August 20, 2014
On the nature of states, Hamas, its allies and competitors

We are seeing, once again, the problems in dealing with amorphous organizations that are not states, but have the means to make others miserable.

The classic conception of a state is a body that possesses a monopoly of force, and controls what happens in its name and within its borders.

Many of what we call states do not measure up to that standard. However, terrorist organizations fall even further.

Other traits of states are borders recognized by other states, and functioning institutions to select the individuals entitled to make policy for the state and speak in its name. Free elections, freedom of criticism, following the rule of law, with independent judiciaries to decide on the law as well as the guilt or innocence of those charged with violations are not required for being recognized as a state. Those traits allow us to identify Israel, the countries of western Europe, the American continent north of the Rio Grande, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and a small number of other places as entitled to be called democratic, civilized, enlightened, or another nice word of your choice.

While few of what are loosely granted the title of states threaten their neighbors, terrorist organizations (almost all of those currently active competing for the designation of being Islamicly kosher), have become the greatest threats to comity, civility, trade and other cooperation between peoples.

We see in the Hamas-Jihadist-Fatah conglomeration under the heading of Palestine the difficulties in reaching agreement. Parties, organizations, movements, and/or gangs that are ethnically, linguistically, and at least nominally religiously homogeneous, lack the leadership and organizational discipline to make binding decisions. Extend that cluster to ISIS, al-Quaida, Boko Haram, and who knows how many other organizations claiming to be the fighting edge of Islam.

In recent days we have heard that Hamas agreed to accept Fatah (the party of Mahmoud Abbas) controls on the border of Gaza. We also heard that Hamas had been preparing to seize control of the West Bank from Fatah by force. Once again, it took the work of Israeli security forces to frustrate Hamas and save Abbas.

Military setbacks do not bring terrorist gangs to surrender and compliance with cease fire, as expected from armies affiliated with national governments. More likely is a faction seeing an opportunity to continue fighting, to attract support from other organizations, and getting money and weapons from one of the rogue Muslim states (Iran, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, perhaps Turkey) or money from a wealthy Muslim family operating independently from whatever state it happens to live in.

The support and trouble-making capacity going to one or another Islamic extremist group from Saudi families--perhaps against the wishes of whoever is on top of the royal family--dwarfs the political trouble flowing from wealthy Jews like George Soros or Sheldon Adelson.

There are several explanations for the wave of rockets fired toward Beer Sheva in the mid afternoon of a cease fire that was supposed to continue until midnight. Optimists had viewed that cease fire as a continuation of five days quiet, extended by agreement so that the parties could polish the final wording of several points suggested by Egyptian mediators.

Given the multiplicity of sectors within Hamas and among its allies, all explanations have an element of speculation. Among those provided by Arabic-speaking journalists claiming access, is that Qatar had threatened Khalid Mashal with deportation from his cushy overseas location where he claims to be the senior leader of Hamas if he did not scuttle the deal being put together by Egypt, and advance Qatar's proposal.

We can wonder if Qataris were concerned to improve the deal offered to Hamas, or were simply challenging Egypt as the arbiter of Arab disputes.

By Israel's accounting, this was the 11th Palestinian violation of a cease fire.

Yet it is only Israel being targeted by the UNHRC's commission to investigate violations of human rights.

One result of whatever ended the cease fire was a siren that caused us to wake up and stumble toward shelter at 23:45. Between the siren and the boom of Iron Dome, I thought about a Hebrew University friend and colleague, proud to describe himself as far to the left and having been an adviser to Yassir Arafat, who admitted that news of a terror attack provoked a strong desire to kill the first Arab he encountered.

Israel is not confirming what many assume, that Israel's responses to this violation of a cease fire was the targeting of Hamas' senior military commander. Palestinian sources say that they found the bodies of his wife and young child, plus another individual not yet identified, in one of the buildings destroyed.

Most likely this attack will add another clause to the UNHRC indictment.

It took years, several wars, countless contacts both open and secret, with and without international mediators between Israeli officials and those of Egypt and Jordan,before there were treaties of peace and exchanges of ambassadors. Agreements with both governments have held, perhaps imperfectly. However the success is a long way from anything achieved, or even approached between Israel and whoever claims to be speaking for Palestinians.

