Saturday, January 17, 2009
Dear Overseas Friends and Relatives,
Thanks to all of you who have been closely following our war with Hamas, and for your heartfelt support for our soldiers and home front. Many of you live in communities and campuses where speaking up for Israel has become unpopular and even dangerous. We value your courageousness and resilience. We felt cheered by the photos of you standing in the cold in New York and London last weekend demonstrating for Israel. We hail those students who refuse to be intimidated for their loyalty to Israel on campus. And we appreciate each of you who has surprised your fellow guests by halting the Israel bashing over dinner.
I'd like to address a few words to those of you who didn't come out to support Israel these past weeks because of so-called moral reservation. I'd like to ask you to reconsider your position.
I don't doubt your affection for our country, nor do I think anyone has automatically to agree with every decision of its government. Far from it. But I'd like you to reexamine your core belief that your ongoing private and public criticism is a loving expression of an important ethical correction for an errant nation. With a long-practiced sigh of exasperation, you assume we're mulishly jingoistic and morally obtuse. There must be something wrong, you say. After all, we've had so many wars.
...Israel has felt the blast of rockets from Iraq, rockets from Syria and Lebanon and rockets from Gaza. We do everything possible - except to surrender - before going to battle. We have no illusions about war being anything but blood, sweat and tears. The army that has sworn to protect us is made up of our own sons and daughters.
IN THE current conflict, each of us personally knows soldiers risking their lives by seeking Hamas in the alleys of Gaza. Last week, I was at the funeral of a friend's beautiful son, a gentle scholar, killed in the fighting. Another young man I know is still in intensive care. My children and grandchildren are among the 750,000 Israelis responding to warning sirens in missile attacks that began long before this war started. Instead of learning to read, they watch an animated program to remind them that they must run for shelter each time the Color Red alarm sounds. Suddenly they have gone from normal childhoods to becoming another generation of children in war zones.
Nor are you the only ones saddened by photos of injured children on the other side. We struggle with tough decisions about how to fight a war without losing our humanity. We send warning notes and even phone calls to Gaza civilians in the planned attack zone. We stop fighting to truck in food supplies. Leading columnists suggest bringing the injured here for us to heal them alongside our own.
But moral decisions are complicated. A senior military figure I met last week spoke about his decision not to fire from a helicopter at a terrorist because the terrorist's wife and children were with him. The following week the terrorist - sworn to our destruction - engineered a bus bombing inside Israel, killing children. The correctness of his earlier decision no longer was clear. We always regret killing children. Despite the absurd claims in the media, to the contrary, children are never our targets nor our shields.
GIVE PEACE a chance, you say. How can you fault us vis-a-vis Gaza? We did the impossible by sending in our own army to remove our own citizens from their farms and dairies in the Gaza Strip for the sake of peace. Back then, many voices complained that we had taken the best land of the Gaza Strip for our own breadbasket. The people of Gaza were being held back, they claimed, by our offensive presence. It didn't really make sense, but as a nation we went along with prime minister Ariel Sharon with his copious military experience and made this painful territorial concession for peace.
Many Palestinians had worked on the productive farms and could easily have turned out the same prize-winning celery and vitamin-rich milk. Instead, they wrecked the farms, and then they went to the polls and overwhelmingly endorsed a party with a clear platform to use the enormous human resources of the Gaza Strip and the inpouring of EU money to create a maze of terror.
Still, we did not choose war. We allowed our own citizens to be targeted by 6,500 missiles since the disengagement in 2005.
... Bad went to worse. Hamas declared that even its semi-commitment to a lower level of violence was off.
This time, we could not ignore the threat.
In Gaza, our soldiers found mosques turned into ammunition storage rooms and a network of tunnels built to smuggle in thousands of rockets and kidnap soldiers, not to supply the people with cases of penicillin and baby formula. Instead of investing in a cancer treatment center at Shifa Hospital, Hamas terrorized Palestinian doctors and nurses and put its talented engineers to the task of building a national arms bunker beneath the head of ailing patients. Remember, please, if you find this counterintuitive, that such behavior is consistent with the expression of jihad. All must be sacrificed to destroy the Jewish infidel.
We're not suffering from moral numbness. We simply have a close-up of what you can only so far fortunately see from a distance.
So, please rethink your position. You might start with asking yourself why you're so quick to think the worst of us. And, as the old Pete Seeger song says, it might be the right time to decide just which side you are on.
So, do you regret siding with the West over Serbia 's Kosovo yet? If the answer is "no", give it another week or two and you will. With screams of "Back to the Ovens" ringing out of American demonstrations and things equally vile from those in Western Europe, you should have figured out a long time ago where your friends lay. The Cold War is over, even if the US is trying to start a second. Time to grow up.
You are the only Jewish state in the world so you are not going to find new Jewish allies. Your choices lay pretty much as follows: Shiite Islamic allies, Sunnie Islamic allies, Secular allies, Catholic allies, Protestant allies, Orthodox allies, Hindu allies.
The Shiite and Sunnie Islamites are obviously out of the question, since they would rather strangle their own daughters than tolerate your existence. Secular allies, be they Egypt , Turkey , France or America are also becoming harder to find. Egypt is touchy, with a large Islamic Brotherhood insurgency and its own corruption fueling a possible revolution. Turkey 's secularism has been undermined and taken over by the Sunnie Islamites and its foreign policy has followed suit.
The Western European seculars hate you for several reasons: one, they hold the liberal idiocy that all people should live in perfect harmony and if that does not work out, than just squeeze out the one or two peoples that are causing problems and things will be fine again. Further, they have forcibly imported tens of millions of Islamites into their countries, against the will of their people, and are now in turn afraid of their modern day Danes. To that extent, they will do whatever is needed to avoid conflict in their lands and maintain peace, and sacrificing you is nothing to worry about.
As for the Anglo-Marxist sphere, considering how much cash the Saudis spend on their politicians every year, do you really thing they care? If you are so delusional to think so, look at the fact that while the US arms you to $4 billion per year, it arms your surrounding enemies and possible enemies to $6 billion and with the latest and best equipment. Against whom do you think that will get used? They arm them even as they tell you to stand still while your neighbors toss missiles at you.
The Catholics are not much better. They are subject to the whims of the Popes and as these old men die off and new ones come in, their whims are open only to speculation and over all history has not been kind.
The Protestants? They only love you because they believe they need you to force the Armageddon and thus bring Christ…as if mere mortals can force the will of God to anything. But you will be sacrificed in their drive to be the masters of God's will and it will not be their children destroyed when their egotism is shown for the heresy it is.
The Hindus? Too far away. The Sino-Japanese nations of eastern Asia , equally disinterested, outside of getting some of your technology in trade.
So whom do you have left?
There is only one block of nations with whom you stand any chance: the Orthodox Nations. No other peoples have suffered as much from Islamic Jihad and have fought it so strongly. The leader of this informal block, the biggest is of course Russia.
Throughout her long history, Russia has stood by her allies, unlike the others. She has even gone to a world war for them. Just ask the Serbs. The Orthodox block is coalescing, driven together by faith, history and now the economic crisis. Presently it is Russia , Belarus , Armenia (not Orthodox but close enough) and Serbia with Greece and Macedonia in the wings and eastern Ukraine pushing in.
You already have the double advantage of Russia being your second biggest trade partner and primary source of oil and of having 1 in 3 of your citizens of Russian background. Further, with the Russian Orthodox Church being your biggest land owner, that only solidifies your position. Even the arms sales, by Russia , to the Arabs is primarily to stick a finger in the West's eye and will slow down and end if you are an ally.
