Tag Archives: Hamas

Facing up to Mideast realities


With all signs pointing to a new war between the Israelis and the Moslem terrorist Hamas in Gaza, now supported despite their Sunni-Shia differences by Tehran’s mullahs, one lesson seems not to have been learned by Washington. That is that whatever opportunities there are for a Jewish-Moslem, Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in the region, they are not through the old suggestion of “land for peace”
The unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Strip in 2005, had been proposed in 2003 by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, adopted by the Government in June 2004, approved by the Knesset [Israeli parliament] in February 2005 and enacted in August 2005. Sharon saw it as a step, the first step, in an accomodation with the Palestinians and their Arab allies after Israel’s blitkfrieg in the June 1967 Six-Day War. The Israelis had demonstrated they were the primary regional military power and could, again, however reluctantly, take on all comers.
What neither Sharon nor the Talking Heads anticipated was that free elections would turn up a plurality of the 1.6 million Gazans for Hamas, an Islamicist opposition to the secularist Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] of Yasser Arafat. Arafat and his PLO had had a virtual monopoly as the only spokesmen for growing Palestinian nationalism.
Hamas proceeded to try to literally eliminate the PLO in Gaza, including throwing PLO supporters off roofs. Arafat’s successors have continued to maintain their hold on the 2.5 million West Bank Arabs [despite a quarter of a million Jews in “settlements” there] and the 200,000 Arabs and Jews in East Jerusalem. These areas were held by Jordan after the 1947 declaration of an Israeli state and what the Jews call their war for independence, but its Husseini rulers were pushed back across the Jordan in 1967.
However, there have been major changes in what had seemed a long stalemate.
Hamas, only opposed by terrorist organizations even more violent, not only maintains its grip on Gaza but probably would win an election in what is generally called the West Bank. A stronger Israel now increasingly argues that while it hosted a major Arab, largely Moslem, minority, after independence, its claims to Judea and Samaria, traditional names for the West Bank, must be honored. Predictions that Israel’s Arab [and Druse] minority would be a quarter of its total population by 2050 [now just over eight million] are now being revised. In the always difficult estimates of fertility and population increase, the Israeli Arab population – those in the pre-1967 state – has fallen behind the now more rapid increase among the Jews.
Another and perhaps the most complicating factor is that Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem are the sites of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms, finally suppressed by the Romans with the dispersal of the Jews. The urban and agricultural developments which the Zionists have achieved with enormous success in such areas as Tel Aviv and Haifa were never the heart of the Jewish homelands which the current Israeli state attempts to restore. Yet most observers believe that were free elections now held Hamas might well win elections there too With no widely recognized successor to seventy-nine -year-old Mohammed Abbas who now heads the PLO/Palestinian “state” the Israeli argument that they have no negotiating partner has substance..
A militant, threatening Hamas-dominated state on the West Bank would be an existentialist threat to Israel’s existence, as the PLO always threatened pre-1967. Pres. Barak Obama’s public statements suggesting that pre-1967 borders be the basis for new negotiations has not only infuriated the Israelis, but is an obvious non-starter. Those boundaries included, for example, only a slender corridor connecting Tel Aviv and the Israeli plains with Western Jerusalem that target would be the object of any militarized Arab state on the West Bank.
In theory, both Israel and the U.S. accept the possibility of two states, one Israeli, Jewish, “within secure borders”, and another which recognizes Palestinian yearnings. But no Palestinian group, from so-called “moderates” to Hamas, has been willing to make even a nominal formal pledge to accept the Jews’ right to a state in the region.
That, unfortunately, is where the Israel-Palestinian problem awaits the next president of the United States if he is to make a major contribution to Mideast peace and stability.
sws-06-09-16

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Israel: remaking the Mideast again?


Events are drawing Israel into a major war with neighboring Arab terrorist organizations to result in another total reordering of Mideast relationships.

Comparison of the current scene with the eve of the Six Day War in 1967 is almost unavoidable. Then, too, a reluctant Israel waged a preemptive action because of what it saw as an existential threat from an alliance of Arab neighbors.

As great as the possibility for another complete regional redispositioning is, the outcome of events is even more unpredictable than it was in 1965. Today’s situation is vastly different:

First, Egypt, the largest and traditionally the leading Arab state, will not be the tripwire which brought on Israel’s preemptive strike then. This time Cairo could well be a benevolent neutral if not an ally in any new encounter between Israel and its principle enemy, the radical Arab Islamicists. Cairo’s military junta is waging a ruthless campaign against the jihadists, voted into power but which it dislodged with considerable popular support.

Secondly, the prospect of a Soviet Union intervention is missing – and a clash of the then two superpowers – which hung over the earlier events. Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s nuclear arsenal notwithstanding, his ability to influence events in the region with conventional military forces and aid is marginal. In part, that is because his imbroglio in Ukraine having produced early victories is now turning into a Russian disaster.

