Quantcast

Blogs

In Israel

I’m in Israel now and have been here since Saturday afternoon. I have one more day with a packed schedule and then I should be able to squeeze in some time to write. Stay tuned for several short analysis pieces and a long dispatch from the border with Gaza.

On My Way to Israel

At the last minute I was invited to Israel by the American Jewish Committee and will leave first thing tomorrow (Friday) morning. I’ll be heading over there with Max Boot, Anthony Cordesman, and a handful of other foreign policy professionals. We’re scheduled to visit areas hit by Qassam and Grad rockets, and are working on arranging meetings with Palestinian leaders, Israeli intelligence officers, IDF commanders, and members of the Knesset.

I have a lot of material that needs to be written from my recent trip to Iraq and Lebanon, but none of it is as time-sensitive as the war in Gaza and Israel. So I’ll continue writing about the Middle East’s current hot spot at least for a short while.

I’ll be back home in a week.

The AJC is paying for most of this trip, but I’m going to stick around in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for two extra days so I can interview a few other people I need to see while I’m over there. Please consider a donation so I can pay for a rental car and a few extra days in my hotel room. And stay tuned for more coverage.

You can make a one-time donation through Pay Pal:

Alternately, you can now make recurring monthly payments through Pay Pal. Please consider choosing this option and help me stabilize my expense account.

$10 monthly subscription:
$25 monthly subscription:
$50 monthly subscription:
$100 monthly subscription:

If you would like to donate for travel and equipment expenses and you don’t want to send money over the Internet, please consider sending a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

A Conversation with Nizar Rayyan

I’ve spoken to a handful of guerilla leaders, terrorist leaders, and members of terrorist organizations. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has spoken to more. He recalls one of those conversations with Nizar Rayyan, whom the Israelis just killed in Gaza, for a piece in the New York Times called “Why Israel Can’t Make Peace with Hamas”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/opinion/14goldberg-1.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all.

It’s long for an opinion piece, and it’s pointless to summarize, so I’ll just give you the beginning:

In the summer of 2006, at a moment when Hezbollah rockets were falling virtually without pause on northern Israel, Nizar Rayyan, husband of four, father of 12, scholar of Islam and unblushing executioner, confessed to me one of his frustrations.

We were meeting in a concrete mosque in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. Mr. Rayyan, who was a member of the Hamas ruling elite, and an important recruiter of suicide bombers until Israel killed him two weeks ago (along with several of his wives and children), arrived late to our meeting from parts unknown.

He was watchful for assassins even then, and when I asked him to describe his typical day, he suggested that I might be a spy for Fatah. Not the Mossad, mind you, not the C.I.A., but Fatah.

What a phantasmagorically strange conflict the Arab-Israeli war had become! Here was a Saudi-educated, anti-Shiite (but nevertheless Iranian-backed) Hamas theologian accusing a one-time Israeli Army prison official-turned-reporter of spying for Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, an organization that had once been the foremost innovator of anti-Israeli terrorism but was now, in Mr. Rayyan’s view, indefensibly, unforgivably moderate.

In the Palestinian civil war, Fatah, which today controls much of the West Bank and is engaged in intermittent negotiations with Israel, had become Mr. Rayyan’s direst enemy, a party of apostates and quislings. “First we must deal with the Muslims who speak of a peace process and then we will deal with you,” he declared.

Read the rest. “All of it”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/opinion/14goldberg-1.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all.

The Oldest Hatred

Europe is convulsing with “anti-Semitic hatred and violence”:http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/anti-semitism-sweeps-europe-in-wake-of-gaza-operation/ again. I hardly even know what to say. Marty Peretz at The New Republic should be “required reading”:http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2009/01/11/reviving-the-oldest-hatred.aspx right now: “If you are not shocked by the replenishment of the oldest hatred you are shocked by nothing.”

Child Abuse in Gaza

This is horrendous:

YouTube Preview Image

Does “Black Hawk Down” Portray an American War Crime?

Jeffrey Goldberg and Mark Bowden “discuss the infamous battle in Mogadishu”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/at_least_nine_hundred_people.php where 24 American soldiers and 1,000 Somalis — 800 of them civilians — were killed in 24 hours.

Don’t Forget to Vote

Don’t forget to vote for me in the “2008 Weblog Awards”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. The Best Middle East or Africa Blog category only has two serious contenders left, and I’m one of them. You can vote every 24 hours, and it just takes a second. “Don’t let Juan Cole win”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/.

Hamas is Responsible

Steven Erlanger wrote “a revealing article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/world/middleeast/11hamas.html?ref=world in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.

“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’’tre is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.

Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides “a good summary explanation”:http://www.spj.org/gc-intro.asp that most of my colleagues should know well by now:

The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.

These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.

Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.

Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.

“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”

If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.

Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.

Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.

Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/50132.

Somebody Gets It

A Palestinian government official in the West Bank calls Hamas “a black and bloody militia” and “hopes to put its leaders on trial for war crimes”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1231424929296.

Publishing Schedule

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

YouTube Preview Image

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.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - blogs