Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

Trump thrives on chaos, so he creates chaos at every opportunity

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I suddenly realized that Trump’s constant changes of positions and decisions, creating chaos instead of progress, may be his way of creating an environment in which he feels comfortable while others feel disoriented. It is also something from which I would think Christians would recoil, viewing it as emblematic of the Antichrist.

From the Quartz Daily Briefing newsletter:

Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.He’s set to make it official in a White House speech, upending decades of US foreign policy, and defying the warnings of world leaders that the move could fatally disrupt the peace process. Trump also plans to eventually move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Introducing more chaos and lighting a fire in the Middle East.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2017 at 11:21 am

“Antigone” Redux: Novelist Kamila Shamsie Talks About Radicalization, Citizenship, And The Link Between Violence And Masculinity

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Cora Currier writes in The Intercept:

KAMILA SHAMSIE DIDN’T have to stretch to fit the plot to the times when she decided to adapt the Greek tragedy Antigone into a contemporary novel about terrorism.

In Sophocles’ play, the heroine Antigone buries her dead brother, although he has been declared a traitor and denied funeral rites by the king, Creon. For that, Creon condemns Antigone to death, despite the pleading of his son (her betrothed), his wife, and public opinion.

Hysteria around the burial of terrorists isn’t only ancient: In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, in 2013, officials in Massachusetts responded to this primal fury by acceding to protests that the body of the slain bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, should not be buried in the state. Democratic Senator Ed Markey said at the time that if, “If the people of Massachusetts do not want that terrorist to be buried on our soil then it should not be.” Protesters’ signs bore slogans straight out of Sophocles: “Bury this terrorist on U.S. soil and we will unbury him.”

In Shamsie’s retelling of Antigone, the recently published Home Fire, the family at the center of the drama is British-Pakistani: two sisters, Isma and Aneeka, and their beloved brother Parvaiz, who goes to Syria to join the Islamic State. Their story is intertwined with that of Karamat Lone, imagined as Britain’s first Muslim Home Secretary, one who shares the anti-immigrant politics of Theresa May. Parvaiz is quickly disillusioned with the caliphate and tries to return home, but Lone has a new zeal for stripping people associated with terrorism of their citizenship. Parvaiz’s sisters are drawn to try to save him, and the end is predictably tragic.

The gripping novel explores how western responses to terrorism show the limits of our ideals and laws. In an interview over Skype, Shamsie told me her initial imperative with the novel was to explore the question of citizenship, to delve into what it means to begin stripping people of citizenship for certain crimes.

“Repeatedly people in [Theresa May’s] government have said, ‘citizenship is a privilege not a right,’” Shamsie said. “And that’s simply legally untrue, but increasingly they want to be able to take away citizenship for people who they think are unworthy. And they get to decide.”

She added: “It’s your own citizens and you’re saying that for all that we have our judicial system and prison system and probation and all of that, this is the one crime that we don’t know how to deal with, so we’re just going to leave you out of the country. It should be seen as a real failing of a state, to say that our judicial system is incapable of knowing how to respond to this criminal act.”

Rather, crimes of terror are considered a category apart, an offense so extreme that society’s order is upended in reaction, and laws and tradition are suspended. (In the poet Anne Carson’s unconventional adaptation of Antigone, she writes: “a state of exception / marks the limit of the law / this violent thing / this fragile thing.”)

And, as in the United States, the notion of terror is racialized and associated with Muslims (President Trump entertaining the idea of sending Sayfullo Saipov, the man who killed eight people when he drove a truck down a bike path in Manhattan on Halloween, to Guantánamo, is at this point to be expected.) While stripping citizenship might initially be justified only in terrorism cases, Shamsie noted Theresa May’s attempts to revoke the passports of a group of British-Pakistani men convicted of sex crimes – “there’s no way of saying it’s not about Islamophobia and racism, because no one is making those suggestions about anyone who is white and committing similar crimes.”

In the narratives that she read of radicalization, of youth attempting to join ISIS, Shamsie saw only demonization and one-dimensional narratives: “It’s almost an inevitability now. If you’re young, Muslim and male, and angry, then you’re going to strap a bomb onto yourself.” But she dug into research on ISIS propaganda and youth who were convinced by it, and found that the reality, for many teenage would-be fighters, was complex.

“One of the things I was interested in was the lure being something other than violence, and all the other ways that this world that we know to be nihilistic and brutal could also be seductive,” Shamsie said.

