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IAF Strikes Gaza; Hamas and Jihad Members in Hiding

Thirty-nine people were injured and one killed in yesterday’s bombing at a bus stop in Jerusalem, credit for which was taken by the Al-Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad. The dead woman has been identified as a British tourist. Two officials of Islamic Jihad, Khaled Jaradat and Tarek Kaadan, were arrested in Jenin by Palestinian Authority policemen on suspicion of involvement in the bombing. The suspects have not, as far as I am aware, been turned over to the Israelis. The Israeli police, who are on high alert, have said that they do not believe the Jerusalem bombing to be directly connected to the escalation in rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas praised the Jerusalem bombing as a “natural response to Israeli crimes” and at the same time declared a state of emergency in Gaza in anticipation of IDF retaliation for the increased rocket fire. Palestinian journalists, speaking to the Jerusalem Post, said members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have turned off their cell phones and gone into hiding.

Hamas officials are quoted as saying they have reached out to Egypt — not for military reinforcement, but to prevent open war between Hamas and Israel. Hamas, which continues to claim that it does not want a confrontation with us just yet (presumably until sufficient hardware arrives from Iran), appears to be either divided upon itself or unable to control either its own more extreme members or the other violent factions in Gaza. Hamas remains the de facto leadership, however, and is being held directly accountable by the Israeli government for all violence emanating from Gaza. Gazan Palestinians, Hamas or otherwise, are continuing to fire at Israel; five mortars and two rockets were shot into Israeli territory last night and another rocket at Ashkelon this morning.

The IAF conducted four strikes in the Gaza Strip at dawn today (Thursday). The targets were smuggling tunnels, a Hamas training camp and a power transformer. No injuries were reported. IDF Home Front Command has instructed residents of Beersheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod to stay close to home and near bomb shelters today. Schools remain closed in all three cities. Yesterday, the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration transfered an 8-year-old Palestinian child from the Gaza Strip to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot after he was injured by an Israeli mortar during the clashes on Tuesday.


UPDATE: Palestinians Escalate War On Israeli Civilians

This is what I know as of 7:00 pm local time (the explosion in Jerusalem was at about 3:00 pm): At least 30 are wounded in Jerusalem and there is one fatality, a 59-year-old woman. This is the worst attack in Jerusalem in about three years. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said he “resolutely denounce[s] this terrorist attack no matter who stands behind it,” and the Palestinian Red Crescent has offered assistance to the Israeli wounded.

The bombing appears to be part of a wider escalation in the Palestinian war on Israeli civilians, and I expect there will almost certainly be a serious response by us. This morning, before the bomb went off, Islamic Jihad in Gaza struck the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod with a Grad missile, and an hour later sent a barrage of mortars into the western Negev and two more missiles into Beersheva. Yesterday, Gazans fired four mortars at Kibbutz Alumim and Kibbutz Sa’ad. The IDF fired mortars back, hitting Palestinian civilians as well as the attackers; exchanges of fire continued into last night. The IDF is reporting that the IAF struck and destroyed the cell that launched the Grad into Ashdod. More than sixty rockets have been fired by Palestinians into Israel since Saturday.

The firing of a weapon into Ashdod warrants special attention. Ashdod is a city of over 200,000 people, making it the fifth-largest city in the country, and it’s all of twenty miles south of Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this evening, “we cannot tolerate attacks on Israeli citizens, not in the southern communities and not in Jerusalem,” and Israeli politicians are calling for a response. Hamas officials insist that they are not interested in an escalation, but the attacks continue, possibly suggesting a break between the government and the military wing. Whether that’s true or not, the situation is rapidly becoming intolerable from the Israeli perspective.

Deputy PM Silvan Shalom, speaking at the site where one of the Grads fell in Beersheva, said, “the period of restraint is over, we must do everything we can to strike out against those who wish to hurt the innocent…I hope it won’t come to another Operation Cast Lead, but if there is no other choice we will launch another operation.”

Expect an IDF campaign into Gaza, possibly soon.


Explosion at Bus Stop in Jerusalem

A 1-kilo bomb just went off at a crowded bus stop outside the convention center Binyanei HaUma in west Jerusalem, which is opposite the Central Bus Station. This particular bus stop is about a two-minute walk from the hotel where Claire and the other Act For Israel fellows were staying last week.

