Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rocket Wars of Attrition: the Lessons from Summer 2006

Antidote to the post that follows below: Shlomi Saranga and Moshik Afia, "Sweet Dream" (2002)

I have not seen a great deal of discussion about a recent report, citing unnamed UN officials, that Iran is deploying missiles in Syria. Obviously, Syria already possesses a significant arsenal of surface-to-surface missiles as well as the type of katyusha rockets used with such effectiveness by Hizbullah against Israel in last summer's war. It should surprise no one that in the wake of Israel's failure to stop Hizbullah's fire on the country's civilian population, the Syrians see these kinds of missiles as their best strategy. The question is, what can Israel do about it?

The Israeli military has yet to come up with a military doctrine to counter a rocket-based war of attrition, as the surrender of Sderot to the Palestinian qassams showed. Worse, it does not look like the Israeli military and government have explained to the public what exactly the country is up against. Despite Gabi Ashkenazi's replacement of Dan Halutz as Chief of the General Staff, a great deal of air force spin continues to dominate assessment of the last war. One of the myths still circulating is that the air force's "launcher hunting" doctrine was able to take out most of Hizbullah's Iranian-supplied long-range missiles. A report by Uzi Rubin of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies released this month argues that the "intensity of long-range rocket attacks" in fact "remained fairly constant" throughout the war, averaging 4 per day (Rubin, "The Rocket Campaign against Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War," p. 25).

Rubin makes it clear that Hizbullah "dominated the battle of the rockets" (p. 13). Neither the air force nor the late ground invasion (and definitely not the aimless artillery barrages) succeeded in stopping or diminishing the intensity of Hizbullah's attack. While it is true that toward the end of the war the air force managed to destroy every launcher from which rockets had been fired - reducing the sensor-to-shoot time to one minute (an unprecedented achievement) - as every resident of the north can attest, Nasrallah was able to give Israeli civilians a bitter reminder of who owned them until the last day before the cease fire (see all of Carmia's entries from August 13 for a taste).

All this was accomplished using very simple weapons. Rubin concludes that few if any Iranian rockets hit Israel, one of the exceptions being a Fadjr-3 240 mm rocket that struck Haifa. Another Iranian rocket may have surfaced in Beirut, after an air force attack blew it up, sending a large cylindrical object flying into the air; some enthusiastic Hizbullah fans at the time mistook it for a downed Israeli F-16 (see J.'s post).

The majority of the rockets fired at Israel were 122 mm Grad rockets with 50 km range, 220 mm (70 km), and some 302 mm (90-100 km). Most of these were fired from launch batteries with 4 tubes; at least one launcher had 12 tubes. For the heavier rockets, Hizbullah tended to use mobile launchers, which it fired from residential areas. The lighter rockets, on the other hand, appear to have been fired using stationary launchers that were camouflaged and hidden slightly underground in agricultural areas. Katyusha crews would use hydraulic mechanisms or manual levers to raise these launchers up and then fire them using remote controls. These stationary launchers were set up long before the war, and each one was aimed at a different destination in Israel. They would be fired once every twenty-four hours - but Hizbullah may have had up to 150 such sites (Rubin, p. 9).

Altogether, Hizbullah's "strategic rocketing" killed 41 Israeli civilians, and 12 soldiers (the Kfar Giladi incident), seriously wounded 250 noncombatants, and caused 100,000-250,000 to flee their homes. It also destroyed 2,000 dwellings. Ironically, "passive defence" saved the most Israeli civilians' lives. More specifically, early warning systems, staying in bunkers and safe rooms, or following the instructions about retreating to the south side of apartments in many cases prevented casualties(here's a related sample of unfunny humor from those times: "It would be nice to shower first but the bathroom faces north (that's bad, not because of the feng shui)) .

Recently, I came across something that Nobody wrote, in which he mentioned the dangers of taking for granted Israel's supposed military superiority as well as its permanent presence in the region. I don't remember his exact wording, but he seemed to be taking on one of his favorite targets, reckless "peace lunatics." I have to say that when it comes to Syria, we would do very well to heed the advice of Nobody as well as of our Lebanese friends. I, too, have been guilty of enthusiasm about Syrian "channels." But as this latest missile deployment and their intertwined strategies in Lebanon show, the Syrians and the Iranians are committed to an alliance that will take a lot more than engagement to undo.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Signs of Life from Gilad Shalit

Earlier, I heard the Gilad Shalit tape that was released by Hamas today. It was painful to listen to him speaking from captivity, and even harder to think of what his parents must be going through. Obviously there is some joy too, as this is the first sign of life that we have from the young soldier since he was kidnapped exactly one year ago. But it is not at all clear whether he will be released before his twenty-first birthday on August 28.

Here is a transcript of the tape; it is slightly modified as I noticed that there were some small mistakes in Ha'aretz's. My (very literal) translation is below.

אני גלעד בן נועם שליט הכלוא אצל כתאיב אל שאהיד עז א-דין אל קסאם. אמא ואבא,אחותי ואחי , חברי בצה"ל. אני מוסר לכם מתוך הכלא דרישת שלום ואת געגועי לכולכם. עברה עלי שנה שלמה בתוך הכלא, ועדיין מצבי הבריותי מידרדר. ואני חייב לאשפוז ממושך בבית חולים .אני מצטער על חוסר ההתעניינות של הממשלה הישראלית וצה"ל ואי-היענותם בעניין שלי ובדרישות כתאיב אל קסאם. זה ברור שהם חייבים להיענות לדרישות אלו בכדי שאני אשתחרר כבר מהכלא. ובמיוחד שאני הייתי במבצע צבאי מתוך הוראה צבאית. ולא הייתי סוחר סמים. וכמו שיש לי הורים, אמא ואבא, גם לאלפי האצירים הפלשתינאים יש אמהות ואבות, שחייבים להחזיר להם את בניהם. יש לי תקווה גדולה לממשלתי שתתעניין בי יותר ותיענה לדרישות אל-מוג'אהידין. הרב"ט גלעד שליט.
I am Gilad, son of Noam Shalit, imprisoned with the Katayeb al-Shaheed az a-Din al-qassam. Ima and Abba [mom and dad], my sister and my brother, my friends in the IDF. I convey my greetings to and my longing for you from jail. A whole year has passed over me inside the jail, and the condition of my health is declining. And I require long-term treatment in the hospital. I regret the lack of interest by the Israeli government and the IDF and their indifference in/to my matter and the demands of Katayeb al-Qassam. It is clear that they need to accept these demands in order for me to be released already from the jail. And especially since I was on a military mission under military order. And I was not a drug dealer [emphasis added].* And just as I have parents, Ima and Abba, so do the thousands of Palestinian detainees ['atzirim] have mothers and fathers, that [sic] their sons have to be returned to them. I have great hope that my government will interest itself in me more and accept the demands of el[sic - I am pretty sure he does not say "ha-mujahedin"]-mujahedin.
*This is a reference to the case of the Israeli businessman Elhanan Tanenbaum, who was lured to Lebanon by Hizbullah agents who apparently enticed him with promises of money he could earn through a drug deal. Tanenbaum was swapped for several high-profile prisoners by Ariel Sharon in 2004.

Shalit is being held by the same criminal gang that abducted the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. A video of the Johnston was released shortly before the Shalit tape. The group holding them is rumored to be headed by a certain Mumtaz Durmush, affiliated with al Qaeda. Immediately after the Hamas take-over in the Gaza strip, there were reports of clashes between this group and Hamas's armed forces. However, it appears that the two have come to some kind of agreement, although tensions remain. Hamas is clearly trying to use the tape to gain leverage for itself - to force Israel to its knees - and the captors are playing along, since any gains achieved will also reflect positively on them.

The tape is aimed squarely at Israeli public opinion. It is an effort to build up public pressure to force the government to meet the demands of both the Hamas government on one hand and the kidnappers on the other.

