June 19, 2007

A Short Break

By Michael J. Totten

I’m going to get an overdose of reality as soon as I start my Baghdad/Fallujah/Ramadi circuit, so for now I’m taking a two-day break from reality at a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere.

(Yes, Oregon has free wi-fi even up here. Amazing.)

I’ll be back shortly. Even sooner if I can’t resist the temptation to blog…

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:28 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 16, 2007

Fatahland & Hamastan — a roundup

By Noah Pollak

Herewith a completely disorganized roundup of reporting and commentary about the past few days’ events in Gaza.

Charles Levinson reports from inside Gaza on life in the new Hamastan. He went to observe the vigorous looting of Mohammad Dahlan’s seaside villa. “The boy digging up the tree paused and turned to us. ‘He lives like a king, and we have nothing to eat,’ he said, before returning to his work.”

The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh -- he has been required reading throughout the conflict -- has an interesting analysis of the recent history of Hamas-Fatah relations, in pursuit of an answer to his question: “Why did the Gaza Strip fall so easily and quickly into the hands of Hamas?”

Matthew Levitt predicts that "Hamas will look north to Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Party of God) for a working model of a militant Islamist group that balances its political, charitable, and violent activities." He directs readers to a section of his excellent 2006 book on Hamas. This is a shrewd comparison, and one that Martin Kramer made in a different context two years ago:

[Hamas and Hezbollah] have a strong sense of entitlement, and a record of rejecting offers of political inclusion that do not privilege them. The cost of bringing these movements in is high -- they place heavy demands on the system, because they insist on retaining their mini-state privileges.

The most significant of those privileges is stockpiles of weapons. Both Lebanon and the Palestinians have been through dark chapters of warlordism, which they are trying to put behind them. Hezbollah and Hamas are the main obstacles to the turning of this page.

They say they will never give up their guns. They insist on stockpiling a vast array of weaponry, most of which cannot threaten Israel, but all of which undermines the fragile authority of the Lebanese state and the Palestinian Authority. In Beirut, Hezbollah still mounts paramilitary displays, and in Gaza and the West Bank, no demonstration is complete without the public display of weaponry. Yesterday, 10,000 Hamas militia militants paraded through Gaza with assault rifles, rockets, and anti-tank missiles. This is not like the gun culture of America, which is focused on the individual's right to bear arms. This is militia competition, so familiar from other failed states where warlords compete by shows of armed strength.

And speaking of Martin, don’t miss his commentary on Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia University, who yesterday on National Public Radio declared that the Hamas takeover “is a direct, logical, inevitable result of American, Israeli, and European policy…They almost willed this result.” Kramer thunders back:

At bottom, Khalidi is no different from the general run of blame-throwing Palestinian hacks. One of the (many) reasons Palestinians have marched themselves down so many dead ends is the abject failure of their intellectuals, who've been so busy speaking "truth to power" that they've forgotten to speak it to their own people. Khalidi is no exception, and as someone who's fed Palestinian mythology for decades, he's just as thoroughly implicated in the mess as any masked gunman.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial takes a dash through the past forty years’ history of Palestinian terrorism and the West’s multifaceted capitulation to it, and concludes:

The deeper lesson here is that a society that has spent the last decade celebrating suicide bombing would inevitably become a victim of its own nihilistic impulses. This is not the result of Mr. Bush's call for democratic responsibility; it is the bitter fruit of the decades of dictatorship and terrorism as statecraft that Yasser Arafat instilled among Palestinians.

Shmuel Rosner provides an excellent analysis in Ha'aretz, aptly titled "An Overpowering Reality," about the differing political and strategic concerns in the American and Israeli camps.

