Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > International (VIII)




A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative

in the morgue of Shifa Hospital

in Gaza City, Nov. 18, 2012.



Bernat Armangue/Associated Press


November 19, 2012

Boston Globe > Big Picture > Israel - Gaza conflict
















U.N. Assembly,

in Blow to U.S.,

Elevates Status of Palestine


November 29, 2012
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.

But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side, or increased Palestinian unity. Israel and the militant group Hamas both responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons.

The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank, including settlement-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian Authority, weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.

But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation.

“I hope this is good,” said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was there. “But how are we going to benefit?”

Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favor, 9 opposed and 41 abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time. It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a vote Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.

The past two years of Arab uprisings have marginalized the Palestinian cause to some extent as nations that focused their political aspirations on the Palestinian struggle have turned inward. The vote on Thursday, coming so soon after the Gaza fighting, put the Palestinians again — if briefly, perhaps — at the center of international discussion.

“The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an interview. “The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better.” He said nothing would change without deep American involvement.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, speaking to the assembly’s member nations, said, “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,” and he condemned what he called Israeli racism and colonialism. His remarks seemed aimed in part at Israel and in part at Hamas. But both quickly attacked him for the parts they found offensive.

“The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the Israel Defense Forces and the citizens of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded. “Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner.”

While Hamas had officially backed the United Nations bid of Mr. Abbas, it quickly criticized his speech because the group does not recognize Israel.

“There are controversial issues in the points that Abbas raised, and Hamas has the right to preserve its position over them,” said Salah al-Bardaweel, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, on Thursday.

“We do not recognize Israel, nor the partition of Palestine, and Israel has no right in Palestine,” he added. “Getting our membership in the U.N. bodies is our natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine’s soil.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, spoke after Mr. Abbas and said he was concerned that the Palestinian Authority failed to recognize Israel for what it is.

“Three months ago, Israel’s prime minister stood in this very hall and extended his hand in peace to President Abbas,” Mr. Prosor said. “He reiterated that his goal was to create a solution of two states for two peoples, where a demilitarized Palestinian state will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“That’s right. Two states for two peoples. In fact, President Abbas, I did not hear you use the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ this afternoon. In fact, I have never heard you say the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ because the Palestinian leadership has never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The Israelis also say that the fact that Mr. Abbas is not welcome in Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave run by Hamas, from which he was ejected five years ago, shows that there is no viable Palestinian leadership living up to its obligations now.

As expected, the vote won backing from a number of European countries, and was a rebuff to intense American and Israeli diplomacy. France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland all voted yes. Britain and Germany abstained. Apart from Canada, no major country joined the United States and Israel in voting no. The other opponents included Palau, Panama and Micronesia.

Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, was dismissive of the entire exercise. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,” she said. “And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.”

A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians may use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians may press for an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories widely viewed as violations of international law.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that after the vote “life will not be the same” because “Palestine will become a country under occupation.”

“The terms of reference for any negotiations become withdrawal,” Mr. Erekat said.

Another worry is that the Palestinians may use the vote to seek membership in specialized agencies of the United Nations, a move that could have consequences for the financing of the international organizations as well as the Palestinian Authority itself. Congress cut off financing to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as Unesco, in 2011 after it accepted Palestine as a member. The United States is a major contributor to many of these agencies and is active on their governing boards.

In response to the Palestinian bid, a bipartisan group of senators said Thursday that they would introduce legislation that would cut off foreign aid to the authority if it tried to use the International Criminal Court against Israel, and close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington if Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel.

Calling the Palestinian bid “an unhealthy step that could undermine the peace process,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that he and the other senators, including Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, would be closely monitoring the situation.

The vote came shortly after an eight-day Israeli military assault on Gaza that Israel described as a response to stepped-up rocket fire into Israel. The operation killed scores of Palestinians and was aimed at reducing the arsenal of Hamas in Gaza, part of the territory that the United Nations resolution expects to make up a future state of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, was politically weakened by the Gaza fighting, with its rivals in Hamas seen by many Palestinians as more willing to stand up to Israel and fight back. That shift in sentiment is one reason that some Western countries gave for backing the United Nations resolution, to strengthen Mr. Abbas and his more moderate colleagues in their contest with Hamas.


Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting from Washington,

Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, and Khaled Abu Aker from Ramallah, West Bank.

    U.N. Assembly, in Blow to U.S., Elevates Status of Palestine, NYT, 29.11.2012,






U.S. and Israel

Look to Limit Impact of U.N. Vote

on Palestinian Authority


November 29, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After failing to head off a vote in the United Nations on Thursday that would upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status, the United States and Israel are looking ahead to how they can contain the damage from the approval of a resolution that even some European allies have signaled they will support.

The draft resolution calls on the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state. It is virtually certain to pass, despite the opposition of the United States and a handful of other nations.

On Wednesday, two senior American diplomats — William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and David Hale, the special envoy to the Middle East — met at a hotel in New York with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to register American concerns.

“No one should be under any illusion that this resolution is going to produce the results that the Palestinians claim to seek, namely to have their own state living in peace next to Israel,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday. “We thought it was important to make our case one more time.”

A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians might use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians might press for an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories.

Another worry is that the Palestinians might use the vote to seek membership in specialized agencies of the United Nations, a move that could have consequences for the financing of the international organizations as well as the Palestinian Authority itself. Congress cut off financing to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2011 after it accepted Palestine as a member. The United States is a major contributor to many of these agencies and plays an active role on their governing boards.

“To my knowledge, there’s no legislative impact that is triggered in the same way that there was with regard to Unesco,” Ms. Nuland said on Monday. “However, as you know, we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and to support administration of the territories. So, obviously, if they take this step, it’s going to complicate the way the Congress looks at the Palestinians.”

Anticipating approval of the resolution, Western diplomats have pushed for a Palestinian commitment not to seek membership in the International Criminal Court and United Nations specialized agencies after the vote. Another step would be an affirmation by the Palestinians that the road to statehood was through the peace process. And a third could be a Palestinian commitment to open negotiations with the Israelis.

Such assurances do not appear to have been provided.

Israeli officials, aware that a harsh reaction would only isolate their country further, have begun playing down the significance of the draft resolution, and have toned down threats of countermeasures if it is approved. Israel’s response will be “proportionate” to how the Palestinians act after the vote, said an Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said there would be no automatic response from Israel. “We’re going to see where the Palestinians take this,” he said. “If they use it to continue confronting Israel and other U.N. bodies, there will be a firm response. If not, then there won’t.”

As the vote approached, a handful of European nations moved away from the American camp — a trend that accelerated after the cease-fire agreement between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel over Gaza, which was widely viewed as a victory for Hamas over its rival, the Palestinian Authority.

France and Spain have said they will vote for the resolution. Britain has signaled it would be prepared to support the measure if the Palestinians provided assurances that they would not join the International Criminal Court, among other steps. Germany said on Thursday that it would abstain from the vote. Israel, of course, will vote against it.

The vote is scheduled to take place on the anniversary of the General Assembly vote in 1947 to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Only the Security Council, in which the United States holds a veto, can approve formal, voting membership.

Some Middle East experts said the administration’s determination to vote against the Palestinian Authority’s motion was self-defeating, since it would accelerate the weakening of the authority as a voice for the Palestinian people and as a partner in peace negotiations.

A better strategy, said Robert Malley, the Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, would be for the United States and Israel simply to “shrug their shoulders,” recognizing it as a desperate bid for political legitimacy, not a threat to Israel or to the prospects for a peace agreement.

“He really, politically, has no choice,” Mr. Malley said of Mr. Abbas, during a panel at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is less an act of confrontation than an act of survival.”


Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from Berlin.

    U.S. and Israel Look to Limit Impact of U.N. Vote on Palestinian Authority, NYT, 29.11.2012,






The Palestinians’ U.N. Bid


November 28, 2012
The New York Times


On Thursday, a week after the Gaza cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank, is scheduled to ask the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian status to nonmember observer state.

The 193-member body is expected to approve the application. That support has grown since the Gaza fighting, with France and other European nations declaring their backing for the Palestinian bid — in part as a way to bolster the more moderate Palestinian forces, which recognize Israel’s right to exist and seek a two-state solution.

But passage of the resolution — which would allow the Palestinians to try to join the International Criminal Court, where they might be able to bring cases against Israel — would not get the Palestinians any closer to statehood. A negotiated deal with Israel is the only way to ensure creation of a viable Palestinian state and guarantee Israel’s security.

It is not surprising that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has pushed ahead with the one diplomatic move he has left. Peace negotiations have been at an impasse since 2008; the two-state solution seems farther away than ever. His stature among some Palestinians was further diminished after the Gaza fighting. He sat on the sidelines as Israel negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas, even as Arab states like Egypt, Qatar and Turkey backed Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and Europe.

But even if the Palestinians win the vote, the price may be high. After membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was granted last year, Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority — which is in financial distress — and the United States halted financing to Unesco and withheld millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

Earlier this month, Israel warned that if the resolution passed, it could cancel the 1993 Oslo accords, oust President Abbas and dismantle the Palestinian Authority. Some in Congress have also threatened more sanctions. Israel has since toned down the threats, but it should drop them altogether, as should Congress. It makes no sense to punish the one Palestinian institution that has committed to a peaceful solution.

The Obama administration has spent political capital in a failed effort to pressure countries to oppose the resolution. It now needs to put its energies into forging commitments to restart peace talks.

Britain has urged the Palestinians to give assurances that they would return to negotiations with Israel without preconditions; Mr. Abbas would be wise to do so. That might give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel a reason to follow suit.

The vote on Thursday is timed to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the General Assembly resolution that called for the division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. It’s long past time begin a serious new effort at a negotiated two-state solution.

    The Palestinians’ U.N. Bid, NYT, 28.11.2012,






U.S. Weighs Bolder Effort to Intervene in Syria’s Conflict


November 28, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, hoping that the conflict in Syria has reached a turning point, is considering deeper intervention to help push President Bashar al-Assad from power, according to government officials involved in the discussions.

While no decisions have been made, the administration is considering several alternatives, including directly providing arms to some opposition fighters.

The most urgent decision, likely to come next week, is whether NATO should deploy surface-to-air missiles in Turkey, ostensibly to protect that country from Syrian missiles that could carry chemical weapons. The State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said Wednesday that the Patriot missile system would not be “for use beyond the Turkish border.”

But some strategists and administration officials believe that Syrian Air Force pilots might fear how else the missile batteries could be used. If so, they could be intimidated from bombing the northern Syrian border towns where the rebels control considerable territory. A NATO survey team is in Turkey, examining possible sites for the batteries.

Other, more distant options include directly providing arms to opposition fighters rather than only continuing to use other countries, especially Qatar, to do so. A riskier course would be to insert C.I.A. officers or allied intelligence services on the ground in Syria, to work more closely with opposition fighters in areas that they now largely control.

Administration officials discussed all of these steps before the presidential election. But the combination of President Obama’s re-election, which has made the White House more willing to take risks, and a series of recent tactical successes by rebel forces, one senior administration official said, “has given this debate a new urgency, and a new focus.”

The outcome of the broader debate about how heavily America should intervene in another Middle Eastern conflict remains uncertain. Mr. Obama’s record in intervening in the Arab Spring has been cautious: While he joined in what began as a humanitarian effort in Libya, he refused to put American military forces on the ground and, with the exception of a C.I.A. and diplomatic presence, ended the American role as soon as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was toppled.

In the case of Syria, a far more complex conflict than Libya’s, some officials continue to worry that the risks of intervention — both in American lives and in setting off a broader conflict, potentially involving Turkey — are too great to justify action. Others argue that more aggressive steps are justified in Syria by the loss in life there, the risks that its chemical weapons could get loose, and the opportunity to deal a blow to Iran’s only ally in the region. The debate now coursing through the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A. resembles a similar one among America’s main allies.

“Look, let’s be frank, what we’ve done over the last 18 months hasn’t been enough,” Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, said three weeks ago after visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. “The slaughter continues, the bloodshed is appalling, the bad effects it’s having on the region, the radicalization, but also the humanitarian crisis that is engulfing Syria. So let’s work together on really pushing what more we can do.” Mr. Cameron has discussed those options directly with Mr. Obama, White House officials say.

France and Britain have recognized a newly formed coalition of opposition groups, which the United States helped piece together. So far, Washington has not done so.

American officials and independent specialists on Syria said that the administration was reviewing its Syria policy in part to gain credibility and sway with opposition fighters, who have seized key Syrian military bases in recent weeks.

“The administration has figured out that if they don’t start doing something, the war will be over and they won’t have any influence over the combat forces on the ground,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer and specialist on the Syria military. “They may have some influence with various political groups and factions, but they won’t have influence with the fighters, and the fighters will control the territory.”

Another person who has been consulted and briefed on the administration’s thinking about Syria said, “The U.S. won’t be able to maintain the position where it’s been,” adding, “Whatever we do will be done in close coordination with the allies.”

Senior Congressional officials and diplomats in the region said that they had not been briefed on any impending policy shifts and expressed doubts any would be made until Mr. Obama had selected his new national security team, including new secretaries of state and defense, a new director of the C.I.A. and perhaps more. In recent months, these officials and diplomats said that the administration had kept them updated about its Syria policy.

Until now, the United States has offered only limited support to the military campaign against the Syrian government, instead providing nearly $200 million in humanitarian and other nonlethal aid. In addition, a small number of C.I.A. officers have operated secretly in southern Turkey for several months, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border would receive weapons.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition are funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries overseen mainly by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, American officials said. Even that limited effort is being revamped in the wake of evidence that most arms sent to Syrian opposition fighters are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, not to the more secular opposition groups supported by the West.

American officials say the administration is now weighing whether the United States should play a more direct role in supplying the opposition fighters with weapons to help ensure that the arms reach the intended groups.

“The problem right now is that we don’t have much visibility into where these weapons are going,” one senior administration official said recently. “That’s the problem with outsourcing the issue.”

On the more immediate concern about defending Turkey, NATO is expected to act on the Patriot missile request next week. On Wednesday night, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, told an audience at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard that “we’d be very much in favor of” the Turkish request for Patriot missiles “in terms of protecting the security of our ally.” The Patriot PAC-3 is the most modern air defense system in the American and NATO arsenals.

In the case of the impending deployment to Turkey, the missiles could come from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. While they could reach into Syrian territory, their range is limited. Turkey requested the missiles after Syrian artillery and mortar fire landed inside Turkish territory, killing several civilians.


Jessica Brandt contributed reporting from Cambridge, Mass.

    U.S. Weighs Bolder Effort to Intervene in Syria’s Conflict, NYT, 28.11.2012,






Good Neighbors, Bad Border


November 26, 2012
The New York Times


Durham, N.C.

AT a time when territorial disputes over uninhabited outcrops in the East China Sea have led to smashed cars and skulls in China, a similar, if less dramatic, dispute over two remote rocks in the Gulf of Maine smolders between the United States and Canada.

Machias Seal Island and nearby North Rock are the only pieces of land that the two countries both claim after more than 230 years of vigorous and sometimes violent border-making between them.

Except for the occasional jousting of lobster boats, this boundary dispute floats far below the surface of public or official attention, no doubt reflecting the apparent lack of valuable natural resources and a reluctance to cede territory, no matter how small.

But if we are unlikely to resort to arms anytime soon, the clashes in Asia have shown how seemingly minor border disputes can suddenly stoke regional and nationalistic tensions. Our relaxed attitude toward these remote rocks may well be a mistake.

While the United States and Canada have other maritime boundary disputes along their 5,525-mile border, the world’s longest, this is the only one left that involves actual chunks of land.

Machias Seal Island is a 20-acre, treeless lump that sits nearly equidistant from Maine and New Brunswick. It, and the even smaller North Rock, lie in what local lobstermen call the gray zone, a 277-square-mile area of overlapping American and Canadian maritime claims.

The disagreement dates back to the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. The treaty assigned to the newly independent 13 colonies all islands within 20 leagues — about 70 miles — of the American shore. Since Machias Seal Island sits less than 10 miles from Maine, the American position has been that it is clearly United States soil.

But the treaty also excluded any island that had ever been part of Nova Scotia, and Canadians have pointed to a 17th-century British land grant they say proves the island was indeed part of that province, whose western portion became New Brunswick in the late 18th century.

Perhaps more important to the Canadian case, the British built a lighthouse on Machias Seal Island in 1832, which has been staffed ever since. Even today, two lighthouse keepers are regularly flown to the island by helicopter for 28-day shifts to operate a light — even though, like every other lighthouse in Canada, it is automated.

While abundant legal arguments surround Machias Seal Island, natural resources are far less evident. No oil or natural gas has been discovered in the area, nor has it had any strategic significance since it served as a lookout for German U-boats during World War I.

Tour boats from Maine and New Brunswick carry strictly limited numbers of bird watchers to the island to see nesting Atlantic puffins. And the surrounding waters contain lobsters that, thanks to different regulatory schemes and overlapping claims, have occasionally sparked clashes between Maine and New Brunswick lobstermen, although a bumper lobster crop this summer has slackened demand for gray zone crustaceans.

But the lack of hydrocarbons and the current lobster glut make this an ideal time to color in the gray zone.

The United States and Canada settled all their other maritime differences in the Gulf of Maine in 1984 by submitting their claims to the International Court of Justice for arbitration. They could have included the gray zone in that case, but did not. The Canadians had refused an earlier American arbitration proposal by saying their case was so strong that agreeing to arbitration would bring their title into question.

This attitude calls for re-examination. The fact that so little in the way of resources appears to be at stake, far from justifying the status quo, should be the main reason for resolving the issue. And for those concerned about blowback from “giving away” territory, letting the international court decide the case provides the most political cover.

As China and Japan can attest, border disputes do not go away; they fester. And when other factors push them back to the surface — the discovery of valuable resources, an assertion of national pride, a mishap at sea — the stakes can suddenly rise to a point where easy solutions become impossible.

Before that happens, we should put this last land dispute behind us, and earn our reputation for running the longest peaceful border in the world.


Stephen R. Kelly is the associate director of the Center for Canadian Studies

at Duke University and a retired American diplomat who served twice in Canada.

    Good Neighbors, Bad Border, NYT, 26.11.2012,






The Crisis in Egypt


November 26, 2012
The New York Times


President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt appears to have made a course correction in his latest and most alarming power grab. During a meeting with the country’s top judges on Monday, he reportedly agreed to limit the sweeping authority he seized by unilateral decree last week. Instead of exempting all his decisions from judicial review, he would retain just the power to protect the constitutional assembly from being dissolved by the courts before it finishes its work early next year.

If true — and the details were not entirely clear — Mr. Morsi’s shift would be a pragmatic face-saving measure. The real test is whether it can satisfy his critics, who have filled the streets in protest. They have grown tired of the constant turmoil, economic collapse and decline in government services since Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and they remain distrustful of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party that sponsored Mr. Morsi.

Mr. Morsi’s ill-advised decree reinforced suspicions that he is more like the autocrat he replaced than the democrat many Egyptians long for, and has only exacerbated the country’s divisions.

The decree issued on Thursday, just as Mr. Morsi was being applauded for helping negotiate the Gaza cease-fire, was stunning in its breadth. It took several steps that could have popular appeal, like removing an unpopular Mubarak-era prosecutor general and paving the way for the retrial of Mr. Mubarak and other officials. But, at its core, it would exempt all of Mr. Morsi’s actions from review by the courts and establish what 23 Egyptian human rights groups in a statement called a “new dictatorship.”

Mr. Morsi and government officials said he needed the new powers to protect the process of writing the country’s Constitution and insisted the decree would last only until the Constitution took effect. The claim that the measure was temporary offered no reassurance because Mr. Mubarak’s emergency law remained on the books for 30 years.

But the other concern is not so easily dismissed. Several months ago, the Mubarak-appointed courts dissolved the democratically elected, Islamist-led lower house of Parliament and the first constitution-drafting committee. There were rumors that the courts were about to dissolve the elected constitutional assembly and the upper house of Parliament. If that had happened, the popular will would have been stymied again and it would have been impossible to build the state institutions needed to carry Egypt forward.

Nevertheless, even Mr. Morsi’s allies couldn’t buy the argument that he should sideline the courts in this way. His justice minister argued publicly for him to back down and three other senior advisers resigned. On Monday, the White House urged Egyptians to resolve their differences peacefully, while the State Department advocated a constitutional process that “does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands.”

Mr. Morsi deserves some credit for the Gaza deal, but the United States should not hesitate to speak out when he tramples on democratic principles at home. As the president of an aspiring democracy, Mr. Morsi is trying to balance competing forces, including hard-liners in his own party, Mubarak regime holdovers and secular and liberal opposition activists.

He needs to make space in the constitutional assembly for more of his opponents and work to negotiate political solutions on behalf of all Egyptians. His dictatorial edict has set back that cause.

    The Crisis in Egypt, NYT, 26.11.2012,






Rebels Claim They Seized Air Bases in Syria


November 25, 2012
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels said they seized an important military airport and an air defense base just outside Damascus on Sunday, adding to a monthlong string of tactical successes — capturing bases, disrupting supply routes and seizing weaponry — that demonstrate their ability to erode the government’s dominance despite facing withering aerial attacks.

Over the past month, rebels have seized or damaged major military bases around the country, making off with armored vehicles, antiaircraft weapons and other equipment they desperately need to break the stalemate in the grinding conflict, which has taken more than 30,000 lives. But they have not tried to hold all of the bases, as they become easy targets for government airstrikes.

The capture of the air base near Damascus, Marj al-Sultan, could be significant because it was one of the principal bases used by the Syrian Air Force’s fleet of Mi-8 helicopters, said Joseph Holliday, a senior analyst covering Syria for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. The government relies on the aircraft to resupply army units and to carry out bomb and rocket attacks, especially in the north where government forces are increasingly isolated and air power is the main way to harass the rebels.

Still, despite videos of rebels seizing weapons caches, analysts said the recent successes appeared unlikely to produce a sudden shift in the balance of power, since the government seems to be consolidating its forces to defend core areas.

Mr. Holliday said the events of recent weeks underscored the arc of the conflict since late spring: The rebels have been gaining strength and becoming more organized, he said, and the government forces have been slowly contracting under pressure.

The government’s continued loss of bases, however, raises questions about how long it will be able to operate in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Ground supply routes linking those provinces to Damascus, the capital, have slowly been cut off throughout the spring and summer, as rebels have mastered the use of roadside bombs and gradually overrun government bases and checkpoints along the way.

“The real question,” Mr. Holliday said, “is when the regime will start to pull out of the north.”

Rebels have assaulted Taftanaz air base in Idlib, and captured two major bases and an oil field in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour and a large base outside Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Striking at government air power is militarily and psychologically important for the rebels, for whom aircraft pose a significant threat because of their firepower and unlimited reach. Yet the rebels have so far been unable, because of international reluctance and opposition disunity, to obtain significant amounts of antiaircraft weaponry that could help them turn the tide in the conflict, which began as a protest movement and gradually turned into a civil war after soldiers fired on demonstrators.

The battle for the air base on Sunday was part of a day of intense military activity that showed the level of chaos that has come to be expected even near the heart of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

By day’s end, rebels claimed to have seized three military installations, including the Marj al-Sultan airfield, and 11 mobile antiaircraft guns, and blamed the government for the bombing of a playground that killed eight children, whose bloodied bodies were shown in an online video.

Video of the rebel attack on the airport, in a suburb called Eastern Ghouta, showed a fighter firing a rocket-propelled grenade by night and helicopters on the tarmac silhouetted by flames. In later clips, rebels marched toward an apparently undamaged helicopter and moved freely among radar dishes positioned atop sand berms. One video shows a jubilant parade of honking vans and motorcycles trailed behind a dozen men riding atop an armored vehicle down a city street.

It remained unclear, however, whether the government had moved its working helicopters elsewhere before the rebels arrived, and whether the government might be able to reclaim the territory.

On Sunday evening, according to antigovernment activists and videos, rebels took over the base of the Rahbeh air defense battalion in Deir al-Suleimen, which housed antiaircraft weapons. In a video said to have been shot there, the voice of a man off camera trembled with excitement as he showed a row of armored vehicles, which he said were Russian-made “Shilka” antiaircraft weapons. In the dark it was unclear if the weapons were what the rebels claimed or whether they could use them.

Rebels also seized a training facility in nearby Douma that belonged to a pro-Assad Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose members have clashed recently with rebels, according to an activist reached in Douma and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict. The activist said that government security troops and Palestinians inside the facility were released after turning over their weapons.

The rebel claims were impossible to verify because of the Syrian government’s restrictions on journalists.

Video from the playground, which activists said was taken in the village of Dayr al-Asafir close to the Marj al-Sultan air base, showed at least half a dozen children who were dead or wounded from what activists said was a cluster bomb. The asphalt was pockmarked and littered with bomb casings.

On the ground lay two children: a young girl, identified as Anoud Mohammed, in a purple sweatsuit, and a child who appeared to be a toddler in a red sweater, their eyes open and staring. Around them people were carrying the limp bodies of other children whose bare feet were smeared with blood, as a woman knelt beside Anoud and screamed at the sky. In a later video, Anoud lay dead in a hospital.

“What’s her fault, this child?” a man’s voice shouted. “What’s her fault, Bashar, this little girl?”

An activist with the opposition Damascus Media Office who gave her name as Lena said “residents believe this massacre was in retaliation” for the airport attack. Referring to the Free Syrian Army, the loose-knit rebel umbrella group, she said, “Whenever the F.S.A. does something big, we expect a massacre.”

She also said an activist journalist was wounded in shelling on Sunday in the area. “We are like 50 now; in the end we will be 10,” she said. “It’s like a movie where people die, but only a few make it until the end.”

The rebels made efforts on Sunday to offset a recent video that surfaced of fighters executing prisoners. The footage released Sunday showed a wounded government soldier said to have been captured at Marj al-Sultan air base being treated by a medical team traveling with the rebel attackers.

But voices can also be heard interrogating the man, asking him about tactical information as well as his name, background and the situation in his hometown. Off camera, someone says: “Watch, people. Watch Assad’s dogs! How we’re treating them with tenderness.”


Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and C. J. Chivers from the United States.

Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad, Hania Mourtada and Hala Droubi

from Beirut.

    Rebels Claim They Seized Air Bases in Syria, NYT, 25.11.2012,






Support Palestinian Statehood


November 25, 2012
The New York Times



THE cease-fire that ended the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has enhanced the popularity of the militant group Hamas. This extremist organization has become the only interlocutor for the Arab world, for the West and, indirectly, for Israel. But Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s existence or to negotiate with Israelis. Meanwhile, the pragmatic Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, is rapidly losing legitimacy and Israel’s recent strikes on Gaza will only weaken it further. Negotiating with Hamas may secure a lull, but Hamas cannot be a partner for peace.

If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside — not instead of — Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations. If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas.

It is paradoxical that Israel’s current government is so vehemently opposed to Mr. Abbas’s bid for recognition. After all, it was 65 years ago this week, on Nov. 29, 1947, that the Palestinians and their friends in the Arab world expressly rejected United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which recognized the need to establish a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the former British Mandate territory of Palestine.

