Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Have Two Nightmares About a Palestinian State That there won't be one—and that there will be one

I Have Two Nightmares About a Palestinian StateThat there won't be one—and that there will be one

Imoved to Israel from New York in 1982, during another summer of fighting, and Israeli society was tearing itself apart. Palestine Liberation Organization forces were firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli communities in the Galilee; the Israel Defense Forces had invaded Lebanon, in Israel’s first asymmetrical war against terrorists in urban neighborhoods. As the civilian casualties in Beirut mounted, Israelis raged at each other in the streets. On Rosh Hashanah, I saw then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin emerge from a synagogue in Jerusalem, to be greeted by leftwing demonstrators shouting, “Murderer!”
This summer Israel again fought an asymmetrical war, with rising numbers of civilian deaths on the other side. But this time there were no protesters stalking the prime minister, or any real opposition from the left. According to one poll, fully 95 percent of Jewish Israelis backed the war with Hamasthis, in a country where there is rarely consensus on anything.
Beyond Israel’s borders, this unanimity has been interpreted as hysterical overreaction. Compared to Gaza, after all, Israel has suffered little devastation. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has been remarkably effective in thwarting Hamas attacks. Why, demanded our critics, couldn’t Israel show restraint?
But that critique only reveals just how deeply the world misunderstands Israel’s predicament. A new ceasefire may have finally ended this summer’s fighting. But for Israelis, the Gaza conflict is only the latest round in a highly effective war on civilian Israela war that began in September 2000, with the collapse of the Oslo process, and that continues, with prolonged ceasefires between battles, to this day. And the goal is to undermine Israel’s long-term viability in a radicalizing Middle East.

