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frank walter steinmeier in gaza

German foreign minister’s public agenda during his Gaza visit concealed a secret agenda

Intelligence Online (IO)  reported (paywall) last month that the visit of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to both Israel and Gaza involved far more than the humanitarian agenda suggested in the media.  IO writes that the German intelligence agency, BND, is conducting secret negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas aimed at achieving a durable, stable long-term ceasefire.  The Germans are encouraging Hamas’participation through a collaboration with Qatar’s state security service.  The Qataris submitted a proposal to both Israel and Gaza (presumably with the cooperation of the BND).  A key component that would make the plan attractive to Hamas is that it would include building a floating seaport off Gaza that would be administered under NATO auspices.  This is the first time I’ve heard NATO mentioned as a potential force to monitor and enforce international agreements in Israel-Palestine.  If the report is accurate, this could be a serious and important development, introducing a major international security force into the region.  Additional reports say Turkey, which often acts in concert with Qatar in such matters, has also agreed to the plan.

These developments may explain why the IDF Southern Command chief recently voiced surprisingly pragmatic statements concerning Hamas and the need for Israel to come to an understanding with it:

“Most of the citizens in the Strip see Hamas as the only solution to their problems.  Gaza has an independent authority that functions like a country,” said [Sammy] Turgeman in comments reported by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, depicting Hamas in terms as much akin to a functioning state as to a militant group.

“There is a government and an annual plan, with executive bodies and inspection authorities. Within the country there is a ruler that is called Hamas which knows how to exercise power over the other authorities. As of now, there is no substitute ruler to replace Hamas in the strip.

The only replacement for Hamas is the IDF and authoritarian chaos. Other than Hamas there is no other axis that could control [Gaza].”

Turgeman added: “The [Palestinian] Authority cannot rule and this should be taken as an indisputable statement.”

Of course, the prime minister and his cabinet war hawks entirely dismiss this approach.  It remains to be seen whether whoever within Israel is shepherding this process (possibly the army and intelligence services?) can win over the hardliners who would like nothing more than to torpedo such a peace initiative.

Naturally, the PA is suspicious and mistrustful of any development that might present Hamas in a more favorable light.  It hates the plan.  The PA intelligence service recently warned Mahmoud Abbas about it and suggested that he approach the Egyptians to stop it.  This hasn’t happened, in part because the Egyptian military government, facing increasing levels of unrest and terrorism in the Sinai, is considering a rapprochement with Hamas.  Recently, Egypt opened the border with Rafah for several days as part of this reconciliation process.  The Egyptians expected as a quid pro quo that Hamas would aid Egypt’s military and intelligence services in the hunt for Islamist terrorists in Sinai.  Note, this contradicts repeated (and questionable) IDF claims that Sinai militants work together with Hamas in perpetrating terror attacks.

Hamas hardliner, Mahmoud Zahar, leads a faction opposed to any deal with either Israel or Egypt.  He represents the view of Hamas’ military wing.  The movement’s political wing is eager for any plan that would involve improving the quality of life for average Gazans since the war last summer, which made life a sheer misery for most residents.  Further, an ISIS affiliate, Ansar Jerusalem, recently announced that it planned to challenge and defeat Hamas in the enclave.  Though it’s doubtful the group has the muscle to fulfill its threat, just the name ISIS is enough to instill fear in the hearts of Hamas’ political wing.

Hamas has much more to gain from this project than Israel, which is why it’s likely to fail.  But just its existence is a positive development.

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ezra sheinberg

Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg, deposed after accusations of rape among married female followers

Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg, until recently head of a yeshiva and other institutions in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, was arrested by Israeli police at Ben Gurion Airport as he attempted to flee the country.  His name may not be reported in Israel according to a judicial gag order obtained by the police.  He stands accused by married women among his followers of engaging in sexual acts and rape.  He was removed from his state-funded post after the investigation began.

Sheinberg was ordained by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, then the chief rabbi of Tzfat.  The former founded a pre-military yeshiva in Tzfat in 1999.  This phenomenon has contributed markedly to the massive increases in settler officers and a rightist slant among the IDF officer corps.  He also led 3,000 settlers in prayer at Joseph’s Tomb a holy site in Nablus under contention between radical settlers and Muslims.

eliezer berland

Rabbi Berland on his way to court in full religious regalia (EPA)

Sheinberg has cultivated relationships with the Israeli Orthodox women’s community.  This rebbetzin even boasts of taking spiritual and halachic supervision from him.  I imagine this passage may disappear from her website soon (unless she is one of his victims).

The yeshiva he founded, Yeshivat Ha’Ari, has removed his biographical page, which is preserved here (in Hebrew).

In a similar development, Rabbi Eliezer Berland is resisting deportation from Holland to Israel, where he stands accused of similar sexual crimes.  Berland has taken to donning his full religious regalia in court hearings, including tallit and tefillin.  This is certainly not just an exploitation, but a perversion of Judaism in order to save the neck of an accused sex abuser.  It would make Moses roll over in his grave and should make most Jews sick to their stomach.

