Hamas, in its own words

Surprise, surprise. Turns out that, despite a lot of unsavory rhetoric and actions, Hamas doesn’t sound quite so radical and irrational as it’s made out to be in the Western press. Open Zion snags this quote by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal:

“I am the leader of Hamas. I tell you and the whole world, we are ready to resort to a peaceful way, without blood and weapons as long as we attain our Palestinian demands: a Palestinian state and the ending of the occupation and the (West Bank separation) wall.”
-Khaled Mashaal says in an interview with CNN – largely ignored by the Israeli media.

The Ynet article includes more from Mashaal:

Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal said his Islamist movement Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967borders or 22% of “historical Palestine.”

According to Mashaal, this has been Hamas’ mission and what it has been fighting for since its inception. In an interview aired this weekend on CNN, Mashaal said: “I accept a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”

Mashaal also addressed the issue of recognizing Israel, saying “I want my state. After this state is established, it (can decide) its position toward Israel. Don’t ask me when I’m in prison under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel.”

Other encouraging signs exist as well (see first link above), including a Hamas-led investigation of “unlawful executions” of Israeli collaborators. Of course, it seems likely this will be a sham, but the very fact that Hamas feels the need to legitimize itself by carrying out some semblance of the judicial process is more evidence that the broad brush used so frequently to portray the democratically elected organization is inaccurate and out of date. One of the key contradictions of Israel’s position vis à vis Hamas is the fact that it continues to decry the organization as a fanatical terrorist group while simultaneously negotiating truces and ceasefires with it, with an eye towards a potentially more permanent settlement later on. The coexistence of those two actions is logically absurd, yet Israel and its defenders persist in perpetuating it as if it makes even a shred of sense.

(The same can be said, in many respects, in regards to Iran. In that nearly all experts agree that striking Iran’s nuclear facilities would set back progress on the bomb by only a few years at most, what does Israel get out of doing it? Given its inability to stop the technical savvy of Iran, a preemptive Israeli attack only makes sense as a deterrent — a message to Iran that further development is useless because bomb-building facilities will continue being destroyed. But if this type of deterrent measure works, then Israel’s constant depictions of the ayatollah as a fanatical theocrat operating outside the bounds of rationality simply do not add up.)

Not all broken clocks are right even twice a day

Benjamin Netanyahu:

During an address to the Britain’s House of Commons, Netanyahu said that Russia is still passing ballistic missile technology to Iran and that the Iranians are only a year away from acquiring long-range nuclear missile capability.

“If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped, then within a year Iran would become self-sufficient and would be able to create those missiles on its own,” Netanyahu said.

Oh, and…this was in November 1997. Then, the next year (Jay Bushinsky and Liat Collins, “PM: It may be too late to stop Iran, Iraq nuclear plans,” Jerusalem Post, June 9, 1998; no link):

Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated that Israel is doing everything to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nonconventional ballistic and nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the international community had largely ingnored the issue until Israel had begun raising it. He said although there had been a change, it was not sufficient and it is possible that Israel will not be able to prevent Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability. He said the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a lack of balance in the international system.

You see, if there’s one thing the global community can count on, it’s that Iran will always be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu’s bullying, and the pushback

Yesterday’s New York Times editorialized against Benjamin Netanyahu’s serial arrogance and undermining of American policy:

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is trying to browbeat President Obama into a pre-emptive strike. OnTuesday, he demanded that the United States set a red line for military action and said those who refuse “don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” Later, Mr. Obama telephoned him and rejected the appeal. On Friday, Mr. Netanyahu suggested in an interview that Israel cannot entirely rely on the United States to act against Iran’s program.

Leaders need flexibility and ambiguity, not just hard and fast red lines. And it is dangerous for Mr. Netanyahu to try to push the president into a corner publicly and raise questions about Washington. Is that really the message he wants to send to Tehran?

Yet here was the sentence that stood out to me the most:

But 70 percent of Americans oppose a unilateral strike on Iran, according to a new poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and 59 percent said if Israel bombs Iran and ignites a war, the United States should not come to its ally’s defense.