In the early years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab world tried to destroy Israel through conventional military attack. But that illusion ended with the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Arab armies surprised Israel on two fronts but were beaten back within two weeks.
The first phase of the war against civilian Israel was the four-year wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that ended in 2004. Those were arguably the worst years in Israel’s history. Numbed from constant terror attacks, we became a society of shut-ins, avoiding congregating in public with too many of our fellow citizens, afraid of becoming tempting targets.
During those years, my wife, Sarah, and I were raising two teenagers in Jerusalem. Both repeatedly came close to being caught in bombings; both lost friends. Sarah, a convert to Judaism, said to me: “Now I finally understand what my rabbis meant when they warned me I was risking the lives of my future children by becoming a Jew.”
Israel came close to losing the battle against the suicide bombers by forfeiting to them our public spaces. Pioneering Israel had become a post-modern society of shopping malls, whose people bought the latest gadgets and vacationed abroad. Did we still have it in us?
In the end we surprised ourselves and our enemies with our renewed resolve. Belatedly, we won that first phase of the war against the Israeli home front through a combination of military initiatives, targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders and the beginning of the construction of the West Bank security barrier. But ever since the question has lingered: How much longer can consumerist Israel hold out before we begin to break?
Our enemies are asking the same question. When Islamist leaders from Gaza to Lebanon to Iran mockingly declare that Israelis love life while they love martyrdom, they are reminding us that this is a war of wills.
In July 2006, Hezbollah launched a month-long rocket assault on Israeli towns and villages along the Lebanon border. The IDF performed poorly. And though some Israelis insisted we won, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s taunt lingers: Israel, he said famously, is “weaker than a spider web” that appears formidable from a distance but collapses when swiped. 
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Israeli soldiers pray at dawn at an artillery emplacement close to the northern Gaza Strip border with Israel. 
Meanwhile, throughout this last decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border. A commander at an army base near Gaza once told me bitterly that Hamas never fires rockets at his men, only at the civilian communities around them.     
The goal of these multi-front attacks on civilian Israel is to undermine Israelis’ confidence in the ability of their government and their army to defend them. That is why it is of secondary importance whether the rockets Hamas launches are sophisticated or home-made, or even whether they actually kill anyone. Their success isn’t measured by death toll but by psychological impact. Dead Israelis are a bonus; the purpose is to terrorize. As Yasser Arafat, the late PLO leader and master of psychological warfare, once put it, the goal of terrorism is to provoke Israeli despair, which would ultimately result in the wholesale emigration of Israel’s middle class and the collapse of the Jewish state.
The terror war has another, no less crucial message to Israelis: There is nowhere to hide. During Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks against Israeli cities in 1991, Tel Aviv residents fled to Jerusalem, which Saddam avoided hitting, presumably because of its Palestinian population and the Haram el Sharif, the Temple Mount. But now Hamas has fired missiles at Jerusalem, to remind Israelis that no place is safe.
Periodically, whole parts of this small country have become uninhabitable. When the rocket barrages aimed at southern Israel become especially intense, as in recent weeks, entire communities empty, their residents fleeing to the north. And when Hezbollah has fired barrages at the north, residents there have fled to the south.
The images of Israeli dislocation are hardly as heartbreaking as the images from Gaza. But the psychological consequences of the repeated if temporary uprooting of large segments of the Israeli populationand the implications for Israel’s long-term viabilityare profound. This summer the voices of Israeli despair were heard regularly on the radio, with call-ins from residents in the south, where Israelis in some communities have for years arranged their lives in a such a way so that they are always within seconds of a shelter. The common refrain was: We can’t take it anymore.
There is a real possibility of a permanent mass defection from communities in the south. And if Israelis can’t live on the border with Gaza, the same may prove true at some point for those who live on the border with Lebanon. Many Israelis will inevitably draw the conclusion anticipated by Arafat: There is no future here.
This psychological war against Israeli resolve has an additional goal: to undermine Israeli deterrence, prove that one can hit Israel’s most sensitive targets and prevail. Hezbollah made a point of firing the final shots in 2006, and Hamas did the same now, firing rockets even as the latest ceasefire was supposed to take effect. I’ve lost count of how many ceasefires were negotiated this summer, but they all shared this in common: Hamas violated every one of them (except, for now, the current one). The point was that Hamas, rather than the mighty Israeli army, would dictate when the fighting ends, just as Hamas determined when the fighting began. After violating yet another ceasefire, Hamas declared that it alone will decide when Israeli residents in southern communities will be able to return to their homes.
In demonstrating Israel’s inability to stop Hamas from firing at population centers, the message to the Middle East was: Don’t be afraid of the spider web.
Where the world sees an invincible Israel, we know how quickly our military advantage can be neutralized. The other day several rockets were fired from Lebanon into the Galilee. The rockets caused little damage and weren’t considered newsworthy abroad. But here the incident made headlines: Was Hezbollah about to attack? If Hezbollah, with its tens of thousands of missiles, does renew attacks against the Israeli home front, then the Iron Dome will be largely ineffective.
For decades Israel’s security doctrine, shared by left- and right-wing governments, was to prevent terrorist enclaves from being established on our borders, within reach of Israel’s population centers. That was the rationale behind Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. But that doctrine has collapsed, and Israelis live with a growing sense of tightening siege. On the Lebanon border, there’s Hezbollah; on the Syrian border, units of Al Qaeda; to the south, Hamas and more Al Qaedain Sinai, battling Egyptian troops and every so often firing rockets into Israel. Meanwhile, the Islamic State marches on Baghdad and approaches the Jordanian border. And further on, Israel’s worst nightmare: a nuclearizing Iran, staring down a feckless West.
There’s one more date, this one directly related to Gaza, that explains why Israeli Jews perceive this war, despite the overwhelming power advantage to Israel, in existential termsJuly 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza to the 1967 border. The rocket attacks that continued after the withdrawal convinced Israelis that the Palestinian national struggle will not stop at the 1967 line even if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank toothat the ultimate goal is the replacement of the Jewish state with a Palestine “from the river to the sea,” to quote the slogan being chanted these days in pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world.
I passionately promoted (including in The New Republic) the unilateral withdrawal. And despite all that’s happened since, which validated the apocalyptic warnings of the right, I have no regrets. Except this: Gaza’s fate could have turned out very differently if the Palestinians had taken advantage of the opening created by the Israeli withdrawal. The notion that Israel’s siege left Hamas no choice but to fight is an inversion of chronology. The siege began only in 2007, two years after the Israeli pull-out, when Hamas violently seized power and intensified rocket fire on Israel. Hamas seeks to end the siege and build a port not to improve Gaza’s civilian infrastructure but its capacity to terrorize. Port Tehran, as one Israeli commentator put it, is a channel for more advanced weaponry. The siege didn’t cause the war; the war caused the siege.

