Is BDS the only pro-Israel option left?

Mark LeVine writes: Just a year ago, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was no more than a minor irritant in the eyes of the majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders. The boycott of settlement products — with a value of $30 million per year in a GDP of $36 billion — while politically worrisome, was limited. The Knesset and the country’s National Science Foundation both released studies declaring the academic boycott’s impact marginal, and the number of artists refusing to play Israel remained manageably small.

What a difference a year makes. Today BDS is described as an existential threat to Israel; its potential cost is estimated at upward of $5 billion per year. Entire ministries are being tasked with combating it. The self-described “richest Jew in the world,” casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has convinced other wealthy pro-Israel Jews to commit upward of $50 million to setting up programs on college campuses to aggressively fight it.

There are four reasons the “noise” — as Fitch Ratings financial analyst Paul Gamble described it for The Jewish Week — of BDS became a roar. First, the occupation of the West Bank has become so concentrated that it can no longer be dissolved into a larger narrative of a modern, Western Israel. Israel’s matrix of control is so dense that it is simply impossible to hide from the occupation or pretend it doesn’t exist. [Continue reading…]

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Another futile report on Israel’s wild adventure in Gaza

Gideon Levy writes: The United Nations Human Rights Council’s report did not tell us anything new. We did not need to wait a year to know that Israel (and Hamas) committed war crimes; there was no need to impanel a committee to know that Israel went wild in Gaza; there was no need to bother judge Mary McGowan Davis in order for her to tell us that it is unacceptable to drop a one-ton bomb in the middle of a neighborhood. We have known that for a long time.

The UN report also did not tell us anything new about Israel’s response. There was no need to publish it to know the scope of unreceptiveness and denial within Israeli society, the low level to which the Israeli media stooped in finally allowing itself to become an agent of propaganda, and the lack of interest that all this killing and destruction in Gaza arouse in Israel. We have known all that for a long time.

The world knows the fundamental truths, and every commission repeats them like a parrot, and nothing changes: Israel ignores international law. It is convinced that it applies to all countries, except for itself. According to its combat theory, when the life of one Israeli soldier is at stake it is alright to wreak havoc with everything, and when Israel says everything it means everything. There is no chance Israel will change its doctrine of death and destruction, unless it is punished severely. Therefore this report, like all its predecessors, has no value at all.

If the Goldstone Report, which described in harsher colors a less brutal attack, did not prevent Operation Protective Edge, then why do we need all these reports? If the international community, which knew in real time what the Israel Defense Forces was doing in Gaza, did not respond immediately with actions that would stop it, then there is no reason for these commissions of inquiry after the fact.

If in the wake of this commission, too, the international community does not take practical steps against war criminals, then there is no further reason for commissions. [Continue reading…]

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Operation Hannibal: Why Israel risks killing its own soldiers rather than see them get captured

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…]

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Obama administration restates its commitment to shelter war criminals

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…]

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Palestinians giving up on statehood, Israeli ex-security chief says

The Times of Israel reports: The death of the two-state solution among the Palestinians is no secret to the Israelis, nor is it mourned by government officials. To the political echelon, the threat of a binational state is not sufficiently tangible, and the possibility that radical Islam will take over the West Bank if there should be a peace agreement seems more real.

But things sound different in the defense establishment, and particularly among those who have left it. Quite a few former generals, Shin Bet directors and Mossad chiefs have warned any number of times that maintaining the status quo in the territories, which has become a kind of strategy in Netanyahu’s era, could change the face of the State of Israel.

“I’m hearing from various Palestinian officials with whom I am in contact that they have given up on the two-state solution as an option for resolving the conflict,” says former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, 59, who now owns a hi-tech firm in Herzliya. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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Israel needs Hamas to prevent ISIS gaining a foothold in Gaza

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…]

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Double standards on reporting about nuclear weapons in the Middle East

Dan Drollette, Jr. writes: A country in the Middle East has a clandestine nuclear development program, involving facilities hidden in the desert. After several years, the country is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, even though the United States has been using all its resources to prevent that from happening. Frantic communications fly behind the scenes, between Washington and Tel Aviv.