There are Israelis and other who claim that an Israel-Palestine agreement has been close, and would have occurred if there had been greater flexibility by Israel, or if the settlements did not exist, or because of another Israeli misstep. However, such expressions are closer to politically inspired wishing or appeals to a political constituency than to anything that could pass muster as an academic dissertation.

There may be lessons in the years required for the US to reach an agreement with North Vietnam. That, too, was involved with hydra headed alliances that included the competing powers of China and the Soviet Union. But the ideological elements of Communism were a pale shadow of the capacity of Islam to inflame the masses. And the US success in getting out of Vietnam--half a world away from Washington--involved its surrender of the South.

There is no sign that Israel is willing to surrender itself for the sake of peace with Hamas or any other completing cluster of Islamic extremists or Palestinian nationalists. The threat against this small country comes not from half a world away, but from what here and at many other places is across the street.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:10 AM
August 18, 2014
A complex junction

We're at a junction, as complex as any where two or three major highways come together, with too many signs to be anything other than confusing,

On Tuesday we were still in a limping forward cease fire, with confusing signals from Palestinians and Israelis about their willingness to accept the imperfect, along with threats about what could happen.

Mahmoud Abbas has been maneuvering for a role in Gaza. He is the most prominent of Palestinians saying that the unity Palestine National Authority must accept what the the Egyptians have offered, and continue to negotiate within its framework.

Among what is muddled is the status of the united Palestine Authority. It came together a month before the onset of violence that brought us to this point, and the role of Hamas in the unity never was certain.

Abbas sees an opening for him, his Fatah party, and security forces loyal to him in monitoring the borders between Gaza, Israel, and Egypt.

Various spokesmen of Hamas have indicated their acceptance of such a role, but Palestinian history cautions against any expectations.

Involved here is a report about a wave of Israeli arrests in the West Bank meant to frustrate a Hamas plot to seize control from Abbas and his colleagues.

Khalid Mashal, who sits in Qatar and claims to be the supreme leader of Hamas, along with some Hamas figures located in Gaza, have indicated their rejection of anything that does not give them open borders and the early development of air- and seaports.

Other prominent Hamas figures, and some claiming leadership of various Jihadist organizations, have signaled their recognition of being weakened by the IDF, their need of an extended cease fire.

However, some have spoken of replenishing their missiles and tunnels, saying that "all options are on the table." This threatens renewed bombardment of Israeli cities. Some have claimed that new missiles will know how to evade Israel's Iron Dome.

Israelis are no more united than Palestinians.

The most recent demonstration at Tel Aviv's central square, named from Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated there at the close of a rally in 1995, was said to have attracted "thousands" in opposition to any continued violence. Meretz and Peace Now organized it, with Labor Party leaders conspicuous by their absence.

Specific estimates at 5,000 indicate the weakness of the left, in comparison with the estimated 30,000 who appeared at an earlier rally in the same place in behalf of doing what would be necessary to assure continued quiet for the people living near Gaza.

The Israeli government as well as its inner Security Cabinet are divided. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon are the centrists, who have resisted demands for an all-out conquest of Gaza and destruction of Hamas. Tsipi Livni, who failed to reach an accord with the Palestinians in the negotiations sponsored by John Kerry, continues to promote Mahmoud Abbas as a partner for peace. She has spoken forcefully against negotiations with, or concessions to Hamas. Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Gilad Erdan (Likud) are the hawks in the Security Cabinet, speaking in support of further actions against Hamas. Yair Lapid demands quiet for the people living near Gaza, and has been critical of the Prime Minister for endangering relations with the United States. He has proposed a conference that would give roles to influence the future of Gaza and Israel to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as Egypt and Palestine (West Bank) along with the US, UN, and the EU. No other member of the Security Cabinet has responded positively to this proposal.

The Prime Minister's moderate posture (against demands for more extensive military action, and standing against party colleagues within the government, and even extreme demands from Likud back benchers in the Knesset) is far removed from demands to drag him to an international judiciary dealing with charges of war crimes, as heard from the man chosen by the UN Council on Human Rights to assess Israel's (but not Hamas') actions.