Thirdly, the ambivalent position of the Obama Administration despite all its public protestations of loyalty to a U.S. ally, is a sharp contrast to Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s profound pro-Israel sympathies at a time when the U.S. Left had not made a bogus Palestinian crusade a central issue.

And, fourthly, there is a new aggressive and potentially nuclear-armed Iran, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, mobilizing long suppressed Shia minorities throughout the region in a Muslim sectarian conflict. Tehran’s mullahs have been able to bridge the historic Arab-Persian divide to bolster Arab Shia and even non-Shia allies.

Instead of the pan-Arab ideology so successfully evangelized by the charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.— however dented by the earlier Egyptian defeat in 1956 – the cement of any anti-Israel alliance today is radical Islam. Rather than the artificial national entities drawn by the World War I victors, Jerusalem today faces on all sides fanatical regional guerrilla organizations evolved into threatening major organized terrorist entities.

In the south, Hamas, a child of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood so favored by the Obama Administration as a “moderate” political force, has crossed over the sectarian line in the past to accept Iranian aid. Despite what is a tacit combined Israeli and Egyptian embargo, it has accumulated a growing and increasingly sophisticated arsenal. In the north, the Hezbollah with its roots in southern Lebanon, is now bloodied with its significant participation with Iran in salvaging the al Assad regime in Syria. Both these organization now could inflict far more pain on Israel’s civilian population than the artillery, mortar and rocket attacks of ’67.

On the east, the always fragile Jordan, beset with enormous destabilizing refugee flows from both Syria and Iraq and the growing seduction of its own majority Palestinians by the radical Islamicists, now faces the ultra-fanatical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on its once secure border with Iraq. ISIL’s claim to restoration of a trans-national caliphate, a Muslim empire headed by a religious figure invoking 7th century codes of justice, may not be sustainable. But its announcement in the half of Iraq it tentatively controls with like-minded allies is a powerful rallying cry for traditional Muslim jihad, holy war against all “non-believers”. That appeal to ruthless and bloody fanaticism, always just below the surface in traditional Islam with its validation in Koranic text, is cutting through yesterday’s regional allegiances.

Washington has not caught up. Obama’s tentative choice to meet the new threat in the area incrementally – dribbling advisers to a crippled Baghdad government – is not likely to stem the tide of success against the jihadists’ bandwagon. There is already evidence that the new ultra-radical Muslims have adherents in both the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and under relatively more moderate Hamas’ nose in Gaza. Washington indecision confirms the belief throughout the umma [the Muslim world]that the U.S. is no longer the major factor in the region’s power struggle. They see an American retreat providing the opportunity for dedicated minorities to determine events.

Thus, Israel faces the same dilemma as in 1967, that is, whether to wait for the always powerful fissiparous tendencies of Arab and Muslim societies to tear themselves apart or to move before a new and aggressive enemy tyranny consolidates. In that earlier conflict, by happenstance as much as design, Israel established itself as the region’s military “superpower”. That, in turn, produced however recalcitrant and imperfect, peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Their defection from the anti-Israel front formalized the division of the Arabs despite their profession of unity which had been one of the sources of the Israeli victory.

Today the Arabs are no less divided. And, in fact, the Syrian civil war has not only set Muslim fanatics against a pretended secular if dictatorial regime, but because of Damascus’ Alawite [an offshoot of Shia] leadership and the Iranian Shia mullahs’ support, it has set off a new regional test between the majority Sunni regimes and long oppressed Shia Arab minorities.

Their tactics, claiming as many Muslims as non-Islamic lives – from suicide bombings to kidnappings – strike deep at the vulnerability of Israel’s Western-style civil society And whether targets are a relatively new light rail system in Jerusalem or vacationers on a foreign beach, Israel’s growing prosperity and sophistication as a leading world industrial society make it all that more susceptible.

Ironically, Israeli leadership today – while as contentious and disputatious as ever – is probably freed from two of the principal concerns on the eve of the Six Day War in deciding strategy. Regard for the UN – even then under the hapless leadership of Sec. Gen. U Thant – is less a consideration. UN peacekeeping in the region, as elsewhere, has come and gone with little if any effect. One suspects, too, that despite frequent public obeisance to the Obama Administration for the U.S.’ invaluable source of military hardware, no one in Jerusalem is blind to its pro-Muslim sympathies and its incompetence.

Obama’s insistence on prioritizing Jewish settlements in the traditional sites of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms, the basis of Israel’s legitimacy, was a guarantee of failure of Israel-Arab negotiations. [No one seems to ask if there is to be a two-state solution with a 1.8 million Israeli Arab minority, are Jews to be excluded from the proposed Palestinian state?] In continuing to insist on direct negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abas who has had to concede the growing power of the Islamicists by a coalition government with Hamas, Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry appear totally at sea in the Arab desert.

