Fatah and the pent-up desire to register their discontent, the Palestinians could be expected to once again empower Hamas.

But now we’re seeing the possibility of Hamas gaining the upper hand without having to wait for an election. Both Haaretz and Khaled Abu Toameh are reporting the rumblings of a new intifada in the West Bank–only this time aimed at Abbas. As Jonathan mentioned earlier, the unrest is tied to Abbas’s criticism of the kidnapping of Israeli teenagers and the Israeli army’s West Bank operation to track them down. Here’s Toameh:

The attack on the Palestinian police station came amid growing Palestinian discontent with PA President Mahmoud Abbas over his opposition to the kidnapping of the three Israeli youths.

Palestinians representing various Palestinian factions, including Abbas’s own Fatah, have resorted to social media to denounce Abbas and his security forces as “traitors” for helping Israel in its efforts to locate the three youths.

One campaign on Facebook entitled, “I’m Palestinian and Abbas doesn’t represent me” has drawn hundreds of supporters.

Palestinian protests against Abbas and security coordination with Israel have recently become a daily occurrence in the West Bank, where Palestinian protesters are no longer afraid to express their views in public.

The Palestinian Authority has begun to feel the heat and that is why its security forces have been instructed to use an iron-fist policy not only against its critics, but also against Palestinian and Western journalists in the West Bank.

On June 20, Palestinian policemen broke up a protest in Hebron by families of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and beat a number of journalists, including a CNN reporter who had his camera smashed.

But the Haaretz piece gets right to the point. Its subheadline, echoed in the article as well, is: “The Palestinian president will soon have to decide whether he’s in favor of Israel or his own people.”

And here we have yet another consequence of opening the West Bank to Hamas, and it’s one that directly threatens not only Abbas’s governing structure but the security of Israel as well. This is obvious if Hamas was indeed behind the kidnapping. But even if not, it’s a good demonstration of Hamas’s ability to use such crises to limit Israeli self-defense.

It’s no secret that Israel rightly prefers Abbas to Hamas. But if Israeli counteroffensives can threaten Abbas’s hold on power, then Hamas has figured out a formula: strike at Israel in the West Bank, and either Israel’s response triggers the weakening and possibly fall of Abbas (to Hamas’s benefit) or Israel ties its own hands, giving Hamas free shots at Israeli civilians.

Israel simply cannot choose the latter: whatever Israelis think of their preference for Abbas over Hamas, he’s not worth committing state suicide over. But the former outcome is still a win for Hamas. If Hamas can chip away at Abbas’s rule by simply attacking Israel, they will do so. And joining the unity government positions them to collect the support Abbas loses.

The American officials who supported this unity government also tried to justify it by claiming that the Palestinians involved in the government cannot be card-carrying members of Hamas (though the Americans wouldn’t know the difference anyway). One way around that for Hamas would have been to run Hamasniks who simply run under a non-Hamas banner. But these latest developments suggest the Palestinians may not even make it to the elections.

If Hamas can cause the downfall of Abbas in the West Bank before elections can be held, they can avoid the trouble of pretending to be on the outside for those elections and can simply rule directly. The Obama administration officials who thought this was a good idea were pretty clearly outsmarted–but they probably thought they had more time before that became clear. Hamas seems to have other ideas.

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Palestinians Play the Victim Again

More than one week into the search for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, the Palestinians have gone beyond mocking the boys and their families on social media with their three-fingered salute taunt. They are now attempting to use the Israel Defense Forces’ search operation as an excuse to turn the tables on the Jewish state.

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More than one week into the search for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, the Palestinians have gone beyond mocking the boys and their families on social media with their three-fingered salute taunt. They are now attempting to use the Israel Defense Forces’ search operation as an excuse to turn the tables on the Jewish state.

Since neither Hamas nor their Fatah partners in the Palestinian government have produced the boys or the captors (despite PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s promises that his security services are aiding in the hunt), these political parties are beginning what is, in effect, a third intifada, as they send their own children and young people into the streets to resist army searchers, producing confrontations that inevitably lead to violence and casualties. Having then provided the international media with a new set of grievances, the Palestinians now are claiming that those who both applauded the kidnapping and who are actively obstructing the lawful operations aimed at rescuing the boys are the real victims. The only question is how long it will take before the United Nations and the rest of the international community starts mulling resolutions condemning the Israelis for leaving no stone unturned in their quest to find the boys as well as for having the chutzpah to resist terrorism.

