Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bibi Under Pressure

UPDATE: Smart journalist provides a more in-depth analysis of the Lieberman-Netanyahu dynamic in Haaretz.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is shocked,
shocked, to find out that an Israeli MK met with a Turkish official secretly in the aftermath of the flotilla raid, with the knowledge of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Presumably FM Lieberman understands the deep nuances of international diplomacy and resents the swift-boating of tender relations between Israel and Turkey...

Or something.

In reality, this very public complaint is Lieberman playing to his base. Just after the raid, Lieberman's rhetoric was extremely tame (see earlier posts), likely the result of pressure from Netanyahu. Lieberman likely resented being muzzled and his base was likely frustrated that he wasn't more outspoken. Now that the situation is a bit more static, Lieberman is taking the liberty of shoring up a bit of support.

The bigger question will be how PM Netanyahu reacts to this challenge, especially just a few days before he arrives in Washington D.C. Most likely, Netanyahu is unlikely (not to mention unable) to "McChrystal" Mr. Lieberman. Having Lieberman as the "radical" makes Netanyahu appear to be the moderate conservative, beholdent to the radical impulses of his foreign minister. Lieberman is essentially a relief valve Netanyahu will now be able to successfully release when pressure from President Obama gets too high during Netanyahu's visit.

The other key factor will be whether the moderate center of Israel feels defiant like Lieberman, or desires a pragmatic path out of the flotilla raid mess. Netanyahu is a very shrewd politician, and will almost definitely consider how his response will play among the Israeli public.

Monday, June 28, 2010

All This for a Tourist Center?

Haaretz reports today that the Jerusalem Municipality wants to raze 22 Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighboorhood of Silwan to make room for a tourist center. The plan was rushed through by Mayor Nir Birkat despite having a number of flaws pointed out by inspectors. The government would assist the Palestinians in relocating within Silwan.

The issue here is twofold. In addition to the complete disregard for principles of counterinsurgency, Mayor Barkat is a local authority. Unlike Washington, D.C. which is a federal city, Jerusalem is its own municipality. Mayor Barkat is not really accountable to the Israeli state so much as to his constituents within Jerusalem itself. Considering that building in East Jerusalem is clearly an Israeli national issue, there should be strong coordination between the state and the city on such a sensitive move.

But most likely, the move is tacitly approved by the government anyway. Using the veil of municipal sovereignty, the government can shirk its responsibility to not inflame the situation. However, the level of ill will the project will generate far outweighs the benefits of a new tourist center. If nothing else, the project could have been touted as an "economic opportunity for Jerusalem's Arab citizens." The authorities could have pointed out that Arabs will run the stores and restaurants. Instead, the move is a political punch which Israel's enemies will exploit.

And yet again the government will find itself in a contentious situation that could have easily been avoided.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Turkey-Israel: Case in Point

As this JPost article demonstrates, Turkey called Israel's lifting of much of the Gaza blockade "positive but insufficient." Iran, on the other hand, is sending a flotilla of ships to run the blockade. Turkey is speaking softly and carrying a big stick, Iran seems to be screaming loudly and waving a stick of indeterminate length. The point is, there is a mismatch between Turkish and Iranian policy, indicating that they are both competing for percieved leadership of the Palestinian cause and that Turkey has not gone rogue but is pursuing strategic competition.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Israel Strikes a Deal

Time is short today so posting will be quick, but it's important to recognize that Israel will be lifting most of the blockade on non-military good coming into Gaza. While it makes one wonder why such an action wasn't taken sooner, it's important to give credit where credit is due.

The decision of the Israeli government to lift much of the siege is a positive step which will benefit innocent Palestinian civilians and the Israeli government by allowing for non-Hamas actors to provide a better condition of living to Palestinians. This will wedge out Hamas and allow Israel to relieve some of the diplomatic pressure it has been facing. Over the long-term, lifting the siege is an important step towards improving the security of Israeli citizens as well, especially in the border areas.