Now, the Palestinians are admitting their mistake and asking the same assembly to recognize a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and requesting that the boundaries of their state be determined as a result of negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel’s right-wing parties — which in 1993 rejected the Oslo Accords that envisaged Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of Palestinian autonomy in those areas — are now using, and abusing, that same agreement to prevent Palestinian statehood.

This week’s request wouldn’t be taking place if both sides had abided by the Oslo Accords’ original time frame, if Israel’s peacemaking prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hadn’t been assassinated in 1995, and if we’d reached a permanent agreement by May 1999, as initially envisioned.

Since Rabin’s assassination, there has been little progress toward ending the conflict. No proper negotiations have taken place for four years. And because Mr. Abbas has committed to the principles of nonviolence, diplomatic means, like the statehood bid, are his only way of putting Palestinians back on the global agenda. In retaliation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now threatening to nullify the Oslo Accords, if the world recognizes a Palestinian state. This is preposterous.

The Oslo Accords have allowed Israel’s right-wing government to hide behind an interim agreement that, for almost 20 years, has permitted Israel to continue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank; to rid itself of the responsibility of day-to-day management in the Occupied Territories; to save itself the costs of occupation (as donor countries are financing the Palestinian budget); and to benefit from cooperation with Palestinian security forces. There is no chance that Israel will nullify the accords.

The claim that Palestinians are violating the Oslo agreement by presenting their proposal to the General Assembly is completely unfounded. The topic of Palestinian statehood was never one of the five issues (Jerusalem’s status, the fate of refugees, security arrangements, borders and settlements) that were considered “final status” issues in the 1993 Oslo accord. The Palestinians chose not to mention the issue of a state, as they saw self-determination as a basic right for their people; and it was convenient back then for Israel not to address the topic.

Moreover, Mr. Abbas has clarified that if the General Assembly decides to recognize a Palestinian state, he would agree to negotiations with Israel’s government without preconditions, a move that is in both America’s and Israel’s interests. The only difference is that these negotiations would take place between two internationally recognized states.

President Obama and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should think twice before rejecting Mr. Abbas’s request. Blocking his bid for statehood will only empower extremists further.

There is no reason for the United States to oppose Mr. Abbas’s move, pressure the Palestinians not to raise this issue, or threaten to freeze their budget.

And Israel has no reason to wage a diplomatic war against the Palestinian appeal. Rather, Mr. Netanyahu should be the first to recognize a Palestinian state and Mr. Obama the last to prevent it.


Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords,

has served as Israel’s deputy foreign minister and minister of justice.

    Support Palestinian Statehood, NYT, 25.11.2012,






America’s Failed Palestinian Policy


November 23, 2012
The New York Times


MORE than 160 Palestinians and 5 Israelis are dead, and as the smoke clears over Gaza, the Israelis will not be more secure and Palestinians’ hopes for self-determination remain dashed. It is time for a significant re-evaluation of the American policies that have contributed to this morass.

The failure of America’s approach toward the Israelis and the Palestinians, much like its flawed policies toward the region in general, is founded on the assumption that American hard power, through support for Israel and other Middle Eastern governments, can keep the legitimate grievances of the people under wraps.

But events in Gaza, like those in Egypt and elsewhere, have proved once again that the use of force is incapable of providing security for Israel, when the underlying causes of a people’s discontent go unaddressed.

The United States government must ask: what message do America’s policies send to Israelis and Palestinians?

Washington’s policies have sent counterproductive messages to the Palestinians that have only increased the incentives for using violence.

American policy initially signaled to Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, a Palestinian party committed to the idea of negotiations, that talks would yield a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time the United States, which has monopolized the role of mediator for itself, failed to do anything to change Israel’s policies of settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinians’ patience grew thin as the number of Israeli settlers tripled between the beginning of the “peace process” in 1991 and today. Palestinians learned that the message they initially got about a peace process’ leading to statehood was either made in bad faith or an outright lie.

The message they ultimately understood from observing America’s reflexively pro-Israel policy was that the peace process was merely a cover for endless Israeli colonialism.

America’s policy toward Hamas also sent the wrong message; rather than promoting peace, it only created incentives for the use of arms. Sanctions imposed after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory told the party that Israel and the United States would marginalize it unless it accepted the same principles put forth by the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers that Fatah accepted — namely, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and renouncing violence. Having seen what that path yielded for Fatah — nothing but continued Israeli colonization — Hamas was not persuaded and chose instead to reject those principles. In return, the Gaza Strip was put under a brutal siege.

Hamas has used armed struggle to achieve certain objectives, albeit at significant cost. Its leaders saw the removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 as a victory for their methods, as well as the return of thousands of prisoners last year, in exchange for a single captured Israeli soldier. The returns may be limited and the costs significant, but when the other options are either subjugation or the path their compatriots in Fatah face, Hamas is likely to make the same calculation — and choose violence every time.

The cease-fire announced Wednesday will only perpetuate the same incentive structure. Through the use of force, Hamas gained favorable terms. The Israelis agreed to ease collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza and end extrajudicial assassinations. While both of these are against international law to begin with and long-term Israeli adherence to these terms is not guaranteed, these are nonetheless commitments that Hamas believes could only have been extracted through armed struggle.

Further, the fighting brought attention to the open wound of Gaza, which the world had forgotten. Foreign ministers and dignitaries visited the strip and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to the region for the cease-fire announcement. The real danger is if the underlying causes of discontent in Gaza — the denial of human rights and dignity for Palestinians — continue to go ignored once rockets stop targeting Israel. This has been the case each time in the past.

What message is sent to Palestinians when the only time we pay attention to their plight, and the only time they make gains, is through the use of arms?

Likewise, our policy toward Israel has also sent counterproductive messages. As the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority came into the West Bank, many of the costs of being responsible for occupied Palestinians were transferred from Israel to the authority while the entrenchment of occupation continued unabated. This not only reduced the costs of occupation for Israel; it continues to be rewarding as Israel has been able to reap political and economic benefits from exploiting Palestinian land and natural resources.

Moreover, Washington has economically, diplomatically and militarily supported Israel as it continues with its settlement project and thus it is no wonder that some in Israel continue to believe that perpetual occupation, or de facto apartheid, is a viable policy option.

By constantly condemning Palestinian armed resistance, and failing to condemn Israeli settlement expansion and repression of nonviolent Palestinian dissent, the message the United States is sending the Palestinian people is this: All resistance to occupation is illegitimate.

No nation on earth would accept that, nor is it realistic to expect it to.

The disastrous results of the incentive structure we’ve created have been on full display in recent days. Moving forward, Washington must fundamentally re-evaluate the messages it sends to all parties because we’ve currently set them on the path to even greater — and potentially unmanageable — escalations in the future.


Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the Jerusalem Fund.

    America’s Failed Palestinian Policy, NYT, 23.11.2012,






For Israel, Gaza Conflict Is Test for an Iran Confrontation


November 22, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The conflict that ended, for now, in a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel seemed like the latest episode in a periodic showdown. But there was a second, strategic agenda unfolding, according to American and Israeli officials: The exchange was something of a practice run for any future armed confrontation with Iran, featuring improved rockets that can reach Jerusalem and new antimissile systems to counter them.

It is Iran, of course, that most preoccupies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. While disagreeing on tactics, both have made it clear that time is short, probably measured in months, to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

And one key to their war-gaming has been cutting off Iran’s ability to slip next-generation missiles into the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where they could be launched by Iran’s surrogates, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, during any crisis over sanctions or an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a military historian, likened the insertion of Iranian missiles into Gaza to the Cuban missile crisis.

“In the Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. was not confronting Cuba, but rather the Soviet Union,” Mr. Oren said Wednesday, as the cease-fire was declared. “In Operation Pillar of Defense,” the name the Israel Defense Force gave the Gaza operation, “Israel was not confronting Gaza, but Iran.”

It is an imprecise analogy. What the Soviet Union was slipping into Cuba 50 years ago was a nuclear arsenal. In Gaza, the rockets and parts that came from Iran were conventional, and, as the Israelis learned, still have significant accuracy problems. But from one point of view, Israel was using the Gaza battle to learn the capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the group that has the closest ties to Iran — as well as to disrupt those links.

Indeed, the first strike in the eight-day conflict between Hamas and Israel arguably took place nearly a month before the fighting began — in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, as another mysterious explosion in the shadow war with Iran.

A factory said to be producing light arms blew up in spectacular fashion on Oct. 22, and within two days the Sudanese charged that it had been hit by four Israeli warplanes that easily penetrated the country’s airspace. Israelis will not talk about it. But Israeli and American officials maintain that Sudan has long been a prime transit point for smuggling Iranian Fajr rockets, the kind that Hamas launched against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over recent days.

The missile defense campaign that ensued over Israeli territory is being described as the most intense yet in real combat anywhere — and as having the potential to change warfare in the same way that novel applications of air power in the Spanish Civil War shaped combat in the skies ever since.

Of course, a conflict with Iran, if a last-ditch effort to restart negotiations fails, would look different than what has just occurred. Just weeks before the outbreak in Gaza, the United States and European and Persian Gulf Arab allies were practicing at sea, working on clearing mines that might be dropped in shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz.

But in the Israeli and American contingency planning, Israel would face three tiers of threat in a conflict with Iran: the short-range missiles that have been lobbed in this campaign, medium-range rockets fielded by Hezbollah in Lebanon and long-range missiles from Iran.

The last of those three could include the Shahab-3, the missile Israeli and American intelligence believe could someday be fitted with a nuclear weapon if Iran ever succeeded in developing one and — the harder task — shrinking it to fit a warhead.

A United States Army air defense officer said that the American and Israeli militaries were “absolutely learning a lot” from this campaign that may contribute to a more effective “integration of all those tiered systems into a layered approach.”

The goal, and the challenge, is to link short-, medium- and long-range missile defense radar systems and interceptors against the different types of threats that may emerge in the next conflict.

Even so, a historic battle of missile versus missile defense has played out in the skies over Israel, with Israeli officials saying their Iron Dome system shot down 350 incoming rockets — 88 percent of all targets assigned to the missile defense interceptors. Israeli officials declined to specify the number of interceptors on hand to reload their missile-defense batteries.

Before the conflict began, Hamas was estimated to have amassed an arsenal of 10,000 to 12,000 rockets. Israeli officials say their pre-emptive strikes on Hamas rocket depots severely reduced the arsenal of missiles, both those provided by Iran and some built in Gaza on a Syrian design.

But Israeli military officials emphasize that most of the approximately 1,500 rockets fired by Hamas in this conflict were on trajectories toward unpopulated areas. The radar tracking systems of Iron Dome are intended to quickly discriminate between those that are hurtling toward a populated area and strays not worth expending a costly interceptor to knock down.

“This discrimination is a very important part of all missile defense systems,” said the United States Army expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe current military assessments. “You want to ensure that you’re going to engage a target missile that is heading toward a defended footprint, like a populated area. This clearly has been a validation of the Iron Dome system’s capability.”

The officer and other experts said that Iran also was certain to be studying the apparent inability of the rockets it supplied to Hamas to effectively strike targets in Israel, and could be expected to re-examine the design of that weapon for improvements.

Israel currently fields five Iron Dome missile defense batteries, each costing about $50 million, and wants to more than double the number of batteries. In the past two fiscal years, the United States has given about $275 million in financial assistance to the Iron Dome program. Replacement interceptors cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

Just three weeks ago, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited an Iron Dome site as a guest of his Israeli counterpart during the largest American-Israeli joint military exercise ever. For the three-week exercise, called Austere Challenge, American military personnel operated Patriot land-based missile defense batteries on temporary deployment to Israel as well as Aegis missile defense ships, which carry tracking radars and interceptors.

Despite its performance during the current crisis, though, Iron Dome has its limits.

It is specifically designed to counter only short-range rockets, those capable of reaching targets at a distance of no more than 50 miles. Israel is developing a medium-range missile defense system, called David’s Sling, which was tested in computer simulations during the recent American-Israeli exercise, and has fielded a long-range system called Arrow. “Nobody has really had to manage this kind of a battle before,” said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There are lots of rockets coming in all over half the country, and there are all different kinds of rockets being fired.”

    For Israel, Gaza Conflict Is Test for an Iran Confrontation, NYT, 22.11.2012,






Factions in Gaza Make Unity Vow After Cease-Fire


November 22, 2012
The New York Times


GAZA — Palestinians erupted in triumphant celebrations here on Thursday, vowing new unity among rival factions and a renewed commitment to the tactic of resistance, while Israel’s leaders sought to soberly sell the achievements of their latest military operation to a domestic audience long skeptical of cease-fire deals like the one announced the night before.

After eight days of intense Israeli shelling from air and sea that killed 162 Gazans, including at least 30 militant commanders, and flattened many government buildings and private homes, people poured onto the bomb-blasted streets, beaming as they shopped and strolled under the shield of the cease-fire agreement reached Wednesday in Cairo. The place was awash in flags, not only the signature green of the ruling Hamas party but also the yellow, black and red of rivals Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a rainbow not visible here in years.

Despite the death and destruction, Hamas emerged emboldened, analysts said, not only because its rockets had landed near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but also from the visits and support by Arab and Muslim leaders, potentially resetting the balance of power and tone in Palestinian politics, as leaders from various factions declared the peace process dead.

“The blood of Jabari united the people of the nation on the choice of jihad and resistance,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, declared in a televised speech, referring to the commander Ahmed al-Jabari, killed in an Israeli airstrike at the beginning of the operation last week. “Resistance is the shortest way to liberate Palestine.”

There were neither celebrations nor significant protests across the border in Israel, where people in southern cities passed the first day in more than a week without constant sirens signaling incoming rockets sending them to safe rooms. Instead, an uneasy, even grim calm set in. The military announced that an officer, Lt. Boris Yarmulnik, 28, had died from wounds sustained in a rocket attack the day before, bringing the death toll on the Israeli side to six, four of them civilians. The Israeli authorities announced several arrests, including of an Arab Israeli citizen, in a bus bombing in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that revived memories of the violence from the last Palestinian uprising.

But there was collective relief in Israel as thousands of army reservists, sent to the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion, gradually began returning home. With national elections eight weeks away, Israeli politicians tried to showcase accomplishments without raising expectations.

“It could last nine months or it could last nine weeks,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said of the cease-fire. “When it does not last, we will know what to do. We see clearheadedly the possibility that we will have to do this again.”

And so it went on the day after the latest round in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What was widely heralded as a game changer by Palestinian politicians and independent analysts alike was viewed by Israeli officials and commentators as a maintenance mission that had succeeded in its stated goals: restoring quiet after months of intensifying rocket fire, and culling the weapons cache of Gaza’s armed groups.

Details of the cease-fire agreement announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Egyptian foreign minister remained unclear. Both sides pledged to stop the violence, and Palestinians say Israel will loosen its restrictions on fishing off Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline and farming along its northern and eastern borders. But the critical question of whether the border crossings would be open wide for people and commerce was not fully addressed, with only a vague promise that discussions would ensue after 24 hours. The exact agenda, time, location and even participants in these discussions have not been announced.

At the same time, Mustafa Barghouti, a West Bank leader who has spent the past several days in Gaza, said the Palestinian factions had agreed to meet in Cairo for another round of unity talks in the next few days, as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority prepares to take his case for observer-state status to the United Nations next week. Though Hamas and Fatah, the party Mr. Abbas leads, have signed four reconciliation agreements in the five years since Hamas took control of Gaza after winning elections here, Mr. Barghouti said this time was different.

“Hamas is stronger, of course, and Abbas is having to change his line because negotiations failed,” he said after appearing with Mr. Haniya at a rally. “This time Israel felt the heat of the Arab Spring, and Gaza was not isolated; the whole Arab world was here. The road is open for unity.”

First, though, Hamas faces an enormous rebuilding effort, with at least 10 of its government buildings — including the ministries of culture, education and interior; the prime minister’s headquarters; and police stations — now reduced to rubble littered with payroll sheets and property tax rolls. A spokesman said that the government kept most records on laptops, but the Abu Khadra, a huge complex of constituent services, is gone.

Dr. Hassan Khalaf, director of Al Shifa Hospital, which was not attacked, dismissed the worry. “We can gather under the sky under a tent,” he said. “They can come to my house.”

In Jerusalem, Dan Meridor, a senior minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told reporters that Israel had “used force in a very moderate and measured way.” He said the military had struck 10 times the number of targets compared with the previous government’s invasion of Gaza four years ago but killed far fewer people than during that invasion: slightly over 10 percent. One of the main military achievements, he said, was the destruction of most of the long-range Iranian Fajr-5 missiles in Gaza.

Responding to criticism from the far right and many residents of the south that Israel did not go far enough by failing to cripple Hamas, Mr. Meridor said: “Could we win Gaza from Hamas? Obviously, if we decide to do it. Then we have to ask ourselves what we will do once we are there.”

Analysts said that by stopping short of a ground invasion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from the crisis looking like a moderate, responsible leader, not a trigger-happy adventurer. Currently facing no credible rival for the premiership, he also can campaign on an improved relationship with President Obama, who, according to Israeli officials, displayed no vindictiveness as he helped mediate the dispute, despite the widely held perception that Mr. Netanyahu had supported Mitt Romney. He can claim credit for the start of a mechanism for better communication with Egypt’s new leadership.

“Everybody wanted a situation where they could not have a ground operation and they could have Hamas sing ‘Hatikva,’ ” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, referring to the Israeli national anthem. “Frankly, I have to say kudos to Netanyahu, and I don’t usually pay him compliments. I think he got the best out of a bad situation.”

Of course there were mixed feelings. On Mr. Netanyahu’s Facebook page, Gila Glickerman, the mother of a combat soldier, thanked the prime minister for bringing her son home, while Shai Solomon wrote, “You’ve just lost a vote at the ballot box.”

Orly Peretz, a mother of five who lives in Ashkelon — one of the southern cities hardest hit by the approximately 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza in the latest conflict — said she felt relaxed Thursday for the first time in a long time, and was unconcerned about what Israel might have relinquished in the cease-fire. “It doesn’t matter how it comes about; people want their quiet,” she said. But Linda Kabuli, who owns a salon in the even harder-hit town of Sderot, said she would have preferred a ground invasion “to eliminate every terrorist.”

“This is Hamas’s victory, the terrorists,” Ms. Kabuli said. “And the proof is that they got up and danced and sang. Today is a holiday for them; it’s not a day of mourning.”

There were, actually, still funerals going on in Gaza City, but Hamas declared Nov. 22 a national holiday not just this year but going forward. Women, not seen much in public in the past week, ventured to the hairdresser. Men waited at an A.T.M. to withdraw money. Teenage boys spooned ice cream from waffle cones on a street corner. Shopkeepers swept debris, and people snapped pictures of the devastation on smartphones.

Everything was different, not just from the previous day, but from earlier this month, when Hamas had prevented Fatah from holding a rally commemorating the anniversary of Yasir Arafat’s death, and from March, when Islamic Jihad accused Hamas of giving up on resistance after it had struggled to contain Israel-bound rocket fire from more militant groups.

Thursday morning, minutes after five masked men from Islamic Jihad declared victory before a bank of news cameras, hundreds of Fatah members paraded past the same point with pictures of Mr. Arafat, as Hamas security officials kept order.

“It’s the first time in 70 years I feel proud and my head is high,” said Mohamed Rajah, 71, a refugee from Haifa who had kissed the militants when they arrived. “It’s a great victory for the people of Palestine. Nobody says it’s Hamas, nobody says it’s Islamic Jihad or Fatah — Palestine only.”


Jodi Rudoren reported from Gaza, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza, and Tamir Elterman from Sderot, Israel.

    Factions in Gaza Make Unity Vow After Cease-Fire, NYT, 22.11.2012,






Life in Gaza’s Courtyards: Displays of Pride and Sacrifice


November 22, 2012
The New York Times


GAZA — The graffiti on the cinder-block walls deep in the Sijaya neighborhood of Gaza City chronicles the recent history of the Jabari family.

Inside a courtyard there are faded remnants of “Congratulations from the uncles,” from the April wedding of a son of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, whose assassination last week was the start of the latest round of intense battle between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

On the wall outside, the colorful Arabic script reads “Welcome hajji, Abu Muhammad,” a reference to Mr. Jabari’s return from a pilgrimage to Mecca last month. Nearby, the freshest paint pronounces a message from the troops: “Rest in peace. The mission has been accomplished.”

As thousands paraded through the streets of this bomb-blasted city on Thursday afternoon holding portraits of Mr. Jabari in jubilant celebrations of the cease-fire agreement with Israel, his widows, mother and sister sat in the courtyard surrounded by 20 female relatives, praising God.

“Allah give him a big honor because he is going to go to paradise; thanks for God for all this,” said Eman Hussein, one of Mr. Jabari’s two wives. “All this happened because this is from our God and this is the work of Jabari and the fighters here in Gaza. Thanks for God. It’s a big victory.”

The women said they had passed every day since the funeral in the courtyard. They sat on plastic chairs in a rectangle, wearing brown or black abayas and plain white or gray head scarves. Children scurried in and out. Mr. Jabari’s mother held a tiny one in her arms.

“It’s not a problem to sacrifice,” said his sister, Um Aiman, 60. “We have to sacrifice all people to reach to this victory.”

Students Speak of War

Another courtyard, another day. This one was grassy, scattered with glass shards from the windows of the home in the neighborhood of Nasser that had been blasted out during the obliteration of the nearby headquarters of the Hamas prime minister a few days before.

Five well-dressed young men sat, also on plastic chairs. They said they were supposed to be taking exams at the Islamic University of Gaza this week, in political science or public relations or engineering. Instead they were smoking, laughing and guessing the make and model of weapons they heard coming in and going out. “They are trying to stop our lives,” said Luay Ouda, 32, who is working toward a master’s degree in political science. “With our laughs and sitting here, we resist.”

They were far from fighters, these men in their expensive jeans. The luxurious home of Jerusalem stone they were sitting outside belonged to Adli Yazeroi, 52. He is one of about 70,000 people in Gaza who collect salaries from the Palestinian Authority — Mr. Yazeroi is assigned to the prime minister’s office — but have not actually gone to work in five years, since Hamas took control of Gaza after having won elections, because they are presumed loyal to the rival Fatah faction.

But the young men were boundless in their support of Hamas, especially its Qassam Brigades’ successful firing of rockets deep into Israel this week. “From 1948 until now, negotiations and political talks have done nothing for us; the only thing that will stop them is bombing back,” said Arafat al-Haj, 29, who is also earning a master’s in political science.

“The last war, they slaughtered us and we just screamed,” he added, recalling Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s air and ground offensive that killed 1,400 people here four years ago. “This time, we put the knife farther away from our necks.”

Saif al-Yazeroi, an aspiring public relations student and younger cousin of the homeowner, painted the picture. “You saw in Tel Aviv, all the people are in shelters,” he said. “For the first time, the Israelis are hiding now, not us.”

The homeowner weighed in. “Israel has always taken the battle into other people’s land,” he said. “The rocket that hit Jerusalem, the Israelis went to the shelters, and the Palestinians went to see the rockets.”

This was Tuesday, the war still raging. The streets were yet quiet, most families huddling inside, perhaps sending the men to market at midday to replenish the vegetable bin. But the students said they were not afraid.

“It’s not the first time,” the younger Mr. Yazeroi noted.

“The house is not safer than the street,” Mr. Haj added.

A few minutes later, the air exploded with the sound of a missile landing nearby. Everybody flinched, then laughed a little more.

An Elder, ‘Undetermined’

Hazem Sarraj, at 61 already a wise old man with a white beard, is an eye doctor and respected Islamic preacher. After a stroke in 2007, the metal crutch that attaches to his left forearm is not quite enough to help him walk, so a young disciple holds up his other side.

Still, he joined the cease-fire celebrations on Thursday afternoon, making the rounds to greet the people. He stopped to shake hands at the Saed Juice Shop, across from the bombed government complex on Omar al-Mukhtar Street, which was doing a brisk business pulverizing sugar cane sticks into a green froth, 75 cents per plastic cup.

Dr. Sarraj said he had lived in Spain for 17 years. He used to watch the families there on Sundays sitting outside with picnics, children playing. But there are no public parks to speak of in Gaza, and “most of these children are handicapped,” Dr. Sarraj said, the exaggeration understandable.

He spoke first in Arabic, through an interpreter, then in English, broken but clear. He recalled that when he had left Gaza years ago to live abroad, the travel documents issued by the Israeli government said of his nationality: “undetermined.” And then he further recalled his childhood here in Gaza before the Israeli occupation in 1967, seeing cows shipped in via the Mediterranean from Somalia, each one branded with the country’s name.

“Cow, animal, with nationality, and a man — doctor — without anything,” he said. “Therefore, all the airports in the world see you, undetermined, treat you like a terrorist.”


Fares Akram contributed reporting.

    Life in Gaza’s Courtyards: Displays of Pride and Sacrifice, NYT, 22.11.2012,






Egypt’s Leader Is Crucial Link in Gaza Deal


November 21, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama skipped dessert at a long summit meeting dinner in Cambodia on Monday to rush back to his hotel suite. It was after 11:30 p.m., and his mind was on rockets in Gaza rather than Asian diplomacy. He picked up the telephone to call the Egyptian leader who is the new wild card in his Middle East calculations.

Over the course of the next 25 minutes, he and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt hashed through ways to end the latest eruption of violence, a conversation that would lead Mr. Obama to send Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the region. As he and Mr. Morsi talked, Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection. Three hours later, at 2:30 in the morning, they talked again.

The cease-fire brokered between Israel and Hamas on Wednesday was the official unveiling of this unlikely new geopolitical partnership, one with bracing potential if not a fair measure of risk for both men. After a rocky start to their relationship, Mr. Obama has decided to invest heavily in the leader whose election caused concern because of his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in him an intermediary who might help make progress in the Middle East beyond the current crisis in Gaza.

The White House phone log tells part of the tale. Mr. Obama talked with Mr. Morsi three times within 24 hours and six times over the course of several days, an unusual amount of one-on-one time for a president. Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

The Egyptian side was also positive about the collaboration. Essam el-Haddad, the foreign policy adviser to the Egyptian president, described a singular partnership developing between Mr. Morsi, who is the most important international ally for Hamas, and Mr. Obama, who plays essentially the same role for Israel.

“Yes, they were carrying the point of view of the Israeli side but they were understanding also the other side, the Palestinian side,” Mr. Haddad said in Cairo as the cease-fire was being finalized on Wednesday. “We felt there was a high level of sincerity in trying to find a solution. The sincerity and understanding was very helpful.”

The fledgling partnership forged in the fires of the past week may be ephemeral, a unique moment of cooperation born out of necessity and driven by national interests that happened to coincide rather than any deeper meeting of the minds. Some longtime students of the Middle East cautioned against overestimating its meaning, recalling that Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood constitutes a philosophical brother of Hamas even if it has renounced violence itself and become the governing party in Cairo.

“I would caution the president from believing that President Morsi has in any way distanced himself from his ideological roots,” said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But if the president takes away the lesson that we can affect Egypt’s behavior through the artful use of leverage, that’s a good lesson. You can shape his behavior. You can’t change his ideology.”