To listen to officials like Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, the kidnapping is either an Israeli hoax or the act of Jewish criminals rather than terrorists. This variant on 9/11 truther myths is a mixture of the traditional imagery of anti-Semitism as well as modern disinformation. But like PLO official Hanan Ashrawi and his boss Abbas, al-Maliki’s real complaint is that the focus on Jews suffering at the hands of Palestinian terrorists helps “turn Israelis from aggressors to victims.” He’s right about that.

Though Israelis are routinely portrayed in the international media as the bullies of the Middle East, the kidnapping and the latest rocket attacks into southern Israel from Hamas-run Gaza (the independent Palestinian state in all-but-name that reminds Israelis what they would get if they withdrew from the West Bank) highlight the fact that it is Israel that remains under siege from its hostile Arab neighbors, not Gaza or the West Bank.

If there is any conscious attempt to manipulate public opinion, it is the efforts of Palestinians to turn a lawful search operation for the boys into a series of unfortunate violent incidents. What is happening is similar to past intifadas during which cynical Palestinian leaders sacrificed their children on the altar of hate for Israel in order to produce victims for the international media to aid the campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense.

If the Palestinians don’t want Israeli troops searching their towns and villages and fields for terrorist victims, they have an easy solution to their problem. They can demand that Hamas surrender the terrorists and produce the boys. Even more to the point, if they don’t want the present diplomatic stalemate to continue, which has left Abbas’s PA in control of most Palestinian areas but with Israel retaining the right to guard its security in the West Bank, they can return to the negotiating table and finally accept a peace offer that would, in return for their recognition that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and a permanent end to the conflict, gain sovereignty over most of the territory they claim as their own.

But since the Palestinians remain uninterested in pursuing either of those rational options or in being led by people more interested in developing their economy and respecting human rights than in pursuing a century-old futile quest to destroy Israel, they are stuck in their preferred tactics of the past. That is why they are dusting off the old intifada playbook and trying to play the victim instead of ending this crisis or negotiating peace. While much of the international community will probably fall for this ploy, they should not expect the Israeli public to be so simple. After more than 20 years of failed efforts to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer, the Jewish state is determined to defend itself. Those who attack their children and mock them are not the victims in this story.

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Two More Myths About Israeli Settlements Bite the Dust

One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

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One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

As Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot write at Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu has slowed construction in settlements to the point that it “can hardly sustain even natural population growth.” Additionally:

A geographic analysis of the data, moreover, suggests that the settlers have an additional reason to worry: under Netanyahu’s current government, construction outside the so-called major settlement blocs — the areas most likely to remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement — has steadily decreased. Over the past five years, the number of homes approved for construction in the smaller settlements has amounted to half of what it was during Netanyahu’s first premiership in 1996–99. Moreover, the homes the government is now approving for construction are positioned further west, mostly in the major blocs or in areas adjacent to the so-called Green Line, the de facto border separating Israel from the West Bank. The 1,500 units that Israel announced plans for earlier this month were also in the major blocs and in East Jerusalem, continuing the pattern.

Despite the fact that this might qualify as a bombshell to those in the press, Abrams and Sadot have another piece of news. After talking about land swaps and the geography of the peace process, they write:

Accusations that Netanyahu is reluctant to negotiate for peace bury the true headline: that his government has unilaterally reduced Israeli settlement construction and largely constrained it to a narrow segment of territory. This might well be the signal that Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end, and whatever its reasons — international pressures, demographic fears, or a shift in public opinion — it is a trend that deserves U.S. attention.

Let’s repeat that: Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior toward the settlements raises the possibility that “Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end” and that Netanyahu is the one who might preside over it. Liberal critics of Israel have slammed Netanyahu as a prime minister who could make true history by striking a peace deal but is letting ego and ideology get in the way. The reality is that he may just make history of the kind those leftist critics thought they could only dream of, and they don’t even realize it.

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But I Thought There Weren’t Any Weapons of Mass Destruction…

The latest bad news from Iraq now includes the reports that ISIS have captured one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons facilities at Al Muthanna 45 miles north of Baghdad. Naturally this has caused a certain degree of disquiet, but U.S. officials have reassured that they don’t believe the weapons there are usable and have stressed that it is unlikely that the rebels would be able to use the facilities to produce chemical weaponry. Indeed, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to calm concerns that the Islamists could use the weapons by insisting that “it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.” But who ever said jihadis are concerned with safety? If anything the volatility of this material—most of which is currently sealed away in bunkers—surely should only add to our concerns.

