Friday, August 08, 2014

Book Review: 'Making David Into Goliath' by Joshua Muravchik

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On August 8, 2014 @ 12:58 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 2 Comments
The David Horowitz Freedom Center will be hosting an evening reception with “Making David into Goliath” author Joshua Muravchik on August 13, 2014. For more information, click here

Empathizing with the underdog is a natural human instinct. When we see a little David facing off against a mighty Goliath, our hearts go out to the little guy. But what happens when Goliath pretends to be David and then accuses David of really being Goliath?

That is the situation that Israel finds itself in and it is also the topic of Joshua Muravchik’s new book, Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.

Muravchik’s book looks at how the Arab Muslim countries swapped a hard military war for a soft political and cultural influence operation that combined murderous terrorism with economic boycotts and academic programming to convince the world that Israel was Goliath and they were little David.

It’s easy to spot the absurdity of the region’s intolerant and supremacist Sunni Muslim majority reinventing its identity as that of an oppressed people, but Muravchik also shows how this reinvention used the so-called “Palestinians” as a political vehicle for larger cultural goals. The current portrayal of Arab Muslims as an oppressed group stems in part from their association with the “Palestinian” cause.

“The Arabs, notwithstanding their regressive social and political practices, nor their recent alignment with the fascist powers, now, in the guise of the Palestinians, assumed a place among the forces of virtue and progress while the Israelis were consigned to the ranks of the villains and reactionaries,” Muravchik writes in Making David into Goliath.

Israel, as David, was able to leverage its limited manpower and resources in strategic military strikes against much bigger, but less centered opponents. Its opponents however learned to leverage the less demanding tools of soft power, such as the United Nations, to win soft power conflicts by demonizing Israel in as many international forums as possible.

War is a hard test of competence and courage. Influence operations in an international body are a matter of alliances. Academia, whose corruption Muravchik extensively chronicles in his chapter on Edward Said, specializes in the ability to infinitely invert ideas and distort their meanings.
David could beat Goliath with a slingshot, but he couldn’t yell louder or lie better than Goliath.

Against terrorism, the virtues of a free nation become its weakness. A free nation has dissenters who sympathize with terrorists. Terrorists however massacre dissenters. Israel’s Fifth Column generates much of the propaganda against it, but there is no corresponding movement on the other side because Hamas and the PLO are ruthlessly totalitarian in practice and purpose.

A nation can put aside its differences and unite in wartime. Netanyahu’s approval ratings show that Israelis are still capable of getting behind a clearly just and necessary war. But terrorism is permanent warfare and no free society can set aside all its differences and unite permanently. The United States could not do it for very long after September 11. Temporary crisis unity also comes apart in Israel.

In the West, where sympathy for Israel, especially among the political classes, was even weaker, the wave of Islamic terrorism took it apart that much more readily. Few Western governments wanted to be drawn into an international conflict by acts of terrorism on their own soil or to brave oil boycotts.

For Muravchik the turning point came when the Six Day War demonstrated the limits of Pan-Arabist efforts to smash Israel through pure force. Israel’s victory created a disproportionate sense of its power and the military defeats of clients of the USSR led to a strategic shift toward soft power and terrorism.

The world’s historical “Clock” for Israel has been set to right after 1967. The initial perceptions of its aftermath; Israel’s military superiority, the “oppressed” Palestinians who suddenly came into being after coming out of the rule of Egypt and Jordan, and the urgent need for a negotiated solution, have been frozen in time as the default worldview with little regard for what came before or after.
By recapturing Gaza and the West Bank, Israel had hoped to put an end to terrorism and violence by putting the territories under its control. But instead the sponsors of the PLO had the responsibility for the terrorism lifted off their shoulders and the conflict increasingly came to be seen in terms of those territories, even though the conflict had long predated the Six Day War.

Muravchik deftly handles these topics with extensive looks at everything from the Goldstone Report to the academic work of Edward Said for a better understanding of the larger shift that took place in a variety of forums and arenas. He discusses everything from the influence of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations to the impact of radical theology on the World Council of Churches and the work of domestic anti-Israel groups such as B’Tselem.

At times he overstates how popular Israel was. The Jewish State was never more than a brief stopover on the way to winning over Arab Muslim support for everyone from the British Empire to the International Left. It wasn’t so much that they turned on Israel, as their preference was for a powerful Goliath over an isolated David, even if they then insisted on pretending that Goliath was really David.

American liberals hung on longer than many others, but as liberalism was cannibalized by the left, it adopted its ideological critiques of Israel as colonialist and terrorism as a means of liberation. Liberals did not so much abandon Israel as they abandoned liberalism and adopted the radical politics that they were being fed by formerly mainstream outlets of liberal thought such as NPR and the New York Times.

