Archive for the ‘Middle East Politics’ Category

Anderson Cooper and the Gaza War

December 30, 2008

Given all the criticism that takes place of the media whenever conflict flares in the Middle East, I have to single Anderson Cooper out for praise. In the midst of his tough questioning of all of his guests, Cooper demonstrated a sense of the context of it.

Here’s Cooper: “To give you a better idea of what Israel is dealing with, here’s the ‘Raw Data’ on Hamas. The group took over Gaza back in June of last year, after winning parliamentary elections the year before. Dating back to 1987, during the first Palestinian uprising, Hamas has never wavered in its commitment to Israel’s destruction, and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and, obviously, Israel.

The organization is believed to have between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, thousands of short-range rockets, and ample funding, some of it coming from Iran.”

Cooper even referenced a CNN report from prior in the year which showed the tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

Cooper’s smooth handling of a complicated issue contrasted with a Democratic strategist and Huffington Post contributor, Hillary Rosen, who was very much out of her league.

think the issue, though, is, you know, that there needs to be a — an agreement for a Palestinian state. Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of having a peaceful Palestinian state, living side by side within the — with the state of Israel. And, to do that, you have to go beyond Hamas. You have to deal with this more as a — as Palestinian issue, and not just as a — an issue of the immediate violence.

At this point, President Bush, President-Elect Obama and many Israelis all support a Palestinian state. Right now, the Israelis face two different — and opposing — Palestinian governments, one in the West Bank, the other in Gaza. With whom are they supposed to make peace?

I was also impressed with the perspective of Reza Aslan, who acknowledged that it was a complex problem. Here’s the exchange — which again reflects Cooper’s understanding of what is happening.

COOPER: Reza, where is there room between Hamas and Israel for some sort of agreement? I mean, unless Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist and — and stops firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas, it’s hard to see how any kind of a deal can be struck. 

ASLAN: Well, the truth is that the more elemental problem is to get an agreement not between Hamas and Israel, but between Hamas and Fatah, between the Gaza and the West Bank, because the idea of the two-state solution and of a — of a stable, economically viable Palestinian state is simply a pipe dream, unless we can figure out a way to create some kind of accommodation between these two parts of the Palestinian government. 

I’m also going to refer interested readers to my prior posts on Gaza after a visit to the embattled Israeli city of Sderot, here and here.

The Obama Announcement

December 1, 2008

I watched in awe as President-Elect Barack Obama announced his national security team. There, as has been leaked, stood Senator Clinton aside the incoming president. It is remarkable in our political lifetime for a president to make such an ambitious pick — and for that pick to accept.

The Obama team faced a considerable challenge during today’s media availability. They had to manage the announcement — and the egos of the personalities involved –in such a way to highlight each member of the team without having it look unruly. It came across, more or less, as smooth. The journalists’ questions were all easily anticipated and mostly focused on challenging Obama on what statements he made about Clinton during the campaign. Other thoughts:


  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations is a good spot for the underwhelming Susan Rice. At the U.N. she can be an outspoken advocate for American values and diplomacy without having much to do with substance — although the elevation of this post to cabinet-level could alter the equation.
  • I could not miss Obama’s reference to the Middle East peace process. I wonder exactly how ambitious his plans are for this area.
  • A interesting spot of the event was Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden. He seemed to be chafing at the confines of his talking points. 
  • Expect some conflict between the presumptive national security adviser, James Jones, who has been critical of Israel, and Clinton. Writes Eli Lake: “When Obama makes that move [on the issues], the Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore.”

Bill Clinton Stands Up For Truth

October 26, 2007

I’ve been noticing the way the 9/11 conspiracists infiltrate political events and gatherings. I wrote about this phenomenon on the anniversary of 9/11. One thing that has bothered me about when these guys start hectoring celebrities and politicians about Building 7, they seem to have the rhetorical advantage. They put the person they are quizzing on the defensive. Well, they tried this recently with Bill Clinton, and he really put them in their place.

