Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
The NSA is really and truly out of control, and so far as I can see, Obama lacks the will (and perhaps the power) to rein it in. James Bamford has a report in the NY Times on the reaction of some in Israel to NSA’s handing over information about US citizens (including the contents of their communications) to Israel for use in sowing divisiveness among Palestinians.
Note that those protesting the actions of the Israeli government and military are in fact Israelis—this makes it harder to call them anti-Semites, I would think, though the fallback (“self-hating Jews”) is not much better. Probably rather than focus on their attitude, one should look at the substantive content of what they say.
IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.
Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.
Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- andPalestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”
It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.
The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.
It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden andreported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009.
The memorandum of agreement between the N.S.A. and its Israeli counterpart covers virtually all forms of communication, including but not limited to “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.” The memo also indicates that the N.S.A. does not filter out American communications before delivery to Israel; indeed, the agency “routinely sends” unminimized data.
Although the memo emphasizes that Israel should make use of the intercepts in accordance with United States law, it also notes that the agreement is legally unenforceable. “This agreement,” it reads, “is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law.”
It should also trouble Americans that . . .
Note that some of the comments take the position that the Israeli government should never be criticized at any time, regardless of what it does. That seems extreme to me.
Kevin Drum points out that our Arab allies are happy to have the US as its cats-paw, pulling from the fire the hot chestnuts that the Arab states don’t want to touch. They are happy to have US treasure spent, and US blood spilled, on their behalf, but they have zero interest in assisting us.
Dan Froomkin has an excellent column, quoting the NY Times’s evisceration of the plan.
Kevin Drum makes a cogent (and in my view, correct) argument in this post, which concludes:
So if we’re smart, we won’t give them what they want. Instead we’ll respond coldly and meticulously. We’ll fight on our terms, not theirs. We’ll intervene if and only if the Iraqi government demonstrates that it can take the lead and hold the ground they take. We’ll forego magical thinking about counterinsurgencies. We won’t commit Western troops in force because we know from experience that this doesn’t work. We’ll avoid pitched battles and instead take advantage of our chances when they arise. Time is on our side.
Above all, we won’t allow a small band of medieval theocrats to manipulate us. We need to stop giving them exactly what they want. We need to stop doing stupid stuff.
And it shows the importance of being a democratic republic rather than a democracy.
UPDATE: James Fallows provides an equally cogent post.
Dan Froomkin is quite a good political blogger, and he is now part of The Intercept. I think he’s worth following. The link is to his blog in general, and all his first three posts are intriguing:
Media Should Be Challenging Arguments for War, Not Baying for Blood – this is a very pertinent post, and the two he quotes have some extraordinarily good questions and insightful points.
Each of those initial posts has some good interesting materials.
An excellent analysis in the NY Review of Books of Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction for Israel:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long ago become a shouting match over moral superiority. With seventy Israelis and more than two thousand Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead, the latest round of violence in Gaza, too, is being analyzed and discussed mostly on ethical grounds. But as fighting goes on, moral condemnation will likely do little to prevent the next round. Understanding how we got to this point—and, more importantly, how we can move beyond it—calls for an examination of the political events that led up to the operation and the political context in which it took place.
In Israel, endless controversy over Gaza has overlooked one question: How did we get here in the first place? Why, after a considerable period of relative calm, did Hamas resume rocket fire into Israel?
Before the current operation began, Hamas was at one of the lowest points in its history. Its alliance with Syria and Iran, its two main sources of support, had grown weak. Hamas’s ideological and political affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood turned from an asset into a burden, with the downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the rise of its fierce opponent, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi. Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing and the tunnels on its border with Gaza undermined Hamas’s economic infrastructure. In these circumstances, Hamas agreed last April to reconciliation with its political rival Fatah, based on Fatah’s terms. For example, the agreement called for a government of technocrats largely under the control of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.But Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the reconciliation as a threat rather than an opportunity. While the separation of Gaza from the West Bank may not serve Israel’s interest (namely, effective government in the Palestinian Territories), it benefits Netanyahu’s policy of rejecting solutions that would lead to a separate Palestinian state. The reconciliation agreement robbed him of the claim that in the absence of effective rule over Gaza, there is no point in striking a deal with Abbas.