The concerns of Israeli and pro-Israel Jews over the world standing of the Jewish State are real, but they are also symptoms of insecurity. Zionism and Israel were never all that popular with elites, especially those of the left. Western Jews correctly view anti-Israel sentiment as a reflection of the antipathy toward them, but that is an ancient reality that short memories after the Holocaust made short work of.

This insecurity leads some Jews to loudly broadcast anti-Israel sentiments in the hope of escaping anti-Semitism, but that too is a futile and destructive ambition.

David, for all that he was the underdog, did not set out to be liked. He set out to win. He took an insanely dangerous risk with faith that a Higher Power would help him accomplish the impossible. Israel came closest to that in the Six Day War. It is not Goliath, but it has also forgotten how to be David.

People are more likely to rally behind those with conviction in their own righteousness. The Muslim Goliath has carried off his imitation of David through the degree of his conviction. Israel and its defenders have strived for reasonableness over conviction, trying to prove their humanitarian credentials through a willingness to see both sides.

But as the conflict has become a war of ideas, it has become clear that wars of ideas are no more won by those who see both sides than wars of force are won by those who fight on both sides.

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Amnesty as impeachment bait

August 7, 2014
Political Cartoons by Chip Bok
President Obama is impatient. Congress won’t act on immigration, he says, and therefore he will. The White House is coy as to exactly what the president will do. But the leaks point to an executive order essentially legalizing an enormous new class of illegal immigrants, perhaps up to 5 million people.
One doesn’t usually respond to rumors. But this is an idea so bad and so persistently peddled by the White House that it has already been preemptively criticized by such unusual suspects as (liberal) constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, concerned about yet another usurpation of legislative power by the “uber presidency,” and The Post editorial page, which warned that such a move would “tear up the Constitution.”
If this is just a trial balloon, the time to shoot it down is now. The administration claims such an executive order would simply be a corrective to GOP inaction onthe current immigration crisis — 57,000 unaccompanied minors, plus tens of thousands of families, crashing through and overwhelming the southern border.
This rationale is a fraud.
First, the charge that Republicans have done nothing is plainly false. Last week, the House passed legislation that deals reasonably with this immigrant wave. It changes a 2008 sex-trafficking law never intended for (and inadvertently inviting) mass migration — a change the president himself endorsed before caving to his left and flip-flopping. It also provides funds for emergency processing and assistance to the kids who are here.
Second, it’s a total non sequitur. Suspending deportation for millions of long-resident illegal immigrants has nothing to do with the current wave of newly arrived minors. If anything, it would aggravate the problem by sending the message that if you manage to get here illegally, eventually you’ll be legalized.
Third, and most fatal, it is deeply unconstitutional. Don’t believe me. Listen to Obama. He’s repeatedly made the case for years. As in:
“I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books. . . . Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the [immigration] laws on my own. . . . That’s not how our Constitution is written” (July 25, 2011).
“This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. . . . There are laws on the books that I have to enforce” (Sept. 28, 2011).
“If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws” (Nov. 25, 2013).
Laws created by Congress, not by executive fiat. That’s what distinguishes a constitutional republic from the banana kind.
Moreover, Obama had control of both houses of Congress during his first two years in office — and did nothing about immigration. So why now?
Because he’s facing a disastrous midterm election. An executive order so sweeping and egregiously lawless would be impeachment bait. It would undoubtedly provoke a constitutional crisis and stir impeachment talk — and perhaps even the beginning of proceedings — thus scrambling the electoral deck. As in 1998, it would likely backfire against the GOP and save Democrats from an otherwise certain sixth-year midterm shellacking.
s breathtakingly cynical. But clever. After all, there is no danger of impeachment succeeding. There will never be 67 votes in the Senate to convict. But talking it up is a political bonanza for Democrats, stirring up an otherwise listless and dispirited base. Last Monday alone the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more than $1 million from anti-impeachment direct mail.
Apart from the money, impeachment talk energizes Democrats and deflects attention from the real-life issues that are dragging them down — the economy, Obamacare, the failures of Obama’s foreign policy. Everything, in other words, that has sunk Obama to 40 percent approval, the lowest ebb of his presidency.
There’s an awful irony here. Barack Obama entered our national consciousness with an electrifying 2004 speech calling for healing the nation’s divisions and transcending narrow identities of race, region, religion, politics and ideology. Four years later, that promise made him president. Yet today he is prepared to inflict on the nation a destructive, divisive, calculated violation of the constitutional order and national comity — for the narrowest partisan advantage.
For this president in particular, who offered a politics of transcendence, this would constitute a betrayal of the highest order.
According to White House leaks, the executive order will be promulgated by summer’s end. Time enough to reconsider. Don’t do it, Mr. President.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson: The Hamas Jihad’s Useful Idiots