Other veterans of Middle East policy agreed with the skepticism yet saw the seeds of what might eventually lead to broader agreement.

“It really is something with the potential to establish a new basis for diplomacy in the region,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, who was Mr. Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East until earlier this year and now runs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just potential, but it’s particularly impressive potential.”

The relationship between the two leaders has come a long way in just 10 weeks. Mr. Morsi’s election in June as the first Islamist president of Egypt set nerves in Washington on edge and raised questions about the future of Egypt’s three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel. Matters worsened in September when Egyptian radicals protesting an anti-Islam video stormed the United States Embassy in Cairo.

Mr. Obama was angry that the Egyptian authorities did not do more to protect the embassy and that Mr. Morsi had not condemned the attack. He called Mr. Morsi to complain vigorously in what some analysts now refer to as the woodshed call. Mr. Morsi responded with more security for the embassy and strong public statements that the attackers “do not represent any of us.”

Washington was again leery when the Gaza conflict broke out last week and Mr. Morsi sent his prime minister to meet with Hamas. But as days passed, Mr. Obama found in his phone calls that Mr. Morsi recognized the danger of an escalating conflict.

During their phone call on Monday night, Mr. Obama broached the idea of sending Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Morsi agreed it would help. The president then called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to talk through the idea. At 2:30 a.m., having changed out of his suit into sweats, Mr. Obama called Mr. Morsi back to confirm that Mrs. Clinton would come.

After leaving Phnom Penh the next day en route back to Washington, Mr. Obama picked up the phone aboard Air Force One to call Mr. Morsi to say Mrs. Clinton was on the way. By Wednesday, he was on the phone again with Mr. Netanyahu urging him to accept the cease-fire and then with Mr. Morsi, congratulating him.

“From Day 1, we had contacts with both sides,” said Mr. Haddad, but the United States stepped in “whenever there was a point at which there would be a need for further encouragement and a push to get it across.” Mr. Haddad said the United States played an important role “trying to send clear signals to the Israeli side that there should not be a waste of time and an agreement must be reached.”

“They have really been very helpful in pushing the Israeli side,” he said.

In pushing Hamas, Mr. Morsi came under crosscurrents of his own. On one side, advisers acknowledged, he felt the pressure of the Egyptian electorate’s strong support for the Palestinian cause and antipathy toward Israel as well as his own personal and ideological ties to the Islamists in Hamas. But on the other side, advisers said, Mr. Morsi had committed to the cause of regional stability, even if it meant disappointing his public.

Analysts further noted that Mr. Morsi needed the United States as he secures a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund at a time of economic trouble. “There’s no way Egypt is going to have any kind of economic recovery without Washington,” said Khaled Elgindy, an adviser to the Palestinian negotiators during the last decade.

As for Mr. Obama, his aides said they were willing to live with some of Mr. Morsi’s more populist talk as long as he proves constructive on the substance. “The way we’ve been able to work with Morsi,” said one official, “indicates we could be a partner on a broader set of issues going forward.”


Peter Baker reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 21, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of the director

of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

She is Tamara Cofman Wittes, not Teresa.

    Egypt’s Leader Is Crucial Link in Gaza Deal, NYT, 21.11.2012,






Obama, in Cambodia,

Sidesteps Ghosts of American Wartime Past


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Four decades after American warplanes carpet-bombed this impoverished country, an American president came to visit for the first time. He came not to defend the past, nor to apologize for it. In fact, he made no public mention of it whatsoever.

President Obama’s visit to a country deeply scarred by its involvement with the United States did nothing to purge the ghosts or even address them. Mr. Obama made clear he came only because Cambodia happened to be the site for a summit meeting of Asian leaders, but given the current government’s human rights record, he was intent on avoiding much interaction with the host.

“How are you?” Mr. Obama asked Prime Minister Hun Sen when he showed up, unsmiling, for a meeting made necessary by protocol. “Good to see you.”

Those, as it turned out, were the only words he uttered publicly to or about Cambodia during his two days here. In private, aides said, Mr. Obama pressed Mr. Hun Sen about repression. While they usually characterize even the most hostile meeting in diplomatic terms, in this case they were eager to call the meeting “tense.”

But the president’s public silence disappointed human rights organizations that had called for a more explicit challenge to Mr. Hun Sen’s record of crushing opposition. And it left to another day any public examination of the United States’ role in the events of the 1970s that culminated in the infamous “killing fields” that wiped out a generation of Cambodians.

Theary Seng, president of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia, said, “President Obama should have met with the human rights community and activists challenging the Hun Sen regime, and while then and there, offer a public apology to the Cambodian people for the illegal U.S. bombings, which took the lives of half a million Cambodians and created the conditions for the Khmer Rouge genocide.”

Gary J. Bass, a scholar of war crimes at Princeton, said Mr. Obama passed up a chance to publicly exorcise a painful history. “It’s a missed opportunity for Obama,” he said. “Obama is right to evoke America’s better angels, but that’s more effective when you give the complete story.”

White House officials were sympathetic, but they said the focus of Mr. Obama’s stop in Phnom Penh was on the summit meeting, organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, not on a visit to Cambodia or the relationship between the two countries.

“It’s not a lack of appreciation; it’s the circumstances of the visit,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser. “President Obama’s always willing to confront the history we have in the nations we visit and believes it’s important to acknowledge the past so we can move beyond it. The fact is, this particular visit was structured to focus on the summits that the Cambodians were hosting.”

Some activists said that Mr. Obama’s visit would help Cambodia’s transition.

“The U.S. president’s visit to Cambodia is an important part of that process,” said Youk Chhang, a survivor of the genocide and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a private research group. “Cambodians look to the United States more than any other country as a beacon for leadership on human rights and democracy issues as well as what can be achieved by a free and fair market system.”

Michael Abramowitz, who directs the genocide prevention center at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently visited Cambodia on a fact-finding mission on the Khmer Rouge trials.

He saw value in Mr. Obama’s visit. “Even though President Obama would likely not have visited Phnom Penh were it not for the Asean meeting, the presence of the first U.S. president on Cambodian soil has enormous symbolic importance,” he said.

Left undiscussed during the visit was the grim history between the United States and Cambodia. President Richard M. Nixon, trying to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam, ordered a secret bombing campaign that dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives on Cambodia from 1970 to 1973. The United States also backed a coup that ousted Norodom Sihanouk as head of state.

Many Cambodians responded by joining a Communist resistance, which led to the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, a bloodthirsty guerrilla group that went on to orchestrate a genocide that resulted in the deaths of 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979, when the group was pushed out of power by Vietnamese forces.

Even today, Cambodia is struggling with that history. A United Nations-Cambodian war crimes trial is trying the senior surviving leadership of the Khmer Rouge on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The United States has supported and helped finance the trials, although human rights groups complain that the Cambodian government has been tampering with the court.

Mr. Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled Cambodia for decades with little tolerance for dissent. Opposition leaders have been jailed and killed, and his allies have been seizing land on a large scale, according to human rights groups.

That complicated the question of Mr. Obama’s trip. Past presidents have confronted American actions; President Bill Clinton made a trip to Vietnam in 2000 to reconcile years after the war, while George W. Bush, during a trip to Eastern Europe, expressed regret for the Yalta accords, which he viewed as allowing the Soviet Union to control the region for decades after the end of World War II.

But Mr. Obama was reluctant to engage in a discussion of America’s responsibility in Cambodia while the current government is so repressive. Such a discussion could serve to elevate rather than diminish Mr. Hun Sen, American officials said.

Mr. Obama refused to make joint statements with Mr. Hun Sen, as he normally does with leaders hosting him, on the assumption that any criticism of the government would be censored, but the pictures of the two leaders side by side would be used to validate the Cambodian leader.

Instead, Mr. Obama used almost their entire private meeting to press Mr. Hun Sen on human rights, aides said. He emphasized “the need for them to move towards elections that are fair and free, the need for an independent election commission associated with those elections, the need to allow for the release of political prisoners and for opposition parties to be able to operate,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Even if Mr. Obama did not address the past during this visit, Mr. Rhodes noted that the United States government has been supporting the genocide trials and efforts to dispose of unexploded mines and ordnance.

“We have done important work to help the Cambodian people move forward with their tragic past,” he said. “We want to continue that support.”

    Obama, in Cambodia, Sidesteps Ghosts of American Wartime Past, NYT, 20.11.2012,






Obama, Showing Support for Israel,

Gains New Leverage Over Netanyahu


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In the fractious relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the shoe may have just shifted to the other foot.

After more than a year of Mr. Obama needing — and not getting — much support from his Israeli counterpart in his efforts to woo American Jewish voters at home ahead of his re-election, it is now Mr. Netanyahu, Israel experts say, who needs Mr. Obama to help shore up his support at home.

The Israeli leader is facing an election in January, and if there is one thing that Israeli voters do not like, scholars say, it is any kind of daylight between their prime minister and the American president in times of strife.

After a year in which Mr. Netanyahu made no secret of his support for Mitt Romney, now might seem a perfect time for Mr. Obama to return the favor. And yet, as Israel and Hamas — and their proxies, the United States and Egypt — struggle to agree on a cease-fire in the fighting in Gaza, he has not done so.

Instead, Mr. Obama has sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help seal a cease-fire agreement. He has been steadfast in his public support for Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza. And he has made no mention of the need for “restraint” from Israel in its bombing campaign, which would be interpreted as an American effort to pressure Israel.

Mr. Obama has struck as vigorous a pro-Israel stance as President George W. Bush did when he faced similar crises, in Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 and in its last Gaza incursion, in 2008.

The president has been on the phone almost daily with Mr. Netanyahu, and even more often with President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader whom Mr. Obama has been leaning on to broker a cease-fire. And it is Mr. Obama who has provided financing for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has prevented hundreds of rockets from hitting Israeli targets.

All of this, Middle East experts say, means that Mr. Obama may have buttressed his own standing with the Israeli public, and is now in a far better position to start pressing Mr. Netanyahu on issues from the Israeli siege of Gaza to Iran to the dormant Middle East peace process, where he has had little leverage.

For the moment, diplomats and analysts said, Mr. Obama is unlikely to press Mr. Netanyahu too hard. But as negotiations over a cease-fire take shape, the president could use his new leverage on issues like lifting Israel’s blockade of Gaza and allowing greater freedom of movement for Palestinians and their goods across borders.

“There’s been a reversal of the balance between Bibi and Obama,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel and an author of “Bending History,” a study of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

“Bibi backed the wrong horse,” Mr. Indyk said. “Now the Israeli public is appreciating Obama’s support in a way that they never have before. So Bibi cannot position himself as saying no to the president of the United States.”

Robert Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa with the International Crisis Group, said, “When the president decides he’s going to engage on the other side of the peace equation, does he try to cash in, and get something in exchange for the support he showed for Israel at this stage?”

Administration officials said it was too soon to talk about making demands of Israel; until the Gaza crisis is settled, they say, Mr. Obama’s focus is on preventing further loss of life in both Israel and Gaza. But one official said the president was intent on restarting the moribund peace process between Israelis and Palestinians in his second term. That may be easier said than done. Mr. Malley points out that even if Mr. Obama tries to restart peace talks, so much has happened that “the ground has shifted.”

For one thing, the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza and with whom the United States does not talk, has increased its standing as a representative of the Palestinian people, while the Palestinian Authority — America’s preferred partner — has become increasingly sidelined in the West Bank.

Moreover, neither side has shown much interest in moving from entrenched positions on the “final status” issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators for more than 30 years. Mr. Obama, so far, has been unwilling to invest the kind of political capital and negotiating muscle it will take to force a peace deal on the Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs in the region.

As Mr. Obama weighs his approach, he can draw from history. American presidents have not hesitated to weigh in on Israeli elections — not unlike what Mr. Netanyahu did to Mr. Obama — and with similarly dismal results.

In 1995, for instance, after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the White House of President Bill Clinton was open about its preference for Shimon Peres over his election rival, Mr. Netanyahu, former officials recall, in part because it believed Mr. Peres would carry on Mr. Rabin’s commitment to the peace process.

But even after Mr. Clinton championed Mr. Peres’s proposals at a conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition won the election in May 1996, and Mr. Clinton was left to deal with an antagonistic partner.

“We are terrible at this, and it makes no sense,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East negotiator who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Mr. Miller, who described the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu as “the most dysfunctional I’ve ever seen,” said that by saving his political ammunition now, Mr. Obama would have “the leeway, latitude and influence later to cajole him on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”

In their conversations during the crisis, there has already been a perceptible change in the tone between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, according to officials. “There’s a real sense of how important these conversations have been,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East.

Assuming that Mr. Netanyahu stays in power after January, Mr. Ross said that the prime minister and Mr. Obama would have a chance to bring a new perspective to their relationship — in a Middle East landscape transformed by the Arab Spring.

“They know they’re going to be together,” Mr. Ross said. “And they know that some of the political considerations which seemed important will no longer be as important.”

    Obama, Showing Support for Israel, Gains New Leverage Over Netanyahu, NYT, 20.11.2012,






U.S. Seeks Truce on Gaza as Enemies Step Up Attacks


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Efforts to agree on a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas intensified Tuesday, but the struggle to achieve even a brief pause in the fighting emphasized the obstacles to finding any lasting solution.

On the deadliest day of fighting in the week-old conflict, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived hurriedly in Jerusalem and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to push for a truce. She was due in Cairo on Wednesday to consult with Egyptian officials in contact with Hamas, placing her and the Obama administration at the center of a fraught process with multiple parties, interests and demands.

Officials on all sides had raised expectations that a cease-fire would begin around midnight, followed by negotiations for a longer-term agreement. But by the end of Tuesday, officials with Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs Gaza, said any announcement would not come at least until Wednesday.

The Israelis, who have amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Gaza border and have threatened to invade for a second time in four years to end the rocket fire from Gaza, never publicly backed the idea of a short break in fighting. They said they were open to a diplomatic accord but were looking for something more enduring.

“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that,” Mr. Netanyahu said before meeting with Mrs. Clinton at his office. “But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever actions necessary to defend its people.”

Mrs. Clinton spoke of the need for “a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.” It was unclear whether she was starting a complex task of shuttle diplomacy or whether she expected to achieve a pause in the hostilities and then head home.

The diplomatic moves came as the antagonists on both sides stepped up their attacks. Israeli aerial and naval forces assaulted several Gaza targets in multiple strikes, including a suspected rocket-launching site near Al Shifa Hospital. More than 30 people were killed on Tuesday, bringing the total number of fatalities in Gaza to more than 130 — roughly half of them civilians, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

A delegation visiting from the Arab League canceled a news conference at the hospital because of the Israeli aerial assaults as wailing ambulances brought victims in, some of them decapitated.

The Israeli assaults carried into early Wednesday, with multiple blasts punctuating the otherwise darkened Gaza skies.

Militants in Gaza fired a barrage of at least 200 rockets into Israel, killing an Israeli soldier — the first military casualty on the Israeli side since the hostilities broke out. The Israeli military said the soldier, identified as Yosef Fartuk, 18, had died from a rocket strike that hit an area near Gaza. Israeli officials said a civilian military contractor working near the Gaza border had also been killed, bringing the number of fatalities in Israel from the week of rocket mayhem to five.

Other Palestinian rockets hit the southern Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashdod, and longer-range rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Neither main city was struck, and no casualties were reported. One Gaza rocket hit a building in Rishon LeZion, just south of Tel Aviv, wounding one person and wrecking the top three floors.

Senior Egyptian officials in Cairo said Israel and Hamas were “very close” to a cease-fire agreement. “We have not received final approval, but I hope to receive it any moment,” said Essam el-Haddad, President Mohamed Morsi’s top foreign affairs adviser.

Foreign diplomats who were briefed on the outlines of a tentative agreement said it had been structured in stages — first, an announcement of a cease-fire, followed by its implementation for 48 hours. That would allow time for Mrs. Clinton to involve herself in the process here and create a window for negotiators to agree on conditions for a longer-term cessation of hostilities.

But it seemed that each side had steep demands of a longer-term deal that the other side would reject.

Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said in Cairo that Israel needed to end its blockade of Gaza. Israel says the blockade keeps arms from entering the coastal strip.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said Israel saw no point in an arrangement that offered Hamas what he called “a timeout to regroup” without long-term guarantees involving the United States and Egypt. Some Israeli officials have spoken of a bigger buffer zone along the Gaza border.

American officials said Washington was betting on the pragmatism of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s new president. He is a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement with which Hamas is affiliated.

While President Obama publicly emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense because of domestic political concerns, officials said the administration had also decided to take an understanding approach to Mr. Morsi’s need to denounce Israel in order to appeal to his domestic audience.

“We know that the Egyptians have their domestic politics as well,” one American official said, and each president understood the other’s political context. “But they both agree that this nonsense can’t go on.”

Officials of Mr. Morsi’s government acknowledged that the Gaza battle had put them in a bind. As Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mr. Morsi must respond to a public deeply angry at Israel and eager to rally behind the Palestinians. “But if he responds fully to public opinion, he risks what we have been trying to do for peace and stability in the region,” a senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Indeed, despite the Egyptian government’s caustic statements about Israel and noisy solidarity with Hamas, several American officials said Mr. Morsi and the new Islamist government needed no encouragement in their efforts to push for an end not only to the Israeli bombing but also to Hamas’s missile fire.

But Israel wants guarantees that Egypt will actively stop the flow of arms into Gaza from Sinai, and that seems a tall order. Egypt has been unable to control Sinai and would not want to be seen in the role of Israeli enforcer. Egypt is hoping Hamas will restrain itself on missile imports, but it is far from clear that Hamas wants to or can, given the range of forces in Gaza vying for power, including the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad.

Within Hamas itself, there are divisions and fractured views on the truce negotiations. In Gaza on Tuesday, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said that “we hold absolutely no hope of Hillary Clinton” helping to resolve the conflict.

“We hold no hope in Obama or Hillary Clinton to do anything, just to save the occupation in their crisis,” Mr. Barhoum said in an interview outside Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “Just support the occupation so it can do more and more massacres.”

Mr. Obama, who was in Asia, had found himself repeatedly on the phone with Middle Eastern leaders in recent days and decided that Mrs. Clinton, who also spoke to a dozen of her counterparts here, could make the difference in establishing a cease-fire and asked her to make the trip.

Mr. Netanyahu’s calculations are numerous. He has an election looming in January, and agreeing to stop his operation in Gaza could be risky if rocket fire resumed. But sending troops into Gaza poses perhaps even more risks.

“The Israeli government will face its voters without any tangible achievement in hand to show,” Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, wrote Tuesday. He said that he did not believe Mr. Netanyahu had begun this operation with electoral considerations in mind, but that “the deliberations about ending it are deeply affected by political calculations.”

Mr. Netanyahu is also contending with a radically altered Middle East, and while he says that protecting his people is not dependent on who is in power in Egypt or Turkey, a reduced military operation and fewer civilian casualties in Gaza would make relations with both countries less difficult.


Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram from Gaza;

Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; Peter Baker from Phnom Penh, Cambodia;

David E. Sanger and Mark Landler from Washington;

and Rick Gladstone from New York.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 20, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the family name of the Israeli soldier who was killed in a Palestinian rocket attack on Tuesday. He is Yosef Fartuk, not Yosef Faruk. An earlier version also referred imprecisely to the cause of deaths near Al Shifa Hospital. A series of attacks, not a single attack, killed more than a dozen people there.

    U.S. Seeks Truce on Gaza as Enemies Step Up Attacks, NYT, 20.11.2012,






Missile’s Firing, Bomb Blasts and Sirens Shatter Gaza Calm


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


GAZA CITY — Hundreds of people were packed into Al Shifa Hospital plaza, eagerly awaiting the arrival of an Arab League delegation of foreign ministers. A platform with news cameras had been set up, along with a movie screen flashing images of patients wounded during days of airstrikes. A boy wandered around with a kettle and a thermos, hawking coffee and tea, 25 cents per plastic cup.

Suddenly, just after 2 p.m., the crowd was startled as militants near the hospital fired a missile — most likely one that landed near Jerusalem. In an instant, anticipation gave way to fear, and horror, as Israel fired back, explosion after explosion in the distance.

And then came the sound of sirens roaring up the circular driveway, signaling what would become the bloodiest afternoon yet in the seven-day conflict with Israel.

First there were six ambulances, one after the other, unloading the bodies of men identified as militants, at least two of them decapitated. Then came three more, this time with children, dead and wounded. Another ambulance rushed in, then quickly sped back out.

Even the medics unloading the bodies grimaced.

“There’s a real massacre now,” said Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman, who was at the hospital waiting for the diplomatic delegation. “At the same time when the Arab leaders came to Gaza, 10 persons are killed. At this moment, kids playing soccer are hit. It is a clear reflection of the mind and the thought of the occupation, thinking how to kill more and more Palestinians.”

It remains unclear whether the intense afternoon bombing was in retaliation for the Jerusalem strike, the second in five days, or an effort to take out as many targets as possible while final details of a cease-fire deal were being discussed. A frenzy of about 200 rockets also flew from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday, hitting the southern cities of Beersheba and Ashdod as well as the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion; an Israeli soldier was killed in a week of cross-border battles, along with a civilian.

The violence, which health officials said brought the Palestinian death toll to more than 130, may complicate the efforts of the Hamas government to persuade people, especially rival factions, to abide by a cease-fire.

“Revenge, revenge,” the throng chanted as the bodies were brought inside the hospital. “Qassam Brigades, get revenge for us.”

Al Shifa, the largest of Gaza’s six public hospitals, has become a community hub over the last week. With airstrikes hitting homes, government offices and open areas, people saw it as a rare haven. Some came, of course, to hold the hands of wounded relatives in its crowded wards. Others just came. There is little else to do.

While most shops throughout the city have been shuttered, and the streets were relatively deserted, the strip of stands selling shwarma and fruit shakes outside Al Shifa has done a brisk business. Each morning, dozens crowd outside the morgue in back, waiting to take bodies for burial. On Monday, a hospital worker pressed the families to move more quickly.

“There’s no room,” the worker called out a window. “More martyrs will be coming.”

During a visit two months ago, Dr. Ayman Alsahbani, director of emergency medicine, said the 750-bed hospital faced critical shortages of antibiotics, anticoagulants and other medicines that improve outcomes of surgery, and even of basics like plastic gloves and IV saline solutions. There were expired vials of Cordarone, a heart medicine, and intubation kits dated November 2011.

But on Tuesday, Dr. Alsahbani and several of his colleagues said the hospital was managing the crisis with supplies and medical personnel sent by Egypt and other countries. They had kept a reserve of about 80 open beds, including six in the intensive care unit, throughout the week to be ready for a further escalation, Dr. Alsahbani said.

Dr. Mads Gilbert, a professor at the University Hospital of North Norway, said things were better organized this time than during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in 2008-9, also waged to stop rocket attacks. “They have learned a lot from the last attack,” Dr. Gilbert said. “So far the capacity is up to the numbers. But I think we haven’t seen the peak.”

He spoke around lunchtime, shortly after the bank of cameras had been arrayed for the invited foreign ministers, when the only casualty in sight was Hamad Lattif, an 18-month-old boy who was sleeping in his father’s arms after being treated and released for minor shrapnel wounds. It had been the quietest morning after the quietest night in a week.

By two hours later, everything changed. The crowd in the courtyard had quadrupled. The Jerusalem-bound rocket had been launched. Blood was everywhere.

The Hamas Health Ministry said several airstrikes hit around Gaza City around 4 p.m., an hour after the Israeli military began distributing leaflets in several neighborhoods urging people to evacuate to the city center. Drone attacks hit two cars in the neighborhood of Al Sabra in the south, killing six, some of whom could not be quickly identified because of the severity of their injuries. In the Zeitoun area, officials said, two children were fatally struck while kicking a soccer ball on the street. A 22-year-old man was slain on Baghdad Street, on the city’s western side; three more followed in the same neighborhood soon afterward.

Just before 6 p.m., two camera operators for Hamas’s Al Aqsa Television network were burned to death when a bomb exploded their car on Al Shifa Street at the edge of the Beach Refuge Camp. Within the hour, deadly strikes fell in the northern city of Beit Hanoun, the southern town of Rafah and Deir al-Balah in between. Hamas’s military wing, meanwhile, proudly announced that six men suspected of collaborating with Israel had been killed and that their bodies had been dragged through the street.

Waiting for the Arab League delegation, reporters and residents alike heard the booms. Politicians and press officers circulated among the crowds, condemning. The call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque, followed by special Koranic verses honoring martyrs. Night fell, a half-moon bright in the sky the rocket had soared through.

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, led his colleagues through the wards and emerged at the entrance of the emergency room with his hands aloft in signs of victory, unity and defiance.

Then they left without addressing the crowd.


Fares Akram and Hala Nasrallah contributed reporting.

    Missile’s Firing, Bomb Blasts and Sirens Shatter Gaza Calm, NYT, 20.11.2012,






Turkey Finds It Is Sidelined as Broker in Mideast


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


ISTANBUL — After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

“Turkey’s new foreign policy has but one premise, to become a regional actor,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “To this end, Ankara needs to have persuasive power on all countries of the region. In the past decade, Ankara has won that power with the Arabs but lost it with the Israelis.”

Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel and pursued a foreign policy whose intent was to become a decisive power in regional affairs. But as Gaza and Israel were once again shooting at each other, Turkey found that it had to take a back seat to Egypt on the stage of high diplomacy. The heavy lifting unfolded in Cairo under the inexperienced hand of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, whose political roots lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist movement that helped found Hamas.

“Egypt can talk with both Hamas and Israel,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of international politics at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “Turkey, therefore, is pretty much left with a position to support what Egypt foresees, but nothing more.”

Turkey finds itself largely shut out of the central and defining Arab-Israeli conflict. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan helped seal that reality speaking at an Islamic conference in Istanbul when he called Israel a “terrorist state.” At a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday that was broadcast on Turkish television, he said Israel was guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” Moreover, Mr. Erdogan’s stance continues to play well with his domestic constituency of conservative Muslims, making a reconciliation with Israel even more difficult, even if he were interested in winning back Turkey’s seat at the negotiation table, said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East security expert at Georgetown University.

In the past, Turkey could be relied upon by the West and the United States as an effective mediator in the Middle East peace process, but the relations between Turkey and Israel fractured after the last Gaza war in 2008.

A year later, Mr. Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, after exchanging bitter words with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. The relationship shattered in 2010 after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship bound from Turkey to Gaza, which is under an economic blockade, resulting in the deaths of several Turkish citizens.

But as the Gaza crisis has laid bare the effect that Turkey’s harsh stance on Israel is having on Turkey’s regional ambitions, some Turks are calling for a reappraisal of the country’s policy toward Israel and urging a reopening of dialogue, if for no other reason than to help empower Turkey.

“Which Turkey is more valuable in the eyes of regional and global actors, including Hamas, in achieving an immediate cease-fire with the Israeli operation on Gaza in its sixth day?” Kadri Gursel, a columnist in the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet wrote on Monday. “Turkey that has maintained enough distance to talk to Israel, or a Turkey that has no communication with Israel? Which of the two would be a more influential actor in its region? Of course, the first one. Turkey that can talk to Israel. Turkey, however, cannot talk to Israel.”