Yet Jerusalem has other deepening concerns. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and a subsequent kidnapping and brutal murder of an Arab teenager – perhaps by Israeli vigilantes in retribution – are dramatizing a deterioration of the domestic scene. The civil strife in predominantly Arab northern Israel is further evidence. The fact that Hamas cannot or will not control escalating missile strikes against southern Israel and the new ISSL threat to Jordan are forcing the Israelis into consideration of more dramatic action to preserve their stature. While future action might become a full-fledged invasion, or even reoccupation. of Gaza, it is likely as in 1965, to coincide with developments on the other “fronts”.

Assuming the Israeli military superiority, including the tacit endorsement of Cairo and the Gulf states to action against the jihadists, a new perspective would unroll in the Mideast. But given the incredible complex of cross currents [as in 1967] the outcome is totally unpredictable.

sws-07-06-14

 

Hmmm. Perception vs. reality?


 

Perhaps the most difficult intellectual problem of human consciousness always has been sorting out perception, what seems to be, and reality, what is actually true.

It is clear that the digital revolution has intensified the conundrum. For the internet is a constant flood of false evidence but dressed in a seeming reality that often makes it indistinguishable from the real thing. So, a “photoshopped” picture of a bare-chested Pres. Vladimir Putin riding horseback with a Pres. Barack Obama behind him looks for all the world as an actual event. Although, immediately, in this instance, we know it is a good laugh – a joke, a hoax, perpetrated by one of Obama’s many critics with bitter humor since it is obvious no such meeting could have taken place without considerable publicity we never heard.

The very fact that a still photograph captures only a second in a more complicated scene or action in continuing life can be totally misleading. I marvel now looking at a splendid photograph [even if I do say so myself] I took more than a half century ago, published in my A Sense of Asia [Scribner’s,1969]. It is a serene Madonna-like portrait of a Lao mother and child with mist floating in behind their heads. Idyllic? Yes, but what’s missing, of course, are the terrible smells, the filth, the disease and the generally primitive living conditions that surrounded them in their isolated village in Southeast Asia on the edge of the Ho Chi Min Trail. There was no suggestion of the danger they constantly lived with, both from nature and the North Vietnamese Communists passing through enroute to South Vietnam.

But now an “audioshopped” recording of a human voice can be manipulated to sound, for example, just like a conversation that never took place. Some of those radio “interviews” between talk radio hosts are, in fact, conversations between backroom “producers” and the interviewee with the master’s voice and his questions inserted as an afterthought. [Transparency alert: I recently was inveigled into one.] Not exactly a total hoax but …not reality either.

Since the permanent capture of images began in mi-19th century, photographs have often been responsible, either by being falsely identified or tampered with, for faulty argument. They can play an enormous role in propaganda. The heart-rending photograph of an Arab father unsuccessfully shielding his son from Israeli military gunfire played into the saga of the Palestinians as only victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It just happened to have been concocted for a major French TV network which had to finally admit it was a fraud. But probably never wiped out was the effect of the whole affair on world opinion. Or we are still sorting out a photograph of the execution of a group of soldiers in the Syrian Civil War, presented as an atrocity of rebel jihadists but perhaps, in fact, a staged event by the al Assad regime.

In the pre-internet world, newspapers, radio and TV provided a diet of news and comment, at least to some extent vetted by the professionalism of the journalists, who, if for no other reason, were in pursuit of their reputations. But in the anonymous world of the internet, launching a canard of whatever proportions may have no repercussions for the author since only the most technically skilled recipient is capable of detecting subterfuge or even its origin if the author chooses to remain unknown.

It came as something of a shock a few years ago – I hadn’t given the whole issue that much thought – from the head of a business organization for hire to investigate financial and other business fraud that his field had mushroomed. “It is virtually possible to counterfeit any signature, any document and any transaction through the new digital tools”, he said. No wonder he was employed then by a Swiss “private” bank.

Thus, once again technology has proved itself neutral in the battle of ideas and the struggle between good and evil. Islamic terrorists, for example, have now learned not only to use the internet for propaganda of all kinds, but for instruction in terrorist techniques, and recruitment of jihadists. The sheer volume of the flow of the internet with few if any “intellectual” filters is what cascades down on those of us with even a minimum of computer literacy these days.

There was a time when, if you were interested in politics or even just general affairs of the world, you chose a newspaper with something of your “worldview” – and there were in “the good old days’’ a variety to choose from. You left it to the editors to give you their choice, for better or for worse, of what was important – even if as a New York Times Sunday reader that might amount to a heavier load than one hand could lift from your doorstep. Of course, that was when that august periodical was “the ‘paper of record” and not part of the current claque for a failing presidency.