Posted By Andrew C. McCarthy On August 6, 2014 @ 4:29 pm In Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Jimmy Carter In this handout from the Hamas Government, the head of Hamas goverment in the Gaza Strip,  Ismail Haniyeh (L), meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) June 16, 2009 in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip.  Carter is in the Gaza strip fro talks with the Hamas government about conditions to end the international boycott of the Islamic milutant group.
In this handout from the Hamas Government, the head of Hamas goverment in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh (L), meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) June 16, 2009 in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip. Carter is in the Gaza strip fro talks with the Hamas government about conditions to end the international boycott of the Islamic milutant group.
(June 16, 2009 - Source: Handout/Getty Images Europe)

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson have jointly penned a characteristically appalling op-ed in Foreign Policy magazine assigning primary blame to Israel for the war in the Middle East. The key to ending the violence, they contend, is for the United States and the European Union to recognize the Hamas terrorist organization as a legitimate “political force.”

According to the authors, the latest outbreak of fighting was triggered neither by Hamas’s murder of three Israeli teenagers nor its firing of thousands of missiles into Israel. Rather, they proceed from the premise that Israel is the culprit, for what Carter and Robinson deceitfully describe as:
[Its] deliberate obstruction of a promising move toward peace in the region, when a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinian factions was announced in April. This was a major concession by Hamas, in opening Gaza to joint control under a technocratic government that did not include any Hamas members. The new government also pledged to adopt the three basic principles demanded by the Middle East Quartet comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Tragically, Israel rejected this opportunity for peace and has succeeded in preventing the new government’s deployment in Gaza.
This surely reflects Obama administration thinking, as well. Obama’s presidency has aptly been called the second (and now third) Carter term — a downward spiral from the shambles made of American foreign policy in the late seventies. Mrs. Robinson is the former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for human rights, whose pro-terrorist sympathies and anti-Israel animus were ably chronicled several years back by Michael Rubin. (See “Mary Robinson, War Criminal?”) In 2001, she led the notorious Durban conference (the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Zenophobia and Related Intolerance”) that was so rabidly anti-Semitic the American delegation stormed out. Yet, eight years later under a new, hard-Left administration, there stood Robinson in the White House being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Of course, anyone who grasps the details of the “unity government” and Hamas’s strategy in agreeing to it quickly realizes it is the antithesis of “a promising move toward peace.” In fact, Hamas is simply applying the Hezbollah model to the Palestinian territories. In Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist organization — Iran’s forward jihadist militia and oft-time Hamas mentor — agreed to participate in a unity government while maintaining the independence of its jihadist military and intelligence apparatus. That is exactly what Hamas has done.

As this excellent analysis by Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute relates, Hamas’s agreement to join its rival Fatah in a unity government does not relinquish control of either its 20,000-strong jihadist force, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, or its internal intelligence and security apparatus. These forces are already far stronger than the Palestinian Authority’s security forces under the control of Fatah (which Hamas routed and ejected from Gaza in 2007).

Note, moreover, the stealthy hand of Iran in the mix. Hamas has had to come crawling back to the mullahs, hat in hand. After angering Tehran (and thus losing much of its funding and weapons support) by jumping on the Sunni side of the Syrian civil war, Hamas saw its preferred patron, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian regime, overthrown. The terrorist organization now finds itself opposed by the new anti-Brotherhood government in Cairo, and thus on the outs with that government’s backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Isolated more than ever, Hamas is working hard to get back in Iran’s good graces. Its leaders conducted extensive meetings with top Iranian and Hezbollah officials prior to agreeing to cede governing authority over Gaza to the unity government. Carter and Robinson claim that this was a “major concession.” In truth, it was a coup, as Iran’s enthusiastic endorsement of the pact attests.

Tehran persuaded Hamas that, rather than mere domination of Gaza, its strategy should be to maintain de facto control while re-infiltrating Judea and Samaria (the West Bank, now controlled by Fatah). The authority over Gaza that was transferred to the unity government is only nominal. As the recent weeks of war amply demonstrate, Hamas still exercises actual control in Gaza through its security apparatus and the 50,000 civil servants it has installed. That is why, in elaborating on its “unity” agreement, Hamas emir Ismail Haniyeh crowed, “We leave the government but stay in power…. We give up the chair but not the role we play” in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Hamas has already begun making significant inroads in Fatah’s jurisdiction. And while Carter and Robinson make much of the fact that the unity government is a “technocratic” one with no Hamas members, they fail to mention that this is just a fleeting arrangement.

Hamas accepted it because the agreement also provides for elections in the next six months. The terrorists’ ambition is to compete with Fatah for every inch of the Palestinian territories and for control of the PLO – the Arafat creation that still represents Palestinians in dealings with Israel. Despite being temporarily out of formal governance, Hamas expects in short order to control key government ministries, just as Hezbollah does in Lebanon. Eventually, it expects to win a parliamentary majority and the presidency.

