Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 11/21/2012: Background to Operation Pillar Of Defense

From DG:

1) The back history

Returning to the Middle East, former New York Times bureau chief, Ethan Bronner reported in With Longer Reach, Rockets Bolster Hamas Arsenal:
A number of recent Israeli military attacks were aimed at cutting the supply chain into Gaza. In late October, a munitions factory in Sudan was hit from the air. Israel did not acknowledge carrying out the attack, but the winks and nods of officials here make clear that it did. Israel has carried out several other such attacks on Sudan, including on convoys, in the past few years. 
In addition, Mossad agents killed a Hamas official in a Dubai hotel in early 2010 because he was thought to be crucial to the Hamas supply chain of weapons and rockets into Gaza.
One official here said that until Israel ended its military occupation of Gaza in 2005, there were only primitive weapons factories there. The Hamas rockets had a flight capacity of about a mile, they could not be aimed and they flew in a wild cylindrical pattern. Hamas then built better rockets that could fly up to 12 miles. 
Bronner's reference to the killing of Mahmoudd Mabhouh was not random.
The other day on Twitter, a number of analysts (Jonathan Schanzer, Michael Doran and Tony Badran) fleshed out the argument. Mark Chandler also noted the significance of Bronner's speculation at Tablet.

(In some accounts Ahmad al-Jabari, who was killed at the outset of Pillar of Defense, was a moderate. He was Mabhouh's replacement. Maybe he was playing both sides - arming and leading Hamas on one hand, and talking peace with gullible leftists on the other - but he was a real threat to Israel.) 

Going back to contemporaneous reporting of the Mabhouh killing, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv wrote in Israel's hit Squads in the Atlantic:
What made Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas man visiting Dubai, worth all the trouble and risk this time? He was involved in the killing of two Israeli soldiers 22 years ago. But that’s not why he was assassinated. The hunters stalked him because of his key role in forging secret connections between the Palestinian radicals who rule Gaza and the Al-Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. Israel believed that Mabhouh had a major role in arms shipments from Iran to Gaza via the shores of Sudan and Egypt, and on through the Sinai. And rockets that get into Gaza have a high likelihood of killing Israelis. 
Mabhouh’s passing definitely sets Hamas back, at least for a few months. It will take time to find a suitable replacement. And the leadership of his radical movement is now in a tizzy trying to figure out where the security breach occurred. The vortex of suspicion can only be a good thing for Israel. 
As for complaints by the British, Irish, French, and German governments that their passports were misused, the issue is likely to simmer down. Israeli intelligence can get its contacts in London’s MI6 and Berlin’s BND to put in a good word, pointing to favors Israel regularly does for European security agencies. The Mossad might even unveil dossiers showing how dangerous Hamas is to everyone.
Edward Jay Epstein made similar observations in More Questions about the Dubai Assassination. Epstein also noted that Dubai "... the principal transshipment points for the lethal arms trade between Iran and Hamas..."

The arms smuggling that allowed Hamas to rebuild its military capacity has been underway for some time - probably since the end of Cast Lead. But the recent escalation of hostilities by Hamas also sheds light on another news story. In 2010 Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, which was part of an attempt to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israel suffered a major public relations blow, when its forces were attacked and in response killed nine Turkish nationals. Israel was accused of damaging its relationship with Turkey and isolating itself. Given that the flotilla was intended to aid arms smuggling to Hamas, the complaints against Israel were misplaced. Turkey was aiding Israel's enemies. Subsequent pressure to get Israel to relax the blockade (including from the Obama administration) only aided Hamas.

Another news story worth revisiting is Israel's disengagement from Gaza. Bret Stephens has written an amazing mea culpa for having advocated disengagement, The Truth about Gaza. (For the complete article, click on the title here.) Stephens concluded:
Now Israel may be on the cusp of purchasing yet another long-term strategic failure for the sake of a short-term tactical success. The Israeli government wants to bomb Hamas into a cease-fire—hopefully lasting, probably orchestrated in Cairo. That way Israel gets the quiet it seeks, especially on the eve of elections in January, and the Egyptians get the responsibility for holding the leash on Hamas. 
That is largely how it played out during Cast Lead. But as one leading Israeli political figure told me in January 2009, just as the last cease-fire had been declared, "Notwithstanding the blows to the Hamas, it's still in Gaza, it's still ruling Gaza, and the Philadelphi corridor [which runs along Gaza's border with Egypt] is still porous, and . . . Hamas can smuggle new rockets unless [the corridor] is closed, to fire at Israel in the future." 
That leading political figure was Benjamin Netanyahu, just before he returned to office as prime minister. He might now consider taking his own advice. Israel can afford to watch only so many reruns of this same, sordid show.
Israel abandoned the Philadelpi corridor at the insistence of the Bush administration (which also pressured Israel to allow Hamas to run for legislative election in 2006).

