Lisa Goldman, a freelance writer in Israel, has posted some great Israeli campaign commercials.
Here's one from the rightist Likud Party's Bibi Netanyahu, arguably the frontrunner:
And here's one from Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and a member of the centrist Kadima Party:
But the most interesting pitch comes from the Holocaust Survivors and Green Leaf Party, whose platform is avowedly pro-cannabis:
According to Goldman, the first caption reads, bizarrely, "this number [i.e., a concentration camp tattoo number] is not good for credit."
In early January, Egypt starting deporting Eritrean refugees -- somewhere between 45 and 65 are thought to have been sent home. These refugees tried to enter Isreal through the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. And the deportations say much less about the refugees themselves than the perilous but staunch relationship between Israel and Egypt.
In short, Israel has turned up the pressure on Egypt in recent months to secure that country's side of the Sinai peninsula border -- a hot spot for trafficking of humans (like the Eritreans), goods, and weapons into the Gaza strip).
In June of last year, just as a 6-month ceasefire with Gaza went into effect, 1,200 more Eritrean refugees were detained and later deported. Recently, during the Gaza crisis, Human Rights Watch researcher Leslie Lefkow says she believes Egypt has sent between four and six flights of refugees back to Eritrea.
From the looks of it, pressure to clamp down on migrants is both formal and implicit. Israel imposed a strict policy to limit non-Jewish immigrants in 2007, facing what it feared was a tsunami of Africans seeking work or amnesty. In April 2007, Israeli and Egyptian authorities reportedly agreed on a policy of 'hot returns' -- wherein all illegal border-crossers caught in Israel would be handed over to the Egyptians within 48 hours. The plan faced resistance from refugee advocates, but it's not clear that the process ever stopped.
Now, with Gaza smuggling at an all time high, Egypt is in the hot seat to get all border crossings under control. The change in Egypt's actions on the border -- at least on refugee policing -- is apparent. "Egypt has always been respectful of refugee law, but this is a different scenario," Abeer Etefa of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Egypt told me.
Sinai has always separated Egypt and Israel -- in geography and politics alike. This time, it's refugees caught in the middle.
Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Even setting aside Turkey's record with its Armenian and Kurdish minorities for a moment, it's a little rich for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be so aghast at the idea of sharing a stage with a human rights abuser.
Almost exactly a year before Erdogan's outburst at Davos, in which he lambasted Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's actions in Gaza, he was literally rolling out the red carpet for Sudan's genocidal president and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir in Ankara.
So when did "killing people" become a problem for him?
Davos got a bit more interesting yesterday when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion after castigating Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel's actions in Gaza. Erdogan was upset not just at the content of Peres's speech but by the fact that he had apparently been given less time to speak.
Erdogan returned home to a hero's welcome in Turkey where he gave a press conference saying Peres's manner was "unacceptable" and blaming the panel's moderator, Washington Post reporter David Ignatius, for not allowing him to speak. "I cannot allow anybody to harm my country's dignity and honor," Erdogan said.
Peres says the relationship between Turkey and Israel won't be affected by the event, though Erdogan had earlier stated that Turkish moderated talks between Israel and Gaza had been "shelved" after Gaza.
In the last issue of FP, Gershom Gorenberg worried that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were endangering the two-state solution. "No one knows exactly where the point of no return is — when so many Israelis will have moved into so many homes beyond the pre-1967 border that there is no going back," he wrote. Wherever that point may be, a new report reveals that Israel raced toward it at a breakneck pace in 2008.
The number of structures in West Bank settlements and new outposts increased 69% in 2008 compared to 2007, according to a new study released by Peace Now. The Israeli government has allowed new construction in larger settlements, which Israel would likely keep in any final status agreement. But of the 1,518 new settler structures, Peace Now found that 39% of the structures were built in outposts outside these areas.
This explosion of settlement growth, it is important to note, happened under a Kadima and Labor government. If you believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud Party is leading election polls, is going to bring a halt to the settler movement -- well, I've got a bridge to sell you in Beitar Illit.
Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
Libyan leader General Muammar Qaddafi has some advice for U.S. foreign policy: forget a two state solution in Israel, re-trace the mis-steps of the Bush Administration in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and talk to Osama Bin Laden. "I think Osama bin Laden is a person who can be given a chance...Maybe he wants peace."
The Leader, as he is affectionately (and mandatorily) referred to in Libya, spoke at Georgetown University via satellite last night. And the view from Qaddafi-cam looks a characteristic mix of suprisingly rational rhetoric with a healthy dose of crazy.
Qaddafi's proposal for a one-state solution in Israel was also laid out in a New York Times op-ed today.("We can call [the single state] Isratine", he suggested at Georgetown.) He likewise offered a candid admission that petro-state Libya is suffering from the low oil prices.
In the war on terror, Qaddafi described a window of opportunity for Obama to reach out to a select few. Without explanation, he concluded that, though Ayman al-Zawahiri is a thug, Bin Laden might be more rational "Maybe we can have a dialogue with [bin Laden] and find out the reason that led him in this direction," Qaddafi suggested.
Yeah, I'm sure Obama will take that under advisement.
As our photo essay so eloquently put it, The Leader has got his groove back. The only question is -- does Obama want to dance?
Photo courtesy of Brown Lloyd James
While the Israel-Hamas war has come to a inconclusive end, the ongoing Palestinian civil war shows no sign of abating. There had been some thought that the Israeli offensive in Gaza could lead Hamas and Fatah to find a common cause against their shared enemy. Instead, suspicion between the two factions appears to be at an all-time high.
Over the weekend, Hamas accused Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas of playing a "major role" in the assassination of Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam, through filtering intelligence from Fatah agents on the ground to the Israeli military. In response, Fatah members accused one of Siam's bodyguards of passing on his location to Israel. "Hamas is full of spies and corrupt people who are prepared to do anything in return for a few hundred shekels," said one Fatah spokesman, by way of explanation.
But this is more than a war of words. Fatah members are also accusing Hamas of killing and torturing its members in Gaza, in a bid to prevent them from returning to power. Fatah has accused Hamas of detaining "hundreds" of Fatah activists, and killing or wounding another hundred in the crackdown. A Hamas spokesman confirmed today that their internal security forces was ordered "to track collaborators and hit them hard," and that they had already arrested dozens.
In the aftermath of the war, Fatah and Hamas are already fighting over who will distribute humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Hamas is preventing Fatah activists from playing a role in the rebuilding of Gaza, and recently hijacked 12 trucks full of aid donated by the Jordanian government, meant for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
The weakening of Hamas's hold on Gaza was the hoped-for result of Israel's offensive. But if Hamas still maintains a firm hold on the distribution of aid, and can still arrest and kill Fatah members at will, the odds of regime change in Gaza remain dim.
Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images
U2 frontman Bono's "shout out" to Palestine, as The Nation calls it, at yesterday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial, is a little underwelming when you just read it:
"Let freedom ring. On this spot where we're standing 46 years ago Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass," before launching into 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', U2's tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"This is not just an American dream," he said, adding that it was "also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream... an Israeli dream... and also a Palestinian dream."
Palestinians have dreams too. Is that really such a bold statement that it warrants the exceedingly dramatic pause that Bono gives it? Certainly not as gutsy as when Bjork shouted out Tibet while peforming in China.
On the other hand, the president-elect does look extremely uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, Saletan's piece should have been called "How not to close the Gaza tunnels." It's really terrible advice -- almost a parody of the worst sort of technocentric thinking that military reformers like H.R. McMaster have been fighting against for decades.
Saletan examines the following nine options:
Seriously, I was waiting for the twist at the end where Saletan says, "See, none of this BS will work, which is why..." But instead, he concludes:
If Israel can't get a deal to block the tunnels with sensors or a barrier, it might have to resort to "statistical" bombing again. That could mean a bombing campaign along the border every three to six months—the length of time it takes diggers to complete new tunnels. An ugly prospect, to be sure. But not as ugly as what's going on right now in Gaza.