And where is the nuclear program located? Israel.

Although Iran’s nuclear program dominates the headlines now (and did apparently have a military dimension at one time), that program has yet to produce a nuclear weapon, judging from the available public evidence. Meanwhile, the country pushing most aggressively for complete elimination of any prospect of an Iranian bomb—Israel—has an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of its own. Although others project higher numbers, nuclear arsenal experts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris estimate that Israel has roughly 80 warheads, built in secret.

It is noteworthy that while negotiations over limiting Iran’s enrichment program have taken center stage in news coverage—and will likely dominate the headlines as a final agreement is or is not reached at the end of this month—the history of Israel’s covert nuclear program draws relatively little media attention. [Continue reading…]

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Long-term Gaza truce mooted as Hamas, Israel grapple with jihadi challenge

Reuters reports: It’s not quite a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but shared concern over Islamic State-inspired militant groups in Gaza could help redraw complex relationships between Hamas and a hostile Egypt and Israel.

Talk is rampant in the territory of 1.8 million of a prospective pullback from confrontation with Israel – a long-term ceasefire to cement further an Egyptian-brokered truce that brought an end to the Gaza war nearly a year ago.

That could allow Hamas to step up efforts to rein in radical Islamists, known as Salafis, who have claimed responsibility for recent rocket attacks against Israel, and open the way for more reconstruction aid to reach Gaza.

There are also signs of change along Egypt’s frontier with the Gaza Strip.

The military-run government in Cairo, which accuses Islamist Hamas of backing jihadi fighters in Egypt’s Sinai desert, opened its border with Gaza this week for the first time in three months, permitting Palestinians to travel in both directions.

“The new easing of measures results from the presence of a common enemy,” said Akram Attallah, a Gaza-based political commentator.

Hamas insists Islamic State has no foothold in Gaza, where the Palestinian group’s forces are dominant. It has described what Salafi groups say have been the arrests of dozens of their supporters as no more than action against “criminal elements”.

But by mounting such operations, some in the wake of Salafi-claimed rocket strikes, Hamas has also shown a commitment to a truce with Israel and demonstrated to Egypt that it is fighting the same jihadi enemy, Atallah said. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Oren’s wildly unconvincing, deeply trivial attack on Obama

Peter Beinart writes: Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has published a book that he summarized in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week entitled, “How Obama Abandoned Israel.”

Strong words. “Abandon” means “cease to support” or “give up completely.” So in what way has Obama abandoned Israel? By eliminating or even reducing military aid? No. Oren acknowledges that Obama “significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish state.” By withdrawing diplomatic support? No. The Obama administration has so far not only vetoed every United Nations resolution critical of Israel, it has expended enormous energy pressuring other countries to oppose them.

In 2011, when Mahmoud Abbas was seeking UN approval for a Palestinian state, a source close to the White House told me that he personally lobbied 150 foreign diplomats against the Palestinian bid. “Sometimes,” he mused, “I feel like I work for the Israeli government.”

So how has Obama “abandoned” Israel? According to Oren, by violating “the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America.” What are they? “The first principle was ‘no daylight.’ The U.S. and Israel always could disagree but never openly.”

Really? Like when Ronald Reagan called Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility a “tragedy,” instructed American diplomats to condemn it at the UN and withheld the sale of U.S. warplanes in retaliation? Or when George H.W. Bush not only denounced Israeli settlement building but withheld loan guarantees in an effort to force Israel to comply? Or when, in December 2000, Bill Clinton laid out parameters for a final peace agreement that, on Jerusalem, refugees and the size of a Palestinian state, went further than Ehud Barak felt comfortable? Or when the George W. Bush administration abstained rather than veto a 2004 resolution condemning Israel for demolishing Palestinian homes and a 2009 resolution calling on Israel to end its war in Gaza?