What is lacking is a psychological trigger. You are like the beaten house wife to the West, always coming back for more abuse, if only they bring you some flowers. Time to grow up and face reality.
[If you enjoyed that, then go to the original posting on Stanislav's Blog, and check out the comments - SL]
*To be fair I should also republish the following waiver on Pravda:
"The opinions and views of the authors do not always coincide with the point of view of PRAVDA.Ru's editors."
To my Arab brothers: The War with Israel Is Over — and they won. Now let's finally move forward
With Israel entering its fourth week of an incursion into the same Gaza Strip it voluntarily evacuated a few months ago, a sense of reality among Arabs is spreading through commentary by Arab pundits, letters to the editor, and political talk shows on Arabic-language TV networks. The new views are stunning both in their maturity and in their realism. The best way I can think of to convey them is in the form of a letter to the Palestinian Arabs from their Arab friends:
Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:
The war with Israel is over.
You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.
We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the "eternal struggle" with Israel.
Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine, but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years. Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness.
At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan. It isn't going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.
You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem. You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you. You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation. Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins.
Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations. Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.
In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.
What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world's have-nots?
We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.
Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways. Those of us who share borders with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon. Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq, frankly could not care less about what happens to you.
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.
Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours, Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods — more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives — while your children played in the sewers of Gaza.
The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?
Israel’s actions in Gaza are designed to deal with more than the present challenge presented by Hamas – there are long term existential issues at stake. If Israel is to deter its neighbours from becoming involved in wars in the future, it must set back the strategic penetration of Iran and its radical axis.
Appearances can be misleading. The war in Gaza might seem to be solely about the rockets being fired by Hamas into Israel, but that is only part of the picture. For Israel there are long term existential issues at stake.
The Middle East region has undergone dramatic change in the last twenty years or so. The Sunni Arab core of countries, led by Egypt, has contracted and declined in regional influence. This trend was exacerbated by the crushing of Iraq by the US and its allies. The removal of Iraq as the ‘gatekeeper’ of the Arab East (mashriq) has exposed the region to increasing Iranian strategic penetration, the likes of which we have never experienced in the modern era.
Iranian hegemonic design and regional penetration has changed the face of the Middle East. Iran, hitherto part of the so-called regional periphery, is now very much part of the centre. As the states of the Sunni Arab core have weakened the role of non-state actors, from Al-Qa’ida to Hezbollah and Hamas, has increased. Exploiting the new circumstances, Iran has become more than a Persian Gulf power; it now also possesses strategic outposts on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean: one in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah and the other in the form of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
Israel’s war in Lebanon in 2006 against Hezbollah was the first indirect regional encounter between two relatively new hegemonic powers of the region, Iran and Israel.
The war in Gaza is another. Israel cannot accept the rocketry of Iran’s surrogates, which sends hundreds of thousands of its citizens scurrying for the shelters at any time of their choosing, as a way of life. All Israel’s neighbours must be deterred from following Gaza’s example by the recognition that the price to be paid for such provocation will be unbearable. If Israel demonstrates a lack of resolve and an unwillingness to fight it will prove itself to be incapable of delivering such a message to the neighbourhood and its long term survival will be in serious doubt.
When long term survivability in a very tough and cynical neighbourhood is hanging in the balance, what exactly is a proportionate response? The discussion of proportionality should therefore consider Israel’s overall perception of threat and whether the action taken is proportional to the threat in question. Israel is not only fighting the present Hamas challenge but it seeks to prevent, by deterrence, future wars that might inflict an eventually insufferable loss of life on Israel.
When Israel elected not to retaliate to the rocket attacks from Gaza it was understood by Hamas not as an act of restraint, but of weakness and lack of resolve. This produced the Hamas miscalculation of the Israeli response and the trigger for all out war, as was the case with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Israel’s resort to force in 2006 was well executed in the air but poorly executed on the ground by a less than mediocre political-military leadership. Even so, it produced at least part of the desired result – the deterrence of Hezbollah and two and a half years of quiet on the Israeli-Lebanese border. So far Hezbollah has been very careful to stay out of the present war, and it remains to be seen if this abstinence will last. If it does, this too will be an added achievement of the so-called disproportionate Israeli response in 2006.
In the present campaign it is crucial for Israel, as well as for the states of the Sunni Arab core, that the strategic penetration of Iran and its radical axis is set back. Hamas must be cut down to size to the extent that it will accept a stable and durable cease fire. A verifiable system of control over the Egyptian-Gazan border is also needed to prevent the rearmament of Hamas. Israel will do its utmost to secure these objectives and will seek to persevere until it assesses that these objectives are indeed within reach.
*Asher Susser is Director for External Affairs and Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former Director of the Centre.
Israel appeared close to deciding on a unilateral cease-fire deal ....
According to a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office, "Significant progress was made during talks [Israeli officials] held with the Egyptian intelligence chief. Over the weekend the prime minister and the defense minister will discuss the offered draft. Following the discussion, the cabinet for national security will be convened on Saturday evening to decide whether it should be adopted."
...A unilateral decision is likely after Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal rejected Israel's conditions for a truce and called on all Arab countries to cut ties with the Jewish state during a summit of Arab leaders in Doha, Qatar. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad gave Mashaal their full backing, but significantly, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia boycotted the summit.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was meanwhile in Washington, signing a "memorandum of understandings" with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that binds Israel and the US in fighting smuggling weapons into Gaza.
...the main points disputed in the Egyptian proposal as it was articulated on Thursday were the duration of the proposed truce, which Hamas insists on being only a year, and how quickly Israel would complete the withdrawal of its forces from the Gaza Strip and reopen the crossings. The PMO statement on Friday expressed satisfaction with clarifications Gilad received from Cairo on Friday.
Olmert also does not want any agreement to include Hamas as a direct party because this would de facto legitimize the group. His preference...was to conclude a ceasefire "over Hamas's head" regardless of the terror group's position, working with Egypt and the US.
Livni echoed this position when she said at a joint press conference with Rice following the signing of the MOU that "We do not make agreements with terror but find effective arrangements against it."
Livni cautioned that a halt to Israel's campaign must be based on enforceable guarantees that the situation on the ground must change and "will not come from a simple call for a ceasefire."
Notwithstanding the PMO's statement that the cabinet would convene on Saturday evening to discuss the ceasefire draft, the IDF was continuing its operations in the Gaza Strip. Even after a unilateral ceasefire is slated to be decided upon, the military will remain in position in Gaza and will only retreat after a period of calm.
Cabinet to debate Egyptian initiative by which Israel will declare unilateral ceasefire while forces remain in Gaza; foreign minister says Hamas must halt all fire, smuggling of arms and return kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit
Israel announced Friday that "significant progress" had been achieved in talks in Cairo on a materializing ceasefire in Gaza. The cabinet is set to convene Saturday evening to discuss the Egyptian initiative, by which Israel will announce a unilateral ceasefire while forces remain inside the Gaza Strip.
Defense officials said they expect Hamas will also cease its fire under these circumstances. During a briefing of the limited cabinet, the officials said that if the organization continued its fire, Israel would retaliate and the fighting would continue.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet Friday evening that another military campaign would be launched in Gaza if Hamas did not cease its fire. "This battle is not a singular occurrence," she said.
Livni stressed that despite an agreement signed with the US in an attempt to prevent Hamas from smuggling arms into Gaza, "We will not abandon our fate in the hands of foreigners."
She added that even if the unilateral ceasefire were approved, Israel would continue to keep a watchful eye on Gaza. "We will keep our finger on the pulse and Hamas knows this. Israeli citizens should know that this is my obligation. If they raise their heads we act, with strength," the foreign minister said.
