As military occupation enters 51st year, Trump administration wants UN to stop “bullying” Israel

What’s the difference between a Bantustan and Area A?

Palestinians have lived for 50 years under a military occupation by a foreign government and there are no signs this will end anytime soon. The Israeli government has been busily dispossessing Palestinians as individuals and as a nation of land and resources. Three generations of Palestinians have lived the bulk of their lives (five decades) with their human and civil rights curtailed by the Israeli government.

The Trump administration believes the UN is “bullying” Israel by condemning these policies:

[US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki] Haley arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome one day after warning that the United States might pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it changes its ways in general and its negative stance on Israel in particular.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who often is touted as a future Republican presidential candidate, has focused heavily on what she calls the mistreatment of Israel during her six months at the United Nations. Her efforts have made her a darling of Israeli leaders, and have endeared her to conservative pro-Israel organizations in the United States. […]

“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” she said. “It was a habit. And if there’s anything I have no patience for it’s bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.” — WaPo

Israeli policies towards Palestinians have many parallels with our own treatment of Native Americans. There are other parallels to our history too. For much of the 20th century, towns across the US systematically excluded African-Americans from living there.

What Palestinians are allowed to do in the settlements is work, assuming they can pass a rigorous security screening and a get a permit. But the workers — mostly in construction and service jobs — are not allowed to drive in, and they can’t spend the night. During my two weeks in the West Bank, I learned that the best way to estimate the number of Palestinians working in a given settlement at any moment is by counting the cars parked just outside the gate. This underscored one of the ironies of the settlements, which is that Palestinian hands built most of them: their houses and synagogues, their community centers and shopping malls. — Washington Post

Palestinians are often building these houses for settlers on public Palestinian lands which the Israeli government or settlers have encroached on. In other cases, Israeli officials will condemn private Palestinian lands, establishing “nature preserves” which then turn into gardens or farms for Israeli settlers.

Across Israel proper, housing discrimination is pervasive and various types of discrimination are codified into law. Most housing is largely segregated, with Jewish Israelis living in separate towns and communities, from their Arab Muslim or Christian fellow-citizens. Of course, in the occupied territories, the Israeli army enforces such segregation, just as law enforcement and vigilante groups did in the US.

Such discrimination and oppression is only possible if you successfully propagate a supporting narrative through schools and media. Gil Gertel writing in +972mag discusses how the Israeli education system has helped sanitize Palestinian suffering:

In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.

This book was published two years after the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Israeli government subsequently razed to the ground hundreds of villages to prevent the inhabitants from ever returning. The JNF began a campaign to plant “forests” to erase evidence of Palestinian villages. Palestinian houses in urban areas were reassigned to Jewish persons.

Students, however, were told it was a “desolate and abandoned land”. In a way, this is analogous to the stories we still tell our students about early European colonization of this country and the impact on Native American peoples.

This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.

— @subirgrewal

“His wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world” – Breaking The Silence on Gaza

During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] bombed dozens of residential structures, killing hundreds of civilians. Over 500 children were killed. Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence (an organization of Israeli veterans) released a report: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)”. What follows are excerpts from these interviews. My prior diaries on this report are here and here. Throughout the testimonies you will hear a lack of concern over the amount of ammunition expended. Israeli artillery fired over 32,000 shells into Gaza over the course of the offensive (in addition to numerous mortar rounds and bombs dropped by US made F-15s and F-16s). The US delivers over $3 billion in military aid to Israel each year. During the offensive, the US re-supplied the IDF with key munitions as its stocks dwindled.

104. Go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world

Unit: Air force • Rank: Not for publication

There is what’s called in the jargon a ‘firing policy.’ It’s changed according to whether it’s [a period of] routine security or wartime. During routine, there’s targeted killings once in a while – they take place during periods of so-called routine security, too. You still use firepower, but during those times the wish or the instruction that no uninvolved civilians will get harmed is top priority. And sometimes that overrides [the targeted killing of] a very, very senior figure, in cases where an opportunity [to attack him] arises. So it’s given up? Yes. But during times like ‘Protective Edge,’ go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world. It’s unambiguous.

56. Anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Upon entering houses, is there an organized protocol used? It really depends on the case, but generally the idea is to use a lot of fire – this isn’t Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) – you want to find people in pieces inside. That’s how it’s managed, in a nutshell. Besides, usually a D9 (armored bulldozer) comes over, takes down a wall and you enter through the wall.

101. Deter them, scare them, wear them down psychologically

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

And another level on which things are treated is that of readiness – when you discuss the Hamas militants’ morale and confidence, sometimes after militants’ houses are struck you say, “We know that in such-and-such [Hamas] brigade they are expressing concern over the continuation of the fighting,” it’s at that level. I mean, nobody’s saying “We’ll strike that target because it’s the house of a militant and it will lower his motivation” – but one does say the morale is low due to the fact that the strikes on the militants’ houses is having an impact and decreasing the Hamas militants’ morale.

100. He just came over with an urge to take down targets

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Guys there, they go in [to the Gaza Strip] wanting to bust up Hamas. There was this one intelligence officer there, a horrible guy, nobody could stand him, he just came over with an urge to take down targets, he couldn’t help it. He comes over to you and for an entire hour is going, “Check what this is, and check what that is, why aren’t you attacking.” The thing is, it’s not a yes-no black and white thing. It really depends on how you choose to deal with it. There are some people who will try to push for a certain target and it could be that that’s why it’ll be hit. They’ll talk to somebody they know, “Listen, do me a favor, prepare that target for me,” and then [the target] goes into the target list and passes through all the authorizations and it could be hit. That happens sometimes.

13. I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: North Gaza Strip

There was this mentally handicapped girl in the neighborhood, apparently, and the fact that shots were fired near her feet only made her laugh (earlier in his testimony the soldier described a practice of shooting near people’s feet in order to get them to distance themselves from the forces). She would keep getting closer and it was clear to everyone that she was mentally handicapped, so no one shot at her. No one knew how to deal with this situation. She wandered around the areas of the advance guard company and some other company – I assume she just wanted to return home, I assume she ran away from her parents, I don’t think they would have sent her there. It is possible that she was being taken advantage of – perhaps it was a show, I don’t know. I thought to myself that it was a show, and I admit that I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees because I was convinced it was one. I was sure she was being sent by Hamas to test our alertness, to test our limits, to figure out how we respond to civilians. Later they also let loose a lock of sheep on us, seven or ten of whom had bombs tied to their bellies from below. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I was convinced that this girl was a test.