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

"Key to a regional U.S. response to the IDF raid will be building a viable relationship between the United States and Turkey, an influential regional actor bordering Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Critical to this relationship is the recognition of two key points. First: Turkey's current alienation of Israel is deliberate strategic competition which derives itself from Turkey's "Zero Problems" foreign policy strategy and is undesirable for both Turkey and Israel in the long term. Second: Turkey is not only engaged in strategic competition with Israel, but also with Iran, and the United States should support Turkey in this regard."

Read the full article here

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Not Our Fault and Everyone Hates Us Anyway

Barry Rubins' JPost editorial today is a brilliantly articulated version of the misled thinking of some in the Israeli leadership. This sarcastic comment in particular is classic:

"Once you admit the fact that the Gaza flotilla and other problems (continuation of the Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Syria conflicts) are caused by actions of the other side, you show that Israel cannot solve them on its own. You might have to blame the Arab or Palestinian or Islamist side."

Rubin continues,

"...The idea has taken hold in most Western governments that what is most important is image. If we are nice to our enemies, we will win them over. If we are popular, we will avoid trouble. If we apologize, we will be forgiven. If we tell everyone we are weak, we will be pitied. If we sympathize with the underdog, even one that wants to be “overdog” and maul us to death, we will be noble and thus succeed."

Rubin's comments are a perfect encapsulation of the strategic myopia of the Israeli leadership. And unfortunately, "it's not our fault and everyone hates us anyway" is a losing strategy. Time and time again this argument is used to excuse the Israeli government of actually having to do anything useful. Imagine if General Petraeus had said in 2007, "We tried to tell you, al-Qaeda in Iraq is the one attacking us! How can you be made at us for defending our soldiers in Iraq? Sure we may have killed some Reuters journalists and injured some kids that one time, but it's not our fault. The Arab media hates the U.S. and is going to criticize it anyway so why bother being humane?" As General Petraeus is fond of saying, "Hard is not impossible." And it's certainly not an excuse for self-indulgent whining.

Even granting that Israel bears zero responsibility for any of its problems, is that really an excuse for not aggressively seeking solutions which balance Israel's liberal values with its security needs? And is opening diplomatic relations with its neighbors really projecting the kind of "weakness" Mr. Ruben alludes to? Those who dissent from Mr. Ruben's point of view would argue that this self-defeating point of view is contrary to the proactive vision of the original Zionists. He quotes Golda Meir as saying "Better a bad press than a good epitaph." But in 2010 this is a false choice, forcing Israel to either alienate the international community or go down in flames. A strategist would argue that Israel's best security strategy would be to quickly move past the current crisis and bolster its partnerships with the international community. And a historian would point out that for all the bad press, Golda Meir was proactive to the point of flying to the U.S. with nothing but her purse to raise money for Israel in 1948 (she raised 25 million dollars). She didn't think about assigning blame or making moral stances against the international community. She was too busy taking responsibility for the future of the State of Israel.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sad but True

And now, human rights violations you won't see global rallies over:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

UPDATE- Full Article

The full original incorrect post about the Mavi Marmara by Naomi Ragen appears on Clicking on the original post hyperlink brings the reader to the original Israpundit article, except that the first half of the full post has been removed. Below is the full text of Ms. Ragen's post. The text of this post has been re-posted frequently within the American conservative blogosphere. The validity of the email in the post is unconfirmed.

Heavy Weapons Found in the Mavi Marmara
By Naomi Ragen (blog) 8/6/10
Jun 9, 2010 - 9:19:56 AM

This video shows that during the unloading of the Marmara boat in the port of Ashdod, behind the bags of flour were boxes of heavy weapons and ammunition: mortars, artillery shells, bazookas, without counting a trunk where more than one million euros was found intended for Hamas. This video should be widely distributed as evidence of why the IDF Naval commandos were dispatched to intercept the six vessels including the M/S Mavi Marmara. One wonders what is aboard the Irish vessel, the M/S. Rachel Corrie, that Israel will intercept sometime today when it approaches the Naval blockade line off the coast of Gaza. Clearly the Turkish AKP Islamist government is complicit in permitting this military cargo to be loaded on the 'peaceful' Free Gaza Flotilla. Please distribute this video widely. If you had any doubt about what was on the flotilla, here is the video. The French explains that the arms on display w ere hidden behind sacks of grain.