What will they discuss? The Hamas victory bolsters Israel's unstated policy of dividing the Palestinian Authority into two states - Gaza and the West Bank. Israel cannot say this out loud in front of the Americans, who are committed to a single Palestinian state, so Olmert will have to speak in code. He will suggest that Bush strengthen international support for the peace process. This would involve deploying an international force in Gaza, implementing an engineering solution to block arms smuggling in Rafah, pressuring the Egyptians to do more against the smugglers, and encouraging the Saudis to stop being embarrassed by the collapse of the Palestinian unity agreement cooked up in Mecca.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Harris Schoenberg, the president of UN Reform Advocates, asks whether it is time for UN peacekeepers in Gaza. After recounting a shameful history of failure, corruption, and collaboration, he replies: “it is [not] clear why Israel would consider agreeing to a peacekeeping operation in Gaza, given the peacekeepers' record of malfeasance and cooperation with Israel's enemies.”

No Middle East crisis is complete without awful media coverage, and so Melanie Phillips is outraged at how the BBC has been grotesquely twisting its reporting on Gaza in order to blame the crisis on Israel. Allow me to take this opportunity to concur and add that Great Britain has become the most anti-Israel country in Europe, and the BBC has been merrily pushing the nation down this nihilistic road for quite some time with its daily injections of what can legitimately be called propaganda. The BBC has successfully turned itself into a revolting cesspool of bigotry against Israel and tendentious excuse-making for Islamic terrorists; it is a national embarrassment of a high order. Phillips links to a counterbalancing piece by Con Coughlin in the Telegraph.

And finally, on a happier note, just a few miles north of Gaza, Google opened its first office in Tel Aviv, to join its two other R&D centers in Israel. “Palestine” and Israel are heading in separate directions, and fast.

Posted by Noah Pollak at 2:08 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 15, 2007

Iran’s Victory

By Noah Pollak

"The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived."

-Islam Shahawan, Hamas spokesman

Gaza has fallen to Hamas, but not just to Hamas: the group is the newest member of Iran’s growing portfolio of allies, clients, and proxies, and thus its victory was also a triumph for Iran’s policy of manifest destiny in the Middle East. This should not be surprising, as Hamas has never been shy about explaining where its loyalties lie. In 2005 while visiting Tehran, Khaled Meshaal said, "Just as Islamic Iran defends the rights of the Palestinians, we defend the rights of Islamic Iran....We are part of a united front against the enemies of Islam." In 2006, Sa'id Siyam, the Hamas interior minister, told Al-Jazeera that

Iran is an Islamic state, which is being targeted by the USA and Israel. Syria is an Arab state that is targeted. Hezbollah is also targeted and so is Hamas. Therefore, we can call this the axis of resistance and defiance. What unites them is the fact that they are all targeted. Therefore, we have the right to establish ties with states that open their doors for us.

Fair enough. The collaboration between Iran, Syria, and Hamas, and the millions of dollars that Iran has poured into Gaza, have indeed paid dividends. America and its allies in the Middle East are being surrounded: There are now two Iranian clients, Hamas and Hezbollah, on Israel’s borders; Syria and Iran bracket Iraq and provide money, training, leadership, and manpower to the insurgents fighting there; and Lebanon is once again being subjected to Syrian bombings, assassinations, and terrorism in an attempt to wrest the country from its westward-looking citizens.

Does the “international community” recognize these realities? Not so much. While masked Hamas gunmen were sport-killing people in Gaza hospitals, the European Commission declared, “We call on President Abbas, the legitimate president of all Palestinians, to do his utmost to resolve the situation through dialogue and to work towards national unity and reconciliation.” In a rock-paper-scissors match between a Kalashnikov and dialogue, who wins? Indeed, is there a problem in the world that the European Commission thinks can’t be resolved by dialogue?

While Hamas was executing members of Fatah by throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings, Jan Egeland, special adviser to the UN Secretary General, said, “This is the product of failed Palestinian policies, failed Israeli policies, failed international policy.” That’s right: the rise of Hamas is because of some vague policy problems. Maybe a UN committee could investigate them?

Margaret Beckett, the UK foreign secretary, said “Once again, extremists carrying guns have prevented progress against the wishes of the majority who seek a peaceful two-state solution.” No, Margaret, the majority of Gazans do not seek a peaceful two-state solution, and we know they don’t because of how they voted: Turnout in the 2006 election that brought Hamas to power was 82.66 percent, and a majority of those voters cast their ballots for Hamas’ Change and Reform party. Public opinion polls have confirmed the fact that a majority of Gazans are against the existence of Israel. People like Beckett are the great Rousseauians of the modern age, convinced despite all evidence to the contrary that peace and goodwill fill hearts in Gaza.

