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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Arlene Kushner: Hizballah's Drone, US Islamist Representative, The Flotilla and The Golan

From Arlene Kushner:
October 14, 2012

Setting Matters Straight

A week ago yesterday, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone, entered the airspace of Israel.

Credit: Globalpost

An IDF spokesperson said that its presence had been picked up while it was flying over the Mediterranean, along the coast, and it was tracked -- reportedly to assess its capabilities -- as it flew over southern Israel.  Some 20-30 minutes elapsed before the decision was made to take it down over the Negev, north of Beersheva and some 30 kilometers from Dimona.     
First speculation was that it came from Hezbollah in Lebanon. And, indeed, by Thursday, Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah had taken credit for this drone, adding that it was manufactured by Iran.
Subsequently information came out regarding Iranian claims that it had initiated the launching of the drone, which, it said, succeeded in securing detailed intelligence, including on the Dimona reactor. 
Clearly, these claims will not be discussed by Israel, and what Iran is saying serves a PR purpose:  See, say the Iranians, we can enter Israeli airspace at will and successfully achieve our mission.  Never mind that the Israelis say they were on to it, and that they did bring it down.
All in all, not a desirable state of affairs.
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Another reason to be very worried about the re-election of Obama:
The Obama administration recently sent the head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam al-Marayati, to represent the US at a human rights conference in Poland.  When this choice was criticized, a State Department spokesman replied that:
Al-Marayati "has been involved in U.S. government initiatives for almost 10 years and has been a valued and highly credible interlocutor on issues affecting Muslim communities."  He said al-Marayati was asked to participate in the conference "as a reflection of the wide diversity of backgrounds of the American people."  
The Investigative Project on Terrorism, headed by Steve Emerson, observes that:
"If the al-Marayati choice is any indication, that 'diversity' apparently extends to anti-Israel ideologues who attack U.S. terrorism prosecutions, whitewash Hamas war crimes, and portray Iran as a victim of U.S. perfidy. And he runs an organization which opposes key elements of American counter-terror policies, including the drone strike which killed American-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the closing of terror-supporting charities and sting operations against would-be homegrown terrorists.

"A year ago, al-Marayati even threatened to sever ties with the U.S. government in a strongly-worded Los Angeles Times op-ed column. Expressing anger over the use of 'anti-Muslim' training materials by the FBI and a U.S. Attorney's office, al-Marayati wrote: 'If this matter is not immediately addressed, it will undermine the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim American community—another example of the ineptitude and/or apathy undermining bridges built with care over decades.'

"In spite of MPAC's hostile view of government policies, administration officials routinely turn to MPAC for policy advice, including the training materials al-Marayati ranted about in the Times.In February, MPAC officials met with FBI Director Robert Mueller to discuss training materials about Islam. That same month, MPAC officials met with top Pentagon leaders to receive an apology over a recent incident involving Quran burnings in Afghanistan."
See below for more on al-Marayati positions. They include his saying that the Holocaust is no excuse for Israel's "dehumanization" of Arab peoples; his declaration that Israel is controlling US foreign policy; and his criticism of the prosecution of individuals who had planned to bomb synagogues and fire missiles at US military planes.
THIS is who was sent out to represent the US.

Read: Al-Marayati's Dangerous "Diplomatic" Ideas
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It's been a while, but here we go again: A boat is sailing in the Mediterranean with the declared intention of breaking the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza, which is totally legal and in place to prevent weapons from entering Gaza.
The boat, called the Estelle, identifies as part of the "freedom flotilla movement."  It is flying a Finnish flag, is Danish-owned, and set sail from Naples on October 7, with 20 people from eight countries on board.  They are reportedly carrying a variety of supplies, including 700 footballs, cement and hospital equipment.
They are somewhere near Crete and would be expected to approach Gaza in a week.

Credit: TimesofIsrael
Israel has declared intent to stop the boat from reaching Gaza. This message went first to Finland -- which has requested that "restraint" be used as the passengers are civilians -- but also to some of the other nations represented by persons aboard the boat.
I do not anticipate that a major incident will follow from this. 
According to Dennis Mitzner, who has Finnish connections and blogs for the JPost on Middle East events, the bos'n of the ship, Wellu Koivisto, said the Finnish foreign ministry has declined to assist them in any way.
Mitzner further reported that the ship is owned by "Northern Breeze, a company operated and managed by Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli activist." Oh joy.