To convince 19-year-old Parvaiz, the ISIS recruiter plays into his insecurities and loneliness and offers him an imagined community of brotherhood. In Home Fire, in keeping with a long lineage of feminist interpretations of Antigone, the experience of women is made central; it’s the sisters, mothers, and lovers who aren’t just the targets of violence but also bear the burden of its aftermath. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2017 at 9:21 am

The Uncounted

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The military routinely lies and covers up any information that it finds incriminating or even embarrassing. (The military idea of “honor” seems to have some special meaning that allows for lying and cheating, if not stealing.) Azmat Kahn and Anand Gopal report in the NY Times:

Late on the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, Basim Razzo sat in the study of his home on the eastern side of Mosul, his face lit up by a computer screen. His wife, Mayada, was already upstairs in bed, but Basim could lose hours clicking through car reviews on YouTube: the BMW Alpina B7, the Audi Q7. Almost every night went like this. Basim had long harbored a taste for fast rides, but around ISIS-occupied Mosul, the auto showrooms sat dark, and the family car in his garage — a 1991 BMW — had barely been used in a year. There simply was nowhere to go.

The Razzos lived in the Woods, a bucolic neighborhood on the banks of the Tigris, where marble and stucco villas sprawled amid forests of eucalyptus, chinar and pine. Cafes and restaurants lined the riverbanks, but ever since the city fell to ISIS the previous year, Basim and Mayada had preferred to entertain at home. They would set up chairs poolside and put kebabs on the grill, and Mayada would serve pizza or Chinese fried rice, all in an effort to maintain life as they’d always known it. Their son, Yahya, had abandoned his studies at Mosul University and fled for Erbil, and they had not seen him since; those who left when ISIS took over could re-enter the caliphate, but once there, they could not leave — an impasse that stranded people wherever they found themselves. Birthdays, weddings and graduations came and went, the celebrations stockpiled for that impossibly distant moment: liberation.

Next door to Basim’s home stood the nearly identical home belonging to his brother, Mohannad, and his wife, Azza. They were almost certainly asleep at that hour, but Basim guessed that their 18-year-old son, Najib, was still up. A few months earlier, he was arrested by the ISIS religious police for wearing jeans and a T-shirt with English writing. They gave him 10 lashes and, as a further measure of humiliation, clipped his hair into a buzz cut. Now he spent most of his time indoors, usually on Facebook. “Someday it’ll all be over,” Najib had posted just a few days earlier. “Until that day, I’ll hold on with all my strength.”

Sometimes, after his parents locked up for the night, Najib would fish the key out of the cupboard and steal over to his uncle’s house. Basim had the uncanny ability to make his nephew forget the darkness of their situation. He had a glass-half-full exuberance, grounded in the belief that every human life — every setback and success, every heartbreak and triumph — is written by the 40th day in the womb. Basim was not a particularly religious man, but that small article of faith underpinned what seemed to him an ineluctable truth, even in wartime Iraq: Everything happens for a reason. It was an assurance he offered everyone; Yahya had lost a year’s worth of education, but in exile he had met, and proposed to, the love of his life. “You see?” Basim would tell Mayada. “You see? That’s fate.”

Basim had felt this way for as long as he could remember. A 56-year-old account manager at Huawei, the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, he studied engineering in the 1980s at Western Michigan University. He and Mayada lived in Portage, Mich., in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that Mayada also used as the headquarters for her work as an Avon representative; she started small, offering makeup and skin cream to neighbors, but soon expanded sales to Kalamazoo and Comstock. Within a year, she’d saved up enough to buy Basim a $700 Minolta camera. Basim came to rely on her ability to impose order on the strange and the mundane, to master effortlessly everything from Yahya’s chemistry homework to the alien repartee of faculty picnics and Rotary clubs. It was fate. They had been married now for 33 years.

Around midnight, Basim heard a thump from the second floor. He peeked out of his office and saw a sliver of light under the door to the bedroom of his daughter, Tuqa. He called out for her to go to bed. At 21, Tuqa would often stay up late, and though Basim knew that he wasn’t a good example himself and that the current conditions afforded little reason to be up early, he believed in the calming power of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. He waited at the foot of the stairs, called out again, and the sliver went dark.

It was 1 a.m. when Basim finally shut down the computer and headed upstairs to bed. He settled in next to Mayada, who was fast asleep.

