Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

Turkish Islamists Train Snipers in Syria

That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

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That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

So what to make from this? Firstly, it’s an open secret that Turkey passively if not actively supports radical Islamist factions inside Syria, up to and including ISIS, whose members it has allowed to transit Turkish territory. Secondly, Erdoğan has assumed the power to shut down websites and Twitter feeds without so much as a court order. And yet, sites depicting the training of terrorist snipers inside Syria by Turks remain up. But should an environmentalist condemn the cutting down of trees in an urban park, Erdoğan labels him a terrorist and demands stiff jail terms.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that for Erdoğan, the problem isn’t Twitter any more than the problem is newspapers or television stations. Rather, the issue is whether or not such technology adheres to Erdoğan’s agenda. And by nature of his silence on these tweets, it is clear once again that Erdoğan does not consider ISIS, Jebhat al-Nusra, or the İnsani Yardım Vakfı to be terrorist groups or feeders, but rather honorable organizations to allow to operate unmolested.

Welcome to the reality of the new Turkey, same as the old Saudi Arabia.

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Obama, Abbas, and ‘Contaminating’ Jews

In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

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In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

Abbas helped launch the latest round of Palestinian violence by urging his people to resist Jews who venture onto the Temple Mount by all means. Those means turned out to be murder and when the PA head praised a slain terrorist who had attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr” who was heading straight to heaven, it showed just how far he was willing to go to capitalize on traditional memes of Palestinian hatred for Jews. Today, in the wake of more fatal car attacks and stabbings of Jews, Abbas doubled down on the hate. Referring to the attempts by some Jews to gain the right to pray on what it the holiest site in Judaism, Abbas was reported as saying the following in the Times of Israel:

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

It should be acknowledged that Abbas is locked in a fierce competition with Hamas for support from Palestinians and by diving even deeper into the barrel of ancient libels, he is, by his own lights, merely pandering to domestic opinion. But the green light he is giving to random violence by Palestinians is unmistakable. The question is when will his Washington cheering section recognize that they have invested heavily in a figure that is counting on their support insulating him against any consequences for his actions?

On its face, Abbas would seem to be the last person who would want a third intifada since he stands to lose the most by an open breach with an Israeli security apparatus that is his only guarantee of survival against Hamas. Nor can he afford to alienate the Americans or the European Union since both provide him with the cash he needs to irrigate the corrupt kleptocracy that he presides over in the West Bank.

That ought to give both Israel and the West some leverage in moderating his language even if it has never been enough to cause him to be willing to defy Palestinian public opinion and negotiate a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

That is why the silence of the West about Abbas is so frustrating for Israel. For months, the Obama administration has been lauding the PA head as a courageous man of peace while badmouthing Netanyahu as an obstacle to it in both on and off the record statements. Thus it is no surprise that Abbas believes he has virtual carte blanche from his donors and political sponsors to go as far as he wants when it comes to inciting violence.

The problem here is that while the White House and State Department can often be relied upon to issue statements urging both sides to show restraint and condemning violence of all kinds, they generally have no problem being specific when it comes to Israel and Netanyahu. But even if we leave aside the unfair nature of most of the criticisms of the Israeli, they find it difficult, if not impossible to turn the same critical gaze at Abbas.

Let’s concede that even if Abbas were to have held his tongue and sought to calm tensions over Jerusalem, there is no guarantee that no violence would have occurred. But by seeking to outpace Hamas when it comes to fanning the flames about the mosques on the Temple Mount, Abbas has made a material contribution to Middle East violence. And he is doing it on the American taxpayer’s dime.

It should also be stated that some inflammatory voices on the Israeli right have contributed to the problem. As unfair as the status quo on the Temple Mount might be to Jews, overturning it right now would be the sort of thing that will get a lot of people killed. But it should be pointed out that instead of feeding and/or profiting from anger over this issue, Netanyahu and his government have tried to prevent violence, not encourage it, but keep getting slammed by Western critics for not altogether conceding Jewish rights throughout Jerusalem.

The issue here isn’t so much who gets to pray on the Temple Mount since there is no chance of the status quo being altered. Rather it is whether the West thinks it is OK for the recipient of their largesse to refer to Jews as “contaminators” of their own capital city. Such language isn’t merely pandering to Palestinian opinion; it is a sign that Abbas is part of the problem of violence and hate, not its potential solution.

For years, the same people hammering Netanyahu and excusing Abbas now were the ones urging a similar policy toward Yasir Arafat and his blatant incitement toward hate. Those who did so bore a degree of responsibility for the violence that ensued when Arafat blew up the peace process with a bloody second intifada. The same judgment will apply to the president and his cheerleaders as they stand by and watch Abbas play the same card.

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Humanity Lost: Jewish Victims of Terror and the New York Times

Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

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Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

“I have not gotten one phone call from a nervous parent, thank God,” said Robert Katz, director of academic affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s office in New York. “This isn’t complacency. They’re not calling because they’re committed and they’re not going anywhere. The prevailing attitude is this is the place where we are and this is where we’re going to be and we’re not budging.” …

“They’re shaken emotionally,” said Efrem Nulman, dean of students at Yeshiva. “But they’re not shaken in their commitment or their core beliefs. In a nutshell, our students have a deep and strong commitment to Israel in general and to studying in Israel in particular. These students have become accustomed to despicable acts of terrorism.”

The president of Brandeis, Jehuda Reinharz, attended Ms. Flatow’s funeral and said afterward that he had spoken with many of the 50 Brandeis students taking courses in Israel. Her death, he said, has shocked the students, but it hasn’t changed their minds.

These Jews would not be intimidated by acts of terror into abandoning their people and their dreams of Jewish life in the Holy Land. I was struck, however, not by what the Times was writing about these students but by what the Times was showing about itself. Namely, the Palestinian terror campaign had also not shaken the Times; the paper was still dedicated to humanizing the victims of terrorism and celebrating the religious passion that kept young Jews coming to Israel in defiance of their tormentors.

That was a different time, maybe. But it was also a different Times.

A friend in Israel passed along this beautiful remembrance of one of yesterday’s victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks, 26-year-old Dahlia Lemkus, written by Sherry Mandell. She writes that although the New York Times put in the effort to learn about Lemkus’s Palestinian murderer, “We learn nothing about 26 year old Dahlia, who was just getting started in life after finishing college, studying occupational therapy so that she could have a job where she could help people who were sick or infirm or disabled to live in a fuller way.” Mandell proceeds to tell the readers all about Lemkus.

Defenders of the Times might try to argue that unlike the students in the 1995 story, Lemkus wasn’t American. But then neither was her Palestinian murderer, and the Times makes sure to humanize him. It’s actually worse than that, though. In today’s story by Jodi Rudoren on a Palestinian man killed by the IDF when he aimed a gun at soldiers, Rudoren reflects back on Lemkus and tells us she was a “female settler,” just to put a thumb on the scales against her. (There is also the passive voice; the lede says “Israeli forces fatally shot” the Palestinian while yesterday’s Palestinian attacks “left an Israeli soldier and a female settler dead.”) When Lemkus is mentioned again in the story, she is again referred to as the “female settler.”

The Times isn’t even humanizing American victims of Palestinian terror anymore either. The American-born rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot last month in an attempted assassination by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick is a nonviolent proponent of equal rights for Jews at their holy site, the Temple Mount, on which Muslims have full prayer rights but Jews don’t.

The first words of the Times story on the shooting of Glick are: “An Israeli-American agitator.” Later we’re told he’s “widely viewed as a provocative figure who has exacerbated tensions between Muslims and Jews.” Around the same time, a Palestinian with links to Hamas was killed while attempting to carry out an attack on Israeli civilians. As our Tom Wilson noted, the State Department, in offering its condolences to the family of the Palestinian, played up the Palestinian’s American citizenship and refused to consider him a terrorist. At the same time, Glick’s family went ignored by American officials.

