Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler
Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, February 20.
1) The Push for Peace
Walter Russell Mead argues in As Israel goes deeper into Syria and Opportunity for Obama arises:
With Al-Qaeda linked jihadis in the opposition, and Iran and
Hezbollah supporting the government, Israel has much to fear and little
to hope as the Syria war grinds on. In some ways, Syria is turning into
Israel’s ultimate nightmare: WMDs, terrorists and arch-enemy Iran are
all mixed up in it together, and there is not much Israel can do to
Coming from a different direction, Daniel Freedman writes in Pushing for peace in the Middle East (h/t In Context):
President Obama now holds more cards than any American President in a
long time: between the nightmare in Syria and the threat in Iran, Israel
has never needed support from allies more than it does now. Some
flexibility from Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians in exchange for
effective American support in these scary times is the kind of bargain
Israeli and U.S. diplomats should be looking at now. Much depends on
whether the Americans are willing to put enough real support on the
table and whether the Israelis on their side can find a way to make
concessions on the West Bank that give the U.S. President an incentive
The balance of power in U.S.-Israeli relations is a funny thing.
Generally, U.S. presidents can’t twist Israel’s arm very hard because
Congress will limit an administration’s effort to cut Israel’s aid or
otherwise impose sanctions on it. (For the conspiracy theorists among
us, and they are rife on this subject, pro-Israel sentiment in Congress
overwhelmingly reflects non-Jewish public opinion rather than “Jewish
lobby” power.) On the other hand, while Israel’s American supporters can
often block presidential action against the Jewish state, the nature of
the American constitutional system means that Congress can’t easily
force presidents to take positive action on Israel’s behalf. Right now,
that gives President Obama the upper hand. Prime Minister Netanyahu
needs help with Syria and he needs help with Iran, and only President
Obama can deliver that help. Given the gravity of the situations in
Syria and Iran, Israel’s prime minister can probably sell West Bank
concessions to security minded voters as a bitter pill that must be
swallowed to get the Americans on board.
This brings us back to Kerry’s declaration: One of the difficulties
for those looking to maneuver Hamas into accommodation with Israel has
been Iran’s patronage of Hamas. Iran had no interest in the group being
anything other than leverage it could use against the West.
In the former case, Mead argues that the United States is uniquely
positions to exert influence over Israel to pressure it into making
peace; in the latter, Freedman argues that sympathetic Islamist
governments will press Hamas to make peace with Israel. But is leverage
in either really going to make a difference? Even if the leverage
outlined in these articles can be used as described, there's still one
thing missing: Mahmoud Abbas.
Today is different because unlike Iran, Hamas’ new patrons — Turkey,
Egypt and Qatar — are in fact U.S. allies, with many shared interests.
Turkey is a fellow NATO member, Qatar hosts U.S. Central Command in the
region and the U.S. has substantial economic, military and diplomatic
ties with Egypt.
They also all have incentives to play the mature peacemaker. Egypt needs
to calm Western fears about the Muslim Brotherhood; Turkey needs to
show that resuming its regional leadership role isn’t a threat to
historical rivals; and Qatar’s efforts to sell itself as a positive
force in the region and attract the West’s top universities and
companies will only be helped by pushing peace.
In What is really blocking the peace process? Khaled Abu Toameh writes:
Even if Mahmoud Abbas agrees to return to the negotiating table with
Israel, it is obvious that any agreement he reaches will be
automatically rejected by the radicals.
It seems that whenever there's a change in the Middle East it elicits
more calls for a renewed peace process. At this point, it isn't clear
that the Palestinians want a final agreement, so really there's nothing
Israel can do whether or not it is pressured that will bring peace. Nor
will pressure on Hamas somehow make peace more likely.
The radicals in this instance are not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
There are also radicals within Abbas's Fatah faction -- in addition to
non-Islamist terror groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The best Obama and Israel can hope for is some kind of an interim
agreement with Abbas, who knows that he does not even have a mandate
from his people to make concessions to Israel: his term in office
expired in 2009.
(To his credit, Freedman responded to me on Twitter, though I didn't find his responses convincing.)
2) More on Prisoner X
In her initial report on Prisoner X, Ben Zygier, New York Times
correspondent, Jodi Rudoren gave significant attention to the charge
that Zygier had been arrested and held secretly in Israel. It turns out that it wasn't true that he "disappeared."
Two subsequent articles on the case, though are reported straightforwardly. Netanyahu defends handling of Prisoner X reports:
“We are not like other countries,” Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet, in
his first public comments on the case of Prisoner X, which made
headlines on at least three continents last week. “We are an exemplary
democracy and maintain the rights of those under investigation,” he
said. “However, we are more threatened and face more challenges;
therefore, we must maintain proper activity of our security agencies.”
A later article, Israel Releases Part of Report on Prisoner X’s Death reports:
In the face of growing calls from politicians and the public for
investigations into the prisoner’s death and a court order that barred
the local news media from reporting about it for more than two years,
the prime minister said, “Let the security forces do their work quietly
so that we can continue to live in security and tranquillity in the
state of Israel.”
