Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Day & Night of Power

Today was the day that Operation Protective Edge fell apart. It was predictable that it would do so. I'm fairly certain that Israeli military and political planners were prepared for it to fall apart, probably around now. How could they not be? What happened today - as unplanned as it was - has happened nearly every time Israel has launched a ground operation against a non-state player on its border. Something goes awry with the hi-tech arsenal; some war crime is committed. And then it's a race against time to achieve strategic goals before your citizenry or your allies turn sour.

Today it was an errant artillery shell on a UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War it was an air strike on a UN refugee camp in south Lebanon. In 1996 during Operation Grapes of Wrath it was an artillery barrage on the very same camp. In the certainly mistaken attacks on Qana, Lebanon in 1996 and 2006, Western tolerance and American support for Israel's military campaign came to a quick end. The same thing occurred in 1982 after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, but then it was compounded by an outraged Israeli citizenry. It still took weeks after each incident to put a ceasefire in place.

To paraphrase my blog from 2006: "What may have been a long-term 'window of opportunity' for the IDF in Gaza has now been shortened."

This time, the earlier mini-disaster of the Gaza "boys on the beach" - which played out in front of a hotel housing international journalists - prompted the perpetual diplomatic-motion-machine known as John Kerry to begin efforts to arrange a cease fire. But today's killing of approximately a dozen Gazans - mostly children - in a school/haven whose location had been supplied to the Israeli military means that the end game for this current operation, which could still be quite ferocious and easily last another week, has begun.

After the UNWRA school attack, the Israeli mainstream media was uniformly pumping out through its military correspondents a sense that Hamas is beginning to crack: the intensity of rocket salvos has diminished significantly; the Shujai'iya battle for tunnels and bunkers is over, allowing the IDF to move on to other locales; there were even reports of sporadic to mass surrenders of Palestinian armed fighters. Don't believe it.

Having icily rebuffed Kerry's initial overture, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces on Friday an important decision when he convenes his security cabinet: widen the operation, or signal a willingness to wind the operation down. Netanyahu knows he is playing with fire on many fronts. He will probably announce Israel's acceptance of a ceasefire, which Hamas will defiantly reject. That is how Operation Cast Lead sputtered out in January, 2009.

After an ugly Day of Israeli Power, Palestinians of the West Bank (who have been largely, but not completely, docile throughout this period) used social media to organize a frightful Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadar in Arabic) of their own through a march on the Qalandiya checkpoint in northern Jeruslaem. This #48kMarch, called quickly for the night which according to Muslim tradition God's Power was made manifest to the prophet Muhammad through divine revelation, comes on the eve of the last large communal Friday prayers of the sacred month of Ramadan. Laylat al-Qadr marks the beginning of the end of this solemn period, culminating on Sunday with `Id al-Fitr - the final joyous feast marking the end of a month long fast-&-feast diet. This weekend is the 2nd holiest time in the annual Islamic calendar. An estimated 20,000 West Bankers marched on the checkpoint, and 2 were killed. Night confrontations broke out in Jerusalem's Old City, and spread throughout the Bank and inside Israel.

I wrote 2 weeks ago that this may turn out to be Operation Protective Edge vs. Operation Ramadan. Now that we have arrived at the frenetic end game, this standoff is bound to get uglier still.

When the ceasefire takes hold, we will get accurate numbers and percentages and accounts of all that we have witnessed these last few weeks. All the exaggerated body counts and psy-op subterfuges will be laid bare by historians and jurists. There will be commissions of inquiry and international tribunals. There will be political bloodletting in Israel and Palestine for the wasted loss of life.

And then, some time in the not too distant future, they'll do it all again.



Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Follow Events in Israel/Palestine (Live Stream)

Israel Channel 1 HD
Sure, you can download the iPhone app Red Alert. Yes, you can follow whomever you want on Facebook and Twitter. But do you want to take it up a notch?
How about live TV from multiple Israeli and Arab-language news channels, all in one place? Don't have a DishTV satellite package that provides the Israel Channel or Arabic language channels?
All you need is an internet connection, and then install an amazing open source media control center package called xbmc.

Proper installation is a multi-part process. It doesn't matter if you are installing to Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, or jailbroken iOS. This video


https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_1114239593&feature=iv&src_vid=owX09Xxli3g&v=YcZpUV0vtxE

IDF Arabic spokesman on al-Jazeera
walks you through the necessary first few steps. It doesn’t explain how to get specifically Israel or Arabic-language channels, but it will allow you to install the repositories and add-ons that will get you there. Once you have done everything in
this video, and have installed the appropriate international add-ons (for Israel you want Israelive; for Arabic there are numerous add-ons; all can be installed by going to Programs -> World Repos), you are ready to specifically add Israelive or any of the Arab channels to your mix.