The Obama administration and the New York Times seem to be rather in-sync, then. The Times is ostensibly the same institution now as it was in 1995. On this issue, however, it couldn’t be more different. Somewhere along the line over the last twenty years, Jewish victims of Palestinian terror stopped being quite fully human to the Times. No doubt those who carry out these attacks feel the same way.

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The Hard Truths Obama Needs to Hear

“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

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“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

Except for the reference to Syria, this sounds like something that General George Casey would have said between 2004 and 2006 when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. In fact it is a comment made just last week by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command.

There is no doubt that Austin is right today, as Casey was once right, that Iraqi politics holds the solution to dealing with Iraqi problems. But what Casey didn’t grasp, as he steadfastly refused to ask for more troops, was that U.S. forces, if intelligently employed, could alter Iraqi politics in beneficial ways, whereas failure to send more forces would lead to greater chaos and increased polarization, making political progress impossible. In fact, the surge of 2007-2008, which Casey opposed, created a breakthrough that allowed Iraqi politics to begin functioning again.

That lesson applies today. As long as Iraq continues to be split between the forces of ISIS and the Quds Force, political progress will be impossible. But if the U.S. can foster greater progress in rolling back ISIS, the resulting sense of security could undermine the support that Iranian-backed militias have gained among Iraqi Shiites.

Such progress will not come about if the U.S. is standing on the lines, however. It will only happen if the U.S. does more to aid the creation of indigenous security forces–especially among the Sunni tribes–that can fight back effectively against ISIS. And that, in turn, is unlikely to happen when the Obama administration is willing to put no more than 3,000 troops on the ground and to prevent them from accompanying indigenous forces into combat where the American presence, however small, could be crucial to success. If the U.S. ramps up its involvement deploying, say, 15,000 advisers and Special Operations personnel and relaxes their rules of engagement, it will not only have a greater chance of achieving battlefield success against ISIS but also of boosting American influence to affect the Iraqi political process.

It is quite possible that the president will refuse to do more no matter what because he is politically and ideologically opposed to greater American involvement in Iraq or the Middle East more broadly. But as a first step it is important that the U.S. commander for the region–that would be Gen. Austin–speak bluntly and forthrightly to the president, telling him that the U.S. will never achieve his objective to “degrade and eventually defeat” ISIS unless it makes more of a commitment. Comments to the effect that it’s all on the Iraqis to make political progress–and that there is little we can do until then–don’t help.

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Dream of Rivals: Why Bibi’s Still On Top

Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

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Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has studiously, if not always successfully, attempted to avoid scenarios that could be destabilizing to Israeli politics, knowing as he does that governing coalitions are almost always more fragile than they look and that one perceived failure could bring them down. The Palestinians have, of course, not always played along. Case in point: Netanyahu is far more hesitant to go to war than most of his predecessors; this past summer, Hamas made avoiding a ground war impossible.

Netanyahu’s government survived the Gaza war, and now must deal with terror from within–a far greater challenge than calling on the IDF to win a ground war in Palestinian territory. Additionally, Netanyahu continues to deal with fluctuating Israeli public opinion polls and the fact that in the new reality of Israel’s fragmented party politics, rival parties are seemingly perpetually in striking distance. On top of all this, Netanyahu tends to get under the skin of even those who would agree with him politically, and has no natural ideological base since he’s much more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

So why is Netanyahu still standing, and why do the latest Knesset polls show him in the lead once again if new elections were to be held? There are two answers. The first is the underappreciated maturity of Israeli democracy. Bibi may not be well liked personally, and the political scene may feature a constant casting-about for alternatives, but in the end Israeli voters are still keeping their priorities straight by refusing to turn national elections into pure popularity contests.

Security crises often turn into political crises. But the prevalence of security concerns and the failure of the Palestinians to produce a serious peace partner have kept the Israeli electorate fairly steady. Having oriented their national government with security concerns in mind, a desire for a reorientation isn’t likely to produce one: to whom would they turn?

That question leads to the second reason for the Netanyahu government’s relative stability. The Israeli electorate has, as I’ve written in the past, achieved a kind of ideological equilibrium–and it’s one that leaves the left mostly out of the loop. Once upon a time, when the Israeli left was viewed as less naïve and fanciful than its current iteration (Ehud Barak was, after all, leader of the Labor Party just four years ago, though the marriage was by then an unhappy one), you could imagine a swing of the pendulum from right to left and back again in Knesset elections. That’s not the case today.

So where would the pendulum swing, then? In the Times of Israel, editor David Horovitz writes that for those who have really had it with Bibi, desperate times are calling for desperate measures:

So who is this alternative to Netanyahu, considered by at least some in the middle ground of Israeli politics?

Step forward Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs and the head of the Yisrael Beytenu coalition faction.

Horovitz notes, with record-obliterating understatement, that Lieberman (whose surname is often transliterated in Israel without the first “e”) “is not a man usually highlighted as the embodiment of Israeli political moderation.” No kidding. He continues:

And yet there are those among the coalition’s unhappy centrists who see Liberman as a pragmatist — at least relative to Netanyahu; as someone who would initiate policy rather than defensively respond, as Netanyahu is deemed by his critics to do; and as the possible key piece of a future coalition jigsaw built around Yesh Atid (19 seats), Labor (15), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2).

As a consequence of various comings and goings in what was the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu slate in the 2013 elections, Liberman’s party now holds 13 seats in the Knesset. If you add in Meretz (six seats), and/or one or both of the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas with its 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism 7), the arithmetic starts to look interesting.

OK, I’ll take the bait. I did, after all, write an essay in COMMENTARY three summers ago explaining how the Knesset math made Lieberman a force to be reckoned with and a perennial kingmaker with his eye on the ultimate prize. But what do the numbers say? Here’s the latest Knesset Channel poll. It finds Likud with 22 seats (up from 19), Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi with 18 (up from 12), Labor at 15, Yesh Atid at nine, Meretz at nine, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu at … seven seats.

An outlier? Does not appear to be. More like a trend. Here’s the NRG poll from six days earlier. It found Likud with 21, Bennett with 17, Labor with 15, and Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu with nine each.

That raises a different question: Is Netanyahu vulnerable from within Likud? The answer there seems to be no as well. Had there been a real chance to unseat Netanyahu as Likud leader, current Israeli President Ruby Rivlin would have been more likely to stay and challenge Bibi. The presidency is a ceremonial role. The premiership is where the power is. And don’t forget that Lieberman himself recently split from Likud.

The palace intrigue in Jerusalem has become noticeably unintriguing of late. That’s because the Israeli electorate has more or less arranged their Knesset representation to manage a status quo that hasn’t changed much either. Bibi is always instinctively looking over his shoulder. But it’s doubtful that when he does, he sees Avigdor Lieberman.

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Is Another “Awakening” Needed in Iraq?

If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

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If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance. But analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

There is something to this analysis, but not too much. Mainly what Hubbard is reporting on is the obvious fact that ISIS, as a Sunni jihadist group, can only take root in Sunni-majority areas. It is running out of new Sunni areas to conquer in Iraq largely because it has already taken control of most of the Sunni Triangle stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. That’s hardly great news, insofar as ISIS’s control over an area the size of the United Kingdom appears as strong as ever.

True, there are some signs of tribal revolts against ISIS, for example among the Jubouri tribe in Iraq, but ISIS is able to crush them with its typical ferocity. Meanwhile even the addition of Kurdish pesh merga fighters has not ended the ISIS offensive on Kobani, and while there are some slight improvements visible among anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, there is general acknowledgement that it will be a long time before Mosul or Fallujah can be liberated. To make matters worse, a lot of whatever success there has been in stalling ISIS’s momentum in Iraq comes from the actions of bloodthirsty, Iranian-backed militias under the direction of the Quds Force. Their growing power ensures that more Sunnis will continue to rally to ISIS for protection.