Some time later, he snapped awake. His shirt was drenched, and there was a strange taste — blood? — on his tongue. The air was thick and acrid. He looked up. He was in the bedroom, but the roof was nearly gone. He could see the night sky, the stars over Mosul. Basim reached out and found his legs pressed just inches from his face by what remained of his bed. He began to panic. He turned to his left, and there was a heap of rubble. “Mayada!” he screamed. “Mayada!” It was then that he noticed the silence. “Mayada!” he shouted. “Tuqa!” The bedroom walls were missing, leaving only the bare supports. He could see the dark outlines of treetops. He began to hear the faraway, unmistakable sound of a woman’s voice. He cried out, and the voice shouted back, “Where are you?” It was Azza, his sister-in-law, somewhere outside.

“Mayada’s gone!” he shouted.

“No, no, I’ll find her!”

“No, no, no, she’s gone,” he cried back. “They’re all gone!”

Later that same day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses.

The clip is one of hundreds the coalition has released since the American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. Also posted to Defense Department websites, they are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other — precise, transparent and unyielding. In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

American military planners go to great lengths to distinguish today’s precision strikes from the air raids of earlier wars, which were carried out with little or no regard for civilian casualties. They describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

Yet until we raised his case, Basim’s family was not among those counted. Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad and Najib were four of an unknown number of Iraqi civilians whose deaths the coalition has placed in the “ISIS” column. Estimates from Airwars and other nongovernmental organizations suggest that the civilian death toll is much higher, but the coalition disputes such figures, arguing that they are based not on specific intelligence but local news reports and testimony gathered from afar. When the coalition notes a mission irregularity or receives an allegation, it conducts its own inquiry and publishes a sentence-long analysis of its findings. But no one knows how many Iraqis have simply gone uncounted.

Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.

We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Basim woke up in a ward at Mosul General Hospital, heavy with bandages. He was disoriented, but he remembered being pried loose from the rubble, the neighbors’ hands all over his body, the backhoe serving him down to the earth, the flashing lights of an ambulance waiting in the distance. The rescuers worked quickly. Everyone knew it had been an airstrike; the planes could return at any minute to finish the job.

In the hospital, Basim was hazily aware of nurses and orderlies, but it was not until morning that he saw . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 1:37 pm

Holy moly! UAE hacked Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

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Karen DeYoung and Ellen Nakashima report in the Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State. . .

Continue reading.

Tump took it all, hook, line, and sinker. Boy, is he easy to play! Mainly because he lacks most of a State Department and pays no attention to the one he has, plus being totally ignorant of history and foreign policy, and a moron to boot.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2017 at 4:01 pm

Tucker Carlson Is Doing Something Extraordinary

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A very interesting article in the Atlantic by Peter Beinart:

Over the last two nights, something fascinating has broken out on the Tucker Carlson show: A genuine, and exceedingly bitter, debate between conservatives on foreign policy. On Tuesday, Carlson told retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters he thought the U.S. should team up with Russia to defeat ISIS. Peters responded that, “You sound like Charles Lindbergh in 1938.” Carlson called that comment “grotesque” and “insane.”

Then, on Wednesday night, Carlson told the Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow, and former Mitt Romney adviser, Max Boot, that he opposed overthrowing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and didn’t see Russia as a serious threat. Boot responded by accusing him of being a “cheerleader” for Moscow and Tehran. Carlson called that comment “grotesque” too. And declared, “This is why nobody takes you seriously.”

In his vicious and ad hominem way, Carlson is doing something extraordinary: He’s challenging the Republican Party’s hawkish orthodoxy in ways anti-war progressives have been begging cable hosts to do for years. For more than a decade, liberals have rightly grumbled that hawks can go on television espousing new wars without being held to account for the last ones. Not on Carlson’s show. When Peters called him an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Carlson replied, “I would hate to go back and read your columns assuring America that taking out Saddam Hussein will make the region calmer, more peaceful, and America safer.” When Boot did the same, Carlson responded that Boot had been so “consistently wrong in the most flagrant and flamboyant way for over a decade” in his support for wars in the Middle East that “maybe you should choose another profession, selling insurance, house painting, something you’re good at.”

On Iran, Carlson made an argument that was considered too dovish for even mainstream Democrats to raise during the debate over the nuclear deal: He questioned whether Tehran actually endangers the United States. He told Peters that “[w]e actually don’t face any domestic threat from Iran.” And he asked Boot to “tell me how many Americans in the United States have been murdered by terrorists backed by Iran since 9/11?”

Most importantly, Carlson is saying something pundits, especially conservative ones, rarely say on television: that America must prioritize. Since the George W. Bush years, conservative politicians and pundits have demanded that the United States become more aggressive everywhere. They’ve insisted that America confront China, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda, all at the same time. Strategically, that’s absurd. Because America’s power is limited, its goals must be too. Foreign policy involves tradeoffs. Carlson acknowledges that. “How many wars can we fight at once?” he asked Peters. “How many people can we be in opposition to at once?” He told Boot that, “In a world full of threats, you create a hierarchy of them. You decide which is the worst and you go down the list.”

