23
Jul

GAZA CITY — When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose.

Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants.

“There were low expectations in terms of its performance against the recent round of Israeli incursions. It’s been exceeding all expectations,” said Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who is currently in Washington. “And it’s likely to come out in a far better position than in the last three years, and maybe the last decade.”

Hamas appeared powerless to end the near-blockade of its border by Israel and more recently Egypt. It could not even pay its 40,000 government workers their salaries.

The group was so handicapped that it agreed to enter into a pact with its rival party, Fatah, to form a new government. But that seemed only to make matters worse, sowing division within its own ranks, with some in the military wing angry at the concession, while providing none of the economic relief Hamas had hoped for.

When Hamas sent a barrage of rockets into Israel, simmering hostilities, and back and forth strikes, erupted into war.

At first, when Hamas rockets were being intercepted mainly by Israel’s Iron Dome system as Israel hit Gaza with devastating force, the group strove to persuade its supporters that it was having enough impact on Israel to wrest concessions: Its radio stations blared fictional reports about Israeli casualties.

But as it wore on, the conflict revealed that Hamas’s secret tunnel network leading into Israel was far more extensive, and sophisticated, than previously known. It also was able to inflict some pain on Israel, allowing Hamas to declare success even as it drew a devastating and crushing response. Its fighters were able to infiltrate Israel multiple times during an intensive Israeli ground invasion. Its militants have killed at least 27 Israeli soldiers and claim to have captured an Israeli soldier who was reported missing in battle, a potentially key bargaining chip.

And on Tuesday its rockets struck a blow to Israel — psychological and economic — by forcing a halt in international flights. Hamas once again looks strong in the eyes of its supporters, and has shown an increasingly hostile region that it remains a force to be reckoned with.Hamas, Mr. Arian said, has demonstrated that “as a movement, it is simply not going anywhere.”

But Hamas’s gains could be short-lived if it does not deliver Gazans a better life. Israel says its severe restrictions on what can be brought into Gaza, such as construction materials, are needed because Hamas poses a serious security threat, and the discovery of the tunnels has served only to validate that concern.

So far, at least 620 Palestinians have died, around 75 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations, including more than 100 children. Gazans did not get a vote when Hamas chose to escalate conflict, nor did they when Hamas selected areas near their homes, schools and mosques to fire rockets from the densely populated strip. At the family house of four boys killed last week by an Israeli strike while playing on a beach, some wailing women cursed Hamas along with Israel.

It is also unclear whether, when the fighting ends, Hamas will have the same kind of foreign support it has had in the past to rebuild its arsenal or its infrastructure; Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has destroyed hundreds of the tunnels that were used to bring in arms, money and supplies, and has kept the proper border crossing mostly closed. There are also some diplomatic efforts underway seeking to force Hamas to surrender its weapons in exchange for a cease-fire, a demand it is not likely to accept.

Omar Shaban, an economist and political independent, sat in his walled garden in the southern Gaza town of Deir al-Balah as shells crackled nearby and said he fervently hoped, but also doubted, that both Hamas and Israel’s government would reach for a substantive deal.

“This war will end tomorrow or after tomorrow, we will have another cease-fire, we will have another siege and Hamas will continue to run the scene,” he said. Read more…

Written by Anne Barnard on 22 July in http://www.nytimes.com

21
Jul
18
Jul

The downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet over Ukraine could dramatically broaden the Ukrainian crisis, even before it is determined who bears responsibility.

What has been a months-long shooting war between the U.S.-backed government in Kiev and Russian-supported separatists — and a war of words and sanctions between the West and Russia — now includes the deaths of nearly 300 people from several nations.

Britain, which a Malaysia Airlines manifest indicated had nine citizens aboard the aircraft, has called for an emergency meeting Friday of the U.N. Security Council. Although no Americans were initially reported aboard, early information from the manifest accounted for only 242 of 283 passengers aboard. Fifteen crew members also were aboard.

In the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam on Thursday en route to Kuala Lumpur carrying more than 154 Dutch citizens, Prime Minister Mark Rutte rushed home from a vacation.

“I am deeply shocked,” Rutte said in a statement. “Very much is still unclear about the facts, the circumstances and the passengers.”

Other fatalities included citizens from across a wide swath of Europe, East Asia and Australia.

“This is a new element that nobody expected,” James F. Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the plane’s downing. “It’s one of those events . . . that can have unpredicted negative or positive consequences.”

On the negative side, it marks a clear escalation of both firepower and the willingness to use it that could draw the patrons of both sides into more overt participation on the ground and more direct confrontation with each other.