In many ways the situation feels, as the perspicacious Iraq analyst Joel Rayburn, a U.S. army colonel, has pointed out, like the dark days of 2005-2006 when there were scattered tribal revolts against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS predecessor, that AQI was able to “defeat brutally in detail.” The only way to defeat ISIS is by catalyzing a larger Awakening-style tribal uprising among the Sunnis. But that will require more direct American military intervention in Iraq and Syria than President Obama has been willing to countenance.

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Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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Is the Post-Abbas Mideast Already Here?

Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

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Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

Hamas and other Palestinian “resistance” groups have not, apparently, abandoned suicide terrorism after all and are now engaged in a renewed campaign. This type of violence is, of course, reminiscent of the second intifada, which is why it has Jerusalem on edge. The Palestinians have responded to each attack by rioting, so they are basically in a consistent state of violent agitation.

There is something more concerning about this latest round of Palestinian violence, however. Though it is perpetrated in some cases by members of Hamas, it has a spontaneous quality to it, and the riots in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are keeping the atmosphere that engenders it going seemingly around the clock. And as much as it is reminiscent of past such campaigns of violence, there is indeed something a bit different about this one: it is heralding the arrival of the post-Abbas Palestinian polity.

Now it’s true that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is not only still present and accounted for but is also helping to spark the violence by calling for resistance against Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. But Abbas is not leading; he’s merely following in the path of those who started the party without him. Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, and he surely knows that chaos and disorder and Hamas-fueled anarchy only undermine his own power. But he can’t stand around with his hands in his pockets either, because support for spilling Jewish blood drives Palestinian popular opinion.

If Abbas survives this current attempted intifada–and make no mistake, Abbas is in the crosshairs of Hamas’s terror campaigns as well–it will be nominally and, in fact, quite pathetically. And the current disorder is precisely why Israel has been protecting Abbas and helping him hold power: Abbas is no partner for peace, but he is the least-bad option available. A powerless, irrelevant, or deposed Abbas means these terror campaigns of Iran’s Palestinian proxies are all that remains of concerted Palestinian strategy.

Concern over a post-Abbas Middle East is becoming more common. Last month, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur wrote a typically incisive essay on the state of play between Israel and the Arab world, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–often one to embrace ideas that seem absurd only to soon solidify into conventional wisdom–was preparing for this eventuality. Last year Jonathan Schanzer explained, quite rightly, that it was time for Abbas to name a successor to ensure continuity in the peace process.

But what if the more dangerous scenario is not an absent Abbas but an irrelevant one? That’s what seems to be playing out right now. It’s possible that an Abbas-led PA is a leaderless PA. There is no old guard and no new blood, but something in between that leaves the Palestinian polity not yet in league with the Islamist fanatics of Hamas in a fluid, precarious state on the precipice.

And so we have the vicious yet cartoonish spectacle of the Palestinian president effectively joining a Palestinian intifada that started without him. Arafat wanted an intifada, and he got one. Abbas didn’t, and for a time was able to prevent it. Does Abbas want an intifada now? He can’t possibly be that stupid. But it doesn’t appear to matter.

Just what is Abbas actually doing, as leader of the PA? Getting the Palestinians closer to a peace deal? Certainly not; he walked away from it (more than once). Preventing Hamas from setting the terms of the debate? Hardly. Keeping a lid on an angry Palestinian polity inclined to violence? Not anymore. Abbas may or may not get swept away by a new uprising. It’s ironic that what could save him from such a fate is the fact that, increasingly, it might not even be worth the trouble.

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Where This Administration’s Sympathies Really Lie

If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

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If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

When the Palestinian-American teen Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad was shot dead by Israeli security forces on October 25 he was poised to hurl a Molotov cocktail onto the Israeli traffic passing below on Route 60. Israeli soldiers had successfully intervened to prevent an attack. Yet the State Department could not have been more displeased. Making an issue of Hammad’s dual American citizenship, spokeswoman Jen Psaki demanded a full “speedy and transparent investigation.” Psaki went on to stress that the United States “expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.” Shockingly, when pressed on this message of condolences given the circumstances of the shooting, Psaki confirmed that the administration does not consider Hammad a terrorist, this despite his links to Hamas.

Contrast that with how the state department has responded to the shooting in Jerusalem of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a longtime campaigner for religious freedom and equal worshiping rights for Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount. The point is made most sharply by a letter–made public over social media–sent by Rabbi Glick’s brother to the Israeli writer and commentator Caroline Glick (no relation). Yitz Glick writes in the letter: “I just wanted to tell you that our family is shocked that we haven’t heard a single word from the US State Dept., the US Ambassador or any representative of the US government regarding the shooting of our brother a US citizen Yehuda Glick…No outrage, no wishes of speedy recovery not a single word from any US official.”

The Obama administration’s handling of this case is made all the more troubling by Palestinian president Abbas’s role here. As it was, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority had already ramped up incitement against Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, making Rabbi Glick a likely target for attack. But worse still, when Glick’s would-be assassin was subsequently killed in a shootout with the police during an attempted arrest, Abbas hailed this terrorist as a martyr and described Israeli attempts to prevent further violence at the Mount as being tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

A pretty twisted agenda is at work when the U.S. government is seeking to whitewash a terrorist hurling Molotov cocktails at Israelis, classifying him not as a terrorist but rather simply a U.S. citizen and a minor, demanding that those responsible for preventing this terror attack be put under immediate investigation. Worse still, that when an American rabbi is shot in an assassination attempt, the administration clearly couldn’t care less. Of course, there’s no hiding the fact that the state department despises Glick’s campaign. They clearly oppose any change to the “status quo” on the Temple Mount; in other words, the U.S. government is against religious freedom for Jews and Christians at this most important of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But then, the Obama administration’s entire attitude on Jerusalem is warped. Not only has the administration opposed building homes for Jews in Jerusalem neighborhoods that even under the most farfetched versions of the two-state solution would remain part of Israel. But just this week, the administration’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Israel’s claims in Jerusalem are comparable with Russia’s in Crimea.

Popular wisdom has it that all of this shameful behavior is an expression of the administration’s central Middle East delusion: that distancing America from Israel will win friends and influence people throughout the Muslim world. Well, no doubt some in the State Department believe that. But it is clear that for others, and indeed for Obama himself, feelings here run much deeper. Quite simply this administration’s sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause, for it is just the kind of third-world cause that so many went into the Democratic Party hoping to promote. Because frankly, Obama’s unrealistic realpolitik only goes so far in explaining the callousness with which his government has reacted to these two very different shootings of U.S. citizens in Israel.

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Effects of U.S.-Iran Détente Appear in Syria

The news from Syria remains grim. Over the weekend the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, made substantial gains against fighters of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib Province, west of Aleppo. Nusra is now threatening to seize control of one of the last remaining border crossings between Turkey and Syria, at Bab al-Hawa, that remains in FSA hands.

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The news from Syria remains grim. Over the weekend the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, made substantial gains against fighters of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib Province, west of Aleppo. Nusra is now threatening to seize control of one of the last remaining border crossings between Turkey and Syria, at Bab al-Hawa, that remains in FSA hands.

Apparently Nusra, which in the past has operated in de facto alliance with the FSA, has decided to turn on its sometime partners because the U.S., the FSA’s major patron, has been bombing some Nusra personnel–and because Nusra is competing with ISIS for control of areas not held by the Assad regime. Sadly, the Obama administration has not given any aid to the FSA fighters under siege even though they are supposedly our best hope of toppling Bashar al-Assad and replacing him with a non-jihadist regime.