The cartoonist of Ha'aretz is not in Netanyahu's corner. He is showing the Prime Minister riding an elephant, and performing a Hannibal action, which destroyed much of Rafah in southern Gaza in order to foil Hamas efforts to seize an Israeli soldier. In this cartoon, the Prime Minister is making a mess of Israel and its relations with the United States.

Not at the center of things while most attention is on Gaza, but not too far away are worries about increased Arab violence in the West Bank, neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and northern Israel. The IDF, police, and other security services have arrested hundreds, Arab demonstrators have been injured and killed. None with standing has yet declared the onset of a Third Intifada, but the possibility is in the air.

Along with this, one of the most outspoken of Israel's soldiers is a senior commander, a Druze from the north, who was injured, hospitalized, and went against physicians' orders to leave the hospital and go back to Gaza. We have also heard expressions of loyalty from young people who describe themselves as Arabic speaking, Israeli Christians, who are proud to serve in the IDF in defense of their country.

Prominent in the media for several days were demands of extremist Jews--religious and nationalists--to halt the marriage of a Jewish woman with an Arab. The wedding occurred to the noise of competing demonstrations, police protection, and threats of a boycott against the hall where the celebration occurred.

The couple has been together for five years. The woman converted to Islam (far easier than the man converting to Judaism), which permitted a marriage in this country of convoluted regulations.

In a spirit that the public should stay away from private decisions, we should wish the young couple success and happiness, and hope for the same from those charged with making decisions on the public agenda.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:21 PM
August 15, 2014
Us, the US, and the "I" word

Two recent articles emerge from IDF's operating in Gaza, and concern the tensions between Israel and other western democracies, most notably the United States.

An item in the Wall Street Journal comes with the provocative headline, "Gaza Crisis: Israel Outflanks the White House on Strategy."

Could it possibly mean that the editors were expressing admiration for Israeli maneuverability?

Perhaps. However, the essence of the text describes high tension between the Israeli government and the Obama White House.

Reading the long article, and considerable commentary about it (some of it based upon interviews with highly placed Israeli and American sources), confuses any conclusion about the problem(s).

Among the issues that have contributed to the tensions
Personal friction between Benyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. This has a history, including several meetings and telephone conversations over the years described as frosty, frank, difficult, and even insulting, with each national leader said to depart from conventional norms of courtesy in order to lecture the other.
An escalation of the personal tensions in recent months, reflecting public criticism of leading Americans (i.e., John Kerry and Barack Obama) by Israeli government ministers who have used the terms obsessive, messianic, Nobel Prize aspiring, and naive.
Israeli actions said to side step (not exactly violate) the appropriate procedures, whereby Israel sought and obtained the delivery of weapons directly from the Defense Department without first seeking approval from the White House and/or State Department.
Israel's working with Egypt in order to arrange cease fire and perhaps an end to the conflict with Hamas, relegating John Kerry and the State Department to subordinate and--in American eyes--insulting positions as observers rather than key mediators.
All the above brought to a head due to fundamental differences in appropriate ways of self defense, with the American President expressing time and again criticism against the Israeli Prime Minister and the IDF for excessive force, and a lack of concern for civilian casualties. (It is these expressions that in recent days have produced comments from ranking Israelis that the US President is out of touch and naive about the realities of Hamas and the Middle East.)
Relations between Israel and the US involve not only Benyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, but other politicians of different parties in both countries. Israel's friends include Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives, Democrats critical of the White House, and some well placed Governors and Mayors of both parties, professionals in American and Israeli diplomatic corps, Defense Departments and armed services, and numerous individuals, Jews and others, with strong feelings and personal contacts.

Barack Obama may be at the top of that heap, but he needs the cooperation of Israel's friends to accomplish various things important to him.

Israelis recognize that they are being bashed by western media, public opinion and many western politicians. Yet while westerners, including Barack Obama, criticize Israel for using excessive force, the Israeli public is more united behind the IDF than in any previous war or military operation since 1967. Against western criticism, many Israelis have been demanding even more forceful and complete action from the IDF, and criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon for misplaced timidity.

Netanyahu is caught between Israeli voters and some of his party colleagues demanding more forceful action, and the American White House and State Department, as well as criticism from key figures in European governments demanding greater restraint.

It is not a simple task to predict his response.

Somewhat down the list of important influences are international media and public opinion, no matter how forcefully media personalities claim their influence.