85. Ultimately, they were all bombed

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

There was a list of targets distributed to the soldiers who were providing assistive fire, of all the things you can’t fire at unless you get authorization from the assistive fire commander. A school, a kindergarten, things like that. UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East), a hospital, gas stations, power stations, community centers, which are partly run by the UN, all kinds of health clinics – they told us they would mark them on the maps. They were marked in green, very clearly. Some of them were eventually bombed? Yes. Take [the neighborhood of] Shuja’iyya – almost all the locations on the forbidden list there were bombed. Each one had its own particular story, but ultimately, they were all bombed. Those targets all required prior approval by the firing officer? Yes, his advance authorization. And also the population officer (an officer charged with supervising combat-related humanitarian issues) explains to the officers that if you bomb a kindergarten without approval it could result in the entire operation being stopped. That’s what [the population officer] is there for, to give you answers. Does he address the fact that civilians could die? He does, but that’s not what the talk is focused on. We discuss the mission. Do you recall rockets being launched toward Israel from public buildings, hospitals, things like that? We could see the launching – there’s an alarm and you can see from where they originate. It’s a question of what you can figure out from the aerial shots, what that building is. There are buildings that look more ‘governmental,’ there are ones that look like big residential ones, there are yards. Most of the launchings were made from houses’ yards, and it’s unclear to which building they belonged – the one to the right or to the left. Is it part of the school courtyard? Or does it belong to that building? Or to the guy with the farm next to it? And then we say, “OK, we’ll bomb both of them.”

79. Everyone – from the commander all the way down – took dumps in pots, out of some kind of operational principle. Whatever

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

I’m thinking about that poor family whose rooftop was turned into a public bathroom by the entire company, what an awful thing. What’s this story? At some point you need to take a crap, and at first we weren’t given the bags one stashes in one’s helmets, which are really uncomfortable, so one of the guys found a plastic chair, a simple classroom one, and unscrewed its seat, and that chair was moved from one shaded place to another shaded place. The entire battalion had diarrhea and was throwing up. How awful, I thought, it would be to come back home and discover your bathroom is clogged and half the pots in your kitchen have shit in them. Your entire roof is covered in shit, and there’s shit in your garden. People shat in pots? Yes. There were lots of disputes among the commanders about this.

92. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza Strip

What happens is, you are left with very little space at which you can fire, because you need to allow for a safe range away from civilians and a safe zone from soldiers and a safe range from UNRWA buildings (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East), and so on. So during the informal part of the conversation, one of the senior oficers was this reservist and he says to us, “There’s a well-known trick, which we used [during the war] in Lebanon, too. Say you’re instructed to maintain a [safe range] away from civilians, but the target is too close to them. What you do is, on the map you mark a target that will get cleared through the higher channels – you mark a target that’s far enough [from the civilians] in the computers, so that it shows up that way. And then on the twoway you tell the [artillery] battery, “Fire on [coordinate] no. 2, and adjust by 200 meters.” It’s within your authority to decide and to discuss where to mark a target and where not to. If you know that place needs to be bombed, then you will get the target authorized by the supervising ranks – they will grant authorization, because that’s what they do – because you listed it on the map – and then it’s, “OK, the battalion granted him authorization for that.” And then in real time you’ll tell [the battery] to adjust 200 meters to the right. “Recalibrate by 200 meters.” See, that doesn’t mean much to the [supervising officers]. To them it’s “[The artillery brigade] adjusted 200 meters, they’re just recalibrating.” Those guys don’t really understand. [The soldiers in the battery will say] “We were given faulty coordinates,” or “The wind got in the way.” Standard range recalibration. You are a good war agent when you know how to strike where it’s truly needed. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue. [The reservist] told that to a bunch of guys as a sort of lesson from someone experienced, from someone who knows how things actually go down in reality, as someone who had come to explain ‘the professional secrets.’

69. An accomplishment before the ceaseire

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Aside from those targets, there were also the houses belonging to Hamas’ battalion commanders and company commanders. Various targets were hit by fighter jets that night –the air force just hit them after the ground forces retreated. When did [the air force] attack? Six or 7:00 AM. Before the beginning of the ceaseire. Why right then and not earlier, if there was intelligence? To strike a significant blow – ‘an accomplishment’ before the ceasefire. It’s sad, but that’s the way things are done.

+972mag ran an article by Avihai Stollar, the Director of Research for Breaking The Silence who discussed their method of open ended interviews:

After the testimony is verified, it is published anonymously. The reason for that is that we want to put an emphasis on the content of the testimony, rather than the testifier’s identity. The army tends to ignore claims of systemic failures, and hold individual soldiers liable. Furthermore, it spares the soldiers the potential repercussions – disciplinary as well as social – for having dared to wash the dirty linen in public. We call on the Israeli public to listen to these soldiers, and face up to their stories. They were sent to the frontline in our name, and to listen to them is the least we can do to acknowledge that.

After all the controversy and war crimes allegations following last summer’s Gaza war, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that “I can still look at myself in the mirror.” (story in Jerusalem Post) More snippets and information on the report below the fold.

44. On Friday evening we made Kiddush

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

On Friday evening we made Kiddush (a Sabbath blessing) inside one of the houses. We used a courtyard inside the house where the infantry guys were stationed. We didn’t open up the gate, we just went straight in with the tank – ran over the fence and went in. We ‘parked’ two tanks in there, which means we also had to destroy the wall between the street and the house. A little wall, a fence of sorts. We had to, because each tank takes up a lot of room. So we destroyed part of that fence, and there was also a motorcycle in the way that we ran over. We went in and made Kiddush in the living room with the infantry guys.

46. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

“You see the house on the left? Fire at it.” Boom, we fired, and we were just, like, purposelessly firing. There was no intelligence on this or that house – it was just my platoon commander and myself deciding to fire at it because you have to fire, you have to ‘provoke.’ It could well be that people were killed inside, but there really wasn’t any intelligence on those specific buildings. And that’s how it went on. “You see that house in front of you? Shoot.” He also asked me, “What can you fire at? Whatever you can physically see, fire at it.” Like, “Feel free.” And that’s how it was, really – every tank just firing wherever it wanted to. And during the offensive, no one shot at us – not before it, not during it, and not after it. I remember that when we started withdrawing with the tanks, I looked toward the neighborhood, and I could simply see an entire neighborhood up in lames, like in the movies. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces, houses on the ground, and like, people were living there, but nobody had fired at us yet. We were firing purposelessly.

51. Firing shells in his memory

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

Throughout the entire operation there was a sort of building far away near the coastline, around 4.5 kilometers from us, a building that nobody really even knew where it was located. I don’t even know what neighborhood that was. It wasn’t a threat to us, it had nothing to do with anybody, it wasn’t part of the operation, it was out by the sea, far away from anything and from any potential threat – but that building was painted orange, and that orange drove my eyes crazy the entire time. I’m the tank gunner, I control all the weapons systems, I have the sights and I’m the guy who actually fires and sees everything that happens, and the whole week or two, that orange was driving my eyes crazy. So I told my platoon commander: “I want to fire at that orange house,” and he told me: “Cool, whatever you feel like,” and we fired. We fired at a distance of 4.5 kilometers, a shell that’s supposed to be used against tanks – it’s not useful for anything else, it’s not meant to harm people, only tanks, and we were just firing at that orange house because it was orange.

55. Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Khan Younis

There was this one house we entered. We entered it ‘wet,’ (using live fire) and suddenly we hear screaming from inside the house and this father came out of a room with his hands in the air. They stopped shooting, and within seconds the battalion’s field interrogator runs in and goes to talk to him. They were in the house. A family: father, mother and three kids. They were asked why they were still there, why they had stayed. And they said, “Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to.” In the end the platoon stayed in that house for like three days. That entire time, the family was in one room, they were told, “We are staying in this house in the meantime, you stay in that room.” A guard was assigned to them, and they were given Israeli food. After three days the platoon moved to another house. The family either stayed or left, I don’t know.

64. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Do you know how high-ranking a [Hamas] militant needs to be in order for his residence be incriminated as the ‘house of an activist?’ No, and it depends on the stage of combat. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted, is the threshold of the rank of militants whose residences get struck lowered? Absolutely. See, you start the fighting with a very orderly ‘target list’ that has been assembled over a long period of time, and there are also units whose objective is to mark new targets in real-time. And when we start running out [of targets], then we begin hitting targets that are higher on collateral damage levels, and pay less and less attention to that – but there are also all sorts of efforts aimed at gathering intelligence that’s specifically for establishing new targets.

66. Let’s show them

Unit: Givati • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Rafah

The motto guiding lots of people was, “Let’s show them.” It was evident that that was a starting point. “Let’s show them.” Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards… The only thing that drives them is to look after their soldiers, and the mission – they are driven towards an IDF victory, at any price. And they sleep just fine at night. They are totally at peace with that. These aren’t people who spend their days looking for things to kill. By no means. But they aren’t afraid to kill, either. They don’t see it as something bad. The power-trip element is also at play, it’s all kinds of things. I think that a lot can be learned from Operation ‘Protective Edge’ about the issue of dealing with civilians, and how that works. There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.

71. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

On the day the fellow from our company was killed, the commanders came up to us and told us what happened. Then they decided to fire an ‘honor barrage’ and fire three shells. They said, “This is in memory of ****.” That felt very out of line to me, very problematic. A barrage of what? A barrage of shells. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses. Not into the air. They just chose [a house] – the tank commander said, “Just pick the farthest one, so it does the most damage.” Revenge of sorts. So we fired at one of the houses. Really you just see a block of houses in front of you, so the distance doesn’t really matter. Three shells on the same spot? Yeah. I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was close to sunset.

75. We are entering a war zone

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

Often rules of engagement also describe at whom you cannot shoot. Were there any instructions regarding civilians or uninvolved people? That was what was missing. There was no reference to it from higher up – from the battalion commander, say. I was waiting for this to come from higher up – and it didn’t. I remember that night I sat the guys down and told them what happens in the event of civilians. Officers held a meeting on how we define that issue to the soldiers. [Our definition was that] we would enter while shooting, enter a house with a grenade – the way it was defined – but ultimately we use our judgment if we run into a woman or child. We use our judgment and we don’t shoot. During Operation ‘Pillar of Defense,’ I remember everything went by really fast – within hours of being called up, we were geared up and ready to go, but even during that short period of time I remember that when we got to the staging area, someone said to me, “You’re an officer? Here,” and gave me a kit with maps and all kinds of booklets and formal IDF materials, and also a little booklet with instructions on how to deal with the civilian population. In that exact stage of the preparations, this kit [was something every commander was given]. I was given no such thing during [Operation] ‘Protective Edge.’ When you laid out rules of engagement for your soldiers, were you in effect violating, or contradicting the battalion commander’s orders? Yes, we contradicted the rules of engagement, but I think what we defined as regulations filled a certain vacuum. The rules of engagement were more or less that we were entering a war. We briefed the soldiers on [how to act while manning] posts, while inside houses, while defending themselves. We laid out rules of engagement using our common sense. If I remember correctly, we defined a suspect arrest procedure (a procedure that dictates firing warning shots before directing fire at a suspect), a procedure that contradicts the directive of, “Anyone you see, you shoot.” Which was essentially the directive? Basically, yes. Shooting to kill? Yes.

