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I have a massive amount of material from my recent trips to Iraq and Lebanon to write up, but the war in Gaza is sucking up my time and attention. It’s the biggest story by far in the Middle East right now, and nothing I have from the other countries is time-sensitive. I hope you don’t mind if I stick with this a little bit longer before I return to my usual beat. I have a few more analysis pieces I need to write, one of which will contrast the 2009 war against Hamas in Gaza with the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I doubt this conflict will last very much longer, and I’ll get to the other material as soon as it winds down. If it does last a lot longer (and I really hope that it doesn’t), I will get to work on my Lebanon and Iraq material anyway.

PS – Don’t forget to vote for me in the 2008 Weblog Awards. You can vote every 24 hours until the poll closes on Tuesday. “Juan Cole is slowly catching up, so I need your help”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. It only takes about two seconds to go over there and click on my name. Thanks in advance.

Hamas Rigged a School and a Zoo to Explode

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Well, Isn’t That Interesting

“U.S. thwarted Israeli plan to bomb Iranian nuclear facility”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/10/AR2009011002257.html.

A Warning from Hamas

Hamas refuses to stop firing rockets at Israeli civilans and “threatens to kill international peacekeepers”:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3653889,00.html.

Specifically, Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Maashal threatens to treat international peacekeepers as an “occupying entity,” but we all know what that means when a Palestinian terrorist leader says it. This may just be bravado and posturing against the Egyptian cease-fire plan on Maashal’s part, but those working on crafting a resolution to the war in Gaza would be irresponsible if they didn’t take his warning into account.

Don’t forget that United Nations personnel were car-bombed in Iraq and that American peacekeepers were truck-bombed in Lebanon. And almost as many Lebanese Army soldiers were killed in 2007 in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp as the British lost in Iraq since 2003. Everyone is a potential target in the Middle East.

If a peacekeeping force goes into Gaza with more authority than UNIFIL has in South Lebanon, it could happen. I slightly doubt it, but I don’t know, and I could be wrong. Gaza very well may be populated with more terrorists per square mile than any other place in the world. It is not a place where international forces should tread lightly.

I’d also like to point out, as an aside, that Israel isn’t leveling even empty threats at international peacekeepers.

Gaza and Afghanistan

Readers of this site know I support Israel’s war in Gaza. Long-time readers also know I opposed Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon. Unlike some, I do not automatically assume critics of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead hate Jews or support terrorists. I’d be a patent hypocrite if I did, since I’ve had the very same accusations unfairly hurled at me in the past.

I do, however, object to the entirely predictable hysteria about Israeli “war crimes” by critics who demonstrate that they don’t know “what a war crime actually is”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48801, and who have no objection, or at least little or no vocal objection, to the war crimes Hamas commits every day.

There is a non-hysterical case to be made against Israel’s war in Gaza. The fact that people are being killed in the war is not it. Innocents as well as combatants die in every war. If you have nothing to object to besides that, then you should oppose the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan for the same reason. That war is also being fought “disproportionately.” Far more innocent civilians have been killed over there than in Gaza. No doubt the rage among some in the Islamic world at the sight of those innocents killed encourages them to join the fight against us.

And Afghanistan isn’t currently shooting rockets at the United States.

Nearly every argument I have read and heard about Israel’s war in Gaza applies ten-fold to the war in Afghanistan. Yet many, if not most, of the very same people who deploy those arguments support the war in Afghanistan.

I find that curious.

So here’s some free advice to the critics of Israel. Find an argument that applies specifically to the war in Gaza that can’t also be said about every other war fought by a democracy against a terrorist army. If you cannot do that, you are not going to convince anybody.

UPDATE: “Here”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/2009/01/israels-ghosts/ is an example of a well-reasoned and non-hysterical argument. And “here”:http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2009/01/real-people-real-war-wisps-of-faint.html is an indirect rebuttal that is also well-reasoned and non-hysterical.

American Exceptionalism

Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell introduced a “Senate resolution yesterday that strongly backs Israel against Hamas in Gaza”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/rubin/49541, and it passed unanimously.

Americans are really exceptional. Nearly alone are we willing to side with a democracy against “an avowedly genocidal terrorist army”:http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm that seeks to eradicate it.

UPDATE: The House of Representatives “did the same”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/rubin/49912. 390 voted for it. Four Democrats voted against it, as did Republican Ron Paul from Texas.

Juan Cole’s Hysterical Campaign

“Professor Juan Cole”:http://www.juancole.com/2009/01/neoconservative-style-weblog-awards.html is slowly catching up to me in the 2008 Weblog Awards in the Best Middle East or Africa Blog category, and his simultaneous campaign against me and the state of Israel is hysterical.

Here is what he has to say about Israel:

Israeli atrocities in Gaza are endangering American security. If the Israeli operation were something other than a cynical power play that almost wholly disregards civilian welfare, then the US would be right to support it and damn the consequences. But it is a shame to place our land and even our democracy in danger on behalf of a barbaric military operation.