 

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The U.S. and Iranian nuclear negotiators have just announced a one week extension of their nuclear talks.  If, as expected, there is an agreement next week, it will open a new stage of tension in the process leading to its final formal ratification by all parties.  For then, the U.S. Congress will have 30 days to vote the agreement up or down.  This vote, forced on an unwilling president by his own party’s Senate members several weeks ago, poses a new threat.  For the Israel Lobby, it offers a new opportunity to sabotage the deal.

dennis ross israel lobby oppose iran deal

Dennis Ross and the usual anti-Iran suspects oppose Iran deal

With this in mind, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), originally founded as Aipac’s policy think-tank, organized a letter (text) criticizing the impending Iran nuclear deal being finalized by the P5+1.  Among its signatories are hawkish policy analysts who managed the Iran portfolio in the first Obama administration, and several retired generals.  They include Lobby perennial-favorite, Dennis Ross; Gary Samore, who now leads United Against a Nuclear Iran; David Petraeus, former CIA director, adulterer and compromiser of U.S. national security, Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s sanctions czar, James Cartwright and Stephen Hadley, Dick Cheney’s national security adviser.

Since most of them formerly served Pres. Obama, the tone of the letter takes a curious passive-aggressive tone: we really don’t like the deal, except for the parts that are pretty good.  Note, they all contributed at an earlier stage to devising the talking points for a deal.  Their criticism at this juncture raises the question: what were they doing back then when they served in government?  Were they raising these issues then?  Or were they doing precisely what the current officials sitting in their seats at the negotiating table are doing now?

In fact, there is probably a good reason these individuals (especially Samore and Ross) are no longer in the Obama administration.  They are the hawks, the maximalists who drove Iran policy in the first term.  But when a softer, more flexible hand was necessary the president and Secretary Kerry chose Wendy Sherman to lead the talks.

Even in this statement from the letter, it hard to understand what the precise nature of the criticism is:

“Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement,” the letter begins, going on to assess the proposed accord as useful for delaying Iran’s program, but not a long-term solution to the problem of a nuclear Iran.

“The agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability,” it continues. “It will not require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure. It will however reduce that infrastructure for the next 10 to 15 years. And it will impose a transparency, inspection, and consequences regime with the goal of deterring and dissuading Iran from actually building a nuclear weapon.”

Their opening statement, saying they would prefer a stronger agreement, is probably shared by Secretary Kerry as well.  Everyone on the U.S. side and in Israel would prefer Iran to give up its nuclear program entirely.  But it ain’t gonna happen.  So the question is, what is the minimum that will satisfy everyone’s concerns?

It continues that the nuclear deal won’t prevent an Iranian bomb.  That’s not quite true.  It will prevent an Iranian bomb for at least a decade or more.  But it won’t prevent an Iranian bomb forever.  This is true.  What this letter doesn’t say is that both the U.S. and Iran aim to create an infrastructure during that period that will guarantee good relations and constructive engagement so that Iran will not feel the need to build a bomb 15 years down the line.

The letter implies that the signatories would prefer the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.  Curiously, this is precisely the position of the Israelis and the Israel Lobby.  One wonders how Israel’s position crept into this document!  Similarly, it’s curious that WINEP’s key role in developing and publicizing the letter isn’t mentioned until the penultimate (26th) paragraph in Sanger’s story.  One wonder: why bury the lede?

Letter Not Intended as “Poison Pill:” Who’s Kidding Whom?

David Einhorn is quoted in the report saying the letter is not intended as a “poison pill” to sabotage the negotiations.  Which is, of course, nonsense.  Of course it’s intended to sabotage a deal on any other than the Lobby’s terms.

How else to interpret this?

The letter said inspections “must include military (including I.R.G.C.) and other sensitive facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country.

The inspectors, they write, must be able “to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities.” The letter adds, “This work needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.”

The signers of this letter must know that their position, if the government attempted to implement it, would end the talks.  Ayatollah Khamenei has already said inspections would not include military sites.  And he has also clearly indicated that Iran expects significant sanctions relief immediately after an agreement is signed.  Making the prior fulfillment of all Iranian commitments contingent on such relief is akin to rejecting the deal entirely, since Iran will not sign such an understanding.

The following also offers an example of the bad faith of the letter-writers:

…The letter [insists] that the United States publicly declare — with congressional assent — that even after the expiration of the agreement Iran will not be permitted to possess enough nuclear fuel to make a single weapon.

This too is an absolute non-starter.  No Iranian government will ever agree to a deal in which its negotiating partner publicly pledges Iran must never have a nuclear weapon.  This too is an Israeli position.

In this passage the authors rattle those war sabers once again:

“Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this.”

Iran has not “clearly preserved” the nuclear option.  In fact, the Ayatollah has publicly stated just the opposite, that Iran will not develop or use nuclear weapons.  The notion that Iran has an intent of nuclearizing is unsupported.  To advocate threatening Iran with military attack is another tired old meme from the Bush-Netanyahu playbook.  We will not attack Iran.  Not even Israel will attack Iran.  So let’s stop the theatrical brandishing of this sword in the final act of the nuclear drama.