"Hamas must stand the test of deterrence", which would include a halt in all smuggling activity as well as the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, she said. "We are putting this issue on the table." Regarding Shalit Livni added, "(Hamas) needs to know that this is part of our responsibility and we are not going to let this issue go."
'Significant progress in Egypt'
Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, and Shalom Turgeman, the prime minister's diplomatic advisor, returned from a Cairo meeting with Omar Suleiman, Egypt's chief of intelligence, in which they discussed the subject of arms smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.
Israel had not been satisfied with Egypt's general proposals, stated to Amos Gilad on Thursday. Turgeman and Gilad returned to Cairo on Friday in order to receive details on how Egypt planned to stop arms smuggling along the Philadelphi route.
Upon returning, the two briefed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Following the briefing a statement was released saying that "during talks with Egypt's chief of intelligence, there was significant progress."
The statement hints at Israel's acceptance of the Egyptian ceasefire plan in Gaza, which calls for a short-term ceasefire, after which Israel may withdraw its forces from the Strip. Later stages of the proposal call for hearings on details such as the opening of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.
During a five-hour debate held by the limited cabinet Thursday, the prime minister said, "We are continuing to inquire on the details of a diplomatic arrangement with the Egyptians, and by no means with Hamas."
He added, "We will stop terror and stop Hamas from rearming, without any compromises. I don’t want any time pressures or international pressure to dictate failing to meet these goals. I'm not stressed out, and the fighting in Gaza continues."
...once Operation Cast Lead is officially over and the troops have returned to Israel from the Gaza Strip.., when the Palestinians go back to their homes - or what is left of them - in northern Gaza that we will bear witness to the devastation this war has caused.
The foreign media, which until now have been barred from entering the Strip, are expected then to be allowed inside. It is then that the world will be flooded with photos of Palestinians sifting through the ruins.
...But the IDF does not accept blame for the level of destruction on civilian buildings, as these are homes from which Hamas has opened fire at troops. Thus, it says, they were legitimately bombed from the air, just as D-9 bulldozers legitimately plowed through streets, ripping up asphalt, to make it difficult for Hamas suicide bombers on motorbikes to reach Israeli forces.
"Hamas cynically uses civilian infrastructure to strike at Israel," a top officer commanding troops inside Gaza said this week. "They use mosques to fire at us, hide inside hospitals, plant booby-traps and dig tunnels at the entrance to homes and rig schools with explosives."
... when the life of a soldier is weighed against Israel's image abroad, the soldier's life comes first.
DEFENSE MINISTER Ehud Barak is already preparing for the "day after," when international lawsuits are expected to abound. As a result, he has ordered the establishment of an "Incriminating Team" of intelligence and legal experts to collect evidence against Hamas and its military infrastructure.
The group has received all footage filmed by IDF Combat Camera teams deployed inside the Strip, for it to review and decipher. The footage, much of which is being released to the media on a daily basis, shows clearly how Hamas booby traps schools and zoos, uses mosques to hide weapons and turns innocent civilians into human shields.
There is also the issue of casualty figures. The United Nations has officially adopted the Palestinian Health Ministry's claims that among the close to 1,000 dead, more than half are innocent civilians, including 311 children and 76 women.
The IDF and Israeli intelligence agencies have invested much time and effort in refuting these claims. They have managed to compile a list of 900 names of Palestinians killed in the fighting. Of those 900, the IDF says, 150 are women, children and elderly. According to IDF assesments, the highest number of civilian casualties is around 250; the other fatalities are terrorists.
One source of this discrepancy is the way a "child" is defined. In the UN reports, 17-year-olds - such as Mohammed Jamal Yassin, killed during clashes with Israeli soldiers in northern Gaza - are classified as children. But, according to the IDF, Yassin was a Hamas operative. (The same kind of discrepancy emerged following the Second Lebanon War, when Israel was accused - then, too - of killing 1,000 Lebanese civilians. Since Hizbullah refused to release the number of its dead, the IDF and intelligence agencies compiled a list which showed that at least 600 out of the 1,000 were Hizbullah guerrilla fighters.)
Take, as well, the case of the UNRWA school, which Israel shelled when Hamas terrorists used it as a base from which to fire mortars at troops. In its most recent report on humanitarian conditions in Gaza - released on Thursday - the UN repeated Palestinian claims that 43 civilians had been killed in the attack. In fact, the IDF discovered after examining the incident, that 21 Palestinians had been killed, among them several Hamas operatives, two of them known terrorists.
BUT MAKE no mistake: The real end-game is taking place not in Gaza or Israel, but rather in Cairo and Washington DC.
Egypt is working to broker a cease-fire between that will last longer than the six-month truce which began in June and collapsed in December. The United States is playing an equally important role, by helping to create a mechanism in Egypt and around the world that will stop the weapons smuggling under the Philadelphi Corridor and into Gaza.
Israel's demand for a stop to the smuggling is based on the lessons it learned from Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War, but which did not put an end to the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon from Syria. Since then, Hizbullah is believed to have tripled its missile stockpile - from 15,000 to more than 40,000 - with longer ranges and larger warheads.
The fear in Israel is that if the smuggling into Gaza is not stopped, Hamas will do as Hizbullah did.
As was reported earlier this week in The Jerusalem Post, the IDF supports a plan, formulated five years ago by former National Security Council head Giora Eiland, which calls for the erection of a two-part barrier encompassing the Egyptian side of Rafah, to be manned by Egyptian soldiers preventing weapons smugglers into the area.
The idea behind the plan is for the smuggling to be stopped before the weapons even reach Rafah - not after they are already inside the tunnels. Egypt is reluctant to adopt this plan, but says it is open to all sorts of proposals, including the building of a moat along the Philadelphi Corridor and assistance from the US and Germany, in the form of tunnel-detection technology.
The US comes into play with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Israel is hoping to extract from the Bush administration before Tuesday, when Barack Obama is due to be sworn in as president. In addition to Egyptian action along the border, Israel wants the MOU to create an international mechanism to combat the smuggling well before any weaponry reaches the Sinai Peninsula.
An example of such weaponry is the dozens of Grad-model Katyusha rockets that are currently being fired into Israel. These rockets have a 40-kilometer range, and are very similar to the 122-mm Soviet-made Katyusha rockets that were used by Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War. Defense officials said that the rockets were smuggled across the Egyptian border in January 2008, after Hamas blew a hole in the border wall. The question remains as to how they got from China, where they are manufactured, to the Sinai Desert.
Officials explained that, from China, the rockets make several stops before reaching Gaza. In many cases, they are purchased by Iran or Hizbullah, and then transferred to the Sinai. In other cases, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has learned, weaponry that comes from Yemen and Eritrea is transferred to Sudan, then smuggled into Egypt and finally brought down into a tunnel to Gaza.
Due to this intricate smuggling system, Israel is asking the US to enlist NATO, the European Union and other countries in Africa and the Middle East in the creation of a mechanism through which to share intelligence and stop the smuggling - not when it is being lowered into a tunnel along the Philadelphi Corridor, but when it is being loaded onto a ship or truck somewhere in Africa.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza was a monumental event, not just for the Palestinians, but also for its patron Iran. Much like its sponsorship of Hizbullah's war against Israel in 2006, Iran has demonstrated, this time through its Palestinian client Hamas, that Iran is fast becoming a regional power.
The relationship between the devout Palestinian Sunni organization and its Shi'ite patron is a complicated one. Ties date back to December 1990, when Hamas' leaders paid Iran an official visit and attended a conference in support of the first Palestinian intifada. Thanks to Iranian perseverance and financing, as well as a shared interest in Israeli bloodshed, ties between Hamas and Iran have grown stronger in recent years. Today, the relationship is no longer one of convenience. Hamas is now a strategic asset for the Islamic Republic.
