Sunday, August 04, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 8/3/13: Is The Obama Administration Using The Media To Undercut Israel?

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

1) Targeting Israel in Syria

First the sequence:

a) Israeli Airstrike in Syria Targets Arms Convoy, U.S. Says by Isabel Kershner and Michael Gordon - January 30, 2013
Israeli warplanes carried out a strike deep inside Syrian territory on Wednesday, American officials reported, saying they believed the target was a convoy carrying sophisticated antiaircraft weaponry on the outskirts of Damascus that was intended for the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.

The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Israel had notified the United States about the attack, which the Syrian government condemned as an act of “arrogance and aggression.” Israel’s move demonstrated its determination to ensure that Hezbollah — its arch foe in the north — is unable to take advantage of the chaos in Syria to bolster its arsenal significantly.
b) Israel Bombs Syria as the U.S. Considers Its Own Military Options by Michael Gordon, Eric Schmitt and David Sanger - May 3, 2013
Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.

c) Israel Airstrike Targeted Advanced Missiles That Russia Sold to Syria, U.S. Says by Michael Gordon - July 13, 2013
Israel carried out an air attack in Syria this month that targeted advanced antiship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia, American officials said Saturday.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they were discussing intelligence reports, said the attack occurred July 5 near Latakia, Syria’s principal port city. The target was a type of missile called the Yakhont, they said. 
d) Some Syria Missiles Eluded Israeli Strike, Officials Say by Michael Gordon - July 31, 2013
American intelligence analysts have concluded that a recent Israeli airstrike on a warehouse in Syria did not succeed in destroying all of the Russian-made antiship cruise missiles that were its target, American officials said on Wednesday , and that further Israeli strikes are likely. ...

The officials who described the new assessment declined to be identified because they were discussing classified information
Michael Gordon
New York Times' Michael Gordon -- the go to man for Obama's leaks?
Credit: Fair

On four separate occasions this year, administration officials talking to Michael Gordon (and other reporters) of the New York Times revealed information about Israeli striking Syria. In three of the cases it's acknowledged explicitly that official speaking to the Gordon would not identify him or her self. Yet only once did the United States apologize. Still, in three separate instances the administration deprived Israel of deniability about the strike. The most recent case, suggested that Israel would strike Syria again. The suggestion hardly something that helps Israel.

Last year in the wake of reports of the Stuxnet virus damaging Iran's nuclear facilities, a report in the New York Times had the administration boasting of its efforts to create the virus. However there were some reported problems with the virus. Then the administration blamed Israel.
An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”
It's unclear who leaked this story to the New York Times, but recently the Justice Department has been investigating Gen. James Cartright for leaking the information about Stuxnet. There is no reporting suggesting that the leakers about the Israeli attacks on Syria are being investigated. It's curious why Cartright and not others are being investigated. It's also curious why administration leaks seem to make Israel look bad.

2) Targeting Israel in Egypt

A few days ago the New York Times published a news analysis U.S. Balancing Act With Egypt Grows Trickier by Mark Landler.
For the Obama administration, the problem is not simply its relationship with the Egyptian military but also with Israel, whose security interests are weighing particularly heavily on administration officials as they try to nurture a new round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel depends on Egyptian troops to root out Islamic extremists in the Sinai Peninsula, and Israeli officials have publicly and privately urged the United States not to cut off the aid, which underpins the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. 
Israeli concerns are presented as a reason holding the administration back from doing the "right thing" in Egypt. Later on the article emphasizes this point by hypothesizing what might happen if aid to Egypt were cut off and Egypt then failed to take control of the Sinai.
Were that to happen, analysts said, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would face enormous domestic pressure not to make any concessions to the Palestinians, especially on security issues. He probably could not even continue talking to them. 
If the theme that Israel prizes its security at the expense of Egypt's freedom sounds familiar its because it was a common refrain in Thomas Friedman's columns at the beginning of the "Arab Spring." In particular, Friedman wrote in Postcard from Cairo II:
Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’ 
I have no idea what the Israeli officials really said, only how Friedman interpreted - and, if he is to be trusted, how certain administration officials interpreted - their comments. Israeli was probably rightfully guarded in its appraisal of the protests and it bother Friedman and perhaps some in the administration, that Israel wasn't more enthusiastic. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt validated the Israeli approach. (Friedman is arguing that Israel wasn't really secure since it was depending on undependable strongmen for peace. Of course 2003, that is precisely the advice Friedman gave Israel in advocating that Arab peace initiative.)

Landler is the White House correspondent for the New York Times and from what I've seen a cheerleader for the administration. It's possible that he framed the analysis based on his own understandings and prejudices. It's also possible that he was faithfully recording the message the administration wanted to send.

3) Targeting Israel in the Peace Talks

David Ignatius wrote one of the more disturbing op-eds I could imagine, Kerry’s big-bang Mideast diplomacy:
What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.

Tzipi Livni, the chief Israeli negotiator, recalled at a State Department ceremony Tuesday that when she first talked with Kerry about a new round of peace talks five months ago, he told her that “failure is not an option.” By pushing the two sides into an actual negotiation, Kerry has put some teeth into that bromide. If they fail this time, it will cost the parties dearly, probably Israel most of all. That provides harsh leverage for Washington.

Kerry’s second advantage is that he’s ready to be an active broker in this deal rather than a passive listener or mediator. When the two sides reach impasses or get bogged down on side issues, Kerry will seek to break the logjam with U.S. proposals. By putting a nine-month fuse on his dynamite stick, Kerry limits stalling tactics of the sort adopted in the past by both sides. 
What's important to remember about Ignatius is that he's very well connected. If someone want to look good in Washington he becomes a source for Ignatius who will write him or her up favorably. Presumably Kerry or someone in the State Department went to Ignatius for this op-ed. If Kerry (or a subordinate) was boasting of this agenda, then Secretary of State is a poor job title for Kerry. Master of disaster would be more appropriate.

In 2000, Prime Minister Barak cut made an end of conflict offer to Yasser Arafat. Arafat refused it. And then he started the so-called "Aqsa intifada."

What makes Ignatius or Kerry certain that Abbas won't refuse Netanyahu as Arafat refused Barak or Abbas refused Olmert in 2008? It isn't the negotiating that will bring peace, it has to be the sense that only negotiations will help Abbas get what he says he needs. Abbas has calculated that he will do much better bringing international pressure to bear on than he will from bilateral negotiations. No one, not the Kerry, not the EU, not the UN has told him otherwise.

But think about underlying premise of this approach apparently adopted by Kerry and advocated by Ignatius. The United States is telling an ally: give the other guy everything he wants or you will regret it.

Apparently someone in the State Department wants Israel to get this message and got Ignatius to deliver it.

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