Honest, ugly discourse: Gilad Sharon and John Stewart Mill


One of the responsibilities of the news media is to set the parameters of acceptable discourse in society. But while media outlets have the unique ability to demarcate what is and isn’t acceptable to print, in doing so, they walk a fine line and risk masking the ugliest – but real – faces of society.

Last week, in the midst of the latest round of deadly violence between Israel and Gaza, The Jerusalem Post printed an op-ed penned by Gilad Sharon, a man who has pushed himself into the public eye solely by virtue of the name and legacy of his father, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

In a hyper-nationalist tone, Sharon advocated escalating the limited military operation into what would be the 21st century’s first instance of genocide:

“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.”

There is no need to delve into the plethora of reasons Sharon’s words and ideas are appalling. If he were a man of any influence, his writings might be considered criminal under the Genocide Convention; a cursory reading (more…)

Gaza: New rules in an old war


There’s something different about the most recent flare-up between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians’ modus operandi appears to have changed, and Israel seems to be unsure of how to respond.

In the past month, armed Palestinian groups in Gaza launched a string of three, seemingly well planned and ultimately successful attacks against IDF forces along the border. Planted explosive devices, a massive and unprecedented tunnel detonation and an anti-tank missile left a total of eight Israeli soldiers injured, some seriously.

Already there was something strange. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has declared for some time that it was focusing on military targets, a change from its rocket attacks on Israeli civilian centers. Nevertheless, to have nearly a month go by without rocket attacks on civilians is almost unheard of in recent years.

The IDF’s responses to the attacks were also uncharacteristically restrained considering the Israeli casualties, limited to immediate defensive fire and late-night airstrikes on empty buildings and tunnels. Following the (more…)

Iran: A game gone too far


The story of how Israel reached the – real or perceived – brink of war with Iran is not exactly what it appears to be.

At some point in recent years, Israeli decision-makers decided to play a game. Through a fairly innocuous and innocent lens, the game can be described as “good cop, bad cop.” At worst, it is a dangerous exercise in diplomatic and military brinksmanship that risks catapulting one of the world’s most well-armed regions into an unpredictable and open-ended war.

Either way, the game has gone too far.

Israel is terrified of a nuclear-armed Iran. Although less daunting than the prospect of a second holocaust, the danger Iranian nukes pose is real: they threaten the thus-far unchallenged regional hegemony the IDF has enjoyed for decades.

Earlier this year, the IDF’s top planning officer, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, explained how an Iran with nuclear weapons would change Israel’s strategic (more…)

The Iranian threat: What Israel really thinks


One of the biggest distortions about the Iranian nuclear threat is Israel’s explanation of its basis for fearing it. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cites Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying the Israeli regime should be wiped off the map, invoking powerful imagery to lead the Israeli public and the world to fear a second Holocaust. But is that really what he and his intelligence assessments fear?

The top officer in the Israeli military’s planning directorate, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, presented Israel’s fear of a nuclear-armed Iran in a less existential and more strategic context last month. Israel, he said, would be deterred from entering into conventional wars with its traditional adversaries, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria, if their Iranian sponsor became a nuclear power.

Nuclear deterrence, Eshel explained, would dramatically alter Israel’s strategic military posture in the region. “If we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, it might be different.”

Another major fear, shared by the United States and regional actors in the Middle East, is that Iranian (more…)

Israel’s response to terror: Intelligence failure or blatant lies?


In the early afternoon of August 18, 2011, terrorists launched a three-pronged attack on Israeli civilians and soldiers, shooting at civilian cars and buses, blowing up another bus, and launched cross-border shooting attacks. The violence along the Israeli-Egyptian border caused the deaths of eight Israelis, a number of the attackers and a handful of Egyptian security personnel.

At around 3 p.m. that afternoon, with shooting still audible in the background of a live press conference in Eilat, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the world that the attack (and attackers) originated in Gaza and vowed to respond “forcefully and decisively.” Minutes later, Israeli Air Force jets took off from their nearby bases and bombed the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees’ leadership. Six people were killed in that initial strike.