What ever happened to basic economics? If people want stuff, and people are willing to supply it at the demanded price -- whether it's illegal drugs, weapons, or televisions -- they will find a way to supply it, and they will take extreme risks if the expected payoff exceeds their expected costs. Full stop. (There's even a book about this phenomenon.)
The super-smart Michael Slackman looked into the smuggling issue in 2007, and he concluded (after actual reporting!) that "to stanch the flow of weapons, Egypt will ultimately have to address the economic and social concerns of the region, and not rely solely on its security forces":
In more than a dozen interviews shortly after Hamas solidified its grip on Gaza, locals said the Palestinian territory was a primary market for goods in a region short of jobs and other economic opportunities. They said, almost without exception, that the business of ferrying weapons was more about profit than ideology. [...]
In the last two years, since Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, Egyptian officials said they had increased their policing of the border area, blowing up tunnels and arresting people connected with smuggling.
Israeli officials say that when they still had a presence in Gaza, they tried to foil the tunneling by installing a concrete or iron wall along the border that extended 3 meters, or 10 feet, underground. But the tunnels are typically 6 to 20 meters below ground.
Israel also used sonar and other sensors to hunt for the tunnels, occasionally setting off charges to cause undiscovered tunnels to collapse. They also urged the Egyptians to do more - which they did.
But no matter how much the authorities here tried to crack down on smuggling, people here said, the outlaw culture could never be overcome without economic development. Unemployment in the region is among the highest in Egypt.
While a percentage of the weapons smuggling is a function of solidarity with the Palestinians, people here said, weapons were also just one product that brought income. Many of the Bedouins said they also worked to smuggle people into Israel, often women from Eastern Europe looking to work in the sex industry. They talked of smuggling marijuana and cigarettes, too.
There's a sad history of people who don't understand -- or, for political reasons, pretend not to understand -- why technology won't solve their political, economic, and social problems. Take Robert McNamara, who in 1967 announced plans for a massive, ill-conceived "electronic anti-infiltration barrier" to stop inflitration of men and materiel from North Vietnam. Or take the moronic "virtual fence" that some in the U.S. government concoted to address illegal immigration because they didn't grasp what BusinessWeek's Keith Epstein, with more patience than I can muster, explains here:
The allure of a technology fix is understandable, given what federal agents are up against. Along nearly 2,000 miles of scorching desert, steep canyons, winding rivers, and urban mazes, they routinely strive for the unattainable—to stop the flow of people so desperate for better lives that they will climb, run, swim, tunnel, bribe, and even hide in car undercarriages to get into the U.S. The number of Border Patrol agents has almost doubled since 2000, to 14,900, supplemented now by up to 3,000 National Guard troops. Still, migrants continue to cross. And they'll continue to come, as long as Mexico's per capita income remains one-fifth that of the U.S. and employers in El Norte continue to welcome them.
So, wise guy, you ask, how do you shut down the Gaza tunnels?
My answer: You don't. Or, at least, not until you permit free trade in and out of Gaza, end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raise income levels in northern Sinai, and pay Egyptian officials high enough wages such that they don't feel the need to take bribes.
There is no technological solution, so best of luck with the rest of it.
Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images
This morning, the world awoke to find the United Nations Relief and Work Agency headquarters in Gaza shelled in an Israeli campaign, yielding Ban Ki-Moon's "strong protest of outrage".
What's the UN's take on the Gaza conflict more generally? We asked Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang last week. Condemnation falls on both sides of the conflict, but Israel's actions are of particular concern, she says. Read on...
Photo: ALEXANDER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images
With the violence in Gaza and the imminent changeover in administrations here in Washington D.C., terrorism experts told Foreign Policy in interviews today, Osama bin Laden apparently thought the time was right to deliver a message to both his supporters and his enemies.
An audio tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader appeared on an Islamist website early Wednesday morning. Although there has not been any independent confirmation of whether the voice on the tape is actually bin Laden's, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated that he had no reason to question the tape's authenticity.
The message called for jihad against Israel for its assault on Gaza. Addressing the Palestinian people, bin Laden stated: "We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom." He also publicly doubted the ability of the United States to continue its struggle, saying that "America is begging the world for money," and "the USA will not be as powerful as it used to be."