The Three Stages of Iran-Hamas Ties
Ties between Iran and Hamas have gone through three discernible stages. In the first stage, beginning in the late 1980s, relations were marginal. Iran focused its attention on rallying Shi'ite support in the Gulf, encouraging and sustaining international terror, and building up Hizbullah, its Shi'ite arm in Lebanon. Due largely to sectarian differences, Hamas had little to do with Iran. Hamas also bristled at Iran's support for its rival, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which openly challenged Hamas for popular support in the Palestinian street.
The second stage began with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. Following Iraq's defeat, Iran saw itself as a budding regional power. Iran's ties to Hamas grew stronger after October 1992, when a Hamas delegation led by Dr. Musa Abu Marzook visited Tehran for meetings with key Iranian figures, including the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameinei. According to some reports, Iran pledged an annual $30 million subsidy to Hamas, in addition to a promise of weapons and advanced military training at revolutionary guard facilities in Iran, Lebanon, and Sudan. The following year, Hamas opened an office in Tehran, proclaiming that Iran and Hamas shared an "identical view in the strategic outlook toward the Palestinian cause in its Islamic dimension."
Stronger ties notwithstanding, Iran stilled viewed Hamas during the post-Gulf War period as a pawn in its regional ambitions. This may have stemmed from the fact that Hamas had the support of only 14 to 18 percent of the Palestinian population. Additionally, Hamas may have appeared weak to Tehran after it was expelled from Jordan in 1999, leading to the subsequent dichotomy between its West Bank and Damascus leaders. Thus, Iran chose to invest more in Hizbullah, which was growing stronger in Lebanon, thanks to successful, Iran-sponsored attacks against Israeli soldiers in Israel's self-imposed security zone in Southern Lebanon.
The third stage of Iran-Hamas ties, beginning in the year 2000, transformed a lukewarm relationship into a full-blown alliance. The second intifada (2000), the American invasion of Iraq (2003), Yasir Arafat's death (2004), and Hamas' electoral victory (2006) have all drawn Iran closer to its Palestinian client. These events—particularly Hamas' rise to power—demonstrated to Tehran that Hamas could be a powerful tool to help Iran realize its quest for regional domination.
Hamas also stood to gain from the relationship. After the international community isolated the newly elected Hamas government in 2006, its leadership gravitated toward Iran for support. Hamas Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh in December 2006 admitted that, "Iran constituted ‘strategic depth' for the Palestinians." It has since been speculated (primarily by officials in the rival Palestinian Authority) that Iran helped plan the Hamas coup in June 2007 and its violent takeover of Gaza.
Iranian Financial Support
Iran supports Hamas as a means to gain leverage over the group and establish a relationship akin to what it has with Hizbullah in Lebanon. Iran has primarily gained this leverage through financing. Indeed, Iran is Hamas' main backer, eclipsing Sunni Arab patron states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
Since 1993, Iran has provided Hamas an annual subsidy of approximately $30 million, in addition to military training. In January 1995, outgoing Director of the Central Intelligence Committee James Woolsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran had provided more than $100 million to Hamas, but did not provide a timeframe for when those funds were provided.
More recent assessments indicate that Iranian funding has increased significantly, particularly after Hamas' January 2006 electoral victory. Immediately following the elections, Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Iran and re-affirmed the joint agenda of advancing radical Islam. "Just as Islamic Iran defends the rights of the Palestinians," he said, "we defend the rights of Islamic Iran. We are part of a united front against the enemies of Islam." The following month, Iran pledged aid to the new Hamas-led government, and a Hamas spokesman in the West Bank confirmed that Iran "was prepared to cover the entire deficit in the Palestinian budget, and [to do so] continuously."
By November 2006, amidst an international embargo against Hamas, the organization announced that Iran had already given $120 million. During a visit by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to Tehran the following month, Iran pledged $250 million in aid to compensate for the Western boycott. The funds were earmarked to pay the wages of civil servants, bankroll Hamas security forces, and compensate Palestinian families that lost their homes during Israeli military operations.
Iran's support of Hamas extends beyond domestic financial aid. Hamas Interior Minister Said Sayyam visited Iran in October 2006 and received generous pledges of financial and military aid for Hamas' military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas' security force commander, Jamal Isma'il Daud Abdallah, also known as Abu Ubaida Al-Jarrah, further announced that Iran pledged to train operatives in its police training camps.
Iran's Levant Clients
The alliance with Hamas is a key part of Iran's larger Levant strategy whereby it acquires powerful regional clients to sow the seeds of the Islamic revolution. This strategy is intended to bring Iran one step closer to establishing a caliphate that would spearhead a pan-Islamic jihad against the West, most notably the United States and Israel.
Hamas is an ideal client for Tehran because both Hamas and Iran share an ideological Islamist weltanschauung. Indeed, Hamas does not only seek an Islamic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, it seeks to create an Islamic state to replace Israel as a first step in re-establishing the caliphate.
Similar to the way in which Iran uses Hizbullah in Lebanon, Iran now uses Hamas to foment conflict. In some cases, Iran may coordinate the two groups' activities. For instance, Hamas' kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and its rocket assaults against southern Israel in June 2006 was followed closely by Hizbullah's kidnapping of two IDF soldiers in northern Israel. These events precipitated the 2006 Lebanon war, which could also be described as the First Israeli-Iranian war.
Iran's Levant strategy does not end with Israel. Through its growing base in Gaza, Hamas now directly threatens the secular Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas also poses a less direct threat to Egypt, which now fears that a Hamas state on its border could destabilize its population. Indeed, a majority of Egyptians are believed to be sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which Hamas was founded. Jordan is also concerned about the rise of Hamas. It, too, has a large (Palestinian) population that supports the Muslim Brotherhood, as seen in the popularity of the unofficial Brotherhood party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
More broadly, many Sunni Arab regimes fear Iran's growing influence in the Middle East. In 2004, King Abdullah II of Jordan expressed concerns about a powerful "Shi'ite Crescent" that would stretch from Iran, into the newly empowered Shi'ite majority in Iraq, through Syria, whose ruling Alawite minority elite is commonly recognized as Shi'ite, and into Lebanon whose Shi'ite population is growing stronger, thanks to Iran and Hizbullah. Echoing Abdullah's concerns, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak stated in April 2006 that, "Shi'ites are always loyal to Iran and not to the countries in which they live." Saudi Arabia also appears concerned. The Kingdom recently pledged assistance to the Hamas government, but demanded that Hamas first distance itself from Iran.
By providing financial and military support to traditional Shi'ite clients like Hizbullah in Lebanon, and newer Sunni clients like Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Iran is rapidly expanding its influence in the Middle East and changing the rules of the game. Driven by its desire to achieve the status of a world Islamic power, Iran is now a uniting force between Sunni and Shi'ite radical groups. This new bloc of Iranian allies not only poses a threat to the West, it challenges the moderate states of the Middle East, who used to fear a "Shiite Crescent" spanning from Iran through Lebanon. Threats of a crescent are now replaced by a wider fear of Iran-sponsored radicalism that spans the region. Indeed, the influence of Iranian radicalism knows no boundaries, thanks to Tehran's increasingly pragmatic approach toward Sunni groups.
The Hamas-Iran relationship, particularly following the coup in Gaza this summer, has also rendered traditional approaches to the Arab-Israeli conflict obsolete. Now that Iran has become a primary actor, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer viewed as a battle waged primarily over land. The radical ideologies of Iran and Hamas have now ensured that this bitter battle for land will be eclipsed by the growing struggle between Islamism versus the West.