Nevertheless, aren’t we forgetting something here? It’s somewhat disorienting to have had ten years of a prevailing narrative that says the public was misled over the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction only to now be told that there are concerns that Saddam’s chemical weapons have fallen into the hands of a group too extreme even for the tastes of al-Qaeda. Perhaps it is quite true that the weapons stored at this site are now too old be used effectively, and perhaps it is also true that the rebels lack the means and the knowhow to convert these materials into something usable, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the Saddam regime couldn’t have eventually turned these facilities around to produce weapons of mass destruction once again.

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The latest bad news from Iraq now includes the reports that ISIS have captured one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons facilities at Al Muthanna 45 miles north of Baghdad. Naturally this has caused a certain degree of disquiet, but U.S. officials have reassured that they don’t believe the weapons there are usable and have stressed that it is unlikely that the rebels would be able to use the facilities to produce chemical weaponry. Indeed, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki attempted to calm concerns that the Islamists could use the weapons by insisting that “it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.” But who ever said jihadis are concerned with safety? If anything the volatility of this material—most of which is currently sealed away in bunkers—surely should only add to our concerns.

Nevertheless, aren’t we forgetting something here? It’s somewhat disorienting to have had ten years of a prevailing narrative that says the public was misled over the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction only to now be told that there are concerns that Saddam’s chemical weapons have fallen into the hands of a group too extreme even for the tastes of al-Qaeda. Perhaps it is quite true that the weapons stored at this site are now too old be used effectively, and perhaps it is also true that the rebels lack the means and the knowhow to convert these materials into something usable, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the Saddam regime couldn’t have eventually turned these facilities around to produce weapons of mass destruction once again.

This latest turn in the Iraq crisis further demonstrates a truth about the war in Iraq that can’t be stated often enough: There is a reasonable distinction to be drawn between the still robust case for the overthrow of Saddam and the less defensible matter of how the situation in Iraq was handled following that overthrow. Removing Saddam by no means made the following insurgencies and civil war inevitable. Yes, allied forces failed to fully anticipate what might happen in the wake of totally dismantling the Baathist regime and not adequately securing stability in the country after that. But even with all of that in mind, culpability for the violent sectarianism that now engulfs Iraq has to ultimately be placed with the violent sectarians. A Saddam-free Iraq is not by necessity a war of all against all; the people who live in that country did have another alternative before them.

The reminder of the extensive chemical-weapons facility at Al Muthanna should force us to consider what Iraq would be like today had there been no invasion in 2003. Is it really conceivable that the so-called Arab Spring would have simply passed Iraq by? North of the border in Syria things are just about as bad as they could be and that was without an invasion or any kind of Western military intervention. Indeed, Iraq’s most serious problem right now—ISIS—has mobilized from Syria. And given Saddam’s wild track record of suppressing internal uprisings (often with the use of chemical weapons) can anyone really say that right now Saddam would be showing any more restraint than Assad is?

Saddam may not have had weapons of mass destruction good to go, but we have been reminded that he had maintained the facilities to quite rapidly produce such weapons. The fact that these sites and their lethal materials are now in the hands of ISIS, and indeed that ISIS is racing across Iraqi territory at all, is a sign of just how supremely irresponsible the Obama administration has been. To invade Iraq was in a sense a very great gamble, but arguably one necessitated by circumstance. But to then walk away from Iraq with the job barely half done, as Obama has, is unforgivable.

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Kidnapping Hasn’t Altered West’s View of Conflict or the Palestinians

Another day went by without any word about the whereabouts of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas terrorists last week. While the lack of any evidence that the three are still alive or a ransom demand is deeply troubling, the Israel Defense Forces have conducted extensive searches throughout the West Bank as well as seeking to exact a severe price from the terrorist group. The IDF has arrested scores of Hamas operatives as well as taken into custody 50 of the terrorists freed in the 2012 swap in which the Jewish state traded over 1,000 prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

These sweeps have caused IDF commanders to claim they have inflicted a powerful blow against Hamas’s infrastructure. Re-arresting some of the prisoners traded for Shalit also allows Israel to make a crucial point. Since the object of the abduction of the three boys was to force Israel to release even more terrorists—including some, like those in the Shalit deal, with blood on their hands—this move is an attempt to demonstrate that the kidnapping has backfired. But the boasts from both Israeli politicians and military officials that Hamas is already the loser in this affair may be more intended to boost their citizens’ morale than an objective analysis of the situation. While Hamas may have been dealt a setback that makes it less able to operate in the West Bank, unless the Israelis are prepared to stand their ground on demands for release of the Hamas prisoners, the Islamist group will still be able to claim victory. That’s especially true if the boys aren’t found, if more terrorists walk free as a result of this affair or if, as appears likely, international public opinion begins to swing back to the Palestinians after a week during which the kidnapping engendered more sympathy than usual for the Israelis.

