Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Middle East Media Sampler 3/5/2013: AIPAC Conference -- Is "Pro-Israel Lobby" Needed?

From +David Gerstman:

1) More on AIPAC

In addition to explaining how the two organizers put together the AIPAC conference, Tablet has a symposium, Do we still need a pro-Israel lobby? Though there are some good responses, the presence of Rebecca Vilkomerson and Alan Elsner as respondents is disappointing. Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, a well known anti-Israel group. Elsner works for J-Street. While Elsner is at least somewhat deferential towards AIPAC, his group exists as a counterpoint to AIPAC. In his contribution to the symposium, Noah Pollak explained the problem with J-Street and groups like the NJDC:
But the bad news is that beneath the surface, especially among the activists, the ground is shifting. Over the past two decades, as poll after poll shows, the right has grown friendlier toward the Jewish state and the left has grown more hostile; the right has pushed its anti-Israel figures to the margins, while the left has often embraced and promoted theirs. The response of pro-Israel liberals? Too often it has been to pick a fight with pro-Israel conservatives and groups like mine, the Emergency Committee for Israel, by claiming we are “politicizing” support for Israel or using it as a “wedge issue.” They have it backwards. It is the self-styled progressives who have “politicized” support for Israel by seeking to move liberal opinion and Democratic Party policy in a hostile direction. Supporters of the alliance have struck back against these attacks, and pro-Israel liberals, caught in the crossfire, have largely but not exclusively sided with the progressives—not by defending them, but by attacking critics of progressives as themselves the danger to the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Confirming Pollak's analysis a recent poll shows that President’s support for Israel found wanting by many voters:
According to the latest Hill Poll, just 13 percent of respondents say the president’s policy toward Israel is too supportive. A full 39 percent said Obama is not supportive enough, the highest percentage The Hill Poll has seen. ... In a poll for The Hill conducted in May 2011, 27 percent of voters said Obama was too supportive toward Israel, while 31 percent said he was not supportive enough. In September 2011, the proportion of voters who said Obama was too supportive of Israel went down, and those insisting he was not supportive enough increased slightly.
Unfortunately we still see that there are those who fault AIPAC getting their say from positions of prominence. Steven Walt recently addressed the State Department. And an anti-Israel activist, Josh Ruebner was given a column at The Hill to write 'Israel lobby' to push for aid despite sequestration cuts (h/t Meryl Yourish):
Yet, as thousands of “Israel-first” citizen lobbyists descend on Capitol Hill tomorrow as part of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the largest and most influential of the many groups comprising the “Israel lobby” — concern for these millions of Americans will not be on its legislative agenda. 

Instead, AIPAC will be lobbying to avert the impact of sequestration on record-breaking levels of U.S. military aid to Israel. It will also be pushing for legislation to boost the U.S.-Israel “strategic alliance” and green light an Israeli attack on Iran, measures which will both inevitably entail demands for additional U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons to Israel. Israel stands to lose approximately $250 million of its $3.1 billion military aid package from the United States under the terms of the sequestration. The Jewish Week calls AIPAC’s gambit to exempt these cuts a “very risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans will be feeling the bite of the sequestration debacle,” which “could easily backfire and damage Israel far more than any cuts in its very generous grant aid program.” Indeed, why should AIPAC seek to “single out Israel” and “hold it to a different standard” — unfounded charges, ironically enough, leveled by the “Israel lobby” at those who seek to hold Israel accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law — by lobbying for greater levels of U.S. taxpayer aid for Israel at this time?
Ruebner doesn't even try to hide his feelings, using the term "Israel-first" to describe American supporters of Israel. In response to the likes of Ruebner, Steven Rosen writes why the pro-Israel lobby is needed:
Against all this, you ask, is a pro-Israel lobby needed? Is medicine needed against communicable disease?
2) Kerry of Arabia

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Saudi Arabia. The AP's Matt Lee reported U.S., Saudi, present united front on Syria, Iran (via memeorandum):
After a series of meetings in the Riyadh, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters at a joint news conference that Assad must understand that recent scud missile attacks on regime foes in the city of Aleppo would not be tolerated by the international community and that he had lost all claim to be Syria's legitimate leader. ... That meeting ended in an agreement for further expert-level discussions between the sides and both Saud and Kerry said it was critical for Iran to accept offers made by the so-called "P5+1" group quickly. Kerry reminded the Iranians that President Barack Obama has vowed not to allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon and that he has kept all options, including military options, on the table to prevent that from happening. The WINDOW of opportunity for a diplomatic solution "cannot by definition remain open indefinitely," Kerry said. "There is time to resolve this issue providing the Iranians are prepared to engage seriously on the P5+1 proposal. But talks will not go on for the sake of talks and talks cannot become an instrument for delay that will make the situation more dangerous," he said.
The Washington Post however played up the differences, reporting U.S. Saudis paper over differences on Syria and Iran during Kerry visit:
Saudi Arabia is believed to be sending small arms and perhaps other weapons to Syrian rebel fighters. Saud’s brother, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, called in January for sending heavy arms such as antitank and antiaircraft weapons. The Obama administration and the European Union have refused to provide weapons, but they agreed last week to begin sending some direct battlefield support to the rebels, who are fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The United States will provide only food and medicine for now, arguing that weapons could too easily be diverted to Islamist militants working alongside what Kerry on Monday called the “moderate, legitimate opposition.”
3) Why we need drones to fight  At the Volokh Conspiracy, Kenneth Anderson has an extensive post on the drone support the United States is providing to France in Mali. Anderson also deals with the issue of increasingly automated weapons - including drones. While the science fiction aspect of the discussion is fun, here's the reason Anderson writes about it:
But here’s the basic problem for conducting operations in Mali. The territory is vast, and much of it desert or difficult mountains. There are many places for militants of Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to hide and that’s exactly what they are doing. France has neither the forces nor the political will to engage this territory from the ground over the long term; what it can supply is air power and coordination with ground forces from Mali (and other places). But to know where to strike in a terrain a vast as this can only be done with an elaborate intelligence operation, both from the ground and in the air. Whether the French or the Mali government can create the on-ground intelligence is hard to say, but it can be said that without drones, the air surveillance part of it is staggeringly difficult. The use of drones at this point is part of the tactical conflict; US drones identify targets and French jets strike. But as an experienced observer of the Libyan conflict told me, just as there was a reason why NATO’s commander made an urgent appeal to the US for surveillance drones there, there is also a reason why, over time, those surveillance drones turn into attack drones. First, in a tactical battlefield setting, as in Libya, the time gap (between surveillance drones identifying a target and manned aircraft reaching it) is often too great. The target might well have moved, in a very short amount of time.  
Second, attack aircraft are very often not as precise and not capable of being as precise as a drone in terms of collateral damage. The drone is able to pick its moment to fire far more carefully, with greater loiter time and ability to track the target; the limited time frame for manned aircraft does not allow for this. Surveillance drones in Mali ought to turn into weapons-firing drones, for exactly these reasons. It is often more effective than trying to coordinate drone surveillance and manned airstrikes, and it is also generally more precise in the use of force.

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