Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorist

Portraits of the Peace Process in Its 92nd Year

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

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A Modest Middle East Proposal

In an article published in Al-Hayat, the Washington Institute’s David Schenker analyzes “President Obama’s First Two Years in the Middle East.” He says it is hard to avoid the conclusion Obama has been ineffective or worse: (1) the mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian talks produced a complete cessation of them; (2) the attempted dialogue with Iran and Syria produced predictable failures; and (3) the uncertain support for U.S. allies in Lebanon produced dramatic setbacks for them. Schenker reverses Samuel Johnson’s remark about remarriage and hopes the next two years produce a more realistic vision — the triumph of experience over hope.

Here is a realistic appraisal of the Middle East situation, followed by a modest proposal:

In the case of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one cannot effect a two-state solution when (a) half the putative Palestinian state is run by a terrorist group allied with Iran, and (b) the other half is run by an unelected regime with no ability to make peace. In one half, there is no one to negotiate with; in the other, the one to negotiate with is unwilling to negotiate — and thus rejects seriatim offers of a state in favor of unrealistic demands for a “right of return,” indefensible borders, and the division of Israel’s capital on the 1949 armistice lines.

In the case of Iran, if crippling sanctions did not produce results in Cuba, Iraq, or North Korea, Swiss-cheese sanctions are not going to produce them in Iran. American allies will gravitate toward Iran (they already are), unless they soon hear a public commitment from the U.S. president to deal with the problem by whatever means necessary. Talks with Iran cannot succeed absent its belief such means will, if necessary, be used.

The time and place for the president to return to realism is a trip to Israel in the first part of 2011. Obama was invited by Netanyahu six months ago and pronounced himself “ready”; the continued failure to schedule it sends another unfortunate signal to the Middle East. The trip offers the opportunity to reassert in the Knesset the commitment to America’s democratic ally; to issue a long-overdue call for Arab states to “tear down those camps” and make peace possible; and to state, in a place where the statement will be noticed, that the U.S. will not participate indefinitely in unproductive talks nor rely only on sanctions if sanctions do not work.

If he wants to “reset” the situation in the Middle East, President Obama should take that trip and make that speech.

In an article published in Al-Hayat, the Washington Institute’s David Schenker analyzes “President Obama’s First Two Years in the Middle East.” He says it is hard to avoid the conclusion Obama has been ineffective or worse: (1) the mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian talks produced a complete cessation of them; (2) the attempted dialogue with Iran and Syria produced predictable failures; and (3) the uncertain support for U.S. allies in Lebanon produced dramatic setbacks for them. Schenker reverses Samuel Johnson’s remark about remarriage and hopes the next two years produce a more realistic vision — the triumph of experience over hope.

Here is a realistic appraisal of the Middle East situation, followed by a modest proposal:

In the case of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one cannot effect a two-state solution when (a) half the putative Palestinian state is run by a terrorist group allied with Iran, and (b) the other half is run by an unelected regime with no ability to make peace. In one half, there is no one to negotiate with; in the other, the one to negotiate with is unwilling to negotiate — and thus rejects seriatim offers of a state in favor of unrealistic demands for a “right of return,” indefensible borders, and the division of Israel’s capital on the 1949 armistice lines.

In the case of Iran, if crippling sanctions did not produce results in Cuba, Iraq, or North Korea, Swiss-cheese sanctions are not going to produce them in Iran. American allies will gravitate toward Iran (they already are), unless they soon hear a public commitment from the U.S. president to deal with the problem by whatever means necessary. Talks with Iran cannot succeed absent its belief such means will, if necessary, be used.

The time and place for the president to return to realism is a trip to Israel in the first part of 2011. Obama was invited by Netanyahu six months ago and pronounced himself “ready”; the continued failure to schedule it sends another unfortunate signal to the Middle East. The trip offers the opportunity to reassert in the Knesset the commitment to America’s democratic ally; to issue a long-overdue call for Arab states to “tear down those camps” and make peace possible; and to state, in a place where the statement will be noticed, that the U.S. will not participate indefinitely in unproductive talks nor rely only on sanctions if sanctions do not work.

If he wants to “reset” the situation in the Middle East, President Obama should take that trip and make that speech.

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Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

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Jihadist Prayer Sessions on Capitol Hill?!

A longtime reader passes on this astounding report:

An Al Qaeda leader, the head of a designated terror organization and a confessed jihadist-in-training are among a “Who’s Who” of controversial figures who have participated in weekly prayer sessions on Capitol Hill since the 2001 terror attacks, an investigation by FoxNews.com reveals.

