Shadi Hamid writes: Political scientists, myself included, have tended to see religion, ideology, and identity as “epiphenomenal” — products of a given set of material factors. These factors are the things we can touch, grasp, and measure. For example, when explaining why suicide bombers do what they do, we assume that these young men are depressed about their own accumulated failures, frustrated with a dire economic situation, or humiliated by political repression and foreign occupation. While these are all undoubtedly factors, they are not — and cannot be — the whole story.
But the role, and power, of religion in the modern Middle East is more mundane than that (after all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not think about becoming suicide bombers). “Islamism” has become a bad word, because the Islamists we hear about most often are those of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Most Islamists, however, are not jihadists or extremists; they are members of mainstream Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood whose distinguishing feature is their gradualism (historically eschewing revolution), acceptance of parliamentary politics, and willingness to work within existing state structures, even secular ones. Contrary to popular imagination, Islamists do not necessarily harken back to seventh century Arabia.
Why do Islamists become Islamists? There are any number of reasons, and each Brotherhood member has his or her own conversion story or “born-again” moment. As one Brotherhood member would often remind me, many join the movement so that they can “get into heaven.” To dismiss such pronouncements as irrational bouts of fancy is tempting. But, if you look at it another way, what could be more rational than wanting eternal salvation?
Islamists aren’t just acting for this world, but also for the next. Muslim Brotherhood and Brotherhood-inspired organizations aim to strengthen the religious character of individuals through a multi-tiered membership system and an educational process with a structured curriculum. Each brother is part of a “family,” usually consisting of 5 to 10 members, which meets on a weekly basis to read and discuss religious texts. For many members, it is quite simple and straightforward. Being a part of the Brotherhood helps them to obey God and become better Muslims, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of entry into paradise. This belief doesn’t mean that these more spiritually-focused members don’t care about politics; but they may see political action — whether running for a municipal council seat or joining a mass protest — as just another way of serving God. [Continue reading…]
Human Rights Watch reports: Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities demolished at least 3,255 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting thousands of people. Extended families who had lived side by side for decades found themselves dispersed, forced to abandon the multi-story houses they had built next to their relatives and passed down through generations. Some families became homeless and lived in tents or sheds on open land or in informal settlements. The Egyptian authorities razed around 685 hectares of cultivated farmland, depriving families of food and livelihood and stripping most of the border of its traditional olive, date and citrus groves. The evictions scattered families among the Sinai’s towns and villages and in some cases as far as Cairo and the Nile Delta. The Egyptian government has indicated that these evictions could continue.
The Egyptian army began demolishing buildings along the border in July 2013 as part of a reinvigorated but long-considered plan to establish a “buffer zone” with the Gaza Strip. These demolitions rapidly accelerated after October 24, 2014, when the Sinai-based armed group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, carried out an unprecedented attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, reportedly killing 28 soldiers. The following month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and changed its name to Sinai Province.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had taken office in June 2014 after orchestrating the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsy the year before, said in a speech on national television the day after the attack that Egypt was fighting a war “for its existence.” He declared a three-month state of emergency in most of North Sinai and convened the National Defense Council and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which agreed on a plan to establish a “secure zone” along the Gaza border. Five days after the attack, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “isolation” and “evacuation” of 79 square kilometers stretching along the entire Gaza border and extending between five and seven kilometers into the Sinai. The buffer zone encompassed all of Rafah, a town of some 78,000 people that lies directly on the border, as well as significant agricultural land around the town. [Continue reading…]
Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel writes: Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.
This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing. [Continue reading…]
David Hearst writes: Of all the bizarre encounters the Palestinian conflict has generated, Tony Blair’s four meetings in Doha with Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader must surely rank as one of the oddest.
Here was the Quartet’s Middle East envoy breaking the Quartet’s own rules about talking to Hamas until it recognises Israel – rules that Blair and Jack Straw , enforced as prime minister and foreign secretary by pressing the EU to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. Two of the four meetings were held before Blair resigned as envoy.
Here was Blair, the man linked in mind, body, and soul to the military coup in Egypt (he said the army intervened ” at the will of the people” to bring democracy to Egypt) attempting to mediate between Hamas, Israel and Egypt – the two countries that have kept a stranglehold around Gaza’s neck. The Egyptian leader has been an even more zealous enforcer of the blockade than Netanyahu is.