Clinton also has been the most effective person at articulating the peace deal that Yasser Arafat rejected at Camp David and Taba.

At a time when the country is hopelessly polarized, a circumstance that is augmented by the existence of the blogosphere, Bill Clinton knows how to occupy the center. If Hillary Clinton follows his lead in this regard, as she appears to be doing, she will be the next president.

Columbia and Germany’s Development of Atomic Weapons

September 24, 2007

Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, did a fantastic job of challenging Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on campus today.

Having said that, there’s quite a story to be told about what Columbia did when another tyrannical nation, Germany, appeared to be going after atomic weapons.

Back in the summer of 1939, Germany, like Iran today, wasn’t officially at war. Yet for an émigré-physicist at Columbia, Leo Szilard, the possibility that Germany might attempt to purchase uranium in the Belgian Congo was disturbing enough to take action. Szilard, it is recorded in Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” tracked down the great scientist in Princeton, New Jersey, and warned him of the dangers a fission weapon could pose. Szilard, Einstein and another scientist decided to send a letter to the Roosevelt Administration in the name of Einstein, who was famous enough to be taken seriously by the president. Both Szilard and another Columbia physicist, Enrico Fermi, were studying the power of splitting the atom at that time.

“Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in a manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future,” Einstein wrote. “The new phenomena would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable – though much less certain – that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.” Einstein concluded the letter with an ominous reference to Germany’s ceasing “the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over” and copying “American work on uranium.”

Eventually, the letter in conjunction with Szilard’s militating and the help of Alexander Sachs, an informal adviser to the president, prompted Roosevelt to set up the program that became the Manhattan Project, so named, in part, for atomic research taking place at Columbia. Roosevelt arranged for the transfer of $6,000 to support research at the university at that time. While the university appears inclined to provide a p.r. platform to a nation attempting to race ahead in its quest for atomic energy nowadays, it nonetheless recognizes work of Fermi. In a November 2001 story in “The Columbia News,” the university announced a conference recognizing the contributions of Fermi, who was affiliated with the school from 1939 to 1942, to the Manhattan Project. “Enrico Fermi shaped the destiny of physics from the Manhattan Project through the present times,” said Tsung-Dao Lee, University Professor at Columbia.

The Columbia News story, citing, Professor David Freedberg, Director of the Italian Academy, trumpeted Columbia’s status as “the appropriate setting for the signature American event of a year devoted to recalling the life and work of one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, who directed the experiment that initiated the world’s first controlled and self-sustaining nuclear reaction.” Fermi’s eagerness to speed his experiments forward prompted him to commandeer members of Columbia’s football team to pack heavy uranium into cans and then bring it into his lab, according to Mr. Freedberg in an accompanying podcast. Said Mr. Freedberg in the news story: “Had Fermi and another Columbian, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard not persevered in their collaboration here, the world’s first controlled nuclear chain reaction would not have been developed by 1942, and the Manhattan Project would not have built the first atomic bombs by 1945.” And, Mr. Freedberg might have added, the history of the world might be tragically different today.

Boston Lawyer Takes on the “Israel Lobby Gang”

September 10, 2007

The authors of “The Israel Lobby”, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, are getting a lot of press these days. These are the university professors who contend that “The Israel Lobby” has hijacked American foreign policy and proved the U.S. war with Iraq. To me, this smacks all too much of anti-Jewish scapegoating at a time of an unpopular war.

Jeff Robbins, a partner at the Boston law firm of Mintz, Levin, has a terrific op-ed in The Wall Street Journal rebutting this thesis. He reports an anecdote about Saudi Arabia’s attempt to purchase positive opinion in America in the wake of 9/11.

“Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from a major defense contractor asking for a favor. I was serving as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, a national organization that debates foreign policy, and the defense contractor was one of the Council’s principal sponsors.