His nastiness notwithstanding, Carlson is offering a glimpse into what Fox News would look like as an intellectually interesting network. He’s moderating a debate between the two strands of thinking that have dominated conservative foreign policy for roughly a century. On foreign policy, what has long united conservatives is their emphasis on sovereignty—their contempt for Woodrow Wilson’s vision of international law and global community. But some conservatives oppose restraints on American sovereignty primarily because they want the U.S. to impose its will on other countries. (Think Dick Cheney.) Other conservatives oppose those restraints primarily because they want to prevent other countries from imposing their will on the United States. (Think Ron Paul.)

For over a century, conservative interventionists and conservative anti-interventionists have taken turns at the helm of the American right. In the 1920s, after Wilson failed to bring America into the League of Nations, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge—perhaps the two most conservative presidents of the 20th century—steadfastly avoided military entanglements in Europe. But after World War II, William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and others argued that anti-communism now required confronting the USSR around the world. While conservatives in the 1930s had generally attacked Franklin Roosevelt as too interventionist, conservatives from the 1950s through the 1980s generally attacked Democrats as not interventionist enough.

When the Cold War ended, the pendulum swung again. Pat Buchanan led a revival of conservative anti-interventionism. The biggest foreign policy complaint of Republican politicians during the 1990s was that Bill Clinton’s humanitarian interventions were threatening American sovereignty by too deeply entangling the United States with the UN.

Then came September 11, which like Pearl Harbor and the onset of the Cold War, led the right to embrace foreign wars.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2017 at 8:30 pm

“I Fought For a Better Israel Than This”

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Hirsh Goodman has a long read in Politico about his experience in Israel, a story of dashed dreams:

had been in Israel for just over two years and was nine months into my compulsory military service when war came.

I had just received my wings and red beret and achieved a childhood dream of becoming an Israeli paratrooper. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, I had but one goal: to be an Israeli. And now I was preparing to defend a nation even younger than I.

The Egyptians, for the first time since 1956, had moved forces into Sinai, massing 100,000 men and 900 tanks virtually on Israel’s southern border. Transistor radios carried increasingly dire reports: The Iraqis had sent troops and jets to bolster the Jordanian army on our eastern front, where Israel was just nine-miles wide at its narrowest. To the north, the Syrians were digging in their artillery on the Golan Heights from where they could look down on the Israeli settlements and towns. On May 26, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser said it plain in a public speech: “This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.”

Two days later, Levi Eshkol, the indecisive prime minister, read from a handwritten text without his glasses, stumbling over last-minute corrections. Public confidence plummeted. The patriotic songs on the radio began to sound as hollow as the assurances of government spokesmen. The economy came to a near halt as tens of thousands of reserves were called up and cars and trucks were commandeered for military service. People were told to tape their windows and blockade entrances against shrapnel. Much of central Israel was within Jordanian artillery range and there was a distinct feeling that we would be overrun.

In desperation, Eshkol asked his political and ideological enemy, Menachem Begin, the right-wing leader, to create a unity government. Begin agreed on the condition Eshkol invite another political rival, Moshe Dayan, a former chief of staff and war hero, to join them as minister of defense.

Soon after, we were waiting to board a plane for a planned jump on Egyptian positions in northern Sinai. The jump was canceled when it was learned that the Egyptians had peppered their positions with iron stakes to impale us. Instead, we moved on the ground to a dense eucalyptus grove close to where the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza meet. Early on the morning of June 5, flanked by tanks and with Israeli jets whizzing overhead, we advanced on Sheikh Zuweid, a complex of trenches surrounded by barbed wire and mine fields. It was my turn at the head of the column when, out of nowhere, an Egyptian soldier appeared, his Kalashnikov cocked and pointing at me. I emptied the magazine of my Uzi in controlled bursts. I felt no sense of victory as he died, just relief that the situation was not reversed.

That night, our mood turned to elation when we heard over our crackly radio that our air force had destroyed 90 percent of the Egyptian air force in a surprise attack that morning. With little opposition, we reached Kantara on the Suez Canal in what seemed lightning speed. The radio delivered more good news: Israel had taken East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank to the Jordan River and all of Sinai. Nasser’s army, like his air force, was decimated, the dunes of Sinai littered with the discarded boots of fleeing troops. On the sixth day, after losing the Golan Heights, Syria joined Egypt and Jordan in agreeing to a cease-fire.

