Where Obama is leading Israel
On Sunday, Israel was invaded along its border with Syria. More than 100 Syrians successfully infiltrated the country and rioted violently in Majdal Shams for several hours.
The IDF was reportedly surprised by these events. It was more prepared for violent riots along the borders with Lebanon and Gaza. And security forces were deployed more or less effectively in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Negev, Judea and Samaria on Sunday.
Jerusalem, a focal point of the unrest since Friday, witnessed rioting in several Arab neighborhoods, which reached its peak with an assault on Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus.
But the government and the IDF were surprised by the invasion from Syria.
What can possibly explain this surprise? And what does it tell us about the defense establishment's ability to cope with the swiftly expanding and changing threats facing Israel?
BEFORE WE consider that issue, we need to understand the nature of the new assault now underway.
Sunday's events were fully anticipated. In 1998, at the height of the so-called peace process, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and PLO/Fatah chieftan Yasser Arafat invented a new Palestinian holiday - the Nakba.
That year, for the first time, Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza rioted on May 15 - the secular date of Israel's establishment in 1948. The purpose of Israel's "peace partner's" initiative was to escalate anti-Israel sentiments of Arabs on both sides of the 1949 armistice lines. And indeed, the next year, for the first time, the Nakba - or catastrophe - of Israel's birth on May 15, 1948 was marked by Israel's Arab citizens.
In the years since, the Palestinians and their brethren throughout the Arab world have consistently escalated their May 15 attacks, with anti-Israel mass demonstrations now common fare throughout the Arab world.
In recent months, Hamas and Fatah have been ratcheting up their incitement and calling for their followers to descend on Jerusalem on May 15. Millions worldwide participated in social media campaigns calling for a third Palestinian intifada to begin on May 15.
Regionally, in recent weeks, as Syrian anti-regime protesters have escalated their calls to overthrow the Assad regime, Hezbollah and the Syrian media have been joining the Nakba incitement efforts. In Egypt as well, as the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates its power, the calls for invading Israel and avenging the Nakba have escalated daily.
Politically, the Nakba campaigns couldn't be an easier target for an Israeli information counteroffensive.
The assertion that Israel's establishment was a catastrophe for the Arabs makes clear that the Palestinian leadership has no interest in living at peace with Israel. This goes for both Fatah, which popularized the term, and Hamas, which was happy to adopt it. If Israel's existence is the Palestinian catastrophe, then obviously, every patriotic Palestinian must seek Israel's destruction.
Actually, the Palestinian and pan-Arab embrace of the Nakba myth doesn't merely demonstrate that they aren't interested in peaceful coexistence. It proves that their true aspirations are nothing short of genocidal.
The declared goal of the Arab armies that invaded the infant State of Israel on May 15, 1948 was to throw every Jewish man, woman and child in the country into the sea. By calling the Arab failure to carry out that plan a catastrophe, today's Nakba rioters and mourners are saying they support the genocidal purpose of the 1948 Arab invaders.
And of course, by making the issue Israel's establishment in 1948, the Palestinians and their supporters are showing that the popular myth that they have no problem with Israel existing within the 1949 armistice lines, and seek only the "liberation" of Israel's heartland of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is a complete fabrication. Those areas were lands the Arabs successfully conquered and emptied of Jews in 1948. The Arab occupation of these areas only ended in 1967 because they again invaded Israel with the declared purpose of throwing every Jewish man, woman and child in the country into the sea.
In short, the entire notion of the Nakba is proof that the Palestinians specifically and the Arab world as a whole remain dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the genocide of Jewry.
Netanyahu and the rest of Israel's leaders have the duty to point out this glaring, yet totally ignored fact. And yet, they have been silent.
The most Netanyahu could muster in the lead up to Nakba Day was a true but irrelevant mention of the fact that as full citizens of Israel, Israeli Arabs enjoy more freedoms than citizens of any Arab state.
As for the IDF, it's hard to know where to begin describing its failures to understand or prepare for Sunday's events.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of the IDF's treatment of the mass infiltration from Syria was the IDF Spokesman's Unit's response.
First, IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai blamed the events on Iran. He called the events an "Iranian provocation aimed at creating friction."