Meanwhile, we learn, courtesy of Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that the State Department is eliminating a $500,000-a-year grant to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an NGO investigating and documenting the Assad regime’s war crimes for possible prosecution in the future. Lynch quotes a State Department official saying, “As far as State Department funding for justice and accountability in Syria, there has been no change. The bottom line is that we remain 100 percent committed to collecting this kind of information.”

Uh-huh. In reality considerable skepticism is in order. While cutting funding for an investigation of Assad’s war crimes, the State Department has just announced $1.6 million in grants to investigate ISIS war crimes. This conveys the clear impression that while Washington is interested in fighting ISIS (and possibly Nusra), it has little interest in fighting Assad. In fact, the U.S. appears to be making common cause with Assad and his Iranian patrons in both Iraq and Syria–a shift symbolized by the U.S. willingness to bomb ISIS but not Assad. This can be seen as part of a larger shift for Obama administration foreign policy toward an accommodation with Iran whose centerpiece is meant to be a nuclear accord later this month.

As I have argued before, this is a tragically misbegotten policy because by aligning ourselves with Assad and the Iranians, we are ensuring that ISIS and the Nusra Front will come to be seen as the only reliable defenders of Sunni interests. The Quds Force, Hezbollah, and other Shiite extremists on the one hand, and ISIS and other Sunni jihadists on the other, are locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of violence: the more power one group of extremists grabs, the more power the other group of extremists will subsequently get because each postures as the defender of sectarian interests against the other. The only way to break this cycle of violence is to help relatively moderate forces such as the FSA and the Sunni tribes of both Syria and Iraq. While the Obama administration pays lip service to these goals, however, its actions on the ground convey a very different–and more troubling–impression.

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Whitewashing Abbas Leads to Violence

How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

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How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

Abbas’s praise of Hijazi doesn’t come out of the blue. It was the PA leader, after all, that helped incite the attack on Rabbi Yehuda Glick by claiming he and others who advocated for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount should be resisted by all means. In doing so Abbas was following the same game plan for whipping up Arab hatred by falsely claiming Jews were intent on destroying the mosques on the Mount, a tactic that has been used by predecessors such as Haj Amin el-Husseini, the ally of the Nazis that incited anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1920s and ’30s.

Whatever one may think of those who wish to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount where Jewish prayer is now prohibited or those who support Jewish building in areas of east Jerusalem, the notion that Palestinians should feel free to attack them is incompatible with any notion of peace. That Abbas should encourage such attacks with intemperate language and then follow such statements up with extravagant praise for those who took his advice marks him as someone who is not only not a true partner for peace but also very much part of the problem negotiators are seeking to solve.

But this is part of the story about the Middle East that you almost never hear about from the Obama administration or its apologists in the media, such as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg made headlines last week when he quoted “senior administration officials” lobbing vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But in the same piece and others, Goldberg has justified the administration’s attitude toward Netanyahu by saying he has been insufficiently supportive of Abbas, whom he described as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have despite his many flaws.” The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone further by praising Abbas’s alleged courage and his supposed dedication to the cause of peace. Clearly these testimonials are incompatible with Abbas’s behavior. His role in the recent disturbances goes beyond mere “flaws” and illustrates just how desperate he is to compete with his Hamas rivals for the support of a Palestinian people that is not reconciled to Israel’s existence whether or not its borders include Jerusalem or Jews are prohibited from stepping foot on the Temple Mount, as the PA has urged.

This is significant not just because Abbas’s fomenting of violence and paeans to those who try to kill Jews is despicable. It is important because it is part of a pattern by which the U.S. and even some Israelis become so attached to both a Palestinian leader and the concept of negotiations with him that they decide to ignore what he is doing or his ultimate goals.

This was the same routine practiced by the Clinton administration throughout the post-Oslo years in the 1990s when Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat also sought to stoke hatred of Jews and Israelis and supported terror. When critics of the Oslo process brought up evidence of Arafat’s actions they were dismissed as enemies of peace. Any attention paid to Arafat’s “flaws” was considered to be a distraction from the need to concentrate on advancing peace negotiations. The result was that rather than being a model of Palestinian government building a future of peace, the PA Arafat built, including its schools and media, was an engine of hate and violence. Peace became even less likely. That became apparent after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed giving the Palestinians a state and independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, when Arafat rejected the offer and answered it with a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada.

That tragedy that took more than 1,000 Jewish lives and that of many more Palestinians soured most Israelis on the peace process, a conclusion that was only solidified after Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza led to the establishment of a Hamas terror state there. Afterward, even veteran peace processors like Dennis Ross admitted they had erred by not paying closer attention to what Arafat did and said rather than their hopes for him.

Obama, Kerry, and their supporters are repeating the same mistake now with Abbas. Rather than focusing their anger and contempt at Netanyahu for defending Jewish rights, they should be signaling Abbas that there must be consequences for his abandonment of even the pretense of a pursuit of peace. If, instead, they keep praising him despite his egregious misconduct, they will be encouraging the Palestinians with the implicit message that the U.S. has no problem with more violence. If so, blame for the blood that will be shed will belong to those who made more excuses for Abbas.

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Erdoğan Aspires to Be Sultan Not a Putin

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has transformed Turkey from an aspiring democracy into the world’s largest prison for journalists, a graveyard for women, and an incubator for terrorism, has decided to take his personality cult to a new level by inaugurating a huge new palace that dwarfs the White House (see the side-by-side satellite photos provided by the Washington Post to see the relative scale). From the New York Times’s description:

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has transformed Turkey from an aspiring democracy into the world’s largest prison for journalists, a graveyard for women, and an incubator for terrorism, has decided to take his personality cult to a new level by inaugurating a huge new palace that dwarfs the White House (see the side-by-side satellite photos provided by the Washington Post to see the relative scale). From the New York Times’s description:

Sprawling over nearly 50 acres of forest land that was once the private estate of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a new presidential compound has nearly 1,000 rooms, an underground tunnel system and the latest in anti-espionage technology. It is larger than the White House, the Kremlin and Buckingham Palace. The reported price: nearly $350 million. Then there is a new high-tech presidential jet (estimated price, $200 million), not to mention the new presidential office in a restored Ottoman-era mansion overlooking the Bosporus, all of which have been acquired to serve the outsized ambitions of one man: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

There is little doubt that Erdoğan is both an ideologue and autocrat, and sees himself above the law. He targets those who vote against him, run against him, and criticize him. In Erdoğan’s mind, environmentalists who protest the cutting down of trees in one of central Istanbul’s last green spaces are “terrorists,” but those who place bombs on buses or behead journalists and aid workers in Syria are not.

The New York Times proceeds to compare Erdoğan to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, a comparison I made in the Wall Street Journal several years ago. At the time, it looked like that was what Erdoğan wanted, but the Turkish leader may actually want more. Much more. Despite a foreign policy which has managed to make Erdoğan persona non grata across much of the Middle East (Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, anywhere Hamas does not control in the Palestinian territories, and perhaps Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well), the Turkish leader still sees himself as a regional and Islamic leader. He is a Sunni sectarian to the core. He has declared his intention to remake Turkey along religious lines, and has pledged to “raise a religious generation.” And he is very astute with regard to symbolism.

Back in 2005, during his monthly television address, Erdoğan replaced the traditional backdrop of the Turkish flag and a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with a photo of Atatürk’s mausoleum and a mosque. Turks understood the symbolism: Atatürk is dead, but Islam is the future.

By building his Versailles over Atatürk’s private estate, he is doing the same thing. Atatürk was the symbol of secularism, and Erdoğan seeks to bury secularism. If Erdoğan was not content to simply be prime minister, and is not content to be merely the president of Turkey, then to what else could he aspire? While it may once have seemed farfetched that anyone could aspire to revive the Ottoman sultanate and the caliphate which Atatürk ended, Erdoğan seeks to do just this. He differs less in ideology with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi than in tactics and ambition. For all his talk of restoring a pan-Islamic caliphate, al-Baghdadi concentrates on the Arab world; Erdoğan’s goals are broader. The Turkish leader may or may not succeed, but he likely believes God is on his side: After all, how else could anyone explain the meteoric rise of a relatively uneducated (at least in secular terms) former street vendor to the height of political power.