The Congressional Muslim Staff Association (CMSA) has held weekly Friday Jummah prayers for more than a decade, and guest preachers are often invited to lead the service. The group held prayers informally for about eight years before gaining official status in 2006 under the sponsorship of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims currently serving in Congress. The second Muslim congressman, Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., joined as co-sponsor after he was elected in 2008.

The guest imams include Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal, Anwar al-Awlaki (although his appearance was just after the 9/11 attacks). This is the rest of the jihad roster: Read More

A longtime reader passes on this astounding report:

An Al Qaeda leader, the head of a designated terror organization and a confessed jihadist-in-training are among a “Who’s Who” of controversial figures who have participated in weekly prayer sessions on Capitol Hill since the 2001 terror attacks, an investigation by FoxNews.com reveals.

The Congressional Muslim Staff Association (CMSA) has held weekly Friday Jummah prayers for more than a decade, and guest preachers are often invited to lead the service. The group held prayers informally for about eight years before gaining official status in 2006 under the sponsorship of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims currently serving in Congress. The second Muslim congressman, Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., joined as co-sponsor after he was elected in 2008.

The guest imams include Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal, Anwar al-Awlaki (although his appearance was just after the 9/11 attacks). This is the rest of the jihad roster:

Randall “Ismail” Royer, a former communications associate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who confessed in 2004 to receiving jihadist training in Pakistan. He is serving a 20-year prison term.

Esam Omeish, the former president of the Muslim American Society, who was forced to resign from the Virginia Commission on Immigration in 2007 after calling for “the jihad way,” among other remarks.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who was forced to step down from a national terrorism committee post in 1999 for pro-terrorist comments.

— Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri, the head of a division of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, considered a foreign agent by the U.S.

While their convictions and most egregious actions postdated their sermons on the Hill, these were controversial, extremist figures. For example:

Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, can also be seen at the Awlaki prayer session. Awad has spoken out in support of Hamas and attended a 1993 Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI, according to public record and court documents from the Holy Land Foundation trial. CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial.

Last year, the FBI severed ties with CAIR due to evidence of the group’s ties to networks supporting Hamas, which the State Department has designated as a terrorist group, according to documents obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a watchdog group.

The staffers who organized this and their defenders will no doubt attribute all the concern to Islamophobia and plead that they are loyal Americans opposed to violent jihad. But here’s the problem: CAIR had “a heavy hand in selecting and bringing in outside guests.” So what is CAIR — which the FBI has tagged as a terrorist front group — doing acting as a sort of  speakers’ bureau for Capitol Hill Muslims?

Even when there was abundant evidence of their terrorist connections, the preachers still led the prayer groups. A case in point is Anwar Hajjaj:

Hajjaj, tax filings show, was president of Taibah International Aid Association, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004 for its ties to a network funneling money to Hamas.

Hajjaj and Usama bin Laden’s nephew, Abdullah bin Laden, co-founded World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which the FBI has deemed a “suspected terrorist organization” since 1996, according to a complaint filed in New York federal court on behalf of the families of Sept. 11 victims. The judge refused to dismiss the charges against the World Assembly in September, saying the charges against it were “sufficient to demonstrate that they are knowingly and intentionally providing material support to Al Qaeda.” Hajaj’s involvement with CMSA dates back at least to 2006, according to reports.

Fox has other eye-popping examples. So what in the world were the CMSA staffers and their congressional bosses thinking? Are they oblivious to the radical nature of their guests? Or are they sympathetic to their views? But more important, what will Congress do about the CMSA and the congressmen who attended? Isn’t a full investigation warranted at the very least?

Be prepared for the “Islamophobe!” hysterics. We’ve no right to meddle in the prayer groups of Muslims? Oh, yes we do when those attending are jihadists committed to the murder of Americans and those attending are charged with defending our country. And let’s find out who the true “moderate” Muslims are. They will be the ones calling for an inquiry and condemning the jihadist-led prayer sessions.

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Obama’s Pressure, Not Support for Israel, Harms U.S. Interests

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.

Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.

But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.

The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.

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Iran’s Hezbollah Allies Getting Ready for War

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

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Nukes Don’t Kill People

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

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Why The Bin Laden Speculation?

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

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Is an al-Qaeda Nuclear Suitcase Bomb On the Way?

Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

Read More

Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

I’ve long been skeptical that these things could be floating around. States that build nuclear weapons are well aware of their destructive potential and go to extraordinary lengths to keep them under control.

To be sure, there have been reports pointing in the other direction. In 1997, General Aleksandr Lebed, a Russian national security adviser, told CBS’s Sixty Minutes that the Russian military had 250 such weapons and had lost track of more than 100 of them. But was Lebed in a position to know? As James Kitfield pointed out in National Journal, other Russian authorities have asserted that the KGB was in charge of these devices, which would explain why the Russian military could not offer an accurate accounting of their numbers and whereabouts.

