Saturday, July 30, 2011

Israel Holds Its Government Accountable

Israeli news sources report that over 100,000 people in Israel took to the streets tonight protesting the cost of living in Israel. In Tel Aviv, as of about 7:30 pm EDT, there are reports of protesters being arrested. Protesters demonstrated in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheva, Nazareth, Kiryat Shmona, Modi'in, and Ashkelon as well.

In the wake of the protests which began as small demonstrations over housing in Tel Aviv July 25th, politicians have mobilized. Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni has echoed Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) in his call to cancel the Knesset's summer recess to pass a housing bill. Netanyahu had presented a plan last Tuesday (July 26) but it was met with a charge of insufficiency from those protesting.

But the protests aren't about coalition politics and Knesset inside baseball. The Israelis protesting tonight are demonstrating out of a sense that politics as usual cannot continue, and that the government has failed to address the public interest. It is likely that the protesters have been mobilized not only by the housing issue but also by other issues affecting Israeli domestic society. Indeed, the status quo of the past decade - and the government's lack of viable alternatives to that status quo - have bred deep cynicism in Israel over the country's future.

In the wake of the protests, many are likely to speculate about their deeper meaning. Some may consider these protests the rebirth of the Israeli left, but this analysis is erroneous. The protesters aren't reacting against a new right-wing government policy on housing because there is no such salient policy to begin with. Rather, they illustrate the cavernous space between the government's ideological policy agenda and the pragmatic needs of the Israeli public. The protests highlight that while those from the fringes drive debate over loyalty, BDS, and inquiry commissions, the basic needs of normal Israelis are being neglected.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Blame The Right For Oslo

The way in which some extreme conservative columnists and editorialists have spun the Oslo terrorist attack is disagreeable to say the least. Many of them have ceased to be relevant voices in the policy debate for their sheer inability to acknowledge that they view the world through a thick prism of fear, mistrust, and partiality.

Upon learning that many of these authors are quoted in Anders Breivik's manifesto, there are those who would lay blame at the feet of the neo-conservative right. While clearly not directly responsible, the mindset of fear and imminent danger these ideologues promote may have been one factor which influenced Mr. Breivik.

But as distasteful and reactionary as they may be, extreme right-wing authors are not responsible for the horrific terror attacks in Oslo and Utoya. Nor should they be blamed.

First, of the millions of people who read extremely right-wing authors, only one of them committed a terror attack on Friday. While many of these authors advocate viewpoints which are ludicrous and policies which are beyond offensive, none of them advocate terrorism. Anders Breivik drawing inspiration from the far-right demonstrates only that their brinksmanship and fear-mongering tactics are undeniable, not that they are complicit in terrorism.

Second, by blaming these ideologues for outright terrorism, moderate and liberal observers are simply buying in to the same guilt-by-association logic they detest from the far right. Carrying this logic to its full extension, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz also bear responsibility for Oslo since they were both quoted in the manifesto. So does the Telegraph. So does Wikipedia. A culture of guilt-by-association, furthermore, has a chilling effect on free speech. The idea that an individual should avoid expressing an idea because someone might link it to radicals who support that idea creates serious limitations on freedom of expression. If a far right-wing, non-violent voice is censored, let it be done by free participants in the marketplace of ideas who ignore the voice.

Finally and most importantly, blaming the far right for Oslo detracts from the share of the blame shouldered by Breivik himself. Especially given that Breivik's lawyer is claiming that Breivik is insane, an understanding of the full moral and legal weight of his actions is warranted. It was Breivik alone who premeditated the mass killing of civilians for political gain, built explosives, kept meticulous records, and executed the attack effectively over a time span of hours. He hid his actions from the police, demonstrating complete understanding of the ethical lines he was crossing. All the wacky right-wing blogs in the world could not have made the ultimate sane choice Breivik made to pull the trigger, again and again, and murder the innocent.

The thought that society cannot stop every terrorist is scary, but it is the cold reality of human free will. And since Breivik alone committed the attack, the Norwegian government is justified fully in pursuing the full course of legal action against him.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Breivik Manifesto: Summary and Assessment

The Manifesto

Anders Breivik's manifesto is an exhausting read at over 1500 pages long, and it would be nearly unfathomable to have read it word-for-word since Friday. The manifesto is divided into three books and is written by a number of different authors, some of whom use pseudonyms such as "Fjordman." The first book is relatively tame, discussing the history of Marxism and Islam from a decidedly conservative perspective. The second book is a bit more extreme, but still within the cognitive boundaries of a very far-right columnist. It is primarily about Islam and the threat it poses to Europe.