In a British context, Blair’s dialogue with Hamas took place as his supporters accused the far left candidate in the Labour leadership race Jeremy Corbyn of making Labour unelectable if he became leader. Corbyn had advocated talks with Hamas and Hezbollah – a crime of which the man who won power three times was a repeat offender.
Blair did not just talk to Meshaal. He invited him to London, offering him a specific date in June, on which the current prime minister David Cameron must have agreed. This is the same prime minister who has strived and failed, so far, to publish a report branding the Muslim Brotherhood presence in Britain as extremist. Bizarre.
And yet Blair kept going, even after the existence of the talks was revealed by the Middle East Eye, In the last few days he has still been pushing the deal in Cairo. Why?
His motivation is not obvious. It is surely not out any belated humanitarian concern for 1.8m Gazans. As prime minister and peace envoy, Blair has provided Israel with valuable international cover for one operation in Gaza after another. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.
The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.
Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.
The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]
Ali Hashem writes: A senior Hamas official who spoke to Al-Monitor in Beirut on condition of anonymity said, “We’ve never taken sides, but we have our say on what’s happening. Iran is a friend. It was once a very close friend, and we don’t forget that. But today there are efforts to normalize ties once again. This is facing some hurdles from both sides.”
The official, who visits Iran often, told Al-Monitor, “There were plans for Khaled Meshaal to visit Tehran, [but] on several occasions the visits were canceled because of the uncertainty on our side that it would go as planned.”
Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is concerned he won’t be allowed to meet the supreme leader of Iran, Al-Monitor learned, as a trip to Tehran would be useless without a meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Mamadou Sow, who heads Red Cross operations in Gaza, said that in April he presented a critique of Hamas’s conduct during the 2014 hostilities to its top political and military leaders, and that they “welcomed it” and “indicated that they are a learning organization.” He said they also “challenged us to keep in mind the topology of the Gaza Strip,” one of the most densely populated patches on the planet.
“For the first time,” said Jacques de Maio, director of the Red Cross delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, “Hamas is actually, in a private, protected space, expressing a readiness to look critically at a number of things that have an impact on their level of respect for international humanitarian law.”
He added, “Whether this will translate into something concrete, time will tell.”
Besides participating in the workshops, Hamas has altered its propaganda in the aftermath of the war. New talking points stress that tunnel attacks last summer targeted military positions, not civilian communities, and argue — dubiously — that rockets fly toward civilian areas because the Gaza groups lack guiding technology.
Still, Hamas leaders routinely praise attacks on Israelis, and there are widespread reports that Qassam is rebuilding tunnels to infiltrate Israeli territory.
Last week, in announcing the arrest of a Qassam fighter in July, Israel’s security service said that he had told interrogators “the organization’s fighters endanger many civilians by storing explosives in their homes, on the instructions of Hamas commanders.”
Mr. de Maio of the Red Cross acknowledged that “a big ethical, fundamental question would be, ‘Are we now shaking hands with the devil?’ ” But he said his group’s work with rogue rulers and rebels around the world had altered their modi operandi. He cited a 2011 episode in Afghanistan in which operatives painted a vehicle like an ambulance. “We engaged with the Taliban and it was a long process,” he said. Eventually commanders issued an order saying it was a mistake that should not be repeated, “and it didn’t happen again.”
The Red Cross and the Qassam Brigades let reporters from The New York Times observe the first day of the workshop in July, on the condition that neither the trainers nor the participants be named, and that no photographs be taken. Role-playing and case studies — one exercise involved an armed group firing on an invading tank from the garden of a civilian home, near a hospital — were also off limits.
Most of the men were in their 20s and wore trim beards. Their leader opened by saying, “All what we’re going to hear we can find in our religion,” urging them “to take it very seriously” and reminding them to silence their cellphones. [Continue reading…]
Al Monitor reports: Support for Palestinian groups has been one of the unchanging principles of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. Iran’s support for various Palestinian groups and figures has ebbed and flowed with the changing political realities of the region but has never dropped off completely. In his latest speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on the country’s foreign policy, said that even with a nuclear deal, Iran’s support of “resistance groups” would continue.
However, it is no secret by now that since the unrest in Syria began in 2011, relations between Hamas and Iran have deteriorated. Iran pushed the Sunni militant group to politically back its ally President Bashar al-Assad, while Hamas was on the defensive, denying accusations of supporting Assad’s armed opposition. Relations between Hamas and Iran have not recovered since Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal left his longtime base in Damascus in 2012 for Qatar, one of the main sponsors of Assad’s armed opposition.
