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Israeli TV News Claims Dearborn Hotbed of Islamist Terrorism

One of my major criticisms of Israelis in general and Israeli media in particular is that they do not understand America.  They don’t understand our politics or our society.  In some cases, Israeli media completely misrepresent this country to their viewers/readers.  Such is the case with a long TV news segment aired yesterday on Channel 2.  In it, reporter Shai Gal parachuted into Dearborn, MI from God knows where, did a series of ambush journalism interviews, and fabricated the claim that the city is a hotbed of Islamism and the home of radical terrorists.  His interviews included one with a heavy-set, chain-smoking Arab-American “producer” who told him anti-Semitic jokes, and another with a professor who regaled him with ‘scandalous’ stories about local Arab residents who actually waved Palestinian flags in town.

Based on such anecdotal evidence, the reporter spins a tale of terror, violence and extremism.  The truth is quite different.  Of all the arrests of all the suspected Islamist terrorists in the U.S., none have taken place in Dearborn.  No suspected Islamist terrorists have their roots in Dearborn as the U.S. attorney for Michigan has confirmed.  There is no such threat known in Dearborn.  It is a town just like thousands of others like it.  The only difference is that instead of Irish, German, Polish, Russian or Chinese immigrants, 40% of Dearborn’s residents hail from Arab countries.  And for that, just as William Jennings Bryan inveighed about Americans crucified on the Cross of Gold, Channel 2 has ‘crucified’ Dearborn residents on the Crescent of Islam.

In the course of the news segment, Gal intones in that serious bass-profundo news anchor tone, that while the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus is peaceful on the surface, “some” are nervous that they’ve been singled out.  Then he notes a report from The Intercept (he neglects to name the source) that, in his words, Dearborn is the American city with the second largest number of suspected terrorists under surveillance.  This account is wholly fabricated.  In truth, the investigative report Channel 2 refers to, discusses the U.S. terror watch list.  It is highly critical of the watch list.  Further, those on the list are not necessarily surveilled or watched by the U.S. government.  They’re often not even terrorists or even suspected of being terrorists.  This is how The Intercept describes it:

Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.

In other words, no one knows how many of the names on the list got there.  Almost half, the compilers of the list themselves admit, have not connection to any terror group. It quotes a former intelligence official:

“If everything is terrorism, then nothing is terrorism,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent. The watchlisting system, he adds, is “revving out of control.”

A local Dearborn imam adds this critical perspective to the charges levelled against Dearborn:

At 96,000 residents, Dearborn is much smaller than the other cities in the top five, suggesting that its significant Muslim population—40 percent of its population is of Arab descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—has been disproportionately targeted for watchlisting. Residents and civil liberties advocates have frequently argued the Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities in and around Dearborn are unfairly targeted by invasive law enforcement probes, unlawful profiling, and racism.

“To my knowledge, there have been no Muslims in Dearborn who have committed acts of terrorism against our country,” Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Intercept. Walid added that the high concentration of Dearborn residents in the watchlisting system “just confirms the type of engagement the government has with our community—as seeing us as perpetual suspects.”

So much for Dearborn as a hotbed of American terror.

Though many in Dearborn refused to speak with Gal, one imam agreed.  And the reporter says about him: “He is considered moderate and willing to engage in dialogue.”  This appears to be the watchword among Israelis.  If a Muslim or Arab is satisfied to talk rather than get his rights, then he’s moderate.

In another portion of the news segment, he speaks of 100 Muslim-Americans who have traveled to Syria to engage in jihad.  He makes no reference of course to the hundreds of U.S. Jewish citizens who made aliyah to fight in Israel’s own national war against Islam (as the prime minister himself has described it on more than one occasion).  Nor does he note that none of those Americans who are fighting in Syria are from Dearborn.  Oh well, they’re American, they’re Muslim, who cares where they’re from?!

