Thursday, June 19, 2003
Little Ceasing, More Firing

Talks are continuing between the PA and the terrorist groups to put together a cease fire. An idea is being floated that Hamas and Jihad join the PA in a joint political leadership under the auspices of Arafat. That idea will fly real well around here, what with the terrorists getting legitimacy and the bloodthirsty ghoul regaining his leadership status.

On a more concrete level, reports have it that Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire of sorts. They promise to lay off "large-scale" operations while Israel stops its "track and kill" assassination policy. Something along these lines will probably take root, even though it's far from clear that such a cease fire will lead to anything more than the old game where the terrorists attacked and the world urged Israel not to retaliate. (Yisrael Harel paints a fictional -- though all too realistic -- scenario of things that might come).

Bibi Netanyahu was on the radio this morning arguing against accepting these terms for a cease fire. He points out that we've been through this before on numerous occasions. In the past, the terror groups used the calm following the cease fires to rearm and regroup.

As usual, I'm conflicted. Bibi is right. We've been here before, and there is a serious risk that once again Hamas will just use the respite to gear up for more attacks. After all, it's not like Rantisi & co will wake up one morning and decide that they're okay with the Jews. However, I think it's a risk Israel can afford to take. The worst case scenario is that the terrorism starts up and we go back in and re-invade. In other words, if worst comes to the worst we go for Operation Defensive Shield 2. Highly unpleasant, but the sad thing is that if we need to have another Jenin, we'll have another Jenin.

In any case, Operation Defensive Shield targeted the Palestinian Authority which was enabling the terrorists. Next time around, Rantisi and his buddies will be the ones turned into crispy critters. (And they know this; Ehud Ya'ari reported yesterday that the Hamas leaders have stopped driving around in cars and have resorted to walking everywhere in disguise.)

The cease fire is not a great solution. First off, Hamas has yet to define what constitutes a "large-scale" operation. So, what? They won't blow up any more buses, but shooting individual 7-year-old girls is legit? (The murders continue, by the way. This morning a 60-year-old grocery shop owner was killed when a suicide bomber blew up his store.) On a wider level, I'm wondering why we're negotiating with these animals in the first place. Or, rather, letting our negotiating partners negotiate with them and give them political legitimacy.

On the whole, though, I will have to reluctantly agree with the lead editorial in Haaretz this morning. The best case scenario for a cease fire is that the PA manages to establish itself and the general level of tension goes down. The worst case is that we send the tanks back in.

The Left and Iran, Cont'd

Mystery writer and blogger Roger L. Simon, another member of the hawkish liberal contingent, picks up the discussion of the left liberal silence on the Iran issue. Simon's take is depressingly simple: some liberals and the extreme left are so wrapped up in their hatred of George W. Bush that it blinds them to anything else that might be going on in the world. In essence, it's an attitude that "anything which Bush is against, I am for and anything Bush is for, I am against."

This seems to be a fairly accurate assessment for why the anti-war hysteria is still going on in a lot of circles a full two months after the war ended. The big charge of a lot of the people Simon talks about is "Bush wasn't even elected." And his reply is, "The system isn't perfect. Deal with it."

My question is what are the rabid anti-Bushies going to use as an excuse if he does get elected clearly next year.

Our Latest Scandal

Ah, yes, just when you think you've seen everything from the Knesset, our lawmakers come up with some new way of making asses of themselves. Today, for the first time, the Knesset is being investigated by the police. The Israel Police fraud squad will descend on the parliament to start questioning Knesset members who are suspected of voting twice in recent floor votes, or else voted in place of someone who wasn't there.

The Knesset's House Committee has already suspended one MK, Likud backbencher Michael Goralovsky who admitted that he had cast two votes, one for himself and one for fellow Likudnik Inbal Gavrieli who was absent from the plenum that day.

The MKs in question are already on the defensive with a variety of excuses. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui) claims that he accidentally sat in the wrong chair that day and thus may have accidentally voted under a different MK's name. Even better was the excuse offered up by Wasal Talha of the Balad party, who was seen on video voting for faction-mate Jamal Zahalka:
Taha claimed yesterday that Zahalka was in fact present at the time of the vote and had cast his own ballot. "Because the ballots were coming thick and fast, I had to show him which button to press for one specific vote - but I did not vote in place of him."
"See? I was just ... showing him... how to vote. Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket!"

After conducting an investigation into the voting during the debate on the economic program, the Knesset committee found that there were at least 5 questionable ballots, and so called in the police. The police will doubtlessly investigate and quite probably recommend that charges be filed against some of the MKs.

However, I suspect that the story will end there. Either the Attorney General will chicken out and not press charges. Either that or the other Knesset members won't vote to suspend the parliamentary immunity of those charged.

So, what's at work here? It seems to be a combination of a technically deficient electronic voting system and a collection of freshly minted MKs who have yet to internalize the seriousness of their new jobs. (I'm not blaming any particular party or its internal mechanism for choosing candidates -- did someone say Likud primaries? -- or anything. It's just that when you go directly from being a waitress or someone's driver directly to the Knesset you might not have a fully developed sense of national responsibility).

