Saturday, June 21, 2014

The State of Iraq Is Gone

From Newsmax, Wednesday, 18 Jun 2014, by Bill Hoffmann and Melissa Clyne:

The country of Iraq is, for all intents and purposes, dead and has been replaced by three successor states, former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden [a retired four star Air Force general] told Newsmax TV ...
"The state of Iraq as we know it is gone, and it's not going to be reconstituted ...It's certainly not going to be reconstituted by [Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki.''...
"We've got three successor states there now ...As much as we might look for opportunities to keep Iraq together, we need to be prepared for the reality that it's not going to stay together."
"We should snuggle up comfortable with the Kurds in Kurdistan, who have always been pro-American and actually have a functioning society and state right now. We should give help to the Maliki government, sufficient to settle the current conflict so it just doesn't turn into a humanitarian disaster..." 
"For example, there's fighting around Beiji right now, the oil refinery north of Baghdad. Baghdad needs that for that part of the country to survive, and so we've got to settle the lines of this conflict in a way that Nouri al-Maliki's surviving state, which I'll call Shiastan, has Beiji within it."
"Then we've got Sunnistan, and that's the state under the control of ISIS right now, and frankly, we've got to treat that as if it were a safe haven for terrorists and begin to think about it the way we had thought about Waziristan for the last decade-plus. That's a tough message, and I'm afraid that's where we are."
...Hayden said "Sunnistan" consists of western Iraq and eastern Syria. "There is no border now..."

[But given that "Shiastan" will probably be an ally of Iran, and "Sunnistan" a counterweight to that (and probably an ally of Saudi Arabia): where exactly is the optimal, ultimate balance between those two forces, each of which is a threat to freedom, democracy and the West?? Why assume that a viable Shiastan must emerge from this crisis? Does the West want to support giving Iran that extension of its hegemony? Exactly why assume that we have "got to settle the lines of this conflict in a way that Nouri al-Maliki's surviving state, which I'll call Shiastan, has Beiji within it", as Gen. Michael Hayden suggests- SL]

Strategic 'Cleansing' of Hamas horse-shit in West Bank

From Defence News, 18 June 2014, by BARBARA OPALL-ROME:

Even if Israeli teens allegedly held captive by Hamas militants are found and safely returned to an anxiously awaiting nation, Israel’s ongoing rescue operation could continue indefinitely until the West Bank is sufficiently “cleansed” of the threat posed by the Islamic terror organization...

Launched in response to the June 12 kidnapping of three teens hitchhiking in a Palestineian Authority (PA)-controlled area of the West Bank, Operation Brother’s Keeper — now in its sixth day — has morphed into a mission of “cleansing the stables” of the Hamas threat...

In methodical, house-to-house maneuvers, Israeli security forces have so far arrested more than 240 Palestinians suspects, including 53 prisoners released in a 2011 exchange for a single Israeli soldier.

With nine brigades supported by air power, commandos and myriad intelligence units, Israel is targeting “all levels of Hamas, from tactical operatives to its institutions all the way up to its strategic leadership,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman... Israel is “confident” Hamas is responsible for the attack.

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas came out June 18 with an unequivocal condemnation of the attack. While he didn’t specifically blame Hamas — his ostensible partner in a new consensus government installed last month — Abbas assailed the perpetrators as enemies of the PA.

“Those who kidnapped the three teenagers want to destroy us,” Abbas said in an address to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia. The PA leader reiterated his commitment to continued security coordination with Israel.

Lerner said PA security forces were cooperating “not out of love for Israel, but for their own interests.” Nevertheless, “From our point of view, we don’t depend on them... We’ll count on ourselves.”

He noted the ongoing operation has expanded in recent days from its initial focus on the area near Hebron to all parts of the West Bank.
“Over the last three days, the mission has developed beyond the primary target of bringing the boys home to striking a substantial blow to Hamas ...Ultimately, they must pay the price for openly declaring their intent to carry out such attacks.”
Lerner said troops are operating under the assumption that the missing teens are still alive and being held in the West Bank, but that Israel is preparing for other scenarios.

The mission, he said, “will probably take time.”

