Israel To Gaza: Get Ready

The Israelis have sent a warning to Gaza and its Hamas leadership after the latest rocket attack on Ashkelon. If the attacks continue, Israel will invade Gaza and conduct large-scale military operations to eliminate the threat:

Israeli leaders warned Friday of an approaching conflagration in the Gaza Strip as Israel activated a rocket warning system to protect Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people, from Palestinian rockets.
Ashkelon was hit by several Grad rockets fired from Gaza on Thursday, a sign of the widening scope of violence between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. One hit an apartment building and another landed near a school, wounding a 17-year-old girl.
Located 11 miles from Gaza, Ashkelon had been sporadically targeted in the past but never suffered direct hits or significant damage.
“It will be sad, and difficult, but we have no other choice,” Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defense mister, said Friday, referring to the large-scale military operation he said Israel was preparing to bring a halt to the rocket fire.
“We’re getting close to using our full strength. Until now, we’ve used a small percentage of the army’s power because of the nature of the territory,” Vilnai told Army Radio on Friday.

Israel had tried using softer methods to stop the attacks, including a lockdown on the border between Gaza and Israel. That resulted in a breakout at Rafah, which took the Egyptian government several days to resecure. Other nations had pressured Israel to end the embargo or at least loosen it for food, energy, and medical supplies, but the rocket attacks continue.
Hamas says that Israel’s return fire has killed 15 civilians and blames Israel for the rising tensions. Apart from the absurdity of blaming someone for hitting an aggressor in return, Hamas and other terrorist entities have no one but themselves to blame for civilian deaths. Even the AP acknowledges that Hamas launches its rockets from densely populated civilian centers, drawing fire onto their own people.
Israel cannot stand idle while terrorists rain rockets onto civilian populations, and the escalation to Ashkelon is a deliberate provocation by Hamas. The IDF has to take action, and this time it cannot be constrained by proportionality. They need a massive response to the Gaza provocateurs, one that leaves them no ground to hide. If Gaza’s civilian population wants to avoid that, then they need to rid themselves of the terrorists before Israel’s military does its work.

Israel Kept US In Tel Aviv

The location of the US embassy in Israel has generated considerable controversy here in the US. The American government has never fully recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, preferring to let that contentious point get determined in final Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. Both Bill Clinton and George W Bush promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but neither actually took the step.
According to Arutz Sheva, the Israelis themselves pressed the US to remain in Tel Aviv (via Keshertalk):

Former Israeli Consul General to the US Yoram Ettinger revealed at the Jerusalem Conference Wednesday that Israel prevented a move that would have relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
“The US Senate was ready to do away with the waiver that allows the president to defer the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem,” Ettinger said during a round-table discussion at the Jerusalem Conference. “There were over 80 senators – enough to override any [presidential] veto.”
It was the Israeli government, Ettinger said, who intervened on behalf of leaving the Embassy in Tel Aviv. “The problem is that both houses of congress have been firmer on Jerusalem than any Israeli government since 1993.”
Ettinger did not elaborate which Israeli government it was that told Congress to stand down.

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act. This got overwhelming approval, but it allowed the President to sign a waiver if, for diplomatic or security reasons, the move needed to be delayed. Clinton and Bush did so 12 times, delaying the move while both administrations attempted to engage the Palestinians and to eliminate their terrorist activities.
Arutz Sheva gave no reason why the Israelis objected to the move. Perhaps they recognized the provocative nature of the transfer. No other nation has its embassy in Jerusalem. Hezbollah leader promised terrorist attacks on any American embassy located in Jerusalem, but we rarely let terrorists dictate our actions anywhere. The bigger problem would be the almost-certain reaction from the Palestinians and the appearance that we had decided on the Jerusalem question without their input, something that even the Israelis know would lead to another intifada.
It looks like we’ll be staying in Tel Aviv for the foreseeable future, and that our present location suits the Israelis just fine.