In either event, none of it does much for the rule-of-law thing in this country at the moment. On the other hand, it's good that there's a debate about all this and hopefully this will drive the Knesset to adopt a slightly better voting system.

Ace of Diamonds

And another one checked off the list.

Coalition forces have nabbed Abid Hamid Mahmoud, the number 4 guy on the most wanted list. Mahmoud is Saddam's longtime aide-de-camp, as well as the bearer or one of the bushiest, silkiest moustaches in the Baath party.

Mahmoud is now being questioned. Presumably, he knows where his boss and his boss' psychopathic sons are. He might also know something about the missing WMDs. I wonder what kind of deal the coalition will have to cut with him to get the information.

Hmm, I see an episode of Law & Order in the making.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The Left and Iran

Dang, Michael J. Totten hits the ball out of the park two days in a row.

Another cracking essay from my favorite hawkish liberal, this time on the bizarre absence of support for the nascent student revolution in Iran from the same people who claim to fight fascism:
[T]he anti-war liberals aren’t interested in the slightest [in Iran]. A revolution against tyranny is boring. They would rather discuss Howard Dean.

The radical left is another matter entirely. This is the crowd that says America is a fascist police state. The last thing they want to discover is that a real fascist police state exists in Iran.

Every Friday at 5:00 p.m. the Jackass Contingent marches in front of my building. They bang on drums and shriek against a war that’s already over. They say dissent has been crushed, but the only thing that’s crushed is the size of their rally. Look how brave and heroic I am, they proclaim. You idiots are wasting your lives in office towers while I’m taking on a dictatorship!

But they aren’t taking on a dictatorship. They are wallowing in fantasy. If they pay any attention at all to Iran they’ll see what dictatorship looks like. They’ll see young people who really are brave in dissent, and who really are engaged in revolutionary activity. And they would look at themselves in the mirror and know they are frauds.

State of the Cease Fires

The jawjacking has gone into high gear around here in the last couple of days. Abu Mazen and the Egyptians are trying to get Hamas to agree to some kind of hudna, or cease fire. Israel is trying to get Abu Mazen and his security honcho Mohammed Dahlan to take control over parts of the Gaza strip, but the two will only do that if they can get the hudna with Hamas and the other terrorists. Meanwhile, Condi Rice is pressing Dov Weisglass -- Sharon's bureau chief, and some would say actual Foreign Minister -- to get Israel to lay off the assassinations in any cases except clear and present danger.

As of last night, the various cease-fire talks were progressing at a clip even while the talks about the PA taking security control in Gaza weren't going anywhere.

But then, last night Palestinians opened fire on a van carrying an Israeli family. The Leibovitches were coming back from Jerusalem on their way north. When the van reached an area not far from Qalqilyah, a murderous bastard sprayed it with bullets. Noam Leibovitch, a 7-year-old girl, died on the scene. Her 3-year-old sister, Shira, was critically wounded. The girls' grandfather and an older brother were also hurt in the attack.

At the moment, the news sites are reporting that both the Al Aqsa Brigades (which, as must always be pointed out, are part of the same Fatah movement that Abu Mazen and the ghoul Arafat control) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC, a Syrian-based Marxist group not to be confused with the equally murderous PFLP) have both taken credit for the attack.

The Leibovitches have the dubious honor of being the first victims of attack on the recently opened Trans-Israel Highway. The new road was supposed to be safer than many of the other routes that skirt the seam line between Israel and the West Bank. The attack occurred inside the Green Line, in a portion of the road which has a tall concrete barrier separating it from Qalqilyah.

The terrorists managed to find a breach in the security barrier, waited for a vehicle to drive by, opened fire, and scuttled back to Qalqilyah. IDF forces surrounded the town and have been searching for the gunmen since last night.

This, of course, raises some serious questions about what happens now when we're supposedly heading for a cease fire. The US is presumably going to pressure Ariel Sharon not to respond too harshly to the attack, while the outcry here for retaliation will be fierce, especially since the murderers were nominally part of Abu Mazen's own movement. It'll be interesting to see how Sharon manages to walk
this line.

In a broader sense, the attack raises serious questions once again about the wisdom of going for a cease fire instead of pressing the Palestinian Authority a lot harder for the elimination of the Al Aqsa Brigades, Hamas and the other terrorist groups. After all, even by the questionable cease-fire standards set by Hamas whereby they will refrain from attacking inside Israel proper but will reserve the right to continue murdering settlers and soldiers, this attack shouldn't have happened. The van was inside the Green Line.

As usual, not much hope to go around over here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Israel, the Left, and Antisemitism

It's a light blogging day for me (swamped at work, home late, no free time). Hopefully, things will be better tomorrow.

In the meantime, do read Michael J. Totten's piece on Israel and the Left.

Monday, June 16, 2003
Truce, or not

The Egyptians have now stepped in to try and broker a cease fire between the PA and Hamas (and, by extension, between Hamas and Israel). Only days ago, our good friend Rantisi declared that "cease fire" is not in the Hamas vocabulary and now the issue is back on the table. Presumably he and the other mass murderers stopped talking so tough once they saw that they were in the crosshairs.