Reports indicate that the bomb was either tied to a telephone pole or left in a bag near a public phone. No deaths reported so far, but at least twenty-five are injured, at least two critically, and people are still being taken from the scene on stretchers. Casualties are being taken to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem (where, parenthetically, I gave birth to my first child).

Road access to Jerusalem has been closed and the area of the bombing is being scoured for further devices. No one has yet claimed responsibility.


Good Night, Miss Taylor

The incomparably beautiful, immensely gifted, violet-eyed legend Elizabeth Taylor died today. She was 79.

Israel’s Capote

posted after the events of Itamar that the massacre reminded me of the slaughter of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959, the crime that inspired Truman Capote’s extraordinary work of journalism, In Cold Blood. I lamented, and continue to lament, the lack of comparable journalistic interest in the deaths of the Fogels, along with all the implications of that lack of interest: that the Fogels, right down to the decapitated infant, were less human than other victims and therefore less deserving of our outrage on their behalf; that because they were Jewish settlers they brought the crime upon themselves; that the crime can be at least partially excused and its savagery discounted because the anger of the perpetrators is justified in international eyes — you get the picture.

I learned this morning, when I checked out National Review Online, that we have our Capote after all. He is an Italian journalist named Giulio Meotti, the author of a staggering work: A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism. Meotti spent six years tracking down and talking to witnesses to terrorist attacks in Israel, including survivors and relatives of the murdered, in order to give names and faces to the many, many victims. In his interview in NRO, he says he

heard about scores of young people and children, women and elderly, incinerated on buses; cafés, pizzerias, and shopping centers turned into slaughterhouses; mothers and daughters killed in front of ice-cream shops; entire families exterminated in their own beds; infants executed with a blow to the base of the skull; teens tortured and their blood smeared on the walls of a cave; fruit markets blown to pieces; nightclubs annihilated along with dozens of students; seminarians murdered during their Biblical studies; husbands and wives killed in front of their children; brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren murdered together; children murdered in their mothers’ arms.

About the Itamar attack, he says:

Those who profess to deplore violence on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian equation have remained relatively silent on the slaughtering of this Israeli family. No words of condemnation about the killing of these innocents have been heard from the human-rights groups, the same faction that is so quick to vilify Israel for defending itself from terrorist attacks, especially when Palestinian citizens lose their lives during a retaliatory foray by Israel. There is no other conclusion to draw: When the deaths of Jewish innocents go unmourned and unacknowledged, it is because Jewish lives do not count.

When asked why so many believe that Israel is not the wronged party, he cites the “river of oily, bloody money that feeds those who incite anti-Israeli riots, organize anti-Israeli boycotts, spread anti-Israeli lies in the guise of ‘objective journalism’ and ‘academic research.’ There are careers to be made on the betrayal of intellectual standards.” He takes Israel to task for its infuriatingly passive response to the theft and distortion of the historical narrative by the Palestinians. About Israel’s persistent desire to accommodate her enemies, he is particularly acute:

The psychological need for normalization is so great that it overwhelms the clear failures in the peace process, the continuing terrorism, and unabated Arab hatred. Sixty-three years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons, and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment’s peace.

I’m ordering the book, although quite honestly I’m afraid to read it. To this day I’m haunted by one detail of the Maxim bombing in Haifa in 2003 — on that day a woman, an ordinary secular Israeli like me, woke up, got dressed, said goodbye to her husband and children as they went out the door to go to Maxim for breakfast, and never saw any of them again; they were all murdered. I remember many such specifics of attacks that have happened since I came here; the names and the particulars stay in my head. I am not, therefore, this book’s target audience. I wonder if its intended audience will pay it the slightest attention.


Iranian-Backed Hamas Kicks War With Israel Into High Gear

There’s always a discussion simmering somewhere about war between Israel and Iran — who will start it, what arms will be used and by whom, what retaliation will be exacted, what the effect will be on the rest of the region, and so on and so forth. The central question is usually, “When will the war begin?”


We’d all like to know how close Israel will allow Iran to get to the nuclear threshold before acting preemptively, but let’s not mince words here. Iran is already at war with Israel, and it is conducting that war through its local proxy, Hamas. The nuclear issue is important — of course it is. But you don’t need nukes to make life here difficult to impossible. Israeli citizens with the misfortune to live within striking distance of the Gaza Strip are already on a literal front line. They’re not anticipating a war; they’re living one.

