Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

  • The Case for More Guns (and More Gun Control)
    Sven Liendbaek

    The Case for More Guns (and More Gun Control)

    How do we reduce gun crime and Aurora-style mass shootings when Americans already own nearly 300 million firearms? Maybe by allowing more people to carry them.

  • The Quickest Path to Palestinian Independence

    Maybe the quickest way for Palestinians to achieve independence in Gaza and the West Bank is to give up their dreams of independence.

    Maybe the quickest way for Palestinians to achieve independence in Gaza and the West Bank is to give up their dreams of independence. From my Bloomberg View column this week:

    When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn't ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: "Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular. We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel's rulers."

    Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world's only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world's 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

    Israel's response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.

    This won't happen, of course. Israeli intransigence has always had a friend in Palestinian shortsightedness.

  • 'Shame on Anyone Who Thought Morsi Was a Moderate'

    Strong words from Muslim Brotherhood expert Eric Trager.

    Strong words from Eric Trager, a Muslim Brotherhood expert:

    Washington ought to have known by now that "democratic dialogue" is virtually impossible with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now mobilizing throughout Egypt to defend Morsi's edict. The reason is that it is not a "democratic party" at all. Rather, it is a cultish organization that was never likely to moderate once it had grasped power.

    '(T)he process through which one becomes a Muslim Brother is designed to weed out moderates. It begins when specially designated Brotherhood recruiters, who work at mosques and universities across Egypt, identify pious young men and begin engaging them in social activities to assess their suitability for the organization. The Brotherhood's ideological brainwashing begins a few months later, as new recruits are incorporated into Brotherhood cells (known as "families") and introduced to the organization's curriculum, which emphasizes Qur'anic memorization and the writings of founder Hassan al-Banna, among others. Then, over a five-to-eight-year period, a team of three senior Muslim Brothers monitors each recruit as he advances through five different ranks of Brotherhood membership--muhib, muayyad, muntasib, muntazim, and finally ach amal, or "active brother."

    Throughout this process, rising Muslim Brothers are continually vetted for their embrace of the Brotherhood's ideology, commitment to its cause, and--most importantly--willingness to follow orders from the Brotherhood's senior leadership. As a result, Muslim Brothers come to see themselves as foot soldiers in service of the organization's theocratic credo: "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations." Meanwhile, those dissenting with the organization's aims or tactics are eliminated at various stages during the five-to-eight-year vetting period.
  • A Hero: Vladka Meed, RIP

    She smuggled weapons into the Warsaw Ghetto and, after improbably surviving the Shoah, made sure we remembered what had happened.

    Vladka Meed, who smuggled weapons into the Warsaw Ghetto and, after improbably surviving the Shoah, made sure we remembered what had happened, has died. It was my great honor to have met her on a number of occasions. She was the definition of heroism.

    We have entered a period, sadly, in which the last Holocaust survivors, and the last veterans of World War II, are dying. I'm trying to make it a priority to meet more of them -- and introduce them to my children -- before they're all gone.

    Here's The Times on Meed:

    Mrs. Meed's resistance work started with the deportation of 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp and continued after the uprising by the ghetto's besieged remnants. She told her story in Yiddish in her 1948 book, "On Both Sides of the Wall," one of the first published eyewitness accounts. It was translated into English, German and at least three other languages, is still in print, and was a central source of the 2001 television movie "Uprising."

    When the Germans walled off a portion of Warsaw, she was still a teenager. Working as a machine operator sewing Nazi uniforms, she grew increasingly dejected watching the deportations in 1942 that included her mother, a 13-year-old brother and a married sister. But she responded resourcefully to a call for armed resistance.

    With her brownish hair and prominent cheekbones, she could pose as a gentile, so the Jewish underground asked her to live on the Christian side of the wall and become a courier. Born Feigele Peltel on Dec. 29, 1921, she took the Polish nickname Vladka.

    Women were often preferred as couriers, she said in a 1983 interview. "If a man in the underground went on a mission, he could be recognized as a Jew by his circumcision," she said. "A woman's body might be searched, but it could not give that information."