The basic setup of the truce appears to be that Hamas lays off on the murders and Israel lays off on the assassinations. Whether this is a temporary truce or a semi-permanent one has not been announced.

Unless the US seriously presses Sharon to take the deal, I'll be surprised if he does it. On the face of it, the truce would ostensibly give Abu Mazen time to regain some sort of control in the Territories and get the road map back on track.

The problems with it are legion. At the moment, there's a clear feeling that Hamas has begun to feel the sting of the attacks against it. Its leaders are beginning to quiver. If we hold back now, chances are good that the terrorist groups will use the down time the same way they did during Oslo: to regroup, re-train, and re-arm themselves for the next round. After all, they're not going to give up their basic demand, i.e. that all the Jews leave Israel immediately.

Also, as long as you have an armed opposition to the official PA, you'll never get any real stability or quiet in the territories. Hamas will be able to threaten Abu Mazen any time they want to.

Of course, only an idiot makes predictions about what will happen around here. So we wait and see.

Sunday, June 15, 2003
Next Round...

There may or may not be a cease fire in the air. The Palestinian Authority may take security control of the northern Gaza Strip from Israel soon, as part of a confidence-building measure to show that they can establish security. Hamas, meanwhile, is foaming at the mouth following a wave of attacks against its operatives and will probably do its best to make sure that the latest plan fails.

What can I say? I hope it works out, but I seriously doubt it will.

More on the Palestinian Altalena

I'm not the only one to raise the historical analogy of the Altalena when discussing the current situation in the Palestinian Authority. Donald Sensing has this detailed summary of the Altalena incident (hat tip IsraPundit ).

Sensing's point (also made in a NYtimes article a few weeks ago) is this: If the Palestinian Authority wants any kind of stability and sovereignty, then it needs to establish itself as having a monopoly on the use of force. If Abu Mazen wants to establish himself as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people he has to ensure that only the security forces at his command -- not the ones loyal to Arafat, and certainly not the psychos who take their marching orders from Yassin and Rantisi -- have the right to use force.

A big factor in initiating the attack against Rantisi and the rest of the Hamas leadership was the realization that Abu Mazen has no intention of establishing a monopoly on force. The fact remains that if the road map is to move ahead, the terrorists must be beaten down (emphasis on beaten).

On Assassinations

We've had a lot of public discussion around here about the use of targetted assassinations in dealing with the Hamas leadership. This on the heels of a number of aerial strikes against Hamas operatives by the IDF and the Hamas attack on a Jerusalem bus on Wednesday. The discussions have been sparked both by the feeling (rightly or wrongly) that the assassinations feed into a kind of cycle of violence as well as the civilian casualties that they incur. (For example, a helicopter strike on Thursday took out the terrorist Yasser Taha -- which is okay-- but also killed his wife, two small children, and a couple of bystanders -- which is not okay.)

A poll by the Dahaf institute this weekend shows a majority of Israelis have reservations about the recent assassinations. While only 9 percent of the population oppose the assassination policy on principle, 58 percent are concerned about their timing and their effectiveness.

The questioning can be seen in the military sphere itself. The philosopher Asa Kasher, who helped put together the IDF's code of conduct, was interviewed about his views on the morality of targeted assassinations. Kasher said that he didn't have a moral problem with the assassinations if they are done as an act of self-defense, that is if you took out people who were plotting or about to carry out an attack. He said he opposed carrying out operations against terrorists for the purposes of settling old scores, i.e. in retribution for acts they had done in the past. On the question of whether to target someone -- for example, Arafat -- who , based on his past behavior, might reasonably be suspected of plotting attacks, Kasher said that he would support it only if backed by the highest-quality military intelligence. Even then, he said, the army would have to do everything possible reduce collateral damage to zero.

The IAF general who pioneered the use of attack helicopters in these kinds of operations was also interviewed this weekend. He expressed worry not only about the toll of civilian bystanders but also about the toll they take on the moral sense of the pilots. He argued that incidents of civilian deaths might cause pilots to start questioning orders. The point is not that helicopter pilots need to be unquestioning automatons of death, but rather that they should be able to go out on the mission with absolute confidence that the order-givers have solid information and have done everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.

(Those out there who equate Israel with the Nazis should take note of these discussions. They wouldn't be taking place if we were even half as inhuman as they claim. On the other hand, you'd never hear a discussion in the official Palestinian media about the morality -- as opposed to the tactical benefits -- of killing Jews. Just to remind you what the two sides are all about.)

Against the backdrop of this, Sharon has announced that Israel will continue to take out what he calls "ticking bombs," those terrorists who are plotting attacks or are on their way to carrying them out.

The whole issue is extremely complicated and I, for one, am finding it difficult to form a consistent opinion. (In this way, I'm just joining the majority of Israelis who support the targeted assassinations while doubting their effectiveness.) On the one hand, Israel is basically waging the war the Palestinian Authority committed itself to wage but has so far refused to do so. On the other hand, as Thomas Friedman pointed out this morning, the targeted assassination policy may well be self-destructive; for each senior Hamas operative you kill, a couple more spring up in their place.