78. Everyone wanted to take part

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

I’ll tell you about something that I consider very, very, very problematic. It took place within our forces, and it happened in lots of cases. During quiet moments, when not a lot of intelligence was coming in, when we weren’t really firing at any targets, at times when there was a lull – for whatever reason, and Hamas was quiet and not firing as much as usual – then there was always a question mark: is [Hamas] not shooting now because we managed to hit a strategic target? And then we start digging into our intelligence to see if something specific happened, or maybe they’re just collecting themselves? Or maybe they really are taking a break because we called a ceasefire and they are honoring it. And during such a lull an officer will come up to you – sometimes a more senior one, sometimes less – and say, “OK, we have this moment of quiet, let’s see which targets we haven’t bombed yet, what else we can incriminate, what else we can declare as definite targets, let’s start working on it.” And then you find yourself – and I’m being very careful about how I say this – coercing yourself to find more targets that are quality targets, good targets. Now, in some cases that’s totally legit. You’ve suddenly got a moment of quiet so you can clear out all the noise and look at the data that’s coming in and see if it’s really quality and if you can wrest some targets out of it, or figure out some puzzle that eluded you until now by cross-checking data or something else. And sometimes the forces are so eager to keep firing or creating more targets for themselves, that often you cut a few corners to be able to say, “OK, there might be something here, and in the past when we saw such things we turned out to be right, and, well, if the house is empty and you happen to have the munitions then OK, go ahead, take it down.” That was how it was for everyone. Everyone wanted to take part.

80. The day after

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

Part of the [military] engineering rationale, of what’s called ‘the day after’ – I don’t know if that’s a term that gets published – is that when we blow up and raze areas, we can in effect sterilize them. Throughout the period of combat, one keeps in mind that there is this thing called ‘the day after,’ which is: the day we leave [the Gaza Strip], the more [areas] left wide-open and as ‘clean’ as possible – the better. One decides on a certain line – during the days after Operation ‘Cast Lead’ it was 300 meters from the fence – and it’s leveled, flattened. Doesn’t matter if there are groves there, doesn’t matter if there are houses, doesn’t matter if there are gas stations – it’s all flattened because we are at war, so we are allowed to. You can justify anything you do during wartime..

82. ‘Roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow

Unit: Gaza Division • Rank: Lieutenant

The whole ‘roof knocking’ thing (a practice in which a small missile is fired at the roof of a building as an advance warning that it will shortly be destroyed in an air strike) was understood [by Hamas] very quickly. Hamas forces are very light, really, and for them – in contrast to the general [Gaza Strip] population, and this is the great tragedy –‘roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow, or to run between the houses and vanish from the area. But for a family with a grandmother who’s sitting in the living room, it’s a bit harder.

83. Look, we’re going to put on a show

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was a humanitarian ceasefire that went into effect at 6:00 AM. I remember they told us at 5:15 AM, “Look, we’re going to put on a show.” It was amazing, the air force’s precision. The first shell struck at exactly quarter past five on the dot, and the last one struck at 5:59 AM and 59 seconds, exactly. It was amazing. Fire, nonstop shelling of the ‘Sevivon’ neighborhood, (east of Beit Hanoun) which, if I remember correctly, ran down more to the west and south of where we were in there. Nonstop. Just nonstop.

48. You fire shells at the houses and spray bullets at the orchard

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

We reached the first line of houses and the platoon commander ‘cleared up’ a few key spaces with grenades. You never ‘open’ houses ‘dry’ (without live fire) – you throw a grenade [before you enter]. It busts the walls, brings down plaster and paint. At some point you take over the house. Only a few minutes after we would finish taking over the houses, the area was ‘sterilized,’ a sweep was conducted, one made sure there was no terrorist with an anti-tank missile… Then tanks and D9s (armored bulldozers) come over at the same time. It was one of the most beautiful orchards I’d ever seen – it looked just like an old-style Moshav (a rural town), and within a few hours it was totally erased – reduced to piles of powdered sand. Tanks drove over it and broke up the ground, smashing it to smithereens. Was [the orchard] ruined on purpose, or because heavy equipment was moving through? It simply was not taken into consideration. It’s not like they said, “Hey, there’s an orchard here.” You don’t think in those terms. No one was told to destroy the orchard – it’s simply that the earth was pushed up; it was needed for a rampart.

86. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was this one time when an old [Palestinian] man approached the house and everyone remembered hearing about that booby-trapped old man (earlier in his testimony the testifier described being briefed about an elderly Palestinian man armed with grenades who tried to attack a different force). This happened right around noon, between noon and 2:00 PM. So this old man came over, and the guy manning the post – I don’t know what was going through his head – he saw this civilian, and he fired at him, and he didn’t get a good hit. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain. We all remembered that story going around, so none of the paramedics wanted to go treat him. It was clear to everyone that one of two things was going to happen: Either we let him die slowly, or we put him out of his misery. Eventually, we put him out of his misery, and a D9 (armored bulldozer) came over and dropped a mound of rubble on him and that was the end of it. In order to avoid having to deal with the question of whether he was booby-trapped or not – because that really didn’t interest anyone at that moment – the D9 came over, dropped a pile of rubble on his body and that was it. Everyone knew that under that pile there was the guy’s corpse.

95. We’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify

Unit: Air Force • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza Strip

What’s a problematic target? A target that doesn’t fall under the firing policy – that hitting it would entail violating the firing policy criteria. Can you tell me about a target that at first wasn’t approved for striking, and later did get approved? Well, after the APC in Shuja’iyya, (an incident in which seven IDF soldiers were killed when a rocket hit their armored personnel carrier) and when the brigade commander was killed (certain members of the IDF mistakenly believed, for a period during the operation, that a Golani brigade commander was killed), so things weren’t done the same as they were before. There are things in the military that are in flux – we’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify. Can you describe a concrete example? It’s something that’s known in advance. The operation wasn’t ending, it entered its first week, second week, third week, and [Hamas] kept trying to enter [Israeli] towns and kill people, so in response we struck harder. Targets that we had set aside –‘golden targets’ of sorts – they started to hit them. What are these ‘golden targets? Residences of [Hamas] battalion commanders and brigade commanders. There were many, many targets that [weren’t attacked] because they didn’t qualify under the firing policy, and then after Shujai’yya for example, suddenly some of those targets did get approved. The sort of problematic targets that were at a certain distance from some school – suddenly stuff like that did get approved.