The third book is the most radical, and where an analyst should economize their time reading. In it, Breivik outlines the long term plan of the Templar Knights for fighting Marxism and Islam. His thesis is that Marxism promotes multiculturalism. Islam then takes advantage of multiculturalism to colonize Europe and destroy European culture.

The book begins with an legalese-filled indictment of the leadership of Western Europe, accusing them of sitting idle while "Europe is the victim of cultural genocide on par with that of Tibet." Breivik then introduces the Templar Knights and lays out their long-term plan:

- Phase 1 (1999-2030): Cell based shock attacks, sabotage attacks etc.
- Phase 2 (2030-2070): Same as above but bigger cells/networks, armed militias
- Phase 3 (2070-2100): Contribution with the effectuation of the coup and responsibilities in relation to security and executions of category A and B traitors.

Members of the police are referred to as "system protectors" a la The Matrix.

Breivik then discusses in detail his armor and ammunition. Interestingly, he mentions a 4GB AEE PD80 Mini DV DVR Camera which can be used "to document your operation." Breivik also discusses wearing a police combat uniform replica to "create confusion and hesitation when engaging hostile agents." Later in the book he jokes about having a costume for next Halloween.

Breivik then outlines a list of targets, which includes "government buildings with high concentrations of category A and B traitors." Category A refers to "Political leaders, Media leaders, Cultural leaders, and Industry leaders," while Category B refers to "cultural Marxist/multiculturalist politicians."

Surprisingly, Breivik considers a distinction between "traitors" and civilians. He considers targeting civilians illegitimate. Even for "category D individuals...[who] have little or no political influence but are facilitating category B and C traitors," the prescribed "punishment" is listed as "none."

Breivik expresses willingness to martyr himself noting that by doing so, "you will be forever celebrated by your people as a martyr for your country." He then discusses issues plaguing Europe. In the category of "STDs" he mentions that his half-sister was infected with Chlamydia and his mother with Genital Herpes, and that they "have not only shamed me but they have shamed themselves and our family." At the end of the manifesto, Breivik provides seven pictures of himself: 2 in Knights of Templar uniform, 2 in combat gear, 2 profile pictures of himself, and one picture with him and his mother. Freudian psychologists, eat your heart out.

The Author

Throughout the manifesto, Breivik comes across as completely sane and extremely intelligent. He is very different from the paranoid social outcast Jared Laughner type. The manifesto is well-written and relatively well organized. As the seven pictures of himself suggest, he has narcissistic tendencies and notes his preparations for the attack in vivid detail. This contrasts with his research on Marxism and Islam which while extensive, draw from a mix of periodicals, right-wing blogs, and Wikipedia. It appears that Breivik saw himself as someone special or extraordinary, who would be lauded as a hero in future generations.

Ideologically, Breivik references Bat Ye'or and Robert Spencer (the director of JihadWatch) extensively. The manifesto includes links to the movie Obsession which documents the phenomenon of so-called "Islamofascism," an article by Daniel Pipes, and references to Caroline Glick. Clearly, none of these individuals are responsible for the violent actions of a single terrorist acting of his own free will, but Breivik drank their ideological Kool Aid hook, line, and sinker.

Breivik gives his CV in the manifesto. He discusses a crossroads at which he switches from being a political actor to becoming an entrepreneur. He worked as a day trader as a "front...with the purpose of financing resistance/liberation related military operations." Such an occupation would have fit well with Breivik's intelligence and sense of determination.

Yet Breivik describes disillusionment with his life:

"You become a zombie where the highlight of your day is purchasing a 1000 Euro garment or a 100 Euro sushi meal, or getting a blowjob from someone you met outside the toilet at a club that Saturday. On your way home you see a girl getting gang-raped by 4 Somalis. You don’t offer it much thought as the slag probably had it coming anyway."

One possibility is that becoming more active in his radical activities brought meaning to Breivik's upper-middle-class lifestyle and his tendency towards compulsion. Breivik notes for example that at age 25 he took a year off to play World of Warcraft. The years of planning involved in Friday's attack may have seemed a much more meaningful use of time.