*Meyrav Wurmser is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
...Shalem Fellows including Natan Sharansky, Michael Oren, Yossi Klein Halevi, Martin Kramer and Daniel Gordis have together contributed to more than 100 major television, radio, print and online media outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, the BBC, NPR, the Wall Street Journal,the New York Times, the Globe and Mail and CBC.
Save Gaza by destroying the heart of terrorby Natan Sharansky[Bloomberg]Seattle Public Intelligencer, January 14, 2009
How to prevent Hamas from claiming victoryby Martin Kramer The History News Network, January 14, 2009
Taking Risks After the Gaza Warby Daniel GordisThe New York Times, January 12, 2009
We Jews Love Life: A Tribute to Dvir Emanuelofby Daniel Polisar Powerline blog, January 12, 2009
CBC Radio: The Sunday Edition with Michael EnrightInterview with Yossi Klein Halevi, January 11, 2009
More Grave than Gaza by Yossi Klein Halevi Globeandmail.com, January 10, 2009
...On Tuesday January 6, 2009, Martin Kramer addressed a conference call for friends and supporters. Click here to listen. “After the military campaign is over,” he has since written, “Israel's control of Gaza's economy will be its principal lever for translating its military achievements into political gains—above all, the continued degradation of Hamas control. Gaza will be desperate for all material things. Whoever controls their distribution will effectively control many aspects of daily life in Gaza.” He continues, “Ultimately, Operation Cast Lead will be judged not only by whether it produces an end to rocket fire—which it will—but whether it sets the stage for a shift of power within Gaza, away from Hamas "resistance"—a deceptive misnomer for Palestinian jihadism. This long-term goal should not be sacrificed to achieve short-term objectives.”
For more, go to Shalem's Gaza Briefings page.
...In the current violence of Gaza, we are seeing the fruition of one of the most bizarre creations of modern diplomacy: a UN-supported welfare enclave for terrorists.
Behind this lies a straightforward equation. Gaza, with its 1.5 million people, runs almost entirely on international handouts. The UN ranks it among the top per-capita aid recipients on the planet.
And following the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas began consolidating power in Gaza--first via elections in 2006, then via a bloody battle in June 2007, in which Hamas drove out the rival Palestinian group Fatah and seized all power in the enclave.
Since then, Hamas has been running Gaza as a territory reduced to basically two industries: aid and terrorism.
Pivotal to this arrangement is one of the UN's oldest and most oddly configured agencies: the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.
Set up in 1949 with a temporary, three-year mandate to provide aid and jobs for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has survived for almost 60 years, expanding its scope, budget and influence by extending refugee status to descendants of its beneficiaries.
Normal refugee aid tends to focus on finding ways to resettle displaced people and integrate them back into normal, productive lives. UNRWA, by contrast, provides the main framework for ensuring that the official population of Palestinian refugees remains a swelling source of misery and mayhem--both for their neighbors and for the Palestinians themselves.
From an original refugee population listed by UNRWA as some 900,000 in 1950, UNRWA now provides for a Palestinian "refugee" clientele of more than 4.6 million.
They are spread throughout camps--which physically look more like squalid towns--in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. Into this system flows an annual UNRWA budget now well above $400 million per year, doled out variously in the form of cash, goods, medical care, schooling, job-training programs and so forth.
To handle these operations, UNRWA employs more than 24,000 staffers. That's more than any other UN agency, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, which with some 6,300 staffers--about one-quarter the manpower of UNRWA--is responsible for all other refugees worldwide, totaling more than 11 million.
[Note that 11 million is the CURRENT refugee count. The UNHCR has assisted, and resettled, about 100 million (that's not a misprint, YES 100 million) refugees since World War 2: 25 million in the wake of that war, and over 70 million since then, including over 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands since 1950. In the meantime, UNWRA has turned some 600,000 Arab refugees into 5 million - SL]
At UNRWA, more than 99% of the staff are local Palestinians. They sit at the many local levers of the UNRWA distribution machinery, which under UNRWA policy takes on the coloration of and yields to the policies of host governments--as UNRWA officials explained to U.S. lawmakers who some years ago challenged the use of anti-Israeli textbooks in UNRWA schools.
In today's terrorist-run Gaza, such an approach carries exactly the kind of deadly implications now playing out--while UNRWA and other UN officials call for an end to the violence.
Originally headquartered in Beirut, UNRWA moved its main offices to Vienna after the Lebanese Civil War, then moved again in 1996 to its current headquarters in Gaza. There, it serves as a core fundraiser and rallying point for donations from around the globe, many from sovereign states.
While not all charity to Gaza flows through UNRWA, it is UNRWA that enjoys pride of place, with its UN stamp of legitimacy and direct, easy access to the UN's world stage.
Since late December, when Israel began its campaign to end the thousands of rocket and mortar attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza, UNRWA officials have given a parade of briefings via UN headquarters in New York.
Teleconferencing in, they have ignored what UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Koning Abuzayd has described as their "nonpolitical" mandate. With Abuzayd in the lead, they have detailed their outrage on behalf of the Palestinians, excoriated Israel and stepped further into the political arena to demand an immediate ceasefire--something these same UNRWA officials did not do when the attacks were one-way out of Gaza into Israel.
Given the structure and location of UNRWA, such bias comes as no big surprise. Headquartered inside a terrorist enclave, sharing with terrorist authorities such basic interests as keeping the local lights on and the water running, UNRWA officials have plenty of incentives to slam Israel as the culprit--not themselves, or their Hamas cohabiters.
And while blaming Israel, UNRWA officials also have plenty of incentive to present the worst possible picture. The greater the perceived distress, the better the prospects not only for immediate relief, but for future fundraising.
UNRWA's interests in Gaza are by now so entwined and, in many ways, so aligned with Hamas' interests that it is often hard to tell them apart.
And, as UNRWA officials have aired their views and demands from the UN stage, handouts for Gaza have been rolling in from all sides--some via UNRWA, some through other channels.
This goes way beyond Israel allowing hundreds of aid trucks into Gaza, even as the Israeli military is battling to shut down the rocket launchers and destroy the arms-smuggling tunnels and weapons caches of Hamas.
Support in cash and kind, in dollars and tons, has been pledged by donors ranging from Iran to Japan to the European Union to the Arab Gulf States to the U.S. (already the top donor to UNRWA, with $148 million in contributions last year, and now promising an immediate $5 million in response to UNRWA's latest flash appeal for Gaza, plus another $80 million for the agency to spread around in places including Gaza).
Plane-loads of relief, both in goods and services, have been announced by donors ranging from Russia to Libya to Sudan.
When this largesse eventually arrives in Gaza, how exactly will it be spent, distributed and supervised? UNRWA and the surrounding constellations of aid operations in Gaza are by and large areas of deep murk.
In a 2006 U.S. congressional briefing, Abuzayd said it was too difficult for UNRWA to run checks against terrorist watch lists because "Arab last names sound so familiar."
This was a strange comment coming from Abuzayd, a woman who is married to a Sudanese professor, holds a degree in Islamic studies and has worked for UNRWA in Gaza since 2000, first as deputy commissioner of UNRWA and since 2005 as the top boss.
These days, UNRWA officially runs periodic reviews that are supposed to winnow out terror connections. But donors must by and large rely on UNRWA's word that this is a serious process.
The history of terror out of Gaza in recent years suggests that, at best, a lot falls between the cracks. In response to e-mailed queries this week, a UNRWA spokesman said the agency now runs periodic name checks for relief recipients against a UN watch list named for counter-terrorism resolution number 1267 and has found no matches.
That's no big surprise; the 1267 watch list is for major players among al-Qaeda and the Taliban, not Iranian-backed Hamas.