That second half is truly remarkable. I took a look at the study, which had several interesting nuggets:

In addition, there is no clear majority support for using U.S. troops to defend Israel if it were attacked by its neighbors: as in 2010, Americans are essentially split down the middle…

In the hypothetical situation in which Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, only 38 percent say the United States should bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel. A majority (59%) says it should not.

Color me surprised that, since 2010, Americans were only split on whether to militarily support Israel even if it were attacked first. Perhaps we’re less of a warmongering population than our Republican elected officials would have us believe. Which, well, we kinda already knew anyway.

Equally interesting is that, finally (it certainly took long enough), the administration is pushing back. Not only has Obama decided not to meet with Netanyahu this month when he visits the U.S. for the UN General Assembly meetings, but — in a very rare turn of events — a U.S. senator (Barbara Boxer, D-CA) has authored an open letter harshly condemning Netanyahu’s meddling in American foreign policy:

In light of this, I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time – Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, “We are you, and you are us. We’re together. So if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”

Thank you for that statement. I am hoping to hear that statement again.

OK, I’ll say it: Jeffrey Goldberg is an assclown

This is really one too many times. Jeffrey Goldberg has perfected — nay, has transformed into an art form — a process in which he starts unfounded rumors or promotes really weak and unsubstantiated claims into prominence while simultaneously pretending to disavow them. Incidentally, he does the same thing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process too: he’s always against the settlements generally, but by God, if you actually come up with an idea of how to combat this ongoing injustice, he’s having none of it. (See “Beinart, Peter” for more information.) And the same thing with anti-Semitism too: he has no problem implying in very unsubtly disguised statements how anti-Semitic he finds the average critic of Israel, but once confronted with abusing and misusing the term, he quickly denies it.

So today, after already playing this game before, Goldberg once again spins the “plausible deniability” wheel once more, for old times’ sake:

The prominent Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich argues that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to go for early electons — now scheduled for September 4 — means that Netanyahu (and his defense minister, Ehud Barak), will still have plenty of time to launch a preemptive strike before the American presidential election in early November…

Seems doubtful to me, for what it’s worth. Too many moving parts, too many risks involved — Netanyahu doesn’t like risk (especially when compared to his militarily adventurous predecessors) and the timeline is very short. It’s hard to believe he would order a (cataclysmic, IMO) strike on Iran while trying to build a governing coalition for his next term.  I also tend to think he would not order a strike during Obama’s second term, should Obama win reelection. Abramovich is right that Obama would have a hard time being critical of Israel before the upcoming American election. But he would be freer to punish Israel after. What I wouldn’t rule out is a Netanyahu-ordered strike before he goes to elections. Not immediately — he needs to see what America can accomplish in the upcoming negotiations with Iran (my prediction: nothing much), but sometime after that, especially if intelligence suggests that Iran is moving centrifuges into the hardened facility at Fordow at a more rapid clip. But an October surprise? Not probable.

“Hey, America, just for the record, I’m saying it’s not probable, OK? As in, this rumor that I just created out of thin air has no basis. I repeat, no basis. I know it seems extremely credible, as it’s based on absolutely nothing (much like my advocacy of the Iraq war, interestingly enough) and was just concocted right now out of sheer boredom and my recurring warmongering itch, but don’t worry…Israel will probably not attack Iran. Israel will likely not do the thing that I just suggested it may do, even though there’s no reason to think they would in the first place. I know, I know, I just put the thought in your minds now, but seriously…just pretend I never said anything. Actually, on second thought, don’t. Because, you know, Israel might attack Iran.”

Memo to Goldberg — well, now you really look like an idiot:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) reached a surprise agreement early Tuesday morning to form a national unity government.

The move came as the Knesset was preparing to disperse for early elections, which were expected to be scheduled for September 4.