By taking on the appearance of a political party but maintaining its own, extra-governmental, Iran-backed military and intelligence force, Hamas gets the best of all terrorist worlds. Its participation in government enables anti-Israel Leftists like Carter and Robinson to echo claims by Islamic-supremacist strongmen like Turkey’s Recep Erdogan that Hamas is just a political party; yet, its jihadist arsenal allows it to intimidate any Palestinian opposition while continuing to terrorize Israel.
Equally laughable is Carter and Robinson’s contention that, by its agreement to the unity government, Hamas should be vicariously understood as assenting to the “technocratic” government’s agreement to the three Quartet conditions: “nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements.” In reality, as the war makes clear, the unity government is a ploy that enables Palestinians — who broadly and materially support Hamas’s jihad – to continue seeking Israel’s destruction while pretending to comply with the conditions on which the U.S. and Europe rely (nodding and winking) to rationalize billions in Palestinian aid.
Carter and Robinson are desperate to derive or otherwise manufacture Hamas’s purported agreement to the Quartet conditions because Hamas has made quite clear that it will never actually agree to renounce the jihad and accept Israel’s right to exist. The authors would cut Hamas slack on this score because, they say, the organization cannot be expected to “cooperate in its own demise.”
Even by loathsome Carter-Robinson standards, the assertion is breathtaking. The operating assumption of their op-ed is that Israel must cooperate in its own demise by ceasing to defend itself and abandoning the blockades absent which Hamas would quickly acquire even more deadly mass-destruction weapons. Furthermore, Hamas’ raison d’êtreis the annihilation of Israel by terrorist jihad; so by the authors’ reasoning, it could never be expected to agree to non-violent coexistence with a Jewish state since that would amount to the demise of Hamas.
Without the demise of Hamas, there is no chance for peace in the Middle East. It will require tuning out terror’s useful idiots.

Why Ebola’s nothing to worry about

August 5, 2014
Why Ebola’s nothing to worry about
Dr. Kent Brantly (left), one of the two American doctors who contracted Ebola, works at an Ebola isolation ward in Liberia.Photo: Getty Images
We’re now witnessing the worst Ebola epidemic ever — and on your list of worries it belongs . . . nowhere.
Here’s a rule of thumb about diseases: The rarer and less likely they are to kill you, the more hype they get. The New York Times ran more than 2,000 articles on SARS, which ultimately killed zero Americans.
This is only the deadliest outbreak of Ebola virus disease because past ones were so tiny. At this writing, there have been 1,603 reported cases in Africa and 887 deaths.
That’s too many. But every day about 600 sub-Saharan Africans die of tuberculosis, and contagious diarrhea claims the lives of 2,195 children, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria, syphilis, AIDS and probably dozens of other diseases each year kill Africans at higher rates than Ebola is killing right now.
And, should Ebola come to America, it’s vanishingly unlikely to “break out.”
Ebola is a lazy spreader. A cough, sneeze or sweat from an “active” case is harmless. Spreading the virus requires contact with large doses of bodily secretions such as blood or vomit.
In Africa, that makes the proportion of fatalities among health-care workers exceptionally high and thereby makes the illness seem more frightening. After all, they’re specialists.
But in the ramshackle clinics these heroic folks have to work in, they often lack the most basic protective equipment.
Consider: In over four months since the latest Ebola outbreak was identified in Guinea, it has spread to only three other countries — all in sub-Saharan Africa.
Flu can spread to three new countries in a day.
Ebola “outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests,” reports the World Health Organization. Sound like Midtown Manhattan to you?
Nor is this virus nearly as lethal as you generally read, with that “up to 90 percent mortality.”
That “up to” is a giveaway: In fact, in the current outbreak, 55 percent of identified victims have died; still not great, but again we’re talking about poor villages with almost no health-care resources.
There’s no specific treatment for Ebola any more than there is for the common cold, but simple hydration with electrolytes and bed rest put the odds in your favor.
That’s what we’ve seen with other diseases such as SARS, where (aside from an unexplained occurrence in Canada) virtually all deaths were in the Third World.
Nor does infection even mean an active case. Vincent Racaniello, a Columbia University virologist, says blood testing for antibodies indicates the vast majority of people infected with Ebola probably have no symptoms, or had extremely mild ones.
It’s only the worst cases that wind up being counted. Surprise: Those cases have the highest death rate.
The only American killed by the Ebola virus worked in one of those four African countries and died there. Another American known to be infected there, Dr. Kent Brantly, was flown to Atlanta (yes, Ebola finally made it here!) and appears to berecovering nicely.
A third American patient has just returned.
What might the US death rate be, should the virus somehow spread here?
“You are always going to lose some, so it’s probably not zero,” Racaniello told me, “but substantially less than 50 to 90 percent.”
The real threat Ebola poses is as an attention hound. It was the subject of the nonfiction best-seller “The Hot Zone” and the basis of the pathogen in the movie “Outbreak.”
Thing is, attention hounds suck finite funds away from more serious threats. (Another current hog: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has killed fewer than 300 people since first identified two years ago.)
One dollar invested in diarrhea prevention yields an average return of $25.50,according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Syphilis infects almost 2 million pregnant woman yearly, killing perhaps 250,000 babies and blinding and crippling many more.
It’s easily diagnosed and cheaply treated — yet that’s obviously not happening. We need a vaccine, but the United States has none in human trials. US trials for an Ebola vaccine began 11 years ago.
And if you must worry about a new plague, focus on antibiotic-resistant bugs like MRSA and C. diff — and start asking why we’re not developing new antibiotics to fight these ills.
Let’s worry less about greasing squeaky wheels, and more about prioritizing our reactions based not on films or bestsellers but on what poses the greatest threat to the greatest number.
Michael Fumento is a lawyer and journalist who specializes in mass hysteria. He lives in Colombia.