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. Certainly Iran is always interested in drawing Israeli blood and weakening the country. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't order the rioters to cross the border. Syrian President Bashar Assad did.
As for Assad, an unnamed military source told the media that Assad ordered the whole thing in order to divert world attention from the fact that he is butchering his citizens. As the official said: "This is a cynical and transparent act by the Syrian regime to create a crisis on the border with Israel in order to distract public opinion from the very real problems at home. Syria is a police state; this sort of thing could not happen without the support of the regime. It is clear they wanted this to play the Israel card in order to silence their own democratic opposition."
Well said. But this brings us to the next question: If the IDF understands why this happened, why weren't there sufficient forces along the border armed with riot-control gear to block the infiltrators? Not only was the regime's rationale for the attack easily understandable, the IDF could see the rioters coming. They saw the them get on the buses. They saw the buses coming to the border. There were enough forces along the border to stop a similar penetration from Lebanon.
Why weren't there enough to prevent the Syrians from entering Israeli territory? Why weren't there enough soldiers on the ground to prevent them from entering Majdal Shams, vandalizing the village and flying the Syrian flag inside Israel? Moreover, what does its abject failure to deploy adequately tell us about the defense establishment's ability to properly understand regional developments and trends, and prepare the IDF to protect the country in the face of them?
HERE, TWO aspects of Sunday's events must be borne in mind. First, in general, the events of Nakba day are simply an escalation of the suicide protest campaign that has been ongoing since 2001. The most famous suicide protester to date is Rachel Corrie. And the most successful suicide protest to date was last year's Mavi Marmara suicide flotilla.
Suicide protests have two aims. The first is to humiliate the IDF and Israel. If unarmed suicide protesters are able to take control of a military target for any length of time, their achievement will harm the reputation of the IDF. This goal was achieved on Sunday, when Druse villagers in Majdal Shams were allowed to mediate between the Syrian infiltrators and the IDF.
The second aim is to force the IDF to use lethal force against the protesters and so portray the IDF as a criminal army that kills unarmed civilians. This goal was also partially achieved on Sunday along the Syrian and Lebanese borders.
Since the IDF has already faced suicide protests, it is inexcusable that it has not yet managed to put together a coherent doctrine for contending with them. For instance, why weren't there water cannons along the border with Lebanon?
The other aspect of Sunday's Nakba riots worth noting is that they were the first suicide protests to have taken place on a regional scale since the popular rebellion began in Syria, and since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt.
IDF sources interviewed on Sunday claimed that since the Syrian border has been quiet since 1973, they didn't expect it to be active on May 15. What this means is that the IDF failed to recognize ahead of time what its officials were able to recognize after the fact. Namely, that the populist upheavals in the Arab world give Assad (and a lot of other Arab leaders who have kept out of the direct fight against Israel in recent years) good reason to attack. And this new impetus to attack should have led the IDF to deploy forces along the border in sufficient numbers to prevent infiltration.
So why was the IDF unprepared?
THE PERSON most responsible for the IDF's poor handling of events on Sunday is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And his incompetence is not surprising. Barak is a serial bungler. He is the same man who armed the naval commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara with paintball guns, even though it was known that the Turkish IHH, which organized the pro-Hamas flotilla, had links to terror groups.
In recent months, Barak has been too busy warning about the widely exaggerated diplomatic "tsunami" at the UN in September, when the Palestinians declare their independence for the second time, to notice events in the Middle East in May.
And that leads to the last disconcerting thing about the defense establishment's surprise at Sunday's events. Commentators and military officials alike are claiming that the Nakba day events are likely a dress rehearsal for even larger riots in September. And this may be true. But it is equally likely that they are the beginning of a new campaign that started this week and will escalate in the weeks and months to come. In this vein, of course we should note that a new, expanded Turkish government-organized pro-Hamas flotilla is set to sail next month with thousands of suicide protesters on more than a dozen ships.
This brings us back to Netanyahu and his relationship with Barak. It is hard to explain Netanyahu's failure to condemn the Palestinians and their supporters for mourning the Arabs' failure to annihilate the Jews of Israel in 1948 without placing it in the context of his close relationship with Barak.