Read: Despite warnings Estelle determined to reach Gaza
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There has been so much to write about that I have not tracked recent attacks from Gaza in a while now.  It is, however, several days, indeed weeks, since the situation has heated up there again.  Once more, the people of southern Israel are enduring rockets attacks from Gaza.  
Following an earlier barrage of some 60 rockets and mortars, there was a Grad katyusha rocket attack on Netivot on Friday, in which a house was damaged, although its residents made it into a shelter in time.  Earlier today two rockets landed in the Eshkol Regional Council.
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As is the norm for this situation, the Israeli Air Force does sorties into Gaza in retaliation, sometimes taking out terrorists as they are preparing to launch a rocket.  This was the case today, when one Palestinian Arab was killed and another wounded in a strike.
An IDF source is cited by YNet as saying:
"The IDF will not tolerate any attack on Israeli citizens and soldiers and will continue to operate with resolve and force against anyone who conducts terrorist activities against Israel. The Hamas organization is the address and they are responsible."
Well, I sigh when I hear this, for it's almost as if there might be a recording of this announcement that is played at intervals. They launch rockets, we make our announcement and go in and hit a few people, it gets quiet for a time, and then it starts again.
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When last this happened, I was reluctant to even think about a more forceful response, because it seemed that Israel was on the edge of war with Iran and that such an escalated action would be very ill-timed.
But now?  It now longer seems that war with Iran is quite so imminent (whatever the implications of that, for good or bad).  And I'm back to wondering precisely what it means when the IDF says it will not tolerate attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers.
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There is, however, one matter of note with regard to this situation right now:
Yesterday, the IAF, working in cooperation with the Shin Bet, fired a missile at terrorists as they were riding a motorcycle in Jabalyia, a terrorist hotbed in northern Gaza.  Two men -- Hisham Saedni and Ashraf al-Sabah -- were killed and a third wounded. 
What is significant is not just that they were said to be planning an attack, but that these terrorists were affiliated with the global al-Qaeda terrorist network.  In fact, according to Reuters, they were the two most senior members of al-Qaeda in Gaza. Hisham is said to have been a founder of the "Shura Council of Mujahedin in Jerusalem," which has taken credit for several attacks including the most recent Grad launching. He also apparently had links to jihadi circles in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere.
This exposes the reality of the presence of al-Qaeda operatives in Gaza. We've moved beyond the relatively amateur and "moderate" Hamas to something bigger and it is important that the world be aware of this. 
So, good indeed that these guys were taken out.  But in my humble opinion, if the Shin Bet is aware of the whereabouts in Gaza of such terrorists, they should be hit at every opportunity and not just when there have been rockets launched or they are in the midst of preparing an attack. They represent an on-going and escalating danger to the civilians of Israel and should be responded to as such.
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I will note here, as well, that the refrain that is used by the IDF -- which reflects government policy -- that Hamas is the address and held responsible, may be outdated.  Hamas, which is nominally in control of Gaza, is not in all instances able to control the likes of al-Qaeda.  It's time for a bold new policy that addresses a new situation.
Hamas has its own organizational difficulties and policy confusion at present, and perhaps I will touch on this soon.
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Do not believe everything you read. That is a proviso that applies in all times and all circumstances. But particularly is it the case during an election season.
I feel compelled to comment on this because it has made so much press: PM Netanyahu is being accused of having had a readiness to give up the Golan Heights in 2010, in return for peace with Syria.  This was reported in the NYTimes yesterday, and by Yediot Achronot, and has been picked up by Daniel Pipes.
PM Netanyahu's office is categorically denying this (emphasis added): 
"This was one of many initiatives proposed to Israel over the years. Israel has never accepted that proposal. It is an old and irrelevant proposal and its publication on the eve of elections is related to political considerations."
Netanyahu is further cited by a close advisor as saying:
"At no point did I agree to relinquish the Golan Heights. As long as I am prime minister, there is no chance we will withdraw from the Golan Heights."
What seems to be the case is that the Americans hatched this idea, in the hopes of getting Syria to cut all ties with Iran and Hezbollah.  There apparently were informal discussions with American envoys, including Dennis Ross -- and quite frankly I cannot imagine Netanyahu refusing to discuss this with the Americans, as that is not his style. But there was never an agreement by Israel to go along with leaving the Golan.
State Department spokesperson Nuland just said, on this issue:
"Prior to the eruption of all of the violence in Syria, there were efforts to try to support contacts between Israel and Syrian officials..."<

"Efforts to try to support contacts" is a very long way from an Israel agreement to relinquish the Golan or from actual negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Read: PM denies agreeing to trade Golan Heights for peace with Syria

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Please, see as well the commentary by Dror Eydar, "A headline meant to shatter the Likud" (emphasis added):
Eydar refers to "Yediot's false headline on Friday" that 'Netanyahu agreed to full Golan Heights withdrawal.'
"One only needs to read the article to see that there is little resemblance between its bombastic headline and the actual content of the story.

"Defense Minister Ehud Barak's relationship with Netanyahu is currently not at its best, and it is also expedient for him to separate himself politically from the prime minister, and yet on Saturday he clearly stated that at no point did Netanyahu agree to withdraw from the Golan..."
What Eydar suggests is that Netanyahu may have tentatively agreed to explore possibilities in order to soften Obama with regard to what Israel was seeking on Iran.

Read: A headline meant to shatter the Likud
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© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.



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