Dexter filkins

Filkins comes a-cropper as Iran analyst (Freddy Rikken)

It’s also no accident that the New York Times reporter who wrote this story is none other than David Sanger.  Sanger’s Iran reporting relies heavily, at times, on Israeli talking points and reflects a hawkish perspective that includes maximum suspicion of Iranian intentions and motives.

Dexter Filkins: Iran on a Wire—Why Not Ask for More?

A corollary to the letter and Sanger’s report is a new piece by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker, Why Aren’t We Asking Iran for More?  His title brought to mind this lyric from Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire:

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

That’s the tension that is at the heart of Filkins article. He says “why not ask for more” from the Iranians. While the pragmatists among us warn that asking for too much may end up getting you nothing.

Dexter Filkins is a stellar war correspondent.  But in writing about Iran he comes a-cropper.  The ostensible point he seeks to make is that while negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran is important, why don’t we also attempt to force Iran to become house-trained.  Why don’t we force it to end its alliance with Hezbollah?  Why don’t we force it to end its aggressive interventions in the affairs of other states?

The answer to the question is implied within it and Filkins even alludes to it himself.  As a diplomat, you decide what are the most important issues to resolve and you set yourself the task of doing so.  Of course, there will always be important issues you would like to address.  But how important are they compared to your first priorities?

In this case, the Obama administration has correctly judged that limiting nuclear proliferation is the foremost goal. Changing Iran’s behavior in conventional conflicts in the region is a far more complex issue that includes many other players like Hezbollah, Syria, Israel, and others.  If you follow Filkins suggestion you will likely get neither a nuclear deal nor a deal limiting Iranian interventions.

Further, Obama is betting that achieving a nuclear deal will bring about a sea change in U.S.-Iran relations.  From this, it will be far easier to encourage Iran to restrain itself from military adventurism in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

The most disturbing aspect of Filkins piece is that he denies any context to Iran’s alleged (for Filkins it’s not even that, it’s assumed and unsubstantiated) involvement in various terror attacks over the past three decades.  You won’t find “Israel” mentioned a single time here.  You won’t hear of the interventionist role Israel has played in regional affairs for even longer than Iran.  You won’t hear of the 1982 Lebanon invasion which spurred the creation of Hezbollah.  You won’t hear the provocative role Israel has played in the Syrian civil war supporting Islamist rebels opposed to Iran’s allies: Pres. Assad and Hezbollah.

Considering Filkins’ previous excellent reporting on Iraq, it’s astonishing how ahistorical this piece is.  It’s also worth mentioning that the reporter quotes two sources, one is Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA analyst and currently a fellow at the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and the self-same Gary Samore, head of United Against a Nuclear Iran.  Interestingly, Filkins mentions Samore’s far more mainstream affiliation with Harvard’s Belfer Center and omits his affiliation with UANI.

The latter organization stands accused of using Mossad intelligence data to threaten businessmen with violating Iran sanctions.  In a libel suit brought by one UANI victim, the Justice Department quashed the entire case claiming testimony would endanger U.S. security.  In fact, it would have exposed Mossad collusion with the CIA and their dirty tricks in enforcing the sanctions regime.

Israel Lobby Strategy to Undermine Nuclear Deal

As the final deadline for a P5+1 nuclear deal nears, anti-Iran forces have kicked into high gear.  But the Israel Lobby is engaging in rather clever strategy.  It realizes that Bibi Netanyahu and Israel itself are “damaged goods” as far as impacting the domestic conversation.  Instead, pro-Israel forces have turned to hawkish Democratic policy advisers and military figures to undermine the President’s agenda.  It would be easy for Obama to overcome opposition from GOP and neocon naysayers.  But it’s harder to refute those who once served in the Obama administration itself.

None of these efforts will succeed any more than Netanyahu’s address to Congress succeeded in undermining an Iran deal.  Hawkish forces opposing such an agreement are a spent force.  Though passage in the Senate is by no means a given.  I believe the Lobby sees statements like WINEP’s as new ammunition it can bring to bear to sway senators against the deal.

Sanger, in his report, tries to make the case that there are hawks inside the administration echoing the position of Filkins and the WINEP letter.  Regardless of whether this is true or not, the future holds not just a nuclear arrangement, but a resurgent Iran playing a much more constructive role in the region and, in the process, competing and possibly eclipsing Israel’s role.  That’s the real threat that frightens Israel.  It is used to having its own way both militarily and economically.  It is not used to, and wishes to avert at all costs, having regional competitors who might circumscribe its freedom of action.

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idf military censor vaknin-gil

Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, IDF chief censor

One of the most interesting aspects of the Israeli national security state is the IDF military censor and the ways in which it stymies the free flow of ideas and information within Israeli society.  Unlike in the U.S., where the NSA and the covert side of the CIA operate in almost total secrecy (except when someone like Edward Snowden comes along), Israel is a place more uncertain and anxious about such things.  There the military censor even publicly addresses criticism of her role.  Not because she wants to (I would argue), but because the military constantly feels the need to justify the restrictions it places on Israelis and the sacrifices it forces them to accept.  One of the ten most powerful armies in the world has an inferiority complex that compels it to self-justify.

