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Hezbollah Fleeing the Syrian Ship?

Fateh 110 missileDEBKAfile, citing unspecified military sources, is reporting that Hezbollah is planning to pull its heavy, long-range missile systems out of storage in Syria and bring them to Lebanon. The arms in question are Iranian-made Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles, its Syrian equivalent the M-600, and the mobile SA-8 (Gecko) anti-air battery, which holds 18 warheads.

If this is true, it has some interesting implications.

First, it would place Israel in more immediate danger. According to DEBKAfile, a redeployment of the Fateh-110s and M-600s on Hezbollah’s turf in Lebanon would “place almost every corner of Israel within range of bombardment,” while the SA-8s would “seriously restrict Israeli Air Force operations over southern Lebanon and Galilee.”

Second, it would appear to present Israel with an unusual opportunity to strike the matériel while in transit. This would carry many risks, of course, including (as DEBKAfile notes) inadvertently disrupting the Syrian protest movement before it has had a chance to oust Assad. Still, Hezbollah’s transit of the arms — if it takes place — will represent an unusual moment of weakness.

Third, it indicates that Iran is losing faith in Assad to crush the Syrian uprising. (Hezbollah does nothing without instructions from Teheran.) If Hezbollah/Iran risks moving the goods, it implies that they fear they might fall into the hands of Assad’s opponents. DEBKAfile reports that there are signs of resentment of Assad’s treatment of the Syrian protesters not only among the lower ranks but also among officers of the Syrian 11th Division, which is “the best trained and organized of all Syrian army units, equipped as its strategic reserve with the most advanced weaponry. If the unrest has reached this elite unit,” DEBKAfile theorizes, “Hizballah reckons there is no time to losing for [sic] pulling its missiles out of Syrian military safekeeping.”

The moving of the arms is unconfirmed as yet, but there are other signs that Hezbollah/Iran is pulling away from its Syrian ally. Last week, an op-ed in the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese daily Al Akhbar criticized the Assad regime.


Fatah: Military Wing on Defense; Political Wing on Offense

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the name of the military wing of Fatah, the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas. Yesterday, the Palestinian news agency Maan received and printed the following statement, allegedly from the Brigades, in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden:

The Islamic nation awoke to a catastrophe: the reports of the shahid (martyr) death of the Sheikh, Jihad-fighter Osama bin Laden, in a treacherous manner, by the gangs of the heretics and those who stray.

The path irrigated with the blood of its leaders is the path of victory, Allah willing. If Abu Abdallah [Bin Laden] was killed, then he merited the Shahada (Death for Allah) which he had sought, and inscribed with his blood the landmarks of Jihad, leaving behind an entire generation that follows the path of Sheikh Osama.

The military wings of the Jihad fighters in Palestine and outside of it, who have in the past lost many of their commanders and their men, will not stop. This has only strengthened their determination, their resolve and their loyalty to their shahids (martyrs), who have turned their words into a reality testifying to their honesty, and which in fact bolsters the drive and the strength of their brothers on the path to victory or Shahdada (Death for Allah)’.

We say to the American and Israeli occupier: the [Islamic] nation which produced leaders who changed the course of history through their Jihad and their endurance, is a nation that is capable of supplying an abundance of new blood into the arteries of the resistance and is capable of restoring the glory of Islam and the flag of Allahs oneness, Allah willing.

If this statement is genuine, it’s one heck of an “oops”. It outdoes Hamas in its ecstatic eulogizing of the arch-terrorist and makes impossible any continued pretense that Fatah is either a partner for peace with Israel or indeed anything other than an avowed enemy of the United States.

Whether it’s a forgery or not, the Brigades are falling all over themselves today to disavow it. Abu Uday, a spokesman for the group, denied all knowledge of the statement. In something of a slip, he said the Brigades have no comment on bin Laden’s death since it has nothing to do with Palestine — a sentiment that might have irked Osama in its honesty, since he regularly used the Palestinian cause as an excuse for his outrages.

Even as Fatah’s military wing rushes to minimize the fallout from this p.r. mishap, the political wing is flexing some Hamas-style muscle. Nabil Shaath told Israel Radio today that the Quartet of Mideast mediators (the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia) has no business demanding that Hamas, Fatah’s soon-to-be partner, recognize Israel. All the Quartet has any right to expect, Shaath claims, is for Hamas to commit to renouncing violence and to being “interested” in the peace process.  (Israelis hardly have a monopoly on chutzpah around these parts.)