For years, various U.S. lawmakers, including the late Congressman Tom Lantos, have tried introducing bills asking for genuine transparency and accountability from UNRWA--which has never been subject to a genuinely independent external audit.
Such efforts have gained no traction, opposed by a UN that even under the most benign circumstances is hostile to opening its books, plus a U.S. State Department that prefers to close its eyes and shovel millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into terrorist-controlled infrastructure.
This past September, Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman, with a bipartisan group of five co-sponsors, submitted a concurrent resolution noting that "UNRWA has employed staffers affiliated with terrorism."
The resolution cited specific examples of UNRWA ambulance and schools having been used to abet terrorism and mentioned a number of figures, including Awad al-Qiq, headmaster of an UNRWA school in Gaza, "who also led Islamic Jihad's engineering unit that built bombs and Qassam rockets."
However humane the intent of UNRWA officials, they have become de facto enablers of Hamas' terrorist fiefdom in Gaza.
In pushing for an ever-bigger dole and in using the UN stage as a megaphone to help elicit sympathy, drum up funds, denounce Israel and drape in UN baby blue the interests and demands of the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hamas, they do a terrible disservice not only to the cause of world peace, but to the prospects of the Palestinians themselves for forsaking terror and building better lives.
Also see other JIW postings on this subject.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Why are military ops in Gaza, Kosovo judged by wildly disparate criteria?
"There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher." Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, BBC News, May 31, 1999
It was in these words that the official NATO representative chose to respond to criticism regarding the numerous civilian casualties incurred by the alliance's frequent air attacks during the war in Kosovo between March and June of 1999. He insisted NATO planes bombed only "legitimate designated military targets" and if civilians had died it was because NATO had been forced into military action. Adamant that "we try to do our utmost to ensure that if there are civilians around we do not attack," Shea emphasized that "NATO does not target civilians...let's be perfectly clear about that."
However, hundreds of civilians were killed by a NATO air campaign, code named "Operation Allied Force" - which hit residential neighborhoods, old-aged sanatoriums, hospitals, open markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses and trains on bridges, and even a foreign embassy.
Exact figures are difficult to come by, but the undisputed minimum is almost 500 civilians deaths (with some estimates putting the toll as high as 1500) - including women, children and the elderly, killed about in 90 documented attacks by an alliance that included the air forces of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, Turkey, Spain, the UK, and the US. Up to 150 civilians deaths were reportedly caused by the use of cluster-bombs dropped on, or adjacent to, known civilian areas.
[Follow this link for a table of incidents and casualties.]
By contrast, the military losses inflicted by NATO on the Serbian forces during almost 80 days of aerial bombardment, unchallenged by any opposing air power, were remarkably low - with most estimates putting the figure at less than 170 killed.
Meanwhile, NATO forces suffered… no combat fatalities! This was mainly due to the decision to conduct high altitude aerial attacks which greatly reduced the danger to NATO military personnel in the air, but dramatically increased it for the Serbian (and Kosovar) civilians on the ground. Moreover, the civilian populations of the countries participating on Operation Allied Force were never attacked or - even threatened - in any way by Serbian forces.
The significance of all this for Israel, beset as it is by a maelstrom criticism and censure regarding its military campaign in Gaza, should be starkly apparent. It raises three trenchant issues which it would fail to address to its great detriment:
- The irrelevance of proportionality in military engagements
- The unlimited hypocrisy of international politics
- The disastrous incompetence of Israeli international diplomacy
The issue of proportionality, or rather, the alleged lack thereof, has been the basis for the fierce condemnation of Israel's conduct in its military operations in Gaza because the number of Palestinians casualties far outweighs that of Israeli ones. However, the conduct of military operations in Kosovo by many of Israel's present detractors shows that this was never a consideration or constraint which they felt bound by.
Quite the contrary, the very modus operandi they adopted - i.e. high altitude bombing - demonstrates that they deliberately aspired to disproportionality. As noted, this ensured an almost zero casualty rate among their own combatants but inevitably resulted in less accurate targeting of alleged military objectives on the ground, exposing a virtually defenseless civilian population to far greater danger and far higher casualties.
All of this serves to underscore vividly the crass hypocrisy of Israel's critics. Indeed, in stark contrast to NATO's willful disregard for enemy civilians, the IDF has often placed Israeli soldiers in mortal peril to prevent Palestinian civilians from being harmed. Furthermore, Israel's use of military might has invariably been in response a tangible threat – or actual assault – on its citizens.
... the documented data on the conduct of the war in Kosovo by the world's leading democracies should provide ample material with which to resolutely rebuff much of the pompous tirade of condemnation being hurled at Israel today.
....For Israel to prevail in the crucial battle for public opinion it must go on the offensive. It must convey confidence and conviction in the fundamental moral validity of the nation's actions. It must not shy away from resolutely repelling unjustified slander and from reprimanding malicious slanderers.
...It should not hold back the resources required to assertively – even coercively - replace political correctness with political truth in the international discourse on the Middle East in general and on the Israel-Palestinian conflict in particular. It must bring these truths to the attention of political opinion-makers and of politically aware publics across the globe – if need be by circumventing hostile and obstructive editorial bias by means of prominent, paid infomercials in major media channels.
Only measures such as these will allow Israel to gain the upper hand in the battle for public opinion, to prevent it being the victim of unjust, unjustified and unjustifiable double standards, and to ensure that military operations in Gaza and Kosovo are not judged by wildly disparate criteria.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton signaled on Tuesday that the United States would try to increase its diplomatic contacts with Iran and Syria, and she declared that the vision of Israelis and Palestinians co-existing in peace and prosperity must not be abandoned.
Despite the “seemingly intractable problems” in the Middle East, “we cannot give up on peace,” Senator Clinton said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering whether to confirm her selection as President-elect Barack Obama’s top diplomat.
Mrs. Clinton said America must recognize Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rockets but cannot ignore the suffering of Palestinians citizens, as well as Israelis. “Real security for Israel, normal and positive relations with its neighbors” as well as genuine security for Palestinians must continue to be America’s ideal, she said.
The 61-year-old senator, who was warmly received notwithstanding pointed remarks from the committee’s leading Republican about her husband’s fund-raising activities, acknowledged that lasting peace in the Middle East, and the idea of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side, are dreams that have been elusive.
Noting that “many presidents, including my husband,” have spent years trying to achieve peace in the Middle East, Mrs. Clinton said: “We cannot give up on peace. The president-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself under the current conditions and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets.
“However,” she went on, “we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East and paid by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel, normal and positive relations with its neighbors; independence, economic progress and security to the Palestinians in their own state.”
As for Iran and Syria, Mrs. Clinton said the United States must continue to press them to “abandon their irresponsible behavior” in the region. When the committee chairman, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, observed that he thought it “counterproductive and almost incomprehensible” that Washington was not more engaged with Iran and Syria, Mrs. Clinton said — as President-elect Obama has repeatedly done — that the United States has “one president at a time.”
“We are not taking any option off the table at all,” Mrs. Clinton said of Iran. But she said the Obama administration would follow “a new, perhaps different approach,” especially to keep Iran from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.
“We have no illusions,” the senator said of the difficulties of dealing with Tehran’s leaders. “It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all its multitudinous tools” to thwart Iran’s nuclear aspirations, she said....
... Hamas' military structure was taking "serious punishment" and ...Israel [is] "advancing toward the endgame." ... the Hamas chain of command is panicked and in disarray, with fighters deserting and the two branches of Hamas' leadership, in Gaza and Damascus, split on whether to accept a cease-fire.