That explains a speech delivered by Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil at a conference on intelligence and special operations sponsored by the magazine, Israel Defense.  Her remarks were, as you might expect, self-serving, solipsistic and even racist.  She claims that she has developed an “innovative” set of censorship guidelines that are “responsive” to modern times.  I’ll let you be the judge after you finish reading her wit and wisdom here:

“Israel is a democratic, liberal, western society which protects its secrets through means which are draconian and at times even self-contradictory.

We are a civilian society in which there is a critical public debate [about intelligence matters] and it’s difficult to maintain censorship and prevent the publication of secret material.  Today, a guy sees a terror attack from his balcony and sends a photo to the newspaper–how can we control that?

…We in the military censor’s unit don’t hide information.  We protect information which is critical [to our defense] in terms of our enemies.  They don’t have the same abilities we do.  They don’t have Unit 8200 [Israel’s NSA].  They don’t have a Jewish brain.  Therefore the enemy relies to a great extent on publicly accessible information.  We, in the context of our democratic debate, offer a great deal of basic accessible information: the test succeeded or failed, budgets, order of battle, weapons, who guards what, technological developments.  We in the censor unit aren’t suited to stop it all.  We can only prevent [publication of] that which poses certain danger to national security…

When I retire I won’t write a book because it can’t possibly pass military censorship.”

Of course the censor “hides” information.  Nor does it only hide information which might damage national security.  It censors information that might damage the reputation of the IDF or its senior officers.  Such behavior equates the army with the state (“l’etat, c’est moi“).

As an aside, I’m pleased to say that Vaknin-Gil views me as a thorn in her side and publicly made light of my work and the role I play in combatting Israeli censorship.

The real shocker in the above passage is Vaknin-Gil’s portrayal of Unit 8200 as a product of the Jewish mind.  It’s like saying the NSA is a product of the American mind.  I suppose in some ghoulish way you could argue that America’s technological sophistication enabled the creation of the frightening tools the NSA devised to spy on all of us.  But even if that’s the case, is this cause for celebration?

Only an army officer living in a non-democratic state could celebrate the army’s ability to spy on both its enemies and its own citizens as an extraordinary national achievement.  I should correct myself here since she doesn’t portray Unit 8200 as a product of Israel, but of Jewishness.  The term I translated as “Jewish brain” derives from the Yiddish, Yiddishe kop.  The term has a distinctly proud ring to it, and boasts of “Jewish genius” with an air of superiority.  What’s ironic about her choice of term is that she doesn’t celebrate the “Israeli brain,” because there is no Israeli or Hebrew equivalent for yiddishe kop.  That means Israel’s lethal espionage capabilities as represented by Unit 8200 become a proud Jewish achievement.

I for one want nothing to do with Unit 8200 as product of Judaism or Jewish identity.  This is once again a distortion introduced by Zionist ideology which deliberately conflates Israel with Jewishness.  There is nothing Jewish about signals intelligence.

Speaking of Unit 8200 as a product of Jewish genius, I note that I published a scoop in 2014 identifying the commander of Unit 8200, Brig. Gen. Ehud Schneerson, as a distant relative of the Lubavitcher rebbe.  No doubt he earned his position due to his distinguished yichus and yiddishe kop!

Further, the idea that IDF intelligence capabilities somehow derive from Israel’s national genius is also troubling and racist.  The only reason Israel has such advanced capabilities is that it has made this a national priority since it’s founding.  Any Arab state which had done the same would have made the same achievements Israel did.  In fact, Iran is late to this game but shows every sign of being able, within a reasonably short period of time, to compete credibly with Israel in this field.  When it reaches this level there will be some Iranian censor boasting that the IRG’s intelligence units are a product of “Iranian genius.”

It’s all a bunch of malarkey foisted on nations by insecure generals who need to justify their own positions, influence and power.

wikipedia censorship avera mengistu

Censored Wikipedia article on Avera Mengistu

Vaknin-Gil conveniently omitted another important element of Israeli opacity when it comes to national security.  If the censor doesn’t prohibit publication of sensitive material or information, the security services have another powerful tool: the gag order.  They go to a cooperative judge (usually judges who were IDF lawyers or worked for the security apparatus) and get a gag order which determines that publication of facts or information would either damage an investigation or the national security.

A perfect example of this is the case of Avera Mengistu, the Israeli-Ethiopian citizen who entered Gaza just after last summer’s war and has been detained there since then.  I was the first journalist to publish this story and did so in Mint Press News.  No Israeli publication may do so.  There is not just a gag order on this story.  There is a comprehensive gag order meaning that the media not only may not refer to Mengistu, but they may not even say there is a gag order in place preventing them from reporting the story.  It’s the most draconian form of judicial censorship of the media.