Abbas: No Plans To Pull A Kosovo

Mahmoud Abbas poured a little cold water on remarks his aide made a few hours earlier about the potential for the Palestinians to follow the Kosovars into independence. Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters that “Kosovo is not better than us,” and said that the Palestinian Authority could declare unilateral statehood at any time. Abbas didn’t dispute that, but rejected the idea … for 2008:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out on Wednesday any unilateral declaration of statehood in the near future, responding to an aide’s call to take the step if peace talks with Israel continued to falter. …
“We will pursue negotiations in order to reach a peace agreement during 2008 that includes the settlement of all final status issues including Jerusalem,” Abbas said in a statement.
“But if we cannot achieve that, and we reach a deadlock, we will go back to our Arab nation to take the necessary decision at the highest level,” he said, without mentioning any options.

The issue came up as the Annapolis agreements have done little to change the facts on the ground for either side. Israel continues to build settlements, while Palestinians continue to conduct attacks. The headline grabbers come from Gaza, where the hail of rockets continues to fall on Sderot, but militant activity also continues in the West Bank.
Rabbo made the original remarks as a rebuke to Ehud Olmert for the stall in the negotiations. He also demanded that the US and the EU recognize Palestinian independence as readily as both accepted Kosovo’s declaration this weekend. However, the PA declared its independence already, as Saeb Erekat noted; they did so as the PLO in 1988, which has been roundly ignored, even by the Palestinians. Since the intifadas and their overall failures, everyone has avoided talking about it in favor of a negotiated settlement that results in statehood, which all sides have promised as the eventual result of a legitimate peace process.
The problem is finding reliable partners for that peace process. The exit of Hamas from the negotiations may have made that somewhat easier, but neither side trusts the other to make the difficult decisions that will have to come. If Abbas can’t rein in his militants and Olmert won’t stop expanding settlements in disputed territories, then talks won’t matter at all.

Israel: If He Can Do It, Sure

Sometimes, Israelis must shake their head in wonder at the folly of their friends and enemies alike. After Egypt failed to close the Rafah crossing that Hamas blew open last week, the US, EU, and Egypt put their heads together — and decided to let Mahmoud Abbas give it a try:

Israel will not stand in the way of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas taking control of Gaza’s breached border with Egypt as part of a deal to sideline Hamas Islamists who rule the enclave, officials said on Tuesday.
But it is unclear how Abbas, the Fatah leader, would be able to assert control over the crossing with Egypt given opposition from Hamas, which seized the coastal territory in June and blasted open the Egyptian border wall last week in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade.
Tensions along Gaza’s frontier with Egypt flared anew on Tuesday when Egyptian forces tried to prevent Palestinian vehicles from driving into Egypt.
Hamas gunmen intervened, firing into the air to clear the way for cars to pass. They threatened to blast new holes in the border if Egyptian forces refused to back down.

This had to be a red-letter day for Egypt and its security forces. Hamas gunmen fire in the air, and all Egypt can do is hit reverse? I know Americans complain about the poor border control along the Rio Grande, but this is ridiculous.
A gang of terrorists faced down Egypt, and now they want a more moderate terrorist to do in Rafah what he couldn’t do in the rest of Gaza. Abbas lost control of the territory last year when Hamas conducted an armed revolt against the Palestinian Authority. It only took Hamas five days to seize Gaza from a clearly unprepared Abbas. What makes the US, Egypt, and the Arab world think that Abbas can hold Rafah with poor lines of communication, no strategic position, against an enemy that just chased Egypt off of the border crossing?
Israel has essentially shrugged at the suggestion. Supposedly the West and Egypt will backstop Abbas, but if they couldn’t backstop Egypt, Abbas won’t fare much better. Either way, it’s moot for Israel, which has to see this as a disaster through which everyone must pass before anyone gets serious about dealing with Hamas. Let Abbas give it a try — and when that fails spectacularly, maybe the Hamas problem will get real attention.