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Another day went by without any word about the whereabouts of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas terrorists last week. While the lack of any evidence that the three are still alive or a ransom demand is deeply troubling, the Israel Defense Forces have conducted extensive searches throughout the West Bank as well as seeking to exact a severe price from the terrorist group. The IDF has arrested scores of Hamas operatives as well as taken into custody 50 of the terrorists freed in the 2012 swap in which the Jewish state traded over 1,000 prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

These sweeps have caused IDF commanders to claim they have inflicted a powerful blow against Hamas’s infrastructure. Re-arresting some of the prisoners traded for Shalit also allows Israel to make a crucial point. Since the object of the abduction of the three boys was to force Israel to release even more terrorists—including some, like those in the Shalit deal, with blood on their hands—this move is an attempt to demonstrate that the kidnapping has backfired. But the boasts from both Israeli politicians and military officials that Hamas is already the loser in this affair may be more intended to boost their citizens’ morale than an objective analysis of the situation. While Hamas may have been dealt a setback that makes it less able to operate in the West Bank, unless the Israelis are prepared to stand their ground on demands for release of the Hamas prisoners, the Islamist group will still be able to claim victory. That’s especially true if the boys aren’t found, if more terrorists walk free as a result of this affair or if, as appears likely, international public opinion begins to swing back to the Palestinians after a week during which the kidnapping engendered more sympathy than usual for the Israelis.

As Raphael Aren wrote in the Times of Israel today, the IDF operations have sought to delegitimize the Fatah-Hamas unity government in the eyes of the world by pointing out the involvement of Hamas in terrorism. But as Israel has learned to its sorrow many times in the past, there are severe limits as to how much leeway the world is prepared to grant it when it comes to self-defense. Though the kidnapping has been roundly, if sometimes belatedly condemned by world leaders, none have drawn the appropriate conclusion from the spectacle of a partner in the Palestinian government conducting terrorist operations. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union has halted aid to the PA in spite of the clear indication that rather than being absorbed by the supposedly more moderate Fatah, Hamas has remained steadfast in its support for terrorism. Just as telling are the calls from Washington and European capitals for Israel to show “restraint” in its efforts to strike back at the terrorists or to find the boys.

While the West will tolerate some Israeli efforts aimed at hindering Hamas operations as well as those focused on recovery of the kidnapping victims, it’s clear that none will endorse anything that would go beyond those limited measures. Though the U.S. is preoccupied with the crisis in Iraq, there is little doubt the Obama administration would lash out at Israel if it expelled senior Hamas members from the West Bank to Gaza. Nor would it stand by if the Israelis put the squeeze on PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to make good on his pledges to help find the boys or in any way punished Hamas’s Fatah partners.

While the Israeli government may think the kidnapping—and the broad support for it among the Palestinian people—ought to inform the world’s view of the conflict, neither the Obama administration nor its European allies share that opinion. From their frame of reference, the kidnapping is just an annoyance, albeit a painful one, that Israelis must put up with. Barring a swift resolution to this incident, it is likely pressure will start to build in the international community for the Israelis to stand down and begin releasing the re-arrested Shalit-swap prisoners. Indeed, already voices are being raised claiming that Israel is engaging in “collective punishment” against the Palestinians in its anti-Hamas campaign. While the charge is specious, the willingness to turn the tables on the Israelis and to treat Hamas and its supporters as the victims reflects the prejudicial atmosphere in which the Jewish state must operate.

Contrary to the expectations of some in Israel, the #bringbackourboys hashtag social media campaign hasn’t really caught fire outside of the Jewish community. Nor has the rival #threeshalits hashtag—a phrase that demonstrates the broad support for terrorism among Palestinians—influenced either the U.S. or international public opinion to cause them to question their belief that the Israelis are the real obstacle to peace. By raising the ante with Israel in this manner, Hamas has shown the Palestinians that they are the true standard-bearers in the ongoing conflict with the Jews. Unless the IDF can find the boys and the Netanyahu government sticks to its guns in the months ahead on prisoner releases, Hamas will be able claim victory despite the blows they have absorbed.

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