While the world's most wanted man hardly broke new ground with these pronouncements, the very fact that he recorded a message himself -- his first since last May -- shows that he is very much alive and intent on being a public antagonist to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama.
"No matter how isolated bin Laden is, [the tape shows] that he is following current events and maintains the ability to comment on them and get his message out there," Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told FP.
There is no issue in the Arab world that is the focus of more rage right now than the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has now claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians. Since al Qaeda has been unable to establish any actual presence in Palestine, bin Laden's tape is one of the terrorist organization's only available methods for being heard on the subject. "The Israel-Palestine conflict is, for many al Qaeda members, at the heart of their struggle, so they had to comment on it," noted Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert with the Brookings Institution. "The Arab world is riveted to what is going on in Gaza, and it is hard for them to remain on the sidelines."
Bin Laden is also likely interested in puncturing some of the hopes raised by Obama's upcoming inauguration, a message also delivered recently by th al Qaeda leader's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"They're essentially saying that, despite Obama's talk about change, his administration will be the same old wine in a different bottle," said Hoffman. "The message is: Don't feel hope, don't be taken in. The United States is still doing horrible things to Muslims around the world, and al Qaeda will eventually be victorious."
Bin Laden also blames Bush for "the collapse of the economy," arguing that if the United States pursues its war against al Qaeda it will "drown in economic crisis." This is actually a persistent theme of bin Laden's rhetoric. Since 2002, bin Laden has claimed that the United States was on the verge of military and economic collapse, in much the same way that the Soviet Union was during its battles against the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. "He sees the West in fundamental decline, and believes that it is losing the ability to maintain the fight," explained Byman.
Bin Laden is about to outlast the U.S. president who vowed seven years ago to bring him in "dead or alive." Clearly, he's gearing up for the next one.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Harsh words from CSIS analyst Anthony Cordesman:
To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.
As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel's top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.
Predictably, Israel's continued assault in Gaza has led to renewed calls to boycott Israeli products. Everyone has a right to express their political views any way they see fit, but it's safe to say that some proposed boycotts are less productive than others.
More than 2,000 restaurants in Malaysia have removed coca-cola because of the United States' support of Israel. The Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association has also pushed for boycotts of Starbucks, Colgate, McDonald's and Maybelline in order "to protest Zionist cruelty."
Coca-Cola is a particularly odd target since it's bottled and sold locally by a Malaysian-owned company, so the activists are really just hurting their own country's economy. (I remember from college that students campaigning for a campus boycott against "killer coke's" Latin American business practices faced the same problem.) It's also ironic given that the company was once criticized as anti-Semitic because of its reluctance to break an Arab League boycott by selling coke in Israel.
The Malaysian boycott seems pretty pointless, but it's not nearly as sinister as one Italian labor union's call to boycott "shops in central Rome linked to the Israelite community." To his credit, Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno, an ex-fascist who hasn't always had the best relations with Italy's Jewish community, quickly condemned the campaign as reminiscent of 1930s race laws. If only the Italian right was so quick to object when other groups are victimized.
I argued a few days ago that Hezbollah has no interest in provoking a war with Israel over the situation in Gaza. But that doesn't mean they aren't at risk of getting one. At least three rockets were launched from South Lebanon into Israel this morning, landing near the town of Nahariyeh.
The rockets were likely fired by Palestinian militant organizations based in the refugee camps, not Hezbollah. Still, the rockets put Hezbollah in an awkward position. Hassan Nasrallah, after announcing that his group "will not abandon the fight or our weapons," cannot easily condemn the rocket attacks. Note that Hezbollah's initial denial of responsibility for the rocket attacks did not come from the group itself, but from Tarek Mitri, the government Information Minister. Nasrallah may not want a war, but he has placed himself in a position where he cannot oppose one.
Today's rockets lightly injured two Israelis. Though the IDF responded with mortar fire, they seem ready to shrug off the event as a minor incident. But if a subsequent attack hits a school or a hospital and the casualties are in the dozens, Israeli retaliation might be far more severe. And that could very easily drag Hezbollah into a conflict, whether they want one or not. The rockets being fired are primitive, unguided devices -- whether they hit military targets, unpopulated areas, or civilian neighborhoods is simply the luck of the draw. Cruelly, the fate of many innocent people in Lebanon largely depends on where these rockets happen to land.