Gal turns to one interesting figure to guide him through the maze of Islamism in Dearborn: one of America’s leading anti-Muslim legal activists, Robert Muise.  He is a right-wing Catholic, the “senior counsel” and co-founder of the American Freedom Law Center.  It is laughably described as the “first Judeo-Christian public interest law firm.”  It is the spearhead for Islamophobe legal activism in the U.S., spurring legislation outlawing sharia law and protecting our nation’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.”  They take cases offered by evangelical and other right-wing religious interests alleging suppression of “religious liberty.”  Clients include anti-abortion leaders and Islamophobe activists like Pamela Geller.  Muise represented “Pastor” Terry Jones, who sought to burn a Koran on the streets of Dearborn on day of the city’s Arab-American festival.  His other legal partner in AFLC is David Yerushalmi, a Jewish white supremacist well-known to readers of this blog.

In the course of the interview, Muise notes that he spent 12 years in the Marine Corps and knows how to defend his family and is “more than prepared to do that.”  He also notes that the threat to his family is “twenty miles away”…in Dearborn.  This is clearly an implicit threat that Muise is willing to use violence against the Dearborn Muslim community.  So why is Shai using this militant Muslim hater as an authority on anything?

Gal next takes a drive with a leader of Detroit’s Jewish community to Dearborn, where they enter an Arab market and find–surprise–there are no Israeli products on the shelves.  “The Israel boycott extends even here,” Shai intones.  What does he expect?  Signs out front advertising the community’s pride in featuring Israeli products on the shelves??!  Next they pick up a copy of the local Arab-American newspaper which, ‘shockingly,’ features a headline saying Gaza was “resilient” in the face of war and “emerged victorious” from it.  I suppose he would’ve preferred the newspaper reprint the front page of the Jerusalem Post instead?  The news that 500 “pro-Palestinians” demonstrated in Detroit’s downtown against the war also seems evidence of an Islamist cabal orchestrating trouble.

The report returns to the Arab-American producer who tells him that the entire community is against the Gaza war.  One of the reasons he notes is that Israel uses horrendous weapons which he characterizes as “plutonium” and “phosphorus.”  The reporter then intones, off-camera, that some of the charges he makes are “intolerable.”  He means to deny that Israel used plutonium weapons, but in the context of the conversation he actually denies that they use either plutonium or phosphorus weapons.  This, of course, is false.  Israel’s use of white phosphorus is well-documented.  His Arab interlocutor meant to say that Israel uses uranium-depleted weapons which are, like plutonium, radioactive.  It also uses carbon-tungsten bombs called DIME, which the man may also have been thinking about.

Yet another shocking development the report documents is an Israeli student attending UM-Dearborn who published a photo of herself brandishing an Israeli flag on Facebook.  She tells Gal that another Arab student who supported Hezbollah told her: “we beat you in 2006 and we’ll eventually destroy your whole stinking country.”  So in the middle of a war when her nation has killed 2,100 Gazans, she flies an Israeli flag proudly in the midst of an Arab-American community and is surprised when she meets hostility?!  It should be noted that the report doesn’t document her claim or show the offending Facebook post.

When he asks her why she lives in America and not Israel, she says “professional opportunities, quality of life, and my fiance can’t live in Israel.”  “Why,” she’s asked. “He’s Lebanese.”  Of course that’s why she’s living in Dearborn.  Because she wants to marry an Arab!  He’s Christian, which somehow makes things better.  At least he’s not Muslim.  Talk about cognitive dissonance!

When Gal asks her whether the fear of Islamist terrorism in Dearborn is exaggerated, she responds “not at all.”  It’s “a dangerous place,” she warns.  A place “totally different” than Israel.  She figuratively sees terrorist under every bed.  This, despite the fact that she claims to have Muslim and Arab friends, a development she admits she never would’ve thought possible when she was growing up in Israel.

I should note that I’ve received 100 times the level of harassment that this woman has.  Yet Channel 2 has never come calling to document the troubles that Israeli hackers and hooligans have caused me.  There seems to be a big blind spot here.

As the segment concludes, Gal warns that there are “those who are planting seeds of hate under the American flag.”  He then shifts to his interview with the local imam who he gets to say that “hate can lead to violence.” And that violence is “near.”  The editing of the shots and interviews has the religious figure saying that Islamist violence is “near” in Dearborn.  This is undoubtedly nothing like what the subject intended.  But Gal has in effect gotten him to say something he, the interviewer, wanted him to say.  But the claim is again, totally fabricated.  No terrorists, no violence, no Islamism (except for a single radical cleric living there, who was thrown out of two local mosques).  A story made up out of whole cloth.  Shameful journalism.