Southern Israel has been under indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas for years. And Hamas’ stated goal, as Cole knows very well, “is the total destruction of Israel”:http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm. No government on earth would sit idly by while tens of thousands of its citizens live under constant rocket attack, and Cole knows that, too. He also knows that the Israel Defense Forces “adheres to the laws of war”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48801, goes out of its way to avoid harming civilians, and even warns terrorist leaders themselves that their homes are on the target list.

Victor Davis Hanson, on the other hand, “nails it correctly.”:http://pajamasmedia.com/victordavishanson/say-they-arent-so/ “Every terrorist Hamas rocket is aimed at a Democratic civilian; every Democratic IDF air -to -ground missile is aimed at a terrorist.”

Cole knows all this, and yet he does not care. He insists on characterizing Israel’s defensive war as “barbaric” and “a cynical power play.”

Here is what he has to say about me in the same piece:

Michael J. Totten has surged way ahead in the voting online for the best Middle East weblog. The way he has done this is very instructive and tells us something about how the Neoconservatives always run rings around the American left and leave them with nothing to do but complain about Neoconservative power. First, Totten demonized me and mobilized rightwingers in general and right-Zionists in particular to vote for him as a way of voting against Informed Comment.

Cole is free to characterize me as some kind of right-wing Zionist lunatic all he wants. But he also knows very well that the American public and the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly back Israel’s war against Hamas. And if he thinks only neoconservatives, right-wingers in general, and right-Zionists in particular have my back in the voting, he’s wrong.

Uber Pig at Blackfive “posted the following yesterday”:http://www.blackfive.net/main/2009/01/best-middle-eas.html:

I’m the token liberal here at Blackfive. Some of you have issues with that. I respect that. And so when I say that it’s really important that Juan Cole not win the 2008 Weblog Awards for Best Middle East or Africa Blog, you should understand that it is really important. It’s not that he hates America, or that he hates Israel. It’s that he’s dumb. That may have qualified him for a tenured professorship at the University of Michigan, but the blogosphere should hold itself to a higher standard.

My advice? Vote for Michael Totten.

Few, if any, of our elected representatives in Congress have heard about our competition in the 2008 Weblog Awards, but 99 percent of them voted in favor of my position on Israel and against that of Juan Cole. The professor is way outside the mainstream, and I’m right in the middle of it. Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell aren’t likely to vote for me in this contest, but you can. “So please do so, and do so every day until Tuesday while the polls remain open”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/.

A Defense of Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama is getting grief from all corners for refusing to say anything substantial about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It’s a legitimate complaint up to a point. Obama deliberately campaigned as a Rorschach candidate upon whom would-be supporters could project their own views. The downside to Obama’s strategy is that potential opponents can also project their criticisms onto him and he’ll be left with too few friends instead of too many. In this case, both supporters and enemies of Israel who assume Obama agrees with them can criticize him for not speaking up.

In less than two weeks, when Obama is officially inaugurated as President of the United States, this will change. A president has to take a position and live with the consequences. Executive leaders must stand alone with their decisions and cannot vote “present.”

That said, I’d like to weigh in here as supportive of Obama’s decision to keep quiet.

I don’t know what Obama really thinks about Israel’s war in Gaza, but I can guess. He has a track record of relevant statements, and “his most recent was this one”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/12/the_gaza_war.php: “If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” It’s possible, though, that he only said that to reduce skepticism among Israelis. Perhaps Obama is quietly joining France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in “his condemnation of Israel”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/05/sarkozy-gaza-israel-ceasefire instead of quietly joining Germany’s Angela Merkel in “her support”:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3646569,00.html.

Whatever he thinks, his silence ought to be welcomed among supporters of Israel for at least one of two reasons.

If Obama opposes Israel’s use of force to defend itself from missile attack, he deserves credit for keeping his opinion to himself while he is not actually president. As he has stated on several occasions: the United States only has one president at a time. “We can’t have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time,” “he says”:http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iH2sWK6L75ntNmA5ZTOc_UTpCh_gD95ID4FO0. “We simply can’t do it.” He could try to undermine the current President Bush, but he’s right that it wouldn’t be proper.

On the other hand, perhaps he silently supports Israel’s short operation in Gaza against a terrorist army with whom he himself repeatedly said he would refuse to negotiate. If he said so out loud, though, his global “hope and change” honeymoon would be over before it even began. It’s not in his interest to hobble himself from the start, nor is it in America’s interest or Israel’s.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/49551.

A Prayer for the Children of Gaza

I am neither religious nor Jewish, but I can’t help but be touched by “this Jewish prayer for the children of Gaza”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052871.html published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz while Israelis are in the midst of a shooting war with a violent fascist regime. If Hamas ever publishes prayers like this one for the children of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be over.

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Thanks to “the indispensible Jeffrey Goldberg”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/ for pointing me to this.