World leaders, including some U.S. allies in Europe, who have seen the conflict as a regional one and been reluctant to turn on Moscow could be forced to reassess their position, said Wilson, who worked on European policy at the White House between 2007 and 2009. “It’s pretty difficult to continue playing that game if you have clear Russian fingerprints on the shooting down of a civilian airliner,” he said.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview with Charlie Rose that “if there is clear evidence linking Russia . . . that should inspire the Europeans to do much more” to punish Russia and assist the Ukrainian government.

But Collins and others suggested that the shocking nature of the incident could also be a wake-up call to all involved. “It may bring certain people to decide that some different approach is needed because this is really getting out of hand,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, it could mean a lot more people talking about [the Ukraine situation] and saying enough is enough.”

Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists pointed the finger at each other, and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin indirectly accused Kiev, saying that if it weren’t fighting the separatists that have taken over much of the eastern part of the country, no one would be shooting.

The United States and its allies were hesitant to quickly assign blame, and there was no overt suggestion that a civilian aircraft had been intentionally targeted. But there was a clear undercurrent in the Western response that the separatists were believed to be responsible.

“While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” said a statement released by the White House Thursday night after an extended meeting of President Obama’s senior staff.

The West has charged Russia with sending increasingly sophisticated weapons into eastern Ukraine. As recently as Wednesday, when Obama announced stepped-up sanctions against Moscow, officials cited extensive surveillance showing new Russian arms shipments and additional Russian troops deployed to the border. Read more…

July 17

Published in http://www.washingtonpost.com

17
Jul

In her fascinating book A History of God, Karen Armstrong posits that the reason people believe in God is because God “works for them.” That is to say, God is compelling because the idea of a divine being serves a useful purpose in people’s lives. That utilitarian argument may be masked beneath a deep layer of spiritual devotion — but it’s a pragmatic decision all the same.

The same logic works, to a large degree, in explaining the motives and interests of Israel and Hamas toward one another. As the current Gaza conflict proves once again, these two actors — in a perverse way — need each other.

That’s not to deny the enmity that marks the ties between Hamas and Israel, or the existential rhetoric that drives the tone of their public accusations. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if Israeli and Hamas leaders had one wish, it would be to destroy the other. But in the practical world of Israeli-Palestinian politics, getting rid of one another is neither achievable — nor perhaps even desirable. Indeed, because it’s not an option, Israel and Hamas have not only made do with each other’s existence, they have tried to figure out how to derive the maximum benefit from one another.

The Israeli-Hamas bond goes back to the very inception of the Palestinian Islamist organization. Israel didn’t create Hamas in 1987, but in an effort to counter the more secular Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970s, it gave a variety of Islamist groups political space and leeway. It even granted an operating license for an organization created by Hamas’s founder, Ahmed Yassin. Paradoxically, Hamas’s very reason for being depended on the existence of Israel — even though its main aim was to destroy it.

One way to look at this is as a Middle Eastern form of mutually assured destruction. Hamas cannot destroy Israel, and Israel knows that it cannot reoccupy Gaza and eradicate the Islamist organization at a cost that it is willing to bear. So each actor uses the other for its own purposes.

For Israel, Hamas is a convenient address to achieve many of its short-term goals. In the strange world of controlled military confrontation, when it wants a ceasefire, it goes to Hamas, not to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When it wants Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit released from captivity, it goes to Hamas, not Abbas. And when it needs to strike out in response to the brutal murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, it cracks down on Hamas — whether or not the movement’s leadership authorized the action. Hamas is a convenient target of attack — and having applauded the kidnapping of the three boys, it is probably deserving as well.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President

Published on 16 July in  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Second, Israel needs Hamas in Gaza. Of course, it doesn’t want a militant terrorist organization launching rockets at its cities and citizens. But a Hamas that maintains order there and provides a hedge against even more radical jihadi groups is preferable to a lawless vacuum. Indeed,fewer rockets were fired from Gaza in 2013 than in any year since 2001. I’ve often pondered why al Qaeda has never been able to set up shop in an effective manner in Gaza, or undertake a terrorist extravaganza in Israel. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause.

The last thing Israel wants is a vacuum in Gaza. In fact, Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, argues that it’s in Israel’s interest that Gaza be stable, with a strong economy and central authority. Indeed, Eiland argues, a state-like structure can be held responsible in the event of a confrontation: Israel could attack national infrastructure, not just rocket launchers.

Third, Hamas presents a wonderful bogeyman for those Israelis looking to avoid dealing with the questions of how to make the two-state solution a reality. Hamas’s hostile and frequently anti-Semitic rhetoric is a gift to Israeli right-wingers, and providing them with any number of talking points about why Israel can never trust Palestinians.

The problem posed by Hamas is not just a piece of propaganda by the Israeli Right. The fact is that the absence of a monopoly over the organized use of violence in the Palestinian territories poses a legitimate threat to a two-state solution. What Israeli is going to make what are regarded as existential concessions to Mahmoud Abbas — a Palestinian leader who lacks the power to silence all the guns and rockets of Palestine?

