Heaven forbid we should fall back into a pattern with Hamas in which they hit us with an occasional rocket, low key enough to avoid engendering a new incursion into Gaza, and we respond, but without sufficient deterrence to make them stop. But the situation may be heading that way. We left Gaza too soon.
I would like to review some news items first, and then return to the final section of my report on the Jerusalem Conference.
On Tuesday, a large bomb thrown from inside Gaza hit an IDF patrol at the Gaza border near the Kissufim Crossing; one soldier was killed and three others wounded, one seriously. (We don’t have the name of the soldier who was killed because his family requested that it not be released. We know he was a Bedouin tracker.) This was followed by a mortar attack.
We responded by air, killing the terrorist who was said to have carried out the bombing of the soldiers, and taking out a number of tunnels near the Philadelphi Corridor.
On Wednesday, Hamas rejected our terms for a longer-term ceasefire, which stipulated that we would open the crossings into Gaza only if Shalit were released. Hamas says they want the crossings opened and 1,000 prisoners released for Shalit as well.
If our government in its last days — possibly before the election to garner votes — agrees to this, it would undo much of what was accomplished in the fighting and set us back. I’m holding my breath.
Following this, Wednesday night, a rocket was launched from Gaza into the Eshkol region.
Livni made statements about how the days of restraint were over. And Haim Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council called for a harsh response. He explained to the press that he and others had sat with Barak and Olmert during the war, and told them, “It does not matter at what stage the military operation ends, what matters is what Israel does after the first rocket is fired.”
This is correct and echoes a strong feeling on the part of many here that the beginning of rocket fire represented a moment of truth that required a particularly tough response.
As it was, after midnight last night, we hit a weapons depot in Rafah inside Gaza.
This morning, two Kassam rockets were fired into the Sderot area.
We followed with an air attack on a vehicle in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza, which was carrying Mahmoud Hamdan Samiri. Was this a direct response to the second rocket attack? Seems not. It followed that attack, but Samiri was said to have been involved in the earlier attack at Kissufim.
So…is that it?
George Mitchell is in the area, according to various sources to gather information. He came into Jerusalem on Tuesday from Cairo, made various statements about the US being committed to peace and wanting to foster a stronger truce, and proceeded over the next couple of days to meet with President Peres, PM Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni, and Chief of Staff Ashkenazi. Tomorrow he will meet with Likud head Netanyahu and then head to Jordan. Syria is not on his itinerary.
Today Mitchell went to Ramallah and met with members of the PA. In a press conference with Mahmoud Abbas, he declared that “to be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods, and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority.”
We saw that coming. Olmert informed Mitchell that there would be no opening of the crossing for full flow of goods until Shalit was released.
It has just been revealed, however, that when Olmert met with Mitchell, he shared with him his own vision for a “peace plan,” which, according to Israel National News, would require us to surrender most of Judea and Samaria and expel 60,000 Jews from their homes.
This reminds us, once again, that the greatest dangers we face are not from the outside, but rather from within. Olmert remains — in spite of his recent strength with the war — a destructive force and a loose cannon.
Likud, alarmed by Olmert’s position — as well it should be — has reportedly asked for an emergency session of the Knesset.
MK Gidon Sa’ar declared that, “This plan is dangerous and abandons the security of Israel. It will bring Hamas’ missiles to Tel Aviv and the center of the country.” The Likud party made it clear in a statement that “this plan does not obligate Israel nor the Likud headed by Binyamin Netanyahu.” And indeed it does not, although it will cause additional pressure to be put on us.
President Obama gave his first interview on Tuesday, with Al-Arabyia originating in Dubai. “My job,” he said, “is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect.”
Speaking of Dubai, is this strictly a coincidence? George Mitchell was chairman of a law firm that was paid $8 million to represent Dubai’s Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum in 2006, with regard to charges that Maktoum and others enslaved boys from Africa and South Asia and brought them to Dubai to be camel jockeys in races. The firm, DLA Piper, did extensive lobbying in the Middle East, and did both lobbying and legal work for the Sheikh.
According to The Guardian today, the Obama administration is working on a draft of a letter to Iran that would be conciliatory and pave the way for direct US-Iranian talks.
Iran is not demonstrating pleasure with Obama, however. Ahmadinejad says “profound changes” are required. These would include an end to support for Israel and an apology to Iran.
How long will it take, and how hard will he have to be pushed, before Obama realizes that his current approach to Iran will not be constructive?
The one encouraging note is that Adm. Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has indicated that Obama has not taken the possibility of the US using force against Iran off the table.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post yesterday, EU foreign policy head Javier Solana refused to state unequivocally that the EU would continue to insist upon previously determined conditions — renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements — before talking with Iran. This is broadly seen as a weakening within the European community with regard to recognizing Hamas.
