Israel-Gaza fighting ebbs, Gaza rockets reportedly a misfire
By JOSEF FEDERMAN and FARES AKRAM
Friday, March 15
JERUSALEM (AP) — Cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas group appeared to be winding down Friday, amid reports of an Egyptian-brokered truce and Israeli media saying a misfire was believed to be responsible for the rare Gaza rocket attack on Tel Aviv that triggered the exchange.
The two rockets had struck late Thursday, taking Israel’s military by surprise. Overnight, Israeli warplanes hit some 100 Hamas targets in Gaza. The army said targets included an office complex in Gaza City used to plan and command Hamas militant activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site and a center used for Hamas drone development.
In Gaza, health officials reported that four people were wounded, including a husband and wife in the southern town of Rafah. There were no further details. The office building struck by Israel had been used by Hamas’ office of prisoner affairs.
On Friday, Israeli media quoted defense officials as saying a preliminary investigation indicated the rockets were fired from Gaza by mistake. It was not immediately clear if it was a technical malfunction or human error. The Haaretz daily quoted the officials as saying the rockets were fired during maintenance work. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Also Friday, a Hamas official said an agreement to restore calm has been reached. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because Hamas has yet to announce the deal, said Egypt led meditation efforts “that have apparently paid off.”
The sudden outbreak of violence came at a sensitive time for both sides.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the midst of a tight re-election battle. A tough response would draw international criticism and domestic accusations that he is acting out of political motivations ahead of the April 9 vote. But a restrained response will draw criticism from his fellow hard-line rivals.
Hamas, meanwhile, is coping with its own domestic troubles. Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over the territory in 2007. The blockade, along with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and Hamas’ own mismanagement have fueled an economic crisis that has driven unemployment over 50 percent.
Shortly before the rocket attack, Hamas police on Thursday violently broke up a rare protest by demonstrators angry about the dire living conditions in Gaza.
The crackdown triggered heavy criticism on social media. The organizers of a weekly protest along the Israeli border canceled the demonstration in the wake of the escalation.
The fighting came as Egyptian mediators were trying to extend a cease-fire between the bitter enemies, which last fought a war in 2014. The Egyptians left Gaza late Thursday.
Hamas, which typically claims responsibility for its military actions, denied involvement in the rocket attack on Tel Aviv and even said it had undermined its interests. Israel’s military said earlier Friday that it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks coming from Gaza.
The late-night attack Thursday on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marked the first time the city had been hit since a 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants.
Following the first Israeli airstrikes, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel. The military said several rockets were intercepted by its air defense systems, and there were no reports of injuries.
The initial blasts from the Israeli airstrikes in southern Gaza were so powerful that smoke could be seen in Gaza City, 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the north. The Israeli warplanes could be heard roaring through the skies above Gaza City.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.
Despite its denial, Hamas is one of the only groups in Gaza with the means to strike Tel Aviv. A smaller militant group, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, also possesses a large arsenal of rockets, though it too denied involvement.
Akram reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.
Second Israeli dies of wounds from West Bank shooting attack
By ARON HELLER
Monday, March 18
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s military expanded its massive manhunt for a Palestinian assailant on Monday as authorities announced that a second Israeli died of wounds sustained in a West Bank shooting attack the previous day.
Beilinson Hospital said Ahiad Ettinger, a 47-year-old father of 12, died of his wounds from the shooting and stabbing attack near the settlement of Ariel on Sunday. The attack also killed 19-year-old soldier Gal Keidan and seriously wounded another soldier.
Ettinger, an ordained rabbi, lived in a West Bank settlement and headed a religious seminary in Tel Aviv. He managed to get off a few shots from his personal sidearm before he was gunned down.
“Rabbi Ettinger’s life’s work will continue and be among us even after his passing, and the strength he gave his pupils and the community he led will continue to strengthen us through the enormous grief and sorrow,” said President Reuven Rivlin.
Israeli troops went house to house overnight in search of the assailant, identified as a 19-year-old Palestinian, and closed off a cluster of villages where he is believed to be hiding.
“We know the attacker’s identity … and security forces are in a close pursuit after him,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he visited the site of the shooting attack. “These terrorists will not uproot us from here, the opposite will happen.”
He added that Ariel would begin constructing some 840 already approved housing units in a new neighborhood the following day.