Bulent Arinc, a senior government official and member of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, suggested publicly last week that Turkey should resume dialogue with Israel as part of an effort to end the fighting in Gaza.

Mr. Erdogan dismissed the suggestion when asked by a reporter after Friday Prayer what effect the Gaza war would have on relations between Turkey and Israel.

“Which relations are you asking about?” he said.

From the beginning of outbreak of violence in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Mr. Erdogan was notably slow to speak out publicly. As the violence erupted last week, Mr. Erdogan was touring a factory that makes tanks and was initially silent on the unfolding crisis.

“While most of the region’s leaders rushed to the nearest microphone to condemn Israel, the normally loquacious prime minister was atypically mute,” wrote Aaron Stein, a researcher at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, a research center based in Istanbul, in an online column. “While Erdogan was out touring the production facility for Turkey’s first homemade tank, Egyptian President Morsi had already put his stamp on world reaction by kicking out the Israeli ambassador and dispatching his prime minister to visit Gaza.”

Last weekend Mr. Erdogan visited Cairo on a previously planned trip to secure economic cooperation agreements and showcase a growing alliance between the two countries that some predict could become a regional anchor and help shape the Middle East for generations to come. With its relative prosperity and its melding of democratic and Islamic values, Turkey was seen as the leading partner. But Mr. Erdogan’s visit, overshadowed as it was by the Gaza crisis and Egypt’s role in trying to solve it, displayed the limits to Turkish influence in the region.

Mr. Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the Gaza crisis represented the litmus test of the notion of a “rising Turkey.”

“Can Ankara now find a sympathetic ear with Arabs and Israelis alike?” he asked. The answer, analysts said, was for now, at least, no.


Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.

    Turkey Finds It Is Sidelined as Broker in Mideast, NYT, 20.11.2012,







For Obama and Clinton, Their Final Tour in Asia as Partners


November 19, 2012
The New York Times


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — They emerged from Air Force One together, side by side, smiling at the crowd waiting on the tarmac below. Then as they headed down the stairs, she held back just a little so that she would stay a step behind him.

For President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, this week’s trip to Southeast Asia is to be their last foreign adventure together in office, an intriguing, sometimes awkward closing road show that is nostalgic over a partnership at an end yet hints at a future ripe with possibility.

Four years after their cage-match battle for the presidency, the rivals-turned-allies proved a more compatible team than either might have imagined when Mrs. Clinton first accepted his invitation to join the cabinet. Though not exactly close friends, they developed a working relationship of respect, one in which Mr. Obama gave her the freedom to roam the world while she strategically deferred to him in ways small and large as she carried out his policies and shaped her own.

Mrs. Clinton’s signature initiative as America’s top diplomat is what has become known as the administration’s “pivot to Asia,” a strengthening of United States strategic, security and economic ties in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a policy Mr. Obama advanced with his three-country trip that began Saturday and included two nations never before visited by an American president, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Now as the president prepares to begin his second term, the secretary is stepping down, bone weary, according to aides, and ready for an extended rest after nearly a million miles of globe-trotting. She has waxed about the days not far off when she can relax, read a book and even travel just for pleasure. But many on Air Force One these last few days, not least the president himself, expect her to be back after a rest, making a bid to succeed him in 2016 and redefining their relationship once again.

As the last day of the trip arrived on Tuesday morning, Mrs. Clinton reflected briefly. “It’s been great,” she told reporters who stopped her in a hotel before heading out to summit meetings. “It’s been bittersweet, nostalgic, all the things you would expect.”Mr. Obama, too, has seemed to focus on the journey’s nature of finality, making a point of praising Mrs. Clinton publicly as they have jetted across Southeast Asia. They met up in Thailand and then traveled together on Monday to Myanmar and finally here to Cambodia. Along the way, they teamed up to meet with premiers and potentates, tour an ancient golden pagoda and chat with a Buddhist monk about budget deficits and maybe even presidential politics.

On the porch of the house of Myanmar’s opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr. Obama gave Mrs. Clinton a shout-out.

“Where did Hillary go?” he suddenly asked as he interrupted his remarks about Myanmar’s transition from military rule. “Where is she?”

She caught his attention from the audience. “There she is,” he said to applause.

“I could not be more grateful,” he went on, “not only for your service, Hillary, but also for the powerful message that you and Aung San Suu Kyi send about the importance of women — and men — everywhere embracing and promoting democratic values and human rights.”

Mrs. Clinton, as is her style, has kept publicly quiet during the trip, leaving the president the stage while she has largely remained behind the scenes or in the audience. When the two arrived at Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, she hung back while Mr. Obama emerged from the limousine to be greeted.

And yet at times, her deeper experience in remote places around the world like this is palpable. After Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi shook Mr. Obama’s hand and began to draw him inside the house, she abruptly stopped as if remembering, turned around to look for Mrs. Clinton and then rushed over to give her a warm embrace. While Mrs. Clinton was seen as an old friend, Mr. Obama later appeared to mispronounce Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s name; she flinched but later hugged him.

Likewise, when Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton paid a courtesy call on the hospitalized King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the secretary held back while the president advanced. “Your Majesty,” Mr. Obama said as he grasped the king’s hand. “It’s a great honor.”

Only then did Mrs. Clinton approach, but again with much greater familiarity. “Hello again,” she said. “It’s so good to see you again. And my husband sends you his very best regards.”

The king handed Mr. Obama some gifts, including a red box. “This is beautiful,” the president responded looking at something inside that could not be seen by reporters. “Thank you so much. This is lovely.”

An American woman next to Mrs. Clinton indicated that the gift was for Michelle Obama.

“Oh, thank you,” Mr. Obama said. “Michelle, my wife,” would “appreciate it.”

“She’ll look very good in that color, Mr. President,” Mrs. Clinton offered.

Thick in the air, if largely unspoken, was the question of Mrs. Clinton’s future. When the president and secretary went to the Wat Pho Royal Monastery in Bangkok to look at the famed Reclining Buddha, a monk told Mr. Obama that the statue was a symbol of success and would bring him a third term were he allowed to run. The Thai newspaper The Nation reported that the president pointed to Mrs. Clinton and said she would be the next president. Aides to both denied that, suggesting that the monk, not the president, may have forecast Mrs. Clinton’s future.

Either way, as the end drew near, the past and future were on the minds of both. Mr. Obama took Mrs. Clinton and her entourage to lunch at the United States Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday to thank them for their work.

Then during the Air Force One flight to Phnom Penh that night, an official said, the two huddled alone for an hour, reminiscing about the last four years — and talking about what the next may bring.

    For Obama and Clinton, Their Final Tour in Asia as Partners, NYT, 19.11.2012,






While Trying to Mediate,

Egypt Blames Israel for Gaza Conflict


November 19, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — While holding itself out as an honest broker for truce talks between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza conflict, Egypt’s new government sought on Monday to plunge into the battle over international public opinion on behalf of the Palestinian cause — an arena where the Israelis, more experienced in the world of the free press and democratic politics, have historically dominated.

In Egypt’s most concerted effort to win more global public support for the Palestinians, advisers to Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been an outspoken supporter of Hamas, invited foreign correspondents in Cairo to a background briefing at which a senior Egyptian official sought to blame Israel for the conflict while at the same time maintaining Egypt’s role as an intermediary pressing both sides for peace. “We are against any bloodshed,” the official said repeatedly, arguing that Egypt sought stability and individual freedom for all in the region.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting the talks with the Israelis, the Egyptian official argued that the West, which supports Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza, was essentially blaming the victim.

“It is so strange people are talking about the rights of self-defense,” he said. “The self-defense of whom? Of the occupied people? Of the besieged people? Of the hurt people? No, the self-defense of the most powerful state in the region and the self-defense of the occupying force of Gaza and Palestine. This is what some of the international community are talking about.”

He implicitly compared the leaders of Hamas to George Washington in America or Charles de Gaulle in France: Heros because they resisted foreign occupation by armed force. “Now, there is an occupation going on for decades and these people who are suffering this occupation are trying to resist, are trying to gain their rights,” the official said. “But we are saying no, they don’t have the rights, they have to stay calm, be killed, be occupied, be besieged, and the self-defense is the right of the occupier.”

The official called this “a huge manifestation of double standards that we will not allow.”

He argued that there was “no comparison” between the level of force used by both sides, and that the Western media had wrongly adopted Israel’s use of the term “rockets” to describe Hamas missiles that were better described as primitive “projectiles.” And he compared the Israeli killing of the top Hamas military official, Ahmed al-Jabari, which in Hamas’s view started the battle, to a hypothetical assassination of Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak. “What would be the reaction of the Israelis? Then can you understand the reaction of the other side?”

Echoing an account presented by President Morsi, the Egyptian official said that Israel’s killing of Mr. Jabari had broken an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement that both sides had accepted the day before Mr. Jabari was targeted.

The Egyptian official said that Mr. Morsi had asked President Obama to help press Israel to agree to a cease-fire, while Mr. Obama in turn had encouraged Mr. Morsi to work on both the Israelis and the Palestinians, since Egypt was already in contact with both sides. The Morsi administration appreciated President Obama’s efforts, the official said, though he added: “We differ on the blame issue, because the blame should not be directed toward the Palestinians in Gaza; the blame should be directed toward the occupation.”

In a sign of the Egyptian government’s inexperience at such public-relations campaigns, the official sought to reinforce his points by distributing a handout printed from the Internet, where it had circulated widely without clear authorship. It was titled "10 things you need to know about Gaza," with headings like “Prison Camp” and “(Un) fair fight.”

    While Trying to Mediate, Egypt Blames Israel for Gaza Conflict, NYT, 19.11.2012,






Hamas’s Illegitimacy


November 19, 2012
The New York Times


The death of more than 100 Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds of others in the six-day-old Gaza war were not enough for the top leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal. Speaking in Cairo on Monday, he taunted Israel to begin a ground invasion, saying “if you wanted to launch it, you would have done it.” He ignored the fact that an invasion would kill many more Palestinians and further devastate the Gaza Strip, which, in August, before the current fighting, the United Nations predicted would be unlivable by 2020.

Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007 and is backed by Iran, is so consumed with hatred for Israel that it has repeatedly resorted to violence, no matter the cost to its own people. Gaza militants have fired between 750 to 800 rockets into Israel this year before Israel assassinated one of its senior leaders last week and began its artillery and air campaigns. That approach will never get Palestinians the independent state most yearn for, but it is all Hamas has to offer.

Israel also has a responsibility for the current crisis, which threatens to complicate and divert attention from international attempts to deal with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. Israel has a right to defend itself, although it is doing so at the cost of further marginalizing the moderate Palestinian Authority that helps administer the West Bank and it risks further isolating Israel diplomatically.

Israel has a vastly more capable military than Hamas, and its air campaign has resulted in a lopsided casualty count: three Israelis have been killed. The Israelis claim to have done considerable damage to Hamas rocket targets, which should make a ground invasion of Gaza less likely. But military action is no long-term answer. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had pursued serious negotiations on a two-state solution with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians could have hope in a different future and Hamas’s nihilistic vision would have far less appeal. Mr. Abbas shares responsibility for this failure.

It is time for Arab leaders to speak the truth and stop ignoring the culpability of Hamas. Arab League ministers who met in Cairo on Saturday condemned only Israeli “aggression.” On Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey called Israel a “terrorist state.” Even President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt who, at American urging, is trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, blamed only Israel for the violence.

A cease-fire and diplomacy by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar would be valuable but not sufficient. President Obama is right to invest more attention in Asia, but he also needs to assert more of a leadership role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The goal must be a permanent peace not another stopgap measure. As former Secretary of State James Baker III and Samuel Berger, a former national security adviser, wrote in a book, “Pathways to Peace,” the unresolved conflict “is a catalyst for radicalism across the Arab world at a time when its heart and soul are in play.”

    Hamas’s Illegitimacy, NYT, 19.11.2012,






Gaza Crisis Poses Threat to Faction Favored by U.S.


November 19, 2012
The New York Times


RAMALLAH, West Bank — In the daily demonstrations here of solidarity with Gaza, a mix of sympathy and anguish, there is something else: growing identification with the Islamist fighters of Hamas and derision for the Palestinian Authority, which Washington considers the only viable partner for peace with Israel.

“Strike a blow on Tel Aviv!” proclaimed the lyrics of a new hit song blasting from shops and speakers at Monday’s demonstration, in a reference to Hamas rockets that made it nearly to Israel’s economic and cultural capital. “Don’t let the Zionists sleep! We don’t want a truce or a solution! Oh, Palestinians, you can be proud!”

Pop songs everywhere are filled with bravado and aggression. But this one reflects a widespread sentiment that does not augur well for President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, which is rapidly losing credibility, even relevance. The Gaza truce talks in Cairo, involving Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, offer a telling tableau. The Palestinian leader seen there is not Mr. Abbas, but Khaled Meshal, the leader of the militant group Hamas, who seeks to speak for all Palestinians as his ideological brothers in the Muslim Brotherhood rise to power around the region.

Israel is also threatening Mr. Abbas, even hinting that it may give up on him, as he prepares to go to the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 29 to try to upgrade the Palestinian status to that of a nonmember state. The Israelis consider this step an act of aggression, and even some Palestinians say it is somewhat beside the point at this stage.

“His people are being killed in Gaza, and he is sitting on his comfortable chair in Ramallah,” lamented Firas Katash, 20, a student who took part in the Ramallah demonstration.

For the United States, as for other countries hoping to promote a two-state solution to this century-old conflict, a more radicalized West Bank with a discredited Palestinian Authority would mean greater insecurity for Israel and increased opportunity for anti-Western forces to take root in a region where Islamism is on the rise.

Since Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, threw the Fatah-controlled authority out of Gaza a year later, Mr. Abbas has not set foot there. Yet he will be asking the world to recognize the two increasingly distinct entities as a unified state.

Manar Wadi, who works in an office in Ramallah, put the issue this way: “What is happening in Gaza makes the Palestinian Authority left behind and isolated. Now we see the other face of Hamas, and its popularity is rising. It makes us feel that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t offer a path to the future.”

In Cairo on Monday, Mr. Meshal seemed defiant and confident in his new role, daring the Israelis to invade Gaza as a sixth day of Israeli aerial assaults brought the death toll there to more than 100 people, many of them militants of Hamas and its affiliates. Rockets launched from Gaza hit southern Israel, causing some damage and panic, but no casualties, leaving the death toll there at three.

“Whoever started the war must end it,” Mr. Meshal said at a news conference. “If Israel wants a cease-fire brokered through Egypt, then that is possible. Escalation is also possible.”

Officials in the authority have been holding leadership meetings, staying in close touch with the talks in Cairo and issuing statements of solidarity. They have also sent a small medical delegation to Gaza and argue that there is a new opportunity to forge unity between the two feuding movements. But they are acutely aware of their problem.

“The most dangerous thing is the fact that what we could not do in negotiations, Hamas did with one rocket,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The people had such excitement seeing the occupiers run in panic. It’s a very dangerous message.”

Mr. Abbas, whose popularity has been on the decline as the Palestinian Authority faces economic difficulty and growing Israeli settlements, also ran into trouble not long before the Gaza fighting began when he seemed to give up on the Palestinian demand of a right of return to what is now Israel.

Many Palestinians believe that Israel launched its latest operation in Gaza to block the Palestinian Authority’s United Nations plans by embarrassing it. Israeli officials say that is ridiculous: the operation’s purpose is to stop the growing number of rockets being fired at their communities, and Israelis interrupted their deliberations over the United Nations bid to wage the military campaign.

But Israel says anything that does not involve direct negotiations is a waste of time. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to take severe retaliatory steps against the Palestinian Authority, including cutting off badly needed tax receipts to Palestinian coffers, should Mr. Abbas go ahead at the United Nations.

In a speech here on Sunday night at a Palestinian leadership meeting, Mr. Abbas repeated his determination to go to New York and ask for a change in status to that of nonmember state. He has chosen the symbolically significant date of Nov. 29, when the General Assembly voted in 1947 to divide this land into two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian Arab.

The United States has asked Mr. Abbas not to do so, but instead to resume direct negotiations with Israel, which have essentially been frozen since 2008.

Mr. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, are viewed in the West — and by some Israelis — as the most moderate and serious Palestinian partners ever to lead the Palestinian national movement. But Mr. Netanyahu’s government increasingly disagrees and says that the Palestinian Authority is losing any significance in its calculations.

“I think what stands out from this event is the irrelevance of Abu Mazen,” Moshe Yaalon, the minister of strategic affairs, said on Monday, using the name by which Mr. Abbas is widely known. “He’s only relevant for declarations and for unilateral steps to seek recognition at the U.N.”

Another senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could talk candidly, said of Mr. Abbas: “He cannot even visit his own territory in Gaza. How can the states that will vote for Palestinian statehood plan on giving him recognition? The most basic element of statehood is control of your territory. This is the theater of the absurd.”

The Palestinian Authority maintains well-trained police and military forces that keep order in the West Bank, and it promotes economic growth within the confines of the occupation, leading to some business activity. These are functions Israel would otherwise have to carry out itself, and it has been widely argued that Israel will make every effort to keep the authority functioning.

But the senior official said that view is fading in the government. He said that Mr. Netanyahu is not yet ready to call it quits with the authority but that some around him are. “The number of ministers who say we must keep the Palestinian Authority alive is decreasing rapidly,” he said. “More and more ministers today see the Palestinian Authority as a strategic threat.”

Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and a former senior State Department official, said Israel has contributed to Hamas’s rise in stature by holding it responsible for rocket fire from more radical groups in Gaza.

“In calling upon Egypt to rein in the Gaza leaders, Hamas’s centrality grows rather than diminishes,” Mr. Danin said. “It is this that draws leaders from throughout the Middle East rushing to Gaza while skipping Ramallah to court the Hamas leadership. Yet by bypassing Ramallah and President Abbas, they further marginalize the moderate leaders as the proper address for resolving problems.”

There are Palestinians who say that the Israeli operation in Gaza will strengthen unity efforts between the authority and Hamas because it shows how vulnerable all Palestinians are and how much they need shared strength. Officially, Hamas accepts Mr. Abbas’s United Nations plan, but some in the West Bank suspect it will ultimately undermine it in a power struggle.

“The Palestinian Authority is making a last-ditch effort to save the political paradigm of two states by going to the U.N.,” said Sam Bahour, an American-Palestinian businessman. “It is the only alternative to violence. The problem is that people view the Palestinian Authority as being incompetent to do anything. And the Israelis are making it worse. Increasingly, the Hamas agenda and the Israeli one seem to be the same on this point — derailing the Palestinian leadership.”

    Gaza Crisis Poses Threat to Faction Favored by U.S., NYT, 19.11.2012,






An Outgunned Hamas Tries to Tap Islamists’ Growing Clout


November 18, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — Emboldened by the rising power of Islamists around the region, the Palestinian militant group Hamas demanded new Israeli concessions to its security and autonomy before it halts its rocket attacks on Israel, even as the conflict took an increasing toll on Sunday.

After five days of punishing Israeli airstrikes on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and no letup in the rocket fire in return, representatives of Israel and Hamas met separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Sunday for indirect talks about a truce.

The talks came as an Israeli bomb struck a house in Gaza on Sunday afternoon, killing 11 people, in the deadliest single strike since the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated on Wednesday. The strike, along with several others that killed civilians across the Gaza Strip, signaled that Israel was broadening its range of targets on the fifth day of the campaign.

By the end of the day, Gaza health officials reported that 70 Palestinians had been killed in airstrikes since Wednesday, including 20 children, and that 600 had been wounded. Three Israelis have been killed and at least 79 wounded by unrelenting rocket fire out of Gaza into southern Israel and as far north as Tel Aviv.

Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel stuck to his demand that all rocket fire cease before the air campaign lets up, and Israeli tanks and troops remained lined up outside Gaza on Sunday. Tens of thousands of reserve troops had been called up. “The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

Reda Fahmy, a member of Egypt’s upper house of Parliament and of the nation’s dominant Islamist party, who is following the talks, said Hamas’s position was just as unequivocal. “Hamas has one clear and specific demand: for the siege to be completely lifted from Gaza,” he said. “It’s not reasonable that every now and then Israel decides to level Gaza to the ground, and then we decide to sit down and talk about it after it is done. On the Israeli part, they want to stop the missiles from one side. How is that?”

He added: “If they stop the aircraft from shooting, Hamas will then stop its missiles. But violence couldn’t be stopped from one side.”

Hamas’s aggressive stance in the cease-fire talks is the first test of the group’s belief that the Arab Spring and the rise in Islamist influence around the region have strengthened its political hand, both against Israel and against Hamas’s Palestinian rivals, who now control the West Bank with Western backing.

It also puts intense new pressure on President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was known for his fiery speeches defending Hamas and denouncing Israel. Mr. Morsi must now balance the conflicting demands of an Egyptian public that is deeply sympathetic to Hamas and the Palestinian cause against Western pleadings to help broker a peace and Egypt’s need for regional stability to help revive its moribund economy.

Indeed, the Egyptian-led cease-fire talks illustrate the diverging paths of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the original Egyptian Islamist group. Hamas has evolved into a more militant insurgency and is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, while the Brotherhood has effectively become Egypt’s ruling party. Mr. Fahmy said in an interview in March that the Brotherhood’s new responsibilities required a step back from its ideological cousins in Hamas, and even a new push to persuade the group to compromise.

But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official who was allowed to settle in Cairo after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, predicted a different outcome. In an interview at the same time, he said that if another conflict broke out with Israel, the moderate Islamist politicians around the region like the Egyptian Brotherhood would have to line up with the militants in Gaza.

“The position of all Islamists in the region will be that of Hamas,” Mr. Abu Marzouk said, “not the other way around.”

Israeli officials are conducting their side of the cease-fire talks through the contacts in Egyptian intelligence with whom they worked during Mr. Mubarak’s rule. Officials said their main focus was on ending the threat of rocket fire from Gaza, whether by diplomatic or military means.

Dan Meridor, the Israeli intelligence minister, said on Israeli television that the government would wait for Hamas “to stop firing” before it would negotiate a long-term cease-fire. In the meantime, he said, Israel would do “whatever it takes” to eliminate Hamas’s ability to fire rockets, potentially including an incursion into Gaza.

In his first public comments on Gaza since the latest violence broke out, President Obama said in Bangkok early Monday that he supported Israel’s right to take action in Gaza but that he was trying to defuse the conflict.

“We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region,” Mr. Obama said, noting that he had spoken with Mr. Netanyahu several times, as well as with Mr. Morsi and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. “We’re going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours,” Mr. Obama added.

As the conflict has intensified, so has diplomatic pressure on Israel to restrain its military campaign. William Hague, the British foreign minister, said in a television appearance on Sunday that he and Prime Minister David Cameron “stressed to our Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation,” The Associated Press reported.

While the Israelis talked to their longtime contacts in Egyptian intelligence, Mr. Morsi’s office worked through its own channels of communication with Hamas, and Mr. Morsi himself met on Sunday with Hamas’s top leader, Khaled Mashaal.

Mr. Fahmy, of Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, insisted Sunday that Israel was to blame for starting the current round of violence by killing Hamas’s top military leader, and that Israel would have to act to end it. “Now we’re exerting pressure to stop the fighting on both sides, but we can’t pressure the victim while the perpetrator isn’t even ready to settle,” he said.

Mr. Morsi, speaking Saturday night at a joint news conference with Mr. Erdogan, accused Israel of failing to abide by an earlier cease-fire with Hamas that Egypt had negotiated just a week earlier.

“There is a power imbalance,” Mr. Morsi said, noting the death tolls on each side: three Israelis killed by Hamas attacks during the five days of fighting, compared with more than 40 Palestinians killed by Israel, a figure that rose to 70 on Sunday.

“Israel is an occupying country, and international laws oblige occupiers with many things that Israel doesn’t abide by,” Mr. Morsi said. “If the situation was further escalated, or if a land invasion took place as Israelis have said, this would mean dire consequences in the region, and we could never accept that, and the free world could never accept that.”

Still, Mr. Morsi may not have a free hand. He is a new president of a country in a fragile political transition away from military-dominated rule. He must maintain good relations with Egypt’s still-powerful army and intelligence services, which are deeply wary of Hamas.

He has already shown a willingness to snub Hamas in the interest of Egyptian security, by leading a campaign to shut down the tunnels used to smuggle goods and occasionally weapons into Gaza under the Egyptian border. “We are closing them every day,” he said with evident passion in a recent interview.

Others in the Egyptian government argued that President Morsi was gaining a new perspective on Hamas, and on what officials of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry have long said was the group’s pattern of sacrificing the lives of Gazans to Israeli military campaigns for little reason other than to burnish its claim to be the champion of resistance to the Israeli occupation. That status is a key to its hold on power, and an asset in its rivalry with Fatah, the Western-backed faction that controls the West Bank.

Still, in his appearance on Saturday, Mr. Morsi publicly blamed only Israel for the violence, and warned its government that the Arab Spring had changed the Middle East. “Everyone should remember, the peoples of the region are different than before,” he said. “The leadership in the region is different.”


Reporting was contributed by Ethan Bronner, Irit Pazner Garshowitz

and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, and Peter Baker from Bangkok.

    An Outgunned Hamas Tries to Tap Islamists’ Growing Clout, NYT, 18.11.2012,






Israeli Iron Dome Stops a Rocket With a Rocket


November 18, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — An abiding image of the former Israel defense minister Amir Peretz was a photograph of him peering at a military drill — with the black lens caps still on his binoculars. Mr. Peretz resigned months after the 2006 war in Lebanon, which was widely regarded as a failure.

Yet on Sunday, as rockets fired by Gaza militants streaked toward Tel Aviv, Ashdod and other Israeli cities, Mr. Peretz, a resident of the rocket-battered border town of Sderot, was being hailed as a defense visionary for having had the foresight while in office to face down myriad skeptics and push for the development of Iron Dome, Israel’s unique anti-rocket interceptor system.

The naysayers now are few. In the five days since Israel began its fierce assault on the militant infrastructure in Hamas-run Gaza, after years of rocket fire against southern Israel, Iron Dome has successfully intercepted more than 300 rockets fired at densely populated areas, with a success rate of 80 to 90 percent, top officials said. Developed with significant American financing and undergoing its ultimate battle test, the Iron Dome system has saved many lives, protected property and proved to be a strategic game changer, experts said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured a newly deployed mobile unit near Tel Aviv on Sunday and described Iron Dome as “probably the most technologically impressive achievement in recent years in Israel.” He called its performance “almost perfect.”

By preventing mass casualties, experts said, Israel’s leaders have retained public support for the continuing operation and have had more time to weigh a possible ground incursion.

Three Israelis were killed last week in a rocket attack on Kiryat Malachi, and on Sunday two Israelis were injured in Ofakim when a rocket crashed near their car. But casualties on the Israeli side have been kept low by the Iron Dome system and the fact that most Israelis have followed the instructions of the Home Front Command, taking shelter in the 15 to 90 seconds they have between the warning sirens and the landing of a rocket.

About a decade ago after primitive rockets fired from Gaza began crashing into Sderot, the Israeli defense industries’ research and development teams started working on defending against short- and midrange rockets that now travel 12 to 50 miles.

