Erdogan Walks Out

Judah at World Politics Review posts on an interesting story:

For all the diplomatic fallout of the Gaza War, the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations might be the most alarming. This Youtube video of the Davos Forum where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage (at the 1:01:30 mark) after not being permitted to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ remarks, is stunning. Peres’ remarks, too, are remarkable for their passion at a forum that is known for its collegial calm. (They begin at the 39:30 mark.) Notice, too, the body language of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa during Peres’ remarks.

Erdogan’s anger was directed at panel moderator David Ignatiius for not allowing him to finish his remarks, even if it was the bitter difference of opinion on Gaza that was the subject of discussion.

My Commentary
1) First, this is the same David Ignatuis who in November actually claimed that Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi   issued a fatwa in support of Obama’s campaign.

2)  Erdogan’s frustration is real and representative of widespread sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world.   Israel always trots out the elderly Shimon Peres to make the “why can’t we all get along” speech at these kinds of forums and that always wows Western audiences.  But from the perspective of the pro-Palestinian side  this is old and insulting.  Peres might be serious about peace, but he has very little influence in Israeli politics.   And when Peres talks about how much Israel wants peace, there’s 300 million Arabs scratching their heads,  wondering how that squares with the three week trashing of Gaza which left a good 400-500 women and children dead.  So I can easily see how Erdogan would be pissed sitting through Peres’ 25 minute “Let’s give peace a chance” spiel and then have  Igantius tell him its time to eat dinnner and no he can’t speak for more than a minute.

Monika Borgmann on Lebanon’s collective amnesia

Just quick post to direct Media Shack’s readers to have a look at this interviewwith Monika Borgmann, a German filmmaker and activist based in Beirut.

I’m referencing this interview as a follow-up to a discussionwhich took place a few weeks ago between one of readers and myself, regarding what he considered to be my excessively harsh criticism of Lebanon and what I qualified as its wilful blindness to its own past when I wrote about the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir”. One of the comments we received mentioned a documentary film by Monika Borgmann about the Sabra and Shatila  massacres as evidence that, contrary to what I seemed to believe, there was a willingness by the Lebanese to deal with their recent past and come to terms with it. I thought it would therefore be interesting to juxtapose that discussion with Borgmann’s own statement:

“I think Lebanon never looked back to its past. There was an amnesty but there was also a kind of amnesia. And talking about the civil war became a taboo, because it was said that the wounds need to be healed, and if you open the wounds of the past new violence will emerge, we need time and so on. But, I think no country can escape confronting its past forever, it’s a painful process, but it’s one which is not avoidable.”

 

Obama’s Public diplomacy

Editor’s Note:  mregypt is an Egyptian  who lives in Cairo. 

I cannot find any other reason for the fuss that’s made for Obama’s speech except one:  that he came after Bush. I hardly noticed any attention to the interview in the Arab street, as for the Arab media I only noticed a passing reference here.   If anyone attempted to talk with one of the top Arab commentators about this interview I am confident that you will hear answers like “the US  has fixed interest that are not made up only by the president”.  For example,  in a previous post I mentionedthat  Heikal, who is a highly respected voice in the Arab world, thinks that Obama knew about the Israeli attack on Gaza. 

I think the only problem in the Arab world would be to understand what did Obama mean by things like “reaching out to the Muslim world” or “resuming the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis” –who, by the way, have been negotiating since the establishment of the state of Israel 60years ago– or being somebody who “listens. ”  Listen to whom?  To the despotic Arab governments of  Egypt and Saudi Arabia for instance? Or the peoples of these countries who have no legal channels of expression? I even wonder why the Arabs would be impressed when Obama says that we are “going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians”?  First thoughts for an average Arab citizen is that he’s talking about Hamas or Hezbollah,  both  of which are greatly respected and supported in the Arab world and considered legitimate popular resistance, contrary to what the Americans might think. 

Furthermore, choosing Al-Arabiya is puzzling. If you want to approach the Arab world, do you choose a channel known to be friendly to the US and a voice of the Saudi royal family?   The interlocutor was very cautious, posing vague questions about Obama’s holistic approach towards the region and his new paradigm, or about his opinion about the Palestinians and the Israelis who are frustrated with the current conditions. I wonder what kind of questions are these? What kind of answer is expected for a question like “Are we expecting a different paradigm?” Please! Was that a question? And then comes the typical question that all the US presidents answered before “Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state?”  Take a look on this answer:

I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

In my opinion,  for an average Arab citizen this answer means nothing.  Why haven’t the situation for the Palestinians improved?  Whose  fault is it? More importantly, what situation are we talking about here:  the economic or the political?   Not only that, he’s supposed to be approaching the Arab world and listening to their people but at the same time asserts that the Israeli security is paramount and adds that there are some people who believe in creating peace after the recent onslaught that took place.  I wonder whom?  Livni?  Barrack? He is basically saying that the Palestinians are inferior to the Israelis. 