World War I Continues to Haunt Us

Though it may seem anciently irrelevant, the war’s consequences remain very much alive. 

British Vickers machine gun crew during the Battle of Menin Road RidgeWorld War I (Ypres Salient, West Flanders, Belgium).   Ernest Brooks - This is photograph Q 2864 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

War I started one century ago. Wait! Don’t stop reading.

For most Americans, the war is like algebra or frog anatomy — something you have to study briefly in school but then never have to think about again. Unlike World War II, with its unambiguous villains, epic battles and clear victory, World War I is a hot mess. Countries and forgotten empires declared war on each other in no small part because a bunch of aristocrats in funny clothes said they had to.

Everything about World War I — from the seemingly ridiculous fighting techniques (who hasn’t watched a movie with trench warfare and thought, “Man, that’s a dumb way to die”?) to the clothes and music — seems anciently irrelevant.

But the truth is that almost no modern event can hold a candle to it. George Kennan observed that when studying the maladies of the 20th century, “all the lines of inquiry lead back to World War I.” A century from now, people might say the same thing of the past two centuries.

Let’s start with the obvious. The staggering loss of military lives: 650,000 Italians, 325,000 Turks, nearly a million from the British empire, over a million from Austro-Hungarian lands, 1.4 million from France, 1.7 million Russians, 1.8 million Germans and 116,516 Americans — not to mention 8.9 million civilian casualties worldwide. None of that counts the 50 million fatalities resulting from the influenza pandemic largely unleashed by the war.

Without World War I, you don’t get the second — a poignant irony given that the former was sold as the “war to end all wars.” The terms imposed on Germany, described as a “Carthaginian peace” by John Maynard Keynes, made another war virtually inevitable. Much as Adolf Hitler found his life’s mission while fighting in World War I. Benito Mussolini’s Fascism was a direct adaptation of what he called “the socialism of the trenches.”

Without the first war, the Bolsheviks almost surely would never have come to power in Russia. That led to the Soviet Union’s mass murder, Eastern Europe’s enslavement, the Cold War, and, of course, Vladimir Putin’s career.

The Middle East’s travails can be traced in no small part to the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution at the end of WWI. Dividing their spoils, the British and French drew most of the contours of the Arab world to their benefit. According to a surely false legend, the line between Jordan and Saudi Arabia takes a crooked turn because someone bumped Winston Churchill’s elbow while he was drawing it. (Churchill himself blamed his errant pen on a liquid lunch.) What’s not disputed is that the resulting maps have fed countless conflicts and resentments ever since.

In the West, the war opened a Pandora’s box, unleashing innumerable cultural and intellectual demons that we have decided to make peace with rather than defeat.
And then there’s America. Some good was hastened by the war, though it’s hard to believe women’s suffrage wasn’t inevitable. But it’s also hard to ignore the harm, at least from a libertarian perspective.

“I believe it is no exaggeration,” wrote sociologist Robert Nisbet, “to say that the West’s first real experience with totalitarianism — political absolutism extended into every possible area of culture and society, education, religion, industry, the arts, local community and family included, with a kind of terror always waiting in the wings — came with the American war state under Woodrow Wilson.”

Wilson introduced domestic spying, censorship, violent political intimidation of opponents,  and economic statism into the American DNA. Pro-Wilson intellectuals celebrated the “social possibilities of war,” in the words of John Dewey. By that they meant the ability to force Americans to, as Frederick Lewis Allen put it, “lay by our good-natured individualism and march in step.” The enduring notion that experts could plan the economy from Washington was largely born in Wilson’s “war socialism.”

