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The Jingoism of Anti-Jihadism

Since 9/11, there has been a rampant and fashionable strain of Islamophobia among western politicians, journalists and analysts.  It’s a response in part to the militant jihadism of the sort that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.  Bibi Netanyahu is perhaps the master of anti-jihadist rhetoric.  Shortly after the Al Qaeda attack, the NY Times quoted him:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, “It’s very good.” Then he edited himself: “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” He predicted that the attack would “strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.”

This naked political aggrandizement at the expense of Islam characterizes his entire political career.  He’s continued along this vein right up to today (more on that later in this post).

hillary clinton

Hillary Clinton’s ignorant, wild-eyed hatred of political Islam (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A similar world-view characterized the Bush administration, though only in a slightly more nuanced fashion.  Pres. Obama has done scarcely better, as I’ve often written here.  His counter-terror-fueled policy toward Arab and Muslim states is little-changed from the eight wasted years of George Bush.

Lately, anti-jihadism has really gone to town on the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Hillary Clinton, and they had a jolly good time ragging on that Islamist whipping-boy.  This gives you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from eight years of Hillary in the White House:

“One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States,” she said. “Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.”

…“You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. That was our objective. We achieved it.”

Here you have a perfect example of the sickness I outlined above.  In the 1950s communism was the bugaboo.  Today, it’s jihadism.  Clinton’s conception of the latter uses almost exactly the same terms as those of the Red Scare: words like expansionist, angry, violent, intolerant, brutal, anti-democratic.  There’s even a touch of Reaganism in Clinton’s portrayal of the fall of communism.  There’s the notion that through all of our machinations against the Soviet Union–the assassinations, the coups, the propping up of dictators–all of it helped in some unspecified way to topple Communism.  She further bizarrely characterizes our anti-Communist strategy as an “overarching framework,” when it was little more than knee-jerk oppositionalism to the Red Menace.

What is most pathetic about this political stance is that it offers no sense of our own identity, of what we stand for.  Instead, it offers a vague, incohate enemy against whom we can unite.  We are nothing without such enemies.

On NPR, David Brooks followed on Hillary’s bigoted characterization of Islamism with this even more disturbing “analysis:”

I do think what needs to be said is something that actually Hillary Clinton said in here interview with Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic, which we talked about a couple weeks ago, which is this is one big thing. And what she meant by that is whether it’s al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, jihadism is one big thing. And so when we talk about do you need military – or legal authorization to go into, say, to bomb Syria, to go further into Iraq, I think we have to understand this is going to be a long, low-level permanent thing, against one big enemy which is jihadism. And we shouldn’t treat it as isolated things, Islamic State over here, al-Qaeda over there, Hamas over there.

When I read otherwise intelligent folk like Clinton and Brooks sound like absolute idiots when they speak in such reductionist terms about Arab nationalism and Islamism, it makes my heart sink.  The idea that the Muslim world and radical movements within it are “one big thing” is not just stupid, but dangerous.  Hamas has nothing to do with al Qaeda or ISIS except that they stem from the same religion.  To yoke them together is pernicious.  It will fool us into thinking we can develop one approach to deal with all of them.  That the answer to defeating one is the same as the answer to defeating all.  And make no mistake, this view of the Muslim world makes no allowance for co-existence or tolerance or even understanding.  It is all-out war.  Perhaps low-intensity war at times and all-out war at other times.  But with this mindset we will never live at peace with political Islam.

That has practical consequences for everyone involved.  It portends perpetual war, for example, between Israel and the frontline states (Palestine, Syria, Lebanon).  It means thousands more Israelis and Palestinians will die.  It could mean we never reach a nuclear agreement with Iran and that there are hostilities with it as well.  It could mean the resurgence of the Taliban after we leave Afghanistan and the disintegration of Iraq into warring factions and ethnic enclaves.  What policy can this closed-minded attitude offer other than more drones, targeted killings, and other forms of state-sanctioned mass violence?