96. The artillery is constantly firing

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

The idea behind the action being – both during the fighting and after it – that from the moment you incriminate a building – incriminate meaning that you saw some movement there, even the smallest – a terrorist going in, maybe – those are suficient grounds to take it down. The entire building? Yes. At the beginning [of the operation] they were really careful, they tried to do this with combat choppers, or guided missiles or all kinds of special forces. But the deeper we got into the operation, and the more the patience and understanding given to you by the levels of oversight – and by the Israeli public at large – slowly runs out, then it becomes OK to use artillery. “You don’t need a chopper, let’s use artillery on it, let’s bring it down, no problem with that.” It’s statistical – it has a 50 meter radius. In the end, that’s one of the problems, too – [mortars are] a statistical weapon (an imprecise weapon that cannot be aimed at specific targets, but rather at general areas), and people don’t get that. There is this conception that we know how to do everything super accurately, as if it doesn’t matter which weapon is being used – “OK, let them fire, they’re OK.” But no, these weapons are statistical, and they strike 50 meters to the right or 100 meters to the left, and it’s… It’s unpleasant.

97. Not enough time for everyone to leave

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Verifying that there are no civilians in the building – is that a mandatory prerequisite for carrying out a strike? It’s not mandatory. Because even if there are civilians sometimes – [for example, while targeting] the Shuja’iyya deputy battalion commander, [the strike] would be carried out if there weren’t too many civilians. When I say ‘too many’ I mean a double digit number. This story, how atypical was it? This was atypical due to the fact it was a multi-story building, five or six stories –because most of the houses that were seriously flattened were two, maybe three stories, tops. It was also atypical in the sense that there was information about the presence of innocent people in there. There was data about a certain number [of civilians] and it withstood the equation, apparently – and there was simply enough of an accumulation of intelligence and verified data about the presence of heads of cells in there, that they decided that the bombing was justified.

111. What the hell, why did you have to shoot him again?

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

You leave [the Gaza Strip] and the most obvious question is, ‘did you kill anybody?’ What can you do – even if you’ll meet the most left-wing girl in the world, eventually she’ll start thinking, “Did you ever kill somebody, or not?” And what can you do about it, most people in our society consider that to be a badge of honor. So everybody wants to come out of there with that feeling of satisfaction. That’s what shocked me the most. We have guys in our company walking around with X’s marked on their straps, it’s a sort of culture. Maybe it sounds to you like I’m exaggerating, but… I’d like for this whole thing of X marks – even if it’s somebody who just saved an entire Israeli family – to be forbidden.

The complete report can be found on their site: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)” More about Breaking The Silence: Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

From the introduction to the report: The operation, which was conducted under a policy determined by the most senior commanding ranks who instructed the soldiers’ conduct, casts grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics. As IDF soldiers and officers, in mandatory and reserve service, we feel it is our civil obligation to publicly expose these testimonies. The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.

Israel High Court approves confiscating Jerusalem homes of “absentee” Palestinians forced out in ’67

When it rains it pours, and if you’re a Palestinian it seems you’re stuck in a perpetual monsoon. I wouldn’t normally publish back to back diaries on Israel Supreme Court rulings, but this one is too important to pass up.

From the Haaretz story:

Only a day after the High Court of Justice upheld most of the sections of the “Anti-Boycott Law,” the justices of the Supreme Court approved the use of another controversial law: The application of the Absentee Property Law to assets in East Jerusalem. The practical effect of the ruling is that it allows the state to take control of property in East Jerusalem whose owners live in the West Bank or Gaza.

However, the expanded seven-justice panel, headed by former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis and present President Miriam Naor, did warn that the application of the law to East Jerusalem presents many problems and it must be used in only the “rarest of rare cases.” Grunis even went as far as to say that the “literal” use of the law for Palestinians who reside in the West Bank could bring about its application to Jewish settlers who own property within Israel proper, enabling the state to take over their property as well.

Riiiight, the Israeli state is going to confiscate the property of settlers. That’ll happen right after they demolish Baruch Goldstein’s home.  Because it’s the policy of Israel to demolish the home of terrorists and this is applied to all without fear or favor.

Avigdor Feldman, the lawyer representing one of the appelants in the case, said: “The justices demonstrated a very formalistic approach. They determined that it is not proper, but have passed the buck to the courts, attorney general and the Custodian. They have asked to trust the generosity of the state not to make use of [the law]. That is running away from responsibility. It is clear that the law was created during a different situation and for other purposes, and is not appropriate for the present circumstances.”Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which joined the case as a “friend of the court,” said after the ruling: “Even though the court noted in its ruling that the law is arbitrary, and the ruling brings examples of that, it allows the continued application of one of the most racist and arbitrary laws in Israel, which was enacted in 1950 with the goal of confiscating the property of Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes.”

Yet another nail in the coffin of the “two state solution” by a “respected institution” in the “only democracy in the region” demonstrating its commitments to “minority rights” except when those minorities are the kind who takes buses in “droves”. I think I’ve reached the limit for snarky air-quotes in one sentence.

In 1967, after the Six-Day War, which saw the extension of Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, Palestinians with assets in Jerusalem suddenly found themselves considered “absentee” owners, even though they hadn’t gone anywhere. Sometimes they were living only a few hundred meters away, but outside the new Jerusalem city limits and officially in the West Bank, and found their property confiscated only because Israel drew the new municipal border between them and their property, making them no longer residents of Jerusalem – though they never left their homes.

The present Supreme Court ruling came in response to a number of cases appealed to the highest court over the past few years filed by Palestinians who had their property taken under the law.The decision concerning the application of the law in East Jerusalem has significant implications for Jewish settlement in the city’s predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods. Over the years, the Absentee Property Law has become a tool for right-wing groups seeking to increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. These groups ask the custodian to expropriate houses whose residents are in the West Bank and then rent the premises from the custodian, usually for a nominal fee.