Have patience with this video. First there is a commercial for Pantene! But wait until it's over. You won't believe your eyes.


In addition to hiding weapons meant to kill Israel civilians, the "humanitarian aid" workers viciously attacked Israeli soldiers. Below, a first hand account from Amir, an Israeli soldier who was there.

"Hello Uncle Erwin,

This is Amir writing you after reading what you sent to my father, Eitan. As you know, it was my unit and my friends who were on the ship. My commander was injured badly as a result of the "pacifists" violence. I want to tell you how he was injured so you could tell the story. it shows just how horrible and inhuman were the activists. My commander was the first soldier that rappelled down from the helicopter to the ship. When he touched ground, he got hit in the head with a pole and stabbed in the stomach with a knife. When he drew out his secondary weapon-a handgun (his primary weapon was a regular paintball gun: "Tippman 98 custom") he was shot in the leg. He managed to fire a single shot before he was tossed from the balcony by 4 Arab activists, to the lower deck (a 12 feet fall). He was then dragged by other activists to a room in the lower deck were he was stripped down by 2 activists. They took off his vest, helmet and shirt, leaving him with only his pants and shoes on. When they finished they took a knife and expanded the wound he already had in his stomach. They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out. When they finished they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. He was conscious the whole time. If you are asking yourself why they did all that, here comes the reason. They wanted to show the soldiers their commander's body so they will be demoralized and scared. Luckily, when they walked him on the deck a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor. He shot him with a special non-lethal bullet that didn't kill him. My commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body, and now in salty sea water). That was how he was saved. The activists that did this to him are alive, now in Turkey, and treated as heroes.

I'm sorry if I described this with too many details, but I thought it was necessary for the credibility. Please tell this story to anyone who will listen. I think that these days you are one of Israel's best spokesman.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Anatomy of a Rumor

Internet rumors are an important tool for understanding how we in the American Jewish community evaluate information regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Without an understanding of the region or its complex politics, the slightly informed reader will default back to the credibility of their network contact rather than the source of the information itself. In the rhetoric and emotionalism of the current crisis over Israel's raid of the Mavi Marmara, misinformation (or disinformation) spreads through pro-Israel networks like fire through a dry forest.

Consider the video of the Mavi Marmara's cargo, which included grenades and katyusha rockets. Its earliest appearance on the internet appears to be June 3rd, on a blog called "Bruce Speaks." The blog author credits the tip-off on the video to Fred Leder, a pro-Israel retired oil company executive in Westport, CT. Other bloggers, including Daniel Sieradski of JTA News trace back to an article posted on Israpundit by Israeli author Naomi Ragen entitled "Heavy Weapons Found on Mavi Marmara." While the article has been removed from the site, a simple Google search confirms that the Israpundit article did exist, with the first part of the first sentence reading, "This video shows that during the unloading of the Marmara boat in the port of Ashdod..."

The full text, as reposted on blogs, is: "This video shows that during the unloading of the Marmara boat in the port of Ashdod, behind the bags of flour were boxes of heavy weapons and ammunition: mortars, artillery shells, bazookas, without counting a trunk where more than one million euros was found intended for Hamas. This video should be widely distributed as evidence of why the IDF Naval commandos were dispatched to intercept the six vessels including the M/S Mavi Marmara. One wonders what is aboard the Irish vessel, the M/S. Rachel Corrie, that Israel will intercept sometime today when it approaches the Naval blockade line off the coast of Gaza. Clearly the Turkish AKP Islamist government is complicit in permitting this military cargo to be loaded on the ‘peaceful’ Free Gaza Flotilla. Please distribute this video widely. If you had any doubt about what was on the flotilla, here is the video."

Except that the video is dated November 4, 2009. The Mavi Marmara raid was May 31, 2010.