Yaacov Lozowick adds more background about disengagement and the withdrawal from the Philadelphi corridor:
The significance of this is that between September 2005 and early 2006, there was no Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Gazans were in an eiree sort of diplomatic limbo, unlike anywhere else in the world, with no internationally recognized sovereign, but with lots of internationally recognized clout, and could have reasonably expected the Palestinian Authority to move towards an upgrade of its status. There can be little doubt that had the Gazans done in 2005 what the Jewish Agency did in 1947, namely purposefully go about the mundane but crucial task of nation building, Israel wouldn't have interfered. On the contrary: a majority of Israelis were hoping - fervently or dubiously - they'd do exactly that, which is why Sharon, then followed after his illnes by Ehud Olmert, built the election strategy of their brand new party Kadima on the idea of continuing the disengagement process on the West Bank. (Hitkansut, Olmert called it). 
The reason none of this ever happened is that the Palestinians made their choices, and their choices were not what Israel had hoped. And thus began the downward spiral to where we're at now.
Is Hamas is now negotiating for what already existed in 2005, after having spent the intervening years pounding into the collective Israeli psyche that the gamble of 2005 was idiotic?  
Listening to the news, I get the impression that the main goal of a ceasefire is to end the suffering of civilians on both sides. But unless something substantive is done - more than worthless promises  of Hamas - Hamas will simply re-arm and Israeli civilians will soon be under fire again. Any ceasefire that doesn't substantially improve Israel's capacity to deter Hamas will fail and Israelis will pay the price for international meddling.

2) The Israeli narrative, muddled

Jodi Rudoren reports in Missile’s Firing, Bomb Blasts and Sirens Shatter Gaza Calm:
Suddenly, just after 2 p.m., the crowd was startled as militants near the hospital fired a missile — most likely one that landed near Jerusalem. In an instant, anticipation gave way to fear, and horror, as Israel fired back, explosion after explosion in the distance. 
And then came the sound of sirens roaring up the circular driveway, signaling what would become the bloodiest afternoon yet in the seven-day firefight with Israel. 
First there were six ambulances, one after the other, unloading the bodies of men identified as militants, at least two of them decapitated. Then came three more, this time with children, dead and wounded. Another ambulance rushed in, then quickly sped back out.
Rudoren wasn't the first to report the firing of a rocket from near the hospital. But what does this reporting tell us?
  1. Hamas, as Israel charges, strikes at Israel from populated areas.
  2. The injuries to the children show that there was also a play area near where the terrorists fired from.
What "anticipation" was Rudoren referring to? Was the crowd waiting to cheer the latest strike against Israeli civilians?

These are issues that Rudoren doesn't address. She was quick, though, to filter the events through the eyes of Hamas.
Even the medics unloading the bodies grimaced. 
“There’s a real massacre now,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, who was at the hospital waiting for the diplomatic delegation. “At the same time when the Arab leaders came to Gaza, 10 persons are killed. At this moment, kids playing soccer are hit. It is a clear reflection of the mind and the thought of the occupation, thinking how to kill more and more Palestinians.”
Then Rudoren muddies the narrative further: 
It remains unclear whether the intense afternoon bombing was in retaliation for the Jerusalem strike, the second in five days, or an effort to take out as many targets as possible while final details of a cease-fire deal were being discussed. A frenzy of about 200 rockets also flew from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday, hitting the southern cities of Beersheba and Ashdod as well as the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion; an Israeli soldier was killed in a week of cross-border battles, along with a civilian. 
The violence, which health officials said brought the Palestinian death toll to more than 130, may complicate the efforts of the Hamas government to persuade people, especially rival factions, to abide a cease-fire. 
If the first casualties to come were "militants" as she calls them, this wasn't a retaliation but rather an attack to neutralize a cell that was targeting civilians. Also she provides excuses to Hamas. Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza. "Rival factions" wouldn't have weapons if Hamas didn't allow it. Though it is a common journalistic conceit that Hamas "largely observed" ceasefires,  ceasefires are either observed or they're not.

What's remarkable about Rudoren's effort here is the degree to which she confirmed Israel's narrative and then, through naivete or malice, chose to obscure the implications of what she wrote.

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