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.

Vote for Me in the 2008 Weblog Awards

I have been nominated for a 2008 Weblog Award in the Best Middle East or Africa Blog category. “Please go over there and vote for me”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. I’m behind in the polls right now because, unlike the other nominees, I haven’t sent my readers over there yet.

And please stay tuned for more coverage from the Middle East. Many long dispatches are forthcoming, as are more shorter analysis pieces.

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No Way Out?

The Middle East can look somewhat normal on the surface to first-time visitors, but it’s mind-bogglingly dysfunctional, and it is obviously so to anyone who has spent even a couple of months in the region. (It is also obvious to some people who know almost nothing at all about that part of the world.) Sometimes, especially when I’m in Iraq, I think the problems there are simply bottomless and that a solution does not exist. President Bush couldn’t fix it. President Obama will not fix it either. If you don’t believe me — wait.

It’s hard for many naturally optimistic Americans to believe this, but sometimes I fear it is true. Time and experience has done that to me. The Middle East just grinds people down. Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad — these are not places you want to spend too much time if you have faith in the human race and linear progress.

I hope I am wrong, but I won’t be proven wrong in the short term.

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlanic is feeling this “much more intensely than I am right now”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/why_im_not_blogging_more_about.php.

I have friends in Gaza about whom I worry a great deal; I’ve seen many people killed in Gaza; I’ve served in the Israeli Army in Gaza; I’ve been kidnapped in Gaza; I’ve reported for years from Gaza; I hope my former army doesn’t kill the wrong people in Gaza; I hope Israeli soldiers all leave Gaza alive; I know they’ll be back in Gaza; I think this operation will work; and I have no actual hope that it will work for very long, because nothing works for very long in the Middle East. Gaza is where dreams of reconciliation go to die. Gaza is where the dream of Palestinian statehood goes to die; Gaza is where the Zionist dream might yet die. Or, more to the point, might be murdered. I’m not a J Street moral-equivalence sort of guy. Yes, Israel makes constant mistakes, which I note rather frequently, but this conflict reminds me once again that Israel is up against an implacable force, namely, an interpretation of Islam that disallows the idea of Jewish national equality.

My paralysis isn’t an analytical paralysis. It’s the paralysis that comes from thinking that maybe there’s no way out. Not out of Gaza, out of the whole thing.

On the Air with Lars

I’m going to be on the air “with Lars Larson at 3:20pm Pacific time today”:http://www.larslarson.com/ if you want to listen.

UPDATE: You can listen to an archived version of the program after 7:30pm Pacific time “here”:http://www.larslarson.com/show?action=viewRadioShow&showID=732.

The Israeli Way of War

Two years ago “I interviewed Yaacov Lozowick”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2006/09/getting-lebanon-wrong.php, then-chief archivist at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and he characterized Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon as stupid and indefensible. I agreed with him at the time, and I still do, as least about that war being stupid. (I do not believe Israel has no right to hit back at Hezbollah.)

Despite Lozowick’s criticism of the 2006 war, he is hardly a pacifist or an Israel-hater. He’s the author, after all, of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel’s Wars.

If you’re following the current war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, you might want to “bookmark his site”:http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2009/01/waging-war-israeli-way.html where you can read short sharp analysis like the following:

In the week of air-attacks, the IDF proved it had excellent intelligence, and in many cases targets hit from the air kept on exploding for a number of minutes after they were hit, as the ordinance stored there exploded. More significant, the IDF has figured out how to separate the civilians from the weapons: call the neighbors and give them ten minutes warning. The numbers prove how efficient this has been: prior to the ground invasion, more than 600 targets had been destroyed, fewer than 500 Palestinians killed, and fewer than 100 of those were civilians even by Palestinian and UN reckoning. Of course, there remain the pictures of civilians surrounded by devastation, but they’re alive, and it wasn’t Israel that stacked bombs in their cellars. [Emphasis added.]

Think about those numbers. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the face of the earth. If Israeli Air Force pilots were trying to kill civilians — if they were the war criminals they’re accused of being all over the world — they’d kill a lot more than 0.8 people per air strike.

Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict

While much of the world engages in hand-wringing, placard-waving, teeth-gnashing, and rocket-launching over Israel’s “disproportionate” response to Hamas attacks from Gaza, it’s worth looking at what the doctrines of “proportionality” actually say.

Making the rounds is a two-year old quote from “Lionel Beehner’s paper”:http://www.cfr.org/publication/11115/israel_and_the_doctrine_of_proportionality.html#2 for the Council on Foreign Relations in which he summarizes the principle of proportionality as laid out by the 1907 Hague Conventions. “According to the doctrine, a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante.”

