Monday, August 26, 2013

Israel’s New Adversary: Global Jihad. By Shlomi Eldar.

Israel’s New Adversary: Global Jihad. By Shlomi Eldar. Al-Monitor, August 23, 2013.


Regardless of what happens in the peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel’s security is not slated to improve. In fact, it is getting more complicated and dangerous by the day. The global jihad network has established “Jihad Land” in the Sinai along Israel’s southern border. With Syria still in a state of chaos, cells of armed Islamic extremists have also set up base along the country’s northern border and seem intent on subjecting towns there to a barrage of rocket fire and terrorist attacks.
Until now, Israel has stood out as an oasis of calm in the Middle East, especially given the bloody turbulence under way throughout the Arab world. Only now is it starting to feel the shrapnel from the civil wars and conflicts raging in neighboring countries. This is a new situation, which requires a completely new assessment and approach. We are no longer talking about a fight against groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which have established addresses for an Israeli military response and discernible targets against which Israel could wage war. The new terror groups, collectively known as global jihad, are operating along the country’s borders as small autonomous cells without permanent addresses or a supreme leader.
Over the past few years, Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah have set very distinct rules for the game, among them red lines that are not to be crossed. The result is a balance of deterrence between the belligerent forces. The Second Lebanon War and Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense against Gaza were milestones during which the limits of permissible (and impermissible) actions were determined. These events set clear boundaries for terrorist groups, which were quick to realize that traversing those boundaries would result in an Israeli response. The greatest deterrence that Israel has when confronting Hamas and Hezbollah is the threat of destroying the groups’ welfare and communal infrastructures, which moor them to their respective communities. Damage to Hamas’s welfare institutions or to the communal institutions of Hezbollah would hurt them much more than an assault on any military target or notable. The one thing that keeps these groups alive more than anything is their close tie to the local population.

Furthermore, both Hamas and Hezbollah have clear political interests that obligate them to maintain the peace along their borders with Israel. The political honey trap that they have created around themselves constantly forces their leaders to carefully consider their steps before they get entangled in a military encounter with Israel.
These two organizations operate militias, which are organized like an army in every conceivable way. In contrast, global jihad activists move from place to place and from region to region with considerable alacrity. It is not usually known who heads these groups or who gives the order to act, and in most cases, the members of a cell will vanish from the region within moments of having fulfilled their orders. Very little is known about the Salafist organizations operating in the Sinai, Syria and southern Lebanon. These are such small, decentralized groups that even if one were to be obliterated, there would be so many others left to take its place, they would in no way be impeded by an attack.
Three such organizations have taken responsibility for firing on Israel on Aug. 20. The first is the Ansar Beit al-Makdas Brigades, which has emerged over the past few years to become one of the largest cells in the Sinai. Within days, it was joined by two previously unknown organizations in southern Lebanon, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Ziad Jarah Companies, which fired Katyusha rockets at the Galilee. Does anyone know anything about these brigades and companies that bear the names of martyrs? Does anyone know how many militants they have in their ranks? Where they train? Who funds them?
This week Israel received further evidence that it is entering a new era of terrorism against it, this one without borders or addresses. Lebanese Sunni Sheikh Siraj al-Din Zuriqat, considered to be the religious leader of the extreme Salafist groups, wrote on Twitter, “From now on, Hezbollah’s role of defending the Jews will be made difficult to impossible.” This absurd statement was intended to clarify that the Salafists who entered southern Lebanon from Syria are in no way committed to any understandings reached between Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s organization and Israel.
Hezbollah has an explicit interest in maintaining the peace in Lebanon and ensuring that the border with Israel does not heat up. Salafist global jihad activists have no such internal political interests or external commitments. If the groups gathering along Israel’s northern border believe Hezbollah is a movement devoted to protecting the Jews, then who knows. We might yet see Nasrallah and the Israel Defense Forces joining forces to fight a common enemy. Given the insane rush of events occurring in the Middle East, even the most delusional absurdity could become a reality in an instant.

Two Authors In Defense of Football.

In Defense of Football. By Max Boot. Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2013.

In defense of football. By Daniel Flynn. New York Post, August 17, 2013.

Plagiarism or coincidence? Writer, Wall Street Journal, square off. By Dylan Byers and Hadas Gold. Politico, August 23, 2013.

Stop Freeloading Off Freelancers. By Daniel J. Flynn. The American Spectator, August 23, 2013.

No, Thanks: Stop Saying “Support the Troops.” By Steven Salaita.

No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops.” By Steven Salaita. Salon, August 25, 2013.

Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, August 24, 2013.


