Thursday, July 25, 2002

MORE EXPLANATIONS: Here's an outstanding analysis of the reasons behind the Israeli attack on Shehade.
Also, I cannot believe that anyone is taking seriously the reports that had Israel not attacked, a cease-fire would have been imminent. As
Amos Harel writes in Ha-aretz:

Regarding the timing, defense officials indignantly rejected the suggestion that the assassination was deliberately timed to disrupt a possible Tanzim initiative for a unilateral cease-fire. They noted that Hamas was not a party to this idea in any case - and certainly Shehadeh, the organization's most extreme member, was not involved.
But even the Tanzim was far from deciding to adopt the idea, they added. Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the PA's Preventive Security Service in Gaza, did propose it, the sources said, but his influence on the West Bank-centered Tanzim was small, and the defense establishment had received no information indicating that the Tanzim had decided to accede to this suggestion.
Palestinian sources also admitted that the initiative was not making much progress, "since it would be necessary to corral 30 local cell leaders into it." A senior defense official said Palestinian reports of the initiative were largely psychological warfare.

MORE ON "COLLATERAL DAMAGE:" N.Z. Bear criticizes Eric Alterman's attempts at warbloggering (from which he has been backtracking somewhat), praised here yesterday.

Alterman may be morphing into a warblogger, but thus far he’s not a very good one. It's not a tough call at all. The responsibility for the death of Sheik Shehada --- and the civilians killed --- lies with the Israeli military. They carried out the attack. They bear the responsibility for its consequences, for good and ill.
This doesn’t mean the attack was morally wrong. If the planners of the attack judged that by killing this one man --- and the civilians around him --- they would be saving hundreds of innocents down the line, then it was morally justifiable. But to imply that the “ultimate responsibility” for Shehada’s family lies with anyone other than the IDF is exactly the same twisted moral calculus that terrorists like Shehada use to justify the murder of Israeli citizens. “The Israelis have left us no choice", they say, "we have no other options but to use these tactics!”
When a terrorist blows himself up on a streetcorner and murders a score of Israeli civilians, what do we hear? It is the fault of the Israelis; their oppression of the Palestinian people has left them no choice! And now, when the IDF’s actions have resulted --- accidentally, and yes, that does make a difference, but resulted nonetheless --- in the death of civilians? It is the fault of the Palestinians, of Hamas, because, in Alterman’s words, “ If you ask for war, you are asking to have your civilians slaughtered, unless you can keep the war on the other side’s turf. Well, Hamas asked.”
This is barbaric nonsense. We can’t afford to fall into that trap, or to play those moral equivalence games. There are always choices. We are the side that accepts the consequences of our choices, and takes responsibility for the morality of our acts. We do not cry out that the enemy forced us into our tactics: we act to defend our interests with the force of arms, and with the force of our own conscience. Sometimes this will lead to the death of innocents: and this we must accept as a responsibility which we bear with regret.
But we don’t simper and attempt to pin blame on our enemies for deeds done with our own hands.
If Alterman is trying out for the warblogging team, he’s going to need to learn that just crying for blood doesn’t make the cut. The reasons matter. In fact, they’re everything.

I think that there are some problems with Mr. Bear's analysis. Bear emphasizes that he is not saying that Israel's actions were unjustified, but I think his emphasis on "moral responsibility" begs the question. What Bear seems to be saying is that Israel bears moral responsibility for the deaths of the civilians, but he is not saying that Israel's actions were morally unjustified. But isn't that the same question? (Think of how ridiculous it seemed for Janet Reno to "take responsibility" for the deaths at Waco, while the idea of her suffering any adverse consequences wasn't even considered.) If Israel's actions were morally justified, then what does it mean to say that they were "morally responsible?"
As I read Bear, he is saying that it's mainly an exercise to ward off moral flabbiness, because taking responsibility for our own actions forces us to perform the moral calculations ensuring that each action we take is correct. By contrast, saying "they made me do it" and abdicating responsibility for your own actions ensures that you will never undertake those necessary moral calculations, and thus have a strong likelihood of acting immorally.
The problem I have is that a Palestinian-style abdication of responsibility, justly decried by Bear, is in and of itself a moral argument - it is a statement that "the evil we face is so great that any action we take is justified in response." (That argument can't be dismissed as always being invalid, because it may be true in cases of genocide. Hiroshima is a justifiable option when the altrenative is Auschwitz. Of course, the Palestinians' obsessive terrorism is bringing them closer - though not yet there - to being the justified victims of such a response, rather than the justified perpetrators. But I digress.)
Basically, I think Bear's argument is close to a distinction without a difference. There is no reason to say "they made me do it," but the issue is not especially important if the action was, in fact, justified.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