Peace at the Smallest of Prices

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times of London on “the hideous truth”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/daniel_finkelstein/article5461544.ece few are willing to face:

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

Stop Juan Cole

“Juan Cole”:http://www.juancole.com/ is “decrying all the neocons”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/abc_anything_but_cole.htm he’s forced to compete with in the 2008 Weblog Awards for Best Middle East or Africa Blog. He thinks Helena Cobban — a deranged Hezbollah supporter — should have been nominated instead of someone like me. He’s worked his leftist readers into a tizzy, and they’re putting him over the top. I don’t really care if I win this award; I won it last year. But Juan Cole certainly doesn’t deserve it.

You know “what kind of abject nonsense he’s peddling now”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/cole_spills_wine_at_cana.htm? He’s arguing that Israel’s 1996 attack in Qana, Lebanon, inspired Mohammad Atta, who led the Al Qaeda cell on September 11, to write his “martyrdom will.” But Atta’s will, as Martin Kramer points out, was written before the attack in Qana. And it wasn’t a martyrdom will. It was a standard will. But Cole won’t let facts get in the way of blaming Israelis for just about anything, including violence committed by Al Qaeda.

Don’t let Cole win. “Go over there and vote for me”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. Alternately, “My Marrakesh”:http://moroccanmaryam.typepad.com/ is a beautiful blog written by a woman who isn’t a neoconservative. Go vote for her. Or if you want to vote for a professor, vote for “Martin Kramer”:http://www.martinkramer.org/. He actually knows what he’s talking about. Or there’s always Aussie Dave at “Israellycool”:http://www.israellycool.com/. I’ve met him, he’s a good guy, and he doesn’t sit around in his office and hatch “asinine conspiracy theories”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/israel_lebanon_war_juan_cole.htm like Cole does.

UPDATE: This post was slightly edited for precision. I had originally stated that Cole blamed Israel’s war in Lebanon on Atta’s 9/11 attack, but I struck that sentence because, more precisely, he blamed it on the 1996 Israeli attack on Qana in Lebanon. Cole edits his posts without notifying his readers, and he shouldn’t. So I won’t.

Rockets Out of Lebanon

Three rockets “just struck Israel from Lebanon”:http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/08/israel.rockets/ and wounded two people. CNN suggests they were fired by Palestinians, not by Hezbollah, and I’m guessing they’re right.

UPDATE: “See Tony Badran”:http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/2009/01/assad-jalili-pflp-gc-and-rockets-from.html for an in-depth analysis of what just happened.

UPDATE: See also “Marty Peretz in the New Republic.”:http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2009/01/08/the-sounds-of-arab-silence.aspx

Citizen Journalism

Joe the Plumber is going to Israel as a war correspondent. “Seriously”:http://pajamasmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2009/01/07/joe-the-plumber-mr-smith-goes-to-jerusalem-for-pajamas-tv/.

I need to interview him when he gets back. Watch me. I’ll do it. And I won’t do it like “this”:http://newsbusters.org/blogs/michael-m-bates/2009/01/07/cnns-kyra-phillips-unloads-joe-plumber.

Harry Reid Steps Up

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went on Meet the Press Sunday and strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself from the terrorist army in Gaza. “For eight years they’ve been firing rockets into Israel,” he said of Hamas, and went on to describe the dynamic as follows:

They’ve become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel. If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Course we do. We would have to…Israel, for—since 1967, controlled Gaza. They gave it to the Palestinians as a gesture of peace. And all they got are a bunch of rockets in return.

He is right, of course, that if the Canadian government were launching missiles at Seattle the U.S. would react, and with force. And we all know the U.S. would not wait eight years.

Reid’s comments are an important reminder of something most of us already know. The United States is more supportive of Israel’s existence and right to defend itself than any other country on earth. The conservative and supposedly pro-Israel President of France Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Israel’s response on the very first day, while the hyperpartisan left-wing American senator stridently defended Israel after more than a week of fierce fighting. Hatred of Israel consumes the mainstream political Right as well as the Left in Europe, while hatred of Israel in the United States is relegated only to part of the intellectual class and to the left-wing and right-wing lunatic fringes.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/49162.

Journalistic Malpractice

“My friend and colleague Noah Pollak”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/pollak/49311 on the journalistic malpractice of some of our other colleagues:

Allow me to propose a metric for evaluating whether a journalist is behaving responsibly or not: If he reports that Israel bombed a UN school and killed 30 civilians, he is irresponsible. If he reports that Hamas used a UN school as a weapons cache and base of operations for launching mortars at the IDF, and the IDF’s return fire killed the Hamas cell along, tragically, with a yet-unspecified number of civilians, then he is behaving responsibly. If he wishes to be particularly scrupulous, he might additionally note that “Hamas had rigged the school with explosives”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1231167272256&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull which detonated after the IDF took out the mortar team, killing a large additional number of civilians. And he might add that you can go to the IDF’s Youtube channel to “view footage”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmXXUOs27lI from 2007 of Hamas using the very same school as a mortar-launching base.

A responsible journalist might also add that what Hamas did is a war crime under international law, and that Hamas is responsible for every civilian killed at that school. Rigging a school with explosives and using it as a base in a war zone is a crime precisely because it endangers the lives of civilians, and in this case of children.

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