The manifesto is of course but one indication of the psychology of Anders Breivik and his motivations for the slaughter of nearly 100 innocent people. Psychologists who meet with Breivik in person will be much better able to understand his psyche, and real counter-terrorism analysts will be more adept at identifying the salient root causes of this attack. But a look at the manifesto is a good first indication of the factors at play, and will be the first step towards trying to make sense of this unspeakable tragedy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oslo Update, In Defense of Will McCants

The perpetrator of yesterday's terror attack in Oslo and shooting attack on a children's summer camp in Utoya appears to be Anders Behring Breivik, a 34-year old Norwegian Christian Fundamentalist with strong anti-Muslim and anti-Marxist tendencies. His attacks have killed at least 95 innocent people, many of them children.

Yesterday's post on this blog was a full translation of a statement from a group called Ansar al-Jihad al-Alam, obtained from Will McCants and the Jihadica blog. Today, Mr. McCants has fended off serious criticism for posting the statement which turned out to be from an opportunist Muslim extremist with nothing to do with the attacks. Some have claimed that by posting the statement from the Shmukh forum, Mr. McCants misled the media into thinking that Muslim extremists were responsible for the attacks.

However, Mr. McCants was careful to note that the alleged claim was less than credible. The decision to translate it here at The Camels Nose (with an attached disclaimer about its credibility) was made to empower non-Arabic speakers to assess the content of the statement and provide transparency to what little information was available concerning the culprit of the attacks. In a crisis, preventing rumor from being represented as fact requires dissecting the rumor into its transparent and component parts. The greater the transparency and detail of information, the easier it is to assess it as credible or not. This idea is a basic axiom of policy analysis.

Mr. McCants was therefore correct to post the statement. He was honest about its credibility, mentioned when the group retracted the statement, and did due diligence to a crisis situation in which the truth was difficult to obtain. Those who choose to misrepresent the facts should not be confused with those who bring new evidence to light.

And those who have made this statement into a political issue should not draw attention away from the victims of this tragedy, and the support they will need in the weeks and months ahead.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Possible Oslo Attack Claim Translation

The following is a full translation of the Arabic statement regarding today's attack in Oslo appearing on the Arabic jihadi forum Shmukh, and re-posted by Will McCants of Jihadica. It bears noting that according to Jihadica, this statement was later retracted for an unknown reason. Regardless, the statement gives insight into what the possible motivation behind the bombings were, assuming the attack was in fact linked to an Islamist group. Given that this linkage has yet to be established in any way whatsoever as of 3:45 EDT, this statement should be taken with a grain of salt.

Full translation:

Praise be to Allah and victory to his united servants, who revealed unto to the idolators and community of infidels, and prayers and peace upon our Prophet Muhammed the sign of the prophets and upon his family and companions.


The almighty said: "So fight, [O Muhammad], in the cause of Allah ; you are not held responsible except for yourself. And encourage the believers [to join you] that perhaps Allah will restrain the [military] might of those who disbelieve. And Allah is greater in might and stronger in [exemplary] punishment." [al-Nisa, 84]. And now the countries of Europe have received another message from the Mujahideen, and the countries of Europe have further proof that the Mujahideen will not stand idly by towards their war against Islam and against Muslims.

Today, Norway was targeted to be a lesson and is to be considered as such to the rest of Europe, which had already threatened us since the Stockholm attack by increasing operations. We had asked the European countries to withdraw their armies from the land of Afghanistan and stop its war against Islam and Muslims. We reiterate our warning to the countries of Europe, and say to them to carry out the demands of the Mujahideen. What you have seen is only the beginning, and more will follow.

Furthermore, the reasons for targeting Norway are many, but most important is its participation in the occupation of Afghanistan and the abuse of our Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).

Praise be to Allah who enabled his servants the Muhajideen...And we pray to Allah to save our brothers and Mujahideen everywhere.

Glory and praise be to Allah. I bear witness that there is no god but You, and offer repentance to You.

Abu Suleiman al-Nasser
From Ansar al-Jihad al-Alam

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Knesset Coalition Breakdown?

In a continuation of his escalation against Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman today condemned the Prime Minister for considering an Israeli apology to Turkey over last year's flotilla incident. In the wake of yesterday's Knesset vote on establishing panels of inquiry into left-wing NGO's, Netanyahu now has the task of reaffirming his conservative credentials within the limits of American Jewish, US Government, and international expectations.