The precise wording of the doctrine can be found in Article 51, not Article 49 as Beehner writes, of the “Draft Articles of the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts”:http://www.ilsa.org/jessup/jessup06/basicmats2/DASR.pdf. “Countermeasures must be commensurate with the injury suffered, taking into account the gravity of the internationally wrongful act and the rights in question.”

This is vague and open to interpretation, as Beehner admits. And it’s further complicated by the fact that the doctrine was laid out at a time when war was fought between sovereign states with standing armies rather than asymmetrically between a sovereign state and a terrorist gang.

Proportion, as defined by Beehner and the Hague Conventions, is impossible between Israel and Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces are more professional, competent and technologically advanced than Hamas and will inflict greater damage as a matter of course. And Hamas’s war aim is entirely out of proportion to Israel’s. Israel wants to halt the incoming rocket fire, while “Hamas seeks the destruction or evacuation of Israel”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/nizar_rayyan_of_hamas_on_gods.php.

Beehner’s proportionality doctrine is therefore unhelpful. Each side’s ends and means are disproportionate to the other. And nowhere in that doctrine are casualty figures or the intent of the warring parties factored in.

In any case, no war has ever been fought tit for tat, and the Hague Conventions doesn’t say any war should be. The American response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor went well beyond sinking an equal number of ships in a Japanese harbor, for instance. And European Jews certainly were not entitled to execute six million German civilians after the Holocaust.

The proportionality doctrine spelled out here is really only useful up to a point. “It’s always a subjective test,” Beehner correctly quotes Vanderbilt University Professor Michael Newton as saying. “But if someone punches you in the nose, you don’t burn their house down.” That much most of us can agree on. Israel should not — and will not — implement a Dresden-style fire-bombing of Gaza City in response to Qassam and Grad rocket attacks.

So aside from the obvious, we’re wading into murky territory that could be debated forever. Another doctrine of proportionality, though, clearly applies to this war, and it’s found in the “Law of Armed Conflict”:http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/wars/a/loac.htm.

The Law of Armed Conflict “arises from a desire among civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction while not impeding the effective waging of war. A part of public international law, LOAC regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. It also aims to protect civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked.”

Proportionality, in short and “according to the law”:http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/wars/a/loac_2.htm, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”

In other words, if a surgical strike is all that is needed to take out a Grad rocket launcher, carpet bombing the entire city or even the neighborhood isn’t allowed.

Hamas is still firing rockets; therefore, the IDF is not using more force than necessary to disrupt the firing of rockets. Israel, arguably, is using less force than necessary. And the IDF, unlike Hamas, does what it can to minimize injury to civilians. “Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas,” “the Associated Press reported last week”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081227/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_palestinians. “Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.” Israeli commanders are even warning individual Hamas leaders that their homes are on the target list so they can vacate the premises in advance.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48801.

What Would a Proportionate Response Look Like?

“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.” — President-elect Barack Obama

Now that Hamas’s long war against Israel is matched with a short war in Gaza, protests are erupting everywhere from the blogosphere and Arab capitals to the United Nations, and they began on the very first day. Salon.com “blogger “Glenn Greenwald”:http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/12/28/peretz/index.html calls the Israeli retaliation to more than a year of rocket attacks a “massively disproportionate response.” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “Navi Pillay”:http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/middleeast/news/article_1450541.php/LEADALL_Violence_death_toll_escalate_in_Israel-Gaza_conflict_ “strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force.” The Israeli counterattack is, indeed, disproportionate, but it could hardly be otherwise. “At last count,” “J.G. Thayer wrote”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/thayer/48162, “one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.”

There were, I suppose, other “proportionate” responses available aside from killing one Palestinian and two Israelis. The Israel Defense Forces might have launched thousands of air strikes against targets in Gaza to match the thousands of Qassam rockets fired at the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. It’s unlikely, however, that this is what Israel’s critics have in mind.

So what do they have in mind? What would a legitimate and “proportionate” response actually look like? Surely they don’t believe Israel should scrap its sophisticated weapons systems, build Qassam rockets, and launch those at Gaza instead.

The “disproportionate response” crowd doesn’t seem to mind that Israel struck back at Hamas per se. They aren’t saying Israel should only be allowed to negotiate with its enemies or that any use of force whatsoever is wrong. They’re clearly saying Israel should use less force, inflict less damage, or both.