Soon after the monthlong war in Lebanon in summer 2006, when the Lebanese Hezbollah organization fired thousands of Katyusha rockets and paralyzed northern Israel, Mr. Peretz, officials said, budgeted roughly $200 million for the first two Iron Dome mobile units.

With the Israelis racing against the growing capabilities of rocket developers in Gaza, the first units were deployed in March 2011. An upgraded, fifth unit was deployed on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule. Iron Dome is part of what professionals describe as a “multi-layer shield” that includes the Arrow system, which is being upgraded, and the Magic Wand, now in development. When finished, the system should guard against destruction from crude, short-range rockets made in Gaza to ballistic missiles from Iran.

Iron Dome shoots down rockets with a radar-guided missile known as Tamir, which was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli company. The radar was developed by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, and another company, Impress, developed the command and control system.

Because each interceptor missile costs $40,000 to $50,000, the system is designed to aim only at rockets headed for populated areas and to ignore those destined for open ground outside cities and towns.

Israeli officials say that the cost is offset by the lives and property that are saved.

About three years ago, Israel received $204 million from the United States to help pay for the country’s third through sixth mobile units. In February, Israel again approached the Obama administration for urgent support for four more batteries. They received $70 million immediately, and an additional $610 million has been pledged over the next three years, according to a senior official in Israel’s missile defense organization.

Dennis B. Ross, a former adviser to President Obama on Iran and the Middle East and now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview that the funds came despite “a very stringent environment for assistance, where it was being cut across the board,” and that they were “emblematic” of the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security.

A defense industry official said that there were hopes the system could be exported and that the more the missiles were in demand, the cheaper they would be to make.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ president, Yedidia Yaari, a former commander of the Israeli Navy, said on Israel Radio on Sunday that other countries were interested in the Iron Dome system, though there were “very few countries on the planet with threats such as we have.”

“When I have time I’ll sell to others,” he said. “Right now we are busy protecting the state of Israel.”

    Israeli Iron Dome Stops a Rocket With a Rocket, NYT, 18.11.2012,






Brigades Firing on Israel Show Deadly New Discipline


November 18, 2012
The New York Times


MAGHAZI REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip — From the time he was a boy, Ali al-Manama dreamed of joining the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Hamas movement. His commitment intensified when his father, a Qassam fighter, was killed by an Israeli drone in 2001 as he fired mortar shells over the border. Ali joined up at 15, relatives said, and by 23 had risen to be a commander in this neighborhood in the midsection of this coastal Palestinian territory.

On Friday, at the funeral of a fellow fighter, Mr. Manama leaned over the body and said, “I’ll join you soon, God willing,” recalled a cousin who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his first name, Mahmoud.

His wish to die fighting and become a martyr — and the honor it would bring in his community — was fulfilled Saturday morning at 7:30, though the missile struck him not while he was in active combat, but while talking on a cellphone that Israeli intelligence might have used to track his whereabouts.

“He had been telling us all week about all the achievements of Qassam,” Mahmoud said. “When he heard about the rockets in Israel, he would be very proud.”

Mr. Manama was one of as many as 15,000 Qassam fighters who are responsible for most of the rocket blitzes that have blanketed southern Israel and reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the five days since the brigade’s operations commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated, experts say.

Highly organized and increasingly professionalized yet still secretive and cultlike, Qassam is emblematic of Hamas’s struggle to balance its history as a resistance movement and its governing role in Gaza since 2007.

Israel has blamed the growing number of civilian casualties in Gaza on the fact that Qassam and Hamas are inextricable, and military storehouses are woven into residential neighborhoods. Most Qassam fighters have day jobs — as police officers, university professors, ministry clerks, and Mr. Manama’s relatives said he had been sleeping at home even during last week’s widening war.

Mr. Jabari in recent years had both increased the military branch’s political power and become a popular hero whose visage adorned posters and billboards throughout the Gaza Strip.

With an expanding arsenal and financing provided by Iran, Syria, Sudan and other foreign sources, Qassam expanded and matured under Mr. Jabari, adopting clear training regimens and chains of command. Last year he even negotiated with Israel to return an Israeli sergeant, Gilad Shalit — whose kidnapping he had engineered five years earlier — in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Yet Qassam remains a fundamentalist jihadi enterprise whose culture and goals — terrorizing and obliterating Israel — resemble those of ragtag militia cells.

“The point of departure shouldn’t be that we have a state and within a state we have institutions and within the institutions you have a division of labor,” cautioned Shaul Mishal, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University who wrote a book on Hamas. “Hamas maybe dreams about being a state, and Qassam, sometimes they delude themselves that they are an army, but at the end I think their basic perception is that they’re part and parcel of a community. It’s blurred boundaries between the political activities and the military operations.”

Named for a Syrian who was killed in 1935 while battling the British occupation of what was then known as Palestine, the brigades made their first strike on Jan. 1, 1992, killing a rabbi in the former Kfar Darom settlement, not far from here. It has grown over two decades into by far the largest and strongest of Gaza’s many militant factions — though others have also been lobbing rockets into Israel in recent days and months — with a strong sociological pull on the Gaza population.

The welcome banner over the entrance to this refugee camp is signed by the Qassam. Mosques are decorated with Qassam slogans and pictures of its more than 800 fallen fighters. Those who know active brigade members use them as conduits with the Hamas authorities, to speed passage through the Rafah crossing into Egypt or help resolve problems with the police.

When a fighter dies, his comrades show up in force on the third and final day of tent-sitting and set up a projector to show a film about his achievements. Qassam also takes responsibility for ferreting out suspected collaborators with Israel, like the one it took credit for executing in a public square on Friday.

“It’s no longer a secret that the Qassam has the final word in Gaza,” said Adner Abu Amr, dean of journalism and political science lecturer at Umah University in Gaza. “He who has a relation with a commander of Qassam, he considers himself the holder of a diplomatic passport. You have a password that opens all doors.”

Jonathan Schanzer, author of the 2008 book “Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine,” said Qassam has had four distinct phases. The first was a single-minded focus on suicide bombings, until Yahya Ayyash, the engineer of that strategy, was killed in 1996, when the cellphone he was holding was blown up remotely.

Leading up to the start of the second intifada in 2000, Hamas joined forces with its rival Fatah faction and the brigades expanded suicide bombings but also began using rockets they called Qassam.

Over the last decade, Mohammed Deif — who was severely injured in 2003 but technically remains Qassam’s commander — upgraded and expanded rocket production and import, and Mr. Jabari professionalized operations, culminating in the Shalit deal.

With the death of Mr. Jabari, a charismatic figure influential with Hamas leaders inside and outside Gaza, “They are off balance for sure,” Mr. Schanzer said. “Every time this happens it forces change, it forces adaptation.”

But Qassam “has long operated in a decentralized structure, so that if its leadership is decapitated it will always find new leaders to rise up,” he added. “It’s compartmentalized. They work in cells. So even if he was the leader, there are other leaders.”

A 2009 paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy contains an organizational chart of the Qassam Brigades showing Gaza divided into six geographic areas, each with its own commander reporting to Mr. Jabari. Each also has separate artillery, antitank and antiaircraft units as well as snipers, engineers and infantry, according to the paper, titled “Hamas in Combat,” with forcewide units handling communications, logistics, smuggling, weapons, intelligence and public affairs.

“Almost by any definition they have become more institutionalized,” said Nathan Thrall, an analyst who covers the Palestinian territories for the International Crisis Group. “They more or less have been keeping a calm in Gaza. A very imperfect calm, and one that has escalations every three or four or five months, but they are the party that Egypt has gone to to ensure that things don’t get out of control.”

Mr. Abu Amr, who has followed Qassam closely since its inception, said most fighters join at the age of 16 or 17, and spend about a year in religious indoctrination, security education, and finally combat training before secret induction ceremonies in which they take an oath on the Koran. But Gaza is a 150-square-mile strip with 1.5 million people who know one another’s business, and parents are proud when their sons enlist.

Banners and plaques, in homes and on streets, display the brigade’s signature seal: an M-16 rifle in front of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, with a green Hamas flag and green copy of the Koran. “No God but Allah,” it says. “You did not kill them, it’s God who killed them.”

After the current conflagration began, Mr. Abu Amr’s only son, Mohammed, 15, changed the profile picture on his Facebook page, to Mr. Jabari from Cristiano Ronaldo, the soccer star of Real Madrid. And what if Mohammed, the eldest of Mr. Abu Amr’s six children, decides that he, like Ali al-Manama, wants to be a fighter?

“It will be hard for me — I will be sad, and his mother as well,” Mr. Abu Amr said, aware that martyrdom is both the aspiration and the expectation of those who take the oath. “But there are something called the hard choices. He’s not the first and he’s not going to be the last one. My only condolence will be that he has gone for the sake of a national cause.”


Fares Akram contributed reporting.

    Brigades Firing on Israel Show Deadly New Discipline, NYT, 18.11.2012,






Israeli Airstrike Kills

Three Generations of a Palestinian Family


November 18, 2012
The New York Times


GAZA CITY — An Israeli bomb pummeled a home deep into the ground here Sunday afternoon, killing 11 people, including nine in three generations of a single family, in the deadliest single strike since the cross-border conflict between Israel and the militant faction Hamas escalated on Wednesday.

The airstrike, along with several others that killed civilians across this coastal territory and hit two media offices here — one of them used by Western TV networks — further indicated that Israel was striking a wider range of targets.

Gaza health officials reported that the number of people injured here had nearly doubled to 600 by day’s end; the Palestinian death toll climbed to 70, including 20 children. Three Israelis have been killed and at least 79 wounded by continued rocket fire into southern Israel and as far north as Tel Aviv, as Israeli cities were paralyzed by an onslaught of relentless rocket fire out of Gaza for the fifth straight day.

In the Israeli strike on Sunday morning, it took emergency workers and a Caterpillar digger more than an hour to reveal the extent of the devastation under the two-story home of Jamal Dalu, a shop owner. Mr. Dalu was at a neighbor’s when the blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother.

“We were asleep and then there was a terrific blast,” said Abdul-Latif Dahman, who lives nearby and was among more than 100 who stood vigil as the bodies were dug out. “There are no words to describe what happened later, only smoke and dust and heavy silence because the sound shut our ears.”

The smell of bomb residue and the roars of bulldozers filled the air as people clambered over shattered glass and bent iron bars to get a closer look. When two tiny bodies were finally found, rescuers and residents erupted in cries of “God is great!” One worker rushed the girl to an ambulance, while a neighbor grabbed the boy and just ran.

Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the militant Hamas faction that rules Gaza, condemned the attack as a “massacre” that “exceeded all expectations.”

Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, chief spokesman for the Israeli military, said it was “examining the event.”

“The wanted target in this case was responsible for firing dozens of rockets into Israel,” he added. “I do not know what happened to him, but I do know that we are committed to the safety of the citizens of Israel.”

Momentarily lulled by a quiet night, Israelis awoke Sunday to a new blitz of Palestinian rockets that totaled nearly 100 by nightfall, including two that soared toward the population center of Tel Aviv but were knocked out of the sky by the so-called Iron Dome missile defense system.

One rocket crashed through the roof of an apartment building in Ashkelon, a few miles up the coast from Gaza, where residents escaped serious injury because they had heeded the warning siren and run to lower floors. Four people were injured, two of them seriously, when a rocket exploded near their car in Ofakim, and a firefighter in Nachal Oz was seriously hurt by shrapnel.

A barrage of 10 missiles rained on Ashdod; nine were intercepted and the 10th hit an eight-story building but did not explode, heightening fears as residents were told to remain inside.

The whole region was paralyzed as people huddled in bomb shelters, where many have been spending the night. Malls were closed; few walked in the street.

“I am the kind of person that always checks where the bathrooms and the exits are,” said Carol Erdheim, a psychologist who lives in Ashdod and works in Ashkelon. “Now you look for where the safe room is. You just know what to do. It is a way of living.”

In Beersheba, an Israeli city of about 200,000 east of Gaza, Tal Rotem, a musician and father of three, said his family had not been leaving the house, “not even to shop.” A reservist in the Army’s southern command, Mr. Rotem is one of those on standby.

“My 5-year-old, Ori, said he did not want me to go because I could die,” Mr. Rotem said.

Sharon Galili, a lawyer who has 3-year-old twins and a 5-year-old, drove to his office in Ashdod but after 90 minutes and four or five rocket alerts sent his staff home and returned to his family in the village of Aseret.

“The children are terrified,” he said. “Every noise they hear — a truck or motorcycle — they ask if there is an alert. You feel their fear. We are not right-wing or left-wing; we just want quiet. The situation is surrealistic, but that is the reality we live in.”

There are no warning sirens here in the Gaza Strip, where the wee hours of Sunday were punctuated by airstrikes as well as by a series of missiles fired from Israeli Navy vessels off the coast.

Later in the morning, Mutassim Essifan, 5, and his 1-year-old sister, Jumana, were killed in the Jabiliya Refugee Camp near the northern border, followed by another baby in the Al Buraj Refugee Camp mid-strip and, by lunchtime, a 52-year-old woman in the eastern part of Gaza City. Ahmed Al-Nahal, 24, a member of Hamas’s military wing, and his relative Tasnim, 8, were killed before lunchtime in the Beach Refugee Camp, where Prime Minister Haniyeh lives.

Among the buildings Israel hit overnight were two containing the offices of local media outlets, in what the military described as an attempt to derail Hamas communications. The Israeli Air Force also briefly took control of Hamas’s radio network Sunday, broadcasting a message to Gaza residents. “Hamas is playing with fire and risking you,” it warned. “We recommend that you stay away from the places of terrorists and the infrastructure of Hamas.”

Ayman Amar, a spokesman for Al Quds television, said seven camera operators and editors were resting on couches in their 11th-floor offices in the Shawa and Hossari building in downtown Gaza City when a missile from an Israeli helicopter ripped through the roof at 1:30 a.m. All seven were injured, one losing a leg below the knee, Mr. Amar said, but they escaped before three more bombs dropped 10 minutes later.

“This will not deter us from showing the truth to the world,” he declared, as colleagues cleared the rubble. “We will not stop. It is our duty toward our cause to support the Palestinian people.”

Salama Marouf of the Hamas media office called the attack “an immoral massacre against the media,” and the Jerusalem chapter of the Foreign Press Association lodged a protest; several international outlets, including Fox News, Sky News, CBS and Germany’s ARD television, used production studios in the two targeted media buildings.

Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who is in charge of strategic affairs, told reporters that the strike “didn’t intend to target journalists,” and that he had asked the military to investigate. “The attack helicopters were to hit Hamas military antenna — that was the target, not journalists.”


Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram reported from Gaza City,

and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

Reporting was contributed by Myra Noveck and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem;

Rina Castelnuovo from Ashdod, Israel; Peter Baker from Bangkok;

and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

    Israeli Airstrike Kills Three Generations of a Palestinian Family, NYT, 18.11.2012,






Israel Destroys Hamas Prime Minister’s Office


November 17, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Israel retaliated for Palestinian rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with five airstrikes before dawn on Saturday on the Gaza City offices of Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of Hamas — the militant Islamist group that governs Gaza.

Mr. Haniya’s office was destroyed, witnesses said, and the main police complex nearby was also hit. About the same time at the south end of the Gaza Strip, heavy Israeli bombardment was reported on the smuggling tunnels leading to Egypt.

The Israeli military confirmed the attacks and said it had also targeted the Hamas Ministry of Interior, a Hamas training facility, buildings where weapons were stored, and rocket launching sites. Hamas officials reported four Hamas militants killed Saturday morning in two separate attacks by Israeli drones. One was killed in Rafah, on the southern border, and three in the Al Magazi refugee camp, in the middle of the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said it would “continue targeting sites that are used to carry out terror attacks against Israeli citizens.”

On Friday, emboldened by displays of Egyptian solidarity and undeterred by Israel’s advanced aerial firepower, Palestinian militants under siege in Gaza broadened their rocket targets, aiming at Jerusalem for the first time, sending a second volley screeching toward Tel Aviv and pushing the Israelis closer to a ground invasion.

Israel’s government more than doubled the number of army reservists it could call to combat if needed in the increasingly lethal showdown with Gaza’s Hamas fighters and their affiliates, after they fired more than 700 rockets into southern Israel over the last year. The escalation has raised fears of a new chapter of war in the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Israeli military closed some roads adjacent to Gaza in anticipation of a possible infantry move into the territory, which would be the first Israeli military presence on the ground in Gaza since the three-week invasion of 2008-9. The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, went south to brief regular forces and reservists.

“We are here tonight on the eve of a possible ground operation,” he said.

Many residents of Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital despite objections from the city’s large Palestinian population and others throughout the Middle East, were startled when wartime sirens warning of impending danger wailed at dusk, followed by at least two dull thuds. Hamas’s military wing claimed in a statement that they were rockets fired from Gaza, 48 miles away, and had been meant to hit the Israeli Parliament.

The police said one of the rockets crashed harmlessly in open space near an Israeli settlement south of Jerusalem. It was unclear where the others landed, but no damage or injuries were reported.

Earlier in Tel Aviv, 40 miles from the Gaza border, air-raid sirens wailed for a second day as a rocket fired from the territory approached. A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said it apparently fell into the Mediterranean.

Although the rockets missed their intended targets, the launchings aimed at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the two biggest population centers, underscored the ability and willingness of Hamas rocket teams to target Israeli or Israeli-occupied areas that up until the past few days had been thought relatively immune.

“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist or any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, said in a message reported by news agencies.

Even Saddam Hussein, when he led Iraq, avoided targeting Jerusalem when he aimed Scud missiles at Israel during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, not wishing to inadvertently destroy Muslim shrines or hit Arab neighborhoods.

Despite three days of repeated Israeli aerial assaults on suspected stockpiles of rockets in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said more than 100 were fired into Israel on Friday, apparently including Iranian-made Fajr-5 projectiles that Israeli officials say are the only ones in the Hamas arsenal with a range that can reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Hamas contended it had produced those rockets, which the group called M75s, referring to a range of 75 kilometers or roughly 47 miles. Israeli munitions experts said they had never heard of that weapon.

Regardless, the rocket barrage caused widespread panic and damage. It also shattered plans for a temporary cease-fire during an unprecedented trip to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, Hesham Qandil, a visit that illustrated the shifting dynamics of Middle East politics since the turmoil of the Arab Spring uprisings began nearly two years ago. Under the last president, Hosni Mubarak, regarded by Israel as an important strategic ally, any relationship with Hamas would have been unthinkable.

“The time in which the Israeli occupation does whatever it wants in Gaza is gone,” Mr. Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, said in a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.

The persistent ability of Hamas to keep firing missiles at Israel on Friday appeared to weigh heavily in the Israeli military’s calculations about a ground invasion. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Army was “continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza.” Israeli television later reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had authorized the military to call up 75,000 reservists if necessary — more than double the 30,000 authorized Thursday.

No Israelis were reported killed in the rocket attacks on Friday, leaving the reported death toll on Israel’s side at three civilians. The number of Palestinians killed so far in the four days rose to at least 35, Gaza health officials said, underscoring what critics of Israeli policy called Israel’s disproportionate use of military force. Israeli leaders have said they are selectively targeting militants in the Gaza attacks, and they blame Hamas for installing rocket batteries in civilian areas.

The Israeli military said Friday night that it had killed Muhammad Abu Jalal, a Hamas company commander in Gaza, and Khaled Shaer, who was involved in rocket development. A military spokesman said that earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces had sent text messages to about 12,000 Gaza residents warning them to stay away from Hamas operatives.

In addition, the military said it had crippled Hamas’s burgeoning drone capabilities after striking a number of sites. Hamas, it said, had been developing unmanned aerial vehicles for use as another means of striking Israel.

The Egyptian prime minister’s three-hour visit to Gaza early Friday produced dramatic imagery to underpin his government’s support for Hamas, which Israel, the United States and much of the West consider to be a terrorist organization. It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Qandil, noting that he had been accompanied by a delegation from the Egyptian Health Ministry, said “the aim of this visit is not only to show political support but to support the Palestinian people on the ground.”

He said a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was “the only way to achieve stability in the region” and called on the Palestinians to repair the rift between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“We call on the Palestinian people to unite because their power and strength is in their unity,” Mr. Qandil said. “That’s the only way to liberate Palestine.”



Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren, Fares Akram

and Tyler Hicks from Gaza City,

Alan Cowell from Paris, Rina Castelnuovo from the Gaza-Israel border,

and Mayy El Sheikh and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

    Israel Destroys Hamas Prime Minister’s Office, NYT, 17.11.2012,






President Obama Goes to Asia


November 16, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama leaves on Saturday for a trip to Asia that will show his commitment to having the United States engage more intensely with countries there. But it comes at an awkward time. Israel and Hamas are at war in Gaza, and efforts to end the violence are demanding Mr. Obama’s attention. The Middle East is likely to remain a top priority, but he is right to also focus on Asia, where China’s growing assertiveness presents a challenge.

The trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia should give President Obama a chance to expand on an approach to Asia that has been seen as too security-oriented at the expense of trade and economic matters. When he announced his pivot to Asia in 2011, it was a sign that the United States was not ceding anything to China. Since then, most of the attention has been on expanded military cooperation, including an agreement to base 2,500 Marines in Australia. The administration also promised to deploy 60 percent of its naval forces in the Pacific by 2020, up from about 50 percent today. The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Pentagon is training a counterterrorism battalion in Cambodia, though that country has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade.

The White House says its new strategy toward Asia will focus on many fronts, including regional institutions, emerging democracies and trade relationships. Mr. Obama will be the first American president to visit Myanmar, which has made remarkable progress over the past two years in moving from military rule to a more open political system. But there is far to go. He should nudge authorities to release all political prisoners and end ethnic conflicts, especially with the Rohingya Muslims. Mr. Obama will attend the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, whose prime minister, Hun Sen, has ruled for two decades, resulting in countless killings and abuses, according to Human Rights Watch. Mr. Obama should speak forcefully about the importance of political reform and human rights.

Of course, security issues cannot be ignored when nationalism and growing mistrust among Asian nations are raising tensions and threatening regional economic progress. The most serious is the dispute between China and Japan over some small islands in the East China Sea, and the oil and gas resources around them, that some experts fear could result in violence.

In Cambodia, President Obama will have two scheduled bilateral meetings, one with the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and another with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan. He should make a strong case to them to resolve their dispute. If prolonged or intensified, the consequences could be significant, impeding economic growth and regional stability.

    President Obama Goes to Asia, NYT, 16.11.2012,






U.S. Fears a Ground War in Gaza

Could Hurt Israel and Help Hamas


November 16, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about the escalating violence in Gaza, believing that a ground incursion by Israel there could lead to increased civilian casualties, play into the hands of the militant Palestinian group Hamas and inflict further damage to Israel’s standing in the region at an already tumultuous time.

Though President Obama uttered immediate and firm public and private assurances that Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks emanating from Gaza, administration officials have been privately urging Israeli officials not to extend the conflict, a move that many American officials believe could benefit Hamas.

A protracted escalation, the officials fear, could damage Israel’s already fragile relationships with Egypt and Jordan at a time when both of those governments have been coming under pressure from their own populations.

Mr. Obama telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday for the second time this week, and officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have been on the phone with their Israeli counterparts since then.

Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, the Israeli Air Force’s commander in chief, was in Washington early in the week — before the Gaza crisis began — and met with American officials, although it was unclear whether he warned them beforehand that Israel intended to launch a missile strike against the Hamas military commander.

During this call with Mr. Netanyahu, the White House said that Mr. Obama “reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives.” The two leaders, the White House said, “discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”

Mr. Obama was also grappling with how to cajole an Egyptian government that is radically different from the one that the United States has relied on for so many years. This is no longer the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak, who for decades stood with a succession of American leaders to try to rein in Hamas against popular opinion at home.

Now, Mr. Obama’s pleas are being directed to President Mohamed Morsi, who was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is skeptical of Israeli motives. Mr. Obama called Mr. Morsi on Wednesday, after Israel launched more than 50 airstrikes on Gaza, and called again on Friday. Israel said the airstrikes were in response to days of rocket fire out of Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, and were the beginning of a broader operation against Islamic militants.

During the phone call, Mr. Obama and Mr. Morsi “agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible, and agreed to stay in close touch in the days ahead,” the White House said in a statement.

A senior Obama administration official said the American message to Egypt had been “that we cannot have this conflict drag on, as it just risks greater threats to civilians.”

If Israel goes back into Gaza, both Egypt and Jordan — the only two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel — would come under pressure from their people to break off ties, a move that would undoubtedly strengthen Hamas.

But to the relief of Obama administration officials, Mr. Morsi so far has not hinted at such a move, which would threaten the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, a linchpin for stability in the region in Washington’s view. And administration officials say Mr. Morsi has indicated that he will try to calm the situation in Gaza before it worsens.

Whether that effort extends to lobbying for Hamas to crack down on jihadist groups that have been launching attacks on Israel, as Israel would like to see Mr. Morsi do, is not clear. But at the moment, the relative quiet out of Cairo is being viewed in Washington as a positive first step.

“If Morsi wanted to use this for populist reasons, he’d be adopting a different posture,” said Martin S. Indyk, the former American ambassador to Israel and the author of “Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy.”

“If he wanted to take apart the peace treaty, this is his opportunity,” Mr. Indyk said. “The fact that he’s not and is instead apparently working with President Obama to calm the situation is important.”

But Mr. Morsi’s cooperation can only be counted on, another administration official said, so far as Israel does not invade Gaza, with the attendant civilian casualties. A ground war, the official said, “could mean all bets are off.”

And the consequences for Israel could be severe, according to experts. “It’s a question of diminishing returns, and the chances of mishaps go up,” said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He pointed to the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon in 2006 and the Israeli raids in Gaza in 2008 as examples where Israel suffered deeply in terms of international opinion after protracted fights with its Arab neighbors that produced televised images of Arab casualties.

“I’ve got to believe that the lesson from the 34 days in 2006, along with 2008, which went on for weeks, is that Israel does much better with short campaigns than with long ones,” Mr. Makovsky said.

    U.S. Fears a Ground War in Gaza Could Hurt Israel and Help Hamas, NYT, 16.11.2012,






As Battlefield Changes, Israel Takes Tougher Approach


November 16, 2012
The New York Times


TEL AVIV — With rockets landing on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Friday and the Egyptian prime minister making a solidarity visit to Gaza, the accelerating conflict between Israel and Hamas — reminiscent in many ways of so many previous battles — has the makings of a new kind of Israeli-Palestinian face-off.

The combination of longer-range and far deadlier rockets in the hands of more radicalized Palestinians, the arrival in Gaza and Sinai from North Africa of other militants pressuring Hamas to fight more, and the growing tide of anti-Israel fury in a region where authoritarian rulers have been replaced by Islamists means that Israel is engaging in this conflict with a different set of challenges.

The Middle East of 2012 is not what it was in late 2008, the last time Israel mounted a military invasion to reduce the rocket threat from Gaza. Many analysts and diplomats outside Israel say the country today needs a different approach to Hamas and the Palestinians based more on acknowledging historic grievances and shifting alliances.