The military said the attacker fatally stabbed Keidan, the soldier, before stealing his assault rifle and opening fire at passing vehicles. He then carjacked another vehicle and sped away, firing toward more soldiers before escaping into a nearby Palestinian village.
The military said it had surveyed his home for future demolition. Israel often demolishes homes of alleged Palestinian assailants or their families as a policy it says deters future attacks.
Sunday’s attack came after two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire last week in separate West Bank incidents that followed a period of relative calm, even as the Israeli military has been warning of the potential of a new escalation of violence.
Last week, Hamas fired a pair of missiles from Gaza toward the Israeli city of Tel Aviv in a rare attack into the heart of Israel that looked to set the sides into another round of escalation. But the launch was apparently a technical malfunction and after a brief Israeli reprisal, calm was restored.
Israel is currently in the midst of an election campaign, and Egypt is trying to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank. Israeli forces have killed more than 260 Palestinians in that same period. Israel has described most of the Palestinians killed as attackers, but clashes between protesters and soldiers have also turned deadly.
How AIPAC could lose its bipartisan status
March 14, 2019
Author: Dina Badie, Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies, Centre College
Disclosure statement: Dina Badie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The American Israeli Public Action Committee, widely known as AIPAC, has managed to remain bipartisan for nearly 70 years. Its membership is divided roughly equally between Democrats and Republicans. Leaders from across the American political spectrum – everyone from Vice President Mike Pence to Sen. Kamala Harris – have spoken at the influential lobbying group’s conferences.
But as a political scientist who teaches and writes about U.S. foreign policy and Middle East politics, I have been observing changing political landscapes within the United States and Israel. Growing competition between AIPAC and J Street, a relatively new pro-Israeli lobbying group, along with changes in how American Jews regard increasingly hardline and conservative Israeli policies, reflect a growing partisan split. I believe that ultimately these changes could make AIPAC’s agenda more attractive to Republicans than to Democrats, with potentially significant consequences for American-Israeli relations.
AIPAC is a nonprofit that promotes close ties between the U.S. and Israeli governments. It lobbies members of Congress directly, organizes trips to Israel for legislators across party lines, and hosts an annual conference at which a prominent lineup of American and foreign leaders speak. The American Israel Education Foundation, a charity that operates as a branch of AIPAC, supports its educational activities and funds trips to Israel for lawmakers and what it calls “other political influentials.”
Although he is campaigning for re-election and is slated to be indicted by Israel’s attorney general for corruption, Benjamin Netanyahu will address attendees at AIPAC’s upcoming annual conference in Washington that begins March 24. The Israeli settler leader Oded Revivi has told the Israeli media that he will also be on the roster, as has Benny Gantz – Netanyahu’s rival in the upcoming elections.
One thing that AIPAC does not do, despite suggestions to the contrary, is directly finance political campaigns. Perhaps the confusion owes something to its name. The letters “P-A-C” typically signify that a group is a political action committee, or PAC, whose purpose is to raise campaign cash. The “PAC” in AIPAC is different. As a social welfare group, technically known as a 501(c)(4) organization under the tax code, it is primarily devoted to legislative advocacy through lobbying, activism and education.
AIPAC does, however, connect sympathetic candidates to a formidable base of donors, who may then contribute directly to political campaigns.
The U.S. is home to the world’s largest Jewish population, estimated at 5.7 million as of 2010. It is an ideologically and politically diverse group and not uniformly represented by AIPAC. According to the group’s own website, not all of the organization’s 100,000 members are Jewish.
AIPAC is nearly as old as the Israeli government. President Harry Truman formally recognized Israel within minutes of the announcement that the state was forming, on May 14, 1948. Three years later, the Canadian-born American journalist, lawyer and philanthropist Isaiah L. “Si” Kenen founded the pro-Israel lobbying organization.
American-Israeli relations have flourished ever since, regardless of the parties in power in the U.S. or in Israel. Even when Israeli policy has conflicted with international laws and norms, such as with the expansion of Jewish settlements into occupied Palestinian territory or the use of force against Palestinians, the U.S. has continued to support Israel and to protect the country against international censure at the United Nations and other fora.