Bibi Netanyahu represents the most extreme form of anti-jihadism.  He took the “one big thing” slogan to its ultimate extreme in a press conference with, of all people, Arab-American Congressmember Darrel Issa, during the Gaza war.  In it, the Israeli prime minister attempted to hijack the world’s horror at the beheading of journalist James Foley, for Israel’s benefit.  He did this solely to counter the awful press Israel had been getting after slaughtering 500 children in Gaza and other horrors:

“We face the same Islamist network and we have to fight it together,” said Netanyahu during a photo opportunity. “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. You saw the gruesome beheading of James Foley. We see the gruesome murder and execution of three teenagers which Hamas has just admitted that they did. These are both branches of the same poisonous tree. The free world, the democracies have to stand together against this terrorism. That’s the only way we’ll roll them back. Ultimately that’s the only way we’ll defeat them.”

There is poison in this passage but it isn’t the poison Bibi sees.  It is, rather, a venomous, take-no-prisoners approach to the Muslim world.  It’s a monomaniacal view of Islam as the root cause of evil.  It’s a refusal to look at our own deeds and ideas as part of the dysfunction that’s characterized relations with the Muslim world.  Any attempt to turn these issues into the dualism of good vs. evil, west vs. Islam, tyranny vs. freedom, primitive vs. modern, will end not just in failure, but in massive levels of violence.

Though we cannot control the jingoism of people like Netanyahu, we must demand more of our political leaders.  We must tell Hillary Clinton that she will fail as a candidate by taking such a stupid approach to Islam. As for talking-heads like Goldberg and Brooks, no one expects better of them.  The fact that NPR and mainstream media disseminate this sort of ignorant Islamophobia packaged as legitimate punditry turns them into a mockery.

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hadar goldin, benaya sarel, idf dead

3 IDF soldiers killed as a result of Hannibal Directive in Rafah

In one of the most decisive, shocking incidents of a brutal war, NRG reports (Hebrew) that the IDF killed three of its own soldiers after it feared they’d been captured by Hamas fighters.  The incident was one in which Lt. Goldin was captured (possibly after he’d already been killed) and two of his comrades were killed.  Amir Rappoport, writing for NRG, says:

As a result of activation of the Hannibal Directive, three IDF soldiers were killed and 120 [ed., the actual number was 160] Palestinian civilians were killed from cannon fire [as a result of IDF fire that destroyed the surrounding neighborhood].

The incident [the Hamas attack] resulted from dealing with the tunnels, during which a suspected Hamas cell emerged from one of the houses.  The cell included a suicide bomber and began a battle during which three of the Givati soldiers were killed.  It should be stated that in the process of attempting to stop the “kidnapping” of Hadar Goldin, the Hannibal Directive was implemented.  This resulted, according to Palestinian sources, in 120 deaths, the majority of which were civilians.

…A number of terrorists emerged from a tunnel in Rafah with the goal of “kidnapping” a soldier.  At the same time, Givati troops were on patrol in the area, under the command of Maj. Benaya Sarel, attempting to locate and destroy tunnels.  The force met a cell in an open area between the houses where there it had identified an open shaft.  That’s where they [the Palestinian force] took the missing soldier and the same shaft from which they [originally] emerged [for their attack].  Givati forces recognized that a “kidnapping” had occurred and, according to reports, activated the Hannibal Directive, according to which the IDF lays down fire in the direction of the “kidnappers.”

Afterward, they commenced heavy fire in that direction, which it appears struck all the fighters [both the Hamas cell and captured IDF soldiers].  Other units arrived to assist in freeing them, at which time they understood the team leader was missing.

It’s important to note that nowhere in this report does it say that the Hamas fighters killed the three IDF soldiers who died during this skirmish (though it does say the cell may’ve fled into the tunnel with Goldin’s body).  The entire premise is that the IDF killed them as a result of the massive amount of fire it used after the Hannibal Directive was declared.  This fact has never been reported in the Israeli media.  Until now, it was only suspected that Goldin had died as a result of deliberate fire from his own comrades.

What’s equally interesting is that Rappoport at no time makes much of this dramatic finding.  Instead, he focuses on blaming the Gaza division commander for refusing to allow the Givati tank force to destroy houses in which his troops suspected tunnels, due to a ceasefire.  The report seeks to blame him for not being aggressive enough and not being willing to violate the ceasefire even if it meant protecting his men.

