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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, December 6.
1) Home on the op-ed page

Roger Cohen weighs in on the recently aborted Israeli campaign designed to encourage yordim (Israeli expatriates) to return to Israel in Come Home to Israel. Observing that PM Netanyahu quickly pulled the campaign when confronted by Israeli diplomats, Cohen wonders:
My second reaction is that if Netanyahu could show a fraction of the nimbleness evident when American Jews are offended in instances where Turks are offended (by the killing of their citizens in international waters), or where President Barack Obama is offended (by ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank against his express request), or where Egyptians are offended (by Israel’s dismissal of their democratic aspirations), then Israel would be in a better, less isolated place today.
Cohen's need to believe Israel is at fault is so strong he cites three examples which are true in the opinion pages of the New York Times, but not to those who are informed.

Claire Berlinski quoted an Israeli official on what prevented the agreement, which, according to a Turkish journalist was 95% complete. (h/t Elder of Ziyon):
Turkey, however, did not guarantee that "Turkish citizens and their legal representatives would not take legal action against Israel." It agreed to promise not to prosecute Israelis, but explained it could commit itself on behalf of private citizens in Turkey or abroad. This made some Israelis suspicious: what would happen if we endorsed the deal, and then had to face suits by members of the Turkish public, maybe even with covert assistance by the government? What guarantee did we have that the "deal" would actually end all claims and enable Israel and Turkey to reconcile and restart their relationship? This suspicion grew stronger in light of Turkey's insistence that the text should state that Israeli soldiers killed activists "intentionally." Why insist on this admission of guilt if not to enable legal action? As Gürsel himself says, this text which the Israeli government was supposed to approve was not completely agreed upon by Turkey, because they still wanted to include the intentionality wording. Even if the Israeli government had approved the draft, it would have left us with Turkish disavowal and discontent.
Another condition set forth by the Turks, and agreed to by Israel, was shelving the Palmer Report. Strange that Gürsel should say nothing of this, since he starts his discussion with the meaning of the Report to Turkey. The Turks were very keen on making the report disappear …
Finally, when it all came down to a discussion in the Israeli Cabinet, it wasn't just Lieberman who was reluctant to approve the whole package deal. Others, too, did not exactly trust Erdoğan, and raised doubts as to his real intentions: what would we get in return for the (indirect) apology, the compensations and the shelving of the report? Restoring ties with Ankara and an "end of conflict." But what if, after all was said and done, Erdoğan would claim that not all of his conditions were met? That Israel did not fulfill the requirements? All of a sudden, he speaks about lifting the siege on Gaza as a condition – but it was never mentioned in the negotiations nor in the draft! How easily it could have served as a pretext not to restore ties. And as for taking legal action against Israelis, well … With the intentionality clause still open, and with Turkey's non-commitment to stop private suits, and with the Palmer Report scrapped, where would it all lead us? Certainly not to an end of conflict, but rather to a further deterioration, with us in an inferior position.
In other words, Turkey was making last minute demands, something no rational negotiator would tolerate. The failure to come to an agreement was due to a last minute display of bad faith by Turkey, not to a lack of Israeli "nimbleness."

By the way, this account is consistent wit reporting in Cohen's paper, the New York Times. Back in August, Isabel Kershner reported:
The Israeli official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Turks kept adding conditions for a reconciliation, raising uncertainty in Mr. Netanyahu’s government over whether they were sincere and whether they would consider the case closed even if a deal were reached.
President Obama did indeed take offense at PM Netanyahu's actions, but Jackson Diehl shows that Netanyahu largely acquiesced to Obama's requests.
Though Netanyahu has recently allowed new settlement construction, it mostly has been in neighborhoods that Palestinian leders have already conceded will be part of Israel in a final settlement. This week he told his cabinet that West Bank outposts declared illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court would be uprooted.
In other words, Netanyahu has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner. He can be accused of moving too slowly and offering too little, but not of failing to heed American initiatives. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? For nine of the ten months of the Israeli settlement moratorium he refused Obama’s appeals to begin negotiations; after two meetings, he returned to his intransigence. Rejecting a personal appeal from Obama, he took his bid for statehood to the United Nations, where he may yet force the United States to use its Security Council veto.
Finally it's not at clear that Egyptians are resentful of Israel due to Israel's insufficient enthusiasm for Egypt's democratic aspirations. Seth Frantzman recently wrote that historically, this just isn't true. Israel, in fact, has hoped for Arab democracy.
However, the historical reality diverges greatly from these claims. In his excellent 2002 book, "David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel and the Arab World," Zakai Shalom shows that Israeli leadership in the early days of the state hoped that the Arab world would democratize. Ben-Gurion wrote in 1956 that "democratic government is not only government elections but government whose main concern is to provide for the people's basic needs. In nearly every one of the neighboring states a military dictatorship or juntas or federal government exists...The Egyptian people are in need of development, health and education. But a dictatorship that rules by military force, lacking the support and consent of the nation, cannot deal with these matters."
Ben-Gurion understood that Israel's most intractable enemies were the dictators, writing, "The King of Saudi Arabia declared his willingness to sacrifice ten million soldiers in the destruction of Israel. The Egyptian tyrant was somewhat more modest, he spoke of enlisting four million for this goal; for what are four million Egyptians in the eyes of this tyrant?"
Shalom writes that Ben-Gurion "rejected the claim that the absence of democracy in Arab countries should be considered as merely an ‘internal problem' of no import for Israel, for he believed that it held long-range implications for Arab foreign policy."
Israel's fear was not democracy, but that Islamists would take advantage of the vacuum of power, a fear, Barry Rubin notes, that has been realized.
Basically, nationalism has collapsed completely; liberalism is weak; moderate Muslims are few. Radical Islamism is the only game in town. Remember that. No alternative exists to an extremist, repressive, anti-Western, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian ideology. Thank you, President Obama and New York Times!
...the third largest party is the Egyptian bloc which consists mainly of the Free Egyptian Party along with smaller leftist and liberal parties and much of its vote comes from Christians, meaning that the proportion of Egyptian Muslims who voted for Islamist parties is even higher than it appears, say 80 percent by the end of the elections.
Where, you might ask, is the vaunted Facebook kids’ Justice Party and the supposed leader of the reformists, touted by the U.S. government as Egypt’s future leader, Muhammad ElBaradei? Answer: Nowhere.
On these three counts Cohen accepts the prevailing wisdom at the New York Times: Israel is at fault for its isolation. To be sure these pretexts allow Cohen (and his fellow travelers) to shed crocodile tears for the Israel he admires but no longer exists, but they are phony and easily refuted. Israel's nimbleness or lack of same is simply Cohen's excuse for bashing Israel.