 I am surprised why does he think that Zawahiri or Bin Laden are confused? He emphasized that their ideas are bankrupt and leading only to death. But is that actually true? For the Iraqis, for instance, death, poverty and illiteracy came with the American invasion not with the ideas of Bin Laden.  Its true that under Saddam they lived in poverty.  But from  the Iraqi perspective, its ridiculous to compare the situation under Saddam to what took place after the US invasion. What about the Palestinians? Do they also think that shifting to peace and negotiations is the best alternative? For many people in the Arab world what Bin Laden and Zawahiri are doing is Jihad not suicide, and most believe  they are legitimate when they are attacking the US forces in Iraq or Pakistan or Afghanistan. In fact, I cannot think of any moderate religious leader or intellectual or commentator that would say what Al Qaeda’s doing in any of these places is illegitimate. Dealing with Bin Laden or Al Qaeda is only possible by addressing the social and cultural situations and backgrounds they came from and represent.  Thus if Obama’s job is to “communicate with the Arab world that the United States is not your enemy” this entails a totally different approach than “listening and communicating” with the Arab world. In conclusion, the US has policies and strategies in dealing with the Arab world and Middle East and only a shift in these policies and strategies could lead to some sort of rapprochement between the two entities.

The Coming Backlash? Don’t Dismiss Fatah Just Yet

Many people, especially in the popular Arab press, want to  declare Fatah as irrelevant.  If there’s no doubt that they are on the PR defensive, as passions die down and a sense of normalcy returns, they are going to make a comeback.   Today,  Al-Masri Al-Youm has a great   interview  with Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan.   One big accusation thats been floating around the Arab world is that Egypt and Fatah “knew about” the Israeli attack on Gaza beforehand.  I think Dahlan has a pretty convincing answer to this: 

– أنا لا أشارك فى أى لقاءات ما دمت خارج الحكومة، وأتساءل من الغبى الذى لم يعرف بالضربة، كل الخطط كانت منشورة باستثناء توقيتها، ومن لا يعرف فهو غبى، وأتساءل لماذا أبقت حماس ضباطها يذبحون بهذه الطريقة المهينة التى تفطر القلوب فى المقار الأمنية، أنا عندما كنت فى السلطة وأسمع عن تهديدات كنت أعيد المساجين إلى منازلهم وأخلى كل المقار الأمنية، وأبقى حارساً أو اثنين عليها، وكان الزهار ينتقدنا ويقول عنا قوات الإخلاء، نعم قوات إخلاء، لأن حياة المواطن مهمة ومقدسة، لا يشرفنا أن نعد شهداء، بل أن نحمى الأرواح، لم تكن الضربة العسكرية سرا، ولا يوجدشىء سرى فى إسرائيل سوى القنبلة النووية.

“And I wonder who was the idiot that didn’t know an attack was coming.  Everything was clear except the exact time.  Why did Hamas officers stay in their security buildings?   When I was in charge, whenever there were threats, I evacuated the buildings…..Zahar [Hamas leader] criticizes saying we employed “evacuation forces” but yeah thats exactly it.  Evacuation forces because we care about the lives of our citizens.  The attack wasn’t a secret.

I suspect that Dahlan might be (intentionally) hitting on a sensitive point: If the Gazans perceive Hamas as having recklessly provoked the battle, then Fatah  stands to benefit.    Reading through the comments of a  post  at Abu Muqawama yesterday, one comment stuck out to me as plausible:

No one wants to say it, but I’d suggest a major problem HAMAS has is too much deadweight. If they’re telling the truth, HAMAS has up to 18,000 men under arms, or more than double the active cadres for Hizbollah.  Hizbollah has that number because that’s the optimum they can arm, supply, train, command and control on a daily basis, and then absorb volunteer militiamen (such as those from Amal) during emergencies.  Because of the economic crisis, HAMAS has put a lot of MAMs, especially teens, on its payroll, but that doesn’t mean that they’re effectively trained, armed or led.

On another point, my buddy in Fatah told me that they shared Israel’s estimate of about 800 or so HAMAS operatives killed in the fighting, especially the greenest and youngest troops that they pushed toward the Armistice Line (or border) in prepared fighting positions.  They were slaughtered. Apparently, there’s been some recriminations about the deaths on the partof formerly pro-HAMAS families. Indeed, the word is that the war was much more popular in the West Bank, where bombs weren’t falling, than in Gaza.

This comment gets to whether there might be an anti-Hamas backlash in Gaza.   Ultimately,  will Gazans be more pissed at Israel?  Or at Hamas for talking about how much they wanted the ceasefire to expire and then getting exposed as a bunch of amateurs militarily?  I suspect there’s a lot of angry mothers right now in Gaza who are wondering why their sons were slaughtered.   Because for all of their boasting, Hamas didn’t actually put up much Resistance.   Look back at 2006:  Hezbollah killed 120 Israeli soldiers in 2006.  Even in 2002, Palestinians were able to kill 17 IDF soldiers in   Jenin in only a day or two.  Yet  in 2009, half of Gaza is destroyed and Hamas was only able to take out 10? Arab analysts are saying that Israel’s failure_to_force Hamas to surrender after three weeks is a sign of the Resistance’s strength.  But with all due respect for Abdel Bari Atwan, how can we talk about Resistance when it doesn’t seem Hamas was able to inflict any significant casualties on the IDF?   Furthermore, as Dahlan said,  Hamas failed to take basic security precautions in the initial period that led to lots of their fighters being slaughtered.  Like holding conspicuous open-air ceremonies while your leaders are going on V taking about how much they want to resume the Resistance, which provide easy targets for Israeli jets.   See this picture here  which illustrates the point that Dahlan is making and there was a much more graphic version of its shown in the Arabic press.