Photo: ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
I hate to diss the folks at Pajamas TV, who were nice enough to let me come on recently to promote our worst predictions list, but sending Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher to cover the war in Gaza seems like a questionable decision:
Mr Wurzelbacher, 34, says he will spend 10 days covering the fighting in Gaza and explaining why Israeli forces are mounting attacks against Hamas.
He told WNWO-TV in Toledo, Ohio, that he wants "go over there and let their 'Average Joes' share their story".
If you're a little fuzzy on Joe's foreign policy views, just recall that he agreed with a voter on the campaign trail that a vote for Barack Obama was equivalent to a vote for the death of Israel.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The debate continues on Steve Walt's "thought experiment." Today, David Rothkopf joined Chris Brose in taking on Walt's hypothetical Jewish Gaza. Ross Douthat also weighed in over at the Atlantic. Walt seems to be taking the impressive buzz he's generated in his blogosphere debut in stride and has just posted a follow-up experiment.
But it's not just Israel's critics who can play the analogy game. Blogging for Haaretz, Bradley Burston proposes this one:
A fanatical religious party wins a string of elections in Mexico's northern states, then stages a civil war to drive out the federal government and take full control.
The party's charter demands the return to Mexico of the occupied territories of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.
Firing homemade rockets and more advanced projectiles smuggled in from Iran and China, the party's gunners can hit a total of one of every seven Americans, or 43,598,000 people, in a broad swath which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Las Vegas.
In all of these areas, pre-schools, grade schools, and universities are all forced to shut down. Families sleep in bomb shelters, and return to them several times a day during air raids. Businesses are shuttered, and the economy shuts down.
I dunno. I must admit I'm a little confused by which part of Mexico corresponds with which Palestinian faction and the model pretty much ignores five decades of Israeli history.
I find this need to put Israel in context by pretending that it's something else a little strange. Why, in order to understand this country's situation, do we need to imagine that Israelis are actually Arabs, or that the Palestinians are Mexicans, or that Israel never existed, or that it existed but was in Alaska?
Analogies and hypotheticals can be useful for putting a complicated situation in context, but can also be dangerous if you're altering your perception of reality in order to fit your chosen narrative. In a conflict as ideologically divisive as Israel/Palestine, they're rhetorically useful but pretty rarely enlightening.
Believe it or not, Israel is a real place. So is Gaza. No theoretical construct is going to absolve either side of responsibility for inflicting violence or get them any closer to a resolution.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has castigated
Because he isn’t suicidal. IDF
generals have made clear that another war with Hezbollah would likely be far more
destructive than the 2006 confrontation and would likely include a ground
invasion. Hezbollah is adept at fighting an insurgency in South Lebanon
because they have always been able to draw on the support of the Lebanese Shia
and capitalize on a weak or complicit central government in
“If they start something, they know the biggest loser will be their constituency,
the Shia community of
In the larger Lebanese political scene, this is an awkward time for military
adventurism. The pro-Western forces in
the government have insisted on a “national dialogue” to determine a national
defense strategy, which could constrain Hezbollah’s use of its militia. Hezbollah and its allies have managed to
stall this discussion, but if Hezbollah were to unilaterally launch a war
Photo: ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hitting all the Middle East power centers in a two-day tour of the region. First, he held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh. Then it's off to Ramallah to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, before landing in Jerusalem in time for dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On day two, Sarkozy jets off to Lebanon and Syria.
The French president has tasked himself with the modest goal of negotiating an immediate ceasefire to the carnage in Gaza. Even if he fails to score a diplomatic victory, his whirlwind tour will no doubt represent a triumph of travel booking.
Sarkozy's extremely personal brand of diplomacy has taken him to over 40 countries in the first year and a half of his Presidency. His hyperactive travel schedule has spawned a long list of diplomatic initiatives: he went to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, and attempted to enlist the Syrian president in joining his Union of the Mediterranean. He traveled to Moscow and Tblisi during the Russian invasion of Georgia, attempting to arrange a ceasefire.