There were rumors in the Iranian media that Meshaal would visit Iran and meet with Khamenei, but those rumors failed to materialize. It is understandable then that when Hamas leaders, including Meshaal, visited Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud on July 18, the Iranian reaction was swift. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: Iranian aid to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has drastically decreased, a senior Hamas official said Monday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Iran’s aid “greatly helped the resistance in Palestine; without this assistance it will be hard for us to cope.”
“The relations between Hamas and Iran are not advancing in a direction in which the organization (Hamas) is interested and aren’t improving to the degree the organization wants in order to help the Palestinian issue,” Abu Marzouk said. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: During the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated leaders, including Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda party in Tunisia; Abdul Majeed Zindani, the leader of al-Islah party in Yemen; and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas.
Such meetings would have been unthinkable at any other point in the past couple of years, as Saudi rulers threw their weight behind Egypt’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In March 2014, the kingdom designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group.
But since Saudi King Salman‘s rise to power following the death of King Abdullah last January, Saudi policy seems to have shifted from a full-on battle against the Brotherhood and their respective offshoots across the region, to a sharper focus on the supposed rise of an Iranian regional threat. [Continue reading…]
Amnesty International: On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.
On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.
In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.
In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).
The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A series of explosions destroyed several vehicles belonging to officials of the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks in Gaza attributed to extremists who have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group.
Witnesses told local journalists that there were four explosions at three sites in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza around 6 a.m. At one location there was new graffiti of the Islamic State flag with the declaration “Shariah will win,” referring to the legal code of Islam based on the Quran.
Health officials in Gaza said two people in nearby homes were injured by shattered glass. Photographs posted to social media showed a dark gray truck with its back blown off and the shell of a badly burned sedan.
“Some sinful hands are trying to undermine the resistance,” the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said in a joint statement. “The perpetrators put themselves in the box of treason,” the groups added, saying such attacks serve Israel’s “objectives” in destabilizing Gaza. [Continue reading…]
We’ve just passed the first “anniversary” — if such a word can even be used with such a catastrophe — of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s third invasion of the Gaza Strip in recent years. That small bit of land has now suffered more devastation than just about any place on the planet. In the wake of the third war since 2008, more than 100,000 displaced Gazans remain homeless or crowded in with relatives. Whole neighborhoods, destroyed in the conflict, have yet to be rebuilt. A year later, there is still next to no electricity, the area’s sole power plant having been taken out by Israeli air strikes, and the situation when it comes to sewage and potable water, is disastrous. Blockaded and devastated by repeated wars, Gaza’s manufacturing sector has almost disappeared, while its economy is “on the verge of collapse,” according to the World Bank. In short, by any standard, Gaza is not a livable place and yet 1.8 million people (more than half of them under 18 years old, 43% under 15) are crammed into it with nowhere to go and in most cases nothing to do. After all, Gaza now has what may be the highest unemployment rate on the planet at 44%, with youth unemployment reaching 60%.
The great Israeli reporter Amira Hass, author of the classic book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, recently put the matter this way: “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp… This is not a novelty… This did not start, unlike what many people think, with the rise of Hamas… This policy of sealing off Gaza, of making Gazans into… defacto prisoners, started [in 1991]… So if I want to sum up the reality of Gaza: it is a huge prison… It is an Israel-meditated, pre-meditated, pre-planned, and planned project to separate Gaza from the West Bank.”
Max Blumenthal’s new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, catches the nightmare of the third war in this tiny piece of land in the last six-and-a-half years in a uniquely gripping way. In its pages, you follow him directly into the devastation of the Israeli invasion. (He entered Gaza during the first extended truce of the war.) I doubt there could be a more vivid account of what it felt like, as a Palestinian civilian, to endure those weeks of horror, massive destruction, and killing. Today at TomDispatch, he looks back on that experience and forward to what he doesn’t doubt will be the fourth war of its kind. If he’s right, then sadly, in the years to come, some reporter will be writing yet another book on a Gaza war. Tom Engelhardt
The fire next time
Before homes are even rebuilt in the ruins of the Gaza Strip, another war looms
By Max Blumenthal
“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.
Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.
Jadaliyya interviewed Nathan Thrall:
Jadaliyya (J): One year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, how would you describe the popular mood in the Gaza Strip? Is OPE still relevant for people, and if so, how? Do people reflect back on achievements, losses, or both?