Earlier this morning, Iranian-backed Palestinians in Gaza heavily shelled civilian areas inside sovereign Israel. Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol and Sdot Hanegev were bombarded with more than fifty rockets. Residents were ordered to remain inside their homes or in shelters. Two civilians were injured by shrapnel and taken to Soroka Hospital. “We are used to sporadic rocket and mortar fire, but this was not the daily show we are used to,” said Eyal Brandeis, a kibbutz secretary in the Eshkol Regional Council and the head of a local emergency response team. “When we heard the high number of explosions across the area, we knew this was not an ordinary attack.”

Hamas does what its sponsors tell it to do. The escalation of its war with southern Israel reflects both Iran’s emboldenment following the collapse of the Mubarak regime and its eagerness to test the limits of what it can achieve ahead of end-game nuclear conflict. Remember that this morning’s assault on Israeli civilians follows the interception by the Egyptians of an overland arms shipment from Sudan destined for Hamas, as well as the seizure by the Israeli Navy of a 179-meter-long cargo ship bearing 39 containers full of arms. Thirty-nine containers’ worth of arms is a lot: it puts this smuggling attempt in the ballpark of the Karine A. In one of those details that elevates incidents like this to the level of art, some of the arms came with instruction manuals in Farsi. That’s unreadable to most Gazans, but eloquence itself to the Israelis.

The containers were loaded onto the ship at the Syrian port of Latakia, which is the port at which those two Iranian warships (remember them?) docked last month. The arms included thousands of mortar shells, about 67,000 assault rifle bullets for AK-47s, and six C-704 radar-guided anti-ship missiles. Those missiles have a 35-kilometer range and a 130 kilogram explosive warhead capable of sinking 1,000-ton vessels. The Jerusalem Post notes that if those missiles had reached the Gaza Strip, the Israeli navy — which now operates just a few kilometers off the coast of Gaza — would have had to pull back. This, I need hardly say, would represent a serious blow to Israel’s defensive capability against a hostile western front.

Regarding today’s attack by Hamas: Israel lodged a formal complaint with the UN over the rocket bombardment of civilian areas and also hit Gaza with tank shells and helicopter strikes.

Expect condemnation shortly of Israeli aggression.


In Cold Blood in Itamar

The knifing to death of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar reminds me of the killing of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, familiar to you perhaps as the subject of Truman Capote’s monumental work of reportage, In Cold Blood. The Clutter murders still arouse revulsion and horror decades later, as well they should. The Fogel murders, on the other hand, provoke a rather telling lack of interest among journalists as to the basic details: most international coverage of the event, what little there is, neglects to mention the ages of the murdered children. They were an eleven-year-old boy, a three-year-old boy, and a one-month-old baby girl.

Netanyahu has spoken out angrily against the tepid response of the PA and demanded that they clamp down on anti-Israel incitement in the territories. It’s perfectly right and proper that he make this demand, but as the kids say, good luck with that.

Why did this happen now? I wonder. In the wake of the revolutions in the Arab world, an anxious Fatah has been preemptively cozying up to Hamas, and Hamas chief-in-exile Khaled Meshaal has been making reciprocal noises. “The first step [toward ‘liberating’ Jerusalem from the Israelis] is refusal to negotiate with Israel,” he said this past Monday, setting the terms for any potential reconciliation between the Palestinian groups. The object of a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement would be what’s written in the Hamas charter: jihad against the Jewish state. (That’s the whole Jewish state he’s talking about, mind you — not just children with sidecurls in Itamar.)

Less than a week after Mashaal made this statement, members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — otherwise known as the armed wing of Fatah — slaughtered the Fogels. The “heroic operation,” as the Brigades’ press release called the attack, was “part of the natural response to the massacres of the fascist occupation against our people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

That’s what a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation looks like, folks. It means the subsuming of Fatah into Hamas and the death of any pretense of a Palestinian partner for peace.

In his speech on Monday, Mashaal said, “[t]he people in Egypt and Tunisia have given us back our lives.” Congratulations, Khaled. No one is bringing the Fogels back to life. They won’t even get journalists delving with grim, fascinated interest into their short life stories. And hey, why should they? They were only settlers, after all.


Happy Israeli Apartheid Week!