There are many explanations for why Netanyahu gives so much weight to Barak's consistently and dangerously incorrect assessments of regional developments. If they serve no other purpose, Sunday's dismal events must cause Netanyahu to finally reconsiderhis attachment to Barak.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.
It is hard to believe, but it appears that in the wake of the Palestinian unity deal that brings Hamas, the genocidal, al-Qaida-aligned, local franchise of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, into a partnership with Fatah, US President Barack Obama has decided to open a new round of pressure on Israel to give away its land and national rights to the Palestinians. It is hard to believe that this is the case. But apparently it is.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in Washington next week, and before the premier has a chance to give his scheduled address to a joint session of Congress, Obama will give a new speech to the Arab world. In that speech, Obama will praise the populist movements that have risen up against Arab tyrannies and embrace them as the model for the future. As for Israel, the report claimed that the Obama administration is still trying to decide whether the time is right to put the screws on Israel once more.
On the one hand, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told the Journal that Arab leaders are clamoring for a new US initiative to force Israel to make new concessions. Joining this supposed clamor are the administration-allied pro-Palestinian lobby J Street, and the administration-allied New York Times.
On the other hand, the Netanyahu government and Congress are calling for a US aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, now partnering with Fatah in governing the PA, it is illegal for the US government to continue to have anything to do with the PA. Both the Netanyahu government and senior members of the House and Senate are arguing forcefully that there is no way for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians now, and that the US must abandon its efforts to force the sides to sign an agreement.
The Israeli and congressional arguments are certainly compelling. But the signals emanating from the White House and its allied media indicate that Obama is ready to plough forward in spite of them. With the new international security credibility he earned by overseeing the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden, Obama apparently believes that he can withstand congressional pressure and make the case for demanding that Israel surrender Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to Hamas and its partners in Fatah.
THE SIGNALS that Obama is setting his sights on coercing Israel into agreeing to surrender its capital and heartland to Hamas and its partners in Fatah came in three forms this week. First, administration officials are trying to lower the bar that Hamas needs to pass in order to be considered a legitimate political force.
After Fatah and Hamas signed their first unity deal in March 2007, the US and its colleagues in the so-called Middle East Quartet - Russia, the EU and the UN - set three conditions that Hamas needed to meet to be accepted by them as legitimate. It needed to recognize Israel's right to exist, agree to respect existing agreements with Israel, and renounce terrorism.
These are not difficult conditions. Fatah is perceived as having met them even though it is still a terrorist organization and its leaders refuse to accept Israel's right to exist and refuse to abide by any of the major commitments they took upon themselves in precious agreements with Israel. Hamas could easily follow Fatah's lead.
But Hamas refuses. So, speaking to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius two weeks ago, administration officials lowered the bar.
They said Hamas had made major concessions to Fatah in their agreement because it agreed to accept provisions of the 2009 unity deal drafted by the Mubarak government that it rejected two year ago and because Hamas agreed that the unity government will be manned by "technocrats" rather than terrorists.
Even if these contentions are true, they are completely ridiculous. In point of fact, all the 2009 agreement says is that Hamas will refrain from demanding to join the US-trained and funded Fatah army in Judea and Samaria. As for the "technocratic" government, who does the Obama administration think will control these "technocrats"? And as to the truth of these contentions, in an interview last week with the New York Times, Hamas terror-master Khaled Mashal denied that he had agreed to the terms of the 2009 agreement.
Indeed, he said that Fatah agreed to add annexes to the agreement reflecting Hamas's positions.
The second pitch the administration and its friends have adopted ahead of Obama's address next week is that Hamas has become more moderate or may become more moderate.
Robert Malley, who in the past advised Obama's presidential campaign, made this argument last week in an op-ed in the Washington Post. Malley claimed that by joining the government, Hamas will be more moved by US pressure. A New York Times editorial last Saturday argued that Hamas may have moderated, and even if it hasn't, "Washington needs to press Mr. Netanyahu back to the peace table."
Adding their voices to the din, Middle Eastern leaders like Amr Moussa, the frontrunner to serve as Egypt's next president, and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, have given interviews to the US media this week in which they denied that Hamas is even a terrorist organization.