Comments coming after the WSJ article suggest that the crisis can be contained. American spokespersons have asserted their country's commitment to Israel's defense. The US has not denied Israel's request for munitions, but has only reiterated American concerns to follow desirable procedures. Israeli officials and others are expressing their profound regard and dependence on the US, but some are reminding the US that Israel's dependence is not complete. The IDF can act without specific US inputs, but the weaponry used might produce more civilian casualties than the more accurate items dependent on the White House approval.

Commentary by Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz makes a significant addition to this discussion. Its headline calls upon liberals of the world to "look at the new Middle East."

"Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle Eastern brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.
The new Middle East is a brutal one. Many Sunnis hate Shi'ites and many Shi'ites hate Sunnis. Many Sunnis and Shi'ites hate Christians, Jews, women and homosexuals. In numerous countries in the region, a considerable part of the majority hates the minorities - Kurds, Druze, Copts, Turkmen, Yazidis. Monarchs and secular people hate members of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the Muslim Brotherhood hate secular people and monarchs.
These hatreds turn into violence. The violence becomes ferocious. Too many demons awaken and begin devouring people. Heretics are murdered, sinners are stoned, women are sold to slavery. A new Middle East is exposing its face these days, and it's a face of horror."

Shavit's message is that Western liberals, including Barack Obama and John Kerry, may begin with decent feelings, but do not fully recognize the evil that exists across the Middle East. They and others "hasten . . . to denounce Israel, while displaying leniency toward Hamas' fascism."

Shavit has written an important article, but stops short of using the "I" word. He makes no mention of Islam, even though virtually every paragraph deals with the barbarism of Muslims.

We should understand, and maybe even forgive Barack Obama and those in his political chorus for their obsessive concern to praise Islam and to claim that the problem is only with those who distort the faith. Yet that goes too far in the direction of overlooking and forgiving a significant problem.

Muslim religious leaders are involved in the most brutal fanaticism, with mass passivity (also a component of Islam) allowing the fanatics to prevail.

It is tempting to evade the issue. Islam has a billion followers, many of whom can be mobilize to madness if they see insults directed at their faith.

Yet all of the major faiths have elements of madness in their doctrines and histories. At least since the Holocaust, Christian leaders have turned against those who incite hatreds with ancient curses. Israel's political and religious leadership, along with the police, act against Jews who vandalize and attack non-Jews, or find in religious doctrine reasons for demanding that women ride in the back of the bus or walk on separate sidewalks. Israeli officials are ahead of many in the US and other western democracies with respect to the rights of homosexuals.

Western political leaders should demand no less from those who claim the political and religious leadership of Muslim societies, i.e., to speak out and act forcefully against those who employ religious doctrine for the sake of barbaric actions.

And writers with the following of Ari Shavit should face up to the essence of what they see as the primary threat, and use the "I" word, with all the qualifications that may be appropriate.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:14 PM
August 14, 2014
New York Times, Gaza Edition

The New York Times Israel correspondent, Jodi Rudoren, is dreaming along with Hamas of a seaport in Gaza.

One can imagine that Thomas Friedman, Roger Cohen, and a few others from that otherwise distinguished newspaper are nodding in agreement. The editors gave the article considerable space with a large picture.

Not too many Israelis, nor anyone notable in the Egyptian regime are on the same page.

No doubt some Europeans, and maybe a few in the Obama White House and State Department are siding with Ms Rudoren.

The article shouldn't get too many votes among journalists who value balanced reporting.

One paragraph out of 21, well down in the text, notes that a senior Israeli official has some reservations about the prospect of a port for Gaza. Virtually every other paragraph sings the praise of a port, tells how previous efforts did not come to pass, and links the port to the prospects of Gaza's future.

The opening and closing set the theme, yet bear no resemblance to the prospects of a port emerging from the present talks in Cairo or whatever comes next.

"SHEIK EJLEEN, Gaza Strip -- An unmarked dirt lot about the size of a football field, on a cliff above the crashing waves of the Mediterranean, could be a crucial element in ending the monthlong battle between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip."
. . .
"People here, when I used to tell them I was working for a port, they would say, 'There is no port,' " Mr. Obaid said. "Now people are saying, 'There will be a port, this is your time.' "

One can find a more balanced report in the Washington Post.

