Mark Perry writes: The August beheading of American journalist James Foley shocked Washington’s policy elite, sparking concern over how the U.S. should respond to the emerging threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In retrospect, the gruesome murder was a kind of tipping point for the Obama administration, which had been scrambling to shape a response to both ISIS and the growing perception that its foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, was hopelessly adrift.
At the same time that Foley’s videotaped execution was spurring a series of high-level State Department, Pentagon and White House meetings over the crisis in Iraq and Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was calculating how he might use Foley’s death to explain why his country had killed over 2,100 Palestinians in Gaza over the previous eight weeks.
On the day following the release of a videotape showing the beheading, Netanyahu referred to the Foley murder during an evening press conference in Jerusalem, comparing the extremist group that murdered Foley with Hamas. “Hamas is like ISIS. ISIS is like Hamas,” he said. “They’re branches of the same tree.” The next day, in a message circulated on the Israeli prime minister’s twitter account, he reiterated the claim. “RT THIS,” Netanyahu wrote. “Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas. They’re enemies of Peace. They’re enemies of civilized countries.” The tweet had the snazzy look of a logo, along with scenes from the beheading video, which were deleted the next day after being widely criticized as inappropriate. [Continue reading...]
Adnan Abu Amer reports: As Cairo’s indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians started on Sept. 23 toward a cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian negotiations between Fatah and Hamas also kicked off on files related to the reconciliation reached in April.
The Palestinian dialogue comes amid tensions between Fatah and Hamas that escalated immediately after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza Aug. 26, due to disputes regarding the reconstruction of Gaza and the unpaid wages of former government employees.
Speaking at a celebration organized by the International Union of Muslim Scholars on Sept. 21, before the Cairo talks, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, said: “As soon as the Gaza war ended, the attack against Hamas started. This aims at stirring a hostile media campaign. Hamas has no time to waste on secondary battles. We have priorities, most important of which is the issue concerning the reconstruction of Gaza. We will not tolerate negligence in any issue and we will not accept the cancelation of any part stipulated in the reconciliation.” [Continue reading...]
Is there nowhere on the face of the Earth where opinion polls aren’t taken? In the wake of the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, parts of that tiny strip of land now look, according to photographs, like a moonscape of destruction. At least 10,000 homes were obliterated and thousands more damaged; at least 175 major factories were pummeled into the dust. Its only power plant was destroyed, damaging electricity, water, and sewage systems. Large apartment houses, as well as the ministry of education, schools, and other sites, were hit and sometimes reduced to so much rubble. It was all part of a massive Israeli assault on Hamas, several of whose senior leaders were assassinated, but also on the Palestinian population, involving what looked like collective punishment for its support of that organization or simply living in proximity to it. And indeed, with almost no hope of rebuilding much of their world any time soon, you might think that Palestinians would hold the Hamas leadership at least somewhat responsible for the destruction that has rained down, as assumedly the Israelis wanted them to. But a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), begun in the last day before the ceasefire took hold, and carried out, in part, amid the rubble that is now Gaza, suggests otherwise.
It finds that Palestinian opinion couldn’t be clearer. Support hasn’t been this high for Hamas since 2006, when it won a fair and square democratic election. If a presidential vote were held today, the pollsters of PSR discovered, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas hands down. Here are just a few of the findings: “79% [of Palestinians] believe that Hamas has won the Gaza War; 3% believe Israel came out the winner; and 17% believe the two sides were losers… If new presidential elections are held today and only two [candidates] were nominated, Haniyeh, for the first time since we have started asking about his popularity about eight years ago, would receive a majority of 61% and Abbas would receive 32%. [The] vote for Haniyeh stands at 53% in the Gaza Strip and 66% in the West Bank. Abbas receives 43% in the Gaza Strip and 25% in the West Bank… A majority of 53% believe that armed confrontation is the most effective means to establish a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Only 22% believe negotiation is the best means to establish a Palestinian state and 20% believe that popular non-violent resistance is the most effective route to statehood.”