The video is also on Flix, not Youtube (which the IDF has been using to post videos all week). The Flix account to which the video is posted hasn't had a new video added to it since November 5th. The channel appears to be a legitimate outlet of the IDF, but the video is of a ship called "Francop." Here is the IDF's own press release on the incident from November 2009.

Furthermore, any Middle East analyst can tell you that the weapons in the video highly likely originated in Iran, which is a rival of Turkey and its "AKP Islamist government." Turkey would have no interest in delegitimizing the "peaceful civilians" about the boat. And the weapons shown in the video are used regularly against U.S. forces in Iraq and by groups funded by Iran.

Which makes sense because the "Francop" was an arms shipment to Hizbullah, which is heavily supported by Iran.

This video is not an anomaly in the storm of misinformation surrounding the flotilla raid. E-mails alleging that the IDF Youtube channel was in danger of being shut down due to a lack of hits, and a "testimony" of one of the IDF soldiers, emailed out by his father, have also circulated. Yet there is no minimum number of hits required to maintain a Youtube channel. And any IDF father would know better than to release information about the raid which had not yet been released by the government of Israel for security reasons...assuming his son would also violate Israeli security by telling his father in the first place.

And while a moment of critical thinking casts doubt onto the validity of these messages, they have spread within the pro-Israel community. Who can fault a grandparent in Boca Raton for not knowing the rules of a Youtube account, or an American in Iowa for not knowing about the Israeli security mentality? When the content of the message conforms to our preconceived assumptions, there is little thought given to questioning it.

However, such misinformation delegitimizes the valid information about the raid, Israel's general adherence to the rules of engagement, and the vicious assault the IDF commandos suffered at the hands of some of the ship's passengers wielding knives, clubs, and pepper spray. Informed opinion leaders across the pro-Israel spectrum must carefully monitor such misinformation for their own good and the good of the general public. Efforts to combat misinformation must involve educating individuals to not make assumptions and carefully evaluate all information, regardless of how much they trust the source itself.

Netanyahu WIN

From Haaretz:

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to announce on Monday or Tuesday the creation of a state panel of inquiry to investigate the Israel Navy's deadly raid of a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip last week.

A senior source in Jerusalem said the panel would comprise top justices experienced in matters of international and marine law. Two international justices – at least one of them American - would be invited to participate as observers, said the source.

In addition to investigating the circumstances surrounding the Israel Navy's seizure of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the committee will also be charged with looking into the legality of Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip and its naval blockade. "

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why it's Going to be OK

"Reasonable governments of democratic countries act in accordance with the interests of their citizens. Even if the world is "hypocritical," as Netanyahu claims, he must fundamentally change his government's aggressive and inward-looking approach; it is not within his power to change the nature of the rest of the world.

A thorough investigation of the Mavi Marmara incident and the lifting of the siege against civilians in Gaza are essential steps, but they are certainly not sufficient. If Israel is to break out of the international siege and strategic catastrophe it now faces, it urgently needs a different policy."

- Haaretz, 6/6/10


Friday, June 4, 2010

American Support for Israel: Structural Failure

Surely many Israel supporters will disagree with the points argued by Gal Beckerman in The Forward. Beckerman is joined by Peter Beinart and Anshel Pfeffer in criticizing the American Jewish Establishment's response to the flotilla raid. The articles, all anti-AIPAC and decidedly pro-J Street, challenge the polarized nature of the debate.

But if there is one word to describe the raid, it is debatable. Armed citizen activists violated a questionably legal blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million residents. The blockade is imposed on security grounds and out of concern for the residents of border communities like Sderot and Ashkelon (whose well-being we can safely assume did not cross the mind of any of the so-called humanitarian activists for a moment). The raid undertaken by the IDF was one in which soldiers, expecting nonviolent resistence, were assaulted by anti-Israel civilians wieldng knives, poles, pepper spray, and slingshots. In the aftermath [read: IDF media blackout], 9 of these civilians lay dead, 5 from gunshots to the head. One was a 19-year old American citizen. 7 Israeli commandos were wounded in the raid and spent this week in a hospital bed.

It's simple, really.