While criticizing the ads, David Hazony writes that the reaction to the ads says more about the ads' and Israel's critics, than it says about Israel. I especially liked this:
Many American Jews have so little historical self-awareness, or cultural coherence, that they must express their outrage in places like the Atlantic and the Daily Beast, for fear that otherwise most Jews will not read them. What does that say about Jewish identity in America?
Related thoughts at Israel Matzav and Daled Amos.

2) Is Hezbollah strong or on the ropes?

Shoshana Bryen concludes in Lebanon: Hezbollah Digs In:
While the demise of the Assad regime in Syria would be a setback for the Islamic Republic – and is therefore much to be desired – nothing in Tehran's history indicates that it will allow its enormous investment in Hezbollah to dissipate at the same time. Underground, under cover, quiet and lethal, Hezbollah and its patron Iran are preparing for the next round – whether against Israel or against Lebanon.
Or both.
But Lee Smith recently wrote in Tablet, counter-intuitively, that Hezbollah is Fallible.
But the analysts have gotten it wrong on the bottom line. Though most experts and commentators are making this out to be bad for the CIA—and many current and former U.S. officials believe it is—it’s actually Hezbollah that comes out the big loser.
Hezbollah’s entire prestige is built on the idea that it is a highly disciplined organization that is nearly impossible to infiltrate. Indeed, Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah’s June speech announcing that Hezbollah had rolled up CIA assets was the party’s first public admission that it’d been compromised by hostile services. Hezbollah, said Nasrallah, had the “courage to confront the truth.”
The truth is that no matter how many American spies Hezbollah ultimately captured, being infiltrated by a hostile clandestine service is evidence of weakness. Moreover, as the Cold War showed, uncovering moles may result in tighter security measures, but the fact that they went unnoticed in the first place almost invariably demoralizes any organization built on loyalty and secrecy. In the 1960s and ’70s, paranoia crippled the CIA’s head of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, after he became convinced that the agency had been penetrated by Soviet agents. In Hezbollah’s case, the damage will likely be worse, because this incident exposes the utter falsehood of the party of God’s divinely fashioned self-mythology.
Elliot Abrams points to another weakness of Hezbollah that seems to have been exposed:
What happened to those fiery words of yesteryear? Simple: the Syrian uprising. Nasrallah and Hezbollah will be among the great losers if the Assad regime is toppled, along with Iran and of course the Assad clan itself. Without Syrian support and the use of Syria for storage and the delivery of weaponry from Iran, Hezbollah will be weaker.
To be sure Hezbollah has amassed a frightening arsenal as Bryen has documented, but is it possible that a combination of factors has made it politically vulnerable?

3) But they're doing such a good job of it themselves

Richard Baehr offered a thorough rebuttal of Steve Sheffey's Jerusalem Post column at Israel Hayom, How dare you be Jewish and not vote for Obama?
Baehr followed the column up with one criticizing the administration's recent missteps regarding Israel, Three slaps and you're out?
Sheffey termed the criticism of the Obama administration's Middle East policies to be "delegitimizing" the President. Really, given this past weekend's gaffes, there's no need for outsiders to "delegitimize" the President for his handling of Middle East policy, his own administration is doing such a good job of it, with no external help.
Barry Rubin presents a definitive critique of the adminstration's approach to the Middle East in Obama’s Middle East Policy: A Unified Field Theory.

4) The woman in the Cobra

Israel Hayom profiles Maj. Maya in This woman's army:
She finished high school when she was 16 years and eight months old, and went to work in a shoe store until she joined the army. “I never dreamed of being a pilot. You have to remember that in the 1990s, girls in the pilots’ course were nothing but a dream. The first call-up order came, they started the sorting process, and asked me whether I wanted to go to the pilots’ course. Working with the machines, flying in the air, sounded interesting to me. I sent in an application. I said, ‘I will move ahead, stage by stage, and see what happens.’”
Her mother says that she signed the permission form allowing her daughter to enter the course with a great deal of fear and weeping. “I am the only child of parents who survived the Holocaust. Maya is also an only child. I could not sleep at night after I signed the form. During the course, I hoped that she would fail. That she would do everything she could to succeed, but that she would fail.”
Three hundred cadets started the course: 290 men and ten women. “I never believed I would graduate at any stage. It was a difficult two-year course, with physical and mental challenges. You have to be naive to think that you will be the one standing on the parade ground at the end, getting your wings. The right technique is to think about the next stage, not about the end.”

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