Here it is important to note that none of the administration's statements about the Hamas- Fatah deal and none of the media coverage related to it have included any mention of the fact that Hamas deliberately murders entire families and targets children specifically. No one mentions last month's Hamas guided rocket attack which deliberately targeted an Israeli school bus. Hamas murdered 16-year-old Daniel Viflic in that attack. No one has mentioned the café massacres, the bus bombings, the university campus massacres, the breaking into homes massacres, the Passover Seder massacres Hamas has carried out and bragged about in recent years. No one has mentioned that when seen as a portion of the population, Hamas has killed far more Israelis than al-Qaida has killed Americans.
The final pitch the administration and its surrogates are making is that the deal needs to be seen as part of the overall regional shift towards popular rule. This pitch too is difficult to make.
After all, the first casualty of the Arab world's shift towards popular rule is the 30-year-old Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Now that Egypt's citizens have gotten rid of US-ally Hosni Mubarak, they have committed themselves to getting rid of the peace he upheld with Israel throughout his long reign.
Again, despite the difficulties, the Obama administration is clearly willing to make the case. Regarding Egypt, they argue that the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power is a good. This was the point of Obama's Passover and Israel Independence Day messages.
As for the regional shift, the fact that Obama reportedly intends to place the so-called Palestinian- Israeli peace process into the regional context signals that he sees potential for an agreement between Israel and Syria as well. His advisers telegraphed this view to Ignatius.
Obama's advisers made the unlikely argument that if Syrian leader Bashar Assad survives the popular demonstrations calling for his overthrow, he will feel compelled to distance his regime from Iran because his Sunni-majority population has been critical of his alliance with the Shi'ite mullocracy.
This argument is unlikely given that the same officials recognize that if Assad survives, he will owe his regime's survival to Iran. As they reminded Ignatius, US intelligence officials reported last month that Iran has "secretly supplied Assad with tear gas, anti-riot gear and other tools of suppression."
WHAT IS perhaps most remarkable about Obama's apparent plan to use the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as an excuse for a new round of diplomatic warfare against Israel is how poorly coordinated his steps have been with the PLO-Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat always viewed the US obsession with getting the Arabs and Israel to sign peace treaties as a strategic asset. Anytime they wanted to weaken Israel, they just needed to sound the fake peace drum loudly enough to get the White House's attention. US presidents looking for the opportunity to "make history" were always ready to take their bait.
Unlike his predecessors, Obama's interest in the Palestinians is not opportunistic. He is a true believer. And because of his deep-seated commitment to the Palestinians, his policies are even more radically anti-Israel than the PLO-Fatah's. It was Obama, not Abbas, who demanded that Jews be barred from building anything in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. It is the Obama administration, not the PLO-Fatah, that is leading the charge to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood.
Like his belated move to demand a permanent abrogation of Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Abbas arguably embraced Hamas because Obama left him no choice. He has no interest in making peace with Israel, so the only thing he can do under the circumstances Obama has created is embrace Hamas. He can't be less pro-Islamic than the US president.
ALL OF this brings us to Netanyahu and his trip to Washington next week. Obviously Obama's decision to upstage the premier with his new outreach-to-the-Arab-world speech will make Netanyahu's visit more challenging than it was already going to be.
Obama is clearly betting that by moving first, he will be able to coerce Netanyahu to make still more concessions of land and principles.
Certainly, Netanyahu's earlier decisions to cave in to Obama's pressure with his acceptance of Palestinian statehood and his subsequent acceptance of a Jewish building freeze give Obama good reason to believe he can back Netanyahu into a corner. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's hysterical warnings about a diplomatic "tsunami" at the UN in September if Israel fails to capitulate to Obama today no doubt add to Obama's sense that he can expect Netanyahu to dance to his drums, no matter how hostile the beat.
But Netanyahu doesn't have to give in. He can stick to his guns and defend the country. He can continue on the correct path he has forged of repeating the truth about Hamas. He can warn about the growing threat of Egypt. He can describe the Iranian-supported butchery Assad is carrying out against his own people and note that a regime that murders its own will not make peace with the Jewish state. And he can point out the fact that as a capitalist, liberal democracy which protects the lives and property of its citizens, Israel is the only stable country in the region and the US's only reliable regional ally.