IDF’s Palestinian Manchurian Candidate Targeted Arafat

rafi sutton

Rafi Sutton’s autobiography

I’m about to tell you a story that you will not believe.  The stupidity, self-delusion, and sheer ineptitude displayed by those who approved this IDF intelligence mission simply beggar belief.  Lest anyone doubt the truth of the story, it comes directly from a 2012 memoir published by a veteran of Israeli military intelligence, someone with impeccable credentials and a hero to the nation, Rafi Sutton.  Sutton is 82 years old.  More on him later.  But here’s the story:

In 1968, the Six Day War had just ended.  Israel had conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.  Relations with Jordan were extremely tense.  The PLO had begun to use Jordan both as a refuge and forward operating base against Israel.  This would eventually lead to Black September in 1970, in which King Hussein liquidated the PLO presence killing thousands of Palestinians.  But back in 1968, that was still in the future.

Israeli intelligence sought to attack and degrade the PLO wherever possible.  Which led to a cockamamie plan developed by a senior IDF officer and approved all the way up to the Aman chief, Aharon Yariv.  According to Sutton, the officer planned to choose a PLO prisoner, train him to carry out an assassination of a target Sutton inside Jordan.  It would be Sutton’s job to provide logistical support and get the hit man across the border with the necessary equipment to carry out the operation.

dead sea scroll rafi sutton

Rafi Sutton (left), who played an instrumental role in procuring a Dead Sea Scroll (1967 Yigal Simon)

But here’s the kicker: Aman was worried about how it would deal with the aftermath.  What happened once the assassin was caught and he spilled the beans to PLO or Jordanian intelligence?  Israel didn’t want Jordan to be able trace the operation back to the IDF.  So the genius who devised this plan decided to hypnotize (you read that right) the would-be killer so that once he was captured he wouldn’t remember anything of how he got there, who sent him, etc.  If the killer’s mind was wiped clean, Israel would be off the hook.

A well-placed Israeli source has added some crucial detail that wasn’t included in Sutton’s own autobiography.  The officer who concocted this bizarre plan was the Israeli Navy’s chief psychologist, Maj. Binyamin Shalit.  Shalit later brought a groundbreaking case demanding his children be considered Jewish though his wife was not Jewish and he an atheist.

Israel’s target was none other than Yaser Arafat himself.  This may be the first time Israel attempted to murder Arafat (but it certainly wouldn’t be the last).

If you think that’s the end of this sorry caper, you’re mistaken: Sutton carried out his portion of the plan.  The Palestinian crossed into Jordan.  But instead of making his way to the victim and carrying out his job, he went straight to the nearest Jordanian police station, asked to speak with the nearest PLO liaison, gave up his gun to the Jordanian officer on duty in the station, and promptly spilled the beans on the entire operation.

Naturally, this further inflamed relations with Jordan and gave Aman a tremendous black eye.

aharon yariv

Aharon Yariv, Aman chief

Decades later, Sutton met Yariv in Heathrow Airport, where they both awaited a connecting flight to Israel.  Sutton had genuine affection for his former commander.  But his curiosity about this Keystone caper and how it was approved, got the better of him.  He asked how the operation came to be and whether the commander had any second-thoughts.  This was how he replied:

Ahareleh [Yariv] signed deeply two or three times and said: “My dear Leon [the nickname Yariv had for Sutton], even great and wise men, and I don’t count myself as either great or wise, make mistakes in the course of their lives and in the course of their work.  The years following allow us to allay our pain and learn lesson [from our mistakes].”

Ahareleh’s answer was a pleasant embroidery of words which attested to the the error [he made] and his personal accounting for it.

This incredible adventure attests to the fact that Israeli intelligence, despite its noted successes such as capturing Eichmann, had its share of bizarre, catastrophic failures.  These failures were almost always rooted in a sense of hubris, and sometimes an enormous amount of ignorance (in this case, concerning the nature of hypnosis).  They show a lack of oversight and skepticism that is always advisable in an intelligence context.  It was true in 1968 and remains true today.