Nathan Thrall (NT): There is widespread consensus among Gaza’s residents today that conditions there have never been worse. There is also widespread fatalism about the unlikelihood of breaking from the pattern of recurrent war with Israel. Walking in neighborhoods that were completely destroyed during the war, such as Shuja’iyya in Gaza City and parts of Beit Hanoun, I heard residents state pridefully that Israel had achieved nothing during the war and that they were ready to face Israel again. In the same breath, however, many of these same people then asked warily whether I thought a new war was coming. It’s clear that Gazans desperately want a normal life, free of war and free of the blockade. It’s also clear that they are quite likely to continue living with both.
The war looms behind the most quiet and normal scenes of daily life in Gaza. During the war, a close friend in Gaza City made each member of his family pack a small bag containing his or her most valuable documents, photographs, and belongings before placing the bag beside the front door. That way he and his wife, sons, and daughters would be able to evacuate the building quickly, without having to waste time arguing about which belongings were worth risking their lives to retrieve. Nearly one year later, those bags still sit beside the front door.
Since the war concluded there have been a number of bombings in Gaza. Some of these were Israeli airstrikes following a rocket launching that Hamas was unable to prevent. More often they were bombs detonated by Gazans, either salafi-jihadis or unidentified attackers targeting the homes and offices of Hamas and Fatah officials. In one instance in May, several died and dozens were injured when Israeli ordinance from the war exploded in Beit Lahiya. When I have been present in Gaza for some of these incidents, the first worry of Gaza residents I spoke with — in some cases, the first rumor spread among them — has been that the explosion marked the beginning of a new war with Israel.
The problems that helped precipitate the war not only remain unresolved but in many cases have become more acute.[Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: One bomb hit a Hamas security checkpoint in northern Gaza. A few days later, another exploded in a trash can. Another blew up next to a Gaza City high-rise, and a small one targeted a chicken store owned by a Hamas intelligence official, Saber Siyam.
The four attacks in May — among at least a dozen this year, documented by a local human rights group — were aimed not at infidels, collaborators or criminals but at the ruling Islamist group, Hamas. The suspected perpetrators were Hamas’s emerging rivals: extremist Islamist groups that see Hamas as insufficiently pious, and that vow loyalty to the Islamic State.
While the extremists are unlikely to challenge Hamas’s firm grip on the Gaza Strip in the foreseeable future, they complicate matters by occasionally shooting rockets into Israel that could touch off a wider conflagration, if the rockets kill or maim Israeli citizens.
They could also seek to join forces with the far more dangerous, deadly branch of the Islamic State in neighboring Egypt’s Sinai Desert, possibly derailing the slowly improving relations between Hamas and Egyptian authorities that have recently led to the Egypt-Gaza border crossing’s being opened for brief moments for the first time in years. [Continue reading…]
Dan Ephron writes: On the morning of August 1, 2014, during the broadest Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in years, a squad of Hamas fighters emerged from a shaft in the ground near the town of Rafah and ambushed three Israeli soldiers. The Israelis, members of an elite reconnaissance unit from the Givati Brigade, had been searching for a tunnel in the area, one of a network that the militant group Hamas had built under the Palestinian territory in recent years. In humid 80-degree heat, a firefight ensued that killed two of the Israelis and one of the Palestinians. It lasted less than a minute.
The war in Gaza, which had raged for three weeks by then and claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis and some 1,500 Palestinians, seemed to be tapering off. The ambush near Rafah would have gone down as one more skirmish. But as the surviving Palestinians retreated, they did something that would turn that Friday into the bloodiest day of the summer and embroil Israel in a possible war-crimes ordeal that reverberates even now: They dragged the third Israeli, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, with them underground.
The sound of the gunfire drew other Israeli soldiers to the site, including Lieutenant Eitan Fund, the reconnaissance unit’s second-in-command. What Fund saw when he got there — bodies on a sandy road and an opening in the ground a few feet away — filled him with dread. Dead soldiers were disturbing enough, but for Israel, a missing fighter was about the worst possible outcome of any battlefield engagement. The last time Hamas had seized a soldier was in 2006: Corporal Gilad Shalit’s captivity lasted five years and set off a searing national trauma.