This all comes to mind trying to sort fact from fiction in what is, obviously, whatever else it is, the campaign of the Iranian mullahs to ingratiate themselves with the Obama Administration and a war-weary American public. They have wielded a wide pitch to all and sundry, probably at the behest of their hired American public relations firm, or the instigation of their American-schooled Foreign Minister Javid Zarif who has also been a very busy salesman on TV and radio as well as in the printed media..

Pres. Hassan Rouhani has been interviewed repeatedly by everyone from Christiane Amanpour, herself reared in Tehran of a Muslim Iranian father and British Christian mother, to Ann Curry, who spent part of her childhood in Japan. [Speaking of perceptions: Curry’s interview was dominated — for me at least] — by a grotesque version of the Muslim hejab, a floor length veil which has been a symbol for centuries of the misogyny and subjugation of women in Islam and other traditional pre-industrial societies.]

There were the UN speeches, and in another jerk of Pres. Obama’s zig-zagging Mideast strategies, there was an on and off again scheduled handshake and personal meeting which finally ended in a telephone call by Obama with Rouhani enroute to his departure from New York City. [Was the NSA listening? After all, it was a call from a well-known terrorist to an American citizen.] All this was followed by a report from Obama on the call — all of 15 minutes we are told with time out for translations, one assumes, although both managed a “goodbye” in the other’s tongue.] Obama in a public statement gave assurances progress might be achieved on reaching a settlement of the long-standing issue of the Tehran mullahs’ pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and opposition to it from virtually all its neighbors as well as the U.S. and the European Union..

Mmmm. Perception versus reality? We are told Rouhani is a “moderate” [even if he did publicly brag of outfoxing the Americans, the EU and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency by “negotiating” for some two years while the Persians got another enrichment facility up and going at Isfahan]. And he was met by ]supposed?] protesters at the Tehran airport on his arrival with the 30-year-old slogans of “Death to America” and “Wipe Out Israel”. He even had a shoe tossed at him, that symbol of Muslim disrepute [which once almost caught Pres. George Bush but he ducked]. Yes, it may well be that there is dissension among the mullahs over policy. Yes, the sanctions – particularly the recent third party financial measures of the U.S. Treasury – have impacted on the Iranian economy despite a series of “passes” we have given allies to trade in Iranian oil.

But the question remains whether an authoritarian government, which is the principal support for the bloody al Assad family tyranny in Syria, and Hezbollah [which until 9/11 had killed more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other organization], Hamas, and other American enemies around the world, and which waged bloody war on our troops in Iraq, will give up nuclear weapons in its continued pursuit of hegemony in the Middle East? Is it not far more likely, having seen Pres. Obama march up the hill with flags flying and trumpets tooting, and then march down as quickly, the opportunity for another round of talking while progress continues on a nuclear weapon is not the real goal?.

Hmmm. Perception or reality?.

sws-09-29-13

Dealing with Islam


A decade after 9/11 the U.S. still puzzles over how to deal with an Islam of 1.3 billion people, most of whom either cannot or refuse to move into the modern era. This American [read broader Western] inability to find an ideological approach will enhance a threat to U.S. security long after troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is profound, involving the history of Christendom’s relations with Islam for one and a half millennium. Recently new complications arise from declining Western populations seeking immigrant labor, welcoming large numbers of Muslims, again, often either unable or unwilling to integrate into a heterogeneous West. This aggravates external security, not least because many sophisticated Islamic leaders condone deception [taqiyya] about their aims. In a traditionally open, sometimes to the point of naiveté, American society, this adds additional burdens on law enforcement and the justice system.

Washington’s armed attempt to root out state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan not only has taken an enormous toll in lives and treasure, but produced war’s inevitable “collateral damage” used by the terrorists to misrepresent U.S. aims. In a world where simply the charge of “colonialism” precludes serious discussion between advanced and backward societies, Washington, even were it capable, cannot impose its values as it did after World War II on Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan.

Nor is there an economic determinist solution. Even where development has taken place – in Lebanon or Algeria or the Gulf sheikhdoms – cultural advancement is stymied, even retrogressing under tutelage of subsidized reactionary preachers. And although private capital [globalization] has brought industrialization quickly to many new corners of the world, cultural factors block what the economists used to call “take off” in the vast Arab belt and Persia despite incredible raw material resources [oil and gas].

A new test of Islamic renewal is underway in recently “liberated” eastern North Africa and, probably soon in Syria. Rebellion driven by the youthful demographic bulge has blown away the old despots. But the best organized to fill the leadership vacuum are political incarnations of Islamic totalitarianism led by Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood. That will further imperil Egypt’s 85 million, a third of the Arab world with a traditional claim to lead Muslims culturally, relying on foreign handouts after Pres. Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of protected crony capitalism.

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

 sws-09-09-11

 

 

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

sws-09-09-11