    She was soon buying bullets, pistols, even dynamite, and carrying them, as well as money and essential information, to the Jewish side of the wall. Sometimes she became part of a Polish ghetto work detail, sometimes she bribed her way across and sometimes she clambered over the wall. With death all but certain, she once recalled, "there was very little left to fear."

    Several times, she smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto and into the homes of sympathetic Christian families. According to Michael Berenbaum, a leading Holocaust scholar, she helped pass on to the Polish underground the startling news about Treblinka -- that trains filled with Jews were returning empty, that no food was being shipped and that there was an omnipresent stench of corpses.


  • The Strange Obsession With Proportional Body Counts

    The Israeli body count isn't low because Hamas is trying to minimize casualties. Quite the opposite.

    The New York Times has a very good editorial on Hamas that is flawed by an illogical assertion. About that assertion in a minute, but here's some of what the Times says:

    Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007 and is backed by Iran, is so consumed with hatred for Israel that it has repeatedly resorted to violence, no matter the cost to its own people. Gaza militants have fired between 750 to 800 rockets into Israel this year before Israel assassinated one of its senior leaders last week and began its artillery and air campaigns. That approach will never get Palestinians the independent state most yearn for, but it is all Hamas has to offer.

    Israel also has a responsibility for the current crisis, which threatens to complicate and divert attention from international attempts to deal with the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. Israel has a right to defend itself, although it is doing so at the cost of further marginalizing the moderate Palestinian Authority that helps administer the West Bank and it risks further isolating Israel diplomatically.

    Okay, fine. But then the editorial states the following, in an effort to suggest that the Hamas threat is not quite existential:

    Israel has a vastly more capable military than Hamas, and its air campaign has resulted in a lopsided casualty count: three Israelis have been killed.

    Whenever I read a statement like this, I wonder if the person writing it believes that there is a large moral difference between attempted murder and successfully completed murder. The casualty count is lopsided, but why? A couple of reasons: Hamas rockets are inaccurate; Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system is working well. But the Israeli body count isn't low because Hamas is trying to minimize Israeli casualties. Quite the opposite: Hamas's intention is to kill as many Israelis as possible. Without vigilance, and luck, and without active attempts by the Israeli Air Force to destroy rocket launchers before they can be used, the Israeli body count would be much higher. The U.S. judges the threat from al Qaeda based on the group's intentions and plans, not merely on the number of Americans it has killed over the past 10 years. This is the correct approach to dealing with such a threat.

  • Rupert Murdoch, Ground Invasions, and the Downside of the Iron Dome System

    Some updates, and questions answered.

    Some updates, and questions answered:

    1. I'm waiting for Obama's critics on the right to acknowledge that he has backed Israel unequivocally since this mess started. And I suppose I will continue waiting.

    2. A good reason why Netanyahu and Barak may not opt for a ground invasion, from Anshel Pfeffer: "Netanyahu is obsessively cautious. Barak is a fan of quick and sophisticated maneuvers. They are not disposed to a protracted, large-scale campaign and beneath the talk of "broadening the operation" is an eagerness to find a way of ending it this week still."

    3. Palestinians who hope for Israeli civilian deaths ultimately aren't doing themselves any favors, via Khaled Abu Toameh:

    There is nothing more nauseating than watching people celebrate as rockets are being fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. This is what happened last week when Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    As soon as the sirens went off, many Palestinians took to the streets and rooftops, especially in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, to cheer Hamas. Sometimes they responded to the Hamas rockets by launching fireworks into the air as a sign of joy, and chanting, "We are all Hamas!" and, "O Jews, the army of Mohammed is coming after you!"

    Scenes of jubilation over the rocket attacks on Israel were also reported in several Palestinian cities in the West Bank, including Ramallah, the center of Palestinian "pragmatism and moderation.'

    4.  A friend of Goldblog who knows a great deal about the Middle East wrote in to point out a potential downside of the Iron Dome system, which is doing a very good job of protecting Israeli skies:

    As I have watched the conflict, one of the things that has worried me has paradoxically been the effectiveness of the Iron Dome system.
     
