Israel/US Blame Assad for Syria Chemical Attack

Today’s Top Stories

1. One of the worst chemical bombings in Syria turned a northern rebel-held area into a toxic kill zone on Tuesday, inciting international outrage over the ever-increasing government impunity shown in the country’s six-year war. The United States has blamed Bashar Assad while Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that he has “100 percent certainty” that Assad himself was directly responsible for the attack:

The murderous chemical weapons attacks on citizens in Idlib province in Syria and on a local hospital were carried out on the direct order and planned by the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, using Syrian planes.

Syria has denied responsibility for the attack, so the US accusation and Liberman’s statement (presumably based on Israeli intelligence) are significant. Liberman also said Israel would not become involved militarily to stop the bloodshed, but called on the international community to help do so. Some in Israel have urged that the country “do something,” in some cases invoking comparisons to nations who stood idly by during the Holocaust. We touched on this topic in yesterday’s IDNS, and pointed out that while it’s simple to generically call for Israel to “do something,” what that “something” could realistically be is a more complex question. Several issues to consider:

  • Full scale invasion/occupation of Syria isn’t a realistic option for Israel acting alone;
  • Even limited attacks on Assad’s forces or resources without international backing could put Israel into the dangerous position of being in combat against Russia, who has been backing Assad militarily;
  • A power vacuum left by an attack on Assad’s forces may be filled by Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda linked groups, or others: unless Israel were to take an active role on the ground to prevent that;
  • Limited pinpoint strikes on specific military targets would more or less replicate what the international community has already been doing since 2011, apparently to little effect;
  • Diplomacy and pressure also seem to have been ineffective: in 2014, in what was claimed to be a diplomatic victory of sorts, the Obama administration announced that removal of chemical weapons from Syria had been “completed.” Obviously, that was not, and still is not, the case.

This is not to say that there isn’t some action that Israel acting alone could potentially take, but it is not at all clear what that action might be. When the world acts together, the practical options become significantly greater.

2. A series of explosions were heard at a military compound belonging to Lebanese terror group Hezbollah near the Syrian capital of Damascus, local media in Syria reported in the early morning hours of Thursday. According to local media, an “unidentified attack” was also reported against Hezbollah forces and Syrian government troops in a suburb of Daraa in southern Syria, in the Syrian Golan Heights. Reports in the Hebrew-language media said the attack was a battle between rebel fighters and Syrian and Hezbollah forces. In the past, Israel has reportedly attacked Hezbollah positions and weapons convoys in Syria, though there are many rival factions fighting in Syria and attacks can come from any number of different sources.

3. There’s a new Hamas charter…or is there? The “new Hamas charter” is apparently unacceptable to Hamas leadership in Gaza. (Hamas has leadership in Qatar as well as in Gaza). This begs the question: can this charter actually be adopted without leadership support, or will it merely fizzle and disappear? As if there weren’t enough questions already: it is not even clear whether the charter is actually a charter at all (which would presumably replace the Hamas Covenant document of 1988 which calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of all Jews), or whether it is merely a “political document” that does not replace the existing charter, as some sources have indicated. In any case one thing is already clear from leaks of the text:  the new document calls for a Palestinian state based on “pre-1967 borders” but paradoxically, also calls for the total destruction of Israel. When interest groups inevitably use this document as an excuse to cast Hamas as “reasonable” or “moderate” in the days and weeks to come, it is worth keeping these points in mind.

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Israel and the Palestinians

• Hamas offers clemency to “Israeli collaborators” after killing, as it probes the murder of one of its officials in Gaza that it blames on Israel. As we discussed in a previous IDNS, senior Hamas figure Mazen Faqha was assassinated last week in Gaza and Hamas has taken the position that the assassination was carried out by Israel with local collaborators in Gaza, however Israel has not confirmed this and Defense Minister Avidgdor Liberman has indicated that the assassination was carried out by Hamas rivals. Apparently, if Israeli allies and collaborators in Gaza turn themselves in within a week then in return Hamas will spare their lives. The interior ministry said in an official statement:

The doors of repentance will be open for one week, from Tuesday, April 4 to Tuesday, April 11

Palestinians who have any relations with Israel are considered traitors to their people and believe death is the appropriate punishment. 

• An Israeli soldier was killed and another lightly wounded in a car-ramming attack in the central West Bank on Thursday morning, officials said. The Palestinian driver of the car was captured by the Israel Defense Forces, an army spokesperson said. Of the two victims, the one who died was named as Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, 20, from the settlement of Talmon. The two victims were standing on the sidewalk near a bus stop when the terrorist driving a silver Audi struck them. Some claim that Palestinian terrorism is a struggle against oppression, yet there is a certain dark irony when one “struggles against oppression” by making a weapon out of such a high-end luxury automobile.