“As long as the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is not redressed through a peaceful and just negotiation that satisfies the legitimate rights of both sides, we will continue to see enhancements in both the determination and the capabilities of Palestinian fighters — as has been the case since the 1930s, in fact,” Rami G. Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut, wrote in an online column. “Only stupid or ideologically maniacal Zionists fail to come to terms with this fact.”

But the government in Israel and the vast majority of its people have drawn a very different conclusion. Their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous, they agree. That means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted here.

“There is a theory, which I believe, that Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful solution and only wants to keep the conflict going forever until somehow in their dream they will have all of Israel,” Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former leader of the Israeli Air Force, said in a telephone briefing. “There is a good chance we will go into Gaza on the ground again.”

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

The operative metaphor is often described as “cutting the grass,” meaning a task that must be performed regularly and has no end. There is no solution to security challenges, officials here say, only delays and deterrence. That is why the idea of one day attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, even though such an attack would set the nuclear program back only two years, is widely discussed as a reasonable option. That is why frequent raids in the West Bank and surveillance flights over Lebanon never stop.

And that is why this week’s operation in Gaza is widely viewed as having been inevitable, another painful but necessary maintenance operation that, officials here say, will doubtless not be the last.

There are also those who believe that the regional upheavals are improving Israel’s ability to carry out deterrence. One retired general who remains close to the military and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that with Syria torn apart by civil war, Hezbollah in Lebanon discredited because of its support for the Syrian government, and Egypt so weakened economically, Israel should not worry about anything but protecting its civilians.

“Should we let our civilians be bombed because the Arab world is in trouble?” he asked.

So much was happening elsewhere in the region — the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions, the Syrian civil war, dramatic changes in Yemen and elections in Tunisia — that a few rockets a day that sent tens of thousands of Israeli civilians into bomb shelters drew little attention. But in the Israeli view, the necessity of a Gaza operation has been growing steadily throughout the Arab Spring turmoil.

In 2009, after the Israeli invasion pushed Hamas back and killed about 1,400 people in Gaza, 200 rockets hit Israel. The same was true in 2010. But last year the number rose to 600, and before this week the number this year was 700, according to the Israeli military. The problem went beyond rockets to mines planted near the border aimed at Israeli military jeeps and the digging of explosive-filled tunnels.

“In 2008 we managed to minimize rocket fire from Gaza significantly,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman. “We started that year with 100 rockets a week and ended it with two a week. We were able to give people in our south two to three years. But the grass has grown, and other things have as well. Different jihadist ideologies have found their way into Gaza, including quite a few terrorist organizations. More weapons have come in, including the Fajr-5, which is Iranian made and can hit Tel Aviv. That puts nearly our entire population in range. So we reached a point where we cannot act with restraint any longer.”

Gazans see events in a very different light. The problem, they say, comes from Israel: Israeli drones fill the Gazan skies, Israeli gunboats strafe their waters, Palestinian militants are shot at from the air, and the Gaza border areas are declared off limits by Israel with the risk of death from Israeli gunfire.

But there is little dissent in Israel about the Gaza policy. This week leaders of the leftist opposition praised the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military commander, on Wednesday. He is viewed here as the equivalent of Osama bin Laden. The operation could go on for many days before there is any real dissent.

The question here, nonetheless, is whether the changed regional circumstances will make it harder to “cut the grass” in Gaza this time and get out. A former top official who was actively involved in the last Gaza war and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it looked to him as if Hamas would not back down as easily this time.

“They will not stop until enough Israelis are killed or injured to create a sense of equality or balance,” he said. “If a rocket falls in the middle of Tel Aviv, that will be a major success. But this government will go back at them hard. I don’t see this ending in the next day or two.”

    As Battlefield Changes, Israel Takes Tougher Approach, NYT, 16.11.2012,






I’m Losing Hope for a Peaceful Israel


November 16, 2012
The New York Times


Tel Aviv

SINCE Wednesday, when Israel killed Hamas’s military chief, Ahmed al-Jabari, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas had fired rockets and mortars only into southern Israel. So on Friday, when I heard an air-raid siren sound in Tel Aviv, I assumed it was a test. But just for a moment. Then I snapped to my senses, grabbed my phone and ran to my apartment building’s stairs. I began to make my way down, running at first, thinking only of my three young sons. Two were in a judo lesson. One was with his grandmother. I could not get to them.

On the second-floor landing, I paused. My heart was racing, but my legs wouldn’t. I was weighing my options, and none seemed good. And eight steps above the lobby of my building I came to a very somber conclusion: this is how life is going to be here, and I can’t change it. Hope for a peaceful Israel is diminishing.

We have no one to make peace with, says the voice on the street. That may be true, but so is this: In Israel, too, our leaders — on all sides — have failed to move toward peace.

Yes, peace negotiations with Hamas are questionable. But just a few weeks ago, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that he would not allow a third intifada to break out, and that although he is a refugee from Safed, a city in northern Israel, he does not intend to return there as anything but a tourist. “Palestine for me,” he said, “is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital; this is Palestine, I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah. The West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, everything else is Israel.” The office of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded by saying, “There is no connection between the Palestinian Authority chairman’s statement and his actual actions.”

Mr. Netanyahu has been ignoring the peace process for most of his current four-year term. For the first time since Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands in 1993, and as Israel prepares to elect a new Knesset in January, its political leaders are not talking about a two-state solution.

When I moved to Israel 15 years ago, the picture was very different. There was never a question of whether Israel and the Palestinians would make peace, only of when. The dream of peace inspired me, and even after an intifada, scores of suicide bombings and a war, I stayed in Israel. I remained hopeful.

But today, as the missiles get closer to Tel Aviv, I think of leaving. It’s not the missiles that are breaking me. It’s the lack of an alternative to them.

Mr. Netanyahu has avoided the Palestinian issue while enabling and encouraging settlement building; he has ignored the Arab initiative and focused solely on the threat of Iran. Late last month he struck a coalition deal with his ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to have their two parties run one slate in the next elections in January. It signaled that Mr. Netanyahu would have no plans to make peace if he were re-elected.

Now Mr. Netanyahu has chosen to enter into a conflict that ensures that the vote in the upcoming elections will be about security — something he says he can provide. There is no great surprise in that. The surprise is that there is no opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s policies — a signal that Israelis are resigned to living indefinitely with the threat of war.

Israel’s Labor Party — Yitzhak Rabin’s party — which has traditionally stood for peace, has, instead, been quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Under the leadership of a journalist turned politician, Shelly Yachimovich, Labor has reshaped itself into a social democratic party focused on social justice, the cost of living and the middle class. Last year, demonstrations touched off by the rising cost of cottage cheese drew half a million Israelis to the streets to protest the high cost of living. Ms. Yachimovich seized social justice as an issue and became its political face.

But she skirted the Palestinian issue. She has not promised to stop settlement building and has never acknowledged the hypocrisy of calling for social justice within the Green Line, which marks the limits of Israel proper, while ignoring the lack of it in the Palestinian territories beyond. If you were to define today’s Labor, you might say it’s the party that represents Israelis’ right to fairly priced cheese. Some Labor figures still press for peace negotiations, of course, but their voices don’t get through.

And as Israel pummels the Gaza Strip, there is no Israeli political leader saying, as Rabin did, “Enough of blood and tears.” Ms. Yachimovich has, in fact, supported the government’s actions as just, without questioning whether they are wise.

How the situation in Gaza plays out is likely to determine the outcome of Israel’s election. I feel safe in saying that this January, Israelis will be casting a vote for peace or war. Will Israel bury the two-state solution once and for all, or can it somehow retain a hope of being a Jewish democratic state living in peace with its neighbors? Last night as I said good night to my older sons, I set their flip-flops in front of their beds. “If you hear a siren,” I said, “slide your feet into your shoes and run downstairs.” I would grab our 3-year-old, I said, and be right behind them. “Don’t wait for me. Just go.”

There aren’t too many years before today’s flip-flops become tomorrow’s army boots, and I do not want my sons to grow up to a never-ending conflict that Israel accepts as immutable. I do agree that Israel has the right to protect its citizens. But I condemn Israel’s current leaders for failing to recognize that the best defense is peace.


Jessica Apple, a writer in Tel Aviv, is a co-founder

and editor in chief of the diabetes magazine ASweetLife.org.

    I’m Losing Hope for a Peaceful Israel, NYT, 16.11.2012,






Trapped in Gaza


November 16, 2012
The New York Times


Gaza City, Gaza Strip

I don’t know how the story ends.

What I know is that this all started on a quiet day with my friends, as we sat down to watch the initial movie in a series that was supposed to be part of a “Nordic Film Festival” — the first of its kind in Gaza. The main character’s name was Sebbe, a Swedish boy five years my junior.

But halfway in, just as Sebbe’s story began to arc, the reel stopped, just as surely as the world around me.

A festival organizer interrupted the film and relayed the news: The Israelis, we were told, had just assassinated someone. There was already word of retaliatory rockets fired from Gaza. Things were going to get bad quickly, and we had better get home, where it would be safer.

But it hasn’t been. In the last 48 hours, my mother and I have kept vigil by my siblings’ side — my twin, an adolescent brother and a sister within earshot of her high school valediction. We sit together, my mother and I, in an inner room without a view, watching the furrowed brows of my brother and two sisters straining to sleep.

And all the while, we hear bombs. Bombs that bear autumn’s scent and winter’s chill. Bombs that batter. Bombs that kill. I still have waking nightmares of the bombs that tore through our sky nearly four years ago, when a classmate, Maha, lost her mother in an Israeli strike. And a childhood friend, Hanan, who saw her mother’s leg severed under the rubble from another strike.

As I contemplate my own mother’s tired eyes, I wonder: What happens to those who lose a child? And will I ever see my own? So far, in the war that began on Wednesday, only a handful of children and teenagers have died. Hiba was 19, Omar a month shy of his first year on the planet. (Omar’s picture, I have since seen, made the rounds on Facebook. But he himself was wound in white and faceless, a corpse cradled by his wailing father.) As for Ranana, she made it to 5 before something very big and very loud fell from the sky, ending her time here. I don’t know her either. But then again, I do.

Gaza, after all, is a very small place. Pick a point, any point, along its 25-mile coastline, and you’re seven or so miles — never more — from the other side. The other side is where my grandparents were born, in a village that has since become someone else’s country, off limits to me. You call it Israel. I call it the place where the bombs come from. One thundered to earth just now, as I was writing this.

I hear there are children there — like Hiba, Omar, Ranana — who might appreciate the simple textures of a day spent outside, of a sky that beckons and does not bellow. I wonder: would these children trade places with me now? No, I would not wish that upon them. Better yet, let us take a trip together, to some other shore, where there is not a single pockmark — not one.

But that is the stuff of movies. At the film festival, I learned that Sebbe, the 15-year-old protagonist of the movie whose end I may never see, lived “in a worn-down concrete suburb.”

I can relate. Worn-down concrete is everywhere in Gaza. Except here, the rebar so often protrudes, like pipe cleaners or a broken femur.

Each day here lays bare the ugliness of war, and for my siblings and me, each scene of our movie starts the same: we are trapped. And that is where our story begins and ends.


Lara Aburamadan is a freelance photographer

and a student of English language and translation.

    Trapped in Gaza, NYT, 16.11.2012,






Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination


November 16, 2012
The New York Times



AHMED AL-JABARI — the strongman of Hamas, the head of its military wing, the man responsible for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit — was assassinated on Wednesday by Israeli missiles.

Why? Israel’s government has declared that the aim of the current strikes against Gaza is to rebuild deterrence so that no rockets will be fired on Israel. Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders in the past sent the Hamas leadership underground and prevented rocket attacks on Israel temporarily. According to Israeli leaders, deterrence will be achieved once again by targeting and killing military and political leaders in Gaza and hitting hard at Hamas’s military infrastructure. But this policy has never been effective in the long term, even when the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed by Israel. Hamas didn’t lay down its guns then, and it won’t stop firing rockets at Israel now without a cease-fire agreement.

When we were negotiating with Hamas to release Mr. Shalit, members of the Israeli team believed that Mr. Jabari wouldn’t make a deal because holding Mr. Shalit was a kind of “life insurance policy.” As long as Mr. Jabari held Mr. Shalit, Israelis believed, the Hamas leader knew he was safe. The Israeli government had a freer hand to kill Mr. Jabari after Mr. Shalit was released in October 2011. His insurance policy was linked to their assessment of the value of keeping him alive. This week, that policy expired.

I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr. Jabari. No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me. Since Mr. Jabari took over the military wing of Hamas, the only Israeli who spoke with him directly was Mr. Shalit, who was escorted out of Gaza by Mr. Jabari himself. (It is important to recall that Mr. Jabari not only abducted Mr. Shalit, but he also kept him alive and ensured that he was cared for during his captivity.)

Passing messages between the two sides, I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.

The goal was to move beyond the patterns of the past. For years, it has been the same story: Israeli intelligence discovers information about an impending terrorist attack from Gaza. The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. These cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.

Other key Hamas leaders and members of the Shura Council, its senior decision-making body, supported a new cease-fire effort because they, like Mr. Jabari, understood the futility of successive rocket attacks against Israel that left no real damage on Israel and dozens of casualties in Gaza. Mr. Jabari was not prepared to give up the strategy of “resistance,” meaning fighting Israel, but he saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire.

This war is being presented in Israel, once again, as a war of “no choice.” The people of Israel are rallying around the flag as would be expected anywhere in the world. The United States government has voiced its support of the Israeli operation by stating, “Israel has the full right to defend itself and protect its citizens.” It certainly does, but we must ask whether there is another way to achieve the same goal without the use of force.

Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire.

No government can tolerate having its civilian population attacked by rockets from a neighboring territory. And the firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel must end. There was a chance for a mutually agreed cease-fire. The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.

In the draft, which I understand Mr. Jabari saw hours before he was killed, it was proposed that Israeli intelligence information transmitted through the Egyptians would be delivered to Mr. Jabari so that he could take action aimed at preventing an attack against Israel. Mr. Jabari and his forces would have had an opportunity to prove that they were serious when they told Egyptian intelligence officials that they were not interested in escalation. If Mr. Jabari had agreed to the draft, then we could have prevented this new round of violence; if he had refused, then Israel would have likely attacked in much the same way as it is now.

The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.

Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire. Israel may have also compromised the ability of Egyptian intelligence officials to mediate a short-term cease-fire and placed Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt at risk.

This was not inevitable, and cooler heads could have prevailed. Mr. Jabari’s assassination removes one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side.

Who will replace him? I am not convinced that Israel’s political and military leaders have adequately answered that question.


Gershon Baskin is a co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research

and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post

and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Shalit.

    Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination, NYT, 16.11.2012,







Egypt Torn Between Allies in Gaza and Treaty With Israel


November 15, 2012
The New York Times


CAIRO — The escalating conflict in Gaza has confronted President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt with a wrenching test of his commitments — to his fellow Islamists of the militant group Hamas and to Egypt’s landmark peace agreement with Israel.

Over two days, Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has denounced Israelis as “vampires” for the killing of Palestinian civilians, seemed to reach for every diplomatic gesture he could make without jeopardizing the treaty.

“The Egyptian people, the Egyptian leadership, Egyptian government and all of Egypt is standing with all its resources to stop this assault, to prevent the killing and bloodshed of the Palestinians,” Mr. Morsi declared on Thursday in a televised address. “Israelis must recognize that we do not accept this aggression.”

But with Israel and Hamas increasing their attacks and a possible Israeli ground assault looming, Mr. Morsi finds himself in a tighter bind. As Egypt’s first freely elected president, he faces popular demands for a radical break with former President Hosni Mubarak’s perceived acquiescence during an Israeli assault against the Palestinians in 2009. But at the same time, Mr. Morsi desperately needs to preserve the stability of the cold peace with Israel in order to secure Western aid and jump-start his moribund economy.

Aware of his divided loyalties, both sides appear to be testing him. Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is pushing to see how much support it can draw from its ideological big brother now that it governs the largest Arab state. And Israel’s hawkish leadership seems determined to probe the depth of Mr. Morsi’s stated commitment to the peace treaty as well.

“We are testing the Egyptians,” said Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. “The Americans are with us on Hamas. Obviously Morsi supports Hamas and not us.”

Mr. Morsi has so far taken diplomatic steps to signal his displeasure with Israel. He recalled Egypt’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and dispatched his prime minister on a solidarity mission to Gaza. He appealed to President Obama, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League to try to stop the violence.

Mr. Morsi also opened Egypt’s borders and hospitals to Gaza residents injured in the clashes and offered military helicopters to transport them. He met with top generals, and Egyptian state media reported that they were inspecting air bases and preparing land defenses near the Gaza border. He has not, however, threatened to provide military support to Hamas or direct action against Israel.

Inside Egypt, the alacrity of Mr. Morsi’s response so far appears to have rallied the public behind him. Opposition to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and treatment of their residents may be the only cause binding together Islamists, their secular critics and even the leadership of Egypt’s Coptic Christian church. Some of Mr. Morsi’s rivals, including the former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, have commended his actions.

“He is doing everything he can within the legal obligations of Egypt’s relationship with Israel,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University of Cairo, arguing that Mr. Morsi’s swift action would enable him to hold at bay the inevitable calls for Egypt to go further.

Still, popular anger and demands for more action could grow, especially if Israel initiates a ground invasion of Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood, which backed Mr. Morsi for president, issued a statement denouncing “the criminal aggression” and blaming Arab states for “watching the shedding of Palestinian blood without moving a muscle.”

“We think the least that could be done is to sever diplomatic and commercial relations with this cruel entity,” the Brotherhood statement added, referring to Israel. “The Egyptian government has to be the first to do this in order to set an example for Arabs and Muslims.”

The ultraconservative Islamists of the Al Nour party charged that Mr. Morsi’s steps “weren’t enough” and that “additional steps are necessary to deter the perpetrator and to legally pursue the criminals until revenge is exacted against them.”

In the streets, protesters burned an Israeli flag outside the Arab League off Tahrir Square in Cairo. Leaders of the ministry that oversees mosques and religious institutions, unmuzzled by Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, called on Muslim preachers at Friday prayers to rally support for Gaza.

Since the Brotherhood won leadership of the Egyptian Parliament and Hamas broke with its former sponsor Syria, the relationship between the two groups has become both closer and more complicated. The Brotherhood has welcomed a parade of Hamas leaders in Cairo, but it has also urged the group to maintain tranquil relations with Israel so that Hamas can try to steer Egypt through its difficult political transition, for the long-term well-being of both Islamist groups, their leaders have said.

Leaders of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party have said they planned to step back from Hamas to try to broker a reconciliation between the group and its Western-backed rival faction, Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas has not recognized Israel, but the Brotherhood long ago came to support a two-state solution as envisioned by the Camp David accords.

In some ways, Mr. Morsi may have disappointed Hamas. He has not opened Egypt’s border to Gaza. In fact, he has moved more aggressively than Mr. Mubarak to try to shut down or blow up smuggling tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai long used by Hamas to circumvent an Israeli boycott, contending that they pose a security risk to Egypt.

But on Thursday, Hamas leaders basked in Mr. Morsi’s public support. “The popularly elected Egyptian leadership is giving everyone a lesson,” Hamas’s leader, Khaled Mashaal, told an Islamist conference in Khartoum, Sudan. “The Egyptian leadership has shown that it is taking a new course and adopting a new vision. The era when Israel did what it pleased is over.”

In Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, said in a televised address that “the Arab and Muslim cities were all in silence, but we found a quick response from the Egyptian leadership.” He added: “Leaders can no longer sit on their hands while seeing our people preyed on.”

    Egypt Torn Between Allies in Gaza and Treaty With Israel, NYT, 15.11.2012,






The World’s Next Genocide


November 15, 2012
The New York Times


AT a recent meeting hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Peter W. Galbraith, a former American ambassador who witnessed ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, made a chilling prediction. “The next genocide in the world,” he said, “will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”

A few months ago, talk of possible massacres of Alawites, who dominate Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, seemed like pro-regime propaganda. Now, it is a real possibility.

For more than a year, Mr. Assad’s government has been committing crimes against humanity in Syria. As it fights for survival on the streets of Aleppo and Damascus, the risk of unrestrained reprisals against Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect and Syria’s other religious minorities is growing every day.

Following the rise to power of Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1970, Alawites were transformed from a persecuted minority sect to the controlling force within the army and government. With a system of perks similar to those in other dictatorships, the elder Mr. Assad drew other religious and ethnic minorities into his political orbit while rebellions by members of the Sunni majority, like the one in Hama in 1982, were mercilessly crushed.

When the Arab Spring reached Syria last year, it dredged up animosities that had been lurking for decades. The protest movement was avowedly nonsectarian, attracting Syrians from all communities. But in the government’s eyes, the opposition was simply a Sunni front seeking to topple the Assad family and end Alawite rule.

The Syrian government’s actions have deepened the sectarian divide. As the violent repression of protests gave way to the destruction of opposition-controlled villages, the government moved from targeting individual dissenters to imposing collective punishment upon entire neighborhoods. Sunni areas were shelled by artillery and tanks, and the pro-government shabiha militia, made up mainly of Alawites, carried out ferocious massacres of men, women and children. The majority of victims were Sunni civilians.

As the civil war intensifies, Mr. Assad is increasingly outsourcing the dirty work. In Damascus, militia groups within Druse, Christian and Shiite areas are being armed by the government. While the justifications for these militias are “neighborhood self-defense” and the protection of religious sites, the shabiha emerged in a similar way before becoming killing squads for Mr. Assad. And by drawing Christians, Druse, Shiites and Alawites into the civil war on an explicitly sectarian basis, the Syrian government has all but guaranteed that there will be reprisals against these communities if Mr. Assad falls.

Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented cases of rebels executing Syrian soldiers and Alawites regarded as government collaborators.

Growing numbers of foreign Sunni extremist fighters are battling not just to rid Syria of Mr. Assad, but to religiously cleanse it. As a result, many Syrian Christians now fear that their fate will mirror that of Iraqi Christians, who were largely forced out of Iraq by war and sectarian terrorism. The city of Homs was once home to 80,000 Christians; there are now reportedly fewer than 400.

Three vetoes by Russia and China have blocked attempts by the United Nations Security Council to hold the Syrian government accountable for its crimes. But those who have opted for a proxy war in Syria and who are now financing the rebels cannot avoid responsibility for what comes next.

Governments that have publicly committed themselves to helping end Syria’s misery, including the United States, must immediately do two things to help prevent a violent backlash against Alawites and other minorities. First, they must impress upon the newly united Syrian opposition that support depends on strict adherence to international humanitarian law. Armed groups who advocate fracturing Syria along sectarian or regional lines should be denied funds; there should be absolutely no aid for rebel groups who target Alawites and other minorities for reprisals or who commit war crimes.

Second, outside governments should intensify their efforts to hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable at the International Criminal Court, regardless of their allegiance. That also means allocating funds for additional United Nations human rights monitors on the Syrian border in order to collect evidence and testimony for future prosecutions.

Syria has experienced untold horrors throughout its history. But it is a historic crossroads of cultures, faiths and civilizations. The real choice in Syria today is not between Alawites or Sunnis, or between Mr. Assad and Al Qaeda, but between action enabling further crimes against humanity to take place and action dedicated to ending impunity for such crimes once and for all.

Simon Adams is executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect.

    The World’s Next Genocide, NYT, 15.11.2012,






The Men Are Vanishing Here


November 14, 2012
The New York Times



It was cold and drizzling as yet another family made homeless by war arrived in this town in northern Syria to start a new life in a tent.

Khadija al-Ali seemed to be trying not to cry as she explained how in the space of a week she had gone from middle-class housewife to homeless single mother.

Ms. Ali had lived a comfortable life in the northern city of Aleppo with her husband, a tailor, and their three children, ages 6, 3 and 1. Then, a week ago, a Syrian government jet dropped a bomb that destroyed the family house, but no one was home and the family members thanked God that they were safe.

A couple of days later, Ms. Ali’s husband disappeared in Aleppo. Maybe he was arrested at a checkpoint, or hit by a bomb, or targeted by the snipers now common in the city. One Aleppo resident told me about a friend who had been shot by a sniper in the shoulder and leg. It was too dangerous to pull him to safety, and he died on the street two days later.

“I just don’t know what happened,” Ms. Ali told me blankly, while her cousin (who confirmed the story) suggested that the husband is probably dead.

An aid worker from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent arrived with loaves of bread for the family, which the children ate hungrily. When pieces fell to the mud, they picked them up and brushed them off. And blankets are even harder to come by than food.

“I’m afraid my kids will die in this cold weather,” she fretted.

Multiply Ms. Ali by more than a million and you get the scale of Syria’s torment. Already, nearly 40,000 people have been killed in the civil war, and some 2.5 million are displaced from their homes.

President Obama and other world leaders have avoided intervening in Syria for fear of destabilizing the region and empowering Islamic fundamentalists. The West is also nervous of the rebel Free Syrian Army, which includes extremist elements and has committed atrocities itself.

The Western concerns are legitimate, and plenty of Syrians have mixed feelings about the Free Syrian Army. Some fighters engage in looting or kidnapping, and many are poorly trained and unprofessional. (The establishment of a new umbrella coalition of the Syrian opposition, immediately recognized by France, may help a bit.)

My take is that rural Syrians are generally supportive of the Free Syrian Army, while some city dwellers resent it as an armed mob that irresponsibly moves into neighborhoods knowing that the result will be government bombs that will devastate those streets.

It’s also true that Islamic militants and foreign fighters are playing an increasing, but still tiny, role in the combat. Some of that is real, and some is Kabuki: Groups of fighters have realized that the best way to get weapons is to grow beards, quote from the Koran and troll for support in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

A secular pro-Western businessman who lost his 18-year-old son to a bomb said he didn’t agree with the militants, but he still welcomed them. “They have the humanity to help,” he said, contrasting their assistance with Western indifference.

An imam, a bit distracted because he was preparing to smuggle a rebel flag into Aleppo, at the risk of execution, put it this way: “The Americans are with the Syrians, but they just want to talk.”

There are dangers with greater involvement, and Syria is a more difficult arena to intervene than Libya was, but let’s acknowledge that the existing hands-off approach has failed. Western passivity has backfired and accelerated all that Washington fears: chaos, regional instability, sectarianism and growing influence of Islamic militants.

The United States certainly shouldn’t send boots on the ground. But there are steps we can take to save lives, hasten an end to the war, reduce the risks to the region and protect American interests as well. A sensible menu includes a NATO-backed no-fly zone over parts of northern Syria, transfers of weapons and ammunition (though not antiaircraft weapons) to the Free Syrian Army, training and intelligence support, and cooperation with rebels to secure chemical weapons.

“The government kills us every day, and nobody cares about us,” said Aisha Muhammad, who doesn’t know her age but looked to be in her 70s. She said that a government sniper had shot one of her two sons, costing him his arm, and that the other had been arrested five months ago and not heard from since.

Asked if he is still alive, she teared up and gulped: “I don’t know.” Her entire village has been destroyed, and she is now living out her old age alone, in a soggy, chilly tent. For her and other homeless Syrians, there’s only one certainty: winter will make the coming months even more wretched.