He visited Abu Dhabi to sign a deal establishing a French naval base in the emirate, making it the only Western power other than the United States to have a permanent military installation in the Gulf. He paired with Gordon Brown to launch an initiative aimed at ending the genocide in Darfur, caused a diplomatic row with its traditional ally Morocco by first visiting its regional rival Algeria, and enraged many Africans by highlighting the positive aspects of European colonialism during a speech in Senegal.
All this travel has caused France's 2009 travel and entertainment budget for Sarkozy to balloon 29% over the previous year, to $55 million. The French taxpayers are getting precious few diplomatic victories for their money, but many headlines. And that seems to suit them just fine. Sarkozy's trips have raised France's international profile, much to the pleasure of many French voters. Whether the people of Gaza will reap any of the benefits of Sarkozy's diplomacy, however, remains to be seen.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
If there were any lingering doubt that peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is not in the offing in 2009, the recent eruption of war in Gaza has finally erased it.
A lot has already been said about the fighting, and it's all very predictable. Israel's usual critics are critical of the operation; Israel's usual defenders in favor. Dust off the commentary from any number of depressingly similar situations over the past few decades, change the date and the particulars of today's situation, cut, paste and you have yourself yet another debate over who the real terrorists are, who started the fighting, and what constitutes a "proportionate" response to assymetrical warfare.
Frankly, I'm not interested in all that.
One thing I'm struck by is just how little the Israeli government seems to have thought things through. Yes, we know that plans were in the works for something like six months. Yes, Hamas was clearly surprised on a tactical level, but the group must have been expecting to be hit sooner or later.
But what is the exit plan here? Pound Hamas until they cry uncle? And why would Israel be willing to trade some temporary advantages in Gaza for a number of strategic setbacks: the effective end of the Annapolis process, a possible collapse of the peace track with Syria, worldwide opprobrium, a reinvigorated radical camp in Iran, the further undermining of pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a Hamas that may in fact emerge stronger vis-à-vis the ever-shrinking Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction?
Yes, as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama put it last summer during a visit to rocket-plagued Sderot, "If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." But how you choose to stop the rockets matters a great deal. Revenge is not a strategy for national success.
I watched Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, explain to David Gregory on Meet the Press right after the operation began that its goal was not to achieve some kind of objective for Israel, but simply to send a message that Hamas's rocket attacks won't go unanswered.
Here's the exchange:
MR. GREGORY: What is Israel's goal right now? Is it to re-establish the cease-fire, or is it to invade Gaza and remove Hamas from power?
MS. LIVNI: Our goal is not to reoccupy Gaza Strip. We left Gaza Strip. We took off for the south. We dismantled all the settlements. But since Gaza Strip has been controlled by the extremists and since Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas and since Hamas is using Gaza Strip in order to target us, we need to give an answer to this.
MR. GREGORY: Foreign Minister, aren't you making the case for pushing Hamas from power? The cease-fire, according to Israel, simply hasn't worked. It hasn't stopped the bombing of Sderot and Israel in the southern areas. So only the replacement of Hamas by Fatah, by more moderate leaders, appears to be the only answer.
MS. LIVNI: The goal is to give an answer to our citizens, to give them the possibility to live in peace like any other citizen in the world, and Hamas needs to understand it.
Or, as TNR's Marty Peretz put it, the message was nothing more sophisticated than, "Do not fuck with the Jews."
Watch Livni here:
The truce between Hamas and Israel in Gaza is nearing its end, and may have, for all practical purposes, already expired. While the ceasefire will officially terminate on December 19th, over 90 Qassam rockets and 70 mortar shells have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel during the past month.
The approach of Dec. 19 has created an interesting split within the Hamas leadership. Speaking from Damascus, the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, announced definitively that the truce would expire on the 19th. He was quickly contradicted by Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, who declared that Hamas had not taken its final position.
And it's not only the Palestinians who are embroiled in a leadership struggle. Lagging behind in the polls to the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, Kadima Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has recently been more aggressive in condemning Hamas. She told a group of high school students on Monday that Israel "cannot tolerate an extreme Islamic state on its southern border," and had previously remarked that she was "ashamed" about the state of the Gaza truce.