I’ve speculated in Mint Press about why Israel is so skittish about Mengistu’s story.  First, there is an element of racism involved.  Gilad Shalit was Ashkenazi and white.  Mengistu is Ethiopian and black.  Ethiopian-Israelis have little power in society.  They are second or third-class citizens akin to Israeli Palestinian citizens.  If Israel doesn’t have to acknowledge Mengistu it won’t; because doing so empowers Hamas to demand a high price for his return.  The truth is that Mengistu isn’t worth anything to the Israeli government, so it gags any reference to him.  Speaking his name will force its hand.

avera mengistu imprisoned

Israeli Ethiopians at Tel Aviv rally against racism wearing T-shirts with Avera Mengistu’s name and a question mark, a clear act of rebellion against the Israeli gag order on his case

In a related matter, an Israeli Wikipedia editor read my Mint Press story and created an article about Mengistu.  The censored article is displayed here (and as a Word doc here), the Talk page for the article, which was also deleted, is archived here.  Within a short time, an Israeli former reader and commenter at this blog who was banned (while here he used various nicknames, itself a comment rule violation, ‘dude,’ ‘journalist,’ and ‘tankist’) began a campaign to eliminate the Wikipedia entry.  At first he did this anonymously.  When I called him on this he began using the Wikipedia identity, kigelim.  I also noted he had a self-interest in censoring the article because he’d been banned from this blog.  Those participating in the Talk page for the article refused to acknowledge this fact as legitimate.

His first argument was that the article violated Wikipedia standards for journalistic credibility.  However, Mint Press is a respected online publication with high journalistic standards.  He never gave up on this argument. But other ones were developed as well.  Another group of editors claimed falsely that I’d authored the article using a different Wikipedia identity (sockpuppetry).  When I disproved this claim, they regrouped, beginning a campaign among fellow pro-Israel Wikipedia editors to delete the article.  There are internal pro-Israel Wikipedia discussion groups and kigelim alerted them to the article and they pounced on it.   Interestingly, an editor is not permitted to mount a public (i.e. outside of Wikipedia) campaign on behalf of editorial decisions.  But internal lobbying among Wikipedia groups and editors is perfectly acceptable.  A vote was held and those seeking deletion won.

In this way, pro-Israel elements working within Wikipedia achieved precisely the same outcome that Israeli censorship does inside that country.  They silenced a key world information source which is supposed to be open and accessible to all regardless of political or ideological belief.  They turned Wikipedia into a playground in which all the worst excesses of Israeli paranoia and anti-democratic tendencies are found.  They perverted this fabulous resource and imposed the worst excesses of Israel-style censorship.  Fools like these cheapen Wikipedia and betray its mission.

UPDATE: Kigelim has now threatened to report me to a “Wikipedia committee” and get me blocked from participating in Wikipedia unless I “apologize” to the “community” for my “baseless allegations.”  Actually, if he has the power to initiate such a proceeding I’d welcome it.  So bring it on.

When Mengistu is finally released (this will take much longer thanks to the draconian impact of Israeli censorship and pro-Israel editors in Wikipedia), then the article will be restored and the naysayers will be exposed for the prejudiced pro-Israelists they are.

Last week, Israeli-Ethiopians protested against Israeli racism.  One of the chants heard in the crowd was the name of Avera Mengistu and another Ethiopian who was killed in a police beating.  Israeli and Wikipedia may silence the truth.  But you can’t silence an entire ethnic group when it knows it’s getting the shaft.

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The Supreme Court Saved the GOP from Itself

justices kennedy and roberts

Justices Kennedy and Roberts saving GOP from its own worst impulses

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare and today’s decision legalizing gay marriage, prevailing wisdom has it that the Obama administration and social movements it champions won a major victory.  But the rulings did something much less obvious.  These nine justices, but especially Republican members like Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts, almost single-handedly saved the Republican Party from itself.

Following decades of attempts to exploit social and culture war issues like abortion, women’s rights, capital punishment, gay rights, gun rights, etc. the GOP is increasingly on the wrong side of the divide.  Its leaders outdo each other with ever more outlandish and extremist notions, which play well to their own particular narrow, regional constituencies, but don’t play at a national level.

WHITE HOUSE rainbow colors

White House alight with rainbow colors  (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The Republicans are an increasingly narrow Party which, while popular in pockets of the country, have no national constituency.  That’s where the Supreme Court comes in.  Imagine if these two decisions had gone the other way: Obamacare and gay marriage struck down.  There would have been a huge outcry around the country.  The 6-million Americans now covered by the new health plans would’ve mounted a revolt and demanded the heads of the Republicans, which would’ve rolled in the next election.

Similarly, the LGBT community nationally would’ve made its best effort to make the GOP pay for toppling gay marriage.  Democrats, and especially Pres. Obama would’ve been handed a huge plum by their right-wing opponents.  In effect, the latter would’ve been digging their own political grave.