Yet Netanyahu and Lieberman still have overlapping bargaining ranges. Ultimately it would not be in Lieberman's interest to quit the coalition right now any more than it would be in Netanyahu's interest for him to leave. In a sad microcosm of Israel itself, the lack of a credible alternative forces two dissatisfied parties to maintain the status quo. Eventually this will shift such that one side defects from the coalition, but at the moment things are likely to remain as they are.

One key indication of how long the status quo will last is the extent to which Netanyahu is able to broker a covert agreement with Lieberman. If Netanyahu can make under-the-table promises, he will be able to maintain the coalition while saving face. However, Lieberman may call on Netanyahu to make a public commitment. If that is the case, Netanyahu will have a much more difficult time navigating the myriad contradictory constraints he is under as Prime Minister.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NGO Bill Puts Bibi In A Bind

Today the Israeli Knesset defeated a bill to create panels of inquiry examining left-wing NGOs by a vote of 57 to 28. Six members of the Prime Minister's Likud party voted against the bill. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, both from Likud, voted against the bill as well.

In response, Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's coalition partner from Yisrael Beiteinu and Israel's Foreign Minister, escalated tensions between his party and Likud. While Lieberman originally expressed "surprise" and "disappointment" with Netanyahu's opposition to the bill, he called today's opposition vote "grotesque" and "a mistake." He also changed Yisrael Beiteinu's position on the coalition. While Lieberman originally said the bill did not put the coalition in danger, he said today that "If I want an excuse to leave [the coalition], there are reasons every day. I hope they don't put us in a corner."

Today's vote failed because the key intra-party split occurred in the Likud party rather than in Kadima. The bill itself was proposed by MK Danny Danon and MK Faina Kirschenbaum, both of Likud, but also opposed by several senior members of that party including the Prime Minister. Since Netanyahu did not enforce party discipline, internal divisions on the bill became clear.

This blog has documented the slow tightening of the screws on Prime Minister Netanyahu as he negotiates between the US, US Jewry, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Israeli public, and the international community. His margin of error was razor thin going into last week's vote on BDS, largely the result of stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians. On previous votes the coalition was strained. Today, it cracked.

Prime Minister Netanyahu miscalculated the ill-will the BDS bill would generate in the American Jewish community, and thus had to oppose today's vote as a reaction rather than a proactive strategic move. This shifted the locus of initiative closer to Yisrael Beiteinu, which is now making no secret of the internal tensions between Likud and itself.

But the Prime Minister is in a bind. It will be very difficult to support Yisrael Beiteinu's conservative party line within the short timeline they would require for a demonstration of commitment to the coalition. This is because the American Jewish community and Israeli left-wing community would not support such moves, and it would exacerbate Israel's isolation in the international community ahead of the UN Palestinian statehood vote. In addition to the pressures of maintaining Israel's security and diplomatic posture, Netanyahu will now have to factor the coalition into the balance. A statehood vote will almost definitely not bring down the State of Israel. But in light of today's vote, it may very well prove the death knell of the current coalition government.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Correction: Foreign Ministry Played Key Role In Flotilla II

This morning, the Israeli Shayetet 13 elite commando unit boarded the Dignite - al-Karama ship, the last remaining vessel in the Gaza flotilla. The ship had 10 passengers aboard, and there were no casualties. The IDF was prepared this time, incurring no casualties of its own, and providing what can only be referred to as epic hasbara.

Yet while this blog has historically given the IDF the bulk of the credit for smart tactics, to say that the Foreign Ministry played no part in the diplomatic hiccup of Flotilla II would be inaccurate. There can be no question that the Foreign Ministry successfully used its leverage in Greece and elsewhere to create an end state which was wholly in Israel's favor. Offering to deliver the humanitarian aid, running practice drills showing the IDF acting in accordance with international law, and keeping the official Israeli narrative focused elsewhere were also key elements to the success of today's interception. That the saboteurs of two of the flotilla ships were untraceable helped Israel as well. However, involved governments were willing to look the other way (officially) so as to preserve their relations with Israel in the first place.

Given this success, the Foreign Ministry should apply the best practices of its response to Flotilla II elsewhere. Diplomacy may be soft, less decisive, and less exciting than other approaches. However, when done effectively, it is simply the most efficient way of advancing Israel's security and political interests. A Foreign Ministry which uses similar tactics to kill a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN this September likely will see a certain amount of success.

So does this mean Israel's isolationist and confident foreign policy has not harmed it's diplomatic posture? If the flotilla was stopped successfully, doesn't that delegitimize claims that Israel is suffering diplomatically in the international arena?