Israel’s astonishing, almost miraculous victory imprinted the still-young nation’s presence indelibly on the Middle East. But though the war led to eventual peace with Egypt and Jordan, it never brought it full acceptance from its neighbors. And even though it ensured Israel’s existence, in the long term it may have done as much harm as good. I feel that I have earned the right to say this: For 50 years, I have watched as a soldier, journalist, husband and father as successive Israeli governments failed to leverage this victory into lasting peace, as Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank eroded the country morally, democratically and in the esteem of the international community.

Never have I seen Israel as divided as it is now, almost at war between those who want the occupation to end and those who want to keep the West Bank’s 2.7 million Palestinians under Israeli rule in perpetuity, seemingly oblivious to the cost involved. I left South Africa as a young man because I hated racism and apartheid. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is not apartheid, but is unfair. Being an occupier of another people is not what I had in mind when I came to the country or when I went to war in 1967. I wanted to help build a country where my children would live and their children after them. But the failure to make peace puts this in jeopardy if Israel slides from being a democratic, moral and tolerant Jewish state into the pariah apartheid South Africa once was.

But in June 1967 these feelings were many years away. All we could hear was cheering. As we marched back into Israel, crowds strewed flowers in our path, lavished us with sweets. We rode through the Lion’s Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem bound for the Western Wall. Even for secular Jews like me, it was a dizzying and emotional moment. But even in that victory tour there were the signs of the struggles to come. In a string of Palestinian villages east of the Old City, we saw white flags hanging from homes and the stunned looks on the faces of those who watched us drive by.

It took a while to digest that our role had shifted from conqueror to occupier. Back on duty in the Sinai, there were some uneasy moments, like escorting prisoners of war for interrogation, knowing what lay in store for them, or turning pleading civilians away at roadblocks, under strict orders not to let them through, no matter what reason they gave.

About a month into this routine there was an incident that left me deeply conflicted for the first time since arriving in Israel. Palestinian fedayeen operating out of Gaza started laying mines on the railway line to the Israeli border. Someone came up with the idea that the best way to prevent this was to place a flatbed carriage loaded with Palestinians in front of the engine.

Late one night, several of us were sent to a refugee camp in southern Gaza with orders to round up about 20 young men for “carriage duty.” As our miserable victims were dragged from their homes, trembling at the feet of armed soldiers screaming at them in Hebrew, a language they could not understand, I felt a wave of nausea come over me. I saw South African police rounding up “pass-offenders” for mandatory jail terms; despite myself, I heard echoes of the Holocaust as we forced these confused and terrified people onto a train carriage. My feelings were not rational or proportional—there was no comparison between this and the Holocaust, I knew. But I couldn’t shake my conscience. I felt that what I had done was inconsistent with why I had come to Israel. I feared becoming, once again, a stranger in my own land.


The period after the war was heady. Suddenly we could camp in Sinai and dive in the Red Sea; put a note in the Western Wall and pop off to Bethlehem for cheap shopping and lunch. Israelis packed Jericho’s open-air restaurants and markets, buying up bags of local fresh oranges as fast as the sellers could grow them. We moved around freely and without fear, even through the refugee camps in Gaza en route to some of the beaches on the Mediterranean. There was a sense of security in the land. Israel had strategic depth and full control over the territories it conquered, little thought being given to the fate of the 1.5 million Palestinians now under Israeli military occupation.

Moshe Dayan, the defense minister, said the Palestinians would be happy with limited self-rule, minus control over security issues and foreign affairs. Others, like Begin, believed that economic prosperity would solve the problem. Only the police minister, Eliahu Sasson, had the courage to state the obvious. He urged his cabinet colleagues to compromise with the Arabs even in the absence of full peace and to reach an agreement on the West Bank as quickly as possible, warning of possible collapse if the occupation continued. But in September came the “three nos” from the Arab League summit in Khartoum: No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel. I don’t think I remember a week without conflict since.

Renewed hostilities began almost immediately. Israeli forces dug the Bar Lev Line on the east side of the Canal as Egyptian artillery shells began to rain down with increasing frequency. The few weeks I spent stationed there—utterly exposed—were probably the most frightening of my life. By the time a cease-fire was reached with Egypt in August 1970, over 1,400 Israelis had been killed, nearly twice as many as in the Six-Day War and nothing to show for it.

Nasser had found Israel’s Achilles’ heel: a high sensitivity to casualties. Everyone had a son, brother, cousin, husband in uniform. With barely 2 million Jews in the country, virtually no family or community was left unscathed.