And what is the PR strategy of Israel and its American supporters? We say, "The activists were bad so its ultimately ok that we accidentaly killed them." We join some pro-Tzhal Facebook groups. We hold some white and blue flags and sing Hatikvah.

This isn't a issue of message, or how many hours it took to get our videos on Youtube. The failure is not of our operation as a community, but rather our structure. Our message lacks nuance not because we designed it that way, but because our community is completely incapable of having a real discussion in the first place. Uniting at the front has chilled our ability to produce the kinds of effective defense of the Jewish state that it desperately needs right now. Our PR has become a dystopian pygmalion in that what we sought to create is what we have become. Blunt. Unwavering. Simple. And it costs us the PR win every single time.

To any undecided observer, the videos Israel released of the Mavi Marmara and its viciously misanthropic passengers speak for themselves. Defending the raid is something Israel is doing beautifully. Defending Israel is something at which it is failing. The issue is the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The issue is the lack of proportionality and double standards held by the Israeli government. It's the blockade, stupid.

But how can a nuanced defense emerge when the American Jewish Committee's homepage screams "The Terror Flotilla," and J Street's emails omit the incontrovertible fact that the activists on the ship were armed and seeking to attack IDF commandos? How can we foster a discussion of our best move forward without discussants?

Defending Israel will require a serious examination of ourselves as an American Jewish community. In Israel, self-examination is already occurring. Israelis are smart, pragmatic people, and they question the wisdom of the raid, question the simplicity of the government's position, and question what options they will have moving forward. Israelis feel isolated, and are concerned about the future of their state. It is our obligation as American Jews to help them.

But American Jewry, for all its strengths, was analytically impoverished this week. The solution must be long term. But the harm to Israeli and Palestinian people is right now. And our inability to protect them is nothing short of shameful. They deserve better, and we deserve better for ourselves.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ship Shape

From the Foreign Policy website, a convenient how-to guide entitled "What's the Right Way to Board a Ship"

"Helicopter insertions have their own challenges. Most experts say they should be done when troops can rappel down quickly and when there's a
clear landing area for boarders to establish their position. The Israeli military's video of the Mavi Marmara raid shows that neither of these conditions were met."

Why You Can Trust Netanyahu Knows What He's Doing

"The state of Israel will continue to defend its citizens from the attacks of terrorists and terrorist organizations, and will continue to defend its soldiers against attacks of hypocrisy and distortion"
- Avigdor Lieberman, on the Goldstone Report, 9/19/09

“We have nothing to hide.”
- Avigdor Lieberman, on an independent investigation into Monday's raid

How do you say "tight leash" in Hebrew?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Emperor Appears Increasingly Naked...

Footage from the Mavi Marmara's security cameras:

It's possible the activists weren't trying to create the kind of violence which broke out. But it is looking less and less likely that the IDF initiated a violent incident aboard the ship.

It seems pretty clear by this point that the operation was under-resourced and quickly got out of hand. But that in and of itself is enough of a mistake to cost Israel a victory. Israel's mistake started before the operation even began. It's important to keep in mind that the failure here was not tactical but strategic.

That being said, the IDF press office is doing a pretty good job at what it's supposed to do. The narrative from Israel has been clear, concise, and generally supported by video footage. Considering the circumstances the press office finds itself in, it's hard to think of more they could be doing in the current political situation.

New Hasbara Video

So clearly a bit beyond the minimums of self-defense. What this video doesn't make clear is who was shooting it. Is it footage from an activists camera being released by the IDF?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Don't Worry About Turkey

UPDATE: Turkey to Normalize Gaza Ties if Naval Blockade Ends.
The Confused Sheikh:1, Turkish Brinkmanship:0.

But I would add that a) This is the opening Turkish bargaining position, not likely to be the final agreement which likely will include some easing on restrictions but not a total abandonment of the siege, and b) Someone could still mess up and cause Turkey to reinstate the threat of escorting a new flotilla.


According to news reports, Turkey has
threatened to provide a Turkish naval escort for the next round of Gaza flotilla ships. This is a classic case of cold-war style brinkmanship, reminiscent of the Soviet push towards the U.S. naval blockade in Cuba. And while the threat itself is dangerous, the chance of a follow through is relatively small.