I don’t know if the backlash will come.   But if I was the mother of  one of those young recruits who was slaughtered I’d certainly be demanding explanations from the Hamas leadership for their poor performance and preparation.   Of course, if you talk to Abdel Bari Atwan in London, or mregypt in Cairo, or Ahmed Monsour in Doha, they will all probably say that Fatah is doomed and Hamas is going to gain the upper hand because of the Gaza war.  But I don’t think their views are the ones that really matter here.  What do the mothers of  slaughtered Hamas fighters think about Hamas vs Fatah?  They are the ones with a “vote” on this issue and that’s where the media should be focusing.

Weekend Reading

1)  Judah  Grunstein. WPRWorst_Case_Scenarios_for_Afghanistan.  A good post which responds to the points I made yesterday about France and Afghanistan. 

2)  Nathan Brown.  Carnegie.  “Pointers for the Obama Administration in the Middle East; Avoiding Myths and Vain Hopes.”    Good commentary   by a top expert on Palestinian politics. 

3)  Samantha Shapiro. NY Times.   Revolution,_Facebook_Style.   When I first saw this I was skeptical, thinking it was going to be another soft-ball article on Facebook, but this is some really good journalism. 

4)  Ibrahim Eissa.  Al-DostorThe_Coming_Terrorism.   He argues that the government’s position against Hamas will be seen by many as a position against Islam, which will increase  religious extremism and terrorism.

5) Amr Ali Hassan, Al-Hayat.  Looksat whether the ancient Egyptian trait of sticking together in the face of foreign threats is breaking down because of the socio-economic trends over the past thirty years (ie the Infitah,  immigration abroad…)

6) On Tuesday,  I wondered what happened to the Daily Star Beirut which hadn’t updated their website since 14 January.   Apparently,  it has been shuttered forever.

Non monsieur le President, Je suis desole….

Under President Obama, the US is  going to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, the argument being that we need to “finish what we started.”    One of the key aspects of this new strategy is to convince the NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan.   Convincing them to do so, however, is going to be very, very difficult.  Lost in the inauguration hoopla, the French Defense Minister seemed to give a pretty strong signal of his country’s intentions: 

France’s defence minister on Wednesday appeared to rule out any immediate reinforcementof French troops in Afghanistan if requested by Barack Obama, the new US president.  Hervé Morin said deploying additional French forces to the war-torn country was “not a question for now”.  France had, he said, already made the “necessary efforts” when it sent 700 extra troops to Afghanistan six months ago, taking the total to 2,900.

These comments  prompted a couple negative posts from Daniel Drezner  ( here and here) who blames the decision on public opinion saying that  “less than five percent of those polled believed that European countries should send troops to Afghanistan as a gesture of solidarity with Obama.”   Here are a couple of points worth noting:  

1)   Public opinion is very important.  True, and here’s a great comment from the Drezner posts:

 I assume the French know their public better than the rest of us do. If they already know that their public will not support additional deployments of troops to Afghanistan, then the French did Obama a favor by clarifying this point now. The alternative would be to allow Obama to invest prestige in in a policy ambition that could not be achieved, and then face embarrassment and a loss mojo when he fails to achieve his aim. Better to make a clean and neat statement now

2)  But its more than just public opinion.   I recommend reading this post by Judah (who follows French politics closely)  at World Politics Review. 

But the reality of European resistance to an escalation in Afghanistan is much more complex than American caricatures which focus on public opinion (which certainly is lacking) or the willingness and courage to fight (which certainly is not). So before President Obama decides to go to that well, he might want to make sure there’s some water left in it.

Looking at this from the French perspective, its hard for me to see why its in French interests to send troops to Afghanistan.   If the US ship is sinking in Afghanistan, as many are saying, why should France jump on board,  given their long-term interest in maintaining a global foreign policy independent of the United States?  Furthermore, US-Europe relations during Bush term II   (and especially with France since Sarkozy took over)  weren’t  nearly as bad as the media sometimes portrays,  so its  not as if France feels any urgent incentive to make some gesture to the US on Afghanistan. Or even to “repair relations.”

Closing Guantanamo

Don’t get me wrong, President Obama’s order_to_close the Guantanamo Bay  prison is a good thing.  That being said, we should not exaggerate the effect that closing it will  have.  Of the things  that people are pissed off at the US for in the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay is not near the top of the list.   And if its not accompagnied by a serious US engagement in the peace process, noone in the region is going to give Obama any special “props” for closing Guantanamo.  We also have to remember that most of the remaining prisoners are hard-core security threats and they can’t just be put out on the street.   Today Robert Worth reports:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabiain 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official

Gaddafi at Georgetown

Editor’s Note: Yesterday,  Libyan President Gaddafi gave  a speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC (via  Satellite ).   I know MediaShack readers would be very interested in what he had to say, so my good friend and loyal reader Andrew wrote up a nice little post.  Thanks man.  Take the floor:

ANDREW SPEAKING FROM HERE ON:

On Wednesday, January 21, 2009, the New York Times published an op-ed by Muammar al-Qaddafi on his one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The link is here:

The very same day, Qaddafi addressed an audience at Georgetown University via teleconference from Tripoli on the exact same topic. Titled “White Book Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” the discussion was moderated by Professor Michael Hudson of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. The teleconference with Qaddafi would be followed by a speech made by the parents of two of the American college students aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Introduced by Professor Hudson as the “Leader” of Libya, Qaddafi spent ten minutes at the beginning of his lecture correcting Dr. Hudson, informing him that he (Qaddafi) is not the leader of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya, but rather the Jamahiriya is a direct democracy in much the same fashion as Ancient Rome.