Further complicating matters, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has also called for open-ended protests in Beirut to protest the "siege" of Gaza. With Lebanese Parliamentary elections scheduled for May, Nasrallah no doubt believes that he can rail against the situation in Gaza to cement his pro-Palestinian bona fides while not actually launching an attack on Israel, which could provoke an even more destructive conflict than the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war.
Gaza seems destined to serve as a political football as all of these different actors vie for power. Until the conclusion of the elections in the Middle East next year, Gaza will likely be forced to muddle through -- neither at peace nor in a state of open war.
Photo: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
I just noticed that the Jerusalem Post has a top-level link on its Web site called "Iranian Threat":
Kind of unusual for a newspaper, no?
Haaretz, in contrast, plays it straight:
UPDATE: A journo friend in Beirut writes in:
I am loving the Foreign Policy blog as always, but I am curious exactly how Haaretz "plays it straight" with sections titled "Diplomacy" and "Defense"?
I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't really notice this myself until I'd been reading Haaretz for months. It's still the best source I've come across for Israel-Palestine related news.
Give Tzipi Livni some credit -- she's still keeping it real. Even with Israel's upcoming election looking ever-tight, with Likud narrowing the margin, Livni's not kowtowing to anyone. As a result, she's been pissing off, well, pretty much everyone, Arabs and Jews alike.
The Kadima party candidate might have made a misstep when, in an address students over the radio yesterday about her solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, said: "I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel... and tell them: 'Your national aspirations lie elsewhere.'"
While Livni was merely expanding on her idea "to have two distinct national entities," she left the comment open ended. "Transferring" Israeli Arabs out of Israel is understandably a touchy subject, and one usually associated with hardline right-wingers. Needless to say, the Israeli Arab population took note and demanded that the PM hopeful define her position.
In true Livni style she clarified her statement on public radio but made no soft-ball apologies.
There is no question of carrying out a transfer or forcing them [Israeli Arabs] to leave.... I am willing to give up a part of the country over which I believe we have rights so that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state in which citizens have equal rights, whatever their religion."
All better, right? Not quite. Today it was the Jews turn to get offended at Livni truth-telling, this time over the return of Israeli soldier, Galid Shalit, who is being held by Hamas. "It's not always possible to bring everyone home," Livni said. Even as protestors piled up in front of her Tel Aviv home today, Livni would not take back her words.
Whether or not Livni is going to lose political ground here, she's not pandering to anyone. Perhaps Livni knows better than most that you can't please everyone all the time, especially in Israel.
Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Very cool news out of Tel Aviv where Project Better Place, a company working to develop electric car charging stations, demonstrated a plug-in charging post yesterday. Better Place has been contracted to set up the posts throughout Israel and will soon expand its service to Denmark and Australia. Using these posts, drivers will be able to charge their cars through sockets like the one shown above.
For more on this exciting project, check out Wired's excellent profile of Better Place founder Shai Agassi.
Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images
"We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert said. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom. Even when Jews do this, it is a pogrom.
"As a Jew, I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing."
Haaretz correspondent Avi Issacharoff also used the historically charged word to describe the riots on Thursday night in which extremist settlers attacked local Palestinians and burned their homes after the forced evacuation of a disputed house.
Here's a thought. What if Barack Obama's first test on foreign policy comes not from an adversary, like Russia, or an avowed enemy, like North Korea, but from a close ally? To wit:
The IDF is drawing up options for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities that do not include coordination with the United States, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
While its preference is to coordinate with the US, defense officials have said Israel is preparing a wide range of options for such an operation. "It is always better to coordinate," one top Defense Ministry official explained last week. "But we are also preparing options that do not include coordination."
First, keep in mind that militaries prepare contingencies for all kinds of scenarios. Second, this isn't really a new story -- I think we can safely assume that Israel has long been looking into its options to go it alone in striking Iran. Multiple news organizations, moreover, have reported that the Bush administration has told Israel not to do it. Third, there are real questions as to whether Israel has the capacity to take out Iran's nuclear installations. Doing so would require dozens, if not hundreds of sorties over multiple days across hostile territory, using F-15s that might not have the range to pull off the mission.