    Obviously, any weapons system that reduces civilian Israeli fatalities is a good thing. Let's get that out of the way first and foremost: we are right to hail this marvelous new technology. But ideally, the Iron Dome would allow Israeli civilian leaders the space to make hard choices about what, exactly, they are to do with Gaza. I had the same hope for the Wall/Fence in the West Bank. Leaving aside for a moment the tricky issue of where the Wall/Fence was constructed, it nonetheless effected a stunning drop in suicide attacks in Israel proper. This, again, is a good thing. But instead of giving Israeli civilian leaders the space to make hard decisions about what to do in the West Bank, the Wall/Fence instead allowed most Israelis to forget about the West Bank and the Palestinians altogether. The Palestinians, out of sight, drifted out of mind as well.
     
    But the problem of what to do with the people and the land Israel conquered in 1967 isn't going away. In the near term, I very much hope Israel is able to stop the rocket attacks from Gaza. But in the long term, I hope the solution to Gaza will not be to simply build bigger and better walls -- both on the ground and in the sky -- while continuing to put off hard political decisions.

    5.  MIchael Wolff dissects Rupert Murdoch's very strange tweet about Jewish publishers (the one that proves the point that a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who likes Jews):

    In fair context, Murdoch comes from a generation (he's 81) and a place (Australia) where the word Jewish was often used in a way - a way that most often had an "other" implication - that it is not used now. And in private, Murdoch remains very much an unreconstructed person from his time and place.

    Indeed, there is almost always a fluttering around Murdoch by his minders in an effort to clean up his retrograde-ness. (Once, when I interviewed his now 103-year-old mother, she made a retrograde remark about her son's Chinese wife that precipitated some serious crisis management in the company. Curiously, Murdoch's wife Wendi often uses the word "Jewish" in an atonal context - "You Jewish, right? I know you Jewish!" - that makes Murdoch's minders jump.) He may even become more retrograde to bedevil his minders.

    But there is, among the people around, including the many Jews around him, a real and unresolved question about what Murdoch actually thinks about the Jews.

    Gary Ginsberg, his long-time aide - part chief-of-staff; part PR consigliere - was often hurt and confounded by Murdoch's jibes, insensitivities, and humor (there was the Christmas every executive desk got a crèche by order of the boss). Once, with me, Murdoch got into a riff about Jewish groups and money: how they were good at tricking him out of his dough.

    6.  A Goldblog reader asks: "Your solution, to somehow engage Egypt, is no solution.To follow your reasoning, Egypt gets lucky and negotiates a cease-fire; Israel withdraws a bit and then another missile is launched, as you know it will. And another.  What then? You've seen what happens after Cast Lead. A brief lull and then more missiles. So....?

    Is anyone under the impression that a long-term solution is in the offing? There will be a cease-fire, and that is a good thing -- Hamas's rocket supply will have been degraded, and, with any luck, Israel and Gaza can avoid a debilitating ground war. But since all the trends are negative in the conflict, we'll be here again. There is no military solution, and there is no direct political solution. But it would be better for Israel to stop now, and it would be good for Egypt to show itself to be a responsible player. I'm not kidding myself about the long-term, though.

  • Why Do Americans Support Israel?

    Walter Russel Mead offers an explanation.

    Walter Russell Mead offers an explanation:

    ...(W)hen television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel's strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can't win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed. The whole situation strengthens the widespread American belief that Palestinian hate rather than Israeli intransigence is the fundamental reason for the Middle East impasse, and the television pictures that drive much of the world away from Israel often have the effect of strengthening the bonds between Americans and the Jewish state.

    This automatic Jacksonian response to the Middle East situation overlooks some important complexities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in the past America's Jacksonian instincts have gotten us into trouble. But anyone trying to analyze the politics of the Middle East struggle as they unfold in American debates needs to be aware of the power of these ideas about war in American life.

    In any case, when Israel brings the big guns and fast planes against Gaza's popguns and low tech missiles, a great many Americans see nothing but common sense at work. These Americans aren't mad about 'disproportionate' Israeli violence in Gaza because they don't really accept the concept of proportionality in war. They think that if you have jus ad bellum, and rocket strikes from Gaza are definitely that, you get something close to a blank check when it comes to jus in bello.

  • Against a Ground Invasion of Gaza

    There are many temptations to send in troops, but it's still a bad idea.

