Tag: Israel

The Obama-Israel Kerfuffle

The last week has been a bit fraught for US-Israeli relations. Last week, the US abstained from, rather than veto, a UN resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank. The US has abstained from or even supported condemnations of Israel before. But this one was unusually harsh. The Administration’s actions were condemned by Israel and Trump. Israel began expansion of the settlements in retaliation. And, today, Kerry gave a speech blasting the settlements as a threat to peace.

The Right Wing has gone with their default explanation (encouraged by Netanyahu) that Obama just hates Israel. If so, this hatred is hard to see. Obama has continued to give Israel $3 billion a year in military aide, was practically the only leader to support them during the War on Hamas and has, until now, blocked any UN actions against them. There is a profound disagreement between Obama and Israel on the Iran Deal. But the GOP seems to think that the proper relationship with Israel is to give them money, support everything they do and maybe go to war with Iran. As often I disagree with Obama’s foreign policy (such as it is), the alternative the GOP seems to prefer is just as silly. And let’s get some perspective here. The Administration has firmed up their opposition to the settlements which every Administration, Republican or Democrat, has opposed and which every Administration, Republican or Democrat, has seen as a problem for creating peace. Not as a big a problem as Palestine’s refusal to let Israel exist, but a problem nonetheless.

If I had to guess, I would say one of two things is going on here.

First, this may be Obama doing an end-of-the-Godfather settling of business. It’s no secret that Netanyahu has been a thorn in his side for the last eight years: opposing the Iran deal, which Obama saw a lasting legacy; expanding the settlements; meeting with the opposition party; interfering with … whatever it is Obama thinks he’s doing in Syria. So this may be one last slap in the ongoing slap fight between the two Administrations.

There’s another possibility and one I think is more likely: that Obama’s trying to tip Netanyahu out of office. Netanyahu’s approval ratings tend to be poor and he is currently mired in a corruption scandal. It’s possible that this could help tip him out of office, potentially putting someone in office who is less of a hardliner. Of course, it’a also possible it would make the Israelis rally behind him or replace him with someone who take an even harder line. But with Trump less than a month away from office, Obama might be trying to make Trump’s Israel policy, which includes moving our embassy to Jerusalem, harder to implement.

Or it may just be amateur hour. The problem with Obama’s supposed six-dimensional chess is that it’s often hard to tell the difference between six-dimensional cheese and just randomly bumbling around.

Israel to the Rescue

This seems like … a really smart thing to do:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the Foreign Ministry to explore ways of increasing the humanitarian aid that Israel provides to Syrian civilians wounded during the civil war in that country, particularly in the battle for Syria’s largest city Aleppo.

Netanyahu announced the move on Tuesday, during a reception for foreign correspondents based in Israel.

The prime minister added that he had instructed the ministry to find way of bringing wounded civilians from Aleppo to Israel for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Israel has actually been doing this for some time now, bringing thousands of wounded civilians out of the fray, giving them medical attention in field hospitals on the border, then returning them to Syria. But given the appalling atrocities in Aleppo, it looks like they’re going to ramp up the program, transporting Syrians across Syrian territory into Israeli territory.

I have to give credit to Netanyahu, who is the only leader who has kept his wits about him during the Syrian crisis. He supports keeping Assad in power, fearing what might happen if Assad falls and some more radical group takes over (hello, ISIS). Israeli forces have been striking ISIS targets in Syria and he’s been working hard to make sure the Israelis and the Russians don’t accidentally end up shooting at each other. He has so far resisted calls to accept refugees, believing (correctly) that this raises the danger of Israeli Jews one day becoming a religious minority in their own country. I really can’t fault him in any steps he’s taken. And this one is just another opportunity to demonstrate that, for all the (sometimes justified) criticism, Israel is still the most modern and humanitarian country in the region. What other country in the Middle East would lend medical aid to the citizens of a nation with whom they are, technically, still at war? And yet, Israel is the only one with a huge Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeted against it.