When asked if it he expected the operation to continue in the increasingly unlikely event that the teens were safely returned, he replied: “I expect this operation not to cease ... Hamas cannot be strong enough to carry out these attacks.”

Meeting June 18 meeting with families of the abducted teens, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted that the ongoing operation could escalate. 
“There’s nothing that is limiting our action ...All the intelligence and operational capabilities of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Shin Bet and the Israel Police are available for the benefit of this highest-priority operation.”
Ya’alon said Israel wouldn’t relent until it “puts its hands on the kidnappers” and returns the missing teens. But in parallel, Ya’alon said Israel aims to damage Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank.

Gerald Steinberg, senior professor of international relations at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, said the expanding operation aims to undermine Hamas’ strategic and political objectives in the West Bank. ...he noted it’s been 12 years since the IDF’s last major ground operation in the PA-controlled territory. During that time, Hamas has been able to recreate terror cells and solidify its social standing among the Palestinian population.
“Israel is taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the current operation ...Israel has a long list of suspects, and this operation allows the IDF to conduct a very detailed sweep of operatives, weaponry, tunnels and other things that can sow instability.”
“When Israeli security forces conclude their mission, it will be tremendously more difficult for Hamas to take control of the West Bank they did in Gaza back in 2007.” 

ISIS storms Saddam-era chemical weapons complex in Iraq

From The Telegraph, 19 Jun 2014, by Damien McElroy

Facility containing disused stores of sarin and mustard gas overrun by jihadist group

Tagged and numbered remnants of Iraq's chemical weapons program at the Muthanna State Establishment
Tagged and numbered remnants of Iraq's chemical weapons program at the Muthanna State Establishment in 2002 

The jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex on Thursday, gaining access to disused stores of hundreds of tonnes of potentially deadly poisons including mustard gas and sarin.
Isis invaded the al-Muthanna mega-facility 60 miles north of Baghdad in a rapid takeover that the US government said was a matter of concern.
The facility was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s as the locus of Saddam’s industrial scale efforts to develop a chemical weapons development programme.
Isis has shown ambitions to seize and use chemical weapons in Syria leading experts to warn last night that the group could turn to improvised weapons to carry out a deadly attack in Iraq.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s chemical weapons regiment, said that al-Muthanna has large stores of weaponized and bulk mustard gas and sarin, most of which has been put beyond ready use in concrete stores.
“It is doubtful that Isis have the expertise to use a fully functioning chemical munition but there are materials on site that could be used in an improvised explosive device ...We have seen that Isis has used chemicals in explosions in Iraq before and has carried out experiments in Syria.”
US officials revealed that the group had occupied the sprawling site which has two bunkers encased in a concrete seal. Much of the sarin is believed to be redundant.
“We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the [Isis],” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”
During its peak in the late 1980s to early 1990s, Iraq produced bunkers full of chemical munitions.
A CIA report on the facility said that 150 tons of mustard were produced each year at the peak from 1983 and pilot-scale production of Sarin began in 1984. Its most recent description of al-Muthanna in 2007 paints a disturbing picture of chemicals strewn throughout the area.
“Two wars, sanctions and UN oversight reduced Iraqi’s premier production facility to a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers), a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities ...Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment and other hazardous industrial chemicals.”
Britain has previously acknowledged that the nature of the material contained in the two bunkers would make the destruction process difficult and technically challenging.
Under an agreement signed in Baghdad in July 2012, experts from the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory were due to provide training to Iraqi personnel in order to help them to dispose of the chemical munitions and agents.
Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons during the Iran – Iraq War (1980 to 1988) and against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988.
One US [military officer] told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that Isis fighters could be contaminated by the chemicals at the site. 
“The only people who would likely be harmed by these chemical materials would be the people who tried to use or move them...”

Friday, June 20, 2014

Europe's and U.S. Complicity in Kidnapping and Violence

The world has undergone gut-churning revulsion this week at the videos of rows of kneeling young Iraqi men callously gunned down by Al Qaida terrorists in Mosul. But time and again, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Hamas has shown itself to be just as capable of such brutal cold-blooded killing. That knowledge has galvanized Israel's desperate hunt for those who abducted teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach as they hitchhiked home from their school in Gush Etzion a week ago.Both the U.S. and the EU have paid the salaries of Palestinian terrorists by means of grants to the PA; they also fund this propaganda and incitement.