True, if Netanyahu does these things, he will not win himself any friends in the White House.
But he never had a chance of winning Obama and his advisers over anyway. He will empower Israel's allies in Congress, though. And more importantly, whether he is loved or hated in Washington, if Netanyahu does these things, he will be able to return home to Jerusalem with the sure knowledge that he earned his salary this month.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
I just want to correct my initial blog post on this subject. I wrote that no major Jewish organizations had come out in support of Wiesenfeld and that was incorrect. Both the ZOA and CAMERA have made strong statements in support of Wiesenfeld and against the conferral of the honorary degree to Wiesenfeld.
On the other hand, the Conference of Presidents has refused to make any statements. Abe Foxman of the ADL has attacked Wiesenfeld as has Ed Koch.
This week on the Tribal Update, the television-on-Internet satire program produced by Latma, the Hebrew-language media satire website I founded we feature Peace Now's executive director Yariv Googleheimer discussing the principles guiding the movement as it demands the destruction of the home of the family of a fallen IDF major.
We also feature a commemoration of the German Naqba.
I have been meaning to write about the storm raging in New York following CUNY's board of trustees decision not to present an honorary degree to anti-Israel propagandist/faux artiste Tony Kushner but due to travels and other time killers, haven't had the opportunity.
Before it is too late, I want to add my two bits to the controversy.
First, for the unititiated here is the short version.
Kushner is an Israel-bashing leftist. Other Israel-bashing leftists who teach at CUNY recommended that the university honor Kushner with an honorary degree.
Last week, the CUNY Board of Trustees met to consider the recommendation and due to the objections raised by trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the board decided not to accept the faculty recommendation and passed him over for the honor.
Kushner pulled out the McCarthy card. His leftist fans at the New York Times and everywhere in academia rallied to his defense and began a process of demonizing Wiesenfeld.
The university president panicked and took the unprecendented move of overturning his trustees' decision and agreed to give Kushner the honorary degree.
Now the leftist screechers are demanding that Wiesenfeld be removed from the board of trustees because by professing an opinion they don't like, he has destroyed what passes for academic freedom in their twisted little Orwellian world.
So four thoughts on this:
First Wiesenfeld is a Jewish hero and deserves the support of all good Jews and supporters of truth.
Second, the fact that the leaders of the major Jewish organizations -- almost all located in New York - have not seen fit to stand up for Wiesenfeld is a mark of shame on all of them. What their silence shows is that there is no reason to believe that they are up to the challenges of defending the Jewish community in the US on any issue of major or minor significance. Wiesenfeld is after all being demonized for the act of standing up to a maligner of Israel. That's all he did. And they cannot even muster the courage to defend him for that.
Third, the assault on Wiesenfeld should raise alarm bells for all parents in the US. It isn't just that universities are increasingly closed to critical thought regarding Israel. Their refusal to countenance the truth in the discussion of Israel -- Columbia, my alma mater just established an institute of Palestine studies. That is, Columbia just established an institute to study an imaginary country and a nation that was invented by the Soviets circa 1969 -- is a signal that they cannot study anything. What the Kushner story shows is that there is no reason for parents to believe that a college degree from most US universities today will provide their children with anything remotely resembling an education.
Finally, while I applaud and respect Wiesenfeld for standing up for what is right, the assault on him raises the issue of whether there is any point anymore to contributing money to corrupted institutions. Many philantropists argue that by funding universitities they buy the ability to influence policies and save them from the inside. But what the assault on Wiesenfeld shows is that this influence is an illusion.
It seems to me that it is far wiser for people who value education, critical thought, Israel, America and Western civilization to fund institutions and initiatives dedicated explicitly to advancing these critical causes in order to empower them to replace the corrupted institutions on the Left. This is of course the notion that propelled me to establish Latma. I'm not trying to make a pitch for money - although I might as well be, why not? \if you want to contribute, press here.
But still, I am convinced that if you want to win a war of ideas you have to support your ideas and that means, strengthening those who agree with you as much as you possibly can so we can defeat the intellectual forces gunning for the destruction of our values, our countries and our way of life.