That’s why Kennedy’s intervention in the gay marriage case and Roberts majority opinion in the Obamacare case are so important.  In each, the majority ruling presented a moderate centrist position which looked to ratify a growing consensus around each issue.  That’s why Justice Scalia was so appalled by Kennedy’s opinion.  For Scalia, the Republican Party is a party of radical conservatives, not a moderate one.  And he wants nothing to do with a Party of temporizers.

But Kennedy and Roberts did the Party an enormous favor.  They allowed it, with these rulings, to remain relevant to American voters.  That doesn’t mean that the Tea Party won’t come up with new hare-brained schemes (and we hope they will).  But for now, the GOP saved itself from what might have been permanent implosion.

The future doesn’t look good, however.  All the major GOP presidential candidates possibly excepting Jeb Bush, come from the outlandish stream of the Party.  They oppose abortion, gay marriage, civil rights.  They support guns and the police-military-national security state (with the exception of Rand Paul).  They support states rights.  These guys can’t win a national election.  None of them.  Frankly, I doubt Jeb Bush can.

That doesn’t mean I support Hillary Clinton.  She is a fatally compromised candidate made of the same cloth as Roberts and Kennedy (with perhaps a slight liberal tint).  But she will likely be the next president.

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This post expands on my original one reporting this incident.  Some of the material in it may look familiar to those who read the original post.  This one names, for the first time outside of Arabic media, Munther Khalil, the Syrian Islamist killed by Golani Druze this week.  It also confirms that the IDF lied in claiming he was a civilian.

When Israel conquered the Golan in 1967, it launched a 50-year occupation of the Syrian Golan in which tens of thousands of Syrian Druze lived.  Though an armistice line now separates the Druze in Syrian and Israeli-occupied zones, both communities are deeply intertwined.  The sense of solidarity now, in the midst of a raging civil war, is no different than Diaspora Jews felt in 1967 before the war broke out.  Millions rallied around the world concerned about Israel’s fate.  Now the Druze in Israeli-held Golan are fearful for the fates of their brothers and sisters.

Israel claims, falsely, that it is neutral in the Syrian civil war.  Unfortunately, the world media are taken in by this charade.  Israel intervenes regularly on behalf of the Syrian Islamist rebels.  The UN observed the IDF unloading supplies in boxes at the armistice fence, which were then picked up by Islamist fighters.  Al Monitor even reported that the IDF shells government positions inside Syria.  The Israelis meet regularly with al-Nusra commanders (who are affiliated with al-Qaeda) to offer intelligence.  A Syrian Druze videotaped one such meeting, which was aired on Syrian TV.  He was promptly secretly arrested by the Shabak.  The Israeli media was forbidden from reporting his name, Sedki al-Maket, thanks to a security gag order (I was the only journalist outside Syria who reported his name and story).

Israeli TV reported that Israel has built a camp for Syrian army deserters in Israeli occupied Golan.  Israel has also bombed Hezbollah and Iranian convoys inside Syria carrying advanced weaponry meant for the Lebanese front. It has assassinated several senior Iranian generals and Hezbollah commanders on Syrian soil as well.  It opposes Assad not so much for political or ideological reasons, but because the regime’s chief allies are Israel’s arch-nemeses, Iran and Hezbollah.

Israel’s alliance with Islamists makes for some strange bedfellows.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is the first to raise the rallying cry for western resistance to the tyranny of Islamism.  He regularly invokes the specter of the savagery of ISIS in counterpoint to the civilizing force of Israel.  But when it’s in Israel’s interest, it’s more than willing to make common cause with such forces.

Not only is it hypocritical for Israel to join forces with Islamists; it’s likely that today’s allies will turn into tomorrow’s enemies.  Maariv journalist Jacki Hugi said it well:

…Jerusalem must ask itself some difficult questions: can its bet on the rebels pay off?  Or does stability on the northern border depend on the continuation of the regime?  Support for these sectarian groups carries many dangers.  Their trustworthiness fluctuates, as do the figures who lead them.  He who today will not act against Israel may change his spots [literally “shed his skin”] tomorrow.

…Israeli policy over the past few decades has been characterized by a series of bad bets.  At the end of the 1980s, it enabled Hamas to rise from the midst of Gaza’s Islamist groups.  It did this out of the flawed assumption that this was the proper way to weaken Fatah…As a result [Israel] created its own Trojan Horse [within Palestine].

With the IDF’s entrance [sic] into Lebanon in 1982, Israel disregarded the Shiites and rushed to ally itself with those it saw as the most powerful in the land: the Christians.  So it paved the way for Tehran to offer protection to the disadvantaged and enable the rise of Hezbollah.

Something very similar happened in Afghanistan when the mujahedeen were first our friends, and then morphed into the Taliban and became our sworn enemies.

So far, the Syrian Islamists have deliberately not targeted Israel.  This is no doubt due to the aid it offers them on the battlefield.  Further, al-Nusra knows that Hezbollah is Israel’s primary opponent.  The Lebanese militia constantly probes in this sector and mounts attacks against Israeli forces.  Al-Nusra doesn’t seek or need to compete with Hezbollah in that regard.  It would rather confine is efforts to the Syrian theater, than expand to attack Israel itself.