This is what a coherent foreign policy looks like, incidentally. We haven’t seen one in a long time and I’m dubious that we’ll see it under Trump. But Netanyahu has identified his country’s interests — keeping the devil they know in power, avoiding conflict with Russia and lending humanitarian aide — and executed it. If the big powers had been so coherent in their foreign policy, tens of thousands of people might not have died so needlessly.

Surviving the New Cold War

As you have probably heard, Yemen has collapsed into chaos. The President we were backing had fled the country and Iran-backed Shia rebels appear to be establishing control. Saudi Arabia is intervening and it looks like Egypt may get involved as well.

All this is a sign of Obama’s failed foreign policy according to … holy crap … Vox?:

Read more… »

Israel and Hamas Again

I’ve been holding back on commentary on the latest Israel-Hamas conflict to see what was going to happen. What’s happening is a war. The latest news is that Hama militants crossed the border into Israeli territory and have fired over 150 rockets into civilian areas. Israel is responding with air strikes. And the sordid mess goes on and on.

There’s a lot of blaming both sides going on. And while I can certainly see the argument against Israel’s response, I don’t think there is anything close to a moral comparison here. This started because three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, most likely by Hamas. Hamas has denied involvement but supports the idea of kidnappings in general. Shortly after the bodies of the Israeli teens were found, a Palestinian teen was brutally murdered in retaliation. But the Israeli authorities condemned it as an act of terrorism and have already arrested the people responsible.

That’s how you know who the good guys in this situation are. One side acknowledge the other’s right to exist, condemns brutal violence against innocents and tries to deliver justice for its minority Islamic population. The other is a terrorist organization that does not recognize its opponent’s right to exist and has no interest in delivering justice to the people who murdered three innocent young men.

We can debate Israel’s tactics, sure. But let’s not lose sight of which side we should be on.

A Pollard Swap

Rumors are circulating that traitor Jonathan Pollard might be released as part of a Mideast Peace Deal. I don’t think this is a good idea.

First, why should the United States be giving concessions in what amount to a negotiation between Palestine and Israel? Israel is not giving us anything. We’re not the ones saying Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.

Second, I think people need to remember what we are dealing with here.

Among the highly-prized secrets that former officials say Pollard gave away while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy were technical details of sophisticated U.S. spy satellites; analyses of Soviet missiles systems; and information about eavesdropping equipment used by the NSA to intercept foreign governments’ communications, including all ten volumes of a highly-classified manual known as “the Bible” that spelled out how the United States intercepted Soviet communications.

The extent of his treason was such that when this idea was floated in the mid-90’s, George Tenet threatened to resign. Imagine everything Snowden’s critics think he has revealed to other countries. This is about what Pollard did. That he gave this information to an ally is irrelevant. Israel’s interests are not always ours.

Pollard has been in prison for nearly thirty years. If Obama wanted to release him for humanitarian reasons, I would still oppose it. But to use it as a bargaining chip for the Palestinians? That’s too far.

Wherein I Call for Throwing Israel Under the Bus

We’re watching a typical fake truce in action in the Middle East right now. New rockets are on the way for Hamas and new Israeli settlements are being built further and further east. It’s only a matter of time before the next bloodletting begins.

All of this has led me to question why exactly it’s considered to be “conservative” to support Israel. Let’s acknowledge the fact that the Israelis are underdogs (they’re outnumbered in the Middle East anyway) and they’re pretty badass in their way. It’s certainly natural to respect them, but why in the world do we support them in such a knee-jerk fashion?

Bear with me here. This is an overdue conversation among American conservatives.

What are conservatives getting out of this relationship, specifically; and what is the US getting in general out of our special relationship with Israel? I notice that American conservatives always support Israel to the hilt and talk about what irredeemable monsters the Palestinians are, but it never seems to make a major difference in the Jewish vote. Why exactly do we care more about keeping Israel Jewish than….Jewish people do? Every time there’s an election in this country, American Jews overwhelmingly vote for the Democrat (who is generally less inclined to care about Israel than the Republican candidate). They don’t give a shit. Why do we persist?