The United States and the West are in denial, much as too many left-liberal Turks were until recently. Erdoğan can rest assured, however. He can play his cards deliberately, for Western diplomats and journalists will as always ignore his game until it is too late.

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How Sweden Ended Up Proving Israel Right

The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

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The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

One of the aspects of Lieberman’s rise through Israeli politics is that he drives non-Israelis, especially leftist American Jews, insane. What they don’t understand about Israeli politics could fill a bookshelf, but what they don’t understand about Lieberman is basically this: he’s among the most politically savvy figures in Israel, perhaps even topping the list. And he’s also, therefore, something of a realist. He supports the two-state solution and land swaps, and he’s used his knowledge of Eurasia (he’s Moldovan) to expand Israel’s alliances–a strategy that looks increasingly wise as the Obama administration throws temper tantrums at the Israeli leadership (and public) and downgrades the U.S.-Israel military alliance.

Here was Lieberman’s initial response to the Swedish recognition:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the recognition “unfortunate” and said in a statement that it would only serve to strengthen the Palestinians’ “unrealistic demands.”

“The Swedish government needs to understand that the Middle East is more complicated than self-assembly furniture from Ikea and to act on the issue responsibly and with sensitivity,” he said, getting in a dig at the Sweden-based retail giant.

So there are two elements to this response: first, that it will essentially reward Palestinian intransigence, and second, that it oversimplifies what real peace requires. Lieberman, then, is quite obviously correct on both counts. The Swedes did not take kindly to the IKEA dig, and responded thus:

To which the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström replied, “I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” the Times of Israel reported.

This was intended as a rebuttal; instead, however, it proved Lieberman’s point better than even Lieberman could. Wallström says to put together the furniture you need a partner. Lieberman would agree, and the lack of a true Palestinian partner (Mahmoud Abbas sparked what may turn into the third intifada in Jerusalem this week) is a good reason why Swedish recognition now was a terrible idea and also explains why the lack of a two-state solution thus far is not Israel’s fault.

Wallström then says you need cooperation. This is correct, and demonstrates the foolishness of recognizing Palestine, since unilateral moves have long been considered obstacles to negotiations. In this case, Sweden has supported unilateral moves in direct contravention of the concept of cooperation.

Wallström concludes by saying “you need a good manual.” Perhaps. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has now produced two such manuals, though it’s arguable how “good” they are: the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap. Both of these manuals impose certain requirements on each side, but the central theme is that a peace agreement will come about through negotiations and that intransigence and violence should not be rewarded by each side being encouraged to go its own way and do what it pleases. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine violates this as well.

Wallström might have been better off researching what we in the West refer to as a “sense of humor,” and not responded so seriously to an obvious joke. Not only does Wallström look humorless, but her response perfectly illustrated why Sweden was wrong–according to Sweden! (Or at least according to its Foreign Ministry.)

Western liberals are probably getting accustomed to being outsmarted by Avigdor Lieberman, though I don’t imagine it reduces the sting all that much. As for recalling the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, that too is at least understandable. Israel is facing a bit of a European fad of late to recognize Palestine, though it’s usually symbolic. Israel can be expected to try to prevent the spread of this gesture by showing that it at least is not without repercussions.

Additionally, Israel is currently facing down the possibility of another intifada. Even if it doesn’t arrive–Jerusalem’s stability seems to thankfully be holding for the moment, which is a very good sign–there has been a spate of violence in Jerusalem against Jewish civilians and continued threats from Iranian Palestinian proxies. To reward Palestinian behavior such as this, and at this precise time, is to signal to the Palestinians that violence against Jews is the way to impress the international community and get what they want. Such behavior will be the death of peace, no matter how many states European politicians feel like recognizing.

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Frat-House Statecraft and U.S.-Iran Détente

The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

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The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

It was easy at first to miss anything but the string of insults directed from Obama to Netanyahu, including the casual accusation of autism. (It’s arguable whether this represented a new low for the president, who has a habit of demonstrating his grade school playground vocabulary.) But once the initial shock at the further degrading of American statecraft under Obama wore off, it was easy to see the real purpose of the story. The Obama administration wanted to brag through its stenographer that the president had protected the Iranian nuclear program from Israel:

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

If Iran goes nuclear, those words will be the perfect description of the Obama administration’s fecklessness: “Now it’s too late.” Too late, that is, for our allies like Israel and the Gulf states to protect themselves from the consequences of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies–which principally affect Israel and the Gulf states. But “fecklessness” may not be the right word. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the president has been effective after all:

The Obama administration and Iran, engaged in direct nuclear negotiations and facing a common threat from Islamic State militants, have moved into an effective state of détente over the past year, according to senior U.S. and Arab officials.

The shift could drastically alter the balance of power in the region, and risks alienating key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who are central to the coalition fighting Islamic State. Sunni Arab leaders view the threat posed by Shiite Iran as equal to or greater than that posed by the Sunni radical group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Israel contends the U.S. has weakened the terms of its negotiations with Iran and played down Tehran’s destabilizing role in the region.

The Obama administration, then, has been carrying out its preferred policy: aligning with Iran in the Middle East. Now, this isn’t exactly surprising, since the administration has more or less telegraphed its pitches. Obama has also long been a doormat for the world’s tyrants, so adding Iran to the list that already includes states like Russia and Turkey adds a certain cohesiveness to White House policy.

Obama’s infamous and towering ignorance of world affairs, especially in the Middle East, has always made this latest faceplant somewhat predictable. The Looney-Tunes outburst at Netanyahu was not, but it teaches us two important things about Obama.

First, those who wanted to support Obama but had no real case for him in 2008 went with the idea that he had a “presidential temperament.” Those folks now look quite foolish–though that’s nothing new. Obama has a temperament ill suited for any activity not readily found on frat row.

The second lesson is that the president’s foreign policy is not abandonment of allies–that would be an improvement. It is, instead, full of tactics and strategies that, often unintentionally but no less destructively, put a thumb on the scale against them. For example, from the Journal piece:

The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.

The Iranian proxy terrorist groups on Israel’s border will have a freer hand. It helps explain why the administration served up a ceasefire proposal crafted by Hamas’s patrons, which outraged not only Israel but also Egypt. Protecting Hezbollah will further enable that group to make life hell for Israel’s north (and perhaps not only Israel’s north) when they next feel like it.

But strengthening Hezbollah will not only imperil Israel’s security. It will also put Europe in greater danger and U.S. interests as well. It’s a dim-witted policy, in other words, no matter what you think of Israel. And the general détente with Iran is, as the Journal points out, an insult to our Gulf allies as well as damaging to the fight against ISIS. The president’s policies put our allies at the mercy of their enemies. That he’s taunting them too only makes it clear that the policies are being instituted precisely how he envisioned them.

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Sinai Terror Shows the Danger of Ungoverned Places

Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

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Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai as part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979, it had good reason to believe that the territory was being transferred to a nation state that was at least relatively stable and that could secure the border. But what we have witnessed across the region more recently is that it is in those geographic areas where states have failed or have become weak to the point of absence that terrorist groups have best been able to flourish. The story has been played out repeatedly from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya to Somalia, and from southern Lebanon to Syria and northern Iraq. And today large parts of the Sinai have become just such an ungoverned vacuum where al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups have dug themselves in and established strongholds. There, jihadist groups have carried out a spate of attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel, and have repeatedly targeted the Arab Gas Pipeline, disrupting the supply between al-Arish, Jordan, Syria, and the wider region.