While the op-ed published by the Times is eloquent, the language he used with the Georgetown community was less flowery, and the talk was rambling and at times incoherent. Qaddafi was obviously uncomfortable addressing an audience of American citizens, even from far-away Tripoli. He spent the first couple of minutes adjusting his glasses as he spoke, and throughout the lecture he continued to adjust his hat and his robes, and he fidgeted while explaining his views, only making eye-contact with the camera a few times during his one-and-a-half hour speech.

Qaddafi’s solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a single, unified state where Palestinians of all religions (Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze) live in harmony between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. As he argued in the op-ed article, he repeated his assertion that this physical area is too small to sustain two individual states. Formally dubbed “Isratine,” Qaddafi called this plan a “final solution,” the term also used by Adolf Hitler for the Holocaust. While the op-ed remains vague on his plan to create such a state, Qaddafi made clear in his teleconference that his final solution would involve “expelling” Jews from the Holy Land who originally came from Russia, Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, etc., who according to Qaddafi have no right being there in the first place. The Jews to which he refers in the op-ed, the ones who have a right to be included, he clarified in the speech as Jews of Palestinian origin, the ones who lived there through the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate. Thus, “Isratine” would have Palestinian homogeneity.

So, what to do with the millions of Jews of non-Palestinian origin who currently reside in Israel? Qaddafi suggests “transferring” those who remain committed to a Jewish state to realize their dream in frigid Alaska or remote Hawaii, effectively dumping the problem on the United States, Israel’s largest supporter.

However, Qaddafi made clear in the lecture that the United States was no friend of Jews. When he listed the governments who persecuted Jews throughout the centuries (the Egyptian pharaohs, Edward I of England, the Russian Tsars, and Adolf Hitler), he dropped the United States into that category at least twice. He then made it perfectly clear that the Jews and the Arabs are “cousins,” and that the Arabs are the only friends the Jews have in the world.

Following his speech, Qaddafi received questions screened in advance by Georgetown University faculty. When asked about the abduction of Mansour El-Kekhia, a former Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Qaddafi opponent, Qaddafi attributed El-Kekhia’s abduction in Egypt to the notorious rampant crime levels there.

In the token question about his hopes for the future with a new American administration, Qaddafi alluded to a similar distrust of President Obama that he harbored towards President Bush, but he paid lip service to Obama’s message of “hope,” saying that he hoped Obama would open up a dialogue with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Qaddafi defended bin Laden’s past actions, saying that “there is no proof he was behind 9/11,” but called bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a “thug” who should be prosecuted. However, Qaddafi was correct in pointing out an American misconception that only, in Qaddafi’s words, “beggars and drug addicts” are the sole targets for recruitment into terrorism, and that “intelligentsia” is also susceptible.

When asked about Libya’s role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Qaddafi, obviously chafed, immediately became angry and defensive, denying that Libya played any role in the bombing, adding that the financial compensation to the victims’ families was more than adequate for a bombing in which he had no part. He said that he would not engage in “grave-digging,” a thoughtfully-chosen euphemism for leaving the past alone that simultaneously insulted the families of the victims whose bodies were never recovered from the bombing. When asked a second time about the Lockerbie bombings, Qaddafi refused to answer, remarking only that to this day there is no proof of Libya’s involvement in the attack.

At the end of the conference, Dr. Hudson announced that the audience would hear from the victims’ families. Immediately, approximately 80 percent of the audience stood up and made their way to the door. As the tearful parents addressed what was left of the audience, Arab diplomats who were in attendance congregated at the rear of the auditorium and conversed loudly. One of the mothers of the victims made it clear that she would cut her remarks short due to the fact that few were paying attention to her. Dr. Hudson got up and coldly thanked the parents for their time, and he informed the audience that they had been invited at the last minute to make their case after they had protested the invitation extended to Qaddafi. The defiant statement released by Georgetown University President John G. DeGioia, defending the University’s action, can be read  here.  After all, the Georgetown Community wanted to hear the Brother Leader speak, and they twice thanked and twice applauded him at the end of the videoconference. They weren’t interested in listening to what the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims had to say.

“The Coming Terrorism”

 It’s still hard to speak of clear winners and losers of the Gaza war.  There is,  however, one definite result: religous extremism is going to increase  in the Arab and Islamic world.    For you guys in the CT  community, your jobs aren’t  going to get any easier. 

 Ibrahim Eiisa,  the prominent editor of Cairo’s Al-Dostor newspaper had a 1/16  op-ed entitled “the Coming Terrorism.”   Here’s my basic paraphrasal:

The Gaza war is likely to increase religious extremism in the Arab world.  Anyone with two eyes notices that the Arab governments (Egypt, Saudi, Jordan) were interested in allying with the Zionist enemy against Muslims in Gaza.  These governments can try and justify their actions all they want but its clear: they faciliated the attack against oppressed Muslims in Gaza .  So here’s the key point:  the logical assumption of the younger, religious generation is that the government is against Islam.   For this reason,  religous extremism is going to increase and we are likely to see a new form of terrorism.  But this “coming terrorism”  won’t face the far enemy- the US or Zionists but internally against those from within who now may be seen as the enemies of Islam. 