The official Israeli position is that Gazans should forget about cargo freighters and deepwater harbors. . . .The fear is that every ship comes loaded with weapons for Hamas,

There are Israelis with military credentials who see a sea port as a useful carrot to offer Hamas, but it would come along with severe international and Israeli controls. The Post quotes Retired Major General Giora Eiland, a former National Security Advisor and frequent media commentator.

Israel could require that all ships first dock in Italy, Greece or Cyprus, where the cargo could be inspected and manifests checked. Then the freighters could be escorted into Israeli waters.

Closer to the position of Israel's government is a passage from Israel's Hebrew edition of Forbes

"The establishment of a port would be a severe threat to Israel's security. It would quickly become an Iranian port, which would facilitate the smuggling of merchandise and munitions to an unprecedented extent. The primary reason for Israel to control the full perimeter of Palestinian territory is to assure that there in no entry of munitions or terrorists."

Israel's position on an airport for Gaza is no different.

The Washington Post provides a capsule history.

The opening of Arafat International in 1998 was a signal achievement for the nascent Palestinian state and was attended by Arafat, who stood beside President Bill Clinton and wept. For two years, the airport near the Egyptian border -- its code GZA -- was the hub for Palestinian Airlines and its fleet of three planes, which ferried passengers from Gaza to Amman, Damascus, Abu Dhabi and beyond.

The Israelis destroyed the control tower and radar station in 2001 after the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began. Later, the Israeli military severed the runway and again bombed the airfield facilities in 2009, 2012 and 10 days ago . . .

Today, the arrivals and departures terminal at Arafat International, designed by Moroccan architects to resemble the facility at Casablanca, is barely standing. The facility has been bombed, shelled, riddled with bullets and finally stripped bare by scavengers. Even the asphalt for the tarmac has been peeled away, put to use paving roads elsewhere in the seaside enclave.

One should never say never. For the time being, however, the idea of an airport or seaport for Gaza will most likely be left to the dreams of Gazans and the New York Times. Palestinians say that they are serious in demanding air- and sea ports. Egyptians chairing the discussions say there is no point in talking about them.

The best guesses about the current negotiations is that the ports will not gain any significant mention in whatever is agreed, if anything is agreed.

The cease fire was extended Wednesday at midnight for another five days after a few Gazan missiles were fired before the previous cease fire expired, the IDF responded, then Hamas' asserted that Israel broke the cease fire. It may be too early to count on five days of quiet, or anything else.

Its hard to explain how a journalist can spend several years covering Israeli politics and overlook the profound lack of trust in much of the population for Hamas or any of its allies.

Israeli confidence in the Palestinians of the West Bank is not much greater. Justice Minister Tsipi Livni and former President Shimon Peres continue to hope for an arrangement with Mahmoud Abbas. For about a decade now, Israel has managed a problematic accommodation with the West Bank. The government may accept a deal that gives Abbas and his security personnel a role around the edges of Gaza, as a buffer to help control what goes in and out. Their success will depend on their capacity to avoid being bribed, intimidated, or killed by Hamas or the Jihadists.

We can expect to read many more editions of the New York Times before a Gaza port is ready for ships or planes.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:24 AM
August 12, 2014
A cynic's paradise

As I look around me this mid-August morning in 2014 I see a number of crap shoots, or games of chance.

We can argue what historical events they reflect. Among the candidates are the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Arab Spring that began toward the end of 2010 with a promise of democracy but now unraveled to barbarism, or the spread of independence throughout the Third World after World War II and then the conquest of the UN General Assembly and several ancillary bodies by governments that barely--if at all--meet the criteria of being civilized.

The crap shoots continue by no rules that are apparent. Barack Obama's dream of no victors and no vanquished may waft somewhere in the air, but with no practical effect. Proposals float, conferences convene, reports will be offered, agreements may or may not be signed, but implementation of anything will be illusory. Participants may pat one another on the back, but whether the world, a region, or a country becomes a better place will be nothing more than fodder for academic seminars.

Close at hand are multiple efforts to settle the issues of Gaza, and further away but hardly less interesting are maneuvers focused on what used to be Iraq until George W. Bush broke it.

My own view of what is most pathetic are two units of the United Nations.