Essentially, to get Israelive, you can follow the Hebrew instructions on this page, beginning with 2.2.1 (this will allow Hebrew fonts) and then skipping to 3.4 (this will install Israelive):


http://www.hometheater.co.il/article04465.XBMC-%D7%94%D7%9E%D7%93%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9A-%D7%94%D7%A9%D7%9C%D7%9D-%D7%9E%D7%90%D7%99-2014.html


The channels come and go with each update of the add-on service. Right now I am getting Channel 1 in HD and channel 10 in SD, for some reason no Channel 2 (Update July 24: now Channel 2 is available). Also, I’ve been able to look in on al-Quds, the channel of Hamas, but without sound. Israelive also gives you all the Israeli radio stations. From other addons you can get live streams of hundreds of world channels (CNN International, SkyNews, BBC World, to name a few) by poking around a bit after everything is installed. With the proper add-on, you can watch whole seasons of Israeli TV shows.

Actually, xbmc is a far more powerful platform designed to provide you with much more than live TV streams from around the world. It also serves as a media server for a home theater. That's the principal way I use it on a dedicated PC connected to my home theater. But you can use it in this limited way on any computer.

As we say in Kabbalah: ha-mevin yavin.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Luxury of Iron Dome

Most of the Israeli tweeps I follow on Twitter are leftists. I follow them because I tend to agree with them. The occupation is morally indefensible and nationally suicidal, Bibi and his comrades are compass-less vile warmongers, yada, yada, yada. The whole 9 yards. This Operation Protective Edge is as stupid and morally indefensible as Cast Lead and Defensive Shield before it.
But...
What in God's name is a government and army supposed to do when 100 missiles a day are fired willy-nilly into your territory? Every single former interlocutor with Hamas reports that Hamas had ample time amidst unambiguous signals of restraint from the dithering Israeli security cabinet to try to ramp down this confrontation, and the universal and consistent message from Hamas, from the Islamic Jihad, and from the Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza was a defiant "NO!"
So I read someone like Noam Sheizaf, who so often I find myself in agreement, writing a piece under the completely accurate headline "Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city". But I have to ask Mr. Sheizaf, and all the others who hold the same opinion - yes, this bloodshed is the direct result of the blind & idiotic 47-year long occupation, but if there were no Iron Dome missile defense, and that M75 rocket that was intercepted over the Azrieli Towers had reached its target, would you still be able to pen such a piece? 
You see, Mr. Sheizaf, the missile hasn't actually fallen on your city. You have the luxury that your counterparts in Gaza don't - an army and a civilian government which protects you when you are under attack. It's true that this is the same government that has spurned peace overtures, that exacerbates the conflict, that defies international law. But today, having placed you in such grave danger, it is saving your life. 
Can't say the same for Hamas.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Operation Protective Edge vs. Operation Ramadan

I meant this to go up last night, and saved it only as a draft. In the meantime, both of my "indicators" came true today:

And so it begins, the next stage. In the wake of an attempted "pause" that fizzled out, rocketeers from Gaza - some certainly Hamas this round - fired nearly 70 rockets into Israel in the last 24 hours, and tonight the Israel Air Force and Navy launched a rain of fire on Gaza in an operation dubbed in English "Protective Edge" and in Hebrew צוק איתן, so the English is not exactly literal. Whatever its name, the coining of an operational name is meant to communicate to the Israeli citizenry that the Government of Israel has finally made up its mind. After 4 days of hemming and hawing (which brought the long-simmering feud between Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the breaking point) the folks at the Kiryah were instructed to produce another tough-sounding 2-word combina and let 'er rip.
For every onlooker who believes this tit-for-tat was orchestrated by an Israel chomping at the bit to torpedo the recently announced Palestinian unity government, there is a similar contingent who are convinced that Hamas was itching for a grand confrontation with the Zionist occupiers during the sacred month of Ramadan.
Both conspiracy theories sound wise and plausible; far more likely neither is true. Instead, the simple explanation seems best. The discredited US "peace processors" who argued  that the absence of even the hint of a diplomatic process would lead to certain disaster turn out to be exactly correct. In this conflict, take away the diplomats and all you have left are angry, humiliated people with long-festering grudges. 
Predictably, the Twitter-verse is immediately taking sides. In one corner are the #GazaUnderAttack people. who are blind to the horror of lobbing rockets willy-nilly onto a civilian population. In the other corner are the #IsraelUnderFire folks who are blind to the horror of lobbing not-nearly-as-precise-as-imagined munitions onto a civilian population.
If experience is a guide, the Islamic Jihad rocketeers will pull out their longer Fajr models, the ones that can put metropolitan Tel Aviv on edge. Two things to be looking for in the next 24 hours: 1) will anything be heard from Hezbollah in the north? and 2) how widespread will the next round of military mobilization (formally announced at a "mere" 1,500 so far) in Israel be? Watch for these two indicators - they will tell you if this pile-on will be more like 2009's Cast Lead (i.e., ground invasion) or 2012's Pillar of Defense (i.e., air alone). So far, less than 12 hours in, it looks like this confrontation will be more like the latter than the former.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Israel: The Ramadan Intifada?