Forget Al-Qaeda here.  In Egypt, for example, Al-Qaeda is not believed to have any foothold.  But pure religous extremism doesn’t need to be channeled in organized group form.  Here’s a key line from Eissa: 

فالناس في الأغلب خاضعون وخانعون لن يرفعوا سيوفهم علي حكامهم لكن قلوبهم ستكون أشد من السيوف القواطع علي دين هؤلاء الحكام،

He says something like this : 

” the people are subjugated and they aren’t going to raise their swords against their governments but their hearts will be stronger than their swords.” 

In the US CT community, people still talk of former Jhadist groups such as Tanzim Al-Jihad (Zawahiri’s old group) as if they still exist, but the Egyptian security forces were successful in breaking them up and crushing them.  So in Egypt they are commonly referred to as “no longer in existence” and they are not the people who are likely to “raise their swords.”   What’s   possible, if not likely,  in the future, are scattered, totally uncoordinated attacks against targets associated with this perceived assault against Islam by young people who have no connections to organized groups or under any influence from Al-Qaeda style Internet forums.

Why the silence?

I’ve added to the blogroll  a new blog at ForeignPolicy.com by Stephen Walt,  a professor at Harvard and one of America’s premier commentators on foreign policy.   Today,   he_wonders why many of  Israel’s  supporters in the US were silent during the recent IDF rampage in Gaza.  If that lack  of criticism  is due to a belief that Israel’s leaders are “exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists”  than this is a most  incorrect foundation to base a lack of criticism on: 

Many supporters of Israel will not criticize its behavior, even when it is engaged in brutal and misguided operations like the recent onslaught on Gaza. In addition to their understandable reluctance to say anything that might aid Israel’s enemies, this tendency is based in part on the belief that Israel’s political and military leaders are exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists who understand their threat environment and have a history of success against their adversaries. If so, then it makes little sense for outsiders to second-guess them.

As Walt outlines, this is a  myth.  So  why then,  do people keep refusing to criticize Israel in the US media? Isn’t it strange when Israel’s own Haaretz  newspaper  is consistently 10x more questioning  of Israel than anyone in America?

Abdel Bari Atwan’s Gaza Scorecard

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London’s Al-Quds Al-Arabi  newspaper gauges the winners_and_losers of Israel’s war on Gaza.   To some extent, his analysis is predictable:   Al-Quds  is strongly anti-US foreign policy and I can’t picture Atwan arguing that Israel “won” even if it was clear they had won.   Still, he is a highly respected journalist so I outline his scorecard:

1)  Israel.  Had the biggest losses, if not militarily, then at least politically.  After three weeks the IDF could not force Hamas to surrender;   And Israel, the region’s strongest military power had to go to Washington to get a security agreement to stop smuggling in Gaza.;   Losses drastically in the battle for public opinion, and their actions will significantly fuel recruitment for extremist groups. 

2)  Egypt.  Biggest Arab loser.  Lost its role as a mediator amongst Arabs but now  even the US and Israel ignore it.  Livni and Rice agreed on a security memorandum to stop smuggling in Gaza without even consulting Egypt. 

3)  Ramallah Based Palestinian Forces.   totally marginalized;  Supposedly “lost the support of at least half the Arabs as wlel as Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia.”

4)  The “Moderate Axis” governments.  Lost credibility when it failed to undergo any decisive actions, even facilitated the Israeli aggression

5) Amr Mousa.  (Egyptian  head of Arab League)  Most prominent individual victim; lost serious credibility

6)  Pro- Moderate Axis media.  lost credibility

Interestingly, Atwan mainly outlines the losers but he doesn’t go into depth on the winners which is probably the more important question and also harder to gauge.   But like many of the Arab voices who are highly interested in the Palestinian cause, he is confident that this Gaza operation will add momentum to the cause.   He closes out with this paragraph:

هذا العناد في التمسك بالثوابت، وفي رفض الاستسلام هو الذي تخشاه اسرائيل وقيادتها وشعبها، فإذا كان هؤلاء صمدوا ثلاثة اسابيع، ولم يخرج واحد منهم على شاشات التلفزة يندد بالمقاومة، رغم انهيار سلطة ‘حماس’ واختفاء قواتها التنفيذية، وضخامة اعداد الشهداء والجرحى، فإن اداءهم في اي مواجهة قادمة، اذا ما امتلكوا الحد الادنى من الاسلحة الدفاعية، سيكون مفاجئا. فالجيل القادم من ابناء القطاع، الذي سيتكون من اطفال شاهدوا مجازر آبائهم وامهاتهم واشقائهم وشقيقاتهم، سيكون الاشرس، ولن ينسى، ولا نعتقد انه سيغفر

This section goes something like this:  “That these people held out for three weeks, despite the collapse of the Hamas executive ability,  scares the Israelis.  “The coming generation of Gazans which will consist of children who have seen massacres of their mothers and fathers, is going to be alot more vicious/ fiercer.  We will not forget and we won’t forgive.”

My Commentary
Atwan brings up a point I’m seeing alot in the Arabic media but not in the US media when it comes to Military analysis.  In the 1967 war, the IDF beat the combined resources of all the Arabs combined in 6 days.  In the 3 war, Sharon was about 50 km from Cairo and could have gone sightseeing to the Pyramids if he has wanted to.  In ’82’ Israel walked all over the PLO forces in South Lebanon and made it to Beirut with little ease.  So now they are facing Hamas, a rag-tag militia with  massive material and technological disadvantages, but can’t force them to surrender after three weeks?  Isn’t this significant from a military perspective?