Recently, fighting on the Syrian side of Golan has heated up. There, the Druze villages have been largely loyal to the Assad regime over the decades.  When al-Nusra and FSA forces attacked Druze villages in northern Syria, killing 20 residents, those living on the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan became restive and angry.  They couldn’t sit back and watch as their cousins died at the hands of Islamists.

Not to mention that their religion, though an offshoot of Islam, is considered heretical by fundamentalist Islamists.  The Druze under threat rightly believe that they and their ancient religious traditions are in grave jeopardy.  Thus, Israel’s alliance with the al-Nusra front puts it diametrically at odds with the Golani Druze under Israeli Occupation.

In recent days, Israeli TV aired an interview (Hebrew, at the 2:00 mark) with a wounded Syrian fighter who was treated in Israel after being evacuated from the combat zone.  What he said raised the ire of the local Druze to the boiling point:

TV interview: “What would you do if you captured a Druze?” “It depends.”

In this context, the interview I mentioned above was a lightning bolt through the Druze community.  The interviewer asked the fighter (who was affiliated with the FSA):

Interviewer: [What would u do] if you caught an Alawite?

A: I would kill him

I: And if you caught a Druze?

A: It depends

I: And if you caught a Shiite?

A: I would kill the Shiite

This answer didn’t go down well among the Druze.  Sandwiched between this vow of murder directed at Syrian Alawites, the traditional Druze ally, is a temporizing claim that he might or might not kill a captured Druze.  This, with the backdrop of 20 Druze murdered only a few days earlier, was enough to mount a mini-revolt among Golani Druze.

idf lied about syrian fighter killed by druze munther khalil

Munther Khalil, Syrian Islamist fighter killed by Golani Druze

Israel regularly evacuates Islamist fighters wounded in the fighting against the regime in the region.  Angry local Druze intercepted an IDF ambulance carrying two wounded Syrians, whom the IDF claimed were civilians.  They beat the army medics, who were forced to flee.  They then beat one of the wounded Syrians to death and severely wounded the other, before the authorities intervened and rescued him.

Munther Khalil: the IDF’s Faux Syrian “Civilian”

Syrian Islamists calling themselves the Revolutionary Command Council in Quneitra and the Golan, published a Facebook memorial to the victim who was killed in the attack.  The page says in Arabic:

Munther Khalil – the wounded man who was killed by Druze people from  Majdal Shams in Israel

May Allah have mercy on you, and accept you as one of the Shahids

His picture features him brandishing a gun in full rebel garb.  He is clearly not a civilian.

Haaretz reporter Amos Harel also reports (Hebrew and English here) that the two Syrians were Islamist rebels:

The two wounded were from one of the Syrian rebel organizations fighting in the heart of the Golan against the Syrian army.

The IDF lied in order to conceal its own contributing role in this tragic incident.  A common occurrence in such circumstances.

The Israeli military is aghast at the Druze attack, since it infringes on its right to meddle in Syrian internal affairs unmolested.  Defense minister Yaalon called the killing a “lynch.”  This is Israeli code for ‘Arab savagery.’  It is used to differentiate Israeli behavior, supposedly civilized and humane, from that of Palestinian (or Arab) militants.

In the case of the Golan killing, the IDF is attempting to paint the Golani Druze as uncivilized beasts when, in fact, they are legitimately angry at Israel’s new alliance with their enemies, the al-Nusra Front.  When Israel first occupied the Golan did it figure that the inhabitants would embrace the occupiers and become like them?  Did it give any thought to the views and interests of the occupied and how they differed from those of Israelis?  It’s doubtful.  Now they are paying the price for their obliviousness and for fifty years of military occupation of Syrian Druze.

The latter are now demanding that Israel intervene in the civil war to save their brethren under attack from al-Nusra.  This is the sort of insanely complex strategic dilemma that comes from playing with fire.  If Israel continues its “arrangement” with al-Nusra and the latter conquers Syrian Druze villages and imposes fundamentalist Islam replete with revenge killings and beheadings, then it risks igniting a tinderbox inside Israeli-occupied Golan.  If it takes the side of the Druze against al-Nusra it risks the leverage it has with the only viable force opposing Israel’s most dangerous enemies, Hezbollah and Iran.

When you play with matches, you’re bound to get burned.

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Israel’s Dangerous Game with Syrian Islamists

Recently, Israeli TV aired an interview (Hebrew, at the 2:00 mark) with a wounded Syrian fighter who was treated in Israel after being evacuated from the combat zone.  As I, and many other journalists have reported, Israel, despite the false claim of neutrality in the civil war, has frequently intervened in the conflict on behalf of forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad.  It does this less because it opposes Assad himself, than because its arch-enemies, Iran and Hezbollah, are the regime’s strongest allies.

In the Golan, Israel has cultivated an alliance with Islamist forces it falsely claims to detest: the al-Nusra Front.  It has built a camp to house fighters and their families on Israeli-held territory.  It conducts regular meetings with Islamist commanders and provides military and other critical supplies to them.  All of this is documented in written UN reports and images captured by journalists and activists on the armistice line (between Syria and Israel).