THE POLITE AMERICANS: According to a global survey of tourism workers cited by an expat Brit blogger, Malcolm Friend, British tourists were ranked the "rudest, brashest, most tongue-tied and least desirable holidaymakers in the world."
The poll, by the travel company Expedia, ranked each nation on criteria ranging from respect for hosts to tipping, and general behaviour to ability to speak a foreign language. Britons came lowest in all but one of the criteria, scoring a total of minus 44, some 38 points fewer the next worst behaved, the Irish and Israelis, and 83 behind the Germans.
38 points behind the Israelis!? Wars have been started over lesser insults!
And which country's tourists were ranked as the most polite? That's right - the ugly Americans! Mr. Friend is not surprised; he has apparently not been brainwashed by BBC-style anti-Americanism.
Congratulations and welcome to these shores.
DEPARTMENT OF "HELL FREEZES OVER," VOL. II: When intellectually honest and generally outstanding pieces appear nearly simultaneously in both The American Propsect and the Nation, you know there must be something in the water (probably arsenic). Seriously, TAP's Ken Silverstein shreds the argument that an oil pipeline in Afghanistan had anything to do with the war in Afghanistan, while the Nation's David Corn blasts 9/11-themed conspiracy theories and theorists. (Having not learned their lesson, certain of the people flayed by Corn responded, only to be cut down again by Corn's rejoinders.) Enjoy.
ALL QUIET ON THE NORTHERN FRONT? Dennis "Peace Process" Ross warns that Syria and Iran may be conspiring to open up a second front between Israel and Lebanon, as well as working against efforts to stop suicide bombings inside Israel:

With a constant stream of supply from both the Iranians and Syrians, Hezbollah is building a formidable arsenal of highly mobile rockets.
Longer-range Katyushas are the mainstay of the arsenal, but the Syrians are supplementing these weapons with the Syrian 270mm rocket.
What makes these rockets so potentially destabilizing is their range. The rockets Hezbollah used to possess could only threaten the immediate border area of northern Israel. While bad enough from an Israeli perspective, the new rockets have ranges stretching over 70 kilometers. Israel's industrial area below Haifa will now be within the sights of Hezbollah rocketeers. Does anyone think Israel will tolerate such attacks? Can there be any doubt, should one be fired, that Israel would go after not only Hezbollah but Syria as well?
Hafez Assad was no slouch when it came to threatening Israel. But he controlled the flow of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and he never provided Syrian weapons directly. He certainly did not mind Hezbollah keeping the pressure on Israel, but he was not about to let Hezbollah drag him into a war with Israel either.
But Bashar Assad seems to lack his father's sense of limits. As if providing weapons to Hezbollah was not enough, he is also procuring spare parts for Iraq from Eastern Europe. That's something new; his father sought Saddam Hussein's demise, not his strengthening.
What could the younger Mr. Assad be thinking? The logic is difficult to grasp unless one looks at the increasingly close connection he has been developing with Hezbollah and Iran. Iranian officials routinely stop in Damascus both before and after visiting Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah. Iran is pushing Hezbollah to cooperate more with Hamas in the war against Israel. Recently, the Israelis have arrested Hezbollah operatives in the West Bank.
Iran is also pushing Hamas very hard to continue the suicide bombings in Israel. As I heard from Israelis and Palestinians, recent efforts by the Palestinian Authority officials in Gaza to convince Hamas to stop terror attacks against Israelis appeared to be making headway until the Hamas leadership in Gaza got explicit instructions from the Hamas leadership outside--with considerable Iranian pressure--to persist with the bombings. The same was true for the Islamic Jihad, whose leader Ramadan Shallah resides in Damascus and was equally insistent that the bombing must continue.
Iran and Syria clearly want the conflict to continue between Israelis and Palestinians. Perhaps they believe Israel will lose its resolve and gradually be weakened to the point of collapse. They seem prepared to fight to the last Palestinian to produce such an eventuality. Perhaps they fear American determination to go after Saddam Hussein, believing if he goes, they will be next. Their reasoning might be that the more the situation between Israelis and Palestinians embroils the region, the less the U.S. will be capable of going after Saddam.
While plausible, neither of these explanations can account for the buildup of longer-range rockets in southern Lebanon. Perhaps here we can see another connection to their fears of American military action to replace Saddam. Just as Saddam tried to transform the war in 1991 away from being the international community against Iraq into an Arab-Israeli conflict, it is possible that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah believe that a second front must be opened up once the U.S. begins to act against Saddam. If they cannot head the action off, they might hope to make it more difficult to sustain with a second front.