“The Road to 9/11”

Following up from the previous post, here’s a subtitled episode of the Al-Jazeera TV show “Top Secret.”    Yousri Fouda investigates “the path to 9/11” and travels to Pakistan to interview Khalid Sheikh Mohamed before he was arrested.

A couple points:
1)  Mohamed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was once a student of English at the American University in Cairo.  See 03:30

2)  It’s interesting the conspiratorial tone of this program. While the host interviews several no-name crackpots who present wild theories about 9/11 , this   gives a misleading impression about 9/11 doubting in the Arab world.   It definitely is widespread but mostly at the popular or street level and not the intellectual level.   I am not aware of any serious thinker in Egypt, for example, who would deny that Al-Qaeda committed the act.   Also, I’ve  heard Fouda speak in person at a serious academic talk and he didn’t display the slighest doubt that he thought Al-Qaeda was behind 9/11.   But for Al-Jazeera, I guess,  conspiracy mongering is what draws ratings.

“Top Secret” on TV

   I am not aware of any station in the world except for Al-Jazeera that makes the  transcript_and_audio of every single program available.  Its an amazing resource but now its even better-  you can watch the actual TV program on  Youtube

Yesterday, I was thrilled to come across the TV (or visual) of a 2006 episode of “Top Secret” by Yousri Fouda on “Al-Qaeda in the Levant.”  For two years, I had been hoping to catch a rerun  on Al-Jazeera but no such luck (previously I had only read the transcript but it becomes much clearer seeing the accompanying tv).   In part one (  transcript / video) Fouda sneaks into Iraq during the height of the insurgency and in part two ( transcript / video) he examines whether Al-Qaeda is gaining a foothold in the Levant.   Its as good an investigative journalism piece I’ve seen on Al-Qaeda. 

I often talk about how important cultural, historical, religious context is when trying to analyze Al-Qaeda and this series is great at this.   Even though this episode is a bit dated (2006) it should be translated and screened at the Al-Qaeda unit of every US intel agency.   Even for those who know no Arabic its still worth skimming through. 

The series brings up so many critical points which I will be blogging about over the next week.

Ok, so what would you do?

A major theme  in the Egyptian press (which contrary to public perception in the US is actually pretty free)  is that the Government has “misplayed” its hand vis a vis Israel-Palestine.  The critique goes something like this:  

 “instead of sticking up for Arab interests, the government has supposedly “sold-out” to the US and Israel.  Or it doesn’t work hard enough to resist US-Zionist imperial designs on Palestine and if Mubarak had played his cards better, the Palestinians wouldn’t be in the sorry position they are now in Gaza.”     

Here’s a typical piece from an English-language Egyptian blogger called Baheya: 

Like many others, I’ve been watching in disbelief as the Egyptian government enables the Israeli destruction of Gaza. This time, Hosni Mubarak and his foreign policy muwazafeen have entirely thrown in their lot with Israel and the U.S., blaming Hamas, admitting that they can’t lift a finger without Israeli permission, and hoping that Israel will get the job done this time and extinguish Hamas once and for all. But as obscene and repugnant as his current stance is, Mubarak’s behaviour is of a piece with his foreign policy posture since he succeeded Sadat. That posture is based on a simple formula: “realism”, which translates into equating his interests with those of Israel and the United States, in exchange for scraps of economic rent; and revamped authoritarianism, which translates into repressing anyone who dares to challenge his realism and imagine alternatives…..

 In my view,  this  criticism is  based on the Egyptian tendency to wildly exaggerate their country’s influence in the international arena.  “Mother of the world” (as Egyptians call their country) may have been a regional power during the era of traditional Arab-Israel wars, but when that period ended (with Camp David), so did serious Egyptian influence over the peace process.  It was inevitable.  Egypt has no other cards to play besides the threat of war, being the largest Arab military.  Now, its a poor, drastically overpopulated third-world country.  Its not a case of Mubarak misplaying his cards, but of Egypt having very limited cards to play with in the first place. 

Its easy to write op-eds calling the government a sell-out but none of these critics provide an alternative.   I’m waiting for Egypt’s  arm-chair diplomatic corps  to provide any serious ideas about how they would play their cards differently, especially considering Hamas can’t bring itself to make basic commitments to negotiations and recognition of Israel,  instead of just lobbing insults at Mubarak and Co. 

UPDATE: For a good solid English-language defense of the Egyptian approach read this post by the former Egyptian ambassador to Washington.

UPDATE II:  Here’s the  transcript of a 1/13 Al-Jazeera ‘Whats Behind the News” debate between two Egyptian journalists from Al-Ahram, one supports the government policy and one opposes.  The supporter raises the key point:   as long as Hamas refuses to make clear it supports the peace process  and can’t bring itself to say its goal does not include the liberation of ALL of Palestine, it is NOT in Egypt’s interests to work with it. So how do Egypt’s critics of Mubarak’s policy respond to this point:   Why should Egypt work with a group that is advocating an approach that runs fundamentally counter to its interests?

Waltz with Bashir

In keeping with the trend of cultural posts today (see the previous one about the book “Off the Wall”),  I would like to bring to Media Shack’s readers’ attention an incredible film that is been unanimously lauded by critics across the globe: “Waltz with Bashir” by Israeli director Ari Folman.