The U.S. has given Israel a total of about US $135 billion since 1951, mostly for military purposes, and Israel is usually the top U.S. aid recipient. For most of this time, the U.S. has seen Israel as a strategic and geopolitical ally that it could rely on in an oil-rich and frequently unstable region.
Yet shortly before Donald Trump took office, cracks began to appear in this close relationship.
In 2016, against AIPAC’s strong objections, the Obama administration refrained from blocking a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements. President-elect Trump supported a veto, and he vowed to reinvigorate U.S.-Israeli relations.
Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is ardently pro-settlement. The president has also made good on campaign promises by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the U.S. embassy to the contested city, moves that AIPAC applauded. And relations between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu could not be better.
Netanyahu has found Trump a reliable ally for some of his most controversial policies. For instance, he is actively pressuring the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights. Israel first occupied the Syrian territory in 1967. It annexed the land in 1981 over international objections, including U.N. condemnation.
Trump’s proposed 2020 budget includes $3.3 billion in aid for Israel despite calling for slashing foreign aid overall.
Israel moved to the right under the leadership of Netanyahu, who first served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 as the head of the conservative Likud Party and then returned to power in 2009.
Many American Jews, especially younger ones, are deeply troubled by changes in Israel that they see as inherently discriminatory. Recent passage of a nation-state law legally enshrines Israel’s Jewish character at the expense of Israel’s non-Jewish Arab minority, which composes 20 percent of the population. Pending legislation and regulations could alter recognition over religious conversions and redefine who qualifies as Jewish.
This rightward turn has alienated the many American Jews who don’t see eye to eye with Israeli Jews on questions of religion, security and the prospect of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu’s recent overture to Israel’s Otzma Yehudit Party, known for its extremism and racism, is likely to widen that rift.
Israel’s growing conservatism has long troubled many U.S. Jews, a clear majority of whom consistently vote for Democrats and make more campaign contributions to Democrats than Republicans overall. While AIPAC distanced itself from the most controversial parts of Netanyahu’s record, it has continued to support his hawkish tendencies toward the Golan Heights and Iran, as well as the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank.
It has yet to be seen whether AIPAC’s balancing approach will be enough to quell the concerns of more liberal Jewish Americans.
Amid this discomfort, another U.S.-Israeli lobby group called J Street formed in 2007 as an alternative to AIPAC.
J Street advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in line with international law. Unlike AIPAC, it criticizes Israeli policies, such as settlement expansion, as obstacles to a two-state solution, and supports the continuation of foreign aid to both Israel and Palestinians.
J Street, through its political action committee, gave Democratic Party candidates roughly $4 million in 2018 and nothing to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog. By comparison, AIPAC does not donate directly to campaigns, but it spent more than $3.5 million on direct lobbying, compared to J Street’s $300,000.
J Street and AIPAC are taking different positions on some key issues where the two major U.S. political parties are at odds regarding relations with Israel. While AIPAC lobbied strongly against the Obama-backed Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that Netanyahu also strongly condemned, J Street supported it.
Likewise, when Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, AIPAC supported Trump’s decision while J Street opposed it. J Street’s position matched the positions of most Democrats and AIPAC’s approach reflected GOP consensus.
If AIPAC’s legislative and foreign policy preferences appear to align more closely with Republicans, I believe that its bipartisan credentials could be compromised.
Trump’s executive order on drone strikes sends civilian casualty data back into the shadows
March 13, 2019
Author: Daniel R. Brunstetter, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Irvine
Disclosure statement: Daniel R. Brunstetter does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
When it comes to drones and warfare, the U.S. seems to have forgotten some valuable historical lessons.
On March 6, President Trump signed an executive order that revoked the requirement, formulated under the Obama administration, that U.S. intelligence officials must publicly report the number of civilians killed in CIA drone strikes outside declared war zones.
In this decision, Trump is bringing the U.S. back to where it once was: the state of non-transparency that defined Obama’s first term.
As a researcher who has studied the ethics of war and written extensively on drones, I recognize that the U.S. has returned to a time when the CIA drone program was not governed by ethics, but shrouded in mystery, a time when it discounted the importance of civilian casualties.
Remembering the past
One of the U.S. founding fathers understood the importance of civilian casualties.
