Articles which have caught my interest. Mostly Israel stuff and other nubbins from the ongoing holy war.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
This From Lileks
In James Lileks' entry today:
The top-of-the-hour radio news played today's news just as you'd expect - everything shoved through the tit-for-tat template. Israel attempts to take out a terror leader; Hamas "responds" with a bombing. As if they're equal. As if targeting the car that ferries around some murderous SOB is the same as sending a blissed-out teenager to blow nails and screws through the flesh of afternoon commuters so he can bury himself in the heaving bosom of the heavenly whorehouse. Cycle of violence, don't you know.
Ratcheting it Up a Notch
Now that the lid is off the box, it looks like Sharon has decided to go with a policy of im kvar, az ad hasof (loosely, "in for a penny, in for a pound"). It's now officially open season on Hamas leadership. We've seen 5 airstrikes over the last couple of days which have rid the world of a dozen of Hamas' finest, people eminently worth getting rid of.
Which would be great, except that the attacks also killed 10 innocent bystanders, including women and children and that's pretty fucked up. I'm not going to pretend to be a bleeding heart about this. Nor do I have a solution to the problem of how you kill the one without killing the other.
A Few Words About Cause and Effect
Being that the road map disappeared really quickly and we've gone back to the general slaughter around here I thought it might be worth addressing the troublesome little issue of who started what. When you look at the situation over here from afar, it becomes really easy to say that the latest round of violence was triggered by the botched assassination attempt on Rantisi the other day.
While I think I've made my feelings about that operation fairly clear, I think people should look and see what preceded that hit. In the four days since the Aqaba speech, Hamas carried out 4 separate attacks killing 7 soldiers and two civilians. The worst of these attacks was a joint venture between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Brigades of Fatah. In effect, the Abu Mazen opposition basically said to him "Screw you, we're going to continue to murder Jews and you can't tell us otherwise."
Abu Mazen had made very clear that he would not use force to stop them nor would he attempt to collect their arms. The best he could promise was to try and broker a hudna, or cease fire. However, on Friday, Abd 'el Aziz Rantisi told Abu Mazen where he could stick his hudna.
So, then we had the attempted hit on Rantisi on Tuesday and yesterday Hamas blew up a bus in Jerusalem killing 17 people on their way home from work. Simple cause and effect, no? Well, not really. If you think about the logistics of carrying out one of these bomb attacks -- you have to pick out a location, you have to brainwash a 20-year-old goon, put together the bomb (or have one of your collaborators inside Israel put together a bomb), find a suitable disguise for the goon (yesterday's little murderer was dressed up as a haredi), then smuggle the disguised goon inside Israel and set him off on his merry little way. This takes more than 24 hours to set up.
Point is, Hamas claims the attack yesterday is in retaliation for Rantisi. In actuality, they had this thing planned well ahead of time and would have carried it out yesterday in any case. Unfortunately, we provided the bastards with a ready-made excuse.
I saw Dubya on the news yesterday. He looked really pissed. All I can say to that is "Welcome, my friend, to the Middle East."
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
The Attack Comes
Another suicide bombing in Jerusalem. 13 dead so far.
I've been dreading this since yesterday morning. Rationally, I know that it takes more than 24 hours for the bastards to plan one of these attacks, which means it would have likely happened with or without the Rantisi incident.
Still, we've all had this feeling that the check was in the mail.
My usual sadness and anger is now mixed with a healthy dose of disgust and frustration
Israeli Arabs and Jews Get Along, at Least on the Football Pitch
One of the interesting results of the local football season which recently ended is the fact that two teams from Arab towns -- Maccabi Ahi Nazareth and Ihud Bnei Sakhnin -- managed to rise to the premier league. They won't be the first Arab teams to reach the premier (that honor belongs to Taibeh, who only lasted one season), but their success does represent a historical precedent of sorts as the number of Arab teams in the premiership more or less matches the percentage of Israeli Arabs in the population.
It's a good development. While it doesn't solve many of the complicated problems of Israeli Arabs, it does provide a nice, non-nationalistic outlet to help alleviate some of the tension between Arabs and Jews in thei country. Research has found that although Israeli Arabs are identifying more than ever with Palestinian nationalism, on the football pitch everyone becomes an Israeli.
Now, let's see if Sakhnin and Nazareth can manage not to drop two divisions like Taibeh.