If Obama has “abandoned” Israel by publicly disagreeing with its government, then so have all his predecessors. [Continue reading…]

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Israel rules out legal action against its soldiers who killed children in Gaza

The Washington Post reports: The Israeli military has decided not to pursue criminal charges against soldiers involved in missile strikes in the Gaza Strip last summer that killed four children playing on a beach.

The Military Advocate General Corps investigated the notorious incident, which took place on July 16 in view of the hotels where international journalists were staying, and concluded that there was no criminal wrongdoing.

The four young cousins who were killed were sons of the extended Bakr fishing family, ages 9 to 11. Four other youths were injured by shrapnel. Images of the dead and wounded children being rushed from the beach toward ambulances were broadcast around the world. A reporter for The Washington Post witnessed the attack.

The children were playing on the breakwater jetty in the Gaza City harbor when the aerial assault began. After the first salvo was fired, they ran toward a beach hotel where journalists were working, and a second Israeli strike was fired directly at the group.

In a summary of the criminal investigation released Thursday night, the Israel Defense Forces said its troops believed they were targeting militants from the Hamas navy. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s plan to depopulate southern Lebanon

IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reports: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has outlined a new strategy that will depopulate southern Lebanon if war breaks out with the Shia group Hizbullah, but this was likely to happen anyway without much Israeli encouragement.

A senior IDF source said on 3 June that the plan is to precipitate the evacuation of more than one million non-combatants from southern Lebanon if a full-scale conflict breaks out, thereby allowing the Israeli military to bring all its firepower to bear against Hizbullah without risking massive civilian casualties.

He said the evacuation policy would be implemented “if we have no choice” and added that the group has established rocket and missile launch bases in 240 south Lebanese villages and other built-up regions.

The source said the ensuing military operation would involve an unprecedented aerial campaign, which would hit thousands of targets every 24 hours, followed by a ground offensive. [Continue reading…]

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Spy virus linked to Israel targeted hotels used for Iran nuclear talks

The Wall Street Journal reports: When a cybersecurity firm discovered it had been hacked last year by a virus widely believed to be used by Israeli spies, it wanted to know who else was on the hit list.

The Moscow-based firm, Kaspersky Lab ZAO, checked millions of computers world-wide and three luxury European hotels popped up. The other hotels tested—thousands in all—were clean. Researchers at the firm weren’t sure what to make of the results. Then they realized what the three hotels had in common.

Each was infiltrated by the virus before hosting high-stakes negotiations between Iran and world powers over curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.

The spyware, the firm has now concluded, was an improved version of Duqu, a virus first identified by cybersecurity experts in 2011, according to a Kaspersky report and outside security experts. Current and former U.S. officials and many cybersecurity experts say they believe Duqu was designed to carry out Israel’s most sensitive intelligence collection. [Continue reading…]

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Israel thought to be behind new malware found by Kaspersky

Der Spiegel reports: For the employees of the Russian firm Kaspersky Lab, tracking down computer viruses, worms and Trojans and rendering them harmless is all in a day’s work. But they recently discovered a particularly sophisticated cyber attack on several of the company’s own networks. The infection had gone undetected for months.

Company officials believe the attack began when a Kaspersky employee in one of the company’s offices in the Asia-Pacific region was sent a targeted, seemingly innocuous email with malware hidden in the attachment, which then became lodged in the firm’s systems and expanded from there. The malware was apparently only discovered during internal security tests “this spring.”

The attack on Kaspersky Lab shows “how quickly the arms race with cyber weapons is escalating,” states a 45-page report on the incident by the company, which was made available to SPIEGEL in advance of its release. The exact reason for the attack is “not yet clear” to Kaspersky analysts, but the intruders were apparently interested mainly in subjects like future technologies, secure operating systems and the latest Kaspersky studies on so-called “advanced persistent threats,” or APTs. The Kaspersky employees also classified the spy software used against the company as an APT.