    The Men Are Vanishing Here, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Ending Congress,

China Presents New Leadership Headed by Xi Jinping


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


BEIJING — Completing only its second orderly hand-over of power in more than six decades of rule, the Chinese Communist Party on Thursday unveiled a new leadership slate headed by Xi Jinping, the son of a revered revolutionary leader and economic reformer, who will face the task of guiding China to a more sustainable model of growth and managing the country’s rise as a global power.

For this nation of 1.3 billion, the transition culminates a tumultuous period plagued by scandals and intense political rivalry that presented the party with some of its greatest challenges since the student uprising of 1989. Minutes before noon on Thursday, after a confirmation vote by the party’s new Central Committee, Mr. Xi, 59, strode onto a red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People accompanied by six other party officials who will form the new Politburo Standing Committee, the elite group that makes crucial decisions on the economy, foreign policy and other major issues. Before their appearance, the new lineup was announced by Xinhua, the state news agency.

“We have every reason to be proud — proud, but not complacent,” said Mr. Xi, looking relaxed in a dark suit and a wine-red tie. “Inside the party, there are many problems that need be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy, and other issues.” He added, “To be turned into iron, the metal itself must be strong.”

The ascension of Mr. Xi and other members of the “red nobility” to the top posts means that the so-called princelings have come into their own as a prominent political force. Because of their parentage, they believe themselves to be the heirs of the revolution that succeeded in 1949, endowed with the mandate of authority that that status confers.

“I think the emphasis is on continuity over change this time around,” said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

Mr. Xi is facing a growing chorus of calls from Chinese elites to support greater openness in China’s economic and political systems, which critics say have stagnated in the last decade under the departing party chief, Hu Jintao, despite the country’s emergence as the world’s second-largest economy and a growing regional power.

Mr. Hu, 69, also turned over the post of civilian chairman of the military on Thursday to Mr. Xi, which made this transition the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader had taken office as head of the party and the military at the same time. That gives Mr. Xi a stronger base from which to consolidate his power, even as he grapples with the continuing influence of party elders.

The unveiling came the day after the weeklong 18th Party Congress ended as Mr. Hu made his final appearance as party chief at a closing ceremony and seven standing committee members stepped down.

Mr. Xi is known for shunning the spotlight and being a skilled consensus builder. He spent his childhood in the leadership compounds of Beijing, but was forced to toil in a village of cave homes in Shaanxi Province for seven years during the Cultural Revolution, when his father was purged.

His first job was as an aide to a top general in Beijing. He then rose through the party ranks in the provinces, including Fujian and Zhejiang, two coastal regions known for private entrepreneurship and exchanges with Taiwan. Mr. Xi’s jobs and family background have allowed him to build personal ties to some military leaders. He is married to a celebrity singer, Peng Liyuan, and they have a daughter attending Harvard under a pseudonym.

Mr. Hu’s abdication of the military chairmanship sets an important institutional precedent for future successions and may put his legacy in a more favorable light. In Chinese politics, retired leaders try to maximize their influence well into old age, either by clinging to titles or by making their opinions known on important decisions.

Jiang Zemin, Mr. Hu’s predecessor as party chief and president, did both: he held on to the military post for two years after giving up his party title in 2002, which led to heightened friction within the party. And in recent months, he has worked to get his protégés installed on the standing committee, which is usually assembled through horse trading by party elders and leaders.

The committee was trimmed to seven members from nine. One reason for that change is that some party leaders, including Mr. Xi, believe that an overrepresentation of interests on the committee has led to gridlock in decision making. The smaller committee has also resulted in a downgrading of the party post that controls the security apparatus, which some officials asserted had grown too powerful.

The new standing committee has allies of Mr. Jiang in five of seven seats, reflecting his considerable power despite being hit by serious illness. Li Keqiang, a protégé of Mr. Hu’s, is expected to get the state title of prime minister next spring, when Mr. Xi becomes president. Mr. Li and Mr. Xi were the only members on the departing standing committee who are remaining part of the group.

The other officials on the new committee in order of ranking and their expected portfolios are Zhang Dejiang, head of the National People’s Congress; Yu Zhengsheng, who will run a similar advisory body; Liu Yunshan, vice president and overseer of propaganda; Wang Qishan, the head of an anticorruption agency; and Zhang Gaoli, the executive vice premier, who helps manage the economy.

One princeling said earlier to be a contender for the committee, Bo Xilai, was felled last spring by a scandal after his wife was accused of killing a British businessman.

The lineup is stocked with conservatives and older officials. An unspoken age limit for party leaders means that several of them will retire at the next party congress, in 2017, at which point Mr. Xi might have an opening to get other allies appointed.

Xinhua announced that Mr. Wang is the new head of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a group charged with investigating corruption and other infractions.

For months, there was talk that Mr. Wang would get an economic portfolio, but he appears to have been pushed aside for that job, which some analysts have said bodes ill for further economic liberalization. But Mr. Wang’s network in the finance industry, where he has considerable experience, could be a powerful tool in corruption investigations.

Mr. Wang joins Mr. Xi as one of three or four princelings on the projected committee. The princelings are not a coherent political faction, and their ranks are rife with personal and ideological rivalries. Their family connections may mean a greater confidence with wielding power and pressing for bolder changes. At the same time, that class has grown wealthy off China’s political economy, in which officials and state-owned enterprises work together to reap benefits, often at the expense of private entrepreneurship. Even those princelings who support liberalizing the economy or the political system still believe in the primacy of the party, and their push for various reforms is seen as an effort to ensure the party’s survival.

“These people around Xi Jinping who advise him and with whom he’s close, they do want reform, but on the condition that they maintain the rule of the Communist Party,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian and son of a former minister. “They consider the Communist Party and its rule a heritage from their fathers. So they’re not willing to risk losing it. They have limitations on how far they want reform to go.”

Mr. Xi will have to spend his first years building a power base, limiting the opportunity to make major policy moves. He might, however, support a further opening of the economy in his first five-year term, some political insiders said. If he or other leaders want to experiment with the political system, they would do that in his second term, even though true economic changes need political transformations as well.

Mr. Xi and the incoming leaders will also have to contend with the continuing influence of party elders, including Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang. With the end of the 18th Party Congress on Wednesday, there are now about 20 retired standing committee members, and many of them want a say in major decisions.

But Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American businessman who wrote an authorized biography of Jiang Zemin and remains close to senior officials, predicted Mr. Xi would surprise those expecting him to adhere to the status quo. The pressures on China to create a more sustainable economic system — one that relies less on investment in large projects and exports and more on domestic consumption and private business — will compel him to act soon. “The risks of not reforming are now higher than the risks of reforming,” Mr. Kuhn said.

    Ending Congress, China Presents New Leadership Headed by Xi Jinping, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Obama Details Lines of Battle in Budget Plan, and on Libya


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama, riding the winds of re-election, signaled Wednesday that he was prepared to battle with Republicans over budget negotiations and his national security team’s handling of the deadly attack on an American mission in Libya.

Displaying a mix of resolve and restraint, Mr. Obama flatly rejected any budget deal that did not raise tax rates on income above $250,000 a year, even if it meant driving the economy into a recession. But he did not rule out a compromise that could leave the top tax rates lower than their levels during the Clinton administration, presumably combined with a restriction on some tax breaks for top earners.

For a president fresh off a hard-fought victory, Mr. Obama projected little of the triumphalism of other newly re-elected leaders like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who boasted in 2004 that he had amassed political capital and planned “to spend it.”

Mr. Obama instead cloaked his tough stance in the language of compromise, saying he was “familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms,” and that his re-election was not a mandate to ram his proposals through Congress without any concessions.

In his first formal news conference in eight months, which was meant to position Mr. Obama for the coming fiscal battles but ended up including a C.I.A. scandal and a vitriolic fight over who is to blame for the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, the president saved his most fiery words to defend his ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice. Ms. Rice, a candidate for secretary of state, has come under withering attack from Senator John McCain and other Republicans for suggesting that the siege in Benghazi that killed four Americans was a spontaneous protest rather than a premeditated terrorist attack.

“For them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on the intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous,” Mr. Obama said, his eyes flashing with anger.

Describing Ms. Rice’s conduct as “exemplary,” he warned that her critics have “got a problem with me.” Almost daring them to a confirmation battle, he vowed to nominate Ms. Rice if he determined that she was the right person for secretary of state.

Mr. Obama’s remarks drew an equally angry response from Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham. In a statement issued after the news conference, Mr. Graham reiterated that he would oppose “anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

By contrast, the president struck an almost elegiac tone in discussing the sex scandal that forced the resignation of David H. Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Petraeus, he said, told him that he did not meet his own standards for holding the job.

But, Mr. Obama added, “We are safer because of the work Dave Petraeus has done,” voicing hope that the scandal would end up as a “single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

Mr. Obama was cautious in responding to questions about whether he should have been told earlier about the investigation into the relationship between Mr. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with the president saying that he would leave it to the F.B.I. to explain its “protocols.” But while he offered no criticism of the investigation, he appeared to leave himself room to do so in the future, should new information emerge.

“I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up,” he said.

In laying out his position on the budget, Mr. Obama emphasized that debate over taxes had been central to the election he just won and reprised many of the themes he had struck on the campaign trail. The president urged Republicans to go along with his proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on all personal income up to $250,000 a year, noting that people who made more than that amount would also benefit from such an extension.

“But when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I’m not going to do is extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars,” Mr. Obama said.

While he insisted that the tax cuts for income above $250,000 must expire, Mr. Obama did not stipulate that the top rate would revert to 39.6 percent, as it was in the Clinton administration. Mr. Bush signed a bill a decade ago reducing it to 35 percent, where it has remained.

Mr. Obama’s stance appeared to leave room for the White House and Republicans to negotiate a tax rate somewhere in between and then raise additional revenue by restricting tax deductions and credits on high incomes. “I don’t expect Republicans simply to adopt my budget,” he said. “That’s not realistic. So I recognize that we’re going to have to compromise.”

Still, Mr. Obama said he could envision a situation in which there was no agreement and all the tax cuts expired. Such an outcome would be a “rude shock” for middle-class people, he said, and could set off a recession.

“It would be a bad thing,” he said. “It is not necessary.”

By suggesting he was willing to accept failed negotiations, Mr. Obama was in part trying to give himself more leverage than in 2010, when fears about the economy and its impact on his political standing caused him to reverse course and accept an extension of all the Bush tax cuts in exchange for additional stimulus. This time, however, the economy is somewhat stronger, Mr. Obama has no more elections in front of him — as he pointed out on Wednesday — and the package of budget changes set to take effect on Jan. 1 includes both tax increases and military cuts that Republicans generally oppose.

Speaker John A. Boehner, the effective leader of the Republican Party, said Republicans were not ready to accept Mr. Obama’s proposal because it would “hurt our economy and make job creation more difficult.” But he added that there was a “spirit of cooperation” that had infused Washington and that gave him optimism that some sort of deal would eventually come to pass.

Republicans say they will find a way to raise enough money to reduce the deficit without lifting the top rates. Back-of-the-envelope math suggests that eliminating all tax breaks for the top 2 percent of households would raise about $2 trillion over 10 years, more than the $1.6 trillion that the White House demands, as part of a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package over 10 years. But having all of the additional tax revenue come from the restriction of tax breaks would require getting rid of virtually every such provision, like the home-mortgage deduction, in the tax code on top incomes.

“The math tends not to work,” Mr. Obama said.

Allowing tax rates to rise on the wealthy — to the Clinton-era levels, or a few percentage points below them — puts much more money on the table and would allow more moderate changes to deductions, Democrats argue.

Looking beyond the immediate fiscal challenges, Mr. Obama expressed optimism about one major goal — immigration legislation — and caution about another, climate change.

The president said he intended to pursue comprehensive immigration legislation, and noted that the election had prompted reflection among Republicans about their opposition to such an effort. Even as he criticized Mr. McCain on Benghazi, he cited his support for an overhaul of immigration law as an indication that it could pass.

On climate change, Mr. Obama played down expectations for any major initiative. He spoke of holding a conversation with scientists and engineers about fresh ideas, but said more ambitious legislation would come only after the economy strengthened.

“We’re still trying to debate whether we can just make sure that middle-class families don’t get a tax hike,” he said. “That should be easy. This one’s hard.”


Annie Lowrey and Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.

    Obama Details Lines of Battle in Budget Plan, and on Libya, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


When Ronald Neumann began his Foreign Service career in the early 1970s, he sometimes carried a pistol to protect himself. It was a reasonable precaution. American diplomats in those days lived without benefit of blast walls or security advisers, even in volatile countries, and consulates were at times housed on the ground floors of apartment buildings, with local families living on the upper stories. Neumann worked with a freedom that is scarcely imaginable for many diplomats today; he could go anywhere, by himself, and talk to anyone. In the early ’80s, when he was the deputy mission chief in Yemen, Neumann got wind of a threat to burn down the embassy building in the capital, Sana. The Arab world was in turmoil at the time, after an Israeli invasion of Lebanon and months of mounting violence. Much of the anger was directed at Americans. The embassy was easily accessible to any passer-by, an ordinary house in a residential neighborhood with no police protection. But Neumann — whose boss was out of the country at the time — did not close it down. Then things became more serious: there were rumors that angry Palestinians in Sana were planning to attack Neumann’s house. Neumann, a taciturn Vietnam veteran, took it in stride. “I brought a shotgun home from the embassy and locked the front gate,” Neumann told me. “My wife asked me if there was anything else we could do. I told her no. So she said, ‘In that case I’ve got some curtains I’ve been meaning to wash; I might as well do it now.’ I remember thinking, This is probably how they handled it when the Indian raids went down in the old West; just stay inside and mend the saddles.”

Three decades later, after serving as an ambassador in three countries, Neumann found himself marveling at how much his profession has changed. “The dangers have gotten worse, but the change is partly psychological,” he told me. “There’s less willingness among our political leaders to accept risks, and all that has driven us into the bunker.”

Nothing illustrated those changes better than the death of J. Christopher Stevens, after an assault by jihadis on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11. Stevens was a brave and thoughtful diplomat who, like Neumann, lived to engage with ordinary people in the countries where he served, to get past the wire. Yet his death was treated as a scandal, and it set off a political storm that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said, seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies across the greater Middle East. The death of an ambassador would not be seen as the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.

Lost in all this partisan wrangling was the fact that American diplomacy has already undergone vast changes in the past few decades and is now so heavily encumbered by fortresslike embassies, body armor and motorcades that it is almost unrecognizable. In 1985 there were about 150 security officers in U.S. embassies abroad, and now there are about 900. That does not include the military officers and advisers, whose presence in many embassies — especially in the Middle East — can change the atmosphere. Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries.

The barriers are there for a reason: Stevens’s death attests to that, as do those of Americans in Beirut, Baghdad and other violent places. But the reaction to the attack in Benghazi crystallized a sense among many diplomats that risks are less acceptable in Washington than they once were, that the mantra of “security” will only grow louder. As a result, some of the country’s most distinguished former ambassadors are now asking anew what diplomacy can achieve at such a remove.

“No one has sat back to say, ‘What are our objectives?’ ” said Prudence Bushnell, who was ambassador to Kenya when the Qaeda bombing took place there in 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring 4,000. “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them, and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”

When Chris Stevens was growing up in Northern California, American diplomats organized their own security, for the most part. “Back then, you would exercise your own judgment on what was dangerous, and plenty of guys were excited by the risks,” said Richard Murphy, a retired diplomat who began his Foreign Service career in 1955 and was ambassador to four countries. The term “terrorist” had not yet acquired its modern force, nor had the idea that American diplomats should not talk to certain unsavory groups. You were meant to talk to everyone.

One evening in 1962, Murphy was at the American Consulate in Aleppo, Syria, when he heard about a coup attempt by military officers. It was a volatile time in Syria; Murphy witnessed two other coups, with a revolving cast of generals and revolutionaries. This time, there were large demonstrations. His bosses wanted the Syrian authorities to provide reassurance that American citizens living in the area would not be caught up in the conflict. So Murphy got into his car, alone, and drove to the Aleppo Police Headquarters. There he found a scene of chaos, with armed Syrian commandos shouting at one another. He recognized an officer he knew lying dead on the floor. “The Syrians were not amused,” Murphy recalled dryly. “They told me to get out of there.”

Even in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, diplomats in the field were free to handle safety as they saw fit. On Sept. 18, 1982, Ryan Crocker, then the 33-year-old political section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, drove to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southwest Beirut, where Christian militia fighters had carried out a mass slaughter of Palestinians. “There was no security, no nothing,” he told me. “That’s when I discovered what a massacre looked like.” There were hundreds of bodies strewed on the ground inside the camps, many of them mutilated; some had been booby-trapped with explosives. The next day Crocker was asked to go back for a detailed body count. He drove to the camps again, without a bodyguard. “No one gave it a second thought at that time,” Crocker told me. “It was just what you did.”

That was about to change. Seven months later, on April 18, Crocker was in his office at the embassy, making phone calls about the continuing security concerns of Palestinian refugees. He was about to walk downstairs for lunch when a tremendous blast knocked him across the room. He picked himself up off the floor, scratched and dazed but unhurt, and opened the door of his office. “Instead of looking at the suite of offices across the hall,” Crocker told me, “I was looking out at the Mediterranean.”

The entire front of the building had been sheared off, and Crocker’s colleagues in the neighboring office were dead. The bomb, delivered by a suicidal zealot in a truck packed with explosives, killed 63 people, including most of the C.I.A.’s Beirut staff and its top Middle East analyst. More bombings followed: at the U.S. Marines’ Beirut barracks, where 241 servicemen died, and at the U.S. Embassy again the following year. The bombings were an unprecedented blow to the Foreign Service, and they reverberated in Congress.

One direct result of the attacks was the adoption of new standards for U.S. embassies abroad: they were to have a 100-foot setback from the perimeter wall to the building, along with barriers, blast-resistant materials and far more restricted access. They were often removed to antiseptic suburbs, far from the city centers where diplomats needed to be. I remember seeing an Arabic cartoon produced years later that showed two tiny figures standing near the gate of a towering fortress with an American flag on top. “How do you enter the U.S. Embassy?” one figure asks. “You can’t,” the other replies. “You have to be born there.”

Along with the new buildings came armies of security officers, who would accompany American diplomats and advise them on what was safe and what was not. They became an intrinsic part of the embassies’ engagement with host countries, helping to determine who could go where and whom they could meet with.

“Before the Beirut bombings, we were prepared to take a substantially greater risk than we did later,” Crocker told me. “You have to remember that ’83 was not the first time we’d lost diplomats. I was an ambassador six times, and three of my predecessors were assassinated. It was the cost of doing business in dangerous zones. Congress accepted it; the public accepted it. The top priority was getting the job done.”

By the time I became a foreign correspondent in 2003, the “Fortress America” model was entrenched. In Lebanon, where I lived for several years, the U.S. Embassy had long since moved to a well-guarded compound in the hills a half-hour north of Beirut. In some ways it seemed more like a prison; diplomats based there could not leave without advance permission, and when they did, they were often surrounded by guards. Most journalists scarcely bothered to talk to them, because we assumed they knew the country far less well than we did. It was not quite so bad in other countries. But the U.S. Embassies in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and, of course, Iraq, were so formidable that even I felt unwelcome visiting them. British and European diplomats sometimes seemed more conversant with the local culture than the Americans, despite their much smaller staffs and resources.

In every post, I found dedicated and thoughtful American diplomats who knew the country well and got out to meet people regularly (one of them was Chris Stevens, whom I met in 2007). But many of them told me they had to put enormous effort into overcoming the obstacles created by so many layers of protection. All the ambassadors I spoke with said they had good working relationships with the security chiefs, and they were grateful for their help in understanding risks. But more junior diplomats told me the security officers exercised a subtle influence on all kinds of decisions. “They don’t want to say yes because it’s easier to say no,” one midlevel diplomat told me. “We all fight this battle every day. My first thought on hearing about Chris Stevens’s death — aside from the sadness — was that this is going to make it even harder for us.” Several diplomats told me that if the security constraints get worse, they will consider changing careers.

Outside the Middle East, the rules have shifted more slowly. Prudence Bushnell, who became a deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1993, told me she roamed around the continent with little fear for her safety. “I would go to warlords and tell them to knock it off,” she said. “I didn’t ask for security. I was in Rwanda just before it blew up, and just afterward. No security. The F.B.I. wanted to bring in guns, and I told them they were crazy.”

That changed on Aug. 7, 1998, when Al Qaeda operatives detonated a huge bomb outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Bushnell, who was then ambassador to Kenya, was in a meeting with the Kenyan trade minister in a building next door. She was knocked unconscious by the force of the blast and cut by shards of flying glass. The bomb had shattered the lightly guarded embassy and left hundreds of mangled bodies across a smoking landscape. Most of the victims were Kenyans. After being treated by a doctor in a nearby hotel, Bushnell began supervising recovery efforts. Her grief was mixed with deep anger: she had repeatedly asked Washington to move the large and vulnerable downtown Nairobi embassy and reported credible threats, including one that warned of a truck bomb. She had even written a personal letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bushnell told me, urging her to do something.

Yet Bushnell, like other veteran diplomats who have witnessed some of the worst horrors inflicted on Americans overseas, now wonders whether the reaction has gone too far, leaving diplomats overseas at the mercy of Washington’s shifting priorities. “I think we need to sit down and figure out, How do we do this?” she told me. “We are in a new situation that requires a flexibility the State Department doesn’t have.”

Barbara Bodine, who was the U.S. ambassador to Yemen during the Qaeda bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, told me she believes that much of the security American diplomats are forced to travel with is counterproductive. “There’s this idea that if we just throw more security guys at the problem, it will go away,” she said. “These huge convoys they force you to travel in, with a bristling personal security detail, give you the illusion of security, not real security. They just draw a lot of attention and make you a target. It’s better to fly under the radar.”

To some extent, the increasingly militarized trappings reflect a more aggressive posture: the United States now maintains a diplomatic presence in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq that might once have been seen as too dangerous for an embassy. In the past, Washington instituted “tripwires” of deteriorating safety that were supposed to compel an evacuation. “When in doubt, pull them out” was an old State Department refrain. The United States pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, after it descended into civil war and anarchy, and did not return until 2002. It pulled out of Somalia in 1992, after the collapse of the government there, and has not returned. But in practice, the tripwires are ignored when there is a compelling political reason to stay. And nowhere more so than when the United States military is an occupying force.

Some argue that diplomacy and “soft power” are almost meaningless under such conditions. Diplomats may be useful in gathering intelligence, but that is not their primary purpose. For years, critics of the U.S. missions in Afghanistan have been arguing that the billions of dollars spent there, and the noble efforts to improve the lives of women, may prove wasted once the military is withdrawn. “We’re still living as if it were the 19th century, where governments control their territories and can guarantee the safety of a diplomatic mission,” Bushnell said. “But in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that is not true. If you can’t influence, you leave.”

Chris Stevens was not a rebel or a Lawrence of Arabia, as some people suggested after his death. He did not break the rules or fight with the security officers who kept watch over him. He was a skilled and thoughtful diplomat, and like many others, he chafed against some of the restrictions placed on him. He had an unusual gift for empathy, according to his friends and colleagues, and that allowed him to talk to people without seeming to pass judgment. It was a valuable skill for an American working in a region where American policy often inspires deep resentment. “Many American diplomats tend to stick to their own community, at least socially, but Chris really sought out non-American foreigners in Israel, and wanted to hear their point of view,” said Jonas Jolle, a Norwegian diplomat who worked in Jerusalem when Stevens was posted there from 2003 to 2006. “Chris always listened enthusiastically, and everyone felt he was on their side. This made him seem different to Arabs, even though he never criticized Bush administration policy. Chris was one of the few diplomats I’ve known who I really looked up to.”

When Stevens was named special envoy to Libya in April 2011, it was something of a homecoming. He had spent two years there, from 2007 to 2009, a crowning moment of a two-decade diplomatic career that had taken him to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. So he was thrilled when he found himself climbing the gangway onto a Greek cargo ship bound for Benghazi in early April 2011. It was a trip that became almost legendary, both for the Libyans who came to love him and for the myth that enveloped him after he died. The ship, crewed by crusty Greek and Romanian sailors, was far from luxurious: Stevens shared a bunk bed with a junior officer in a closet-size room. They soon found their toilet was broken, emitting foul bilge-water smells as the ship rolled on the Mediterranean. They were headed for a war zone, a city where Qaddafi sleeper cells and jihadists lurked in the streets. Their assignment, to act as liaison to the rebels, was wildly unorthodox by State Department standards; the new government was in disarray, and no one knew how the war would end. But Stevens was in heaven. “He found it romantic,” one of his colleagues on the ship told me. “It was an adventure; he said we were like 19th-century diplomats, who sailed to their posts.”

Stevens was not naïve. He had three decades of experience in the Middle East and knew Libya as well as any American. He spoke the Libyan dialect of Arabic fluently. He did not relish danger for its own sake. But in some ways, he really was sailing back to an earlier era, when American diplomats were less tied down. In Benghazi, Stevens and his team became de facto participants in a revolution. They moved into the Tibesti Hotel, a 15-story tower overlooking a fetid lagoon, where the lobby was a constant, promiscuous churn of rumors and frenzied meetings among gunmen, journalists and spies. Unlike all his previous posts, there was no embassy to enclose him. His room then was a dilapidated sixth-floor suite full of gaudy gilded furniture and a four-poster bed; he seemed amused to know that Abdullah el-Senussi, Qaddafi’s right-hand man, had often stayed there. Stevens reveled in his freedom. He met people in their homes, ate with them on the floor, Arab-style; cellphone photos were taken and quickly shot around the Internet. He went running every morning and often stopped to chat with people on the street, to the dismay of the security officer who ran alongside him. In August, after a top rebel commander was killed by Islamists, Stevens drove out to eastern Libya’s tribal heartland and spent hours sitting on the beach with five elders of the Harabi tribe. The men ate grilled lamb and talked in Arabic, sipping tea. Stevens did not push them for answers. He was building connections that would pay off someday. “Chris said Benghazi was his favorite posting ever,” said his friend Jennifer Larson, who later served as his deputy in Benghazi when Stevens became ambassador this spring. “He was very, very happy.”

In the rush to assign blame after Stevens’s death, it was largely overlooked that Stevens, as the top-ranking diplomat in Libya by that point, was the one responsible for making final decisions about what kind of security was appropriate there, how to use it and what qualified as safe and unsafe. He decided to make the fateful trip from the embassy in Tripoli back to Benghazi in September. That does not mean he was reckless. He knew the situation there far better than any of the people who have commented on it since his death. He knew that Libya’s government was both weak and politically sensitive; he had to weigh his own safety against the risk of looking like an occupier.

In early September, Stevens’s girlfriend, Henriette von Kaltenborn-Stachau, flew to Kabul for work. It was a routine trip, but Stevens was worried about her. “In his last e-mail to me, he said, ‘I hope you will be safe in Afghanistan, that’s the most important thing,’ ” she told me. “He never took danger lightly.” Stevens and von Kaltenborn-Stachau had been involved for almost a decade, on and off, though their careers prevented them being together as much as they wanted. On the night of Sept. 11, von Kaltenborn-Stachau told me, she had a frightening dream about Stevens. “In the dream, he was in a dark place, being pulled away from me,” she said. “He didn’t want to go. I didn’t want him to go, but something was pulling him away. I woke up, and saw the news from Benghazi.”