• Israel’s Labor Party has delayed its primaries due to the Britney Spears concert. Yes, you read that right. The official word is the concert will require so many security guards and generate so much traffic that it will leave insufficient resources for the primaries. Is it also possible that some party members merely wish to attend the show? We won’t even speculate on that…

Around the World

•  New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman says Anti-Semitism on rise in New Zealand, and is particularly prevalent on social media.

A lot of anti-Semitism comes out of ignorance and thinking this is a fashionable thing to do…I don’t think that legislating really works. The real issue is education.

Recently, New Zealand colleges and universities such as Queenstown Resort College had posters and flyers promoting nazi-fascism and containing anti-semitic slurs. Alt-right groups have spoken out on social media claiming that the tearing down of posters is a violation of free speech.

• In the UK, MP Ken Livingstone continues to make headlines, as he doubles down again and again on his anti-Semitic rhetoric, and it is raising ire from within his party. One hundred Labour MPs attacked their party’s failure to kick out Ken Livingstone yesterday as he gave a series of defiant interviews defending his Hitler comments. Tom Watson, the deputy leader, and Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, were among a string of senior figures who said they were “ashamed” that Mr Livingstone had not been expelled. Yet party leader Jeremy Corbyn is apparently less ashamed, holding to his decision to suspend Livingstone for one year rather than to remove him from the party. Perhaps it is because Corbyn is actually sympathetic to Livingstone’s positions: Corbyn has a history of making Jewish leaders uncomfortable by, among other things, frequently defending his associations with leaders from the Hamas and Hezbollah terror organizations.

Commentary/Analysis

• Outside the this year’s AIPAC conference was a mass of protesters. Why? And what do they want? A thoughtful analysis by Daniel Gordis entitled, “American Protesters’ Cause Isn’t Clear to Israel” takes a detailed look at some of the primarily young, American groups that are highly critical of Israel. Some claim to be “pro-Israel” even as they act in a way that appears antagonistic: including in some cases supporting BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) against Israel.  Gordis concludes that in some cases the groups are more interested in “venting anti-establishment rage” than actually engaging in real advocacy: ready to list everything they oppose, but short on practical ideas they might wish to see implemented. In one example, the ADL’s Jonathan A. Greenblatt invited protesters outside his office from a group called “If Not Now” to come inside and discuss their grievances: the group refused, preferring to remain in the lobby and create a disturbance in order to be publicly arrested. Other groups profess to be against “the occupation,” but upon closer inspection, they prove to be referring to the “occupation” that began in 1948, meaning that they are against Israel’s existence at all. Gordis examines numerous examples and provides much thoughtful analysis, while also raising critical questions about how this may impact the future relationship between American Jews and Israelis. Worth a read.

• The Guardian wrote a scathing indictment of Livingstone’s anti-Semitism in the form of a staff editorial, one of the most supportive pieces of journalism regarding the UK Jewish community we’ve seen in years. Among other criticisms, the staff editorial does not hesitate to call out Livingstone and the labor party in general for disguising anti-Semitism as if it were legitimate criticism of Israel. Here are a couple highlights, though the entire editorial is certainly worth a read:

A presumption can take hold that … the left is opposed to all racism. Warped logic then unfolds: anti-racists cannot be guilty of prejudice against Jews, so it follows that Jewish complaints about prejudice are dishonest. The offence is pushed back on to the people who thought they had been offended. It is reconfigured as a plot to discredit political foes; part of a hidden agenda connected to Israel-Palestine.

Mr Livingstone’s statements and unapologetic stances ooze contempt for the Jewish community. He has had every opportunity to moderate his language, rephrase his opinions and seek conciliation. Instead he has chosen gleeful defiance.

Every significant Jewish community body, every respectable historian, and every organisation that studies the Holocaust, to learn its lessons, has said that Mr Livingstone’s language is unacceptable. Most Jews think it was hurtful. But a Labour committee has decided not to mind their pain.

• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .

– Daniel Polisar: Do Palestinians Want a Two-State Solution?
John Rossomando: Panelists Prove That Jewish Voice for Peace Is Neither
Evelyn Gordon: ISIS Borrows a Tactic from Hamas

 

Featured image: CC BY-NC Nicolas Mirguet;

 

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