The key is here is that Israel's partners and allies are motivated by stability in the region. Since stopping the flotilla preserves stability, they supported it. However, issues like settlements, which exacerbate instability, will continue to be opposed. While the Israeli diplomatic corps deserves full credit for conveying the instability which would have resulted from a flotilla interception, the argument they used to do it does not have universal salience. Moving forward, the Foreign Ministry will need more than snarky videos to defend other Israeli policies which exacerbate instability in the region.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BDS, Beiteinu, and Bibi

Reaction from the American Jewish community to the Israeli anti-boycott bill has been mixed, and not in a good way for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Responses range from tepid (ZOA) to openly antagonistic (ADL). In addition, the US Department of State has implied criticism of the bill, despite its assertion that it does not intervene in internal Israeli politics. Reaction in Israel has been mixed as well. Both the liberal Haaretz and the conservative Jerusalem Post have run editorials in the past few days overwhelmingly against the bill. For its part, the Israeli public may not be openly antagonistic to the bill, but does not appear thrilled with it either.

But while general opposition is clear, the effect this opposition will have on Israeli domestic politics is not. The Yisrael Beiteinu party has gotten exactly what it wanted from debate over the bill, but will likely demand more in the future. Kadima was split on the bill, and this disagreement has now exacerbated internal divisions within the party.

Despite some ambiguity, the biggest impact of the bill appears to be that it re-engages the Prime Minister on the settlements. The bill treats settlements as legally equivalent to Israel "proper." Also, the majority of Israeli BDS movements are focused on Israeli companies operating from the West Bank. Settlements continue to be the litmus test of where Netanyahu is aligned at any given moment. In 2008, Prime Minister Netanyahu fought the US on the issue of settlements in alignment with Yisrael Beiteinu. In 2009, he shifted and approved a partial settlement freeze to curb the degradation of ties with the US. In May, the Prime Minister took issue with President Obama's rhetoric on the "indefensible 1967 lines," an indirect show of support for settlements.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, settlements are about to become a hot issue on multiple fronts. The Palestinian statehood bid in September will undoubtedly invoke UN Resolution 242, which calls for a withdrawal from "territories occupied during the 1967 war." A poll out today identifies lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a cause of Arab disapproval of the US, putting pressure on the Obama administration to create progress. Settlements may very well be involved in US initiatives on this front. Finally, the Quartet's vitality has also been called into question for failing to even come up with a joint statement on the conflict after a long dinner meeting at the State Department. Settlements are highly likely to play a role in future quartet discussions.

While the traditional American Jewish leadership will not call out the Prime Minister on settlements, their alienation over the anti-boycott bill is a matter of concern for Israelis. A Prime Minister who alienates the US and the US Jewish community will lose popularity for doing so. Netanyahu will have to provide assurances to the diaspora, even if these assurances are under the table, that he will defend basic civil rights in Israel.

On its own, the anti-boycott bill is not likely to lead to new elections. Kadima is too divided to call a vote of no-confidence and Yisrael Beiteinu is too satisfied to quit the coalition. However, the return of settlements as a key issue puts the Prime Minister in a difficult position. He will be balancing between an Israeli public ambivalent about settlements, a far-right coalition whose constituency is based in settlements, and a US government with a UNSC veto and experience from 2008 in dealing with the settlement issue. While the Prime Minister is not to be underestimated, the anti-boycott bill narrows significantly his margin of error.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rumors Of Israeli Democracy's Death Are Premature

In the wake of the Knesset's passing of an anti-boycott bill, many in the policy blogosphere and Twitterverse have decried the "death of Israeli democracy" or see the bill as a turning point in the erosion of civil rights in Israel. While debate over the contentious bill is well-founded, this bill in and of itself is not the doomsday legislation many contend it is. Here's why:

1) Legislatures are often reactionary. Many legislatures, including the US Congress, are apt to play on the fear of their constituents rather than the principles of good policy-making since they are incentivized by reelection. Those who execute foreign policy, on the other hand, are often more cautious since they bear responsibility for dealing with the costs. Democracies are designed to withstand these competing pressures. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not appear for yesterday's vote, and there is a good reason why. Dissociating from the debate over the bill curbs the international political costs the legislation has already incurred. But it also indicates that the Israeli leadership understands that the international community will find this law's limitation on freedom of expression problematic. The situation is less ideal than an active "no" vote, but is hardly the death of democracy.