One is the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which has appointed a man described as an anti-Israel extremist to head a commission to investigate war crimes. Israeli officials have already signaled their unwillingness to cooperate with a commission bound to be biased, coming from a council with a long record of animosity. The chances of balancing charges against Israel with allegations of Hamas war crimes against its own civilians as well as against Israel appears some place on the wrong side of zero.

The other UN agency worthy of being ignored or destroyed is UNRWA, the refugee agency for Palestinians that has been operating for six decades and seems about to get another lease for several more decades. It coddles Palestinians with the title of refugee unto the third, fourth, or more generations, feeds and schools those not allowed to find their own way in Arab societies, provides employment for thousands, anti-Israel incitement and facilities for the storing of weapons and launching of missiles against Israeli civilians.

Best would be to declare UNRWA and its personnel appropriate targets for the IDF, and to assure their early and permanent "neutralization" in Gaza and elsewhere. Sadly, that prospect is as much of an illusion of anything useful coming out of the UNHRC.

Israel's government is betting on a forum currently underway in Cairo, managed by Egyptians who the US views as unacceptable, but which appears to be our best chance of getting something decent from a month of warfare, about 60 dead and 150 injured Israelis, a modest level of destruction on our side of the border, and much more misery and destruction in Gaza.

We're hearing conflicting reports--from significant progress to none at all--along with competing threats from Hamas and Israel of what may happen at the end of the 72 hour cease fire.

No one knows what will come out of those meetings, either their present round or what may happen if there is another bout of missiles from Gaza and destruction by the IDF. The words heard and written will be less important that what occurs, either soon or whenever a mad faction of Gazans decides that their future depends on killing Jews.

Israelis are not innocent in these crap shoots. Yair Lapid became a Minister in Israel's government and a member of its inner Cabinet with no more experience in international affairs than the present or immediate past presidents of the United States. George W. Bush was not an academic start at Yale, but at least he emerged with a degree. Obama has a better academic record. Lapid learned how to give a rousing address from his years as a media personality, but some of his ideas as government minister remind us that he did not finish high school.

The latest embarrassment is Lapid's proposal to convene an international conference to deal with the future of Gaza. Participants would include Egypt, the Palestine National Authority (i.e., Mahoud Abbas), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the US, EU, UN and Israel.

Lapid's aspirations are that the conference will de-militarize Gaza in exchange for resources to restore housing and infrastructure, and investments to assure a rosier economic future. It all sounds great, but the reassuring news is that the Prime Minister is not enthusiastic and Israeli media are scarcely paying attention. Surely someone will tell Lapid that it is too early to count Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt as firmly in the camp of those likely to assure a future for Gaza that will benefit Israel, and the EU, UN, and present US administration are, at the least, shaky in that regard. It is hard to believe that such a collection of governments and international organizations will accept an invitation from Israel for such a forum. And if they do, Israel as organizer will be hard pressed to pull out when it becomes apparent that their ideas are less than desirable.

Another crap shoot is further away, but has already produced casualties that dwarf the numbers in Gaza.

Initial US military efforts to halt the progress of ISIS barbarians proved more symbolic than helpful, and led the President to say that the process would take time. Read that as a preview of Obama's escalation or scurrying for cover with a well written explanation. European governments are dithering about military or humanitarian aid to the Kurds, currently the best bet for stopping ISIS. Pressures on the Iraqi government to become more representative are floundering on the refusal of the prime minister, with his policy of goodies for Shiites only, to step down. John Kerry has weighed in with the term "genocide" against the actions of ISIS, a commitment to international consultation, and a plea that the Iraqi prime minister not stand in the way of democracy.

Syria is far from a final body count. Ukraine is also clogging the media, the Muslims of Europe and the US, along with a few others, are calling for death to the Jews.

Others can parse the details. Israeli officials have reminded the Jews that they can avoid the local crap shoots by coming here.

Not all is material for cynicism.

A hundred young Americans and Canadians have arrived at the airport with plans to enlist in the IDF. All told there are close to 3,000 soldiers who came from overseas.

Our own small circle includes an American brother and sister and a Korean brother and sister in IDF uniforms.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:09 AM
August 10, 2014
Obama's world view and the world

One should applaud, perhaps with one hand, the wisdom shown by Barack Obama in his efforts to withdraw the United States from active involvement in the Middle East.

