Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 10/25/2012: Are Republicans Bad For Israel?

From DG:

1) Halevy vs. the GOP 

Former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy asks Who Threw Israel under the bus?
Despite the Republican Party’s shrill campaign rhetoric on Israel, no Democratic president has ever strong-armed Israel on any key national security issue. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, it was a Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who joined the Soviet Union in forcing Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula after a joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt. 
In 1991, when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, the administration of the first President Bush urged Israel not to strike back so as to preserve the coalition of Arab states fighting Iraq. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir resisted his security chiefs’ recommendation to retaliate and bowed to American demands as his citizens reached for their gas masks.
After the war, Mr. Shamir agreed to go to Madrid for a Middle East peace conference set up by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Fearful that Mr. Shamir would be intransigent at the negotiating table, the White House pressured him by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel, causing us serious economic problems. The eventual result was Mr. Shamir’s political downfall. The man who had saved Mr. Bush’s grand coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 was “thrown under the bus.”
I don't think that a single one of Halevy's examples is wrong. I do think that his examples are highly selective.

Jonathan Tobin responded with Who’s Been Pressuring Israel? Both Parties:
The fallacy here is that Halevy cites this in order to refute Mitt Romney’s charge that President Obama has repeatedly thrown Israel “under the bus.” In doing so he chooses to ignore the many instances of pressure from Democrats. Indeed, just as every Republican occupant of the White House has some blots on his ledger with regard to Israel, the same is true of almost every Democrat dating back to Harry Truman. Yet what’s truly odd about the piece, and causes me to question the judgment not only of the Times editors that chose to publish it but those liberals circulating the article around the Internet today as if it was a damning refutation of Romney’s allegations, is that none of this stuff about past Republicans or Democrats has anything to do with Obama. Based on the tone of the last debate, the president seems quite anxious to demonstrate his pro-Israel bona fides to wavering Jewish voters in Florida and Ohio. Those who care about Israel will judge him on his record, but it mystifies me as to why anyone’s vote would be influenced by unhappy memories of Ike or the Bushes.
2) The rich guy bankrolling terrorists 

The New York Times reported the other day, Qatar’s Emir Visits Gaza, Pledging $400 Million to Hamas:
The emir of Qatar on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took full control of it in 2007, the latest step in an ambitious campaign by the tiny Persian Gulf nation to leverage its outsize pocketbook in support of Islamists across the region — and one that threatened to widen the rift between rival Palestinian factions.
This actually is a pretty good way to describe the visit, including a mention of the Emir's support for Islamists. It's much better than Qatari emir makes historic first visit to Gaza, in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Further, the New York Times reports:
In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds. The visit signaled just how much the region had changed for Hamas since the advent of the Arab Spring. Where Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak once allied with Saudi Arabia to squeeze Hamas by keeping the border largely closed, Egypt under a new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, opened the crossing to allow the Qatari ruler through. But the visit also reflected the unique foreign policy that has allowed Qatar to straddle competing worlds, bankrolling political movements like Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, while maintaining strong links to Washington.
Seth Mandel describes the dynamic:
It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions. 
With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.
Will the same people who criticize Israel for not doing enough to help the Palestinian Authority, now complain about the active efforts to undermine it by much of the Arab world? Will the same people who advocated allowing Hamas to participate in elections because it would moderate them, now concede the disaster that has caused?

The rocket attacks against Israel occurred soon after the Emir's visit, suggesting that his support emboldened Hamas. Khaled Abu Toameh makes this point in Why Hamas is confident enough:
Tuesday’s high-profile visit, the first of its kind by the leader of an Arab country, is seen as a huge political and moral victory for Hamas. The emir’s visit marks the beginning of the end of years of isolation for Hamas, particularly in the international arena. 
But now that Hamas has the backing – and financial support – of a wealthy and influential country like Qatar, it can afford to do almost anything it wants. 
Hamas knows that in addition to the backing of Qatar, it also enjoys the support of many Arabs and Muslims thanks to the Arab Spring, which has resulted in the rise to power of Islamist groups, most significantly in Egypt.
(Egypt's role until now and possibly in the future was also mentioned by Barry Rubin.)

The New York Times reported on the attacks in Four Palestinian Militants Killed in Israeli Airstrikes. (No I can't blame the reporter, but shouldn't the headline have been "Israel's south under missile attack by Hamas?")
Palestinian militants fired more than 60 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel overnight and early Wednesday, hitting several houses and wounding three Thai workers, two critically, in an Israeli border community, according to the Israeli military. Israel carried out several airstrikes against rocket-launching squads, killing four militants, Palestinian officials said. Three of the four belonged to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. 
The rocket fire began hours after a landmark visit to Gaza by the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took full control there in 2007. It also came as a major American-Israeli joint military exercise was under way in Israel, underlining the volatility in the area at a delicate time before the American elections, in less than two weeks, and Israeli elections, scheduled for January. 
The Israeli government has come under increasing criticism from residents of southern Israel who have been forced into protected spaces and bomb shelters during repeated bouts of cross-border violence.
I don't think that the joint military exercise is relevant here. As noted above, the emir's visit was likely one of the causes of the Hamas escalation.

3) And to the north

At Bloomberg News, Ronen Bergman assesses Hezbollah's military strength:
Ever since it forced the Israelis’ panicky retreat from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has been building up an immense military force, with firepower that 90 percent of the world’s countries don’t possess, according to Meir Dagan, the former director of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. 
The militia’s war doctrine is based on the assumption that Israel is hypersensitive to civilian casualties, that it cannot wage a protracted war and that it will always aim for the quickest possible clear-cut victory. With this in mind, Hezbollah has constructed a complex network of underground bunkers with the goal of assuring survivability, redundancy and an ability to maintain a prolonged missile barrage against Israeli cities.
The doctrine proved itself in the war between the two sides in 2006, when Israel failed in its attempt to liquidate Hezbollah and was once again forced to withdraw from Lebanon, bruised and bleeding.

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