Finally, Hamas — particularly its military wing — also thrives on the existence of Israel. Hamas’s very legitimacy is derived from an ideology and strategy steeped in confrontation and resistance. However self-destructive the ideology may be, the movement represents to many Palestinians an effort to preserve their national identity and to resist Israel and its ongoing occupation. Abbas has his peace process — or what’s left of it — and his international campaign to drum up recognition of Palestinian statehood. Hamas has its resistance. It’s in the nature of its very reason for being.

There is a good chance that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is going to escalate, perhaps to include an Israeli ground incursion as well. But even if that’s the plan, the odds don’t favor Israel’s success in breaking Hamas as an organization or ending its control over Gaza. More than likely, it will only mark another bloody phase in a long struggle between two parties who can’t seem to live with one another — or apparently without one another either.

16
Jul

Thailand’s Inevitable Revolution

Written on July 16, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

In recent weeks, the military junta in Thailand has been working hard on rehabilitating its image. A battalion of soft-spoken diplomats has been dispatched on an international charm offensive, lecturing policymakers and journalists on their good intentions and popular support. Just don’t ask them to prove it in an election.

Their efforts are aimed at promoting a distorted understanding of events — an exercise that the United States and Europe seem all too willing to accept. They want the world to believe that the May 22, 2014, military coup is somehow a “normal” feature of Thailand’s political culture, and as such, the junta should get a free pass.

If things continue along this path, we are due to have a replay of the aftermath of the 2006 coup. At the time, Western governments eventually gave their support to the military’s plan to introduce a new constitution that severely watered down representation and allowed them to keep appointees permanently entrenched in the Constitutional Court and Senate. It’s little wonder why the situation has culminated in violence and repression once again several years later, and undoubtedly what will happen if they remain unchallenged in 2014.

The military has already prepared its transition. A provisional constitution drafted by the junta will be introduced containing less than 50 sections. A cabinet will be formed in September as well as a 250-member “reform council,” all filled with people exclusively handpicked by the coup, which will then be followed by an election where the military will be able to re-install their colleagues in the Democrat Party — otherwise known as “The Party of the Army.”

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a member of the Election Commission, has already chillingly told European diplomats only “moral” people will be allowed to win the elections.

The recent revelation that planning for this coup began four years ago, with close coordination between the accused murderer former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban (and former Democrat Party member) and General Prayuth Chan-ocha, should raise major red flags. This coup wasn’t a last resort or necessity to solve political deadlock — it was a premeditated, calculated agenda to steal control of the instruments of power and demolish a popularly elected government.

What must be understood about Thailand’s seemingly endless cycle of coups and repression is that this is not necessarily a political struggle, but a struggle against history. There is an unstoppable and growing political awakening taking place that is crashing up against traditional elites who view their fellow citizens as feudal serfs.

Since 1932, Thailand has never seen a period of true political stability due to this struggle. In her excellent book “Revolution Interrupted,” the academic Tyrell Haberkorn describes Thailand’s history as occasional periods of silence punctuated by violent cycles of coups and repression. The protagonists may change, but the role of the Thai Army is always the same.

Today we are in a silent period, where opposition to the coup has been frozen through threats, intimidation, interrogations and show trials. There are credible rumors of atrocities taking place far from the public eye, while right in the center of Bangkok people have reportedly been arrested for reading Orwell, holding sandwiches and carrying signs with slogans such as “Long live USA.”

Such wildly repressive behavior is what we have come to expect from the people who brought us the 1976 Thammasat University massacre and the 2010 Bangkok massacre. These acts of unaccountable violence and repression by the military are likely to continue, as no member of the Army has ever suffered a loss of “prestige” for toppling an elected government or ordering troops to fire upon protesters.

How we react to the Thai coup matters. As the Australian academic Nicholas Farrelly has argued, the actions of the U.S. government in response to Thailand’s past coups has guaranteed “any stigma associated with military government never overwhelmed international acceptance.”

It’s time for a new approach. The junta’s transition plan must be rejected and understood for what it is: a blatant attempt by one minority to dominate the majority. The soldiers must be told to return to the barracks and stay there. The U.S. government as well as the European Union must demand an immediate handover to an independent civilian administration that is capable of overseeing free and fair elections, leading to a new constitution by the people through elected representatives, not coup-appointed figures.

Most important, targeted sanctions must be immediately applied against members of the Thai army to restrict their travel privileges and freeze their bank accounts, as well as those of the businesses and corporations that sponsored the overthrow of the government. These individuals committed a grave crime, and it is time they be treated as criminals.

The reason why we no longer see regular military coups in places like Africa and Latin America is because it has become internationally unacceptable. There’s no reason to expect any less from Thailand, especially given the tide of history.

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy.

Published on July 16, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

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