“Waltz with Bashir” is unique in many ways.  It is an animated documentary.  But the characters in it, despite being drawn animations, are actually animations of real people interviewed.  The movie is a reflection on the ethics of forgetting. Folman tries to remember why he can’t remember his days as an IDF soldier in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.  He goes about the world interviewing fellow soldiers who were with him in Beirut, and journalists, and meets at intervals with his psychiatrist friend in order to discuss his findings and rationalize his brain’s selective memory.

The animation is highly stylized, and looks like a comic book that’s come to life.  But the subjects tackeld are far from being as flat as mere drawings. This film does something Lebanon has still not done:  it tackles head on the moral implications of war, the way in which seemingly normal people deal with their participation in atrocious events, like the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and doesn’t shy away from casting judgment on the morality and ethics of war, of Israel’s policies,  or of Israel’s own leaders.   Since I am not by profession a film critic, I will not plunge into a long essay about why “Waltz with Bashir” gets my thumbs up.  I will only passionately advocate  anyone even remotely interested in the Middle East to SEE THIS FILM!  It is absolutely haunting, penetrating, disturbing, and an artistic and political masterpiece.  Of course, the fact that a film which so directly and candidly deals  with the history of Lebanon cannot even be shown in Lebanon itself is symptomatic of the country’s (and the region’s) wilful blindness to its own past.

Political Posters in Lebanon

For those interested in the nexus between the visual arts and politics, an interesting new publication is being featured in the book review sections of many magazines and newspapers. “Off the Wall” by  Zeina Maasri is a compilation of the political posters  that graced the bullet-riddled walls of Lebanon during the Civil War and vied for the eyes of the politically affiliated and unaffiliated alike .  The book is getting positive reviews both in Western and Middle Eastern media, and is definitely an intriguing take on the study of the war.  Many of the posters are available for viewing on the American University of Beirut’s website.

Brother Leader Comes to Georgetown

Talk about a political comeback.   Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Libya’s President Gaddafi was Public Enemy #1?  In the same group as Bin Laden and Co?  But tomorrow, Brother Leader will give a talk on the Washington DC campus of Georgetown University.  Well, sort of.   The talk will be virtual:

Muammar Al-Qaddafi, the Leader of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya, will address the Georgetown University community and other guests via satellite in the ICC Auditorium. He will discuss his vision for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as outlined in his ‘White Book,’ and take questions from the audience.

All questions must be submitted via email in advance to ccasevents@georgetown.edu. THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING QUESTIONS IS 5:00PM FRIDAY, JANUARY 16.

And fortunately  if anyone is interested in brushing up on their ideology:

Lecture will be in Arabic; simultaneous translation will be provided via headset.

Copies of the ‘White Book’ will be available at the lecture.

This event is made possible by the generous support of Exxon Mobil.

Big ups to whatever Hoya is responsible for securing this talk.

Heikal on Gaza

On Sunday, I posted that I think that Hamas would come out stronger from the Israeli attack on Gaza.   On January 7th,  Muhammed Hassanein Heikal,  in a  long_interview  on Al Jazeera,  apparently agrees on that.   For American readers  Heikal (read an English bio here) is by far the most important, famous and respected journalist in the Arab world.   He was the Editor- in- Chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram  from 1957- 1974 which during his tenure was often refered to as the New York Times of the Arab world.  As a sign of his popularity, Heikal has his own show on Al-Jazeera ( With_Heikal) where he gives lectures on recent Arab history, discussing the information he acquired during his working days, the things that brought  him a new and unprecedented following in the Arab world.

For some context:  Heikal was very close to Gamal Abdel Nasser.  He was and still is a Nasserist and a believer in pan-Arabism as well as a strong critic of the change in direction towards the US that happened with Anwar Al-Sadat  (see Autumn_of_Fury for more on that point).   Many people in Egypt still believe in the pan-Arabism of Nasser so Heikal is expressing a point of view in this interview that has widespread support. 

Heikal tackled 3 main points in this interview: the situation in Gaza, the Egyptian position, and the regional status.

Inside Gaza.  Heikal believes that what’s happening in Gaza right now is not because of Hamas, rather it is a scheme to impose the US-Israeli settlement for the situation in the region, adding that the timing was not randomly chosen. Since Hamas won in the 2006 parliamentary  elections, the US and Israel were facing a stalemate in the region and that’s why Israel started to besiege Hamas and finally interfering militarily.  According to Heikal, the timing was perfectly chosen, the US is living a transitional period, the Israeli parliamentary elections is immanent, thus its an opportunity to regain the Israeli deterrence capabilities.  Heikal added that Obama knew about the attack, clarifying that if the attack succeeded Iran would be next.  Hiekal, however, said that the biggest mistake Hamas has done was its religious discourse, Palestine is Arab national cause and not a religious one.

The Egyptian side. Heikal expressed his bewilderment from the Egyptian position from whats happening in Gaza, he believed that the Egyptian interference in Gaza should’ve been 2 sided; the first, is protecting the Egyptian national security, the second, is aiding the Palestinians. What happened was Egypt helped Israel to gain more security and political ground at the expense of the Egyptian national security. The situation in Gaza represents a test for the Egyptian leadership and its ability to influence any part of the Middle East, and currently it seems that it is losing its soft powers. The point is the military superiority of Israel could mainly be balanced through the Egyptian extension regionally, which is a privilege that Israel do not possess. In his opinion, Egypt would gain absolutely nothing from clashing with Syria, or Hezbollah or Iran, he added that Egypt should maintain a very good relationship with Hamas and all those who represent the line of resistance, basically this line would never threaten Egypt it actually protects the Egyptian national security.