To be fair, Aman isn’t the only national intelligence service which engaged in cockamamie operations over the years: note the CIA’s 1950s dabbling in LSD, which led one subject to commit suicide; and the exploding cigars which failed to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Interesting to note that the Israeli Intelligence Heritage Center (yes, there is such a thing) published Yariv’s biography a year after Sutton’s was published.  Not a word about this episode.  I smell a conspiracy by the Israeli intelligence establishment to clean its dirty laundry.  Few are the “heroes” willing to bare all to tell the truth about their life.  Those who do are both courageous and doing a good deed both for historians and their fellow citizens.  Those who don’t are flattering their egos and protecting their legacy.  I don’t protect legacies.  I expose them so that the truth is known.

Sutton is an interesting figure in his own right as this 1982 JTA story, about his reunion with his childhood synagogue in Lebanon during the 1982 War, attests.  Here is another Hebrew biography by the IDF veterans association.


IDF Unit 8200 Counter-Offensive Begins

aviv kochavi

IDF chief intelligence spinmeister, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, at IDC Herzliya security conference

Those of you who remember back to the Bush presidency, will recall the controversy generated by the exposure of torture techniques used against Islamist prisoners at Guantanamo and at secret prison sites in Poland and elsewhere.  Among them were the notorious waterboarding which brought detainees to near drowning.  When this scandal erupted, the Bush-Cheney cabal went on a counter-offensive claiming that lives were saved and terror plots exposed by such torture.  In fact, the claim turned out to be hollow and those averted terror attacks were not exposed through torture.

Now, the IDF is going on a counter-offensive of its own after the reputation of the prestigious SIGINT Unit 8200 was sullied by charges of veterans that it engaged in tawdry, immoral acts attempting to exploit the weaknesses of Palestinians in order to compel them to collaborate with Israeli intelligence.  Strangely, this counter-offensive hasn’t torn a page from the Bush administration by claiming terror attacks were averted by Unit 8200.

Instead the IDF’s intelligence unit, Aman, has claimed that its technological capabilities have offered Israel unparalleled access to enemy computer systems.  If you ask me, the “sell” is rather pallid:

The source placed a significant emphasis on MI’s cyber division, which is able to mine data and combine it with visual and signals intelligence. It helped to create a digital map of Gaza so detailed that thousands of targets appeared on it, and every building in the Strip was shown from four different angles.

…The source discussed MI’s use of Trojan horses, some of which are so sophisticated they took 18 months to create.

“They bring back information on their ‘backs,’” the source said. “We learned about various threats through them. Some have to avoid cyber defenses.

Some have to destroy themselves if detected.”

In some cases, hordes of Trojan horses are released, where they proceed to sneak into enemy systems and return to Military Intelligence with valuable data. The source also discussed a new array of electronic sensors that have helped the IDF neutralize multiple threats recently.

Israeli media will never name a senior military or intelligence source.  But I have my own source who tells me the secret source of this report is none other than Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Aman’s chief.  There can be no doubt that this article is an exercise in damage control.  But as I said, it surely can’t convince anyone that IDF intelligence is engaged in righteous efforts to protect the homeland.  The only thing one can say is that Kochavi has put forward a vision of his unit that doesn’t do much more to embarrass it than already happened through the refusers’ letter.

Here’s more puffery from Kochavi:

During Operation Protective Edge, members of Unit 8200, the signals unit, sat in a control room and provided real-time instructions to field commanders, telling them where to turn and which buildings housed targets.

“This isn’t the Matrix [the movie],” the source said. “It happened during the war.”

You’re kidding me.  Unit 8200 breaks out its GPS devices and tells IDF commanders which way to turn in the streets of Gaza?  Something any decent GPS device could tell the soldiers themselves–and this is the Brave New World of Unit 8200?

But the puffery isn’t done yet:

In long term, Islamic State is one of top four strategic threats to Israel. If needed, Israel will pass on intelligence to members of a coalition that will strike it, the officer said.

Israeli intelligence officials have conceded that ISIS is not only not a threat to Israel, it’s never attacked a single Israeli target.  Even when it held an Israeli citizen and executed him, it never said he was Israeli (it’s unknown whether ISIS knew of his Israeli citizenship though I believe they would’ve had to have been stupid not to know).  ISIS has, if anything deliberately avoided engagement with Israel.  It holds a great deal of Syrian territory and could have confronted Israeli forces in the Golan and elsewhere had it wanted.  But it didn’t.