Because Hamas’ goal in this war isn’t military but psychological victory, its leaders can look at the devastation around them and still proclaim victory. In fact the devastation is an essential component of Hamas’ strategyto rouse world opinion and hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself, increasing despair among Israelis. (In the first days of the war, Hamas activists were caught disseminating images of atrocities in Syria and Iraq and attributing those to Gaza, trying to jump-start international outrage.)
Those manipulations have only hardened Israeli resolve. The hysterical accusations of genocide and the lynch mob atmosphere against Jews on the streets of Paris and Berlin have reinforced a reciprocal Israeli contempt for the world’s judgment.
Israelis know that the IDF does not deliberately kill civilians. We know this because we are the IDFbecause our sons, our neighbors’ sons, have been fighting in Gaza. We know that dead Palestinian civilians serve the interests only of Hamas, not Israel, whose military operations in the past were either curtailed or halted altogether by an errant shell that exploded in a classroom or a refugee shelter. We know that mistakes happen in war because, unlike many of Israel’s critics in the West, Israelis know war. We know that houses in Gaza were booby-trapped, that schools and mosques concealed arms caches and entrances to tunnels and were repeatedly used as launching pads for rockets.
And we knew, from previous experience, that the Hamas figures of civilian casualties, uncritically adopted by most of the media in the first weeks of the war, would turn out to be lies, and that the real proportion of civilian to combatant deaths would become clearer. In early August, The New York Times and the BBC noted the disproportionate number of combat age males among the almost 2,000 deaths then recorded in Gaza. But those predictable revelations have come too late to change widespread perceptions about Israelis as baby killers.
Despite the attempts to criminalize Israel, many here recognize that there are fair questions to be asked about some of Israel’s tactics. Should the IDF target terror leaders even if that means killing family members? What should the IDF be doing to prevent civilian casualties? How should we respond to fire from schools? Did we go too faror not far enough?
The notion that Israel didn’t go far enough wasn’t only being raised by the right. The most dovish member of the Israeli cabinet, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, has argued that Israel should consider toppling Hamas to strengthen Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, a prerequisite for renewing peace talks.
The war has already renewed the Israeli debateall but dormant in recent yearsabout the future of a two-state solution. What are the political conclusions Israelis should draw from Gaza? Labor Party opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog says that Israel should negotiate with Abbas and be prepared to give up most of the West Bank, as the only way to prevent it from becoming another Hamas base.
I ran into an old friend, a well-known journalist, whose son had just emerged from the fighting in Gaza.
So what do we do now? I asked.
“I’m ready for almost any deal,” he said. “But even if Abbas were a serious partner, I worry that he’d be overthrown by Hamas if we pulled out of the West Bank. When Bibi said that we can’t give up security control there, I actually found myself agreeing with him.”
“I have two nightmares about a Palestinian state,” I said. “That there won’t be one and that there will be one.”  
Meanwhile, we try not to ask ourselves too many questions about the future, because it is too terrifying. The only good news from this terrible summer of 2014 is that we’ve once again surprised ourselves with our resilience. When Hamas released a video of a song (sung in bad Hebrew) threatening terror attacks, Israelis countered with YouTube clips of young people dancing to the catchy Hamas tune in the streets of Tel Aviv. Other young Israelis went into battle singing the Hasidic song, “The whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid.” It was a psychological message of its own: We’re here to stay.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a New Republic contributing editor and a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His most recent book, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, won the 2013 Book of the Year award of the Jewish Book Council.

The big lie of Gaza

The big lie of Gaza

By Daniel Mandel 

As a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is hammered out, much talk is heard about aid packages for Gaza, as though none previously existed. The refrain is heard that Gazans are living in a teeming, open-air prison. Repeated endlessly by those under obligation to know the facts, the myth has it that Gaza is, according to:

Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent: "the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world."

Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency: "one of the most densely populated parts of this planet."

Amjad Attlah and Daniel Levy of the New American Foundation: "the world's most densely populated territory."

James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute: "one of the most densely populated places on earth."


Yes, Gaza is heavily populated. But its urban density is neither extreme nor the source of its woes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 Statistical Abstract, Gaza had in 2010 11,542 people per square mile. That is about as densely populated as Gibraltar (11,506).