David Adesnik, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has an essay inThe Weekly Standard arguing America had no choice but to join World War I because Germany had resolved to fight us. Maybe so, but America joined that stupid and calamitous war very late in the game and by doing so abetted the Carthaginian peace. The correctness of that choice is an academic question. The consequences of it remain very much alive.

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Leaving Ninevah

August 5, 2014

Mar Mattai, near Mosul, is one of the oldest existing Christian monasteries. At its height, it was one of the greatest houses in the Christian world, with thousands of monks.

The ancient Christian history of the Middle East has become agonizingly relevant. Cities central in that history appear in headlines in the context of fanaticism and mass destruction. The State Department’s maps of the latest atrocities coincide with the most venerable landscapes of Eastern Christianity.
The city of Damascus in Syria needs no explanation in terms of its role in the Christian story, and late Roman Gaza likewise produced some pivotal thinkers and theologians. Both cities are also featured in the Old Testament.
But what about Syria’s Hama, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in that country’s civil war? The Byzantines knew it as Epiphania, home of the historian John, who is a prime source for the Roman-Persian wars of the sixth century. Hama’s Great Mosque stands within the readily identifiable remains of the Byzantine basilica church.
The first Syrian provincial capital to fall under rebel control in the current conflict was Ar-Raqqah, which historians of Chris­tian monasticism know as Kallinikos, a haven of learning and piety from the sixth century. Latakia was once Laodicea, where the bishop was the often vilified heretic Apollinarius. Homs, another frequent Syrian battlefield, was fifth-century Emesa, where a beloved shrine claimed the head of St. John the Baptist.
Syria can scarcely compete historically, however, with neighboring Mesopotamia, the land we presently call Iraq (future maps might bear different names). Over the past summer, the city of Mosul has been the center of global attention, following its capture by the forces of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. ISIS then went on to proclaim a revived caliphate, an office dormant since 1924, and promised to lead its followers against Christendom, even to the gates of Rome. It also launched a brutal reign of terror against both Shi‘a Muslims and fellow Sunnis. Before the new self-appointed caliph, Ibrahim, first addressed the Islamic world, his minions had murdered the city’s leading Sunni clerics. Although the so-called Islamic state may have stirred up too many enemies to prove an enduring presence, it naturally terrifies surviving members of other religions, especially Christians.
That story has been prominently reported, but few reports have paid much attention to the identity of those Christians and their spiritual culture which now seems on the verge of extinction. For Westerners, those local Christians face an easy choice: Why don’t they just leave? If they do, though, they will be abandoning a Mosul that in its day occupied a central place in Christian thought and development. Would Christians happily forsake Assisi or Santiago de Compostela, Canterbury or Cologne, if threatened with a similar situation? Would they not be held back by centuries of Christ-haunted memory and tradition? The story of Mosul is at least equal to that of any of these later upstarts.
Mosul was originally a center of the fearsome Assyrians, and that connection attracted the attention of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. All three faiths esteem the prophet Jonah, whom God sent to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Ancient Nineveh itself was once separate from Mosul but has now been absorbed into the metropolitan area that the region’s Christians call Nineveh rather than Mosul. Under its Arabic name of Nebi Yunus (Prophet Jonah), the prophet’s grave was a pilgrimage destination for millennia—although reports suggest that ISIS thugs are in the process of demolishing the shrine.
Mosul was an early center of Jewish life and learning, where a Christian church emerged no later than the second century. It became a key center for the Church of the East, the so-called Nestorian Church, which made it a metropolitan see. Also present were the so-called Monophysites, today’s Syrian Orthodox Church. These churches used Syriac, a language close to that of the apostles, and the Mosul area still has some Syriac-speaking villages.
Mosul was at the heart of a network of very early monasteries. Within 30 miles of the city are St. Elijah’s and St. Matthew (Mar Mattai), which date from the fourth century, Rabban Hormizd and Beth Abhe from the sixth or seventh, and many others: Mar Behnam, Mar Gewargis (St. George), Mar Mikhael (St. Michael). The greatest of these yielded nothing to such legendary houses as Monte Cassino or Iona. At its height, Mar Mattai was one of the greatest houses in the Christian world, with thousands of monks.
Around 850, Bishop Thomas of Marga described the lives of famous Syriac monks and holy men in his Book of Governor, which gives us a tantalizing picture of this lost spiritual world. Although his main interest was his own house of Beth Abhe, he mentions in passing dozens of small religious houses in the Mosul region, most of which we can no longer locate. The remains of many presumably survive under Iraqi village mosques.
The Church of the East that Thomas knew persisted for centuries, incredibly successfully considering it never enjoyed a close alliance with the secular state. Successively, the region was controlled by Zoroastrian Persians and by Muslim Arabs, but still the monasteries endured and flourished. In the histories of the 13th-century polymath Gregory Bar Hebraeus, the Mosul region appears as one of the hubs of the Christian universe. (Gregory himself was buried at Mar Mattai.)
Hard times arrived in the later 13th century with the coming of the Mongols. Facing growing intolerance in their old seat of Baghdad, the patriarchs of the Church of the East based themselves at the house of Rabban Hormizd. Christian life persisted there and in the surrounding religious houses. We get a sense of this from priceless Syriac Christian scriptures like the Cave of Treasures, which is preserved in the British Museum. It was copied in 1709 by the learned priest Homô, the son of the priest Daniel, who lived in Alqosh, near Mosul.
Mosul retained its Christian significance in the 16th and 17th centuries, when Western Catholics arrived to bring those ancient believers into submission to Rome. The missionaries enjoyed some success. The ancient Eastern Church was split into pro-Roman factions, known as the Chaldeans, and the sturdily independent resisters, the Assyrians. In the long term though, those once bitter divisions would not matter too much. Both groups still exist—on a sadly diminished scale.
The fall of Christian Mosul loomed in the beginning of the 20th century. Kurdish raids and bandit attacks repeatedly hit the monasteries and devastated their libraries. During World War I, the Ottoman Turks inflicted on local Christians the same attempted genocide they directed against the Armenians. By the 1920s, the once transcontinental Church of the East was reduced to about 40,000 survivors in the Mosul area. The church’s patriarch today is based in Chicago.
But even then Christians did not forsake Mosul. The population included Assyrians, Catholic Chaldeans, Syrian Orthodox, and Orthodox Arabs, who hoped to benefit from the state secularism promised by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime. If their ancient glories were long past, they hoped to remain unmolested in the land of the prophet Jonah and of the great patriarchs and abbots.
The Ba’ath regime was shaken by the 1991 Gulf War and then overthrown in the 2003 invasion led by the United States, which brought Islamist resistance to the fore. The ISIS campaign will presumably spell the end of a Christian presence.
We often read of the birth and growth of churches, very rarely of their deaths. In Mosul, however, we may be seeing the end of an astounding example of Christian continuity that lasted nearly two millennia.