The problems in the Sinai have been dramatically compounded by the peninsula’s proximity to another area of unstable statelessness: Gaza. When Israel withdrew in 2005, Gaza was theoretically handed into the care of the Palestinian Authority, but as some on Israel’s right had already predicted, it did not take long before the power vacuum created by the absence of the IDF was replaced by the militiamen of Hamas. The same, of course, had already happened after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as the non-state actor Hezbollah entrenched its position in the area, turning it into a kind of Iranian backed fiefdom.

Militant groups in the Sinai, and the relative weakness of the Egyptian state in this large sparsely populated area, would ultimately prove to be of huge strategic significance for Hamas, with smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza border providing Gaza’s Islamist rulers with their primary source of weaponry, which otherwise would have been kept out by the Israeli blockade. At the same time jihadist groups in Gaza provided training and assistance to militants in the Sinai, while they in turn would periodically fire missiles toward Eilat and Israel’s Negev border communities.

The Sisi government, however, with its fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, finds itself squarely at odds with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas. Since the overthrow of President Morsi, the Egyptians have pursued a sustained and serious policy of eradicating the hundreds of smuggling tunnels around Rafah, and during this summer’s war in Gaza Egypt intensified its operations against militants operating close to that border. Indeed, it would appear that under Sisi there has been a concerted effort to reassert the power of the Egyptian state throughout the peninsula. Now, with the Egyptians convinced of the Gaza connection to this latest deadly attack on their troops, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing and advanced plans for the construction of deep water-filled trenches to block any restoration of terror tunnels.

Most importantly, the Gaza-Sinai experience must be instructive for both Israel and the wider region. Israelis already look to the turmoil in Syria and consider their good fortune given the failure of both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their misguided efforts to hand over Israel’s Golan Heights buffer to Assad. Similarly, as the wider region becomes more tumultuous and not less, Israelis must be all the more wary of gambling their national security on further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, not least at a time when the PA has already proved so ineffective at maintaining order in the few localities it is currently entrusted with. And given the weak position of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, it would not be difficult to imagine ISIS rapidly spreading from northern Iraq to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv.

Desperate to appear as if it has any clout on the world stage, the EU will continue to push for Israeli concessions in the West Bank. Equally desperate to distract from its multiple failings throughout the region, the Obama administration will also increase its pressure on Israel to give ground. But as the Gaza-Sinai experience shows, creating another area of ungoverned lawlessness and instability on their doorstep is not an option Israelis can afford.

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Connections Between Turkey’s AKP and ISIS?

When the Turkish parliament voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq, American and, indeed, most foreign media misconstrued the content of the resolution to suggest that Turkey would target the Islamic State (ISIS). In reality, if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could rank his desired targets, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be at the top of the list, followed by the Syrian Kurds such as those who live in Kobane, and ISIS would be a distant third. Indeed, there is much reason to doubt Turkish commitment to counter ISIS.

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When the Turkish parliament voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq, American and, indeed, most foreign media misconstrued the content of the resolution to suggest that Turkey would target the Islamic State (ISIS). In reality, if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could rank his desired targets, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be at the top of the list, followed by the Syrian Kurds such as those who live in Kobane, and ISIS would be a distant third. Indeed, there is much reason to doubt Turkish commitment to counter ISIS.

Alas, if recent reports out of Turkey are true, then the relationship between Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ISIS are closer than previously known. There is a Turkish website called “Takva Haber” which Turks say serves as the mouthpiece for ISIS. It has been crucial in pushing out ISIS propaganda, and it has also helped ISIS recruit Turks to the degree that Turkey will be facing blowback from the radicals it has spawned long after Erdoğan is dead or in prison.

According to Turkish interlocutors, it now appears that the website is published from “Ilim Yayma Vakfı” or “Foundation for the Spread of Science [i.e. Islamic Theology].” For years, this foundation simply spread Islamist propaganda. What’s interesting, however, are its founders, among whose names can be found Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his son Bilal, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, who serves as Erdoğan’s Medvedev.

How strange it is that the organization which these AKP luminaries—and dozens of others founded—now seems to be working unabashedly for ISIS. Perhaps this explains why Erdoğan has been so reticent to call ISIS a terrorist organization in his various speeches.

Then, of course, there is this photo which appeared yesterday in the Sozcu newspaper and which purports to show prominent AKP figure Suat Kılıç having dinner with ISIS supporters in Germany. A witness to the gathering said they jointly handed out Korans before beginning dinner.

Given the trajectory of Turkey—a state which has now reportedly fired more than 1,800 journalists for insufficient political loyalty to Erdoğan—and the willingness of Erdoğan to use security forces and vigilante gangs against those who provoke his ire, perhaps the time is not long coming before Erdoğan decides to unleash his ISIS supporters in Turkey in a deadly show of force to demonstrate what happens when the sultan is disobeyed.

When it comes to Turkey in 2014, nothing can any more surprise—other than, perhaps, that so many congressmen, among them otherwise responsible and serious Democrats and Republicans—would lend their names to the regime Erdoğan dominates and the agenda he pushes.

UPDATE: The “Ilim Yayma Vakfı” has published a response to the original Turkish article in Sözcü Gazetesi whose report was cited in this blog post in which Ilim Yayma Vakfı deny any links between the foundation and the ISIS website. I will take them at their word. What is striking, however, is that the religious foundation founded by Islamist luminaries including now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu rushed to demand Sözcü Gazetesi take down its article, but the Turkish government which Erdoğan dominates and which has assumed the power to shut down websites refuses to touch the website of “Takva Haber” which continues to publish al-Qaeda and ISIS propaganda. So is Erdoğan serious about countering ISIS? I’d submit Turkey is as serious about shutting down the ISIS as Pakistan is about shutting down the Taliban.

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Why Does the State Department Endorse Palestinian Fight to Exclude Jews?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made headlines around the world again today with his assertion in the Knesset that he will defend the right of Jews to live in any part of his country’s capital. The statement and the expedited plans to build 1,000 new apartments in Jerusalem is drawing the usual condemnations from the international community as both an unnecessary provocation and a new obstacle to Middle East peace. But what Israel’s critics are missing is that the threats and actual violence coming from Palestinians about Jewish homes, is the best indicator that the sort of mutual coexistence that is essential to peace is currently not in the cards.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made headlines around the world again today with his assertion in the Knesset that he will defend the right of Jews to live in any part of his country’s capital. The statement and the expedited plans to build 1,000 new apartments in Jerusalem is drawing the usual condemnations from the international community as both an unnecessary provocation and a new obstacle to Middle East peace. But what Israel’s critics are missing is that the threats and actual violence coming from Palestinians about Jewish homes, is the best indicator that the sort of mutual coexistence that is essential to peace is currently not in the cards.

As the New York Times reports:

“If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in a briefing. “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”

The Israeli move is being blasted as yet another example of Netanyahu worsening the already tense relationship between Israel and the United States. But Psaki’s willingness to jump on Netanyahu after repeatedly refusing in the last week to condemn statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he openly incited violence against Israelis, the State Department stand could easily be interpreted as an implicit approval of the PA position.

If so, then it should be understood that what the United States is doing here is saying that Palestinians are in the right when they demand that Jews be kept out of certain parts of Jerusalem. But far from disturbing the peace, the idea of building new apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city or moving into mixed or Arab majority areas not only repudiates the formula of territorial swaps that President Obama has repeatedly endorsed but also reinforces the notion that the Palestinian state that the State Department envisions will be one in which no Jew is allowed to live. That means the U.S. is backing a vision of a Palestinian apartheid state that is itself incompatible with any notion of peace and rationalizing the recent wave of Arab violence against Jewish targets in Jerusalem.

