Opinion

The Great Debate

Peace may be the true threat to Hamas, Israel’s leaders

Relatives of a Palestinian woman, who medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during her funeral in Khan Younis

It’s time to wonder whether Israel and Palestine will ever be able to move out of the moral abyss into which they’ve plunged themselves, and address the threat of peace.

“Threat” is the right term. Because peace is dangerous for leaders in the Middle East.

It always has been. But back in the early 1990s, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who hated everything the other stood for, knew that each had his reasons for working for peace. Just possibly, they imagined, peace would be better than war for future generations. Certainly it would not be as wasteful.

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza CityNot that those days were bliss — but at least peace was plausible.

The tragic truth is that positions have hardened now. Today’s rulers, singularly unimaginative and reactive, are not vessels aching to be filled with the potion of peace. Both Rabin and Arafat learned in brutal fashion that working toward peace is a perilous, risky business.

After this past decade, can the two sides ever be courageous enough to move beyond their twisted mutual history toward shaky and precarious chairs at the peace table?

Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system is an ironclad success

An interception of a rocket by the Iron Dome anti-missile system is seen above Sderot

While the troops of Israel’s Air Defense Command are blasting Grad and Fajr rockets shot from Gaza out of the sky with success, there are an obsessive few who try to blast Iron Dome’s evident achievements into oblivion. They insist on trivializing the missile-defense system’s rock-solid record because the facts don’t fit their theory that no missile defense system can ever work.RELATED COLUMNS David Axe: Israel's Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve EDITOR: Two views of Iron Dome's success in IsraelThe chief Iron Dome scold is Ted Postol of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a professor with academic standing but no experience in designing or managing the development of modern missile systems. He postulates that missile defense is innately belligerent and as quixotic as “the idea that a nuclear war can be won” but admits that the public would not  readily agree with his views. He casts missile defense as irretrievably faulty and wasteful, with Iron Dome — the product Israeli technical savvy and U.S. defense funds — squarely in his sights.

Judging from grainy YouTube downloads of Iron Dome interceptions that show mostly indistinct windswept smoke trails and blast clouds, Postol infers that the majority of the interceptors over Israel have missed their targets. But none of the images show the targeted rocket. He relies on his own calculations on how Iron Dome ought to work.

Ironically, Postol’s fellow critic, Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratories, has said he believes Iron Dome’s success rate to be almost eightfold higher than that calculated by Postol — 30 percent to 40 percent — though they both viewed the same footage. When two critics working so closely together disagree so dramatically in their conclusions, one may wonder at the scientific rigor of their analyses.

from Stories I’d like to see:

What we don’t know about Qatar and what we don’t know about key Senate races

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha

1. Inside Qatar:  the terrorists’ benefactor and America’s friend

As the war in Gaza continues, we keep hearing that one pipeline for negotiations with Hamas goes through Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich kingdom in the Gulf that has friendly relations with Hamas. In fact, Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas and provides financial support.

According to the online Times of Israel, “Qatar continues to fund the movement’s terror apparatus abroad, enabling tunnel digging and rocket launching.”

The United States, like Israel, has branded Hamas a terrorist group and, over the weekend, stepped up its criticism of the Qataris’ support of Hamas. Yet Washington maintains friendly relations with Qatar. The bond is so tight that the largest U.S. military base in the region is there.

Israel’s Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in Ashdod

Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome defense system is more like an iron sieve. It fails to destroy all but a few of the rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups fire at Israeli communities. But Israel’s early-warning civil-defense systems have proved highly effective.RELATED COLUMNS Uzi Rubin: Iron Dome is an ironclad success

The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza City

Cairo’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, according to conventional wisdom, have largely been dictated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s animosity toward Hamas. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has declared a terrorist organization and regards as a serious threat.

That is why, this argument goes, the Egyptian ceasefire proposal ignored Hamas’ conditions and why the Israelis so quickly supported it. The proposal called for an immediate ceasefire. Only then would the terms be negotiated, including Hamas’ demands for an end to Israeli attacks, an end to the blockade of Gaza and the release of rearrested Palestinians who were freed in a prisoner 2011 exchange.

The story is far more complicated, however, for both Sisi and Egypt. Because the longer the war goes on, the more Gaza becomes a domestic problem for the Egyptian president. One he does not want.

from Stories I’d like to see:

The facts on Iron Dome, suing over Flight 17 and reviving the VA

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod

1. Figuring out the Iron Dome:

As I kept reading and seeing television reports last week about how the Iron Dome missile defense system was doing such a good job protecting Israel from Hamas’ rockets, this intriguing story by the highly regarded veteran journalist James Fallows appeared on the Atlantic website.

Fallows points to other reports suggesting that the system’s success might have been greatly exaggerated and, in fact, that in the midst of war, reporters – he singles out this Washington Post story -- often get seduced by military officials and weapons makers into overstating how effective some new piece of weaponry has been.

So, there is obviously a lot more work to be done here figuring out just how good the Iron Dome really is.

from John Lloyd:

As Israel attacks Gaza, Jews elsewhere feel an impact

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As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel -- and sometimes, by extension, Jews -- in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There's a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London -- and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine. 

People from Sri Lanka didn't live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government's suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments' actions?

Netanyahu hopes to avoid Gaza ground operation. Why he might order one anyway.

An Israeli soldier rests atop a tank stationed on a field outside the central Gaza Strip

To understand whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to send ground troops into Gaza, it might help to scrutinize one of his decisions from this week.

While the Islamic Hamas group pummeled Israel with rockets and took deadly hits from Israeli warplanes, the cabinet announced that it had authorized the army to mobilize 40,000 reservists – a huge force by any measure.

A large operation against Hamas would certainly involve reservists. But when Israel genuinely prepares for military campaigns, it does so quietly, often censoring information about call ups and imposing gag orders on journalists.

Seeking ‘good-enough-governance’ — not democracy

Only rarely have American leaders been able to reconcile the nation’s democratic values, material interest and national security.

Despite these tensions, promoting democracy has always been a lodestone for American foreign policy. Sometimes its attraction has been weak, very weak, overshadowed by more immediate national security concerns. During the Cold, War, for example, the United States backed many autocratic leaders in exchange for their support against the Soviet Union — or at least for pretending to be democrats. Sometimes, very rarely, as in the case of Germany and Japan after World War Two or Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all good things — freedom, security, economic prosperity — have gone together. But these moments are exceptional.

Often the most effective way to increase the chances of freedom in the long run is to improve the prospects for security and economic growth in the short run — rather than pressing for direct democratic reforms.

Mideast’s dynamic opportunity for peace

The Arab world may be in turmoil, but its leaders actually need an enduring peace—now in Gaza and long-term with Israel—because regimes across the region are vulnerable as never before.

Whether they like it or not, that’s true for newly elected Islamists. And old-order autocrats need resolution to prevent protests at home from turning against them.

The challenge for Washington is taking advantage of the vulnerability to work with the new political roster — including players it doesn’t know all that well. The tectonic political shift over the past two years offers a dynamic opportunity.

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