As for the US’s interests, the unquestionable support that the US has for Israel is doing nothing much but pitting us against the Arab world (and increasingly, the Turks) for the sake of very little. Is this a good decision to make toward the national interest? Pissing off 400 million+ plus people who control a shitload of oil for the benefit of 6 million people who provide us with no vital resources or anything else, really?

Is it about supporting democracy? Because democracy is essentially bullshit, you know. I’ve never understood why promoting and defending democracy overseas is such a priority for some conservatives. Democracy has made a royal fucking wreck out of the US, after all.

Are we worried about a human rights disaster if Israel is wiped out? That’s a nice moral concern, but the US does a fine job of ignoring such things in countries where the people don’t look like us. Why is any of this our job, anyway? The Palestinians aren’t our enemies or even our problem. Even Hamas isn’t a particular threat to the US. This instinctive desire to root for Israel and curse the Palestinians makes less and less sense to me with every rocket fired and bomb dropped.

Now I’m not going all anti-Zionist here. Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish state. What I can’t wrap my head around is why we think it’s our job to defend them and demand their protection regardless of what (sometimes brutal) steps they take to maintain that status. That Israeli lobbying cash that keeps our elected representatives in thrall isn’t lining any of my pockets. How about you? I think our “leaders” are duping us, truthfully.

Simply put, I’m tired of defending Israel when the rewards are clearly diminishing, if there are any at all. Demographics and political developments among Israel’s neighbors give me a bad feeling that we’re supporting the losing side for no good reason.

It’s perfectly appropriate for us to admire a romantic and embattled people. It’s another thing entirely–and arguably not conservative–to place the ambitions of such a nation above the long-term interests of the United States. I think it’s time for American conservatives to break up this bad romance.

The Palestinian Question

This was almost certainly done to punish Israel:

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution upgrading Palestine to a “non-member observer state,” from a “non-member observer entity.”

Before the vote and in front of the assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this was the body’s “last chance to save the two-state solution.”

He said despite all the violence and Israeli “aggressions” and its “occupation,” Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority have insisted on harmony and have looked at the “U.N. as a beacon of hope.”

“We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel. Rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence and that is Palestine,” Abbas said.

Pretty words. But Hamas, who control the Gaza, do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The main thing this does is give them access to the International Criminal Court. Does anyone want to be on how long it will before they deluge Israel with accusations of war crimes? About ten seconds? And does anyone doubt what the result of those investigations will be?

Hamas and Israel, Round 47

One piece of news that got lost in the election scramble last week was that rockets starting being fired out of Gaza again. Today, Israel struck back:

Israel on Wednesday launched one of the most ferocious assaults on Gaza since its invasion four years ago, hitting at least 20 targets in aerial attacks that killed the top military commander of Hamas, drew strong condemnation from Egypt and escalated the risks of a new war in the Middle East.

The Israelis coupled the intensity of the airstrikes with the threat of another ground invasion and warnings to all Hamas leaders in Gaza to stay out of sight or risk the same fate as the Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, who was killed in a pinpoint airstrike as he was traveling by car down a Gaza street. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a Twitter message.

There have also been shots fired at Golan Heights, where Syrian munitions have fallen and provoked Israeli response. A dozen more rockets have been fired out of Gaza today.

We’ll have to see how this goes. But it’s not looking good. With both Egypt and Syria unstable, a war against Israel could be just what their leaders think the doctor ordered. I would not be surprised if we move a carrier or two into position just in case.

Romney Culture

Mitt Romney said this the other day:

In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

He added, “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.

Romney is trying to walk back the comments. And the Left is screaming about his racism. But I think people are missing the forest for the trees here.