Prisoner X, the subject of Israeli news reports in 2010 that were
quashed by the broad court order, was identified by an Australian
television report last week as Ben Zygier, a 34-year-old lawyer and
father of two who grew up in the Melbourne area, immigrated to Israel as
a young man, served in the military and may have worked for the Mossad,
Israel’s intelligence agency. Arrested in February 2010, and held
pending trial on charges that have been described only as serious and
relating to national security, Mr. Zygier was considering a plea bargain
when he apparently hanged himself with a shirt in the bathroom of his
The judge who conducted the investigation concluded that Mr. Zygier’s
death was a suicide and was not “caused by a criminal act,” according
to the report. Still, it said, gaps in prison procedures created “a
suicidal window of opportunity” that demands further investigation into
possible negligence by the authorities, including “the higher echelons.”
Still reading these articles, it's hard to get a sense of what happened.
A former Mossad agent, Michael Ross wrote a couple of articles in the
Weekly Standard about the case.
“There was no disagreement that a willing act of the deceased is what
brought about his suicide,” wrote the judge, Daphna Blatman Kedrai. “But
the fact is that the mission of supervising the deceased according to
known orders was not carried out.” She added, “There is possible
evidence to the guilt of elements in the prison authority in causing the
In What happened to Prisoner X? Ross speculates:
It is speculation, but I suspect that ASIO approached Zygier during
this period and notified him that they had compelling evidence he was a
Mossad operative. From here on in, it could be that by using whatever
leverage at their disposal, ASIO “turned” Zygier and he essentially
became caught between the two services. Perhaps in return for not making
the story public, and as a means to protect his family, Zygier elected
to spy for Australia reporting on his activities within the Mossad. It
may also be conjectured that through some incident, his activities drew
the suspicion of the Mossad and his role as a “double” was revealed. It
would appear that whatever transpired was as much an embarrassment to
Australia as it was for Israel.
In a more recent article, Israel's media impugns motives of Prisoner X, Ross writes:
In a ham-handed display of armchair expertise consistent with
reporting on the Mossad, Haaretz's Amir Oren continues the paper's
tradition of getting it wrong in a disgraceful piece entitled, “A liar
or a blabbermouth? Ben Zygier was not suited to work for the Mossad.”
For starters, Oren doesn't get the terminology correct. Ben Zygier was
not an “agent” or a “fighter” but a “combatant,” and yes there is a
difference to the initiated. Nobody in the Mossad uses the term
“fighter” when discussing the combatant role. Agents, or sources, are
the people that Mossad collection officers (case officers) spot, assess,
develop, recruit, and handle to provide them with human source
intelligence. Combatants are members of an elite cadre of highly trained
deep cover operatives that conduct extremely sensitive and often highly
dangerous covert operations in the most hostile of milieus. Some of the
most successful collection officers and indeed, senior management in
the Mossad, are former combatants who like myself, joined Mossad HQ as
tenured officers. Other articles have described Zygier as a “support
operative.” He was nothing of the sort. He was at the very sharp end of
Mossad operations, and from what I am able to ascertain, had a far
riskier career than I did. It takes a staggering amount of arrogance to
state that Zygier—who operated in the hellholes of the Near East for
almost a decade—was not suited to work for the Mossad.
Ross's telling removes a lot of the sensationalism of the case. It would
appear that Zygier was the victim of bureaucratic infighting in
Australia and harsh treatment by Israel. But the malevolence imputed to
Israel that was part of the early reporting is gone.
Zygier would have undergone an extremely rigorous recruitment process
comprised of many different phases to test his mental and physical
suitability as well as his ability to keep his cool and function under
extremely stressful circumstances. After his recruitment, Zygier would
have completed a combatant's course (usually on his own facing any
number of nameless instructors constantly assessing his performance and
mental state while living in isolation) that is lengthy, difficult, and
has a high attrition rate. People are not graduated unless they make the
grade. Sweeping statements in Oren's article about the Mossad lowering
the bar because of Zygier's cultural background (read: Australian
upbringing) are both insulting and erroneous.
The only thing Oren has correct in his article is that whatever
transpired between the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and
the Mossad, there was no need to lock him up in solitary confinement.
If guilty, Zygier could have been quietly dismissed and sequestered to
one of the Mossad's many safe houses until the issue could be resolved
between services. ASIO's sister service, the Australian Secret
Intelligence Service, tasked with intelligence collection outside
Australia's borders (and close ally of the Mossad), must be very unhappy
with ASIO's decision to leak the Zygier affair to journalist Jason
Koutsoukis in some ill-conceived attempt to punish Israel over a few
passports. The resulting damage to the joint Iran issue can be nothing
less than catastrophic for everyone.
Labels: Barack Hussein Obama, Free Syrian Army, Middle East Media Sampler, Middle East peace process, Mossad, Soccer Dad, Syrian uprising