As historically has often been the case, massive bombings and other assaults do not destroy the support of populations for movements or governments, but tend to solidify it. In other words, Israeli policy is reducing civilized life for Palestinians in a major way and yet increasing the urge both to fight on and the desire for revenge. It’s an ugly pattern and, as TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky (whose latest book, Masters of Mankind, is due out this week) indicates today, it’s been going on in this same fashion for a remarkably long time, as Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian lands on the West Bank, while working to hem Palestinians in yet further in the Gaza Strip. Tom Engelhardt
Ceasefires in which violations never cease
What’s next for Israel, Hamas, and Gaza?
By Noam Chomsky
On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.
This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same. The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”
Eager to grasp a political opportunity that seemed to have been created by the murder of James Foley, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got busy on Twitter saying that “Hamas is ISIS.”
But Netanyahu seems to have changed his mind because he now says that it is the close proximity of the threat from ISIS — in the opposite direction from Gaza — that necessitated the ceasefire with Hamas. Otherwise Israel could have continued bombing Gaza for 500 days instead of stopping after 50 days.
In other words, even if Netanyahu won’t be tweeting this, Israel accepted a ceasefire with Hamas in part because Hamas is not ISIS.
AFP reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel agreed to a permanent truce in its 50-day Gaza war with Hamas in order to keep focused on the threat from regional militants.
“We fought for 50 days and we could have fought for 500 days, but we are in a situation where the Islamic State is at the gates of Jordan, Al-Qaeda is in the Golan and Hezbollah is at the border with Lebanon,” Netanyahu said in an address on public television.
He was referring to Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq — both neighbours of Jordan — Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front Syria rebels on the Israeli-annexed Golan and Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah.
“We decided not to get bogged down in Gaza, and we could have, but we decided to limit our objective and restore calm to Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu added.
His remarks come as the United States, Israel’s chief ally, is calling for a global coalition to fight the jihadists who have set up an Islamic “caliphate” in areas they have overrun in Syria and Iraq.
The Washington Post reports: The contrast was stark.
In Gaza, as Hamas leaders stood in a rubble-filled central square to declare an unequivocal victory, thousands of flag-waving supporters cheered.
In Israel, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a televised news conference alongside his defense minister and army chief to claim a win, he was slammed by the media, the public, the opposition and even members of his own party and coalition.
Although it is still too early to say which side, if either, was victorious in the 50-day conflict that claimed more than 2,200 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and other structures, and traumatized many more on both sides, there appears to be little doubt that Netanyahu is emerging as the biggest loser, personally and politically.
“I can say that there is a major military achievement here, as well as a major diplomatic achievement for the state of Israel,” he said at the news conference.
Newspaper headlines Thursday, however, dismissed Netanyahu’s victory speech. He was even described as an “empty vessel.” An analysis in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv said the prime minister had been forced to “invent” a military and political victory and had failed to convey the “strategic calculations that guided him.”
Even before Wednesday’s news conference, members of Netanyahu’s cabinet were publicly questioning his decision to agree to a truce, saying Israel had achieved none of its objectives. [Continue reading...]
Mark Perry writes: The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions — if it holds — will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel’s Gaza operation that won’t be publicized is the U.S. military’s. Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior U.S. military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.
One of the more curious moments in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel’s military action. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.”
Rain of high-explosive shells
Kerry’s comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said that the source of Kerry’s apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.
According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report. [Continue reading...]
Azzam Tamimi writes: First: For the people of Gaza, the recent ceasefire deal between the resistance and Israel did not accomplish all they were seeking. Yet, at the same time, it achieved none of what the Israelis were hoping for. Perhaps the reason the two sides managed to agree, finally, on a ceasefire, was their conviction that there was no way any of them could achieve more under the prevalent circumstances.
It is true that the Israelis have enjoyed unprecedented Arab support in their war against Gaza and continuous encouragement from certain Arab quarters to inflict as much damage as they could on Gaza to pressure Hamas into capitulation. Yet, they have not been able to cripple the resistance or force it to surrender. As for the resistance, it has indeed enjoyed the full and unconditional backing of the people of Gaza, despite the siege and the pain, in the hope that this latest round of conflict would led to lifting the siege that has been imposed on the Strip for nearly eight years. Yet, it has not been possible for the resistance to obtain guarantees that the siege would finally be ended.
Second: The artillery and the rockets have gone silent and the annoying buzzing and whizzing of Israeli warplanes in Gaza’s skies is no longer there, yet the propaganda warfare will continue for some time to come. Each side will seek to prove it came out victorious having achieved its objectives.
