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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Sunday, October 16.
1) Closer to free

In 2003 Thomas Friedman wrote The Reality Principle which began:
Have you noticed how often Israel kills a Hamas activist and the victim is described by Israelis as ''a senior Hamas official'' or a ''key operative''? This has led me to wonder: How many senior Hamas officials could there be? We're not talking about I.B.M. here. We're talking about a ragtag terrorist group. By now Israel should have killed off the entire Hamas leadership twice. Unless what is happening is something else, something I call Palestinian math: Israel kills one Hamas operative and three others volunteer to take his place, in which case what Israel is doing is actually self-destructive.
Four years later Elder of Ziyon celebrated a great anniversary:
In the three years prior to Yassin's death, approximately 800 Israelis were killed in terror actions. In the three years since, that number has plummeted to about 110.
And in 2001 Daniel Pipes wrote Arafat's Suicide Factory:
Convincing healthy individuals to blow themselves up is obviously not easy, but requires ideas and institutions. The process begins with the Palestinian Authority (PA) inculcating two things into its population, starting with the children: a hatred of Jews and a love of death. School curricula, camp activities, TV programming and religious indoctrination all portray Israelis in a Nazi-style way, as sub-human being worthy of killing; and then deprecate the instinct for self-preservation, telling impressionable young people that sacrificing their lives is the most noble of all goals.
Putting the arguments of Pipes and EoZ together, we can conclude that certain individuals are skilled at organizing terror and recruiting terrorists. Not all "senior members" of Hamas have the same skills. Those like Yassin (or his short lived successor Rantisi) had charisma and excellent recruiting skills. Had Israel abided by Friedman's "reality" principle they would have left them alone. Experience shows that Israel acted properly in self defense. I believe that this is what Israel was referring to by "symbols." (h/t Meryl)
The main breakthrough came in July. After five years of negotiations, Hamas forwarded a letter to Israel in which, for the first time, it outlined its final terms for a prisoner swap for Gilad Schalit. Three months earlier, David Meidan, a former senior Mossad operative, had been appointed chief mediator to the Schalit talks by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Upon receiving the letter, he immediately got to work. The first indication that Hamas was willing to ease up its demands came fairly quickly. After studying the letter and seeing the names of Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti, PFLP chief Ahmed Sadat and some top Hamas terrorists, Meidan immediately made clear that these people – the so-called “symbols” of Palestinian terror – would not be released. Surprisingly, Hamas did not say no.
This background is interesting also, because it appears that it was Hamas that wanted to deal. Why would that be? Last week the Christian Science Monitor reported Hamas popularity hits a new low after opposing UN statehood bid (h/t Honest Reporting)
Of the many complaints in Gaza, one has become a popular refrain: the increasing taxes levied by Hamas. Fathi Abu Gamar, a gas station owner in Jabaliya refugee camp, readily joins the chorus: The Islamist movement that rules this tiny coastal territory takes more than half his revenue from gas sales, he says, leaving him with a tiny profit. But he quickly becomes quiet when a man, whom neighbors identify as a Hamas informer, begins hovering nearby, listening intently. Above him, the green flags of Hamas flutter in the strong sea breeze. Like Hamas's popularity, they are faded and tattered. Hamas has been steadily losing support among Gaza's 1.6 million residents after winning elections in 2006 and violently ousting its secular rival, Fatah, the following year.
Already in July, when the contact about these negotiations was reportedly made, the PA efforts at getting their statehood bid at the UN was getting attention as a result Hamas was largely out of the news. With increasing friction with the population in Gaza as the CSM noted later:
A joke circulating the territory posits that the reason Hamas's armed wing, Al Qassam Brigades, has stopped firing rockets at Israel is that the fighters' jeeps lack air conditioning. Residents tell stories of Hamas officials who used to drive modest cars now sporting luxury vehicles, and Gazans like Mr. Gamar, the gas station owner, complain the government is reaching into their pockets in every way it can.
getting prisoners released, would make Hamas relevant, especially if Abbas's efforts were vetoed:
But the decision wasn't made only out of anger. Many Gazans see reconciliation as the real battleground and say Hamas made a tactical decision, calculating that if Abbas came back without UN recognition, Hamas's position in reconciliation negotiations would be stronger. That would give it more leverage on issues that are still to be decided, such as whether its armed wing would be forced to turn in its weapons.
It appears that Hamas settled for somewhat less than it might have otherwise demanded, for its own political calculations, which isn't making everyone happy. (h/t Meryl)
Palestinian sources told the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Hamas officials were shocked that senior operatives in the organization's military wing, including Hassan Salama, Abdullah Barghouti, Abbas a-Sayed and Ibrahim Hamed will not be among the released. The sources said that several senior operatives have cancelled their speeches on the matter, and a joint press conference that was supposed to be held by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committee on Wednesday was called off.
2) Don't let her go