It’s standard for Israeli media to focus on dereliction of duty in refusing the use of maximum force, rather than on a far more troubling fact that Israeli soldiers killed their own during this operation.

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A few days ago, Iran shot down an Israeli-made drone operated by Azerbaijan.  It was monitoring a secret Iranian nuclear site near the Azeri border.  The Iranians say they downed it over Natanz.  But my Israeli source believes this was a cover story to protect the identity of the secret site.

Around the same time, another Israeli-made drone either crashed or was shot down near the Baghdad airport according to two Lebanese media outlets.  The reports were summarized by the Times of Israel, which says U.S. embassy hurriedly sent a team to collect the remnants of the crash.

I spoke to Commander Bill Speaks of the Department of Defense, who told me that agency had not lost any drones in Iraq.  He also told me that the drones the Pentagon did use there were monitoring ISIS forces operating in Iraq.  I asked Speaks whether it might be possible the CIA was operating Israeli-made drones in Iraq.  He refused to speculate on what another U.S. agency might be doing there.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s quite a good chance that a CIA-operated Israeli drone crashed in Iraq a few days ago.  I find it strange anyone would use Israeli-made equipment in a Muslim country unless they really wanted to stir the pot.  Does the CIA have a tin-ear when it comes to the sensitivities of Muslim countries?

On a different matter, I asked Speaks whether the IDF used American-made GBU28 bunker buster bombs in the assassination attack on Mohammed Deif’s refuge, an attack which killed his wife, two children, and nine other civilians.  At first, he said I’d have to ask the Israelis about that.  When I asked him what restraints there might be on Israeli use of such weapons, he told me those agreements were generally “classified.”  Then he suggested I call the State Department’s Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, when I asked what provisions governed Israeli use of such potent U.S. weapons.  Dave McKeeby of that office had a no comment.  When I asked him what the U.S. might do in a situation in which Israel did violate such agreement he dismissed my question as “hypothetical” and refused to address it.

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netanyahu

See you in the Hague: if Israeli civilian deaths are war crimes then so are Palestinian.

During Operation Protective Edge, seven Israeli civilians were killed as a result of rockets fired from Gaza.  Now, Israeli police plan on opening murder investigations (Hebrew) into each of these deaths.  The purpose would be to prepare for possible war crimes charges against those militants responsible for killing Israeli civilians.  The clear intent is to warn Hamas that joining the International Criminal Court, as it’s agreed to do should the PA apply for membership, is a two-edged sword that could swing back and hit the Islamist group itself.

There are two ways of looking at this development: the first is that it takes an amazing amount of chutzpah to investigate killings of seven Israeli civilians as war crimes when the IDF killed 1,700 (out of a total of 2,100 dead) civilians in Gaza during the war.  That’s 200 times more civilian dead than Hamas caused.

The second way of looking at this is that Israel is cooking its own goose by investigating the deaths as war crimes.  Once Israel accepts the premise that the killing of its own civilian citizens are war crimes it must perforce accept that the killing of Gaza civilians is also a war crime.  I don’t know if anyone in Israel bothered to consider this fact.  But whether they did or not, I hope they do open such investigations.  I’ve always said that there were war crimes committed by both sides of this conflict.

But if the ratio I mentioned above holds up, there should be 200 times as many prosecutions of Israelis as Palestinians before the ICC after Palestine’s membership is accepted.  Perhaps Bibi Netanyahu may want to chew on that for a bit.

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The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again is a repository of truth and wisdom about political reality in our time.  The lyrics: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” resonate far beyond the time in which they were written.  They’re suitably cynical, while upholding a virtue that somehow transcends the cynicism.

Such a perspective is perfectly suited for Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and the new ceasefire purportedly agreed to by Israel and Hamas under Egyptian auspices.  If Israel is to be believed, Hamas has ceded all of its demands. The former also claims this was precisely the same agreement to which Israeli agreed on July 15th and which Hamas rejected.  In truth, I don’t recall the earlier proposal including any provision for opening borders or lifting the siege, even partially.

The Guardian portrays the latest agreement slightly differently.  The paper says the ceasefire provides for partially lifting the siege to permit humanitarian aid and reconstruction material to enter.  The Israeli and Egyptian crossings will be opened.  These are almost the same provisions of the 2012 truce that ended Operation Pillar of Cloud.