Ironically, it was Netanyahu’s own choices that drove Abbas to reconciliation with Hamas. The impending failure of the Mideast peace negotiations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 and early 2014 left Abbas with few political options. Talks faltered as Netanyahu allowed increased settlement activity on the West Bank and they finally collapsed when he reneged on his commitment to release Palestinian prisoners. Realizing that talks were doomed, Abbas signed fifteen international agreements as a head of a Palestinian state and struck his reconciliation deal with Hamas, as he said he would.
Netanyahu, who never had any intention of making the necessary concessions, as his own statements would later reveal,1 was mainly playing the blame game. He saw the reconciliation with Hamas as an opportunity to criticize the Palestinian president and, according to one of the American diplomats involved in the peace talks, his aides said that “Abbas’s strategy showed that there was no difference between him and the terrorists.” As soon as the reconciliation was announced, Netanyahu launched a public offensive against Palestinian unity and demanded that the international community oppose it. His efforts did not succeed. Israel’s friends in Europe applauded the agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Even the United States announced its intention to cooperate with the unity government, much to Netanyahu’s chagrin.
Netanyahu could have chosen a different path.2 He could have used the reconciliation to reinforce Abbas’s position and further destabilize Hamas. He could, in recognition of the agreement, have encouraged Egypt to open its border with Gaza in order to demonstrate to Gazans that the Palestinian Authority offered a better life than Hamas. Instead, Israel prevented the transfer of salaries to 43,000 Hamas officials in Gaza, sending a clear message that Israel would not treat Gaza any differently under the rule of moderate technocrats from the Palestinian Authority.
The abduction of three Israeli youths in the West Bank on June 12 gave Netanyahu another opportunity to undermine the reconciliation. Or so he thought. Despite the statement by Khaled Mashal, the Hamas political bureau chief, that the Hamas political leadership did not know of the plans to carry out the abduction, Netanyahu was quick to lay the blame on Hamas, declaring that Israel had “unequivocal proof” that the organization was involved in the abduction. As yet, Israeli authorities have produced no such proof and the involvement of the Hamas leadership in the kidnapping remains unclear. While the individuals suspected of having carried out the kidnapping are associated with Hamas, some of the evidence suggests that they may have been acting on their own initiative and not under the direction of Hamas’s central leadership. Regardless of this, Netanyahu’s response, apparently driven by the ill-advised aim of undermining Palestinian reconciliation, was reckless.3
Determined to achieve by force what he failed to accomplish through diplomacy, Netanyahu not only blamed Hamas, but linked the abduction to Palestinian reconciliation, as if the two events were somehow causally related. “Sadly, this incident illustrates what we have been saying for months,” he stated, “that the alliance with Hamas has extremely grave consequences.” Israeli security forces were in possession of evidence strongly indicating the teens were dead, but withheld this information from the public until July 1, possibly in order to allow time to pursue the campaign against Hamas.
On the prime minister’s orders, IDF forces raided Hamas’s civil and welfare offices throughout the West Bank and arrested hundreds of Hamas leaders and operatives. These arrests did not help to locate the abductors or their captives. Among the arrested were fifty-eight Palestinians previously released as part of the deal to return the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been a captive of Hamas since 2006.
As part of this ill-conceived operation against Hamas, Israel also mounted air strikes on Hamas facilities in Gaza. Apparently, Hamas did not take an active part in firing rockets for more than two weeks, although it did not prevent other factions in Gaza from firing.4 Only on June 29 or 30 did Hamas restart the rocket bombardment of Israeli territory, which it had not engaged in since November 2012.5 Israel retaliated against Hamas in Gaza and a vicious cycle began. Netanyahu lost control over an escalation he had instigated. In his badly misjudged eagerness to blame Abbas and punish him for reconciling with Hamas, Netanyahu turned a vicious but local terrorist attack into a runaway crisis.
In the first week of July, . . .