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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Moadim l'Simcha, a happy holiday to all of you.

For those who are wondering, the reason I am online tonight is because while the holiday has two days on which work is prohibited outside of Israel, for Israelis in Israel we only have one day on which work is prohibited. So we are allowed online tonight. For more on why that is so, go here.

Here is Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, October 12, which came in just as the holiday was starting.
1) Saving Sgt. Shalit

Yesterday PM Netanyahu announced that a deal had been reached to exchange Sgt Gilad Shalit (promoted from Corporal during his captivity) for over 1000 security prisoners. In announcing the deal PM Netanyahu said:
Today, I bring a proposal to the Government for a deal that will bring Gilad Shalit home alive and well; bring him home to his parents Aviva and Noam, his brother Yoel, his sister Hadas, his grandfather Zvi, and the entire people of Israel. Two and a half years ago, when the government was formed, I took upon myself, as my first priority, to bring Gilad home to his people, to his family - to bring him home safe and sound.
At the time, Gilad was already held in captivity for two and a half years, with no visits from the Red Cross, with no visits at all, and we did not know what state he was in. The first step I took, and we approved it here in the Government, was to get a video recording of Gilad, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it. We saw that he was functioning, physically, mentally and cognitively. We saw that he was functioning well. We knew that he was healthy and that he was alive. I regarded that tape as an insurance policy, because it obliged the Hamas before the international community to safeguard him, to keep him alive and maintain his health. But that was obviously only the first step. The most important mission that we had was more challenging - to actually bring Gilad home. To that end we held long and tough negotiations through the German mediator. These negotiations were based on a framework outlined by the previous government. They were long and exhausting and despite all our efforts, a deal was not reached.
This is significant in that it rebukes international humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross, for failing to make an issue of Shalit's captivity and forcing Hamas to allow visits. The New York Times reports in Israel Reaches Deal With Hamas to Free Gilad Shalit — (via memeorandum)
“With everything that is happening in Egypt and the region, I don’t know if the future would have allowed us to get a better deal — or any deal at all for that matter,” he said. “This is a window of opportunity that might have been missed.” An Israeli official said on Tuesday that Israel had sent a letter of apology to Egypt for the deaths of several of its troops by Israeli forces chasing Palestinian militants into Sinai in August. Many aspects of the agreement were not revealed, including the names of important Palestinian prisoners expected to be released. But Israeli journalists said after an intelligence briefing that Marwan Barghouti, a top leader of the Fatah group sentenced to five life terms and seen as a possible successor to Mr. Abbas, would not be freed. Mr. Meshal said that the total would be 1,027, among them 315 prisoners serving life sentences and 27 women.
This being the New York Times had to get in a word about peace talks:
Despite efforts to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there is little optimism regarding success. The prisoner exchange, assuming it is carried out, seems likely to increase the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians as well as that of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party in Israel, perhaps temporarily sidelining Mr. Abbas.
I don't believe that this was part of Netanyahu's calculations, but for Hamas I'm sure this was part of the reason they agreed to the deal. After Abbas had the world stage pushing for statehood, Hamas has taken back the limelight for now. Hamas also can claim success; Abbas can't. The implication that strengthening Likud hurts chances of peace is gratuitous. Further the story informs us:
For Palestinians, the plight of thousands of their sons in Israeli prisons has been equally traumatic, and the possibility of their release drew enormous attention.
Once upon a time many of the prisoners were arrested for supporting Fatah politically. Once the PLO was legalized was signed, Israel stopped arresting Palestinians for political activity. Those in jail are not there for some arbitrary reason but for terror related activities. Worse, this is terror that occurred after Oslo and Arafat's "solemn" promise never to resort to terror again. The equivalence here is offensive. Honest Reporting warned about how the media spin aspects of Shalit's release. Item #1 is Whitewashing the terror activities of the prisoners being released:
Some of the names we’ll see in the coming days are a rogues gallery of terror. Marwan Barghouti, for example, was convicted in a civilian court for his role in terror attacks that killed five people. Mona Awana befriended 16-year-old Ofir Rachum online and lured him to Ramallah, where he was executed by Awana’s friends in the Tanzim militia. Ahmed Sa’adat gave the order to assassinate Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi. Activism is practiced by activists and terrorism is practiced by terrorists. Which words will your newspaper use?
This equivalence is a variation on the whitewashing theme. Barry Rubin writes:
An interesting aspect of this development is the revelation that a key factor in the decision to end the counterattack on the Gaza Strip in early 2009, when Israel retaliated to Hamas breaking the ceasefire and launching an all-out attack, was a Hamas threat to kill Shalit if the offensive continued.
This would mean that Shalit was an insurance policy for Hamas. Why would they let him go now? Was Israel getting too close to the top leadership of Hamas in 2009? Does Hamas have some other insurance policy? Barry Rubin has more particulars about the prisoners. Is Israel confident that it can prevent similar kidnappings now? Prior to Operation Cast Lead, Israel struck at a smuggling tunnel.
The decision to take action to expose the tunnel west of the fence on the border of the Gaza Strip Tuesday night was justified and reasonable, even if it had been possible to predict the results: six Palestinians killed, heavy rocket fire on Sderot and a direct hit on the center of Ashkelon. It is hard to see what other choice Israeli leaders had. Such an operation may put the continued cease-fire in danger, but if Hamas had succeeded in its plans to abduct another Israel Defense Forces soldier using the tunnel, the situation would have been infinitely worse. At least Israel has learned the lesson of the Gilad Shalit abduction. In cases where the Shin Bet security service passes on specific information on a planned attack, a "ticking tunnel" as the IDF called it yesterday, a preventative operation is approved a few hundred meters inside Palestinian territory. Without such operations it would be very difficult to prevent another abduction.
I have no idea all the factors motivating Netanyahu, but though he has argued against trading for hostages, his career has been marked by making and supporting such deals. I don't believe this is a decision he made lightly.