Fund, who was 23, had come to know Goldin during an officers’ training course. The two had also studied at the same religious seminary in the West Bank before their service. Fund radioed the details to his brigade commander, Col. Ofer Winter, and asked permission to take a squad underground. Winter instructed the lieutenant to drop a grenade and lower himself in. He then announced over the radio the start of a controversial procedure that Israel deploys when a soldier is taken captive: “Hannibal, Hannibal.”
To the military in the United States and around the world, Israel serves as a kind of laboratory for battle tactics, especially those involving counterinsurgency. Its wars with guerrilla groups like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — four in the past nine years — are pored over for the lessons they hold and the questions they raise. The story of Hadar Goldin raises one question in particular: How far should a modern military go to prevent one of its own from being captured?
For the United States, the answer has centered mostly on technology. Today’s American troops go into battle with portable computers and GPS devices, including a system known as Blue Force Tracking that allows commanders in Humvees to “see” their forces in the arena. Ground troops are also monitored by satellites and drones. This combination of new technologies has produced a staggering drop in battlefield captives in Afghanistan and Iraq compared with previous wars. But the risks of combat remain great: U.S. Army Sergeant Salvatore Giunta became the first living Medal of Honor recipient in the war in Afghanistan, in part, for rescuing a comrade being dragged away by the Taliban during an ambush in 2007.
Israel has its own technology, of course, but it supplements those tools with a tactic the army revived in the aftermath of the Shalit ordeal — code word Hannibal — that calls for a massive use of force when a soldier is captured. Two Israelis familiar with the wording of the classified procedure described it to me as measured and restrictive. But from conversations with others, including more than a dozen Israelis in and out of uniform, it’s clear that soldiers often interpret it as something less nuanced—a kind of signal from commanders that a dead Israeli fighter is better than a captured one. Fund seemed to share that interpretation. As he entered the shaft, he told one of his squad members: “If you see something, open fire, even if it means killing Hadar or wounding Hadar.” [Continue reading…]
UPI reports: The Obama administration opposes bringing a United Nations report on the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the Security Council for a vote, the State Department said.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the United States continues to review the U.N. report that found evidence of war crimes on the part of both the Israeli and Hamas-led Palestinian forces. Kirby said the United States calls into question the U.N. Human Rights Council’s process of appointing the investigative committee because of a “very clear bias against Israel.”
“We challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports,” Kirby said. “But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.”
The 200-page report found, among other things, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli fire, noting over one-third were children. It added a large number of families lost three or more members in airstrikes against residences. Six Israeli civilians died during the conflict. [Continue reading…]
UN report on Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza says those responsible for war crimes ‘must be brought to justice’
The Guardian reports: A United Nations inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war has accused Israeli and Palestinian factions of multiple potential violations of international law including suspected war crimes.
Calling on Israel to “break with its lamentable track record” and hold wrongdoers responsible, the hard-hitting report commissioned by the UN human rights council laid most of the blame for Israel’s suspected violations at the feet of the country’s political and military leadership. The commission said leaders should have been aware as the war progressed that their failure to change course was leading to huge civilian casualties.
“Those responsible for suspected violations of international law at all levels of the political and military establishments must be brought to justice,” it says. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Nearly a year after a devastating war, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers appear to have formed an unspoken alliance in a common battle against the shared threat of jihadis aligned with the Islamic State group.
While Israel and Hamas remain arch-enemies, both have an interest in preserving an uneasy calm that has prevailed since the fighting ended in a cease-fire last August — a stalemate that is largely the result of a lack of options on either side.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in last year’s fighting, according to Palestinian officials, and Hamas suffered heavy losses. It is isolated internationally, Gaza’s economy is in tatters and reconstruction efforts have moved slowly. A renewal of hostilities would be devastating for Gaza’s 1.8 million people.
On the Israeli side, 73 people, including 67 soldiers, were killed in last year’s fighting, and the summer-long war disrupted the lives of millions of people as they coped with repeated rocket attacks and air-raid sirens. But Hamas, which seized power in Gaza eight years ago, has survived three wars, and the cost of toppling the group would be extremely high, so Israel appears content to contain Hamas and keep things quiet.
Hamas officials say that efforts are underway, through Qatari mediators, to work out a long-term cease-fire. The deal would call for Israel to ease a stifling blockade on Gaza in exchange for Hamas pledges to disarm, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive negotiations. It is unclear whether any progress has been made in the cease-fire efforts, which include Hamas demands to reopen sea and airports in Gaza. Israeli officials declined comment. [Continue reading…]