If planners and organizers of terror attacks - as opposed to the perpetrators - ought not to be released, the Roth family makes a convincing case that Sbarro planner, Ahlam Tamimi ought not to be included in the scheduled release.
After all, several months ago my husband and I sent him a letter detailing the crimes of which Tamimi was convicted and pleading with him to refuse to release her.

In that letter, we reminded him that she is generally described mistakenly as the “driver” or “helper”. We noted that she was actually the planner and engineer of the attack. She personally transported the 10 kg bomb concealed in a guitar case in a taxi from Ramallah to Jerusalem, met up with Al Masri, the suicide bomber, and handed him the case.

The two then walked together, disguised as tourists, to the center of the city. They stopped at the target Tamimi had selected. She instructed Al Masri to wait fifteen minutes before detonating the explosives. She wanted him to give her enough time to escape the scene safely, she explained later.
3) What was he thinking?

The other day PM Netanyahu said the following, regarding the deal with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit:
Mr. Netanyahu, whose cabinet voted 26 to 3 in favor of the prisoner swap, said he felt it important to move on the deal now, given what he called the “storms” in the Middle East. “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.”
In truth we won't know all of Netanyahu's calculations. As noted above it appears that Hamas had a reason for making the deal. Netanyahu likely benefits politically. The Jerusalem Post report cited above makes another observation:
The same week that the letter was sent by Hamas, the Egyptian mediator – a deputy of Intelligence Minister Murad Muwafi – renewed his activity. In Israel, Cairo’s renewed interest in the Schalit issue was understood as a result of a number of elements. First, the interim military-run government in Egypt wanted to show the world that while the country appears to be in disarray and on the verge of governmental collapse, this is not the case. Instead, by mediating the Schalit deal, Egypt was able to show that it still is a player with major regional influence. The second reason is more internal and has to do with Egypt’s concern with Hamas, but even more so with its founding father – the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is expected to gain significant political power in the upcoming elections. By striking a deal with Hamas, Egypt gains some political influence over what happens in the Gaza Strip.
I wonder if there's another side to this. Might Netanyahu have thought that an opportunity to let Egypt's interim government show that it is not powerless help him dealing with a country that is likely to be more outwardly hostile to Israel in the near future? Note the following story from today. (h/t The Israel Project)
Egypt intercepted Libyan surface-to-air missiles bound for Gaza, according to media reports over the weekend. Cairo arrested five smuggling cells over the last few months as they were ferrying the weapons towards Gaza. The reports suggested Gaza-based terrorists struck a deal for the weapons with Libyan contacts.
Like I wrote, we won't know all the considerations that went into this decision. Some aspects are troubling: the freeing of terrorists and strengthening Hamas. Others such as keeping a working relationship with Egypt seem to work towards Israel's benefit.

4) The advantage of having a historian as an ambassador

There's a brilliant op-ed by Ambassador Michael Oren in the Washington Post, Israel does not stand alone
Isolation, of course, is not automatically symptomatic of bad policies. Britain was isolated fighting the Nazis at the start of World War II. Union forces were isolated early in the Civil War, as was the Continental Army at Valley Forge. “It is better to be alone than in bad company,” wrote the young George Washington. That maxim is especially apt for the Middle East today, where one of the least-isolated states, backed by both Iran and Iraq and effectively immune to United Nations sanctions, is Syria.
Israel, in fact, is significantly less isolated than at many times in its history. Before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel faced a belligerent Egypt and Jordan and a hostile Soviet bloc, Greece, India and China — all without strategic ties with the United States. Today, Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan; excellent relations with the nations of Eastern Europe as well as Greece, India and China; and an unbreakable alliance with America. Many democracies, including Canada, Italy and the Czech Republic, stand staunchly with us. Israel has more legations abroad than ever before and recently joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which comprises the most globally integrated countries. Indeed, Egypt and Germany mediated the upcoming release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held hostage by Hamas for five years. Israel is not responsible for the upheavals in the Arab world or for the lack of freedom that triggered them. Israelis did not elect Turkey’s Islamic-minded government or urge Syria’s army to fire on its citizens. Conversely, no change in Israeli policies can alter the historic processes transforming the region. Still, some commentators claim that, by refusing to freeze settlement construction on the West Bank and insisting on defensible borders and security guarantees, Israel isolates itself.
This goes against the vast majority of New York Times op-eds and editorials over the past few weeks, which portrays Israeli isolation as a fault of Israel. Ambassador Oren then lays blame at the feet of PA President Abbas (and implicitly at the New York Times for publishing him):
As Abbas wrote in the New York Times in May, the Palestinian attempt to declare a state without making peace with Israel was about “internationalization of the conflict . . . to pursue claims against Israel” in the United Nations, not about settlements.
Related thoughts from Israel Matzav.