Gaza is considerably less densely populated than Hong Kong (17,422) or Singapore (17,723). It is far less densely populated than Monaco (39,609). And Macau (52,163) is over four times more densely populated than Gaza.

No one has called Hong Kong, Singapore, Monaco or Macau teeming, open-air prisons –– with reason.

Hong Kong has the world's third largest financial center. Singapore has the third highest per capita income in the world, the fourth biggest financial center and the fifth busiest port. Monaco has the world's highest GDP per capita. Macau is one of the world's richest cities –– testimony enough to what hard work, solid industries and responsible government can achieve in small, resource-poor territories.

The idea of Gaza being the most densely populated place in the world is a propaganda fabrication with a very clear underlying logic. Meshing that claim with scenes of poverty easily conjures up the idea that Palestinians lack land and resources.

Once you believe that, it is a small jump to the conclusion that Israel should be giving them both.

In fact, Gaza has been in Arab control since Israel evacuated it in 2005, withdrawing every living and dead Israeli from its soil. Israel left behind an expensive infrastructure of greenhouses and empty synagogues, all of which were swiftly destroyed in an orgy of hate. Hamas ejected Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah from Gaza in 2007 and has exponentially increased rocket assaults on Israel –– over 9,000 since that date.

Gaza could be home to a large, prosperous population, providing that it was industrious, prudentially managed, well-governed and –– above all –– peaceful. It could be the Singapore of the Middle East. But it isn't –– it's governed by Hamas, whose Charter calling for war with the Jews until their obliteration is well-known to those who elected it. (Unsurprisingly, Gazans are more supportive of Hamas and of anti-Israel terror attacks than West Bankers).

Gaza, along with the West Bank, has been the recipient of the highest levels of per capita aid in the world. Investment not siphoned off by Hamas has produced results: Gaza boasts shopping malls, five theme parks and 12 tourist resorts.

Compare that to dismally poor Niger, with high infant mortality, life expectancy of a mere 52 years and only one doctor for every 33,000 people. But as Niger is not dispatching terrorists to murder its neighbors, few know and fewer care –– and Niger gets little aid.

In the last two years, Hamas has spent an estimated $1.5 billion, not on schools, hospitals or businesses, but on an underground infrastructure of terror tunnels deep into Israel for the purpose of mounting Mumbai-like mass-casualty terror assaults. Hamas's leaders see jihadist terror as a paramount objective, while death and destruction in Gaza is not their concern.

"Their time had come, and they were martyred," spoke a Hamas TV host of the Gaza dead during the current fighting, "They have gained [Paradise] ... Don't be disturbed by these images ... He who is Martyred doesn't feel ... His soul has ascended to Allah." More succinctly, Hamas 'prime minister' Ismail Haniyeh has said, "We love death like our enemies love life! We love Martyrdom."

The woes of Gaza are not the creation of population density, but of hate and jihad density. The answer lies not in more territory, resources or aid, but in its population and leadership prioritizing life and peace over death and war. As yet, there is no sign of this on the horizon. Irrespective of the eventual ceasefire, we can expect further wars in Gaza.

Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA' s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gaza Crisis: Israel Outflanks the White House on Strategy

Gaza Crisis: Israel Outflanks the White House on Strategy

White House Now Scrutinizing Israeli Requests for Ammunition


Benjamin Netanyahu, left, looks on as President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in March. Bloomberg News
JERUSALEM—White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.

Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it.

The munitions surprise and previously unreported U.S. response added to a string of slights and arguments that have bubbled behind the scenes during the Gaza conflict, according to events related by senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials involved. (See photos and maps surveying the destruction in Gaza.)

In addition, current and former American officials say, U.S.-Israel ties have been hurt by leaks that they believe were meant to undercut the administration's standing by mischaracterizing its position and delay a cease-fire. The battles have driven U.S.-Israeli relations to the lowest point since President Barack Obama took office.

Gaza Cease-Fire Holds After Extension
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Now, as Egyptian officials shuttle between representatives of Israel and Hamas seeking a long-term deal to end the fighting, U.S. officials are bystanders instead of in their historic role as mediators. The White House finds itself largely on the outside looking in.

U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal.

As a 72-hour pause in the fighting expired at midnight Wednesday, a senior Hamas official said negotiators agreed to another cease-fire, this one of five days. The cease-fire was holding on Thursday.