Like every government, Israel has an absolute duty to protect its citizens, and undermining this terrorist threat is an essential part of that responsibility.

As a member of Cobra, the UK national crisis management committee, I was involved in British efforts to rescue our citizens kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. No modern-day military action is so fraught: the odds are stacked against the captives, the whip hand is with the captors, it is a race against time, and it becomes extremely personal.

The victims look out at us from their photographs and we look into their eyes. We learn about their hopes, their families, their friends, and their daily lives. Nothing – nothing – stands in the way of our efforts to bring them back. Although we hope for the best, we prepare for the worst.

From the outside, it is difficult to read the realities of a kidnapping. Those with the responsibility of saving lives are forced into a cat and mouse game in which they must both reassure the public and sow seeds of disinformation among the captors. So far, for Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, the signs are not encouraging. As far as we know a week later, there is no proof of life, no demands, no negotiations.

Yesterday, June 19, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency apparently reported that Hamas leader Salah Bardawil said that the "Palestinian resistance" (Hamas -- the acronym for the "Islamic Resistance Movement") had carried out the kidnapping.

The first priority is always to establish the identity and the motive of the captors. Early on, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Hamas was guilty. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry agreed, and this seems to be the view throughout Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas leader Mohammad Nazzal, for his part, described the kidnapping of three teenage civilians as "a heroic capture," and "a milestone" for the Palestinian people. He said that every passing day in which the Israelis failed to find the teenagers was "a tremendous achievement."

Nazzal's comments reflect long-standing views on the abduction and butchering of Israelis by the leadership of Hamas, the internationally proscribed terrorist group responsible for firing thousands of lethal rockets indiscriminately against the civilian population of Israel from the Gaza Strip, the latest salvoes only this week.

It is the same terrorist group that the United Nations, the United States and the European Union -- in a display of moral bankruptcy and betrayal -- have all endorsed as a legitimate partner in a unity government for the Palestinian Authority [PA]. Just the day before the three boys were kidnapped, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, welcomed Hamas into the PA government while lambasting Israel for detaining terrorists and taking action to prevent Hamas terrorist attacks from Gaza and the West Bank.

Ashton, though never slow to condemn Israel, took five days to denounce this kidnapping. Both her words and actions have legitimized and encouraged Hamas. Her inaction in the face of repeated terrorist assaults has bolstered Hamas's convictions.

The kidnapping will find favor with Ashton's new best friends in Iran. Also desperate to appease the ayatollahs, British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week announced the re-opening in Tehran of a British embassy, closed in 2011 after being ransacked on the orders of the Iranian government. There are even reports of U.S. military intelligence-sharing with Iran over the crisis in Iraq – where only a few short years ago, large numbers of American and British soldiers were being slaughtered -- using Iranian-supplied munitions by terrorists trained, directed and equipped by Tehran and its terrorist proxy, Lebanese Hizballah.

As Ashton and the West cozy up to the ayatollahs, the ayatollahs are again cozying up to Hamas. A few weeks ago, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, met with Hamas leaders to resolve the differences between Iran and Hamas that arose over the Syrian conflict. Hamas -- isolated from Egypt following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood regime -- seems desperate to restore full relations with the Iranian tyrant. Iran is equally enthusiastic to bring Hamas back into the fold: Hamas remains an important instrument of the ayatollahs' overriding, stated goal of destroying the State of Israel.

In these circumstances it is certainly not beyond probability that the three boys' kidnapping was a goodwill gesture from Hamas to the ayatollahs.

It is hard to not be chilled to the bone by the thought of three teenage boys -- who might easily be our own sons or brothers -- spending night after night in the hands of ruthless terrorists... or worse. The anguish of the boys' parents must be unimaginable.

Yet among the Palestinian Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza, including children, a new symbol has emerged -- the three-fingered salute, signifying joy at the kidnapping of three innocent youths. Among the many deeply disturbing images generated on Palestinian computers and printing presses, the most repugnant is probably a cartoon of three rats, each bearing the Star of David, dangling from a fishing rod, and published on an official Fatah Facebook page.