Fake Blood, Real Draculas

My good friend Scott Johnson, who in real life may be one of the most unassuming people you’ll ever meet, is a tiger when it comes to documenting media shenanigans and Palestinian terrorism. In the upcoming issue of the Weekly Standard, the Power Line heavyweight delves into one of the more reprehensible media-fueled urban legends of 9/11: Yasser Arafat and his blood donation.
Recall the shrieking adulation in the streets of Ramallah when al-Qaeda killed 3,000 people in New York City and Washington DC as the context for this event. Americans, already with our blood boiling, saw the images of ululating Palestinians and began drawing connections between the jihadist mass murderers and the Palestinian cause. Arafat sensed disaster, and the media put on a show to blunt American rage:

The story of Arafat’s blood donation was reported around the world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, usually accompanied by photographs depicting Arafat in the apparent act of giving blood at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Enderlin elaborated on his contention that the scene depicted in the photographs was staged. According to Pollak’s account of Enderlin’s remarks, “Arafat didn’t
like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs.” …
Do the photographs conform to Enderlin’s description of them? In short, the [answer] is yes. … But what about the photographers? What does the record reveal about them?
Among the work of AP photographer Adel Hana is a 2006 photograph claiming to show a Palestinian girl killed by an Israeli airstrike against “Islamic militants” being carried into the Shifa Hospital by a grieving relative surrounded by armed men. It is a heartbreaking photograph. The AP subsequently updated the caption to indicate that “doctors said that the 5-year-old Palestinian girl initially believed to have been killed by an Israeli military strike Wednesday apparently died after sustaining head injuries during a fall from a swing in the same area before the strike.”
Reuters’s Ahmed Jadallah, for his part, is clearly on the team he’s covering. Reuters itself helpfully advises visitors that Jadallah “shoots reportages of Palestinian funerals and Israeli violence” almost daily. Israeli authorities have barred him from going to Reuters’s main office in Jerusalem. Reuters also ingenuously discloses: “He sees it as his mission to have the world see the despair of the Palestinian people.” And, we can fairly assume, the benefactions of their late chairman.

Be sure to read it all. The blood may have been faked, but we saw the bloodthirstiness of the Palestinians for ourselves on 9/11, and all of the media hoaxes in the world can’t possibly erase that from our consciousnesses.

Egypt Got The Message

It didn’t take long for Egypt to get the message. After Israeli ministers openly talked about transferring responsibility for Gaza’s energy and humanitarian needs to Cairo for not closing the blown-up Rafah border, Egypt responded today by forcing the border closed. They put up barbed wire and shot water cannons at Gazans who attempted to defy the closure:

Egypt began closing its breached border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday, using barbed wire and water cannons to keep Palestinians from crossing into Egypt in defiance of an Israeli blockade.
Israeli air strikes overnight killed four Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where Hamas blasted open the border wall on Wednesday, letting tens of thousands rush across to stock up on goods in short supply.
Pressed by the United States and Israel to take control of the situation, Egyptian forces in riot gear lined the border and began placing barbed wire and chain-link fences to prevent more Gazans from entering Egyptian soil.
Tensions flared as some in the crowd threw stones at the Egyptian police, who responded with batons and water cannons. As tensions rose, Hamas began to deploy its own forces on the Gaza side of the border.

The move appeared to take Hamas by surprise. They complained that Egypt needed to create a mechanism for Gazans to lawfully cross the border at Rafah. That complaint came after Hamas blew up the border, of course, making their protestations about lawfulness somewhat empty. The terrorist group arrayed some of its fighters across the gap, but wisely have not chosen to engage, at least not yet.
Egypt did not want to get saddled with Gaza again. Many have suggested that as a solution to the political standoff over the small parcel, overcrowded with more than a million Palestinians. Egypt lost Gaza in the 1967 conflict and has no particular desire to reacquire it, with its radicalism and high-maintenance population. Israel’s threat to close all the other borders permanently and let Hosni Mubarak deal with the problem undoubtedly clarified that choice.
Of course, Egypt may find the Rafah crossing harder to close than Hamas did opening it with bombs. If Hamas makes trouble, Mubarak may find himself in a military alliance with Israel in dealing with the terrorists in Gaza. That could create even bigger headaches than he has now.