The frayed relations raise questions about whether Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu can effectively work together. Relations between them have long been strained over other issues, including Mr. Obama's outreach to Iran and U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians.

Today, many administration officials say the Gaza conflict—the third between Israel and Hamas in under six years—has persuaded them that Mr. Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy.

Israeli officials, in turn, describe the Obama administration as weak and naive, and are doing as much as they can to bypass the White House in favor of allies in Congress and elsewhere in the administration.

While Israeli officials have privately told their U.S. counterparts the poor state of relations isn't in Israel's interest long term, they also said they believed Mr. Netanyahu wasn't too worried about the tensions. The reason is that he can rely on the firmness of Israeli support in Congress, even if he doesn't have the White House's full approval for his policies. The prime minister thinks he can simply wait out the current administration, they say.

"The allegations are unfounded," said Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer. "Israel deeply appreciates the support we have received during the recent conflict in Gaza from both the Obama administration and the Congress for Israel's right to defend itself and for increased funding of Iron Dome."

A senior Obama administration official said the White House didn't intend to get into a "tit for tat" with the Israelis when the war broke out in Gaza. "We have many, many friends around the world. The United States is their strongest friend," the official said. "The notion that they are playing the United States, or that they're manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world."

American officials say they believe they have been able to exert at least some influence over Mr. Netanyahu during the Gaza conflict. But they admit their influence has been weakened as he has used his sway in Washington, from the Pentagon and Congress to lobby groups, to defuse U.S. diplomatic pressure on his government over the past month.

Israeli soldiers fire a mortar toward the Gaza Strip. Reuters
Tensions really started to flare after Israel launched Gaza ground operations July 17 and the civilian death toll started to rise sharply, prompting U.S. officials to complain that Israel wasn't showing enough restraint. Israeli officials rejected that notion, saying Hamas was using civilians as human shields.

U.S. officials say Mr. Netanyahu told them he was interested in a cease-fire from the start, but the two sides clashed over the process of achieving one and the players who would take part.

Bracing for a longer military campaign than expected, Israel approached the Defense Department within days of the start of the ground fighting to request money for more interceptors for the Iron Dome, which shoots down rockets aimed at population centers.

After consulting with the White House, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told aides to submit a proposal to Congress for $225 million.

Within the administration, the request was deemed noncontroversial because the Iron Dome was defensive and couldn't be used in Gaza ground fighting, U.S. officials said.

In meetings at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, Israeli officials told the Americans Israel had enough Iron Dome interceptors for the current Gaza operation, but wanted to replenish its stocks, according to U.S. officials who attended. So with Israel's consent, the administration didn't seek immediate emergency funding, Pentagon officials said, adding that they expected Congress to approve the request sometime in the fall.

Unknown to many policy makers, Israel was moving on separate tracks to replenish supplies of lethal munitions being used in Gaza and to expedite approval of the Iron Dome funds on Capitol Hill.

On July 20, Israel's defense ministry asked the U.S. military for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.

The request was approved through military channels three days later but not made public. Under the terms of the deal, the Israelis used U.S. financing to pay for $3 million in tank rounds. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials.

A U.S. defense official said the standard review process was properly followed.

While the military-to-military relationship between Israel and the U.S. was operating normally, ties on the diplomatic front were imploding. For the Americans, they worsened dramatically on July 25, when aides to Secretary of State John Kerry sent a draft of a confidential cease-fire paper to Mr. Netanyahu's advisers for feedback.

The Americans wanted the Israelis to propose changes. The U.S. didn't intend or expect the draft paper to be presented to the Israeli cabinet, but that was what Mr. Netanyahu did. U.S. officials say Mr. Netanyahu's office breached protocol by sending back no comments and presenting the paper to the cabinet for a vote.

The paper was also leaked to the Israeli media. U.S. officials say they believe the Israeli government publicly mischaracterized Mr. Kerry's ideas with the intent of buying more time to prosecute the fight against Hamas because Israeli officials were angry over outreach by Mr. Kerry to Qatar and Turkey.

Israel and Egypt had sought to sideline Qatar and Turkey—two countries that backed Hamas—rather than increase their influence. U.S. officials say Mr. Kerry reached out to the two because they had leverage with Hamas that would be critical to getting the group to agree to another cease-fire.