    A ground invasion of Gaza is a bad idea. The temptations are many -- Gaza is controlled by an anti-Semitic Muslim fundamentalist organization committed to Israel's destruction, and it obviously harbors many men who are actively plotting ways to kill Jews. But there is no military solution to Israel's political problem in Gaza, short of some sort of World War II-style Tokyo campaign, or Putin-style Chechnya campaign (or, for that matter, an Aleppo-style Assad campaign). If Israel were to go into Gaza, and get lucky, it could avoid creating masses of civilian casualties. But the Israeli attitude, after the Jenin experience in 2002 -- in which soldiers lives were lost precisely because the army, for humanitarian reasons, chose not to bomb the Jenin camp from the air -- is that it will not put its soldiers in undue harm simply to avoid creating the civilian casualties that the cynics of Hamas hope they would create (and work assiduously to to help Israel create).

    Israel does not have the freedom of action to wipe out Hamas's armed wing (plus the armed wings of other groups that may or may not fall under Hamas control or influence). Plus, it shouldn't lay waste to Gaza, both because this is immoral, and because Gaza will, the day after, still be Israel's neighbor.

    The air campaign against Hamas rocket sites is understandable and defensible. A ground invasion will lead to misery and woe; to a total rupture with Egypt; to a further loss of legitimacy, and thus, deterrent capability -- and, at the end of the day, does anyone actually believe that Israel would be able to fully neutralize the Hamas/Islamic Jihad threat? These groups might need time to rebuild, but they would be rebuilt.  And then what? Another ground invasion?

    Now is the time to try the Egypt card. As Meir Javedanfar writes:

    ...(W)e should... engage the Egyptians. Instead of invading Gaza and pushing Morsi into Hamas's corner, lets continue to make Hamas his problem. An invasion will not be in Morsi's interests either. He has enough economic problems on his plate. With a major economic problem on his hands, he would prefer not to anger the Americans, and the EU by being seen to back Hamas.

    So lets get the Egyptians to start a massive shuttle diplomacy to rein in Hamas attacks. If they manage to do this we in Israel will have averted a war and all its costs while Morsi could say that he is now the biggest power broker in the region.

    If someone could plausibly make the argument that a ground invasion represents a long-term solution that both avoid large numbers of casualties and enhances Israel's international position, I'm all ears.

    In the meantime, perhaps Israel should contemplate actually moving the Palestinians down the road of political independence on the West Bank, under moderate, far-seeing leadership. This might convince the people of Gaza that Hamas does nothing for them. Of course, there's no sign Israel's leadership takes seriously the need to create conditions on the ground necessary for the establishment of a Palestinian state. So here we are, again.

  • The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel's Lack of Strategic Thinking

    Some observations as the Gaza crisis continues to unfold.

    Some observations as the Gaza crisis continues to unfold:

    1. The Iron Dome anti-rocket and missile defense system seems to work better than most people expected. Israel is becoming very good at shooting down missiles.

    2. Israel also seems to be getting better at not killing civilians in Gaza. The numbers are of course too large, and this could change in an instant, but right now the casualty rate is much lower than in Operation Cast Lead. And yes, of course, much smaller than the numbers from the American drone war in Pakistan. Hamas, of course, is trying to maximize civilian casualties. Which brings me to:

    3.The media is biased against Israel. Yes, got it. Yes, Israel is being judged harshly. Yes, I know that probably 300 people have been murdered in Syria since this Gaza affair started, and no one cares. An acquaintance of mine, a Syrian living in Beirut, wrote me in frustration about this last night. "We get very little interest from the international press compared to the Palestinians. What should we do to get more attention?"

    My advice is to get killed by Jews. Always works. That said, what do pro-Israel people want? And what does Israel itself want? Israel is more powerful than its Palestinian adversaries, and the press almost axiomatically roots for the underdog. There is much greater sympathy for the Palestinian cause than before, which is partially Israel's fault -- if Israel didn't appear to be a colonizer of the West Bank, it would find more sympathy. Jews, and certainly a Jewish state, are never going to win popularity contests, but the situation wouldn't seem quite so dire to Israelis and their friends if people plausibly believed that the Netanyahu government was interested in implementing a two-state solution.