Not that everything is hunky dory when it comes to Arab-Jewish relations in football. A study of racism among football supporters here finds the phenomenon alive and well. At the top of the list for racist supporters you find, surprise surprise, Betar Jerusalem. Betar's fans have the worst reputation for hooliganism and general bad behavior. (Just one example out of many: at the celebration rally when Betar won the championship in 1998, fans struck up the usual chant of "death to Arabs"; they get even surlier when the team loses.)
A friend of mine, who supports Betar, tells this story: A few years back, Betar played a friendly exhibition match against the South Korean national team. The game was held at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, in the presence of the mayor and the South Korean ambassador. True to form, one group of Betar supporters set fire to a South Korean flag.
What amuses me in this story is not the fact that Betar fans are so blindly fanatic and stupid that they won't think twice about creating an international incident at a match that has no significance for Betar's standing. No, it's the amount of effort that went into this display of stupidity: One of their supporters actually took the time to find out what the South Korean flag looks like, find a place where he could buy one, and go out and pay money for it so he could burn the thing.
The Rantisi Cock-Up
Having done a little survey of some of the other Israel-oriented blogs, I see that I'm in a bit of a minority here when I say that yesterday's attack on Abd 'el Aziz Rantisi was one of the most stupid, boneheaded actions this government has ever taken.
Just look at the wonderful results: Hamas just spiked in popularity; Abu Mazen, more useless than ever, now has an excuse for his uselessness; Dubya is screaming mad; two innocent bystanders (a woman and a child) are dead; and Rantisi is alive and well and issuing threats from his hospital bed.
Bravo, guys. Nice freakin' job.
In its defense, the government says it was responding to the barrage of attacks by Hamas since the Aqaba conference. Since Aqaba, 7 soldiers have been killed in attacks by Hamas. Abu Mazen openly refuses to use force against the terrorist, choosing instead to beg them to stay quiet. Sharon's reasoning was that if the PA wasn't going to respond to terrorist attacks, we would. In any case, say government spokesmen, we only did what Bush did when he bombed the crap out of a Baghdad restaurant in an attempt to get Saddam.
All these points are valid, but none of them seem to justify the massive screw-up we saw in Gaza yesterday.
Let me get a few things straight at the outset. I'm not against targeted assassinations. Some people need killing, and Rantisi is definitely one of them. The man -- a pediatrician for chrissakes! -- helps head an organization which has murdered many hundreds of Israelis over the last two and a half years. In today's world, we have a right and duty to hunt down terrorists and Islamic terrorists especially. In principle, I have no problem sending Rantisi (or Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, or Hizbullah's Fadlalah, or Arafat himself for that matter) a nice one-way ticket to collect his 72 virgins in paradise.
However, the timing of yesterday's attack -- not to mention the fact that it got royally botched -- is, as Zvi Bar'el put it in Ha'aretz today, "execrable":
The net gain in the meantime is for the Hamas movement. Abu Mazen's efforts to get the Palestinian public to internalize the cancellation of the armed intifada and to put the brakes on the ideology of violent uprising that the rejectionist organizations want to continue, have suffered a resounding slap in the face.
Sharon had announced that we would cool it on the targeted assassinations except in cases of a "ticking bomb" -- a terrorist on his way to kill people. This wasn't the case with Rantisi. Nor was it a case where the intelligence agencies got a hot tip on a wanted fugitive.
The name of the game with the road map is blame-avoidance. Until now, the Palestinians were doing a wonderful job screwing things up. Abu Mazen's attempts to get Hamas to sit still were anemic and pathetic. Now, however, he has a perfect excuse for doing nothing: "Sharon has made it impossible for me to deal with Hamas."
So now we get the blame. The fact that Israel was taking concrete steps dictated by the roadmap, releasing Palestinian prisoners, easing the closures and dismantling settlement outposts has been completely forgotten. So has Abu Mazen's general non-compliance with Palestinan obligations. Now, the next time an actual "ticking bomb" is located and whacked, America will scream bloody murder. And if -- God forbid -- one of Rantisi's creeps manages to blow up a disco or a pizza parlor or a bus, I'll bet there'll be plenty of people out there muttering under their breaths that we had it coming.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Ay yay yay
The IDF attempted to whack Abd el Aziz Rantisi, the number 2 guy at Hamas, this afternoon. Three Palestinians were killed in the attack and Rantisi managed to get away.