Israel: We Wash Our Hands Of Gaza

The explosion of the wall in Rafah intended to demonstrate defiance of Israel by Hamas, but it may have given the Israelis a bigger opening than it provided Gazans. An official declared that the unaddressed breach would now allow Egypt to handle Gaza’s needs — and that Israel could completely shut off energy and medical supplies to the people who keep launching rockets at their cities (via Shrink Wrapped, who saw this coming):

Washington, Cairo, and Jerusalem are expressing “concern” regarding the flow of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into Egypt, testing border agreements that have existed since Israel completely withdrew from the heavily populated strip in 2005. Some Israeli officials, nevertheless, saw an “opportunity” in yesterday’s event, suggesting that responsibility for Gaza’s humanitarian situation should be shifted to Egypt.
Egyptian officials said that yesterday’s event occurred after an explosion on the border crossing from the Sinai desert into the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. After the explosion, which blew the border barriers open, a teeming flow of Palestinian Arab men and women — up to 350,000 people, according to some counts — crossed the border into Egypt, in search of heating oil, food, cigarettes, and other goods Gaza lacks. …
The official — who was intimately involved in forging the agreements between Israel and its neighbors when Prime Minister Sharon decided on “disengagement” from Gaza — said the “paradigm change” after yesterday’s event at Rafah may lead to a reexamination of some realities those agreements have created, such as Israel’s responsibility for the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza.

The Gazans will have to rely on other Arabs for their sustenance, and that may prove a poor strategy in the long term. Arab nations such as Egypt have long used the Palestinians for their own political purposes, but have done nothing to alleviate their conditions. They see the Palestinians as useful props but nothing more, and would rather have little to do with them.
Egypt has little desire to become their long-term supplier for energy, food, and humanitarian needs. They want that pressure to stay on Israel as a means to gain concessions in other negotiations, and to tie Israel down economically and militarily. But if Egypt isn’t willing to secure the Rafah crossing properly, then they have removed what leverage they have with Gaza. Israel certainly won’t continue to allow border crossings when the Gazans can bring all sorts of weapons and explosives through Rafah from Egypt, and if Egypt wants to encourage them to buy goods through Rafah, then Israel doesn’t need to do it at all.
Israel should follow through on this threat. Cease all humanitarian provisions and make it clear to Hamas and the Gazans that they need to rely on other Arabs for their sustenance. We’ll see how long it takes for Egypt to close Rafah again under those circumstances. Most likely, it will be a matter of days.

Gazans Invade Egypt, For Cigarettes

After several days of an Israeli border closure, Gazans blew up a wall in Rafah separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Thousands of Palestinians flooded into Egypt, returning with small quantities of fuel, cigarettes, and cash:

Tens of thousands of Palestinians poured from the Gaza Strip into Egypt Wednesday after masked gunmen with explosives destroyed most of the seven-mile wall dividing the border town of Rafah.
The Gazans crossed on foot, in cars or riding donkey carts to buy supplies made scarce by an Israeli blockade of their impoverished territory. Police from the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, directed the traffic. Egyptian border guards took no action.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel has no forces on the Gaza-Egypt border and, “therefore it is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates properly, according to the signed agreements.”

Hamas, which runs Gaza, expressed approval for the action. This seems rather strange, as it clearly shows that the current leadership has performed so poorly that the only means for survival of its population relies on escaping it. It has been Hamas’ refusal to end the rocket attacks into Israel which led to the border closures and the interruption of energy supplies into Gaza.
Israel has a reason to be concerned with the Rafah breach. The open border between Gaza and Egypt could easily allow for heavier arms to come into the area. At the moment, the Israelis have no good reason to start another major military engagement in Gaza, but an uptick in weaponry might change that. If the Palestinians bring in better rockets and perhaps even more destructive weapons, the IDF will have to invade to destroy them — which could wind up getting very bloody indeed.
If Egypt wants to keep that from happening, and to keep Gazans from seeking permanent asylum in the Sinai, then they need to send their army to Rafah and plug the breach quickly. Meanwhile, the Israelis should continue their border closures until Gazans finally get rid of their Hamas leadership and end the rocket attacks from their territory.

Israel Listens To Mr. Spock

Israel has closed the Gaza border and stopped energy supplies in response to the rocket attacks coming from Palestinian terrorist groups within the Strip. Europe and other countries have begun to pressure Israel to end its blockade for humanitarian reasons, but Israel points out that it is illogical to supply an enemy with energy and food while they try to kill:

Gaza hospitals will run out of drugs and fuel for generators within a few days unless Israel eases the border blockade it imposed to curb Palestinian rocket attacks, international organizations said on Monday.
Residents of the Hamas-controlled territory awoke to nearly traffic-free streets and shuttered shops, with petrol in short supply due to Israeli restrictions and Gaza’s main power plant shut down since late on Sunday.
Palestinian officials have warned the standoff could harm U.S.-spurred efforts with Israel to reach a peace deal this year. …
Michele Mercier, an ICRC spokeswoman, said the organization was trying to persuade Israel to reopen Gaza’s borders at least to humanitarian supplies and fuel deliveries.