Martin Jaegar, the German foreign ministry spokesman, said “We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian consequences and call on all sides to make the supply of aid to the Palestinian population in Gaza possible.” Catch the logic at work here: A group of people votes a terrorist organization into power; the terrorist organization fulfills its campaign promises and sets out waging war on everyone in sight, both Palestinian and Israeli; the warfare causes economic and political crisis; and the Germans, whose lavish foreign aid has for decades helped enable rule over the Palestinian territories by sinister and corrupt thugs, now propose to supply the very terrorists who caused the crisis in the first place…with more aid, to placate the citizens of Gaza and thereby stabilize Hamas’ rule. Simply amazing. Such aid would reinforce a lesson that has long been taught to the Palestinians: the West will reward your embrace of terrorism with more aid; we will never make it contingent on political or cultural moderation; no matter how large a majority votes for Hamas, we will never turn off the spigots of cash irrigating your extremist culture.

There isn’t much good news in all of this for Israel, the U.S., and Lebanon. The only advantage that will come from Gaza -- and this is not a minor advantage -- is that Hamas will finally have the opportunity to throw itself, along with the people who brought it to power, as fanatically as it wishes into the abyss. There are no more controls now: no Arafat, no occupation, no Fatah. There is only Hamas’ fevered ambition, which has long since discarded any pretense of concern with the social service work that was the source of so much hopeful excuse-making among Hamas' western apologists. Israel should do everything it can to help Hamas down the rabbit hole, and that includes permanently shutting off the water and electricity it supplies to Gaza. Can it possibly be true that Israel has an obligation to continue providing utilities to Hamastan? Should Israel send its nuclear scientists on a pro bono mission to Iran, too? Shutting off the power and water it supplies to Gaza would be more than an act of spite for Israel: it would be an important imposition of the idea that actions have consequences, and that Israel will cease being an enabler of Palestinian radicalism.

I am hardly qualified to make national security recommendations, but it seems clear that Israel must revive one of the tactics that decisively helped win the second intifada. It is time to resume assassinating terrorists. And by terrorists, I mean every member of Hamas. There should be no distinction made between “regular” members of Hamas and those from the “military wing" -- a dichotomy that has always been a self-serving fiction. The people who comprise Hamas are dedicated to the annihilation of Israel and the slaughter of every Jew who lives there; the IDF should reciprocally dedicate itself to the annihilation of every member of Hamas, and it should start with its leadership, so that the surviving subordinates can make informed decisions about their career prospects.

Iran has won several victories in the past few years. It is time for the push-back to begin.

Posted by Noah Pollak at 2:14 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 14, 2007

Feels Like 1967 Again

By Michael J. Totten

Former Deputy Chief of IDF Intelligence Yaacov Amidror talks to Ynet News about what may happen now that Hamas won the Palestinian war and is ruler of Gaza:

We are moving toward a situation in which Gaza will be a formal terror state. In the short term, Israel will face an organized system of guerilla warfare similar to what is going on in Lebanon. This system will grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. In the long term this entity will have long-range missiles and other capabilities, which will affect not only Sderot, but Kiryat Gat and Ashdod as well. Eventually these missiles will reach Haifa.
I don’t know if this is right. Politics, and the wars which pass for politics in the Middle East, is all but impossible to predict. There are too many factions, too many alliance reversals, and too many totally random wild card variables.

Who thought Lebanon would have a five-week shooting war with Fatah Al Islam in the camps? Who saw the Cedar Revolution coming before it exploded? I didn’t predict Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon (although I should have), nor did I see the “Anbar Awakening” on Iraq’s horizon. All bets will be off if the Iranian people overthrow the Islamic Republic.

But it does look like missile war is replacing terrorist war, at least for the Israelis. (It’s business as usual in Lebanon. As my friend Sean LaFreniere put it over drinks a few hours ago, Beirut is the Beirut of the Middle East again.)