The Israelis consider the continuation of the siege a sign of their success whereas the resistance considers the failure of the Israelis to impose demilitarisation a sign of victory. However, one can see a marked difference between the two sides. As soon as the ceasefire deal went into effect, the masses in Gaza took to the streets to celebrate and express joy over what they truly believed was victory.
On the other side, the Israeli masses seemed confused and even distressed. Few Israelis believe that the war has accomplished much for them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the offensive against Gaza with high expectations. He promised his public that he would dismantle the military infrastructure of Hamas and the other resistance factions, that he would destroy the tunnels and that he would put an end to the firing of the rockets from Gaza. However, none of this was achieved. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to an indefinite ceasefire, putting an end to seven weeks of catastrophic loss of life and destruction – but on terms that are likely to leave many on both sides of the conflict wondering what had been achieved.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant groups in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Israel agreed to stop fighting on Tuesday evening, bringing relief to civilians on both sides of the border after rocket fire and air strikes continued in the hours running up to the ceasefire. One Israeli was killed and several injured by a mortar ahead of the announcement, according to Israeli media.
The terms of the deal – brokered by the Egyptian government, and reached on the 50th day of the conflict – are expected to be similar to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago. Israel will open crossings on its border to allow the movement of people and goods, and extend the permitted fishing zone off the coast of Gaza. Rafah, the border between Gaza and Egypt will also be opened; reconstruction of Gaza will begin.
More difficult issues will be deferred for further talks in about a month. They include Hamas’s demands for an airport and seaport in Gaza and the release of Palestinian prisoners, and Israel’s insistence of the disarmament of militant groups and the return of the remains of two of its soldiers killed in the fighting. [Continue reading...]
In an interview with Yahoo News, the political leader of Hamas on Friday vigorously rejected any comparison to ISIL terrorists and pledged that the Palestinian militant group will start giving warnings to Israelis about impending rocket attacks in order to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.
As much of the world expressed revulsion over the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIL executioner, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal took pains to distance his organization from the Islamist militant group that has conducted a murderous rampage across a large swath of Syria and Iraq.
“This is an opportunity for me to say we are against the killing of any civilians, any journalists,” Meshaal said in the interview. But he then turned the accusation against Israel. “The question is who is killing the civilians,” he said, asserting that more than 15 journalists have been killed during the Israeli assault on Gaza. [Continue reading...]
Ynet: In a survey released Saturday by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), the majority of Gaza’s residents said that they supported a long-term agreement for peace with Israel, but that disarmament of the Gaza Strip was an unacceptable demand from the Jewish State.
PCPO workers went door to door to ask their subjects some important questions and 87.6% of those asked said that they wanted a long-term agreement to be reached to stop the fighting, but even more, 93.2% said that disarmament of Hamas and the Gaza Strip was out of the question.
Ma’an News Agency reports: Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in Gaza City on Thursday after targeting a cemetery in the Sheikh al-Radwan district, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Qidra said.
The bodies of Muhammad Talal Abu Nahl, Rami Abu Nahl, Haitham Tafesh and Abed Talal Shuweikh were taken to al-Shifa medicial center.
The victims were burying relatives who had been killed overnight by Israeli airstrikes.
The Guardian reports: Israel dealt a blow to Hamas on Thursday by killing three of its most senior military commanders as uncertainty continued over the fate of the organisation’s top military chief, Mohammed Deif, whose wife and children died in an air strike on Tuesday.
Hamas announced the deaths of Mohammed Abu Shamlah, Raed Attar and Mohammed Barhoum after a house in Rafah, in the south of Gaza, was demolished by a series of missiles. Five civilians were also killed, and at least 40 injured.
A joint statement from the Israel Defence Forces and the internal security agency Shin Bet said that Abu Shamlah and Attar had been killed, but made no mention of Barhoum. Defence minister Moshe Ya’alon said the assassinations were a “great operational and intelligence achievement”.
It was unclear how Hamas’s military command structure would be affected by the losses, but rockets continued to be launched from Gaza throughout Thursday and Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel’s actions would “not succeed in breaking the will of our people or weaken the resistance”. Israel would “pay the price”, he added.
AFP reports: The armed wing of Hamas warned foreign airlines against flying into Tel Aviv on Wednesday and declared truce talks in Cairo over as a six-week war with Israel spirals into further bloodshed.
Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of air strikes across Gaza again on Wednesday in response to multiple rocket attacks on southern Israel, as nine days of calm exploded into bloodshed.
Several thousand furious mourners poured onto the streets of Jabaliya refugee camp to bury the wife and infant son of the top commander of Hamas’s armed wing, baying for revenge.
Mohammed Deif, who has topped Israel’s most wanted list for more than a decade, escaped the assassination attempt, Hamas said.
Israel, which had carried out five previous attempts on Deif’s life, said its offensive in Gaza would continue until the security of Israelis was guaranteed.
At least 2,049 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side have now been killed since the conflict began on July 8, more than 20 of those Palestinians since fighting resumed late Tuesday.
“We are warning international airlines and press them to stop flying into Ben Gurion airport from 6 am (0300 GMT),” the spokesman of the Hamas armed wing, Abu Obeida, said in a televised speech.
Last month, many international airlines briefly suspended flights into Tel Aviv after a Hamas rocket struck close to the airport. [Continue reading...]
Among the reader comments that appear here, a fairly common one is a rebuke on my choice of sources and my willingness to regurgitate “the lies of the mainstream media” — or something along those lines.
I don’t find “mainstream media” a particularly useful concept because all too often it’s employed as the bluntest possible tool for media analysis.
To view a particular piece of reporting as credible or lacking in credibility simply on the basis of the commercial niche occupied by its publisher, is plain dumb. The following report illustrates my point.
How can a right-wing newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch with editorial writers like Bret Stephens, former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, provide solid reporting on Hamas? Surprisingly it can.
The report notes that Hamas is a “guerrilla army” thereby drawing a distinction between its objective nature and the politically charged designation — “terrorist” — which is applied by the U.S. and Israeli governments.
The report notes Hamas’ military accomplishments (and alludes to its recent use of drones for battlefield surveillance) and that its fighters are uniformed.
It notes that the choice to engage in armed resistance has been made by and supported by those have witnessed the futility of a peace process pursued through negotiations.
All in all, it’s a report that could profitably be read by many an Israeli who still accepts the propaganda that Israel faces a fanatical foe who values death more than life.
When the shrapnel-torn body of Ahmed Abu Thoraya returned to this city in the Gaza Strip, only one member of his family knew for sure he had been a fighter in Al Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas.
Mr. Abu Thoraya had given his brother, Mohammed, a short will before he left town on July 19. “He said ‘I’m going somewhere,'” his brother recalled recently. “I knew that he may not come back.”
The conflict in the Gaza Strip has brought the secretive guerrilla army of Hamas out of the shadows and into battle against Israel’s military for only the second time. When the brigade’s fighters are killed, Hamas street organizers eulogize them as heroes, posting images of them in fatigues and toting rockets. And families in the Gaza Strip are coming to terms with never-before-discussed identities of sons and neighbors.
The fighting has given Israel its first good look at Hamas’s street-fighting abilities since 2009—the only other time the Israeli Defense Forces have taken on large numbers of the Qassam fighters at close quarters. The Hamas militia has inflicted the heaviest death toll on Israel’s military in a decade, some 64 soldiers so far. Israel and the U.S. regard Hamas, which also has a political wing and delivers social services, as a terrorist enterprise.
On Tuesday, the latest cease-fire broke down when a salvo of rockets from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel, and Israel retaliated against militant targets in Gaza. Truce talks in Cairo were suspended.
“Hamas has advanced on all fronts,” said a senior official in the Israel Defense Forces. “This time when we meet them on the battlefield, they are better trained, better organized, better disciplined.”
That wasn’t the Hamas that Israel encountered in its 2009 ground invasion of Gaza. When Israel’s military entered the strip back then, Hamas fighters, for the most part, quickly melted away.
This time, Hamas surprised Israeli soldiers by using a network of tunnels under the walls and fences enclosing the Gaza Strip to emerge inside Israel. Hamas commando units that Israel believes took shape mostly in the last year carried out complex ambushes inside and outside Gaza.
Hamas’s internal communications proved more difficult for Israel to track, and Hamas exhibited a new capacity for aerial observation of Israeli troop movements. Hamas rockets, though mostly intercepted above Israel, managed to shut down Israel’s main airport for a time. [Continue reading...]