From Israel's perspective, Mr. Kerry's cease-fire draft reflected an approach "completely out of sync with Israel, not just on a governmental level but on a societal level," said Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. under Mr. Netanyahu.

"The best thing that Kerry can do is stay out... We need time to do the job, we need to inflict a painful and unequivocal blow on Hamas. Anything less would be a Hamas victory," Mr. Oren said.

The watershed moment came in the early morning in Gaza July 30. An Israeli shell struck a United Nations school in Jabaliya that sheltered about 3,000 people. Later that day, it was reported in the U.S. that the 120-mm and 40-mm rounds had been released to the Israeli military.

"We were blindsided," one U.S. diplomat said.

White House and State Department officials had already become increasingly disturbed by what they saw as heavy-handed battlefield tactics that they believed risked a humanitarian catastrophe capable of harming regional stability and Israel's interests.

They were especially concerned that Israel was using artillery, instead of more precision-guided munitions, in densely populated areas. The realization that munitions transfers had been made without their knowledge came as a shock.

"There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have," another U.S. defense official said.

Then the officials learned that, in addition to asking for tank shells and other munitions, Israel had submitted a request through military-to-military channels for a large number of Hellfire missiles, according to Israeli and American officials.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, was about to release an initial batch of the Hellfires, according to Israeli and congressional officials. It was immediately put on hold by the Pentagon, and top officials at the White House instructed the DSCA, the U.S. military's European Command and other agencies to consult with policy makers at the White House and the State Department before approving any additional requests.

A senior Obama administration official said the weapons transfers shouldn't have been a routine "check-the-box approval" process, given the context. The official said the decision to scrutinize future transfers at the highest levels amounted to "the United States saying 'The buck stops here. Wait a second…It's not OK anymore.' "

White House and State Department officials were worried about public reaction.

The Palestinians, in particular, were angry, according to U.S. diplomats.

"The U.S. is a partner in this crime," Jibril Rajoub, a leader in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed Fatah party, said of the decision to provide arms to Israel during the conflict.

Even as tensions with the White House and the State Department were spilling over, Israeli officials worked to expedite the Iron Dome money on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Israeli officials told lawmakers the money was urgently needed because they were running out of interceptors and couldn't hold out for a month or more.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Congress's goal in approving the money quickly on Aug. 1 was to send a message to the administration to stop calling Israel out about civilian casualties.

A senior Republican congressional aide said Israeli officials told senators they wanted the money sooner rather than later. He said Israel's main purpose in accelerating the vote in Congress to before legislators' August recess was to provide an overwhelming "show of support" for the military operation.

The last straw for many U.S. diplomats came on Aug. 2 when they say Israeli officials leaked to the media that Mr. Netanyahu had told the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, that the Obama administration was "not to ever second-guess me again" about how to deal with Hamas.

The White House and State Department have sought to regain greater control over U.S.-Israeli policy. They decided to require White House and State Department approval for even routine munitions requests by Israel, officials say.

Instead of being handled as a military-to-military matter, each case is now subject to review—slowing the approval process and signaling to Israel that military assistance once taken for granted is now under closer scrutiny.

A senior U.S. official said the U.S. and Israel clashed mainly because the U.S. wanted a cease-fire before Mr. Netanyahu was ready to accept one. "Now we both want one," one of the officials said.

A top Israeli official said the rift runs deeper than that. "We've been there before with a lot of tension with us and Washington. What we have now, on top of that, is mistrust and a collision of different perspectives on the Middle East," the official said. "It's become very personal."

—Joshua Mitnick contributed to this article

An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so wrong, and why it matters

