Monday, March 09, 2009

Roger Cohen On The Middle East: Check Please!

In his op-ed Middle East Reality Check, it may appear that Roger Cohen is offering, but by the end of his piece, it appears that a reality check is precisely what Mr. Cohen needs.

Cohen keeps saying things that just don't jive with the reality of the Middle East.

There is nothing new in Cohen's claim that terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah need to be recognized:
Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.

Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.”
According to Cohen the difference between the 2 terrorist groups is in the way they have achieved their right to be recognized:
Hezbollah is in the Lebanese national unity government, whereas Hamas won the free and fair January 2006 elections to the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, only to discover Middle Eastern democracy is only democracy if it produces the right result.
Some unity government. In May of last year, writing about the Doha agreement, Totten pointed out about the Doha agreement what Cohen apparently has forgotten:
While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

...Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city.

...And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.
As far as the Hamas model of Middle East democracy goes, while Cohen talks about the need to bring Hamas and Fatah together, Cohen makes no mention of the bloody coup by Hamas that drove them apart.

Bottom line, if Hezbollah and Hamas are part of the political fabric--a delousing is in order.

But Cohen is not done legitimizing Hamas, not by a long shot:
The 1988 Hamas Charter is vile, but I think it’s wrong to get hung up on the prior recognition of Israel issue. Perhaps Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel’s disappearance — although it has offered a decades-long truce — but then it’s also possible that Israel in reality has no desire to see a Palestinian state.
'Disappearance' is a polite way of putting it--'destroy' captures the idea a bit better. Then again, if Cohen is going to gloss over the Hamas coup, we can't expect him to accurately describe Hamas intentions for Israel--just as Cohen makes no mention of what Hamas does during those 'truces', or the how they don't seem to include the cessation of rockets. Still, Cohen does do a nice turn of phrase: comparing the Hamas desire to wipe out Israel against Israel's wariness about a sovereign terrorist state on its border. It's not as if Israel has said they want to wipe out Gaza.

The question of what could be achieved if Palestinian terrorists stopped killing Jews is never addressed by Cohen. Perhaps that is the realist in him.

But Cohen is nothing if not the faithful propagandist:
Speaking of violence, it’s worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.
Cohen after all is expressing a point of few--but again, some key facts have somehow escaped his attention in that one paragraph. Let's review:

1. "sporadic Hamas rockets"
Sporadic might give the impression that there were only a few rockets.
Strategy puts these 'sporadic' rockets into some perspective:

By the end of 2005, over 400 Kassams had been fired at Israeli targets. In the next six months, another 600 rockets were fired. About a third of them were the short range Kassam Is, fired at Israeli settlements in Gaza. The rest were larger Kassams fired into southern Israel.

About a thousand Kassams were fired into Israel during 2006. This doubled, to two thousand in 2007, and during the first four months of 2008, another 2,000 were fired. To date, over 7,000 Kassams have been fired, plus a few dozen factory made rockets and nearly a thousand mortar shells. For every 30-40 Kassams fired, an Israeli is killed or wounded. [emphasis added]

2. "It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children"

But according to UPI
A total of 300 Palestinian civilians have been identified as among the dead from Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, documents show.

The Israeli military's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration said its accounting of the conflict has found that 300 of a total of 1,200 Palestinians killed during the assault were "non-combatants," The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

The report said 580 of those killed have been identified as fighters of the Hamas Palestinian militant group. Another 320 victims have yet to be classified but they have been described as all men, two-thirds of whom were deemed likely by Israel to be terror operatives.

The figure of 300 civilian deaths clashes wildly with Hamas estimates of 895 such deaths.
Of course, Cohen can give preference to the reports coming out of Hamas--the question is: why would he?

3. "1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land"

Cohen paints a pathetic picture--but Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Moscow, Tokyo and Warsaw are all more crowded than Gaza:
Tel Aviv
7,445 people/sq km
(385,000 people, 51.8 sq km)

Hong Kong
6,352 people/sq km

6,252 people/sq km

5,100 people/sq km

Tel Aviv metro area including suburbs
5,050 people/sq km
(2.3 million people, 453 sq km)

4,900 people/sq km

4,750 people/sq km

4,300 people/sq km

Gaza Strip per CIA projection
4,270 people/sq km
(1,537,269 population July 2008, 360 sq km)
No wonder Hamas and Hezbollah are seen throughout the Arab world as legitimate resistance movements.

Yet Michael Totten points out that the opposite is the case, for very cogent reasons:
The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen came out strongly against Hamas and in favor of their Fatah rivals at a meeting in Abu Dhabi this week.

“Egypt is cooperating to a great extent with Israel,” Susser continued, “as are Abu Mazen and the Jordanians. There were more anti-Israel demonstrations in Dublin than there were in Ramallah.”

Most Arab governments, aside from Syria’s and possibly Qatar’s, are far more worried about Iranian regional dominance than they are about anything coming out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They know perfectly well that the State of Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are threatening Iran with a nuclear arms race. Surely they weren’t happy when Israel developed nuclear weapons, but they never retaliated with programs of their own. Bombastic anti-Zionist rhetoric to the contrary, they know Israel isn’t really a threat. Nor are they a serious threat to Israel anymore.

Roger Cohen is of course entitled to his opinion, but if expressing such an opinion requires ignoring so many facts about the Middle East, there is no reason to pay attention to it.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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Anonymous said...

One major problem with your article your comparing city density where people can import and export food, not to mention go to the countryside with Gaza. If you understand how a city works then imagine london isolated from the world. I'm not saying Israel has a choice but if you look up the concept of Von Thunens rings you may realize your comparison is a ridicoulous non sequitor.

Daled Amos said...

Fair enough--adding in the factor of the Israel blockade makes a difference, and the reason for that blockade needs to be made clear.

However, the density of the city is an independent issue--one that has been mentioned on its own and to that degree deserves to addressed and clarified.