But fear not, Goldberg has already rallied. Literally in the time it has taken me to write this part of my post, he has responded to the Haaretz article with a blog post titled, “Forget That No-October-Surprise-Iran Attack Business I Was Talking About Before:”

Bibi Netanyahu seems to have solidified his coalition through 2013 by bringing in the Kadima Party, formerly headed by his arch-foe Tzipi Livni, now headed by his not-so-arch foe Shaul Mofaz. If the reports out of Israel are true, this means no election September 4, and it means that Netanyahu can proceed apace with whatever he’s thinking about doing re: Iran’s nuclear sites. This is not to say that he brought Kadima into his coalition to clear the way for an attack; Mofaz — Iranian-born, by the way — is on record as opposing an Iran strike, though people I speak to say he would back such a strike in a crunch (namely, if he saw proof Iran was rapidly approaching the “zone of immunity,” in which it could enrich uranium in impregnable bunkers).

You see? He’s still not saying he expects an October surprise or anything. He’s just implying that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Because it would be really, really cool if it did.

And…that makes everyone

Today, the New York Times reports that Israel’s former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, has now added his voice to the chorus of people (largely in the intelligence community) who believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s drumbeat of war with Iran is reckless and stupid:

“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” said Yuval Diskin, who stepped down last May after six years running the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the F.B.I.

“I have observed them from up close,” Mr. Diskin said. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.” Echoing Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, Mr. Diskin also said that the government was “misleading the public” about the likely effectiveness of an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Funny thing about the intelligence community: they’re not elected, so they don’t make their living scaring the bejeezus out of people to keep their jobs. Can we all please take stock of the situation, rationally, and come to the obvious conclusion that Bibi is a demagogic nut job whose overheated rhetoric is destabilizing to the entire region? There is an almost complete transatlantic consensus that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is not a very good idea. But why listen to nuclear experts and intelligence chiefs when you can so easily make completely inaccurate analogies comparing today’s situation to the Holocaust?

The Obama administration warns Israel via a media proxy?

More interesting developments in the whole will-they-or-won’t-they saga, a romantic comedy starring Israel, bunker-busters, and Iranian nuclear sites. Or as the Greeks might argue, more of a tragedy, really. I suppose this debate is moot until we find out what happens in the end.

And speaking of endgames, I am (slightly, incrementally) heartened by the noises emanating from the American camp. Yesterday, an article appeared on the New York Times web site titled, “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” The article begins thusly:

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

This is strikingly different rhetoric than we’ve been hearing in most quarters recently regarding Iran. My take is that the Obama White House is preemptively trying to distance itself from any decision Israel may take on its own. A similar story took place several days earlier, when American General Martin Dempsey told Fareed Zakaria in an interview that an Israeli strike against Iran would not be “prudent.” This interview aired on the very same day that the Telegraph reported similar comments from British foreign secretary William Hague: an Israeli attack “would not be wise,” he said.

The subtext in the similarity of both the language and the timing of the two interviews was unmistakable: the U.S. and Great Britain are clearly acting in concert to warn the Israeli government, led by the fairly maniacal Benjamin Netanyahu, that they should not expect much support from either the U.S. or the U.K. in planning to attack Iran.

I believe, however, that this latest salvo — fired via the New York Times — is not only a stronger statement than the earlier ones, but may actually be indicative of a point of no return for the United States’ position on Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to rationally justify supporting or becoming involved in Israel’s military venture, since its own American security and intelligence agencies are making it very clear that they don’t believe the Iranian threat to be as serious as it is often described. I would imagine that Netanyahu is cognizant of this meaning, and I’m betting he’s seething right now. Could we actually be witnessing a 1956 Suez Canal moment, and during an American presidential election year no less?

Mind-blowing arrogance from Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit

From an opinion piece on the web site of Haaretz:

The Netanyahu-Obama meeting in two weeks will be definitive. If the U.S. president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees that the United States will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price, after the 2012 elections. If Obama doesn’t do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections.

The moral responsibility for what may happen does not lie with the heirs of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion. The moral responsibility will be borne by the man sitting in the chair that was once Franklin Roosevelt’s.

That’s funny. I could’ve sworn that Israel had its own government, whose job it is to protect the nation from external threats. I must have missed the memo where that responsibility was passed on to Obama.