The Americans, for their part, noticed what Hamas had to say about its operation against bin Laden. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner called Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh’s characterization of Osama as a holy warrior and condemnation of the Americans as oppressors and murderers of Muslims “outrageous.” “It goes without saying bin Laden was a murderer and a terrorist,” Toner said. “He ordered the killings of thousands of innocent men, women and children, and many of whom were Muslim.” Bin Laden, Toner went on, “”did not die a martyr. He died hiding in a mansion or a compound far away from the violence that was carried out in his name. And his defeat is a victory for all human beings seeking to live in peace, security and dignity.”

With regard to the Hamas-Fatah pact, Toner reiterated that the US’s “long-stated policy…is that if Hamas wants to play a political role or a role in the political process, then it needs to abide by the Quartet principles. It needs to accept those principles, which are renouncing violence and terrorism, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and abiding by previous diplomatic agreements.”

Shaath, on behalf of Abbas and Fatah, has told the Quartet — and particularly the Americans — to stuff it. Fatah is daring the Americans to pull the PA’s funding and enter into direct opposition with the Palestinians — a risk they might have felt was safe, in view of President Obama’s inclinations with regard to the peace process up to this point. They’re flying perilously close to the wind, however. Allying themselves so enthusiastically and formally with a group that has just risen to the defense of America’s arch enemy  might have been a grave tactical error. It remains to be seen how the US will respond when the other members of the Quartet welcome Hamas into the fold.


No, Seriously, Hamasniks. How Do You Really Feel?

The Hamas leadership — which is apparently still drunk on Abbas’s total capitulation — just can’t seem to shut up.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh (on the left in the photo) said this weekend that he expects the PLO (i.e., Abbas and the Palestinian Authority) to annul its recognition of Israel’s right to exist. This would be appropriate punishment, apparently, for Israel’s unconscionable refusal to welcome Fatah’s unity deal with Hamas. One might argue that it’s a bit rich to expect Israel to cheer Fatah’s abdication of the peace process to ally with a body that remains hellbent on Israel’s total destruction, but those kinds of Talmudic distinctions are beside the point. “We are moving in a way that serves the interests of our people,” Haniyeh explained, with his characteristic pithy clarity. “We don’t care much about the Israeli positions.”

Ahmed Bahr, meanwhile, who is a senior Hamas official in Gaza, advised Abbas to jettison the American and Israeli financial lifelines that have been keeping the PA afloat. “The Israeli and American threats – especially those calling for cutting off financial aid – have no practical or political value,” Bahr said. Abbas has already indicated he’s receptive to the notion of forgoing the money for the sake of the unity deal, which should give you some idea how prostrate he is before Hamas. He must certainly be aware that about two-thirds of the PA’s GDP comes from foreign donations, so the abrupt loss of large chunks of said money will hasten Palestine’s already near-inevitable collapse into the status of a failed state.

It will be up to the members of the General Assembly to decide in the fall whether they wish to be a party to the creation of such a state, particularly one run by a group that hailed bin Laden as “a Muslim and Arab warrior” and condemned his assassination yesterday as “the continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs.”

The more these guys talk, the safer I feel.


Two Possible Short-Term Outcomes to the Hamas-Fatah Deal

  1. Netanyahu will be speaking before Congress later this month. He has been under tremendous pressure to come up with some kind of viable peace initiative to forestall the drive toward the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state that is to come before the UN General Assembly in September. By allying with Hamas, Abbas has handed Netanyahu an out. The onus is on the Palestinians now, not Israel, to prove their good faith. Bibi can make the point before Congress that if the Palestinians are still interested in a two-state solution — and, more importantly, will be satisfied with a two-state solution once it exists — Hamas will have to lay down its arms against Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Since these contingencies are highly unlikely, the heat should come off Israel (if only briefly) with regard to the peace process.
  2. Hamas and Fatah want to hold elections in the fall. Palestinians on the ground (if not their advocates abroad) are fully aware that on a domestic policy level, the Hamas regime has been a catastrophic failure. If Hamas wants to get its roster elected (as “independents,” of course), they’re going to have to throw the people something to cheer about, and they’re going to have to do it fast. As Haaretz notes, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners pouring out of Israeli jails and into the welcoming arms of their families would make a heck of a photo op. And it can be accomplished by releasing Gilad Shalit.


It’s a Swell Time to Be a Hamasnik

As the Jerusalem Post observes, the timing of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation couldn’t be better for Hamas. Those thousands of Gazans who had hoped to have their voices heard by the world — whose displeasure at Hamas’s appalling regime parallels that of the Tunisians, the Egyptians, the Libyans, the Syrians, and who dared take to the streets of Gaza to say so — have been silenced more effectively than anything the Hamas security forces could have dreamt of.