Israel would prove itself suicidally foolish to end the blockade. Gaza has been under Palestinian control now for over two years. The terrorist group Hamas took control of it almost a year ago from the somewhat-legitimate Palestinian Authority, and Europe has refused to recognize its authority. Literally, they want Israel to fund, feed, and energize terrorists.
I’m waiting for the ICRC to set up shop in Sderot to monitor Gazan humanitarianism. Palestinian terrorists have launched rockets at this town for years, and the world acts as if that doesn’t matter at all. Palestinians haven’t merely forced hospitals to focus on emergency surgery; they’re dropping bombs on the heads of Israeli women and children. Why should Israel allow food into Gaza while that happens, especially after years of attempting to alternately negotiate an end or to attacking the launch sites?
Whether the ICRC or the EU want to admit it, Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to perform terrorist acts and use Gaza as its launching pad. Under those conditions, especially since Hamas controls Gaza, a state of war exists between Gaza and Israel, and Israel has no obligation to keep Gaza’s electricity running or its people fed. When Gazans get tired of starvation and darkness, they can take matters in their own hands and find new leadership, one that will end the terrorist attacks. If the EU doesn’t like that, then let them argue against it from Sderot.

Rockets From Lebanon Hit Israel, Welcome Bush

So how’s that new and improved UNIFIL force working out in southern Lebanon? About as well as the old version, apparently, as rockets rained down on an Israeli town from the sub-Litani region that Hezbollah controls. The UN force appears to have little effect on the terrorist group’s ability to launch missiles at Israeli civilians:

Two Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon struck a northern Israeli town late last night causing no injuries, an Israeli police spokesman said, the first such attacks by Lebanese militants in six months.
The attack came on the day before President Bush is scheduled to arrive in Israel in support of ongoing peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The rockets struck near a home in the western Galilee town of Shlomi, a few miles from the Lebanon border. One rocket struck a road leading into the town, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, and the other struck nearby. Residents told wire services that a third rocket had struck a home in the same area, but security officials could not confirm those reports.

George Bush is getting quite the welcome from the radical Islamists. Iran conducted a provocative naval exercise that almost started a shooting war in the Straits of Hormuz. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has staged a number of suicide bombings in Iraq. Now Hezbollah launched missiles against northern Israel. Does anyone feel that all of this sudden activity is coincidental, or a coordinated effort to intimidate regional leadership from cooperating with the US?
And who might be behind all of this activity if it isn’t coincidental? Iran and Syria make pretty good suspects in that regard. Both help run Hezbollah, and Syria has its contacts with AQI.
However, the ability for both to use Hezbollah for such provocations, even apart from any larger stategy, demonstrates the useless of UNIFIL. The UN left the expanded force as its solution to the last Israel-Lebanon War, even though almost twenty years of previous UNIFIL missions allowed Hezbollah to build its arsenal. The latest version stood and watched as Hezbollah rebuilt it, with help (again) from Damascus and Teheran. Now they will stand and watch while Hezbollah fires their rockets at Israelis, only missing the murder of civilians because of poor marksmanship.
The UN has no business in supposed peacekeeping until it uses rules of engagement that actually prevent thugs from conducting terrorist attacks. Clearly, UNIFIL shows that the UN has not reached that state, and that they only make the situation worse by doing nothing. The US should insist on the disbanding of UNIFIL, if only to keep European troops from becoming inadvertent targets in the next Israel-Lebanon war that UNIFIL has enabled with their refusal to enforce UNSC resolution 1701.
UPDATE: Looks like Hezbollah’s tiring of the UNIFIL squads, too. A Spanish patrol just got hit by a roadside bomb south of Beirut. Those are usually remote detonated, so the bombers likely targeted the UNIFIL force. Will the UN respond — or will they pull out, as they did in Iraq?