Fighting Without Silver Bullets

August 5, 2014

File photo: IDF servicemen firing an Iron Dome intercept rocket [Image Source: UPI]

Hours before Israel accepted the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal on Monday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu traveled to the south to try to allay the fears of area residents.

It’s not at all clear how successful he was.

Residents of the communities bordering the Gaza Strip who evacuated their homes are skeptical of the IDF’s claims that it is safe for them to return.

In an interview with NRG website, Yael Paz-Lahiany, a mother of three young children from Kibbutz Nahal Oz just across the border from Gaza professed profound confusion and concern.

“I really don’t understand what is happening here and don’t know what to think. Just on Saturday we had 10 red alerts at Nahal Oz and I don’t know what to say. I also don’t understand what the prime minister said [Saturday].

I just know that I am staying at Kibbutz Dorot, and here too they are operating on emergency footing, the nurseries are only partially open, and no one is going back to normal. So if 10 kilometers from Gaza they haven’t returned to their routine, how are we supposed to go back to our lives 800 meters from the wire?” Israel’s operations in Gaza so far have been based on the hope that Hamas can be convinced to stand down.

Israel has destroyed its tunnels. The IDF killed hundreds of Hamas terrorists. The IDF destroyed Hamas’s bases.

Hamas’s missile arsenal is depleted. Its leaders are safe only so long as they remain hidden in their illegal bunkers under Shifa hospital. Hamas remains cash strapped and without access to resupply from Iran or other allies.

Assuming that Hamas maintains the 72-hour ceasefire that it requested, in negotiations that may ensue for a more detailed cease-fire agreement if the US is unable to coerce Israel and Egypt into agreeing to open the borders and save Hamas, Hamas will be destroyed through attrition.

If this happens, Israel will have won a great victory.

But if Hamas continues to attack southern communities at any level Israel will have no choice. It will have to send its forces back into Gaza with the mission of retaking control there.

There is only one thing worse than reasserting Israel’s military control over Gaza: Losing southern Israel. So long as residents of the south fear returning to their homes, Israel is losing southern Israel.

This looming prospect of having to retake Gaza would be bad enough if Israel only had to concern itself with Gaza. But Israel enjoys no such luxury.

Far more dangerous than Hamas is Hezbollah. Whereas Hamas’s missiles are unguided, Hezbollah has guided missiles that are capable of reaching every centimeter of Israeli territory. And their payloads are big enough to destroy high-rise buildings.

Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah has anti-aircraft missiles and anti-ship missiles capable of disrupting air and naval operations.

Hezbollah has drones that it has launched successfully.

And the possibility that Hezbollah has some level of unconventional weapons cannot be ruled out.

Hezbollah commanders and fighters have gained massive experience fighting in Syria and Iraq. They have sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities including human intelligence and signals intelligence assets.