It’s not Iran crossing the red line. It’s Israel.

Yesterday, Robert Wright wrote a piece called “AIPAC’s Push Toward War” for The Atlantic. In it, he notes:

Late last week, amid little fanfare, Senators Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would move America further down the path toward war with Iran.

The good news is that the resolution hasn’t been universally embraced in the Senate. As Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the resolution has “provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war.” The bad news is that, as Kampeas also reports, “AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an ‘ask’ in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying.”

In standard media accounts, the resolution is being described as an attempt to move the “red line”–the line that, if crossed by Iran, could trigger a US military strike. The Obama administration has said that what’s unacceptable is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This resolution speaks instead of a “nuclear weaponscapability.” In other words, Iran shouldn’t be allowed to get to a point where, should it decide to produce a nuclear weapon, it would have the wherewithal to do so.

At what point are we, as Americans, allowed to stand up and say what needs to be said: It is Israel, not Iran, that presents the greatest danger to the Middle East right now. Their government is unpredictable; it is a coalition government aligned with some truly despicable, racist warmongers (hello, Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon); and its perpetual saber-rattling, deceptions, lies, and misdirection has played a large role in making the Middle East a constantly volatile region.

There are other provocations, to be sure — most notably the Arab Spring, despotic dictators clinging to power, and so forth. Then, perhaps most obviously, there is Iran itself, whose leader’s anti-Semitic rants and Holocaust denials are certainly cause for concern. But another preemptive strike on a Middle Eastern country based on flimsy evidence? Not only does this sound familiar, but the advocacy for it is led by the same neocons who started us off on our glorious path in Iraq. That these people are still afforded even the tiniest sliver of credibility is testament to our woeful media’s inability to stand up for facts, as well a searing condemnation of the American public’s ever-dwindling attention spans.

Let’s please, please, not make another mistake. Constant war is not the answer.

Key moments from last night’s debate

I didn’t get the chance to watch the Republican presidential debate on FOX last night, where it seems that Bret Baier and Chris Wallace did a great job of asking tough (if at times off-topic) questions. But I’ve caught up on the highlights and the reactions, and here are a few of what seemed like the important (or funny, or depressing) points to me.

1. When asked for a show of hands as to who would walk away from a budget deal that contained a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, every single one of the eight Republican candidates raised their hands. Every single one of them claimed to oppose a 10-to-1 deal on the grounds that it isn’t good enough. I don’t think the below video needs any additional commentary; it speaks for itself.

2. Ron Paul thoroughly schooled Rick Santorum on Iran. Santorum’s incoherent foreign policy was no match for Ron Paul’s common-sense advice to simply try to imagine putting oneself in Iran’s shoes, surrounded as it is by nuclear threats, to determine why it might be so interested (assuming that it is) in pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities.

3. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann took the gloves off last night (something Pawlenty was accused of being unable or unwilling to do in relation to Mitt Romney and “Obamneycare” in the previous debate). While looking a little more feisty this time around, T-Paw nevertheless wasn’t able to do much damage, as Bachmann ably pivoted with some sharp-edged comebacks of her own. (It almost goes without saying that neither of the two showed even the slightest glimpses of ability to govern, preferring instead to boast of their uncompromising positions on everything, but such is the nature of the primaries, and especially so with today’s GOP.) I’m not certain what Bachmann achieves by going head-to-head with Pawlenty, though, since he’s possibly on the verge of being forced out due to lack of traction, and she’s running at or near the top in polls.

4. I’m a bit torn on this one: Far be it from me to agree with Newt Gingrich on anything, but he may have a point here. While I do think that Wallace and Baier largely seemed to do an admirable job of asking questions that voters wanted to hear, Gingrich was understandably (also, self-servingly) frustrated with questions that pertained more to campaign dynamics and gossip than actual policy positions. Given the frequent insanity on policy positions emanating from all the Republican candidates (Gingrich himself being perhaps the most notable in that regard), I can’t say I entirely disagree with his take on the questions.

5. Jon Huntsman. Whatever happened to this guy?