A cartoon from Fatah's official Facebook page, depicting the three kidnapped Jewish teens as rats.

Such celebration, including the handing out of sweets in the street, has been widespread. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnappings, and his security apparatus has been providing assistance to the Israeli rescue operation. But as well as bringing Hamas terrorists into his government, Abbas is responsible for the shocking way in which so many of his people have been celebrating. His Palestinian Authority is tireless in spreading fraudulent and malicious anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda, including Nazi-inspired imagery, in schools, on TV programs and in books and magazines. Both the US and the EU have paid the salaries of Palestinian terrorists by means of grants to the PA; they also fund this propaganda and incitement, no doubt including some of the imagery applauding the boys' kidnapping.

The Israeli security operation has so far focused on finding the three boys. Over 330 Hamas suspects have been arrested, and illicit weapons and ammunition seized. Echoing the code-name of the rescue operation, "Brother's Keeper," the IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, has encouraged his troops to apply the same vigour to their task as if they were searching for their own brothers or members of their own platoon. He has also reminded them that most people in the areas they are searching are not connected to the kidnapping, and to treat them with care and humanity.

Concurrently, the IDF is taking steps to weaken and dismantle Hamas in the West Bank. In some quarters these have been criticized as an unnecessary and opportunistic widening of the operation. It is nothing of the sort. With this latest kidnapping, Hamas has confirmed its continued intent to abduct, attack and murder Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Like every government, Israel has an absolute duty to protect its citizens, and undermining this terrorist threat is an essential part of that responsibility.

All military operations are unpredictable; it is possible that Operation Brother's Keeper could lead to an escalation of violence. Incidents have already occurred. It is unlikely that Israel will expand the current operation into Gaza, unless there is a serious upsurge in violence from there or a connection between Gaza terrorists and the kidnapping comes to light.

The three Israeli teenagers abducted last Thursday night: Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.

Whichever way this operation develops, the international community should avoid the same response to the current defensive actions that they have so often displayed whenever Israel has sought to defend itself from missile attacks from Gaza. The international community usually ignores repeated volleys of rockets fired at Israeli civilians, and then condemns Israel for taking defensive action to prevent further attacks. It is these responses from the international community that have encouraged Hamas, and amounted to nothing less than support for terrorism. And it is these responses, along with the endorsement of Hamas's inclusion in a Palestinian unity government, that have led to the kidnapping of the boys in the West Bank.

Hamas’s plan to free prisoners has backfired

From The Times of Israel, 19 June 2014, by MARISSA NEWMAN:

Many more Hamas members have been arrested following kidnapping... progress made in hunt for Israeli teens

Hamas’s attempt to release prisoners from Israeli detention by means of the kidnapping of three yeshiva students has backfired, the head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, said Thursday, pointing out that the group had suffered many new arrests following the abduction.

In a letter penned to troops involved in Operation Brother’s Keeper, Alon, who is in charge of IDF forces in the West Bank, explained that the wave of arrests of Hamas members — 50 of whom had been released as part of the prisoner swap for the return of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 — undermined the terror group’s original aim.

“The arrest of 50 terrorists freed as part of the Shalit deal by our forces will delay their return for many years. Thus, Hamas’s attempt to release prisoners brought about the opposite result,” he wrote.
....Among the 50 convicts freed in 2011 and rearrested Wednesday overnight, four were in the midst of serving double life sentences; 13 had been serving life sentences; 19 had been sentenced to over 20 years; and five had been slapped with sentences of up to 20 years. The convictions included murder, manslaughter, producing weapons, maintaining contact with the enemy, and shooting attacks.

Following a situation report with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that progress had been made in the hunt for the missing teenagers and in the crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.
“We know more today than we knew a few days ago, but there is still a ways to go,” Netanyahu said at a press conference, urging patience. The prime minister called on Abbas to break his pact with the “murderous terror organization” Hamas.

Ya’alon, speaking immediately after the prime minister, reiterated that the Israeli efforts had broken ground.