On March 18, 1968, a school bus hit a mine in the Negev. This was the 38th attack by the fedayeen in three months and Israel decided to retaliate. I was in the hospital with chicken pox, furious I would not be on the raid. The target was Karameh, a town in central Jordan, where Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization had their headquarters. Israel assembled a huge force of paratroops, infantry and armor. It was supposed to be a cakewalk. Our goals were to destroy the Palestinian base of operations, kill or capture anyone there, including Arafat, and send a strong signal to the Jordanian monarch to end the terror against Israel from across his border.

The cakewalk ended in disaster. Against all predictions the Jordanians joined in the fray and the Palestinians put up fierce resistance in a 15-hour house-to-house battle. Israel was stunned when the full scale of the debacle became known: 32 soldiers killed, 69 injured, 17 tanks hit and four tanks abandoned behind enemy lines. A year earlier, Israel had conquered the Arab world. Now, its forces were routed by a vagabond band of Palestinian terrorists.

Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack in February 1969. Some said he could not stand the pain of the mounting death toll. Golda Meir, once referred to by David Ben-Gurion as “the best man in my cabinet,” came out of retirement to become Israel’s first and only female prime minister. Begin, who opposed yielding “one inch” of territory, stormed out of the unity government when Meir agreed to “withdraw to secure and recognized boundaries in the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement.” As it turned out, Meir and her cabinet were no less hawkish than he. Dayan said “rather Sharm el Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el Sheikh” while Meir rejected overtures from the Egyptians to end the conflict.

Three years later Israel was to pay the price.


By the time war broke out again, on Saturday October 6, 1973, I was married with two small children and had recently been appointed military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, then Israel’s only English-language daily. For weeks we had been reporting on massive troop movements on the Egyptian side of the Canal and the sudden recall of 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt in early October, reminiscent of Nasser’s expulsion of United Nations’ forces just six years before. Though war was clearly on the horizon, Israel’s intelligence chief, Eli Zeira, insisted otherwise. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, October 5, Zeira sat at the head of a long, shiny table peeling chilled almonds with a silver penknife. He had summoned the military correspondents to castigate us for causing public panic; the Egyptian troop movements west of the Canal, he said, were only exercises.

Minutes after the surprise attack exactly one day later—which happened to be Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—the phone rang in our Jerusalem apartment. It was the army spokesman asking me to hurry to headquarters in Tel Aviv. Generally, not a car moves on Yom Kippur, but this day the traffic was heavy with reservists rushing to their units as their code words came over the radio, usually silent on the holy day.

Earlier that morning, Meir had refused a request by chief of staff David Elazar to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Syrians. She said she could not risk the wrath of the Americans. President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had told her that under no circumstances was Israel to be seen as starting a war. Israel had to wait for the Arabs to make the first move. It was a costly decision.

That night, I attended a news conference by the prime minister, defense minister and the chief of staff. They assured us that this was not war, just localized Syrian and Egyptian actions that would be contained soon, all of which I reported faithfully in my story the next morning. But by that afternoon, it was war and I was no longer a reporter. I had been called into active duty after hastily preparing the public shelter in our building with water, tinned food and whatever comfort I could find before leaving for the front.

That night, in the cold of a cloudless evening in the Judean desert near the Jordan River, I sat with my comrades huddled again around a transistor radio listening to the news: Tens of thousands of Egyptian soldiers were crossing the Canal virtually unopposed, Israel’s paltry forces there overrun, Syrian armor was advancing on the Golan. There was nothing between the Jordan River and Jerusalem except for us, a reserve paratroops battalion, and a few old tanks. Our planes were coming down like flies in Sinai and on the Golan. Our air force, still basking in the victory of 1967, had totally underestimated the effectiveness of the Soviet-supplied mobile anti-aircraft missiles. On the ground, anti-tank missiles ripped through Israeli armor with ease. So dire had the situation become, said the voice on the radio, that all air force operations had been diverted to the north to try and stop the Syrians. The threat posed by the Egyptians was less immediate, with a lot of sand between the Canal and Tel Aviv, but they were still advancing.

Our fear was palpable as we listened to the radio that night. Nothing was said, but we truly believed that Israel once again was on the brink of destruction.

Once it was clear that Jordan’s King Hussein would not join the war we were redeployed to the Hermon, a 7,000-foot-high range overlooking Syria and Lebanon, where we were to stay as reservists, far from family and home for nine freezing months, some of us in jeopardy of financial ruin. I was still in my 20s, had been in Israel for just eight years and was in my third war. Since being released from active service in 1969 I had spent hundreds of days in the reserves fighting terrorists over the Jordanian and Lebanese borders. More than once I thought of my kids and what their future would be in this land of never-ending conflict, sometimes even harboring secret doubts as to the viability of Israel’s long-term survival.