On the tape, Shalit is reading from a prepared text. Sometimes the pauses are awkward. It obviously does not sound like a fluid statement coming directly from him. But it also does not sound as if he is reading it with a gun pointed to his head. Making Shalit compare his plight to that of Palestinian security prisoners was an appeal not only to the Israeli public but also to the Palestinian and Arab publics listening to the tape with translation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Behind the UNIFIL Attack

(Click to enlarge. Go to the link for even more detail. Map: Perry-Castaneda)

Today, what appears to have been a suicide car bombing killed 3 Spanish and 3 Colombian UNIFIL soldiers traveling in an armored troop carrier, somewhere between the towns of Marj 'Ayoun and Khiyam (circled in blue on the modified map above). The area of the attack is a few kilometers north of the Israeli town of Metulla, and just west of the Hazbani River. Two other Spanish peacekeepers were injured.

In the wake of the katyusha attack that hit Qiryat Shmonah on June 17, Spanish UNIFIL officers in particular assured the Israelis that they would do their utmost to prevent further attacks. Around the same time, rumors circulated in the press to the effect that the Italians had reached some kind of deal with Syria that would protect their UNIFIL soldiers from being hurt in attacks. I remember wondering whether the Spaniards might not regret their energetic efforts to carry out the mandate of the UN force in Lebanon. I do not think that it is an accident that Spanish troops were targeted in today's bombing, which has so far claimed the lives of 5 soldiers.

To borrow a phrase from Jeha, Syria still has enough "plausible deniability" to make the useful idiots as well as the malicious cast doubt on that government's involvement. Others, however, will probably agree that Syria has decided to play its third card. After the failure of the Fath al-Islam uprising attempt in northern Lebanon, Syria has decided to cause trouble in the south - most likely through Palestinian proxies rather than Hizbullah, which went as far as to condemn the attack (Ha'aretz) - perhaps an indication of the declining approval for explicitly pro-Syrian actions inside Lebanon. The country's rallying behind the Lebanese army throughout the ongoing campaign at Nahr el-Bared seems to have constrained the flexibility of Hizbullah as well as Aoun's FPM.

I thought it was interesting also to see the response to this latest bombing. Israel may yet be provoked into a response against Hizbullah or Syrian-backed Palestinian groups in the south, but right now, it is hoping to use these provocations to bolster the UNIFIL mandate.

Southern Lebanon has posed a security challenge to Israel since the country's independence; indeed, attacks on Jewish settlements in the Galilee go back three decades earlier still ("Tel Hai," English, Hebrew). Over the past 60 years, Israel's strategic aims in the northern Galilee and southern Lebanon have been mostly uniform - but one can isolate two distinct strands. Early Zionist leaders and some Israeli policy-makers saw control of Lebanon's south as necessary (or at least desirable) in order to assure access to water (1). However, the far more important determining factor since the 1960s has been security (2). To counter the threats posed by irregulars operating in southern Lebanon, Israel has resorted to a variety of defensive and offensive measures. UNIFIL, too, has played a small role in this strategy before. Given last summer's failure in Lebanon, Israel now seems more willing than ever before to give UNIFIL a bigger share in countering the threats (to Israel as well as Lebanese security) emanating from Lebanon's south.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Israeli Models Show Skin for Israel

(Thanks to Geoff for this link)

I was watching CNN earlier this morning and saw some coverage of the latest Israeli foray into public relations. The geniuses at the Foreign Ministry apparently thought it was a good idea to invite Maxim magazine to do a photo shoot of Israeli models. An added incentive to bring in the obligatory puns ("women with guns") was that the featured models had done their military service in the IDF. The Maxim "Israel Defense Forces Issue" is due in stores on June 26.

Apparently, the New York consulate also promoted a gala event (actually, a Maxim Party), with consular officials in attendance; the advertisement featured a scantily-clad Gal Gadot. This, in turn, led to condemnations by MKs Colette Avital (Labor), the former consul-general in New York, and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), who complained that
It is unfortunate that the New York consulate thinks that Israel's relevance will be expressed by the use of naked women who are treated as an object, and not as women of substance who exude achievement and success. It's a shame that the consulate has not understood that countries of the Western world cannot market themselves through the use of half naked women (Ha'aretz).
I have a lot of respect for Gal-On and Avital. It's true that the campaign is unusual, to say the least. Furthermore, given some of the unfortunate positions in which certain Israeli ambassadors have found themselves over the years, a Maxim photo shoot is not exactly going to enhance respect for the Israeli diplomatic corps. However, I think they are wrong about this.

After seeing the CNN segment, I have to say that the whole campaign might not be such a bad idea. To be sure, the photo shoots are exploitative - so are 90% of the advertisements on our television screens and billboards. These women are professionals, and whoever thinks that they ought to have turned down a modeling shoot that promotes Israel (as opposed to Calvin Klein) should complain to their agents. I find the outrage misplaced, and I definitely think that any arguments appealing to the norms of "countries of the Western world" are rather silly here. There is nothing indecent about these models, just as there would be nothing unseemly about promoting Israel by showing clips from the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. These models represent Israel as much as haredim praying at the Kotel.

The CNN anchors were obviously amused by the whole thing, and the segue from a clip on the Iranian decency police's clamp-down on women violating dress regulations was perfect (for Israel). Both reports featured beautiful and sympathetic young women. In one country, they were being punished for wearing revealing headscarves; in the other, they were being encouraged (and paid - by photographers) to strip to their underwear. I know that the pseudo-feminist, post-colonialists will be quick to equate the two situations as equally oppressive, but I doubt that the large majority of Americans will see things quite the same way.

Female Israel soldiers - fetishized almost as frequently as their male counterparts
(Jerusalem, June 2006)

These ads do show a face of Israel (and the Middle East) that is all too often obscured in the coverage of the region. The people in the New York consulate are on to something. While it may not appeal to all of our oh-so-refined tastes, sexy young people probably do a better job of promoting Israel to ordinary Americans than intellectuals - no matter how scintillating they may be. I think the blog that the consulate launched is also a good idea with potential. But who came up with the name, "IsRealli"?

On a related note: The last Israeli public relations venture that received some attention in the blogosphere was a local anti-drug campaign in Tel Aviv, which featured mock shaheed posters displaying a hipster in a training suit about to embark on a "suicide mission" of mixing drugs and alcohol. Lisa, fresh from a trip to Ramallah, where she took some photographs of the real thing, has coverage of this and many other great posts (An Israeli in Ramallah, Make Love not Terror, and Ivri goes English nice!). Also not to be missed, however, is Nobody's typically irreverent defense of the ad; he calls it "brilliantly cynical" - a description that also often applies to his blog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Living in a Dream

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna (Source: Freudianslip)

I am not sure about Uzi Benziman's conclusion, citing Anna Freud, that "among adults, seeking satisfaction through imagination indicates a serious psychological disorder." But his main argument is a harsh rejoinder to the self-delusion about the West Bank and Hamas that has gripped the country:
Some members of Israel's leadership, including cabinet ministers, Knesset members and defense and policy advisers, have recently come to resemble those children who solve their problems by daydreaming. When they say that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip has opened a rare window of opportunity, they are also laying out the next solution to the Palestinian problem: hand over responsibility for Gaza to Egypt. There are even some who propose granting Jordan an official role in the West Bank.
In the meantime, Abbas is trying his best to extract certain favors to him from Israel. In this, he is backed by the U.S. The test of measures such as freeing Barghouti or removing checkpoints, however, should not be something as vague as "strengthening the moderates." It is an illusion to think that Abu Mazen's government will be reinforced by favors that Israel or the U.S. bestows upon it. Rather, such measures should be evaluated on the basis of sound military, social, and political yardsticks, which are independent of the psychological disorientation caused by dreams of a divorce between Gaza and the West Bank. Eventually, the two will be linked again. Almost all the Arab leaders are pushing Abbas and Haniyeh to repeat another Mecca-style agreement to paper over the differences that exist; they too have staked too much on a "united Palestine" to consent to a permanent separation.