One Israeli military source told TIME that Hamas' walkie-talkie frequency had been cracked, and Israeli Arabic speakers have interrupted the fighters to say, "You're the ones spilling blood, not your leaders, who are safe in hiding." Israeli officials are so confident of crushing Hamas that on Sunday the military intelligence chief, Major General Amos Yadlin, gave his war briefing to the Cabinet in comical verse.
The Israelis say they have identified more than 400 known Hamas militants among the 900 Gazans that Palestinian sources say have been killed in the fighting. Israeli military sources told TIME that using intelligence from 120 suspected Hamas militants captured during the first hours of the ground invasion, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have managed to find and blow up dozens of launching sites and rocket factories.
As they advanced, troops encountered booby-trapped houses and a maze of tunnels, which the Israelis cleared using little robots with camera eyes that were sent down the shafts to ferret out hiding militants. The troops' progress is slow and methodical, but this way casualties are kept low. The IDF says it has lost only 10 soldiers since the fighting began, four of those to "friendly fire."
...Israeli military officials allege that at the start of the conflict, Hamas' commanders took refuge in the basement of Gaza's main hospital, Shifa, knowing that Israel would never risk the international outrage that would result from bombing a hospital.
...Israel is holding back on its assault into Gaza City while diplomats in Cairo try to work out a proposal to close off the Egypt-Gaza border so that Hamas can no longer smuggle weapons in through tunnels. If Egypt agrees, Israel may not need to mesh its cease-fire demands with Hamas'. What worries Israel is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to bring long-range rockets into Gaza that can strike terror in southern Israel. If Egypt can guarantee that Israel will be safe from rockets, the Israelis say their tanks will roll out of the Gaza Strip. And Hamas will be left to pick up the thousands of pieces of Gaza, having gained nothing.
For in the end, the only thing that is certain is that every symbol of Hamas' rule in Gaza, every government building, police station and office block, has been replaced by a very large hole. It will take years for Hamas to rebuild Gaza's infrastructure and to offer basic services to the war-dazed 1.5 million Palestinians inside the sealed-off territory.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Hamas uses Gaza's Shifa Hospital as a meeting place and even distributed salaries to their operatives there over the weekend, Public Security Minister and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avi Dichter said Monday morning.
Speaking on Army Radio, Dichter said, "On Saturday, January 10, which is the day salaries are distributed in Gaza, several Hamas commanders who cannot come out of their hiding places were given their salaries at their hiding places. "But those commanders who can move around Gaza made their way to Shifa Hospital to receive their salaries."
Regarding Israeli intelligence reports that Hamas's leadership had taken refuge in the hospital, Dichter said, "Shifa Hospital has long ago ceased to be just a hospital, just as the UNRWA humanitarian and health services in Gaza long ago ceased to be just humanitarian services providing food and medical services."
"UN schools in Gaza long ago stopped being just schools," he added. "All these services and places are refuges for Hamas terrorists and commanders."
.... Dichter pointed out that it was common knowledge in Gaza that Hamas held meetings in the hospital. "...you can hear from the Palestinians who visit there - it is somewhat of an open secret - that Hamas commanders walk around the hospital, in some instances wearing doctors' robes," he said.
"In some cases the Hamas commanders kick medical teams out of rooms so that they can hold meetings."...
Monday, January 12, 2009
...Hamas's Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal has been talking a good war over the past two weeks ...rejecting any notion of a cease-fire that doesn't start with an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and an opening of the border crossings. ..."The enemy has failed," Mashaal declared on Saturday, in the latest such installment. "The enemy is hiding its true losses."
...however, Mashaal doesn't know what he's talking about. On Sunday night, representatives of Hamas from Gaza, who do know the true picture, traveled from Cairo, where they had been discussing cease-fire terms, to Damascus, to fill in the gaps in Mashaal's knowledge.
... at least some of Hamas's leaders in Gaza are desperate for a cease-fire, on almost any terms. Hamas has sustained significant losses. Some of its fighters are going AWOL. Others have been captured. Amir Mansi, Gaza City's Kassam commander, was reduced to firing his own rocket at Israel on Saturday, and was killed by the IDF in the process.
More and more Gazans ...though overwhelmingly blaming Israel for their plight and redoubled in their hostility, are nonetheless also furious with Hamas for having built bunkers and tunnels but not bomb-shelters; for looting aid supplies; for using civilians as human shields while the leadership hides away.
Even as Israel has been mourning its diplomatic humiliation at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, and worrying about the rising tide of international protest over its 16-day assault, reports have been filtering back from the war zone for the past two or three days to confirm the intelligence chiefs' assessment.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet on Sunday that Israel was "closing in" on its goals.
...An immense network of tunnels - many of them still believed to be intact, despite repeated Israeli bombings - had enabled Hamas to progress a fair way down the path to replicating Hizbullah's weapons capacity and subterranean entrenchment. If the smuggling is allowed to resume, Israel will merely have set the stage for a far tougher next round against a Hamas more determined than ever to bring Israel to its knees - just as Hizbullah's serene rearmament since 2006 now sees it reconstituted as a greater strategic threat than it posed three years ago.
Egypt does want not the embarrassment of foreign forces deployed on its soil to put a halt to the smuggling..... But Israeli security officials privately insist that a return to sole Egyptian supervision of the far side of the Philadelphi Corridor cannot be squared with the declared goal of this assault: ensuring long-term security for southern Israel.
...What's needed ...is not a deal with Hamas, but a credible agreement with Egypt. And here, the United States, unhelpful to Israel at the UN, could use its leverage with Cairo to assist in the attempt to formulate viable terms.
All of this, of course, would be anathema to Khaled Mashaal. But then Mashaal is less capable of dictating terms than he would have us all believe.
Samuel Wurzelbacher of Ohio, aka Joe the Plumber, arrived in Sderot at noon Sunday to show local and foreign reporters how to do it right.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," he told foreign reporters. "You should be patriotic, protect your family and children, not report like you have been doing for the past two weeks since this war has started," he said.
Wurzelbacher, the man who stole the limelight from Republican presidential candidate John McCain during the American election campaign, has found a new job - as a correspondent for the Internet Web sites PJTV and Pajamas Media.
Armed with a camera and a temporary Government Press Office card, he got a taste of reality in Sderot, visiting a house hit by a Kassam rocket two weeks ago and experiencing a "Code Red" alert first-hand. He also observed and reported from the house where a Kassam landed on Sunday afternoon.
...He ...wondered why Israel waited so long to act. "I know if I were a citizen here, I'd be damned upset." He described himself as a "peaceloving man," but added, "when someone hits me, I'm going to unload on the boy. And if the rest of the world doesn't understand that, then I'm sorry."
..."I want the average American Joes to understand the story here from the point of view of someone like them," he told WNWO, a TV channel in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, before heading here.
...in Sderot, he ...[was] intent on teaching a thing or two to the media. "Do you think this is normal, the way you cover this conflict and give away information to your enemy?" he asked the journalists that gathered around him. "It makes me sick to see the way you behave - you guys need to be protective of your homes, your children, your family."
"I am angry," he said, "and this is why I came here."
Iran is exerting heavy pressure on Hamas not to accept the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel, an Egyptian government official said on Sunday.
...His remarks came as Hamas representatives met in Cairo with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman and his aides to discuss ways of ending the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
...The Egyptian official said that the two Iranian emissaries, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, and Said Jalili of the Iranian Intelligence Service, met in the Syrian capital with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Shallah.
"As soon as the Iranians heard about the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, they dispatched the two officials to Damascus on an urgent mission to warn the Palestinians against accepting it," the Egyptian government official told the Post.
