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Hezbollah Arrests Senior Members On Suspicion of Spying for Israel

Reports are emerging that several senior members of Hezbollah have been taken into custody by the organization on suspicion of spying for Israel.

The reports, which have appeared on Now Lebanon and other sites, say one of the suspects is a relative of a “prominent” member of Hezbollah and another “a religious figure.” One of the accused is identified as the liaison between Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

This is hardly the first time Lebanese have been arrested for spying for Israel and/or acting against Hezbollah, but this is the first case I’m aware of in which the accused are Hezbollah members. The Kuwaiti paper Al-Rai al-Aam reports that Hezbollah is “dumbfounded” by the development (likely true, although there’s probably a hint of schadenfreude there).

I tried to get a comment on this from the IDF but got no reply. That’s hardly surprising. Either the story is true, in which case Israel will want to protect any remaining assets she has inside Hezbollah; or it isn’t, in which case there’s some useful disinformation flying around — disinformation that Israel would be foolish to admit to planting, and that works in her interest no matter where it originated.

Hezbollah usually executes people accused of spying for Israel, so the publication of these arrests could be designed to warn other Lebanese who might be tempted to “collaborate” with Israel. But the revelation that the spies came from inside the organization — and from the senior echelons at that — suggests serious disarray.

Again, it’s entirely possible that none of this is true — that Israel is not conducting any espionage inside Hezbollah. What we can say with more certainty is that disenchantment with Hezbollah is growing. Next door in Syria, where their image has been badly tarnished by the role they’ve taken in crushing the uprising, anger towards them is being openly expressed.

It’s much harder than it used to be for Hezbollah to pretend that they’re the advocates of the common Muslim. They’re on the defensive, and now, on top of everything else, they’ve apparently got to contend with traitors at the top.


Fatah-Hamas Unity Teetering; Cairo Summit Canceled

That was quick.

The two Palestinian factions, long known for — indeed, substantially defined by — their mutual loathing, kissed and made up to great fanfare in May. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were supposed to meet in Cairo this Tuesday so they could announce the composition of their new unity government.

They couldn’t agree on a prime minister, though, so the meeting was called off.

The talks collapsed because Abbas, displaying some vestigial backbone (or perhaps some shrewd political gamesmanship), refused to bow to Hamas’s demand that PA prime minister Salam Fayyad be thrown under the bus.

Abbas recognizes that Fayyad’s image as a forward-thinking, Westernized, moderate Muslim would go far toward easing American apprehensions about the unity government. This is a serious matter, since the US is hinting that it will pull the money as long as Fatah remains allied with an organization that refuses to renounce its goal of completely destroying Israel. Hamas, dependably, can’t see past its hatred of Fayyad, no matter what it costs them. “Salam Fayyad is a criminal who should be put on trial,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, quoted in The New York Times. “He has tortured our people in prison. He is not acceptable to anyone in Hamas.”

This failure strikes a serious blow — perhaps the coup de grâce — to Abbas’s plan to shoot for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the UN this fall.  Which is probably just as well as far as the Palestinians are concerned, since the statehood gambit — which would kill peace talks with Israel for the indefinite future — represents as great a danger to American financial support of the Palestinians as the alliance with Hamas.

The failure of the talks on the unity government could presage an announcement that the statehood push will be postponed. It may well be the only way Abbas can climb down from the tree he’s in.


Why the Gaza Flotilla Is Losing Steam

As expected, the news that the Turkish group IHH — the guiding light behind the second annual “humanitarian” flotilla to Gaza — will not participate has cast the whole enterprise into doubt.

An unspecified source told Haaretz that “problems have arisen on other boats that are supposed to take part in the flotilla.” There were originally supposed to be thirty boats involved, but that had already been scaled back to about ten when the IHH news broke. Now the number of boats expected to participate is five to eight. The number of activists, too, has fallen precipitously, from 1,000 to an expected 300.

Why the gloom? What happened to the flotilla?

It’s a fair bet that the IHH was leaned on by the Turkish government, which is horrified by what’s going on next door in Syria. The wheels are starting to come off their look-eastward strategy. This is a time to shore up the relationship with Israel and make nice to the Americans, not throw the government’s weight behind a Hamas-supporting NGO with ties to Al Qaeda.

As far as the wider disenchantment with the flotilla is concerned, there are several factors at work. One is simply that the absence of the IHH strips the stunt of much of its glamour. Another might be a sense among some activists that jumping up and down about Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza, particularly when the Egyptian blockade has been lifted and there is in fact no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, is a little unseemly when there is a genuine humanitarian crisis rapidly reaching epic proportions up in Syria.