In 1782, Benjamin Franklin, then U.S. ambassador to France, circulated a copy of a Boston newspaper with an article that detailed British atrocities against American civilians in the ongoing Revolutionary War. Franklin intended to have the article reprinted by British newspapers, which would get the story out to the British public and turn popular opinion against the government in power.
The catch: The story was completely fabricated. Franklin made it up based on anecdotes he had heard, counting on the supposition that the British public had little access to actual statistics on civilian casualties to ascertain its truth.
Recounted with pride today on the CIA’s website, Franklin’s antics touched off a public uproar in 18th-century Britain. The article was used by opposition Whig politicians to challenge continued British participation in the war.
This quaint historical anecdote reveals valuable moral lessons for today. On the one hand, it shows how civilian casualties are a tool of propaganda. On the other, it shows the role that the suffering of enemy civilians plays in establishing an eventual peace.
The Obama era
During Obama’s first term, there were hundreds of strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan that the U.S. did not publicly acknowledge, with wildly divergent reports of civilian casualties.
During Obama’s tenure, there was warranted backlash from the international human rights community and congressional hearings at home. In the security realm, enemies of the U.S. such as al-Qaida and the Taliban used exaggerated reports of civilian deaths as propaganda to recruit new members.
In discussions about how to end what some experts were calling the forever war, a more disciplined and restrained use of drones was seen as part of the solution.
This opposition led to Obama’s ethical turn, defending drones by way of the just war doctrine. This centuries-old body of thought addresses the rights and wrongs of warfare: when a state can go to war and what it can do in war.
When it came to drones, Obama was swayed by the principle of noncombatant immunity: the moral necessity of sparing civilians from the horrors of war whenever possible. He limited drone strikes to scenarios with near certainty that there would be no civilian casualties.
Obama also decided to provide greater transparency to the American public by reporting civilian casualties. This had a strategic purpose. According to one expert who served under Obama, former intelligence officer Ned Price, reporting allowed the U.S. to “counter with facts and figures the misinformation and disinformation that terrorist groups and others issued to undermine our counter-terrorism operations around the globe.”
A step backward
Obama’s ethical turn was a step forward. It emerged from his moral reckoning with the act of killing and the tragedy of civilians getting caught in the crossfire.
The Trump administration’s reversal on reporting civilian casualties is a step backward. It says a lot about the value – or lack thereof – placed on the lives of those living under drones. Trump’s executive order insulates the U.S. public from the tragedy of civilian deaths. Removing civilian deaths from the public view dehumanizes them, and in the process, eliminates the common threads of humanity that make peace possible.
Without public accountability, I worry that the Trump administration is paving the way for a more robust use of drones. Perhaps it will be similar to or even more permissive than Obama’s policy during his first term, when the U.S. carried out signature strikes, which targeted unidentified militants based on their behavior patterns and personal networks rather than the threat they posed. Trump has already taken steps to remove targeting constraints that had been codified under Obama.
Does discounting civilian casualties make the U.S. more secure in the long run? It’s an open question. The White House called the requirement “superfluous” and claimed that it distracts “intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” which is presumably protecting American security interests.
Despite the White House claims to the contrary, research shows that such reporting is important for preventing civilian casualties. A lack of transparency leads to the disproportionate use of drones. Such a policy risks causing more civilian casualties, and has the potential to make more enemies than friends, diminish cooperation with allies in the global struggle against terrorist groups, and put the drone controversy back in the news in a negative way.
Looking back and moving forward
Franklin’s ruse demonstrates the power of using the tragedy of civilian casualties as propaganda. There is little doubt that U.S. enemies will use exaggerated reports of civilian casualties for propaganda purposes. Public transparency is a means to combat this propaganda, and perhaps more importantly, it provides a measure of checks and balance on the CIA.
More poignantly, Franklin abhorred the ease with which men kill and gloat about it. “Men,” he wrote later in 1782, “I find to be a Sort of Being very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation … without a Blush they assemble in great armies at NoonDay to destroy, and when they have kill’d as many as they can, they exaggerate the Number to augment the fancied Glory.”
Amidst this exaggerated killing, Franklin saw a common connection shared between enemies: the suffering of civilians. This made, in his mind, peace between enemies a genuine possibility.
With Trump’s executive order, the American public risks being lulled into ignorance about the plight of civilians living under drones, and does so at the peril of perpetual war with future enemies of America’s own making.