2) Iran vs. U.S.?

ABC reports (more via memeorandum)
FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a "significant terrorist act in the United States" tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today. The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to the U.S. officials. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an announcement today that the plan was "conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran" by a faction of the government and called it a "flagrant" violation of U.S. and international law.
The New York Times raises some doubts:
Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian-American scholar who studies the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said he thought it unlikely that the plot was approved at a high level by Iranian officials. “It’s not typical of the Quds Force or the I.R.G.C. to operate in the U.S., for fear of retaliation,” Mr. Nafisi said. Iran’s last lethal operation on American soil, he said, was in 1980, when a critic of the Islamic government was murdered at his Bethesda, Md., home. Mr. Nafisi said it was conceivable that elements of the Revolutionary Guards might have concocted the plot without top-level approval, perhaps to prevent reconciliation between Iran and the United States. But Iran’s Islamic government has a long history of attempts to eliminate enemies living overseas, said Roya Hakakian, author of “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” a book on the murder of four Iranians in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. A German court found that the murders were approved at the highest levels of the Iranian government.
It's good that the Times mentioned that Iran hasn't always shown compunctions about operating in foreign countries. Still it's disappointing that the report takes a contrary approach. Is there any reason to question Iranian involvement? (Similarly ABC raises doubts that the drug gang would wish to invite retaliation from the United States.) But neither the New York Times nor ABC discuss the terror attack on Argentina's Jewish Center in 1994. Iran's current Defense Minister is implicated in that attack and was the source of a diplomatic incident between Bolivia and Argentina a few months ago:
Sources in Bolivia's government, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Vahidi left Bolivia late on Tuesday. Vahidi is among the senior Iranian officials accused by Argentine prosecutors of being behind the attack that leveled the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. Iran denies any links to the bombing. "Unfortunately (the Bolivian Defense Ministry) did not know about the background of the case," the letter said. Nor did the ministry coordinate the invitation with the rest of Bolivia's government, it said.
Vahidi's suffered no consequences, might that have emboldened him and his government?

3) Reconsidering

The past two days, I've expressed doubts about reports emphasizing the military council's responsibility for the anti-Copt violence in Egypt. I was wrong to do so. Raymond Ibrahim writes (h/t Lynn):
Meanwhile, the MSM avoids the most obvious aspect of the conflict: religion, as Muslims—yet again—mow down infidel minorities for all to see. While the military dictatorship cleanses Egypt of its Christian minority, the Egyptian media only depict images and "information" that comport with that agenda—all, of course, while naïve, gullible, or lazy Western reporters lap it up. State news, for example, asserted that armed Christians were on the offensive, killing three soldiers, injuring twenty, and burning state property—wanton lies, according to many eyewitnesses—yet perfectly in line with the MSM's obsession never to portray Muslims as aggressors. Accordingly, these distortions were unhesitatingly regurgitated by the MSM. The BBC's headline was "Egypt troops dead after Coptic church protest in Cairo" [since changed]—as if that was the relevant news; the report's opening sentence highlighted Christian protesters "clashing with security forces, with army vehicles burning outside the state television building," again, portraying the protesters as the aggressors.
I don't agree that the Western media has been whitewashing the military's involvement at all. However I believe that they are focusing on the military's culpability and ignoring the Islamic angle. Eric Trager writes:
Although al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, Egypt Freedom Party leader Amr Hamzawy, Social Democratic Party figure Mohamed Abul Ghar, and a representative of Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change have compared the SCAF, unfavorably, to the Mubarak regime, many key political players have sided with the military. Leading presidential candidate Amr Moussa, for instance, reportedly stressed the importance of "ruling with an iron fist in order to protect the country from looming chaos." Moussa'a pro-SCAF stance has been echoed resoundingly by Islamist leaders. Former Muslim Brotherhood leader and current presidential candidate Abdel Monem Abouel-Fetouh cited the clashes as advancing "foreign and Zionist aims." Another Islamist presidential candidate, Selim al-Awa, blamed foreigners for the attacks, claiming the United States was seeking a pretext to intervene militarily in Egypt to protect Christian houses of worship. Such reactions by Islamists suggest they remain firmly aligned with the SCAF, even despite recent disagreements regarding the timing of elections and the drafting of supraconstitutional principles. While distrust between Islamists and the military undoubtedly remains, the Islamists continue to view the SCAF -- and the limited stability that it provides -- as their best means for achieving maximal influence in post-Mubarak Egypt. Liberal and leftist leaders, by contrast, increasingly view the SCAF as the primary cause of the country's political uncertainty and continuing instability.
This is the dynamic absent from the MSM's reporting. The New York Times took pains the other day to portray the violence as the regime against Copts and righteous Muslims. In reality the military council is fomenting violence against the Copts, but they have the full support of the Islamists.

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