The Israel Story
Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed génocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.
When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.
The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.
While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. The key to understanding the strange nature of the response is thus to be found in the practice of journalism, and specifically in a severe malfunction that is occurring in that profession—my profession—here in Israel.
In this essay I will try to provide a few tools to make sense of the news from Israel. I acquired these tools as an insider: Between 2006 and the end of 2011 I was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s two biggest news providers. I have lived in Israel since 1995 and have been reporting on it since 1997.
This essay is not an exhaustive survey of the sins of the international media, a conservative polemic, or a defense of Israeli policies. (I am a believer in the importance of the “mainstream” media, a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.) It necessarily involves some generalizations. I will first outline the central tropes of the international media’s Israel story—a story on which there is surprisingly little variation among mainstream outlets, and one which is, as the word “story” suggests, a narrative construct that is largely fiction. I will then note the broader historical context of the way Israel has come to be discussed and explain why I believe it to be a matter of concern not only for people preoccupied with Jewish affairs. I will try to keep it brief.
How Important Is the Israel Story?
Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.
To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.
The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.
News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000 ), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand . They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.
What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.
Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)
Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society—proposed legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation, and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.
The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel’s destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP, though Hamas won a Palestinian national election and had become one of the region’s most important players. To draw the link with this summer’s events: An observer might think Hamas’ decision in recent years to construct a military infrastructure beneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure would be deemed newsworthy, if only because of what it meant about the way the next conflict would be fought and the cost to innocent people. But that is not the case. The Hamas emplacements were not important in themselves, and were therefore ignored. What was important was the Israeli decision to attack them.
There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)
But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there: under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources. Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.
The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk, and many don’t speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don’t need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the simple story they have been sent to tell.
It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy, peripheral, and newly arrived players—a Finn, an Indian crew, a few others. These poor souls didn’t get the memo.
What Else Isn’t Important?
The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.
Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.
This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.
How Is the Israel Story Framed?
The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps “Israel-Muslim” would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term “Palestinian” was in use.
The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.
A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in Israel, just as Hezbollah is the dominant representative of radical Islam in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth.
Hamas is not, as it freely admits, party to the effort to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has different goals about which it is quite open and that are similar to those of the groups listed above. Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise. That’s one accurate way to frame the story.
An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.
There are, in other words, many different ways to see what is happening here. Jerusalem is less than a day’s drive from Aleppo or Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to anything else. Instead of describing Israel as one of the villages abutting the volcano, they describe Israel as the volcano.
The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the “Israel” of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.
The Old Blank Screen
For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was their role in Christian tradition—the only reason European society knew or cared about them in the first place.
Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned—and I’m not alone this summer—is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.
When the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, journalists, cover the Jews’ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers—whether they intend to or not—is that Jews are the worst people on earth. The Jews are a symbol of the evils that civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor. International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.
Some readers might remember that Britain participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fallout from which has now killed more than three times the number of people ever killed in the Israel-Arab conflict; yet in Britain, protesters furiously condemn Jewish militarism. White people in London and Paris whose parents not long ago had themselves fanned by dark people in the sitting rooms of Rangoon or Algiers condemn Jewish “colonialism.” Americans who live in places called “Manhattan” or “Seattle” condemn Jews for displacing the native people of Palestine. Russian reporters condemn Israel’s brutal military tactics. Belgian reporters condemn Israel’s treatment of Africans. When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news consumers could read about Israel “segregating buses.” And there are a lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing the Jews accused of genocide.
You don’t need to be a history professor, or a psychiatrist, to understand what’s going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle East have become what their grandparents were—the pool into which the world spits. The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country. The tool through which this psychological projection is executed is the international press.
Who Cares If the World Gets the Israel Story Wrong?
Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.
Whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain
And there was the Spanish civil war: “Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. … I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’ ” That was George Orwell, writing in 1942.
Orwell did not step off an airplane in Catalonia, stand next to a Republican cannon, and have himself filmed while confidently repeating what everyone else was saying or describing what any fool could see: weaponry, rubble, bodies. He looked beyond the ideological fantasies of his peers and knew that what was important was not necessarily visible. Spain, he understood, was not really about Spain at all—it was about a clash of totalitarian systems, German and Russian. He knew he was witnessing a threat to European civilization, and he wrote that, and he was right.
Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer means understanding Hezbollah in Lebanon, the rise of the Sunni jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and the long tentacles of Iran. It requires figuring out why countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see themselves as closer to Israel than to Hamas. Above all, it requires us to understand what is clear to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.
Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier. It should be reported as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion. Israel is not one of the most important stories in the world, or even in the Middle East; whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain. Israel is a speck on the map—a sideshow that happens to carry an unusual emotional charge.
Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality. They may convince themselves that all of this is the Jews’ problem, and indeed the Jews’ fault. But journalists engage in these fantasies at the cost of their credibility and that of their profession. And, as Orwell would tell us, the world entertains fantasies at its peril.