    4. Barack Obama hasn't turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years, or who had decided, for nakedly partisan reasons, to paint him as a Jew-hater.

    5. Israel's media campaign -- Gamify? -- is disgraceful. David Rothkopf just pointed out to me that people are most influenced by their enemies. In this case, the braggadocio of the IDF is beginning to resemble the braying of various Palestinian terror outfits over the years. All death is tragic, even the deaths of your enemies.  

    6. I'll be asking the same question over and over again the coming days: What is Israel's long-term strategy? Short-term, I understand: No state can agree to have its civilians rocketed. But long-term, do Israeli leaders believe that they possess a military solution to their political problem in Gaza? There is no way out of this militarily. Israel is not Russia, Gaza is not Chechnya and Netanyahu isn't Putin. Even if Israel were morally capable of acting like Russia, the world would not allow it. So: Is the goal to empower Hamas? Some right-wingers in Israel would prefer Hamas's empowerment, because they want to kill the idea of a two-state solution. But to those leaders who are at least verbally committed to the idea of partition, what is the plan? How do you marginalize Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Jews and the Jewish state, and empower the more moderate forces that govern the West Bank?

    Here's one idea: Give Palestinians hope that Israel is serious about the two-state solution. And how do you do that? By reversing the settlement project on the West Bank. It is not unreasonable for Palestinians to doubt the sincerity of Netanyahu on the subject of the two-state solution, when settlements grow ever-thicker. There's no way around this: The idea of a two-state solution will die if Israel continues to treat the West Bank as a suburb of Jerusalem and Kfar Sava, and not as the future location of the state of Palestine.

    UPDATE:

    7. Hamas also lacks coherent thinking. Here is David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on where Hamas went wrong in this latest round of violence:

    Hamas seems to have miscalculated on several fronts. First, it may have believed that Israel would avoid major action for fear of antagonizing the new government in Cairo, given Gaza's proximity to Egypt and Hamas's close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. It may also have believed that recent shows of regional solidarity (including the Qatari emir's visit to Gaza last month and ongoing support from Turkey) would raise the diplomatic cost of Israeli action to prohibitive levels.

    In addition, Hamas may not have expected an attack against a high-profile target like Jabari, which was a change from Israel's pattern of sporadic retaliation to rocket fire. Indeed, Israel considered him a leading terrorist -- he was responsible for overseeing at least one suicide bombing in the late 1990s and was key in Hamas operations during the second intifada, when the group carried out numerous suicide attacks. And when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, he organized its fighters into a military force with companies, battalions, and brigades. Jabari is also believed to have overseen the detention of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, allowing himself to be photographed when Shalit was swapped for Palestinian prisoners last year.

      
  • The Hamasization of Israel's Public Relations Campaign

    The Israeli government has taken to Twitter, and other online platforms, to brag about killing its enemies.

    It used to be that Israel would keep silent about its military activities, or at most it would issue terse statements confirming, with as few adjectives as possible, an action that had already taken place. Groups like Hamas, on the other hand, were the ones that would brag constantly about their bloody triumphs (real and imagined). The charge that "Israel has opened the gates of hell" on itself has become a joke of a Hamas cliche, for instance. But now the Israeli government has taken to Twitter, and other online sites, to brag about killing its enemies. Very, very tacky. Michael Koplow explains why:

    "(T)he reason Israel suffered so badly in the court of public opinion following Cast Lead is because there was a perception that Israel was callous about the loss of Palestinian life that occurred during that operation. Partly this was fueled by the sheer number of casualties -- a number that was deeply tragic but also unsurprising given Hamas's strategy of purposely embedding itself in the civilian population -- but partly it was fueled by things like T-shirts depicting Palestinians in crosshairs, suggesting disgustingly poor taste at best and a disregard for the terrible consequences of war at worst.