Regionally. Heikal described the Arab role as being very lame, he thinks that depending on the UNSC would bring them nothing because the US is in a transitional period and would never take a position that would harm Israel. However, he thought that Nasrallah’s speech shouldn’t be interpreted the way it happened, and he said that his speech is derived from his belief in the Egyptian role and history in the region, and his belief in the deep sentiments the Egyptian people hold for the Palestinians. Heikal warned from deploying international forces on the borders with Gaza which threatens the Palestinian cause, this issue is one of Egypt’s cards that it should not give up, adding to that the giving up the control of the Rafah-crossing is a threat to the Egyptian national security.

The Calm Before the Storm?

What to make of the fighting so far  from a military standpoint? 

According to the latest reports, it doesn’t seem that Israeli forces are taking heavy casualties.  Just 7  according to CNN.  So does this mean that Hamas is taking a beating, even “losing?” After all,  the Islamic Resistance Movement faces several geographic and other challenges that Hezbollah didn’t.  From an excellent article at  The National:

there are five important differences between the two conflicts that the Hamas leadership does not seem to have grasped or appreciated.

1. Gaza, only 360 square kilometres in size, lacks the strategic depththat Hizbollah had in Lebanon. So Hamas guerrillas have much smaller and narrower areas of operations than Hizbollah guerrillas had in Lebanon, which gives Israel an advantage.

2. Hizbollah fighters are not members of government, civilian and military institutions such as the police and ministries, so Israeli jets had a limited list of targets. In Gaza they have a large number of easy targetsthat were hit in the first minutes of the attack, killing at least 200 Hamas members in public buildings.

3. Israel besieged Lebanon from air and sea but could never seal off land routes in and out of the country, so Hizbollah had a good supply of arms and supplies. Gaza was completely sealed off fromall sides with the exception of a few tunnels that were mostly destroyed in the first two days of the attack. Now Israeli tanks have cut off Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip from its southern part and completely sealed off all entry points, so Hamas has no access to military supplies.

4. Hamas is much less able than Hizbollah to threaten the Israeli rear. While Hizbollah missile strikes hit dozens of Israeli settlements, towns and cities all over northern and central Israel and can now reach southern Israel, Hamas’s missiles can reach only up to 45km and are mostly ineffective. Missiles fired from Gaza in 2008 killed ten Israelis, while Hizbollah missile attacks on Israel in the 33-day war killed more than 100 and inflicted serious damage to property. So Hamas missile strikes will not be enough to force Israel into new ceasefire talks. Moreover, Hamas’s anti-armour capabilities seem to be ineffective against Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

5. Hizbollah had much better information, intelligence and counter-intelligence than Hamas. This has been made clear by Israel’s ability to hit many sensitive targets and to dominate the battlespace from the air. Hamas has failed to spring any surprises on the battlefield in the way that Hizbollah did in 2006, confusing the Israeli military command.

Or is HAMAS merely waiting  to set up a strategic ambush or  “spring the street warfare trap?”   If I was the Hamas military leader, recognizing that the IDF has  insurmountable advantages in face-to-face normal fighting,  I would tell the foot-soldiers to sit back, put up minimum resistance, and wait until IDF extends itself all over Gaza. And then go all out in a Stalingrad-type  last stand with a blaze of martyrdom.  

If Hamas is going to go down, then their strategy might be to try and bring down as many Israeli soldiers as possible.   There isn’t any question that Hamas would have the full weight of Arab public opinion behind it in such a battle.  And if Israeli public opinion, suddenly faced with lots of their boys dying combined with a newly inaugurated  Barrack Obama under enormous pressure to get involved…. momentum might start swinging Hamas’ way.

Anyway,  if Hamas supposedly has 15-20 K fighters and the IDF claims to have killed just 150 than these guys are somewhere.  Probably waiting.

Adel Imam on Gaza

Adel Imam, hands-down the most popular actor in the Arab world, has ( according  to the Jerusalem Post)  “shocked many of his fans by expressing understanding for Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.”   This is not quite what he did though:

Imam, a longtime outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, lashed out at Egyptians who have been demonstrating against Israel’s war on Hamas. He said calls for general strikes in solidarity with the Palestinians “harmed our economy and benefited Israel alone.”

Imam was also quoted in the Egyptian press as strongly criticizing the leader of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood organization, Mahdi Akef, for having accused Egypt’s leadership of “collusion” with Israel.

The veteran 68-year-old movie star blamed Hamas for the violence, pointing out that the Egyptian leadership had warned the Islamist movement against an impending Israeli military operation.

“Hamas ignored our warnings and chose to lead an asymmetrical war,” Imam said, echoing earlier statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “It’s preferable for Hamas to stop [the rocket attacks]. They should have known that Israel wasn’t going to receive the attacks with roses.”

It  shouldn’t surprise anyone that Adel Imam  has adopted this stance.   First, he is very pro-government, being good friends with Hosni Mubarak.   In fact, he is given lots of leeway to make films critical of the government because of this relationship.  Ideologically, he is about as anti-Islamist as it comes which is  obvious from the fact that he drinks alcohol and picks up prostitutes in most of his films.  See him chew out Islamist preacher Amr Khalid in this Youtube_clip.    So it doesn’t surprise me that he blames Hamas for instigating the attacks.  It should also be noted that this isn’t a view solely confined to hard-core pro-government circles in Egypt as well.