“We are progressing,” he said. “We will reach the terrorists and our kidnapped boys eventually,” he vowed.
Ya’alon also warned that if the southern front continues to see rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, “we will know what to do.”

In his letter Thursday, Alon also encouraged soldiers to be patient, as the operation was likely to continue for some time. “The fight against terrorism, and Hamas in particular, is an ongoing campaign that has persisted for years, and is expected to continue to be part of the reality of our lives,” he wrote.
Israeli forces have embarked on a massive campaign to locate the three kidnapped boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 — while simultaneously destroying parts of the Hamas terror infrastructure in the West Bank.

The military has been conducting nightly raids and sweeps in cities across the West Bank since the teenagers disappeared, arresting more than 250 suspected terrorists, many of them Hamas men, since last week.

Israeli official names Hamas leader abroad as suspect behind kidnappings

From Times of Israel, 19 June 2014, by AVI ISSACHAROFF:

Three Israelis still believed to be held in Hebron area; deported terrorist Saleh al-Arouri, who reports to Khaled Mashaal, said to have been directing West Bank terror cells for years

Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

Hamas leader currently living in Turkey is believed to be behind the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last week, an Israeli security official said Thursday.
The official spoke as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the attempts to bring home the three Israelis were making progress — “We today know more than we knew a few days ago,” he said.
According to the unnamed official, Saleh al-Arouri — a former West Bank resident deported from the region after serving a prison sentence in Israel for several years, who is now a leading figure in Hamas overseas operations — is thought to have been a key figure for years in attempts to initiate terror attacks in the West Bank, funding and arranging the training of terror cells.
The official claimed al-Arouri, who used to live in a village north of Ramallah, has urged West Bank operatives incessantly to set up terror cells and perpetrate kidnappings. Al-Arouri has financially sponsored these cells, which were trained and directed to abduct Israelis. Often that money was transferred through charities to obfuscate their real destination, the would-be kidnappers, the official said.
In this Thursday, July 12, 2012 file photo, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives at the Islamist Ennahda party congress in Tunis (photo credit: AP/Amine Landoulsi)
Khaled Mashaal (photo credit: AP/Amine Landoulsi)
The official conceded that Israel had no “smoking gun” proving al-Arouri’s involvement in the kidnapping last Thursday night of Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel, “but I have no doubt that al-Arouri was connected to the act.” There is an increasing belief in the Israeli security services that the kidnapping was directed by Hamas’s overseas hierarchy, he noted, adding that al-Arouri is answerable to Hamas’s political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal.
Israeli forces have made some 280 arrests in the West Bank in recent days, and have also targeted Hamas funding networks, confiscating computers in banks and other evidence. Elite IDF units are on call should there be a need for any particularly sensitive operations, Channel 2 news reported. It added that the three Israelis are still believed to be held in the Hebron area, and said further arrests were expected.
“We are making progress,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said. “We’ll get to the terrorists in the end, and we’ll get to our kidnapped boys.”
In the past two years, dozens of al-Arouri’s emissaries have visited the West Bank after obtaining entry through Jordan, the Israeli official said. Several of them were arrested, but a number escaped the notice of Israeli security officials and were able to leave the country with their missions accomplished.
Those who were arrested brought money and written messages on behalf of al-Arouri, which explicitly directed the establishment of terror cells for kidnappings.
“It must be understood that [Hamas] is not a standard army, and there are no direct orders, but only general directives, and even now the directive to kidnap stands,” he said.
Overall, the source explained, there are four primary Hamas sources which can organize and commit attacks – the Hamas branch abroad, in which al-Arouri is a key figure; the Gaza leadership; operatives in the field, who the official claimed were more constrained by Israeli security; and terrorists held in Israeli prisons, whose freedom of movement is similarly restricted.
The official said it was less likely that Hamas in Gaza or prisoners released to the coastal enclave as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange were behind the attack.
“Although they have also tried to perpetrate attacks, their chances of success were lower.”
Overall for Hamas, the official said  "...even though Hamas is less interested in an escalation of hostilities [with Israel], ...there is one explicit instruction, and that is to continue to kidnap Israelis.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Israeli crackdown on Hamas

From Times of Israel, 18 June 2014, BY ARON DÓNZIS AND SPENCER HO:

...Israeli forces have been engaged in a widespread crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank since the kidnapping Thursday night of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Frankel, 16.
According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, 240 Palestinians, including 180 members of Hamas, have been arrested [51 of whom were Hamas terrorists released as part of the 2011 deal for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit], and 800 buildings have been searched, including 10 operations against da’wa institutions where Hamas recruits, disseminates information and transfers finances. [The army also raided the facilities of Radio Al-Aqsa in Ramallah and Hebron.]
“Last night’s activities took place across the West Bank,” a senior military official said. “We operated in Jenin, Qabatia and Samaria, Tzurif, Yatta and Samua. In Jenin there was a little friction during the arrests, but the rest occurred without incident. Additionally, we tested the defensive perimeters surrounding Jewish communities in the West Bank and the security fence as part of our efforts to prevent illegal breaches.
“Three hundred thousand people are under curfew ...after eight years of relative prosperity...”
The military source added that out of the hundreds of thousands of citizens in Hebron, “thousands, each of whom support six or seven family members, possess permits to work in Israel. Because of the curfew, they can’t work, and this has a visible impact on the population. With two weeks left before Ramadan, the population’s preparations for the holiday have taken a hit.”
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said that Israel is “well aware” of the identity of the Hamas cell that kidnapped the youths.
“The Shin Bet and intelligence officials are interested in investigating as many Hamas operatives as possible to find any leads on the whereabouts of the boys,” he told Israel Radio Wednesday morning. “The end result of any military operation should be the eradication of the Hamas movement.”
...There is a lot of determination and we learn from arrest to arrest,” he said.
... Hamas welcomed news of the kidnapping, and has been held responsible by Israel and much of the international community...

Europe in the Arab League

From Commentary Magazine, 17 June 2014, by Tom Wilson:

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After five days of silence, the European Union has finally released a stock-statement condemning the kidnapping of three Israeli students. But even this only comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu poured scorn on European countries for their harsh criticism of Israel as compared to their total failure to condemn such terrorist acts. 

The full extent of the EU’s Israel problem was demonstrated last week at a conference in Athens where European foreign ministers and their Arab League counterparts signed a ten page declaration that outrageously praised the Palestinians for their supposed commitment to peace and democracy while castigating Israel for its “unilateral’” actions.

...looking over the moral inversions in this document each could have just as plausibly been authored by the Arab states as the European ones. And when there’s no perceivable distinction between the foreign policy of Europe and that of the Arab world know there’s cause for concern.
In places the assertions of the ten-page declaration are laughable. There is praise for the Palestinian commitment to democracy; this despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has been postponing an election that became overdue in 2009, while in Gaza Hamas, who seized power in a military coup, murdered the political opposition, and censored the press, has never countenanced an election since. Similarly, the declaration welcomes the new Fatah-Hamas unity government, calling on Israel to work with it and claiming that this represents a promising step toward a two-state solution. How anyone that claims to favor two states can welcome a Hamas backed government—Hamas being the terrorist movement committed to extinguishing the Jewish state—is simply unfathomable. And no less contradictory is the declaration’s condemnation of Israel’s “unilateral” acts in Jerusalem alongside its support for Palestinian unilateral acts to pursue membership of committees at the United Nations. For one thing it is absurd that when Arabs build homes in Jerusalem it’s just Arabs building homes in Jerusalem, but when Jews have the audacity to build homes in their own religious, historical and political capital, well then it’s a strategic unilateral act warranting a mini-diplomatic crisis. But more importantly the Palestinian moves at the United Nations are in direct breach of the Oslo peace accords, and many of the signatories of this declaration were supposed to serve as guarantors to Oslo.
Most appalling of all is the declaration’s utter failing to condemn Hamas rocket fire against Israeli civilians. Yes, there’s one of those completely redundant lines about opposing “all acts of violence” by both sides. But nowhere is there any specific mention of the civilian-bound rockets dispatched from Hamas controlled Gaza on a daily basis. Yet the declaration complains at length about the “grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip largely caused by the closure imposed by the Occupying Power.” The ministers also stressed their position that “Israeli settlements, the separation barrier built anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory, home demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law and constitute obstacles for peace and they endanger the viability of the two-state solution.”
The Arab world’s attitude toward the Jewish state has long been considered alongside the fact that the ancient Jewish communities in these countries were decimated and forced to flee in the same decade that the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe were made to vanish.