The Yom Kippur War cost Israel over 2,600 killed and some 10,000 wounded—a tremendous price for a small country. It also eventually cost the Labor Party its three-decade hegemony over Israeli politics. In May 1977, Begin, the man Ben-Gurion once compared to Hitler, won the election by a landslide. Begin called his election “a turning point for the Jewish people” and encouraged young religious Zionists to build their homes in Judea and Samaria, “Israel’s biblical homeland, never to be returned.”

Begin’s rhetoric seemed to portent a right-wing agenda, but behind the scenes he was laying the groundwork for peace with Egypt culminating in a secret meeting on September 16 faciliated by King Hassan of Morocco between Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan and Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami. Then on November 19, 1977, the unthinkable happened. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat arrived in Israel, stepping off his plane onto a red carpet, received by an honor guard and a 21-gun salute.

I watched the scene on television with Eitan Haber, a colleague from Yedioth Ahronoth, a Hebrew afternoon newspaper. We cried with joy. The next morning, Sadat told the Knesset that “We really and truly welcome you to live among us in peace and security.” Begin would go on to declare, “No more war, no more bloodshed and no more threats.”

It was as if the Messiah had arrived.

At a joint news conference in Jerusalem during the Sadat visit, Begin declared that for Israel, territory was “holy.” Sadat responded that for Egypt territory was “holy as well.” Ultimately, Israel gave up every inch of the Sinai, establishing the precedent of land for peace. But there was one issue the two men didn’t touch. In making their peace Sadat and Begin thought they could sweep the Palestinian problem under the carpet. The issue was “referred to committee” where it would remain unresolved and festering to this day.

For the next 16 months I would cover the peace process from up close. I was one of the first Israeli reporters in Egypt. I was more moved seeing the pyramids than when I first touched the Western Wall back in June 1967. Finally, I felt Israel had received formal recognition of its existence as the homeland of the Jewish people, and that now, with Egypt, the most powerful country in the Arab world, on our side, Israel was safe.

During that period, I spent weeks and weeks in Egypt. I traveled relatively freely through the country, unashamedly and without fear telling all and sundry that I was from Israel. I was received warmly, something that would change over time. Many things stand out in my mind from that period, but prime among them is a conversation I had with General Abdel Ghani-el Gamasy, the then-Egyptian minister of defense and architect of Egypt’s strategy in the 1973 war. I asked him why the Egyptian forces, having crossed the canal so easily, had stopped in Sinai and not continued to Tel Aviv.

Egypt’s strategy, he replied, was not to conquer Tel Aviv, but to achieve enough of a victory to restore Egyptian dignity before pursuing a path toward peace. You cannot negotiate on your knees, but only eye to eye, I remember him saying—a sentence that has come back to haunt me many times when thinking how we relate to the Palestinians as masters, not equals.


The first Palestinian intifada erupted like wildfire on December 9, 1987. Yitzhak Rabin, the defense minister, was in Washington to address a conference at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where I was a fellow at the time. It soon became apparent something was amiss. Rabin looked increasingly agitated. It was soon clear why: That morning, a military truck had hit and killed four Palestinians in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Riots were breaking out across the occupied territories and Israeli troops were coming under a hail of stones.

On the way back to Tel Aviv, Rabin made the unfortunate statement that “we will break their bones.” A few days later, a CBS crew filmed Israeli soldiers doing exactly that and the war was on. Israel was at a total loss as to how to deal with rock-throwing Palestinians. The narrative had been reversed, casting them as David and Israel as Goliath. The military’s inability to suppress the uprising became clear to me once I was back at the paper after my return from Washington. During one unforgettable visit to the Central Command, Amram Mitzna, a general who was to go on to become the mayor of Haifa, showed me a rock-slinging catapult reminiscent of Roman times that was to be used against the Palestinians. This, he said, one hand proudly resting on the monster’s side, is our answer. I felt like I was in Chelm, the fictional town in Yiddish folklore where idiots reside.

In June 1992, Rabin was elected prime minister with a significant majority. We were with friends in Tel Aviv and a loud whoop of joy filled the streets when the results were announced. Though Rabin had been a hard-liner when the intifada broke out, he was seen as a pragmatist, a leader with a vision as opposed to the man he beat: the dour and largely unsuccessful Yitzhak Shamir, also known as “Mr. Nyet” for his propensity to say “no” to everything. With Rabin’s election came new hope.