The timing, I must say, is really questionable. Things weren't going so hot with this road map, but it may now be completely dead. And, what's worse, is they didn't even manage to kill the motherfucker.
This is bad on so many levels...
Monday, June 09, 2003
I like to think of myself as a reasonable guy. For the most part I believe in a negotiated settlement to the crisis. Then I read articles like this and I just want to throw my hands up in the air.
For the last year we've heard one Palestinian official after another give the same excuse that the PA can't control the terrorism because its secuirty apparatuses were destroyed in Operation Defensive Shield. However, it's clear from the quiet that we saw last week that the PA is perfectly able to keep things under control. The wave of attacks in the last couple of days comes directly from Arafat, who has no compunction and no trouble doing whatever it takes to make sure Abu Mazen fails.
The whole thing makes you want to reconsider the opinion of the far-right that the only lasting solution is to flatten the West Bank.
Steyn on WMD's
Mark Steyn is back from a field trip in Iraq. Along the way, he stopped over in Europe just in time to see Tony Blair squaring off against a large part of the Parliament about the missing WMDs.
Among the gems in Steyn's column is this observation:
Insofar as this is a serious argument, let's rebut it in terms the armchair accusers can understand: Liberty. Not the liberty George W Bush has brought to Iraq, which Eurosophisticates are so sniffy about, but the Liberty on Regent Street. I once ordered a sofa from Liberty and, as is the way, I had to wait till they made it. They didn't have the sofa itself, but they had sofa capability. That's what counts: capability, not inventory. It would obviously be easier to wait and pick the evidence of WMD out of the rubble of Birmingham, but for the Americans it is capability that's the determining criterion.
Arik Faces the Mob
Ariel Sharon faced down a highly rowdy Likud convention last night. Speaking to a large group of Likud representatives -- screaming, making catcalls, blowing whistles -- Sharon basically reiterated his position with regards to the road map and the need to evacuate settlement ouposts. Preceeding him was Bibi who positioned himself as a champion of the right, referring to the Territories as "our home" and reiterating Israel's steadfast rejection of the Palestinian right of return.
On the level of politics, it was a pretty dull show. We've heard all these speeches, both from Sharon and Bibi, before. Neither of them proposed anything new, nor did they make any radical statements. A majority of Israelis see the need to evacuate some, if not all, of the settlements as part of a peace deal. Likewise, the majority of Israelis oppose the right of return.
If anything, last night's performance was another part of the little game to show unca George that we're trying really really hard despite some of the opposition from within.
On the level of spectacle, however, the convention was a bit more amusing. Likud conventions are always noisy affairs, but last night's meeting sounded a lot more like a football match than a political gathering. The participants did not do much to dispel the pervasive image of the Likud as a loud bunch of thugs.
The sad thing is that the Likud rank and file are unapologetic about their boorishness. A couple of reps were on the morning show justifying it, saying in effect that trying to boo down the Prime Minister was just their way of preserving the party's ideology. However, I'll bet you money that next time campaign season rolls around and someone on the Left makes a comment about the Likud being a rabble -- as happened in the '99 elections -- these same Likud reps will rush to the news shows in a huff complaining of unfair stereotyping.
Sunday, June 08, 2003
God bless the Middle East. You start getting all happy and hopeful one day and the next day it's back to the ol' doom 'n' gloom. The sense of hopefulness following the Aqaba summit went out the window by Friday when Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups basically said "up yours" to Abu Mazen and broke off cease fire talks. Since then, we've seen a couple of clashes between armed Palestinians and the IDF. In two separate incidents, on Friday and Saturday, IDF troops got into shootouts with wanted Palestinians, killing them in the process.
Then, this morning, three Palestinian gunmen infiltrated the Erez checkpoint in Gaza and launched a suicide attack. They killed 4 soldiers and injured 3 others before being shot. The clincher to this story is the fact that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Brigades (which are part of Arafat and Abu Mazen's own Fatah movement) took joint credit for the attack. This means that all the groups opposed to the roadmap are now working in tandem to kill Jews. Joy.
Hamas et al. have criticized Abu Mazen's speech heavily for not focusing on the Palestinian right of return to Israel proper, as well as for his use of the word "terrorism" to describe their terrorism. They vow to keep up the armed struggle.