2) Impactful legislation introduces instability into parliaments. One of the reasons progress has been slow in Israel is that if the Prime Minister introduces impactful legislation, he runs a high political cost for doing so. Opposition parties thrive on opposing such legislation, and radical hardliners make accusations that the Prime Minister does not support such legislation enough. The bottom line is that maintaining stability in a parliament while making drastic political changes is difficult. A parliament may very well pass a series of bills which harm democracy, but each bill raises the chance the government will fall. As a result of the anti-boycott bill, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face an even more precarious balancing act than before. Leftist parties will decry his "fascist government" while right wing parties will accuse him of not being invested enough in the right-wing agenda to vote on the measure. This is parliamentary democracy at work.

3) The law is controversial, even in Israel. Speaking in the Knesset yesterday, Meretz MK Ilan Gila'on called the bill "Black Dysentery" and "an affront to Israeli democracy." The legislation did not only take heat from the far left. MK Shlomo Molla from the centrist Kadima party mocked the state of Israeli democracy created by the bill. In addition, Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner questioned the legality of the bill and called it "a violation of the core tenet of freedom of expression." While the bill ultimately passed, it did so only after six hours of debate, and already faces a number of legal challenges from Israeli human rights organizations. These reactions are consistent with democratic society, even if they are being triggered by a bill which some argue limits freedom in the first place.

While the content of this legislation - and similar legislation - may be concerning, these laws are being passed in a political context which, at least for now, remains democratic. The fact that Israel has garnered so much criticism in the first 24 hours of the bill's passage indicates that despite the pessimism of pundits, Israel is still being held to the standards of liberal democracy by Israelis and non-Israelis alike. These expectations are the best indication that even if democracy has been wounded in Israel, it is far from dead.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Air Flotilla Response Is Bad Security Policy

Israel has come under significant criticism (including by Israelis, see here and here) for its response to the planned arrival of pro-Palestinian activists into Ben Gurion Airport beginning about now and continuing throughout tomorrow. The establishment of a military command post, among other steps, is seen by many as an overreaction to a group of activists who wish to engage in peaceful and non-violent protest of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. When heckled during his speech to Congress May 24, Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out that "In our free societies you can have protests." Evidently, the Prime Minister considers free society to end at the International Arrivals Hall.

Were a group of international activists to come to Washington DC to protest the war in Afghanistan, it would be a headache for the US government. It would also take a certain amount of mishegas, especially if the protesters were not Iraqi nor affected directly in any way by the war. But would the US establish Army command posts at Dulles airport to prevent them from coming? Most likely not, since it would be a waste of military resources on a non-security threat.

It is simply bad security policy for Israel to divert military resources to a political problem. Such steps are only the latest in a line of attempts by the current government to use the IDF as a shield for some of its more short-sighted policies. Doing so escalates the issue rather than burying it in the 24/7 news cycle, and diverts resources from the very real security threats the state faces. Police and army resources would be much better put to use in cases where Israel faces real security threats and challenges to public order and safety. With regards to the protesters, the government must stop blaming delegitimization and hiding behind the state security apparatus. Policy shifts are the best way to prevent continued protests which are a political liability to the State of Israel.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

State Department Savvy On Muslim Brotherhood

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Thursday that the US would continue "limited contact" with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt and welcomed "dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood member who wish to talk to us."

The announcement is brave, but is also an extremely savvy move by the State Department. By describing the already-existing contact, Secretary Clinton is preemptively framing future MB engagement as consistent with previous US policy for a Congress who is decidedly against engagement. Given that "limited contact" is not an objective standard by any measure, the State Department also has considerable latitude to increase its engagement while still claiming that overall contact is limited.

For US strategic interests abroad, the move is crucial. Without mandating any concrete policy change, it takes the wind out of the sails of radicals in the Muslim world who claim the US is at odds with Islam and with the Brotherhood. It also opens up opportunities for the US to exert influence over what Islamist participation in the new Egyptian government will look like.

Most importantly, the move demonstrates to Egyptians that the US is responding proactively to the events of the Arab Spring. It shows that the US is trying to shape the kind of nuanced and complex engagement that has been lacking in the past. The move also lends credibility to US claims of democracy promotion since it is engaging with all Egyptian political parties rather than picking and choosing.

US engagement with the Brotherhood should certainly be deliberate, but limited contact meets this standard. Ultimately, the benefits of promoting US security interests far outweigh the cost of lending slightly more legitimacy to the Brotherhood itself.