One problem here is that it’s not at all clear how they think Israelis should go about doing it. The weapons used by each side can’t be the same. No one has ever said Israel ought to put its superior weapons systems in cold storage until Hamas can develop or purchase something similar. Presumably Israel is allowed to use its superior technology as long as the casualty count on each side is proportionate.

But how would that work in practice? A single Israeli air strike is going to kill at least as many people as Hamas can kill in twelve months. Does that mean Israel should be given a “license” of one air strike per year to use in the war? If IDF commanders want to take out a target where they expect five Hamas leaders or fighters to be killed, do they have to wait until five Israelis are killed first? If the Israelis endure rocket fire until one civilian is killed, do they get a “kill one Palestinian terrorist” coupon?

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48542.

Home Again, At Last

by Michael J. Totten

I just returned home after spending three weeks in Iraq, two weeks in Lebanon, and one week in transit hell on my way home thanks to a labor strike at the airport in Rome. The behavior of the staff at Italy’s Alitalia airline — management and worker alike — shocked and appalled me. At this point I would rather go back to Iraq than to Italy, and I am not joking. I’m going to write about what happened, partly to blow off some steam, and also to warn you to stay the hell away from that airline at all costs. Alitalia delenda est.

Thanks to Charles Chuman for helping me out on the blog while I was away. Now that I’m back and can write full time, we’ll go back to the regular publishing schedule. Stay tuned for dispatches and analysis from Iraq, Lebanon, and…Italy.

Inside Israel’s Gaza Attack

by Charles Chuman

If there was ever any doubt, the Israeli plan to attack Gaza was formulated long ago. As I noted in the “previous post”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2008/12/why-gaza-why-no.php, the Israelis had a long list of targets gathered through months of intelligence gathering.

Ha’aretz “explains”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050426.html some key components leading up to the attacks.

One striking fact now revealed is that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to Cairo to personally inform the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about Israel’s plans.

Hamas was ready for an Israeli attack after the Israeli cabinet meeting, but a strategic Israeli disinformation campaign lured Hamas into a vulnerable position: “”Hamas evacuated all its headquarter personnel after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday,” one defense official said, “but the organization sent its people back in when they heard that everything was put on hold until Sunday.”

The article claims:

bq. Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public – all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces “Cast Lead” operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

bq. The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

bq. Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well.

bq. Barak gave orders to carry out a comprehensive intelligence-gathering drive which sought to map out Hamas’ security infrastructure, along with that of other militant organizations operating in the Strip.

Why Gaza? Why Now?

By Charles Chuman

The Israeli attacks on Gaza took the world by surprise. Why? Why now? And is it surprising?

A common response about the reason for the current military action is that “the Israelis are tired of daily qassam attacks against Sderot and Ashkelon and require their government do something.”

This simplistic explanation answers the “why?” but not “why now?” When confronted with the further evidence that Israel has sustained barrages of up to 60 qassams a day for years, this explanation makes Israel’s attacks (or counter-attacks) seem even more surprising and disproportionate. It leaves observers confused.

Why did Israel suddenly launch this attack? Why so massive? Why doesn’t Israel target the individual qassam launchers, or mount smaller, more frequent operations? There is no pattern. That might be the point, but it partially explains the shocked reactions.

**It’s All About Politics**

Others, like “Katya Adler”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7801657.stm of the BBC, believe that the Israelis mounted the attack for political reasons. According to this thesis, the Israelis chose to act now because:

1. Israel holds elections in 2009. The winner of these elections will confront a number of existential questions about Israel’s existence: from the debate over Jewish communities in the West Bank, to the creation of a Palestinian state, to negotiations with the Syrians and the Arab League.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor see that Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud is significantly ahead in preliminary polls. However, many Israelis are still skeptical of Netanyahu and are concerned that Likud’s Knesset list is too far to right (see “Moshe Feiglin”:http://www.forward.com/articles/14760/).

The attacks on Gaza prove to the Israeli people that Kadima and Labor – the parties that failed to win the 2006 war – can still defend their country. Israelis do not need to compromise their social and existential beliefs in the name of defense.

2. US President George Bush has given Israel a free hand. President-elect Barack Obama is an unknown quantity, and it is widely assumed that he will be more critical of Israel. If Israel wants to launch a large-scale attack, the assumption is that it is best to do it now under Bush than to wait until Obama enters the White House.

The political explanation was my knee-jerk reaction; however, this explanation is also simplistic.