The real story here is the leak, clearly aimed at making President-elect Obama think twice about engaging Iran without assuaging Israeli concerns. There may also be some Israeli politics going on here, with the elections coming up early next year.
In my view, though, these kinds of leaks are very damaging, as they only strengthen Iran's hardliners and feed their seige mentality. Want to ensure Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection? Keep leaking this stuff.
Steve Clemons on the Gates reappointment:
My hunch is that Gates wants a chance to make the kind of leaps in the Middle East I have been writing about for some time. He wants to try and push Iran-US relations into a constructive direction. He wants to change the game in Afghanistan -- and the answer will not be a military-dominant strategy. He wants to try and stabilize Iraq in a negotiated, confidence building process that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other regional forces. And he wants to support a big push on Israel-Palestine peace and reconfigure relations between much of the Arab League and Israel.
Most of these ideas, regardless of whether Gates really intends to implement them, are worth exploring. I really, wonder, though, about the viability of a "big push on Israel-Palestine peace" at this point.
It hasn't gotten a lot of coverage, but the Palestinian Authority is in huge trouble right now. Hamas insists that Mahmoud Abbas's term as president expires on Jan. 9. For his part, Abbas is threatening to call presidential and parliamentary elections, the latter of which Hamas would deem illegal.
It's a huge mess, making it hard to imagine Israel engaging in serious negotiations, much less allowing a failed state to set up shop next door. As peace process veteran Aaron David Miller bluntly puts it, "The dysfunction and confusion in Palestine make a conflict-ending agreement almost impossible."
None of this means there is no hope in the region. First, I would keep the parties negotiating, even if it doesn't seem likely to lead anywhere. That's likely to be Hillary Clinton's thinking as well. "When he had a process going that kept Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other, people didn't die," she told Jeffrey Goldberg in 2006, referring to her husband.
Second, if I were Barack Obama, I'd probe the Syrians to find out what their price is for making peace with the Israelis. If it seems doable, I'd start laying the groundwork so that once the new Israeli government is in place, direct talks could quickly follow with the United States, not Turkey, as a mediator.
Claims that getting the Syrians to stop supporting Hamas will cause the Palestians to be less radical are probably overblown -- if anything, the exiled political leadership in Damascus is more pragmatic than the guys in Gaza -- but a Syria-Israel peace deal has its own logic. Syria has foolishly spurned such opportunities before, but it's worth a shot.
UPDATE: Miller weighs in further today with an op-ed in the Washington Post. He stresses that "it would be folly to go for broke" on the Arab-Israeli question, though it's worth keeping negotiations and security and economic aid to the Palestinians going. But the Syria track, though certainly no cakewalk, is definitely the better bet in his view.
Curious about what's going on in the photograph above? To find out, check out FP's latest photo essay, "Gaza's (Literal) Underground Economy."
Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images
Over the past week, Israel has hosted many services, speeches and events in honor of former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin. The national hero and Nobel Peace Prize recipient was assassinated 13 years ago by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin's peacemaking work.
Israel's top politicians used the occasion to highlight messages of peace. One Israeli soldier, however, appeared to be less than riveted while attending a memorial ceremony earlier this week, showing his lack of interest with what his Air Force base commander deemed a "disrespectful act": a yawn. Apparently, he didn't even cover his mouth.
The faux pas came during the commander's own remarks. So loud and disruptive was this yawn that the commander paused for a "few minutes." This display of disinterest earned the soldier 21 days in jail.
But does the punishment fit the yawn?
The soldier's mother doesn't think so. The woman recounted the episode to Israel Radio, saying that she'd raised her son on Rabin's legacy and that he wasn't being disrespectful, he was merely tired.
But, if Rabin's memory impresses any lessons on those in the company of our boorish yawner, especially now as elections approach and peace negotiations hang in the balance, perhaps it's that peace requires superhuman energy and staying power.
Rest up, Israel. There's much work ahead.
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