A critical piece of the puzzle is supplied by the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin), led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, which is working to stop the ships ahead of time by legal means. James Poulos interviewed her on Pajamas Media TV and she explained the prongs of their strategy thus:

  1. Lawsuits on behalf of victims of Palestinian terrorism designed to seize “any property, including boats, utilized by any party to attempt to run the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.” The plaintiff of the first suit, Dr. Alan Bauer of Chicago, was severely injured along with his son in a terrorist attack by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 2002. “The Free Gaza Movement and other American-based anti-Israel organizations have raised funds in the United States to outfit the Gaza flotilla ships. The lawsuit contends that furnishing and outfitting the ships, which are being used for hostilities against a US ally, violates American law. The plaintiff rests his claim upon the rarely used 18th-century “informant” statute (18 USC Section 962) that allows a plaintiff (called an “informer”) to privately seize ships outfitted in the United States for use against a US ally” (Jerusalem Post).
  2. Letters to thirty maritime insurance companies “placing [them] on notice concerning the Gaza Flotilla, and warning them that if they provide insurance…that they themselves will be legally liable for any future terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas” (Darshan-Lerner in the Jerusalem Post).
  3. A warning letter to the communications giant Inmarsat, “stating that it may be liable for massive damages and criminal prosecution if it provides communication services to ships used by suspected terror organizations in the Gaza flotilla.” “We informed them that if they do so, they will be in violation of the American Neutrality Act, which prohibits aiding a group in their struggle against the military of an ally country,” said Darshan-Leitner. “Since Imarsat has offices in the US, the law binds them.”

These tactics are bearing fruit. Darshan-Leitner told Poulos that Lloyds has responded to Shurat HaDin’s letter by saying it will not insure any boats participating in the flotilla. A French insurance company didn’t respond to the group directly, but announced that it will not insure a boat destined for the flotilla that is coming out of Marseille. Inmarsat has said that as the boats are not owned by Hamas, they are under no obligation to withhold satellite communications services; but Darshan-Leitner counters that the US Attorney General recently indicted a group that provided legal advice to the Tamil Tigers, which is a terrorist organization. If Inmarsat goes ahead, it opens itself up to the possibility of huge liability.

In related news, the Israeli Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, a political action group made up of Arab MKs and Arab local council heads, had been invited by the IHH to participate in the flotilla. The group held a meeting yesterday at which it was supposed to decide who would constitute its delegation. It decided instead to remove the flotilla from the agenda.

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti to Palestinians: “You are trash”

The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, held a meeting in Beirut last week with a delegation representing the 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanese refugee camps. The meeting was called to address thefts of Islamic Wakf lands in Lebanon by Palestinians.

“We’ve hosted you and no longer want you,” Qabbani said. “I will defend Wakf lands, even if it costs me all I have.”

The Jerusalem Post describes the astonished delegation as attempting to “muzzle” Qabbani, sending him right over the edge. “You are trash!” he said to the Palestinians. “You will never be victorious. Nor will your cause. I’m no longer afraid of your weapons.” Then he threw them out of his office.

In Lebanon, as in most Arab countries, Palestinian refugees and their descendants are not allowed to become citizens of the host country. Until very recently, they were are barred from all but the most menial professions. Across the Arab world, they have been deliberately kept in refugee camps as a means of keeping the conflict with Israel an open wound, and they’ve now spent generations in squalor.

In many places, the Palestinians are loathed for their very hopelessness, as well as for the tendency of their advocates to come to town and completely destabilize the place. In 1970, the PLO tried to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, leading to the flight of Palestinians to Lebanon. Many of the refugees in Lebanon are thus descendants not of the exodus from Palestine in 1948, but the exodus from Jordan in 1970.

The Palestinian cause has long been trumpeted by Hezbollah as an excuse to pull Israel into war, so the Palestinians are firmly associated with the raining of destruction onto Lebanese heads. Hezbollah occupies the south of the country, has turned south Beirut into a desolate wasteland, and has wrested control over the government in a political coup, installing an Assad-approved Hezbollah puppet as prime minister. Hezbollah is stealing Lebanon from the Lebanese, and it is not only Westernized, secular Lebanese Muslims and Christians who are horrified by this.

Qabbani is on record as despising Hezbollah, perhaps even more than he despises Palestinians. “Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have had enough,” he said in 2008. He called Hezbollah “armed gangs of outlaws that have carried out the ugliest attacks against the citizens and their safety,” and even called out Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran: “[I]t is regrettable and sad that an Islamic state is funding such infringements that hurt the unity of Lebanese Muslims.”