I don’t know how long it has been since a suicide bomber exploded in Israel. It has been a while. Missiles and rockets keep crashing into cities, though, and Israel hasn’t a clue what to do. The rocket makers and launchers are no doubt emboldened by Israel’s flop of a war last year in Lebanon.

So what will Israel do if missiles from Gaza reach Haifa? And if missiles from Lebanon reach Sderot?

The Middle East feels different to me now than it did a few years ago. Something big is going to happen, but I don’t know what and I don’t know when.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:31 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 13, 2007

Another Assassination in Lebanon

By Michael J. Totten

Lebanese Member of Parliament and Chairman of Parliament’s Defense Committee Walid Eido was assassinated in West Beirut’s Manara district, along with his son and four other people. This was just down the hill from my old apartment.

Charles Malik emails from Beirut:

This one was too close. I was 50m away. Human flesh landed in our cafe next to Luna Park. We felt the heat of the flames, and the smoke surrounded us.

The Army, Amn a Dakhle, and Amn al Aam were incredible. They were there immediately, secured the scene, and got the cars out of the parking lot.

I was initially horrified that they targeted children's play areas: Luna Park, the Nejmeh Club, and the surrounding beaches. Then I found out that they targeted Eido because they knew that his son swims at one of the beaches near there every day.

I'm still shaking.

Lebanon needs another tribunal, or something a little more muscular, if they don’t want a regime-change in Beirut by process of one-by-one elimination. Eido (of course) belonged to the anti-Syrian March 14 bloc.

UPDATE: Tony Badran published perhaps his 100th in a series of stories about yet another diplomat who went to Damascus to "engage" Syria and came home disappointed. If Tony's blog were required reading this wouldn't keep happening.

Those who "engage" tyrants for a living need to pay more attention. The Syrian regime has had the same modus operandi almost as long as I have been alive. It's time to catch up.

UPDATE: Abu Kais asks "Is someone going to declare war on the Assad regime?"

Lebanon is certainly entitled to do so (although doing it alone would be suicidal). Syria has been at war with Lebanon for 30 years, and with Israel for even longer. Syria is also at war with the United States and Iraq. It's amazing what third-rate fly-blown dictatorships get away with these days.

UPDATE: This is as good a time as any for everyone from Nancy Pelosi and James Baker to George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert to re-read Barry Rubin's The Truth About Syria.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:02 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 12, 2007

PKK Signs Ceasefire with Turkey

By Michael J. Totten

The Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in Eastern Turkey just declared a unilateral ceasefire after the Turkish military shelled them in their mountain redoubt in Northern Iraq.

I was working on an article about this conflict, which I hoped to finish by midnight last night, but every word I wrote is now irrelevant.

It's good news, though, obviously, even if I did spin my wheels for a couple of hours. I have my doubts that the PKK will abide by the ceasefire, but at least Iraqi Kurdistan seems to be spared a new war for now, and the bombs in Turkey might actually stop. We'll see how long this lasts.

Hopefully I won't have to finish that article. I will if I have to, if what I wrote becomes relevant again.

Post-script: Thank you all so much for donating money for travel expenses to Iraq. I intend to send individual thank-you emails, but I want to say thanks in public as well.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:10 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 11, 2007

Back to Iraq Soon

By Michael J. Totten

As soon as the Iraqi Embassy issues my journalist visa, which is supposed to be any day now, I’ll be heading back to Iraq – this time to Baghdad and Anbar Province with the United States military.

I had plans to visit Iraq twice already with the military. They were planning to take me and a handful of other bloggers on a free trip from Washington. But bureaucracy and logistics issues created six months of delays and it isn’t worth waiting in travel limbo any longer. This is perhaps for the best. Instead I’ll go solo as a media embed and skip the dog and pony show.

The only problem with this is that it’s expensive – and dangerous. I need body armor, a helmet, and war zone insurance that costs 100 dollars per day.

So I need to ask for your help. There hasn’t been as much original material on the blog lately because I’ve needed to sell my skills and time to others to make ends meet. But I’m going to Baghdad, to the war, and I am going to blog it.