Grunis, with the rest of the justices concurring, ruled that the law does apply in East Jerusalem — and rejected the appeals of the Palestinian property owners.

Some background:

Under the law enacted in 1950, any person who lived in a hostile country, or in the area of “the Land of Israel” that was not under the State of Israel’s control, and owned property within the state, is considered an absentee owner and his property may be transferred to the state’s Custodian of Absentee Property. The primary purpose of this law was to enable use of lands belonging to Arabs who left Israel during the War of Independence.

In 2005, then-Attorney General and now Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz wrote a sharply worded letter as attorney general ordering that the law not be applied in Jerusalem. “The application of the powers of the Custodian of Absentee Property to properties in East Jerusalem raises many serious legal difficulties regarding the application of the law and the reasonableness of its decision, and … the obligations of the State of Israel toward the traditional principles of international law,” he said.In 2006, then-District Court Judge Boaz Okun also ordered the law not be applied in Jerusalem, but at the end of that year, the state appealed Okun’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

In 2013, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote in a legal opinion that the law could continue to be applied to Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu tells cabinet his biggest fear is that Iran honors nuke deal in all respects.

No, this is not from the land of make-believe. Haaretz is carrying this story: Netanyahu told cabinet: Our biggest fear is that Iran will honor nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a recent meeting of the security cabinet that if a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers is indeed signed by the June 30 deadline, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations, two senior Israeli officials said.

According to the two senior officials, Netanyahu said during the meeting that he feared that the “Iranians will keep to every letter in the agreement if indeed one is signed at the end of June.” One official said: “Netanyahu said at the meeting that it would be impossible to catch the Iranians cheating simply because they will not break the agreement.” Netanyahu also told the ministers that in 10 to 15 years, when the main clauses of the agreement expire, most of the sanctions will be lifted and the Iranians will show that they met all their obligations. They will then receive a “kashrut certificate” from the international community, which will see Iran as a “normal” country from which there is nothing to fear.

In case anyone was still on the fence about it, Bibi just made clear there’s no deal he would agree too. Certainly not one that has a snowball’s chance in hell of being signed by all parties. Haaretz goes on to detail the Congressional lobbying that the Likud-led government is undertaking.

Netanyahu and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, want to see changes inserted in the bill that will make it more binding, and even turn it into one that prevents an agreement with Tehran rather than delaying it. One change Netanyahu is seeking is a new clause that the deal with Iran be considered a treaty; an international treaty signed by the United States must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. The Republican senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, reportedly intends to demand at Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this clause be added to the bill. Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, considered one of the Republican Party’s potential candidates for the 2016 presidential campaign, wants to see an amendment to the bill adopting Netanyahu’s demand that Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist be part of any comprehensive agreement signed at the end of June.

Riiiiiight. That is about as likely as Congress making this year’s $3.1 billion aid package to Israel conditional on Israel’s recognition of Palestine. By the way, the official Iranian position is that they will recognize Israel when they’ve agreed to a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians, i.e. when the Palestinians ask them to. The Palestinian Authority and the PLO “recognized Israel” and “its right to exist” 27 years ago. Fat lot of good it did them.

Gideon Levy tears into what he sees as a weak-kneed response from US politicians to Israeli meddling in the Iran nuclear deal. He’s referring to an article I covered in a diary earlier this week: Israel will lobby Congress on Corker bill to hamper Iran deal (Haaretz quoting senior official). Levy’s column has a characteristically provocative title: American groveling before Israel reaches new low

The brain refuses to believe what the eyes read: Israel will push Congress to pass a bill, Israel will lobby the Congress. Imagine the scandal the reverse headline would ignite. The top headline of Haaretz in Hebrew on Tuesday should have reverberated in Washington and shocked America. It also should have worried many Israelis. One day it might even be taught in history class in our schools, marking the time that Israel crossed all of the red lines. A headline is only a headline, but in this instance nothing could better reflect the level of distortion that has been reached in relations between the two world powers: the one that has been revealed as being genuine, Israel, and the one that seems to be increasingly bogus and ridiculous, the United States. […] The most astonishing thing about the whole story is that the headline passed as if it never were: The distortion has become an accepted norm, the chutzpah correctness, the megalomania proportionality. Even wealthy Jews, first among them Sheldon Adelson, of course, pitched in: They are greasing the palms of congressional representatives with hundreds of millions of dollars, as revealed by The New York Times, so that they will vote against the agreement — and that too slides by in America, to hell with democracy or national interests. […] The United States, which knows a thing or two about undermining governments, should have been the first to recognize that a foreign state was trying to subvert its elected institutions. Israeli interference in Washington is not new, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brought it to unimaginable dimensions. Netanyahu? No. Sole responsibility lies with the enablers, U.S. elected officials. President Barack Obama, ostensibly the most powerful and influential man in the world, now looks like someone whose world has crashed around him: Israel opposes the agreement. In embarrassing interviews, he gives groveling a bad name. He promises Israel the sky, if only it will be satisfied. He is somber-faced, insulted by the insinuation that he would dare to criticize Israel. […] Israel hath roared, who will not fear? To Israeli ears, it might sound like proof of its might. But these fake or power-drunk thugs always come to a bad end: One day someone is bound to rip off their masks — and take revenge.

FYI, Gideon is the only Israeli reporter who was consistently traveling into Gaza to report on it, until the Israeli government made it illegal for him to go there.


Israel will lobby Congress on Corker bill to hamper Iran deal (Haaretz quoting senior official)

From Haaretz: Israel to push Congress to pass bill to hamper Iran deal

Israel will adopt two lines of attack as it tries to thwart – or at least modify – the international nuclear agreement with Iran in the coming weeks, a senior official said.Firstly, it will lobby the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would make it difficult, or even impossible, to approve a comprehensive deal with Iran if one is reached by the June 30 deadline.

At the same time, it will continue pressing the White House for the “improvements” Israel says must be made in the terms of the agreement, the official said.

It seems to me that if they go ahead and lobby Congress on the first, they make their job extremely difficult on the second.