Ze'ev Schiff (1933-2007)

Israel's foremost military commentator, Ze'ev Schiff, has died. It seems like yesterday that I quoted one of his articles here. His professionalism will be sorely missed.

UPDATE (6/24/07): A wonderful appreciation of Schiff by Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Ze'ev had no ambition except the truth; he had no vanity except the excitement of the scoop; he had no ideology except the pursuit of a secure peace for his people. Was he a dovish hawk or a hawkish dove? It is difficult to say. Ze'ev refused to be pigeonholed or to play a role that others would define for him. But he never refused the chance to humble the mighty or speak truth to power. And still, because he focused on the facts and never traded in rumor, innuendo or the voyeurism that too often passes for journalism, even the mightiest, once humbled, would seek him out once again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dissolving Lebanon

As'ad AbuKhalil has been trying to explain his political theology to his mother:
Knowing of my views against the very existence of Lebanon as an entity, she would always ask me how that is possible. I would tell her that the dissolution of the entity (into a larger Arab entity) is the solution. [...] I said that imagine when Syria is run well, and the Asad regime is overthrown (and hopefully not by the Muslim Brotherhood or the Khaddam version of Ba`thism): Lebanon would be better served by dissolving into a larger Arab entity. Like the Zionist entity, Lebanon has posed a danger to, and inflicted harm on, its inhabitants and on the Palestinian cause.
You see, he really has the best interests of the Lebanese in mind. The "Zionist entity" can go to hell. Its primal sin, one apparently also committed by Lebanon, is causing harm to the Palestinian cause. I am curious how this dogma, which has turned Palestine into Jesus (guess who killed it), came to occupy such a big role in the religion of the angry Arabs.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hamastan and Fatah-stine

Map of Gaza (May 2005, Perry Castaneda)

The mantra that we are hearing in the wake of Hamas's victory in the Gaza Strip is rather familiar. The Americans have been telling the Israelis for some time now: support the Palestinian "moderates." It seems that this idea has also excited Olmert. Right now, the Americans as well as the Israeli foreign ministry are pushing for moves to strengthen Abbas. The goal seems to be to turn the West Bank into some kind of oasis showcasing the fruit earned by moderates who deal pragmatically with the U.S. and with Israel rather than embracing the genocidal extremism of Hamas. This is a nice thought. But it will not work.

The battles between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza showed how weak Abbas's forces are militarily. The lack of leadership, coordination, and, most importantly, motivation on the side of Fatah's forces were all too apparent. Neither the political echelon of Fatah nor the security apparatus showed enough determination to impose its vision on Palestinian society. This may be because no such vision exists on the side of Fatah, and because the fighters knew that they did not have a great deal of popular support. Hamas, on the other hand, showed no such scruples. While the organization is not invincible and may face significant challenges from various clans, it has enough committed fighters as well as popular support for its ideas and style of government in Gaza.

What lies behind Fatah's military failures is a major structural weakness - a disconnect between the instruments of violence and political institutions with popular backing. Rightly or wrongly, Hamas's armed forces seem to be perceived by enough Palestinians as being guided by more or less representative political institutions. Fatah's fighters, on the other hand, appeared like disconnected crews of private militiamen fighting for individual feudal lords rather than a coherent ideology.

Given this structural problem, it seems rather foolish to throw more arms and money at the Fatah forces. Likewise, I am not sure that spending funds on certain civic projects will necessarily do that much good. Much of the money will likely end up in the pockets of PA officials anyway. The rest will be invested haphazardly in certain towns and neighborhoods attached to various local bosses. Much like the private militiamen, it will be atomized power (economic rather than military in this case) without a unifying ideology or a responsive mechanism of control.

Perhaps equally damaging is the bad odor that clings to American and Israeli money or support among Palestinians today. Never mind that they are all sitting in big piles of it, and that even a Hamas-ruled Gaza cannot achieve autarky from Israel; the linkage of Fatah with the U.S. and the Zionists will remain a powerful weapon in Hamas's arsenal. Thus, supporting Fatah may backfire.

There are people who see the outcome of the first phase of the Palestinian civil war as some kind of new opportunity. Some of this chatter can be dismissed right away as wishful thinking. Whoever thinks that Hamas's victory in the Strip will lead to the permanent severing of Gaza from the West Bank and hence bring about an end to the dream of a united Palestinian state is living in a kind of movie. Neither the Palestinian people nor its leadership will agree to this.

Although Abbas is playing hard to get right now and rebuffing overtures by Hamas, I would not count on him to faithfully execute American or Israeli objectives. Fatah will come to some kind of accommodation with Hamas at the end, although the two factions will continue to hate each other's guts. Most likely, we will see a situation where both Hamastan and Fatah-stine claim the right to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians - a situation of dual power that might be institutionalized in another complicated constitutional arrangement. This would bring Israel back to the status quo ante.

Given Fatah's current weakness, it almost seems like dealing with Hamas instead would be a better choice. Here, Israel might be able to negotiate with an entity that has something closer to a monopoly on violence, which can gain a great deal from Israeli carrots and can offer certain things in return. (For an excellent overview of the economic situation faced by Hamas and the carrots as well as two-sided sticks available to Israel see this article in today's Ha'aretz). But the problem is that Israel is dealing with an enemy in Gaza who does not appear to be acting pragmatically. Furthermore, this enemy is armed and egged on by two foreign powers - Iran and Syria - which do not want stability on Israel's southern border, just as they want to maintain a strike force on its northern boundary.

There have been some rumors in the press that Israel's newly-appointed Defense Minister Ehud Barak is planning a massive invasion of the Gaza Strip. I am hoping that this is part of an information operation to warn Hamas and its sponsors. If it isn't, I wonder how Barak would define the objectives of such an operation, and what outcomes he might foresee.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Bundesnachrichtendienst

BND spy "Fat Willy" (Photo: Spiegel)

has a long profile of former German intelligence officer Willy Dietl, a famous journalist and writer, with extensive experience in the Middle East and Central Asia. Dietl's cover was blown in November 2005 when the chief of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, under pressure from the country's media. revealed to a parliamentary commission that the BND had paid five journalists to inform on their colleagues, in a bid to track the source of leaks. The revelation caused a scandal in Germany, and the once-respected reporter and author of several books about the intelligence community and terrorism (Spy Ladies: Frauen im Geheimdienst, Holy War, Bridgehead Afghanistan, Im Visier: ein Ex-Agent enthüllt die Machenschaften des BND) now lives in disgrace.

Among his successes as a collection agent, Dietl counts his recruitment of two agents, from an unnamed country (Jordan or Syria?), who monitored the Abu Nidal crew:
Willy Dietl credits the crowning glory of his achievements to his running of two intelligence officers from a country that borders on Israel. He declines to name the country, because the two are still in active service. Dietl met a relative of the two, who was arrested in the country in question after he was falsely informed on. After the man's release, he moved to Germany, where Dietl helped him start life anew and became friends with him. His two relatives, the intelligence officers, were very impressed by Dietl's efforts and grateful to him.

"Over time I became friends with the two of them," he relates. "Only afterward did I discover that they were professional intelligence officers, who were in charge of collecting information and monitoring the activity of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization. After a while I recruited them for the BND. They gave me a complete list of Abu Nidal's operatives, their passport numbers, their code names, their travel plans to Europe and many other details. It was a gold mine. You have to remember that in the 1980s, Abu Nidal's organization was considered the most dangerous and most daring terrorist group in the world. They carried out many attacks against targets in Austria and Italy, against Israeli and Jewish targets and against the PLO. Now, suddenly, we had advance information about every trip of the organization's people to Europe."

On the BND's relations with the Mossad:
Do you know whether the BND shared this information with other espionage organizations, including the Mossad?

"I don't know, but I have no doubt that they did. The Mossad is one of the closest organizations to the BND, and Israel was one of the targets for attacks by the Abu Nidal group."