5) Two about Israel and Shalit

Ethan Bronner has two articles about how Israel relates to the hopefully impending release of Gilad Shalit. One is a general article A Yearning for Solidarity Complicates Public Life, Israelis Say:
In trying to understand why Israel is scheduled to start trading more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday for the return of just one Israeli soldier held by Hamas for the past five years, it is worth recalling that within Israel, certainly within its Jewish majority, the notion of a stranger is remote. When Israelis say they view the seized soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, as their own son, they mean it. It is the melding of private and public spheres, the unwillingness to distinguish between what is good for the state and what is good for the individual that is seen by many here as Israel’s greatest strength — but by others as its greatest weakness.
While the first part of the article is a pretty fair assessment of Israeli society, I was less pleased by the second part, which associated the protests for Sgt. Shalit's release with the tent protests of this past summer. (The tent protests largely propelled by the left-wing NIF, seem closer to the current union supported "Occupy Wall Street" protests in the U.S.) Bronner, interestingly quotes Israeli columnist, Nahum Barnea as approving the deal. Yedioth Ahronot has not (yet) published that column on the Ynet website. While searching for the article I found a two year old article by Barnea that seemed to go in the other direction.
The unwritten contract between a State and its troops says that the soldier pledges to risk his life for it, and that the State pledges not to risk his life in vain and do everything possible to free him from captivity. The contract does not say this should be done “at all costs.” And it also doesn’t say something else: That a soldier is a child, a helpless creature, and that safeguarding his life is the essence and is more important than the military mission and the lives of the civilians the soldier is supposed to defend. The State is always bad. The soldier is always a victim. These are new insights that stem from unhealthy processes Israeli society has undergone in recent years. They constitute the crossing of a red line.
The other article, was much better, focused mainly on two families, the Roths and the Waxmans, In Israel, Swap Touches Old Wounds (h/t Lynn):
“This deal is a disaster,” he said of the exchange for the Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, as he sat with his wife, Frimet, on the balcony of their Jerusalem apartment. “Some of these people will go back to murdering. They pose an existential threat to all of us.” Blocks away, Esther and Yehuda Wachsman were absorbing similar news — that a man who took part in murdering their son, Nachshon, in 1994 was to be freed for Sergeant Shalit. By cruel coincidence, it was the anniversary of the killing — Oct. 14. But Mrs. Wachsman had a different response. “I’m willing to pay the price for another woman’s son to come home and end the agony,” Mrs. Wachsman said, sitting near a corner of her living room devoted to Nachshon’s memory. “Our hurt will never go away, but I just hope and pray with all my heart that Gilad comes home healthy in body and soul.”
I don't think I need to tell you all again how I feel about this deal. But I will tell you that I took the family for a day trip today (which is why there have been no posts for the last seven hours - in fact, everything you saw until now was posted last night) to an amusement and water park that was specially set aside for religious people (think Great Adventure on a much smaller scale for those within a 3-hour drive of there). There was a concert and the artist kept talking about how Gilad is coming home. We were far enough away that this was just background noise or my blood might have started to boil. It's not just how much my heart goes out to Arnold and Frimet Roth and people like them who have lost children, G-d forbid. It's how scared I am of the prospect that these terrorists could renew the terror war within our cities that has largely been dormant for the last seven years. All those things that Soccer Dad writes about people like Ahmed Yassin being charismatic have been said not only about Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat, but also about Ahlam Tamimi - the planner of the Sbarro massacre - and Amna Mona (who lured a 16-year old Israeli to his death - she's in some of the videos I showed on Saturday night) and many of the others being released.

But 69% of Israelis favor this deal, despite the fact that 62% believe it will worsen our security.

What could go wrong?

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