But given the worsening condition of Jewish life in Western Europe, for how long can the EU’s attitude toward the Jewish state and the fate of its own Jews not be considered in light of one another? Over the weekend Paris witnessed a spate of anti-Semitic incidents, and in all of these places Jews are considering their future; whether to stay or go.

By the best assessment Europe is failing in its primary obligation to protect a part of its citizenry. But in light of these failings to protect the basic human rights of their own Jews, it is extraordinary that Europeans think they’re in a position to join with the Arab League, with its abominable human rights record, in lecturing the Jewish state.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation: the test is NOW

If U.S. policy was to "wait and see" how the Hamas-approved Palestinian reconciliation process would unfold in practice, the test is now.

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank while hitchhiking outside the Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Etzion. In addition to potentially undermining stability in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and southern Israel, the incident could severely complicate Palestinian political moves toward reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

According to Israeli security sources, West Bank terrorist groups had made forty-four kidnapping attempts on Israeli civilians and soldiers over the eighteen months preceding last week's incident, all of them thwarted. Israeli authorities have continuously warned the public not to accept rides from strangers, especially on West Bank highways, though the practice is quite common among the settler community.

...the abduction of three people and the inability to locate them after several days indicates a high level of operational sophistication and planning by the perpetrators. It is unlikely that this was an isolated or spur-of-the-moment act, necessitating as it did a multiperson cell, transportation, evasion methods, and -- if the youths are still alive -- a secure holding location.

The Israeli response has been decisive, though at this point inconclusive. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have streamed elite combat infantry units into the southern West Bank, in particular Hebron and its surrounding villages, believed to be the most likely location of the missing civilians. IDF forces in the area have been reinforced by battalions from outside the West Bank, including a limited call-up of reserve units. Main access routes into Hebron have been monitored by "flying" inspection checkpoints, though a full-scale closure of the city has not been implemented. The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) is known to be working around the clock gathering intelligence leads, and house-to-house searches as well as large-scale arrests of known terrorist operatives have been undertaken across the West Bank. Senior Hamas leaders in particular have been targeted for arrest given the widespread belief among Israeli officials that the group is directly or indirectly responsible for the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, the border region surrounding Gaza has witnessed sporadic rocket fire targeting Israeli towns over the past several days. The IDF has elevated its force posture in southern Israel, including the additional deployment of Iron Dome antirocket systems. For its part, the Israeli Air Force has launched retaliatory strikes on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad bases in Gaza.

The kidnapping comes at a sensitive moment in intra-Palestinian politics. Despite the inherent difficulties in the April 23 reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah...the two parties were in the process of implementing its terms. 
...Tellingly, prior to his arrest by the IDF over the weekend, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a prominent West Bank Hamas leader ... freely admitted that the group's seven-year experiment in governing Gaza had eroded its support base there [and said] 
"...The Palestinian Authority has only the option of negotiations, while Hamas has many options...The current situation in Gaza could lead to an explosion, and Israel will be the target of this explosion...and the first target of Hamas...Hamas is [now] responsible for nothing."
Further complicating the political atmosphere is the nearly two-month hunger strike by eighty-five Palestinian administrative detainees being held in Israeli prisons. The issue is a highly evocative one among the Palestinian public -- during a recent visit to Ramallah, the author noted that most street corners were adorned with black flags of silhouetted prisoners, hands raised aloft, unshackled. Demonstrations on behalf of the prisoners have been held in central Ramallah over the past several weeks, as well as solidarity strikes by West Bank business owners and symbolic protests outside the prime minister's office. Given that the Palestinian media regularly refer to IDF arrests of Palestinian suspects as "kidnappings," the popular sentiment militating for the kidnapping of Israeli citizens as bargaining chips was considerable. Indeed, shortly after Thursday's abduction, the official Fatah Facebook page and a prominent PA daily ran cartoons supporting the act.

