Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Egyptian President al-Sisi in CairoIndeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi’s opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now — he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war.

First, though many Egyptians view Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, most sympathize with the Palestinians and are angry at Israel. When they see the scale of casualties —  for example, the death and destruction in the Shuja’iah neighborhood in Gaza — they overwhelmingly blame Israel. This is true even as their leaders express anger over Hamas’ refusal to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

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.

Life — if you can call it that — under Israel’s Iron Dome

 Israelis take cover on the side of a road as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets outside the northern Gaza Strip

I’ve become pretty great at rocket dodging. As a New Yorker living in Tel Aviv while researching a book, I never thought I’d say that. And yet it’s true: since Hamas began firing rockets into Tel Aviv on July 8, I’ve learned to move quickly.

Out jogging when a siren blares? I have 90 seconds to find the nearest building with a bunker or drop down in a ditch, hands over my head. Driving a car? I have 90 seconds to pull over, get out and lie on the pavement, hands over my head.

Since Hamas began tossing rockets indiscriminately at Israel — hoping that the Iron Dome will miss at least one of them — I’ve started a tally.

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.

Bergdahl reveals the impossible choices faced by hostages’ families

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl waits in a pick-up truck before he is freed at the Afghan border

The furor surrounding the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl this week has exposed the murky world — and impossible choices — of the families of Americans taken captive by militants.

Demands for vast ransoms or for prisoner releases put these families in the excruciating position of seeming to be able to save a loved one’s life. Meet demands and your beloved lives. Hesitate and carry responsibility for their death to your grave.

Yet few families have access to the sums of money that militants demand. Nor can they free prisoners held by the United States or a local government. Despite the fact that the families feel primary responsibility, they have no real control.

For Bibi, time for talk is past

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to last week’s National Conference of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was another rhetorical tour-de-force by this most silvered-tongued of Israeli leaders.

Netanyahu again promised to defend Israel against an Iranian nuclear threat and to be beholden to no other nation in his zeal to protect his people. There were applause lines for almost everyone.

He attacked efforts to orchestrate boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel in withering terms. He extolled Israeli medical advances and water conservation achievements, highlighted Israel’s role in treating victims of the Syrian civil war and envisaged Israeli strategic and economic cooperation with Arab Gulf States.

Obama’s flawed case for a Syria strike

We should not bomb Syria without a vital national security interest and a precise foreign policy objective.

Right now, the Obama administration has not established either.

Under the United States’ legal and historical precedents, a president faces the highest burden for justifying military attacks that are essentially optional: actions not required for self-defense and which are not in response to an attack on the United States — or imminent threat of such attack.  Intervening in the Syrian civil war fits that difficult category.

Even supporters of Syrian intervention do not claim it is required for U.S. security, since the Assad regime has not directly attacked the United States or its interests. In fact, the mission’s stated goal doesn’t attempt to qualify as traditional self-defense. The aim is to “prevent or deter” Syria from killing its citizens with chemical weapons, according to the Obama administration’s original draft resolution.

In Israel, an unsettled peace process

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is annoyed. Before meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu complained about a recent European Union decision to stop EU grants, prizes and loans from going to Israeli entities located in the occupied territories or that conduct activities there. “I have to say,” Netanyahu declared, “on a sad note, that I think Europe, the European guidelines (on the settlements) have actually undermined peace.”

In the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics, it’s not the existence of the settlements, or their constant expansion, that undermines peace. It’s the attempts to curb their growth. This is like somebody blaming life-saving chemo treatments for making him sick.

Israel began building settlements almost immediately after the 1967 Six Day War when it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. By 2012, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there were some 325,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and another 190,000 in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which had been ruled by the Jordanians between the wars of 1948 and 1967. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 — although this has never been recognized by the international community.

Alicia Keys: Breaking the cultural logjam in Israel

Alicia Keys at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

JERUSALEM — The fireworks before the Alicia Keys concert in Tel Aviv on July 4 have been from activists demanding that the singer cancel her performance in Israel. But she was not swayed by these false comparisons between Israel and South Africa under apartheid.

Good for her. Israel is no Sun City, the race-restricted resort created by Pretoria in the 1980s to evade the international boycott against the apartheid regime.

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