Many of you — particularly those of you based on college campuses — will be aware that yesterday kicked off Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a synchronized series of global anti-Israel events. IAW is an annual showpiece of the BDS movement, which rather disappointingly has nothing to do with outre sexual practices. The initials stand for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Israeli Apartheid Week banner

From March 7 through March 20 (yes, the week is actually two weeks), representatives of assorted NGOs will speak on campuses across the US, Canada and Europe with the express purpose of demonizing Israel. Fortunately, there exists an organization called NGO Monitor whose raison d’etre is to combat the “politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas” of organizations devoted to this country’s delegitimization.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor, explained to The Jerusalem Post that IAW is essentially a series of “mini-Durban” events, meaning that they strategically employ feel-good human rights language to isolate and humiliate Israel. This tactic can be particularly effective on college campuses, where both feeling good and concurring with the perceived “correct” political standpoint on hot-button subjects are often high priorities.

To help intrepid college students combat the flood of anti-Israel rhetoric that will wash over them for the next two weeks, NGO Monitor has constructed a visual aid called the BDS Sewer System, an image that uses a network of pipes to show the links connecting NGOs to their money sources — and that maps out the uses to which they put the money. The image shows money flowing from governments, the EU, foundations and charities to the organizations, which then use the funds to funnel their ideas to the public via mainstream, fringe, unionized and church group outlets. “Most students are unaware of the extreme agendas and hate-filled language associated with the groups behind IAW,” said Jonathan Gilbert of Bruins for Israel, the Hillel society at UCLA. “The Sewer System helps demonstrate this fact to them.”

NGO Monitor notes that while in some cases, funders share the anti-Israel bent of the NGOs they sponsor, in other cases their original intention was entirely benign. In some instances, “governmental and private sources assign funds ostensibly to promote human rights, humanitarian aid, democracy and civil society,” but “NGOs divert this support to bolster BDS activity and pursue their own political agendas. Due to an absence of strict guidelines, oversight, accountability and evaluations of decision making, the funding continues year after year.”

The Jerusalem Post asked NGO Monitor for examples. They pointed to the Dutch government, which funded the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) on the grounds that it is an “aid organization.” ICCO used the money to finance Electronic Intifada, a website that engages in open political warfare with Israel, comparing Israelis to Nazis and regularly accusing us of ethnic cleansing and genocide. “The Dutch government didn’t know this until we showed it to them,” said Jason Edelstein, speaking for NGO Monitor. “ICCO of course knew how the money was being used, but the Dutch government did not.” Edelstein went on to cite The New Israel Fund and the Ford Foundation as examples of organizations that “have not been fully aware that some funding goes to NGOs that promote BDS and are involved in other aspects of the delegitimization campaign.”


Ahmadinejad, Khameini, al-Assad — Oh My!

Iran never misses an opportunity to seize an opportunity.

When the Mubarak regime collapsed in Egypt, Iran was quick to characterize the event — possibly with some justice — as signaling the decline of American/Western influence in the region. Whether that’s true or not, Mubarak’s departure constituted an unexpected and exciting opening for Iran, which immediately tested the Americans’ and the Israelis’ stomach for provocation by sending two warships through the Suez Canal.

This was a major development for two reasons. The first you already know: it was the first time Iranian warships had passed through the Canal since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The second point, which got far less attention, is this: the transit marked the first time Iranian warships had ever been granted permission to dock at Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. This is extraordinary, considering the Saudis’ urgent desire to contain Iran, and suggests a timidity in the face of an emboldened enemy that might, one would hope, be of some interest to the US State Department.

The Iranian ships were destined for Syria, with which Iran is swiftly consolidating its military relationship. Both countries have been busy of late, but the radar sweep of American media attention seems determined to avoid catching a blip anywhere other than Libya at the moment. You should be aware of the following recent events:

  1. Iran and Syria have formally agreed to cooperate on naval training, including personnel exchange. (Hence the warships.) Iranian naval commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said “the message of the ships is to announce peace and friendship to Islamic countries and the region and attempt to strengthen relations between the countries,” while Iranian Ambassador to Syria Ahmad Mousavi hastened to reassure skeptical observers that Iran “does not seek to wage war against anyone.” (The reassurance wasn’t really necessary, it seems, since no one is admitting to paying much attention. The Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman called the Iranians “insolent,” but DM Ehud Barak insists there wasn’t anything on the ships to worry us. The Americans admitted rather diffidently to “watching” the progress of the ships, but wouldn’t commit themselves to concern or even interest.)
  2. In the wake of the collapse of the Egyptian military’s efforts to impede arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, Iran has rushed in to build new infrastructure in the Sinai to enable more efficient arms transfers to Hamas. (By efficient, I mean more advanced weaponry and in larger quantities.) During the Egyptian uprising, dozens of police stations in the Sinai Peninsula were abandoned by policemen fleeing Bedouin armed with missiles and assault rifles. The resulting Wild-Westian anarchy has enabled Iranian proxies to act in the area with near impunity.
  3. Last Saturday, Russian DM Anatoly Serdyukov said that Russia has decided to fulfill a contractual obligation to complete the transfer of cruise missiles to Syria, despite two years of entreaties by the Israelis not to do so. The Israeli Defense Ministry fears that the missiles could “fall into the hands of Hezbollah, just as other weapons systems came from Syria.” The weapons in question are surface-to-air rocket units armed with P-800, or Yakhont, missiles. According to Haaretz, they are capable of hitting ships 300 kilometers off Syria’s coast.

It’s impossible to tell from the lack of media attention to these events whether the White House is oblivious to them or maintaining a shrewd and tactical silence. It’s safe to say, though, that the President is clearly profoundly uncomfortable with anything resembling imperial meddling. Is this prudent caution, or is he — as his critics contend — constitutionally unable to defend American interests abroad without compromising his personal principles? I honestly don’t know, and at this stage of the game, any commentator who claims to know for sure is probably yanking your chain. I will say, however, that the total silence emanating from the White House in the face of developments that are threatening both to American interests and to American ideals doesn’t inspire much confidence.

If the overthrow of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs fails, as it almost certainly will, the US will need to be prepared for a much bolder Iranian theocracy, whether it likes it or not. As far as Syria is concerned, it is certainly in American interests to address that country’s apparent decision to formalize its relationship with Iran. Assad has picked his team, and it ain’t us. The strategic consolidation currently in progress will almost without question eventually turn to aggression against Americans or American allies. When it does, polite protestations from Washington that “the violence must stop” just won’t cut it.


Zenga Zenga!

In his recent hour-long screech on a Tripoli balcony, Muammar Qaddafi vowed to hunt down his own rebellious people “inch by inch, house by house, room by room, alley by alley” and to wipe them out “to the last drop of blood”. An Israeli musician and journalist named Noy Alooshe — who is of Tunisian descent, by the way — caught the speech. He noted the rhythmic repetitions, the zany clothes, and the trippy way Qaddafi kept raising his fists, and said to himself: “Classic hit!”

Noy cranked up Auto-Tune and remixed Qaddafi’s speech as a mash-up with “Hey Baby,” a song by American rappers Pitbull and T-Pain. He overlaid the video with footage of a scantily-clad young woman apparently dancing to Qaddafi’s words, tossed it up on YouTube, and put the word out about it on Facebook and Twitter.

It went viral across the Arab world.

Some Arab viewers were put off to discover the video’s Israeli provenance, but the vast majority, it seems, think it’s terrific. In Libya in particular, young revolutionaries are loving it. Many of them contacted Noy to request a version minus the dancing girl so they could show the video to their parents (he quickly obliged). The New York Times says the video has become a “popular token” of the Libyan uprising.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of this, but I can’t help but find it cheering. I love the thought of protesting Libyans getting a desperately needed laugh at Qaddafi’s expense — and that they’re not inhibited in their enjoyment by the fact that the joke was delivered by an Israeli. I love the publicity this little incident gives to what I believe is one of Israel’s most valuable strengths — the ability of so many of its people to take the sting out of something that looks unrelentingly grim, and in the process to diminish it and make it mentally manageable. That’s a talent that’s hard to explain to people abroad; this video is a perfect example of it. I love the characteristically Israeli, off-the-wall, impromptu creativity of the idea. Most of all, I love the thought of young Arabs and Jews uniting, however briefly and remotely, over two minutes of ridiculous trance music.

In this neighborhood, anything that gets us to see one another as human beings — particularly human beings with the same sense of humor — is pure gold. Kol hakavod, Mr. Alooshe. Well done.