Two days after Stevens died, his body and those of the three other Americans killed in the Benghazi attack arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. As the families of the dead walked into a vast airplane hangar where 800 people were gathered, it was perfectly silent. “All you could hear was our footsteps,” says Anne Stevens, Chris’s younger sister, a pediatrician in Seattle. Four flag-draped coffins were carried in and laid on black tables. A military band played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” At one point during the ceremony, Stevens’s mother, Mary Commanday, began to cry softly. President Obama sat down next to her and offered her his handkerchief. During his speech, Obama declared that the United States “will never retreat from the world.”

On the morning after Stevens’s death, Anne was the first family member Hillary Clinton was able to reach by phone. She listened as Clinton explained what had happened, and waited until there was silence on the other end of the line.

“Don’t let this stop the work he was doing,” his sister said.

Robert F. Worth is a staff writer for the magazine. He last wrote about a Louisiana pastor turned atheist.


Editor: Jillian Dunham

    Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?, NYT, 14.11.2012,






Ferocious Israeli Assault on Gaza Kills a Leader of Hamas


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Israel on Wednesday launched the most ferocious assault on Gaza in four years after persistent Palestinian rocket fire, hitting at least 20 targets in aerial attacks that killed the top military commander of Hamas, damaged Israel’s fragile relations with Egypt and escalated the risks of a new war in the Middle East.

The Israel Defense Forces coupled the intensity of the airstrikes with the threat of a ground invasion of Gaza, recalling its three-week operation in the winter of 2008-9, shifting infantry brigades and calling up some specialist reserves. The Israelis also warned all Hamas leaders in Gaza to stay out of sight or risk the same fate as the Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, who was killed in a pinpoint airstrike as he was riding in a car down a Gaza street.

“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a Twitter message. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the military spokesman, said, “If I were a senior Hamas activist, I would look for a place to hide.”

The escalation in hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the militant organization regarded by Israel as a terrorist group sworn to its destruction, prompted Egypt to recall its ambassador and demand meetings of the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League.

Israel had already been facing growing tensions with its Arab neighbors. Israel has confronted lawlessness on its border with Sinai, including cross-border attacks. It recently fired twice into Syria, which is caught in a civil war, after munitions fell in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and it has absorbed more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel this year. The rockets have hit homes, caused injuries and frightened the population. On Saturday, Gaza militants fired an antitank missile at an Israeli Army Jeep patrolling the Israel-Gaza border, injuring four soldiers.

Both the rocket fire and the buildup of advanced weaponry in Gaza have increasingly tested Israeli officials and prompted such an intense attack, according to military experts in Israel.

“Deterrence has to be maintained,” said Gabi Siboni, a colonel in the reserves who leads the military and strategic affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “It was only a question of time until this moment arrived.”

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said the Israeli attacks killed at least five others besides Mr. Jabari, including a baby and a 7-year-old girl, and had wounded at least 40.

The ferocity of the airstrikes provoked rage in Gaza, where Hamas said the campaign amounted to war and promised a harsh response. It quickly launched dozens of rockets into southern Israel. Several barrages struck the city of Beersheba, shattering windows and damaging cars but causing no injuries.

Civil-defense authorities in Israel, anticipating retaliation, instructed residents within a 25-mile radius of Gaza not to go to school or work on Thursday. Many remained indoors or congregated in bomb shelters.

General Mordechai said the operation “would continue and grow.” The military said it was designed to “severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership.”

By targeting Mr. Jabari, 52, the Israelis said they had killed the mastermind of virtually every attack to come from Gaza in recent years, including the kidnapping in 2006 of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Mr. Jabari was involved in the negotiations to release Mr. Shalit, whose five years as a prisoner was a source of national anguish. When he was finally released through Egypt, Mr. Jabari made a rare public appearance alongside him.

The attacks on Gaza were undertaken at a delicate time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, nine weeks before elections, and may have partly reflected his administration’s own sense that it needed to send a message of deterrence beyond Gaza. In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu praised the military for the operation and said: “We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this.”

The Israeli journalist Barak Ravid wrote on the Haaretz Web site that Mr. Jabari was Mr. Netanyahu’s Osama bin Laden.

In Washington, the White House issued a carefully worded statement saying President Obama had spoken with both Mr. Netanyahu and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, reiterating to both that the United States supports Israel’s right to self-defense from the rocket attacks. The statement said Mr. Obama had urged Mr. Netanyahu to “make every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” and that Mr. Obama and Mr. Morsi “had agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible.”

Nonetheless, the Israeli attacks further complicated Israel’s fragile relations with Egypt, where the Islamist-led government of Mr. Morsi, reversing a policy of his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, had established closer ties with Hamas and had been acting as a mediator to restore calm between Israel and Gaza-based militant groups.

In the first crisis in Israeli-Egyptian relations since Mr. Morsi came to power, he called the Israeli actions “wanton aggression on the Gaza Strip” in justifying his decision to summon home the ambassador.

Egyptian state news media said Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr had “warned Israel against the consequences of escalation and the negative reflections it may have on the security and stability of the region.”

Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, rooted in the same Muslim Brotherhood origins as Hamas, posted a video on its Web site of what was described as the burned body of a Palestinian child said to have been killed in the Israeli attacks, in an attempt to stoke anger at Israel. His party also issued a statement saying: “The wanton aggression against Gaza proves that Israel has yet to realize that Egypt has changed and that the Egyptian people who revolted against oppression will not accept assaulting Gaza.”

A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, said the Israelis had “committed a dangerous crime and broke all redlines,” and that “the Israeli occupation will regret and pay a high price.”

Military officials in Israel, which took credit for killing Mr. Jabari, said their forces had carried out additional airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as “a significant number of long-range rocket sites” owned by Hamas that had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a “significant blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities.”

The Israel Defense Forces said Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he “served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years.”

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. The Israel Defense Forces later posted a Twitter message showing a mug shot of Mr. Jabari overwritten by the word “eliminated.”

Mr. Jabari led Hamas forces when they took control of Gaza in 2007, ousting the rival Palestinian faction Fatah and the Palestinian Authority two years after the Israelis withdrew from the territory captured in the 1967 war.

Israeli forces went back into Gaza in the winter of 2008-9 after years of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants into Israel. The Israeli invasion killed as many as 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and was widely condemned internationally.

Since then, Hamas has mostly adhered to an informal, if shaky, cease-fire and at times tried to force smaller militant groups to stick to it, too. But in recent months, under pressure from some of the Gaza population for not avenging deadly Israeli airstrikes, Hamas has claimed responsibility for participating in the firing of rockets.

Mr. Jabari once belonged to Fatah, the mainstream nationalist movement, but joined Hamas while serving time in an Israeli prison. After Hamas took over Gaza, Mr. Jabari became the architect of the Hamas military there, organizing the forces into companies, battalions and brigades, Israeli experts said.

Married to two wives and the father of 14 children, Mr. Jabari was born in eastern Gaza City. A Hamas militant who worked closely with him, and who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Dujana, described him as “extraordinarily religious, to the point of refusing to do things that are normal, like watching an unveiled anchorwoman on television.”

Abu Dujana said that he last saw Mr. Jabari last month in Mecca, where he was performing the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage. He described Mr. Jabari as stubborn and uncompromising.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military, said Mr. Jabari had “a lot of blood on his hands.”


Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Fares Akram from Gaza.

Reporting was contributed by Mayy El Sheikh and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo;

Gabby Sobelman from Jerusalem; Rina Castelnuovo from Beersheba, Israel;

and Rick Gladstone from New York.

    Ferocious Israeli Assault on Gaza Kills a Leader of Hamas, NYT, 14.11.2012,







Israeli Strike in Gaza Kills the Military Leader of Hamas


November 14, 2012
The New York Times


An Israeli airstrike blew up the car carrying the commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza on Wednesday, making him the most senior official of the group to be killed by the Israelis since their invasion of Gaza four years ago.

The death of the commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, who was on Israel’s most-wanted list of Palestinian militants, was confirmed by both Hamas and Israeli officials after the airstrike, which the Israeli military ordered in response to days of rocket fire launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

Mr. Jabari’s death raised the prospect of further escalation in the renewed hostility between Israel and Hamas, the militant organization regarded by Israel as a terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, a year after the Israelis withdrew from the territory captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But Israeli forces went back into Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 in response to what they called a terrorist campaign by Palestinian militants there to launch rockets into Israel. The three-week military campaign left hundreds of Palestinians dead.

    Israeli Strike in Gaza Kills the Military Leader of Hamas, NYT, 14.11.2012,






The Need for U.S.-Iran Talks


November 12, 2012
The New York Times



MITT Romney used the word “peace” or “peaceful” a dozen times in the last presidential debate, as if he’d been communing with the ghosts of John Lennon and Mohandas Gandhi. But the American people were not fooled. In re-electing Barack Obama, they voted for peace and against a third war in a Muslim nation in little over a decade.

Americans are tired of their trillion-dollar wars. A recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 67 percent of Americans believe the Iraq war was not worth it, 69 percent think the United States is no safer from terrorism as a result of the Afghan war, and 71 percent say the Iraq experience should make the country more cautious about using force [pdf].

The risk was real that Romney — surrounded by hawks like the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, beholden to the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and prodded by his friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — might take the United States to war in Iran. Certainly, any chance of a diplomatic resolution of the crisis caused by Iran’s nuclear program would have receded for the foreseeable future.

Armed conflict with Iran in 2013 is still possible. If a reminder were needed, Iran’s firing shots earlier this month at a U.S. drone provided it. Israel is impatient with the steady progression of Iranian enrichment. Obama, while opposed to war and largely impervious to Netanyahu’s clumsy prodding, has said he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. There is no more immediate strategic challenge for the re-elected president.

The question of whether the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace or for a breakthrough with Iran should be the first diplomatic priority for Obama’s second term amounts to a no-brainer. It’s Iran, stupid. (There are no good options in Syria and — as with most Middle Eastern issues — American noncommunication with Iran on the matter is unhelpful. Iran’s constructive role in the 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan is too often forgotten.)

War with Iran would be devastating, to a Middle East in transition, to U.S. interests from Afghanistan to Egypt, and to the global economy. The time available for averting conflict is limited. Israel-Palestine, by contrast, is a draining confrontation but not today the potential spark to a conflagration; nor does it offer any new encouraging elements; nor is it likely that Netanyahu, if re-elected next year, would cease using Iran as a diversion from serious engagement with the Palestinians, who are divided in crippling ways they and the United States are reluctant to address.

But do any new avenues with Iran exist? Is there any political space for them? During Obama’s first term Republican machismo prevailed on many fronts. Demonization of Iran was a never-ending source of rhetorical inspiration. Democrats were not far behind.

Diplomacy is in urgent need of resurrection. It is becoming a lost art in an age of declamation. During a recent conversation, William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and the director of The Iran Project, and Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, told me they avoid the phrase “diplomatic solution” in conversations about Iran on Capitol Hill. Instead they say “political solution.” Diplomacy just sounds too wimpy.

But, as they well know, diplomacy with Iran is needed. Diplomacy involves accepting that in order to get what you want you have to give something. The key question is: “What do I want to get out of my rival and what do I have to give to get it?”

Pressure alone, in the form of sanctions, is not going to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At some point, as with Nixon’s bold breakthrough with China, undertaken against furious protests (just as vehement as Aipac would be on talks with Iran), the questions must be asked: “What do we want, what do they want, and what do we both want?” Areas of overlapping interest must be developed.

This will take unusual courage from Obama — and more good sense from an economically squeezed Islamic Republic than normally emanates from Tehran. Still, Obama is now a second-term president. He is freer — and the macho school of foreign policy is weaker. He must develop, through a special envoy, a direct line of communication with Tehran. Iranian-American trauma, now decades old, is inseparable from the nuclear crisis.

What do we want from Iran? Open up all its nuclear facilities, get rid of all its 20 percent enriched uranium, end all threats to Israel, stop rampant human rights abuses, changed policies on Hamas and Hezbollah, a constructive approach to Syria. What can we offer? Lift some sanctions, stop a range of covert actions, take regime change off the table, put the right to limited enrichment (up to 5 percent) on the table, and address the regional role of Iran.

A creative diplomat could juggle the above and work to build confidence through phased tradeoffs. But first Obama must get beyond the conventional wisdom on Iran, think big, act bold, ignore the visceral Iran-haters and stop believing coercion alone is the answer.

    The Need for U.S.-Iran Talks, NYT, 12.11.2012,






The Foreign Policy Agenda


November 11, 2012
The New York Times


National security didn’t play heavily in the presidential election. But President Obama’s legacy, and the country’s future, will be shaped as much by the foreign policy and defense decisions he makes over the next four years as by those on the domestic side.

One of Mr. Obama’s singular contributions has been his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It is a lofty goal that won’t be achieved in his second term, or maybe for years after that. But it offers a framework for reducing America’s stockpile and for arguing credibly that other countries should follow suit.

In 2010, Mr. Obama won Senate ratification of a treaty with Russia that makes modest cuts in deployed long-range nuclear weapons. It is time to pursue further reductions in those deployed systems, and to seek cuts in warheads held in reserve and in short-range nuclear weapons, where Moscow has a big advantage. Nuclear arms are one area in which the ability of Washington and Moscow to work together is essential. If Mr. Obama can draw the other nuclear powers, including China, Pakistan, India and Israel, into the discussions and persuade the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, so much the better.

The end of the campaign season might reduce the dangerous partisan posturing over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are to resume talks next month, but any diplomatic solution will at some point require direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran. Meanwhile, international sanctions, which have seriously damaged Iran’s economy, need to be rigorously enforced and strengthened.

American military commanders are expected to recommend a timetable soon for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan. After a decade of American blood spilled there, President Obama should declare that the schedule will be dictated only by the security of the troops, and the withdrawal should take no more than a year.

Mr. Obama’s policies have severely weakened Al Qaeda, but extremism is growing in many regions, like North Africa and Pakistan. Dealing with that challenge will likely become harder, as will the choices Mr. Obama must make. For one thing, he will have to examine whether the expanding use of drones is the right approach.

As for the Arab Spring countries, Mr. Obama has been wise to recognize that Washington cannot dictate their democratic evolutions. But he should be more engaged, offering more assistance to Islamic leaders who need to build their economies quickly while reminding them that American support will be calibrated based on their commitment to human rights and the rule of law.

He should continue to resist calls for American military intervention in Syria, but he should search for ways to keep fortifying the opposition in that civil war, especially since the factions there now seem to be unifying.

Many are pessimistic that anything can be done about an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal as long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in office and Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas. It would be a mistake for Mr. Obama to cross this challenge off his list. He needs to keep seeking openings to promote the two-state solution.

Mr. Obama is expected to use his second term to deepen engagement with Asia to protect American military interests and ensure American access to economic opportunities in that region. This could be a challenge given the coming change of leadership in Beijing.

It is an inexhaustible list. Mr. Obama put major new or controversial initiatives on hold this year while the campaign was under way. Now he has two years before another election season impedes his ability to get things done. He needs to decide on his priorities and act while he has the political space and capital to do so.

    The Foreign Policy Agenda, NYT, 11.11.2012,






Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy


November 11, 2012
The New York Times


KAIROUAN, Tunisia — On the Friday after Tunisia’s president fell, Mohamed al-Khelif mounted the pulpit of this city’s historic Grand Mosque to deliver a full-throttle attack on the country’s corrupt culture, to condemn its close ties with the West and to demand that a new constitution implement Shariah, or Islamic law.

“They’ve slaughtered Islam!” thundered Dr. Khelif, whom the ousted government had barred from preaching for 20 years. “Whoever fights Islam and implements Western plans becomes in the eyes of Western politicians a blessed leader and a reformer, even if he was the most criminal leader with the dirtiest hands.”

Mosques across Tunisia blazed with similar sermons that day and, indeed, every Friday since, in what has become the battle of the pulpit, a heated competition to define Tunisia’s religious and political identity.

Revolution freed the country’s estimated 5,000 officially sanctioned mosques from the rigid controls of the previous government, which appointed every prayer leader and issued lists of acceptable topics for their Friday sermons.

That system pushed a moderate, apolitical model of Islam that avoided confronting a dictator. When the system collapsed last year, ultraconservative Salafis seized control of up to 500 mosques by government estimates. The government, a proponent of a more temperate political Islam, says it has since wrested back control of all but 70 of the mosques, but acknowledges it has not yet routed the extremists nor thwarted their agenda.

“Before, the state suffocated religion — they controlled the imams, the sermons, the mosques,” said Sheik Tai’eb al-Ghozzi, the Friday Prayer leader at the Grand Mosque here. “Now everything is out of control — the situation is better but needs control.”

To this day, Salafi clerics like Dr. Khelif, who espouse the most puritanical, most orthodox interpretation of Islam, hammer on favorite themes that include putting Islamic law into effect immediately, veiling women, outlawing alcohol, shunning the West and joining the jihad in Syria. Democracy, they insist, is not compatible with Islam.

“If the majority is ignorant of religious instruction, then they are against God,” said Sheik Khatib al-Idrissi, 60, considered the spiritual guide of all Tunisian Salafis. “If the majority is corrupt, how can we accept them? Truth is in the governance of God.”

The battle for Tunisia’s mosques is one front in a broader struggle, as pockets of extremism take hold across the region. Freshly minted Islamic governments largely triumphed over their often fractious, secular rivals in postrevolutionary elections. But those new governments are locked in fierce, sometimes violent, competition with the more hard-line wing of the Islamic political movements over how much of the faith can mix with democracy, over the very building blocks of religious identity. That competition is especially significant in Tunisia, once the most secular of the Arab nations, with a large educated middle class and close ties to Europe.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and its ability to reconcile faith and governance may well serve as a barometer for the region.

Some analysts link the assertive Tunisian Salafi movement to what they consider a worrying spread of violent extremism across North Africa — including an affiliate of Al Qaeda seizing control of northern Mali; a murderous attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; a growing jihadi force facing Israel in the Sinai; and a mob looting an American school and parts of the United States Embassy in Tunis.

Senior government officials said the various groups share an ideology and are in contact with one another, suggesting that while they are scattered and do not coordinate their operations, they reinforce one another’s agendas. There have been several episodes of jihadists caught smuggling small arms from Libya to Mali or Algeria across Tunisia, for example, including two small trucks packed with Kalashnikovs and some manner of shoulder-fired missiles or grenades in June, said Ali Laarayedh, the interior minister.

President Moncef Marzouki and several ministers blamed the domestic spread of Islamic extremism on the ousted government, saying it created a vacuum by gutting traditional religious education over the past 50 years. Mr. Marzouki estimated that the number of violent extremists was only about 3,000, but he acknowledged that they were a growing menace to national security.

Aside from a few “zealous” leaders, most are misguided youths, said Mr. Laarayedh, the interior minister. Critics find their potential for violence unsettling, and repeated episodes — security forces shot dead a young Salafi in a confrontation last week — play havoc with the image of a country dependent on tourism.

The government, dominated by the Renaissance Party, is struggling to contain the problem without resorting to the brutal methods of the toppled dictatorship. It has jailed about 800 Salafis, said Samir Dilou, the human rights minister, and arrests of those advocating violence accelerated after protesters looted the American Embassy compound on Sept. 14 in response to a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

The word Salafi encompasses a broad spectrum of Sunni fundamentalists whose common goal is resurrecting Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad when he founded the faith in the seventh century. Salafis range from peaceful proselytizers to those who spread Islam by force.

In Kairouan, 100 miles south of Tunis, Salafis control 5 of the city’s 35 mosques, said Sheik Ghozzi, the Grand Mosque’s prayer leader.

“The Salafis find themselves empowered because they have not faced any resistance from the government,” said Sheik Ghozzi, 70, a slight man wearing a short-cropped gray robe. Without a “strict” reaction, along with dialogue, they will become “a danger to the state,” he said.

The Grand Mosque, a sandstone citadel, reflects the martial origins of Kairouan, the capital of the first Muslim army to capture North Africa. It is Tunisia’s oldest mosque.

Sheik Ghozzi and other critics accuse the extremists of pushing a far less tolerant version of Islam than that long practiced in Tunisia. Salafi prayer leaders recruit young men to die fighting in Syria, he said, although Islam forbids killing other Muslims.

Salafis repeatedly try to chase tourists from the Grand Mosque; have threatened to level the popular shrine of Sidi Sahbi, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad buried here, although so far they have only fought with worshipers trying to pray there; and imported Saudi Arabian clerics who demanded that Tunisians confront the West. At some mosques, traditional prayer leaders were threatened with beatings or even death if they did not leave, Sheik Ghozzi said. In others, the locks were changed to bar them.

In a few towns, the struggle degenerated into brawls with sticks and fists. The Salafists have also enforced Islamic law on their own. In Sidi Bouzeit this September, a group of about 70 Salafists sacked the only hotel in town that sold alcohol, shattering its outdoor fountains by heaving full cases of beer into them.

“They want their own imams who use their words, who speak their language,” Sheik Ghozzi said. “They want someone who calls for jihad, who tells them to go fight in other countries, who curses the Shiites and who calls on them to go out to defend the Koran by force.”

It was worshipers who asked Dr. Khelif not to return after that first Friday, Sheik Ghozzi said.

But Dr. Khelif, 60, a pediatrician and the son of a famous Grand Mosque imam, said only misguided Tunisians consider his preaching somehow foreign.

“Islam is the Islam that was revealed to the prophet — it was not Islam revealed to my father or any other Tunisian father,” he said, speaking in his clinic, pictures of the Grand Mosque mingled on the walls with Walt Disney characters. Dr. Khelif, who has grown a long, shaggy white beard and assumed the duties of prayer speaker at another mosque since the revolution, denied that any Salafi preachers occupied mosques by force. Worshipers are free to pray elsewhere, he noted.

In a show of strength, the Salafi movement organized a huge rally at the Grand Mosque last May, drawing tens of thousands of followers from around Tunisia who voiced frustration at the slow pace of applying Islamic law.

But Nourredine Khadmi, the minister of religious affairs, said that his ministry was in the process of evaluating potential new imams and that he had appointed some 2,000 imams since January. “By winter, everything will be stable,” he said in an interview, though last spring he predicted it would be by August.

“It is a difficult problem to resolve,” said Abdelfattah Mouru, a Renaissance Party founder and himself the victim of several physical attacks by young Salafis. “You need either public opinion or a public force. You cannot dispatch the police into the mosques to put them in order, it is impossible, it is both immoral and against the religion.”

In Tunis in October, five men set fire to the shrine of Leila Manoubia, a 13th-century saint. Young Tunisian women wrote their names on the walls if they wanted to get married or pregnant. Salafis condemn such prayers as idolatry, although who attacked the shrine remains unconfirmed.

“I want Tunisia to be a place where a woman can wear a veil or not, where we can pray or not,” said Asma Ahmadi, 34, who said she started visiting the shrine at age 15 and considers it as much about tradition as religion.

“They are trying to break the mystical balance between tradition and religion in Tunisia,” she said. “They are trying to burn our identity to replace it with something we don’t know.”

    Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy, NYT, 11.11.2012,






Israel Strikes at Syria Again in Response to Mortar Attacks


November 12, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Israeli tanks made a direct hit on Syrian artillery units on Monday, the army said, responding to mortar fire that fell near an army post in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

It was the second consecutive day that Israel confronted fire along its border with Syria. On Sunday, a mortar shell crashed in from Syria, prompting Israel to respond with what its military described as “a warning shot” at a Syrian position across the frontier for the first time in 39 years.

On Monday, a military spokesman said that a mortar shell hit an open area in the vicinity of an Israeli army post in the central Golan Heights but caused no damage or casualties. In response, Israeli soldiers fired tank shells toward the source of the fire, hitting Syrian mobile artillery units, the spokesman said.

“The difference is that we confirmed a direct hit this time,” the spokesman said, comparing Monday’s exchange to the events on Sunday, when a stray Syrian mortar shell hit an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights. “Yesterday it was a warning shot. Today we fired toward the source of the fire.”

Syrian government forces are battling armed rebels on the other side of the Israeli-Syrian armistice line, which has been in place for decades.

The direct strike by Israel on Syria’s artillery unit was another example of how the conflict in Syria has escalated by spilling into neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured out of the country, with more than 408,000 in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq now registered with the United Nations. Shells fired from Syria have killed civilians in Lebanon, and in one episode last month, Islamic extremists attacked Jordanian soldiers on the border with Syria, killing a corporal.

On Monday, a Syrian MIG-25 jet bombed the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain a few yards from the Turkish border, killing civilians, Syrian witnesses said. Five Turkish civilians were killed in October when a Syrian shell landed in Akcakale, another border town about 75 miles west of Ceylanpinar, an act that prompted the Turkish Parliament to revise engagement rules and allow the military to retaliate in case of a direct threat from the border region.

Israeli military officials have made it clear that Israel has no desire to get involved in the fighting in Syria. Israel had already filed complaints with the United Nations observer force that monitors the armistice agreement reached between the Israeli and Syrian forces after the 1973 war, and the United Nations has warned that the spreading violence could jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries.

“We hope they get the message this time,” Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said on Israeli television on Sunday, referring to the missile fired at a Syrian mortar battery.

Israel also confronted fire along another one of its border areas on Sunday, when from morning through nightfall more than 50 rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza struck southern Israel. The first heavy barrage came as residents of this rocket-battered town near the Gaza border were getting up to go to work and school.

The prospect of violence flaring with Syria and with militants in Gaza meant that after years of relative quiet along the country’s borders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself tested on two fronts. Under increasing pressure and with Israelis scheduled to go to the polls in January, the nation’s leaders are talking tough and threatening broader action.

“The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us,” Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday morning. “We are prepared to intensify the response.”

But on Sunday, while Israel viewed the fire from Syria as unintentional, though still unacceptable, the rockets from Gaza were deliberately aimed at population centers. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian coastal enclave, has claimed credit for participating in several recent rounds of rocket fire.

The latest surge began on Saturday when Palestinian militants fired an antitank missile at an Israeli military jeep patrolling Israel’s increasingly volatile border with Gaza, wounding four soldiers. Four Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel returned fire with tank or artillery shells, prompting new rocket fire against southern Israel. At least one Palestinian militant from a rocket-launching squad was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Responding to years of rocket attacks, Israel carried out a three-week offensive against the militant groups in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, resulting in an informal and shaky cease-fire. After three civilians were wounded by shrapnel in the Sderot area early Sunday, Silvan Shalom, a vice prime minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, said that Israel was “not eager” to embark on another major ground operation in Gaza, but that the military was prepared to act. Yisrael Katz, another Likud minister, called for the liquidation of the Hamas leadership in Gaza and said that Israel should stop supplying the enclave with water, electricity, food and fuel.

In a statement, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that the military had been “evaluating a host of options for harsher responses against Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza” and that “it is Hamas that will pay the heavy price, a price that will be painful.”

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    Israel Strikes at Syria Again in Response to Mortar Attacks, NYT, 12.11.2012,




home Up