So now the IDF’s chief intelligence officer wants to sell us the ISIS used car.  Though the Jerusalem Post obviously is buying–I’m not.

Kochavi’s final affront to truth and reason is this comment:

Turkish-Iranian relations appear to be good on the outside, but beneath the surface, Turkey is deeply disturbed by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, according to assessments.

There is absolutely no confirmation for this claim.  In fact, Turkey and Brazil brokered a promising compromise the Obama administration initially accepted to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse.  Turkey, if anything, if far more sympathetic to Iran than it is to Israel.  As far as I can tell, the claim Turkey is “deeply disturbed” by Iran’s nuclear program is a total fabrication.  But that doesn’t surprise us, does it?  Why should an officer who can spout to his heart’s content anonymously in the Israeli media be held to any standard of credulity?

On a related matter, Yossi Melman’s latest story in The Forward basically rehashes what we already know about the Unit 8200 refuser controversy.  But he does tell us that the highest ranking refuser to join those who protested against Unit 8200 offenses was a Major.  That’s an extraordinarily high rank for such rebellion.  It’s unheard of in the current IDF, which is far more right-wing than it was in previous decades.

Melman also adds to what I wrote in my recent post about the nexus between Unit 8200 and the NSA.  These guys are like peas in a pod.  If anyone needed proof that the NSA has in store for us precisely what Unit 8200 is doing to Palestinians, read this passage:

At a recent high-tech conference at Tel Aviv University, all eyes were on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon as they took their turns in the spotlight to stress how important it was for Israel to remain at the frontlines of science and technology. But less conspicuously, two middle-aged men were sitting next to each other in the first row reserved for VIPs, listening carefully to the speakers at “Cyber Innovation: The Next Generation.”

Gen. Keith Alexander, a former director of America’s National Security Agency, and Gen. Nadav Tsafrir, the former commander of Israel’s military intelligence Unit 8200, chatted with each other avidly, and from their smiles and body language it was clear they have known each other well and were happy to meet again.

Their familiarity is not surprising.

It sure isn’t.  That why we too should become more familiar with the depredations of Unit 8200.  They’re coming soon to an NSA near us.

Read more:

gideon saar sex scandal

Gideon Saar and second wife, Geula Even. Is Haaretz preparing to publish investigative report exposing further sex scandals

Gideon Saar, senior cabinet minister and a rising star in the Likud firmament, announced he would resign his ministerial portfolio and Knesset seat after the High Holidays. It was an announcement that took Israeli politicos totally by surprise.  He described his departure from the political scene as a “break.”  Speculation runs rampant about what is behind the announcement.

Most reports point to his rising disenchantment with his former mentor, Bibi Netanyahu, who both helped his rise and then just as quickly turned on him and shut him out of the Likud inner sanctum.  Much of the rancor can be traced to Saar’s decision to support Reuven Rivlin’s successful presidential candidacy (at one time Rivlin too was a Netanyahu intimate).  Bibi opposed Rivlin’s candidacy for no clear reason.  But they say cherche la femme and Sara Netanyahu may’ve taken a disliking to him–she has definitive control of major government appointments.  At any rate, Bibi brooks no opposition.  Disciples and followers must follow and never lead. Anyone who breaks from the circle is placed in herem, or in English terms, the deep freeze.

Conventional thinking says that Saar has had enough of the outrageous sleights he’s received at Bibi’s hands.  He’s newly married, wants to spend more time with his wife, perhaps start a family.  He may also intend to join up with another Likud rebel, Moshe Kahlon, who also was tossed out in the cold by Bibi, being seen by him as another potential rival.  In the next elections, it’s conceivable that the two would create a formidable moderate-right alternative to the hard-right politics of the New Likud.

One wonders what will happen after Bibi.  He can continue to lead for some time.  But there comes a time when every politician must step down.  One wonders whether the Likud can remain a coherent political entity after the glue Bibi applied to hold it together, evaporates.  That’s where rivals like Kahlon, Saar, Danny Danon, come in.  Will Likud splinter into farther-right and soft-right sects?  Or will another strongman come along to ride herd over the disparate egos and ambitions of the younger generation of Likudnik wannabes.