A few hours after the air strikes began, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a dramatic press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. He presented a new doctrine of immediate, harsh response to any attack against Israelis and lauded his security services for (more…)

Ehud Barak thinks Iran is a rational actor


Ehud Barak once said that if he were a Palestinian of the right age he would join a terrorist organization. This week he went one step further. Asked by Charlie Rose if he too would want a nuclear weapon were he in the shoes of the Iranian leadership, the Israeli defense minister answered affirmatively.

More interestingly, in the nearly 15 minutes that Barak discussed the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, his arguments against Tehran’s proliferation efforts were focused entirely on preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring the deterrence power a nuclear weapon would give it. He did not, as Health Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tirelessly argued, charge that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks to annihilate or “wipe Israel off the map.”

“I don’t delude myself that they are doing it just because of Israel,” Barak explained.

The Iranians look around and see that their neighbors, Pakistan, India, Russia and China all have nuclear weapons, he continued, “and they look westward and see (more…)

The most moral army in the world


The IDF has once again shown the world that when it comes to harm illegally inflicted upon Palestinians, its officers and soldiers are held to different standards – lower standards. The battalion commander convicted of holding a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man while ordering a soldier under his command to shoot him in the leg with rubber-coated steel bullets walked out of a military court completely unscathed Thursday. The court declined to even demote the Lieutenant-Colonel and actually condoned his promotion in two years time, the equivalent of punishing a small child with a “time out.”

There are three distinct problems that this case highlights. First and foremost, it (more…)

A ‘day of rage’ in the Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine


A new, but anticipated type of instability began sweeping through the usually-unstable Middle East on Tuesday. Mass protests across Egypt followed the inspirational people’s uprising in Tunisia, Lebanese Sunnis protested a Hizbullah power grab across their country, and anger built in the Palestinian territories as details of what the Palestinian Authority was willing to concede in negotiations with Israel were released in the “Palestine Papers.” Even if the civil unrest does not continue on Wednesday, the day’s events were anything but inconsequential both in the Arab world and to the West and Israel.

In Egypt, the people have long been dissatisfied with their quality of life and lack of freedom (more…)

Gaza violence, West Bank non-violence


With violence once again escalating along the Gaza border, we are faced with one of the most serious delusions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that there are two Palestines. While the world has fallen in love with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that has almost entirely denounced violent resistance in exchange for technocratic state building and non-violent struggle, the Gaza Strip continues to live in an alternate reality of violence and fanaticism.

This is not to say that a Palestinian state comprised solely of the West Bank could easily reach a peace settlement with Israel were Gaza to be removed from the equation. It does, however, serve as a reminder that Palestinian society suffers from a massive split, both in its political leadership and its strategy for attaining independence.

While the people of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and the smaller towns of Budrous and Bil’in have won accomplishments and improvements in the quality of their lives in recent years as a result of non-violent resistance and state building efforts, residents of the Gaza Strip are experiencing a converse reality. (more…)

Lebanon: Hariri Tribunal and Ghajar withdrawal

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezb'allah

A poster of Hezb'allah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah - (CC)

The situation in Lebanon has been heating up in the past few months as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating former prime minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination wraps up. Hizb’allah is widely expected to be (at least partially) implicated in Hariri’s murder and its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has promised to “cut off the hand of anyone who tries to arrest any Hezb’allah fighter” named in the indictment. Nobody really knows what to expect should such a scenario play out, but the consensus is that it wouldn’t be good for the fragile democracy. Lebanon’s Daily Star this week reported about Syrian-Saudi efforts to prevent a violent fallout from the upcoming STL indictments.

On Saturday, the talk coming out of Lebanon was about the planned Israeli withdrawal from the disputed, and theoretically-divided border town of Ghajar. A Lebanese diplomat and a Hezb’allah MK spoke about what Lebanon’s response to an Israeli withdrawal would look like. The consensus was that the move (more…)

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