Turkey, which once was considered in the Western-tilting or moderate camp of Islamic nations, has made a worrisome shift towards the radical Islamist forces of late. At the World Economic Forum, Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has now declared that “President Obama must redefine terror and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, and based on this new definition, a new American policy must be deployed in the Middle East.” This is understood to mean that Hamas and Hezbollah should not longer be considered terrorists.
He’ll have an opportunity to say this directly to George Mitchell, who is due in Turkey on Sunday.
According to an Israeli official, Erdogan is fomenting anti-Semitism in Turkey with his uncritical acceptance of the Hamas version of what went on in Gaza.
Returning to the Conference…
Binyamin Netanyahu kicked off the day yesterday with a brief talk on the future of Jerusalem. Said he: “We will ignore nothing we need to do to keep Jerusalem united.”
Any attempt to “solve” problems here by dividing Jerusalem would have global ramifications. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If Jerusalem were divided, he said, Hamas, and then Iran, would move in.
“Our connection to the land is precisely the reason why we are here and not somewhere else. Har Habayit (The Temple Mount) is at the center.” Already the Arabs call it the “holy seat” to blur our historical connection to it.
Netanyahu then recounted actions he’d taken in the past, when he was prime minister, to strengthen Jerusalem — such as the building of Har Homa in spite of Arab objections, and things he’d still like to do.
What seems important here, beyond the primary concern for Jerusalem herself, is that if Netanyahu indeed becomes prime minister — as polls indicate he will — and keeps Jerusalem united, this alone would preclude a Palestinian state.
Last session to be shared: “Is There a ‘Clash of Civilizations’?” This is a panel that offered serious thinkers with differing philosophies, ideologies and perspectives. It provided considerable food for thought.
Professor Yisrael Aumann, Nobel Laureate, speaking from the perspective of game theory, which is his special expertise, opted to pass on the broader subject of the panel — global terrorism — and address the issue of domestic terrorism and how we respond:
We stimulate terrorism, said Aumann, by providing incentives. We have provided signals via the withdrawal from Gush Katif that terrorism pays. From the Gush Katif evacuation there followed the Second Lebanon War and then Hamas in Gaza and the war with this group. We destroyed the chance for peace now but can bring it in the future by avoiding concessions, gestures, and flexibility that bring war.
The Arabs understood correctly what the message of Gush Katif was. We must remember that the Romans said, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” They had the Pax Romana, for 400 years. Similarly, during the Cold War the US was able to move toward peace not by concessions but through strength. There were armed aircraft in the air, hovering 24/7 every day, and we were prepared to use the armaments if necessary.
WWII was caused by “peaceniks” and appeasement. “Peace in our time,” was followed 18 months later by Britain declaring war.
Shlomo Avineri, Israel Prize laureate, then disagreed with Aumann: We don’t bring terror on ourselves, the Arabs do it to us. They were killing us even before we compromised on anything.
The war, said Avineri, is not between civilizations and not between the West and Islam. It is within Islam, which never underwent a change, a transformation to modernity. It is a reflection of huge frustration.
The Islamic traditions of the Middle Ages deteriorated because Western models for transformation — such as liberalism and democracy — never worked for them. Thus they have attempted to renew the glory of the old days and moved to a Jihadist approach.
The hatred of the West is deep. The Muslim world is regressing. They hate us because of our strength, not because of our weakness.
Those Arabs who are fighting radical Islam, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are not democracies. We must ally with them and turn a blind eye to what we don’t like. Bush tried to enforce democracy but they don’t have the foundations and it will fail. This is a complex situation but we share a political agenda.
Radical Islam is more dangerous to the moderate Arabs than to us. Were Egypt, for example, to open the border with Gaza, it would cause huge problems for them.
Bernard Lewis, the much venerated elder dean of Islamic scholarship, who was present but not formally part of the panel, was asked to share his perspective on this issue. His take was fascinating:
All religions, he said, are triumphalist. But only two — Christianity and Islam — are exclusive. That is, only these say there is one truth and only one road to heaven. (Judaism, by contrast, only says Jews must be good Jews for a share in the world-to-come. Non-Jews can remain such and still have their share of heaven if they live moral and good lives. Everyone doesn’t have to be Jewish.)
Thus, a conflict between Christianity and Islam was inevitable.
Islam, says Lewis, is now functioning in the early 15th century. Christianity in the 15th century was at battle within itself with because of different Christian groups. At the end of this time there was a Christian acceptance of secularism. Lewis says he’s not prepared to predict if Islam will reach this stage.
Jews have a religion and a culture, but are not a civilization unto themselves. Jews have been a component in the Christian and Muslim civilizations. (Ashkenazi Jews came out of Christian culture, and those called Sephardic Jews came out of the Muslim culture — and differences between these two groups is reflected in the differences in the two civilizations.)
What is going on now is seen by the West as a clash of civilizations. Islam sees it as a clash of religions.