The Saudi Arabian government was sponsoring a national public relations campaign to cultivate American public opinion, and was sending Saudi emissaries around the country to make the case that Saudi Arabia was a tolerant, moderate nation worthy of American support. Would the Council organize a forum of Boston’s community leaders so that the Saudis could make their case?

While this was patently no more than a Saudi lobbying effort, we organized the forum, and it was well-attended by precisely the slice of Boston’s political and corporate elite that the Saudis and their defense contractor benefactor had hoped for. The Saudis maintained that their kingdom should be regarded as a promoter of Middle East peace, and that the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia was in fact promoting a virulent brand of extremist Islam should be discounted.

Saudi Arabia paid for the trip of its emissaries to Boston, for the Washington-based public relations and lobbying company that organized the trip, and for the Boston public relations and lobbying company that handled the Boston part of the visit. And it drew upon the resources and relationships of the defense contractor, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to support and orchestrate its public relations effort.”

Here is Robbin’s essential point: “It is apparently the authors’ position that, even in the face of the overwhelming leverage of an Arab world swimming in petrodollars, with a lock on the U.N. and an unlimited ability to pay for pro-Arab public relations, American Jews are obliged to stay silent. In essence, Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have repackaged the “the-Jews-run-the-country” stuff which has long been the bread and butter of anti-Semites.”

Two other important points. Longtime readers will remember this 2002 story.

“A series of radio advertising spots ran in 30 cities across the United States in early April. One, titled “Occupation,” extolled the Arab League’s “fair plan to end the senseless violence in the Mideast.” The plan, according to the advertisement, involved Israel’s “withdrawal from the Palestinian land it has unjustly occupied for years…. There will be no more midnight raids and random searches, no more violence.” It did not condemn Palestinian terrorist bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Another ad, titled “Peace Plan,” stated: “To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods.” Again, no mention of Palestinian terrorism and no mention of the peace offer made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, which would have given the Palestinian Authority possession of 97 percent of the West Bank — an offer Yasser Arafat turned down in 2000. Both ads concluded with the slogan “Start the peace — end the occupation,” followed by the words “paid for by the Alliance of Peace and Justice.”

Must be just another grassroots group fighting to get Israel out of the West Bank, right? Not exactly. The ads were placed by Sandler-Innocenzi, a political-advertising agency that has done spots for Republican House majority whip Tom DeLay and the Republican National Committee, among others. A Sandler-Innocenzi staffer contacted by the Phoenix acknowledged involvement with the ad and gave a phone number and address for the Alliance of Peace and Justice. The address — 8484 Westpark Drive in McLean, Virginia — is the home of media firm Qorvis Communications. Where does this complicated trail lead? To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the federal government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office, hired Qorvis on March 6. Qorvis did not respond to phone calls requesting comment on the ads.”

I will post a link to my feature story on a new book rebutting the “Israel Lobby” thesis. Here’s my write-up of a June encounter with Stephen Walt.

United Church of Christ Softens Position on Israel

June 25, 2007

Since 2005, the UCC has been among the most shrill of the Mainline Protestant churches on the subject of Israel. The Church passed two vehemently anti-Israel resolutions that year. Two years later there has been something of a shift. The Church’s governing body moved forward a resolution calling for “balance” on the Middle East.

I write in The New York Sun of the shift:

“One of [the prior resolutions] — the ‘Tear Down the Wall” resolution — called for the dismantling of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank. The other — the divestment, or ‘Economic Leverage,’ resolution — urged church members to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

‘Because the ‘Tear Down the Wall’ resolution focused solely on the actions of Israel, we also have a responsibility to more fully understand and name the ways other nations and forces have contributed to the situation,’ the resolution reads.

It also mentions Palestinian Arab children ‘being exposed to hatred and intolerance in textbooks and the media” and violence between “Fatah and Hamas, especially in the Gaza strip, in spite of the fact that Israel disengaged from Gaza in September 2005.’

The UCC’s Committee on Reference referred the measure to the executive council for implementation. It would establish a task force to study the ’causes, history, and the context of the conflict,’ which will report to the next gathering of the synod in 2009.”