DEPARTMENT OF "HELL FREEZES OVER:" I never thought I'd be endorsing a piece by Eric Alterman, much less reproducing it in full. But credit must be given where due. Here are his thoughts on the Israeli killing of Sheik Salah Shehade, the Hamas arch-terrorist:

I don’t know if killing the military chief of Hamas, together with his family, is an effective military measure-as surely someone will rise to replace him and it will make a lot more people angry, perhaps even angry enough to become suicide bombers. It may not bring Israel and the Palestinians any closer to peace or mutual security. But I don’t have a moral problem with it.
Hamas is clearly at war with Israel. Hamas feels empowered to strike Israeli civilians inside Israel proper and not just on the war zone of West Bank. Sheik Salah Shehade could have protected his family by keeping away from them. He didn’t and owing to his clear legitimacy as a military target, they are dead too.
So tough luck, fella.
War is hell.

The irony gets even richer when you consider this Jerusalem Post item, which argues that the killing of Shehada's family may indicate a shift in Israeli strategy:

Top generals said that had they known innocent people would likely be hurt they never would have approved the strike.
Come on! Really!?
This is the same IDF that has been praised for excellent intelligence involved in dozens of targeted interceptions of terrorists over the past two years.
These claims are dubious. And besides, what was the military thinking? That it could send in a fighter bomber and blow up a man's house and only he would be killed?
The strike on Shehadeh which killed his wife and children and other apparent innocent civilians is a turning point in Israel's war on terror.
This marks a definite change in policy and the question remains whether this change will boomerang and lead to the deaths of more Israelis in revenge attacks by Hamas.
...Perhaps the IAF was ordered to deliberately target the family of the Hamas leader as a warning to others. And this is something that has to be taken into account.
And why not? The government has finally started thinking that it had to do something to deter terrorism and is taking actions against family members of terrorists.
It demolished the homes of those who were involved in the Emmanuel bus ambush, and it has declared its intention to deport family members of terrorists.

Not even Alterman implies that the Israelis meant to kill his family as a matter of policy. Imagine: Eric Alterman goes easier on the Sharon government than a Jerusalem Post columnist!
I doubt the attack really represents a major change in policy; it seems more likely that the civilian deaths were a result of an unholy combination of mistaken estimates of civilian presence and desperation to finally get him (see this piece for an account.)
Also, check out Amir Oren's article on why killing Shehade was good policy for peace:
[C]ompared to him, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is a moderate. The old considerations, from the days of Yihiyeh "the engineer" Ayash, about whether the assassination ignited a cycle of provocation and reaction, may still be true in principle, but have lost their practical meaning. Last week in Washington, former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry said that Ayash - most of whose attacks were committed during Perry's stint - needed three months to recruit and prepare a suicide bomber, operationally and ideologically. Now it takes hours. Mohammed Dahlan, reacting by phone from Ramallah, said that in the past, the people who send the suicide bombers into action had to look for bombers. Now the bombers are looking for people to send them.
With so many soldiers ("bomb-fodder") in the Palestinian death cult, the impact of the loss of a general like Shehade may well outweigh the marginal increase in volunteers and/or motivation for terrorism.
UPDATE: John Podhoretz points out that Israel's actions were permitted under the Geneva Convention.