Just this last week, another terrorist incident in Jerusalem took the lives of two persons including an infant. Others were injured in incidents in which Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails — gasoline firebombs — at soldiers and police seeking to restore order after violent protests about Jews moving into the Silwan section of the city. One such bomb thrower — a 14-year-old Palestinian who was born in New Orleans — was killed by Israeli troops while in the process of trying to incinerate them or motorists on a highway. But the State Department didn’t acknowledge that the deceased was killed while committing what would be considered an act of terrorism were the target Americans. Instead, it merely extended condolences to the family of the teenager and to demand explanations from Israel about his death. In doing so, it seems insensible to the fact that by continuing to back up Abbas’ complaints, it is helping to incite the violence that is taking lives on both sides and making the prospects of peace even more remote.

From the point of the view of Netanyahu’s detractors, today’s announcement and the refusal of Israeli authorities to stop Jews from moving into properties that they have legally purchased in East Jerusalem is upsetting the status quo in the city. This is not just a function of the ongoing U.S. refusal to recognize that it is neither possible nor desirable to return to the status quo on June 4, 1967 when half of the city was under illegal Jordanian occupation. The U.S. position also seems to accept the idea that Palestinians have a right to be angry over Jews moving into both Jewish majority neighborhoods and Arab majority neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem. But both positions are problematic.

On the one hand, the U.S treating more apartments going up in areas that, dating back to the Clinton administration, the U.S. has acknowledged would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace agreement, as either provocative or an obstacle to peace makes no sense. Why should the Palestinians be encouraged to make an issue out of Jews living in places that no one thinks will ever part of a Palestinian state? In doing so, Washington is inciting Abbas to use the existence of places where hundreds of thousands of Jews currently live as an excuse not to negotiate with Israel or even to countenance more acts of terror.

Just as mistaken is the idea that Jews moving into Arab neighborhoods is a good reason for Palestinians to get riled up. If Abbas had accepted any of the peace deals that Israel has previously offered, those places would even now be part of the Palestinian state that he professes to want but refuses to do anything to make it a reality. Had he done so then or even if he were willing to do so now as part of a deal in which the Palestinians agreed to end the conflict for all time and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside them no matter where its borders are drawn, then it wouldn’t matter if there were a few Jews living in Silwan or anywhere else. Since Arabs are currently allowed to live in West Jerusalem as equal citizens under Israeli law why shouldn’t the Palestinians extend the same offer to the so-called settlers who have moved into apartments in the shadow of the Old City walls?

The reason is that their goal is to create a Jew free state whose purpose will be to perpetuate the conflict against Israel, not end it. The state they envision will be, as I wrote last week, the true apartheid state in the Middle East in which parts of Jerusalem will become legal no go zones for Jews in much the same way, white South Africans made it illegal for blacks to live in parts of their own country. It is exactly for this perverted vision that Palestinians are taking to the streets to lob lethal weapons at Jews while the State Department treats the perpetrators as innocent victims and the actual victims as aggressors.

That is the racism that the U.S. is endorsing by making an issue of Jews building in Jerusalem. Peace doesn’t have a chance until the Palestinians stop being offended by Jews living in the holy city or thinking they are justified in fighting for an apartheid vision in which they are excluded.

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Islamism’s Appeal to the Discontented

There are striking similarities between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a Canadian soldier in Ottawa, and Zale Thompson, who wounded two New York police officers with a hatchet. Both were loners raised in North America with a history of drug use, petty crime, and apparent mental problems who turned for salvation to a radical form of Islam. Apparently motivated by jihadist websites, they each committed heinous acts of terrorism against what they mistakenly believed were the enemies of Islam. In this respect they were not that different from Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen-American brothers who carried out the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

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There are striking similarities between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a Canadian soldier in Ottawa, and Zale Thompson, who wounded two New York police officers with a hatchet. Both were loners raised in North America with a history of drug use, petty crime, and apparent mental problems who turned for salvation to a radical form of Islam. Apparently motivated by jihadist websites, they each committed heinous acts of terrorism against what they mistakenly believed were the enemies of Islam. In this respect they were not that different from Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen-American brothers who carried out the Boston marathon bombing in 2013.

Sadly we can expect more such “lone wolf” attacks in the future, which are almost impossible to predict and very difficult to prevent. One obvious line of defense is to maintain vigilant surveillance of the Internet–which is what the NSA was doing before some of its most successful programs were exposed and curtailed by the traitor Edward Snowden. People who regularly surf jihadist websites should trigger alarm bells somewhere. But even that will not keep us totally safe from such individuals who find in radical Islam the same kind of solace that previous generations of troubled loners found in extreme political movements such as Nazism, fascism, and Communism or in religious cults such as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians or in James Jones’s People’s Temple.

One of the striking aspects of the history of terrorism, as I noted in my book Invisible Armies, is that radical groups tend to follow intellectual fads. Some of the first modern terrorists were motivated to hurl bombs in the 19th century because of their allegiance to Nihilism or anarchism. Those ideas were edged into irrelevance by the rise of Communism as the dominant ideology of the revolutionary set. In the 1960s-70s another wave of terrorists were motivated by admiration for the likes of Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong. These were the “radical chic” revolutionaries such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Red Army Faction, the Weather Underground, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Their decline by the 1980s can be traced to the general loss of appeal of Communism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was not easy anymore to find anyone willing to fight and die for proletarian ideals.

But by then another new ideology–Islamism–was already on the rise, offering the appeal of earthly paradise for troubled and disgruntled individuals eager to rebel against their society. Like these previous “isms,” Islamism offers the possibility of a meaningful and even heroic existence to young men otherwise doomed to live out their lives as nonentities. So potent is the appeal of this radical ideology that it even has some appeal to non-Muslims who convert simply so they can become terrorists or at least fellow travelers of terrorists. Oddly enough one of these converts is Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan Marxist revolutionary who once committed terrorism in the name of Palestine and then converted to Islam while sitting in a French prison.

History suggests that the appeal of Islamist ideology for adventurers and malcontents will only dim once it is definitively exposed to be as bankrupt a governing philosophy as anarchism or Communism. Unfortunately that will not happen anytime in the near future–groups such as ISIS, horrific as they may seem to most people, still maintain a potent allure for some no matter how many atrocities they commit, or perhaps because they are committing so many atrocities. Defeating ISIS and its ilk on the battlefield will not instantly or permanently remove their ideological appeal. But it’s a good start. Only movements that seem to have some chance of success are likely to draw many recruits.

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Something Is Rotten at Foggy Bottom

After the Wall Street Journal broke the news that President Obama reined in the U.S.-Israel military partnership while Israel was at war, it could not be plausibly denied that Obama has sought to downgrade the special relationship. But the story was alarming not only because of the lengths Obama was willing to go to tie Israel’s hands but also because it showed the president was chipping away at the rest of the U.S. government’s ability to pick up the slack when Obama tried to hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.

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After the Wall Street Journal broke the news that President Obama reined in the U.S.-Israel military partnership while Israel was at war, it could not be plausibly denied that Obama has sought to downgrade the special relationship. But the story was alarming not only because of the lengths Obama was willing to go to tie Israel’s hands but also because it showed the president was chipping away at the rest of the U.S. government’s ability to pick up the slack when Obama tried to hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.

That has always been the silver lining, and it’s always annoyed much of the American left: other American governmental institutions, such as Congress and the military, are consistently pro-Israel and can thus keep the relationship strong when a president tries to weaken it. And it’s also why it should be of great concern now that another American governmental institution that is usually far less pro-Israel is becoming, under Secretary of State John Kerry, even more antagonistic toward Jerusalem than usual: the U.S. State Department.

Much has been made about the unimaginably incompetent and incoherent management of Foggy Bottom’s communications under spokeswomen Marie Harf and Jen Psaki. But it’s too easy–and not totally accurate–to dismiss Harf and Psaki as misplaced campaign attack hacks. They are out of place at State, but they are there for a reason. And the culture of the diplomatic corps more broadly also resembles the same spiteful ignorance routinely displayed by the president and his secretary of state. The latest example is the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem’s memo to employees referring to Wednesday’s terror attack, in which a Palestinian murdered a Jewish baby, as a “traffic incident.”