In my writing about this, I’ve not only criticized the hypocrisy of Israel joining forces with the very forces it claims are destroying the Middle East and the world; I’ve also noted the likelihood that today’s allies will turn into tomorrow’s enemies.  Maariv journalist Jacki Hugi said it well:

…Jerusalem must ask itself some difficult questions: can its bet on the rebels pay off?  Or does stability on the northern border depend on the continuation of the regime?  Support for these sectarian groups carries many dangers.  Their trustworthiness fluctuates, as do the figures who lead them.  He who today will not act against Israel may change his spots [literally “shed his skin”] tomorrow.

…Israeli policy over the past few decades has been characterized by a series of bad bets.  At the end of the 1980s, it enabled Hamas to rise from the midst of Gaza’s Islamist groups.  It did this out of the flawed assumption that this was the proper way to weaken Fatah…As a result [Israel] created its own Trojan Horse [within Palestine].

With the IDF’s entrance [sic] into Lebanon in 1982, Israel disregarded the Shiites and rushed to ally itself with those it saw as the most powerful in the land: the Christians.  So it paved the way for Tehran to offer protection to the disadvantaged and enable the rise of Hezbollah.

Something very similar happened in Afghanistan when the mujahedeen were first our friends, and then morphed into the Taliban and became our sworn enemies.

So far, the Syrian Islamists have deliberately not targeted Israel.  This is no doubt due to the aid it offers them on the battlefield.  Further, al-Nusra knows that Hezbollah is Israel’s primary opponent.  The Lebanese militia constantly probes in this sector and mounts attacks against Israeli forces.  Al-Nusra doesn’t seek or need to compete with Hezbollah in that regard.  It would rather confine is efforts to the Syrian theater, than expand to attack Israel itself.

But lately, al-Nusra has mounted attacks in a new Syrian sector: the Druze-populated Golan.  This new offensive, which has threatened several Druze villages, led to the death of 20 Druze villagers last week.  The Syrian Druze are generally loyal to the Assad regime.  Their religion, though an offshoot of Islam, is considered heretical by fundamentalist Islamists.  The Druze under threat, rightly believe that they and their ancient religious traditions are in grave jeopardy.

This might not mean much to Israel, except for a single complicating factor: when it conquered the Golan in 1967, it began an occupation of former Syrian territory which contained tens of thousands of Syrian Druze.  Though an armistice line now separates the Druze in Syrian and Israeli-occupied zones, both communities are deeply intertwined.  It is no different than Diaspora Jews felt in 1967 before the war broke out.  Millions rallied around the world concerned about Israel’s fate.  Now the Druze in Israeli-held Golan are fearful for the fates of their brothers and sisters.

druze al nusra battle

TV interview: “What would you do if you captured a Druze?” “It depends.”

In this context, the interview I mentioned above was a lightning bolt through the Druze community.  The interviewer asked the fighter (who was affiliated with the FSA):

Interviewer: [What would u do] if you caught an Alawite?

A: I would kill him

I: And if you caught a Druze?

A: It depends

I: And if you caught a Shiite?

A: I would kill the Shiite

This answer didn’t go down well among the Druze.  Sandwiched between this vow of murder directed at Syrian Alawites, the Druze normal ally, is a temporizing claim that he might or might not kill a captured Druze.  This, with the backdrop of 20 Druze murdered only a few days earlier.  It was enough to mount a mini-revolt among Golani Druze.

Israel regularly evacuates Islamist fighters (and some civilians as well) wounded in the fighting against the regime in the region.  Angry local Druze intercepted an IDF ambulance carrying two wounded fighters (the IDF claims they were civilians).  They beat the army medics, who were forced to flee.  They then beat one of the wounded Syrians to death and severely wounded the other, before the authorities intervened and rescued him.

The Israeli military is aghast at this infringement on its right to meddle in Syrian internal affairs unmolested.  Defense minister Yaalon called the killing a “lynch.”  This is Israeli code for ‘Arab savagery.’  It is used to differentiate Israeli behavior, supposedly civilized and humane, from that of Palestinian militants.

In the case of the Golan killing, the IDF is attempting to paint the Golani Druze as uncivilized beasts when, in fact, they are legitimately angry at Israel’s new alliance with their enemies, the al-Nusra Front.  The Druze are now demanding that Israel intervene in the civil war to save their brethren under attack from al-Nusra.  This is the sort of insanely complex strategic dilemma that comes from playing with fire.  If Israel continues its “arrangement” with al-Nusra and the latter conquers Syrian Druze villages and imposes fundamentalist Islam replete with revenge killings and beheadings, then it risks igniting a tinderbox inside Israeli-occupied Golan.  If it takes the side of the Druze against al-Nusra it risks the leverage it has with the only viable force opposing Israel’s most dangerous enemies, Hezbollah and Iran.

When you play with matches, you’ll get burned.

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