Analysts at Kaspersky’s Moscow headquarters had already been familiar with important features of the malware that was being used against them. They believe it is a modernized and redeveloped version of the Duqu cyber weapon, which made international headlines in 2011. The cyber weapons system that has now been discovered has a modular structure and seems to build on the earlier Duqu platform.

In fact, says Vitaly Kamluk, Kaspersky’s principal security researcher and a key member of the team that analyzed the new virus, some of the software passages and methods are “very similar or almost identical” to Duqu. The company is now referring to the electronic intruder as “Duqu 2.0.” “We have concluded that it is the same attacker,” says Kamluk. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian men face Israeli prison sentences for Facebook posts

Aziza Nofal reports: The Jerusalemite family of Omar al-Shalabi did not expect the status updates he posted on his Facebook page to lead to his arrest by Israeli authorities. Up until the Jerusalem magistrate’s court announced its verdict, the family also believed he would be released and allowed to return home. On May 12, Shalabi was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Shalabi’s brother Mohammed, who is following up on his sibling’s case with a lawyer, told Al-Monitor that the ruling was unexpected given the apparent trivialness of the acts leading to the charges against him. The family had in addition expected Shalabi to be released on bail awaiting trial. He had been arrested Dec. 14 and charged with incitement based on postings to his Facebook page. The posts followed the kidnapping and murder of a young Palestinian man, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, by extremist settlers. Israeli authorities thus feared possible retaliatory attacks against settlers.

Mohammed Shalabi said his brother’s postings leading up to his arrest were no different from what he had been posting for quite some time. “The occupation authorities retained Omar’s posts as a pretext to arrest him, because he was an activist in the Fatah movement in Jerusalem,” claimed Mohammed Shalabi. [Continue reading…]

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Israel and U.S. lobbied UN to keep IDF off list of armies that kill children

The New York Times reports: Under unusual pressure from Israel and the United States, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, opted not to include either Israel or Hamas on a list of armies and guerrilla groups that kill and maim children in conflicts worldwide, despite the recommendations of one of his senior envoys, diplomats say.

The list was part of an annual report of violations of children’s rights, an advance copy of which was circulated to members of the Security Council on Monday morning, that goes into great detail on the actions of Israeli security forces during the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip last year. The report raised what it called “serious concern over the observance of the rules of international humanitarian law concerning the conduct of hostilities.”

The report says that at least 540 children were killed, another 2,955 wounded and 262 schools damaged by Israeli airstrikes. It also cited Palestinian militants for firing rockets indiscriminately toward Israel, killing a 4-year-old Israeli boy and gravely wounding at least six Israeli children. [Continue reading…]

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Israel built, exploded ‘dirty bomb’ in nuclear test

Haaretz reports: Israel recently carried out a series of tests in the desert in conjunction with a four-year project at the Dimona nuclear reactor to measure the damage and other implications of the detonation of a so-called “dirty” radiological bomb by hostile forces. Such a bomb uses conventional explosives in addition to radioactive material.

Most of the detonations were carried out in the desert and one was performed at a closed facility. The research concluded that high-level radiation was measured at the center of the explosions, with a low level of dispersal of radiation by particles carried by the wind. Sources at the reactor said this doesn’t pose a substantial danger beyond the psychological effect.

An additional concern stems from a radiological explosion in a closed space, which would then require that the area be closed off for an extended period until the effects of the radiation are eliminated. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Supreme Court strikes down ‘born in Israel’ passport law

The Washington Post: The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the president alone has the power to recognize foreign nations, and it struck down as unconstitutional a congressional attempt to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on passports.

President Obama and President George W. Bush had said the 2002 passport law embraces the interpretation that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, something the executive branch has long held should be settled by the parties in the Mideast. They refused to let the State Department honor such requests.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said Congress has a role in managing the nation’s foreign affairs but not in recognizing foreign nations and governments.

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