After that terror attack, Harf had initially told both sides to exercise restraint. At yesterday’s briefing, Jen Psaki was asked about one of the major sources of gasoline being poured on this fire: the incitement to violence coming from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: I’m not making any relation, but there’s been some concern over the last week or two about comments by President Abbas that believe to have incurred incitement. And are you concerned about that? You haven’t really spoken out about that. Do you in any way feel that this is inciting Palestinians to take actions into their own hands?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Elise, one, I mean, we obviously believe that the act last night warrants condemnation evidence (sic) by the statement we released last night. I’m not going to characterize the comments made or not made by President – Prime Minister Netanyahu or the response from President Abbas.

QUESTION: Well, if you haven’t really received a condemnation from President Abbas, then don’t you think you should offer one?

MS. PSAKI: I think our view of it is clear by – evidenced by our statement last night. I would point you to him on any comments that they would like to make.

QUESTION: But what about his comments, like, over the past – I mean, there has just been several comments that people have remarked about that seem to be incurring incitement. Is that not concerning?

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

That’s right, all Psaki would say is that Abbas “has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution”–an obviously false statement–along with the strident insistence that she doesn’t “have any other analysis for you to offer.”

It’s worth pointing out that in the very same press briefing Psaki confirmed that the victim of the Palestinian terror attack in Jerusalem was an American citizen. So even Americans not totally inclined to defend Israel from terrorism would, theoretically, be fairly embarrassed by Psaki’s pusillanimous, kowtowing claptrap.

The degree to which this administration will go to avenge perceived slights would make a middle-schooler uncomfortable. While Psaki has nothing to say about deadly anti-Semitic incitement from Abbas even when it’s followed by the murder of an American baby, the State Department reserves its outrage for Israeli officials who disagree on the record with Kerry.

And sometimes the administration goes further. Not only did officials hit back at Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon for criticizing Kerry during the peace negotiations, but they’ve continued to hold a grudge. Yaalon, in Washington to meet with Chuck Hagel, was reportedly denied permission to meet with Kerry, Vice President Biden, or Susan Rice:

On the diplomatic front, Ya’alon met with the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, the only other key official to sit down with the Israeli defense minister aside from Hagel. But he received little respite from the sour reception, as Power emphasized her grievance with settlement construction beyond the Green Line.

They didn’t want him meeting with most of the important officials, but they were happy to have Samantha Power yell at him. The choice of Samantha Power, rather than someone with real influence or broad knowledge of the Middle East and world affairs, is telling. But it’s not altogether out of the ordinary.

The Obama administration’s public temper tantrums are at this point a regular feature of the president’s second term. That they’re directed at allies is becoming commonplace but still disturbing. That the State Department seems to prioritize retribution against Israel over holding those who kill American citizens accountable unfortunately encapsulates American diplomacy in the age of Obama and Kerry.

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Terror in Jerusalem: Nir Barkat’s Moment of Truth

Yesterday, after a Palestinian terrorist murdered a Jewish baby at a Jerusalem rail stop, the reaction that mattered most was that of Palestinians in Jerusalem: would they see the killing of an innocent baby as an indication they should tone down their recent campaign of incitement and violence? And the next reaction to look for was that of a man facing his toughest challenge yet as mayor of Jerusalem: Nir Barkat.

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Yesterday, after a Palestinian terrorist murdered a Jewish baby at a Jerusalem rail stop, the reaction that mattered most was that of Palestinians in Jerusalem: would they see the killing of an innocent baby as an indication they should tone down their recent campaign of incitement and violence? And the next reaction to look for was that of a man facing his toughest challenge yet as mayor of Jerusalem: Nir Barkat.

The Palestinians answered by not only continuing to riot but actually stepping up their targeting of young children, attacking a Jewish kindergarten. Barkat responded by touring the area and promising a crackdown:

“We must restore quiet to Jerusalem,” Barkat declared. “I have been saying for months that the situation here is intolerable, and we must act decisively to stop the violence. It is clearer than ever that we must place police inside Arab neighborhoods to prevent unrest, with a large presence and well-equipped forces, acting to restore order to the city.

Jerusalem’s stability is in some ways quite an achievement. Considering its religious significance, the disputed claims on its sovereignty, its ethnic diversity, its high profile, and its history, governing Jerusalem requires a deft touch. That’s more or less how former Jerusalem mayor (and later prime minister) Ehud Olmert described it in a 2002 interview with the Houston Chronicle that is worth re-reading now, especially since it took place just as the Jerusalem light rail was about to be constructed and during the second intifada. Here’s Olmert on the challenge of being mayor of Jerusalem:

Q: Is it stressful being the mayor of Jerusalem right now?

A: Oh, it’s a very pleasant job. It’s boring. There’s nothing to do. Sometimes you ask yourself, what am I going to do next?

I’m kidding. This is a difficult job. Very difficult, but humanly possible. You just have to know how to work with people and to understand their needs and their sensitivities and their fears and pains. That, I think, was my main job in the past couple of years — to understand the fears and pains of people in the community. Both Jews and Palestinians, by the way.

That question ends the interview. Earlier he had been asked about the fact that on top of everything, he had to deal with union strikes during an intifada and at a time when the city’s already suffering financially. He was asked how he managed to make budget. His answer is–well, it’s pretty Olmertian:

Q: Has terrorism affected sales tax and other local tax revenue?

A: I have losses. And I don’t quite make up for all of them. That’s part of the reason I say we have a going crisis, because I can’t make up all of them. What I try to do is to get revenues from the (national) government. I think over the years I’ve developed some techniques for how to pull in a lot of money from the government, without the government knowing it sometimes.

I’m one of very few mayors in Israel’s history who was first in the national government. I was a Cabinet minister, I was a member of Parliament for many, many years before I became mayor, so I know all the ins and outs.

It’s an improvisational job. But the most interesting part of the interview is about the light rail. Amidst all the unrest, Olmert was pushing to better integrate the city’s Arab population. It was a logical approach to the tension and alienation in Israel’s capital, and it was also a gracious note to strike while the city seemed to be boiling over:

Q: I understand you are about to construct light rail in Jerusalem. Has it been controversial?

A: No, I must say that from day one we have put enormous emphasis on building up relationships with the communities in order to go one step ahead by sharing with them the constraints, the difficulties, (but also) the possible ramifications if a serious, comprehensive answer to transportation will not be provided.

Q: No one thinks it’s too much more expensive than running buses?

A: No. Everyone knows that the main street in Jerusalem, the Jaffa Road, you have — sometimes during the rush hour — 250 buses in one hour. If you understand what it means in terms of the traffic jam and the impact on the environment, you’d understand why so many people are looking with hope that light rail will make a big difference.

This is one of the most discouraging aspects of the current strife in Jerusalem. The light rail, with its stops throughout the city, was–or should have been–a symbol of coexistence. Instead it’s been the target of repeated Palestinian attacks.

It’s important not to exaggerate the significance, of course. Transportation hubs are always going to be targets, so the lesson here is less about judging the light rail to be a failure of some sort (it’s clearly not) than the echoes of past violence. Mahmoud Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, but there are real questions as to how much Abbas can control. If he does have control, then what’s happening now is truly ominous. He can’t have it both ways.

Of course, one thing Abbas does have control over is his own rhetoric, not to mention that of the PA’s media organs. As he has counseled violence, Palestinians have listened. As he has sought to outlaw coexistence with Jews, Palestinians have listened. And as his government’s media outlets have dehumanized Jews, Palestinians have listened. Maybe Abbas can prevent a new intifada, maybe not. But he almost certainly can start one. And Barkat appears to be taking no chances.

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