If you follow the commentary on American foreign policy toward Egypt and the broader Middle East today, several themes stand out: People in the region argue: “Whatever went wrong, the United States is to blame.” Foreign policy experts argue: “Whatever President Obama did, he got it wrong.” And the American public is saying: “We’re totally fed up with that part of the world and can’t wait for the start of the N.F.L. season. How do you like those 49ers?”
There is actually a logic to all three positions.
It starts with the huge difference between cold-war and post-cold-war foreign policy. During the cold war, American foreign policy “was all about how we affect the external behavior of states,” said Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign affairs expert. We were ready to overlook the internal behavior of states, both because we needed them as allies in the cold war and because, with the Russians poised on the other side, any intervention could escalate into a superpower confrontation.
Post-cold-war foreign policy today is largely about “affecting the internal composition and governance of states,” added Mandelbaum, many of which in the Middle East are failing and threaten us more by their collapse into ungoverned regions — not by their strength or ability to project power.
But what we’ve learned in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Syria is that it is very hard to change another country’s internal behavior — especially at a cost and in a time frame that the American public will tolerate — because it requires changing a country’s political culture and getting age-old adversaries to reconcile.
The primary foreign policy tools that served us so well in the cold war, said Mandelbaum, “guns, money, and rhetoric — simply don’t work for these new tasks. It is like trying to open a can with a sponge.”
To help another country change internally requires a mix of refereeing, policing, coaching, incentivizing, arm-twisting and modeling — but even all of that cannot accomplish the task and make a country’s transformation self-sustaining, unless the people themselves want to take charge of the process.
In Iraq, George W. Bush removed Saddam Hussein, who had been governing that country vertically, from the top-down, with an iron fist. Bush tried to create the conditions through which Iraqis could govern themselves horizontally, by having the different communities write their own social contract on how to live together. It worked, albeit imperfectly, as long as U.S. troops were there to referee. But once we left, no coterie of Iraqi leaders emerged to assume ownership of that process in an inclusive manner and thereby make it self-sustaining.
Ditto Libya, where President Obama removed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s top-down, iron-fisted regime, but he declined to put U.S. troops on the ground to midwife a new social contract. The result: Libya today is no more stable, or self-sustainingly democratic, than Iraq. It just cost us less to fail there. In both cases, we created an opening for change, but the local peoples have not made it sustainable.
Hence the three reactions I cited above. People of the region often blame us, because they either will not or cannot accept their own responsibility for putting things right. Or, if they do, they don’t see a way to forge the necessary societal compromises, because their rival factions take the view either that “I am weak, how can I compromise?” or “I am strong, why should I compromise?”
As for blaming Obama — for leaving Iraq too soon or not going more deeply into Libya or Syria — it grows out of the same problem. Some liberals want to “do something” in places like Libya and Syria; they just don’t want to do what is necessary, which would be a long-term occupation to remake the culture and politics of both places. And conservative hawks who want to intervene just don’t understand how hard it is to remake the culture and politics in such places, where freedom, equality and justice for all are not universal priorities, because some people want to be “free” to be more Islamist or more sectarian.
“With the traditional tools of foreign policy, we can stop some bad things from happening, but we cannot make good things happen,” noted Mandelbaum.
For instance, if it is proved that Syria has used chemical weapons, American officials are rightly considering using cruise missiles to punish Syria. But we have no hope of making Syria united, democratic and inclusive without a much bigger involvement and without the will of a majority of Syrians.
And too often we forget that the people in these countries are not just objects. They are subjects; they have agency. South Africa had a moderate postapartheid experience because of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Japan rebuilt itself as a modern nation in the late 19th century because its leaders recognized their country was lagging behind the West and asked themselves, “What’s wrong with us?” Outsiders can amplify such positive trends, but the local people have to want to own it.
As that reality has sunk in, so has another reality, which the American public intuits: Our rising energy efficiency, renewable energy, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are making us much less dependent on the Middle East for oil and gas. The Middle East has gone from an addiction to a distraction.
Imagine that five years ago someone had said to you: “In 2013, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and Iraq will all be in varying states of political turmoil or outright civil war; what do you think the price of crude will be?” You’d surely have answered, “At least $200 a barrel.”
But it’s half that — for a reason: “We now use 60 percent less energy per unit of G.D.P. than we did in 1973,” explained the energy economist Philip Verleger. “If the trend continues, we will use half the energy per unit of G.D.P. in 2020 that we used in 2012. To make matters better, a large part of the energy used will be renewable. Then there is the increase in oil and gas production.” In 2006, the United States depended on foreign oil for 60 percent of its consumption. Today it’s about 36 percent. True, oil is a global market, so what happens in the Middle East can still impact us and our allies. But the urgency is gone. “The Middle East is China’s problem,” added Verleger.
Obama knows all of this. He just can’t say it. But it does explain why his foreign policy is mostly “nudging” and whispering. It is not very satisfying, not very much fun and won’t make much history, but it’s probably the best we can do or afford right now. And it’s certainly all that most Americans want.