I Was Interviewed On Frank Gaffney’s Radio Show Today…

Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, interviewed me today for Secure Freedom Radio. I had thought we were going to spend the whole time talking about the oil shale discovery south of Jerusalem, but we ended up basically covering the entire region in ten minutes. Phew!

Here’s the link to my segment and the link to the full program, which also features interviews with Diana West, Jeff Smith and Bill Gertz.


IHH Bails On the Gaza Flotilla

The IHH, or Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, announced today that it will not participate in the flotilla to Gaza planned for later this month for “technical” reasons.

The Turkish authorities have apparently declined to give the Mavi Marmara — the same ship that sailed to Gaza last May, and on which nine people died in clashes with Israeli commandos after it ran the blockade — the necessary approvals for a repeat visit.

Huh. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu just finished telling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that no democracy has the authority to prevent activists from challenging an allegedly illegal blockade.

Well, maybe this has nothing to do with behind-the-scenes strategic recalculations. Free Gaza says the IHH is redirecting its attention to the (genuine) humanitarian crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border. (If that were really the motivating factor in its cancellation, I’d expect the IHH to come out with it directly. It would certainly boost the IHH’s credibility as a humanitarian organization.)

Meanwhile, Shayetet 13 — the commando unit of the Israeli Navy that conducted the raid last year — held a major drill on Wednesday in which it rehearsed responses to a variety of scenarios, ranging from sit-ins to gunfights. They are also preparing for the possibility that some of the ships might be booby-trapped, and that they might contain not only activists but armed mercenaries.  The unit has improved its command and control capabilities and upgraded its filming equipment, as well as its methods of getting video from the ships to the IDF spokesman’s office.

This year’s flotilla was intended to involve 25 or so ships, but only 10 are officially scheduled to sail. As the IHH is a driving force behind the whole flotilla-to-Gaza movement, it’s possible that there will be follow-on cancellations. Free Gaza insists they’re coming to Gaza no matter who pulls out.


Look Out, Saudis? Israel Is Sitting On Huge Oil Shale Deposits

The World Energy Council has determined that about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, in the Shfela Basin, there are oil shale deposits with the potential to yield 250 billion barrels of oil. This represents the world’s third-largest quantity of oil shale behind the US and China. notes that both those countries would consume almost all their own production, so Israel could conceivably become the world’s largest exporter of shale oil.

The map to the left is from the US Geological Survey. The red stars represent oil shale deposits, which as you can see are scattered across sovereign Israel and Jordan. None were detected in the West Bank or Gaza.

Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves are 260 billion barrels, so we would appear to be in the running as an energy giant — particularly in view of the enormous natural gas finds at the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But there’s quite a distance yet to travel. For one thing, extracting oil from shale isn’t the same as drilling it out of the ground. It’s more difficult and more expensive.

Some serious minds are on the case, though. The Wall Street Journal reported two months ago that Harold Vinegar, perhaps the leading authority on the extraction of oil from shale, is heading up a start-up in Jerusalem called Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI). Larry Solomon, global warming skeptic and executive director of Canadian environmental agency Energy Probe, told Sun News this week that Vinegar’s team is backed by several powerful and motivated figures, including Dick Cheney, Baron Rothschild, and Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch holds a 0.5% stake in Genie Energy, IEI’s U.S.-based parent company.

Both the Journal and Sun News point out that while oil shale extraction was once uneconomical, two factors have altered that picture: the oil price has gone way up, and the Israeli team has figured out a way of extracting the oil for about $35-40 a barrel.

According to Vinegar, Israel has several other advantages besides its proprietary extraction technique. In Colorado, for instance, there is an aquifer that runs right through the shale. In Israel, the aquifer is hundreds of feet below it. Also, the Israeli deposits are believed to be extremely rich, with the potential to yield 23-25 gallons of oil per ton.

Still, it will take years of planning and billions of dollars before any of this comes to fruition. IEI is still awaiting its first permit, and as an Israeli citizen who waited three years for a permit to build a little house, my sympathies go out to IEI’s investors. But in view of the recent disruption of our natural gas imports from Egypt and the cutoff of our Russian oil imports when we were at war with Hezbollah in 2006, there is some urgency to our achievement of energy independence. And once the technology is up and running, it’s entirely conceivable that we’ll become a significant net energy exporter.


How Do You Say “Chutzpah” In Farsi?