Incidentally, Senator Obama, a UCC member who spoke to the group on Satuday, distanced himself from the Church’s position on the Middle East: ” ‘Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life,’ a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. ‘While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church.’ ”

Silence on Gaza

June 19, 2007

Some of you might remember the name Adam Shapiro. He was the so-called American peace activist who rushed to the side of Yasser Arafat when Israel’s Defense Forces surrounded the Palestinian Authority compound in 2002. An even more controversial name is Rachel Corrie, who went to the Middle East under the auspices of Shapiro’s International Solidarity Movement. She died in what an Israeli inquiry determined was an accident when she got in the middle of Israeli demolition efforts in Gaza. The Israelis were destroying shrubs, used to conceal explosives and IEDs, and looking for tunnels used for weapons smuggling. Corrie said she was there to protect Palestinian homes from demolition.

I noticed I didn’t see any of these types rushing to help the Fatah leadership last week in Gaza as Hamas’s armed gangs began executing them. In 2002, when Israel was the bad guy, Westerners hurried to the defense of Palestinians. Now, with Islamic fundamentalists carrying out much more heinous intentional executions, the hard left in America and around the world is missing in action.

“As Hamas stormed Fatah strongholds in Gaza and began slaughtering members of its rival organization last Thursday, there were no Adam Shapiros racing to Fatah compounds to protect its members. Mr. Shapiro was the “peace” activist who made a beeline for Arafat’s compound in 2002 when Israel attempted to isolate the Palestinian leader in response to terrorism.

The Web site of a group Mr. Shapiro helped found, the “International Solidarity Movement,” was promoting “Freedom Summer 2007: Confronting Apartheid,” a campaign opposing Israel’s security fence.

Posts to the site, contemporaneous with the Hamas campaign in Gaza, display support for the effort to boycott Israel’s academic establishment and memorialize Israel’s “Occupation” since 1967.

A statement decrying last week’s violence was not found, if there even was one.

The television news channels and newspapers reported no present day version of Rachel Corrie rushing to place herself in between the Fatah and the Hamas gunmen. Corrie, purportedly in defense of a Palestinian home, was killed accidentally when she placed herself in front of an Israeli bulldozer, which was clearing brush and destroying arms smuggling tunnels.

On Friday, a Haaretz reporter, Avi Issacharoff, reported a few acts of violence in Gaza: “Two days ago, Hamas activists fired at a procession of unarmed citizens and killed two of them. On Tuesday they killed three women and a child. On Monday they threw a Fatah activist from the 18th floor of a high-rise building.”

Following these reports of Hamas violence, protesters did not take to the streets of cities in America or around the world. The television news was notably bereft of footage of candlelight vigils mourning the impending disaster.”

I write about this dynamic in my New York Sun column.

6:30 a.m. Appearance with Michael Graham on WTKK

June 18, 2007

I will appear as a guest on WTKK with Michael Graham Monday morning at roughly 6:30 a.m. — give or take a few minutes. The subject will be the upheaval in Gaza and the broader Middle East.

Thoughts on Gaza Crisis

June 15, 2007

Chaos in Gaza

Less than two months ago, I stood at an observation point in Sderot, Israel less than one mile from the border with Gaza. I listened to an Israeli Defense Forces public information officer and his commanding officer brief a group of journalists travelling with the American Israel Education Fund on the situation there. It was informative — up to a point. Then again, there seemed to be lots of holes in what the Israelis would discuss. They did intimate there was a considerable Iranian influence there.

Following our talk, I got to chat with Bill Roggio, who runs the outstanding security blog “The Fourth Rail”. Roggio, who has been an embedded in both Afghanistan and Iraq, had a strong sense the Israelis were holding back. He suspected the situation in Gaza was far worse than we were being told.