On Germany, I thought this was particularly interesting and accurate:
In Germany, in contrast to Israel, the public does not want to understand that intelligence work is necessary to protect the country's citizens and its democratic character. In Germany, the moment your name is mixed up in anything related to intelligence, you are considered odious, so you can imagine how badly the affair has hurt me.

Iraqi Oil Trivia of the Day

Iraq Oil Infrastructure (source)

From Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey's testimony (watch it on CSPAN) at the House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, June 12:

Nearly 90% of Iraq's total revenue depends on two offshore oil terminals in the Persian Gulf. The Al-Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) pumps oil worth 83% of that revenue, while Khor al-Amaya's output (KAAOT) makes up 5-6%. They are protected by a "ring of steel" about which you can read more in one of Michael Yon's older dispatches.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

From Jo-burg to J-lem

A mural on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa

I've recently returned from a short but rewarding visit to South Africa. Even the casual observer might notice that the Israel issue gets a lot of traction in the post-apartheid state. Perhaps somewhat naively, I felt I got a sense over the course of the 10 days I spent in the country of how and why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resonates with South Africans. To relate an anecdote, the weekend I arrived, the headline of the May 26 Sunday paper in Cape Town, the Weekend Argus, blared "Gaddafi 'is funding Zuma.'" As it turns out, a mysterious intelligence report from some nefarious source was circulated, which accused president Thabo Mbeki's ANC rival Jacob Zuma of receiving succour from the Angolan leader Eduardo dos Santos and Muammar Gaddafi in an attempt to oust Mbeki. There were other rumors making the rounds that Zuma, who may very well be the next president of South Africa, is in mortal danger, though I doubt he was fazed, as he's notorious for having slept with an HIV-infected subordinate and declared himself inoculated against the virus since, afterward, he took a shower! One person who should have been fazed by all this was Ronnie Kasrils, the government's Intelligence Minister. Indeed, Kasrils quickly distanced his agencies from the report. The man clearly has his hands full: many are speculating about what role if any the intelligence services will play in the impending ANC succession struggle. Yet I was surprised to find Kasrils -- in the very same day's paper -- blasting Israel. As journalist Chiara Carter put it, the minister had "wagged his finger vigorously" at the Israelis for failing to make "positive moves." Kasrils is the minister responsible for extending the South African government's controversial invitation of a state visit to Ismail Haniyeh. Kasrils was in Israel and the West Bank recently, and when he returned to South Africa, he published an essay in the Mail and Guardian, "Israel 2007: Worse than Apartheid." The point he makes, I guess, is that the system of restriction of movement exercised by the IDF in the West Bank resembles the ugly pass book system imposed on Africans under apartheid. An Israeli airport official born in the Johannesburg area tells Kasrils, "This is a fu*#ed-up place." Apparently, the guy was from Charlize Theron's home suburb, the working class Afrikaner bastion of Benoni -- also, I can tell you, a fu*#ed-up place.

I had the great fortune of meeting actor and writer Eric Miyeni while in "Jozi." Eric is the author of a book called
O'Mandingo! The Only Black at the Dinner Party, his own rant, admittedly, but infinitely more interesting -- and entertaining -- than Kasrils'. I hung out at Talk Radio 720 in Sandton the night after Eric had interviewed Kasrils on a national radio show. Eric had needled the minister, asking him how it was that there was time in the face of the intelligence challenges both domestic and regional to spout off about Israel! The night I was in the studio, reprentatives of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies were on the air responding to Kasrils's denunciations. How, they asked, could one compare the tactics Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, which assiduously avoided inflicting non-combatant, civilian casualties, to suicide bombers and men who launch Qassams indiscriminately at population centers? A Mail and Guardian piece by David Saks of the Board of Deputies gives you an idea of how the debate runs.

Now, it may be true that the governing ANC is still in some sense a liberation movement, and that its old guard, which is entrenched, and of which Kasrils is by definition a member, sees itself as part of a world liberation movement. Notice Mbeki's embrace of, say, the ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, or his cautious approach to the problem of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. But I'm not sure that most South Africans are willing to make the connection between the anti-apartheid struggle and the Palestinian movement for national self-determination quite as quickly as Kasrils. I don't think
Eric Miyeni is the only questioning voice in the crowd. On the campus of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, I saw signs for a talk called "Comparing Zionism with Apartheid: Privileging or Undervaluing our Unique Victimhood?" I think it's a very open question -- in most South African circles. If I learned one thing from Eric and from the many other kind South Africans with whom I spoke, it was that apartheid's legacy, its relation to the endemic problems of South African society, is a matter of great confusion and uncertainty. This fact won't make for quick, glib analogies. But I'm sure that when Palestinian statehood arrives, the society that's born will in a similar way have to reckon with the combination of memories of enormous suffering and disappointment with the way things can in the end turn out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Peres and Barak - the New Mukhtars

Peres visited the Kotel after winning the presidency

With car bombs going off in Lebanon and civil war raging in Gaza, it might seem trivial to focus on Israeli domestic politics. But unless they are on location (Gaza, Nejmeh) , bloggers are not especially useful for providing breaking news updates.

It turns out that Shimon Peres has won the presidency, and in a fairly convincing fashion, garnering 58 votes in the first round (there are 120 legislators in the parliament). As I have said before, this is a stabilizing factor for the Olmert government. One of his first moves - a visit to the Kotel - hard to separate from the support given to him by Shas. His stated goal: to unify Israeli society. The models that he singled out are his now deceased colleagues: David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon (Ha'aretz). Peres, the grandfather of Israeli politics, the last man of his generation.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak defeated Ami Ayalon in the race to head the Labor Party. In retrospect, it is clear that Ayalon's late compromises - joining up with Peretz, reneging on his promise to quit the government if elected - hurt him badly, especially on the kibbutzim. The Arab votes that Ghaleb Majadale was supposed to collect did not materialize (he was defeated by Fuad), and Peretz's machine in the periphery was obviously not enough.

By and large, this election shows Labor Party members' rejection of Peretz, and the privileging of an effective defense policy over promises of social change. Or at least it is clear that Labor Party members do not trust Peretz enough to implement such a policy anyway.

The question now is not whether Barak will stay in the government but on what conditions. He is in a much better position to dictate terms than Ayalon would have been. Ayalon had obligated himself to appoint Avishai Braverman (who will, once again, be receiving the short end of the stick) as Minister of the Treasury, and he would have had to make concessions to Peretz. Barak has fewer commitments, and he is in a superior position to fire people. Shelly Yehimovich, who picked the winner, might end up with an appointment - perhaps the Education Ministry is even in her reach, as Yuli Tamir is on bad terms with Barak.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Israeli Arab MK Heaps Vitriol on Syrian Dissident

(Photo source: al-Jazeera)

I'm sure the special effort MK Muhammad Barakeh (Hadash) made to show his disgust for the democratic opposition to the Syrian government will be well rewarded some day. Speaking about Farid al-Ghadiri's visit to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Barakeh not only said that he disapproved of the Syrian-American politician's trip to Israel but that he "condemns and rejects [it] with disgust." He added that
Al-Ghadiri decided to incite against his countrymen and his homeland and chose to be a mercenary for the Americans. He came to be used as a poor servant of the militarist agenda of the extreme right-wing. Scum is a bad thing, but American scum of this type is the worst of all (Ynet Hebrew).
I have never heard MK Barakeh say one good thing about his fellow countrymen, or one bad thing about Syria's oppressive regime. See also al-Jazeera's coverage (Arabic).