In actuality, the siege of 2012 wasn’t even partially lifted.  The borders remained open for a time and then closed.  We know how this song goes: Israel promises under duress.  Then after the pressure eases it returns to the usual obduracy.

Israel is delighted with this outcome.  It enables it to paint Hamas as defeated.  As a national movement that failed its people.  That promised victories and gains that never materialized.  That sacrificed 2,100 lives with little to show for it.  Israel knows that whatever gains Hamas makes can and will be taken away shortly.  Bibi may ride these claims to victory in the next elections.

There are Israeli reports that Netanyahu has finally and overtly renounced the two-state solution.  Instead he will propose a bi-national state in which a small portion of the West Bank would be independent.  The rest would become Israeli.  But the way the far-right will finesse the demographic threat question is that they will only allow a small percentage of those absorbed into Israel to become full-fledged citizens (the number 50,000 has been bandied about).  The rest would lie in some sort of legal limbo: not quite stateless, not quite citizens).  In fact, the majority of those offered citizenship will likely, like East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, refuse it since it will be offered under Israeli terms.

The world will not accept such a plan.  And it goes without saying Palestinians won’t either.  But Bibi must feel empowered to ignore the international consensus.  He will do what Israeli governments have done since 1967, if not earlier: create facts on the ground which cannot be undone.

On the other side, Hamas has already agreed to join with the PA to file for membership in the International Court.  It is doing so in full knowledge that some of its leaders may be swept up in the surge or prosecutions that may result.  It would do so knowing that Israeli generals and politicians will be far more likely to be swept up in this net.  So any sense of Israeli triumphalism is sorely misplaced.

The BDS movement will only surge in popularity as a result of Israel’s disastrous massacre in Gaza.  An Israeli publication today published a story saying that the chugging economic engine otherwise known as the Startup Nation, is beginning to see cracks in the edifice.  Further international moves to restrict Israeli economic activity abroad could begin to crimp the export economy on which Israel’s economic success has been built.

al omari mosque gaza destroyed

10th century al-Omari mosque levelled by Israeli bombs

Over the past few days, my attitude toward Israel has shifted.  Readers will know that I’ve always been critical of Israeli Occupation policy.  But I’ve always tried to distinguish my view of these policies from my underlying sense of solidarity with Israel as a nation.

But as my Twitter feed filled with images of a 10th century Gaza mosque leveled to the ground, and six high-rise apartment buildings also toppled by U.S.-made F-16s for no other reason than to persuade Hamas that Israel, like Samson, was willing to topple the walls of the temple and take everyone with it.

One of my Israeli friends told me about a journalist he knows who told him that Hamas reminds him of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.  In the film, he is the character who fights battles for no apparent reason and refuses to give up after losing most of his limbs in combat.  Even as his opponent walks over the bridge he was guarding and over which he’d prohibited him from walking, the Knight throws curses and taunts.

Such an Israeli attitude held, in this case, by a well-known journalist, represents the total obtuseness of Israeli society to their Palestinian neighbors.  They see steadfastness as self-destruction; self-sacrifice as suicide.  This allows them to view Palestinians as psychopaths willing to destroy everything for the sake of a principle only Palestinians can see.

This is an Israel I renounce.  It is a nation steeped in willful moral blindness.  A nation willing to murder babies for the sake of “quiet.”  A nation that gorges on the suffering of its enemies.  A nation that cannot see that its fate is bound up with that of another nation sharing the same land.  Israel and Palestine are like Siamese twins who somehow believe they are not connected to each other.  They each view the other as an enemy.  Someone taking up precious space and resources which the other could use.  There is no such thing as co-existence.  There is only absolute victory, winner take all.  When one cries, the other laughs for joy.

It reminds me of the old Jewish midrash (a reader will remind me of the source), which pictures both heaven and Hell as a place in which people may not feed themselves because their arms are locked in place.  The difference between heaven and Hell is that in the former place people feed each other and in Hell they think only of themselves and starve.

Today, Israel and Palestine is Hell.  Israelis’ arms are locked in place and rather than feed their Palestinian neighbors or accept food from them in return, Israelis would rather starve.  And so they will unless the world decides it has had enough and intervenes in this madness.