It’s impossible for me to make trips like these and publish the material for free on this Web site without substantial reader donations. I am not independently wealthy and I don’t have a trust fund or inheritance to pay for all this. My expenses are ongoing and donations need to be ongoing, too.

If you have been reading my dispatches for free all this time, please consider helping me out so I don’t have to get a regular job and deal with media gatekeepers. If you have donated in the past, please consider donating again so I can keep doing this.

The more money I can raise from my readers, the more time I can devote to this Web site because I won’t need to sell my time to somebody else.

Because my expenses are ongoing, I am pleased to announce that there is now an easier way than using Pay Pal to help. Joshua Zader has developed a new system called Blog Patron. It allows you to make recurring monthly donations to bloggers (like me) whom you wish to support. The system couldn’t be any easier to use. If enough of you sign up it will give me the financial stability I need to make this blog a full time instead of part time job.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:15 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 9, 2007

A Flawed Narrative

by Michael J. Totten

This story requires no comment:

In the Gaza Strip's Jab aliya refugee camp, Aref Suleiman was raised on Palestinian struggle against the Jewish state. Today he lies in an Israeli hospital bed, his body riddled with Palestinian bullets, his wounds tended daily by Israeli nurses.

For the 22-year-old Mr Suleiman, who was shot five times point blank by Hamas militants last month during a renewed bout of Palestinian infighting, this is not the Arab-Israeli conflict he learnt about as a child growing up in Gaza's desperate, rubbish-strewn alleys.

"Palestinians shoot me and Jews treat me," he laughs bitterly. "It was supposed to be different."

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:48 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 8, 2007

No Invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan

By Michael J. Totten

I’ve been away from the blog for two days because my friend Judith Weiss came to visit from New York for two days and I took on a road trip around Oregon to show her some scenery. Just as we were leaving the city, Debka reported that 50,000 Turkish soldiers invaded Iraqi Kurdistan.

We found no news on the radio, as if nothing had happened. We had no access to the Internet or international newspapers. I was unable to write about it or even find out what was going on.

It was probably for the best. Sometimes it’s better to wait a day or two before responding to headlines.

My sources in Iraqi Kurdistan told me there has been no Turkish invasion. The Turkish government, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the United States government all agree that there has been no Turkish invasion.

Why Debka hasn’t yet been completely discredited as an inadvertent spoof “news” site from an alternate universe is beyond me.

Here’s what’s actually happening: The Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (or PKK) from Eastern Turkey has dug into a remote mountainous area just inside Iraq which they use as a staging ground to launch terrorist and guerilla attacks inside Turkey. The Turkish military is shelling the area from their side of the border and may have chased PKK elements across the border in hot pursuit before returning to Turkey immediately.

The KRG says their Peshmerga aren’t able to flush the PKK out of their positions in the mountains because the area is too remote and rugged for a ground force to penetrate. This is the same location where the Peshmerga successfully hid from Saddam Hussein for decades when they waged their own guerilla war against the Baghdad regime.

It’s possible that the Peshmerga are insufficiently motivated to challenge the PKK – which is not officially supported in any way by the KRG – and that Turkey’s military build-up on the border is an attempt to pressure them to do what needs to be done.

I don’t know what KRG officials secretly believe in their hearts about the PKK. None have ever expressed even the vaguest sympathy to me for the PKK even off the record. At the same time, though, there is no love lost between Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. In any case, the Kurds of Iraq never used PKK-style tactics against Arab Iraqi civilians even when they faced genocide from Saddam’s regime. So I am not going to accuse the Kurdistan Regional Government of secretly supporting the PKK. I can’t prove that the KRG doesn’t support them, and I’m not trying to prove it. But I haven’t seen any evidence that the KRG does, and there is some evidence that they do not.

Free advice for the United States government: Help the Kurds of Iraq eject the PKK from the mountains before Turkey does to Iraqi Kurdistan what Israel did to Lebanon. The Turkish government sees this problem through the lens of last year’s war in July, and we don’t need to see that movie again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:32 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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