The heavy man in the photograph pointing and yelling at al-Ghadiri, who is ignoring his interlocutor very successfully, is MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra'am Ta'al).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gaydamak the Kosherizer

Kiss those oysters goodbye, Tiv Ta'am shoppers!
(Photo: Tiv Ta'am)

UPDATE (June 12): Lisa now has a longer post on this story, with pictures of pork at her local Tiv Ta'am and more analysis, commentary, as well as links to other interesting media sources. BTW: You will note that my transliteration, which is not really how the store's name is pronounced in Israel - people just say "tiv tam" - differs from hers. But we here at Kishkushim take our transliteration very seriously, and despite the fact that speakers are sometimes negligent in their pronunciation, I believe that טעם should be transliterated with the inverted comma to indicate the glottal stop; maybe I'm wrong about that though. Query to Arabists: would the "internet" transliteration of this word be "ta3m" or just "t3m"? Do you think we should use the Arabic chat alphabet when transliterating Hebrew - for het and 'ayin?

Arkadi Gaydamak is in the news again today. The millionaire businessman (how many millions? what business exactly?) is acquiring the Tiv Ta'am supermarket chain. In an excellent publicity move, Gaydamak announced that he intends to make the company's supermarkets kosher:
"I believe that in a Jewish state, in which there is a large Muslim minority, selling pork is a provocation," the Russian-Israeli billionaire told Army Radio (Ha'aretz).
This is appealing straight to Gaydamk's future core constituencies.

Tiv Ta'am is an upscale grocer that specializes in selling "white meat" and seafood to cosmopolitan Tel Aviv residents and Russian immigrants. Actually they have some locations in the periphery too - but 3 stores on Ben Yehuda alone! Of course, we shouldn't exaggerate the significance of this particular stunt, as Gaydamak's approval ratings in places like Sderot, Ofakim, Netivot, and Yeruham are high to begin with. But it cannot hurt him to gain votes from traditionalist mizrahim and Ethiopians, as well as from Arab voters in the south. Plus, he can score some points from the ultra-Orthodox, whose support he will need as he sets the stage for his political activity - for example in Jerusalem.

I have to confess that despite my pitch for pluralism on Jeha's blog, I am not such a big fan of Tiv Ta'am. Frankly speaking, it annoys me when I have to start inspecting the sausage's label even in Israel. Plus, the prices are a little on the American side. I know at least one contributor to this blog who is probably celebrating. As for you pork lovers - I'm sure that Rumanian place near the old central bus station will welcome you with open arms.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Historical Note on Turkish-American Relations

The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire
(Perry Castaneda, click to magnify)

Hazbani's questions about U.S. policy toward the Ottoman empire and the Turkish republic after WWI sparked my interest in the history of Turco-American relations.

As Hazbani noted, the U.S. did not declare war on the Ottoman empire in 1917 - a decision in line with the non-interventionist policy it had pursued since the late 19th century. The U.S.'s main concerns then were protecting the investments that American missionaries had made in educational institutions, as part of efforts to convert Ottoman Christian minorities. But the American also had an eye to future economic opportunities. The latter motivations became preeminent after 1918, when most of the Ottoman Christian populations had either left or been killed or deported.

It is interesting that Hazbani mentioned a US Navy paper, on "USN relations with Turkey from 1914-1940," as the person whom many associate with redefinition of American relations with Turkey after the war was Admiral Mark Bristol, the U.S. High Commissioner to Turkey from 1919-1927. Bristol saw economic and investment opportunities for the U.S. in Turkey, and he was not blind to the navy's need for oil (Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide, pp. 185-187).

Another point that Hazbani made was about the relatively benign stance of the U.S. toward the defeated Ottoman empire, especially when compared to the rapacious aims of the British, French, Italians, and Greeks.

Under the Treaty of Sèvres, signed in August 10, 1920, the Ottoman empire was not only stripped of all its non-Turkish territories (in the Balkans and in North Africa), but also of some of its Anatolian possessions. The oil-rich town of Mosul, one of those former Ottoman empire possessions that Melih Can was talking about, was seized by the British as part of the Iraq mandate. The French took Cilisia as part of their Syrian mandate. In Eastern Anatolia, the Allies recognized the Armenian and Kurdish claims to independence. Finally, in May 1919, the Allies approved of the Greek occupation of Smyrna (or Izmir in Turkish) in the west, also on the grounds of national self-determination (Greek statisticians claimed a Greek majority in the city). However, the Italians were allowed to occupy Antalya in SW Anatolia (Norman Rich, Great Power Diplomacy since 1914, p. 61).

The U.S. did not participate in this, partly because it had not been party to the irresponsible promises of territorial spoils made by the Allies to each other. However, American businessmen were happy to go along with the British in looking for oil in tapping the Mosul oil fields. There actually was a certain convergence of US and British interests here, but the U.S. came to differ with Britain and the other European powers on the future of Turkey. The British, under Lloyd George, hoped to persuade America to guarantee Armenian independence and thereby put in place a check against both Bolshevik and possible Turkish pan-Islamist (or pan-Turkic?) ambitions. The Americans refused, and eventually came to see a strong, nationalist Turkey as a preferred alternative (Bloxham, Ibid., pp. 192-193).

Atatürk (Wikipedia)

In the meantime, Mustafa Kemal had risen to the top of the Turkish nationalist movement. In October 1920, the Bolsheviks had overthrown the Armenian Republic and turned it into a Soviet Republic. But with the Red Army embroiled in a war with Poland, Kemal attacked the Armenian Soviet Republic and regained all the lost Turkish territory, including Batum, Kars, and Ardahan; Batum was later returned, and became part of the Georgian Soviet. Kemal also signed a treaty with France, which returned Cilicia in southern Anatolia as well as arms, in exchange for Tureky's recognition of the French mandate over Syria. Lastly, the Italians surrender their Anatolian claims in return for certain economic stipulations and Turkish acceptance of their possession of Tripoli, the Dodecanese islands, and Rhodes. In August 1922, the Turks took back Smyrna from the Greeks. Finally, the nationalist forces headed north to Constantinople, where the British were still defending the sultan and the Treaty of Sèvres. Soon thereafter, Kemal led the domestic revolution that deposed Sultan Mehmed VI on November 17. The net result: Anatolia had been secured under the leadership of a modern, Western-oriented Turkish Republic.

These Turkish gains were consolidated under the November 20, 1922 Treaty of Lausanne. Armenian and Kurdish independence in eastern Anatolia had been quashed, as had Greek claims in the west (eastern Thrace); only Mosul was lost to the Mesopotamian mandate, and Alexandretta (İskenderun) to France (the latter became part of Turkey again in 1939) (Rich, Ibid., pp. 85-87).

(Map source: Wikipedia)

From 1922 to 1989, American policy viewed a strong, undivided Turkey as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and as a force for stability in the region. Although Turkey's pursuit of an autarkic economic policy and its trade relations with the Weimar Republic and then the Hitler regime during the interwar period and into the 1930s meant that many of America's economic hopes were not realized then, the military and economic aid that poured into Turkey in the 1940s cemented the American role in the country.

Turkey, it seems clear, now wants some of the oil spoils of which it had been deprived by the British after WWI. In addition to protecting its population from terrorist attacks, the country also wants to safeguard its territorial integrity, which it sees threatened by the rise of a Kurdish state on its southern border, and Kurdish control over oil revenues from Kirkuk and elsewhere. The trick for the U.S. will be to determine how to keep the Turks in line with its own interests, at the lowest price possible.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"Lessons" from the Kisufim Attack

The Kisufim ("Yearnings") Crossing, marked in orange

The thwarted attempt by Palestinian militants to capture an Israeli soldier near the Kisufim crossing has again raised questions about the government's "policy of no response" (Debka Hebrew).

In the incident, which occurred on Saturday afternoon, a team of four Islamic Jihad fighters broke through the security fence in a white jeep marked "TV." Lookouts immediately alerted nearby forces from the Givati Brigade. Meanwhile, the militants, who were dressed in military fatigues, stormed an empty outpost (a pillbox) and started firing. When they realized that the outpost was unoccupied and saw IDF jeeps arriving at the scene, three of the fighters returned to Gaza. Israeli troops began combing the area. A dog from the Oketz unit discovered the fourth terrorist, who had hidden in a pipe. After he revealed his location when he shot the dog, Israeli soldiers surrounded the man, who was killed in the two-hour long gun battle that ensued (Ynet Hebrew, New York Times).