So as this Israel came into clearer focus my views have subtly changed.  Israel is no longer a wayward country, a black sheep of the world community.  Instead it has become a wanton criminal among the nations.  It destroys for the sake of destruction.  It kills out of vengeance.  There is no longer strategy to its assaults.  They are driven by blood lust.

There are readers opposed to my views who will seize on the above paragraphs to argue that I’ve finally become whatever demon they choose to invoke: anti-Israel, self-hater, etc.  But this is not so.  I remind them that Judaism’s most cherished prophetic voices cried out alarms about the sins of their countrymen and warned of destruction if Israel didn’t change its path.  No one today dares call Jeremiah or Isaiah anti-Israel or self-hating.  Even the farthest of right-wing Orthodox Jews accord the prophets respect.

But what these far-right Israelis would never do is admit that prophetic Judaism would accord as much humanity to non-Jews as Jews.  But if they were alive today Amos and his peers would rail as much as I against the corruption and evil wrought by Israel as led by its current wanton killers, Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud brethren.

My view, held more strongly then ever, is that Israel as it currently defines itself, is unsustainable.  Israel as a brutal tyrant of the region, stalking the land and laying waste to enemies like Sherman in his March to the Sea, cannot last.  But there is hope for a different Israel.  A country with the same demographic and ethnic composition (so no, the State will not be destroyed and no one thrust into the sea) as currently.  But one governed by radically different laws that embrace equal rights for all whether Jewish or Palestinian.

The only way for this Israel to emerge is through outside pressure and intervention.  That’s why BDS is so important.  That’s why movements to recognize Palestine in UN and other international forums are so important.  It’s why the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into Operation Protective Edge is so critical.  To create radical change we need radical pressure.

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Yesterday, I reported about an Azeri drone manufactured by Israel which Iran shot down.  The Iranians claimed it was shot down over Natanz.  That would be a distance of 600 miles from Azerbaijan.  The Hermes 450 drone which Iran downed has a range of 180 miles.  So it’s unlikely it was anywhere near Natanz (as a commenter pointed out in the comment thread yesterday) when it crashed.

My Israeli source tells me that the site the drone was spying on was a secret site much closer to the Azeri border (probably no more than 180 miles from it).  I do not yet know the location or nature of the site.  But it appears to be one Israel believes is connected to the nuclear program, and not one that is publicly known such as the plants at Natanz, Bushehr and Arak.

What’s interesting about this story is that Israel is tight-lipped because shooting down its drone is bad for military export business and also complicates U.S.-led efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.  Iran has disseminated false information about the downing because it doesn’t want the world to get any closer to identifying this secret site.  But from Israel’s point of view, any development (even shooting down one of its drones) that brings this site any closer to exposure would be a good thing because it would embarrass the Iranians.

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Iran announced a few days ago that it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone near its Natanz nuclear site. At first, Israeli officials were tight-lipped. They refused to offer any comment to Yossi Melman’s or my own Israeli source.

israel made azeri drone

Israeli-made drone featured in Azeri military parade

That led some Israeli analysts to be skeptical of the Iranian claim, because a Hermes drone does not have the range to fly from Israel to Iran. Either it would have to have been refueled in flight, been based in a country neighboring Iran, or flown by such a country itself.

Then in the past 24 hours, Walla wrote that an Israeli source conceded that the drone was Israeli-made.  But that it was operated by a “foreign country.”  Now, after lips have been loosened, my Israeli source reports that the drone was one purchased by Azerbaijan from Israel. Haaretz published (Hebrew) a similar story shortly after my source passed his information to me. Turns out, the skeptics were wrong.

This is a highly plausible scenario since Azerbaijan signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal with Israel, of which this drone was part. It’s also entirely conceivable that though the Azeris owned the drone, Israelis personnel were either operating it or closely coordinating the intelligence data it collected with the Azeris. It’s well-known that both Israeli and Iranian agents operate almost openly inside the country in an almost Wild-West environment.

This is the third enemy drone Iran downed within its airspace. It shot one down and America’s most sophisticated Predator drone crashed inside the country due to a technical error (or Iranian jamming).

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