**Military Action**

The IDF released pre-attack aerial images of many of the destroyed sites. I have yet to see independent confirmation that these specific sites are actually what the IDF alleges, and that these were the sites destroyed. Regardless, the images show myriad alleged training camps, arms caches and military installations.

This list of targets most likely existed for a long time.

On December 20, 2008 Hamas “ended”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1048055.html the six month Egypt-brokered truce with Israel claiming that the Israeli blockade of Gaza broke the agreement. The Israelis allegedly wanted to extend the truce, and justified the blockade because of the ongoing qassam attacks that Hamas did not or could not stop.

When the cease-fire ended, the Israelis promised violence would result for obvious reasons: Hamas was re-declaring war. Hamas manifested little interest in negotiations and has shown no interest in returning Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier Hamas holds hostage since his capture in 2006.

As in 1967, the Israelis chose to act first before Hamas had a chance to launch an attack or kidnap another soldier.

Unlike 1967, Gaza is blockaded, semi-contained, and Hamas does not pose an immediate existential threat to Israel, as Egypt and Syria did. The attacks alienate Palestinian populations in the West Bank, provoked the ire of the Arab League, and have incensed international observers.

The death of 300 people and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people is tragic. However, I am at a loss to see what other options are available to the Israeli political and defense establishments and to the Israeli voters in Sderot and Ashkelon.

Before these attacks, Gaza was a human rights disaster. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and attacks immediately began. The February 2007 Saudi-sponsored Mecca Agreement to bring Hamas and Fatah together after the Palestinian elections failed miserably when Hamas militarily took control of Gaza and forced Fatah out. Kidnapping skyrocketed. Churches were ransacked. Rocket attacks on Israel increased. The blockade was ineffective, and Hamas called off the ceasefire.

Israel’s response is destructive and asymmetric. That is the point. Israel is proving to Hamas that it is willing and able to mount a war, regardless of Arab and international opinion, if that is what Hamas desires. Hamas and Hezbollah taught Israelis that unilateral withdrawal from territory only prolongs the violence. If Israel’s enemies are willing to use violence, Israel has no qualms about using violence. If, like Syria, Israel’s enemies remain non-belligerent, those enemies can exist in perpetuity. In fact, Israel might even help its enemies achieve their goals, as it has done with the Syrian regime.

A critical re-think of the situation is imperative to end this cycle of violence. The state of Israel is predicated on survival, and it has powerful allies to assist it. The Palestinians need and deserve a state, but rejection of the state of Israel is not how that state and a future peace will occur.

International demonstrations on behalf of Palestinians or Israelis supporting human rights and rejecting violence are commendable as manifestations of humanitarian concern and expressions of free speech. However, ideologies and facts on the ground must change before a solution is found.

Political decisions undoubtedly played a part in the current attacks on Gaza, but this is part of an on-going war and cannot be viewed as a solitary act.

Suicide Bomber Targets Iraqi Gaza Protest

by Charles Chuman

The attack on Sunnis protesting the conflict in Gaza can only be understood through Iraqi sectarian violence. If that is not the explanation, “I have no idea what to make of this”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081228/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq.

The (Really) Moderate Muslims of Kosovo

by Michael J. Totten

Here’s a long piece I wrote some time ago for City Journal which is now available online for free. Hope you enjoy it.

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, becoming the newest country in the world—and one of the most unusual. Most of its citizens are Muslim, an oddity in Europe; further, unlike most Muslim-majority nations, Kosovo is overwhelmingly pro-American, and its relations with Israel are excellent as well. No Arab countries have recognized the new nation’s existence yet, and only Saudi Arabia has said that it will. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, since Kosovars differ more radically from their brothers in the Arab world than any other Islamic people on earth.

Most of this difference is probably news to distant observers. Kosovo lies in the former Yugoslavia on Europe’s Balkan peninsula, a distant corner of southeastern Europe where relatively few travelers venture. The fog of war never really lifted after the combatants’ guns fell silent in 1999. The grievances that animated the warring parties seemed inscrutable to many Westerners, who often didn’t understand why Western powers got involved in the first place. Yet despite their obscurity, Kosovars today stand as a rebuttal to the notion that Muslims will be forever shackled to authoritarian rule and wedded to war with the modern, pluralistic “Other.”

About 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million inhabitants are ethnic Albanians; 7 percent are Serbs. Of the Albanians, about 3 percent are Catholic, and all the rest are at least nominal Muslims; the Serbs, meanwhile, are all Orthodox Christians. Against this backdrop, many observers interpreted the Balkan wars that tore Yugoslavia to pieces during the 1990s as an inevitable resurgence of ancient hatreds in a post-Communist ideological vacuum.