During the same trip, we had the good fortune to meet with Avi Issacharoff, the gonzo Haaretz reporter who covers the now essentially defunct Palestinian Authority. The dinner was off-the-record to facilitate this reporter who risks his life to cover a very dangerous region. I think it’s fair to say that Issacharoff painted a picture of Gaza that was far more chaotic than what we think of when we imagine the Wild West.

Here’s what Issacharoff is reporting now, including Palestinians afraid for their lives: “The fears of S., like many Gaza residents, are not unfounded. A look at Hamas’ behavior in the Strip in recent days has revealed zero tolerance toward the ‘other.’ Anything identified with Fatah was attacked, even women and children related to activists. ‘I’m not sure what they’ll do with the secular, and what they’ll to with me, since my brother is in the security services,’ S. added.

Two days ago, Hamas activists fired at a procession of unarmed citizens and killed two of them. On Tuesday they killed three women and a child. On Monday they threw a Fatah activist from the 18th floor of a high-rise building. Although these actions sowed panic among Fatah activists, they also increased residents’ hostility toward Hamas.”

The reports out of Gaza, Issacharoff aside, are being undercovered. There’s no question if the Israelis engaged in a fraction of the violence Hamas is perpetrating, world opinion would be transfixed on Israel. The silence from human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, is deafening. Watching what Hamas is doing to the Fatah members prompts me to ask what would members of this fanatical group ever do if they gained control of all the land from the Jordan River to the sea. It wouldn’t be pretty, to say the least.

The footage of Hamas ransacking Palestinian Authority properties in Gaza is the conclusive happening in a chain of events that began with the Oslo Accords in 1993. Yitzhak Rabin opted to give the PLO — the Fatah faction — authority over Gaza and much of the West Bank in hopes that Yasser Arafat and his cronies would crack down on the Islamic militants in the territories. Arafat repeatedly turned a blind eye to Hamas violence and in 2000 unleashed his own cadres at the Israelis. Instead of working towards peace with the Israelis, the Fatah leadership constructed villas along the Mediterranean in Gaza and gorged on the foreign and humanitarian aid the PA received. This, in turn, gave more strength to Hamas.

The swirling violence in Gaza reinforces the view that Israel, in particular, and the West, in general, make deals with corrupt secular Arab leadership at their peril. What’s happening in Gaza today could be happening in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia soon enough.

The view, being promoted by, among others, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, that America is to blame for not being engaged in Israel-Palestinian dialogue is patently ridiculous. Amanpour wasn’t even willing to concede the victory of Hamas’s proxies in Gaza helped Iran. This is despite a whole litany of evidence that one can provide that demonstrates Iranian help to Gazan militants.

The issue no relevant party — Israel, the PA, the US, the EU — has ever been able to deal with is what to do with the rejectionist, Islamacist forces that seek to control the Palestinian Authority. No magic wand exists that can force Hamas to get into serious and long-term negotiations with the Israel, which it wants to destroy. This has been the subject that everyone, beginning with Yitzhak Rabin, has wanted to sweep under the rug for more than a decade.

I don’t know how the current chaos can be contained. I do know that it’s probably goes beyond the appointment of an American special envoy to the region.

Read more here.

What Bill Clinton Said About Al Qaeda

May 7, 2007

President Clinton was at the Kennedy School of Government on Friday. Here’s what he said about Al Qaeda and Mayor Bloomberg of New York.

Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and the author of “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism”, said that Al Qaeda grew more brazen as the peace negations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority intensified. He cited the Oslo Accords (1993), the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1995), the Hebron Agreement (1997), Wye River Agreement (1998), and Camp David negotiations (2000) as examples of peace deals which coincided with Al Qaeda’s growth and early attacks in Saudi Arabia, on the U.S. embassies in Africa, on the U.S.S. Cole and the World Trade Center. “During the 1990s, the Clinton Administration dedicated unprecedented resources in trying to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” Mr. Gold said. “Yet in those very same years, Al Qaeda grew and expanded its operations. This history proves there is no correlation between Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and the rage that feeds the growth of Al Qaeda.”