Israeli political conspiracist, Eldad Yaniv, has a completely different explanation, whose accuracy I’ve confirmed:

“One of the reasons for Saar’s announcement: major investigation which Haaretz has labored over for the past few weeks.”

This takes us in an entirely different direction. My Israeli source has confirmed that a part of this investigation involves multiple Saar sexual scandals, which I’ve recounted here in some detail.  This Walla report confirms a Haaretz story is in the works, which will review the circumstances of an alleged affair with a Knesset co-worker.

A few months ago, Saar web an attractive TV newscaster, Geula Even.  This was after he’d abandoned his first wife (as had Even her first husband), presumably as a result of the affair with the woman who became his second.  After wedding Even, the rumor mill died down somewhat.  But apparently Haaretz has the goods on him.  Given his being on the outs with Bibi and the fact that such a scandal might lead to his forced resignation, he presumably felt discretion was the better part of valor.  When/If the scandal hits, he will be out of political life.  That will defuse some of the dynamite.  In the year or two before the next elections, Saar is probably hoping memories will fade and he can enter the next election cycle with a clean slate.

Sexual indiscretions and even predation seem to be activities Israelis will forgive in their politicians.  Though when victims complain of rape, even that goes too far for forgiveness: witness Moshe Katsav.  It remains to be seen whether the Haaretz expose will delve into the former or latter sorts of charges.

What I want to know is who’s talking to Haaretz?  My money is on Bibi himself or one of his consiglieres.  But let’s not discount the jilted first wife.


Those who’ve followed Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying may think they’ve heard just about every depredation they can imagine.  But there could be more to come.

James Bamford spent three days in Moscow with Snowden and wrote about it in Wired.  Today, he has a NY Times op-ed focussing particularly on the Snowden revelations about NSA collaboration with the IDF’s Unit 8200.  None of this is particularly new.  Further, at one point Bamford even dubiously claims that material the NSA shared with Israel might’ve led to some of the blackmail and recruiting of spies, which the Unit 8200 veteran’s letter decried.  I think that’s doubtful because the activities criticized by the refusers involved listening to phone conversations and reading e mail and text messages by Palestinians in the Territories.  It’s hard to believe (though not impossible, I suppose) that NSA spying on U.S. citizens would help 8200 to target Palestinians.

As an aside, it’s entirely possible that my own contacts with Israelis and Palestinians both in this country and abroad are monitored by the NSA and passed on to 8200. A sobering thought, not because I engage in any activity that should be monitored, but precisely because I don’t.

shin bet runs Palestinian collaborators

Shin Bet handler, Gonen ben Itzhak (center), and Palestinian collaborator, Mosab Hassan Yousef (right, the “Green Prince”), reap the benefits of Hollywood film festivals, celebrity, and the good life, while other Palestinian collaborators end up in hoods before a firing squad.

It’s worth noting Bamford’s summary of Unit 8200’s offenses:

…They [Unit 8200 refusers] charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.

For anyone wishing to know how Israel recruits spies and the impact that spying for Israel has on the lives of collaborators, read this riveting and disturbing story.  The 8200 refusers were spot on when they said their job was to drive wedges into Palestinian society.  To make brother hate brother.  Read this and see how such hate plays out in the lives of those Palestinians who are sacrificed on the altar of Israeli security.  Do you think any Shabak agent who runs these Palestinian agents sheds a tear when they’re shot by Hamas?  Does Israel offer them refuge or offer them resettlement in return for the dirty work they did?  Not at all.  Collateral damage.

It’s important to remember as you see pictures of hooded Palestinian collaborators before their execution, that no matter how reprehensible it may be to kill such individuals without trial, collaborators do real damage to Palestinian society.  They get people killed.  Our outrage should be directed as much or more at the Shabak and Unit 8200 which creates the collaborators, as at Hamas for hunting them down and killing them.

Returning to the lessons we here in American can learn about Unit 8200 practices–remember that Israel has progressed much farther down the road to being a national security state than the U.S.  While we may have more powerful technology, capabilities and funding, Israel has far fewer fetters on its spies and spooks.  There are no laws or regulations governing surveillance of Palestinians.  There are, as the refusers correctly noted, almost no strictures on what they may do.

