Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 11/30/2011

From DG:
1) Is restraint ever urged before Israel is attacked?

The New York Times headline about the recent rocket attack against northern Israel reads, Restraint Urged After Salvos Over Lebanon-Israel Line:
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon called for “maximum restraint” on Tuesday after an exchange of fire over the Israel-Lebanon border overnight.
Rockets fired from southern Lebanon struck northern Israel for the first time since 2009, and the Israeli military responded by firing artillery shells at the area where the rockets were launched.
This is a serious incident, in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” the commander of the peacekeeping force, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, said in a statement.
Very nice of General Cuevas to acknowledge the violation of 1701, but the acquisition of those rockets was itself a violation of that resolution. It was a violation that UNIFIL had clearly failed to prevent. There would be "maximum restraint" from Israel had UNIFIL been doing its job.

Whatever job UNIFIL has been doing, Elder of Ziyon notes that it has a hard time staying on message. While the New York Times seems uncertain about Hezbollah's involvement in the rocket fire, Elder of Ziyon notes that Hezbollah's control over southern Lebanon is such that the rockets couldn't have been fired without Hezbollah's acquiescence. Similarly Lee Smith writes (h/t Challah Hu Akbar ):
The Galilee region was bombarded heavily during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah, but in the last five years that area, as well as the Lebanon-Israel border, has been largely quiet. It's still not clear if Hezbollah is behind the attack, but given the organization's control of south Lebanon, from where the rockets seem to have been launched, it is unlikely that any military operations of this nature could take place there without Hezbollah's knowledge.
 2) A great global thinker makes at least two mistakes 

In Israel and the Arab awakening, Thomas Friedman writes:
Diagnosis: From the very start, Israeli officials have insisted that Obama helped to push Mubarak out rather than saving him. Nonsense. The Arab dictators were pushed out by their people; there was no saving them. In fact, Mubarak had three decades to gradually open up Egyptian politics and save himself. And what did he do? Last year, he held the most-rigged election in Egyptian history. His party won 209 out of 211 seats. It is amazing that the uprising didn’t happen sooner.  
But as Barry Rubin observes, Mubarak's downfall was essentially a coup. (In general, Prof. Rubin's column points out that throughout the "Arab spring" the military has been the crucial factor in determining whether the revolution succeeds or fails.) The protests would not have forced Mubarak out, without the military turning against him too.

Friedman's observations are not without merit. The reform movement was getting stronger in Egypt and might have been making headlines even on its own. That still doesn't mean that it was the protests that, in the end, forced Mubarak out.

Further on he writes:
Netanyahu’s prescription is to do nothing. I understand Israel not ceding territory in this uncertain period to a divided Palestinian movement. What I can’t understand is doing nothing. Israel has an Arab awakening in its own backyard in the person of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. He’s been the most radical Arab leader of all. He is the first Palestinian leader to say: judge me on my performance in improving my peoples’ lives, not on my rhetoric. His focus has been on building institutions — including what Israelis admit is a security force that has helped to keep Israel peaceful — so Palestinians will be ready for a two-state solution. Instead of rewarding him, Israel has been withholding $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues that Fayyad needs — in punishment for the Palestinians pressing for a state at the U.N. — to pay the security forces that help to protect Israel. That is crazy.
First of all, Friedman is now reversing himself. Earlier on he's written that Israel must accede to Palestinian demands in response to the Arab spring. Now he's writing that he "understands" Israel not ceding territory.

But he's wrong here, the reason Israel withheld funds from the PA - though the latest news reports that Netanyahu has started transferring them again was because Fatah working on a power sharing arrangment with Hamas. In other words it was Fatah - the "moderate" Palestinian faction - that was effectively rejecting "Fayyadism." Even if  the statehood effort was the reason for the withholding, Abbas himself acknowledged that doing so was his way of getting out of negotiating with Israel and "internationalizing" the pressure on Israel.

In addition to these two specific errors, Friedman makes one of his patented sweeping assertions that seem to make sense, but fall apart under slightest scrutiny.
Arab dictators were convenient for Israel and the Islamists — but deadly for Arab development and education. Now that the lid has come off, the transition will be rocky. But, it was inevitable, and the new politics is just beginning: Islamists will now have to compete with legitimate secular parties.
The dictators were not convenient for the Islamists as they persecuted them. The Islamists though, took advantage because they had a long term vision and were patient. Of course given the Islamists long term thinking and patience, they will not just compete with, but dominate the legitimate secular parties.

Given the number of wars that Arab dictators started with Israel, it's hard to say that they were convenient for Israel. But if he means that Sadat and Mubarak largely observed the peace in their time in power he has a point, but it is a very limited one. After 1967 and 1973, those Arab dictators may have rejected open warfare with Israel but sponsored terrorist organizations like the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah to carry on the fight for them. (I would point out that the so-called Arab peace initiative of 2002 was advocated by these very same dictators whom Friedman now derogates; yet then, they were convenient for him to declare that Arabs wanted peace and Israel didn't.)

Also weighing in are My Right Word (arguing that Israel hasn't done nothing) and Elder of Ziyon and HonestReporting (observing the emptiness of Friedman's "Fayyadism").

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