The vehicle used by the attackers (Reuters)

Soon after the initial news of the incident, army sources expressed concerns about "tactical shortcomings" in the response of the unit summoned to the scene (Ha'aretz Hebrew). "Why," they asked, "was there no pursuit of the [Islamic Jihad] crew at Kisufim?" To Lt. Colonel Bassam 'Alian, who commands the Rotem Battalion (one of the four battalions in the Givati Brigade) and was among the first to arrive on the scene, the answer is simple: the troops focused on securing the area first and making sure that the terrorists did not reach nearby residential areas. (A quick excursus: Bassam 'Alian made the headlines in August 2006, after he was injured in Lebanon, shortly after being promoted to Lt. Colonel.)

I will leave it to the military to investigate these alleged tactical deficiencies, but it strikes me that the criticism might not be entirely rational. I cannot help linking this disappointment that Israeli soldiers did not manage to arrest or kill the other attackers with a general sense of frustration about the government's defensive policy. This frustration is most palpable among reservists from Sderot and the south. In a recent article, "An Israeli defeat in Sderot," Ze'ev Schiff argues that despite the organization's military weakness, Hamas has achieved deterrence vis-a-vis Israel, just as Hizbullah has in the north. He calls this a "national failure" more serious than the outcome of the Lebanon war. Schiff concludes by bemoaning
the almost total disappearance of the strategic principle set by David Ben-Gurion, to the effect that upon the outbreak of a military confrontation, Israel must quickly transfer the fighting to enemy territory. At present, it is the enemy who is immediately transferring the fighting to Israeli territory (Ha'aretz).
In recent days, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has also called for an expansion of offensive action in Gaza by the army, though he still rules out a major ground operation comparable to Defensive Shield. Israel's National Security Council, on the other hand, believes that the current policy should be continued (Ha'aretz English).

The government's reluctance to authorize a large-scale operation in Gaza, however, is not based on the acceptance of a draw with Hamas alone. Israel is trying to avoid the inevitable civilian casualties that would accompany a return to the policies of June 2006, which included heavy artillery fire, and bombardment from the sea and air in response to qassam launches. Perhaps the government is hoping for a further deterioration of the Palestinians' diplomatic position, as well as the attrition of its fighting power in internecine conflict.

As we occupy ourselves with the management of this conflict, the future looks bleaker than ever. Because the Palestinian factions cannot guarantee Israelis' security, Israel will not give up the land the parties and the Palestinian people demand as a requirement for the cessation of attacks. To be sure, the armed struggle - at least of the sort carried out since the mid-1990s - especially the suicide bombings have only brought disaster to the Palestinians. Furthermore, the qassams and their more lethal future successors will bestow mere temporary gains upon the Palestinians (a cease fire here, a partial lifting of restrictions), until the next terrorist attack. Then, it will be two steps backward again.

I think the optimism of the "anti-Zionists," that Israel will disappear is misplaced. They believe that the world only has to be convinced of the suffering of the Palestinians. It is true that a great number of people today believe that Israel is the manifestation of evil and wholly responsible for the hardships experienced by Palestinian civilians. They bank on what they see as the inevitable triumph of justice, and the defeat of the wicked. In the words of Angry Arab:
Zionists miscalculated: the deep seated racism that characterized the minds of Zionist pioneers, and the contempt through which they looked at the Arabs, did not prepare them for an unexpected variable: the persistence of Palestinian struggle. That the Palestinians will not succumb to Zionist diktats. And that the Arabs will not let bygone's be bygone's.
I think the inverse of what As'ad AbuKhalil is saying rings just as true. The Arabs, especially the Palestinian Arabs, were not prepared for the persistence of the Jews' belief that they belong there, and that they need their own state. What the anti-Zionists don't understand is that Israeli Jews have nowhere to go. They do not intend to "return" anywhere - certainly not to the precariousness of life without national self-determination. Perhaps it is time to admit that the interests of Israelis and Palestinians are simply irreconcilable. For both sides, national self-determination seems to have requirements that the other side will not accept. But the loser of this kind of "draw" is surely the person without a state.

Getting along is easier in San Francisco (May 2007)

In a very serious interview conducted by Sayed Kashua, best known for his hilarious satirical columns in Ha'aretz [the link happens not to be his funniest piece but it's still good], Hillel Cohen, the author of four fine works on the relationship between the state (or pre-state institutions) and the local Arab population, put it this way:
-"One could also say that the tragedy of the Palestinians from the start is that they found themselves on land that the Jews claim, and say is their historic homeland - rightly so apparently, unlike what some of the Palestinians think. The Jews have roots here and they've managed to stake a claim in this land. This is where the tragedy begins. If the Jews hadn't come here, nothing would have developed the way it has. But they did come here and they are also stronger. This is the root of the tragedy. The question within this equation is what you do about it. The tragedy within this equation is that if you're quiet and don't protest it doesn't help you, and if you protest gently it also doesn't help you, and if you move to an armed struggle, then it also hurts you. Whatever you do, you're screwed."

So what should be done?

-"I don't have a proposal for what the Palestinians should do. But let's say, theoretically, if the Palestinians were to take up a non-violent struggle en masse, maybe something would happen."

Then what? That would bring them back to an Oslo-type process.

-"Perhaps. Listen, I don't know what to say to the Palestinians. If someone were to land here from Mars and ask me which nation is worth joining, I probably wouldn't recommend he join the Palestinian people."

And the Jewish people? The Israeli people?

-"No comment."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Has Turkey Crossed the Rubicon?

Southeastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq (Perry-Castaneda)

There is currently a media blackout on Turkey's military operation in the south of the country and in northern Iraq. The American as well as the European press have hardly covered it. Initial reports in the international media, which cited Turkish "security circles," spoke of several thousand Turkish soldiers having entered Iraq in a "very limited" operation. These reports, however, were later denied by the Turkish foreign ministry, Iraqi border officials, as well as by the White House.

At this point, we can only speculate about what is truly transpiring. Clearly, the Turkish military is engaging in a large-scale operation against the PKK within its own borders; most likely, it has also carried the fight into Iraq. The Kurdish separatist group has stepped up its terror campaign inside Turkey in the past few months, providing the Turks with plenty of reasons for a response in southern Turkey as well as against hide-outs and camps across the border.

Turkey has conducted many cross-border raids in the past, and aside from denying that Turkish troops are in Iraq, both the U.S. and the Turks are publicly playing down the scope of this operation. However, there are people in Turkey who are hoping and/or expecting this to be a far more significant move than that. Dr. Melih Can, an "international relations expert," has a long article in Today's Zaman, which I think expresses some of the foreign policy aspirations and grievances of members of the Turkish elite, as they have developed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I previously encountered Can's name last August, when he published a piece on Russian policy in the Middle East. The article, "Did Russia have a hand in stopping Israel?" was a mixture of analysis and wishful (though not entirely unrealistic) thinking that resembles his more recent piece about Turkish ambitions in the region. Writing in the wake of the Lebanon war, Can seemed to me a bit too convinced that Israel had suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Hizbullah:
The war Israel waged against the Hezbollah will go down in history for destroying the Israeli army’s image of invincibility as much as for the massacres of civilians (Zaman, August 17, 2006).
Can attributed special significance to Hizbullah's supposed successes against Israeli tanks:
Known as the source of Israeli military might and named the “mountain steel,” the Israeli-made Merkava tanks, destroyed one by one by the Hezbollah became a symbol for this crushing defeat.
This, of course, is nothing but hyperbole. Hizbullah actually did not destroy Israeli tanks "one by one." It is true that one older Merkava model was blown up by a massive mine in the initial pursuit across the border, after Hizbullah's kidnapping action. It is also correct that, after the war, Israel complained that Russia had armed Hizbullah with advanced anti-tank missiles (of the type Metis), and that a few of these put some older Merkava tanks out of commission. However, the main damage that Israeli troops incurred at the hand of this weaponry was not to
tanks but to soldiers sleeping in houses.