Whether the three Israeli teenagers are still alive, how the hunt for those responsible is concluded, and the actual identity of the perpetrators will all dictate how events unfold going forward. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and various IDF officers have already stated that Hamas is likely responsible...

For his part, President Abbas condemned the kidnapping only after several days' delay. At the same time, he condemned IDF actions in the West Bank... Further pressure was heaped on him by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who recently stated that the "Hamas-Fatah unity pact" has led to an increase in terrorism from the West Bank.

If the kidnapping is not brought to a peaceful end -- and if it is shown to be a Hamas operation, sanctioned or not -- then Israel and the international community will pressure Abbas to launch a wide crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. Such developments could damage the Palestinian reconciliation process, putting into question Abbas's entire political strategy since the breakdown in negotiations with Israel. 

The next milestone of the reconciliation agreement calls for the seating of the Palestinian Legislative Council, a move now in doubt given that most West Bank Hamas legislators, including parliamentary speaker Aziz Duwaik, have been arrested. Moreover, in the event of a military flare-up in Gaza (whether due to potential Israeli retaliation or other factors), it is highly unlikely that PA security forces could be deployed there as planned or that Egypt would agree to open the Rafah crossing, to say nothing of Abbas's rumored upcoming visit to the territory.

In Israel, the kidnapping has consumed the public's attention, with numerous prayer vigils held and nonstop media coverage urging the "return of our boys." Accordingly, the Netanyahu government will feel pressure to continue responding forcefully, not only with military raids, economic sanctions, and other legal measures in the West Bank, but perhaps with airstrikes targeting the likely "address" of the operation in Gaza. The Israeli cabinet is already reportedly mulling these and other steps against Hamas, including the group's political wing...

... Public sentiment in Israel is also shifting against the idea of releasing Palestinian terrorists as part of a prisoner exchange similar to the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal. The Knesset is set to pass a bill making presidential pardons impossible in certain egregious cases of terrorism and murder, a move meant to dissuade future kidnapping attempts.

In light of these factors, the potential for military escalation is real and carries the added risk of further deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Escalation could also scuttle prospects for the questionable Palestinian reconciliation process; in fact, given the timing of the kidnapping, that may well have been one of the operation's objectives (in addition to gaining the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of a hostage negotiation). Spoilers and rejectionists, it seems, may have more than the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in their sights.

Finally, the kidnapping only underscores the current quandary of U.S. policy. In his remarks condemning the crime, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the U.S. view that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but he has said nothing further on the technocratic reconciliation government that exists because of Hamas approval. That ambiguity will be difficult to maintain...  
If U.S. policy was to "wait and see" how the technocratic government performs in practice, the test is now.

“We are in a war with our enemies who do not want us here...But we will be here whether they want us here or not"

From JPost, 16 June 2014:

Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, were [two of three youths] kidnapped last Thursday from a hitchhiking post near their school, the Makor Chaim Yeshiva, as they made their way home for the weekend.

“Why should I be afraid to travel home when school is over?” a friend of one of the captive teenagers asked Reuven Rivlin, when the president- elect on Monday afternoon came to visit their small high-school in the Kfar Etzion in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank.

...The state of Israel is the fulfillment of a 2,000 year old dream, Rivlin told him.
“We expected that not everyone would want us here. There are those who think our land is their land,” Rivlin said as he reassured the pupils that they were safe, in spite of what had happened to their friends.
“We are in a war with our enemies who do not want us here. But we are the sovereign power here, and we will be here whether they want us here or not.
“We have to ensure our security. Thankfully, we have an army. Soon you will be soldiers.
I was once a soldier. I want to tell you that you do not need to be afraid in your land, that is a Jewish and democratic land, but there are threats that we have to overcome, and we have to find a way to eliminate those threats,” Rivlin said.
“We are in a moment of anguish and the emotion breaks out. We were able to fulfill our [Zionist] dreams because we knew that we could build a Jewish and democratic land,” Rivlin said.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to go anywhere in this land, whether in sovereign areas of the country, or in territories that we returned to in order to redeem them, your question is one that many people have,” he said.
“There are moments that test us, until today we have withstood all those tests and we will continue to do so,”
Rivlin said...