Abbas, who had wagged his finger censoriously at Hamas for ignoring the resentment of their people, has now jumped into bed with them instead. He has thus announced to the Palestinians of Gaza that as far as Fatah is concerned, they — like the Israelis — can put up or shut up. And his imprimatur has given foreign observers — particularly those who have either a tacit or an open admiration for Hamas’s goals and methods with regard to Israel — an out to ignore the pesky problem of Palestinians who themselves dissent from the required narrative of “resistance” over nation-building. Those Palestinians are now voiceless wraiths, inconvenient and ignorable. They are like the citizens of south Lebanon who object to Hezbollah’s cooption of their future and the citizens of Iran whose cries against the mullahs evaporate into the wind. They might still be talking, but nobody’s listening.

In addition to the boost in legitimacy and prestige it provided to Hamas, Abbas’s capitulation has also given them an immediate, practical dividend: it handed Egypt the pretext they needed to open the border with Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby is quoted as saying the Rafah crossing will be permanently reopened within a week or so, so as to ease the “suffering of the Palestinian people.” It’ll certainly ease the suffering of Hamas, which will now have much easier access to the flow of arms and personnel. The opening of the border effectively cancels the Egyptian blockade of Gaza and directly violates what Haaretz explains was “an agreement reached in 2005 between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and the European Union, which gives EU monitors access to the crossing. The monitors were to reassure Israel that weapons and militants wouldn’t get into Gaza after its pullout from the territory in the fall of 2005.” So much for that. In case there was any doubt following the Egyptian revolution, Israel now must reorient its defense forces to face a hostile western front potentially on a par with the threat across the northern border.

Oh, and remember Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian PM? The one who’s been working alongside Abbas for years to purge the West Bank of Hamas influence, and who’s been generally perceived in the West (if a bit uncritically) as a true advocate of peace with Israel? Well, he’s under the bus too.


Fatah and Hamas Reconcile

Hamas and Fatah, which have been in a battle for the soul of the Palestinian national movement ever since Hamas forcibly evicted Fatah from Gaza and took over the Strip in 2007, have kissed and made up, or so they say. Officials from the two groups met in Cairo and emerged all smiles, going so far as to state that “all points of differences have been overcome.”

If that is true, it’s very big news. It would mean one of two very different things: either Hamas has agreed to recognize the state of Israel, cease all violence against Israel, and be satisfied with a two-state solution; or Fatah has decided it no longer recognizes the state of Israel, now endorses violence against Israel, and will no longer be satisfied with anything other than the complete conquest of all Israel. There is no happy medium between two states and a total Palestinian conquest of Israel; it’s one or the other.

Odds are strongly in favor of Fatah’s capitulation to Hamas rather than the other way around, but no one is clarifying this, at least not yet. All we know right now is that they want to build a government together, to consist rather mysteriously of “independent” “nationalist” figures — they probably won’t be putting hardcore Hamasniks on the ticket at the outset, but will use the tactic the Muslim Brotherhood used in Egypt for years of running extremists as independents. The two factions plan to hold an election in eight months or so.

The election talk already has them swooning at the UN and in Europe — the Arab Spring has reached the Palestinians! — but hold on there, partner. There’s another item that ought to give one pause, if one seriously envisions peace with Israel emerging from this reconciliation. Hamas and Fatah have agreed to meld their security apparatuses.

That might seem part and parcel with an accord, but in the absence of any statement by Hamas that they are renouncing violence and favor peace with Israel, the decision by Abbas to fuse his security force with that of Hamas seems tantamount to an abandonment by Fatah of the peace process with Israel. Abbas claims he’s as keen as ever to forge a two-state solution, but that simply doesn’t jibe with an agreement of security cooperation with an entity still formally dedicated to the total destruction of the alleged peace partner.

Bibi has said, simply and correctly, that Fatah can have peace with Israel or Hamas, but not both. Abbas undoubtedly knows this. This reconciliation move appears calculated to add oomph to the push for unilateral Palestinian statehood that will come before the UN General Assembly in September — a move that in and of itself demonstrates Fatah’s abandonment of the peace process with Israel, since it will force terms on Israel and deny Israel the opportunity to defend her own territory or interests at the negotiating table. Abbas seems to have made his choice pretty clear, I’d say. What remains to be seen is whether the Americans, who have pledged not to support or underwrite any agreement of which Hamas is a part, stick to that position or wriggle out of it for the sake of giving Obama a peace treaty.