The main point that Can was trying to make in that piece, however, was about Russia's moves to thwart American and Israeli power in the region in order "to continue in its traditional role of selling arms, directly or indirectly, to Middle Eastern governments and organizations," and to "rectify[...] the role of Russian businessmen in the region’s energy sector" (Zaman). Interestingly enough, the article does not mention Turkey's role in these moves at all. In his latest contribution to the debate, Can lets the cat out of the bag.

While Can's more recent article is not explicitly pro-Russian, it brims with resentment about American limitations on Turkish ambitions in the region. The sense of wounded pride is especially palpable in the penultimate paragraph of the article, in which Can gives the US two choices:
either to pull new “canvas sacks” over Turkey’s head or to enter into a fresh compromise with Turkey in the near future (Zaman, June 7, 2007).
The "canvas sacks," I believe, are a reference to the "hood event" in July 2003, when U.S. troops arrested Turkish special forces operating in northern Iraq, and put hoods or canvas bags over their heads. That incident provoked an uproar in Turkey and was apparently the basis of a 2006 feature film based on the television show "Valley of the Wolves" (whose distribution was blocked in the US, in part due to accusations of antisemitism and anti-Americanism)

According to Can, an over-the-border military operation by Turkey would be about much more than a response to PKK terrorist attacks. Rather, he argues, it would be about "Turkey's new role within the Middle East," and whether the country is to follow a "
mission appropriate to its own history or a more independent set of policies" (Zaman). By "appropriate to its own history," Can seems to mean a policy in line with its Cold War pro-American alignment - not one that accords with Turkey's "historical destiny." The trans-border operation, in Can's mind, thus figures as a crucible for Turkey - it will clarify both the country's willingness to pursue its real interests, as well as America's stance vis-à-vis a more independent Turkey. In that sense, an "over-the-border operation" marks a crossing of the Rubicon, and seems very much bound up with Turkey's destiny in the region.

Kirkuk (Source: Perry-Castaneda)

Can's claim that "there is an extremely pressing need for a breaking point right now, with this need emerging as an over-the-border military operation," is full of expectation of some change, and the sense that aggressive action is necessary for Turkey to break free from the force containing it. That force, it becomes clear, is the U.S., which has pushed Turkey into a difficult predicament. Can distinguishes 7 sub-forces, almost all of which are closely linked to American involvement in the region:
1. the beginning of America's withdrawal, and its alleged "encouragement of various ethnic and sectarian clashes within the framework of its 'New Middle East Strategy.'"

2. increased awareness of threats to Turkey from northern Iraq, and the "provocation of Turkey by the PKK-Barzani relationship"

3. the danger facing Iraqi Turkmens and Kirkuk

4. "the irresponsible and one-sided stance of the US administration"

5. an "i
ncrease in activities aimed at shaking the prestige of Turkey and the Turkish Armed Forces"

6. the involvement of other countries in Iraq, most notably Iran

7. Turkey's domestic political situation
I may be misinterpreting Can, but it seems to me that he even accuses the U.S. of being behind #7. He argues that to prevent Turkey's entry into northern Iraq, "the US is using all possible tools and national dynamics possible in Turkey ... [and that] this is how the current domestic political crisis, blockages and lack of stability in Turkey need to be understood." I am not sure whether Can is implying that the U.S. is supporting Erdogan in his recent show-down with the military and secularists or the latter. It is also possible that he is alluding to U.S. support for the Kurds in Turkey (unlikely), or perhaps even the Armenian Genocide resolution in the American Congress (also unlikely).

Can argues that the Americans aim primarily to have Ankara coordinate its activities with Washington, according to the latter's interests. But Turkey's post-Cold War foreign policy has increasingly diverged from America's, and the U.S.
has become uncomfortable with Turkey's displays of a more independent stance, the attempts to define the agenda, moves to forge new alliances and, as a result, entrance into a new period in the "Turkish-Islamic" world through a venture involving Russia and Iran (Zaman).
Both Turkey's increasingly eastern orientation in the region - Can speaks of shifts in the Ankara-Damascus-Cairo-Riyadh-Tehran-Islamabad line - and its refusal to subordinate itself to America's stance on Russia (the Turks are not cooperating with the U.S. strategic aim of building a gas pipeline network that provides a viable alternative to Russia's Gazprom) testify to a clash of interests. Of particular concern to the U.S., is the possibility that Turkey will go for an even more independent policy vis-à-vis Iran.

Source: Wikipedia

On the other hand, in the Caucasus, American and Turkish interests seem so far to coincide, as both countries have invested a great deal in strengthening Georgia and Azerbaijan (see our post on some of the pipelines). Still, in the Middle East, or as Can says, "in the former Ottoman Empire areas," the Turks are clearly flexing their muscles. Turkey has emerged as a respected (by the Arabs) "mediator" in the region who might undermine American pre-eminence as a broker, and the
respect and esteem achieved by Turkey in the former Ottoman Empire areas following March 1, 2003 have only served to underscore its capacity for changing current regional balances in the future (Zaman).
March 1, 2003, of course, was the date on which the Turkish parliament ended up rejecting U.S. troop deployment in the country ahead of the invasion of Iraq. Turkey, in other words, Can says, is no longer content to play the "memorized roles" that it performed during the Cold War.

It is true, of course, that the PKK's terrorism in Turkish cities is also an important motivating factor for action in northern Iraq. Turkey's patience with U.S. declarations about the problem of attacks carried out from bases in Iraqi Kurdistan has run out. Furthermore, according to Can, the Turkish Army does not take seriously "veiled threats" against the Kurds as well as against Turkish incursions (on the latter, see my January post on former Pentagon Undersecretary Dov Zakheim's op-ed). Turkey's Chief of Staff, General Yaşar Buyukanit has apparently not ruled out a confrontation with American troops, and there is a pro-Russian tendency in the military.

Can's hope - and hence the sense of expectation - is that an "over-the-border operation" will finally address a complicated set of policy problems that require resolution. In particular, he believes that it could clarify
1.Turkish-Western relations (Turkey-US as well as Turkey-EU)

2. Turkish-Russian, Turkish-Iranians, and Turkish-Iranian-Russian relations

3. the future of Iraq and a Kurdish state, and thereby, "the partnership and friendship of Turkey-Syria-Iran"

4. role of the Kurds in the region, especially Kurdish nationalism around the PKK and Barzani

5. Turkey's new regional and global position, especially the question of whether Turkey will be a global player

6. the terror problem in Turkey and "theoretical 'civil war scenarios'"

7. leadership processes in Turkey.
This seems to me a very tall order that will probably be disappointed and thus lead to further frustration. But very much will depend on the American response. It is possible that the U.S. has been denying that anything unusual is taking place precisely because it does not want the "over-the-border operation" to extend beyond the immediate problem of the PKK. News of a large Turkish invasion, with designs on Kirkuk, would be an untenable provocation and force the U.S.'s hand. However, in the meantime, it appears that the Americans have left the Kurds to confront the threat by themselves (a May 30 agreement handed security in three provinces over to the Kurdistan Northern Regional Government), and are waiting things out on the sidelines.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Races - Labor and the Presidency

Who will be the next mukhtar of Israel?

UPDATE (June 6): The increase in entropy that Jeha was talking about seems to be kicking in. Barak has joined up with Ofir Pines-Paz (Labor) and is now saying that if elected to head Labor, he would take the party out of the government, unless Olmert resigned. It's pretty clear that this is a move aimed at differentiating himself from the Peretz-Ayalon camp. This latest news is somewhat ironic, given Ayalon's earlier "principled stance" against Olmert, and Barak's waffling on the question. It's a big gamble, to be for sure.