    Publicizing posters of Jabari with the word "Eliminated" do not rise to the same level, but do not send the message that Israel should be sending. The IDF in this case is trumpeting the killing of an unapologetic terrorist leader, and nobody should shed a tear for Jabari for even a moment, but the fact remains that many people, particularly among the crowd that Israel needs to be courting, are deeply skeptical of Israeli intentions generally and tend not to give Israel the benefit of the doubt. They cast a wary eye on Israeli militarism and martial behavior, and crowing about killing anyone or glorifying Israeli operations in Gaza is a bad public relations strategy insofar as it feeds directly into the fear of Israel run amok with no regard for the collateral damage being caused. Rather than convey a sense that Israel is doing a job that it did not want to have to do as quickly and efficiently as possible, the IDF's Twitter outreach conveys a sense of braggadocio that is going to lead to a host of problems afterward.
  • Rockets on Jerusalem?

    Hamas seems to be inviting its own destruction -- especially if reports of attacks on Jerusalem are true.

    I find it hard to believe that Hamas would fire rockets it knows to be inaccurate on Jerusalem. Put aside the city's many mosques and Muslim shrines; Jerusalem and its environs are also home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

    On the other hand, Hamas has never been overly concerned with creating Palestinian casualties. Victims of collateral damage are often re-cast as martyrs to the cause. What is the cause, by the way? I'm not sure at this moment. Hamas seems to be inviting its own destruction at this moment -- especially if these reports of attacks on Jerusalem are true.

  • Well, Now Hamas Has Done It

    Hamas has crossed an Israeli red line. Prepare for the worst.

    According to various press reports, three Israelis were killed in a rocket attack in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi. All bets are off now -- including my bet that the Israelis won't launch a ground invasion of Gaza. Hamas has crossed an Israeli red line. I'm about to leave on a long flight, so I won't be able to update this, but prepare for the worst.  

  • What Does the Gaza Attack Mean?

    There is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn't want to acknowledge this.

    So, weirdly, my advice to the Israelis to take a deep breath before taking a big swing at Gaza again was not heeded.

    I'm on the road again -- I just got into a fight with a former head of the Pakistani ISI at a security conference here in Istanbul (the moderator of our panel was surprised, I think, that we got into a fight) that I can't tell you about because the aforementioned ISI chief declared that most of his remarks would be off the record. Suffice it to say I won the argument.

    But I digress, and I don't have much time to post, but let me just ask one question: What is this Gaza conflagration about, exactly? Or let me rephrase the question: What are the goals of the Israeli counter-attack on Hamas? Right now, we're seeing, once again, a tactical response, provoked by a vile Hamas policy of acquiescing to, or even helping to launch, rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets. But what is the strategy? The fact remains that there is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn't want to acknowledge this.

    There are enough weapons, and enough young men in Gaza ready to use those weapons, to make life miserable for millions of Israelis for years to come, barring a full-scale invasion by the IDF of Gaza that wipes out the entire military structure of Hamas. And good luck with that, by the way -- good luck to Bibi getting the world to acquiesce. Netanyahu's failure to convince the world that he is serious about compromise (he might have succeeded, given his Palestinian counterpart's own alternately lackadaisical and obstreperous approach to peace talks, if he wasn't hell-bent on growing settlements) means that he has no political capital to spend.

    This operation will put President Obama in a tough spot, and remember, Netanyahu needs Obama for what he allegedly believes is the most important threat facing Israel. This operation also drives Egypt's president even further away from Israel (he wasn't close before but, like the Qataris, he might have been encouraged to to talk some sense to Hamas).

    But it does help Netanyahu's reelection campaign, and, it must be acknowledged, it might set back Hamas in some ways, but only temporarily. Another big question, of course, is, will Hamas use its longer-range rockets to bring Tel Aviv into the fight? I don't think this is overly likely, because this would put immense pressure on Netanyahu to launch a massive retaliation, even invasion. Hamas doesn't want an Israeli invasion of Gaza right now. Its leaders are already surprised by the Israeli response, though I don't know why; have they not been paying attention?

    Meanwhile, this gives Bashar al-Assad sufficient cover to kill even more of his citizens over the coming days. Keep an eye out for that. 

    More coming....

  • 'I Am Not al-Qaeda; When We Kill Bashar, I Will Shave Off My Beard'

    A report from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

    I spent late Saturday night north of al-Mafraq, in Jordan, along the Syrian border, where I witnessed the extraordinary sight of hundreds of Syrian refugees streaming out of the dark to safety. As these refugees filed past, I couldn't help but think in biblical terms -- except that these people were not crossing over the Jordan, but crossing into Jordan.