They have advanced command and control systems.

And by all accounts, Hamas’s terror tunnels are nothing in comparison to Hezbollah’s extensive network of tunnels that run beneath the border with Israel.

Hezbollah’s announced war plans involve invading and taking control over communities in the Upper Galilee.

In the face of Hamas’s repeated aggression in recent years, many Israelis are now looking wistfully at our quiet northern border. It was the massive destruction Israel wreaked on Lebanon during the 2006 war, they say, that is responsible for this tranquility. We deterred Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, this is dangerous nonsense that bespeaks a fundamental refusal by those that express this view to reconcile themselves with the nature of Hezbollah and its decision making process.

Hezbollah’s decision to go to war in 2006 was made in Tehran, by Hezbollah’s Iranian masters. The decision not to go to war since has also been made by Tehran.

Tehran decided to deploy Hezbollah to Iraq and Syria.

And Tehran will decide, based on its own sense of priorities, when Hezbollah and its massive arsenal of terror should attack Israel.

The only way that Israel’s operations in 2006 have impacted Hezbollah’s future aggression is by enabling it. Israel agreed to a cease-fire that enabled Hezbollah to rearm, reassert control over southern Lebanon and expand its influence over the Lebanese military and state. Had Israel routed Hezbollah in 2006 or refused to accept the pro-Hezbollah cease-fire terms embodied in UN Security Council resolution 1701 then the situation would be different.

This brings us to Iran, the hidden hand behind the 2006 war, and at least to some degree behind the present war with Gaza, and the direct threat that it constitutes for Israel.

Last month US President Barack Obama bought himself and Iran four more months. Iran can continue to develop its nuclear weapons until after the US midterm election unconstrained by international scrutiny.

Obama can pretend for four more months that he is going to achieve a nuclear deal that will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Israel however, was not given four months.

Without the Iranian nuclear umbrella, Iran’s terror proxies in Gaza were able to develop weapons to attack nearly the entire country. What will they develop if that nuclear umbrella is instated? Prime Minister Netanyahu is correct. Iran’s nuclear weapons program is an existential threat to Israel. And it needs to be wiped out.

Given the threats from Lebanon and Iran, it is clear that Israel’s decision to try to limit its operations in Gaza was necessary. Israel cannot afford to tie its forces down indefinitely. And if Israel is forced to retake control over Gaza, it will need to deploy its forces in such a way that it maintains sufficient reserve capacity to handle Gaza, Lebanon and Iran simultaneously.

This would be challenging enough under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, the situation is made all the more complicated by the Obama administration’s strategic aim of appeasing Iran by enabling it to develop nuclear weapons and by siding with Hamas against Israel and the US’s traditional Sunni Arab allies.

The administration’s unswerving devotion to this policy aim was again clarified on Monday when Palestinian sources at the Cairo talks told the media that the US had again joined forces with Hamas-supporting Qatar to achieve an alternate cease-fire, undercutting Egyptian efforts and giving Hamas reason to walk away from the table.

Just last week the US media lambasted Secretary of State John Kerry for supporting Hamas against Israel in cease-fire negotiations. The fact that the Obama administration continues to act in this manner suggests that it is completely committed to this course of action.

Israel can cope with all of these challenges and surmount them. But it won’t be easy.

In recent days a spate of government ministers and foreign supporters have recommended bevy of options that involve getting someone else to deal with Hamas for Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that Gaza should become a UN mandate.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and her colleagues on the Left, joined by former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams say that Fatah can be brought into Gaza to fight Hamas for Israel.

These suggestions are all based on wishful thinking and an extraordinary capacity to ignore reality.

The UN is institutionally committed to delegitimizing and ultimately destroying Israel.

Fatah can only come into Gaza after Hamas has been destroyed completely and driven from leadership by Israel.

Under any other circumstance, Fatah will collaborate with Hamas against Israel, as it has always done. And if Hamas is routed and destroyed Fatah would only destabilize the situation.

The time has come for us to recognize that there are no easy answers for Israel. IDF operations in Gaza in recent weeks have dealt a harsh blow to Hamas. Perhaps the terror commanders have been deterred. Perhaps not.

Whatever the case may be, if Israel and Egypt are able to continue to block US attempts to open the borders for Hamas resupply until Kerry gets swept up in another major crisis, then Hamas can be defeated through attrition.

If not, then Israel will have no choice but to retake control of Gaza while maintaining enough forces in reserve to respond to a second front in the North, and finally end Iran’s dream of becoming a nuclear power.

There are no silver bullets. The price of freedom is hard work and vigilance.

Only if we act in full cognizance of the gravity of the moment and the absence of easy answers will we navigate the minefield we find ourselves in successfully and restore the safety of the south, the north, the east and the center of the country.