It looks like Ami Ayalon and Amir Peretz have joined forces to give Ehud Barak a run for his money in the Labor primaries. It remains to be seen how the rest of the party responds, but this might just be a winning combination.

Peretz can still deliver some votes, and he is again pitching himself as the representative of the "social camp." The pair made their first joint appearance in the Negev development town Ofakim, not too far from Sderot. The town's Labor party members are solidly behind Peretz; Ayalon received only a small number of votes there. Indeed, most of the Labor members from the south of the country, will vote for Peretz. Ayalon, meanwhile, will draw in the kibbutzim and the voters in Tel Aviv. He also has the support of some of Labor's new faces, such as Avishai Braverman and Shelly Yehimovich [NOTE: Yehimovich later announced her support for Barak!].

Our readers from Lebanon and elsewhere are probably not terribly interested in the intricacies of Israeli domestic politics - so to cut to the chase, what's the fallout from this latest development? I think it will further bolster Olmert's chances of staying in power. Peretz and his supporters have the most to lose from new elections, so he has essentially committed Ayalon to staying in the government - even if the latter has been coy about admitting as much in public.

Did anyone else notice the English headline of Mikhal Grinberg's article on the Ayalon-Peretz combination, which cited Peretz as saying that "Ayalon and I together appeal to all ethnic groups"? The term "ethnic groups" is probably confusing for foreign readers, especially for those who speak of Israel as an "ethnocracy." At first I thought that the phrase was a translation of the word עדה ['edah] or its plural עדות ['edot], literally "communities," which is used to refer to various groups in Israeli society. Thus, 'edot ha-mizrakh are the "communities of the orient," etc. I have also heard someone on the radio giving a shout-out to ha-'edah ha-Tsharkessit [the Circassian community], which means that the term no longer refers only to the various Jewish "ethnicities." But the original Hebrew article did not use this word at all; rather, it referred to מגזרים [migzarim], lit. "sectors." In Israel, the word sector is most often used when referring to Arabs or the religious: people frequently talk of המגזר הערבי [the Arab sector] or המגזר החרדי/הדתי [the haredi/religious sector]. Needless to say, this is quite different from "ethnicity."

The other stabilizing factor for Olmert is Peres's candidacy for the presidency. A few months ago, most people would probably have picked MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a widely respected parliamentarian, as the favorite in this race. But Peres is campaigning hard, and he has managed to secure the support of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and therefore of Shas. Who knows what deals were made to score these votes. He is also recruiting other MKs. A while ago, Rivlin made some remarks to the effect that the post of the presidency should go to the most qualified person rather than the most prestigious one. Perhaps he's right, but Peres remains the darling of European statesmen and media people (few of them have probably kept up with his move from Labor to Kadima - for them, he is still the Oslo man); this should be an asset for Israel. Colette Avital (Labor), unfortunately, will finish third, if she decides to run at all.

In any case, Peres is a stabilizer because he is desperate for votes and needs Olmert's support. His own backing of the Prime Minister during Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni's quasi coup attempt is paying dividends. The election of Rivlin, on the other hand, would be a clear blow against Olmert. The Likud members will certainly vote for him, as will the national religious camp. Ra'am Ta'al's chairman, MK Ibrahim Sarsur recently listed conditions for its backing: promises to release Arab Israeli security prisoners and support for a two-state solution (Ha'aretz). Interestingly enough, however, two of the MKs of his faction, Ahmad Tibi and Talab El-Sana have so far supported Rivlin. Every vote counts, and the Arab parties have ten among them.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Forty Years Ago

למען אחי ורעי - אדברה נא שלום בך
"For the sake of my brothers' and companions, I will now say 'peace be within you,'" (Ps. 122)

The war that began on June 5, 1967, as a myriad of commentators have pointed out, is still with us. While Israel handily defeated the Arab states that had joined against it - crushing the Egyptian air force and army, pushing the Jordanians across the river, and taking the Golan from Syria over a period of 6 days - the country's leaders opened up a front in an unwinnable war, when they decided to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.

The triumph of 1967, the salvation from destruction, the opening up of the Holy City to the Jewish people, forty years later looks like a Pyhrric victory. Who can stand up today and say that the decision to occupy the captured territories to the east and to the south, and, later, even to tolerate the construction of settlements on them, was "worth it"?

The settlers believed that the Palestinians would consent to being "subjects," living in the Land of Israel like the ancient Canaanites. Maybe they were looking at the other Arab states in the region - few of which gave their populations the right to vote or to exercise sovereignty. But how did an entire generation of ostensibly sane people in the government and military come to believe that such an absurd scenario was possible? What role, did they imagine, would the newly-acquired land and its inhabitants play in the state?

It is true that the Palestinians have, time and again, provided Israel with plenty of reasons not to withdraw from these territories. What have concessions brought Israel, demands the right? Suicide bombings during the Oslo years? Qassam rockets from un-occupied Gaza? When one reads the prophecies of someone like Angry Arab, who cites a generous American professor "giv[ing] Israel 80 years" and who openly admits that he sees no future for the Jews in the Middle East -
"Personally, I am for a secular state in Palestine where Jews, Christians, and Muslims live together in peace, but Israel has made that ideal remote (in terms of Jewish-Arab coexistence in Palestine without a religious labeled-state). Israeli crimes over the decades have endangered Jewish existence in the Middle East, and I fear that Israel will endanger that existence further--even in Palestine"

- one wonders what the point of Israeli concessions might be.

However, the angry professor, try as he might to make his prophecy self-fulfilling, might be proven wrong after all. Even if the Palestinians cannot be trusted to deliver on any agreement, somehow Israelis might still be persuaded to evacuate the West Bank in exchange for a comprehensive peace with the Arab states still hostile to Israel. Following such an agreement, Israel would still have to endure attacks from the West Bank and Gaza. But perhaps Israeli civilian casualties (from whatever new tactic that the Palestinians will devise) will be reduced to a "tolerable" level, as they have been in the past year. And maybe, as unlikely as it seems given the Gazan example, some strong Palestinian leaders will slowly start giving their people an option other than armed struggle. The result of such a scenario would not be "peace." It would be the kind of conflict management that Tom Segev describes in the conclusion of an op-ed in today's New York Times.

Ha'aretz Op-eds:

Tom Segev, מה נשכח באותו בוקר [What was forgotten that morning], English
Saeb Erekat, הערבים בחרו בשלום [The Arabs chose peace], English
Shlomo Avineri, אחרי 40 שנה, להחליט לבד [Deciding alone after 40 years],
Dani Rabinowitz, איזה יום היום? [What day is today?], English
Bradley Burston, בגן הילדים השמאלני [In the leftist kindergarten]
Amira Hass, בשבחי הכיבוש [In praise of the occupation], English
Moshe Arens, נרתעת מלהרתיע [Flinching from deterring], English

Op-eds and articles in the U.S. and European press marking the fortieth anniversary of the war:

Fouad Ajami, "Israel's Triumph," US News & World Report
Ian Black, "Six days of war, 40 years of failure," The Guardian
Michel Bôle-Richard, "1967-2007 : la Palestine démembrée," Le Monde
Wolfgang Günter Lerch, "Ein Pyrrhus-Sieg vor vierzig Jahren," Frankfurter Allgemeine
Michael Oren, "Remaking the world in six days," LA Times
Ralph Peters, "Six-Day War, 40 Years on: Israeli Victories brought de-facto Peace," New York Post
Tom Segev, "What if Israel Had Turned Back," New York Times
Letters to the Editor in response to Segev, New York Times
"Les cicatrices de la guerre des Six-jours," Le Monde [Interview with Tom Segev]
"Les plaies d'Israël", L'Express [another interview with Segev]
Thorsten Schmitz, "Der hohe Preis des schnellen Sieges," Sueddeutsche Zeitung
Bettina Vestring, "Israel vor vierzig Jahren," Berliner Zeitung