Rabin had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve. He set up a strong liberal-left coalition and allowed his deputy, Shimon Peres, to carry out top-secret exploratory talks with the PLO under the aegis of the Norwegian government. These evolved into the Oslo Accords, signed with a reluctant handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn, a beaming Bill Clinton between them, on September 13, 1993.
It was a ray of sunlight that would not last.

Rabin was demonized by the right wing at mass rallies where the victor of 1967 was scorned as a traitor with pictures of him in a Nazi SS uniform. Chanting crowds carried a coffin with his name on it. Rabbis of prominent yeshivas on the West Bank incited violence in “the name of the land” and religious fanatics gathered outside Rabin’s home to recite the pulsa denura—the mother of all curses said to bring death within a year. . .

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Tomorrow will be the 50th anniversary of Israel’s attack on the unarmed USS Liberty, which killed 34 crew members and wounded 171. The USS Liberty was an intelligence outpost, listening to transmissions from the 6-Day War that was going on. We don’t know exactly what it was about—NSA knows, but continues to keep details secret. Presumably the USS Liberty was listening to transmissions that the Israelis did not want them to hear. Another report states:

Fifteen years after the attack, an Israeli pilot approached Liberty survivors and then held extensive interviews with former Congressman Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey about his role. According to this senior Israeli lead pilot, he recognized the Liberty as American immediately, so informed his headquarters, and was told to ignore the American flag and continue his attack. He refused to do so and returned to base, where he was arrested.

Later, a dual-citizen Israeli major told survivors that he was in an Israeli war room where he heard that pilot’s radio report. The attacking pilots and everyone in the Israeli war room knew that they were attacking an American ship, the major said. He recanted the statement only after he received threatening phone calls from Israel.

The pilot’s protests also were heard by radio monitors in the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. Then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter has confirmed this. Porter told his story to syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak and offered to submit to further questioning by authorities. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. government has any interest in hearing these first-person accounts of Israeli treachery. [Washington Report]

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 8:41 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Trump’s ‘Secret Plan’ to Defeat ISIS Looks a Lot Like Obama’s

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Brian McKeon writes at Foreign Policy:

Remember presidential candidate Donald Trump’s secret plan to defeat the Islamic State? And his boast that he knew more than the generals did about the Islamic State (thus implying he’d replace them once in office)? More campaign rhetoric crashing on the rocks of reality: The Trump administration just endorsed the core elements of former President Barack Obama’s counter-Islamic State plan, and Trump has decided that Obama’s generals weren’t so bad, either.

On May 19, a day when Washington was consumed with the latest developments in the scandals enveloping the White House, the Pentagon announced that the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, respectively — would be renominated for another term. The commanders leading the military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, and Syria — all places with significant Islamic State presences — also remain in place.

That same day, Dunford and Secretary of Defense James Mattis updated the Pentagon press corps on the counter-Islamic State campaign, which Trump has ordered them to accelerate. They gave few details of the plan presented to the president. But what they did say was revealing. They highlighted only two significant changes: delegation of more authority to field commanders, and a tactical shift from shoving the Islamic State out of safe locations to surrounding it in its strongholds. Notably, Mattis emphasized that the rules of engagement had not changed, and that U.S. forces would maintain “continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties.” So much for the Trump campaign pledge to “bomb the hell out of ISIS.” Apparently shelved, too, is National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s reported interest in significantly expanding the U.S. troop presence in Syria.

These are tactical shifts, not a fundamental change of strategy. The Obama approach of working by, with, and through partners in Iraq and Syria continues, as does the campaign of U.S. and coalition air strikes and targeted raids, along with arming, training, and advising local partners, using a relatively small number of U.S. troops on the ground. The core objectives remain: seizing the two remaining centers of the so-called caliphate — Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria — and countering the Islamic State elements in southern Syria and the Euphrates valley. To his credit, the president also recently approved the arming of the Syrian Kurds — part of a larger force that will take Raqqa — in the face of strong opposition from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As Obama concluded, and as the Trump team apparently concedes, the current approach is the most sustainable. Significant increases in U.S. troop presence in Iraq would undoubtedly add to the danger to our troops, as it would invite greater mischief by Iran and its Shia militia proxies in Iraq, and take away from the government in Baghdad the burden of owning the challenge of defeating the Islamic State and building an inclusive government after its fall. It would also impose higher costs for the United States. The operation against the Islamic State has cost less than $15 billion since August 2014, and 11 American lives have been lost due to hostile action (compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost in Iraq a decade ago). . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2017 at 12:15 pm

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