I personally think this reconciliation is great news. The more Abbas reveals the reality of Fatah’s aspirations, the better. If he wants what Hamas wants — and it appears he does — it is as well that he shout it loud and proud. Shoving a statehood declaration down Israel’s throat at the UN and allying with Hamas make his position quite clear. Obfuscations will abound, and he will continue to talk about peace and obstructionist Israelis, but he’s thrown the Oslo Accords out the window. Now we can all face facts.


Assad’s Fall Should Be an American Strategic Goal

And not just because helping folks fight bad guys is the right thing to do.

Syrian dissident Farid Ghadry is the founder of the US-based Reform Party of Syria, which has been advocating regime change for a long time. He takes no prisoners in his recent blog post on the world’s response to the slaughter of Syrians by their own leadership:

It is unconscionable to think that people are dropping like flies on Syrian streets, the injured are hiding in private homes to avoid capture or cold-blooded murder, the funeral processions are being shot at with many killed at a time they bereave the dead, the detained are tortured and many die and are buried in mass graves, yet the international community seems only willing to extend words of comfort. Where is your conscience, people? It’s Easter Sunday for heaven’s sake.

Then comes Erdogan who thinks Gaza is tragic with its people under siege and tyranny while Syrians, under his buddy Assad, enjoy comfort and freedom. Where is your humanitarian flotilla to Syria, Erdogan?  Our injured, attacked by the snipers of your dear friend Assad, cannot go to hospitals for fear of being either killed on the spot or arrested to die under torture. Or does that not fit with your understanding of what a human tragedy is?

Are Gazans better people than Syrians? Is Assad too dear a friend for you to bother?

And where are the Hamas Palestinians who seem to forget everyone else’s tragedy except their own? Where are their voices? Never expect Syrians to come to your aid again. When elections come, we will make the MB in Syria pay for your silence.

That last point assumes a successful outcome to the uprising, which is by no means certain, particularly in view of Iran’s assistance to the Syrian despot and the Americans’ and Europeans’ reluctance to wade into the fray. Still, the sentiment Ghadry is voicing augurs a potential sea change. Tzachi Hanegbi argues in today’s Jerusalem Post that the Syrian revolt, if successful, will have “a more decisive impact than those in any other Arab country” because of the disruption of Iran’s sole regional strategic alliance:

If [Syrian] opposition leaders survive the conflict, overcome the current oppressive regime and fill key positions in Syria, they are unlikely to show a surplus of sympathy toward the Shias of Iran and Hezbollah. To know what would really serve Israel’s interest, we should look toward the Islamic Republic. Nothing currently worries the ayatollahs’ regime more than the loss of Syria as its intimate partner in the “axis of evil.” Iran has invested enormous resources in maintaining this partnership, including a willingness to compromise on its own interests to satisfy Syria’s desires. Syria’s defection from the radical camp into the arms of the pragmatic Arab camp would leave Iran isolated and vulnerable.

There’s an opportunity here, in other words. Can Obama see it? Is he missing it, or is he acknowledging it and choosing to let it pass? Why? Because it’s too risky? Too difficult? Or because in his view, it simply isn’t America’s place to involve itself in the easing of Syria out of the radical camp?

I suspect Obama went into Libya for two reasons: his blindsided, stumbling approach to the Egyptian revolt was embarrassing, and Qaddafi looked like an easy target. Libya’s turning out to be tougher than expected, though, so the appeal of another engagement in the region is slim. But that’s where things like leadership and vision come in. It’s difficult to explain or defend an involvement in Libya when we refuse to assist Syrian citizens who are themselves trying to oust a violently oppressive regime — a regime that has had a hand in the killings of Americans and American allies for decades.

Although the two regimes are not analagous, a willful blindness to the Syrian people’s struggle against Assad would be akin to Obama’s apparent blindness to the struggle of the Iranian people against the mullahs. And most importantly from an American strategic standpoint: the success of Assad’s regime against his domestic uprising could have similar consequences to the success of Ahmadinejad and his cohort at crushing their own dissenters, in terms of the emboldenment of Iran. That emboldenment will come at a cost of American security and possibly American lives.

We cannot foresee what will arise in Assad’s place. But if Farid Ghadry is to be believed, a walkover by the Muslim Brotherhood is hardly a foregone conclusion. Assume nothing, stay informed, take steps when necessary to act as a force for good, and keep the strategic interests of the American people as a beacon before your eyes. That seems like a reasonable job description for the leader of the free world.


You Don’t Say

The Americans have decided that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not a viable peace partner for Israel after all.