From an outsider's perspective, this would seem like it puts the righteous kibosh on Abu Mazen's original plan of trying to arrange a cease fire with the terrorist elements of his society. The new Palestinian PM lacks both the willingness and the ability to take out the terrorists by force. Being that the road map calls for Abu Mazen to take care of the terrorism, then it looks like he's going to have a hard time fulfilling his part of the deal. This means that Sharon will drag his heels on Israel's part of the deal and we're back to the same downward spiral of Oslo.
And if the murderous bastards do actually manage to step up the attacks on Israel then the road map will have an amazingly steep downward trajectory. As it is, Israel already re-imposed the closure on the Territories that was lifted last week.
The question right now is what Bush is willing to do to try and salvage the situation. The only thing he can really do at this point is to try and strongarm the Egyptians and the Saudis to get behind the roadmap a lot more explicitly than they have so far in the hopes that they can bolster its legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians. Failing this, I suspect that we will be celebrating the third anniversary of this war after all.
No one in Israel was particularly happy with Abu Mazen's idea of negotiating a cease fire with Hamas in the first place. Those of us who were still trying to be a little bit hopeful hoped that if Abu Mazen could get the terrorists to pipe down for a while, it would allow him time to build up his legitimacy and his power. Those, like Charles Krauthammer, who distrust the road map in general, were afraid that it would give the terrorists time to regroup and rearm.
At either rate, I don't think anyone expected the talks to fall apart as quickly as they died. If this latest move by Hamas & co. succeeds in bringing down the road map, it will be just the latest example of Abba Eban's oft-quoted observation that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
In this case, there are two factors at work here. One is the fact that a substantial part of the Palestinian population (perhaps not a majority, but a minority large enough to mess everything up) is still in thrall to cutting off their noses to spite their faces. This group will never compromise on the right of return issue; for them, the demand to return en masse to Haifa and Tel Aviv is more important than a sovereign Palestinian state. They will continue to kill and terrorize until either the Jews start swimming or else someone takes them out by force.
Factor number two is the fact that Abu Mazen is completely unwilling to take them out by force. Abu Mazen, like Arafat, will do anything and everything to avoid a Palestinian civil war, even if if means the road map goes bye bye as a result of it. Taken together, the two factors don't bode well for the Palestinian Authority ending Palestinian terrorism anytime soon. The thing is that without ending the terrorism, not only will it be impossible to get a Palestinian state, it will be impossible to run one even if they do get it.
Israel went through the same thing when it was established. Except that, in our case, we had a (small) civil war and emerged much the stronger for it. Back then it was a contest between Ben Gurion's provisional government and the radical forces of the Irgun, under the command of Menachem Begin. The Irgun was a terrorist group which, after having attacked the British during the Mandate period, also participated in some of the fighting during the War of Independence. In the summer of 1948, as the first phase of fighting in the war was dying down, the Irgun organized a large arms shipment to replenish its depleted caches. The arms were transported on a ship called the Altalena.
Ben Gurion -- who, upon establishing the state, disbanded the various militia groups and established the IDF as the country's sole military force -- demanded that the Irgun hand over their weapons. As the Altalena approached the shores of Tel Aviv, negotiations were held between the government and Begin. These negotiations broke down and on June 23, 1948, Ben Gurion ordered the IDF to sink the Altalena. The army rolled out large guns onto the beaches at Tel Aviv and shelled the ship. Sixteen Irgun members were killed.
This phase of internecine violence was crucial in the establishment of the state. By sinking the Altalena, Ben Gurion firmly established the rule that from then on Israel would have one armed body and one alone, under the command of the government.
The Altalena affair has parallels to the situation in the Palestinian Authority today, except that Hamas, Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Brigades are viler and more vicious than the Irgun by an order of magnitude and the Palestinians lack a leader with the stature of Ben Gurion. The best they can scrape up is a grey, uninspiring insurance salesman and a ghoulish terrorist.
A lot of Israeli analysts are still waiting for the Palestinian Altalena. I suspect we'll be waiting for a while.
Rationale for War, cont'd
Seems I'm not the only one who thinks Bush and Blair would have to be idiots for using the WMDs as the sole rationale for going to war if they knew for a fact that the WMDs didn't exist.