I just returned from a 10-day visit to Israel, my first in 2 years - quite possibly the longest break in what has turned out to be more than 25 visits. My flight from Ben Gurion airport occurred on the eve of the discovery of the corpses of 3 Jewish teenagers who had gone missing 2 weeks earlier. This came after an over-the-top security crackdown in the Palestinian West Bank in which 5 Palestinians were killed in confrontations with the Israeli army.
Within 24 hours of the discovery of the 3 teenagers, a Palestinian teenager was found dead in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the most reasonable conclusion is this murder was a revenge act carried out by Jewish civilians. The Israeli capital has since been witness to ongoing and growing skirmishes which have wrecked the municipal light rail connector to a northern Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. All this takes place during the first week of the Islamic commemoration of the first divine revelation to the prophet Muhammad - a time of increased religious sensitivity - coinciding with the Muslim month of Ramadan. Israeli authorities blocked the family of the slain teenager from congregating at the Noble Sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock, and this Friday morning's upcoming communal prayers at the Noble Sanctuary hold the potential for a new crescendo in intercommunal violence.
At the same time, and quite certainly unrelated to the savage death of these children, a barrage of Gaza-based rockets have been falling on southern Israel, with the predictable Israeli response: air attacks on targets in crowded Gaza with the attendant "collateral damage," a visible strengthening of ground forces around the Gaza ghetto, and behind-the-scenes consultations with Egypt, who convey Israeli demands to the leaders of Gaza, and provide assistance in closing off Gaza from the Egyptian side.
Israel is now descending into a cruel kind of hell - not unprecedented - but heavily laden with potential regional repercussions. Within hours of the discovery of the 3 teenagers, the inner sanctum Israeli security cabinet held an emergency meeting, where a significant rift emerged between one camp that wanted to "go medieval" on Hamas and the Palestinian territories, and one camp counseled a more attenuated response. The security cabinet has now met 4 times in the last 3 days, unable to reach a unanimous consensus on how to proceed. In the meantime, Israel's army anticipates a limited mobilization and contemplates far more.
Nothing of the last 4 days represents a change in the broader regional equation. There will be no truly destabilizing state-to-state conflict as a result of this blood revenge. Egypt's generals are not going to go to war even if Israel launches yet another full-scale assault on Gaza; Syria is completely consumed with her own struggles with ISIS, as is Jordan. There will be no war in Israel-Palestine this summer.
But there is the possibility of two kinds of unmanageable outcomes: a growing Palestinian expression of despondency and humiliation in the form of a new "shaking off"/intifada, which would mark a historic low point in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle; and a sudden escalation of the missile strategy on the part of Gazan rocketeers and possibly Hezbollah to the north, placing far more than the southern Gaza-ring Jewish citizens under potential threat. Either scenario is judged manageable by Israeli security analysts (armed with UAVs and Iron Dome), but if history teaches us anything, it is that events can often go careening off into trajectories not anticipated by the wisest of generals.
The "peace process" is dead. The Palestinian unity government, which is a precondition for any successful 2-state solution, is teetering, to the delight of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who has no interest in consummating any kind of political deal at this time.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are frustrated and enraged, but both sides hold chess pieces in a complicated balance-of-terror calculus. What is true of this dangerous moment in the Arab-Israeli conflict is the same truth that has dictated the conduct of all sides since the struggle commenced. There are no peacemakers amongst the government in Jerusalem, the council of clerics in Gaza, and the technocracy in Ramallah. In any event, the general populace of Jerusalem, Gaza, and Ramallah are taking matters into their own bloody hands. All sides sadly must play out their bad positions until they conclude they must try another way. The history of this conflict is that each side is convinced that the other side only "understands" violence and threat. In the absence of a political process, communal violence and more-tit-for-less-tat reprisals are the standard operating procedure. 
This slow-motion descent into savagery will have to play itself out, until someone says "uncle." Innocents and guilty on both sides alike will die as a result. Be prepared for a rough, but not apocalyptic, Ramadan intifada for the month of July.