At the same time, we should note that he is at least partly responsible for the present chaos.

That Nobel Peace Prize speech was a disaster. It encouraged democracy and equal rights in cultures that know no such thing. It contributed to rebellions against existing regimes which, far from perfect, had managed to keep a lid on the tinder of religious, ethnic, and ideological tension always waiting for a spark.

Also, his forceful involvement in an illusory peace process, via a obsessive and perhaps messianic Secretary of State, is likely to have done more harm than good. It is a stretch to assign Kerry responsibility for 2,000 deaths in Gaza, but there is a rich literature about the "revolution of rising expectations" that is worth considering.

Now Obama has gone back into Iraq, best thought of as putting a bandage on the mess that his country produced with its destruction of Saddam's government and army. He should be applauded for opposing one of the most barbaric movements that emerged from the Arab Spring he once saw as the onset of democracy. Now he may see that it is easier to begin such an operation than to find his way out of it.

Thomas Friedman was one of those who led the cheers for Arab Spring, and now his rapport with Obama has produced the most recent insight into the President's thinking.

Central to what we can perceive in a lengthy article is not too much different from Obama's earlier aspirations for democracy and equality. Now it is expressed as"an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished."

It means power sharing, which sounds great. It might work in Chicago, but one should be excused for having some doubts. With greater certainty, it isn't a useful guide to the animosities/hatreds of Middle Eastern religious, ethnic, tribal, and family politics.

It is also a doubtful recipe for deal with Russia and Ukraine, which along with Libya, Iraq, Syria, and that peace process involving Israel and Palestine, get some mention in Friedman's interview.

The President also recognizes that power sharing may be illusory with respect that bit of the globe that stretches from the White House to the Capitol.

" we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we're asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together."

Perhaps Barack Obama wants to reform, or do away with political dispute. If so, he should join Jimmy Carter in teaching Sunday School, rather than trying to lead the United States and those governments likely to follow its lead in international politics.

It's easy to blame others.

" . . . in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not "squandered an opportunity" to share power with Sunnis and Kurds.'Had the Shia majority seized the opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in a more effective way, [and not] passed legislation like de-Baathification,' no outside troops would have been necessary."

Obama has learned some things about a problematic setting

"With 'respect to Syria,' said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has 'always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.'"

Yet when he claims to know " the aspirations of that population," he is on shakier ground.

The relevant passage refers to Syria, but would apply equally to Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Libya and all else in that swath of autocratic governments from Morocco across to Pakistan.

Where there never has been a regime concerned about the aspirations of the population, the idea is not a guide to the future.

The problem is culture. They ain't Americans, Western Europeans, Israelis, or a few others who have developed the norms of popular representation and accommodation.

Again, we should not be all that confident about Chicago, or the Obama White House and Congress.

The President stands firmly against genocide. Most likely he has received briefings from people who know something about the Yazidis. Here's a link for those who have not until now heard about them.

He is also hopeful about the Kurds, and seeks to protect their enclave.

We can hope that he has thought about the implications of that for US relations with Turkey.

At the end of Friedman's interview the subject turned to Libya. Obama admitted a failure of follow up to the toppling of Qaddafi, but ended with another declaration of his naivete.

"Then it's the day after Qaddafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, 'Thank you, America.' At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn't have any civic traditions. ... So that's a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, 'Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after?' "

The GWBush administration and then the Obama administration invested the better part of eight years trying to create civic traditions and a responsible government for Iraq, and is still at work in Afghanistan.

Nothing suggests that a gargantuan effort in Libya would have done better.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:02 AM
August 08, 2014
Frustrations of power

There are limits of what military might can accomplish.

It's a lesson well known to Americans as well as Israelis.

Israel can kill a million Gazans, but if there are a few thousand Muslim fanatics among those left it won't matter. Fanatics elsewhere will do what they can to provide them with money, political support, munitions or whatever else it takes to keep them going.

The truth of the matter is that Israel cannot kill a million Gazans. Our own norms won't permit it. And the humane know nothings of the world, with their bases in the US, Western Europe, and the UN will wage their own kind of political and economic terror against Israel over many fewer deaths.