The current draft of Corker’s proposal cannot prevent the agreement, but only delay its implementation for some time and put bureaucratic obstacles in its path.The Israeli official said Israel will try to persuade congressmen and senators to introduce a clause stipulating that the agreement with Iran should be seen as an international treaty. A U.S.-signed international treaty requires a Senate vote to go into effect.

“There’s a political struggle in Congress over Iran,” the official said. “Congress can make a decision that it’s a treaty and not an agreement. Those issues are being debated, so why don’t we make the most of it?”

13 Democratic Senators would have to join the 54 Republicans in voting for the bill to provide a veto-proof majority of 67. The current version of the bill requires the administration to provide Congress detailed briefings on the negotiations with Iran, and gives Congress 60-days to review the detailed provisions of the deal once it has been agreed (before it can be signed).

Politico reports that likely Senate minority-leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer is backing the Corker bill:

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill’s most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.
“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.Schumer had quietly signed on to a bill allowing congressional review of the Iran deal two weeks ago, but made little fanfare of his co-sponsorship. In a brief statement on Friday, he said only that he’d review the agreement. Now that the outlines of an agreement are known, Schumer’s emphatic statement that Congress has an important role becomes more significant, signaling to fellow Democrats that it’s safe to jump on board the review bill.

It seems like a dozen Democratic senators have either already co-sponsored the bill or indicated they will vote for it, and another three said today they are considering it. So a veto-proof majority may be available.

Meanwhile, Obama: Nuclear deal not predicated on Iran recognizing Israel

President Barack Obama on Monday poured cold water on an Israeli demand that a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran be predicated on Tehran recognizing Israel.”The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

The Obama doctrine of engagement requires empathy towards Iran’s legitimate suspicion of the west.

Though the negotiations are with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, it’s clearly the US view that matters since we’re the driving force behind sanctions on Iran. I don’t think most lay-persons have the chops to judge how effective the inspections/controls might be, in any case, they haven’t been finalized. That hasn’t stopped talking heads from pontificating, obfuscating or reciting talking points (thousands of centrifuges! multiple facilities! stockpiles!).

What we, as non-experts in nuclear proliferation, should develop an appreciation for is the Iranian regime’s view of its own interests and how that informs their negotiating position. Thankfully, it seems like Obama gets it, which is why the deal seems to be getting done. Obama’s interview with Thomas Friedman was illuminating in this respect. Since Israel and Netanyahu are the perennial domestic backdrop to these negotiations, Obama had to preface his comments with the requisite genuflection towards Israeli concerns:

Obviously, Israel is in a different situation, he added. “Now, what you might hear from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, ‘Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don’t have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,’ and I completely understand that. And further, I completely understand Israel’s belief that given the tragic history of the Jewish people, they can’t be dependent solely on us for their own security.

what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be … sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.

None of this should be news to anyone. There’s a hint in here of a formal mutual defense treaty that might be considered new. There have been rumors in the past Israel may be permitted to join NATO. That cannot happen without a resolving the Palestinian issue and I’ll let you figure out what the probability of that happening on Bibi’s watch is (hint, starts with “Zee”, ends with “Ro”).

Or maybe Netanyahu is so upset because he doesn’t want to pay the billions Iran is demanding for it’s share in oil pipelines and tankers Israel and Iran jointly built in the 1970s (along with oil shipments that haven’t been paid for).

Friedman made a lot of hay over how “personally difficult” it is for Obama to hear allegations that he “has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest”. Sure, the guy who’s ordering drone and aircraft strikes every other week is having a tough time dealing with the fact that right-wing talking heads and their cronies in Congress don’t have his back. In other news, the Easter bunny dropped off some candy for me yesterday.

What I did find interesting is the degree to which Obama put himself in Iran’s shoes and lent his voice to express Iran’s strategic interests and their very legitimate suspicions of the western powers. Now this might well be an attempt to sell the deal within Iran. But much of it is sincere:

I think that it’s important to recognize that Iran is a complicated country — just like we’re a complicated country. There is no doubt that, given the history between our two countries, that there is deep mistrust that is not going to fade away immediately. The activities that they engage in, the rhetoric, both anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, is deeply disturbing. There are deep trends in the country that are contrary to not only our own national security interests and views but those of our allies and friends in the region, and those divisions are real.

And now here’s something you won’t hear from the foreign-policy and constitutional law experts serving as US Senators of the GOP persuasion:

part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.

The Reagan administration supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A war Saddam started. Though to be fair, Reagan’s team did also facilitate the sale of weapons to Iran, oops Iran-Contra).

Reagan continued to provide support to Saddam Hussein while he was conducting a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, and dropping mustard gas on Iranian civilians. The CIA provided recon assistance for Iraqi chemical weapon attacks, knowing full well Saddam would use illegal chemical weapons. (I know, who’d have thought Saint Reagan’s administration capable of such perfidy).

Under Reagan, the US exercised a veto to prevent the Security Council from adopting the following resolution “members are profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops, and the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons.”

The US Navy protected Iraqi shipping, we provided laser-guided bombs to Saddam. And then as if the cake didn’t have enough icing, a US naval ship shot down Iran Air 655 from within Iranian territorial waters, killing 290 civilians, including 66 children. Which may be why they like saying “Death to America”. Imagine what we’d be chanting if the Iranian navy managed to kill 66 American children.

And it wasn’t just us, virtually every major Western power supplied Iraq with weapons and supported Saddam.

And finally as exhibit 5,826 in Iran’s “You can’t trust the West” file, we have a letter from 47 Republican Senators reminding them some American politicians are perfectly willing to renege on American promises. This is the same crew of “conservatives” who brought the US to the brink of default on its full faith and credit debt.

Obama gets why so many Iranians, of all political persuasions, might view nuclear weapons capability as the only sure-fire way to ensure their country doesn’t become road-kill in the next episode in our continuing mission to sprinkle freedom and democracy in their neck of the woods. Which is why he says:

what we know is that this has become a matter of pride and nationalism for Iran. Even those who we consider moderates and reformers are supportive of some nuclear program inside of Iran, and given that they will not capitulate completely, given that they can’t meet the threshold that Prime Minister Netanyahu sets forth, there are no Iranian leaders who will do that. And given the fact that this is a country that withstood an eight-year war and a million people dead, they’ve shown themselves willing, I think, to endure hardship when they considered a point of national pride or, in some cases, national survival.