Iran, which has sent gunmen and equipment to assist friend Assad in picking off his citizens, and whose proxy Hezbollah — at Assad’s behest — is executing Syrian soldiers who refuse to kill their countrymen, and which brutally crushed its own domestic dissent, has accused the US and her allies of meddling in the Syrian uprising.

“Some regimes, especially America and the Zionist regime, with particular aims, are provoking terrorist groups in Syria and in the region to carry out terrorist and sabotage operations,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. “The Zionist regime and its advocates are seriously threatened. That is why they are doing all they can to crush this resistance line standing against the aggression of the Zionist regime.”

See what he did there? By asserting that Assad, and not the Syrian protest movement, represents the real “resistance,” he’s trying to remind his listeners of the role Assad and his family — and Hezbollah, and Iran — have purported to assume for decades, that of unwavering stalwart against the evil Jewish state. But as the uprising is ever more brutally suppressed, that role is being revealed as a convenient front.

The Syrian people aren’t buying it anymore. They’re not just burning pictures of Assad: they’re burning pictures of Sheik Nasrallah and chanting slogans against Ayatollah Khameini.


Syria Update: “The regime is prepared to massacre everyone”

The Assad regime has sharply ratcheted up its crackdown on Syrian civilians, and reports are emerging that Iranians and Hezbollah members are assisting them. That assistance, according to several reports including that of a Syrian defector interviewed on camera, entails shooting Syrian soldiers in the back who refuse to fire on protesters.

Assad has dispatched tanks to subdue Jisr al-Shughour, the northern town in which more than 100 Syrian soldiers are reported to have been killed last week. The regime is blaming protesters for the soldiers’ deaths and is using the incident as justification for what sounds, from the sketchy reports leaking out of the town (all press are banned), like an exceptionally gruesome and vicious assault. As of this writing, the town — pop. 41,000 — is reported to be almost completely empty. The attack on Jisr al-Shughour appears to be part of a wider escalation by the regime: on Friday, Assad employed air power against protesters for the first time when he sent helicopter gunships to disperse crowds in Maarat al-Numaan.

Eyewitness testimony is being provided by refugees who fled into neighboring Turkey. The BBC, using this testimony, reported yesterday that Syrian soldiers are killing citizens, setting wheat fields on fire, and ripping out olive trees. One soldier who fled after participating in the assault on the town of Homs said, “When we entered the houses, we opened fire on everyone, the young, the old… Women were raped in front of their husbands and children.” Another soldier who was in Homs said, “I realized that the regime is prepared to massacre everyone.”

More than 4,000 refugees have crossed the Turkish border so far, with thousands more still fleeing towards it. Turkey has set up a field hospital to attend to the refugees, but is apprehensive that they will push further into the country and is taking steps to prevent them from making contact with relatives in Turkey.

Assad, meanwhile, is taking increasing international heat. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are calling for the UN Security Council to condemn him. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “I would say the slaughter of innocent lives in Syria should be a problem and a concern for everybody…Whether Assad still has the legitimacy to govern his own country, I think is a question everyone needs to consider.” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who recently referred to Assad as a “good friend” — is now using words like “atrocities,” “savagery,” and “barbaric” about Assad’s crackdown. Referring to the activities of the Syrian 4th Armored Division, which is under the command of Bashar’s brother Maher Assad, Erdogan said, “Sadly, they don’t behave like humans.” With reference to the prospect of UN condemnation of the Assad regime, he said, “We can’t [support] Syria amidst all this…We still have relatives [in Syria].”

That’s the general picture. So — will Assad bend to international pressure? Will he ease up on his people to secure his position?

No and no.

As Haaretz notes, Assad has the backing at the UN of Russia and China, so the disapprobation of the likes of Ban-ki Moon aren’t losing him any sleep. And if he loses Turkey as an ally, what of it? He’s still got Iran, and again, Russia’s in his corner. A Libya-esque military intervention is exceedingly unlikely in view of Syria’s strategic alliances, and Assad couldn’t care less about non-military censure. Syria has weathered plenty of international isolation before now.

What about mass defections from the army, or mass refusals to take part in the crackdown? It’s doubtful that either was ever very likely, and they’re near impossibilities now that Iran and Hezbollah are taking care of clean-up. The opposition reports that defections from the army are in the hundreds, not thousands, suggesting nary a dent in the stability of Assad’s military machine. And the opposition is its own problem. Haaretz reports that they’re splintered over issues like “whether to call for international military intervention, how to build the post-Assad regime, how to divide the political pie among Sunni and Shi’ite, Christian and Alawi; between urban and rural, between tribal heads and urban elites.” Any such dissension works in Assad’s favor.