Though Snowden made similar charges against his own NSA brethren, there were limitations on their actions.  They may not have been particularly effective or thorough.  But approvals were necessary for some of the most intrusive activities.

The real value in Bamford’s op-ed is to warn us that what Unit 8200 has wrought in the Mideast could become “best practice” for our own NSA:

It should also trouble Americans that the N.S.A. could head down a similar path in this country. Indeed, there is some indication, from a top-secret 2012 document from Mr. Snowden’s leaked files that I saw last year, that it already is. The document, from Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the director of the N.S.A., notes that the agency had been compiling records of visits to pornographic websites and proposes using that information to damage the reputations of people whom the agency considers “radicalizers” — not necessarily terrorists, but those attempting, through the use of incendiary speech, to radicalize others. (The Huffington Post has published a redacted version of the document.)

To paraphrase Herzl, if Unit 8200 wills it, it’s no dream.  So many of Israel’s counter-terror practices have become standard fare for the U.S.: from targeted killings to drone strikes to racial profiling for security purposes.  We “learn” from the Israelis.  They are falsely seen as being on the cutting edge and experts in this field.  That’s why U.S. local police forces and other agencies flock to Israel for security training.  It’s why Israeli security consultants are hired to manage airport security around the world.

What the Americans don’t realize is that they’re hearing from Israelis who have no strictures on what they can do.  Israelis for whom the means justify the ends.  There are no ethical qualms among Israeli intelligence operatives at exploiting every possible weakness on behalf of Israel’s interests.  The Palestinians are not human beings.  They are an enemy and this is a war.

What the NSA refuses to realize in adopting the Israeli model is that Unit 8200 is oppressing Palestinians who, while occupied by Israel, aren’t Israeli citizens.  At least technically, from an Israeli point of view, this allows them freer rein in their invasions of Palestinians privacy and rights.  The NSA is often spying on U.S. citizens.  If they bring Israeli spycraft to these shores, then the American intelligence community will be treating its own citizens the same way Israelis treat avowed Israeli enemies.  Is that the standard under which we want the NSA to operate?  Do we wish to allow out own spy agency to treat us as the enemy?

john kerry isis meeting

Kerry entering the Paris meeting of anti-ISIS nations (Alain Jocard/AFP-Getty

In 1991, George Bush created what was then called the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to defeat Saddam Hussein.  Yesterday, the U.S. met with members of what it hoped would be a new coalition of similarly willing nations dedicated to defeating ISIS.  The problem is that it’s a fractious coalition.  If George Bush thought he had it rough, Obama and Kerry have it much tougher.

The nations comprising and bordering ISIS-held territory (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey) have widely disparate interests in general and specifically related to ISIS.  Turkey originally encouraged the formation of Syrian rebel forces to battle Bashar al-Assad’s regime.  It also allows the smuggling and sale of ISIS-harvested oil in the Turkish black market.  It is terribly awkward for Erdogan to pivot from support for such rebel groups to fighting them.  Nor does the U.S. have especially warm relations with Turkey, which has been disappointed by the weakness and hesitation of Obama’s Middle East policy.  Our strong endorsement of Israeli interests hasn’t helped matters either.

Syria is the white elephant in the room: while the coalition members detest ISIS, they detest Assad almost as much, and don’t wish to do anything that may help him.  And if ISIS is weakened or destroyed, it can’t help but bolster the Syrian regime.

Iraq is rapidly turning into a failed state.  Its military practically doesn’t exist–riven as it is by poor training and supply, ethnic rivalries, and a corrupt officer corps.  The only coherent fighting force in Iraq are the Kurds, and their interest is in protecting the territorial integrity of their enclaves, not necessarily the integrity of the entire country.

Iran is the country with perhaps the most to lose or gain both from the confrontation with ISIS and participation in the coalition.  But there’s the rub: whatever the U.S. may want to happen regarding Iran, it has two restive Sunni powers (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) who want nothing to do with Shiite Iran.  They both told Kerry that if Iran attended the Paris meeting they wouldn’t.  That effectively sunk what could’ve been a constructive development.