My own read is that the Iranians likely want to develop their nuclear capability to the point where they can put together a bomb in relatively short order if they needed to. I would compare their position to Japan’s towards nuclear weapons.

Senior Iranian clerics (including Khamenei) have deep moral objections to nuclear weapons which they have voiced repeatedly. When faced with an existential threat, these qualms are likely to be pushed aside (they did develop a chemical weapons program int he end). But they likely understand that threshold capability could assuage their moral qualms while serving as an effective deterrent. They’ve had a traumatic experience where the self-proclaimed defenders of the freedom and goodness actively assisted a military dictator massacre Iranian and Kurdish civilians (who were their allies) by the tens of thousands, with weapons deemed illegal under International law. Did someone say vicious “proxy war”?

So Obama’s quite right to suggest that some risks need to be taken to help the Iranians overcome their deep distrust:

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.

For this type of engagement to work though, the inmates need to be kept from burning down the asylum while pretending to run it. Or as the Vulcan in the White House put it:

“The bottom line,” he added, “is that we’re going to have serious debates, serious disagreements, and I welcome those because that’s how our democracy is supposed to work, and in today’s international environment, whatever arguments we have here, other people are hearing and reading about it. It’s not a secret that the Republicans may feel more affinity with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views of the Iran issue than they do with mine. But [we need to be] keeping that within some formal boundaries, so that the executive branch, when it goes overseas, when it’s communicating with foreign leaders, is understood to be speaking on behalf of the United States of America, not a divided United States of America, making sure that whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican that once the debates have been had here, that he or she is the spokesperson on behalf of U.S. foreign policy. And that’s clear to every leader around the world. That’s important because without that, what you start getting is multiple foreign policies, confusion among foreign powers as to who speaks for who, and that ends up being a very dangerous — circumstances that could be exploited by our enemies and could deeply disturb our friends.”

Tom Cotton got over $2.1 million in campaign ad support from pro-Israel donors

The NY Times is running a story on how contributions from a small group of single-issue mega-wealthy donors is impacting the Republican party’s stance on Israel.

GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

Cough. No shit Sherlock. Cough.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

In other news Senator Cotton’s spokesman denied his letter writing campaign was in any way quid pro quo for this support.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

Which brings me to the real news in this story. The portion of the liberal establishment that is Jewish (including enough NY Times editors to matter) seems to be breaking big time from the current Israeli administration’s policies.

Uh, did I mention the story’s going to be on the first page of Sunday’s paper?

Or that J Street gets top billing in the story? Looks like the Times is ready to help them boost their profile.

“Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” (Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian) said. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”

“Appearing strong” as opposed to being sensible. I’m glad to hear both houses of Congress have majorities who’re focused on appearances rather than substance.

Over all, the most significant contributor by far to Republican supporters of Israel has been Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who with his wife has invested at least $100 million in conservative causes over the last four years. A large chunk was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign, but Senate Republicans also benefited, and could soon again, particularly those considering a run for president.

The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, an outcome he believes is in part driven by the demands of financial supporters.“Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”

“I know there has been all this fervent speculation that Tom Cotton and Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson were at some private room at the Venetian cooking this up,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, referring to Mr. Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas, where many prominent Republicans and Jewish leaders will gather this month. “But Tom is a smart guy and has a long record of thinking about the Middle East, and he is entrepreneurial. Tom wrote this letter.”

In other words, it may not be in the country’s interest. And it may not even be in the Republican party’s long-term interest. But it sure as shit was in Tom Cotton’s interest to write the letter.

Also, he’s an “entrepreneur”. Which is funny, I thought he was a United States Senator. But apparently lobbyists know him as an “entrepreneur”, and presumably one who knows you’ve got to watch that top-line sales/revenue number. But to have sales you’ve got to be selling something. So what exactly does Tom Cotton have that’s for sale?

Meanwhile, Chemi Shalev reminds us in Haaretz that “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference”. In that Netanyahu faces new danger in U.S. following Iran deal: Being ignored. That’s in reference to Bibi’s demand that no nuclear deal with Iran be signed till Iran recognizes Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel introduced a new demand Friday for the final phase of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, saying the completed deal must include an “unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

Asked on Friday about Mr. Netanyahu’s new demand, a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters in Washington that the negotiations with Iran on the agreement were “only about the nuclear issue.”

I guess that is State Department speak for “It’s our policy not to feed the trolls”.

And lastly, Peter Beinart looks at The three benefits of ending the U.S.’s cold war with Iran

First, it could reduce American dependence on Saudi Arabia. Before the fall of the shah in 1979, the United States had good relations with both Tehran and Riyadh, which meant America wasn’t overly reliant on either. Since the Islamic Revolution, however, Saudi Arabia has been America’s primary oil-producing ally in the Persian Gulf. After 9/11, when 19 hijackers—15 of them Saudis—destroyed the Twin Towers, many Americans realized the perils of so great a dependence on a country that was exporting so much pathology.

As many have noted, Iran is in many ways our natural ally in the region. For instance, as Beinart pointed out earlier, unlike the Saudis, Iran’s ayatollahs actually permit elections that involve quite vigorous debate.

It could empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state. American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America’s relationship with Iran’s regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse.
As Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards “thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling.” But “if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and] the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed.” Thus “if you want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates, this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal.”

Finally, ending the cold war with Iran may make it easier to end the civil wars plaguing the Middle East. Cold wars are rarely “cold” in the sense that no one gets killed. They are usually proxy wars in which powerful countries get local clients to do the killing for them. America’s cold war with the U.S.S.R. ravaged countries like Angola and El Salvador. And today, America’s cold war with Iran is ravaging Syria and Yemen.

I think Beinart makes the last two hugely complex issues seem too neat. But at least he’s bringing them up, so he should get points for enriching the discourse. Seems to be doing a better job than some of our Senators