"The Iranians threatened to stop weapons supplies and funding to the Palestinian factions if they agreed to a cease-fire with Israel. The Iranians want to fight Israel and the US indirectly. They are doing this through Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon." ..."... The leaders of Teheran don't care about the innocent civilians who are being killed in the Gaza Strip." [the Egyptian government said]
The Egyptian official accused Iran of "encouraging" Hamas to continue firing rockets at Israel with the hope that this would trigger a war that would divert attention from Iran's nuclear plans. "This conflict serves the interests of the Iranians," he said. "They are satisfied because the violence in the Gaza Strip has diverted attention from their nuclear ambitions. The Iranians are also hoping to use the Palestinian issue as a 'powerful card' in future talks with the Americans.
"They want to show that they have control over Hamas and many Palestinians."
Karam Jaber, editor of the semi-official Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Youssef magazine, said that Hamas was caught between the Syrian anvil and the Iranian hammer. The Iranians, he said, prevented Hamas from negotiating a cease-fire with Israel, while the Syrians were blackmailing and intimidating the Hamas leaders in Damascus.
"History won't forget to mention that Hamas had inflicted death and destruction on the Palestinians," he said. "We hope that Hamas has learned the lesson and realizes that it has been fighting a war on behalf of others. We hope the Hamas leaders will realize that they are fighting a destructive war on behalf of the Iranians and Syrians."
Egyptian political analyst Magdi Khalil said he shared the view of the Palestinian Authority and Egypt that Hamas was responsible for the war in the Gaza Strip. "Ever since Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip in 2007, they turned the area into hell," he said....
The analyst said that the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service was right when he recently described Hamas as a group of gangsters. "Hamas and its masters in Damascus and Teheran want to spread chaos in Egypt," he said....
He said that Hamas was not only jeopardizing Egypt's national security, but had also destroyed the Palestinians' dream of statehood. "By endorsing the Iranian agenda, Hamas has brought the Iranians to Egypt's eastern border," he said. "Hamas has also copied Hizbullah's policy of entering into pointless adventures."
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Betrayal. No other word describes the reversal of American foreign policy that took place on the night of Jan. 8 when the U.S. refused to veto the Security Council resolution on Gaza.
A president whose friendship and alliance with Israel once appeared honest, perceptive and unshakable, decided two weeks before leaving office to throw Israel to the wolves. The resolution calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and does not even mention the word "Hamas."
There will no longer be a need for an Obama transition team on foreign policy. The outgoing president and secretary of State have done it all. Yesterday's resolution, along with another Condoleezza Rice-inspired resolution from mid-December, draws Israel into a Security Council spider web that U.N. enthusiasts have been weaving for decades.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can simply step into George W. Bush and Condi Rice's shoes, label themselves new-age multilateralists and let the chips--in this case, remnants of Israel--fall where they may.
The Security Council resolution makes a mockery of Israel's right of self-defense. In fact, it makes no mention of a right of self-defense at all. Eight thousand mortars have rained down on Israel from the Gaza Strip over a period of eight years.
Israel withdrew every Israeli man, woman and child from Gaza three and a half years ago. Yet the United Nations draws an equivalence between a terrorist organization whose very modus operandi is to target civilians and a state whose aim is to protect civilians, Israeli and Palestinian.
Arab states could scarcely contain their glee. The U.K. went out in front and accepted the idea of a much stronger resolution instead of a Security Council presidential statement, and Secretary of State Rice rolled over and played dead within minutes.
Veto-wielding powers had reportedly given undertakings to Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that they would not permit a resolution. These promises were ignored in the face of allegedly enormous pressure from undemocratic thugs, state sponsors of terrorism and weak democracies cowering at the prospect of unhappy Muslim constituencies or a dent in their bank accounts from belligerent Arab sheiks. What, moaned U.S. officials, was poor Condi to do?
Here is what she did:
1. The resolution she supported makes no mention whatsoever of Israel's right of self-defense.
2. The resolution calls for a ceasefire while Israel is still under fire, thus gutting the right of self-defense.
3. The resolution puts a right of "all" states "to live in peace"--though Israel is the only state under fire--in its preamble instead of in the operative section of the resolution, where it would have carried substantive weight.
4. The resolution expresses grave concern only about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. No concern is expressed over the humanitarian crisis in Israel that has forced half a million people into underground holes for eight years and left Jewish children growing up with the trauma of fleeing and hiding throughout their young lives.
5. The resolution makes no mention of any need to return Hamas kidnap-victim and Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. It does not even demand that Hamas or the Palestinian Authority abide by the humanitarian requirement under international law to permit a single visit to Shalit from the International Red Cross or any other international agency.
6. The resolution calls for "unimpeded" provision and distribution throughout Gaza of myriad forms of humanitarian assistance--which obviously makes the conduct of war against Hamas terrorists impossible.
7. The resolution condemns "all acts of terrorism"--without mentioning the identity of the terrorist--leaving Islamic countries to claim that Israel is the state terrorist and that the condemnation has nothing to do with Hamas.
8. The resolution places no mandatory responsibility on Egypt to stop the trafficking of weapons into the terrorist-controlled Gaza strip. It merely "calls for member states to intensify efforts" to stop the trafficking.
9. The resolution promotes further international intervention in the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than a negotiated settlement between the two parties, by "welcoming…an international meeting in Moscow in 2009." Code language for shoving U.N. terms and conditions down Israel's throat.
10. The kicker is that the Security Council "decides to remain seized of the matter." This means Israel's failure to abide by any of the points in the resolution is grounds for more and more Security Council meetings designed to thwart Israel's right to defend itself against the terrorism that threatens all civilized societies.
When it was over, Secretary of State Rice "abstained" with the following words: "this resolution, the text of which we support, the goals of which we support, and the objectives that we fully support, should indeed be allowed to go forward." These words led other ambassadors to point out that the resolution had, in effect, been adopted by consensus.
For over half a century, the state of Israel and its tiny population has been on the front lines of a war against an evil that plagues every decent human being on earth. Israel has time and again sacrificed its children in freedom's cause.
In leaving Israel to fend for itself in an international arena controlled by the enemies of decency and good, President Bush walks shamefully off the international stage, leaving in shambles everything he has stood for since Sept. 11, 2001.
Israel's prime minister reacted to the resolution today by pointing to the obvious: It "will not be honored in actual fact by the Palestinian murder organizations." And though UN actors wish it were otherwise, "The State of Israel has never agreed that any outside body would determine its right to defend the security of its citizens."
This is a universal principle with which every American--and the U.N. Charter--would agree.
*Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and editor of www.EYEontheUN.org.
IDF troops in the Gaza Strip on Saturday targeted Hamas operative Amir Mansi, a senior member of Izzadin Kassam, the group's military wing.
A senior commander of IDF operations in the Strip said that Mansi was the head of the Gaza Strip rocket division, and was previously involved in dozens of rocket attacks against Israel in recent weeks. He was also known to be a close associate of Hizbullah, and received information from the group on a regular basis.
Mansi was killed while attempting to fire mortars at Givati troops at Jabal Rice, in the northern Gaza Strip. Two other combatants were also hit.
The IDF commander said ... that entire companies of Hamas had been completely wiped out, and some Hamas fighters had gone AWOL or fled battlefields. "They are afraid to come out and fight, that's why Mansi went out to fire rockets on his own," the officer said....
...at least 300 Hamas operatives have been killed since the ground offensive stage of Operation Cast Lead was launched a week ago. The IDF estimate was backed up by intelligence.
Also Saturday, IAF planes dropped leaflets warning Gaza residents of an escalation in attacks, as southern Israel came under more Palestinian rocket fire. ...The leaflets urged Gaza residents not to help Hamas, and to stay away from its members...