We’ve said that we’d like Iran to play a role in the fight against ISIS.  But we’ve essentially said we can’t be seen to be coordinating our strategy or tactics with the Iranians due to the antipathies of the Sunni despots.  Anything that happens must be done on the sly.  The Iranians are a proud people used to being trampled upon by Great Powers.  That prospect doesn’t encourage them.  It’s a pity we’re locked into the lose-lose proposition, because the U.S.’ long term interests in the region lie much more with Iran than the Qatari or Saudi strongmen.

Iran looks at the bind the U.S. has gotten itself into and laughs derisively.  Ayatollah Khamenei dismissed any participation with the U.S. in anti-ISIS efforts saying the U.S. can’t be trusted.  He tried to rub salt in the wound by publicly exposing U.S. requests that Iran join these efforts, and telling the world that he rejected them out of hand.

Though a harsh rejection, no one should be surprised.  ISIS is an important issue for Iran since it threatens to overrun the Shiite regions of its neighbor, Iraq.  But the nuclear issue is no less critical.  And there is much unfinished business regarding it.  Though negotiations toward an agreement are proceeding, and hopeful murmurings have been heard, nothing is assured.  For Iran, an honorable resolution of this issue and the reopening of relations with the U.S. on mutually respectful terms, are critical.  The Grand Ayatollah is in effect telling us he’s heard nothing that persuades him there will be marked changes in America’s approach to Iran in the near term.  So he sits back, bides his time, and watches as the U.S. president elected to end a war, proceeds to get himself back into the one he hoped to end.  When your enemy is sunk in quicksand, a cardinal rule of politics is to sit back and enjoy it.  Don’t give him a helping hand.

Another lesson that the U.S. and Israel have never learned, and which is important if you want to play any role in the region, is that determining when NOT to act is sometimes more important than determining TO act.  In other words, there are times when standing back and allowing your opponent to overplay his hand is the better part of valor.  A nation that believes it must always DO something to advance its interests or prevent them from being threatened, is a nation that will make mistakes and blunders.  Action can harm your interests.  Though inaction too can bring risks, caution is often the preferred option.

There is no doubt that some form of action is needed to suppress ISIS.  But going on a holy war, which seems to be the path chosen by Obama, aiming for the total eradication of ISIS, is a fool’s errand.  Some of the hesitation of our putative allies may lie in their realization that more finesse and less firepower is called for.


The Pennywhistlers Started It All

There were two songs that played a formative role in my musical life.  They are Shto Mi e Milo, recorded by the Pennywhistlers (1966) and Si Bheag, Si Mor, by Planxty (1973).  The Pennywhistlers came first.  They were the mother lode.  Ethel Raim and her sisters created one of the first, if not THE first, American ensemble to perform world music.  Until that time, American popular culture embraced the music and art of other cultures in a scattershot way.  There were Carmen Miranda’s outrageous hats, Richie Valens’ La Bamba, Jose Feliciano’s Hispanic-inflected Light My Fire in the late 1960s.  But these were one-off hits.  Novelties.


The Pennywhistlers’ first album (1963)

It wasn’t until the Pennywhistlers came along that a musical group devoted its entire repertoire to the music of other cultures.  Wonderful groups like the Bay Area’s Kitka could not exist without the Pennywhistlers being a forerunner.  Even a native Bulgarian choir would never have had the enormous world success of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares had not the American group first popularized the music in this country.

When I first heard this song, it was a revelation.  The female vocal harmonies were like none I had ever heard.  It was as if I was hearing a sound from another universe.   It was a revelation.  I lived on planet earth but had never heard the music of the culture which produced this.  It made me realize there was a whole other world out there that American culture ignored.

I have been trying to find the song for 20 years.  Before YouTube existed I tried using music sharing sites, but no one appeared to have mp3 files of their music (probably because they were never transferred from LP to any other format).  Though the social media revolution has brought much bad with the good, it’s an undeniable good to be able to find old musical friends like the Pennywhistlers through YouTube.  With all its hyper-commercialization, YouTube has enabled the archiving and retrieval of the sounds of the world.

The Pennywhistlers’ eponymously titled first album is available for purchase from Smithsonian Folkways.

H/t to Cynthia Anne.