Israel's humane adversaries act as if war should operate in a manner to target only opposing fighters. Should they fire or store their weapons from neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and mosques, then one's own soldiers must either desist, or risk their lives to grab enemy fighters without harming anyone else, or the homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques sheltering the fighters.

Nothing in the personal histories of Ban Ki Moon or Barack Obama reflect any combat experience, much less any in congested urban areas.

So what to do?

Something close to what Israel has been doing.
Giving the sources of terror enough opportunity to demonstrate their evil to provide ample justification for a military response. Note that Israel waited six or two hours (depending on one's calculation) beyond the end of the cease fire and the onset of Gazan missiles before responding.
The IDF should provide a general warning, that any civilians near Hamas' military activities will be risking their lives and property.
The military response should target, primarily, the fighters, their weapons, and their leaders.
In light of Israel's warnings, any collateral damage will be the responsibility of Hamas.
The IDF must continue to train its officers and soldiers in the rules of appropriate combat in congested areas, the essence of which is to aim at fighters, those leading them, and their equipment.
Israel's political leadership must try to persuade those who will listen about the evil of those who exploit civilians as military assets, and justify the activities that the IDF pursues.
Israel's primary concern is to protect its own civilians from the evil. At a much lower ranking and secondary concern is to protect the civilians of Gaza who are being exploited by their leaders.
Due to its own norms and international expectations, Israel may have to assume responsibility for providing basic supplies of electricity, food and medical supplies to Gaza. Possibilities of acquiring other consumer goods, or the right to travel internationally is beyond Israel's responsibility, and depends on Gaza's own regime ratcheting down from its evil intentions and making the appropriate accommodations.
Israel's political apparatus must be prepared to struggle with the allegations from local and international guardians of what they consider to be humane standards of conduct, and to ignore those who cannot be convinced by Israel's reasonable efforts.
Important in Israel's aims is doing what is necessary to stop attacks on its civilians, and to assure that Hamas will be unable to re-arm and reconstruct tunnels and other facilities in order to support yet another round of violence.
The sum total of the above will not be pretty and will have costs. It will not solve Israel's problems, but should enlist on Israel's side the civilized of the world, who are capable of recognizing evil where it exists, and that protecting oneself from it may involve the sacrifice of civilians exploited by those who are evil.

It is difficult to read what happened with the end of the cease fire on Friday. Neither side invoked anything close to the force it was threatening. Perhaps it was the kind of theater recognized without an agreement, where Hamas and its allies are allowed to blow off steam or beat their breasts, without endangering any great destruction.

It's an odd place this corner of the Middle East, where the rules of the game are vague, poorly understood, usually work, but occasionally turn quickly to something much different.

As Israeli politics appears at the present time, the intensity of the south against any occasional shelling from Gaza may force the government to insist on a hard line in any negotiations that occur. Or lead the government to test the tolerance of western governments with a continued onslaught against Gaza until the level of quiet becomes acceptable.

The ultimate frustration lies in the lack of success likely. No matter how many fighters die among those causing the evil, along with all the collateral damage that is conceivable, the evil will remain.

Those who doubt it need only look at ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, along with Hamas and the various Jihadist movements active among Palestinians. Muslim fanatics willing and even desirous of dying for their cause are the scourge of our time. Hamas' exploitation of children and other civilians to protect their fighters is at the same level of barbarism as the killing of captives, the slaughter of Christians, and the sex enslavement of young girls by other fanatics.

Those of us who are both civilized and realistic must count on spending considerable resources and not a few of our own lives in order to protect ourselves from such barbarism.

Comments by Ban-Ki Moon, Barack Obama, and other western leaders, produce a feeling among Israelis of living in a ghetto, hemmed in by unrealistic expectations about the humane way in which we must fight those intent on destroying us.

Constant criticism and threats of formal condemnation, backed up by the possibility of sanctions, provokes thoughts of Jews in times past, living at the sufferance of those who exploit us for what we can provide to them, and willing to see us destroyed at the pleasure of the mob.

Our principal defense from living in such misery is our own government, its capacity to explain our condition to those who will listen, and the capacity of our security forces to protect us.

Only time will tell if that is enough to keep us from the spread of the Dark Ages, with Islamic fanatics on our borders and the borders of other places.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:15 PM