    Here is some of my report:
    We watched as a line of six trucks, which appeared as white blocks moving against a gray-black background, departed the village of El-Taebah, about two miles inside Syria. The Free Syrian Army operated the trucks. First, (Col. Nawaf) Tahrawi said, the rebels would deliver their wounded. The Jordanian army had ambulances stationed nearby. A line of refugees would be following behind, he said, carrying suitcases and children on their backs. The operator repositioned his cameras. Soon enough, we could see the outlines of people, hundreds, huddled in knots. They were seated on the ground. Then they rose, seemingly as one, and began moving slowly across the screen.

    "They'll be here soon," Tahrawi said. "Let's go and greet them." We climbed down from the tower and walked across brown fields in the frigid air. We descended into a wadi, a dry riverbed, and waited. We might have been on Syrian territory; the border is unmarked, and although the Jordanians are assiduous about keeping to their side of the border, it's an impossible task in the dark.

    Soon we heard a truck engine -- the first delivery of the wounded. The truck stopped before us. Gunmen hopped off. They were bearded, armed with AK-47s, and their nerves were torn. The Jordanians introduced me. "Weapons!" one rebel yelled. "Tell Obama we need weapons!" A second rebel said, "I only have 60 bullets! Sixty! What can I do with this?"

    The shabiha -- pro-Assad militiamen -- were all around. The delivery of refugees was becoming more hair-raising by the night.

    The rebels began unloading the wounded. "This man was tortured," one of the rebels said, pointing to a man prone on a stretcher. "Look what they did to him!" One of the rebels pulled down the man's pants; his buttocks had been whipped, the skin shredded. Another man was carried off the truck. A government sniper had shot him in the abdomen a few hours before. His clothing was soaked with blood.

    "I don't think he will live," one of the Jordanians said quietly.

    One of the rebels took me by the hand. We walked into the darkness. "I am not al-Qaeda" he said, though I hadn't asked. "When we kill Bashar, I will shave off my beard. I'm a law student, but I have no choice. Bashar killed my brother."

  • The Rockets of Gaza

    Rockets are flying from Gaza into Israel at a fast clip, and Israelis, it is said, are divided on how to respond.

    Rockets are flying from Gaza into Israel at a fast clip, and Israelis, it is said, are divided on the question of how to respond. I'm not there right now (I'm elsewhere in this exciting region) so I'm not current on Israeli government thinking about this issue, though Amir Mizroch just reported on Twitter that Avi Dichter, Israel's internal security minister, said  today that there is "no precedent in history destroying terror by airpower alone. Thus it is necessary to re-format Gaza altogether."

    Re-format? I'm not sure what word was actually used in Hebrew, but in English this doesn't sound very encouraging. By re-format, does Dichter mean that the Israeli army should invade Gaza, overthrow Hamas, and take direct control of the Strip? Is that what re-formating means? And does that seem like a good idea? Or something actually achievable, without a horrendous cost? 

    There is no military solution to the Gaza conflict, at least not one that Israel could pursue. Gaza isn't Chechnya and Netanyahu isn't Putin. Flattening Gaza is not a moral solution, nor a practical solution. Nor, for that matter, is it a politically possible solution. Netanyahu is calling in Western diplomats to explain to them that Israel has no choice but to respond militarily to the rocket fire. What he doesn't seem to understand is that he doesn't possess the political capital to ask the West for its understanding. There's plenty of blame to go around for the collapse of the peace process; his portion is substantial, and his alienation of leaders who might otherwise be friends is a continuing theme of his tenure.

    Israel has a right to defend itself, and life is an absolute misery for Israelis in rocket range. But before Israel invades, it might want to pause and ask itself if there is any other way possible to reach a ceasefire. Israel can certainly succeed in killing terrorists, but I fear an invasion will only set back Israel's cause further, and diminish its standing, leading to a situation in which the world would condemn any and all attempts by Israel to defend itself. Why not work, for at least a few days, to convince the world to pay attention to Hamas's crimes? Why let Hamas define the narrative? 

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