Firstly, if Turkey enters the blockade it would be the penetration of Turkish ships into the sovereign territory of another state. This is a universally recognized act of war. Starting a war with Israel would undermine the long-term goal of Turkey's own foreign policy. This goal is to be a regional hegemon and a mediator in the Middle East, not to needlessly fight the strongest army in the region.

Secondly, the Turkish population is not as pro-Islamic as the current government is. With an active war against the PKK in the south, its unlikely that the majority of the Turkish population would support a long-term conflict with Israel over support for Hamas.

In addition, Turkey and the U.S. have recently been aligned on Iraq. Despite the rather cocky statement from Turkish FM Davutoglu, the U.S. and Turkey have a mutual interest in stability throughout the Middle East. This is expressly manifested in Turkey's "0 Problems on all Borders" foreign policy strategy. A conflict with Israel would needlessly cause tension between an increasingly inward-looking U.S. and Turkey.

Most likely, the threat to escort a new flotilla is a bargaining chip that Turkey will use to ensure its nationals are returned to Turkish soil, an investigation of the raid is conducted, and parts of the Gaza siege are lifted.

Footage of Live Fire on the Mavi Marmara - IDF Press Office

I'm not sure this video helps the Israeli government, despite being hasbara from the IDF Press Office. The video indicates that the commandos were not expecting live fire, and may have become frantic (it's unclear if the soldier in the video is yelling out of fear, yelling to be heard, or a combination of both). The video also doesn't show who is doing the firing. It's possible that a soldier believed the firing was coming from activists rather than soldiers and a mis-communication occurred.

This is more evidence that the commandos were inserted into a dangerous situation without the proper planning by the government and the upper echelons of the IDF. But also a stark reminder of the confusion of a violent military confrontation.

And hopefully videos from those aboard the ship will be made public as well so a complete picture can be made available.

Prediction Change

NATO has now called for an investigation into the raid. Now that both NATO and the U.N. Security Council have called for an investigation, it is more likely that the Obama administration will also call for an investigation. The rhetoric of the administration's statement will be muted in order to salvage the recent warming of U.S.-Israel ties, but calling for an investigation is the minimum President Obama must to do retain any credibility with America's Arab partners.

Legal Issue Update

The highly reputable Small Wars Journal posted a round-up this morning of analysis on the IDF flotilla raid. One of their linked blogs, Information Dissemination, posts a video of a flotilla activist stabbing an IDF commando:

Vis-a-vis the issue of international waters, the author says:

"Under international law, the consensus of the maritime attorney's [sic] I have spoken to is that the boarding operation by Israel was legal. The coast of Gaza has been under maritime blockade by Israel, a blockade that was well known - indeed running the maritime blockade for political purposes was the specific intent of the protesters. It is why the press had been reporting all week that the situation was likely leading towards a confrontation. Is anyone surprised that Israel had an established maritime blockade and enforced that maritime blockade? I'm certainly not, Israel made clear all week that the flotilla would not be allowed to pass.

The maritime blockade is a result of the war between Israel and Hamas. Ones political position on that ongoing war is completely irrelevant to the reality that the maritime blockade was established. Knowledge of the maritime blockade by the protesters is also not in debate, and neither is knowledge the flotilla intended to violate the blockade - they made this clear themselves in the press. Once the flotilla made it clear in the press they intended to run the maritime blockade, according to international law, and even US law, the flotilla was considered to be in breach by attempting to violate the blockade.

It was at that point the IDF had legal authority - under international maritime law governing maritime blockades during wartime - to board the vessels and prevent the vessels from running the blockade. Yes, this action may legally be taken in international waters if those waters are recognized as part of the area under the maritime blockade. It is important to note that the action took place within the zone that was publicly known to be part of the maritime blockade of Gaza, and part of that zone is in international waters."

One of many opinions no doubt, but worth considering nonetheless. And while the blog asserts the raid was legal, it also asserts that it was ill-advised.