But the truth was that Serbian nationalists, led by Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milošević, had deliberately crafted their own ethnic nationalism as an ideology to replace Communism, seeking to retain power and seize as much territory as possible as the Yugoslav federation unraveled. On June 29, 1989, just a few months before the Berlin Wall fell, Milošević delivered a thunderous speech to throngs of budding Serbian nationalists in the Kosovar village of Kosovo Polje. Exactly 600 years earlier, on the nearby Field of Blackbirds, the Turks had defeated Serbian ruler Tsar Lazar in an epic battle, ending the sovereignty of Serbia’s medieval kingdom and beginning its absorption into the Ottoman Empire. “No one will ever beat you again,” Milošević promised his audience.

Ethnic conflict was relatively new to the area. “There have been many battles and wars in Kosovo over the centuries,” historian Noel Malcolm writes in Kosovo: A Short History, “but until the last 100 years or so none of them had the character of an ‘ethnic’ conflict between Albanians and Serbs. Members of those two populations fought together as allies at the battle of Kosovo in 1389—indeed, they probably fought as allies on both sides of that battle.”

Nevertheless, Milošević used the ancient grievance, along with others both real and imagined, to kindle Serbian nationalism—“a totalitarian ideology,” as Serbian writer Filip David calls it. Three months after his speech at Kosovo Polje, Milošević revoked Kosovo’s political autonomy and imposed an apartheid-like system on its ethnic Albanian majority. There followed three wars in the breakaway republics of Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia, and then a fourth of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo at a time when the United States and NATO were in no mood to tolerate any more violent destabilization in Europe. NATO bombarded Yugoslav targets for two and a half months in 1999 until Milošević capitulated and relinquished control of Kosovo to NATO and Russia.

Though Albanian nationalism is less ideological than Serbian nationalism, it, too, can express itself through ugly outbursts of violence. After ethnic Albanian refugees returned to Kosovo under NATO protection in 1999, some lashed out at Serb civilians, houses, and Orthodox churches. Another wave of anti-Serb violence broke out in 2004, following rumors that Albanian children had drowned in the Ibar River after being chased off by Serbs.

But this violence, like the 1999 war, rose out of ethnic tensions, not religious ones. These were fights not between Muslims and Christians but between Albanians and Serbs—and though, again, most Albanians are Muslim and all Serbs are Orthodox Christian, the distinction is crucial. Kosovo’s Albanian Muslims and Albanian Catholics get along perfectly well with one another; in fact, during the war, they fought side by side. And in the later attacks, ethnic Albanian mobs burned Orthodox churches because they were Serb, not because they were Christian. Catholic churches weren’t touched—because their congregations were Albanian. (This isn’t a matter of anti-Orthodox sentiment among Muslims, either. Though no Albanian Orthodox Christians live in Kosovo, 20 percent of the population in Albania itself is Albanian Orthodox, and relations between them and the Albanian Muslim majority are perfectly fine.)

Some observers, especially in Serbia, have blamed the violence in 1999 and 2004 on Islamist jihadists. Those who live and work in Kosovo, and who are charged with keeping the peace, dismiss the allegation. “We’ve been here for so long and not seen any evidence of it that we’ve reached the assumption that it is not a viable threat,” says Zachary Gore, a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in eastern Kosovo.

Kosovo’s brand of Islam may be the most liberal in the world. I saw no more women there wearing conservative Islamic clothing—one or two per day at most—than I’ve seen in Manhattan. There is no gender apartheid even in Kosovo’s villages. Alcohol flows freely in restaurants, cafés, and bars, where you’ll see as many young women in sexy outfits as you’d find in any Western European country. Aside from the minarets on the skyline, there is no visible evidence that Kosovo is a Muslim-majority country at all.

“Read the rest in City Journal”:http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_4_kosovo_muslims.html.

Russia to Provide Lebanon with 10 MIG-29s

by Charles Chuman

The _New York Times_’ Bobby Worth “reports”:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/18/world/middleeast/18lebanon.html?_r=1 on the possibility of Lebanon receiving 10 MIG-29s from Russia.

These planes could easily attack targets in Lebanon or Syria, but are vulnerable against the Israelis.

The Lebanese Armed Forces will now have pieces of military equipment more powerful than anything Hezbollah has.

The MIGs will not be a significant threat to Israel. Expert concern and consternation from the US and Israelis about this acquisition, but the most significant implications are likely domestic.


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