There’s no standing down now. If he gives in, he dies. Assad’s in it for as long as it takes to crush the opposition.


What Does Obama Have To Do To Lose Jewish Democrats?

Obama at AIPAC

On the Ricochet podcast yesterday, Peter Robinson asked me a provocative question that I didn’t manage to answer fully before we’d moved on. I’d like to give the question the answer it deserves.

Peter wanted to know why, even after President Obama’s gift to the Palestinians of the 1967 lines as a precondition for peace negotiations (with no reciprocal obligations from them whatsoever), his approval rating among Jewish Democrats remains dizzyingly high. How, Peter wondered, could they possibly give him a warm reception at AIPAC a few days after that speech? What’s it going to take for them to leave his corner?

There’s a lot going on here.

On a shallow level, there’s an element of family tradition involved — Bubbie and Zaydie voted Democrat and they’d turn over in their graves if I voted Republican, etcetera — but the issue can’t be written off as a joke. The “Democrat, right or wrong” attitude bespeaks a fundamental discomfort among American Jews about their place in American society. For all their — our — apparently seamless integration, there’s a thread of anxiety remaining: we have to be more American than the Americans, more of the people than the people themselves. And the Democratic Party, justly or otherwise, is perceived — certainly within the educated, successful milieus where most American Jews are to be found — as more of the people than the Republican.

To make matters worse, the Republican Party represents many of the characteristics reflexively applied to Jews. They’re positive qualities, but they’ve been used against us for so long that many American Jews feel more comfortable aligned politically against them. They include a belief in the fundamental virtue of capitalism, a concern with fiscal responsibility, with keeping the government out of your pocket and out of your decision-making, with taking primary responsibility for your own success rather than expecting it to be bestowed from on high, with ensuring that your children’s future is brighter than your own (and its corollary that you don’t feed off a public trough and expect your children to pay for it). When applied to Jews, these positives have been twisted to impute greed, miserliness, selfishness (a disinclination to redistribute income or to spread the public wealth), callous disregard for the less fortunate, clannishness, and so on. Jews have been tainted with these slurs from time immemorial. It is perhaps little wonder that they flock to the party that purports to be all about inclusiveness and social rather than fiscal responsibility.

I’m generalizing here, but I think it’s safe to say that as a group, American Jews have never felt absolutely certain of their acceptance as Americans. They don’t just want to blend in; they want to be part of the family. Hence the high rate of intermarriage and flight from religious observance. Jewish Democrats lean heavily on their party affiliation as a means of expressing their attachment to the glorious melting pot: to the frontier of tolerance and freedom where at long last they can finally relax.

Consider the relationship between American Jews and black Americans. The Jews, particularly those who themselves or whose parents were directly involved, still strongly feel their affiliation with their black countrymen and take just pride in the Jewish role in the civil rights movement (even though the black population has largely written them off, causing them lasting, if rarely expressed, grief). That most noble of social ventures is inextricably bound up in Jewish minds with the Democratic Party. It’s profoundly important for Jewish Democrats to feel — again, not just be perceived to be, but to feel — on the side of the downtrodden, the afflicted, the disenfranchised. This is all the more true in view of the fact that they are for the most part the polar opposite of that demographic.

Now, Israel throws a monkey wrench into all of this. First of all, a defense of Israel creates the profoundly threatening fear in Jewish minds of suggesting possible grounds for an accusation of dual loyalties. And if that weren’t enough, it amounts to a celebration of all that which should be censured by the proper-thinking person: a plucky, weirdly successful little upstart that takes its own initiative to defend itself and is not sufficiently inclined to listen to the advice of its elders and betters.

Remember that American Jews for the most part don’t seriously think of Israel as a place to live, in part because of its assumed relative discomforts and in part because it defines exactly the kind of quotidian, existential uncertainty they want never to experience. It’s important in a general way that Israel exist, for vague, uncomfortable religious reasons that don’t really apply (or don’t seem to apply) to Heather and Shel Abromowitz in Shaker Heights and their Ivy-league kids, or to Clover and Shep Rosenthal who are just getting their organic barley bar off the ground out of their garage in Marin. Israel is for different kinds of Jews, Jews who are all about archaic ideas like turf and labels and carrying a gun. Fourth-generation Jewish Democrats want no part of any of that, not even by association. So until Israel really is under imminent mortal threat, or until an American president goes so far as to send US troops to force Israel’s surrender or to sell F-15s to Hamas, the bulk of American Jews will almost certainly remain in the Democratic camp.