In his 2000 book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Yossef Bodansky stated that “there is no longer much doubt that bin Laden has finally succeeded in his quest for nuclear suitcase bombs.” But this claim was unsourced and seems difficult to credit. Although bin Laden has openly expressed interest in getting the bomb, and also obtained a fatwa from a Saudi cleric giving him divine permission to use one against American civilians, presumably, if he already had one in the 1990’s, we would have seen or heard it go off by now.

Still, the fact that there has been some sensationalist reporting does not mean there is no reason to worry. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains a chief concern. The country hemorrhaged nuclear-weapons technology for years when its atomic-energy program was being run by A. Q. Khan, who remains a national hero. Even if Khan is no longer in the loop, other elements within the Pakistani military and nuclear establishment might well offer to supply one to al Qaeda either for cash or to earn a place in heaven.

George Tenet adds significantly to our anxieties on this score. Although there are many things wrong with his recent memoir—and I point out some of them in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) —what he writes about this problem seems credible. Immediately after September 11, it turns out, the U.S. government was uncertain whether or not al Qaeda already had such a device:

In late November 2001, I briefed the President, Vice President, and National Security Adviser on the latest intelligence. . . . I brought along with me my WMD chief, Rolf Mowatt-Larsen, and Kevin K., our most senior WMD terrorism analyst. During the ensuing conversation, the Vice President asked if we thought al Qaeda had a nuclear weapon. Kevin replied, “Sir, if I were to give you a traditional analytical assessment of the al-Qaeda nuclear program, I would say they probably do not. But I can’t assure you that they don’t.”

Tenet continues for many pages laying out precise intelligence about al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and from Russia. Whatever his flaws as a CIA director, Tenet was in a position to know all that can be known about this issue. His memoirs show that we do have reason to be afraid. But we shouldn’t be quivering in our boots. Rather, even as we work to avert a disastrous vacuum from forming in Iraq, we should be prosecuting the war against al Qaeda and allied Islamic terrorists with a vigor commensurate with what is at stake.

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Our Unshakeable September 10th Mentality

Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

Read More

Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

In the aftermath of September 11, such restrictions—a consequence of the 1978 FISA Act—were rightly viewed as dangerously anachronistic, and President Bush set in motion his top-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program, under which the NSA was authorized to tap the conversations and intercept the emails of suspected terrorists without a warrant, if one party in the conversation was located abroad.
 
The New York Times revealed the existence of this program in December 2005, arguably compromising it, and the disclosure has been roiling our politics ever since. Whatever damage to our national security was inflicted by our newspaper of record, McConnell is urgently pushing for reform of FISA. “Technology and threats have changed,” he notes, “but the law remains essentially the same,” and our failure to keep pace “comes at an increasingly steep price.”
 
What exactly is that steep price? We made a downpayment with attacks on our embassies in Africa in 1998 and a major installment with the horrors of September 11, 2001. The fact is that tracking terrorist communications would be a problematic enterprise even if we were not tying our hands behind our backs. Insight into the tremendous difficulties involved comes from a recently declassified—and heavily redacted—top-secret NSA report looking back at the agency’s counterterrorism efforts in the 1970’s.
 
The report acknowledges that as terrorism emerged as a significant security concern in that era, with the rise of the Japanese Red Army, the Italian Red Brigades, and numerous Palestinian groups taking the lead, the NSA was “slow to take up the problem” and its “overall approach was rather haphazard.”

The explanation offered for the NSA’s lackluster response is that the signals-intelligence profile of a terrorist group was markedly different from the conventional military and diplomatic communications profile that the agency was accustomed to monitoring. “For the most part, terrorist groups lacked dedicated communications systems,” and as a result, the NSA was “confronted with the prospect of picking out the needles of terrorist transmissions in the haystack of [XXXXXX].” The nature of the “haystack” remains classified and the words defining it were excised from the report. But we do not have to guess in the dark. The report explains the essential difficulty: “the volume of traffic was so high, and the nature of terrorist communications so subtle, that finding anything transmitted by terrorists was problematic.”
 
Technology may have changed a great deal since the 1970’s, but the nature of terrorist communication has not. As in the 9/11 plot, terrorists cells are tiny and they do not use dedicated communications systems. Our intelligence agencies are still looking for a needle in haystack. Are we going to strew obstacles in their way beyond the formidable technological ones that are intrinsic to the problem? Or to put the question another way, are we in the grip of an unshakeable September 10th mentality and determined to set ourselves up for catastrophic failure once again?
 

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