Well, as long as we got that cleared up.


In the Spirit of Zenga Zenga

Man, this made me smile.

This Israeli ad for a fast internet provider contains exactly the combination of humor, cheekiness, and sweet, persistent optimism that characterizes so many Israelis, even at the worst of times. A young, post-Army Israeli is strolling the streets of a Muslim city in what looks like Iran, and…well, watch the ad.

The tag-line at the end translates to “In life this is still impossible, but on the internet, connections like this are made every day.”

(If you’re wondering where the cheekiness comes in, it’s on the guy’s T-shirt. The message translates to “Combat units are awesome, dude.”)


Mideast Roundup: Syria, Israel, Palestine

My kids are on their two-and-a-half-week Passover vacation, so I’ve been unable to get enough alone time in my office to post much lately. My husband just took them all swimming, though, so I have a brief window.

  1. This one is hot off the presses: Syria is lifting the emergency laws that have been in place for the past 48 years. This comes on the heels of reports that Syrian security forces have opened fire on protesters in Homs and locked down the city. Al-Jazeera’s correspondent at the scene says many wounded are not going to hospital for fear they will be arrested on arrival. Assad keeps ratcheting up both ends of his carrot-and-machine-gun approach, but neither is silencing the masses. The government’s statement on the protesters in Homs said some of them “have called for armed insurrection under the motto of Jihad to set up a Salafist state…Their objective is to spread terror across Syria. ” Assad is pitching his bloody crackdown on his people as a battle against Islamism, which, it will be recalled, was his father Hafez’s justification for wiping out most of the population of Hama in 1982.
  2. The LA Times is claiming that the Quartet (the US, Russia, the EU and the UN) might support the establishment of a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders if Israel does not quickly present a strategy to restart the moribund peace talks. If this is based on anything other than speculation (and I haven’t found any evidence so far), it’s a big deal. It’s extortion, basically: do as you’re told, Israel, or a) lose the option to negotiate a safe peace and b) surrender the contested territory forever. It would place the onus for restarting negotiations entirely on Israel, erasing into irrelevance the Fogel massacre, the intensification of the Hamas war on southern Israel, the disingenuousness of Abbas and Fayyad regarding their true desire for a two-state solution (about which more anon), the status of Gilad Shalit, etc. If this threat is carried out, it will prove the contention that the Obama administration is firmly entrenched in the Palestinian camp. Now, I’m reserving judgment on this one until I see it confirmed elsewhere, but there’s no question that the Americans are leaning on Israel right now. Hillary recently told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington that “[t]he status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months” — a jab at Bibi if ever there was one. He appears to have been listening: he has said he’s going to be announcing an initiative of some kind when he visits the US in May.
  3. Ahmad Khalidi, a senior associate member of St Antony’s College, Oxford and a former Palestinian negotiator, published an opinion piece in the Guardian today that warrants close attention. He states that the declaration of statehood that is now, with the help of the UN General Assembly, almost within the Palestinians’ grasp, is “out of tune with prevailing Palestinian sentiment.” It’s an “anachronism” reflecting the outmoded goals of the ossified PLO. What the frustrated Palestinians want, he says, is no longer a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel, but the conquest of Israel and the claiming of all its territory.  He describes the Palestinians as moving “away from seeking the ever-shifting goalposts of an inevitably constrained and incomplete form of statehood that would come at the expense of equally fundamental rights to a much broader interpretation of self-determination that includes all the divergent Palestinian constituencies, and a much wider and continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine [emphasis added]. This shift is premised on forging a new common identity and common national goal – embracing all sectors of Palestinian society and aimed at the entirety of Palestine before 1948 [emphasis added]…From this perspective West Bank statehood seems an irrelevance, almost an anachronism. It matches neither the popular revolutionary zeitgeist of the Arab world nor wider Palestinian aspirations. At best it addresses part of the Palestinian condition on part of the land.” I am fully convinced that this is an accurate description of “wider Palestinian aspirations” and hope this piece is being read closely in Washington. If Hillary reads it and chooses to ignore it, she and her boss are either  on board with the Palestinian dismantling of the state of Israel or profoundly and irredeemably out of their depth on this issue.
  4. Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan now living as a refugee in the UK, has written a piece for the Hudson Institute on why the declaration of statehood being steamrolled through the General Assembly is a bad idea — for Palestinians.
  5. The Israeli teenager who was unlucky enough to be the last kid remaining on the school bus targeted by Palestinians with an anti-tank missile earlier this month has died of his injuries.