First, the Palestinian Authority correctly notes that Israel has had a trade embargo, economic restrictions and occupation. That’s all true and is having an absolutely devastating effect. However, Israel is not the only country that is making life difficult for Palestine. None of the Arab nations are lifting a finger to help Palestine. Jordan and Egypt, specifically, have massively contributed to the problem by closing borders (and in Jordan’s case, shooting people during Black September). Iran, Hussein’s Iraq and Syria have specifically supported radical elements, making the place even more difficult to govern. And we can not sit here and pretend that the Palestinians themselves have not contributed to their own sorrows. Hamas controlled much of Palestine for a while and their supposed reconciliation with the Authority has stalled.

So, yes, the condition of Palestine is something that was done to them. But the people who did it were, at least in part, their fellow Arabs and, at least in part, themselves.

Moreover, I don’t think you can really ignore Romney’s general point. Israel has a far greater per capita income ($28-31,000) than Egypt ($6,000), Jordan ($6,000), Syria ($5,000) or Iraq ($4,000 now and about the same before the wars), nations they have not attacked or embargoed. The only nations in that region that come anywhere close to Israel’s success are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which also happen to sit on massive lakes of oil. Were it not for the oil, they would be in a worse situation, probably no better off that Syria.

I don’t see how you can possibly look at the region and not conclude, as Mitt Romney has, that Israel’s culture has something to do with the stark difference, not between them and Palestine but between them and everyone. It is the only real democracy in the region, the only country that has a real economy as opposed to an oiligarchy, the only country that has gender equality, the only country that has a semblance of human rights and the only country that has built a real 21st century industrial base.

And that’s the point. Romney wasn’t running down Palestinian culture as much as he was praising Israeli culture. The comparisons to Chile and the US make that abundantly clear. What he was talking about — and what any sensible person would agree with — is that poverty is the natural state of man. The only way out is accountable government, free markets and a good work ethic. We know at least the first two, in the Middle East, are unique to Israel.

Murder on the Nuclear Express

Green Greenwald has a great point about the recent assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist. He compares the reaction to the actual assassination of Iranian scientists to the reaction to Glenn Reynold’s suggestion of same:

What’s most remarkable here is to compare the boisterous, furious denunciations of the mere suggestion by a blogger on the Internet that Iranian scientists be killed, versus the relative silence in the face of its actually being done in real life, now that the corpses of murdered Iranian scientists are beginning to pile up. Does anyone doubt that some combination of the two nations completely obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program — Israel and the U.S. — are responsible? (U.S. officials deny involvement while pointing the finger at Israel, whose officials will not comment but “smile” when asked; the CIA has “targeted” Iran’s scientists in the past, several of whom have disappeared only to end up in U.S. custody, including one who “resurfaced in the United States after defecting to the CIA in return for a large sum of money”). At the very least, there has been no denunciation from any Obama officials of whoever it might be carrying out such acts.

I actually don’t think we’re behind this. I wouldn’t put it past Obama, but I’m very doubtful. Everyone seem to think it’s Israel and I will admit they’re the most likely candidate. But the Saudis and Iraqis have no interest in a nuclear Iraq. Neither do India or Pakistan.

But I do know that if a Republican were President, the demands for a special investigation would be long and loud. It’s obscene how the Left falls on real or perceived War on Terror excess when it’s their guy doing it.

Curious what you guys think about this, however. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was not a terrorist or a military figure; he was a scientist with a family. Is the killing justified? Is it an act of war? Is it an act of terrorism, as Greenwald claims?

Update: More here. I do want to re-iterate what I’ve said before: I think all of this is merely delaying the inevitable. Iran, even if the current regime is toppled, will never accept not being a nuclear power. Not when they’re surrounded by other nuclear powers. Staving off the inevitable isn’t a bad thing — maybe we can push the nuclear day past the Mullahs’ expiration date. But it is still just staving off the inevitable. Iran will be a nuclear power one day. The debate is not about whether we can prevent it but what means we are willing to use to delay that day of reckoning.